Cardinal Playlists - 6 June 2012
With Throw The Sun Into The Sea Rob Johnson has released a 10 song epic with instrumentation that is almost unparalleled in its execution. My favorite track is actually the lead track of the album, titled “The Wasp And The Flame”. The song itself about 3 minutes and 41 seconds of impressive guitar work that is both technical and melodic without taking away from the flow of the album or the presence of other instruments. The work moves courageously through genre and time signature, sampling as it goes and embracing every musical idea with just enough exploration to keep it interesting.
Straight from London, UK, Rob Johnson has a style of music that explores the dark depths of sound to capture the light. His poetic instrumental album entitled ‘Throw The Sun Into The Sea’ progresses through the raw fundamentals of an acoustic harmony with an exploding electric feel.
Illustrated with ten short films which can be viewed on this website, he transcends into a visual experience that is nothing short of a piece of art. As a follow up to his debut album ‘Upon A Painted Ocean’, Johnson has a way to synchronize and dream up what the audience has been unseen to.
Available on his page, these tracks are too much of an earful not to download. The first track kicks off with a bang and the musical world can be thankful for that. Keep up on updates as this artist continues to reap his mind and the viewer to sow from it. Simply euphoric, go ahead and take a listen!
“No cause is lost if there is but one fool who will fight for it”
One of the albums I've enjoyed recently has been Fawn, the debut offering from Young Astronaut (see post here), so it was a very welcome surprise to find out that the album's producer, Geoff Swan, has also produced “Throw The Sun Into The Sea” by London-based composer Rob Johnson. Beautifully recorded, the album slowly reveals its charms over the course of the ten instrumental tracks. It's an album that owes more to film scores and neo-classsical composers than it does to rock, dance or pop, and would happily sit alongside albums by the likes of Mike Oldfield or Nitin Sawhney.
The album's opening calling card The Wasp And The Flame opens with a repeated acoustic guitar motif before it's joined by a fuller sound of drums, synths, piano and electric guitar. I'm unaware whether or not Johnson is familiar the work of guitar virtuoso Michael Hedges but their playing styles are remarkably similar; fast picked open tunings with plenty of hammering on and harmonics. Flashy without diminishing any emotional impact. Despite the range of sounds, moods and textures on this album its Johnson's guitar playing that carries most emotion. Should he ever opt for a more stripped down sound, that introspective, sparse guitar sound would work well for him as demonstrated here on The Real. Elsewhere the music is kaleidoscopic in scope, from strident military drumming on The Beginning Of The End, through to more soundscape style outings such as Throw The Sun and Eve, along with the beat-driven Monsters. There's even room for a rock-out coda on album closer The Be All And The End All.
It's a well packaged CD album, double gatefold with two booklet inserts featuring photographs of the natural world - beaches, seascapes, forests and skies. Much like the cover art and booklets, the music is wide reaching and cinematic in scope .At times urgent and dramatic, other times serene and calm, with a similarly wide reaching palette of instrumentation. It's as if Johnson has decided to put every ounce of his vision and talents into this one record. What the album lacks in continuity of sound is more than made up for by the strength of the compositions and arrangements.
The album's cover design has a slight nod to those classic Hipgnosis designs and opens up to reveal a picture of Johnson, seemingly boxed-in, trapped in a confined space or lift. In the picture he's wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt. Amateur psychologists can read into that what they will. As for myself I'll be taking a look at the series of short films made to accompany each track. These will be available to view from April 16th on the album mini-site (www.throwthesun.com). If they're anywhere near as interesting and engaging as the music they'll be well worth a look.
Having listened to a lot of ambient music and soundtracks, enjoying the work of Tangerine Dream, and Jean Michel Jarre, to name the obvious, it was with intrigue I played “Throw The Sun In To The Sea” by Rob Johnson Music, especially as it is the first completely instrumental album we have received, and therefore the first time I have had to consider reviewing one!
