Matthew Barlow
Sun Showers
Matthew Barlow‘s Preservation début is the second installment in the label’s limited edition Circa 2014 series, which is intended to introduce the listeners to new ‘underground’ artists. This is is precisely the reason why I turn to Preservation for its hard work in ‘unearthing’ new sounds. In the last couple of years, Bandcamp has proliferated the output of independent musicians to the maximum levels of saturation. So it is the independent labels that provide that ‘filtering’ service, if you will, by investing their time [and money] into something truly special, something more than a point and click. Sun Showers is a four-piece album, inspired by “porch life living in the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina,” featuring meadow field recordings, distant bustling city sounds, and warm palette of ambiance and din. On the title track synth echoes shine through the hazy hues, until a light shuffling rhythm rolls in, reminiscent of early 90s ambiance, à la Trance Europe Express compilations (I’m thinking of The Orb, Pete Namlook and Scanner here). The numerous bird calls are prevalent throughout the pieces, capturing the Southeastern US environment among Barlow’s pensive piano and guitar. The overall atmosphere draws upon many organic ambient elements, which makes Sun Showers a perfect candidate in Preservation’s Circa series. The album was originally released as a two-track limited cassette, and if you’re really into the whole analogue audio tape movement [or rather, why aren’t you yet?], be sure to check out Barlow’s own Twin Springs Tapes label, which is “connecting listener with artist, music with experience, and medium with message.”

Talk West
Black Coral Sprig
Another new name to my forever growing library [again, courtesy of Preservation label] is a Tulsa based (Oklahoma, US) Dylan Aycock, recording under his moniker Talk West. Like the afore mentioned Matthew Barlow, Aycock has put out a few recordings on cassettes, sprinkling labels such as Avant Archive, Tape Drift, No Kings, and Notice Recordings with his experimental guitar driven meditations. For Black Coral Sprig Aycock again employs his guitar, numerous field recordings, and various atmospheric textures to compose a leisurely unfolding, restrained and subtle soundscapes. The music is soothing, gentle and calm, with the instruments prominently featured in the foreground (instead of completely being drowned out by reverb), and although many melodies fall within a repetitive pattern, it doesn’t sound as if they’re simply software looped. The background tape hiss mixed with a hushed chirping of crickets paints a suburban country environment. On in which I can almost picture myself. At this point in my review I’d also like to talk about the Circa series artwork. The covers feature a unique design by Mark Gowing, “using an abstract alphabet that creates an interlocking grid,” based on each album’s title, artist name or volume, for “something fixed, random and unified across the entire series“. I just love staring at each cover for long periods of time and solving the puzzles and mysteries within. Aside from his design for the Preservation’s Circa 2011 and Circa 2012 series, Sydney based Gowing has covered most of the label’s releases, including albums by Sophie Hutchings, Greg Haines, and Fabio Orsi / Valerio Cosi.

Deep Magic
Reflections of Most Forgotten Love
Alex Gray’s latest album skitters and eases itself through the outskirts of the mind, in peripheral antique shops where piles of postcards create an impression of a life that may or may not have happened. It all remains suspiciously familiar. Just prying open the hooked folds of the title reveals a potent somnambulism cloying at the hearts of modern humans. The California-based Gray has many projects (Sun Araw band, D/P/I, his own label Deep Tapes, etc), and Deep Magic has been his platform for a relaxed, almost behind-the-scenes mode of consciousness. Deep Magic’s last release on Preservation, Lucid Thought, was a therapeutic drift through manipulated field recordings, and Reflections of Most Forgotten Love ramps up the textural vivacity. The album’s strength comes in its diversity: an ever-changing space that complements our brain’s holographic nature. This is not an experience walking a linear path, and it is thus difficult to pin down and describe. Languageless voices crumble into bubbly laser beams. A wave of meaty distortion becomes an acoustic stroll in the pram. There is a sense of play and humor, as is delivered by the hollow voice on “Only Me” which muses over something meaningful, only to end up at his utility bill. Any darkness is expressed as curious impressions of the unknown rather than something to fear. Everything else is like fireworks over the spinning coral reef of possibility above our little heads. A lot of folks are calling this album “cosmic” and it’s easy to see where they are coming from. It is, in truth, a very down-to-earth affair. It’s an honest impression of how the mind dances all over the place even when a person is focused and relaxed. It’s quite beautiful the way the music can sincerely emulate the crackling, wobbly edge of consciousness. This is Deep Magic’s most engaging album yet.

Burnt Offerings
Opening like it’s materialising on the Enterprise, Burnt Offerings is a mixture of ambient impressionism, and guitar-centric studies. In some ways, it’s the proverbial mixed-bag – you’re never quite sure which direction Nat Hawks will go in next. “Caphonic Fog” probably arrived too late to fit on many Hallowe’en mixtapes but its combination of overlaid ‘ways of being happy’ voices and ghostly piano tinkling away through the second half is suitably atmospheric and spooky, like wandering through a haunted dancehall. However, it’s followed by the bright “Pelts” where guitars play off against each other, gradually building layer upon layer – starting with a figure that sounds not unlike the snippet of Metallica that DJ Shadow sampled on “What Does Your Soul Look Like” and ending up with Fripp-esque ambient tones and the crunchy sound of concrete waves crashing upon the shore. So, two contrasting styles that emphasize Hawks’ ability to build up atmosphere, but don’t necessarily feel comfortable when placed adjacently. Eventually, it all begins to make sense, whether it’s the strumming of “Shoeg.” backed with all manner of bleeps and burbles that gradually take over and dominate, or the two-part “Never Let Me Go”, the first part of which sounds like it is channelling some Elizabethan melody, before giving way to the lengthy reprise. Rather than offering a brief nod to the original, Padna goes for the slowed-down, dubby approach that is nearly three times longer than part one, and disappears into all manner of cloudy ambience and climatic effects. By attempting to reach the same goal (uneasy ambience) from two starting-off points (guitar or atmospheric synths), Burnt Offerings finally gives the impression of unity to the listener. There’s enough here to warrant repeated visits to unlock the mysteries therein…


Matthew Barlow and Talk West reviews by HC
Deep Magic review by Nayt Keane for A Closer Listen
Padna review by Jeremy Bye for A Closer Listen
Reviews republished with permissions of the authors