By: Chad Murray
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Usually, I choose what records to review by the sound of what I hear first or because I know the artist wrote in themselves and I’ve felt compelled to give them the same personal touch that they had given us; here I was fascinated by not only the sound of Koyl’s music but, the method by which he created it. It is important to note that this is a very conceptual album with Koyl essentially attempting to recreate the live experience of his music by performing all the tracks as he would live and improvising each one. As a musician who also uses this method, I was hooked on the premise straight away. The set-up, arrangement and mixing of this album also seems to be key here as well with added emphasis on the gear and instruments as key components of the consistent sound and quality within the album. Despite this being an album that I think musicians will really admire, I think it is one that any listener will enjoy.
A warm broken glitch like the flutter of birds purrs the album open and unfurls itself into a cavernous conduit from which emerges a steady pulse; a consistent rhythm in the crumbled palpitation acting as a foundation for the piece. Descending into the core, melodic sonar-esque tones venture into the depths. These bright tones from the lap steel guitar in ‘Slowly fading in the coma room’ match the mystery of the rumble at the base of the song until a new front emerges. A slowly brooding guitar line building on the established loops with a renewed direction in colossal sorrow. The pitch contorts and bends like a melting pipe, the glitch becomes aggravated, the guitar switches into a trance and reaches breaking point…then fizzles out. Echoes through space as I hear the sound of fireworks. Such an iridescent journey this album appears to be. I enjoy the take-off as though it were the journey and when you can say that, you know you’re onto something really fucking spectacular. The patiently unwinding conclusion complete with preternatural tones and reversed sounds is almost emblematic of the album itself; a carefully orchestrated yet improvised voyage with impetus and patience in equal measure.
‘The wailing song’ begins with some trepidation like flickering lights in an underpass and then the sound of trains roars overhead. Hot wires of distortion drip like ribbons on the other side; this is what I imagine the cerebral cortex would sound like if we could hear it working. A beautiful reverberated guitar sound enters the track with an immensely calming resound. The lap-steel guitar works like a siren or a beacon tying the other layers together whilst tranquillising ambience stretches out from the guitar. At time it seems as though this track could be tighter but, in the most moments the human element and the shear awe-inspiring level of inspiration on show dwarves any imperfections in the track. It is the orchestral guitar lines that carry the main body of the track through whilst the psychotropic chirps of steel lap guitar chime in with a great deal of variance, intimacy and an ethereal quality of feeling disembodied yet human through their improvised origin and inherently otherworldly sound. As the track heads towards its conclusion, it reaches an ocean of calm with the steel lap guitar almost completely absent, those layers remaining work together to create a Stars of The Lid-esque post-rock ambience that glides glacially towards the end of the track. Koyl adds further layers in toying with the senses and renewing the life of the track but, ultimately reigns the track back into sedation before fading it out.
The first song I heard from this album was ‘Toasted spice bread & peanut butter’ and I instantly knew we were onto a winner. The glimmering steel lap whispers, the enrapturing This Will Destroy You-esque guitar loop, the percussive stomps like a mechanical impression of a traditional folk foot drum. It is all working together to create something absolutely excellent and I have to say the track name is both amazing and modest for such a poignant and masterful piece of music. This is my first time listening to a Koyl album and this was the first track I heard; I’ll be a lion sphincter if it’s not right up there with the great pantheon of post-rock. Even in its imperfections it is fingertips away from perfection. Even when it departs its safe passage through post-rock and becomes a hypnotic daze through distortion its serenity endures and its quality persists. For all its palpitations, when the track finally settles back down it becomes somewhat reminiscent of the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack if it had been processed through a series of hallucinogens. Superb.
‘Just for one day’ continues the same branch of sliding whacked-out Americana but, blends it beautifully with rolling plains of distortion and western guitar drags whistling like ranchers. This is another track that I feel could’ve been tighter and more carefully put together but, part of the beauty of this track is that to me it shows the wheels in the artist’s head turning and reflects the process of him creating; I can only imagine how good Koyl must be live from the immense skill he displays for improvisation even on tracks where the music is less tight because for the vast majority of the album the music is perfectly cohesive. It’s fascinating how there are movements and new ideas warped into the mix like the thunderous carnality that permeates through the track at the end met with lighter piano sounding flurries, it’s as though he sees the full scope of the track the moment he creates it whilst the spontaneity is clearly evident as well.
Muffled machine guns firing in the distance, collapsed radios desperate for a response. ‘Guilty mornings’ is lead by surrealistic slides and ominous effects. Like an ode to the battlefield or a soundtrack to a falling soldier complete with eerie sighs echoing blood-loss and blurred vision. It’s a somewhat haunting yet, irresistibly relaxing track.
