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Handwrist - The Golden Swan CD (album) cover




Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.96 | 5 ratings

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4 stars Handwrist is the name of a psychedelic/space rock project from Rui Botelho Rodrigues from Portugal who has released 16 albums since 2012. His 16th album is also his fourth one released in 2019, August 2019 to be exact, and is called "The Golden Swan". As is usually the case, Rodrigues plays most of the instruments on the album, but in this case, he has recruited the help of 6 other artists to help with the brass instruments on the album; saxes, trumpet, and clarinets. There are 4 total tracks here that have a total run time of over 42 minutes, but the album is more like a single song divided up into 4 parts.

The album is all instrumental except for some vocal sampling created to make choral effects. It is also meant to be a concept album that depicts the rise and fall of an ancient civilization. Originally, Rodrigues wanted to use a choir singing, narrating the story in Basque as it is a language that best reflects a more ancient civilization. Because of monetary restraints, the composed lines that were meant for the choir are done by other instruments both real and virtual. For the most part, Rodrigues says that the performance is 90% MIDI and 10% sampled accents or details, not counting, any improvisation that is done with real instrumentation. The hope is that someday, he will be able to reproduce this as it was originally intended.

"The Barren Age" (8:15) begins with dark keys which soon pick up speed and are underlayed with synths and organ. Soon, a sax comes in, the mood turns somewhat jazzy and then becomes more complex with sounds from layers of keys and the MIDI creating different patterns, and then the sax starts to improvise over this. The music then gets much calmer as a chord sequence is initiated in the piano and then more layers of keys, guitar, saxes and percussion all come together in a busy sound of what probably represents progress, the building of civilization. Dissonance results from contradicting music layers.

"The Golden Swan" (13:00) begins with organ backed by piano playing a chord progression, and other keys joining in. A clarinet playfully swirls around the chords as it continues. The feeling of orchestration definitely becomes apparent as it continues as the MIDI and other instruments try to recreate the original intention of the composer. The music remains somewhat intentionally focused to recreate a sound of people all going about their business, a jazz flair is created by the wailing sax and clarinet and all of this is layered into the overall sound. Shades of Zappa come in as the track approaches the middle as the sound resembles a score from Contemporary 20th century classical styles like FZ used to create on his synclavier, but the sound is more realistic in this case. The one fallback is that it is harder to recreate the dynamic of the orchestra, but you can at least hear how brilliant this would have been if recorded the way it was intended. Again, layers of sound and instruments both contradict and compliment each other as various themes and melodies come and go. At nine minutes, things become smoother and then later, the sax comes back in improvising around the chord sequences and other sounds as layers get added back in again.

"The False Idol" (8:57) begins with pensive synth programming and piano soon comes in. A sudden increase in speed takes the music whirling around in piano and synth, with guitar coming in later. The music calms a bit, becoming jazzy and pastoral while percussion sounds rattle around in the background and the guitar takes over for a while. Just before 5 minutes, the music shifts and becomes more march-like and even regal. A funky, yet disjointed, jazz background comes out of nowhere and the crazy percussion and guitar meanderings come back. Then a sudden explosion of a more upbeat jazz-rock fusion takes off with the sax blaring along with it all.

"The Cleansing Fire" (12:25) begins with a dark, dissonant waltz style with layers of keys and some nice clarinet playing. This gives way to a more minimal section with the piano mostly alone, and then joined by more keys representing orchestration again. These orchestral sounding sections are some of the best sections on the album and one can imagine how awesome they could have been with an orchestra. Organ-like keys take over when the music quiets again while the piano continues to play behind it, suddenly bringing life into everything when the chord progression speeds up and the sax plays above it all. Layers build up as the repeating piano sequence continues and pushes things forward, but then there is a sudden end to this as another orchestral section begins as interpreted by the MIDI programming and other keys.

The compositional aspect of the music is excellent, and it's a shame that this couldn't have been played as intended, with orchestra and the choral section. It is apparent how much better this would have sounded, but at least the listener can hear how well done the music is put together and then imagine a full orchestra and choir doing it all. The music is top notch, the recreation by the keys and by programming loses a lot in the way of realistic sound and dynamics which can't be recreated as well as with the real thing. Though Handwrist has created some great psychedelic rock in the past, this album can't really be considered that style so much as it is a more orchestral type album. The music is enjoyable and there is a lot of complexity going on here. The only thing bringing it all down is, as can be expected, is in the virtual instruments and not the organic instruments. I can still give this 4 stars, because the composition is brilliant, and at least we can imagine how great it would have sounded with the intended instrumentation.

TCat | 4/5 |


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