Bowlegs enjoys nothing better than an album that runs together as a body of work. That is one huge reason why we’re enjoying the new release by London band Kontakte. ‘We move Through Negative Spaces’ is the result of some meticulous production in the studio, and all that effort has paid dividends for the band as they have created a soundscape of beauty.
Their blend of electronica, with static drum machine beats and bass lines sparking into a wall of sound, is complimented throughout by gorgeous guitars. To take one track from this album seems wrong, as it is meant to be heard as a consecutive hour of music. The opening track, ‘Astralagus’, begins proceedings on such a high note, with the slow build. Everyone knows the best thing about a slow build is the payoff, and this eight minute track pays off with swirling beats and a guitar riff recalling Modest Mouse’s ‘Blame It On The Tetons’.
This genre of music can often veer close to the pretentious, but somehow Kontakte never allow it to become so. On ‘Snowflake in Her Hand’ they add strings to their repertoire and it creates an undeniable sad beauty to their sound. Like Sigur Rós or Spiritualized before them, this is a band that have found their musical calling – confidently constructing their self-made atmosphere.
Yet the record is far from just serene and picturesque. They let their sound explode to life on ‘The Owls Won’t See Us Here’, which has a vitality and power more akin to the heavy electronica of 65 Days Of Static – demonstrating an urge to explore further.
Bowlegs strongly suggest you listen to this record – maybe whilst drifting through your surrounding landscapes . We promise it will improve your day, it did ours. RC
Interesting gets a lot of bad press these days. Interesting is “dull”, interesting is “pretentious”, interesting is what happens when a previously promising rock n roll band listens to Kid A a few too many times and decides “I can do that too!” And in most cases it is entirely justified, in most cases interesting music is music that is created with only that intention in mind, to challenge the head and forsake the heart for critical acclaim that is most likely not going to come there way, because for something to be interesting in the best ways possible it has to challenge both, this is something that London based collective Kontakte, have recognised in spades on their sophomore effort. Delivering a record that is at once brain meltingly clever and heart meltingly beautiful.
Make no mistake, at 8 tracks clocking in at just under an hour, this is a record that demands patience that some potential listeners, perhaps understandably, might not have. 10 minute string assisted ambient soundscapes are not everyone’s proverbial cup of tea but the soundscape in question, closing track The Ocean Between You And Me, has more melancholia and sheer emotion in a single Johnny Marr-esque guitar chime than most bands can sum up in their most overly-sincere acoustic song. Ah yes. The Guitar. It’s not that much of a stretch to call this album one of the best guitar albums of the year, it’ll certainly appeal to those who think Johnny Marr is god incarnate and those who think that Kevin Shields is, most tracks are build around chiming, arpeggiated intros before rushing into loud, distorted screes that somehow adds to the haunting beauty rather than jerks you out of the trance the track has no doubt worked you into.
That said, the undoubted highlight is penultimate track Every Passing Hour, by far the shortest track at just over 3 minutes, it is the antithesis of the rest of the album, musically, featuring only acoustic guitar, violin and piano, and because of that it’s subtle, intimate and nigh on profoundly affecting. The latter description could be extended to encompass the whole of this extraordinary album, never has something so defiantly un-commercial sounded so beautiful, when I say that We Move Through Negative Spaces is interesting, I mean it in the sense that I want to know more about it, I want to listen to it over and over again to find out just how it’s put together, I want to be able to hear all the subtleties that I’ve no doubt missed. I want to know every inch of it. And that is something I can say about very few records.
Author: Will Howard
After first appearing on the musical landscape in the early 1990s the genre of post-rock has embarked on something of an interesting journey, initially driving itself down something of a narrow, stifling alley. However, recent years have seen the genre expand and develop, often incorporating elements of electronic and ambient music, and increasingly being supplemented by string arrangements. Such is the relative wealth of music being made in this category, that in order to achieve distinction bands are increasingly required to produce strikingly new or original compositions.
London based outfit Kontakte are faced with this kind of challenge on the release of their second album We Move Through Negative Spaces. It reflects the trend towards electronic/ambient/modern classical music whilst ensuring that their focus never strays too far away from a resounding guitar sound. The album has a lot in common with other contemporary instrumental music in that it aims at cinematicism, and it ultimately enjoys a degree of success.
The two most obvious points of reference are Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky. The quiet-to-loud dynamics practised by these bands are not as evident here however, the changes being more gradual.
Opening track Astralagus sees an alluring guitar line relayed over escalating synth passages and fractured electronic beats. Hope… showcases pretty melodies played out against a backdrop of enkindled guitars and With Glowing Hearts offers similar, delicate refrains emerging from a resounding wall of static sound. These are templates which are replicated effectively over the course of the album.
