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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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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Roberto Opalio, "Once you'll touch the sky you will never return to dust"

cover imageSeemingly birthed from the same fascination with vinyl surface noise as The Sky With Broken Arms, Roberto Opalio's solo companion piece is perhaps even more unique and consciousness-expanding than its sister. It is also unexpectedly varied and weirdly beautiful at times, blurring together the usual deep-space lysergia with viscerally unnerving dissonances and hypnotically looping crackles and pops. While those added touches certainly delight me, this album is unmistakably and absolutely Opalio-esque to its core, standing as one of the most sharply realized and distilled releases in the MCIAA oeuvre. If The Sky With Broken Arms is a brief glimpse into a hypnotically otherworldly scene, Once You'll Touch The Sky is a phantasmal travelogue of the troubled dreams that follow in its wake.

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Bruce Gilbert, "Ex Nihilo"

cover imageRemarkably, this is the first Bruce Gilbert solo album that I have ever heard in its entirety and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it is radically different from any of his other work that I have encountered: it is clear that I woefully underestimated the depth and breadth of the Gilbert oeuvre. This latest release continues to delve deeper into the coldly futuristic and menacing vein of his previous Editions Mego album (2009's Oblivio Agitatum), yet does so in wonderfully explosive and visceral fashion. Ex Nihilo feels like the soundtrack for a bleakly alienating dystopian city of endless metal and neon, composed by a cyborg with a fairly hostile disposition. Those hoping for any trace of melody or tenderness in Gilbert's industrial dread should probably skip this one, but there is definitely a gleaming, inhuman majesty to these grinding and throbbing soundscapes.

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Taylor Deupree, "Fallen"

cover image For his first solo album on a label other than his own for quite some time (although 12k and Spekk could almost be siblings in the world of record labels), Fallen features the prolific sound artist turning his focus to beautifully understated sounds to the piano, culminating in eight songs of delicate and pensive tones, with the focus shifting between the pure sounds of the instrument to gorgeous production and back again.

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6824 Hits

Luciernaga, "It Takes Strength to be Gentle and Kind"

cover image Joao Da Silva’s latest release under his Luciernaga guise was a quickly made work, but that is anything but apparent from the contents. The tape, recorded this past winter, is an excellent summation of the work Da Silva has been involved with for the past eight years, with some additional and unexpected twists and turns along the way. Rich electronics, unconventional guitar, and lush production all define this latest entry in the growing Luciernaga discography.

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6894 Hits

Slomo, "Transits"

cover imageI have been casually aware of Slomo since the murky, gnarled gloom of 2008's The Bog, but apparently not familiar enough to realize that each of their infrequent releases tends to unveil a significant evolution. As a result, I slept on this 2017 release, only belatedly realizing that it was one of the year's most woefully overlooked masterpieces. With Transits, Chris McGrail and Howard Marsden shed all traces of their doom-shrouded ambient sludge past to craft a transcendently lysergic tour de force of pulsing minimalist drone brilliance. I am always hesitant to throw around Coil as a comparison for any artist, yet I am legitimately hard-pressed to think of any closer kindred album than Time Machines, as Slomo achieve a similarly singular feat of reality-blurring slow-motion wizardry that feels far more like a ritual or invocation than a mere album.

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6608 Hits

Ashley Paul, "Lost in Shadows"

cover imageIt has been roughly four years since Ashley Paul's last album and I was beginning to despair, but she has been busy moving to London and becoming a mother. While the latter is not particularly conducive to tirelessly crafting brilliant experimental music, she somehow still managed to compose her finest album to date during a brief residency in Spain. Characteristically, the pointillist, prickly dissonance of Jandek is probably the nearest touchstone, yet Paul radically transforms that stark foundation into something sensuous and eerily beautiful (sometimes even embellishing it with perversely festive splashes of color).  In fact, a few pieces even sound like grotesque caricatures of nursery rhymes (Paul’s baby was perhaps a subconscious and subversive muse), which only deepens Lost in Shadows' dreamily wraithlike and otherworldly spell. While it can definitely be a challenging, dissonant, and disturbing listen at times, Shadows is unquestionably Paul's masterpiece.

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Hawthonn, "Red Goddess (Of This Men Shall Know Nothing)"

cover imageIt was quite a pleasant surprise to discover that latest Hawthonn album was getting a physical release in the US, as few things scream "zero commercial potential" quite like Phil and Layla Legard’s quasi-pagan and psychogeography-inspired drone-folk reveries. While characteristically arcane and anachronistic to its core, Red Goddess actually drew its initial inspiration from relatively current culture, as the Legards were (rightly) fascinated by the primal themes of Lars von Trier's Antichrist. From there, however, Red Goddess evolved into something far more mysterious and temporally ambiguous, abstractly exploring the symbolic role of mugwort in folklore and tradition ("an herb associated with dreaming, travel and menstruation, mugwort particularly favors edgelands: those abandoned, untended places, part man-made, part rural, where nature begins to reclaim what humanity has left behind").

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Jim Haynes, "Electrical Injuries"

cover imageWhile I doubt I would ever use the term "peaceful" to describe Jim Haynes' prolific solo output, this newest record makes his previous work seem just that. Electrical Injuries may not be far removed from his body of work sonically, but there is a different edge, a malignance to it, and one that is not so subtly referenced in the album’s title. With literal and metaphorical references to the unpleasant nature of electricity, this is perhaps his most harsh work to date, but one that clearly bears his signature brand of audio decay.

