Kink Gong, "Voices"

cover imageLaurent Jeanneau's work as Kink Gong has been one of the most compellingly quixotic and unique projects in underground music for almost two decades, but I have only recently begun to scratch the surface of his mountain of work. He is probably best known as a prolific ethnomusicologist, occasionally surfacing on Sublime Frequencies. He has also self-released over 150 collections of ethnic minority music recorded during his many travels throughout Africa, China, and Southeast Asia. Naturally, that restless curiosity has made a deep impact on Jeanneau's own sensibility as an artist, resulting in a series fairly uncategorizable collage-based soundscape albums like this landmark 2013 release. At the root of Voices are a host of recordings of indigenous vocalists made in China, Vietnam, and Laos, but Jeanneau ingeniously transforms them into a haunting, otherworldly, and timeless vision that blurs the boundaries of tradition, experimentation, art, and reality.

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Richard Skelton, "Border Ballads"

cover imageEach new Richard Skelton release is a bit of a surprise these days, as his aesthetic is in a permanent state of flux shaped by where he is living and what he is thinking about at any given time. For the most part, his more divergent and experimental forays tend to surface as digital-only releases, but this physical release explores the least expected direction of all: a return to the more melodic, song-based aesthetic of his classic Type LPs from a decade ago. Obviously, Skelton is quite a different artist now than he was back then, so Border Ballads not a return so much as it is a very different vision ("telluric, grounded, earthen") rooted in a semi-familiar structure. Given that Landings and Marking Time were the Skelton albums that I first fell in love with, it is very hard to maintain any semblance of objectivity with this long-delayed sequel (of sorts). It feels like Border Ballads recaptures the transcendent magic of its predecessors only fitfully though, as its deep melancholy feels more like a somber, earthbound elegy than an ecstatic catharsis.

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Mort Garson, "Mother Earth's Plantasia"

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0263/1575/products/sbr3030-plantasia-300_1024x1024.jpg?v=1553025556Plantasia has become a well-known record despite a limited initial 1976 release to anyone buying a houseplant from the Mother Earth store in Los Angeles. This was music for plant owners to create an environment of optimal growth - simple haunting melodies composed on a moog.

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Spiral Wave Nomads

cover image Spiral Wave Nomads is the newly formed duo of multi-instrumentalist Eric Hardiman (Rambutan, Century Plants, Burnt Hills) and drummer Michael Kiefer (More Klementines). As a new duo, their first record is surprisingly a fully formed excursion: an excellent balance of structure and improvisation, and a sound that never stands still, but also demonstrates consistency and focus from song to song. The final product is a complex, yet entirely enjoyable suite of enveloping psychedelia that engages without bludgeoning.

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BLOODYMINDED

cover image While a series of archival live releases have appeared recently, the self-titled BLOODYMINDED is the first new studio material from the legendary Chicago noise/power electronics project since 2013’s Within the Walls. It also marks the first time that all six permanent members of the international band: Xavier Laradji, Will Lindsay, James Moy, Isidro Reyes, Pieter Schoolwerth, and de facto band leader Mark Solotroff have recorded together at the same location. This was heralded by a live performance just before the few crew entered the studio (released as The Struggle of Togetherness, but live BLOODYMINDED is a very different beast.  On stage they are a writhing mass of black leather, cheap plastic synths, and far more microphones than necessary. The result is the deconstruction of rock show clichés complete with between song banter and dedications, some of which are longer in duration than the song itself, which may be just a five second blast of synth. In the studio, however, the thematic depth and obsessive attention to sonic detail is much more obvious, resulting in the band's best work to date.

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William Ryan Fritch, "Deceptive Cadence: Music For Film Vol. I & Vol. II"

cover imageI have only been familiar with William Ryan Fritch's work for a couple of years, but he became one of my absolute favorite artists almost instantly. In fact, I have such unshakable faith in his vision that I even pounced on this lavish collection of works for film despite my similarly unshakable apathy towards soundtrack albums. My rational was that his first major release in two years had to be something truly special and the handful of pieces released in advance of the album seemed to bear that out. As it happens, the rest of this double album is every bit as wonderful as those teasers: Deceptive Cadence may very well be Fritch’s career-defining masterpiece. It certainly deserves to be, as Fritch approached it as a true labor of love, tirelessly revisiting, reworking, and paring down years of disparate projects until he had a gorgeously bittersweet tour de force of sublime grandeur.

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Helm, "Chemical Flowers"

cover imageLuke Younger has been increasingly ambitious in reinventing the Helm aesthetic with each fresh release over the last several years, but this latest release still caught me off-guard a bit: the bulk of Chemical Flowers is very different from the killer single ("I Knew You Would Respond") that preceded its release. To some degree, that admittedly fits Younger's pattern, as each of his EPs tends to feature one brilliant centerpiece surrounded by the more expected post-industrial sound collages. Though it is a full-length (and one that features string arrangements from JG Thirlwell), Chemical Flowers more or less replicates that same approach by simply doubling the amount of collages. That is perfectly fine by me, as I tend to enjoy Younger's abstract side almost as much as his beat-driven side and he is in especially fine form here. These collages are quite a bit different than usual though, as it sounds like there are a handful of '70s or '80s New Age/ambient albums lurking at the heart of Flowers that have been scorched, warped, and mangled beyond recognition.

