Cam Deas, "Time Exercises"

cover imageI have been casually familiar with London-based guitarist Cam Deas for years through his many "post-Takoma" releases on Blackest Rainbow, but the Cam Deas of the past bears virtually no resemblance to the artist responsible for the visceral and deranged Time Exercises. Deas' campaign of radical reinvention appears to have begun sometime around 2011 with his Quadtych series and fully blossomed (or so I thought) with 2014's String Studies, in which his guitar became a mere trigger for squalls of atonal and spasmodic electronic chaos. With Time Exercises, Deas gamely ventures still further from his comfort zone, setting his guitar aside completely to focus on complex modular synth experiments. The album's prosaic/academic-sounding title is an amusingly huge and deceptive understatement though–a far more appropriate title would be "Nightmare Studies" or "Holy Fuck–What is This?!?," as Studies aesthetically resembles a cross between Rashad Becker's Notional Species and a seething pit of digitized snakes from a hellish alien dimension.

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Richard Chartier, "Central (for M. Vainio)"

cover image Released to commemorate one year since legendary artist Mika Vainio’s passing, long time fan and collaborator Richard Chartier has created a fitting tribute to the artist, his legacy, and also his undeniable influence on Chartier’s own work. The final product is less of an overt tribute, at least in sound, and functions more as a knowing homage that synergizes the core elements of Vainio's lengthy body of art via Chartier's undeniably nuanced and complex aesthetic.

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5186 Hits

Bob Bellerue, "All In"

cover image Although has a lengthy career, Brooklyn's Bob Bellerue has sat comfortably in the fringes of a fragmented noise and experimental scene. His newest release, All In, is a nicely limited tape edition that captures two distinctly different performances, one from 2011 and the other from 2014, which features him emphasizing some notably different styles from his body of work, although the final product makes for an entirely cohesive release that feels as much as a conceptual album as it would a set of two live performances three years apart.

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6333 Hits

Abul Mogard, "Circular Forms"

cover imageRecently given an much-needed reissue by Ecstatic, Circular Forms (2015) is Abul Mogard’s lone proper full-length album amidst a slow trickle of cassettes, splits, and compilation appearances. When I first heard it, I was admittedly a bit disappointed as it felt considerably less unique and revelatory than the earlier, more industrial-influenced pieces collected on Works. I have since warmed to it quite a bit, however, as "The Half-Light of Dawn" is an achingly beautiful masterpiece of simmering and haunted-sounding post-apocalyptic drone. Mogard also does a stellar job at channeling the cosmic dread of prime Tangerine Dream at one point. The rest of the album is quite enjoyable as well, but it sometimes has a bit of an uneven and transitional feel that reveals Mogard's influences and occupies more well-established aesthetic terrain than some of his iconoclastic earlier releases.

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5255 Hits

Seabuckthorn, "A House With Too Much Fire"

cover imageFor some reason, this long-running project from English guitarist Andy Cartwright has stayed largely under my radar until now, despite my occasional brushes with his work through various blogs and his splits with Dean McPhee and Loscil. This latest release, Seabuckthorn's ninth, is deeply influenced by Cartwright's rustic and mountainous new surroundings in the Southern Alps, yet his work has always had an earthy, widescreen grandeur. As I am only casually familiar with the rest of the Seabuckthorn oeuvre, I cannot confidently state that Cartwright's new environment or recent focus on textural experimentation have radically transformed his work, but A House With Too Much Fire definitely feels like an especially strong showing. Much like the aforementioned McPhee, Cartwright has carved out a sublime and alternately haunting and gorgeous niche all his own, far transcending my expectations of what a lone guitarist can achieve (though Cartwright certainly embraces a much more expansive palette than his peers).

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4702 Hits

Matt Weston, "This Is Your Rosemont Horizon"

cover image Not long after bemoaning the lack of full-length releases from Matt Weston (following a string of excellent 7"s) he quickly announced This Is Your Rosemont Horizon, a full length LP of two side-long compositions. Following the patterns set forth in his singles, both are ever changing pieces rich with electronics, guitar, and of course unconventional percussion that shift and change with every minute that goes by, never stagnating or even sitting still, resulting in a fascinating suite of complex electro-acoustic composition and exploration.

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Expo '70, "Mother Universe Has Birthed Her Last Cosmos"

cover imagePolish label Zoharum take a very deep dive into Justin Wright’s exquisite solo guitar psychedelia with this sprawling 2xCD collection of various limited Expo '70 releases. For the most part, these extended pieces have a very drone-based and cosmic bent, but the two 2009 collaborations with Umberto's Matt Hill are legitimately transcendent and entrancing epics of slow-burning space-rock nirvana. Giving those two pieces a well-deserved second life is unquestionably Mother Universe's raison d'être, so the remaining pieces are more for devout fans and completists (though they are also quite good in their own right). The various physical formats all compensate for potential Expo '70 overload in their own ways, however, making it very easy to alternate between experiencing Mother Universe as a concise distillation of some of Wright's finest work or as an immersive and extended lysergic plunge.

