Cylon: Resonanz
Dead Pilot Records

Keepsakes: Partial to Memory

Details are kept to the bare minimum on Resonanz, the debut album by Cylon, the implication being, perhaps, that the music can speak well enough on its own singular terms. Well, that it does, thank you very much, and very powerfully it does too. What we've got here are six tracks of expertly crafted ambient material brought into being by Danish musician and dotContemporary net-label co-founder Jannick Schou who's clearly got the Midas touch when it comes to fashioning soundscapes of ethereal character. Throughout the forty-minute release, flurries of organ-like and synthetic tones merge into thick droning fields while percussive flourishes, like waves crashing ashore, gently punctuate the ambient mass. Presented in a hand-numbered package and available in a limited run of 250 copies, Resonanz eschews narrative content—in place of formal titles, the tracks are listed as Roman numerals—and opts instead for material of elegant ambient purity (the final setting especially transcendent), and as such encourages the listener to imaginatively conjure the particular realm being alluded to while repeatedly being lulled into states of mini-rapture.

At a mere 100 copies, Keepsakes' Partial To Memory is an even more limited release than Resonanz. Self-released on Cislunar by Arizona resident K. Eric Kassner, Partial to Memory  is as impressive as the Cylon collection, though one different from it in a number of ways. To begin with, Kassner accompanies the musical material with clarifying info and inserts (a numbered and hand-toned silver gelatin print, a map image, etc.)—not that the release needs anything to bolster its sterling musical content. Secondly, the first thirty copies of the fifty-six-minute release come with a bonus three-inch disc containing four additional songs. The material collected on Partial to Memory was created by Kassner using vibraphone, piano, marimba, mbira, short-wave radio, field recordings (crickets, trains, storm, insects), turntable, crotales, glockenspiel, guitar zither, old steel drum, and more—synthesizers conspicuously absent from the list.

As it turns out, though the recordings date as far back as 2001, the overall sound feels like it spans multiple eras, with the Keepsakes' sound too rich and broad in scope to be tied to any one decade. In that regard, the album sometimes resembles David Wenngren's Library Tapes project: music created today yet rooted in times past. The dusty piano that's played next to the crackle of a fireplace during “Wormwood” or with a thunderstorm raging outside during “Remnants” certainly suggests as much, as does the piano heard in “Ruins.” Elsewhere, Kassner dresses up his stark and spectral drone settings with distinguishing touches, such as crotales and crickets in “Secrets,” steel drums in “Constellations,” marimba in “For Keeps,” and thumb piano in “Illusion 4 (Part 3).” Models of understatement, tracks like “Aura” and “1957” feel like wistful homages to more innocent times, while “Remembrance” sounds like a glass orchestra playing a shimmering drone in a forest as owls peer down from tree branches. Throughout the recording, soft melodies murmur through a scrim of distorted radio transmissions, vinyl static, and fireplace crackle. The three-inch disc supplements the full-length with twelve more minutes of ambient atmospheres that remains true to the spirit of the album material and could just as easily have been included on it. On the mini-disc, bell tinkles and piano resound amidst glassy ambient sounds (“Light”), and the playing of an old piano is heard alongside bird chirps and other outdoors sounds (“Glamour & Decay”). Being brief, the tracks on both discs individually may seem like vignettes, but they cumulatively add up to a rich and rewarding listening experience.

March 2010