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Album Review: On Pause – Valiska

With December and the final stretch of the semester upon us, finding time to relax can be hard. Exams, Christmas shopping, and work parties compete for our attention and fill every blank space of our agendas, leaving little time to sit back and enjoy some relaxing alone time. Luckily, Valiska’s new record, On Pause, offers us incentive to pause for the thirty minutes it takes to listen. It’s just enough time to sink into a blissful state of relaxation, guided by the soothing music of Valiska.

As a Calgary-based artist, Valiska’s music is perfectly suited to the Canadian Prairies; the melancholy of long winters and the solitude of space stretching in all directions are infused into the music. Combining ambient sounds, simple melodies and minimal instrumentation, Valiska weaves together an impressively introspective album. Listening to it with the lights out and a few candles burning comes close to a meditative experience, with the music inviting contemplation and reflection. It’s the only way to truly appreciate this album.

The album opens with the appropriately named “Heavy Riser,” in which an eerie and waltzing synth riff is slowly joined by a muted bass and a shimmering piano to create a melancholic atmosphere. This sets the tone for the entire album, which rises and falls in slow cadences as long periods of dark, ambient music are followed by short bursts of sound-energy. The album description mentions the use of the Moog Sub 37 synthesizer as the central instrument and various looping techniques to add textures and variety, which are processed through analogue tape to give unity and cohesiveness to the album. The result is the feeling of listening to one very long piece of music separated in small sections, while the whole acquires new meaning as a brilliant exercise in mood.

“Softness,” the second track of the album, includes mournful chants and heavily manipulated sounds reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place.” “Mornings” includes distant tearing sounds, a mournful melody, and the looping of the words “try again.” An organ-like sampled sound is present on “Fake strings for False Memories” and is joined by violins and choirs to give it a decidedly medieval air.

“Across a City, Across a Country,” runs just over 10 minutes, and it is the most dynamic and complex song on the album. It gives rise to the only prolonged moment of loudness. As manipulated sounds, melodies, piercing synths and heavy bass clash together, we find ourselves at the height of our musical journey, at the point where everything comes together to create a striking portrait of hope, longing, and desire. As the song fades out, “Interlude” comes on with a feeling of having made it to the other side. The electronically manipulated voice offers us a final word of wisdom. “Forever,” which closes the album, sounds like a religious procession exiting a church after a particularly intense ceremony.  

The last notes linger in the silence that follows, like a dream slowly disintegrating into one’s memory. When silence finally comes and we emerge from our trance, we feel relaxed and richer. My advice to you: pull up a cushion, light a few candles, turn off the lights and enjoy the music!

– Review by David Krushnisky