17 October 2006

[DISCOGRAPHY] Caural - Mirrors for Eyes

Caural - Mirrors for Eyes (Mush, 2006)
Format: 2LP & CD

1. Dead Armies
2. Re-Experience Any Moment You Choose
3. Cold Hands (feat. Hrishikesh Hirway)
4. I Won't Race You
5. Hallucination Broadcast
6. Transition Suite - Part I: Lady (feat. Racecar)
7. Transition Suite - Part II: Papillon
8. Make Us Invisible
9. Cruel Fate of Spring (feat. Paul Amitai)
10. Sending You Colors
11. Only Time Will Know (feat. Jacob Croegaert)

Artwork & Photography by Barbara & Marc Mastoon
Design by Chris Eichenseer @ Someoddpilot


Caural returns with Mirrors For Eyes, his second release for Mush, and the proper follow-up to his last cohesive full-length effort, 2002’s Stars On My Ceiling (Chocolate Industries). Continuing to build tracks of intricate sound splices over daring drum programming, Caural pushes the fine art of headphone music forward, with surprises around every beat. Hrishikesh Hirway, of One AM Radio, Paul Amitai, and Jacob Croegaert add stirringly sweet complimentary vocals to Caural’s already beautiful and melodic production on the tracks “Cold Hands,” “Cruel Fate of Spring,” and "Only Time Will Know," while Chicago MC Racecar, of the group Modill, laces “Lady” with a throwback rhyme in the spirit of Native Tongues. The brilliance of the instrumental passages and the standout guest vocal spots solidify Mirrors For Eyes as Caural’s most fully realized album to date.


30 Music
Maybe when you dream you see strange shapes that are pleasant from afar, but upon closer inspection begin to resemble repetitive acts of soft-core, apocalyptic violence. Perhaps you appreciate the way the concrete reflects a fiery sunset only to realize that the source of so many reds and oranges isn't the sun, but a forest fire. Or maybe you see a lake from the interstate you're driving on, and pull over to take a dip only to find that the lake is designated an environmental disaster site, full of so much pollution and broken glass that entering its depths would mean certain death. This is what Mirrors for Eyes, the newest record from Caural—aka Zachary Mastoon—sounds like. The majority of the record is odd, but dreamy and laced with a strange ethereal energy.

From the album's opening guitar strums, like angel's harps ascending to heaven, it's clear Mastoon is pushing his hybrid of samples, beats and computers into a realm not often attempted, and less often achieved, in the realm of technology driven music—these songs, or most of them anyway, are infused with an uncanny sense of magic. "Re-Experience Any Moment You Choose," opens with shaky vocal samples and keys accompanied by distant chimes and piano plinking before a cymbal splash invites the beat in. The array of sounds that open the song are so organic that the beats are almost shocking.

Many of the album's highlights ascribe to a similar theme. The ambience that whispers into life on "Hallucination Broadcast" slowly grows and transforms into a natural, meditative drone, underscored by hand drums before the thick, and tight beats drop in to shake up nature and wake up the tree gazers. Much of this success carries over into Caural's collaborations with vocalists. While "Cold Hands" with Hrishikesh Hirway and "Only Time Will Tell" (sic) with Jacob Croegnaert don't quite fit into the album's overall scheme, the first part of the "Transition Suite" makes fine use of Racecar's natural delivery. Even more impressive is "Cruel Fate of Spring," a truly inspired pop nugget featuring Paul Amitai crooning over warm electric piano and a slew of other subtle textures.

In a genre that is known for producing scores of background music, it's nice to find an album like Caural's Mirrors for Eyes. Not content with simply honing technical precision, Zachary Mastoon has crafted an elegant, and fascinating record that explores the dim, unexpected corners where the natural world and technology meet. By infusing his songs with so much natural beauty, the beats and samples almost come across as ugly. Unlike the grim examples that opened this review, however, electronic coldness is an ugliness that only contributes to the album's overall beauty.

40 Versions
Dizzying dream-loop beats, hissy patchwork instrumentation, floating vocal bits, something for a colorful fall day.

