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|fin de siecle
CD 2012 | Silber 110
7 tracks, 45 minutes
$12 ($18 international, $5 download (320 kbps, ~76 megs))
rue d'auseil, black rose, thousand eyes, sink/rise, fin de siecle, the white mountains, release
: Listen to the track The White Mountains
: Press release
Most guys take up the guitar so they can have women. Robert Brown took up guitar because he wanted to have women (and everyone else within earshot) fall asleep. Brown's Northern Valentine, the Philadelphia based Ambient drone outfit, creates a perpetual state of atmosphere and shows new depth on their CD Fin de Siécle (45'47"). Using guitars, synthesizers and an interesting variety of instruments and players Northern Valentine seeks to capture not surface reality but some more intangible psychological state of being. Listeners to their music are more dream interpreter than audience member as these works seem less like mere songs and more like a portal to a dimensionless landscape. Progressing at a pace that can only be called sedate each track on Fin de Siécle transforms the raw material of e-bow guitar, textural synth washes and breathing bass swells into a distinctive slowly-lowly-slow sonic poetry. Yet mysteriously these tones pulse with living energy as the album moves between blissed out Elysium and blessed unrest. Reflective and seemingly without resolution, Northern Valentine's music is a form of exploration, of lighting out into the unknown and heading for those unmarked places on the map - while we listeners revel in this music's hypnotic thrall.
~ Chuck van Zyl, Star's End
North Carolina's Silber label has become somewhat of a professional unearther of cool talent around the globe. The label doesn't seek out and work with commercial money pig artists...the emphasis is on artistic freedom and true creativity. Fin de Siecle is a subtle album featuring strange ambient compositions that are simultaneously soothing and peculiar. The songs on this album were recorded using a single binaural microphone with no overdubs...so what you hear is the actual sound of the musicians playing. Some of these tracks were recorded live while two were originally recorded fifteen years ago and recently rediscovered while going through some old tapes. These esoteric tracks have virtually nothing in common with commercial music in the twenty-first century...and we all know that is a very good thing. Seven dreamy cuts here including "Rue D'Auseil," "Black Rose," and "Release." Stylish and slightly haunting... Way cool. Top pick.
I’ll be honest: drone music all too often seems like an easy way out for musicians who think they’re creating evocative and entrancing soundscapes with minimal effort. (I call it the “hold the same note for 15 minutes” syndrome.) But when a drone artist gets it right, as Northern Valentine does with Fin de Siècle, such criticisms quickly fall by the wayside as you find yourself drawn further into the vast territories conjured up by their expansive sounds.
Forlorn guitar notes ring out from within “Rue D’Aureil”’s eerie distortion cloud like beacons on a fog-enshrouded ocean, or the plaintive cry of sailors imprisoned on The Flying Dutchman. “Black Rose” evokes the sort of deep ambient sonorities that are usually Steve Roach’s trademark (think The Magnificant Void). Though one doesn’t normally think of ambient music as “loud” music, I find myself turning the song up in order to more fully experience the song’s cosmically minded depths.
However, not all of Fin de Siècle’s songs have their origins in the ether, or evoke vast spatial reaches as their environs. Anchored by an ominous, Morricone-esque acoustic guitar and crackling guitar buzz, “The White Mountains” leads the listener through barren desert sands, creating a spectral, funereal tone fit for a spaghetti western gunfighter riding to his doom.
Fin de Siècle’s centerpiece, not surprisingly, is the fourteen-minute title track. Opening with fluttering synths and soft piano notes, the song begins on a note that is both lovely and eerie. (This mirrors the album’s artwork, which depicts tiny birds delicately laying down flowers on a bleached skeleton.) As with “Black Rose”, one is tempted to constantly turn up the volume so as to better experience the song’s haunting, poignant sounds. But in this case, that isn’t entirely advisable, as “Fin de Siécle” swells and grows at an imperceptible rate.
