Nicklas Sørensen : Solo 2

Nicklas Sørensen most recently blasted dreamy, psychedelic swaths of guitar on Papir’s 2017 record V. Within that Danish three-piece psych rock outfit, Sørensen can go from post-rock stoicism to 60s fuzzed-out freak out in seconds flat. He’s erased those boundary lines that seemed to box in the “guitar hero”. Jazzy introspection, distorted wah wah, and progressive lines all meld into his style. That’s what makes his playing(and Papir for that matter) so unique and vital to modern rock.

In 2016 Sørensen released his first solo LP, titled Solo. It was an all-instrumental record that showcased his ability to use the guitar for more than heavy riffing and mind-melting. He created crystalline soundscapes and motorik-driven heady guitar tracks that veered from early Satriani to Robert Fripp-like perfection, while still retaining a “long drive on a summer night” vibe. He pushed the solo guitar record to a new level.

Nicklas Sørensen is back with his second solo LP on El Paraiso Records titled Solo 2. This time around he recorded the album with Jonas Munk in his Odense studio and the songs are a mixture of Sørensen’s fluid guitar loops and Munk’s analog synths(with some electronic rhythms thrown in for good measure.) The results are a tour-de-force of moody composition and otherworldly vibes.

Like his first solo adventure, the songs on Solo 2 are simply titled as numbers, like “2.1.”, “2.2”, and “2.3” and so on. It’s 6 tracks of slightly ambient, slightly psychedelic, and all-encompassing melody. “2.1” starts the album off on a Brazilian flavor, like some neo-futuristic Charlie Byrd doing his best bossa nova in outer space. The deft rhythmic touches, layered guitar lines, and the ethereal synths that float over the proceedings give the song an almost trance-like feel. This is what I’m talking about when I say Nicklas Sørensen erases those guitar hero boundaries. “2.2” opens with a simple guitar loop to which some melody counterpoints are added. Pretty soon simple percussion is thrown in with some light synth touches that give the song an almost 80s feel. As the song progresses you begin to get lost in the ether as guitars upon synths upon more guitars layer into a wall of beautiful drone. If NEU! had recorded with Richard Dashut in 1982 they might have sounded like this excellent track. “2.3” goes into a more contemplative space. The track itself gives off this sepia-toned feel; aged and weary of the outside world. It puts me in mind of the Brian Ellis & Brian Grainger album At Dusk with its guitar-meets-existential-drift vibe. It’s simply gorgeous.

If you’re listening to this on vinyl, dear readers, now would be the time to flip your record. As we make our way to side B we’re welcomed into this alternate musical reality where heady synths wisp around our heads as psychedelic guitars whirl in the air. “2.4” is carried along with electric piano and fluttering guitar notes that sound as if they’re playing in reverse. The space-y vibe is grounded by the tasteful fretwork of Nicklas Sørensen. Despite all the beautiful ornamentation, this is a guitar record don’t you know? “2.5” opens with a guitar line that puts me in mind of The Motels, but then we’re treated to some Michael Rother vibes in the psychedelic guitar lines in the background. Munk adds distant synth to fill in any gaps that may have needed to be filled. With headphones on this song will ease you into a much more calmer state of mind. “2.6” is all galactic vibes, like you’re looking over the fourth Chrystal Lake of Jupiter as a black hole is swallowing your mind. It’s a beautiful thing, really. Wavering drones slink in the distance as Sørensen plays some extremely tasteful guitar over everything. There’s a real Mark Knopfler feel to the tone of the guitar, but that’s before everything dissipates into a sea of ambient synth.

Nicklas Sørensen continues to push the solo electric guitar record to new levels. With the help of Jonas Munk he even bests himself this time around. He touches on Berlin School headiness and even Steve Reich roams the halls of this excellent LP. Solo 2 is a guitar record for both the musically intellectual and the person looking for some music to keep them company on a long car ride. You don’t have to dig deep to find the treasures here, but if you do you will be rewarded.

8. 2 out of 10

Transatlantic Chill : The Hazy Significance of Billow Observatory

by J. Hubner

Photos by Jonas Munk

When words like “ambient” and “atmospheric” are brought in to describe a band’s music you may have the urge to yawn, stretch, or leave the room. Visions of purple clouds, slow motion shots of a falcon flying in a dusky sky, or Tibetan streams running along wooded views accompanied by a Yamaha DX-7, gated reverbed electronic percussion, and maybe some muted “oohs” and “ahhs” may begin to form in your mind. Please erase all of that from your brain because what we’re about to talk about invokes none of those new age-y tropes, but you may just elevate to the astral plane just the same.

Billow Observatory is a transatlantic music duo that consists of Auburn Lull’s Jason Kolb and Causa Sui’s Jonas Munk. Their music is very meditative and, well, atmospheric, but in a really trippy, hallucinogenic way. It’s electronic music that gives you the feeling of falling slowly through space or internally like some existential trip to find oneself. Both guys have chartered similar territory in their main gigs(see Auburn Lull’s Cast From The Platform and Jonas Munk’s Absorb Fabric Cascade for wonderful examples), but in Billow Observatory they find this beautifully positive space to let the music grow and expand to epic proportions. There’s elements of Eno-esque drone, but there’s also a shoegaze-y element that brings the music to earth.

