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Episode 507: March 7, 2021

Volos by Christos The Podcast returns with Episode 507

We are back after a week off and present an episode with new music from Edward Ka-Spel, Roy Montgomery, Christine Ott, Elegiac, Senyawa, Jacober, Music For Sleep, Esplendor Geométrico, Una Lasemé, and Matt LaJoie, with older music from Stereolab and Akron/Family.

Thanks to Christos for the picture from Volos.

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Forced Exposure New Releases for the week of 3/8/21

New music is due from CS + KREME, A.G. Cook, and Flørist, while old music is due from The Pharaohs, Evan Parker, and Painjerk.

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Spiral Wave Nomads, "First Encounters"

cover imageIn an unexpected flip for their second record, the duo of Eric Hardiman (Rambutan, Century Plants, Burnt Hills) and Michael Kiefer (More Klementines) improvised live.  With the self-titled debut being the result of asynchronous file sharing and collaboration, First Encounters was exactly that:  the first time the two had actually met in person in any context.  That’s anything but apparent from the sound though, as the duo play off of each other perfectly, making for a free form trip through psychedelic spaces with the verve of long time collaborators, even though that is not the case.

Twin Lakes Records/Feeding Tube

Lengthy opener "Evidence of New Gravitation" is immediately indicative of the album:  rich guitar, nuanced drumming, and an overall complex sound considering it is only two instruments in play.  The sound is clearly loose and free flowing, but it is also deliberate, as if the duo know exactly what they are planning to do next while simultaneously playing off of each other.  There is an excellent sense of propulsion via Kiefer's punchy drums and Hardiman's noisy pre-grunge 80s noise rock guitar, with wildly varying dynamics.  The same feel runs throughout "Radiant Drifter," where shimmering, chiming guitar is cast out over low rumbling drums that swell up to some excellent freak-outs, which then calm down again.  The other two songs on First Encounters feature the duo in a more understated synergy.  The less structured "Fitful Embers" is all far away rattling percussion and erratic guitar drills, never coalescing into a solidified rock piece, but never coming off as directionless, either.  Lengthy album closer "Of a Similar Mind" is a slower burn, evolving from open spaces, subtle melodies, and sparse cymbals.  The growth is slow, but eventually erupts into rapid fire drumming, loud wah-heavy guitar outbursts, and a brilliant heavy psychedelic sensibility.

It is hard to not appreciate the backwards way that Michael Kiefer and Eric Hardiman have approached Spiral Wave Nomads.  Waiting until the second record to actually meet in person is certainly not a strategy most artists would attempt, but they manage it perfectly here.  Given how different its inception was from the first album, First Encounters has a rawer feel, but there is still a strong sense of consistency, and it is certainly the work of the same duo.  With two LPs that complement each other so well, I am curious what collaborative approach a third will bring.

Samples can be found here.

 

Mouse on Mars, "AAI"

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I cannot think of any other artist who consistently mystifies and perplexes me quite like Jan St. Werner, which is probably an admirable trait but makes his discography a bit of a minefield for me.  This latest opus unsurprisingly continues that trend and even raises the bar a bit, as AAI is an ambitious collaboration with writer/scholar Louis Chude-Sokei and a talented team of programmers and artificial intelligence experts.  The result is a complex sci-fi concept album that would likely fry the synapses of even the most devout prog rock fan, as the album attempts to mirror the "sound of an artificial intelligence growing, learning and speaking."  Having seen the Matrix and the Terminator films, I am not sure I fully share the artists' thesis that we need to "embrace AI and technology as a collaborator to break out of our current cultural and moral stagnation and ensure our survival as a species," but AAI is certainly a challenging, wild, and unique album.  Sometimes it is also a very good one too.

Thrill Jockey

I suppose a radical premise deserves a similarly radical structure and AAI does not fall short in that regard, as these twenty pieces of varying lengths form a fitful and kaleidoscopic narrative of sorts.  The words and voices technically originate from Chude-Sokei and Yağmur Uçkunkaya, but things certainly get quite complicated and convoluted along the way, as they were fed into voice modeling software and "played" like a synthesizer by St. Werner and Andi Toma.  The accompanying music is stylistically all over the place, ranging from something akin to robot pop ("Artificial Authentic") to deranged-sounding loop collages ("Paymig") with many strange detours in between.  The overall feel is definitely a futuristic one, but it is less "this is the blueprint for the next phase of electronic music" than it is "this feels like a disorienting, sensory overload mindfuck akin to drifting through a cacophonous gauntlet of televisions all loudly playing different things."  If that sounds weird, nerve-jangling, and uneven, that is because AAI is unapologetically all of those things, but I definitely applaud St. Werner, Toma, and their collaborators for being this wildly adventurous (and Thrill Jockey for releasing something this bizarre).  While I cannot say I embrace the entire album, it does feature some strikingly original and compelling individual pieces, particularly near the end, such as the stammering, deconstructed hip-hop of "Cut That Fishernet" and the heavy, lurching groove of "Dead Definition."  I also like the obsessive and fragmented gibbering of "Go Tick" quite a bit.  Obviously, I would not be terribly interested in this album at all if there were not some good songs, but the larger achievement here is how completely Mouse on Mars shoot past well-traveled territory to craft something that provocatively blurs together art, technology, and philosophy.  Someone should definitely give them a pile of money to turn this into a traveling installation.

