Tag Archive: ambient music


This is an album that could have very easily passed me by so thanks to Rough Trade Shops and there out this week Tweets for drawing my attention to it. It turns this is Apparat’s (aka Sascha Ring) first album in six years and I can barely remember anything about “Krieg und Frieden (Music for Theatre)” though I think I did listen to it on release. The good news is that “LP5” is a strong return for the now veteran producer.

“LP5” might be Apparat’s most ambient and understated release to date though he still unleashes the techno side of his sound on a smattering of tracks. But this not a boring or static album far from it, Apparat is able to use dynamic song structures and a real attention to detail in his sound design to make the listener is always engaged. Among the shimmering synths pad, soft pianos, picked electric guitar and FX is Ring’s voice as the emotional centre of the album. He’s always had a unique voice and it never fails to evoke emotion in the listener. Two great examples of all the above are second track and lead single “DAWAN” and “HEROIST” the former starts out as a spooky synthscape with it’s beat feeling barely there thanks to reverb and vocals that drift in and out of the mix then Apparat allows for a brief lull in the track only for a driving beat to taken over a push the track into a new space and then onwards to it’s conclusion. On “HEROIST” which starts out restless and adrift before finding it’s way to way the an acoustic beat that again changes course of the track.  ‘LAMINAR FLOW’ and ‘BRANDENBURG’ exhibit Ring’s masterful combining of both electronic elements and organic ones e.g. Strings. hese are just a handful of highlights on an impressive and cohesive album.

I have definitely found “LP5” one of the hardest albums of My Favourite Releases of the Year… so far series to write about. I knew on first listen that I liked it and that it was a great album but expressing how and why it is has been a difficult task. I highly recommend listening to this album and just giving yourself over to it for it’s forty four minute run time. Block everything else and immense yourself in it.

Check out Apparat below and let me know what you think of “LP5” in the Comments.

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Since 2007 Oneohtrix Point Never has gone from releasing limited edition CDR’s of New Age influenced drone music, then finding critical acclaim with his compilation album “Rifts” (2009) and official debut album “Returnal” (2010) which saw him move into more complex and edited version of his trademark sound. His last album “Replica” saw him take things a step further embracing the micro edits techniques associated with electronica artists such as Autechre, Aphex Twin and Fennesz. This has lead to his first album for Warp Records home to both Autechre and Aphex Twin. I’ll admit that at first I was unsure about why Oneohtrix Point Never had signed for Warp but after hearing ‘Problem Areas’ from the album it became clear that this album belongs in that lineage of artists.

The album starts as it means to go on with seemingly predetermined structures playing out across the track (not something that Oneohtrix is known) and micro details often passing in the blink of an eye. Oddly this feels like Oneohtrix’s most accessible offering to date and he has scaled back on the irriating micro edited rhythmic vocal sampling of “Replica” but the album also feels like a grower not music with an immediate impact. ‘Boring Angel’ opens with huge held synth chords that have a religious church organ vibe. Insistent yet distant wooden percussion is tapped out in the background. More layers of synth/organ enter creating an even more beautiful, immense and dense sound. Around one minute 30 seconds in a synth arpeggio suddenly springs into life, followed by a rhythmic cutting synth sound that is almost like a human vocal that’s been micro edited. Things breakdown to just calm vocal pad and then church organ epicness for the outro of the track it ends abruptly. Its followed by ‘Americans’ a jungle of complex wet with reverb sounds open the track before being adruptly interupted and an arpeggio that sounds like Gamelan music comes in, swiftly followed by a counterpoint melody that sounds like a female voice another that’s sythetic yet wooden. After a chaotic middle section on which its hard to keep track of the sounds flying around your ears, everything does calm, the track breaking down to just lush synth pad for about thirty sounds before the original melodies all steadily reintroduce themselves.