Aiding & Abetting
The beats are much dirtier, the songs are somewhat flightier, and the need for patience is identical. Caural has a bit more of a track record, but that doesn't make this stuff any more mainstream. Still, I can hear a bit more "crossover" potential in this stuff. By not being so overtly aggressive, Zachary Mastoon (a.k.a Caural) leaves the door open a crack further. Plus, he adheres closer to pop song construction--within his interpretation of such, anyway. The grungy sound here really completes the package for me. Most of the fuzz comes in the lowest beats, but it's really effective. Something to luxuriate in, for sure. As are the songs here. Despite their lofty ambitions, these songs are best enjoyed with a relatively blank mind. Just let the wonderment drift past your ears and you, too, will be enlightened. And if you're not, well, you'd better start looking for your prefrontal lobes.

Zachary Mastoon's music occupies the same sort of creative territory from which talents like Four Tet, Prefuse 73 and Boom Bip have sprouted. He deftly combines a hip hop production ethic with a strong pop sensibility, taking in plenty of wig-out digressions along the way. The glue that holds Mirrors For Eyes together is Caural's pedigree in skilful electronic manipulations. 'Re-experience Any Moment You Choose' is a blissful cut-and-paste of found sound percussion mixed in with more conventional drumbeats, all topped off with a layering of detuned female vocals. The jazzy excursions of 'Transition Suite Part II – Papillon' and the new age-laptop-psych of 'Hallucination Broadcast' bear the hallmarks of Mastoon's musical education, studying Indonesian gamelan and South East Asian Music and even taking improvisation classes with none other than Anthony Braxton. A great example of hip hop-flavoured electronica loosening up and letting in some more out-there textures, Mirrors For Eyes sits alongside the recent work of Daedelus and Nobody, sounding very much like abstract hip hop's next move.

BPM Magazine
Following on the success of his 2002 full-length for Chocolate Industries, Stars on My Ceiling, Zachary Mastoon, better known as Caural, takes another step forward with his second record for SoCal stalwarts, Mush. Pulling together intricate beat programming, wide-ranging instrumentation and the occasional rhyme, Mirrors for Eyes wraps the listener in a world that expands upon the expolrations revealed by repeated listens. That is to say, don't play this in the background while you're doing the dishes - slap the headphones on and put your feet up on the couch to enjoy the crashing kit drums and stuttering production tweaks of "Hallucination Broadcast," sink into your beanbag and be regaled by the round, boom-bap bounce of "I Won't Race You," and loll about on the rug while the crisp snares, reversed guitars, and lounge style organ of "Make Us Invisible" fill your mind. You'll be glad you stayed in.

So what happens when you mix hip-hop beats with South Asian influences and a shoegaze penchant for noise and try to force them all to exist together in that nebulous world of "experimental" music? Ask Zachary Mastoon, the multi-instrumentalist that is Caural. Mirror For Eyes is somewhat schizophrenic, sometimes working with smooth hip-hop beats and other times regressing into the cacophonous smashing of a rock band going all out at the end of their set. As for vocals, they range from ethereal (read: creepy) tones to slick rhymes to less-impressive Light FM-style melodies. Caural is eclectic to say the least, but he definitely has focused strengths—he's at his best when working more with beats and less with noise—and when on display, those tracks stand miles ahead of the rest. A broad scope of influences can definitely be an advantage, but as Mirrors For Eyes shows, it still helps to narrow your concentration.

DJ Magazine
Schooled in the same art of instrumental downbeat as Ammoncontact, Daedelus, Jimmy Edgar and Nobody, Zachary Mastoon returns with a full-length No. 2. It's an accomplished and colorful affair that twists and turns its way from glitch-driven weirdness to atmospheric post-rock.

Zachary Mastoon finally releases his proper follow-up to his fantastic 2002 effort Stars on My Ceiling and hasn't missed a step in the meantime. Mirrors for Eyes continues Caural's ability to take hip-hop influenced programming and combine it with gorgeous electronic flares and haunting vocal samples to make yet another moving piece of musical work. Right off the bat we're greeted with a lush transition of the harp-driven "Dead Armies" as it builds its samples into a greater soundscape to breath life into the psychedelic "Re-Experience Any Moment You Choose," both chopping drums into dozens of fragments to give Caural his signature stuttered sound.

