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Episode 558: January 23, 2022

Music to Soothe and GrooveWellfleet by Gabriel

This week's episode has a healthy scattering of both new and older tunes of varying genres. We feature music from Current 93, Mekons, Bézier, Reiko and Tori Kudo, Joyul, C.H. District, Tasos Stamou, DJ Python, Salamanda, Hieroglyphic Being, Saphileaum, and Pneumatic Tubes.

Thanks to Gabriel for the picture we think is in Wellfleet, MA.

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Forced Exposure New Releases for the Week of 1/24/22

Music is due from Big Science Nowhere, Czarface & MF DOOM, Rats, and Harry Pussy.

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Robert Haigh,"Human Remains"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a2112077871_10.jpgWith apologies to Laurie Speigel after whose album the label takes its name (and Sylvia Tarozzi), it must be said that solo piano is at the core of Unseen Worlds. Their standards are high, as evidenced by recent releases such as James Rushford's Musicá Collada/See The Welter and "Blue" Gene Tyranny’s Detours. Human Remains is Robert Haigh’s third (and best) release for the label. His composition and playing superbly balance immediacy and detachment. This balance places a subtle disguise or mystery over these compositions. I detect a similarity with the approach of Werner Herzog in many of whose films the audience is allowed to feel and react without heavy-handed close ups.

Unseen Worlds

Robert Haigh is well known to brainwashed, of course, as a veteran of the UK underground since around 1980 via Nurse With Wound, Omni Trio, Silent Storm, Sema, and Truth Club. He is a natural fit for Unseen Worlds since, as he has said, piano is at the root of all his compositions. My view is that his solo piano works should have him up to his ears in film commissions, as they are jammed to the gills with poignant and unfussy (or anti-virtuosic pieces) and imbued with an essential immediacy and detachment. On earlier records, Haigh has borrowed titles from film, such as "Juliet of The Spirits” and “Ipcress Girl,” so I am guessing that he would take on the right project. An excellent longer piece on Human Remains titled “Signs of Life” got me thinking about Werner Herzog—since he made a film of that name. Herzog has argued, in one of his more believable utterances, that filmmaking is about creating immediate and profound connections with people. Robert Haigh certainly makes music according to that axiom and seems also to follow another choice of the master filmmaker. In the book A Guide For The Perplexed, Herzog mentions his decision to not move the camera in too closely to an actor’s face, since it will be “more fascinating to the audience if they see you as big as an ant in the landscape.” He adds “I have never wanted to see an actor weep. I want to make the audience cry instead.”

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Rrill Bell, "False Flag Rapture" & "Blade's Return"

cover image With two different releases in 2021, Jim Campbell (as Rrill Bell) follows up 2020's Ballad of the External Life going in two very different thematic directions.  A cassette, False Flag Rapture, is a personal, intimate work based around a recording of his grandmother, while the digital (available with printed material as well) Blade’s Return is a narrative tale about a saw (I am not sure if it is truly meant to be anthropomorphic or not).  Both feel rather different from each other, but both also feature the heavy tape manipulations of Campbell, reducing instrument recordings to raw material that he shapes into entirely different and unique forms.

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Tasos Stamou, "Monoliths"

cover imageDiscovering this London-based composer's adventurously psychedelic collages of traditional Greek music was one of 2021's great musical pleasures for me, so I was very eager to hear this ambitious double album follow up to Antiqua Graecia.  As expected, it is a characteristically wonderful and unusual release, but it is also marks a detour away from Stamou's impressive run of Greek-themed albums.  The theme of the aptly titled Monoliths is instead Stamou's attempt to "collide" the two sides of his working methods: live performances and studio work.  By my estimation, it was a very successful collision, but it was mostly a behind-the-scenes one, as I would be hard pressed to determine where one approach starts and another begins.  As a result, the more immediate and striking theme of the album for me as a listener is that each piece feels like an extended experiment in crafting an immersive, complexly layered sound world from just a single recognizable instrument.  At least, that is how Monoliths unfolds for its first half, as the bottom drops out of the album's hallucinatory feast of bells, organs, and steel drums to reveal a considerably more processed, abstract, and psychotropic second hour of drone-damaged mindfuckery.  That approach admittedly makes Monoliths a bit less accessible than some of Stamou’s more conventionally melodic work, but serious heads looking for a deep and sustained dive into otherworldly psych meditations will likely love this immersive tour de force.