In todays musical landscape it is unusual to find someone who puts together instrumental work outside of Soundtracks into the public domain that is not purely electronic, especially as most of the artists we review are indie-rock or punk. So instrumental work almost becomes niche by it’s very nature. So it has been a very pleasurable expereince sitting back and listening to “Throw The Sun Into The Sea”. I find that albums like this tend to need a quiet space to be appreciated, not easy in a house full of children and animals, so for me the backdrop for the album has been late at night on headphones, letting it take me on its journey.
London based Rob Johnson has composed some impressive layered soundscapes such as “Hurricane” that blend acoustic guitar with a soft synth backdrop that I wish at times were more than just a few minutes long as the pull you in and take you on their journey, tracks like “Throw The Sun” seem to be just interludes – but perhaps that’s the Tangerine Dream in me!
But I have found it harder than I thought it would be to write a review of an album not fronted by a vocalist! However, cutting to the chase, I really liked the album. Most of the instrumental albums I have listened to usually flow like a single body of work, irrespective of the number of tracks. However, although the style and tempo do not change dramaticlly between tracks, they still fit as a body of work on this album. I would say that there is almost a number of genres being touched upon to bring its sound together, the new age synth feel of electronica, the acoustic guitar, the strong progressive rockier drum beat holding it together. But these are all layered together beautifully.
Things get a little darker for “Monsters” with more obvious synths, acoustic guitar, and keyboards. But still maintain a dream like feel to the whole proceedings. From reading through the liner notes, there is a darker side to this album, I am not sure if it is a broken heart, but coupled with the imagery and the mood are set for, dare I say it again, a dream like quality.
To illustrate this the new album comes in the form of a complete audio/visual experience with 10 short films to accompany the record (which can be found on the website http://www.throwthesun.com from April 16th).
Rob has managed to find a warmth that is pervasive throughout the album, irrespective of whether it is in one of it’s rockier moments such as the opening or closing tracks, or as a flowing soundscape. Recorded about 2 weeks before Christmas 2011 Rob has shown some tremendous talent with this album, and I am certainly keen to pick up his previous album, and any future work.
Of course, with instrumental work the tone, and journey can be left to the listener and their own mood. Enjoy this journey.
It seems post-rock is a niche market in modern music, the preserve of bands like Mogwai or Explosions In The Sky. Epic and soaring, the sound is breath-taking in both its scope and execution, the soundtrack to a movie you have yet to see. Instrumental albums retain a certain mysterious allure absent vocals, the innate electronic intelligence of Brian Eno or Nicolas Jarr or even Mike Oldfield adding another branch to an already incomparably compelling genre. What Rob Johnson records in his sophomore LP 'Throw the Sun Into the Sea' is a combination of the two; a composite sub-genre all his own. Rock sensibilities are offset by gloriously subtle electronic soundscapes to form half an hour of brilliant instrumental ingenuity! There is a tangible wild west swagger, grooving and rolling into climactic post-rock revelations. There is the potential for the album, even with a run-time as short as this to fall into a predictable rut, but Johnson utilises tone and sampled texture to good effect, throwing in memorable guitar phrases more than once!
Opening with first single 'The Wasp And The Flame', Rob runs with attenuated synths along a plain that emulates perfectly the sense of gallantry and freedom that is inevitably evoked by any western. Plucking the strings of a battered guitar, you can almost visualise the heat waves vibrating in some synchronised dance, dust billowing and hooves thundering into the distance. 'Hurricane's sampled wind forms a great backdrop to the successive post-rock build and complex acoustics, 'The Beginning Of The End's initial horns a herald to something more ominous and moody than ultimately delivered. This unexpected drop is easily lifted however by 'Throw The Sun's texture. Alien groans and the whirs of a futuristic spaceship meet lush, warm synths and the cold drips that detail them! 'Monsters' similar feel works equally well, a set of abrasive synths and lighter guitar falling into place next to keyboard phrases that sound decidedly 'Tubular Bells'-esque. A possible nod to critics who hailed his debut as such, I tip my hat to Johnson.