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My Cat is an Alien, "Spiritual Noise, Vol. I"

cover imageMy Cat is an Alien has always been very much an "outsider art" phenomenon, as the Opalio brothers have spent the last two decades tirelessly conjuring and reshaping a hermetic alternate reality replete with its own unique philosophy and cosmology. In the process, they have released some truly original and beguiling auditory dispatches from their remote home in the Alps, but music is just one part of their larger vision and that vision has drawn increasing interest from the art world. For this latest release, the brothers unveil a new collaborative imprint with gallerist and publisher Marco Contini that seeks to bring the various threads of the their artistry together into a focused and harmonious whole. That endeavor is off to an excellent start, as Spiritual Noise is quite an impressive achievement as an art object. It is also an excellent album, as each of the two lengthy pieces unveils a fresh new facet of the duo's deep space trance states.

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Nurse With Wound with The James Worse Public Address Method, "The Vursiflenze Mismantler"

cover image

Cover art by Babs Santini.

Back cover art... could be Worse.

A complete new studio album on United Dairies (UD913).

More information can be found here.

3960 Hits

Meat Beat Manifesto, "Opaque Couché"

cover imageBilled as a companion piece to 2018's stellar Impossible Star, Opaque Couché continues Meat Beat's recent hot streak with a double album packed with inventive and meticulously crafted dance music virtuosity. Given that Jack Dangers' work has passed though quite a succession of different phases over the years, Impossible Star is indeed Opaque Couché's closest reference point, yet the two albums go in significantly different directions within their roughly similar stylistic territories (and only this one pays homage to one of the world's ugliest colors). Whereas its predecessor embraced the feel of an inhuman and paranoid sci-fi dystopia, Opaque Couché takes that futuristic bent in much more playful and propulsively kinetic direction. Naturally, it all sounds great, as Dangers is a singularly exacting producer. His true genius, however, lies in how seamlessly he is able to mash together high art, deadpan kitsch, and vibrantly infectious drum loops. Admittedly, that has been true for quite a long time, but he seems to creep closer and closer to achieving the perfect balance with each new release.

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Reality Tunnels

cover image In its ongoing series of artist-curated compilations, the Idle Chatter label asked interdisciplinary New York-based artist Muyassar Kurdi to compile its latest release. Specifically presenting female artists from around the world, Reality Tunnels not only further demonstrates the vast expanse of what can be defined as experimental music, but also gives some largely (and unjustly) unrecognized artists a platform to be heard.

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Skylark Quartet, "Live in Tokyo"

cover image Live in Tokyo is a series of 11 distinct interpretations of the 1941 song "Skylark" by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael performed by the quartet consisting of Orlando Lewis on clarinet, Franz-Ludwig Austenmeiser on keyboards, Hayden Pennyfeather on bass, and Roland Spindler on drums. This fact is anything but obvious upon listening, however. Based on the sound alone, it sounds more like an intimate series of improvisations rather than interpretations of a popular song from the 1940s, which was, I am sure, the performers' intent. It may bear some resemblance to its source material, however the quartet manage to create something nearly entirely original.

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Tim Hecker, "Anoyo"

cover imageEight years ago, Tim Hecker released his landmark Ravedeath, 1972 album and followed it with an EP that revisited the source material in a more organic, stripped-down fashion (Dropped Pianos). With Anoyo, Hecker beautifully revisits that same trick, albeit this time unveiling Konoyo's underlying gagaku ensemble rather than Ravedeath's underlying pianos. The other significant difference is that Anoyo is more than a mere companion piece that pulls back the curtain to reveal the scaffolding of a great album. Rather, Anoyo arguably equals and completes its predecessor, transforming Konoyo's blackened textures and haunted moods into something significantly warmer, more spacious, and more natural-sounding. Moreover, Anoyo gamely stretches even further from Hecker's comfort zone than its parent. Whereas Konoyo essentially fed Hecker's gagaku guests into a woodchipper, this release feels like a thoughtful, meditative, and organic collaboration with them, as Hecker's electronics eerily drift and swirl through the traditional Japanese sounds like a supernatural mist.

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Nodding God, "Play Wooden Child"

cover imageOver the last few years, House of Mythology has become a vacation home of sorts for David Tibet, as he keeps returning there for one unique and ambitious side project after another. This latest divergence finds him teaming up with Andrew Liles for a very quixotic undertaking indeed: an album sung entirely in a dead language (Akkadian, one of Tibet's many deep interests). Given that, I had no doubt at all that it would be one the year’s strangest and unapologetically indulgent releases, but I was still unprepared for how truly bizarre it ultimately turned out to be. Suffice to say, there is nothing else out there quite like Wooden Child, as it feels like an especially unhinged prog opus that took a darkly phantasmagoric turn leading far from any recognizably earthly territory.