Moving Furniture

The opening "Bells Drone" sounds deceptively like it could be layered field recordings of wind chimes at first, as bells of different sizes amiably jangle and clang for couple minutes before any real evidence of Stamou's hand starts to emerge.  Soon, however, some tones start to linger supernaturally and the mood darkens into uneasy shadows of dissonance.  It is quite a wonderfully hallucinatory and entrancing piece, evoking an ancient ritual in a cavernous subterranean temple revealed behind a dissolving reality.  While it is the shortest piece on the album at a mere 13 minutes, it is nevertheless a solid representation of the album’s first half: a simple and minimal theme gradually transforms into a vividly multi-dimensional dream world.  On "Chord Organ #2," for example, an organ drone slowly evolves into a Catherine Christer Hennix-esque nightmare of dark harmonies before unexpectedly resolving on a note of sundappled transcendence.  "Steel Drum Drone," on the other hand, steadily becomes something akin to a lovesick tropical Steve Reich.  That one is another favorite, as I am quite impressed with how Tasos weaves together patterns of plinking and bleary steel drum melodies into a thing of woozy multi-layered beauty.   In fact, I love every single one of the opening three pieces, but they turn out to be a mere prelude to two pieces in which Tamou goes totally bananas.  In the first, "Supernormal," Stamou mingles a chirping electronic drone with squealing and sliding strings en route to an harrowing mindfuck that calls to mind a goddamn demon summoning (the final stretch of oscillating synth thrum is especially choice).  The closing "Synapse" improbably features some even more gnarly sounds, passing though such colorful stages like "menacingly gelatinous bass throb," "an undead gamelan ensemble wanders the deserted streets in search of their next victim," and "a simmering and intense prepared piano performance over quasi-industrial rhythmic loops."  This is an absolute feast of an album: five great longform pieces in a row spanning nearly two hours.  Most days, I admittedly prefer the more meditative/ritualistic first half to the more nightmarish second half, but Stamou was swinging for the fences with every single piece on this album and the result is a monolithically stellar release.

Samples can be found here.

 

Oval, "Ovidono"

cover imageAt this point, I consider myself quite well accustomed to Markus Popp's penchant for bold stylistic reinventions, yet this latest album managed to completely blindside me nevertheless.  To be fair, however, Ovidono is not quite a pure Oval album, as Popp is joined by return collaborator Eriko Toyoda and artist/actress Vlatka Alec.  The latter, in fact, is responsible for the album's concept: transforming the poetry of Ovid and Ono No Komachi into sound art that evokes "the tactile, immersive quality and intimacy of ASMR."  The trio definitely succeeded in that regard, as Ovidono is probably the finest ASMR-inspired album that I have yet heard, but it is also a bit more ambitious than just a hallucinatory swirl of hushed and sibilant voices.  Obviously, that would have been just fine by me too, as Popp is an absolute wizard at chopping and reassembling sounds.  However, Ovidono is also quite compelling compositionally, as Alec and Toyoda's voices are backed by music that lies somewhere between noirish torch song, deconstructed piano jazz, and the uneasy dissonances of Morton Feldman.

Self-released

The opening "Dormant" does a fine job of setting a suitably bleary, haunted, and hallucinatory mood, as tumbling minor key piano melodies cast a spell of unease beneath a flickering swirl of ghostly whispers.  The music reminds me a bit of some of the prepared piano pieces from Aphex Twin's Drukqs, but a more fluid and melodically sophisticated version.  If Ovidono was simply nine subtly nightmarish piano miniatures in the same vein, it would probably be a legitimately excellent album, but "Dormant" feels like a goddamn masterpiece with the added layers of Alec and Toyoda's seductively hissing, popping, and clicking voices panning around my head.  Wisely, Popp does not make any drastic changes to that winning formula for the other pieces, but he does vary the tone enough to give each piece its own distinct character.  For example, the second piece ("Lost in Thought") features ghostly flutes and vocals of a more stammering and fluttering nature that seem to dissolve into a rain of clicks and pops.  "As I Do" is a bit more of a departure, however, as it initially feels like I am trapped inside a haunted music box with a conspiratorial Japanese ghostess.  As it progresses, however, it becomes increasingly spacy and blossoms into an immersively chiming and quivering fantasia of harp-like sweeps and Gilli Smyth-style space whispers.  Yet another highlight is "Feeling," which evokes a melancholy pianist sadly twinkling his way across the keys in a nearly empty, neon-lit bar (a scene nicely enhanced by the hushed and flickering voices burrowing psychotropically into my subconscious).  The closing "Over" is another personal favorite, as Popp's piano takes a brighter tone that is further warmed by shimmering and droning strings.  It has a simple straightforward beauty that I do not normally associate with Popp's work, but I quite like it and the sibilant swirl of sensuous voices around it makes for good company.  The remaining pieces are all similarly strong and offer their own twists, so I expect some of them will someday become favorites as well.  Then again, I cannot foresee myself ever having much urge to single out an individual piece, as this entire goddamn album is brilliant.

