Reviews

REVIEWS OF ‘WEIGHTLESS HOURS” BY NEU GESTALT

REVIEW ON IS THIS MUSIC (by Jonathan Muirhead)

(original review at www.isthismusic.com)

And so, the mayhem and bloodlust beginneth. Alex Tronic records say they are “proud to present Weightless Hours” and so they damned well should be. In an era of Simon Cowell and antiseptic pre-programmed wannabes, here is a slice of the real deal. This is 49 minutes of electronic soundscapes, a seething mesh of failed romanticism, dashed dreams and still, cold, slow-burning rage.

If Sir Ridley Scott should ever consider remaking Blade Runner, then here is the perfect soundtrack. This album is a subtle meditation on life’s little tragedies and mysteries, three years in the making and all the better for it. It is as if Portishead, Depeche Mode and John Coltrane had all been shoved into a blender, with too much black coffee and way too much cynicism and whisky. A dark, brooding delight for all doomed lovers out there.

(5 stars)

REVIEW ON BLOGCRITICS / SEATTLE POST INTELLIGENCER (by Greg Barbrick)

(original review at http://blogcritics.org)

There is a remarkable beauty in the music of Les Scott, aka Neu Gestalt, over the course of his extraordinary new release Weightless Hours. Three years have passed since the debut of Neu Gestalt, the nearly pure electronica of Altered Carbon. With Weightless Hours, Les Scott has created an album of almost indescribable beauty. His use of field recordings, such as that of the rain and other elements, in conjunction with more traditional instrumentation, puts Weightless Hours squarely in the realm of what is generally referred to as “electro-acoustic” music. It is a recording with a haunting ambiance that I find myself returning to over and over again.

Weightless Hours begins with the sound of water flowing downstream, interspersed with various sounds that eventually resolve themselves into a wonderfully poignant piano. The title of this opening track, “Toxicology” is unusual to me, as the sheer, pristine quality of it brings to mind just about anything but something ugly and toxic. One of the greatest elements of instrumental music is that it really is in the eye of the beholder, and frankly, whatever Les Scott chooses to title his compositions is in a lot of ways irrelevant to me as a listener. I hear what I hear, and the tones evoke moods and emotions in me that may have very little in common with the composer’s intent.

As the above paragraph shows, the music of Weightless Hours is in many ways very difficult to describe. The simple reason being that mere words are not really sufficient to explain the various feelings that this recording evokes in the listener. The good folks at Alex Tronic Records were kind enough to send me a copy of Weightless Hours a month ago, and I have listened to it dozens of times already. And I still find something new in it every time I play it.

As the press release mentions, “There is a singular obsession with detail and surface [in Weightless Hours].” This is absolutely true. The 12 tracks run for just about one hour, and rather than a “mere” collection of songs, they serve to tell a story. It is as if they are chapters in a book, each moving the basic plot forward, but all in service of the overall tale.

Certain tracks do stand out however, for various reasons. For example, the low-key, yet thoroughly engaging melody of “Cold Wave” is underscored with a perfectly-pitched sense of rhythm in the drums. This is a motif that is repeated often throughout the course of the disc, especially during “Saturn Park” and “On Haunted Shores.”

To these ears Weightless Hours first slips into the fascinating world of electro-acoustic music during “Winter.” The various elements that Les Scott brings into play are so perfectly meshed, it is hard to know where the “electro” gives way to the “acoustic.” Actually, the term “electro-acoustic” is a relatively new one, and is used to describe many different forms of sound. My litmus test is simplistic at best, coming down to that old saw, “I know it when I hear it.”

The mix of field recordings with both electronic and acoustic instruments could be reduced to a formula I suppose. But that is never the case here. “Sub Rosa” is yet another example of what Neu Gestalt does so well. It has the feel almost of an overture, yet concludes with a sort of a synthesizer-wash “cleansing ritual.”

“Aerial Eleven” contains the most foreboding of all intros, then relaxes into the beautifully spaced notes of Les Scott’s keyboards. The musical palette is soon enlarged with some of the most prominent effects on the album. Somehow the mood of mystery is maintained throughout the track, no matter which direction it turns. For some reason I am reminded of Ultramarine’s classic Every Man and Woman is a Star. Not in any overt way mind you, just in the emotional frame of mind it puts me in.

