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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stendeck - 'Sonnambula'

Artist: Stendeck
Album: Sonnambula
Year: 2009
Label: Tympanik Audio
Genre: downtempo, ambient, idm
Website: http://www.stendeck.com

Packaging: 5.5/10
It looks like I was correct about Tympanik getting a bigger budget for artwork. Like the recent ESA album, ‘Sonnambula’ is a 2 fold digipak. It has very minimal artwork: photos of branches and deep red leaves. The artwork is very crisp and clear, and it fits well with the music but there isn’t much to be found other than several pictures of basically the same thing.

Composition: 8/10
‘Sonnambula’ feels to me like an upgrade of Stendeck’s previous work. Many of the trademark characteristics reappear on this album: the lush & emotional pads / atmosphere; the clunky, quasi-noise beats with IDM stylings; and the beautiful, poignant melodies. For one that has heard previous releases, it will be obvious upon listening to ‘Sonnambula’ that you’re listening to a Stendeck release, however it is hardly a carbon copy. The pads are still huge and emotive, the melodies are perhaps even more beautiful in their crystal clear mixing, and the beats are still clunky and teeter right on the edge of fanastic vs. out of place (although, I feel like the much improved mixing helps the beats to sit properly in the mix and thus gel with the rest of the elements and thusly the tracks sound more cohesive than previous efforts). For the most part these tracks are all awesome. Most of the tracks are slow moving pads playing over a mid-paced IDM-ish beat with the occasional melody drifting in and out. Some tracks have ambient passages with no beat, and the focus shifts to the heavy, melancholic atmosphere. And then there are atypical tracks like ‘Admira and Bosko (Love During The Time Of War)’ (oh yeah, once again he employs the reaaaally long titles.) which is a piano ballad. Everything that is presented on Sonnambula is done very well, and Stendeck’s talent and experience is undeniable. A lot of this album conjures up the feeling of walking through a park on a rainy Autumn afternoon. Bleak, but at the same time there is a sense of surreal beauty. The closest comparison I can make is to Kattoo, although I think this is a lot better. The atmosphere can be very vaguely compared to acts like Arc Lab or Lights Out Asia or maybe Dryft or Gridlock, but less futuristic/mechanical.
My only qualm about this album is that it really sounds too ‘same-y’. Nearly every track is very similar. Case-in-point, I was listening to the CD in the car with a friend of mine:

Friend: yeah this is pretty good
Me: yeah it’s great, but it all kind of sounds the same. How many tracks do you think we’ve listened to?
Friend: What do you mean? Just this one.
Me: This is track 4

Now, the style and tracks are without a doubt good, but when nearly every song uses very similar beat sounds/style, similar sounding pads and melodies, similar tempo…than you get the idea, it starts to blend together. I would’ve liked to hear more tracks like the aforementioned ‘Admira…’ to break up the same-ness and to hear Stendeck experiment with different types of atmosphere and styles of composition.

Production: 8/10
The production on ‘Sonnambula’ is definitely a big step up from previous releases. The melodic elements are quite clean and wide sounding. The beats are still a bit noisey and raw, but they are mixed much better and sound thicker, and consequently they mesh better (though there is still a strangeness about the juxtaposition of the beautiful clean music and the raw beats…but I believe this is intentional and it works rather well to show two different faces of one mood).

Artistic Merit: 7/10
Not too different from previous Stendeck releases, but in my opinion that is a good thing, as there really is not enough of this kind of music.

Flow: 8/10
Well, as I mentioned above, most of the songs sound really similar, and so for that reason it flows pretty well. One thing I will clarify is that instead of sounding hella repetitive, this album comes across more as one of those 1-track/60-minute albums. That’s not so bad, as I own a few of those and listen to them occasionally. So on the one hand you may get bored after 5 tracks, or you may really want to live in this atmosphere for 17 tracks and thus this becomes a positive trait.

Overall Rating: 7.5-8 /10
If you like sad, predominantly beat-driven, highly emotive electronic music that contains a literal ton of talent and conviction than please buy this now. Although I recommend planning on being depressed for at least 60 minutes so that you’re able to enjoy this entire album in all its melancholic splendor.

I wish there was a more diverse set of territories explored here, however what is presented is so good at what it is that I can almost overlook that.

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