There's a few vocal turns this time around as Racecar from Chicago's slept-on Modill rhymes nicely over a romantic hip-hop joint and, even though they might sound a little like whiney folk in their delivery, Hrishkesh Hirway and Paula Amitai provide some nice melodies to break up instrumentals. Mirrors for Eyes definitely excels the most when Caural relies on his production to take centre stage, dropping various horns, guitar feedback, toy pianos and other electronic orchestration to create very moving compositions for easy listening. The comparisons to Prefuse 73 are hard to not make, but with Scott Herren losing the plot lately it's time for people to focus on this JetBlue Flight 292 survivor and Chicago native's fantastic spliced drum arrangements.

Multi-instrumentalist/producer Zachary Mastoon certainly has an extremely diverse musical background, having studied jazz guitar and improvisation at Wesleyan University under Anthony Braxton before going on to explore Indonesian gamelan and Southeast Asian music. It's an eclectic palette of influences that's brought out in full among the lush and diverse explorations offered on Mirrors for Eyes, his second album for Mush and his fourth in total. While much of the material here isn't a million miles away from the sorts of eclectic post-hip-hop constructions of the likes of Daedelus, what really sets it apart from so many other makers of "leftfield" beats is the attention to depth of texture.

While beat-driven moments such as the narcotically swooning "Re-experience Any Moment You Choose" traverse similar landscape to the likes of Prefuse 73, the layers of lush texture in the form of trailing broken glass and unexpected sub-bass swells show Caural taking advantage of considerably more width in the frequency spectrum. "Hallucination Broadcast" finds Indian tabla influences rising to the forefront amid blurred vocal tones and drones from Don Rainwater, while the evocatively slowburning "Papillon" would easily sit alongside the Cinematic Orchestra with its rich, majestic Sun Ra Arkestra-esque horns. Easily one of the most consistently gripping and sonically rich instrumental hip-hop listening experiences I've had the pleasure of in some time, Mirrors for Eyes is highly recommended to fans of Boom Bip and Dabrye's more lush excursions.

Zachary Mastoon's myspace page for Caural self-stylizes his work as "Experimental / Shoegazer / Hip-Hop," safely tapping three genre classifictions that, in isolation, can certainly be said to characterize his work. However, when you throw them all together (as Mastoon does more often than not on Mirrors For Eyes, his second record for Mush), the blenderization turns the music into something closer to dusky hiccuping improvisation or elegant and eclectic lounge music.

"Re-Experience Any Moment You Choose" is slow-burn dub with sleepy drum kit, digital time slices of forgotten back-up singers, a Hammond Organ tickled and coaxed by a nimble-fingered suitor, and bridges made of leftover static from ancient My Bloody Valentine studio sessions. The rhythm section of "Cold Hands" is glitched up with Pole-style static, creating a whispering backdrop for Hrishikesh Hirway's maudlin lyrics; while "I Won't Race You" juxtaposes gliding vocal samples (choral shoegazer) with syncopated drums, highlighting Mastoon's methodology of building the drum loops first before layering in swooping synth pads, tintinnabulation, and the delicate tracery of the vocals. "Hallucination Broadcast" veers away from the ethereal pacing of the early part of the record with its noisy drum exposition, a burst of thunder amid a drift of gentle rain. "Make Us Invisible" is an elementary school recess soundtrack with winsome woodwinds, stutter-step drum programming, and bubbling electronics, call it a bit of Boards of Canada naivette mixed with the Four Tet dance machine. "Sending You Colors" swirls waves of glamorous guitar melodies and lilting piano chords around a bed of digitized household noises--part straw broom whisk, part washing machine gurgle, part copper pan clatter, part utensil drawer rattle; while "Cruel Fate of Spring" features Paul Amitai doing tubercular emo while Mastoon arranges delicate organ melodies and finely granulated drum programming into a stately spring processional.

This is the trick (or trap, really) of genre labeling. If the rhythms aren't mathematically challenging enough to cause whiplash when you try to follow them, then it can't be IDM; if they don't lurch about, crashing into the walls, they can't be broken. So what's left? The same can be said for the inimitable wash of guitar noises: well, it's got to be... In the end, there's only one track --"Transition Suite: Part 1 - Lady" -- that actually features hip-hop vocals; the rest is simply informed by Mastoon's shoegazer. And Mastoon hides a little behind the "experimental" tag, I think, using it as a catch-all to deflect criticism from ardent fans of either genre who come to fuss about the purity of his expression. I'm tempted to add the phrases "downtempo" and "acid jazz" and "minimal glitch" to the list, but that just complicates things, doesn't it? While Mirrors For Eyes is certainly a complex work, its subtle magic is the manner in which it enchants the listener.