“Metaline” carries on in this manner most effectively, managing to evoke both the pastoral and the chaos of infinity somehow equally. With “Sheltering Skies,” the beauty remains, but like the earlier “Cold Wave,” an underlying beat is present as well. Earlier I mentioned Ultramarine, which was a reference intended for those who are familiar with some of the finest electronic music of the past 20 years or so. During “Sheltering Skies” I would like to mention another long-time favorite, again more for the sake of being a “signpost” rather than a direct “pinch.” This would be the unforgettable Fire and Water from 777.

Weightless Hours concludes with “We Who Walk Through Walls.” The haunting quality of the album as a whole is summed up in this title, again with a perfect sense of both irony and truth. It is as if the music of Neu Gestalt is an apparition, and a transcendent one at that.

I looked up the English translation of “Neu Gestalt,” and discovered that it roughly means “New Shapes.” Although the music is very different, I could not help but to think of Einsturzende Neubauten, which in English means “collapsing new buildings.”

Certainly Neubauten’s debut Kollaps did sound like the destruction of what came before. In contrast, Weightless Hours is the sound of new growth. It is as if the apocalypse has already occurred, and we hear the “sound” of flowers blooming out of the rubble. No matter what terms are applied to describe Weightless Hours, there is one aspect to it that overrides everything. That would be the positive energy surrounding the entire affair. There is no ugliness to be found here.

Weightless Hours is not the sound of what should be done to make for a better tomorrow. It is the sound of that better tomorrow, or at least the beginnings of it. Besides being such an admittedly “abstract” discussion of the album, I cannot help myself in indulging in a philosophical soliloquy about it as well. This, in essence, is the power of the 12 songs that make up the record. It is the result of listening to an extraordinarily moving hour of music. In the end, Les Scott has given us song titles, and even descriptions in the booklet of his inspirations for the various tracks. I have intentionally chosen to ignore as much of this as possible however, for what Weightless Hours means to me ultimately is what I wish it to mean.

For an album to allow one to take the listening experience that far is an amazing achievement, and Weightless Hours is well worth seeking out.

Greg Barbrick on 17 June

REVIEW ON EARTICKLES (by Baxter Tocher)

(original review at http://eartickles.com)

True story: Les Scott (a.k.a. Neu Gestalt) and I live in the same city, and worked in the same organisation, and yet we’ve never met. “Altered Carbon”, his début release, was an astonishing tour de force. Indeed, it’s one of my five favourite electronica albums ever. “Weightless Hours” has been three years in the making. That’s a long time by any standards. Given how much I love his first album, I hoped so much that I wouldn’t be disappointed. Thankfully, I had nothing to fear.

“Toxicology” begins with lapping water and breathy shakuhachi over band-passed crackles and phased synths. A glitchy pattern breaks out, underpinned by an immense bass. Simple piano notes are then draped over all of this, creating a fabulous contrast of acoustic and electronic instruments. It’s a cracker of an opener, signalling in advance how the album might develop. “Abandoned Cities” has a cinematic oriental feel, with melted shakuhachi notes warping themselves around a highly structured, intricate rhythm. On “Cold Wave”, a bright chiming pair of stereo synths lead us into a shuffling, loping beat, lurching relentlessly forward under reverb-drenched stabs and icy flickers.

“Saturn Park”‘ is the most rhythm-driven track here, liquid keys burbling as the beat is fuelled by odd synthetic springs and coils which fit perfectly. Again, there’s piano, though with much more reverb, and wide panoramic pads. Sublime music for daytime train travel, as the listener follows both an internal, and external, landscape. “Winter” is truly beautiful, soft notes suspended in pointed shards of ice as the music stutters and shivers; tiny aural snowflakes fall to left and right as a gentle beat builds. The half-way point in the album, “Sub Rosa”, is reluctant to give up its secrets; a pad shimmers above water and a highly complex organic rhythm, which crackles and spirals off into the distance, then somehow reassembles itself.

The second half begins with “Curtain of Rust”, which gives a nod to electronic music of an earlier decade, though this is dragged firmly into the present by an almost mathematical beat. It’s dense and multi-layered, with shakuhachi making a reappearance over a gentle series of metallic riffs, contrasting elegantly against the sound of water. “On Haunted Shores” evokes the ghosts of industry, as dead machinery pulls its sound across the decades into the present; it grinds and clicks, a forgotten memory projected onto a lonely, dark shore of minor pads. These two tracks together are the most reminiscent of “Altered Carbon”, albeit with more emphasis on rhythm, though with similarities in texture.