Kolb and Munk released the first Billow Observatory long player in 2012 and have just released that album’s follow-up, the excellent II: Plains/Patterns on Azure Vista Records. I threw some questions at Jason and Jonas and they were happy to lob some answers back at me.

J. Hubner: So give me a little background on Billow Observatory. How did you two start this transatlantic musical partnership?

Jonas Munk: It all goes back to a post-surf hangout in Oceanside, San Diego 13 years ago. I was chilling poolside, having some good tequila with James from Darla Records (home of Munk’s past ambient project Manual and Auburn Lull) and Jesus from Spanish label Acuarela Records. We were all talking about how good the latest Auburn Lull record (Cast From The Platform) was – in fact it’s still one of my alltime fave records – and Jesus suggested we did a Manual/Auburn Lull 10” split EP for his label. The split EP never happened but it did get me in touch with the band and we started working together in 2005, if I remember correctly.

J. Hubner: What is the inspiration behind the ambient electronic tones you two create? Are there any particular albums you guys are pulling influence from?

Jonas Munk: I can recognize aspects of a really wide range of stuff in our music, but on this new record some of our all time fave ambient, minimalism and shoegaze albums have definitely had an impact on the final result. Eno’s more melodic collaborations (Evening Star, The Pearl,  Apollo), everything by Roedelius, Cluster, Slowdive’s Pygmalion, Aphex Twin’s SAW II and Stars Of The Lid. All the classics we’ve loved for decades basically! But also more modern electronic music (at least ”modern” 15 years ago) such as Pole, Jan Jelinek and the whole Scape catalog is something I’ve been listening to a lot for the past few years while working on this album.

Jason Kolb: In addition to everything above, I’ve been through a few pretty intense Kompakt and 12K phases in the last few years.  I also re-discovered and became totally obsessed with EAR’s The Köner Experiment, which may have subliminally influenced me a bit on this record.  Some of my earliest big influences were Nick McCabe (early Verve songs like Endless Life), Slowdive, and Eno’s Discreet Music, so those types of sounds always seem to creep in to whatever I’m doing.  

J. Hubner: It’s been a little over four years since the debut Billow LP. With II: Plains/Patterns, there seems to be a little more light shining in than the last time around. Did you two approach this album differently? Was the writing/sharing/recording process ongoing over years?

Jonas Munk: It was a little different this time around. First of all Jason suggested we started working with rhythmic elements – whereas the first album was produced without any tempos at all! That is, we didn’t sync anything to a grid. We also discussed adding more recognizable synth patterns and a wider palette of sounds in general. The first track we worked on for this album was Plains, and that really set the ”tone” of the entire thing. It just felt like a really inspiring starting point for a different kind of record.

J. Hubner: Can you walk me through the process of creation between you and Jason Kolb? How do these pieces usually start? Are you both playing guitar and synth, or are you to delegated to a single instrument? Maybe you could talk a little about the process for the track “Plum”, which I absolutely love. 

Jonas Munk: For pretty much every single track Jason would send me some guitar loops and different manipulated sounds and I would add to that and start building around those ideas and eventually send them back to Jason to add more stuff on. Actually I don’t think I’ve touched a guitar while making this album, I’ve mostly been adding sequences, rearranging things, added electronics and the occasional bass line. This actually is a bit unusual for us and for me personally as well – which is probably why this feels like such a fresh record to my ears. Usually I compose and play guitar a lot, no matter what project I’m working on. “Plum” is actually an exception since that’s the one track I started and Jason added guitars on top of that.

Jason Kolb: For this record, it felt like I was doing a lot of “send it and forget it”, where I’d send some some unpolished fragments and then Jonas would turn them into something nicely sculpted, structured, and musical.  I don’t have any strict rules about instrumentation, but it’s usually easiest for me to start with guitar loops and then occasionally add some subtle synth or treatments here and there.

J. Hubner: What sort of equipment are you guys using? Both analog and digital synths? Do you guys get together for the mixing and sequencing aspect of the album? 

Jonas Munk: We hardly did any work while being in the same room for this one. In September last year we spent some time driving around Detroit listening to everything and discussing the mixes, the sequencing and stuff – which also explains why most of the tracks reference Detroit street names – but we actually had most the album down at that point already. As for equipment I use everything really: analog synths, plugins, guitar pedals. I did a lot of analog filter sequencing for this album, playing around with my Moogerfoogers and my Waldorf and MFB filterboxes. And software sampling always plays a big role for me when working on Billow material, cause there’s always quite a lot of drastic sound processing going on!

Jason Kolb: Pretty much anything goes as far as equipment is concerned, but I tried to use more filtering pedals and plug-ins that would add some subtle pulse and pop on this record.  I specifically used a Moogerfooger Murf quite a bit with various reverb and delay pedals.  I also found that running huge reverbs into vocoder plugins can be pretty interesting! I really wish we could  get together more and work in the same room at the same time, but we’ve been pretty lucky with the way things have worked out so far with trading files.

