BUNKR – Graveyard Orbit

[VLSI Records Ltd., 2021]

BUNKR is James Dean, a producer in Brighton, UK and co-founder of Cookshop. He’s previously recorded under the moniker, Lost Idol, and has released a couple EPs, and a debut album with a subsequent remix as BUNKR.

Despite the ominous title, the music here is pretty optimistic-sounding. Graveyard Orbit—a term for the area of space where satellites that have lived out their usefulness go to die—weaves thick, chunky bass lines, sparkling keys, shimmering synths, snappy drums, and heavily modulated sequences and symphonic waves of womping sound. It’s science fiction music to dance to.

The album opens with soft, ambient washes of synth, recalling vintage science fiction films. It picks up in intensity before giving way to more subdued, modulated keys and layers of atmospheric undertones. Like an overture for what follows, it sets the tone: you’ve begun your journey outward.

“Stargazing” is simply beautiful. It begins with gentle keys, bathed in vats of reverb (naturally!). Its drums build slowly, meter by meter, until the big turn in the song, where they start to pick up velocity into a meteoric, metronomic, driving force. By the time you’ve hit where this happens at about the three minute mark, you’re hooked. It’s an incredibly satisfying listen, and a highpoint in an album filled with many.

The title track and lead single bursts forth with lovely thumpy kick drums and percolating mid-range bloops. Dean has widened the stereo spread on the brushed hi-hat here, which allows it to playfully bounce along the listener’s ears while core of the song chugs along gleefully. It all paints a picture of an eagerness typically at odds with the idea of death. But perhaps to the satellite it’s not dying at all. Perhaps it’s escaping the prison of a lifetime of servitude; to the satellite, maybe it’s a joyous occasion. And so it dances its way out.

The mastery Dean shows on “Graveyard Orbit,” as well as on the entire album, is in his contrasting tones and timbres. The album feels full—carefully crafted and mixed with a deft precision. There are layers and layers here to unpack, and they’re easy to miss for the whole. That’s saying something. It underscores the cohesiveness of it all, the ease with which to let it all just wash over you as it unfolds. Like a lone object enveloped by the glittering of billions of stars in the vastness of space.

Listen to and purchase Graveyard Orbit on Bandcamp.

Leah Kardos – Bird Rib

[bigo & twigetti 2020]

I’m admittedly a bit late to the game with Leah Kardos. This is the first release I’ve had the pleasure to hear from her, and it is a wildly enjoyable listen. Kardos balances ambient, glitch, jazz, electronica, and IDM together in ways that will instantly connect with fans of Floating Points or Rupert Lally. Each of these six pieces here are unique in their delivery, but contain a consistency in their theme and tone.

In Kardos’ own words, Bird Rib came together from pieces left over from her previous release Rococochet, with many of the songs starting out from a process in which she reversed the tape. Listening to this, however, it’s not obvious that this was the approach. These tunes sound fresh, birthed from the ether, yet grounded in a strong foundation of song composition.

Take for instance the second song, “Into Sporks” with its glitchy beat, twinkling, trebly, staccato bells, soft, propulsive bass, and xylophone which glues the piece together. It comes together in a lovely way, feeling purposeful in its execution and intent.

Then there’s “Heavy Hand.” Holy shit, there’s “Heavy Hand.” None of these songs are throw-aways, but “Heavy Hand” is the clear standout. It displays an absolute mastery of blending jazzy piano, bells, mallets, jazz drumming, electronics, saxophone, vocal sampling—I could go on. The layers are incredibly deep in this song, and the second you feel you’ve pinned it down, it offers something new. Just magnificent!

If you can, I encourage you to pick up the beautiful orange vinyl from Bandcamp on this final Bandcamp Friday of 2021. If you miss out on Bandcamp Friday, buy it tomorrow. Listen to this in the morning when you wake up. Listen to it while relaxing with your morning coffee. Put it back on in the early evening. I promise you, you will be rewarded over and over.

Purchase vinyl and/or digital copies here.

Imaginary Softwoods – Annual Flowers in Color

[Mineral Disc, 2020]

As a fan of late 2000s/early 2010s ambient/electronic group Emeralds, I was somewhat familiar with John Elliott’s work in Outer Space. Somewhere in the aftermath of Emerald’s demise, and in the midst of diving into each member’s solo and extended catalogs, I criminally leapt over his outstanding work in his Imaginary Softwoods.

This is happy, hopeful music. Drenched in the bittersweet chord progressions are swaths of glittering, plucking peaks; within the layers of symphonic chorus and floating, delayed swells of ethereal keys, oscillating arpeggios dance as if soaking in the late summer’s dawn.

It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and finds the beauty in late 70s sci-fi schlock scores as much as in contemporary neo-classical tomes of Max Richter and Steve Reich. There is as much Double Fantasy’s Universal Ave in these pieces as there is Harold Budd’s The Pearl and Reich’s tape loops.

“Aura Show” opens with something that sounds much like a singing bowl. The calm and gently swaying waves soon give way to a deep undercurrent slowly churning up the surface before slinking back into the depths, leaving the sun gleaming off the bouncing wake. The song culminates in the light, its lasting impression a vision of sighing breezes on sheer curtains.

“Destination Stone’s” dreamy, echoing analog synths are bookended by a set of glitchy scratches, distant long-forgotten video game sounds, and off-key carnival ephemera. It’s like stepping though a shattered crystal door, into a hall of mirrors, then back through the crystal door.

All this said, the album is remarkable from front to back, whether actively listening or as a mood-setter in late afternoon—or actively listening in late afternoon, as I’ve found it to be most enjoyable. It’s also a solid notice that I have a lot of catching up to do on Elliott’s catalog. I’m starting right away.

Listen to or purchase the green and red vinyl editions here: https://imaginarysoftwoods.bandcamp.com/album/annual-flowers-in-color-2020-remaster