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Alva Noto, "Unieqav"

cover imageThe final installment of Carsten Nicolai's "Uni" trilogy is a curious addition to the Alva Noto's historically conceptual-minded and experimental discography, as it is essentially a straight techno album. Given that this comparatively dancefloor-oriented series was initially inspired by a trip to Tokyo nightclub Unit, however, I suppose a nakedly beat-driven and somewhat straight-forward album like Unieqav makes some perverse sense (especially as a culminating statement). There is a bit more to Unieqav than mere music though, as the album is part of a larger, more ambitious multimedia work, as Nicolai reportedly floored festival audiences with an intense video onslaught synced to his hyper-precise rhythmic salvos. As a result, Unieqav feels like a somewhat minor release compared to Nicolai's other work when decontextualized from its intended high-volume/sensory overload presentation, but his unparalleled exactitude and clarity still make for a fine minimal techno album.

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5819 Hits

Lucrecia Dalt, "Anticlines"

cover imageThis album, Dalt's sixth, is my first exposure to the iconoclastic Colombian's work and it feels like an ideal entry point, as it is quite a beguiling album that is universally hailed as a major creative breakthrough. Due to its stark and unusual futurist aesthetic and constrained palette of primitive-sounding electronics, Anticlines definitely calls to mind both classic Chris & Cosey and minimal wave fare, yet Dalt's vision is transcendently bizarre enough to feel like something radical and new. Her desiccated and industrialized Latin/South American rhythms are certainly a part of that, but the real brilliance of Anticlines lies in Dalt’s lyrics and vocals: on songs like "Tar," she resembles a sexy cyborg, bloodlessly and seductively intoning breathy, cryptic poetry that feels like it alludes to vast depths of hidden meaning and feeling.

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4886 Hits

Simon Crab, "Demand Full Automation"

cover imageThree years after his eclectic and excellent solo debut, Bourbonese Qualk founder Simon Crab is back, albeit in radically transformed fashion. Crab's eclecticism certainly remains intact, yet Demand Full Automation is a bit of a tough album to wrap my head around: it kind of sounds like Crab started composing a similarly fine follow-up, then got commissioned to soundtrack some kind of neon-lit impressionist urban noir film…then took a break and time-traveled back to the '90s to do a DJ set at the Haçienda.  Unsurprisingly, those disparate threads make very strange bedfellows indeed, yet the enigmatic logic of Crab's overarching vision is countered by some sizable leaps forward in his craftsmanship. While I admittedly miss the homespun charm of After America a lot, Demand Full Automation is quite a likable (if sometimes quizzical) album in its own right, as it is a considerably tighter, more beat-driven, and more hook-filled affair than its predecessor.

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12541 Hits

Held There, Beside the Signified

cover imageFollowing the Idle Chatter's label curated tape set Transparens by Wren Turco, the label has released another, similar project, this time by Drekka's Mkl Anderson. Again consisting of three artists, each contributing their own tape (Drekka, Pillars and Tongues, and Skrei), there are a multitude of different experimental sounds and approaches here, blending traditional with electronic instrumentation on this trinity of albums. Like the label’s previous collection, each artist’s work differs greatly from one another others, but the big picture is a series of works that complement one another splendidly.

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4935 Hits

Sarah Davachi, "Let Night Come On Bells End The Day"

cover imageSarah Davachi's first album for Sean McCann's Recital Program imprint marks yet another intriguing stage in the evolution of her expanding vision, beautifully blurring the lines between drone, psychedelia, and neo-classical composition. Composed primarily for mellotron and electric organ, Let Night Come On often resembles a time-stretched and hallucinatory re-envisioning of a timeless mass or requiem. There are certainly some nods to Davachi's earlier drone-centered work as well, yet the most stunning pieces feel like achingly gorgeous classical works that wandered into an enchanted mist where time loses all meaning and all notes dissolve into a gently lysergic and lingering haze after being struck.

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7377 Hits

Howard Stelzer/Brendan Murray, "Connector", "A Strange Object Covered in Fur Which Breaks Your Heart"

cover imageIn his two most recent works, Howard Stelzer branches out to less aggressive, more subdued sounds, while still heavily staying faithful to his core roots as a noisy manipulator of all things cassette. His work with long-time friend and long-time collaborator Brendan Murray shows a wide variety of approaches and styles, while A Strange Object is largely him at his most focused and meditative. The two tapes may seem vastly different at times, but make for excellent complements to one another.