J. Hubner: Have you guys ever performed live together? Is it a possibility?

Jonas Munk: Not so far. But could be interesting. It’s always quite a challenge performing with this kind of music, since processing and editing plays such a big role. But actually some of these new pieces lend themselves more easily to perfomance than the first album.

J. Hubner: So Jonas, this is the second release for your newly minted record label Azure Vista. The debut album was ‘Passage’, your second collaboration with Ulrich Schnauss. You seem to be off to a great start. Two beautiful and rich albums filled with all that analog good stuff. Can you tell us what’s next for Azure Vista?

Jonas Munk: Thanks! Actually it was a bit of a last minute decision to start another label, but we needed a home for ”Passage” and the Billow Observatory was actually being finalized at that point and we wanted to release it as soon as possible – one of the major benefits of having your own label is not having to wait to fit it into a label’s (sometimes very busy) schedule. And Jakob (Skøtt) had time to help out with the artworks, he’s super quick and his skills are absolutely unparalelled. So everything materialized super quickly and now it seems there’ll actually be at least three more releases this year. Not sure I can reveal the next one, but it involves a LOT of gorgeous synth and will be out early summer!

J. Hubner: I know it’s rather premature to ask, but is there a possibility for another Billow Observatory album in the next couple of years? With a dedicated record label for just that kind of blissed-out ambient music, will it make it easier to get music out to people?

Jonas Munk: We actually worked on some new stuff in Jason’s studio in Detroit in September, so there’s definitely new music happening. Whether it’s gonna be for an EP by the end of the year or another full length five years from now is impossible to say at this point.

J. Hubner: I hope this album really catches on as it’s a beautiful musical experience. Art of the highest order. Hopefully Azure Vista can get this kind of music into more ears. 

Jonas Munk: I hope the label will generate enough attention to make it possible to build a small, but important catalog. This kind of music is not like super hip or anything, so it’s not really that easy selling a lot of physical copies – which is needed for a proper financial flow. There’s always a fine line and I need to pay attention to how I spend my time –  if a record only sells 150 copies and the expenses doesn’t recoup it’s hard to justify spending hundreds of working hours on it. But we’ll see. Electronic and ambient music has suffered terrible sales for some years, whereas the rock/psych/stoner crowd (which is responsible for a big part of the El Paraiso catalog) are super loyal to the bands they follow and to physical mediums in general. While ambient music and, say, shoegaze has been off the radar for a while, it never disappears completely and I think there’ll always be people looking out for really personal, innovative material of high quality. I think labels are more important now than ever, since the internet is just flooded with music all the time. So the best way for listeners to navigate through the ocean of sounds is to have some really trusted presences that present things in a really focused way – ie with a narrow attention on specific genres and aesthetics.

J. Hubner: I think that could be an entirely different but important conversation to have at some point.

Jonas Munk: I could go on about the internet and the state of music for hours, but let’s just say it’s both a blessing and a curse! All in all I’m extremely thankful that I’m still able to make a living creating music and selling records. Considering the amount of (free) music out there I actually consider it a small miracle, and these days I’m absolutely enjoying every second of it!


Billow Observatory’s II: Plains/Patterns is available now on Azure Vista Records. Pick up a copy here. Look up Jason Kolb’s band Auburn Lull here, and check out Jonas Munk’s solo endeavors over at El Paraiso. If you like it, buy it.

Billow Observatory : II: Plains/Patterns

Billow Observatory exist on some ethereal plane. The music that Jonas Munk and Jason Kolb create has the feel of a constant, syrup-y flow through time and space. It’s no surprise as to the duo’s penchant for grandiose musical beats given their main gigs(Kolb is a member of Detroit, Michigan’s Auburn Lull and Munk is part of Denmark’s Causa Sui, as well as Manual, solo work, and with synth extraordinaire Ulrich Schnauss.) But within the warm embrace of Billow Observatory these two expand the sound into these vast swaths of  blanketed noise. Vast open space is something these two know a lot about, given the miles(and years) between their collaborations. Fortunately this transatlantic duo use the situation to their advantage, giving each plenty of room to stretch out and take their time getting to know the music.

After five years of collaborating and sending music files back and forth Kolb and Munk have finished their second album as Billow Observatory. II: Plains/Patterns is a cavernous beauty of an album, filled with ambient textures, shoegaze melancholy, and kosmische sensibilities. Floating in space never sounded so good.

Listening to this album it’s quite hard to describe what I’m hearing. It’s like describing the aurora borealis to someone who’s never experienced them. Sure, we’re all familiar with the night sky, colors, patterns, and shapes. But to accurately describe the northern lights to someone who’s never seen them so they can truly feel the emotional impact is a fool’s errand. Listening to a song like “Pulsus” or “Nulstil” is just as much a visceral experience as it is a listening experience. Both build an emotional center with rhythmic patterns and cavernous synth. I can tell you that there’s a real impact in these pieces. I think of Brian Eno, Popol Vuh, and Klaus Schulze as Billow Observatory runs through my ears. “Kercheval” is something quite different. I hear elements of Kevin Shields’ wall of guitar noise from Loveless in this track, even though the guitar in this track is swallowed up by cavernous reverb. There’s also an organic quality in this song. Movement and regeneration; a sense of new life growing from the soil.