Intake Music Weekly
As unexpected and strange as a long dream, "Mirrors for Eyes" brings an ambient sound that has no shortage of sonic experimentation. Based out of Brooklyn, Caural is Zachary Mastoon, who according to his Myspace page is influenced heavily by visual arts. This can easily be inferred from his music, as it's essentially an aural collage. Beats are spliced, deconstructed, looped and pasted together. In some instances, the whole package is intriguing, in others it's busy and cumbersome. Vocals are manipulated in a similar fashion.

In "Re-Experience Any Moment You Choose," its simple vocal will bounce from one ear to another, messing with your head a little. The layering is impressive and appreciated, though, because the album surprises you often. You'll hear windchimes, baby noises, foresty sounds and some unidentifiable sounds. A sack of pennies being shaken? Maybe. Dripping faucet? Not sure yet, but I'll get back to you. Songs most instantly appreciated are "Cold Hands," featuring Hrishikesh Hirway, and "Cruel Fate of Spring, " featuring Paul Amitai, Mastoon even threw in a hip-hop song for the kids. It's not the most accessible album, but If you're bored with standard music composition, you'll at least be entertained by all of Caural's curve balls.

Chicago bred musician Zachary Mastoon has always made the type of music I am typically into, but for some reason, we have never fully connected on a complete album (because obviously he and all other musicians should be catering to solely my taste). Under the Caural moniker, Mastoon crafts left-field hip-hop leaning towards folktronica, ambient and IDM with Eastern influences. His previous albums for Chocolate Industries always seemed a bit too cluttered, but with his return to Mush, Caural sounds reinvigorated with finally a fully realized sound. Because he builds his songs from the drums up, Mastoon's earlier productions sounded stiff, but now he lets the melodic instrumentation, notably strings and clarinet, breath and take over from time to time, almost like an instrumental hip-hop version of Jen Jelinek. With the minimal vocal help from Hrishikesh Hirway of One AM Radio, Chicago emcee Racecar of Modill, Paul Amitai and Jacob Croegaert, Mirrors for Eyes is the album I've always wanted to hear from Caural... and you should, too.

Dreamy electronic soundscapes combine with abstract noise experimentation and sparse but memorable vocals to create a truly interesting enterprise: Caural. Comprised of one-man machine Zachary Mastoon, Caural, with a little help from some very talented friends, effectively blends elements of avant-garde hip-hop, noise rock, and electronica in a way your ears have never experienced. The product is a bumping crock-pot of synthetic, surrealist, computer-generated free jazz for a new era. Deliciously original, the organic instrumentation featured on Mirrors for Eyes is infested with effects and re-cut to the point of total de-familiarization.

On the track, "Hallucination Broadcast," live drums are artfully maimed and manipulated until the listener is unable to distinguish them from the sound of violent car crash. However, traditional distortion is not the only trick up Mastoon's sleeve. Delay and echo are exhibited in mastery, transforming typical samples into brand new musical explorations. Songs on Mirrors for Eyes truly run the gamut of genres. From the strongly hip-hop, "Transition Suite Part 1- Lady," to the melatonin-laden, Manitoba-esque, "Re-experience Any Moment You Choose," Mastoon displays a musical prowess that lends itself comfortably to a number of different styles. Mastoon disorients the listener in such a way that you as not much confused as you are displaced. He takes you to another world and leaves you there, assuming you can find your way back, and encourages you to absorb- to drink in all that Caural has to offer, which I assure you is a lot. This record is pure joy. Turn off the lights, turn it up, close your eyes and say goodbye. You'll be very glad you did.