By the half-way point, the listener is surrounded by walls of noise and drone that sound like Labradford remixed by Deaf Center. If you’re familiar with either of those groups, then it shouldn’t surprise you when I say that, no matter how massive and even crushing the song’s atmospherics become, they never stop being affecting. What’s more, if you can endure a closer listen, you’ll be rewarded yet again by the group’s attention to detail: sparse piano notes can just be heard ringing out from within the maelstrom, their stark and tenuous existence adding another layer of poignancy to an already powerful piece.
For me, the best drone music does this: it evokes a sense of vast, mysterious expanses that, no matter how dark and ominous they might seem, beckon to be explored and mapped. Such exploration requires little more than a pair of good headphones and a certain level of patience. With a good drone record, and Fin de Siècle is certainly that, the listening experience — the journey through those expanses, if you will — is always worth it. And when it’s over, I find myself wanting to press “Play” and make the trek — and “see” those sights — all over again.
Coming from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Northern Valentine have been playing their mostly improvisation-based, beautiful, minimal and soothing ambient-drone for about 15 years now, but I have not heard them before. They usually play their very atmospheric and picturesque music to self-made movies and it’s easy to imagine this kind of an audio-visual experience to be a very enjoyable one. You wouldn’t right away know from the very airy, serene, organic and relaxing sound quality that this album was recorded using just one binaural stereo microphone. I’m sure the mastering guy did a wonderful job as well. The seven tracks on the CD originate from a bit different sources: ”Sink / Rise” and ”The White Mountains” are from the early days of the band and were just recently rediscovered, the other pieces have been recorded live on a gig or in a living room within a couple of years. The album works really nicely as just relaxing background music but if you listen more carefully you will find marvelous, melancholic and hovering worlds in there that are very soothing and blissful to float in. The sounds that have been used originate from both acoustic and electric sources but it’s actually most of the time impossible to tell what instruments they are using. There are no actual rhythms in the music for example, and the melodies are very subtle. The sonic web that the band weaves sounds really great and even a more rock oriented listener like I don’t get bored with the album despite its minimalism, unlike with some other drone bands. I would recommend this to those who like tranquil, emotional and moody music!
~ DJ Astro, Psychotropic Zone
A gorgeous record wrapped in beautiful artwork by Michelle A. Perez. Northern Valentine make instrumental music focusing on ambient guitar and aerial keyboards – no percussion. Recorded on various occasions through the years, Fin de siècle still features a sound stylistic homoneity. Music to drift by with melancholy atmospheres and rays of light perceing through heavy clouds.
~ François Couture, Monsieur Delire
If you miss Labradford & “vintage” Flying Saucer Attack, you need to check out Northern Valentine’s “Fin de siècle”.
~ Jason Morehead, Opus
Subtlety feels like the primary focus of Northern Valentine’s album Fin de Siècle, a disc laden with expansive, evocative soundscapes that can be characterized as, at bare minimum, a ponderous collection.
Pondering and subtlety have always driven the minimalist five-piece from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, whose brand of textured ambience should be regarded as some of the finest and most expertly crafted. Northern Valentine have been recording with North Carolina’s Silber Records since 2008, when their five-track label debut, The Distance Brings Us Closer hit (prior to this, the band recorded and played live US shows). Since that debut, the band has released several short-form EP recordings, and appeared on compilations, but the seven songs here on Fin de Siècle seem like their whispered statement of artistic arrival.
The songs are a blend of soft, undulating tones, accented with an array of interesting keys and strings. The title track, all fourteen sprawling minutes of it, comes across at first blush like the soundtrack for the subterranean exhumation of old memories. That track cuts into the tense guitar introduction of “The White Mountains,” the harrowing heart of the album. That statement is, of course, up for some pondering itself, as the diffuse, often Gaussian quality of Fin de Siècle is clearly more complex than to center on one single song.