Samples can be found here.

 

Mary Lattimore/Growing, "Gainer"

cover imageThis lovely and unexpected collaboration was quietly released digitally in November with no background information provided at all, but it is probably safe to say that it was recorded quite recently, as it shares a lot of common ground with the radiant drones of Growing's Diptych (2021).  That, of course, also means that Gainer can sometimes feel like a welcome throwback to "classic Kranky" era drone artists like Stars of the Lid, though each piece ultimately blossoms into something more ambitious and distinctive by the end.  That drone-heavy aesthetic sometimes makes figuring out where Lattimore fits in quite a challenge, as recognizable harp sounds are a bit of a rarity amidst the smoldering bass thrum and ambient shimmer.  Then again, recognizable guitar and bass sounds are not exactly rampant either, so maybe all three artists opted for elegantly blurred impressionist abstraction.  In any case, whatever they did worked quite well, as Lattimore and Growing's two aesthetics bleed together quite nicely and often feel like something greater than the mere sum of their parts (or at least like a very good Growing album beautifully enhanced with subtle acoustic shadings and flickers of melody).

Self-released

The album is divided into two longform pieces that each clock in around 16 or 17 minutes.  The opening "Flowers in the Center Lane Sway" fades quietly into being with a slow melody of harmonic-like swells.  Around the 2-minute mark, however, the piece unexpectedly blossoms into a far more harmonically and texturally rich chord progression.  Given that this partially a Growing album, there is a healthy amount of amplifier hum and buzzing drone waves as well, which provides a pleasantly bleary and immersive backdrop for a simple, seesawing melody that evokes the faint streaks of light from the final moments of a vivid sunset.  Occasionally, there is a hint of audible harp or the sensation of something harp-like moving amidst the hum, but Lattimore finally appears in earnest for the piece's final third to add rippling and ephemeral arpeggios that feel like glimpses of twinkling stars in the gaps between passing clouds.  As all that happens, the piece sneakily accumulates a pleasantly heaving and hypnotic pulse as well, which is a damn neat trick.  It is solid piece, but the following "Tagada, Night Rises" is both stronger and more distinctive.  Lattimore initially seems to be steering the ship for the piece, as quivering webs of arpeggios streak lazy trails across a smoldering backdrop of bass drone.  Rather than feeling like it is evolving toward something larger, however, the piece lingers in a warm and glimmering dreamscape akin to a state of suspended animation (though the bass drone does seem to be stealthily building in intensity throughout the piece).  "Tagada" takes a surprise detour around the halfway point though, as it feels like a menacing vibrato has curdled the bass drone and cast a shadow of uneasy dissonance across everything.  That darkening paves the way for yet another composition trick, however, as the piece slowly brightens for a warmly lovely crescendo of woozy and quavering guitar and harp motifs before ending with unexpectedly gorgeous outro that feels like dark birds silhouetted by a deep red sunset.  While I suspect both pieces will resonate more with fans of Growing's dronier side than with Lattimore's own fanbase, Gainer is both an impressively organic/seamless convergence of visions and a sustained, quietly beautiful reverie.

Samples can be found here.

 

Robert Takahashi Crouch, "Jubilee"

I don’t know exactly what synth-like equipment Robert Takahashi Crouch uses to generate these sounds and maneuver them into place, but these three pieces are very impressive. This is an album of abstract music and it is useful for reference to have detailed context of Crouch's personal challenges and struggle as outsider, victim, self-destructor, or whatever. I read those between my first and second listens to Jubilee and it definitely helped.