Orlando Weekly
The balance captured on Caural's Mirrors for Eyes originates from experience in recording for at least a couple of labels, but it's also due to scattered schooling. Before assuming his moniker, producer/electronic musician Zachary Mastoon studied jazz, Southeast Asian music and other genres, generously applying this elaborate scope to his experiments. Mirrors for Eyes offers sampled breaks, warm, slowly dissolving noise and a handful of guests (such as Hrishikesh Hirway) for a filling, yet mostly digestible record. The transparently labeled "Hallucination Broadcast" is strewn with a dense mix of everything that enriches the album: perpetual ghostly static loops, occasional crashing beats and live mixed hand percussion. But Mastoon juggles multiple personalities on Mirrors, and just as he shoots grimy synth stabs into faux mellotron textures ("I Won't Race You"), he warms up too much, eventually slowing to an after-dinner guitar-and-organ vibe ("Sending You Colors").

Paper Thin Walls
Chicago-based sample-tweaker, jazz buff and world traveler Caural (Zachary Mastoon on his tax return) makes lovely noise out of human and mechanical snippets. Actually, 'noise' isn't quite the right word, considering Zach once went on a retreat where he meditated 12 hours a day (he claims he could hear ice melt and feel the backs of his eyes!), and returned "offended" by some of the ugly sounds of the city. Cut to Mirrors For Eyes, a challenging, yet chaos-free zone of spliced beats and rhymes with assorted pings, bloops and binary scrapes added for good measure. "I Won't Race You," has the feel of a coded message sent from an intelligent life form from a galaxy far away... a civilization so advanced they were able to download the new Four Tet from your BitTorrent account (that's a compliment, not a slag). What gives this track its appeal is the way Caural pulls the vocal sample into a cotton candy cloud and lets it float above twinkly, musical shards of icy comets. Groundbreaking? Maybe not, but I think Caural's ears are trained somewhere other than Earth to begin with.

Last fall, sandwiched between live sets from Thavius Beck and part-time Musher Daedelus, I heard the man known as Caural drop some serious bombs. Funny enough, the song that brought the house down was a Legend of Zelda mash-up. Who’d have thunk that a Nintendo game from our pre-pubescent years would invoke such amped-up nostalgia. Of course it didn’t hurt that Caural had a wicked crunker of a break scuttling Link along.

Don’t know Caural? Well he has tracks released by the likes of Ninja Tune, Chocolate Industries, Plug Research and Raw Fusion, which should give you an idea of what his sound comes out to be: sparse but thick, tight but meandering, all in a robotic swagger on the beats below and a melodic sway from the voices and atmospherics up top. Yes he can hold his own on an instrumental break, but the four songs on Mirrors that Caural enlists vocalists are the choice cuts. “Cold Hands” features harrowing singing from The One AM Radio and “Transition Suite” has a nice flow from Racecar who has the introspection of a mellow J-Live and is complemented nicely with well-placed violin string sounds. Paul Amitai’s quirky but smooth harmonies on “Cruel Fate of Spring” serve as reason alone to put this CD in your clock-radio for an alarm music, giving that attentive but relaxing feeling. Live instrumentations abound with shouldershankers galore, “Sending You Colors” is all things that those dorky Boards of Canada fans will shudder at. Overall, it’s just another aces joint from Mush.

Remix Magazine
Zachary Mastoon's second release for Mush Records arrives on a silver platter from left field, serving up another of his layer-cake ambient feasts of experimental sound. Mixing up organic instrumentations with peppery metallic electronics, it's a noisy set best listened to with both ears as Caural slices and dices playful drum beats, floaty synths and handpicked guest musicians, all to do production justice to such innovative compositions as the weary "Cold Hands" (with Hrishikesh Hirway), the phased vocal trickery of "I Won't Race You" and the clap-along 3-D stylings of "Dead Armies."

Caural's material and style are fabulously represented on Mirrors For Eyes, his second Mush full-length. Chicago-bred Zachary Mastoon isn't unique in spicing a plethora of sounds and styles into richly detailed, Daedelus-like settings but the results are highly personalized and immediately identifiable as his alone.

A prototypical Caural cut is rooted in hip-hop, with a lush boom-bap base paired with a meaty synth bass line so phat it'd make Dabrye jealous (consider the subtly swinging "I Won't Race You" as proof). But Mastoon is no Mullinix clone, as Caural's left-field material contentedly inhabits an interzone between beat-based cuts and compositional collage. "Re-Experience Any Moment You Choose" might, for example, be rooted in boom-bap but the sparkling mass of sound and softly humming choir he layers over top shift the tune from the dance floor towards the listening lounge.