Like I said, it’s hard to describe.

If there is a centerpiece, that would be “Plains”. This is a ten-minute epic that has the feel of circuitry buzzing and square waves dancing across small blue screens. It’s future ambient techno. An explosion of ideas and spatial motifs that pays off at every turn.

Elsewhere, “Montcalir” sounds like last breaths before that big reveal at the end of it all. Quiet, resolute, and beautiful. “Vex” bubbles and beeps like morse code from deep space before a ping ponging rhythm takes shape. “Plum” is just gorgeous. You’re overtaken by a bouncing synth and little guitar swells that feel like tiny revelations forming. From start to finish, this record is a journey.

With II: Plains/Patterns, Billow Observatory have honed their sound down from the endless, reverberating decay of their 2012 debut. Where on that album there seemed to be an endless drift into the dark(albeit a beautifully ornamented drift), Plains/Patterns has brought the expanse into something much more attainable. Something you can truly touch and feel. There’s an overwhelming sense of destination on this far out journey.

8.4 out of 10

Ulrich Schnauss & Jonas Munk : Passage

The newest collaboration between Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk, titled simply Passage, is a heady mix of intellectual ambient andbiz-passage euphoric electronic. You get Schnauss’ synths layered with Munk’s liquid guitar lines, sometimes with drum programming and sometimes on their own. The result is a complex and engaging record that offers the best both musicians have to offer.

If you’re at all familiar with Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk, then you should know this isn’t just another in a long line of electronic records. Schnauss is an accomplished electronic musician and composer who’s been creating beautifully ornamented electronic albums for over 20 years. His 2001 album Far Away Trains Passing By is a classic in the genre. Since 2014 Schnauss has been an official member of the iconic Tangerine Dream. Jonas Munk is an accomplished musician/producer in his own right, making electronic records under the name Manual, as well as playing guitar for the Danish rockers Causa Sui. He’s also released two records under his own name, first Pan in 2012 and Absorb Fabric Cascade in 2014. Back in 2011 these two got together for the first time and released the ethereal Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk. Six years later they have made a sequel to that collaboration. Passage does not suffer from the “sophomore slump”. In fact, it surpasses its predecessor.

Schnauss and Munk know how to make a heady mix of ambient tones and daydream-y vibes. Tracks like “Amaris”, “Genau Wie Damais”, and “Anywhere But Here” cascade like technicolor falls on some distant world. The noise coming from the speakers is hypnotic but not hallucinogenic. It’s an all-natural high that bubbles and swells from a song like the mysterious “Intervention: Sol”. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where Schnauss’ synth ends and Munk’s guitar begins. “MST” brightens up with an early 80s electronic vibe thanks to some boisterous drum programming. “Intervention: Mane” gives us plenty of woozy vibe that takes us from the dance floor to floating in space.

A great thing about this album is that these guys don’t rely on atmospheric swaths of noise alone to carry them. There are moments of blissed-out ambient, but there are also moments of almost dance floor vibes that make the album all the more engaging.

Side two’s “Ao Hinode” feels like some sort of spectral light shining down on us mere mortals, while “Spellbreaker” has an almost mid-80s Cure vibe. This track seems to morph into a million moods before we even get to the halfway point. It’s an elegant shock to the system. “Intervention: Stjerner” is a beautiful and bubbling ride of synths that seems to owe a bit of debt to Schnauss’ other gig Tangerine Dream. It’s hypnotic bliss. “Caffeine Blues” shows Munk in top form with some exquisite guitar, while Schnauss backs him up with some heady sounds. “Coastal Path” ends the album on a sun-soaked drift of cascading clouds and road trip-worthy vibes.

Passage shows two musical masters at the top of their game. Each are front and center, but never feel as if they’re vying for our attention. They come together, synth and guitar, to paint good vibes and heady, existential bliss. Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk serve only one master here, and that is the song. They follow the muse wherever she takes them. The musical mind melding of Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk, so far, is the best thing to hit my ears in 2017.

8.3 out of 10

 

Living Textures : A Musical Conversation With Causa Sui

 

by J. Hubner

Photos courtesy of El Paraiso Archives

A little over two years ago a friend pointed me in the direction of Copenhagen, Denmark. That friend said “Head east, and ye shall find the rock.” I wasn’t sure what that meant as my friend rarely said things like “ye” and “head”, but I did as this much respected and trusted confidant asked of me. What I found was indeed “the rock”. What I found was the Danish four-piece Causa Sui, a band of epic rock proportions. So my first musical experience with Causa Sui, which consists of Jonas Munk on guitar, Jess Kahr on bass, Rasmus Rasmussen on keys, and Jakob Skott on drums, was the song “Garden of Forking Paths” off of Pewt’r Sessions 2. Within that song’s 23 minutes and 45 seconds you get spacey vibes, earthy rhythms, and the feeling that the “Summer Of Love” is melting right before your very eyes. It echoes and whispers like Bitches Brew and is hazy and sways like Surrealistic Pillow. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard this band before. I quickly became a fan and was gladly drinking the Causa Sui punch from that point on.

