Soft Circle : Full Bloom

On Beaches and Canyons, Black Dice’s transcendent noise opus from 2002, the band created a fascinating pile of sound from jagged fragments of delayed guitar, windswept drones, textured white noise, swarms of effected vocal loops, and thundering percussion. After his departure from Black Dice a couple of years later, their former drummer, Hisham Bharoocha, emerges with his own opus, recorded under the name Soft Circle. Full Bloom is a shimmering landscape of haunting mystical drones, guitar strums, echoey wordless vocal melodies, tastefully virtuosic drumming, and spacy electronic sounds. While his work with Soft Circle is not as noisy or dense as that of his previous outfit, it does seem like a logical evolution from his work there, moving toward both a more singular vision and a more focused sound.

Solo musicians are often particularly limited in resources and abilities, especially in a real-time, performance-oriented sort of way. Here, Bharoocha sidesteps that trap by wearing many hats, playing guitar, drumming, singing, and manipulating various electronics at the same time. In fact, most of the tracks were recorded with Hisham playing multiple parts live simultaneously, with some overdubs added after the initial recordings were made. Very basic looping is used occasionally, but there is no drum programming or pre-recorded sequencing involved. As such, there’s a feeling of spontaneity in much of the album, and the pieces themselves seem somewhat loose in form, allowing him to use a number of variations within a basic framework to subtly alter the overall structure or dynamic. The pieces expand slowly as he introduces elements from his bag of tricks, layering occasional patches of percussive and textural electronic sounds on top of his basic guitar explorations, rumbling drumbeats and simple vocal lines. This combination of sounds and ideas works well here, coming together in a way that doesn’t feel forced or out of place.

There’s a sense of spirituality present in Bharoocha’s creations that makes the music vibrate with a tangible positivism and warmth. Some of the track titles hint at certain qualities of the musical content with names like “Shimmer” and “Whirl,” while others such as “Stones and Trees,” “Moon Oar Sunrise,” and “Ascend” evoke natural environments or suggest a connection with spirituality and the cosmos. The music reflects these themes as well, sounding like an extended meditation session, albeit one with bursts of energetic rhythms and psychedelic overtones. The artwork (also by Bharoocha) adds another layer to the overall effect. From the simple photo of flowers blossoming that serves as the background for his lengthy list of “thank-you’s” to his washed-out and color-streaked portraits with added graffiti-meets-hieroglyphs swirls, his artistic contributions frame the record with a visual style that fits the music, falling somewhere between simple natural beauty and transcendent bliss.

The album begins with a drone generated by an electronic tamboura, quickly followed by meditative vocals, flutters of hand percussion, and cymbal swells. A cyclical drumbeat kicks in, and the voice begins to sound like Tuvan throat singing minus the high overtones. It’s a short journey though, ending at around the 3-minute mark, giving the feeling that it ends before it really gets started. The rest of the album’s seven tracks are a bit longer, averaging around 6 or 7 minutes apiece. Not surprisingly, a couple of the longer tracks are the one that really shine on Full Bloom. The ambient intro of “Sundazed” leads into a polyrhythmic exploration featuring drums and keyboards, with an oddly syncopated beat giving the piece a bit of an unusual, almost-lopsided feel, while the repetitious keyboard phrase brings to mind the minimalist element in some of Steve Reich’s percussive works. “Shimmer” is a dubby stomp that evolves subtly throughout, bringing various sounds in and out of the mix and affecting them with differing degrees of rhythmically syncopated delay.

There is a general increase in dynamics throughout, culminating in the final two tracks. On “Whirl,” Bharoocha unleashes his most dynamic drumming of the record, generating powerful and complex rhythms while swirls of backwards guitar and slightly ominous vocals float in and out of the picture. The final track is a robotic stomp entitled “Earthed,” which sounds much more like a spacecraft flying through outer space at hyperspeed than any earthbound adventure one could imagine. Echoes of 23 Skidoo’s Seven Songs and This Heat’s Repeat are present in the successful synthesis of organic and synthetic percussion and psychedelic sci-fi sounds, and the track should also make folks move on any dancefloor. It’s a climactic close to an album that feels at times both very personal and also otherworldly, an album of contrasts between tension and calm, noise and melody, rhythm and space. Full Bloom navigates these realms with ease, creating a work that is difficult to classify but easy to enjoy.

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Boredoms – Seadrum/House of Sun
Gang Gang Dance – God’s Money
Seefeel – Quique

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