Rounding the Fringes - March 28


solemnland - Deepwater Bay

Released: March 21


Canadian electronic composer Raymond Tani (a.k.a. solemnland) has quite a penchant for making some rather esoteric compositions that lean heavily on the use of dynamic range as a tool to communicate musical ideas. His most recent release Deepwater Bay is no exception to this and goes even further by leaning into more "classical" instruments with the flute and brass elements taking center stage here in these long-form tone poems, as he calls them.


There are, of course, the expected pieces of synthesized atmospherics providing the eerie backdrop for these compositions. However, it is that flute sound that shines through, especially on the title track, "Deepwater Bay." The dim ambiance of the track is consistently interrupted by the elegy being sounded out by the flute, a haunting little piece of melody that speaks out and brings a new ghostly feel to the track. "Whitefish" follows a similar motif but emphasizes the synthetics and the brass elements to a greater degree, with the flute playing out a similar elegiac tone near the end. While only consisting of these two tracks, this truly feels like a full album in scale.

 

Defend the Rhino - Make Do

Released: March 25


Coming from Shady Ridge Records, I expected some incredible instrumental chill vibe but I was actually rather blown away by just how emotive this album sounded right from the first note. throughout the album Nathaniel (a.k.a. Defend the Rhino) combines soft pads and plucky synths with subtle rhythmic guitars and powerful acoustic percussion in a way that blurs the line between ambient and post-rock in a powerful way that touches upon many different moods while remaining relaxed altogether.


What's even more incredible is the intensely cinematic feel that this album seems to have, toying with emotional responses through a variety of techniques. A moment stood out to me in the second track "Speculation" when roughly halfway through the soft acoustic guitars are joined by drums and a slightly more aggressive electric guitar putting just the slightest amount of grit into the soundscape as the drums slowly build up without ever reaching a real zenith. Such tracks are made even more poignant by others such as "Ventilation" in which Nathaniel forgoes the drums altogether and gives us a gently meandering instrumental with a beautiful lead guitar sitting atop the tranquil pads. It is an incredible and deeply moving moment.

 

Austin Rockman - Our Own Unknown

Released: March 12


Listening through this album, you would be hard-pressed to determine how the sounds you hear were produced. There is a layer of atmospherics present throughout along with seemingly errant plucks, reversed sounding textures, and subtle clacks that percolate in the mix. Amazingly, Rockman uses an acoustic guitar almost exclusively for these freeform compositions, processed through layers of indeterminable software processing. This knowledge painted the entire album in a new light as I now listened closely to hear these various sounds produced from a single instrument.


On some tracks, this compositional technique shines through in oddly serene ways such as "Halcyon Blush." Along with the small yet dynamic strums of the strings, there are these little ambiances and nuances of the guitar's sound that are amplified to such a degree that they seem to have their own ecosystem entirely, oddly mimicking the sounds of natural environments to the point that I'm convinced they are just cleverly manipulated field recordings. On other tracks like "Love Like a Second Chance," the distinct character of the acoustic guitar as we typically envision is allowed to shine through, though not without its own subtle manipulations placed upon it. This makes for an aural treat that deserves to be listened to intently and studied.

 

Sermons by the Devil - Below the Surface

Released: March 23


Compared to some of his previous releases, this new one from Sermons by the Devil seems a bit more energetic while still keeping the same post-apocalyptic vibe that generally defines his sound. The first track, "Nocturnal Economics," gives us two interplaying synth lines that have a notable industrial influence that are eventually joined by a steady kick-centered rhythm that adds a bit of solidity to an otherwise floating atmosphere of wide synths. This is the defining motif for much of Sermons by the Devil's work and he certainly takes his time to expand on it further throughout the album. Later on, we get some more upfront rhythms with the percussion taking a bigger presence in "Octives of Vibration" and "Falling in Love at 3 AM." Both tracks feature some snappy and crisp percussion along with those trademark floating synth lines that we've come to expect. Overall, the EP feels like a solid, if not brief, follow-up to last year's Linae Occultae Tabulas Scripto.

 

Dark Sines - The Cenote Expedition

Released: March 25


Despite considering myself to be linguistically inclined, I was puzzled by the title of The Cenote Expedition, so I looked up the meaning of the term. Finding out the definition of cenote as a deep sinkhole put the themes explored in this album into sudden and profound context. Proffitt, under his alias Dark Sines, is taking us on a journey through his own struggles with mental illness which he envisions as traveling into a dark sinkhole and eventually finding his way out. What's more, you can hear this journey unfold through each track in sometimes painful detail.


The album starts us out in a dark place that only seems to grow darker until about the midpoint of the runtime with "Loss Followed You Into the Abyss." This track stuck as just so hauntingly beautiful that I found myself playing it several times over again once the album had ended. It keeps the listener in this dark place while simultaneously giving the slightest sliver of hope for the future, that there can be a way out of this darkness though there will be a struggle that accompanies it. This theme persists to a lesser degree through the remainder of the album until we reach its conclusion with "Inspired by Love," a bizarre spoken word track buried in uncomfortable harmonics that allegorically ties the themes of the album together into a story of diving deep under the sea and the very crust of the Earth. It leaves everything we have heard thus far on a very haunting note that stuck with me.

 

Sunwarper - Starguide

Released: March 23


Known for his chilled-out ambient and downtempo compositions, this preview of what's to come on his newest album sees Michael Jakucs' Sunwarper project take a definitive turn into the realm of retrowave production without abandoning what defined his characteristic sound. Utilizing a broad amount of space in this production, we get to hear a number of 80s inspired synth lines tied weaving a semi-ambient tapestry around some crisp percussion that sits in the perfect amount of reverb to give you that little bit of nostalgia without resorting to those cheap tricks. For this single, we even get a wonderful remix from veteran modular artist Eonlake that sees those crisp drums transformed into a heavier downbeat rhythm that feels cinematic and, for lack of a better word, meaty. Both the original and the remix are perfectly executed and tie these seemingly dissimilar genres together into some wonderful. Definitely looking forward to hearing what else comes from this album in the future.


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