Review: Celephaïs – Grey Dawn, Quaint Gardens

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Ordo Viatorum surprised us first with the split between Neugeborene Nachtmusik and Onont Kombar, to us they seemed like an off-shoot to Enfant Terrible at first – though they share common ground in a lot of aspects – this label is run by Jeroen Holthuis and Maurice Hermes. The label is even more experimental, if that is even a possibility. The second release to be reviewed on Repartiseraren came out in November last year, and features the first album of the duo Celephaïs – Ian Martin (Kaval, Opfer) and Jeroen Holthuis, titled “Grey Dawn, Quaint Gardens“.

We were sent a physical vinyl (limited edition of 300) which is remarkable in all its simplicity, but more on that later on in this article, as we’re about to show you the full layout of the release itself in the pictures below.

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Gladly enough, there’s nothing negative to report about in the shipping process, everything looks pristine and is working as intended. So here’s where PostNord actually didn’t screw up in terms of delivery, a once in a lifetime experience. There are two more pictures which feature the A-Side and the B-Side of the vinyl itself, which can be viewed down below, and then we’re off to the aesthetic aspect of this release.

The aesthetic aspect of Grey Dawn, Quaint Gardens

It is clean, easy on the eyes and beautiful in its own particular way. White and black, some hints of light brown on the vinyls themselves, and the insert almost looks like a Rorschach-test. There’s always been hints of different colors beneath the black and white facade that Ordo Viatorium have portrayed before this release, there are subtle notions of something else hidden away that you’d have to look for before even finding it.

Even though the aesthetics aren’t that pleasing when it comes to the cover, it is simply because it is not something we’ve grasped and can relate to in any way, it feels like a profound release when viewing the package as a whole, but be wary of catching a mind-virus, as it feels like looking at something resized a million times as if it was originally viewed through a microscope.

Those kinds of aesthetics are not off-putting, but it is subliminal in a way that we cannot fathom – but the artists themselves had a clear intention of putting images in our heads – and that goes perfectly well with the music. It’s pretty standard for any experimental release to have something that doesn’t adhere to the norm – but it has rather become the opposite – that experimental aesthetics have set their own norm – which isn’t touching your soul in the same, rebel spirit as it may once adhered to.

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The musical aspect of Grey Dawn, Quaint Gardens

As described earlier, this duo consists of Ian Martin and Jeroen Holthuis, both of them are no strangers to experimental electronic music. Ordo Viatorum is proving to be a viable platform for these projects to flourish, without the help from the outside and little to none recognition, which is wholly undeserved. The musical experience these two possess is what reveals itself in this debut-album, “Grey Dawn, Quaint Gardens“, now we’re going to delve into it as per usual – on a track-by-track basis – for the review.

Undreamed Dreams” is a paradox in itself by name, but it adheres to the concept in the title of the track, a dreamy and ambivalent soundscape set in motion by a hushed electronic motion that steadily creeps in on you. A boat that never reaches harbor, a train that huffs and puffs like the old days but never stops on a platform – a continuum between awake and asleep. It is a ghastly feeling to be caught in a limbo, the more you notice the vague and sensible touches put in there by the artists, the more uneasy it feels listening to it.

We conjure the most horrible thoughts, as time passes by this is where time stops for a while and feels like an eternity. Not even on the second track yet, and we’re not even upset because of boredom, but it is upsetting to be drawn in and latched on to musically – it feels like never letting go, a constant reminder that you can only affect as much of the world around you, but it doesn’t make a difference in the end. There are some beautiful nihilistic tendencies which gives off a cold, stale emotionally charged vibe.

The music itself is as if ambient were re-occupied by the greatness of Tim Hecker’s earlier material once again, just in a completely different setting. It is very European in style, and delivers what can be construed as a thoughtful but menacing barrage of noisy synthesizers, simple but provoking droned out sounds, abhorrent ringing sounds and rambunctious arpeggios – a wake-up call on a Sunday evening that Monday is tomorrow.

