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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Belong, "October Language"

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Originally released in Carpark back in 2006, Belong's debut album has quietly become a something of an enduring underground shoegaze classic. This latest reissue from Spectrum Spools was actually the first time I heard October Language though, which is somewhat remarkable given that I am a fan of Turk Dietrich's current work as Second Woman and I was already casually familiar with Belong from their more song-based follow-up on Kranky. October Language bears no significant resemblance to any of those other albums at all though, nor does it bear much resemblance to any other album in the shoegaze canon, as Dietrich and Mike Jones conjure up a gorgeous ocean of shimmering and roiling guitar noise that feels like it is emanating from a broken and possibly haunted radio. Obviously, the never-ending stream of "lost classics" being reissued on vinyl these days is a numbing minefield of dubious claims and underwhelming experiences, yet October Language is the real deal, fleetingly capturing a unique vision that is equal parts rapturous and enigmatically eerie.

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Clarice Jensen, "For This From That Will Be Filled"

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I can think of few other artists who have amassed a body of work as impressive as Clarice Jensen before releasing their debut album, as she is the artistic director of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) and has appeared as a cellist on albums by a wide array of great artists (William Basinski, Bjork, and Jóhann Jóhannsson among them). The late Jóhannsson, in particular, is a solid reference point, as Jensen's vision shares a lot of common ground with Fordlandia's blend of neo-classical grandeur and contemporary experimentation. In fact, the man himself surfaces here as Jensen's collaborator on the opening "BC," which is one of several intriguing collaborative threads that run throughout the album. Unsurprisingly, that piece is absolutely gorgeous, yet it is Jensen's two-part solo composition that stands as the stands as the album's towering centerpiece.

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11016 Hits

Anne Guthrie, "Brass Orchids"

cover imageAnne Guthrie's strange and beautiful Codiaeum Variegatum was one of 2014's most delightful surprises, but I was admittedly perplexed by the early samples that I heard from this follow-up. Brass Orchids is quite a radical departure from its predecessor, as the erstwhile French horn player has now plunged deeply into a hallucinatory miasma of collaged and murky field recordings. As such, Orchids is quite a challenging and abstract album, but its dense fog of unusual textures and found sounds occasionally coheres into something quite compelling and unique. Also, Guthrie definitely gets points for so boldly swimming against the tide of the experimental music zeitgeist, reminding me favorably of the golden age of the early '80s when serious Italian composers were making bizarre noise tapes.

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Oren Ambarchi, "Grapes From The Estate"

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Newly reissued on his own Black Truffle imprint, this 2004 album (originally released on Touch) stands as one of the most enduring and transcendent gems in Ambarchi's lengthy discography. Obviously, he has released plenty of interesting and inventive music since, yet his early 2000s Touch albums are the ones that resonate most deeply with me and this one is my favorite. Grapes From The Estate has a wonderfully languorous and lovely melodic sensibility akin to relative contemporaries like Labradford, yet that is only one of the many threads that Ambarchi pulls into this quietly visionary suite. Part of me wishes Oren would someday return to something resembling the languid, sun-dappled beauty of this era, but I would be hard-pressed to come up with a valid artistic reason for him to do so, as I cannot imagine a more perfect distillation of this aesthetic vein being possible. Almost 15 years later, Grapes still sounds like a wonderfully distinctive, absorbing, and unrepeatable convergence of vision, inspiration, and execution.

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