Suggestive and profound, 'Anchors Hold On To Hope' throbs with an undeniable optimism, folk sounds shattering like a shot of uncontrolled emotion in a climactic finish. 'The Real's humble execution brings things down to earth before 'Into The Sea's up-draft of eccentric synths and idiosyncratic guitars lifts you back into the ethereal haze. Drawing 'Throw the Sun Into the Sea' to its conclusion is 'The Be All And The End All', an aptly named finisher to an incredible record. Light and delicately wrought, Johnson throws a multitude of sounds and tempos as the song progresses. The result is driven and heart-pounding and, as the final static crackles die down, beautifully introspective. The album isn't without its flaws, concious decisions regarding length and risky sounds sometimes clashing, but overall Rob Johnson's second release is fantastic. Out on the 16th, stream 'The Wasp And The Flame' and look out for the full LP here!
by Katie P
London boasts the musical genius of Rob Johnson, who is due to release his new album ‘Throw The Sun Into The Sea’ – labelled by Revolt magazine as an “instrumental album of positively momentous strength” and the follow up to his debut 2009 release ‘Upon a Painted Ocean’.
Johnson has taken this album as an opportunity to share his instrumental music in order to paint an even better picture for his audience, the album comes in the form of a complete audio/visual experience with ten short films to accompany the album and if all this wasn’t enough, Johnson’s debut album ‘Upon A Painted Ocean’ featured vocals from Say Anything’s Max Bernis.
The London artist has played guitar in bands such as Forward Is The Farewell, who were known to support Hellogoodbye. Although he has found influence in many artists, this album is the chance for Johnson to make a name for himself and achieve something entirely different and original.
I found the first song, ‘The Wasp And The Flame’, extremely therapeutic with its amazing guitar solos. Drum sounds are later introduced which created a punchy beat, which escalated into an enthusiastic mix of electro, guitar and drum sounds. The variation and tempo makes it much more exciting to listen to, I loved it straight away!
Johnson has the honourable skill of being able to tell a story through his music, with the song ‘Hurricane’ having windy sounds that reflect the title. You do not need lyrics to understand and relate to the emotions being expressed. Each song has a completely different mood, this particular song is inspirational with its powerful drum beats, aggressiveness and passion. Similarly, I found ‘The Beginning Of The End’ highly enticing with its anticipatory intro, which later turns into an intense electro infusion of sound. Again, the change in tempo and use of different instruments adds excitement and I was entranced by the abundant passion put in.
As for the technicality of the songs, ‘EVE’ has a mismatch of electro sounds at the beginning, later changing into a more co-ordinated guitar section. I found Johnson’s ability to introduce two different styles into the same song quite touching, there is extreme talent to be found in this artist. In this song as well as the rest of the album, it really is all about the music alone and Johnson is one of the artists that I plead to be recognised and appreciated. There is a sci-fi alien theme to the track ‘Monsters’, so those that use their imagination will find that it becomes quite scary. I envisioned being in the middle of a Doctor Who episode, as the theatricality in this song is amazing.
Happier melodies are what make up ‘Anchors Hold On To Hope’, I found it inspiring and relaxing to listen to; who needs the sound of whales and ocean waves? The second half of the song changes to a more potent, punchier rhythm, an exciting transition that reflects great use of the imagination and amazing creativity. Another song that I liked for its punchy beats and funky rhythms was ‘Into The Sea’ – it portrays a different attitude to the other songs, a tad more aggressive and feisty, making it stand out as the product of powerful emotion. ‘The Be All And The End All’ is much more upbeat and the song explodes into intense guitar sounds, you can hear the passion that Johnson dedicates through the music. I admire his originality and abundant skill, also, this type of song is amazingly loud even at a low volume, which immediately makes it unexplainably awesome.
‘The Real’ is another emotionally touching song with beautiful guitar sections, where we learn to appreciate pure talent and originality.
It is crazy how much of an affect a song can have on its audience, but if you want proof, this album will more than suffice. I have never listened to anything instrumental before, but because of this album I am certain that my ears have not heard the last of it. Amazing work Mr Johnson.
AUDIO SCRIBBLER: Rob Johnson – Upon A Painted Ocean reviewed by Rachel Hand on October 16, 2009
The instrumental album brought back to life, without a trace of a tubular bell (thank God!). How many instrumental albums do you have in your collection? More importantly, how many do you listen to? I mean, really listen to? It’s certainly a tall order, but that is what British songwriter Rob Johnson, formerly of Forward is the Farewell, has attempted to create with Upon a Painted Ocean.