Resentful Of Awaking” is being hit by the sunlight when you just want to pass out, another day to tackle with inane activities. What becomes clear after two songs in is how accurate the titles are, they have not just been made up out of the blue, like most ambient songs have – they actually reflect themselves into the music, as it have reflected it back when first being named. This one is more beautiful in a calming fashion, though some of the sounds manage to send a chilling feeling down our spine. If we’d hear this every time we’d be waking up, we would’ve been filled with energy and optimistic about the rest of the day.

There is a certain nerve of darkness that smothers itself upon you, when the rain hits your window and you’re forced to endure walking through it on your way to work. When the music is so thought-provoking in different ways, and you can just soak it in – doesn’t matter if it is negative or positive – you know the musicians have succeeded. It is an art form if you manage to pull so many strings, so many nuanced feelings in between that can’t be written in words, that you should be aware of what talent you’ve amassed.

Damp Stone Spiral Stairway” is the best song overall on the A-Side of this vinyl, nothing beats the constant brooding, deep base tone that makes your head spin round and round like the vinyl itself on the turntable. You may feel nauseous, you may be a bit dissy after hearing it – but when paired with the flair and urgent sounds in the background – the atmosphere cannot get any better. Having built upon a solid ground, this uproots on itself and heads upwards, through the mountains. Have I ever wanted to witness Aurora Borealis in sound, this is it – or at least close to one of nature’s phenomenons – it is almost as if they’d want to mimic something like that with the sound.

When paired with the whole audio-visual experience, this song becomes even better and should solely be watched together with this video, even though it definitely holds up on its own. Some of the best combinations of ambient and experimental electronica in general that we’ve heard for quite some time.

Red-Roofed Pagoda” starts off with a whirlwind of buzzing sounds, spaced out electronic music and a more industrially-oriented paved way musically. There’s more surprising elements fused within the music itself, and chords that feel like they are going somewhere – rather then laying the emphasis on a massive atmosphere – it is more compact and solidified. It is heavy on the ears but not antagonistic in any way, there’s a seriousness that isn’t fading out any time soon, an urgency to deliver a musical message or show the way, despite what you think of it in your own mind.

Had there been any vocals on this one, they’d be suitable for power-electronics and industrial, but more so the last genre. It is almost as if there will come something that reminds you that it could be power-electronics or noise music, but they discard that run-at-the-mill option and go heavily into other territories of unexplored synthesis. An eye-opener for anyone interested in those genres, as it is most often invested in what came before but not on what comes next, or what could be morphed into something in between all of that.

A Violet-Coloured Gas Told Him” is by far our least favorite song, it doesn’t swing the rope as high as the others and instead falls short. There is a short way to climb, but this is as if something was concocted in a laboratory, where the main focus wouldn’t be on establishing anything to bridge over from the gap the last song left, to the song after this one. Unfortunately it feels bland and uninspiring, though some moments of it leaves more to the listener in terms of experience.

Here’s where they jumped ship for the first time, there really isn’t anything that makes you feel anything. If that is the point – then they’ve succeeded – if not, then they’ve failed miserably, unfortunately. We’ve tried to listen to it multiple times, but it barely gets interesting on the end of it, but then we’re all deaf ears.

Good thing to be caught up in “They Seemed To Gallop Back Through Time“, as it saves the evening, literally. Despite being the last song on the vinyl, it proves to be a great outro as well as a song, heavily invested in intangible themes and a compromise between atmospheric electronica and the more industrially oriented side of Celephaïs. There are also some oriental vibes caught in between all of this, but as they fade out it begins to get more scarce with that. Then – all of a sudden – they jump back into it, more outdrawn and less stoic, more psychedelic and with a vengeance.

What do we think of this album all-in-all? It is probably one of the greatest debuts we’ve heard in these genres, and we’re interested in what will happen in the future for Celephaïs. They provide you with something different, even though you hear similarities with other artists and groups, but they don’t affect your judgement when listening to this. To get the ultimate experience, you definitely have to get the physical edition of it, the vinyl – from Ordo Viatorum. You can listen to some of the full tracks from this mix Jeroen made for SEER 334, down below.

 

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