With each record the band evolves and hones in on what makes them so good. They waste no time getting to where they need to get musically. With everyone in the band putting out solo albums and working on various other projects time can’t be wasted when they do get together to create. Their newest record, the heavy and groovy Return To Sky is about as perfect a record as it gets. Five songs without an ounce of fat on them. Lean, mean, and full of ear candy to enjoy every time you spin it.

I asked Jakob and Jonas some questions recently about the new album and their creative process. They humored me and answered those questions. Enjoy.

return to skyJ. Hubner: I’ve been listening to ‘Return To Sky’ pretty much every day since the vinyl hit the front porch. It’s a killer record guys. It’s one of the most “live” sounding studio records I’ve heard. Very raw and in the moment. Was the recording process different in making this record than in previous ones? 

From an engineering standpoint was this record approached differently?

Jonas Munk: I’m very pleased to hear that! Ironically this was the first record since our debut album we recorded in layers (drums and bass first, then everything else added bit by bit) – so there was always this concern that it was gonna sound too polished or a bit artificial. I feel a Causa Sui record should always have the naturalistic sound of a band playing together in a rehearsal room as the foundation, even with all the sonic trickery that goes on and the multiple dubs that are added afterwards. But separating things when recording makes it possible to get a bit more juice out of each instrument and this time we were after a more focused sound.

We just moved into a new studio when we began recording this album, a place that has very balanced acoustics, and that made it quite a bit easier working in this way. I really like the idea of having a sound that’s incredibly warm, but yet with a lot of detail. That’s a real challenge. Everything was recorded with ribbon mics, tube preamps and stuff like that – it’s kinda interesting to see how warm-toned it can get without the sound becoming dull or muddy. These days I find it really important that all the instruments are super present and able to “breathe”, especially the drums. I still love how Euporie Tide sounds, but the guitars are in front most of the time and occasionally it feels like the drums are drowning in keys and guitars, so this time we felt the drums should be right in front, with every single detail in Jakob’s playing having full impact on the listener.

causa threeJ. Hubner: Causa Sui records, both musically and theme-wise, always seem like these totally organic creations. Like these albums were pulled up from the ground, grown from the elements. Return To Sky once again has the same organic vibe, to my ears at least. Is that an intentional thing? Keeping a theme throughout the records; of something created from the earth, for the earth? Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I love this flow you guys have from record to record. 

Jonas Munk: Yes, “earthy” is definitely a keyword in our productions and the general aesthetics of both Causa Sui and El Paraiso Records. In terms of how music relates to the natural elements I always think of it as something that’s very rich and complex – if you look at a leaf or a piece of wood it’s gonna keep revealing interesting and unique structures the closer you look, even on a microscopic level. Compare that to a piece of plastic or styrofoam, which appears completely uniform and boring as soon as you look closer! My four year old son loves to dig in the dirt for worms and stuff, and I always find it pretty incredible how affluent a single shovel-full of dirt is – usually there’ll be 3-4 different kinds of worms and insects, and all these different textures from fragments of leaves, branches, shells and so on. I saw a photo of what sand looks like in a microscope recently, it’s the same thing. Considering the history of it is interesting as well. I like the idea that the textures in our music and the miniscule components of our sound, like say a snare hit for example, are enriched with the same kind of vitality and depth as that of the organic world.

In the early/mid 1970s people began to produce rock music more and more uniformly – for example to make each snare drum hit sound exactly the same by processing the sounds more and more. Close-miking and use of gate and excessive compression led to the completely artificial sound of 1980s rock and so on. We’re always after the opposite: each snare drum hit should sound different than each other on a Causa Sui record (to use an example) and compositionally everything should feel a bit like it’s blowing in the wind. All the instruments interacts in a very dynamic way. We never record to a click or anything like that, and we aim to create textures that feel alive somehow.

J. Hubner: In regards to the songs, how do you guys decide on what tracks to include on a record? As with all of your records, ‘Return To Sky’ flows effortlessly from track to track. “Dust Meridian” moves from its drum and bass grooves right into “The Source” and it’s Sabbath-like heft with ease. Then “Mondo Buzzo” ends side A quite nicely, like a well-written script. “Dawn Passage” and “Return To Sky” likewise feel like two pieces of a very intricate musical puzzle.

Were these 5 tracks what you started and ended with, or were there other roads and songs not taken?

Jakob Skott: There is one song that we recorded and then excluded for the tracklist – which was a tough call – really thick and epic track that just keeps on building itself up. We played it live in the fall, and people were digging that one in particular – the perfect set closer. But we decided to go a more nuanced road with the last track – Return To Sky ends with an ambiguous whimper rather than a bang, and that was a pretty conscious decision that probably changes the overall perception of the album quite a bit! I think we’re in a pretty lucky spot as a band, because it seems like people actually listen to the album from start to back, rather than just cherry picking a song or two.

Jonas Munk: I guess we always try to keep in mind how all the tracks will go together as whole. But it gets quite complex once you start considering how each track relates to the rest in terms of key, tempo, structure, rhythms and texture. Euporie Tide really worked amazingly that way – once we started putting together a tracklist it actually felt like each track benefited from its position among the others. One thing we all agreed on this time was that this should be a shorter ride.

