The two other Somehow Recordings releases can be recommended without reservation, however. Japan-based Shaula, who's been issuing music under the name since 2009, makes a very strong impression with an eight-track suite of transporting settings titled Non_rem_sleeps. Working with a modest palette of guitar, piano, and electronics, Shaula produces meditations of fragile and melancholy character. In particular, the guitar, generally the most prominent instrument in the pieces, is liberally subjected to treatments, with it shuddering, looping, phase-shifting, and turning liquidy as a result. During the plangent “Macula,” a central synthetic episode is framed by delicate filaments of electric guitar, while ghostly guitar figures and piano whistle softly amidst tiny pops of static in “Origin of Mirage.” During “Opaque,” the guitar filigrees and electronics meld into a lulling waltz, the material breathing as gently as a classic Eno ambient piece. Spreading its wings for ten shimmering minutes, “Lepido” alternates between billowing clouds of guitar textures and the repeated voicing of a theme that's as melancholy as it is lovely. Throughout Shaula's splendid, fifty-minute release, hazy mists rise off of dreamscapes that are filled with spindly curlicues and plaintive melodies—ambient soundscaping at its most entrancing.
After a debut album on Under The Spire, "Haze", Shaula goes on with an EP on another UK ambient label, Audio Gourmet. Progress is in the air.
Two long tracks, both around 7:30, "Gate of fulfil" and "Gate of ivory".
Like on "Haze" the whole thing is quite mysterious and the second track could have been included on it with the coldness, the sense of mystery and emptiness. It's like long dark drone unfolding through a winter night even if at times something pulses but never reaches the surface.
"Gate of fulfil", the first track, is something else, meditative and built around delay and guitar, with warm pulsing drones behind, something like a bucolic Labradford, or the Stars of the Lid down at human scale. It is deliciously melancholic and emotional, much more open and welcoming than her previous work, but clearly as a prolongation of what she opened previously with "A butterfly deposit", on "Haze". Maybe it could be less static but it already looks like a big step forward, because she seems to have much more to say than before on such a track, more wonder and appeasement, a melancholic flowering which is not so far from the most introvert side of Sawako.
A dreary landscape and glum face pictures of the artist, Shaula build around herself an aura of mystery and misery, with dryness, asceticism and minimalism.
She is Japanese and doesn't belong to a particular artistic clan or local community and if we look at her favorite friendlist on myspace, she is a listener of typical post-rock (from Mogwai to Sigur Ros, from Jesu to Nadja, from Mono to Balmorhea) which could explain the coldness of her music, with an inclination towards ambient /electronic stuff with Basinski or Fennesz, which could be felt in the very personal investment of her music, the intimate and strong subjective dimension.
But all these names are not sufficient to resume and describe her music, far more subtle and particular as there is always a positive or negative gap between influences and composition and here the gap would be mostly positive on these first published steps, made of instrumental electro-acoustic drones tracks mixed with discrete field recordings layers in the background.
If I refer to her definition, she works with atmospheres and repeated loops as a way to capture her inspiration and her relation with the cyclic nature of a transitory life in general, no matter the scale you'll consider.
Even if it is a low scale release (150 copies), Under The Spire is probably one of the most adequate place for such music, as with their counterpart Hibernate Records, they become efficient pioneers for the publication and defense of a new emerging ambient scene.
"Haze" is not what I would call a love at first sight, and on a certain perspective, compared with the achievement of more experienced artistic peers, it is mostly a work in progress, and maybe later it will be considered as early works. The opening track is, as example, just gloomy, and all I can picture in mind is the vision of water percolating on the surface of a moss covered rock, somewhere in a dark forest, during winter. Not so exciting. But if you reach track n°2, "A Butterfly Deposit", fragile and celestial rays of sun finally touch your face and warm your frozen heart. Of course this use of loops will recall William Basinski composition but the similarity is just superficial and the sensitivity is different. There are tiny lights in the core of this track and they walk with you through cold winter weather during these ten minutes. You wake up with uneasiness and you force yourself on your way to work, keeping hold of later hopes. I think it is also the perfect background when you are in the middle of nowhere and it starts pouring down.
"ÿþ0" is really dark and depressive, I feel like laying on my bed, one rainy afternoon, unable to fall asleep or to move, lost in my thoughts, with the comforting delicacy of her composition. Though musically they are nowhere close, her darkness puts in in moods similar to the ones I experiences on Matt Elliott records. "Under a palpebra" would be the original soundtrack for deep sleep as not much happens except the slow deposit of dust. "Whisper Of Old Trees" is like the ghost of a shoegazer song, a fragment of melody stuck in memory, like if William Basinski was using a slowly decaying tape loop of My Bloody Valentine for a very engaging result, certainly a direction to develop for Shaula for a result not so far from what made Belong directly legendary after their debut album.
The next track seems directly more usual, stranded on sandbank, "Ghost Of Me" with floating guitar sounds on a loop of vinyl cracking noises, and the album ends on a transparent monochromatic "Sea of trees" which leaves no traces in mind.
As the track announces, the whole album seems suspended in haze and while not convincing as a whole it offers many promising directions I hope Shaula will be able to explore, dig more beauty from it and expose it to the light of the day.
Another enigmatic addition to Under The Spire’s roster, there’s not a great deal of information floating around the net to reveal any substantial background info on this new artist, although if MySpace profiles are to be believed, Shaula is a lady from Japan.
Far clearer and wholly more relevant is the quality of her music, which proves to be outstandingly good, even by the normal UTS standards. As has become conventionally the case with this label in general, the tone of the release converges on a richly melodic electroacoustic ambience, made from processed instrumental passages and more unusual recorded textures.
The most successful example of Shaula’s art comes with the ten-minute loop-based drift ‘A Butterfly Deposit’, whose delayed, wraithlike guitar harmonics and feathery hiss sculptures are about as close to unconsciousness as music gets. Elsewhere, the strange, manicured dripping noises of ‘Moss Light’ combine with airy drones to suggest abandoned buildings and decaying spaces and the folded guitar chimes on ‘Ghost Of Me’ overlap with Geiger counter crackle to great effect.
Haze seems to have come from out of nowhere, and you’d have an arduous task on your hands trying to shed much more light on the background of its author, but hopefully we’ll be hearing much more from Shaula in 2010. In the meantime, do try and snag yourself one of the 150 copies of this; it’s a definite highlight of Under The Spire’s impressive output to date – highly recommended. – Boomkat review
Shaula: "Shaula has the 'Haze' CD out on Under the Spire this week. It's lovely stuff. Just trying to find some info for him/her/them and I can't find zip. Well anything I truly believe is accurate so I won't bother making stuff up. Actually I've just found out in an e mail from Under The Spire that this is the work of a Japanese ambient/ shoegaze lady. Don't know if that's like being a jedi or anything but at least we've got a wee hole to place wee Shaula in now. I think this is one of the best things I've heard on the label so far! Loops of guitar over ambient refrains fill the air rather successfully I think. A Butterfly Deposit is my favourite track. It's delicious from start to end. A dreamy loopy guitarry ambient frag fest which will have even the most serious floaty lovers donning their ambient armour and blasting some serious ass with a droney railgun. Mmm.... I'm suddenly not making any sense. I could listen to this all day. Well nice... I'm having one of these!"
Norman records ..................................................................