“Bittersweet Melodies” reviewed by Fuild Sonic Fluctuations

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Today I’m back with a Fluid Label Focus on CRÓNICA on this blog. And I’ve got an excellent album by a familiar name for you. This is the album BITTERSWEET MELODIES by RAN SLAVIN, released on CRÓNICA in 2016. Miguel was so kind as always to send me a review copy of the Limited-edition CD version which comes with some lovely artwork by RAN SLAVIN himself. This Limited-edition CD comes packaged in a two panel gatefold cardboard sleeve on which you can find the cover artwork on the front, album credits, tracklist and copyright info handwritten into the artwork on the back. The spine lists the same info as on the cover in text as well as adding the full CRÓNICA name and year of release.The inside of the sleeve features some gorgeous photography blended with layers of painted washes of colour that give the artwork a surreal look. The CD itself is housed in a flap on the right panel and features the CRÓNICA logo, catalogue number, artist name and album title and CD logo on a blue circle background which is cut off slightly to reveal a metallic edge of the CD around as a border. 

Before listening to BITTERSWEET MELODIES, I’ve revisted RAN SLAVIN’s 2004 release on CRÓNICA, Product 02 which featured a pretty varied selection of pieces, often with a cinematic sound created by layers of vinyl music samples, glitch elements and electro-acoustic manipulations. BITTERSWEET MELODIES (which was compiled from musical material that was originally intended for a release on th Mille Plateaux label) finds RAN SLAVIN working with a similar approach but with more subtle and slower progressions embedded in the 12 compositions on the album. Indeed most of the 12 tracks have a more “song-like” atmosphere in them but composed as melodic washes of multi-layered cinematic soundscapes that all fade out, like a collection of melodic memories, moving towards a more rhythm based sound towards the end of the album. BITTERSWEET MELODIES starts with SATURDAY’S DATES, a piece that admittedly takes some time to get into. Built around an evercontinuing synth drone, the piece features lo-fi crushed glitchy percussion that recalls early 90’s IDM / Braindance percussion. The progression of the piece is very subtle with only slight changes in the percussion and melodic background over it’s 6:09 length, the extra notes added over the drone in the second half as well as changes in the sound of the percussion do add some nice evolving elements to the piece however. It’s definitely very trance-like in nature so in that sense it works well. Then we have CATEGORY: MURDERED ENTERTAINERS which has a kind of “late night café” ambience to it, created out of (mostly) jazzy vinyl music samples as well as some Middle Eastern samples which add some film soundtrack like surrealism to the mixture, feeling like waves of music coming through the open door of this late night café. RAN SLAVIN varies the melody he’s created using the samples in a very fun rhythmic manner and the vinyl crackle and bell samples all add there own kind of little details of “percussion” to the music. The dissonant combinations of music samples do however also add a sense of mystery to the piece which adds a good dose of intrguing to the music, very nice. On DISRUPTIVE LOUNGE, SLAVIN moves into more abstract glitchy territory with more manipulation of the vinyl samples, weird squelchy pitch shift effects and crackles. Indeed referring to the track title, it’s a bit like multiple record players in a lounge have started to take their own lives and freely manipulate whatever music they are playing in strange quirky ways, sounds very fun. FAKE SUNSETS is an extended sonic vignette build up of a stuttery drumloop over which Middle Eastern music samples and sharp synth notes are laid creating an ambience that feels both meditative and alien at the same time, intriguing sonics in here. On DUBAI DAWN we have vinyl samples with similar Middle Eastern strings but the sound of this piece is much more abstract with the samples stuttering, tumbling and glimmering around the sonic stage. Combined with crystallized samples and choppy female voice samples an atmospheric space is created that is very much Glitch based but in which the melodies from the Middle Eastern music still resonant and create an ever continuing loop of one point in a musical piece like freezing a moment in a situation in time and magnifying all the details in the environment around you. The heavily chopped drums that pop up at some point in the second half are even a bit reminiscent of Breakcore but in a very subtle way. SAD BUT TRUE is a piece that reminds me more of Product 02 in its style, a continuous kind of droning stream of layered melodic fragments and glitches combined with crackles like lo-fi sea waves and tense mysterious tones. The piece holds a continuous feeling of uncertainty that is made more “human” through the glitchy textures by the piano samples. Mellow “hollow” glitchy samples in the second half form stabs that subtly reference Dub Techno too however, making the piece also feel a bit like a leftfield beatless atmospheric Techno track too. Very intriguing again. SINATRA WAS HERE features some hilariously off the wall Plunderphonics techniques that come straight out of the blue. It is indicative of the more light hearted sound this album has at times compared to the more diffuse / abstract Product 02 release. The piece follows a pretty simple structure, being based around a looping Latin American music samples that is layered with all kinds of other quirky maninpulated music samples, some pitch shifted, some chopped up heavily. The main returning phrases in the samples are Latin American melodic patterns performed on guitar that perfectly fit the main loop. The piece as a whole is an enjoyably odd musical collage but the slight roomy sound to the music still adds a cinematic edge to the music that SLAVIN’s music often has. THE PINEAPPLE ASSASSIN moves into more Techno influenced territory with a low bouncy kick and filtered subdued vinyl samples and mechanic crackles and rhythmic structures. Subtly evolving in waves, the music reminds me of Jan Jelinek’s turntable works but with the mysterious melodic edge SLAVIN’s like to use. The music is calming but never without its hidden secrets. COLLAPSING MELODY features some classic styled abstract swirling Glitch work accompanied with subtle repeating music samples laid on top of what sounds like the field recording of a quiet almost empty café. A nice shorter piece with plenty of enjoyable sonic manipulation within. On FAST MOVING CIRCUMSTANCES we have a lo-fi Downtempo groove combined with swirling streams of music samples, again with prominent bell sounds. The piece has a minimalist Techno feel to it too and the swirling phaser effect on the samples gives the music a deep and trippy feeling. A hypnotic entrancing piece of music that also carries mystery and an intriguing “nostalgic” vibe within it. Desert New Buildings has a lot of Techno in its sound signature with 4×4 drum patterns giving the music a strong drive and the sharper, more hi-fi sound of the samples makes this quite a jam really. A very fun mixture of intriguing music samples and a fat driving beat. DISCREET FEATURES ends the album with an equally driving Techno vibe and actually feels a bit like what the “hi-fi” version of a Lo-Fi / Outsider House track could sound like. The metallic drums, Dub Techno styled melodic samples of especially the first half recall that sound, in the second half however the music moves into a more subdued wave of filtered droning music samples. The samples recall material used on Product 02 and RAN SLAVIN seems to be particularly fond of bells and harp music samples but fortunately it feels rather more like music from an alternate universe rather than recycled material. The intriguing filtered music loops, rhythmic crackles carry that sweet sense of mystery in it that I really love about RAN SLAVIN’s music so it’s a great ending to this album.

BITTERSWEET MELODIES showcases RAN SLAVIN more easy going and at times less abstract sound, with a more prominent focus on melodic and rhythmic structures that feel very organic and human. The 12 tracks all subtly evolve in waves of enjoyable melodies and grooves that are both calming and inspiring the imagination. I would definitely recommend this album not only to fans of SLAVIN’s other music and cinematic experimental music but also listeners who are into the more underground, Dub or minimalist styles of Techno with a strong sense of inventive sound design with a personal touch. Fans of Glitch and Turntable music will definitely find a lot of enjoyment in this album as well, so I highly recommend you to go check this out.

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