J. Hubner: Speaking of the songs, I love how 5 songs feel like a full musical journey. Not many can do that nowadays. It either sounds incomplete or the band overcompensates by not knowing when to say when and the songs are way too long. Causa Sui seems to know exactly when a song is done, or how to spread the vibe out. Is this something the band has learned over years of putting out albums, or is it something you four have always been able to lock into?

Jonas Munk: At this point it does feel a bit like a formula sometimes, but it’s one that we’ve worked hard to develop. Return to Sky almost sounds a bit like the stuff we were trying to create in our teens, 20 years ago, when we were into Tool and Kyuss but had just discovered all kinds of weird, alternative music as well – post-rock, minimalism etc. The challenge for us has been to gradually refine a personal style that is relevant, and explore and fulfill its potential. Flashy originality is actually quite easy, and not necessarily very interesting. It’s often tempting to change things radically around just for the sake of it, but in the end I find commitment to an idea or a style much more valuable. Doing something that accumulates decades of listening and playing into a personal piece of work is much more rewarding, and certainly not a task I consider easy. We worked on these five songs for over two years!

Jakob Skott: I’m glad that it feels like that – we often have some doubts about when things have cooked long enough – especially when we’re overdubbing stuff like keys which is rarely there when we lay down the basic tracks. Sometimes the guitar, percussion and synth overdubs takes it in a new direction and sometimes it’s more an exercise in reinforcing what’s already there. But there’s the risk that everything just sort of blurs… I knew that we needed beefier and rougher drums than we used to, which was made possible by the new studio, and the bass came out massive as well, so we had a thicker backbone to glue other stuff onto, and in my mind that depth is really what sets this album apart from the others. Fatter, thicker sounds.

pedalJ. Hubner: I’ve got a gear question for Jonas. So what is your guitar set up? I see you playing a Tele a lot. What string gauge do you prefer? What’s your amp of choice? And do you use a lot of pedals when recording?

Jonas Munk: With Causa Sui I’ve mainly been playing two guitars: a Fender Jazzmaster and a Fender Telecaster. But none of those guitars are standard models, the Telecaster is a ‘72 Thinline reissue, semi-hollow with dual “Wide Range” humbuckers, so it’s basically got nothing to do with a standard Telecaster. The Jazzmaster has a Gibson-style bridge installed and the pickups have been switched for a pair of Seymour Duncan “Hot” pickups that have way more bottom-end and louder output than a typical Jazzmaster. And actually I just finished work on a new Jazzmaster that’s like a combination of the two guitars, since it has an Adjusto-Matic bridge and two Wide Range humbuckers installed. On Return To Sky I also used an SG here and there (The Source, Return To Sky) as well as a Fender Mustang (the “twangy” one on Dawn Passage).

For strings I prefer 11-48 and we are often tuned in a standard C tuning, occasionally something more exotic but still with the lowest string in C. For the past three Causa Sui records I’ve been recording with two amplifiers: a Fender Super-Sonic 60 with various cabinets and a Fender Blues Junior. The Super-Sonic has a lovely tube overdrive as well as a thick and chimey clean channel that’s modelled on a Bass Man. This channel is a very nice canvas for pedals. The Blues Junior is just a rad little noise maker you can push to extremes without shaking down the walls. I do love pedals and the variety and experimentation they offer. If I record two guitars for a part I often enjoy doing one track with a full-sounding amplifier sound and another one with a more fuzzy pedal sound. I always change something around for dubs: using a different guitar or a pedal, record with a different mic through a different preamp and so on.

I’ve always been using the Fulltone 69 a lot, and on Return to Sky the T-Rex Mudhoney got a good workout as well as the Magick Fuzz by Magic Pedals, which is awesome. I always enjoy different delays a lot as well as phaser and vibe pedals such as the Dunlop Rotovibe, Electro Harmonix Wiggler, Small Stone and Worm pedals.

J. Hubner: It seems with each new release, the “Causa Sui” sound is being both refined and defined. Each record that comes out most definitely sounds like Causa Sui, but the sound seems sharpened and more focused. Is there intention to redefine yourselves with every album, or does Causa Sui just going to each record let the pieces fall where they may?

Jonas Munk: For the past few years the main focus has been on refining what we do. I love the idea of refining and exploring a style. We always have quite a specific idea about which area we wanna delve into, and this time it was the heavy side of our sound, and about working with contrasts within the same song. Like, if a part was super heavy and dry sounding we’d splash something really watery on top of it, or have it followed by something very fragile and melancholic – or if one part is really tight and brutal we’d lead it into something blurry and shoegazy….stuff like that. -The title track is a good example, it’s totally “grunge” in the first half, then dissolves into this Sonic Youth-plays-terry Riley-meets-Pharoah Sanders out-there thing. I think it’s important to keep things ambiguous and not too one-dimensional. I guess contrasts has always been part of the Causa Sui fabric but this time the idea took a really crystalline form. I can imagine the next project exploring something different. For a while we’ve discussed the idea of doing a mellow album, without the rock element, allowing for more focus on different sonic colours and other ways of putting songs together. But in our case it doesn’t work in a merely linear way – we are all used to working on several projects at the same time, so I’m not gonna make any predictions about how ideas are gonna assemble and branch out at this point.