The elegant, muted atmospherics of Early Evening Bleeds Into Night features the first use of strings, followed soon after by A Snowflake In Her Hand which employs them in a more calming, elegiac fashion. It positions the band closer to artists such as Jóhann Jóhannsson and Eluvium. The Owls Won’t See Us In Here sees the return of ricocheting, splintered beats to the sound mix. The Ocean Between You And Me ends the album in contemplative style with a substantial yet restrained crescendo.
As with Explosions In The Sky in particular, the titles of each instrumental track seem to try to place the music in a human, emotional context, and inject some warmth into the instrumentation. In We Move Through Negative Spaces Kontakte have released a perfectly accomplished, assured album, albeit one that never really threatens to move the genre into uncharted territory.
In their sophomore effort, British quartet kontakte provide a natural continuation of their still-developing sound. We Move Through Negative Spaces features the infusion of electronic elements and the spacious grace of post-rock, the sound that 65daysofstatic laid the blueprint for in The Fall of Math and that bands like The American Dollar and 52 Commercial Road continue to extrapolate today.
In terms of sound output, kontakte lean more towards the calmer end of the postrocktronic spectrum. Their overdrive and distortion pedals are switched on in only a couple of tracks, with the rest of the album formulated by meandering guitar melodies superimposed over steady electronic beats. This same description could be applied to many bands; the repetition of melody and the languid manner in which the songs evolve, bloom, and evoke emotion is something we have all come to know by heart. Yet kontakte very rarely resort to the quiet/loud dynamic, not needing over-the-top crescendos to support their narrative.
The edge that We Move through Negative Spaces has over other kindred albums is its endless supply of melodies. Almost every melody is memorable, which is in itself a triumph. “Hope” uses a huge wall of distorted background guitars to set the scene for the softer foreground guitars. The highs last only a few moments, and the lows carry the remainder. The buildups and breakdowns are sewn together so naturally that one can’t help but gasp whenever a change from quiet to loud occurs. In contrast, “The Ocean Between You and Me” climaxes on a notable high, ending the album with all guitars blazing.
The clear standout on the album is “A Snowflake in her Hand”, which is so strong that it can reestablish one’s lost love for the genre. The track is a reminder that post-rock, instrumental, alternative-silent-monochromatic weeble wabble, or whatever anyone would like to call it has the ability to pierce with a simple progression and to change one’s mood for the remainder of the day. “A Snowflake…” is simplicity incarnate. The leading line could remain on repeat forever, and few would mind. The entrances of the strings and repeating glitch beat elevate the track to the realm of the epic. When executed this well, subtlety is a beautiful thing.
The album is cut short only by the lack of acoustic drums. In most tracks this is not a problem, but when things start getting louder, the lack of drums seems pivotal. To quote fellow writer Richard Allen, “there’s nothing like a real drummer to anchor a post-rock band. A crescendo with digital percussion is much less cathartic than one with snares and cymbals.” The statement rings particularly true in this case.
kontakte have all it takes to rival the top bands in the genre. Their main challenge is their tardy entrance to the scene, which risks the tag of redundancy to those well versed in the territory. My advice to listeners: take your time with this album, and give it a couple of listens. While the whole thing might not remain on one’s playlist for long, a few powerful tracks will likely stay there for good.
If you haven’t yet heard of Kontakte, perhaps you’ll remember their name from our Record Label Spotlight with Northern Star Records (read it HERE), as we gave them a lot of love in that article. And deservedly so – this UK outfit, consisting of Ian Griffiths, Gary McDermott, Stuart Low and Ben Worth, has been blowing my mind in particular ever since receiving their first full length LP, Soundtracks To Lost Road Movies, in 2008, from their label Drifting Falling. Sountracks is a great LP, but it in no way prepared me for how amazing their newest release, which came out in March 2011, would be. Entitled We Move Through Negative Spaces, this LP is an absolute triumph for Kontakte, incredibly gorgeous. We have a review of the new LP coming up next week on the blog, but until then, enjoy the following interview with band member Ian Griffiths, and have a listen to some of the tracks here. You will no doubt be instantly converted. When The Sun Hits expects huge things from Kontakte in the future, and after getting a taste of the music, you’ll see why.
Is there any significance behind the name “Kontakte”?
It is significant in terms of where the name was taken from and the lineage of electronic based music as we see it.
The name “KONTAKTE” was taken from Stockhausen’s 1958 seminal Electronic-Acoustic arrangement Kontakte – fur elektronische Klange, Klavier und Schlagzeug. This was essentially the first recording to contain both Electronic and Acoustic sounds, something quite extraordinary at the time. The name seemed to instantly resonate with what sits at the heart of our sound; processed electronic beats and synths, juxtaposed with “classical” and “organic” instruments such as guitars, piano, percussion instruments; and (as we have experimented with on the new record) live strings.
How was Kontakte formed?
Kontakte was initially a bedroom project that for a long time was dying to be released and turned into a full band capable of playing live shows. As soon as a few tracks were uploaded to what was once the hub of online music (Myspace – RIP), they received a lot of good feedback and the process started to form a “real” band.
In all honesty, it took a while to find the right people. I think other musicians out there will understand what I mean. People who understood the basic idea and had a kinship with the music already written, and didn’t feel the need to enter the fold, hell bent on changing what was already a working project. Forming a band can be quite a challenge and Kontakte has been no exception. You realise that you’ve come full circle, though, when you find the right people and when the music evolves by itself. Our new album is testament to that.
Can you tell us what you’ve been working on and what you’ve got forthcoming in the near future (new releases, tour, etc)?
Our new album! We Move Through Negative Spaces has been the labour of our love for the past two years. It goes without saying that we are very excited for people to hear this record. We believe it’s a step up from our debut in terms of songwriting, instrumentation and production. When you put a lot of time and effort into something and hear it back in its full form and hold the finished article, you do feel quite a big sense of acheivement.
To coincide, we are playing shows through the spring and early summer including, a much anticipated second visit to Germany.
What is the most important piece of gear for your sound? Any particular guitars/pedals/amps/synths you prefer?
Well, our guitarists’ set-ups are extremely important. Right now, we’d certainly be lost without them. Without getting too nerdy, the amps and pedals used all serve their own purpose. We use Sunn, Fender and Ampeg amps. EHX make some great pedals, as do Line6, and everyone needs a few Boss stompboxes!
I think one thing that sets us apart though is our continuous use of electronic beats/laptops – that is integral to our sound. These beats come from a variety of sources but are generally programmed in Cubase or Ableton.
What artists have most influenced your work?
Every member of the band could probably come up with a different artist or band and that in itself is what makes Kontakte what it is. We are all influenced by a range of artists and different types of music. Anything from Brian Eno to Sunn O))), Tim Hecker to Mono, MBV to TV On The Radio – that’s quite a range of taste just there!
Do you consider what you are doing to be “shoegaze” or “psychedelia”? Do you feel that you are part of the shoegaze/psychedelia scene, or any scene?
I don’t think any of us would necessarily think we are either Shoegaze or Psychedelic at all. Just as much as we don’t dwell on whether we are Post Rock or Krautrock. The fact is that a ton of different labels have been thrown at Kontakte over the past few years, and in a positive way we seem to ride on the crest of all of that and continue to do our own thing which, we don’t think, is specific to any type of sound. That works in our favour. People seem to hear a lot of different things in our music which tells us that our sound is not one-dimensional.
We absolutely do NOT attach ourselves to any “scene” that may be happening now or ever. Scenes might be a good party for some, but in our view are essentially unhealthy for music. How does a scene develop itself? The music created within a scene can at times become a bit staid and repetitive. If you are intent on being creative and are attempting to do your own thing and wish to develop that thing, then being part of a scene can easily hinder that progress.
What do you think of modern shoegaze/psychedelic bands? Any favourites?
Having said all that above, there are a hell of a lot of great new bands coming through at the moment and a number of great labels that are continuously pushing new music. Two bands springing to mind are The Lost Rivers and Ceremony. We’re playing a show with them in Munich very soon – it could well be the gig of the year! A good place to start with labels would be Drifting Falling, Northern Star, Club AC30, Erased Tapes, Field, Monotreme, Gizeh, Home Normal, Hibernate.
Would you tell us a little about what you are currently into (bands, books, films, etc)?
Film and it’s accompanying soundtrack is something that’s always interested Kontakte. It’s also something we’d love to be working towards and creating in the future. We’re big fans of Clint Mansell, who is extremely prolific and always manages to score excellent music to equally excellent films – Requiem For a Dream, The Fountain, Moon, Smokin’ Aces, Black Swan, etc.
If you had to choose one Kontakte track that would be the ultimate definition of your sound and aesthetic, which would it be?
Interesting question. Something tells me we shouldn’t name one song, as that would suggest that our work here is done. I guess the fact we want to continue writing and continue putting out albums suggests the “ultimate” Kontakte track hasn’t been written yet? To date, this new album is definitely the closest definition of our approach. The “space” suggested in the artwork is the kind of image we want our music to evoke in people’s imaginations when they hear the album. Somewhere, perhaps both bleak and beautiful.
