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Episode 442: November 17, 2019 (guest artist Michael Gira of Swans)

Michael Gira by Jennifer GiraEpisode 442 of Brainwashed Radio: The Podcast Edition features Michael Gira of Swans

Swans has been reinvented for the latest studio album, Leaving Meaning. Michael Gira joins us to listen to and discuss some current and past Swans music along with what to expect from the forthcoming tour, beginning in 2020. European dates are available now while North American dates with Anna von Hausswolff as support will be announced soon.

photo by Jennifer Gira

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Forced Exposure New Releases for week of 11/18/2019

New music is due from Emily Jane White, Ruins, and Aziza Brahim, while old music is due from Arthur Russell, Lustmord, and The Fox.

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Theodore Cale Schafer, "Patience"

cover imageThe Students of Decay label has had an impressive run of being way ahead of the curve over the years, as Alex Cobb’s imprint is responsible for the first major US releases from artists like Sarah Davachi and Natural Snow Buildings.  The latest artist to be welcomed into that pantheon is Sante Fe-based composer Theodore Cale Schafer, making his vinyl debut after a handful of cassette releases and a very bizarre spoken word/conceptual album on Spain's Angoisse label.  Cobb describes the album as "diaristic" and prioritizing "spontaneity and ephemerality," which seems as apt a description of Schafer's fragile, hiss-soaked vignettes as any, as the aesthetic of Patience is definitely an elusive and impressionistic one.  When Schafer hits the mark just right, however, the results are strikingly beautiful, achieving a rare balance of simplicity, intimacy, and soft-focus unreality.

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Deathprod, "Occulting Disk"

cover imageIt has been 15 years since Helge Sten's iconic Deathprod project last surfaced with proper new material (aside from a teasing collaboration with Biosphere back in 2015) and he has been missed.  Unsurprisingly, that long hiatus did not result in Sten's characteristically grim vision brightening at all.  In fact, it has only grown darker, as the bulk of Occulting Disk is bleak void of seismic drones and nerve-jangling insectoid dissonance that Sten describes as an "anti-fascist ritual."  I am not particularly optimistic about this album's chances in eradicating fascism any time soon, but the album definitely delivers on the ritualistic part, as this seems like a hell of a great soundtrack for summoning demons.  While I am still on the fence about whether I love the stark, crushing blackness of Occulting Disk quite as much as the slightly wider emotional palette of earlier Deathprod, this album is undeniably an impressively visceral and monolithic artistic statement.  That is more than enough to reaffirm Sten's status as one of the reigning kings of heavy drone, but the album builds towards an explosive climax that ensures that Occulting Disk feels like an exciting new chapter as well.

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Pan•American, "A Son"

cover imageMark Nelson's Pan•American project has been very quiet over the last several years, as he has been focusing instead on his Anjou collaboration with former Labradford bandmate Robert Donne.  With A Son, however, Nelson returns to his solo work in bold and unexpected fashion (by his own quiet and understated standards, at least).  In fact, there is very little that stylistically recalls Nelson's post-rock or smoky ambient-dub past at all here, though his aesthetic generally remains a very moody and slow-moving one.  At the heart of A Son lies a handful of hushed vocal pieces that capture Nelson's vision at its most stripped-down, direct, and intimate.  Those pieces are occasionally quite wonderful, making this release a fitful creative breakthrough of sorts.  The rest of the album is not quite as striking, but the blend of songs, sleepily lovely ambient work, and hammered dulcimer pieces add up to pleasantly gentle and dreamlike whole.

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Saariselka, "The Ground Our Sky"

cover imageIt is quite rare for two artists with successful solo careers to team up for a genuinely strong collaborative project that offers a fresh vision, but this debut full-length from Marielle V. Jakobsons and Chuck Johnson is the elusive exception that is arguably better than the sum of its parts.  I say "arguably" only because each artist is already responsible (or at least partly responsible) for some albums that I have absolutely loved in the past.  Notably, however, both artists have undergone significant stylistic evolutions in their careers, which may very well be the secret to a truly egoless and organic confluence of visions: neither was rigidly tied to a signature style, so finding a fertile common ground was probably just a natural outcome after playing together for a while.  That said, the clear antecedent to this project is Johnson's gorgeous Balsams album (his first on pedal steel).  As someone who was thoroughly beguiled by that album, it never would have occurred to me that Johnson might have been able to reach even greater heights with the help of a sympathetic foil on Fender Rhodes, but I am delighted that it occurred to Jakobsons (and that she was completely right).