Samples can be found here.

 

Roy Montgomery, "Island of Lost Souls"

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The magic of New Zealand-born singer and guitarist Roy Montgomery is his fearlessness to explore any sonic territory. He has done so across 40 years of collaborative and solo musical landscape. Island of Lost Souls is the first album of a 4-disc series to honor his extensive career, the future releases due to be issued in increments through to November 2021. With compositions steeped in rich guitar effects, the four extended instrumentals suggest communion and isolation, channeled through four island residents’ musical memorials: Sam Shepard, Adrian Borland, Peter Principle, and Florian Fricke. The ambiance across songs wavers between being majestically sad yet with a power mimicking hope, encouraging remembrance and honor without pain.

Grapefruit

I was generally familiar with each person honored, but the musical translations made me curious why Montgomery chose these particular four. If there were indeed such an island, what would make each one a resident? Opening track “Cowboy Mouth (For Sam Shepard)” took me to research Shepard, whose honor seems to stem from both his playboy lifestyle and the elements of his plays, “Cowboy Mouth” being a collaboration with his then-lover Patti Smith, abandoning both lover and play after the opening night. “Soundcheck (For Adrian Borland)” is a shimmering tribute to the late lead singer of The Sound, who jumped in front of a train at the age of 41 following years of struggle with severe depression. The ache of “Soundcheck” soars in waves, incorporating sound elements The Sound used in their music, expressing the tragic loss more deeply yet producing a majestic atmosphere that was also Borland’s life. “Unhalfmuted (For Peter Principle)” focuses on the late musician and rhythmic pulse of Tuxedomoon, the song’s title a reference to the band’s classic debut “Half-Mute.” The album leaves the island with “The Electric Children of Hildegard von Bingen (For Florian Fricke),” a track that honors Fricke not only as Popol Vuh’s synthesist but showcasing the spiritual reverence in his work, especially within the band as well as soundtracking the films of his close friend Werner Herzog. The album continues to offer up further tidbits to research, both in sound and titles -- Wikipedia took me down a rabbit hole -- but I'll leave that to the curious listener. Kudos to someone who not only continues to entertain my ears after 40 years, but to grow my mind as well.

Samples can be found here.

 

Biosphere, "Angel's Flight"

cover imageI believe I have been listening to Biosphere for at least 20 years now, but the project's evolution over the last five years or so has been especially fascinating, as Geir Jenssen's creative restlessness has led him to release one surprise after another.  To my ears, 2016's Departed Glories remains the high water mark of this adventurous phase, but I am delighted that Jenssen seems to be actively looking for new challenges and that the results are almost invariably enjoyable and distinctive.  This latest release continues that trajectory of endlessly breaking new ground, as the bulk of Angel's Flight was composed for a Norwegian dance production entitled Uncoordinated Dog.  More significantly, all twelve pieces were crafted from repurposed fragments of Beethoven's "String Quartet No. 14."  Unsurprisingly, much of the album would be unrecognizable to Beethoven, as Jenssen does an admirable job of blurring, stretching, blackening, and chopping his source material into a compellingly hallucinatory neo-classical fever dream.

AD 93

The album instantly descends into darkly phantasmagoric territory with "The Sudden Rush," which conjures a sinister-sounding impressionist swirl of blurred and uneasily harmonizing orchestral fragments.  To some degree, that is the tone for the entire album: a series of variations upon the theme of smeared and slowed strings bleeding together and queasily undulating.  Both the mood and structure of the individual pieces can vary quite a bit, however.  Most of my favorite moments fall in the middle of the album, like the oscillating, slow-motion chord progression of "As Weird as the Elfin Lights" or the dreamlike flutes and viscerally throbbing pulse of the title piece.  That said, the album probably reaches its zenith with the stuttering and gnarled closer "The Clock and Dial," which calls to mind several orchestral loops being played at once through a blown-out bass amp.  Jenssen treats the hapless Beethoven similarly violently in the erratically heaving "Unclouded Splendor," which achieves an almost operatic intensity from erratically timed and overlapping slashes of strings.  There are a number of other fine pieces throughout the album as well, many which call to mind a reincarnated Debussy with a penchant for loops, a newfound love of dissonance and tension, and access to contemporary production software.  Or maybe they simply resemble Beethoven as re-envisioned by The Caretaker, albeit considerably more vivid and robust than that sounds. Angel's Flight is not a stroll through the ruins of a haunted and moldering memory ballroom so much as a lush, enveloping, and oft-poignant symphony in which the fabric of reality frays and bulges as time ceases to be predictably linear.  Needless to say, that is quite an appealingly disorienting and immersive illusion to linger in.  I certainly did not expect Biosphere to ever sound like this, but I am delighted that Jenssen's muse led him to such wonderfully unfamiliar territory.

