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Cassette Only Release



I have been writing about ambient music for many years, as it is the still under-appreciated genre I MOST find myself able to get immersed in. From those heady early days decades ago when Brian Eno contextualized a new sound that could function as either foreground or background and that would serve as “a tint, an atmosphere,” as he put it, rather than something you had to experience in a traditional listening mode, to the myriad of variations the genre sprouted in the modern age (Ambient Jazz, Ambient Classical, Ethno-Ambient, Dark Ambient, space music, et cetera ad nauseum), I’ve been riveted by the endless universe of sound that the misleading term “ambient” can encompass. I honestly can’t think of another musical banner, excepting maybe “indie rock” or “art rock,” that will accommodate so many types of music. It’s because of how the music is supposed to FUNCTION for the average listener, the fact that it needs to be workable as background music, but also to reward close listening, that helps it to live up to Eno’s definition.

TARANOYA (promotional image)

Imagine my delight, then, to come across the Iranian born, Portland-based female composer/vocalist/producer Taranoya (Taraneh Schmidt), whose new release
BECOMING is just about the most enthralling thing I have heard this year. It’s all dreamy, drifty, ethereal soft vocals, most of it essentially wordless although there ARE some intended lyrics, floating through beds of gentle droney synthesizer. Reference points don’t immediately come to mind… some of Liz Fraser’s aesthetic on the Cocteau Twins’ VICTORIALAND disc in particular would be one door in. I also was reminded here and there of a Kranky label artist named Jessica Bailiff, as well as scattered tracks from other ambient artists who’ve utilized feather-soft female vocals in the background. But what we have here is an entire album’s worth of this sumptuous sound, and it’s pretty singular in my view. And singularly PRETTY, without ever being vacuous or saccharine. That’s no mean feat, and it speaks wonders for Taranoya’s soulful, deeply contemplative vibe. I am almost shocked at how blissfully haunting this recording is, and how it manages to avoid nearly every cliche of the genre. Releases in this sonic terrain can sink rather rapidly if the lyrics are too upfront and take you out of the dreamy web you want to get stuck in, or if the instrumentation veers too much into the “new age” realm. Without wanting to irritate fans of new age (and I have some records that would fall under that banner myself), I am experienced enough with this kind of stuff to be able to tell the difference between New Age and Ambient, something that connoisseurs used to argue about on the net, back when these things were viewed as more consequential. What many of us viewed as new age seldom stood up to late-night scrutiny, as it aims for the lightest and most undemanding of moods while being generally quite restricted in its ambition, with some exceptions. Taranoya’s BECOMING, my friends, is very definitely AMBIENT music, and that’s a compliment. It’s lush, lulling, pastoral dream music conjured by a woman who seems to intuitively know that heading right for your subconscious, the place you inhabit when your intellect is turned off, makes for a far more satisfying sound experience than adhering to the parameters of the more typical offerings in this ballpark.

TARANOYA (promotional photo)

I personally LOVE music that appeals to a sort of “half asleep” state, and has a quality of being totally removed from mundane or stress-induced concerns, the kind we all battle daily. “Accidents” is eight minutes of beautiful keyboard drone that invites you to get comfy, serves you a fruit-infused beverage like nothing you’ve imbibed before, and then puts you at rapt attention as your charming host murmurs things to you that you can’t quite hear but you don’t care… her voice hypnotizes you and pulls you right into a place you would be happy to just never leave. “Heavenly” is an overused adjective in the ambient world, but… this IS heavenly, mes amis. What Taranoya’s voice does between 4:27 and about 4:43 on this track may be the single most beautiful moment I’ve experienced in a piece of music this year. The whole track is a wonder, really. A little bit of spoken word at the end adds to the feeling you’re in a partial dream state sitting in a cushioned chair at the airport or something. “You’re Only Breaking Down” is an even longer track, commencing with a Cocteaus-style flourish before Taranoya goes full feminine vocal allure in the middle of the mix. It’s like hearing your favorite cat purring happily, with neither one of you inclined to move even a smidge from where you’re currently located. And I was awestruck by the artist’s discipline to keep the keyboard sounds so subtly in the background, never showing off for even a moment. The dream state rules here, aesthetically. Works for me!

