Christina Vantzou
No. 2
The follow-up to a successful debut is often referred to as ‘the difficult second album‘ – but not really difficult for Christina Vantzou it seems: No. 2 feels like a natural progression, while at the same time a firm step forward. No. 1 was not her first venture into the world of music: in 2004, she performed as half of the The Dead Texan duo, together with Adam Wiltzie of Stars of the Lid and A Winged Victory for the Sullen. In 2007, she toured with Sparklehorse, before focussing her attention to creating ‘minimal ambient post-classical music‘. Vantzou, who has no formal musical training, created the basic tracks using a MIDI keyboard. The compositions were then arranged for a 15-piece orchestra (the Magik*Magik Orchestra from San Francisco) by Minna Choi. Finally, there were mixed with the help of Adam Wiltzie, whose ‘signature’ links the sound directly to that of the Stars of the Lid. The process of creation perfectly merges the sounds of synthesizers with that of the orchestra, leaving enough room for both. Compared to No.1, the compositions are somewhat less ‘minimal’ and somewhat more ‘modern-classical’ (more like a ‘symphony’) – resembling the works of Jóhann Jóhannsson and Max Richter. In fact, this would make great soundtrack music too (which is no surprise since Christina Vantzou is a video artist herself). Expanding the orchestra from 7 to 15 (adding bassoon and oboe) results in a majestic sound, positioning Christina Vantzou as one of the important composers of this genre.

Black Elk
Sketches I – V
Koen Music

With core members Ian Hawgood, Danny Norbury, Clem Leek, and Tim Martin (aka Maps and Diagrams), Black Elk could be regarded as a post-classical / ambient “Supergroup”. In 2012, their first album Sparks was a beautiful collection of atmospheric tracks in various styles. For their 2013 Japan tour an assortment of Sketches was assembled on five different (CDr) albums, containing outtakes, unfinished tracks, live performances and, of course, sketches! The physical album set was released in an extremely limited edition (50 each), on Hawgood’s own Koen Music, with added vintage kodachrome / ektachrome slides. Although the physical release has already sold out, the digitl versions are still available! The Sketches are not only unreleased material from the original Sparks, they also contain unfinished tracks for the upcoming album Anchor, and sneak previews for the Danny Norbury & Ian Hawgood album. The acoustic sounds of piano cello are a perfect combination with the electronics and other processed sounds. There’s the “classical” and “post-classical” music, there are ambient soundscapes, there are composed themes and improvised sets… Most music is relatively quiet, sometimes interspersed with some controlled noisy distortion. Track times can vary from a few minutes to over 40… There’s enough variation to keep you interested for the full 3 1/2 hours of this five album set. Which only goes to demonstrate that this is a supergroup indeed!

A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Atomos VII
This 12″ EP, Atomos VII, is the eagerly awaited follow-up to the 2011 self-titled debut of A Winged Victory For The Sullen (core members Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran, usually performing with different guest artists). There are three tracks on this 25 minute EP album: two versions of “Atomos VII” (the second one being a remix by Ben Frost) and “Minuet for a Cheap Piano Part II”, an outtake from the debut album. The Atomos VII tracks were composed for a dance piece by Random Dance Company‘s choreographer Wayne McGregor (also known as ‘movement director’ from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire!). The two main tracks are “classic” AWFTS material: the first a quiet, stretched, ‘post-classical’ string soundscape, and the second a beautiful piano-arrangement. The 13 minute Ben Frost remix [as Greenhouse Interpretation] strays into a more electronic, but equally immersive sound than usual. The opening track will appear on the full album (to be released very soon), while the other two tracks are available on this vinyl and download release only.

Arms and Sleepers
Hurry Slowly
After taking some time off starting in spring 2012, this cinematic, ambient and rather trippy duo of Max Lewis and Mirza Ramic, collectively recording under their Arms and Sleepers project, is back with a two song teaser from their forthcoming album, due out this fall. For both old and new fans, this single is worth a listen with its elegant grooves, sometimes sliding down the Thievery Corporation lane and other times sending you straight into an orbit. I’ve always loved their lush compositions, and this single is no exception. Out of the two songs, I think I like the second one, titled “Unshield”, the most as it evokes so much imagery in my mind. Fans of Tycho and even Boards of Canada will also find the Hurry Slowly haze of sonic imagery very appealing, especially if you appreciate an overlay of trip-hop beats. If you’re new to the band, check out their numerous self-released albums, among them Cinématique (2007), Matador (2009), and Nostalgia For The Absolute (2011). Great work from a supremely talented pair of musicians.

Reviews of No. 2, Sketches I – V, and Atomos VII by Peter van Cooten of Ambient Blog
Review of Hurry Slowly by Elizabeth Klisiewicz
Additional editorial by HC