Samples can be found here.

 

Ashley Paul, "Ray"

cover imageI am not sure which is more impressive: that Ashley Paul managed to compose a focused, inventive, and challenging album like this while living with a toddler or that she somehow managed to (remotely) form a tight new trio of like-minded collaborators during a pandemic lockdown.  Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive about the latter development, as the fragility and uneasy intimacy of Paul's past work has always been one of its more endearing aspects, but her instincts thankfully proved to be characteristically unerring, as Ray continues her recent streak of great albums.  In fact, this is probably an ideal entry point to Paul's singular aesthetic, as it beautifully balances her more "broken" and discordant tendencies with an increased warmth, as well as a side that approximates a hallucinatory cabaret as envisioned by the Quay Brothers.  It all works wonderfully, as this more varied approach yields some instant career highlights while sacrificing none of the precarious magic that made her work so unique and mesmerizing in the first place.

Slip

Any doubts I had about a trio potentially diluting the eerie beauty of Paul's art were immediately erased by the opening "Star Over Sand," which makes me feel like I just stumbled into a jazz club in a nightmarish inversion of the Muppet universe.  It is quite a impressive feat, as the piece somehow manages to be fun, catchy, and propulsive while also sounding artfully strangled, clattering, and ramshackle.  Later, "Light Inside My Skin" hits similar heights, as the intertwining sax and clarinet melodies, plinking and lurching groove, and Paul's vocals combine to approximate a sultry jazz chanteuse performance that would be right at home in Twin Peaks.  Notably, I was taken aback when I realized that Paul's new bandmates were actually a clarinetist (Yoni Silver) and a bassist (Otto Willberg), as I was absolutely certain that she had recruited a killer drummer instead.  As it turns out, Paul herself was the killer drummer, which bodes very well for future albums, as the unusual percussion is probably my favorite of Ray's new innovations.  That said, Paul is still quite a compelling presence with even the most minimal backing, as evidenced by the languorous, tender beauty of "Choices."  I also like the similarly intimate and slow-moving "Blue Skies Green Trees" quite a lot, yet Paul's vision alone would be spellbinding enough without any stand-out songs, as she occupies a truly fascinating nexus where emotional directness, fragility, strong songwriting, childlike creepiness, stellar musicianship, and radical harmonic and melodic sensibilities not only intertwine, but somehow feel perfectly natural and unforced together.  No one but Ashley Paul could have envisioned and successfully executed an album like this one, but Willberg and Silver certainly ground and flesh out her aesthetic quite nicely.  This trio format turned out to be quite a fine idea.

Samples can be found here.

 

Camila Fuchs, "Kids Talk Sun"

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The first few seconds hearing Camila de Laborde's child-like, playful vocals may suggest an airy Scandinavian pop direction for duo Camila Fuchs. Assumptions are quickly shattered as the start of Kids Talk Sun gives way to world-weariness. Ghostly vocals stand against a spectral kaleidoscope of tempered electronics, crafted partly by Pete Kember, aka Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3, Spectrum and E.A.R.). Kember lends his finish to hazy and spacey melodies punctuated by luminous pop moments, resulting in an ornate tapestry of emotion woven with reverberation and electronics, sewn together by de Laborde's expressive voice.

Felte

Portugal-based Camila Fuchs consists of vocalist Camila de Laborde and Daniel Hermann-Collini. The album is a reflection on the interactions between humans -- particularly children -- and nature. Case in point, de Laborde laments, "There was no way, no need to be careful" in "Moon Mountain," suggesting a hearkening back to a time of fearlessness and innocence. The album itself was recorded near the sea and wilderness around Lisbon; the band's transition between nature and the studio encouraged mimicry of their environment through sonic experimentation. Listen closely to the ascending vocals in "Pool of Wax," supported by a steady and comforting rhythm, before being swallowed in a tide of reverberation. In instrumental "Gloss Trick," one of my personal favorites, there can be heard the biomimicry of seabirds, ship horns -- wait, is that a whale call, or some nighttime creature? Ultimately it really doesn't matter. The point is to "dial up the magic" and reconnect with yourself and your surroundings, summed up nicely in "Roses:"

Dial up the magic, dial the magic up anytime you want
Allow yourself to be the bell tower
Make some noise, feel the noise
On your body, on your nose
Connecting you to the earth

Samples can be found here.