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Omit, "Enclosures 2011-2016"

cover imageNew Zealander Clinton Williams has been operating as Omit since the late 1980s, but his hermetic approach to electronic music has kept him largely on the periphery of any related musical scene. His early works were handmade tapes and, once the technology became available, CD-Rs created on his own label, with his own artwork, and produced by none other but himself. His insular approach to his art meant work was only known to a handful (I myself had heard the name, but none of the music prior to this review) until this new box set joint released by Lasse Marhaug's Pica Disk and NZ based End of the Alphabet Records. Not intended to be a career overview, it instead is a compilation of five self-released CD-Rs from 2011 through 2016, packaged with a lavish booklet that only sees the surface of Williams’ unique brilliance.

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6571 Hits

Muslimgauze, "Mullah Said"

cover imageEarlier this year, Staalplaat took a break from their plunge into Bryn Jones' seemingly endless archive of unreleased/hyper-limited material to put out a double-LP vinyl reissue of this beloved landmark album from 1998. While the vinyl format is an odd choice for this particular release (I have the digital version), I am delighted by this new reissue campaign: the sprawling Muslimgauze discography is a hopelessly intimidating and overwhelming labyrinth for all but the most die-hard fans, so the world definitely needs a knowledgeable curator to call attention to the most timeless and essential releases in the Muslimgauze canon. This is one of those. Normally, my own favorite Muslimgauze albums tend to be the more ethno-percussion-driven ones, but Mullah Said's heady drone/dub-inspired collage aesthetic is a striking exception, as it stands as one of Jones' most immersive, evocative, and fully formed works.

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My Cat is an Alien, "The Sky With Broken Arms"

cover imageThis latest opus from the Opalio brothers continues their restlessly experimental hot streak, taking inspiration from a characteristically bizarre event: two years ago, Roberto discovered that a bunch of his records were corroded by an "inexplicable oxidation process." After some time, he decided to listen to one of them anyway and found himself fascinated by the way the listening experience was transformed by the surface noise. Naturally, the instantaneous composition that resulted from that revelation is considerably more bizarre and idiosyncratic than a mere celebration of crackle and hiss, but the added layer of noise beautifully adds an evocative textural layer to The Sky With Broken Arms' sublime and eerily otherworldly reverie.

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7042 Hits

Andrew Chalk and Daisuke Suzuki, "Yama to Nashi"

cover imageThe work of Andrew Chalk and Daisuke Suzuki seems as if it has been intertwined forever, so I was somewhat startled to discover that this is their first new collaborative release in almost a decade. As befits the re-convergence of these two masters of understated tranquility, Yama to Nashi feels like a relaxed and unhurried reunion of old friends rather than a bold new vision. As such, it is a somewhat minor (if lovely) addition to the Siren/Faraway Press oeuvre that mostly lingers in familiar territory, but there are a couple of divergent gems lurking amidst these new pieces that longtime fans will not want to miss.

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Cindy Lee, "Act of Tenderness"

cover imageA month ago, I had absolutely no idea who Patrick Flegel was, but the buzz surrounding Superior Viaduct's Cindy Lee reissue series piqued my interest and Flegel quickly became one of my new favorite people. In a past life, Flegel was the frontman of Canadian indie-rock band Women, who famously imploded in a Halloween-costumed, guitar-smashing onstage meltdown in 2010. Soon afterwards, Flegel began dressing in drag and his "diva alter-ego" Cindy Lee was born. Sometimes a full band, sometimes a solo act, Cindy Lee has a strikingly guileless, idiosyncratic, and oft-disturbing aesthetic that almost feels like outsider art. On Act of Tenderness, Flegel's vision focuses primarily on intimately and eerily channeling '60s girl-group pop through a hissing and hallucinatory fog of melancholy. Some songs certainly work better than others, but when Cindy hits the mark, it feels like a memory-haunted chanteuse has stepped directly out of David Lynch's imagination and become actual flesh and blood.

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Rafael Anton Irisarri, "Midnight Colours"

cover imageI was a bit surprised to belatedly discover that Irisarri’s latest release was conceived as an imaginary soundtrack to the Doomsday Clock, as Midnight Colours is often an atypically warm and beautiful release, shedding much of the pervasive melancholy that runs throughout his previous work. Perhaps, however, it would be more accurate to say that Irisarri has merely become a bit better at effectively wielding that melancholy, as the shadows that shroud the lush heaven of Midnight Colours tend to add depth and gravitas without crossing the line into brooding reverie. That may sound like a subtle evolution, yet it is quite an important one from my standpoint, as Irisarri's eternal somberness was always a bit of an obstacle for me. I am not normally one to praise accessibility, but I am delighted by it in this instance, as his grainy, hissing, and gorgeously enveloping drones have rarely been more listenable than they are here.

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Contrastate/various, "Your Reality is Broken"

cover imageEver since their inception in the late 1980s, this UK project has simultaneously dabbled both in the worlds of musique concret and harsh electronics; two styles that are undeniably similar but have very few in the way of crossover artists, all with a distinct sense of irreverence. Active again after a lengthy hiatus in the early part of the 21st century, Your Reality is Broken is another piece of work that successfully blurs unnecessary lines; in this case if it is a tribute album to them, a remix collection, or a compilation of collaborations. In truth, it is all of these things at once, and it is excellent.

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cover imageThe four untitled pieces that make up this (similarly untitled) cassette were recorded one November in 2016 as John Olson (Spykes) was in the upstate New York area and looking to collaborate. Thus enters electronics virtuoso Mike Griffin (Parashi, also a member of psych rock collective Burnt Hills), and the two got together in Griffin's suburban basement studio. With Olson in full on psy jazz mode and Griffin manning the pedals, the final product is a combination of two disparate, yet perfectly complementary performers.

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6410 Hits