CD Reviews

Friday 20th January

January 21, 2012

Well I am glad that week is over. Bit of a tiring one. Two days off now that I plan to spend driving about either in the company of, or off to visit nice people. Tonight though I have listened through three times to a new release on the Gruenrekorder label credited to a duo named Merzouga, who are  Eva Pöpplein and Janko Hanushevsky. The album, titled Mekong Morning Glory is a blend of various field recordings made by the pair during a trip along the Mekong river in the countries of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in 2008 and electric bass parts played by Hanushevsky, with everything merged together at a later date.

The sounds are perhaps what you might expect from such a journey. We hear a watery blend of river sounds, fauna, wildlife and birdsong mixed with waterfalls, chimes, voices, the ubiquitous children at play, traffic, music and more, though it should be said, nothing that really ever surprises you. The field recordings are layered and sequenced tastefully, and with just one or two exceptions the different recordings slowly fade in and out of one another, arriving unobtrusively and departing the same way. There is one nice point in the recording when the sound of the roaring river gradually builds to quite dramatic levels and is then cut off suddenly, obviously edited, without hiding the fact, returning and disappearing abruptly  couple more times. The sense of drama this smalls action creates though is something of an island amongst an album of otherwise pleasant but unexciting natural recordings.

Now, I have been known to criticise albums of this kind for not attempting to engage with the field recordings somehow, so I am probably being a little hypocritical here, but I really struggle to enjoy the way that the electric bass is blended into the mix. It varies quite a bit, from chiming plucked notes to deep moaning tones to sheer bowed sounds, but the tendency is for them to be used as a kind of wash behind, or inside the field recordings, another layer in the drift of pastel toned colours. If the merged field recordings lean a little too close to new agey ambience to me, the added bass sounds don’t help the situation. What is missing from the entire album is a raw edge, a sense of danger and ugliness, and the bass sounds don’t help all that much. While clearly lovingly collected, technically excellent and spotlessly pieced together, Mekong Morning Glory just all feels a little anaemic to me, the soundtrack to a National Geographic documentary rather than an expressive musical work. Its always hard to say exactly what I would have preferred to have heard on discs like this. Perhaps some ugly, painful sounds, a greater mix of dynamics, sounds up close placed beside more distant ones, pretty, gentle sounds offset by sharper, surprising ones. Witht he exception of the aforementioned moment with the torrential river sounds, its all just a little predictable and easy on the ear, a common complaint I personally have about this kind of a project I know, but I don’t see why it should always be that way. So, not really to my taste, despite the beauty captured in many of the sounds. Others’ mileage may of course vary.

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