Welcome to Bliss/Aquamarine - alternative, underground and indie music.


SILBER RECORDS is co-run by Brian John Mitchell of Remora (who also does QRD zine) and Jon DeRosa of Aarktica/Pale Horse And Rider. The label specialises in various kinds of out of the ordinary music, ranging from off-centre pop to bizarre experimental noise.

On the song-based side is The Alcohol EPs, three EPs by three bands (Remora, Pale Horse and Rider, Rivulets) on one CD, all featuring songs about alcohol or written under the influence of alcohol. Remora apparently normally deal in ambient/drone, and while there are elements of that on their six track EP here, they also introduce melancholic acoustic music, appropriately self-described as 'stripped down misery ballads'. Remora is primarily the work of Brian John Mitchell, although one track has two guest guitarists, Darin DePaolo and Neil Harrison. I Told Jesus Christ How Much I Love Her is a morose, brooding, minimalistic song that really does conjure up the sort of mood people get in when they're so drunk that they just sink into deep depression. First Call is an instrumental track mixing minimalistic guitar strumming and psychedelic backwards guitar; again it conjures up a sombre mood. Built is a slow gloomy song which is totally suited to Brian's deep singing voice. Joy Division is sung over an atmospheric drone instrumental, an effective mixture. The instrumental track Oblivion is appropriately titled with its deep rumbling drones. Hope Is Gone is melancholic minimalism with the line 'Hope is gone away' repeated over and over. It needs no other lyrics, that one line speaks volumes about the mood of the song. This is some of the most sad and saddening music I've ever heard; it makes other melancholic bands such as Brighter sound positively ecstatic.
Pale Horse and Rider is an acoustic project of Jon DeRosa, also of Aarktica. Jon cites Johnny Cash and Hank Williams as influences, and whilst a banjo crops up here and there, as does an occasional country-ish melody section, don't expect straightforward country. To these ears it sounds more in the melancholic minimal indiepop mould (kind of Mark Ritchie aka Frank Peck-ish). Which is just as well for me, cos country is one of those styles I've never really got into on the whole. I like a few bands that mix country up with other styles, but country on its own rarely excites me. You've Been Keepin' Secrets Again has a verse from the sombre side of indiepop and a chorus with a country influence, and also adds some experimental murmuring background sounds. This music is melancholic but not uncomfortably so; the dark mood does not rub off onto the listener.
Rivulets' EP begins with the slow and sombre Anaconda, a song which puts me in mind at times of Gentle Despite, except Nathan Amundson of Rivulets is a much better singer than the vocalist from that band. Gimme Excess is in a similar vein except it also includes some strange discordant bits. Imagine a cross between Gentle Despite, Frank Peck and the acoustic stuff Hood were doing in the early 90s. This has a few very lo-fi moments where the sound drops out, and near the end you hear a crashing noise and a female voice shouts 'Nathan!' He carries on strumming for a few seconds and then that's the end. Shakes is one of my favourite Rivulets tracks here, a minimal acoustic song that is again melancholic but not a difficult listen. Your Light And How It Shined is another of my favourites, this has more of a full band sound as it features additional bass, effects and drums from Jay Kroehler and Aaron Molina. The full band sound is atmospheric and effective. The lo-fi sound of the other tracks is also missing as it was recorded in a studio, whereas the first three Rivulets tracks are solo home recordings by Nathan. This last track is perhaps the most representative of Rivulets, though the raw home recordings are an interesting artefact for fans.