Across the there’s an implied hip-hop influence (in fact, Oneohtrix recently admiteed to being “obsessed” with Nicki Minaj) and this goes some way to explaing why this Onehotrix’s most coherently percussive album to date. The tracks that best represent this stylistic change are ‘He She’, ‘Along’, ‘Cryo’ and ‘Still Life’. Both ‘He She’ and ‘Along’ share oriental melodies that hint at the Minaj obsession and a lot of percussive stab sounds that have used since the mid 80’s when hip-hop producers got their hands on the first samplers. ‘Cryo’ and ‘Still Life’ share the current underground hip-hop scenes love of heavy yet minimal and super slow beats.


One of the album’s highlights is ‘Zebra’ which sees Oneohtrix trying his hand at ambient techno (albeit while never actually letting the track take off) its use of techno like synth, synthetic vocal choir coated in thick and a piano melody make the track like a collaboration with Laurel Halo. The album closes with ‘Chrome Country’ big expressive synth chords open this track, 30 seconds in there joined by female vocals harmonies, synth stabs, a distant piano arpeggio that steadily fades in to become the main melody and a deep bass that falls on the first beat of the bar. The vocal samples take the lead briefly before then playing counterpoint to the piano and a couple of other melodic snippets that fall in and out of the mix. An synth melody gets involved around two minutes 30 seconds before the track breaks down briefly to just pad and strings at 3 mins 10 secs. Then the piano arp plays above then joined shortly after by a grand organ melody and female choir pad before the whole track is faded out.
“R Plus Seven” is Oneohtrix Point Never’s most accessible album to date and yet at the same it feels like a grower. I put this down the fact that its a very technical and structured album that lacks the emotional immediace that so much of his earlier material so brilliant and vivid. This album is a Warp Records and in time with reveal all of its intricate details and maybe some emotional resonances. It’s by no means the worst Oneohtrix Point Never album (for me that’s “Replica”) and has some great tracks across the album. It’s an album that’s worth checking out and spending some time with but it is a different beast to previous Oneohtrix albums.

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Julia Holter returns with “Loud City Song” her third album in three years and the first to record in a studio instead of her bedroom studio. It is immediately evident that this album is both similar and different to those that preceded it. The album is again themed but this time instead of an Ancient Greek theme were transported to 1940’s Paris and the film/novel ‘Gigi’ and Holter’s home of Los Angeles the inspiration for the album. Holter also continues to play with both avant garde and pop music though whereas her previous albums felt grounded and homemade “Loud City Song” brings in elements of jazz and soundtrack music that make for more upbeat and sweeping arrangements.

‘Maxim’s I’ is a great example of the leap that Holter’s made on this superb album. It begins with quiet hi-hats & cymbals play in the distance overlapping each other. The tension rises with strings and heavy piano and a synth pad enter for the beginning of the song proper. A full drum kit plays beneath all of this and Holter’s sparse lead vocal. Then there’s a breakdown to piano and violin around 2 minutes 30 seconds in before a new drum beat and Holter enter creating something that sounds like a more muted version of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Histoire De Melody Nelson”. The first section and beat returns around 4 minutes in and is later joined by what sounds like a new thicker pad sound. Next up is ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ the most effective use of field recordings in one of her songs to date. The field recording of “the brisk footfall of her fellow passersby evokes claustrophobia, danger and paranoia (is she being chased? Or is it all in her head?)”, it sets the tone for the nervous and menacing song that follows perfectly.

‘Maxim’s II’ opens sharply with Holter’s lone vocal and surges of strings. Horns join in honking before a vibraphone enters followed by pounding drums and bass guitar. Everything breaks down around two minutes in with Holter sing over just a field recording. Then huge honking horns and orchestral percussion crash in and push the joyous track along. Around 4 minutes and 30 seconds in the beat breaks down into something more strict and industrial, globs of metallic guitar, thick synth drone and squawking sax make the tracks chaotic climax. Album closer ‘City Appearing’ is an example of something else Holter manages to deliver across the whole of the album which is expert use of dynamics and texture. It begins with just Holter’s naked voice and stark piano chords. Around 1 minute 30 seconds in a wet, subtle synth pad enters glistening and slow moving. A drum beat coated in reverb enters around 2 minutes 40 seconds in. Then 3 minutes 24 seconds in a double bass line enters giving the track new purpose. Around 5 minutes in the synth pad rises to a level that causes the track to feel both tense and swirly which is emphasised by the acoustic drums that shift about below the surface.

With “Loud City Song” Holter may have delivered her best and most fascinating album to, she has managed to make a record that is hugely ambitious and hugely satisfying for the listener. Holter has truly mastered using space, dynamics, texture and improvisation alongside melody, harmony and composing. She is able to paint pictures and evoke emotion with both field recordings and musical elements and effortless blend or move between the two. It is difficult to define, is she an experimental artist or a pop artist or both? Whatever she is it’s a joy to listen to and experience.

1.       Julia Holter –“Ekstasis” (RVNG INTL)

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It was obvious at the time of release that with “Ekstasis” Julia Holter had created something special and the album was made Release of the Month for March and then topped my “Top Ten Albums of the Year… so far” in June. Little has changed since then and while there has been some serious competition nothing has matched Holter in the Alternative category.

The first thing that struck me about “Ekstasis” is the brightness of its sound, gone is the shadowy and foggy atmosphere’s of last year’s excellent “Tragedy” replaced by a sharp and incisive production job to revival today’s most intelligent pop stars. Ok, so Holter’s not going to be the next million selling pop star but this album’s production is almost the opposite of “Tragedy”’s. Then there’s the effortless feel of a lot of the music, despite many of the tracks being over 6 minutes in length. There’s no feeling of over indulgence even when a saxophone rears its head on ‘Four Gardens’ and ‘This Is Ekstasis’ everything here earns its place and makes sense within the context of the songs. It would be tempting to compare Holter to her many contemporaries within the hypnogogic pop genre especially her friend and collaborator Nite Jewel. Though her use of delay and reverb create similar feelings/images the musical content aims instead to transport the listener further back than the 1980s and into the ancient world which Holter is so interested in. With “Ekstasis” Holter has created her own sound world that seems to subtle reference pre-existing sounds/genres and rhythms without ever sounding directly like anything you’ve previously heard. An artist who can switch with ease between different sounds and sections without breaking a sweat or alienating the listener, Holter is an artist with a bright and long future ahead of her.

2.       Matthew Dear – “Beams” (Ghostly International)

Matthew Dear returns with his fifth album under his own name and “Beams” is another great work from an artist who has consistently delivered the good over the years. “Beams” differs from Dear’s previous solo albums as its not produced by him but Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid, most famous for their work with Fever Ray and Blonde Redhead, of which Dear is a fan. The album combines the dark sounds of Dear’s last album “Black City” and the Talking Heads influenced techno-pop of his masterpiece “Asa Breed”. Due to his superior production and song writing skills Dear makes combining these two different but not unconnected sounds seem like child’s play and the result is an effortless feel throughout the album.  The album begins with the singles ‘Her Fantasy’ and ‘Earthforms’ the former a tropical sounding techno pop track of the highest quality the latter Dear self described “ deepest delve into a straight rock song”. The album swiftly moves on to another tropical sounding track in ‘Headcage’ the groove led title track of Dear’s EP from January this year. Two more upbeat groove based tracks in ‘Fighting is Futile’ and the Talking Heads influenced ‘Up and Out’ whizz by and give up the more electronically inclined second half of the album. This starts with the Surging synth bass line and techno beat ‘Overtime’ that are barely contained by speakers. ‘Get the Rhyme Right’ returns to similar territory to ‘Earthforms’ but with the emphasis on twisted synths and distorted guitars that smother the drums and bass in their electric filth! Things get more sparse and down tempo on ‘Ahead of Myself’ with Dear’s breathy vocals given minimal synth and drum machine backing. Then album enters the home coming straight with ‘Do The Right Thing’ a song that starts with just a bubbling and bouncing groove topped with lo-fi simple melody but steadily and sublty develops into a full and rounded track thanks to Dear’s masterful arranging. He finishes the album with the one-two punch of ‘Shake Me’ a dark torch song that recalls Depeche Mode of their most moody and magnificent and ‘Temptation’ a slow burner that repays the listeners patience tenfold! All in all “Beams” is a great album from an artist well into his career showing that he can still learn and keep the listen guessing  and satisfied even after all this time.

3.       Orcas – “Orcas” (Morr Music)

The debut album from this Seattle duo leaves me lost for words, one of those albums that are difficult to describe without selling it short. However, I will endeavour to paint a picture of this heartbreakingly beautiful music. The dominate sounds are plaintive piano, twanging to ethereal guitars and vocals and various crackles, hums and heavily processed electronic sounds. These simple elements are manipulated to create different textures, atmospheres and emotions across nine tracks. Though the duo have created a sound of their own there are some influences/inspirations suggested by the music including Peter Broderick & Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie’s soundtrack work, the noise abstract pop of Broadcast (who are covered on the album) and indirectly reminds me of the latest Oneohtrix Point Never album “Replica”. All this is held together by the songwriting touches that are subtly weaved throughout the album helping this album raise above more generic ambient and experimental music releases.

4.       Raime – “Quarter Turns on the Living Line” (Blackest Ever Black)

On their debut album “Quarter Turns on the Living Line” Raime have thrown down the gauntlet to all artists currently working on electronic and experimental music, “up your game before it’s too late.” Though it wasn’t the duo’s intention the album sounds like the soundtrack to an unreleased film, subtly referencing John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” score or repositioning Ennio Morricone’s work to an industrial post-apocalyptic world. The duo expand on the critically acclaimed 12”s by adding emotional depth and a more organic sound via the use of field recordings, foley samples and acoustic instrumentation such as guitar, violins and cellos. Whereas the 12”s focused strongly on the duo’s jungle and industrial influences they broaden their range here to include post-rock, the doom metal of Sunn O))) and Earth and of course those previously mentioned soundtracks. The duo also manage to maintain a balance between the dark, heavy sounds and lighter, brighter sounds; another progression from the earlier 12”s. Raime have produced one of the debut albums of year, one that leaves many more established acts in the shade. Long may these soundscapes shapers continue to reign supreme.

5.       King Felix – “Spring EP” (Liberation Technologies)

The “Spring EP” picks up where Laurel Halo left off with the “Hour Logic EP” last summer, though she has some tricks up her sleeve and the music is a lot harder to pin down. Here the rhythms wiggle and squirm restless and constantly shifting not settling into a smooth groove, this is one of the things that makes the EP so exciting you’re never quite sure what’s coming next. The first three tracks are all a variation on the same theme, Halo is so inventive within this limitation that the listener is never bored by the central theme. Halo carves out her own style while referencing the glory years of early Nineties Detroit techno. The other crucial difference between this EP and “Hour Logic” is that whereas many of the tracks on the previous EP sound submerged beneath water this is Halo least veiled work to date; she lets the tracks reveal themselves and breathe all the elements able to exhibit themselves equally. The “Spring EP” is a fantastic addition to Halo’s discography.

6.       Ekoplekz – “Westerleigh Works EP’ (Perc Trax)

Back in January this EP was marketed as Ekoplekz’s first venture into dance floor territory and listening to it you can hear why. However, Ekoplekz still keeps his trademark sounds front and centre but he uses space more effectively and percussive sounds and deep bass provide the forward motion needed in techno music. Of the three originals ‘Ekoplatz’ sounds most like his previous material while being underpinned by techno bass and percussion, the other two ‘Narco Samba’ and ‘Xylem Teardrops’ are more stripped and danceable, while Richard H. Kirk (Cabaret Voltaire) remix of ‘Ekoplatz’ follows a similar template but adds electronic woodblocks, more structural dynamics and some of Kirk’s own idiosyncratic dub sounds. A highly recommended release for those into the darker side of dance music.

7.       Blondes – “Blondes” (RVNG INTL)

Blondes self titled debut album is one that hard to do justice to without its sounding like a repetitive bore-fest, which it is far from. The duo fit into both the modern dance music camp alongside the likes of The Field, Gui Boratto and other Kompakt techno alumni and alongside current ambient and hynagogic pop acts such as Laurel Halo, Teengirl Fantasy and Rene Hell amongst others. Blondes manage to fuse these two opposites together in way that plays to the strengths of both, you never feel the dance elements are getting bogged down by the atmospherics or that the atmospherics are dominated by the dance elements. The duo encompass a range of emotions across the album from the brighter tracks like ‘Gold’ and ‘Amber’ to the dark and subdued ‘Pleasure via drowned Kraftwerkian synth work on ‘Business’ and foggy tension of ‘Water’. One of the album’s strength is that despite the amount of recycling there is (every second track is a re-versioning of the previous track) the variety on show is impressive as is the duo’s ability to keep the listener engaged and excited by these same/similar elements. At the time of release I said the following of “Blondes” “Blondes have not only created a contender for Debut Album of the Year but an early contender for the Album of the Year itself”, as you can see the album has stood the test of time.

8.       Neneh Cherry and The Thing – “The Cherry Thing” (Smalltown Supersound)

When it was originally announced that Neneh Cherry and Swedish jazz trio The Thing would be releasing an album full of reinterpreted versions of songs in a range of genres from post-punk to hip-hop via jazz itself, the collaboration didn’t make sense to me. However, after a little internet research and hearing two tracks from the album my mind was changed and I got quite excited about the prospect of this album. It didn’t let me down either with The Thing more restrained than they usually are and Cherry on dazzling form on vocals. The album opens with a version of Cherry’s ‘Cashback’ (one of two originals on the album) featuring fantastic twangy double bass, a drum break and counterpoint sax playing off her melodious lead vocal. Things get striped back on a twinkling vibraphone heavy version of Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ before a return to a more aggressive tone with the drum and double bass assault of ‘Too Tough To Die’ (Martina Topley Bird). ‘Sudden Movement’ is the other original this time written by Mats Gustafsson of The Thing, a dark and dusty yet up beat jazz number. The tempo slows again for Madvillain’s ‘Accordion’ with Cherry trying a half sung half rapped vocal over twangy double bass and subtle arching sax. There are also two nods to Cherry’s father Don (a famous jazz musician, The Thing take their name from one of his songs) the first is by Don himself the ghostly and experimental ‘Golden Heart’ the other is a track original by jazz innovator Ornette Coleman whom Don Cherry complete his jazz apprenticeship with, this track is a sparse finish to a busy and fiery album full of passion and heat. Recommended to fans of the unexpectedly enjoyable!!!

9.       Drokk – “Music Inspired by Mega City One” (Invada)

It’s hard to describe this album without overusing the words analogue synth(s) but here goes. The album uses just one synth as its primary mode of composition but Geoff Barrow (Portishead) and BBC composer Ben Salisbury manage to make limitation the mother of invention creating everything from intense drone heavy soundscapes to arpeggio led tracks via more delicate and reflective moments. In many ways the album bears comparison with this year’s other imaginary soundtrack album “Themes for an Imaginary Film” by Symmetry and though it’s not as ambitious as Symmetry’s album its equal as satisfying a listen. Drawing on many classic synth soundtrack staples such as John Carpenter, Vangelis, Walter/Wendy Carlos and with hints of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and other T.V. music from the 70’s and 80’s. However, repeat plays reveal this isn’t an album that merely imitates and pays homage but is an equal to those great synth soundtrack composers, the album throbs with the tension of a Carpenter score, while Vangelis arpeggios abound and experimental sounds that the Radiophonic Workshop and Walter/Wendy Carlos are thrown in at the appropriate moment and to keep the listener guessing. If Symmetry’s album is the Hollywood blockbuster then “Drokk…” is a homemade marvel and all the better for it.