Room40

The opening track "Ritual" has a tense vibe and a sense of emotional heavy lifting is achieved by huge slabs of grinding, vibrating, texture, which emerge and then blend or get overlaid like shifting tectonic plates of sound. There is a weird feeling of aggression, but this feels turned inward rather than aimed at the listener. I felt involved with the music but it also came over as both detached and claustrophobic. An odd pair of descriptors, perhaps, but I hear Jubilee not unlike how I see the doomed grey void of the Rothko Chapel: it drew me in but kept me at arms length). According to Crouch's contextual notes, the next track “I have been part of evil doing” is an acknowledgement that even the abused may do "bad" things to others which they come to regret. This shorter work, which takes it’s title from “People Like Us” a 2007 record by The Dears, has a calmer, gentler, softer, air - an excellent variation against the weightier “Ritual.” This quite lighter mood leads perfectly into “Reconciliation” which is just as beautiful. This final track begins with the recounting of a survived bridge suicide attempt in a sample from a poem by Ted Berrigan from the 1975 record The Dial-a-Poem Poets: Biting Off The Tongue of a Corpse. The placement of a human voice here is another fine contrast, and the somber tone and graceful pace of "Reconciliation" succeeds in uniting the whole album with a powerful renewal of hope and forgiveness (especially the latter). The three sections together make Jubilee a really coherent and satisfying recording, located betwixt sound installation art and electronic expressionism, with an emotional edge that gives it a tangible feeling of integrity and maybe even hope for personal growth.

This is a fine album which I would prefer to listen to again than revisit the Rothko chapel (though I love Rothko's other works). In fact I have already heard Jubilee six or seven times, despite the title being a reference to a work by the so-called anarchist poet (with a trust fund) Hakim Bey to whose writing I have a strong aversion. To call him a juvenile imitation of William Burroughs would be flattery. It is certainly possible to view him as an incoherent creep, spinning deceitful tips for weekend rebels or oozing his pitiful justifications for pedophilia like puss from an open wound. It is debatable whether his blather is worse than the illogical, pseudo-freedom loving gasbag rambles of Ron and Rand Paul when they butter-up their constituents with easily-decoded defenses of racism. I personally can't stomach a message of forgiveness from any of them and the fact that Andrei Codrescu got suckered into feting Bey also does nothing for my digestion. Thankfully all this is merely a matter of opinion, perhaps worthless, certainly available free on the internet as is the entirety of Bey's writing. Crouch's record is worth more.

sounds available here

 

 

2021 Readers Poll: The Results

Alas we are finally here to present the Annual Brainwashed Readers Poll. Once again, this is what the readers choose, as staff and contributors, we only make our comments here and there.

Sorry for the delays, these have been exceptionally stressful and demanding times for just about everybody. Production may be high, but morale remains low. This couldn't be more evident with this year's poll, which had the most entries in years, but had a remarkably low voter turnout. It is difficult to hold out until the very end of the year to be all-inclusive, where most places have made up their mind by November, and music of the year is being released constantly until the clock strikes midnight. So by the time we come around to soliciting votes, most people have checked out for the year.  We will do some re-evaluation to the process prior to future polls.

Thanks again to everybody who participated. This is your voice.

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Klara Lewis, "Live in Montreal 2018"

cover imageKlara Lewis has been a unique and consistently interesting artist ever since she first surfaced, but 2020's Ingrid felt like a massive breakthrough and just about everything that she has released since has been stellar (live albums included).  Unsurprisingly, Live in Montreal 2018 does nothing to derail that streak, but there are a couple of somewhat big surprises with it too.  The first one is the date of the performance, as I had no idea that Lewis was on this plane two years before Ingrid came along.  That is not to say that Live in Montreal would have necessarily eclipsed 2016's excellent Too had it been the follow up, but the Lewis of 2016 was an artist who seemed categorically disinterested in doing anything the conventional/expected way.  And the comparative melodicism of 2018's fitfully great collaboration with Simon Fisher Turner (Care) felt like a one-off experiment in applying her non-musical found sounds to a more traditionally musical vision rather than a change in direction.  As it turns out, however, Care was merely a tease of greater things to come and the lucky attendees of this performance got a sneak preview of those greater things long before the rest of us.  The second big surprise is that this album is composed of seemingly all new material rather than variations on Lewis's existing work—it feels aesthetically akin to a proto-Ingrid, but a stage before that piece was distilled to just a single perfect motif.  Obviously, that narrowing of focus yielded great results, but this more varied and shapeshifting approach yielded some legitimately great results too, elegantly blurring the lines between drone, noise, spacy synth explorations, and pop plunderphonics.

