Reviews 02-04-2002


Music Reviews 


Of the Earth and Sky

by The Spirit Level

Visit Neurodisc's website


When I saw this intriguing-looking album and listened to its samples on Neurodisc's site, I knew that I was going to have to get it. Even though what I heard over my slow-poke dial-up pipe was choppy and in mono, there was enough there to thoroughly intrigue me. I had to get it.

I was not disappointed, and you won't be either- if you like high-density, ethnically diverse progressive ambient music. If you are blessed with audiophile ears and gear, you're in for a major treat. And even if your ears and gear are more modestly endowed, this will still stick around in your player for a good long time.

Readers of my reviews will know that I like to name various well-known artists as sonic comparison to the artist I am reviewing. But I am not sure that I can do that with The Spirit Level, simply because I haven't heard anyone anywhere close to this. Banco De Gaia, perhaps? His work would be the closest to compare, or perhaps ex- Tangerine Dream member Paul Haslinger, but with an Asian flare. The depth of complexity and danceability is definitely comparable with these two.

Stand outs&ldots;where do I start? Every cut on this album has something wonderful going for it. Not a lamer in the bunch. And it's nice and long, too- over an hour of excellent listening, which is becoming a Neurodisc trademark. I like getting musical bang for my buck.  

"Clear Light" kicks off the album with wonderfully towering synth chords, and a montage of voice bytes. The feel is that we're in orbit, getting ready for Something Wonderful to happen. And it does- as the floating chords segue into a lively rhythm that manages to fly and float at the same time. Intriguing vocals ornament the back end of this song.

"Movements in One" begins with some Asian voices, and that shivery, rapid-fire sort of percussion that is the trademark of Trance and Ambient music. Can a piece be fast and slow at the same time? The listener is encouraged to 'Relax' even while the pulse of the song is running away.

"Moksha" is where things begin to get very interesting musically. Here we have a catchy vocal hook (Annie Lai), with some sharp piano, and a mid-tempo rhythm. Too bad someone couldn't sneak this onto some of the drearier top-40 corporate clone stations. The phone lines would probably melt from the onslaught of outraged bubblegummers deprived of their pop pap.

"Duang Jai Mae" takes us to a mysterious, dreamy place, with some vaguely industrial sounds that fade into the melody proper- a straight up dance rhythm. Here's one I'd love to sneak into some hyperactive aerobics instructor's player. It's got the right presence to motivate even the laziest couch spud into motion. Even me!

Reviewed by Lorie Johnson for Ambient Visions


Embracing the Wind

by Kevin Kern

Visit Real Music's website



Pianist Kevin Kern's fifth album for Real Music is another sweet and soothing musical journey to the gentle side of life. Kern is a master of the simple melody with a heartfelt message, and this is the perfect music to comfort and uplift a tired mind and soul. Kern composes many of his pieces with the idea that they will be used as a backdrop for other activities and for relaxation, so there are no sharp edges or jarring chords. Kern's music is as smooth as silk and as tranquil as a spring breeze.

Most of the pieces on "Embracing the Wind" are upbeat and sunny, but my favorite is "Childhood Remembered", which is melancholy and nostalgic. Joining Kern on this track is Bay Area violinist Jeremy Cohen, whose heart-tugging solo clearly demonstrates why synth strings will never replace the beauty and poignance of the real thing. Guitarist Davis Ramey joins Kern on "Through Your Eyes" (another favorite!), "Bathed in Dawn's Light", and "A Secret Grove". Johnny Marshall on Synclavier provides additional accompaniment to Kern's piano.

Some of the other highlights include the opening track, "Blossom On the Wind" which, as the title implies, gently floats and glides. "Above the Clouds" is very spare, but gorgeous - it reminds me a bit of some of Yanni's minimalist pieces with synth and piano. "Fantasia's Lullaby" is also very lovely, filled with the warmth and joy of a new life. "A Gentle Whisper" is a peaceful closing to an album that could easily be compared to a watercolor painting - washes of many colors without hard edges or defining lines.

Kevin Kern's many fans will probably be happy to know that there is nothing startlingly different about his newest release. It is a continuation rather than an evolution, and there are no real surprises. When you have a winning combination, change is not needed. This is a very beautiful and calming collection of new pieces, and I highly recommend it for a soothing musical experience. Kern is definitely one of the best in this style of music!

This Kathy Parsons review originally reviewed on the  Mainly Piano website. It is reprinted here on Ambient Visions with permission.


Songs Without Words II

by Various Artists

Visit Windham Hill's website


As the album title states, these are songs without words; ones that could easily have had lyrics. They are all piano pieces conveying various moods and feelings from the uplifting to quiet reflection. The featured artists are: David Brenoit & Jim Brickman, Barbara Higbie, Margie Adam, Taylor Eigsti, Brian Culbertson, Paul Sullivan, Janis Ian, Michael Gore, Alan Pasqua, Michael Feinstein, and Zade.

I find that solo piano music can be soothing listening, and the songs on this album certainly are; I like a lot of electronic music but sometimes the relatively simplicity and purity of the piano makes a very welcome change. The songs on this CD contain some lovely melodies, with my favourite piece being Glory by David Brenoit & Jim Brickman.

This is one of those albums that you can enjoy by having it playing in the background whilst you are doing something, or by listening to it directly without distractions. As I write this it's a dull rainy day and the music on this album lifts my mood.

All the artists on Songs Without Words II were unknown to me before I received the CD, so for me it was an excellent introduction to their work. If you've not heard much in the way of solo piano then this would be a good album to start with as you get samples of several artists.

Reviewed by Dene Bebbington for Ambient Visions


Night Currents

by Oophoi


Night Currents is a long-form (over 60 minutes) composition from Gianluigi Gasparetti, a.k.a. Oophoi.  It is divided into five subtitles or movements.

Gianluigi is one of the masters of soft - almost inaudible - minimalism.  he is able to go many ways with his sound design.  This CDR is a visit to the dark side of life.  Using synths, samples and flutes, he builds wide-open atmospheres and contemplative soundworlds.  This soundscape is for looking at some of the darker aspects of life.

Curiously, it is not an uncomfortable experience.  This dark organic soundscape has plenty of warmth and charm to contrast the dark passages.  While those qualities seem to be mutually exclusive, the concept works here.

This is one of the ultimate paradoxes - dark and cozy minimalism.  Thus, it is an essential CD.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Silent Music

by Pete Namlook 
w/ Dandy Jack

Visit FAX's website

Pete Namlook is the collaborator's collaborator.  Silent Music is a set of - duh! - quiet ambience that he recorded with Dandy Jack.  It is a limited edition (1000 copies) CD.

This is some fairly dark minimalism, similar to (this will piss off some folks on the ambient hyperreal list) Hypnos style ambience.  There are some wild experimental sounds surrounded by vast atmospheres.

The darker elements are not overpowering.  In that regard, this is closer to somber minimalism.  there are no rays of hope, so it is dark, but an easy dark.  Deep listeners will be sad but not scared.

This is a good CD for contemplation and introspection.  Listen closely - alone - in the dark!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Return Home