~ Erick Mertz, Kevchino
The first thing that grabs you about this album is its striking cover art, a painting by Michelle A. Perez, in which birds pick flowers out of an animal carcass. The image juxtaposes life and death, beauty and decay, in a way that really makes you think. The music of Northern Valentine is improvisational drone music. In the wrong hands, such a style can deteriorate into mere self-indulgence, or can otherwise sound cliched - a massive piece of irony when you consider that this genre started off as experimental! I've found that drone is a genre that requires real talent to be able to pull it off, likewise improvisation in general. Fortunately Northern Valentine have that talent. This is very beautiful ambient music that is simultaneously relaxing and engaging. It has a film soundtrack feel about it, but is no mere 'background music'; it requires the listener's full attention. There is more melody here than is the norm with drone music, and the band's use of keyboards (including piano) and violin as well as guitars sets them apart from the bulk of this often very samey genre. The title track is particularly worthy of mention for its highly effective combination of swelling soundscape and neoclassical piano. The White Mountains is a little different from the rest of the album, though it does not sound at all out of place. It's a melodic guitar instrumental, hypnotically repetitive, with an atmosphere that hints at psych-folk. This is combined with soothing ambient drones to create a work of great beauty. It's fair to say that this is one of the most impressive and creative drone albums I've ever heard.
~ Kim Harten, Bliss/Aquamarine
Northern Valentine is an American band which has been in existence since 2006. They have acquired quite a reputation as an ambient band and have toured USA extensively and also played live shows in Iceland. Their latest CD, Fin de Siécle, sees them explore the astral planes of meditative and ambient music beyond the farthest reaches of our musical perceptions.
It is clear from the start that the band employs a minimalist technique that would put Brian Eno to shame. The developments are very slow and the atmosphere extremely relaxing, yet at the same time dark and foreboding. But it works! You have the feeling like you're drifting in space, with peace and serenity in your soul, but with a kind of hidden dread crouching underneath, in anticipation of what lies or hides ahead. The atmosphere persists throughout and you can’t help but feel some sort of attraction at the possibilities awaiting you. Yet, in the end, it’s all about the journey! Luckily, the journey turns out to be the best part and you feel a sense of completion, satisfaction and a deeper connection to the cosmos at the end.
The drone and occasional post rock music on Fin de Siécle is slow to get off the ground and eventually it never does, only for you to discover it was never on the ground to begin with, but in the vastness of space. The ambient keyboards and occasional guitars (The White Mountains) do the trick in creating a dreamy soundscape to immerse yourself in.
Northern Valentine are often compared to some post rock bands like Sigur Ros or GY!BE, but anyone expecting this will be left wanting. Fin de Siécle is ambient and drone music at its best, not post rock by any stretch of the imagination.
Fin de Siécle is a perfect album for meditation, with its subtle changes and movements. It can work as background music, but I find it most rewarding if I pay my full attention to it. Highly recommended!
~ Rok Podgrajšek, The Rocktologist
Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and everyone's idea of an all-you-can-eat buffet was to hunt down the saber-tooth tiger and graze on long-grass, when the day ended, we trudged home, hung up our goatskins and rude weapons, settled into the darkest recesses of the communal cave, and tossed on the cosmic sounds of early Kraftwerk, Michael Hoenig, Cluster, and various fellow Neanderthals so that our lives in the wayback—when the dreaded Nixonites, the odd LBJ tribe, and the yammering Agnewvians from over the mountains were as numerous as locusts—were not too unbearable. Time passed, Eno descended from the heavens like an angel of mercy, and things changed rapidly. I'm not so sure the mode has advanced all that much since, just as I'm quite reconciled that it needn't, but I'm positive it hasn't been fully explored either…and that's where Northern Valentine comes in.
Between then and now, Mike Garrison, Steve Roach, Aphex Twin, Pink Floyd, and others picked up the slack as the Soleilmoon, Instinct Ambient, Waveform Corporation, and especially Hypnos labels sidled in on lightning bolts and dreamrails. Eventually, a decent disparate community of progressive space musics existed, and we got Sigur Ros, Radiohead, and various ensembles therefrom. With the field wide open but not nearly so populated as it should be, Northern Valentine, a quartet (guitars, guitars, keyboards, keyboards & violins) of chill-out drone ambientalists, has thrown its hand—or rather it's eight hands—into the arena and delivered a septet of conterminous sounds that are not so much a fin de Siécle (end of an era—or the turning point from one to another) as what occurs after the end of everything terrene. Neither Ragnarok nor oblivion, it's instead a National Geographic of soundscapes from an indeterminate sometime.