10.     Peaking Lights – “Lucifer” (Weird World)

“Lucifer” showcases a more immediate version of their sound from previous foggy lo-fi releases. In fact along with Julia Holter’s “Ekstatis” this album proves that lo-fi home recordings can have a clarity and immediacy without sacrificing the grit that made them attractive in the first place. “Lucifer” acts a cooling balm or cool stream water leaping at your feet instead of the more humid and clammy sound of 2011 brilliant “936”, though it’s a little unfair to directly compare those two albums “Lucifer” demonstrates the duo ability to subtle evolve their sound while still using the same basic sound set. Maybe the biggest difference musical is that Peaking Lights have chosen to create more up tempo track this time round compared with leisurely to sluggish pace of previous work, this seems to run in tandem with their new clearer and more immediate sound. The best examples of this are the funk strut of ‘Dream Beat’, the pumping bass and purposeful drum beat of ‘Live Love’ and its darker musical twin ‘Midnight (in the Valley of the Shadows)’. Peaking Lights also add some new elements to the album such as marimba on ‘Moonrise’, piano on ‘Beautiful Son’ and an Oriental melody on ‘Live Love’, that it would e great to hear more of future releases. All in all I’d through recommend “Lucifer” to Peaking Lights fans, those who are curious about the duo or those whose interest is piqued by this write up, it’s well worth investigating.

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

David Bowie – “Low” (RCA Records, 1977)

This month’s choice for Classics Critiqued is David Bowie’s “Low”, an album that reinvented both Bowie and, on its first side, ideas about rock music whilst showcasing Bowie’s own take on ambient music on its second side. “Low” created a cross roads in Bowie’s career, it marked the beginning of the ‘Berlin Trilogy’ (also featuring “Heroes” and “Lodger”) and a period of intense experimentation. It also divided his fans; some abandoning him as he challenged them with even more challenging music and others embracing this new seam of creativity. In this piece I will discuss many ideas about how the album was created, its place in the wider context of ’70s music, its inspirations and its legacy.

When David Bowie started work on “Low” he had hit rock bottom. A cocaine addict with a collapsing marriage and media accusations of Nazi sympathies, he fled to Switzerland to regroup. Bowie wanted to escape America, its culture and LA drug dealers. “Low” (and Bowie-produced Iggy Pop’s “The Idiot”, which was recorded before but released after “Low” ) allowed him an output for his emotional despair and his new musical vision. This vision applied “European sensibilities to American pop, brilliantly combining R&B rhythms, electronics, minimalism and process driven techniques with an atmosphere of modernist alienation and a suspicion of narrative.” On Side One Bowie pushed his classically trained musicians into unfamiliar territory, pushing rock music to its most arty and abstract limit, abandoning typical structures and sounds to create a new future. Bowie described having “a sense of yearning for a future that we all knew would never come to pass.” during the making of “Low”.

At this stage of the process Bowie and producer Tony Visconti would also process the musicians’ instruments as they played and afterwards used effects such as the Eventide Harmonizer (a pitch shifter), various tone filters, reverbs and every studio trick Visconti knew. Along the way Visconti even created a new technique that would define Side One of “Low”: he would send the snare to the Harmonizer, which dropped the pitch, then fed it straight back to the drummer. It was processed live, so drummer Dennis Davis heard the shift in pitch as he played and responded accordingly. Visconti added the two into the mix to get “Low”’s signature sound:  a snare thump with a descending echo.

One of key players in creating “Low” was Bowie’s newest collaborator, experimental solo artist and creator of ambient music Brian Eno. Though he is not the ‘producer’ of the record as he is often quoted (these duties fell to long time Bowie producer Tony Visconti and Bowie himself), his advice was hugely important in shaping the album’s sound. Historically Eno is always associated with Side Two of “Low”, which consists of four extended ambient pieces, however his ideas and influence apply equally to the seven tracks on the first side as well. For instance, Bowie turned up to the sessions with many half-finished and under developed ideas sourced from his aborted ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ soundtrack, leftovers from “The Idiot” and various experiments he had created in his home studio in Switzerland. Eno recalls, “He arrived with all these strange pieces, long and short, which already had their own form and structure. The idea was to work together to give the songs a more normal structure. I told him not to change them, to leave them in their bizarre, abnormal state.”

