Cindytalk - Up Here in the Clouds [Editions Mego - 2010]Cindytalk's new album, "Up Here in the Clouds" delivers several well-blended flavors of warm, whitewash ambience, consistently pleasantly noisy and stubbornly analog. The unique, lightly distorted timbral characteristics of guitar amplifiers are all over the album, but the clearly discernable sound of a guitar is nowhere to be found. Still, it's no surprise to learn that the band used to (and still occasionally does?) operate in less experimental arenas, and sport a rock band style line up with keyboards, drums, bass, guitar, and vocals. The liner notes of the album say only that these recordings were made by Gordon Sharp, the man listed as vocalist of the group, suggesting that this album was likely a solo endeavor.
It would seem he is in love with the sounds of live wires, malfunctioning radios, and ocean waves playing through the telephone. In opener "The Eighth Sea" he accompanies this degraded ocean sound with a resonant whistle so pure it sounds like it was created by a breeze blowing through some perfectly shaped hole in a cave wall. By the end of the song, it's revealed itself to be a processed female voice. These sounds may be electronic, but they are also volatile; they are not 'loops', rather they expand and vary upon a single textural idea in quite unpredictable fashion.
The second track, "We Are Without Woods" is an album highlight. A shimmering veil of synth partially obscures a consistent, chunky and distorted snare drum pulse and synthetic, beautiful imitations of various animal sounds of the forest, notably crickets and frogs. The piercing, glittering white synth billows out like a fog, never holding too still or becoming tedious, and keeps the listener in a focused, meditative place.
Next is "I Walk Until I Fall" is a 'new music' piece, with a gestural approach to composition. Sharp employs a variety of short chunks of distortion in rapid succession as his characteristic grainy wind ambience drones aimlessly in the background. A decent track, but one of the most forgettable on here.
"Guts of London" is deep, harmonic and well-titled. It's a stream of excess sound data... clusters of distorted voice fragments, distant machine drones, power tools, sparking circuits and sub bass rumbling. The sorts of sounds we tune out in our daily lives. The beautiful harmonics of the distortion hint at droning consonant zen at points, but the piece sounds mostly dystopian to me.
"Hollow Stare" takes the unexpected step into full-on harsh noise halfway into its duration, heralding the beginning of an ominous, threatening section of the album continued with the deathly cold, sterile slice of square-wave sequencing known as "The Anarchist Window". It's the sort of song that could have turned out boring, but Sharp brings it to life with reverb, a mysterious scraping texture like the oink of a mechanical pig and subtle, iridescent synth work that recalls Autechre's hallucinatory "Confield" album.
Penultimate piece "Multiple Landings" is nearly 9 minutes of indistinct, misty drift that would have really bogged down the momentum of the recording had it not been placed so near the end. It's a lot like flying through miles and miles of identical cloud matter, searching for a runway or landing pad. The best part is actually the first couple of minutes, which prominently feature a beeping high frequency synth sequence recalling the periodic transmission of a satellite. The latter half has a nice, deep, bowed sounding drone sound, recalling the work of Troum and Organum. I can enjoy it, though my library is flooded with music of this kind by now.
"Up Here in the Clouds", the title track and closer, is a familiar sort of glitchy 'broken music box' outro track that attempts innocent, 'pure' melody with basic synth sounds. Songs like this have historically come at the end of the majority of IDM albums, but it's never been a favorite aesthetic of mine, and it's not approached in an especially interesting fashion here, aside from the rattling noises that result from each abrupt note ending, which were a nice touch. This melody is pretty aimless.
Overall, this music is quite texturally interesting, but only succeeds in engaging the listener emotionally on an occasional basis. I find the album thematic to the point of being repetitive. Despite this, individual tracks rarely overstay their welcome. During the best moments, the ever-present static detritus coagulates into swirling, rhythmic winds imbued with elemental magicks ("Switched to Lunar"). It's a wintry and cold, but very organic record that intermittently succeeds in summoning the calming and mesmerizing patterns of nature. It presents a different take on the sort of 'stratospheric' sound labelmate Oneohtrix Point Never attempted this year with "Returnal". There are lots of wonderful sounds here, and a few perfectly cohesive, complete soundworlds. "Up Here in the Clouds" shows a lot of skill in soundcraft, and certainly boasts a distinctive palette of sounds. If you have patience and love dissecting the subtleties of sound texture,this is a great album to ownJosh Landry