Drifting through celestial bodies ‘Circa 1984’, the track’s opening is a bit more ambient than some other parts of the album resembling science-fiction sound design encapsulating deep space. The guitar slides deeply reverberated further adding to the atmosphere like an astronaut lost in space drifting endlessly. I picture the moment in Final Fantasy VIII when Squall Lionheart abandons a space shuttle to attempt to save the woman he loves, Rinoa Heartilly, he catches her in an embrace and the two prepare for impending doom only to float through the astrodesert to an abandoned space ship. The glitches enter the track carving mechanical arms out of the ambience the ambient electronic enters post-electronic chaos and the calming western vibe subsides into the distance. The breakdown of the track is beautiful, particularly the swirling guitars around the nine minute mark like a prog-rock answer to a whale song.
‘Hors du bleu’ comes literally out of the blue with a track that in character reminds me of Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond, this is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because the guitar work is really nice, it’s a curse because I now have an extreme hungering for a massive David Gilmour guitar mastodon. Fortunately, the guitar does amp up with thick distortion and a seriously menacing march as it gets going. But, whilst a solo doesn’t come in, I’m happy to welcome an area the album hasn’t really covered yet with a fairly doomy finish to the song that collapses in on itself as it builds.
‘That black feather on your hat’ is an absolutely spectacular track. Straddling all the various genres of the album nicely but, leaning on the spacier sound of the previous track, it’s marvellously euphonic and delightfully narcotic. I love how this album has the ability to be a stellar post-rock record or equally an interstellar prog-rock odyssey. This track is predominantly the latter but, the industrial rhythms add to the bricolage of styles evident in the piece whilst also adding intrigue and excellently accomplished percussive elements.
Dense warm pulsations evocative of Stars of The Lid. Strings plucked with an air of trepidation ‘And the moon turned red’ continues the picturesque serenity of the album in hypnotic fashion. Screeching to a halt, serenity fades and tension builds. Something isn’t quite right; the equilibrium is disrupted and there’s an almost neo-noir brooding in the shadow. Underlying oceanic drones, water dripping tones land as shattering glacial stabs of ice. A guitar wails through a muffled choke agains the sound of sporadic snowlike melodies; I imagine a body going through a wood chipper in Fargo. This album is full of contemplative tracks and introspective leanings but, the narrative of this track is something more menacing than before, the tension breaks beautifully around the ten minute mark and I have attach a narrative; everything and everyone falls.
The shortest piece on the album is ‘Lullaby’ and it is also the most accessible track by a long margin. Mesmerising convulsions meet sliding guitars that reside just outside the realms of Hula. The crumbled percussion props up the deeply sedated track from stasis to sublimity. All the while something just off-kilter lures the listener deeper into the trance piquing interest and taking names.
‘The passage’ is an unusual track to say the least. Dilapidated computer tones malfunction but sing a little. Fucked up guitar crawls through the mix. Bassier sounds possibly plucked from the albums ubiquitous dobro act as ballast beneath the nauseated arrangement. The track becomes almost overwhelming almost as the soundtrack to a bad hangover and for that effect I’d say, it’s not for the faint of heart and certainly not for the currently hungover.
The final (hidden) track on the album is ‘Tanger in dreams’.
Welcome to the desert. Hear the tribal percussion, the bells and tambourines the ayahuasca psychedelic retro bleeding through the beat as though it has never left. Thick layers of distortion built up like towering sand dunes. The main slide drags the carcass to the mirage, I feel Soft Temple by Grails come to mind. Almost sitar like bends from the steel-lap against the ever expanding horizon. Mechanical rhythms sliver down disorientated against the dehydrated, oversaturated wasteland. You would be forgiven for thinking this track is an excerpt from the Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack, it has all the necessary means to score such scenes. The conclusion of the track downs it down into a cavernous uncertainty. Sliding notes echo into the distance delayed, suppressed, attacked, erased. Venturing out into nothingness; the journey this finalé had taken us on all along. Built into a daze and taken on a trip like a vision quest for a hopeless hero Tanger in dreams finds clarity, resolve and resolution as it brings the album to a close.
Modular Glitchtar Soundscapes Vol.1 is a really impressive experiment by ???? it should be interesting to delve further into this artist; for the more instrumentally savvy out there forgive my inability to accurately separate each one of the somewhat alien instruments present on this album but, if you believe you can decode the arrangement correctly or you like what you hear, check out Koyl’s album here and pay-what-you-want: