Without question, The Shadow Ring were one of the strangest and most inscrutable bands to ever exist, yet Graham Lambkin's gnomic solo career frequently makes his previous band look downright conventional by comparison. That is not an unambiguously wonderful achievement, however, as a lot of Lambkin's work leaves me wondering what on earth he is trying to convey and who such albums are for. For better or worse, the presence of √Åine O'Dwyer does little to steer Lambkin towards more musical terrain. In fact, this latest release only doubles down further on Lambkin's recent cryptic, no-fi aesthetic, seemingly unfolding as a fragmented and abstract travelogue of a couple's travels across England, Ireland, and Sweden. ¬†As with all Graham Lambkin albums, Green Ways is certainly unique and intriguing, but it is more of an unsolvable mystery and an experiment in extreme artistic constraints than it is a great album.
It occurred to me the other day that Richard Skelton's artistic trajectory almost resembles the stuff of myth and folklore, as he was once akin to an enchanted bard who made achingly gorgeous and sensuously churning music full of life, heartache, passion, and darkly flickering light. Gradually, however, he became so disillusioned with mankind that he started playing for the moors, the hills, the earth, and the buried remnants of the distant past instead. Or, in his more ambitious moments, for the cosmos themselves. With the comparatively modest and exploratory Front Variations, however, Skelton is not straining for the stars nor focusing his elemental power to world-shaking intensity, but instead uses the disappearing ice sheets of Iceland as an unconventional muse for a pair of slow-motion feedback experiments.
In 1997, the independent music business was thriving worldwide, musical acts were reaching new audiences via the World Wide Web, and the economy was booming. Brainwashed.com was a year old, and we had not even begun to start conduction Annual Readers Polls. However, we began expanding the domain to host sites for independent labels and distributors like Kranky, Thrill Jockey, Happy Go Lucky, RRRecords, and World Serpent Distribution along with the multitude of sites we were hosting for musical acts.
It has been a pleasure to revisit the music of 1997 and we appreciate all the time and effort put in by the readers to make your opinions known.
Etelin is the newest project from Students of Decay label head Alex Cobb, marking quite a radical break from the ambient drone of his previous oeuvre. That transformation stems largely from Cobb's frustration with the current experimental music scene, which has calcified into various genres and trends in recent years, losing much of the playfulness and actual experimentation that made the milieu so initially compelling. Obviously, Cobb is not alone in that feeling, as there are several outliers currently making groundbreaking and unique work (Cam Deas and Rashad Becker spring immediately to mind), yet Hui Terra is very much an unusual album that pointedly and willfully turns its back on the zeitgeist. At its best, the album hits some sustained passages of dreamlike beauty, but the bulk of Hui Terra is a bit more modest in its ambitions, unfolding like a more fragmented and hallucinatory re-envisioning of classic GRM fare.
I was completely unaware of this Italian sound artist's work until only recently, but he seems to be having quite a big year, as his duo with Roberto P. Siguera (Luton) released their bleakly lovely debut on Lost Tribe Sound and now there is this leftfield gem of a solo album. While I am sure comparing one underheard artist to another is quite a quixotic endeavor, there have to be some people out there who remember Talvihorros's Descent into Delta album and Novellino does something similar here: A Conscious Effort feels like a sustained and immersive plunge into the mysteries of the mind. In keeping with the ambition of its apparent conceptual inspirations, the music is a shape-shifting and kaleidoscopic fantasia that seamlessly blurs together roiling drones, viscerally snarling feedback, skipping loop experimentation, and even an occasional eruption of pummeling, slow-motion doom metal. Naturally, I prefer some threads more than others, but the entire album flows together beautifully and evocatively.
Two decades ago the Annual Readers Poll began. The old version of the first annual readers poll can still be viewed online here, but we wanted to re-examine 1998 in the new system and get a broader picture of the music of that year. Perhaps these are truly the releases that have withstood 20 years of listening or the readership demographics have changed in 20 years. Either way, thanks to all who participated. Look for a 1997 recount nomination round coming soon and the 2018 Annual Readers Poll to follow.
Sean McCann celebrates the 50th release of his endlessly evolving Recital Program imprint with a major new work of his own, combining his dual love of literature and music into a unique album/book pairing. Of the two halves of the work, the book takes more of a supporting role, providing personal insights about the birth of each piece as well as the accompanying texts that appear throughout the album in often unrecognizably abstract or altered form. The album itself is kind of a compilation of sorts, bringing together four thematically similar pieces that are a mixture of live and studio performances and new and previously released work. The two new longform pieces that elegantly blend together speech and orchestral composition are the true heart of the album, however, and they are what make Saccharine Scores a landmark release in McCann‚Äôs discography. Glibly put, this is the album that places McCann quite firmly into "Robert Ashley" territory rather than "Andrew Chalk" territory, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that his voice as a writer is every bit as distinctive as his talents as a composer.
Barn Owl was always an intriguingly fluid and evolving project and that creative restlessness has certainly continuing on into the solo work of Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras. For this latest release, Porras takes his conceptual inspiration from Indian musician Gita Sarabhai, who once mentioned in a conversation with John Cage that art exists to "sober and quiet the mind, thus rendering it susceptible to divine influences." As such, the tone of Voice of the Air is largely a meditative and drone-based one, but Porras also had some new revelations about composition along the way, diving into John Chowning's frequency modulation (FM) synthesis ideas and exploring how to use them as a structural basis for his own work. The results of that experimentation are often quite wonderful, as Voice of the Air is an album filled with strong, simple themes that vibrantly squirm, shiver, and oscillate with shifting textures.
Originally only available on cassette during dal Forno's summer tour, this EP of six eclectic covers is now available digitally. As anyone who has heard her occasional NTS Radio DJ appearances can attest, dal Forno has delightfully wide-ranging taste and definitely appreciates a great hook when she hears it, so it is not at all surprising that there are some extremely deep cuts here (The Kiwi Animal) mingled with a few names that actually have spent time at the top of the pop charts (Lana del Ray and The B-52s). While the latter's early "Give Me Back My Man" undergoes quite an impressive transformation, Carla is generally quite reverent with her source material, taking a handful of great songs and simply paring them down to their stark and intimate essence.
This long-gestating new release from David Tibet and his shifting orbit of collaborators is an unexpected late-career throwback to the dazzling and immersive epics of Current 93's golden age. In Tibet's parlance, it is common for recordings and performances to be described as "channelings" and that seems especially appropriate for The Light Is Leaving Us All, which at times feels like it effortlessly transcends time and space and dissolves reality to open a fleeting portal into an alternate world swirling with unknowable mystery, unearthly beauty, and ineffable sadness. At its best, this album feels like a motley and wild-eyed caravan of minstrels, actors, and puppeteers unexpectedly appeared in a medieval town to share a vividly haunting, hallucinatory, and deeply eschatological fairy tale that will be the last thing that any of the villagers ever hear.
Frederikke Hoffmeier has been a prominent and distinctive voice in the harsh noise scene for the last several years, releasing a steady stream of viscerally throbbing nightmares primarily on Denmark's Posh Isolation label. With this latest release, however, Hoffmeier makes her debut for PAN. More significantly, The Drought also marks a significant leap forward in Hoffmeier's artistry, as a recent residency at MONOM in Berlin completely transformed the way she thought about both space and evoking a strong sense of place. The result of those revelations is something that transcends Puce Mary's noise roots to arrive at a place that is considerably more unique, sensuous, and intimate, though no less disturbing. Hoffmeier is still an absolutely brilliant purveyor of violent, jagged squalls of noise, but she is now quite a bit better at focusing those eruptions for maximum impact.
Elemente is a dynamic and hypnotic record, not at all reliant upon listener knowledge of the three incarnations of K/C/Qluster nor of the relentless creativity of Hans-Joachim Roedelius. The trio play a range of analogue synths and tracks are coherently sequenced into a whole album: two elements which combine to give a richness, depth and balance to their expression.
As Murderous Vision, Ohio's Stephen Petrus has been one of the pioneers in the US death industrial/power electronics scene for over two decades now. It is a stylistic variation that has largely managed to avoid many of the pitfalls of its European counterpart ("provocative" political ambiguity, rampant misogyny, etc.) but retained the more creative, occasionally occult-tinged, depressive darkness. On Voided Landscapes, he continues this trend with a bit more environmental influence, both overt and subtle. Darkness Descends is a compilation for a festival Petrus curated this past summer in Cleveland and, while produced for the festival itself, stands strongly apart as a compilation of artists that have defined the style.
In four lengthy segments, each inhabiting its own side of vinyl, Brooklyn based Bob Bellerue presents a record that draws from his multitude of styles, from carefully constructed drones and outbursts of harsh noise, to less traveled territories, such as subtle melodies. Combined with experimental strategies learned from Bellerue‚Äôs work as a sound technician and Music of Liberation becomes a fascinating work in the canon of experimental sound and music, exceptional from both its composition as well as the production.
The Heather Leigh that recorded 2015's excellent I Abused Animal seems to have split into two separate artists this year: one who plays wild experimental guitar in a duo with Peter Br√∂tzmann and another who is something of an outsider art-pop vocal diva. This is the latter Leigh. Ostensibly "a record of late-night Americana and heavy femininity," Throne is quite a bold and radical departure from expected territory, often resembling a bizarre and hallucinatory collision of Lou Reed and Kate Bush. That is only the tip of a very strange and intimate iceberg, however, as Leigh also has a curious approach to structure and a bent for confessional subject matter. For the most part, Leigh manages to make this experiment work, as Throne is a memorably unique album, but it only truly catches fire when her guitar playing bursts into the foreground.
The trajectory of Drew McDowall‚Äôs recent resurgence as a solo artist continues to be a compelling and unpredictable one, as The Third Helix is quite a bit different from either of his previous Dais outings. If Collapse felt like a lost Coil session and Unnatural Channel felt like a vintage noise tape, Helix feels like the assimilation of those two sides into something more forward-looking and unique. It does not quite unseat Collapse as my favorite of McDowall's albums, but a couple of pieces easily rank among his finest work to date. More importantly, the album as a whole cumulatively casts a wonderfully immersive and disorienting spell that is ideal for headphone listening. This is the first of McDowall's albums that makes me feel like he is currently in the midst of a fresh new creative phase rather than merely unearthing and reworking a deep backlog of unreleased material.
I have never been all that deeply immersed in the international noise scene, but I have certainly been aware of the scatological insanity of Rudolf Eb.er for a couple of decades now. I always viewed his work like an anarcho-punk might have viewed GG Allin: a compelling spectacle, for sure, but in a completely different category than the serious music that truly mattered. After hearing this singular and bizarrely brilliant m√©lange of "psychomagick spells and occult yogic instructions," however, I definitely need to go back and cautiously revisit more of Eb.er's previous ouevre: he clearly grasps something elusive and profound that most other people do not. This release may be the birth of a transcendent and entirely new phase, however, as Eb.er has allegedly "conquered the nether scatological regions" and moved onto "psycho-spiritual cleansing rituals." As a listener, I did not feel particularly psychically cleansed by this album, but I did not feel coated in filth afterwards either, which is an unexpected step in the right direction. With Om Kult, Rudolf Eb.er seems to have emerged from the grotesque purification ritual of his previous work as some kind of wild-eyed and uncomfortably intense shaman operating at an unusually high plane of consciousness.
Barnacles, the (mostly) solo project of Italy‚Äôs Matteo Uggeri (also a member of Sparkle in Grey) has released two albums nearly simultaneously, and even though the approach to each are drastically different, the final product is entirely complimentary. With one culled from source material of previous releases and the other with the legendary experimental Italian artist and composer, there is a wide gamut of sounds here, but one that has the unified focus of Uggeri‚Äôs compositional skills.
While this is improbably the first Orphax release to be covered on Brainwashed, Amsterdam's Sietse van Erve has been a significant figure in experimental music circles for nearly two decades, running the fine Moving Furniture label and organizing events at the STEIM Foundation and elsewhere. This latest album is kind of a decade-spanning labor of love, as van Erve solicited audio files from a number of planned collaborators back in 2006 for a project that was eventually abandoned. However, he recently rediscovered some saxophone recordings made by James Fella and decided to revisit them, resulting in the cacophonously brilliant opening piece "JF." To complement that piece, Sietse then enlisted his father to make some fresh new recordings for him to work his transformative magic upon for a companion piece. While the two pieces sound quite different from one another, both are compellingly unusual forays into longform drone that lysergically swirl and undulate with vibrant harmonic interplay.
Sean McCann's output has greatly slowed in recent years, as he has become increasing focused on running the fine Recital Program imprint, yet he was easily one of the most wildly prolific figures to emerge from the cassette culture explosion of the early 2000s. As a result, much of his finest work surfaced only ephemerally and many of his early tapes have likely only been heard by the most devoted of Foxy Digitalis readers. One of countless releases that slipped by me (and presumably lots of other people) was this one, originally issued on cassette and CDR on McCann's earlier Roll Over Rover label back in 2010. Despite that humble release, Fountains was an ambitious undertaking, as McCann envisioned it as an "ambient masterwork" that would be the debut release for Recital. He was never quite happy with it though, and moved onto his more orchestral-minded Music for Private Ensemble work instead. I certainly cannot fault McCann's decision, but he was wrong about one thing: Fountains actually is an ambient masterwork (or at least damn close to one).