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Al Fraser, Sam Leamy and Neil Johnstone - Album Review: Panthalassa

17 Sep 2019 // A review by Trevor Faville
This trio of highly experienced creators (aided by an impressive cast of guest contributors) have created a suite of sonic explorations with quite clear ‘‘abstract and impressionist” intent. The attendant press notes explain in detail the scope, intent and process of this work. Conceptually it has been thoroughly thought out, and carefully executed.

Suffice it to say that this is a collection of work that is epic in scope and ambition. As its essence they have taken recorded sounds from hydrophonic recordings, and carefully blended in electronic instruments and a range of taonga puru. Two of the pieces feature vocals sung in Te Reo Maori. While the intent is clearly programmatic, there isn’t an overarching narrative sense as such. It feels more like a series of snapshots of a vast., sullen and unknowable landscape. A quick look at the geological definition of the title of this collection reveals a lot.

The titles of the pieces also say a great deal (Paleozoic Dawn, Glacial Imprints, Echolocution),the overall effect is quite non-human, the ‘human’ quality comes from the use of taonga puru, and occasional sung Te Reo - once again empahsising an otherworldly distance from the listener. The skill in the creators is apparent here, the blend is such that it is rare to be able to hear something that is specifically produced by a person. The blend of ‘natural’ and ‘human’ is pretty much seamless- a powerful aural metaphor of environmental awareness- given one of compositional intentions is to reflect on “the potential loss of this environment”.

The key elements are that of timbre, and careful slowly evolving structures. It's the sound of immeasurable forces meeting immovable objects, sudden explosions after aeons of pressure, the sound of ancient alien landscapes with unsettling calms and epic explosives- mountains fall into oceans, watched by giant silent sea creatures. As such, this most certainly does not belong in any ‘relaxing ambient’ playlist and in all likelihood sits right out on the edge of the ‘popular’, but listeners to whom “rock’ includes some of the explorations of Eno (listen to Zawinul/Lava from Another Green World), Bowie, Cale, Can, et al might find themselves on relatively familiar ground. Then, add the work of Varese, Stockhausen, Cage and that particular brand of New Zealand's electronic composers from the 1950's/60's like John Rimmer and Ross Harris, and you could get a sense of some reference points musically (possibly) and conceptually (more likely).

It's all in here. On one hand, not an easy listen, on the other, it's a very easy one indeed - and certainly a rewarding one. Panthalassa as a whole is like the soundtrack to a movie you don’t need to see. There are echoes of the original electronic composers in that sense of an emotional distance which is simultaneously the most alienating and compelling part of this work. It's like looking through a telescope for a detailed view of something a very long way away.
Rating: ( 4 / 5 )

Other Reviews By Trevor Faville

Shivers - Single Review: Runaway
09 Jul 2021 // by Trevor Faville
This is the second release from Shivers since the group evolved in Wellington in 2018. Founders Adrian Win and Timmy Porter are at the heart of the sound, but Runaway involves a larger cast of contributors-notably drummer Rick Cranson.
Simon Hirst - Single Review: No Turning Back
13 May 2021 // by Trevor Faville
Hamilton Singer-songwriter Simon Hirst has released a new single No Turning Back. This is his first new material since the Feet of God collection from 2018.
Marsha - Single Review: Last Night
28 Apr 2021 // by Trevor Faville
Marsha’s history dates from 2018 or so, and Last Night is the latest release for these "four dudes from Christchurch". It's an accomplished track - a considered melody and thoughtful vocal arrangements are an early and immediate take-away.
Indie Soull - Album Review: The Book of Angels
17 Mar 2021 // by Trevor Faville
Indie Soull is the working name for much-travelled author and musician Mutch Katsonga and The Book of Angels is his latest release and forms part of an extensive catalogue of work that stretches back to 2016.The Book of Angels is an eight-track album including two versions of the final song The Lord Taketh Away that projects the voice of an experienced, mature and considered singer-songwriter.
Emily Rice - Single Review: Over Time
10 Dec 2020 // by Trevor Faville
Emily Rice is an experienced singer/songwriter with considerable international experience and perspective. Working with We Stole The Sun, New Jungle Order and Aro among others, her prior work has garnered the stamp of approval from artists of the calibre of Kimbra-no-mean-feat.
Imperial April - Single Review: Tonic For Your Boredom
21 Aug 2020 // by Trevor Faville
This is the second release from Christchurch combo Imperial April, that has evolved in a new direction from their origins as The Response, with Victoria Ropp taking an upfront role on vocals. As such, Tonic for Your Boredom is a further refinement - and step up from- previous release Peachy.
Venice Qin - EP Review: Dreamboy
29 May 2020 // by Trevor Faville
Venice Qin is an Auckland based singer and Songwriter. Dreamboy is a four-song collection and is her first release.
isunray - EP Review: Balancing Act
09 Mar 2020 // by Trevor Faville
isunray essentially consists of multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Hay, who has quite an extensive history of songwriting, arranging and producing. For this release, he is joined by vocalist Jade Eru, who makes a powerful and significant contribution.
View All Articles By Trevor Faville

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