Jakob Skott: I hope that we can keep progressing – we try to keep it fresh, but sure it’s a pretty defined sound by now, and maybe this new album is kind of the culmination of years work. I still have the idea of doing some ensemble-like recordings – like with 2 drum kits or whatever – more sax or new instruments – or an exotic freaky bossa nova album. I do not want us to keep releasing a summer stoner album every three years, but then again you never know. We had a lot of talks about not using the Causa Sui name for the Pewt’r Sessions originally – we only used it because it was our first album on our new label, and we wanted it to sell. Ha! 5 years later I can tell that it worked out great – people got it as an extension of what we did before, but there’s always that balance: “Sure, that jam is really good, but is it Causa Sui?”. We also have a mental defect of sorts in the band, which is always trying to figure out where stuff came from: “Man, Jonas that Allman’s brother’s lick sure is smokin’” – “Sure, Jakob – but the John Bonham-fills could have a bit more Keith Moon in it”. That sometimes changes the perception of what we’re doing. Like when Rasmus’s keys need a little more Prince in them.

J. Hubner: (Laughs) Yeah, you guys could definitely use some more Prince in those keys. A Causa Sui version of “Controversy” would be something.

So as far as shows and festivals what’s lined up for the summer and beyond?

Jonas Munk: We’re playing Stoned From The Underground in Germany as well as Lake on Fire in Austria. That’s about it so far.

J. Hubner: What else does El Paraiso have on the horizon this year, release-wise? Anything you can tell us about?

Jonas Munk: Right now we have Jakob’s new record out and a fuzzed-out space rock album by a Copenhagen quartet called Mythic Sunship came out in May. In June we’ll release a record by Connecticut drone-rock veterans Landing, an amazing band we’ve been following for over a decade, so that’s really exciting! There’s a another American band coming out as well sometime during summer, but I shouldn’t reveal anything yet.

J. Hubner: Will we see a Pewt’r Sessions 4 at some point?

Jakob Skott: We talked on several occasions about what we were gonna do, because there has been talks about Ron (aka Pewt’r) coming over for a few years now, but it’s always fallen thru for various reasons. But the plan is to try to do something totally different. I think Ron brought up a drum circle! Everyone get’s a hand drum of some sort? I don’t know how that’d work – but that what’s great about his approach – it’s radically different from any idea we come up with in the Causa Sui framework. It’s bound to be new and exciting. And we have the freedom to not just cough up one more acid jam fur ball*, but can call it anything – so maybe it’ll be a Pewt’r 4, maybe something else, but I’m confident we’ll make more stuff with him.

Jonas Munk: Oh, we’ll definitely create more music with Ron at some point. However, I doubt that it will be under the Causa Sui name and part of the “Pewt’r Sessions” series. Who knows. Actually we’ve got an album’s worth of synthesizer music we recorded with him back in 2012, it just hasn’t seemed really necessary for any of us releasing it so far.

J. Hubner: So what are you guys excited about for the near future?

Jakob Skott: I’ve got a pretty empty plate right now – so right now it’s just about letting things happen. So excited about what I’m gonna be excited by next, haha – spring always brings out the best vibes for new ideas for me, so after a winter with lots of hard work, I look forward to just goofing around for a bit musically – Luckily we’ve got a few killer releases lined up for completely new bands.

Jonas Munk: The engineering/mixing/mastering side of things is something I take more and more pleasure in these days. Sometimes it’s really liberating just having to focus on one aspect of creation. So after finishing a few more major projects where I’m composing and performing as well, I look forward to spending more time working on other people’s music again, as well as digging into some Causa Sui live recordings, new and old.


If you’re in the neighborhood I’d suggest heading to Germany or Austria and seeing Causa Sui live. You can keep up with Causa Sui on their website here and on there Facebook page here.

*not for nothing, but Acid Jam Fur Ball should be the next side project name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Causa Sui : Return To Sky

There’s only a few instrumental outfits these days that pack as big a sonic punch as Causa Sui. These four guys from Denmark have been making trippy, mind-alteringreturn to sky rock and roll for a few years now, and every time out they up their musical game a bit. They go from psychedelic, acid-fried drone(Pewt’r Sessions 3) to face-melting, deep-throated riffage(Euporie Tide) just like that. The heavy guitar jamming in less capable hands can become pretty boring after awhile, but when Jonas Munk, Jess Kahr, Rasmus Rasmussen, and Jakob Skott get together to hash out songs it’s anything but boring. They each have their own side gigs where they can let their own personal freak flags fly high, so when they do come together in the studio they’re coming in fresh and ready to blow minds. Causa Sui have come together and made Return To Sky, a five song nugget of brain melting rock that could be their heaviest and most fully formed record yet.