NV emits slow langurous waves of overlapping tones and progressions that narcotize, invoking a deep sense of catharsis, of subtle release of worldly tensions. At times drear and foggy, then suffused and radiant, sensefields turn within themselves and coruscate or deliquesce. This is meditational in the best notion—not some sappy idiot breathing into a shakuhachi or plinking a piano but a map of inner worlds and the vastnesses of the inky gulf, an ether to drift off into. If you fall asleep while listening, you're going to have some interesting dreams…but you'll also miss subtle happenstances fading in and out of each composition. There's never enough of this mode of music, and one of the cool elements is that you can put it on endless play and erect alien environments in your own home………or head.
~ Mark S. Tucker, Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Right from the opening bars of first track 'Rue D' Auseil' it's obvious that 'Fin De Siecle' isn't a conventional Rock or any other kind of album. Northern Valentine are past masters of the ambient soundscape and the seven tracks on this release see them giving their ethereal, glacial imaginations full rein. Their first full release since 2008, the tracks glide out of the speakers like epic cloudscapes, the instrumentation spiralling slowly as each of the tracks (which could with ease run together as a single composition) first establish themselves and then disintegrate as if they had never existed. The perfect soundtrack for a documentary about arctic tundra, an exercise in ambient composition, exactly the kind of muzak Brian Eno never actually recorded, Northern Valentine seem to inhabit a world very different from our own. Their music reflects their continuing search for an antidote to modern urban living and is seamlessly produced, deceptively minimal, continually revealing intricately hidden aural structures throughout its 50 or so minutes. Load this onto your personal stereo next time you go hillwalking.
~ Jon Gordon, Tasty Fanzine
Ambient music that uses guitars: is there something more old hat than that? We have Fear Falls Burning and a whole string of isolationists. But they are usually solo projects, and so, Northern Valentine is something different. Its a quartet, of Robert Brown (guitars), Amy Brown (keyboard, violin), Jeffrey Bumiller (guitars) and Matthew Primak (keyboards). They have been around since 1998 and I have no idea about previous recordings. But apparently this album has apparently two pieces that are fifteen years old, and were found sifting through over 200 hours of recordings. Some other pieces were recorded live. if you ask me, this band likes to meet up in their rehearsal space, switch the recorder on and then start playing. The seven pieces here, spanning only (?) forty-five minutes, are very much along whatever lines you expect 'ambient and guitar' to sound, but by no means it says bad. Actually I think this is quite a good album of a more expanded ambient sound. The band line up provides more possibilities than some of the solo guitar players have, no matter how many loop stations they use. The sound of Northern Valentine isn't very smooth but retains a gritty edge, a live edge if you will. That rawness adds a certain quality to the music which I like, beyond the ordinary. It reminds you of some of the older ambient industrialists, such as Voice Of Eye or older Illusion Of Safety. Ambient through improvisation, by an almost rock line-ups. Like a rawer version of Stars Of The Lid. You could do worse, I'd say. A great album.
~ Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly
Brian John Mitchell has been running his Silber Media empire for over 15 years, during which he’s released over 100 albums from over 60 artists, including his own Remora project. Northern Valentine is the Philadelphia snorecore collective centred around husband and wife Robert & Amy Brown that we raved about here at Terrascope Towers back in 2008. Their latest combines rediscovered recordings dating back some 15 years with recent live and living-room recordings from the last two years. Opening track, ‘Rue d’Auseil’ establishes the glacial pace that dominates the ambient/drone recordings – fans of Windy & Carl, Tange, Liquid Mind, and labelmates, Aarktica will be right at home in the album’s warm, marshmallow embrace.
