Clarice Jensen, "The Experience of Repetition as Death"

cover imageI was legitimately blindsided by Clarice Jensen's wonderful 2018 debut (For This From That Will Be Filled), but it left me with absolutely no idea what to expect from her in the future, as it was an unusual collection consisting of a collaboration, an ambitious solo composition, and a piece composed by Michael Harrison. As such, it was hard to tell if Jensen was a brilliant cellist with great taste, an extremely promising composer, or both. With the spellbinding The Experience of Repetition as Death, Jensen definitively confirms that she is indeed both, as she ingeniously employs loops and effects to craft a beguiling, varied, and richly textured five-song suite inspired by personal tragedy, Freud, and Adrienne Rich. Though death is a definite and deliberate theme, Jensen transforms it into something sublime, transcendent, and achingly beautiful. Moreover, the album's mesmerizing centerpiece ("Holy Mother") completely decimates any preexisting conceptions I had regarding what one person can achieve with a cello.

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Félicia Atkinson, "Everything Evaporate"

cover imageThis latest release from Félicia Atkinson is ostensibly a minor and somewhat transitional one, as it is a cassette intended as a sort of culminating document of a year spent traveling and performing. As with all recent Atkinson releases, however, the reality is far more complex, enigmatic, and deeply conceptual than anything that can be easily summarized in just one sentence. Partly inspired by the paintings of Helen Frankenthaler and partly intended as "a reassessed document of public performance with improvised studio interventions acting to break the linear stream of the live-on-stage temporality," Everything Evaporate is an intriguing and sophisticated release that seems to exist at the borderline of form and dreamlike abstraction. As such, it is not the optimal entry point for the curious (that would be 2019's The Flower and the Vessel), but deep listening reveals this release to be every bit as absorbing as the rest of Atkinson's recent hot streak.

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Beatriz Ferreyra, "Echos+" Ferreyra, former pupil of Gorgy Ligeti, is an experimental music composer with many distinguished accolades. An academic who has published notable papers, she now works as a free composer taking commissions for concerts, festivals, ballets, and films. On Echos+, we hear her in peak form crafting intriguing and unique experiments in vocal manipulation. She uses the voice as base material for stereo-shifting computer music creations that arrest and delight.

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Roedelius, "Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe" Roedelius is better known for his work as a founding member of the bands Cluster and Harmonia, both household names for fans of 1970s krautrock. This solo album, Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe, feels like a more clinical approach to krautrock, with all of the difference and repetition and none of the bombast. Filled with stately electronic keyboards and synthesizers, this minimalist document has the hair-raising effect of a calm, deliberate tea ceremony.

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Robert Piotrowicz, "Euzebio"

cover imageEuzebio is Robert Piotrowicz's first record of solely modular synthesis after a period of working within different contexts. The recent Crackfinder was a collaboration with Jérôme Noetinger and Anna Zaradny, and Walser was a film soundtrack, so there has not been a "pure" Piotrowicz record for a while. It is obvious, however, that he has not lost his way when it comes to his preferred instrument. Again he coaxes some of the most varied sounds yet from his bank of electronics (in this case Buchla and EMS synthesizers), and focuses not just on the noisier characteristics of his previous works, but also some more traditional, rhythmic structures to vary things nicely.

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Jim White and Marisa Anderson, "The Quickening"

Jim White and Marisa Anderson, 'The Quickening'The start of the album made me think of what my grandmother would have said: "What is this twaddle?" and "Is this what you call music?" White is foremost a drummer, first founding Dirty Three with Warren Ellis and Mick Turner, and with bands as varied as Cat Power, PJ Harvey, and The Blackeyed Susans. Conversely, Marisa Anderson is a classically trained master of melancholic guitar rooted in American folk, neo-classical and African guitar styles, with an early foundation in country, jazz and even circus bands. With musicians as these at the helm, this becomes perfect jam music; not jam as in "jam band" or Grateful Dead, but a rich psychedelic tapestry woven by practiced hands that take pleasure in breaking the rules of jazz foundations and serve to transport the listener to new heights.

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Sir Richard Bishop, "Oneiric Formulary"

Sir Richard Bishop, Oud, Lute, acoustic guitar, or lap steel guitar? While my musical knowledge is varied, my ear is not trained to pick out the many instruments used or mimicked by Bishop. He makes guitars sound like any of these aforementioned instruments, at any point in time, with practiced fingers and the equivalent musical knowledge of a library with every note he plays, a master guitarist proficient in a variety of guitar techniques and knowledge of music traditions. His latest album excels in his freer use of experimentation with theme and electronics, crafting a "dream pharmacy" as the title implies.