The next CD is Vardøgr by Origami Arktika. This band are a branch of the art collective Origami Republika, and have no connection with Aarktica. This is an intriguing release for two main reasons. First, the title. Vardøgr (or Vardøger) is a concept from Norse folklore, a topic I'm very interested in. Basically it is a spirit which announces a person's arrival. There are stories in folklore where someone thinks they have seen a person, when they have actually seen their vardøger. Rune Flaten from Origami Arktika explains the Vardøgr as follows: "Vardøgr is an old Norse word, meaning a forewarning, almost an omen. When you hear the door opening some time before it does, when you know someone is going to call you before they do. This is made by a spirit, something which follows people around and projects their coming. It is a protective spirit, and a promise of things to come."
The other reason I'm intrigued with this is the music is described as 'a hybrid of traditional Scandinavian folk and textural ambient noise'. Ambient noise can be beautiful and atmospheric, or an awful racket, depending on who is making it - but Scandinavian folk music is one of the most important, if not THE most important type of music to me. I find it 'speaks to me' in ways that other genres do not. I even went to Norwegian classes, so that the lyrics could speak to me as well as the music. Traditional Scandinavian folk music mixed with experimental ambient music is surely a unique concept, and one which will be very interesting to hear. So, does it live up to my expectations?
Well yeah, without a doubt. Some is just experimental music, without the folk influence, though it's the engaging variety not the irritating and pointless variety. Ørretstov is a dark atmospheric instrumental, combining melodic parts with a more improvisational sound. In Savn (Want), a chill wind blows, a minimal guitar plays Wild West movie soundtrack music, and there's all manner of atmospheric noises going on in the background. Later a slow rhythmic drum joins the variety of other sounds. It's a very effective and original mix. I hear many bands do drone pieces that are so formulaic that they sound like they could all be by the same band, but Origami Arktika break the drone mould with Ny Stein (New Stone). Eltavaag is a very folky guitar instrumental, though American folk is a more detectable influence than Scandinavian. This features a possibly improvised percussion instrument (I mean the instrument itself is improvised, not the playing), spacey bleeps and drones in the background. Trank:vill is not so tranquil, more harsh with its discordant droning violin, random clonking noises, crashing drums and so on. Mostly a bit too atonal for me, I prefer the more melodic side of the band, but it's the only track here I'm not so keen on. This band make positive, creative experimentation, not the sort of messy amateur nonsense that's out there giving experimental music a bad name. Even their atonal track Trank:vill has a sense of purpose about it, even if it is too abstract and noise-oriented for me. And whereas 'experimental' has become another meaningless cliche, used to describe music that isn't really all that experimental as it has been done so many times before, Origami Arktika really are a genuine experimental band, truly creative and original.
Their purely experimental side is impressive enough, but Origami Arktika impress even more when they do the traditional Scandinavian folk thing as promised by the press blurb. Tukthusen (The Prison) is a traditional song, creatively arranged by the band to include an almost shamanic style of percussion, minimal folk flute and meandering psychedelic guitar. Den Sorgfulle Sjømann (The Sorrowful Sailor) sounds like a traditional song, both the title and the song itself, but it is in fact lyrics by one D Duck, set to music by Origami Arktika. The music sounds convincingly like a medieval Norwegian ballad, and its accompaniment is a prime example of minimalistic acoustic psych-folk. Absolutely astonishing. I would definitely like to hear more from this band, particularly the folk-oriented material which is truly amazing. (Note that any translations of song titles are mine, so if there's any mistakes, it's me that's responsible...)

From one unique concept to another - the next cd is by Clang Quartet, which is in fact a solo project (of Scotty Irving) and not a four-piece. The cd is called The Separation of Church and Hate, and involves the seemingly paradoxical pairing of harsh noisy experimental music and Christianity! Amazing Disgrace features a slightly off-centre guitar riff repeated over and over, played on both an acoustic guitar and a distorted electric guitar, with additional synth and dance beats. Under God, Companions and The Winds and the Sea Obey Him (Matthew 8:23-27) are collections of random tuneless noise, the point of which is lost on me. If it was made by anyone else I'd suspect it was a brutal, sadistic effort to inflict pain on the poor listener's ears, how much can they endure and all that. Yet it's made by someone who is supposed to be Christian and anti-hate - which is why I described this album as paradoxical. The Infidel Within is harsh percussive noise, over which is a series of spoken extracts which make for interesting listening, in a sensationalist journalism kind of way. It concerns allegations of the president of a well known company being involved in the Church of Satan, and various claims and counter-claims concerning this rumour. The sleeve notes state that this track is not an opinion on behalf of Clang Quartet, "it is only an observation of said events available so you, the listener, can draw your own conclusions on these events".
Two or More Gathered In HIS Name Part 2 (Matthew 18:20) mixes melodic guitar music tinged with country and blues, with bits of noise and extracts of what seems to be television or radio interviews with Scotty, speaking about his role as performance artist and Christian. Hadephobia features pumping, thumping electronic music and rhythms, kind of like late 80s dance music, over which Scotty delivers a sermon on Hell and how to stay out of it. The Separation of Church and Hate is an excellent discourse against racism, set to harsh noise which on its own would be annoying, but in this case seems an appropriate match for the powerful words spoken by Scotty. It's a strong argument and one I agree with - there IS no place for racism in Christianity, or anywhere else for that matter.
My feelings on this album are mixed, the extreme noise is just too extreme for me, though I liked the more electronic music on offer here. And kudos to Scotty for speaking out against the hateful element that has entered his religion. Likewise for breaking the mould by combining religion with noise manipulation; this style might not be my kinda thing but I can certainly appreciate its uniqueness.

