pendro

Review of Cousin Silas and Pendro ‘The Audio Scullery’

Submariner-in-Chief Rob reviews the recent work from Cousin Silas and Pendro:

The Audio Scullery is the latest collaboration between Cousin Silas and Pendro – an interesting joint venture on several fronts, not least perhaps the perceived difference in styles: Cousin Silas, a musician I tend to think of as melodic and accessible, and Pendro, who I generally consider to be a more dark and experimental sound designer. I am famously poor at identifying genres (not ideal when you run a netlabel, but hey-ho) but I would say this joint album could legitimately be described as dark ambient. It’s definitely dark, maybe not as full-on scary as Pendro’s previous album Figmentland, but certainly ominous and unsettling in places.

The album opens with the fabulously inventive Silence of Rooks. Full of foreboding, with strange bird calls, and an insistent booming drum that propels it along, not unlike the orc drums in the mines of Moria.

Altogether lighter, my favourite track is The Tempered Isle. A floating synth pad provides a bed for free jazzy piano chords followed by sublime fluid jazzy bass figures, with incidental sounds and noises laced through. It genuinely wouldn’t sound out of place on Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way (except I suspect Miles would have wanted to add at least some trumpet.)

New Aurora that follows is a shifting soundscape of electronic bleeps and glitches, reeling and reiterating, drifting in and out of focus. Part of the beauty of this track is that it’s particularly nicely judged; the noises never overwhelm the track as a whole and don’t overstay their welcome.

Incubators is dark. Properly dark. Washes of noise, unidentified animal sounds. Even the addition of analogue synths halfway through doesn’t lessen the nightmarish qualities. It’s not clear what the titular incubators are for, but whatever it is that’s being incubated, it isn’t human.

A slight reprieve from the darkness, Mandrake Drift is a meditative, floating ambient piece, full of reflection. A Glacial Swell that follows starts in a similarly ambient fashion, all resonance, almost redolent of Buddhist singing bowls, across which Silas’ haunting eBow guitar cuts through, rather like a solitary uilleann pipe.

Morphology is a soundscape, mournful and glacial. Here the sounds are slow and stretched, and dotted with radio interference, and the album closes with the fittingly entitled The Exit Road, but it’s far from a happy ending. It’s a discomfiting drone, with ghostly, disembodied voices bathed in echo. Maybe the exit being referred to here is an exit from this mortal coil?

So, feel-good background ambient music for yoga and Pilates this is not. It’s a brave and sobering listen, with Pendro’s trademark attention to textures and sound-staging. It’s thought-provoking, occasionally startling and if you enjoy your ambient dark and unsettling, you’ll find this entirely rewarding.

You can hear and download The Audio Scullery from Pendro’s Bandcamp page here.

Review: Pendro/Figmentland

Pendro is the name of Tim Jones’ experimental music and sound design project. He released his latest album, ‘Figmentland’, in March. It’s unapologetically experimental, but that’s no left-handed compliment; it’s a fiercely creative album, full of textures, cinematic sound-staging, and even emotion. It’s also an album that rewards repeated listens as familiarity with the basic shape allows some of the deeper layers to be exposed.

The album opens with ‘Stalking The Floating Brass Jaws’, brash, startling and uncompromising, effectively setting the tone for what is to come. The track includes repeating sequences of treated metallic clangs, one of several motifs that will re-appear several times during the course of the album.

The following track, ‘Black Moths’ is rhythmic and insistent, with burgeoning, distorted beats and almost dub-like echoes trailing off into the ether. The track ends with chilling synthetic wails and screams. Moths that flew too close to the flame maybe.

‘Over The Fire Glade’ that follows, starts all slow and swirling, with textures overlapping. It’s worth noting that the whole album warrants headphones to truly appreciate the ingenuity of Tim’s sound design, but particularly in this piece, as themes and motifs chase each other from side to side and front to back. The tone here is ominous, almost monstrous. This soundscape is teeming with wildlife, and possibly not all of it friendly.

The highlight of the album is the epic ‘Turquoise Lagoons’. The piece starts with a bed of gamelan-like bells, chimes and gongs, which are gradually blended with industrial scrapes and hisses. Several minutes in, the gongs give way to clarion alarms and bird-like shrieks, and the track starts to turn dark and foreboding. Like emerging from a tunnel, towards the end the gamelan starts again, this time backed by soothing major chords. The track ends peacefully enough but it’s definitely been a journey.

Just as the first track set out Tim’s stall, the final track ‘Descent To Silver Valley’ is a fitting close to the album. It’s probably the most accessible track on the album, a meditative flowing drone, with numerous textures all interweaving and rising to the surface. Then, just as you begin to think the album is closing with an air of optimism, apocalyptic bass chords fade in, unsettling and desolate. Happy ending denied.

This is an album that demands active listening; it’s not background music for cooking or dinner parties. But for the listener who can dedicate an hour, they will find their investment very well rewarded.