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Enhet För Fri Musik, "Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För dig"

cover imageReleases from this Swedish free-folk ensemble have historically not been particularly easy to obtain, as only their reissued debut (2015's Inom Dig, Inom Mig) has thus far seen wide distribution (and most are not digitally available either).  Happily, their fifth album is now getting a well-deserved reissue too, as 2017's Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För Dig ("There is a heart for you") will see a US physical release in December.  I actually snapped up the original version when it came out on Omlott, as I love this band, but I have yet to hear the first three releases that followed Inom Dig.  I am certainly curious to hear what directions they take, as the gulf between Enhet För Frei Musik's debut and this album is quite a large and unexpected one: Inom Dig had a disjointed, haunted, and almost Jandek-ian feel, whereas this latest opus blends simple, tender and melodic songs with wonderfully strange and hallucinatory collages.  While both albums are excellent and unique in their own right, Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För Dig sounds far more like the work of a project with a fully defined and realized identity.

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Alessandro Cortini, "Volume Massimo"

cover imageMy ears rarely perk up at the prospect of any artist releasing a modular synth album, but Alessandro Cortini's recent career has been a wonderful exception thus far: some of the pieces on his Buchla-centric debut (2013's Forse) absolutely floored me.  Moreover, he has yet to disappoint me since, as the handful of albums that followed in Forse's wake have largely adhered to that same impressively high level of quality: Cortini almost never releases a solo full-length that does not boast at least two legitimately amazing pieces.  As such, he has definitively earned a place in my personal pantheon of great contemporary synth composers.  Great artists tend to be great, however, because they restlessly expand and reshape their vision with new tools, new influences, and new ideas.  In keeping with that tendency, Volume Massimo (Cortini's first album for Mute) marks a fairly significant stylistic departure from previous releases.  For one, there are guitars.  And on a structural level, many of these songs adhere to a very "pop" framework, which I suppose makes Mute the perfect home for this phase of Cortini's career: some songs on Volume Massimo song like they could have been deep cuts or instrumental B-sides from classic '80s synth pop albums.  Other songs, however, still sound characteristically slow-burning and majestic.  Those pieces tend to be the better ones (but not always).

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Swans, "Leaving Meaning"

cover image Michael Gira may have announced that Leaving Meaning would feature Swans continuing in a different form after closing the book on The Glowing Man in 2016.  The change has been comparably more subtle than the stylistic shifts of the band throughout their nearly 40 year career, but the progress is distinct.  This record draws not only from the recent albums, but also Gira's work with the interim Angels of Light project as well.  The album is the perfect blend of the past and the recent, but looks direction to the future as well.

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Amulets, "Between Distant and Remote"

cover imageRandall Taylor has quietly emerged as one of the most talented and distinctive tape loop artists in the world over the last few years, steadily releasing a prolific flow of cassettes on a variety of labels.  Remarkably, however, Between Distant and Remote is his first vinyl release, which I suppose makes this an auspicious occasion career-wise.  It is also the first time I have personally delved seriously into his oeuvre despite my general predisposition towards warbly loops and obsessive repetition.  I suspect the reason Amulets has eluded me until now is that Taylor uses tapes as a compositional tool to craft warm, dreamlike reveries of processed guitar ambiance rather than making the tapes the focus.  Of course, the tapes very clearly are the focus in Taylor's process, but the finished compositions that ultimately emerge could easily be mistaken for the work of an ambient-minded guitarist with a passion for lush layering.  If Taylor were a lesser artist, that approach would disappoint me, but Between Distant and Remote scratches a similar itch to classic shoegaze-damaged drone artists like Belong (and it gets there in an impressively inventive way).

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Review of the Day

Victory at Sea, "The Good Night"

Kimchee Records
Victory at Sea are not a cheery band. The darkness and rain that seemed to possess them on their Kimchee LP 'Carousel' has not subsided, and it even feels like the storm is getting closer. Theirs is a traditional rock sound, with guitar, bass, and drums, that is often augmented by violin and keys. Singer/guitarist Mona Elliott is out for blood, shrieking and smoldering each song into your brain and veins. There seems to be no hope, no relenting, on the first three songs, as the poetic lyrics and solid sounds pummeled at my ears. Mona sings on "Canyon," "I say this place isn't big enough for the two of us," and I believe it. The punishment continues through "The Liar," and then, things seem to mellow out a little. "Old Harbor" and "Proper Time" are simple, slow, and beautiful. Here, Mona's voice is stretched out, warbling and breaking, like this is the way it's meant to be: "Get on with my life!" The power returns even in the slow pace, on "Sunny Days," one of the album's best tracks, with crunching guitar and low, thick bass. It's gorgeous as she reaches for the sky with her words, singing of clouds and rain. Following that are a few tracks with varied sound and arrangement. "A Song for Brian" features only guitar, bass, voice, and piano, so it's nothing new for this album ("Old Harbor" has a similar palette), but is still a pretty song. "The Bluebird of Happiness" sounds more like Denali (never a bad thing), and "Kelly's Landing" starts off as a rock tune and ends with children playing in the rain. "Firefly" closes the album with its "watch you die" ending, bringing the whole thing into perspective with its simple structure and sound. Victory at Sea are still growing, approaching that perfect release, and 'The Good Night' is just a narrow miss.

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