 

Jacober, "Sketch for Winter X: Immortal Word"

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This latest installment in Geographic North's endearingly eclectic and unpredictable Sketch for Winter series comes from Dope Body drummer David Jacober, who returns to revisit the melodic marimba terrain of his previous tape for the label (2015's The Gray Man).  This latest release is considerably more minimal and tropical-themed than its predecessor, however, as Jacober reduces his palette to little more than marimba, kick drum, and a very dub-influenced approach to production.  It is an admittedly narrow niche, but it quite a delightful one and Immortal Word is a near-perfect winter album, as it almost makes me forget that it is winter altogether.  While I had never considered throwing a hypnagogic beach party before today, any anxieties that I may have had about what the soundtrack should be are now definitively eradicated.

Geographic North

I proudly stand behind "tropical beach party" as a solid summation of Immortal Word's general ambiance, but Jacober conjures an impressive variety of emotional shadings within that overarching mood.  In fact, only the brief Hawaiian-tinged "Flashbacking" can be said to take a particularly straightforward approach to evoking moonlit beachside bliss.  Admittedly, it is one of my favorite pieces of the lot, but I appreciate that Jacober nimbly avoids predictability or lapsing into kitsch.  As befits his background in noise-damaged and aggressive music, there is a subtle darkness and sense of unreality that imbues many of these songs with legitimate depth and poignancy.  In fact, most of this tape more closely resembles an exotica album for ghosts, as everything is elegantly blurred and slowed and leaves a rippling dreamlike haze in its wake.  Moreover, Jacober has an appealingly sophisticated harmonic sensibility, avoiding obvious chord progressions in favor of something far more spectral and bittersweet.  The stronger pieces tend to fall on the album's first half where the shadowy beachside reveries are enlivened with a propulsive thump, but the closing "Universal Sign" offers a glimpse of something more transcendent, vividly casting a haunting and sublime spell that calls to mind a hallucinatory midnight grotto of dark, swaying palms and slow-motion breaking waves.  I could probably listen to that piece in an infinite loop for hours, so I suppose that makes it the album highlight, but nearly every single song on this brief release is cool as hell.

Samples can be found here.

 

My Cat is an Alien, "The World That IS and IS NOT"

cover imageThe Opalio Brothers somehow managed to release three strong albums last year, but I believe only this one was (spontaneously) composed and recorded during the pandemic.  It was also inspired by it, as The World That IS and IS NOT is billed as a concept album of sorts: an "existential reflection" on a scenario "where everything seems to vanish into the void."  That admittedly sounds like a recipe for a bleak album, but the Opalios arguably went the opposite route, heading in a warmer direction to illustrate how music and art can help us transcend the "spiritual disquiet and moral despair" of the current age.  To new or casual fans, that increased warmth will probably be nearly imperceptible, as it will be largely eclipsed by the fundamentally outré and mind-meltingly psychedelic elements of this project.  Longtime fans will definitely notice a difference though, as this is an unusually meditative album with a satisfying and purposeful arc.  While I tend to enjoy the comparative unpredictability of MCIAA's collaborations the most these days, this one captures Roberto and Maurizio in especially inspired form on their own, as I would be hard-pressed to think of a more perfectly distilled example of their warped and wonderful vision.

Elliptical Noise

This three-song suite deceptively opens with an extended piece that explores somewhat familiar alien terrain, as rattling, discordant, and broken arpeggios from Maurizio's self-made double-bodied string instrument erratically tumble through the dreamlike haze of Roberto's wordless vocalizations.  The execution is unusually wonderful, however, as the increasingly sliding, scraping, and bleary strings create a deepening sense of immersive otherworldliness.  That sets the stage nicely for the album’s centerpiece, "Whispers of Hope and Illusions," which calls to mind a ramshackle, post-apocalyptic structure of rusted metal wires being violently shaken by a passing storm of extradimensional psychedelia.  It is probably one of my favorite MCIAA pieces to date, casting an immersive spell of rattling, undulating, and semi-curdled heaven.  Granted, it is still a surreal mindfuck beyond earthbound tonality, but it is complex, nuanced, and weirdly beautiful enough not to feel like a lysergic nightmare (though the storm does get kind of intense).  The album closes with yet another unusual (if brief) piece entitled "Prayer For A New Aurora," which feels like a window into a ritual or religious ceremony from an alien planet or alternate dimension.  I especially liked whatever sounds like a homemade synthesizer dissonantly attempting to replicate a vuvuzela being strangled.  Together, the three pieces flow into quite an absorbing and memorable whole and not a single theme ever overstays its welcome.  While I sometimes pine for the days of incredibly long MCIAA albums, I am similarly enamored with beautifully focused and concise statements like this one.  If there is another album by the Opalios that strikes a better balance between bold outsider vision and repeat listenability, I certainly cannot think of it.

Samples can be found here.

 
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