My favourite track here is “Aerial Eleven”. This is electronica at its most sublime and artistic. I defy anyone who says the genre has no soul to listen to this and not change their view. Beginning with a distant rumble, a muffled keyboard lays down a few plaintive chords. Suddenly we’re inside the most luscious environment imaginable. Fluffy pads push slowly forward and back against the gentlest of rhythms. Languid shakuhachi notes come and go. Metallic coils, organic noises and processed birdsong slither off to the sides. The effect is absolutely stunning, and unlike anything else I’ve heard.

“Metalline” has skittering, fractured textures overlaid with piano. Glitchy ticks zip off to the left and right, leaving the piano as a solitary island in a sea once calm, then less so. Metallic sculptures suspend themselves above the water, rotating and reflecting the light. Again, an extraordinary mix of acoustic and electronic instrumentation. “Sheltering Skies” is perhaps the most complex track here. An oriental rhythm pushes on through all manner of electro-acoustic sounds. Phased pads cluster thickly over a clean, delayed synth bassline. Layers of percussion are built up, and long notes are drawn out above these layers. It’s complicated and fascinating.

The final cut on the album, “We Who Walk Through Walls”, in contrast to the album’s title, is drawn in thick, heavy pulses of colour, with iridescent tendrils swaying above their roots in a futuristic glimpse of something unstoppable; never menacing, never rushing, but pausing for nothing and no-one. Dense pads are glued to an organic bass, and the music threatens to break up, but instead grows even more insistent. It’s a fitting conclusion to an absolutely stunning album. The visual icing on the cake is the sumptuous fold-out cover design, which carries some fascinating background sleevenotes together with black and white photography from Les, all wrapped up in an extraordinary design. It’s simply beautiful.

Baxter Tocher  on 16 June 2012

REVIEW ON RELAXED MACHINERY  (by Richard Gürtler)

(original review at http://relaxedmachinery.ning.com)

In Edinburgh, Scotland, based sonic architect Les Scott aka Neu Gestalt has just released during June 2012 his second full length album “Weightless Hours” through local Alex Tronic Records, a follow-up to his debut “Altered Carbon”, released in 2008. I am immediately amazed with the visual quality of the CD, which comes with stunningly designed artwork featured on 8-panel foldout insert, containing various pictures (with many appearing in tiny cameo) and extensive liner notes on release, used images and field recordings, which surround everyday’s life of Neu Gestalt’s sole protagonist. I really nice effort I must say, especially nowadays when the sales of physical products are lower. The first points were awarded already!!! “Toxicology”, unveils the journey with primordial ambience, enriched by water sounds and shakuhachi, crossed with hovering tech grooves and expressive piano sounds, and presents David Anderson as guest on keyboards and co-composer of this track. Nice intro! “Abandoned Cities” attract quickly with shakuhachi magics and gentle tribal tinkles, swirls and gurgles. Crystalline synthetic downtempos are precisely fragranced with sporadic hisses and organics. Shimmering world fusion electronica!!! Locomoting high-tech grooves of “Cold Wave” are seductively blended with circling, more dramatic, nearly cinematic passages, spiced here and there by mysteriously distant voice. Rather minimally carved, but maximally mesmerizing and visualizing!!! Relaxing downbeats overlap into “Saturn Park”, another richly and pristinely detailed composition. “Winter” enters into more atmospheric combo of modern classical piano, crispy grooves and cyber hisses and outbursts. “Sub Rosa” remains in slower, picturesque organic atmo zones, while the next piece, “Curtain Of Rust”, swiftly moves back into high-tech filigree chemistry of trance-inducing beat locomotions and pleasantly evocative moments. “On Haunted Shores” follows the footsteps of its predecessor, but piano, shakuhachi and glitches harmoniously join the stage too. “Aerial Eleven” is another stirringly exciting and absorbing trance-infused groovy soundscape. A truly relaxing hypermodern vibe!!! “Metalline” showcases highly polished synergy of aerial washes, post-classical elements and glitches, all masterfully wrapped into tremendously refreshing and warmly inviting mood. One of the ultimate highlights!!! “Sheltering Skies” venture into more active terrains, featuring all kinds of catchy swirling and tinkling sounds with cascadingly emerging nostalgic washes. Interplay of rhythms and atmospheres is hauntingly attractive here!!! The closing piece, “We Who Walk Through Walls”, again expertly blends various sonic outbursts, disruptions, pulses and twinkled drifts. Technoid exotica at its most adventurous!!! “Weightless Hours” skillfully explore very personal sonic visions of Les Scott, who has managed to bring to us superb work, musically, sonically and visually!!! This album will grow on you with every listening, and don’t forget your headphones!!! Highly recommended to all aficionados of downbeat/ambient electronica!!!

