Ethereal whale song with piano accompaniment.
Josh Semans plays the Ondes Martenot. I’ve featured the instrument on Higher Plain Music before. It is a little like an expressive Theremin but the way how Josh plays it reminds me so much of whale song. The waning pitch bend that echoes out is both beautiful and alien at the same time. There isn’t anything else quite like it out there and as a result Josh Semans music feels unique too.
His album is often a duet between the piano and the ondes, with some electronics hiding in the background. The piano plays backup throughout – the Ondes Martenot is the star here. It leads all the waxing and waning melodies from track to track. Pieces like ‘Antipode’ and ‘When I Am Weak’ need little more than a gentle soaring over the melancholy piano to evoke a graceful sense of loss. The whale call resonates like a gentle electric guitar solo and takes you on a journey far away.
Things feel really unique are when Josh adds in drums and synths to give the music more of a contemporary classical feel. ‘Clouds Like Mountains’ is a stunning piece that feels bold and blazing as loops of the ondes roll around you. ‘Pyre’ mixes up vintage sepia synths with the ondes instead. The track sounds like a dolphin singing in a glacial landscape. Elsewhere single ‘Trust’ balances sadness with tentative optimism. The ondes’ low register growls early on but gives way to flowing serenity later.
The final two tracks go hand in hand and show just how flexible the ondes can be. ‘Omnicide I + II’ is a rage-filled siren that ascends up the scales in a buzzing frenzy. As the track reaches fever pitch it abruptly ends and flows into the calm after the storm. The title track plays the album out initially quite beautifully. Then the ondes is distorted and given the dystopian sci-fi treatment as we remember the bitterness that came beforehand. Versatility and emotion in a nutshell.
Josh Semans is an expert composer and ondes performer. He understands the nuance of how it sings and how to place other instruments around it to make it shine. This is an unusual contemporary classical album but one I wholeheartedly support. Beautiful, affecting, alien and otherworldly but in all cases brilliant.
Recommended track: Trust
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