Thursday, August 25, 2016

Album Review: White Sun II by White Sun

White Sun II is the sophomore album from world fusion artist White Sun, who fuse both modern and indigenous instruments with transcendental sung lyrics. Comprised of eleven compositions, the album was produced and mixed by Adam Berry who also plays guitar, keyboard and bass. Additionally, Adam is the co-writer of the songs along with Gurujas, who provides lead vocals as well as plays harmonium. Also joining the lineup is Harijiwan on Gong, Mamadou Diabate on Kora, Abbiman Kaushal on Tabla, and Gabe Witcher on Fiddle. A gospel choir lends their voices to a couple of compositions.

From the opening piece, “Gobinday Mukunday”, an atmosphere is conveyed of being inside a sacred shrine or temple, which sets the overall mood for the rest of the album. Indian tabla drums underscore the composition along with the classical touch of a fiddle, and a West African stringed instrument called a Kora. One gets the sense that something ancient and powerful is being invoked here, as Gurujas sings phonetically beautiful lyrics in a foreign tongue – her iridescent voice echoing throughout the halls of a vast and open space. Moving into the equality enthralling, “Ajai Alai”, Gurujas’ vocals are surrounded by an opulent arrangement of contemporary and exotic instruments that create a harmonious bliss. Her voice soars softly like a translucent arc of light towards the end of the piece, as if to draw one’s attention skyward in some kind of reverence. “Chattra Chakkra Varti” is another particular highlight in which a mesmerizing enmeshment of electric guitar and kora are enhanced by Gurujas’ meditative voice. Likewise stunning is “Dhan Dhan Ram Das Gur” – another soul-enriching piece led by an enveloping arrangement of vocals, percussion and mellifluous strings. Another personal favorite is “Akal Instrumental”, in which improvised elements emit a beautiful auditorium effect. Free of rhythm or vocals, the guitar and kora take center stage, as one might easily imagine the sights and scents of temple décor, incense and candlelight. This piece is followed by the equally mesmerizing, “Akal”, where Gurujas’ mantra-like intonations are surrounded by additional layered and harmonized vocals. Concluding the album is “Ik Ardas Wahe Guru” – a gently uplifting and celebratory piece that additionally features a gospel choir.

While I certainly enjoyed White Sun’s debut album, I am completely captivated by the breathtaking melodies, vocals and instrumental arrangements on this follow-up release. A sincere conveyance of depth, richness and soulfulness is present here, while effectively avoiding common clichés and nuances. The compositions’ detectable influences of Indian, African and middle-eastern music – combined with western vocals singing non-English lyrics – seem to culminate in a listening experience that feels inherently universal and transcultural. Outstanding from start to finish, White Sun II easily sits among this year’s best world fusion albums!

Available at Amazon and other music retail & streaming platforms.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Album Review: Beneath A Darkening Sky by David Arkenstone

Recorded by candlelight during the winter season, Beneath a Darkening Sky is multi-instrumentalist and award-winning composer David Arkenstone’s boldest foray yet into dark neoclassical and haunting ambient terrain. Comprised of seven tracks spanning just under an hour, the compositions vary from seven to nine minutes in length. Composed, performed and produced by David Arkenstone on electronic instruments and synthesizers, as well as old-world instruments, he is joined throughout by Luanne Homzy on violin and viola, along with Susan Craig Winsberg on flute and Irish pennywhistle.

“The Fog” opens with earthy drones and hazy choral intonations as the piece gradually unfolds throughout. Anticipatory and foreboding while perhaps hinting that one is making their way through the fog of a dark forest, a pulsing bassline and tribal percussion soon follow along with the medieval sound of a harpsichord. The composition's shadowy mood continues on “The Deep Desolation”, where deep metallic echoes resonant like that of old church bells. These enchanting elements are soon accompanied by what sounds like a cross between Gregorian chant and a male opera voice, interlaced with shimmering and suspended oscillating strings. Next is the “The Storm”, which picks up more dramatically, imparting an ominous feeling that someone or something is on the arrival, as windy gusts and crashing metallic tones mimic lightning and thunder. Beautifully chaotic and disorienting, powerful drums seem to signal a heavy downpour, conveying the sights and sounds of twisting and winding tree branches among the blackening mists. “The Moonless Midnight” alludes to the phase of the new moon, when the night sky is the darkest. This composition conveys a dungeon atmosphere, as low drones and vocal intonations reverberate throughout its ghostly halls. A humming rhythm with the accompanying sound of a hang drum follow; one perhaps feels like they’re making their way through a secret tunnel beneath a medieval castle – torch in hand and all – while possibly trying to decipher cryptic writings on the wall. A cold winter’s eve is conveyed on “The Ice Forest”, a piece that feels distinctly Celtic with its added textures of wind and string instruments. Appropriately dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien, “They Are Coming” boasts a cinematic soundscape of dark fantasy where mythical creatures populate a cavernous underworld. Opening with more windy gusts, “The Wind From the North” is the album’s final chapter. Swelling strings and minimal percussion lend themselves to the composition’s encapsulating suspense, until the eerie sound of a church organ signals its conclusion amidst swirling chilly timbres.

Magnificent and outstanding from beginning to end, Beneath a Darkening Sky is one of the most phenomenal albums I’ve heard all year, and easily sits among David’s finest works ever. He has incorporated many elements from both his Ambient.World and Music Inspired by Middle Earth albums – both of which are two of my personal favorites – while imbuing this latest masterpiece with an even darker, bolder sound. An undisputed genius at creating highly visually-stimulating and soulfully transportive concept works, Beneath a Darkening Sky is a must-have album for any Arkenstone fan, as well as those who love darker ambient, neoclassical and fantasy film music! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon and other retail & streaming platforms.