Editions Mego

As with a lot of live albums these days, the only significant difference in sound quality between Live in Montreal and one of Lewis's more formal recordings is that it feels like there is a thin veil between me and the full harmonic richness, clarity, and crunching physicality of the music.  Obviously, that is less than ideal, but that loss is presumably offset by a more significant gain like "it was not possible to reproduce the magic and spontaneity of this performance in a studio."  In any case, this album consists of a single 47-minute piece "with three distinct discernible sections" and an overarching theme of "permanent collapse" in which "strange sonic elements introduce themselves, rise to the fore, threaten the fundamental discourse only to recede on the brink of destroying the work itself."  While I sometimes have a hard time determining which elements constitute "the work" and which ones are the threatening interlopers as the piece unfolds, the trajectory of the opening section is quite easy to grasp: an intense choral sample plays over a subdued, gurgling, and crackling industrial rhythm, becomes erratic, then settles into a looping and haunted-sounding melody just as a visceral assault of white noise erupts.  In a rough sense, it resembles a killer noise set tenaciously trying to tear its way through a classical requiem with only moderate success, which is a very appealing aesthetic given the fine balance of beauty and violence that Lewis achieves. 

I am not sure if the noise element necessarily wins in the end, but the original choral theme is eventually reduced to a bleary drone augmented by woodland sounds like chattering birds while the noise/industrial elements rhythmically continue onward to steer the piece into a fresh passage of flanging drones over a heaving, crunching sea of roiling white noise.  Gradually, however, it starts to feel like me and my chirping avian buddies are now at the seaside (along with some quivering feedback ghosts) as large waves relentlessly crash upon the shore, yet that too proves to be an ephemeral interlude, as Lewis soon starts to segue into her next dazzling set piece.  While the next section could reasonably be described as "warm ambient drones," they are vividly enhanced by a shapeshifting host of dissolving and hallucinatory new elements (hiss, submerged backwards melodies, glimpses of Spanish guitar, Whitney Houston belting out (nearly) unrecognizable fragments of "I Will Always Love You," etc.).  All of those other elements gradually vanish, however, leaving a gorgeously psychotropic and crystalline drone palace in their wake.  For her final trick, Lewis ends the pieces with frayed, shivering synth swells that spectrally wobble over a stark backdrop of crackling textures.  It is an appropriately beautiful conclusion to the set, but Lewis's more impressive achievement is how organically fluid and compelling the journey to get there was: this album flows along wonderfully and the bridges between its major events never lull, nor does it ever feel like Lewis artfully stitched together a trio of different pieces into one.  There is a definite arc to this album and it is a thoughtful and satisfying one with no missteps or unnecessary detours to be found.  While live albums outside the improv/jazz milieu are historically not my favorite thing, this one is a rare and notable exception, easily ranking among the finest releases in Lewis's already impressive discography.

Samples can be found here.

 
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Origami Galaktika, "The Power of Compassion"
Duplicate Records
The Galaktica agent of the multi-faceted, many-membered Origami art collective is one Benny Braaten. You might have encountered him late last year opening for the Legendary Pink Dots on their North American tour. There, he ensconced those smart enough to show up early in drones and ambiance and manically bowed bass guitar strings. At the merchandise table were flyers advertising this forthcoming 7". Soon after the tour I sent off $7 to Norway and about two months later the record (one of 500) arrived. There are two versions of the title track, recorded in Canada and Norway respectively. Version I offers a slow, breathy drone that rises and falls at times into near silence, glass-like chimes gently touching in the distance. The latter half of the track gains new layers of warmth and the twinkles gain friction. Version II is more ominous with a sustained, darker hued hum as subtle trombone notes effectively add to the aura. It's nice, soothing stuff, but with both tracks clocking in at just under five minutes, it really leaves you wanting for more, such as the stunning 'Stjernevandring / Eesti Lilled Silmad Süda' double CD from Norway's Jester Records. The digital format certainly allows Origami Galaktika's music the mammoth track times it deserves.

samples:


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