The Sleep Of Reason: The Sleep Of Reason
Tonefloat Records

The Use Of Ashes: Flake Of Eternity
Tonefloat Records

Maarten van der Vleuten: Are You Worthy
Tonefloat Records

Tonefloat's diversity is on full display in these three releases, and it's great to see the Dutch label's stylistic purview extend so widely. The ones by van der Vleuten and The Use Of Ashes are eclectic in the extreme, with the latter's Flake Of Eternity the concluding part in the group's White Nights trilogy (the first parts, The Hand Of Tzafkiël and Glowing Lights, appeared in 2008 and 2009, respectively). It's a restlessly mutating, nine-song set of collage-styled psychedelic-folk from Peter Van Vliet and Maarten Scherrenburg that, in places, calls to mind Pink Floyd during its Syd Barrett years. The somewhat anomalous “John T: Welcome to the World” gets things off in a perplexing manner when polished breakbeats appear, before the trippy channel-surfing takes over. Quick-change episodes involving static-laden voice samples, distorted computer utterances, deep space electronics, and atmospheric post-rock balladry follow in short order, so rapidly the listener strains to derive some sense of coherence from the strange brew, and acidy, organ- and guitar-laced passages signify a plunge into ‘60s-styled psychedelia. Much of what comes after is less frazzled and content to stay in one place for a slightly longer stretch.

The trippy vocal ballad “Being in Dreaming” might remind listeners of a certain listening stripe of Syd Barrett but also Gong, while the guitar-heavy “From Nowhere to Nowhere” opts for raucous roar and, occasionally, implosion. Gentler moments are counterbalanced by heavier ones, in other words, making for a recording of consistently unpredictable character. At the album's center, “A Harmonics Secundus” presents an expansive guitar workout that reaches to the heavens before settling itself into a pastoral field of fuzz-toned splendour. Arriving near album's end, the gentle moodscape “I Walk On A Beam” captures the band at its most accessible and appealing, while bit of a hippie vibe emerges in the peaceful closing song, “Home-Coming.” It's during these moments, when the group wears its heart on its sleeve, that the music is at its most powerful. Though the album's tone is subdued at its end, Flake Of Eternity is still a wild beast of a record from the Nijmegen, Holland-based outfit that flashes by in a concise forty-one minutes.

The Dutch producer-composer Maarten van der Vleuten issued material under a staggering number of aliases (supposedly more than twenty) between 1987 and 2007, before announcing in 2008 that all forthcoming releases would appear under his birth name (or MVDV). On those earlier releases, one finds him producing techno, electro, house, experimental, and ambient music, and it's not hard to hear how all such endeavours have worked their way into the genre-spanning Are You Worthy. That the album's eight tracks total seventy-six minutes says much about the album, as van der Vleuten clothes the settings in ambitious arrangements of broad instrumental scope and colour. The opening title track captures his pan-global approach, with bass-throbbing funk, tablas-driven world music, and evocative soundscaping all surfacing within the music's heady swirl. It's an epic statement of purpose that, at ten minutes long, gives the impression of being a manifesto of sorts for the recording. Epic, too, is the piece that follows, “Note to Self: Aye Aye, Bye Bye,” which couples a grainy voiceover suffused with anxiety, despair even, with an arrangement that makes room for pianos and strings in addition to the expected rhythm elements. That undercurrent of melancholy also pervades “About Things Left Behind,” which exudes a dramatic, quasi-classical feel in its lilting keyboard patterns and a cryptic quality in the doom-laden vocal chant.

At times the differences are so great from one piece to the next that it's hard to believe they're productions by the same artist. The synthesizer-heavy and techno dimensions of his music are in full flower during “Shaped by the Sum of Habits,” which gradually swells into a motorik epic of galaxial proportions. By contrast, one is reminded of backwards-speaking dwarves and David Lynch's Black Lodge when Coil-like convulsions and a distorted voiceover lurch lugubriously through the nightmarish “Schau Hinein.” An even deeper plunge down the rabbit hole occurs during the foreboding “Blutige Marie,” which van der Vleuten powers with hammering martial rhythms and an animal-like vocal growl, until we descend even further into the primal miasma of “Distorted Soul, Awaken!” It's a long and oft-harrowing but, needless to say, scenic travelogue.

Available in 200 copies, the self-titled collection by The Sleep Of Reason gathers a trilogy of studio albums (vinyl), a one-sided live album (also vinyl) recorded during the Tonefloat label night in 2011, and a CD featuring a selection of tracks taken from the three studio albums. For those unfamiliar with it, The Sleep Of Reason is a collaborative project involving Dirk Serries and Jon Attwood who weave their crepuscular guitar lines into dense ambient-drone soundscapes that while restrained are nevertheless potent. Eschewing abrasion for a more temperate approach, the duo shape their materials into smoldering meditations of tremolo-laden drift more inclined to settle than upset the listener. They're like long trailing smoke formations of opaque blur and fuzz-toned shudder that relaxedly intertwine for durations of eight to ten minutes at a time. No track titles are specified on the CD (the part of the collection provided for review), and there's no clarification as to which of the albums the six tracks are taken from, but, sonically at least, it hardly matters when an overall homogeneity characterizes the material. Put simply, the CD plays like a perfectly cohesive distillation of The Sleep Of Reason, even if it is a abbreviated representation of the project in its entirety.

November 2012