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Spirit Fest, "Mirage Mirage" Fest is a supergroup built around acclaimed Japanese duo Tenniscoats, featuring members of Notwist, Jam Money, and Joasihno. If an album could be adorkable, this fits the bill. Mirage Mirage is an album for flower picking and bubble blowing, and it charmed me from the first listen.

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Louise Bock, "Abyss: For Cello"

cover imageLouise Bock is the latest guise of iconoclastic composer Taralie Peterson, who is best known for her role in psych-folk luminaries Spires That in the Sunset Rise. It is probably fair to describe some of her previous work as "polarizing" or "an acquired taste," as she is not one to shy away from dissonance or nerve-jangling intensity. However, it is also fair to say that she has recorded some truly transcendent and impressively wild pieces over the years. In some ways, Abyss: For Cello captures Peterson in comparatively accessible form, but that is mostly because there are limits to how much infernal cacophony one person can create with just a cello and a saxophone. That said, that limit is considerably higher than I would have expected, as Abyss is quite a churning and heaving one-woman tour de force of cello-driven violence. Moreover, it is quite an impressively focused and tightly edited one as well. It is quite a pleasure to witness Peterson's power so beautifully harnessed for maximum impact, particularly on the album's brilliant centerpiece "Oolite."

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Nicole Oberle, "Skin"

cover imageI know very little about Nicole Oberle and I suspect that suits her just fine, as she self-describes as a "digital recluse." What I do know is that she is based in Texas and that she has recorded quite a prolific stream of self-released material over the last year or so. One of those releases was last fall's Skin EP, which has since been picked up and reissued in expanded form by Whited Sepulchre. That is great news for a couple of reasons, as I would not have encountered her work otherwise and this new incarnation of Skin is a significantly more substantial and compelling release than its predecessor. In fact, the newly added songs are some of my favorite ones on the album. As such, I suspect this incarnation of Skin will rightfully go a long way towards expanding Oberle's fanbase, as there are appealing shades of both Grouper and erstwhile labelmate Midwife lurking among these eleven songs. The most fascinating parts of the album, however, are the ones where those influences collide with Oberle's divergent interests in ghostly, downtempo R&B grooves and unsettling, diaristic sound collages.

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Klara Lewis, "Ingrid"

cover imageI was quite curious to see which direction Klara Lewis's latest album would take, as her previous solo releases were generally quite radical and hyper-constrained in their avoidance of anything resembling conventional instrumentation. While both Ett and Too are aptly described by Editions Mego as "eerie rhythmic variations," such a summary falls short in conveying the uniqueness of Lewis's vision, as it often felt like she was quixotically attempting to compose pop songs solely from murky field recordings and decontextualized fragments of beats and melodies. With Ingrid, however, Lewis makes a dramatic and unexpected aesthetic reversal, as she slowly transforms a haunting and melodic cello loop into a wonderfully gnarled and heaving longform piece.

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E, "Complications"

E, 'Complications'Creating memorable music is not always about throwing musical spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks; like any recipe, there are common ingredients to music’s magic—tempo, chorus and yes, a certain predictability—and the best dishes come from the extrapolation of the cook’s own prime ingredients into their own musical concoctions. Having a formula is no more dangerous to "real" music as a recipe is to a "real" chef; the best music in the hands of masters balances an adherence to these rules with free-flowing creativity, while those less experienced either know nothing about the recipe, or follow the recipe too strictly. Boston based trio E comprises all masters: guitarist Thalia Zedek (Come, Uzi, Live Skull), guitarist and inventor Jason Sidney Sanford (Neptune) and drummer Gavin McCarthy (Karate). Their third release doesn’t create any new formulas, but rather expounds on the tasty blend of the prior two releases, honing the skills of three masters into an even finer dish of practiced and precise dark energy.

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"Tiny Portraits Complete Compilation" sound art label Flaming Pines has collected 24 singles in the Tiny Portraits series to form this pay what you want compilation of music dedicated to overlooked places. Each artist was asked to examine a physical space or location, and create a portrait of that space using whatever mode of creative inquiry they have in their toolbox. As an album, the music veers through manifestations of sound, with peaks and contours that are mostly peaceful in character. The result is an evocative, varied collection, with each piece a startlingly unique contribution to the whole, to be enjoyed as part of a journey through physical reality.

