2015 Top 10s & 20s
Roomful Of Teeth

David Arend
Artificial Intelligence
Nimrod Borenstein
Randal Collier-Ford
Julien Demoulin
Denki Udon
R. Nathaniel Dett
Dwiki Dharmawan
Yair Etziony
Marina Fages
Francesco Di Fiore
Flowers for Bodysnatchers
From the Mouth of the Sun
Markus Guentner
Momenta Quartet
Music Komite
North Atlantic Explorers
Prequel Tapes
Alessandro Stella
Swarm Intelligence
Robert Scott Thompson
Trigg & Gusset
Aino Tytti
Andy Vaz
We Mythical Kings
Sebastian Zangar

Compilations / Mixes / Remixes / Reissues
Dub Phizix
Stacey Pullen
A Simple Procedure
Tour De Traum X

EPs / Cassettes / DVDs / Mini-Albums / Singles
Big Phone
Great Panoptique Winter
Mute Forest
Thee Koukouvaya
Joshua Van Tassel

Saffronkeira: Synecdoche
Denovali Records

Subheim: Foray
Denovali Records

Exercising his artistic prerogative, Eugenio Caria's elected to use literary and linguistic terms for a number of titles on his fourth Saffronkeira album, metonymy, syntagmatic, and synecdoche among them. (For the sake of clarification, in metonymy, a word or phrase acts as a substitute for another word or phrase, such that in “The pen is mightier than the sword,” “pen” stands for written work and “sword” for physical battle; syntagmatic refers to the relationship between linguistic elements in a sequence; and in synecdoche, a part comes to represent the whole, such that when someone says about your Porsche “Nice wheels,” it's recognized as an allusion to the car, not the tires or wheel covers.) While that's all fine and good, of more immediate relevance is the fact that while seven of Synecdoche's nine pieces are collaborations with different artists, the material doesn't sacrifice its Saffronkeira identity in the process. It's not the first time he's explored the collaboration theme, as his previous album Cause and Effect paired the Sardinian producer with trumpeter Mario Massa; it is, however, the first time he's applied the idea so extensively to a full-length production.

The typical Saffronkeira piece is one that straddles the electronic and classical worlds in such a way that elements of both are in play at any given moment. Electronic treatments, strings, and minimal beat patterns are blended by Caria into evocative moodscapes of powerfully atmospheric design, and great care is taken to ensure balance is achieved. Even when individual elements intermittently move to the forefront during the Subheim collaboration, “Paradigmatic,” for example, the creators' arrange the materials in such a way that the piece defines itself as a whole rather than a series of stitched-together parts.

Some settings encourage an ambient soundscaping classification, and in such cases one could be forgiven for thinking of Hammock or Stars of the Lid. In the first of two Witxes collaborations, “Aforisma” generates a meditative effect in the way its synthetic washes and processed sounds gently shimmer; “Epifonema,” on the other hand, is less peaceful and assumes an almost violent suggestiveness when guitar strums punctuate the ominous soundscape. Elsewhere, “Ouevre,” with Sebastian Plano aboard, proves haunting, especially when mournful violin expressions are prominently featured; unsettled outpourings of wordless female vocalizing invest the near-hallucinatory nightscape “Chthonian” (with Mia Zabelka) with distinguishing character; and “Syntagmatic” (with Field Rotation) explicitly instantiates Saffronkeira's classical-electronic style in accompanying emotive string phrases with a generous array of electronic noise textures. Throughout the fifty-six-minute collection, Caria's material rumbles with foreboding intent in a manner that suggests it wouldn't be inaccurate to label his music dark ambient as much as classical-electronic.

Subheim also has a new release available, Foray being the third album by the Greek-born, Berlin-based Kostas Katsikas. Compared to Saffronkeira's music, Subheim's is more direct and visceral, and, being somewhat more collage-oriented, less fixated on a singular style. Elements such as field recordings, percussion and vocal samples, crackling textures, and electronics bob to the surface in his tracks, and contrasting dramatically in tone and dynamic pitch, forlorn meditations, solo piano pieces, and synthesizer-heavy settings all appear on this concise forty-one-minute outing by Katsikas.

Typical of the release, the brooding title piece evokes a desolate zone where a metronomic beat pattern intones amidst fragments of vocal warble and mournful string expressions; the evocation might feel clothed in darkness and shadowed by ruins, yet it's nevertheless beautiful in its own tragic way. During the trudging advance undertaken in “Red Ridge,” a gravelly voice murmurs to ear-catching effect, and the combination of billowing synth textures and portentous utterances helps make the track one of the album's most memorable.

In keeping with their titles, “Alone,” “Night Walk,” and “Silence” are understandably restrained; “Forsaken,” by comparison, offers a deep plunge into dub-techno sonics that Katsikas enriches with aromatic strings and Middle-Eastern sounds, and “Arktos” even works a bubbly house pulse into its atmospheric design. Though there are fundamental differences between Synecdoche and Foray, they do share one thing: both impress as remarkably well-crafted collections that speak highly on behalf of their creators as sound painters.

December 2015