The strangely named If Thousands have a cd out on Silber called Lullaby. "Please listen to this recording at as low a volume as possible to induce and aid in slumber" says the cover, and sure enough this is very relaxing and calming. If Thousands create atmospheric drone soundscapes with occasional spoken parts. Although there are 10 titles listed on the cover, and the cd is divided into tracks, it is really one long piece. If Thousands do not have an unsettling approach or an aggressive, anarchic approach with loads of loud random noise like some experimental bands. Their material is not strongly melodic but is well crafted and an enjoyable, engaging listen. It creates a real feeling of calm and peace, I like the way this music makes me feel. It's like being wrapped in cotton wool and floating. Not often does music have such a strong effect on the mind.

Kobi are headed by Kai Mikalsen of Origami Arktika. The Projecto cd on Silber includes collaborations with Tore H Bøe and Bjarne Larsen, also of Origami Arktika, and a whole host of other Norwegian underground musicians, some of whom are involved in other offshoots of Origami Republika. This band make atmospheric soundscapes; it's spacey, floaty and calm-inducing but also very strong and powerful. They have an approach to ambient music that is genuinely creative and not just a collection of monotonous droning sounds; there's a lot going on here to engage the listener. Looking Down Over The Waves A Hundred Feet Below brings in snippets of psych-folk. He Turns To Welcome Me, Stretches Out His Hand includes some guitar work that is both psychedelic and chaotic; the chaotic element could easily become irritating but this band manage to avoid this. We Were Surprised At The Quantity And The Quality features a recording of a thunderstorm mixed in with various experimental sounds. These sounds of nature are appropriately atmospheric and go well with the rest of this album. This cd and Vardøgr show that there is real talent and originality at work in the Origami collective, I'd definitely like to hear more from these creative people.

Aarktica is primarily the work of Jon DeRosa, although he is joined by a number of guest musicians for the Pure Tone Audiometry album. These include members of Flare, Mahogany, Escapade and Plexus. This album bridges the gap between drone/post-rock/spacerock and gentle melancholic indiepop. It has certain things in common with dreampop, but to stick Aarktica in the shoegaze pigeonhole would be overly simplistic. It's a very beautiful sound, equally atmospheric and melodic. Ocean is astonishing, a superb indiepop song with shades of Brighter and similar melancholic bands, but with added atmospheric noise and a string section. There is also instrumental music here, Snowstorm Ruins Birthday mixes the atmospheric with sharp piercing noise, yet still manages to be strongly melodic. Water Wakes Dead Cells is a combination of repetitive noise and thumping percussion, just the sort of thing I'd normally find irritating, but this is somehow oddly engaging. Before this repetitive noise can get too much, the music changes style and becomes a very beautiful ambient piece which seamlessly leads into the final track, Williamsburg Counterpoint. This is a perfect balance of ambient drones and melody, and contains enough variety to prevent even the slightest hint of monotony. In the latter part of this piece, a feedbacking guitar collides with beautiful violin and guitar melodies, to great effect. A very impressive album, brimming with creativity.

Jamie Barnes' The Fallen Acrobat is more pop-oriented than most records on Silber, but don't worry, Silber have definitely not stepped into the mainstream here. This album has a DIY spirit and a sense of experimentation as Barnes uses quirky instruments like toy piano and random household implements alongside the guitar. The music itself is not off the wall though, but very tuneful and well crafted bedroom pop, which sometimes has folky touches courtesy of the banjo and woodwind. As well as his own songs, Jamie covers Rivulets' Anyway... I have a couple of Rivulets releases but don't know the original version of this. Here Jamie makes it sound indistinguishable from his own style. These are excellent well written indiepop songs, both melancholic and more upbeat. I hope to hear more from Jamie Barnes, this album is very impressive. Highly recommended for indiepop fans.