What is your philosophy (on life), if any, that you live by?
To Move Through Negative Spaces, and to come out the other side in a better place. Simple.
Promo film for the KONTAKTE track ‘A Snowflake In Her Hand’. A transatlantic collaboration by the band KONTAKTE and Mexico-based filmmaker Patricia Flores.
All images and visuals © Patricia ‘Veruka’ Flores. 2010.
All music © KONTAKTE. 2010.
Taken from the album ‘We Move Through Negative Spaces’.
Drifting Falling Records. 2011.
Promo film for the KONTAKTE track ‘Astralagus’. The second film in the on-going collaboration between the band KONTAKTE and London-based film artists Twitching Curtains. This superb and sublime film was shot, produced and directed by Marko Waschke and Tony Charalambous in and around South London during 2010/11. Enjoy the ride.
All images and visuals © Twitching Curtains. 2011.
All music © KONTAKTE. 2010.
Taken from the album ‘We Move Through Negative Spaces’.
Drifting Falling Records. 2011
This is the full 8 minute version of the animation for ‘Hope…’. It is quite incredible as you will see. It was made by the animator John Davide in London between 2009 & 2011. Constructed over a light box using sand and various mixed media, this was quite an intensive exercise in patience and precision… his amazing efforts speak for themselves. Thanks John.
Images © John Davide. 2011.
Music © KONTAKTE. 2010.
Taken from the album ‘We Move Through Negative Spaces’.
Drifting Falling Records. 2011.
Pawn – Islet EP
To anybody familiar with Hideki Umezawa’s work as Pawn, his music is some of the most instantly recognizable in electronic music. A few things make Hideki’s work standout: his use of glass harp, his almost glitchy approach to editing field recordings, his delicate piano work. The term micro-minimalism has often been applied and with good reason: everything about this feels small and fragile. On this latest release for Drifting Falling, ‘Islet’ collects some of Pawn’s works between 2007-2009, and in places we see a refinement of his approach, while in others we see a developing of a few new ideas.
Album opener “Nap in Bed” begins with the sound of a single chord repeated and sustained to the point of decay over and over. The key to Hideki’s sound is how he layers other sounds around whatever is up front. The background is often the key and here we get: the sound of children’s voices, a gentle piano melody, and what sounds like tape hiss creating an almost rhythmic beat. It’s a lovely piece to intro the album and relies on usual Pawn trademarks but refines them a little by letting the piece breathe – it’s less busy. It’s a testament to a great artist when they can strip away their sound and find something fundamental, and that’s what we get with this one minute thirty second intro.
Second piece “Untitled” is built around Hideki’s lovely piano work. Again, if you strip all the background work away you would be left with a lovely piece for solo piano. Hideki relies on various field recordings, which are, as is often the case with his work, sounds from everyday life taken from within the home. There’s a definite thesis to Hideki’s work and it is found in his constant referencing in those sounds taken from everyday modern life – tea cups clashing against a saucer, water running, the hum of an air conditioner- that he is able to reveal this agenda. The approach he takes to each layer is often sparse, relying on a collusion of sounds rather than a static approach to song writing –as if he is exploring each piece as it unfurls rather than pre-planning a trajectory.
“Mistletoe” is even sparer in its approach, almost lacking a central foreground instrument to drive the song. Rather, it is a sparse affair of almost unrecognizable sounds. The glass harp sounds most prominent and the guitar work sounds fragmented. The overall feel of the song is the auditory equivalent of sunlight bleeding through a tree line overhead.
Then we get “Fall In”, a high-pitched, almost drone-like piece – something new for Hideki. We get the sound of rattling plates and cups, more birds, water flowing, what sounds like angelic voices creep in here and there. It’s a more unsettling piece. It’s a different side to Hideki’s work but also feels like a natural extension.
Then the album closes with “Micro, Sink” an older piece already included on the Kitchen EP. Although referred to as a ‘collected early works’, something about the inclusion of “Micro, Sink” feels like a miss-step. It’s a wonderful piece but not necessarily fitted to this collection.
‘Islet’, at only 20 minutes, does in some ways feel a little bit thrown together; there is no real narrative to the piece and narrative is such a big part of what Pawn does. Works like “Kitchen” and “Hum of the Library” took sounds from the places their titles referenced and used them as a premise for an album. An EP is a tricky thing and for a guy that does them so well, ‘Islet’ feels like it’s lacking something. However, if you’re looking for a few great songs in no particular order you could do far worse than ‘Islet’.
Available through Drifting Falling as a limited 3” cdr, and digital formats April 26.
– Review by Brendan Moore for Fluid Radio