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Teleplasmiste, "SCIENCE RELIGION"

Teleplasmiste's first release for Golden Ratio Frequencies, SCIENCE RELIGION is two side-long abstractions, recorded in London, Somerset and Wiltshire between 2017 and 2018, assembled from jams, experiments and accidents that occurred during recording sessions and rehearsals.

More information can be found here.

3151 Hits

Keith Fullerton Whitman, "Late Playthroughs"

cover imageIn the early 2000s, Keith Fullerton Whitman parted ways with his Hrvatski moniker and started recording more ambient-minded work under his own name. His first major release in that vein was 2002's Playthroughs (Kranky), an album that is fairly universally acknowledged as a classic of the genre. While I have no argument at all with Playthroughs' status as A Crucial Ambient Album, it is a bit more than that as well, as Whitman devised quite a fascinating and radical compositional approach for the album. Trying to comprehend the actual specifics of the process makes my synapses fizzle and smoke, but the gist is that he fed his guitar into a system of effects and software that produced a completely transformed beast that expanded, evolved, and reshaped with a mind of its own. Being a restlessly creative sort, Whitman soon moved on to other experiments, but he has been periodically revisiting that early system over the last decade with the benefit of newer software. The aptly named Late Playthroughs documents a divergent pair of live resurrections of that set-up dating from last year. Given the uncut, live nature of these pieces, this album is not quite as focused and sharply realized as the original, but it often does a beautiful job of both recapturing that magic and stretching the original aesthetic into stranger, darker terrain.

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Caterina Barbieri, "Ecstatic Computation"

cover imageThis Italian synth visionary made quite a spectacular impression with 2017's Patterns of Consciousness and now makes her Editions Mego debut with its proper follow-up. To some degree, Barbieri picks up exactly where she left off, as Ecstatic Computation shares its predecessor's masterfully executed conceptual conceit: using subtle shifts in obsessively repeating patterns to achieve a trancelike and hallucinatory effect. Given both that objective and Barbieri's singular compositional rigor, Ecstatic Computation bears little resemblance at all to the work of other synth artists, but it also sounds quite different from the sprawling and sometimes overwhelming Patterns of Consciousness as well. While it is hard to pick a favorite between the two albums, this one is definitely the more accessible, as Barbieri has distilled her vision into a much more concise and focused presentation. This album is also quite a bit more varied and unpredictable, as Barbieri occasionally allows the machine-like precision of these pieces to careen off the rails and unleash a glorious and vivid shower of sparks.

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4613 Hits

Zachary Paul, "A Meditation on Discord"

cover imageI almost slept on this unexpectedly incendiary delight, as it deceptively seemed like just another solid drone album based on my initial and brief exposure to it. Then I noticed that Anna von Hausswolff had described it as "This is just.... wow." Given that she does not seem at all like the sort to be floored easily, I revisited A Meditation of Discord for a proper listen. I found myself sharing her sentiment by the end of the opening "Premonition," as Paul and his violin unleash a slow-burning and breathtaking one-man apocalypse in real time. To some degree, it is undeniably Paul's masterful live loop manipulation that makes that piece such a beguiling and impressive feat, but even if he had a full band and a limitless studio budget at his disposal, its fiery crescendo could not be any more harrowing and visceral. While he regrettably tones down his more volcanic impulses for the album's second half, the squirming and psychotically dissonant final moments of the closer beautifully reignite the album's transcendently disturbing brilliance.

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Reynols, "Minecxio Emanations 1993-2018"

cover image Argentinian trio Reynols are perhaps one of the most baffling and unabashedly unique artists to arise from the tape/noise underground scene of the past 20 years. Their recorded output has run the gamut of psychedelic rock, pure noise, heavily conceptual works (such as a processed field recording of chickens), and so much more. With the bulk of their work confined to ultra limited cassettes and CDRs, this beautiful collection of six CDs and a DVD, along with extensive liner notes makes for a perfect starting point of collaborations, two unreleased albums, and a slew of unreleased and rare songs.

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Luc Ferrari, "Music Promenade/Unheimlich Schön"

cover imageOne of the many, many things that I feel vaguely and irrationally guilty about on a daily basis is my failure to take a deep plunge into the Editions Mego-curated Recollection GRM series, as there was a period in my life where I was extremely interested in classic musique concrète and was maddeningly unable to find much of it. Consequently, this series would have been an absolute revelation for me back then. Unfortunately, my passion for early electronic music is considerably diminished these days, as my historical curiosity has long since been sated and a lot of very important pieces have not aged particularly well. That said, there are some pieces that have aged quite well indeed and there are always some long-forgotten gems that have eluded me. This, the third Luc Ferrari release in the series, is one of those very pleasant surprises, resurrecting two lengthy tape pieces that range from playfully anarchic to enigmatically seductive.

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