Numerous guests appear (vocals by One AM Radio's Hrishikesh Hirway and Paul Amitai, and instrumental support by Jason Hunt), keeping things unpredictable and enhancing the disc's considerable scope. Thus, at disc's center, we hear in succession Don Rainwater adding drones to the tabla-fueled and drum-punch meditation "Hallucination Broadcast," Chicago MC Racecar (Modill) draping easy rhymes over a relaxed funk-hip-hop pulse in "Transition Suite: Part 1 – Lady," and dueling sax work by Stuart Bogie and Colin Stetson during the jazz-hop of the "Papillon" second part—the triad indicative of Mirrors For Eyes' ambitious reach.

Caural has been a steady name in the downtempo scene putting out top notch headphone beats on Chocolate Industries and more recently Mush. In the first moments of the opener "Dead Armies," Caural shows much progress as he lays downs incredible textures and some super-finessed drums. The dreaminess continues with "Re-Experience," which weaves a female vocal in and out of your speakers. Caural still gets down with the drums of death, check the rock breaks of "Hallucination Broadcast." Amidst all the psychedelic beats, Caural's hip-hop influence shines through on "Transition Suite #1" featuring the quiet-cool raps of Racecar or the sublime "I Won't Race You" with its tapped-out drums. He also seems to gather some influence from labelmate Nobody, utilizing soft-psyche aesthetics on the vocal track "Cruel Fate of Spring" and the electronic slash acoustic "Sending You Colors." Total enjoyable experience.

Crisp snares, pulsing bass drums and sizzling hisses battle soaring harp samples, sparkling beeps and other lush sounds in the ambient soundscape that is Mirrors for Eyes, the new album from Caural. Known outside the studio as Zachary Mastoon, the Chicago-based producer returns with his third full-length effort, aided by several etherial vocalists and the emcee Racecar, who rhymes on the mellow "Transition Suite, Part I - Lady." Mirrors for Eyes shines most on tracks like "Dead Armies" and "I Won't Race You," where crunchy percussion flirts with broken beat and heady samples will leave you daydreaming. At its best, Caural's new album will appeal to fans of Prefuse 73 and Dabrye - audiophiles who enjoy listening to music on expensive headphones that allow them to hear the slightest click and the subtlest sample. At its worst, it's slightly monotonous. Overall, it's a welcome addition to any IDM fan's collection.

Something I've noticed about Caural is that every release I've heard of his is different. Even though some of them don't immediately grab me, it becomes clear that he is operating on a unique and experimental level that takes time to appreciate. The more you hear the detail, the more arresting his work becomes. From the odd structures of his Paint EP, to the crusty beat workouts of Stars On My Ceiling, following through to the collection of glitchy and dense sketches and unreleased material on Remembering Today.

His latest, Mirrors For Eyes, feels like something wholly formed from all of his experiments through the years, presenting us with a layered and sonically exciting maelstrom of beats, voices, and noise. The floating dimensional sound of "Dead Armies" and ""Re-Experience Any Moment You Choose" remind me of Prefuse 73, but tempered organically into a kind of psychedelic jam band freakout. "Cold Hands," "Cruel Fate of Spring," and "Only Time Will Know" feature heart-stopping guest singers and paint pictures of the melancholy and nostalgic brain behind the music. The beats bring to mind chain and wood meshed with wire, the melodies swirl and twist recalling moments of Boards of Canada. This is truly an album for headphones. Even now, while listening and writing this, I'm finding more and more to love and more to marvel at. It's not quite hip hop, not quite IDM, not quite anything you've ever heard, a heady brew of sound and emotion. Out on Mush Records and very recommended.

With his second full-length, Mirrors For Eyes, Caural (born Zachary Mastoon) doesn't so much as propel the glitch-hop format forward as fill in the spaces left behind. It's a quietly rich album, a rusty treasure chest spilling over with broken diamonds and gilded leaves. Over a fairly straightforward boom-bap framework, Caural embroiders his tapestry of undulating harps and flutes, pixie-dusted washes of audio fuzz, and vocoder filtered angel choruses. Admittedly, cuts like "Re-Experience Any Moment You Choose" tailgate Prefuse 73's earlier works a little closely, but they hold a sense of sweetness and wonderment all their own.