A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Vortex Ascent – Shine A Light

dordogeditI’ve been working on some longer pieces about some notable releases, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to catch up with some submissions.

The nice thing about Forestpunk is that it’s still small and intimate enough to get to all the submissions i receive (eventually). While it may not be immediately obvious what atmospheric jazz has to do with black metal & hardcore drum ‘n bass, that is part of what it’s like, being a music obsessive in this day & age. A large part of the Forestpunk project is learning how to listen across boundaries; to have large, satellite-radar ears-to find the heart of every genre, so as to be better able to identify the gems, and sort through the noise.



a3679180061_10Vortex AscentShine A Light

Label:  self-released (Bandcamp)

There’s a lot of music out there. It seems like every direction you turn, someone is clamoring for yr attention, looking for 15 minutes of yr time to listen to the their latest single. It’s like the DJ segment of Portlandia – too many creators, not enough listeners, not enough hours in the day. A large part of being a modern music journalist is merely taking the time to listening to what is out there, to act as curator as well as cultural reporter.

As this condition deepens, you will see collectives and compilations become ever more prevalent and important. Shine A Light, by Vortex Ascent, is both.

Vortex Ascent is a collective of solo musicians, from around the world, mostly found in the UK, but branching out as far as Japan, South Africa & France. Spanning 14 tracks, they also range from Lynchian carbonite jazz to trancey, colorful electronica to acoustic singer/songwriter. It’s an eclectic ride, like hopping continents in the Tardis. There’s a lot of music, and not all of it works, as you might expect from such a vast swathe. But the recording, songwriting and arrangements throughout are all fully-accomplished, fully-executed, worth a look and a listen, worth considering what these idealists are saying. It shows an interesting patchwork cross-section of where musicians minds and hearts are, today.



Vortex Ascent seem like they are coming together over art and self expression, redefining the idea of what it is to be a band. Along the way, they have incorporated poets, photographers and film-makers, showing themselves to be a force to be reckoned with. Overall, i prefer the electronics over the smooth jazz. Tracks like the album opener, “Dodging Bullets” (posted above) has a satisfying, wide-angle immersive effect, with warm pulsing ripples of bass hypnotize you, while nearly angelic vocals cry, siren-like, over the waves. It is genuinely beautiful. Sets you up nice for his duet with Sarah K. Panton, “This Unknown”, an acoustic piano ballad. Here, they need to be careful to not overdo it with the digital reverb, which can get an icy edge to it and swirl out of control. Panton’s got a lovely voice, it would really benefit from some high end EQ and some additional mastering.


There is a digital sheen over this whole record, which places both cinematic techno and bluegrass music alike in the uncanny valley. One thing i find is that listening to too much digital music for too long can tire out yr ears, so as this collective progresses further, i recommend they spend more time in the mixing phase of things, get their hand on some analog gear or plug-ins, warm up their music a bit.

My first favorite track is the Beirut-like chiming folk of Sygnet‘s “Dream Lover”, which might be “Wagon Wheel” sung by Alison Krauss, but beautifully recorded, with some flourishes like glasslike organ drowning yr head, while birds and frogs twitter and hum in the distance, making a truly atmospheric blend of electronics and folk. Sygnet has what it takes, is seriously good, and needs to be watched out for.



Shine A Light by Brian and Nigel Homer was the first single i heard off of this record, and it’s a winner. It’s another one that is gentle and heartfelt, truly chill dance music, with big fuzz bass and epic hand claps, meeting ringing, echoic rock guitars. There’s a cool bassline, too. The vocals rain benediction upon this world. The Homer’s aren’t afraid to be epic, with some Cure synths in the breakdown even, and they totally pull it off. Slow enough to be sedate; energizing, while cooling yr blood.



Gila Chaya & Derek’s “A Walk In The Park” is an odd beast. On one hand, it borders on terrible cool jazz, but it manages to fall to the other side, towards ghostly roadhouse blues doom jazz. It redeems itself, though, and ends up being a truly tremendous track. I’m sorry “A Walk In The Park”, i judged you incorrectly, at first. The trumpet gets that Sanctuary-muted Miles tones, while the organ plays like Audrey’s theme song, and again with the treated bird sounds. Field recordings really do a lot to give a sense of space and realness to digital recordings, give them life and depth. The drums are supremely, satisfyingly opiated.



My last favorite is the most out there of the bunch, David Flochlay‘s “La Dame Blanche”. It’s the one that sounds most like horror movie music, like a cross between lost and lonely Eno, Tangerine Dream and Kitaro. The synths are warm and lush, even managing to sound antiquated. This is dusted, cracked New Age music, with plastic strings and horns announcing the arrival of the Queen. Could be a soundtrack for Gandahar, or The Last Starfighter‘s requiem. There’s some really unexpected freak-out guitar, towards the end, while Gabriel sings. A truly great head record, that synth freaks will really get off on.



There’s some more good tracks on here, and some that i don’t like so much, but i recommend you hear it. Shine A Light is a large collection of passionate individuals, dedicated towards broadcasting. Art is an inherently optimistic, creative force in the world. We are all trying to make the world a little bit more like how we see it. Vortex Ascent are bringing people together, making an eye in the information blizzard. Their music is warm and chill, exciting and passionate but still downbeat. Big ups for the tip-off, and know that our antennaes are tuned in!



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