Richard Gürtler (June 09, 2012, Bratislava, Slovakia)

REVIEW ON TEXTURA (by Ron Schepper)

(original review at http://www.textura.org)

Three years in the making, Les Scott’s second Neu Gestalt album, Weightless Hours, covers an ample amount of ground in its twelve tracks, among them trip-hop, funk, and IDM-electronica. But, above all else, Scott is very much the electro-acoustic sound scientist, with the material speaking strongly in favour of his attention to detail and sensitivity to texture. A case in point is the opening piece, “Toxicology,” which sprinkles its melancholy blend of IDM-electronica and sound-sculpting with field recordings (water dribble), acoustic piano playing, strings, and the exotic wheeze of a shakuhachi. But it’s the next piece that is perhaps most revealing: in title and style, “Abandoned Cities” suggests that Neu Gestalt’s music could legitimately be seen as perpetuating the fourth world tradition associated with figures such as Jon Hassell and David Toop; it wouldn’t be hard to see their respective albums Fourth World Vol. 1 – Possible Musics, Hassell’s 1980 collaboration with Eno, and Toop’s 1997 release Spirit World as templates for Weightless Hours. It’s interesting, too, that one of the album tracks is titled “Sub Rosa,” given that one also could easily imagine the release being issued by Sub Rosa, a label well known for exotic open-mindedness.

The album’s material can sometimes seem like ambient music, given the ease with which it merges with the background in its most atmospheric moments. But a closer listen reveals that tracks such as “Saturn Park,” “Winter,” and “On Haunted Shores” include a wealth of detail that rewards one’s full attention. The echo of a pinging percussion instrument, the tinkle of piano, the near-subliminal scratch of a turntable, the flutter of processed sound textures, the incorporation of field-recorded train and water sounds—consistent with the very definition of gestalt, all such elements coalesce to form richly evocative moodscapes of intricate design. In addition, Scott often manipulates an instrument’s natural timbre until it’s rendered unrecognizable; fretless bass, for instance, is present on the album but almost invisibly, appearing as sliding harmonic motifs in “Sheltering Skies” and in fragmented form elsewhere. Scott hasn’t entirely shaken off the electronica style of his previous work, as is made clear by the Kraftwerk-styled synths in “Curtain of Rust” (even if the track also ventures into gamelan territory). Such material clearly shows how much Scott has expanded upon Neu Gestalt’s stylistic range in the new album.

May 2012 (textura.org) (CANADA)

REVIEWS OF ‘ALTERED CARBON’ BY NEU GESTALT

REVIEW ON RELAXED MACHINERY  (by Richard Gürtler)

(original review at http://relaxedmachinery.ning.com)

November 2008 marked the debut album of Neu Gestalt for Alex Tronic Records, both based in Edinburgh, Scotland. “Between Her Dreams” is leaded by dreamy, evocative washes, which are delicately supported here and there by slowly swirling pulses and crystalline glitches and hisses, all masterfully blanketed by warmly languid cinematic nostalgia. “Glyph” is slightly more dynamic with fragile, bubbling and bleeping effects, relaxing mid-tempo melodies and expressively blooming drifts. Welcome to the lush sonic garden of Les Scott, the sole protagonist of Neu Gestalt!!! “Convergence” is slightly more minimal moodscape, yet still packed with broad palette of gently flickering escapades. “Artefact” integrates again more active beats, hauntingly melted with glitchy ingredients and vivid piano and synthetic textures. “Fissure” dives at the beginning into rather mysterious terrains, but soon some minimal, cyber-tech noises backed by warmer washes take the lead. The next piece, “Frozen Ground”, comes with razor sharp synthetic rhythms that steal the show, I love so much these vibrant vintage sequences, warmly inviting and fully entertaining composition, attractively assembled with polished details, definitely one of my fave on this journey!!! The title composition “Altered Carbon” comes directly out of the cybernetic lab with fragilely lucid pulses and hisses wrapped by hypnotic atmo zones. “Trace Elements” unfold with cinematic washes and soon cascade into smooth, beat-infused terrains, always surrounded by crackles and nostalgic moments. Catchy electro beats take “Levitation” into the most active phase reminiscent of old EM school with some catchy, soft EBM elements thrown in. A really nice piece!!! It awakened some of my long-burried memories. “Conduit” keeps on the road influenced by German electronic pioneers of the 70′s and 80′s and precisely unites briskly pulsing beats with expanding aerial panoramas. “Within Reach” attracts with quite strange and unique texture featuring also some wave sounds, which originate according to the liner notes far from any shores. A very relaxing composition!!! “Paradigm Shift” remains in these sedative territories with sparse pulses and glitches and warmly spreading electronics and piano, evoking gorgeously cinematic landscapes. Pleasantly immersing!!! “Mars Talks Of Rain” enters into more minimal, cyberscaping realms with pristine sound effects and gently pulsing and swirling high-tech gurgles. Deeply effective and hypnotic!!! The closing “Fissure (Reprise)” with its soothing cyber-tech elements provides a very decent and tranquil outro. Les Scott is not only a skilled sound sculptor, but also a highly crafted visual artist. Stunning images and extensive sleeve notes on 8-panel foldout insert, detailing some creative processes of making music, are another bonus here, together with top-notch sound quality. “Altered Carbon” is moody atmospheric electronica at its finest showcasing the big potential of its creator!!! To me, Neu Gestalt is one of the hidden pearls of the ambient electronica realms!!!