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4481 Hits

Gnod, "Chapel Perilous"

cover imageGnod’s previous full-length, 2017's Just Say No..., was a feast of gloriously thuggish and focused brutality, but it was bit of an outlier for the shape-shifting psych collective from Salford. Consequently, I was a fool to expect Chapel Perilous to continue along the same lines, as Gnod is an entity in a constant state of explosive reinvention. There are a couple of lingering shadows of Just Say No's aesthetic in Chapel Perilous's lengthy bookends, however, as this album partially took shape as Gnod were touring in No's wake. For the most part, Chapel Perilous is a completely different animal though, deconstructing the band's more hostile side into something a bit more seething, sprawling, indulgent, and experimental. That makes this release more of an uneven, fitfully inspired detour than a great album, but it still manages to kick open a few new doors in decisive fashion.

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4721 Hits

Howard Stelzer, "Dawn Songs", "Normal Bias"

cover imageHaving sat on these tapes for far too long, I felt that it was a good time to revisit them in light of Stelzer's newest works (reviewed here) to more fully recognize this legendary artist’s work. Dawn Songs is a pleasantly succinct piece of music that covers a nice gamut of sounds while Normal Bias is a sprawling, magnificent set of six tapes that feels like an "everything plus the kitchen sink" type release where everything just happens to be golden and indispensable.

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4960 Hits

Grouper, "Grid of Points"

cover imageLiz Harris's Grouper project has taken on quite an unusual and fascinating trajectory over the last several years, transforming into something that feels like a slowly unfolding series of poetic postcards from a ghost. Grid of Points, the most recent window into Harris's soul, continues to further distill the stark and tender fragility of 2014's Ruins, unfolding as a 22-minute suite of gorgeously ephemeral piano sketches that blur together to weave a hypnotic spell. I suppose the word "sketches" conveys a somewhat unfinished aesthetic, which is not far from the mark, as these sessions were unexpectedly curtailed by a bout with high fever. In a deeper sense, however, that fever was providential, as these pieces are perfect in their spectral elusiveness, evoking (as Harris herself puts it) "the space left after matter has departed, a stage after the characters have gone."

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6407 Hits

Soaplands

cover imageShane Broderick's (Corephallism, Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck) latest project in some ways strays away from the ethos of his other projects, but not so far as to be unrecognizable. Namely, Soaplands showcases more of his interest in modular synthesis and electronics. This self-titled EP has a nuanced and dynamic sound, but one in which he cannot help but burst out into some of his more noisy tendencies, resulting in an all-too-short burst of electronics, distortion, and even a fair bit of good old fashion screaming.

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5300 Hits

DNMF, "Smelter"

cover imageI was completely blindsided by this second release from unlikely collaborators Machinefabriek and Dead Neanderthals, as Smelter transcends the sum of its parts in absolutely crushing fashion. Anyone familiar with Dead Neanderthals' explosive blend of extreme metal and free jazz will be unsurprised by the heaviness of this album, yet this is something new and different, taking Rutger Zuyderveldt's nuanced drone aesthetic and blowing it up into a scorched and seismic force of nature. While it admittedly derails into an occasional lull at times, such moments are short-lived and easily forgotten in the face of such a viscerally howling onslaught of blackened sludge. At its best, Smelter feels like being bulldozed by a glacier that was shaken loose by a torrent of smoking and bubbling lava.

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7689 Hits

Mike Shiflet, "Tetracosa Volume 1-4"

cover imageOhio legend Mike Shiflet has unquestionably had a lengthy and fascinating career as an experimental guitarist and electronics specialist with a multitude of diverse, exceptional releases since the early part of the century. This year, however, he has embarked on his most ambitious project to date. The Tetracosa series is an eight part, 24-hour-long project being released monthly in three hour segments, with the first four currently available. While it seems at first a daunting project, it is anything but, and so far it is an exceptional piece of work that is engaging on a multitude of levels.

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5379 Hits

Kyle Bobby Dunn/Wayne Robert Thomas, "The Searchers/Voyevoda"

cover imageIt has been roughly four years since Dunn last surfaced with his sprawling Kyle Bobby Dunn and the Infinite Sadness triple LP and he clearly spent some of that long hiatus reassessing and rebuilding his woozily dreamlike vision: "The Searchers" is likely the single most gorgeous and perfectly distilled piece that he has ever recorded. The unenviable task of trying to follow such a bombshell fell to hapless fellow ambient-minded guitarist Wayne Robert Thomas, who understandably gets eclipsed a bit. Thomas's languorous "Voyevoda" has a quiet beauty of its own, however, making this release a fine introduction to his work. In fact, Thomas's piece would have been perfectly suited for a split release with Dunn at any point in history before now. On this release, however, it is relegated to dessert after the main course, as "The Searchers" is an instant classic.

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5643 Hits