Eno also used his Oblique Strategies card set to direct the musicians in the studio and remove inspirational blocks. However, not all the musicians took to Eno’s methodology as keenly as Bowie had. The classically trained Carlos Alomar thought the cards were ‘stupid’ and felt that Eno’s and Bowie’s intellectualising of the music wouldn’t ‘give you a hook for a song’. Side Two of the album has more direct links to Eno’s own music, though the fact it’s more compositional demonstrates that is Bowie who is in ultimate control and Eno is an advisor to aid to his overall vision, and not a guru who dominated the decisions Bowie made.

Bowie was a keen art collector and during visits to West Berlin (despite the ‘Berlin trilogy’ tag “Low” was actually recorded in Paris then finished in West Berlin’s Hansa studios later) he would visit Die Brücke museum and buy pieces of art for little money in the city’s art gallerys. Bowie felt there was a direct link between the emotionally evocative landscapes painted by Die Brücke artists and what he was attempting on the album’s second half. In a 2001 interview he said, “It was an art form that mirrored life not by event but by mood and this was where I felt my work was going.” “Like Die Brücke landscapes each of Side Two’s pieces described a place (Warsaw on ‘Warszawa’ and Berlin on the other three) but that place is just a prompt, just a vehicle for a mood. If these are portraits of cities, they are painted with the broadest of brushstrokes”.

 “Low” is an album that in many ways is defined by its lack of lyrics yet when Bowie chose to express himself lyrically it complimented perfectly the instrumentation and the mood of the music. At the time Bowie was suffering from depression and the disconnected way he delivers lines such as: “Deep in your room you never leave your room. Something deep inside of me – yearning deep inside of me” adds an extra tension to the songs and demonstrates just how depressed Bowie was. His words were further enriched by the use of his voice. Often on Bowie lowers his voice, something that he hadn’t done on previous records, making the album a real yardstick for his career afterwards. During the final part of recording Bowie would stand in front of the microphone listening to the backing tracks trying out different voices until he found the right one for that song. In his 2005 book on “Low” Hugo Wilcken observed that “After the razzle of glam rock, after the constant reinventions, the gaudy theatre of Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke, it was something of a shock that Bowie could turn around and make an album that was so empty and private, with lyrics so sparse and simple, with “nothing to do, nothing to say.”

“Low” had an immediate and long-lasting influence on alternative rock music and the directions it moved in after the 1977 release. One of the more subtle influences was on the post-punk music scene. Bowie’s combination of black music rhythms and European sensibilities is traceable in the likes of Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and Talking Heads’ classic albums (produced by Eno) “Fear of Music” and “Remain In Light” and ’80s pop queen Grace Jones and his foregrounding of bass was omnipresent in a huge majority of post-punk bands. Another observation by Wilcken talks of Scott Walker as being influenced by “Low” as the piano featured on “The Electrician” (from “Nite Flights by The Walker Brothers, 1978) resembles that of “Warszawa”. Walker even sent Bowie a copy of “Nite Flights” despite the pair having never met. Tony Visconti’s use of the Eventide Harmonizer had him fielding calls from hundreds of engineers but he refused to tell them how he had utilised it, instead asking them how they thought it was done. Its use went on to influence Prince in creating his trademark sound. More recently post-punk revivalists like Franz Ferndinand and LCD Soundsystem have openly confessed a love of Bowie’s Berlin masterpieces. The album has arguably influenced the adventures of post-rock bands such as Disco Inferno, Insides, Seefeel and Techno Animal who  rose to “Low”‘s challenge to push rock music to its limits.

David Bowie – Low

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