Like fellow instrumental projects Zombi or Pelican, these are not ‘songs without words’, or background music, or even club-intended dance or dubstep, but a true desire to express something through instruments. It’s a process very similar to Impressionist painting, where things don’t always have to resemble what they represent. Granted, it’s often difficult to tell what these abstract expressions mean; sometimes, such as in Rob Johnson’s case, the mood expressed is a lot less tangible than any words could sum up. However, the overall atmosphere blends a melancholic sense of ruin and loss, sighs of relief and crystalline beauty, and heavy-handed frustration.
After a stirring crescendo opening, ‘Monster Eats The Pilot’ can best be described as stop-start Flamenco dub, before ‘Cloak and Dagger’ warms up with beatific melody drowned out by tribal-sounding drums. With ‘Maimed Titles’, the album settles into a comfortable and rich sound: there is a constant interminable depth beneath the surface level of picked melodic guitar, with sudden panpipes and synthed female vocals like a choir of robot angels puncturing it on occasion. ‘In Cahoots’ varies from the mean slightly, featuring sly lounge-esque piano and what sounds like some kids let loose in the percussion cupboard.
The album’s highlight though is when the original theme resurfaces in ‘Milo’s Revenge’, but this time sounding like a ghoulish air raid siren, before suddenly getting rather dark, dubby, crunchy and nasty and’¦ well, fantastic. The only slight letdown is ’10:24′, which is a bit 80s in places due to its synth and bongo combination. ‘The Goodbye Ledger’ reverts to electronica-tinged twelve string guitar sprinkled with piano trills like fairy footsteps that wipe ’10:24′ from the memory, whilst ‘Hello Magda’ begs to be used in a bittersweet scene of some indie film, reminiscent of the haunting ‘Bron-yr-Aur’ by Led Zeppelin.
In the last two minutes of the album, the listener is confronted with spoken vocals by Max Bemis of Say Anything; the croaky, deadpan and tuneless voice reflects the bitterly cold pain of loss expressed in the words. This poem’s seafaring theme, recurring in the title, is also extended in the album’s sound. The roaring then serene temperament, the gracefully building moods, and the samples of crashing wintery waves all conjure up shades of deep turquoise, gold and grey.
Johnson’s composition and flawless musicianship have been greatly aided by the commendable production on the songs, after over a year of recording in Southampton. Mastered by Jon Astley, every instrument comes in crystal clear, and different parts demand the attention at every second, which is essential in a project such as this.
Admittedly, the listener has a tendency to drift off when not in the right state of mind, and certain songs on Upon a Painted Ocean simply glide by unnoticed; perhaps because the songs are more like movements in a long orchestral piece, and the style is thus unvarying. Other sections meanwhile truly affect the listener and stand proud as expressive, colourful and powerful songs, proving that instrumental albums don’t have to be gimmicky, obvious or bland. Ultimately, however, the art of recurring themes, subtlety of expression, development and recapitulation is lost on most audiences, who sadly couldn’t contemplate or interpret even something as eloquent as this.
September 1st, 2009 by Duncan Harris
Robert Johnson has an awful lot to live up to. Not only does he have a namesake who can comfortably be fingered as the Godfather of Rock but there’s also the little matter of restoring the mortally tarnished reputation of instrumental rock guitar music. Saddling himself with a distinctly New Age title (Upon A Painted Ocean is a quote from Coleridge’s poem “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”) and a beautifully composed cover shot go some distance toward disguising the more muscular rock songs that are in evidence on the album.
Really, only Steve Vai, Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa, Michael Rother, Ed Wynne (Ozric Tentacles) and, latterly, Steven Wilson have even approached this difficult and fraught area of music with any hint of success. Of course, the only thing that unites these disparate talents is the guitar; musically they are all unique. Rob Johnson is no exception, and sounds like none of the above.
Indeed, Upon A Painted Ocean sounds a little like Porcupine Tree covering New Model Army, with the magpie borrowings of the Beastie Boys thrown in. There are recurring musical themes and elaborate reinterpretations (“Point The Gun And Pull The Trigger” reappears to serve as the undercarriage of scorching rock song “Milo’s Revenge”, for example) and the album feels like a coherent project.