Small Life Form is another project of Brian John Mitchell, whose One album is out on Silber after five years of production. This album is intended for all tracks to be simultaneously played back and looped, although it can be listened to in the normal fashion. I've no idea what this sounds like when all tracks are played together; the following review is of it having been played as a regular album. Small is a series of atmospheric layered drones. Cymbal has a darker, sinister sound. Horns makes use of, yes, horns (in this case trumpet and trombone), but if I didn't already know I'd never have guessed. There can't be many bands who use horns to make music like this. It's a mixture of atmospheric drones and harsher experimental noise. Organ this time uses an organ to create layered atmospheric sound. This track reminds me of modern classical music. It's the most melodic track here but still has a strong sense of avant garde. Pulsar is a mixture of bubbling and rumbling sounds and scraping noise. Golden is a drone piece, quite short in comparison with the other tracks at just over two minutes. Melodica is a strongly atmospheric instrumental track made using the instrument in the title, but as with Cymbal and Horns, it isn't immediately obvious.
Small Life Form is described as a "bridge between post-rock music and serious experimental composition" and I completely agree with this assessment. There are the drones beloved of post-rock bands here, but it goes beyond post-rock and into the realms of 'sound as modern art'. I must also mention the cover pictures, a closeup of a trumpet horn on the front, with the band/album names printed in the centre in a slightly different shade of black, so you have to look hard to see it. On the back, a cymbal in a frame made from metal pipes. Very effective pictures which completely suit the music contained within.

Chris Olley of Six By Seven has a new project called Twelve, which also features Tee Dymond on backing vocals and Fender Rhodes, and Chris Davis of Six By Seven on drums, alongside Chris Olley's lead vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards and programming. Silber have released their first album, entitled First Album. There is a diverse variety of sounds on offer here. Intro is an atmospheric drone instrumental. Talkin About is over 11 minutes long and has a synthesised string section, but don't expect pomposity - this is understated melancholic pop, which despite its length doesn't drag. Travelin' Light, One Seventeen and Police Cars are low-key post-rock meets techno. Never Let You Go is another example of understated melancholic pop. Part II is sophisticated guitar-based pop, more upbeat than the other song based tracks here. First Album sounds much more like a compilation than an album by one band, so eclectic are Twelve. No matter what kind of music Twelve are making, they continue to impress. I recommend this album to anyone who is open minded about music.

Lycia are normally associated with the Projekt label; the only track of theirs I'd previously heard was on the Projekt:Gothic compilation and at the time of reviewing that CD I found their song on there to be a bit too much on the doomy & gloomy side for me. I think I was too quick to judge Lycia though - if I'd have ignored other works by them based on that track, that would have been a big mistake. Their latest (and last) album, Empty Space, is out on Silber and is absolutely brilliant! It is actually an unfinished album as Lycia broke up before its completion, but while it is more mimimal than the band intended, it certainly sounds complete to these ears. Whereas the track on Projekt:Gothic was a mixture of harsh sinister noisescape and doom laden deep goth vocals, this album is far more on the ethereal side of things. The songs and instrumentals here blend strong melodies with atmospheric instrumentation, and while they are often dark they are not excessively so. Some of the material here is in a kind of dreampop/shoegazer vein, while other tracks are more of an ethereal gothic thing. Mike VanPortfleet's vocals, whilst dark, don't seem as stereotypically 'gothic' as on the Projekt:Gothic track (Excade Decade Decada), and there are also vocals here from Tara Vanflower, whose voice suits the music well. This is an absolutely superb album, I'm going to have to keep an eye out for some earlier stuff by Lycia.