Richard Gürtler (Jul 15, 2012, Bratislava, Slovakia)

ETHERREAL (by Fabrice Allard)

”As soon as you start listening to the album, you’ll realise that you are going to fall for ‘Altered Carbon’ for the wrong reasons. It is not the novelty of the pieces that attracts, but the feel for nostalgia and the sense that you share something with the artist.  For example, you will notice a strong inclination towards pure, almost clinical, sounds; the impression of perfection that they emanate; a passion for everything to do with emptiness; the sorcery of the unknown and the barrenness of huge spaces that Les Scott tries to convey here with drifting clouds and space-capsule sounds that travel through your head; and, finally, a definite love for dreamy atmospheres that can make you think of those other Scots, the Boards of Canada.”

“It’s difficult to link the album with any other.  Neu Gestalt lies halfway between ambient and electronica and produces a slow, soft melodious music set against rhythms which are noticeably present but are deep in the mix.“

“The foundation is pure synthesis, however the composition is speckled with crackles, granular noises, and textural sound effects like the surface impacts of meteorites, which give it edge and spice up the whole thing. Finally, a few acoustic flirtations are apparent; piano phrases on ‘Trace Elements’, and hip-hop scratches which occasionally surprise, but are perfectly integrated. This is the kind of album that will have you listening regularly; both quite immediate and with enough unexpected elements to remain original.”

Fabrice Allard 9/07/2009 (France)

SONIC CURIOSITY (by Matt Howarth)

“This music blends elements of ambient and contemporary EM with a touch of ilbient glitchiness to produce remarkably dreamy tuneage. The electronics are gentle and slippery. Background tones manifest as barely audible textures, tenuous approximations of the noise found between spaces. Keyboard-driven chords possess a languid presence, emerging in the sparse mix to express themselves with grace and generate soothing melodic enhancements.”

“Percussives are present, but not all of them are the conventional kind. Some rhythms stem from the applications of glitchy sounds looped to establish a tempo akin to flickering diode sparks. These beats are almost seductive in their softness. The more normal examples of percussion are similarly understated, relegated to a vantage deep within the flow where they flavor the music instead of driving it. The ilbient aspects exist in a carefully restrained equality with the other electronics. Their normal harshness is muted, making them immersed effects swarming under the surface.”

Matt Howarth – Issue 8/2009 (USA)

VITAL WEEKLY (by Frans de Waard)

“Behind Neu Gestalt is one Les Scott from Scotland, who dislikes almost all music before Anton Webern. He was a member of September’s Room, which was a duo and then a solo album as Anti-Matter, but under his new moniker returns to ambient house with both a big A and a big H. Slow rhythms, deep synth washes, sometimes a bit abstract, dub like bass. Its a kinda of music that I don’t hear much lately, although occasionally I pull out a Silent release or that excellent MeridianDream CD, whenever sparse time allows me. Which is why I liked this release. I think a decade ago I would have put this off as too much of a copy, but these days, when not so many copyists around in this field, its almost like an original again. Maybe the early days of a new revival? Maybe the title of this release is one that says it all?”

Frans de Waard 28 October 2008 – Issue 650 (Netherlands)

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