With tracks ranging from 51 seconds to over five minutes, this 14 track album is a smorgasbord of acoustic and electric guitars placed in a variety of settings and cushioning the blow of using what sounds like a (nicely understated) drum machine for the rhythmic engine. At odds with the New Age-y exterior are the song titles: “Point The Gun And Pull The Trigger” is a Robert Fripp-like acoustic guitar and riff soundscape, unsettling the listener before reassuring them with the chunky riffing and melodic hook of “Monster Eats The Pilot” – complete with a voice saying “hello” before the almost three minute melodic rock song makes its presence felt. Hook-laden and hummable, Rob Johnson splatters Upon A Painted Ocean with a dazzling array of guitar sounds, studio trickery, scratching, didgeridoos, sound effects and even a short extract from Coleridge’s poem on “555-0134”, spoken by Max Bemis of Say Anything. All to capture the listener’s attention and keep it.
“Maimed Titles” is – perhaps, as its title suggests – a film soundtrack without a movie, starting slowly and gradually piling on the guitars and the pace for a rousing yet melodic climax. “… End Credits” pretty much confirms this with a squelchy keyboard version of the same tune in a vastly different setting, including the sound of synthesizers on the verge of nervous breakdowns. “bipolar” is the nominal end to the first side (if Upon A Painted Ocean was a vinyl album) and it recapitulates the musical breadth of the preceding songs, always showing that New Model Army tendency of making it sound like live playing and proudly showcasing the acoustic guitar as a rock instrument. Indeed, Upon A Painted Ocean sounds like a solo instrumental album that Justin Sullivan could have released.
“Turn The Page Now” urges the voice, just before the second ‘side’ starts with the laid-back “In Cahoots”. Of course, it wanders back into rock territory again, but it is the juxtaposition of the guitar sounds and styles that really inspires the imagination. The blunt acoustic folk of “Hello Magda” is given a smoother image in the slowly building closing track “Amy. G. Dala”, which bounces around in synthesizer limbo before taking off on an altogether more interesting journey. Featuring the final voice contributions from Max Bemis it ends the album on a positive rock note, although it takes its time getting there.
Rob Johnson is going to find Upon A Painted Ocean a hard sell (unless a kindly film producer asks him to score a movie, perhaps) but the sheer quality of the music on offer is something to smile about. I don’t envy him the challenge, but this is a sterling attempt at revitalising a moribund genre. Anyone who mentions Tubular Bells, however, will be both wide of the mark… and shot.
Posted: Tue Oct 13 15:57:28 2009 by Andrew Reilly
Cinematic without a punchline.
Its difficult to get a grasp on ‘Upon a Painted Ocean’ by Rob Johnson, which is not to say its bad, there's not too much to dislike, its just hard to say what to like about it. It is hard to think of any moment where you feel that the album has came to life, its as though its permanently on the starting block, its revving its engines and giving you the impression it could roar off into the distance. That moment never comes leaving the listener sort of listless and unsure what to make of the record. The acoustic hum and strum is nice, its well played and it keeps moving, slowly but always onwards but theres not much to hang on to. Vocals and lyrics aren’t for everyone, that's fair enough but the odd smattering in the first half of the record would have really helped involve the listener and welcome them into the record.
The intricate plucking on ‘Maimed Titles’ is really nice and well worth listening to and could well feature in the background of many TV shows or mix compilations but even that starts to grate and age by the end of its run. The change of tone in the grittier guitar adds to it by bringing some extra life but equally, it manages to detract from the beauty and again, leave you crying out for some vocals to allow a better contrast to be made.
This is the pattern for the rest of the album, there are some good electronic moments and wizardry on tracks like ‘...End credits’ but not enough to make the rest of the record worth listening to over and over. In a way, its a great shame, its a more intricate and thought out record than many that will wind up in peoples homes this year but it doesn’t do enough.
If you want a challenge or you like a record that has to work its way into your favours, then this may well be a great project for you to try out but if you don’t have the time to spare, this may go over your head.