Rollerball have been around for ten years and have made ten albums, most of which were on Roadcone Records, but their last two were released by Silber. The first of these is Real Hair, a bizarre, creative blend of folk, drone, jazz, hip hop beats, spacerock - and that's just the first track! Following on from this, there's loungey, psychedelic jazz (66 Deadhead Spies, Starling), experimental jazz with psychedelic overtones (Mike's Hind), atmospheric psych-folk with experimental elements (Hecho En), free jazz with crazed techno beats, which then slows right down to an ethereal organ melody before bringing in drums and vocals (Spine Delay), a brilliant spacey, beaty and strongly melodic song which then flies off at a tangent with some chaotic experimental instrumentation (Bara) and atmospheric experimentation with spoken vocals that paint a surrealist picture (Eight Inch Nun). In Mike's Hind, they're a bit too close to free jazz for my taste, a style that's always been too abstract for me, and as mentioned above, the first part of Spine Delay is also based on free jazz. Elsewhere though, this band are highly impressive and astonishingly creative. Genre barriers just don't exist with Rollerball, this is without a doubt a band with their own ideas. I heartily recommend Real Hair to all who value originality in music.

Rollerball's latest album, bizarrely titled Behind the Barber, was this time recorded at home (they normally record at home but broke that rule for Real Hair). It is also a more overtly improvisational album than Real Hair. Do the Slim Jim starts off as experimental psychedelia, a bit too abstract for me, but then it brings in melody and rhythms which complement the weird atmospherics in the background. On their own the experimental bits don't do much for me, but when combined with the tuneful part it works well. Slits Arandas is Spanish-tinged melodic jazz with the usual psych/experimental additions. Then there's a short vocal section from a female singer with a very powerful voice, it's a kind of lounge meets old-style soul thing. Then the track degenerates into random, tuneless improvisational sax playing which kind of lets it down - but that's just my general dislike of harsh atonal noise. Although the free jazz section goes on for quite a while, around 14 mins into the track they return to the Spanish-sounding melodic piece where they started from.
Autotelic is a mix of atmospheric drones, rhythmic drumming and more overtly experimental sound manipulation. Quiela is an improvisational sounding experimental piece. Starling, from Real Hair, appears here remixed. This version is an effective combination of melodic jazz, electronica, noise, free jazz and loungey vocals. Yes, I did say 'effective' and 'free jazz' in the same sentence, there is thankfully only a snippet of free jazz in this track, not long enough for it to irritate. The Guarantee is an atonal improvisational piece. Burning Light is a kind of experimental techno with chopped up snippets of jazz and lounge music. Chi Town Cub begins with some random improvisation but then brings in vocals and accordion, transforming the song into a kind of warped dark folk meets lounge music. King Ben D combines a driving bassline and drumming with more experimental elements. Chicalote features more of that dark warped accordion, along with assorted experimental sounds and low-key vocal parts. Fake Tan is a collection of improvisational noise and backwards vocals.
This album has, on the whole, too much emphasis on improvisation for me to be completely comfortable with it, though there are moments when the tunes do shine through the randomness and atonality. I just wish they'd have stuck to the more song-based/melodic sound they had on Real Hair; that truly impressive album shows that it's possible to be highly experimental without sacrificing melody.

Mike VanPortfleet, formerly of Lycia, has a new solo album out on Silber, Beyond the Horizon Line. This has a very different style to Lycia, abandoning the song-based sound and replacing it with a more ambient approach. This album is a piece of pure atmospheric beauty; whilst it is not song-structured or (on the whole) strongly melodic, it more than makes up for that with its mood-altering, filmic quality. I have heard much ambient, experimental and soundtrack-style music which doesn't grab me in the way that this does. I'm left thinking it (soundtrack-style music heard in the past, not this album!) would sound ok as incidental music in a film, but listening to it on its own is just dull. However, Mike VanPortfleet actually manages to envelop the listener in atmospheric swathes of sound; this is no mere background music, it fully involves the listener's mind. And it goes beyond the norm of drone/ambient music too, injecting strong creativity into a genre which often sounds much the same. Stellar Buckshot Awaits is a more melodic, but still very much atmospheric and spacey piece with whispered vocals.

Silber is a highly recommended source for truly creative, inventive, artistic and non mainstream music. Whilst I don't always like everything on the label (the extreme noise and strongly improvisational stuff isn't to my taste), I'm not closed minded or arrogant enough to assume that just because *I* don't like something it must therefore be actually bad. And besides, most music on Silber is very impressive. Anyone wanting a change from easily digestible commercialised nonsense should definitely seek out the music from this label. Contact silberspy@silbermedia.com


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