Birch Book

by Birch Book (2011, Les Disques du 7ème Ciel)

The enigmatic B’eirth is best known as the frontman for the psychedelic folk outfit In Gowan Ring. However, with his Birch Book project, he has moved away from the psychedelics and instead, opted for a simpler, more straightforward folk sound. The result, however, is still some pretty haunting—and haunted—music, thanks to B’eirth’s deft guitar-work and dreamy Nick Drake-esque vocals.

One of the most recent examples of this is a limited edition Birch Book EP released earlier this month by Les Disques du 7ème Ciel. The EP consists of six songs: a gorgeous, moving version of “Life’s Lace”—which originally appeared on Birch Book’s A Hand Full Of Days—plus five new songs sung primarily in French.

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Princess Ghibli

by Imaginary Flying Machines (2011, Coroner Records)

On the one hand, you’ve got the films of Studio Ghibli, arguably some of the most beloved films in all of cinema. Gorgeous artwork and animation, compelling mythologies, and well-drawn (npi) characters aside, I’m convinced that one of the reasons for Studio Ghibli’s success is their soundtracks, many of them composed by Joe Hisaishi, whose exotic melodies and sweeping arrangements are the very definition of inimitable.

On the other hand, you have the Italian metal label Coroner Records, home to artists including Blood Stain Child, Destrage, Breach The Void, and Disarmonia Mundi.

On the surface, these two things have nothing in common, and any attempt to bring them together would be like combining matter and antimatter, i.e., mutual annihilation. And yet, the universe is a strange, strange place and sometimes, these combinations work out in ways that no one could have ever foreseen. Which brings us to Princess Ghibli, where Imaginary Flying Machines—a collaborative project featuring Disarmonia Mundi, Blood Stain Child, Destrage, Living Corpse, and Neroargento, as well as various vocalists—turns in death metal covers of some of the most beloved songs in the Studio Ghibli catalog.

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Plainspeak

by Aaron Roche & Tim Hinck (2010, Sounds Are Active)

I’m often amazed and humbled at the number of musicians who e-mail and ask me to check out and write about their music. One thing this means is that I have a pretty steady influx of new and interesting music. Unfortunately, it also means that those e-mails sometimes get lost in the deluge. Which brings me to Aaron Roche.

Roche originally e-mailed me back in early February concerning Plainspeak, his collaboration with Tim Hinck (as well as members of Lambchop and Silver Jews). We’re now approaching the end of March and I’m finally giving Plainspeak a spin—you can listen to the entire album on Aaron Roche’s Bandcamp page—and I’m kicking myself for having waited so long. You see, this is sublimely gorgeous stuff. The Sounds Are Active blurb claims that the duo “have taken folk and modern classical music to another dimension entirely” and I’m inclined to believe it.

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Owl Splinters

by Deaf Center (2011, Type Records)

Dark ambient music functions a lot like horror movies in that the most effective titles are often those that are the quietest and subtlest. Ultra-bloody torture porn might seem like the epitome of the genre given how horrific it is. However, many of the great horror films—e.g., The Innocents, The Haunting, The Shining—rely more on atmosphere and ambiguity than shock; these engage the viewer’s mind in a way that mere sadism can’t and won’t. And so it is with dark ambient music.

You’d think that the louder, creepier, and more horrific the sounds employed, the more effective a dark ambient album will be. And true, there are many artists working in the genre that employ sounds—e.g., discordant machine noises, ominous percussion, disembodied and twisted voices, low frequency drones—that are fully intent on drawing the listener down into a black audio abyss. (Lustmord, one of the genre’s most well-known and influential proponents, is a prime example of this approach.)

Now, I like abyssal expanses of unrelenting sonic blackness as much as the next discerning listener. But sometimes, such music simply sounds like it’s trying too hard. With their latest full-length Owl Splinters, Deaf Center—the Norwegian duo of Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland—take a decidedly different approach, and show how being quieter and subtler can prove more impactful and haunting than any barrage of monstrous or terrifying sounds.

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Rattle The Windows

by Melaena Cadiz (2010, Self-Released)

It’s always fantastic when you’re listening to an album and a song immediately grabs you, a song that—if there was any justice in this world—would be a breaking hit for the artist. However, the downside to such an event is that it’s then easy to overlook the rest of the album, to let the other songs live within that one song’s shadow and remain unappreciated in their own right.

That’s what happened to me with Melaena Cadiz’s Rattle the Windows, thanks to the song “Clay Pigeons”, a rollicking “ode” to a treacherous ex-lover that’s marked by swaggering banjo and lap steel, as well as Cadiz’s spirited thoughts of revenge:

If you had a heart, I’d take it down to the riverside
I’d make it sorry you ever made me care
If you had a heart, I’d break it into a thousand shards
I’d take it up to the mountain, throw it into the air

Just like clay pigeons
Shoot ‘em with a skeet gun, you missed one
Throw ‘em up again into the air
Spendin’ every day since the day you left me
While you’re runnin’ ‘round, tryin’ to forget me
Down at the shootin’ range

It’s a fantastic track and I must confess, I didn’t really give the rest of the album a fair shake because I was so fixated on it. Which, as it turns out, was my mistake.

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