Return To Sky opens with one of the heaviest tracks yet from Causa Sui, the gargantuan groove monster called “Dust Meridian”. It’s a tour de force in rhythm and riffage as bassist Jess Kahr and drummer Jakob Skott lock in together and bulldoze their way through ten minutes of sheer rock and roll bliss. Guitarist Jonas Munk brings in his signature guitar prowess and does Tony Iommi better than Tony Iommi has in years. Rasmussen adds some psychedelic organ to the mix to give “Dust Meridian” just the right amount of late 60s kaleidoscopic vibe. This is the good stuff, folks. Just as you’re getting your bearings, “The Source” comes rolling in. It’s six and a half minutes of steamrolling riffage. It’s like Sleep, but without all the residue and coughing. There’s something very raw and visceral with this record, and this song in-particular. The songs are as well-produced as they’ve ever been, but there’s an openness sonically this time around that I’ve never noticed before. Skott’s drums sound like they’re right next to you. You can practically feel the cymbals splashing right next to your face. And Munk’s guitar sound is freed to stalk and roam like an unchained beast. Causa Sui are taking no prisoners this time around.

“Mondo Buzzo” is reminiscent of “Garden of Forking Paths” off Pewt’r Sessions 2. It slowly rises like the smoke from incense before going all California stoner rock in the middle. One of Causa Sui’s superpowers is their ability to dial down when needed, and bring things back up to 11 at just the right time. They seem to be able to speak that unspoken language between the four of them. Instinct takes over in the studio as amps buzz and the IPAs start to flow. “Dawn Passage” is a sweeping track that flows along a jazzy rhythm and Pink Floydian guitar inflections before a dissonant panic erupts in the middle. Space-y guitar and percussion take over the proceedings to add an earthy, organic vibe. “Return To Sky” is a detuned Goliath of a song that opens like an explosion before simmering into a pleasant daydream of a song, leaving us in the hazy ether of our minds.

If you put together all of the records the individual members of Causa Sui have put out, as well as all the Causa Sui records they’ve made together you would have yourself a hefty chunk of incredible music. What’s amazing is that even after Munk, Skott, Rasumussen, and Kahr have made absolutely stellar records on their own they can still come together and put out something as good as Return To Sky. It doesn’t feel like one of those “well, we need to do something as a band” kind of things. It feels like a band that’s at the top of their game and have no intentions of stopping. Return To Sky is yet another amazing record from Causa Sui. What are you waiting for? Go get it.

8.5 out of 10

 

Nicklas Sorensen : Solo

Sometimes there’s nothing better than finding that perfect daydream record. That record you put on, throw on some headphones, and then just close your eyes for thesorensen duration and let your mind wander. Or that album you throw on in the car for that wind in your hair and sun in your rear view road trip. That album that soundtracks both conversations and bouts of gazing towards the horizon. Papir’s guitar virtuoso Nicklas Sorensen has given us our next great daydream record, the appropriately titled Solo. His first album under his own name, Sorensen has not wasted a single second on this 6-track LP.

Letting his guitar do the talking, Solo is an instrumental affair that moves effortlessly from the Krautrock-ish opener “Solo1” to the atmospheric and dreamy “Solo2” without breaking a sweat. This record has the smooth sheen of NEU! in its bubbling guitar lines and squiggling atmospheric noises that erupt from the darkness. The album was produced by Causa Sui guitarist and veritable studio wizard Jonas Munk, and if you’ve heard Munk’s solo record Pan, then some of the finer aural details and headphone candy will come as a welcome surprise. But for the most part Munk is here strictly to make Sorensen’s guitar shine and his melodies to light the way.

With the six songs titled “Solo1” thru “Solo6”, you get the feel of a musical journey. Each track has its own vibe and story to tell. There’s not the bombast and explosive rock growl of Sorensen’s main gig Papir, but that’s not a bad thing. Solo allows us to hear a different side of Nicklas Sorensen’s playing and compositional ability. There’s a playfulness to a track like “Solo3” that you just couldn’t get with amps turned up to 11. It almost has a Steve Reich vibe to the phasing and layering of guitar and what sounds like synth coming out of the distant horizon. It’s complex, yet simple enough to zone out to with a beer(or whatever.) “Solo4” in some ways reminds me of old Joe Satriani, like something off Not Of This Earth. It’s more about tone, mood, and atmosphere rather than impressing one with a catchy riff or slinky guitar lines. Backwards guitar come in and out as a clean guitar plays a pulsating line over and over. The song fades into the ether as guitar comes in and out of the mix over a sustaining synth line. “Solo5” feels like some of those lesser known gems in the heyday of Shrapnel Records in the 80s. A time when in the midst of teased hair and pointy, hot pink Ibanez guitars there were a few guys out there still putting soulful, intricate, and interesting guitar records out. Guys like Michael Lee Firkins, Eric Johnson, and Steve Morse were displaying their guitar chops in unique and soulful ways, as opposed to just wanking it as fast as they could and waiting for that Ernie Ball or Jackson Guitars endorsement. But I digress. “Solo6” is the album closer and the epic heart of the album. Just over 12 minutes long, “Solo6” takes its time getting to where it’s headed. Simple percussion and a meditative guitar line act as a guide so the song can dive into more atmosphere and hallucinogenic soundscapes. There’s elements of both space and earth here. An aural space where the past, present, and future converge. A slow and meticulous journey into nothingness that is glorious at every step.

Solo is that daydream record you’ve been waiting for, and Nicklas Sorensen has made the first great guitar record of the year.

8.2 out of 10