“Thinking About You” does get a shade more familiar initially, with the main synthesizer being not too far removed from the odd Tangerine Dream release or even early Pink Floyd. But from about the two-minute mark on, the sort of “otherly” ambient strangeness we fans always hope for kicks in, and Taranoya proves once again she’ll opt for originality and the sonic multi-verse over any formula or “non-genre” tenets. I was fully spellbound by the time this track was over, and knew I’d be a fan of this gal from here on out.

TARANOYA (promotional photo)

On “Let the Air,” the vocals are the most “conventional”; you can just about hear some actual words and there’s a touch more normalcy if that’s what you prefer (love the ending, though). And “Do I Return” has what is clearly a piano, not some obscure synth setting stumbled across in the wee hours of the morning when otherliness rules in the studio. It’s still very pretty. But the long track “Wake Me Up Rush” returns to the killer combo of Taranoya’s ethereal voice and the airy synth settings she tends to favor, with a low-frequency drone entering stage left at about the four-minute mark that adds some unexpected gripping energy. Subtle variety in a tapestry of sound that is uniformly lulling, is what makes this set something of an ambient classic, ethno-femme division (“fembient”? “womenbient”? What moniker should we give, exactly, to characterize the sub-genre of ambient where a deeply compassionate and yes, angelic female presence, is at the center of the sound? And is that even worth pursuing?). I’m in love with this music, and I thank this spellbinding artist for truly forging some new territory on BECOMING. Taranoya strikes deep… into your life it will creep, if you decide to check this out and float away among the clouds of bliss that this very visionary and wondrous artist has to offer.

TARANOYA (promotional image)

(BECOMING is currently available as a limited edition of 100 cassettes, as well as the obligatory digital download)




So… ya say that you were the only guy on your block (in your town?… in your state?) that bought Lou Reed’s METAL MACHINE MUSIC and actually played it more than once and – above all else – understood it? Okay, tough guy, have I got a release for you – the latest in minimalist metal from Adel Souto, a self-described “writer, musician and troublemaker,” whose musical nom de plume is 156. TAKING A LOOK AT A MOMENT LOST has a pots and pans, anvils and chains, everything-in kind of sound, very percussive in the best possible all-metallic way. This is the heaviest metal I’ve heard since “Weapon Training,” the opening track on Throbbing Gristle’s THEE PSYCHICK SACRIFICE in 1982!

156 mastermind Adel Souto (uncredited photo)
156 mastermind Adel Souto (uncredited photo)

Souto’s web-site ( calls his 156 alter ego an “industrial junkyard outfit.” Okay… works for me. Whatever you wanna call it, TAKING A LOOK… is totally abrasive and gratingly beautiful. “Fading Images” starts things off with tinkling chimes, reverberated and phased into a ringing background drone, with a creep-inducing disembodied chant that may keep you up way past your bedtime. On “And the Crowd Calls For His Head,” the drone takes on the wail of a ship’s call horn, while the percussive impetus seems to be coming from finger cymbals and the hinges of large metal doors. “Expand and Contract” takes the previous track and ratchets the noise up to 11 before morphing into “Leaving Without Dinner,” a more sedate track, with chimes, gongs, cymbals and what appears to be rattling bones. For only the second time, the sound barrier is broken on “Blasting Away,” with what sounds like a kettle drum or large trash barrel crashing through the less-than-two-minute piece. “Compression” could be the same instrument but, as the name implies, run through a (possibly analog) sound compressor. The dynamics of the track lay within the silences. The final tracks work as sort of triptych of loud/soft/softer blasts of droning background noises and clangorous percussion. “The Midnight Hour (May Day)” sounds like metal-on-metal, run through that compressor with echo effects seemingly melting the “beats” together in a hypnotic dissonance. “About To Kowtow” is quieter and sounds very much like an anvil, a dishwasher and a metal sander vying for attention under an incessant headache-inducing whistle. “The Midnight Hour (All Souls Day)” is, perhaps, the quietest track here, starting with the sounds of what could be religious censers being lit by matches before erupting into a dive-bombing white noise cacophony of cicadas.

So, if you’ve got the guts for this kind of music (or if you’re an adventurous soul), you’d better get your order in fast… TAKING A LOOK AT A MOMENT LOST is released in a limited edition of 100 here: Don’t dawdle!