The live recordings (particularly the thousand-yard-stare-inducing, 14-minute title track) demonstrate the band’s ability to faithfully recreate their ruminative sound, with the open-space atmospherics feeding off the room ambience. In fact, the band members pride themselves on creating music that is largely improvised and often feeds off their reactions to their physical environment. The older recordings (‘Sink/Rise’ and ‘The White Mountains’) fit seamlessly into the new catalogue, illustrating that the group found their niche early on and have been perfecting their craft with each subsequent release.
If you’re a frequent listener to Calm Radio’s Sleep station, this is definitely an album you want to add to your bedtime discography. While the music may equally induce feelings of melancholy and thoughtful reflection, the fact that it is able to extract such emotional ties from the listener suggest it works equally well for contemplative self-exploration or soothing background music.
~ Jeff Penczak, Terrascope
Northern Valentine is a Philadelphia, USA, based ambient rock band. Having started life at the tail end of last century as a collective, which centres around: Robert Brown(guitars), Amy Brown (keyboards, violin), Jeffrey Bumiller (guitars) and Matthew Primak (keyboards).
There is no hurry with Northern Valentine, their latest release, Fin de siècle, due out in April is a 7 track EP with 45 minutes of music to digest.
The music can be left to run as a backdrop to a great evening, without becoming wallpaper or equally serves as a focus for intense cogitation. On both levels the music burrows in to the mind leading to a mysterious and yet approachable core. The musicians have used the intervening years superbly to hone their skills and the silky feel flows smoothly in to the room, with no extraneous effort.
It would be easy for this depth of composition to leave the listener bewildered or bored, Northern Valentine achieve neither low-points as the shifting patterns throughout the tracks transfix the brains waves, setting a gentle syncopation between listener and players. The music has that texture of wafting smoke caught in sunlight. Physically not possible to hold, yet the particles engage the mind.
~ Indie Bands Blog
Northern Valentine is a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania based ambient/drone-rock collective consisting of husband and wife, Robert and Amy Brown, along with Matthew Primak and Jeffrey Bumiller. Their music is largely improvisational and is typically set to original films that the collective has created. Coaxing sounds from electric and acoustic sources, they weave meditative drones and soundscapes with "barely there" post-rock instrumentation to create a tapestry that Phil McMullen (Terrascope Online) refers to as "minimalist ambiance at its best. Heartfelt, soulful and affecting, like gazing into a scrapbook of memories".
~ Noise Architect
Instrumental ambient. Nothing heavy or noisy-- dreamy spacey tones in minimal, cavernous washes. Atmospheric, relaxed starry soundscapes. Really slow pieces built around guitars, keyboards, violins, feedback, delay. One of the first artists I heard on KZSU that pushed me out of my comfort zone. Reminds me a bit of Eno, thisquietarmy. Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky.
1. Two chord astral churn. (6:15)
2. Foreboding drone and celestial keys. (4:13)
3. Leaving the spacecraft and cutting the cord. (7:14)
*4. Beautiful grainy texture and warbly melody. (2:15)
5. Shimmering stalactites splitting in slow motion. A dronier second half follows, as the cycles and washes increasingly adopt a menacing feel. (14:11)
*6. Twisted acoustic guitar, bells, droning strings, and dark beauty. Reminds me of Current 93, even Swans. (4:06)
7. Dreamy slow atmospheric build with dark synth and keys supporting the delay-heavy guitar GY!BE-esque lead. (7:15)
~ Adam Pearson, KZSU
Gocce di ambient chitarristica diluite in galloni di sognante post-rock. Una formula collaudata che nelle mani dei quattro Northern Valentine trova una sintesi armoniosa. ‘La colonna sonora del ciclo di vita e morte, rabbia e pace, amore e solitudine’, scrive Brian John Mitchell per descrivere l’ultima pubblicazione della sua Silber. Facile entrare in sintonia con la malinconia di Black Rose, così come perdersi nelle nebbie della lunghissima omonima Fin De Siècle. Dopo due anni dall’altrettanto convincente The Distance Brings Us Closer i Northern Valentine dimostrano di poter portare il peso dell’eredità di una genia nata con i Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
~ Roberto Mandolini, Rockerilla