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Matt Elliott, "Farewell to All We Know" the eighth solo album from the French-based British musician behind Third Eye Foundation, it is impossible to not compare Elliott's delivery to late bard Leonard Cohen. Elliott's accomplished Spanish guitar craft further add to the resemblance, particularly if followed by Cohen's final album Thanks for the Dance. Working as a solo artist since 2003, Elliott has achieved a new aural mastery on his latest work. At the start of the new decade, we face anticipatory grief, a collective loss of safety, and ultimately have been forced to bid Farewell to All We Know. Many artists use songwriting as a way of making sense of a bewildering world, and Elliott has crafted a perfectly timed accompaniment to grief, offering resignation and renewal with his heartfelt message "Maybe the storm has passed and devastated everything, now we just have to rebuild and live again."

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My Cat is an Alien with Joëlle Vinciarelli, "Eternal Beyond II"

cover imageThe Opalio brothers have had quite an impressive history of adventurous collaborations over the years, as they have been joined by many of the most iconic figures in underground music, as well as an inspired array of interesting folks that I had not previously encountered. Naturally, a number of those unions have yielded wonderful results, but one of my favorites was the Opalios' pairing with Talweg/La Morte Young's Joëlle Vinciarelli for 2016’s Eternal Beyond. Several other artists have gamely and effectively adapted themselves to the brothers' unique aesthetic and working method over the years, yet Vinciarelli is the one who was most successful at finding and filling a space that made the collaboration feel like something more than the mere sum of its parts. More specifically, she brings some welcome bite and visceral intensity to the Opalios' phantasmagoric and alien reveries. Consequently, I am absolutely thrilled to report that this trio has now become a recurring project and that Eternal Beyond II is every good as its predecessor (if not even better).

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Ian William Craig, "Red Sun Through Smoke"

cover imageI am generally not someone who believes that everything happens for a reason or that tragedy breeds great art, but I do think that the emotionally fraught and unusual circumstances surrounding the creation of Red Sun Through Smoke steered Ian William Craig in a direction that feels uncannily appropriate for the current moment. Craig's original plan was simply to sequester himself for a couple weeks in his grandfather's empty house in Kelowna, British Columbia while he wrote and recorded a new album. As it turned out, however, fate had quite a macabre cavalcade of unpleasant surprises in store for him, as Kelowna became surrounded by forest fires, his grandfather died, his parents moved into the smoke-shrouded house, and the woman he loved moved to Paris. Naturally, all of those events resulted in quite an intense swirl of emotions, but at least a correspondingly intense (and beautiful) album ultimately emerged from that fraught period, as the best moments of Red Sun Through Smoke distill Craig’s art to its simplest, most direct, and most intimate form.

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Tongues of Mount Meru, "The Hex of Light"

cover imageThis latest release from Jon Wesseltoft and Lasse Marhaug's long-running (if fitful) drone project was recorded all the way back in 2013, which makes for quite a perplexing mystery, as I cannot understand why such a great album would remain on the shelf for so many years (especially since Marhaug himself runs a label). Most likely, however, The Hex of Light was simply the victim of Marhaug's incredibly prolific output, as well as Mount Meru's tendency to bounce from label to label with every release. Also, it appears as though this project was either on hiatus or completely defunct for quite some time, though Wesseltoft and Marhaug have performed together in Meru-esque form as recently as 2016. Aside from that, it is probably also safe to say that Wesseltoft poured quite a lot of time into mastering and editing this monster, as The Hex of Light's two longform pieces represent crushingly dense and mind-melting drone heaviness at its absolute best.

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Anna Burch, "If You're Dreaming" Burch is the singular creative force behind so-called "bummer pop" album If You're Dreaming. This album is a departure from Burch's earlier effort, and one that shows off her stylistic breadth and thematic depth. In contrast to the high energy first album, for this release she slips into the fireside armchair and contemplates feelings and relationships, rocking gently and raising in inquiring brow. It's a relaxation of pace that I much prefer, and every song on the release is an instant favorite.

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Sarah Davachi, "Horae" Davachi is a luminary in the field of electroacoustic music, with a master's degree from Mills College and an in progress doctorate from UCLA. Her self-released album Horae builds on a noteworthy career that includes 17 releases and worldwide tours with such notable contemporaries as Grouper, William Basinski, and Oren Ambarchi. Named after Greek goddesses, this album evokes the same feelings and visceral reactions experienced when listening to similarly unstructured soundscapes found in nature. Describing the post of the horae at the gates to Olympus, this minimalist document is regal, stately, and emotionally potent.

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PCRV, "Deprecating Technology"

cover image In what appears to be his first solo release in five years, North Dakota resident Matt Taggart’s PCRV covers a bit of everything defined as noise on Deprecating Technology. Across the 40 minute duration of this tape he runs the full gamut: shrill sound collage, sustained wall noise, and even some hushed parts that would qualify as electro-acoustic. It might be all over the place on paper, but consistent production, as well as his use of what resembles vintage computer tones, makes for what truly sounds like a unified album.

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