The Skull Defekts have long been one of the most baffling, wonderful, and unpredictable bands in underground music, equally likely to dazzle, disappoint, or just thoroughly confuse me with each fresh release. While far from infallible, they were also a restlessly experimental, viscerally heavy, and frequently fascinating creative force. Consequently, I am very sad to see them go, as The Skull Defekts is the band's farewell album (though a bit of the band's brutal alchemy continues to live on in The Orchestra of Constant Distress). As far as swan songs go, however, I am pleased to say that The Skull Defekts' final chapter is an especially strong one, inventively balancing noisy experimentation, art-damaged rock, and visceral brute force.
I cannot think of many other projects that have been quite as instantly revered as Fred Welton Warmsley III's Dedekind Cut, nor can I think of any other artists who could comfortably fit in at both Hospital Productions and Kranky. Tahoe, Warmsley's first album for the latter, admittedly focuses primarily on Dedekind Cut's more meditative, drone-based side, but there are still some moments ("Spiral," for example) that would not seem out of place on a Raime or Haxan Cloak album. That shifting and elusive aesthetic sometimes leads to some unusual sequencing choices and disorienting mood shifts, but any potential grumblings I may have about Dedekind Cut's fitfully focused vision are silenced by how gorgeous these pieces can be when Warmsley hits the mark (which he does with truly impressive frequency). This is one of the best albums that Kranky has released in a long time.
Back in 2001, Eyvind Kang recorded an absolutely wonderful album on Sun City Girls' Abduction imprint (Live Low To The Earth In The Iron Age), which I naturally missed because everything related to Sun City Girls was maddeningly difficult to find in those days. Also, I was not at all familiar with Kang back then, though he has long since become a reliably ubiquitous presence in the experimental music scene. Sadly, Live Low is still woefully out-of-print, but Kang has finally recorded its follow-up anyway. Plainlight is quite a bit different from the drone- and shoegaze-influenced post-rock of its predecessor though, as the only real consistent thread between the two is a vague aesthetic of rustic psychedelia. Instead, the two albums feel like very different stages of the same long journey, which is a large part of why Plainlight took so long to appear: Kang did not want to repeat himself and patiently waited until the next stage of this project's natural evolution finally revealed itself. If Live Low To The Earth can be said to resemble a slow, subtly hallucinatory journey across a vast, open plain, the more structured and ritualistic Plainlight is a glimpse inside an ancient and remote temple nestled in the mountains.
The last time I covered this enigmatic Midwestern ensemble, I was a bit frustrated by the limitations of their constrained palette, but I have since warmed to them quite a bit due to their endearingly obsessive commitment to their aesthetic. Fossil Aerosol Mining Project is less like a band than like the extremely persistent ghost of a blackly funny anthropologist hell-bent on dredging up everything our culture would like to forget. That is truly a niche that needed to be filled and August 53rd fills it beautifully. Cryptically billed as a prequel to The Day 1982 Contaminated 1971, this latest album seems to revisit the same source material of decaying film reels liberated from an abandoned drive-in, yet instead focuses upon the ones in a less conspicuously advanced state of ruin. As such, this album is every bit as haunted, murky, and mysterious as its predecessor, but not quite as eviscerated of all human warmth.
This confident and well-balanced record by multi-instrumentalist and producer Jason Wietlispach confounded my high expectations. From the intriguing choice of instruments and the way they are played and recorded, to the subtle variety and flow of the music, it is an inspired assemblage of diverse musical elements. Some are finely layered and deliberately structured, others more improvised, but all add to the unfussy atmosphere and clear sense of direction pervading Oak Creek Recordings.
It is remarkable that I did not sprain my finger mashing the "order now" button when this vinyl boxed set was announced, as Folklore Tapes' elusive season-themed cassettes are among the label's most crucial releases. Being someone who has not always been particularly enthusiastic about cassette culture, I was slow to realize just how unique and special those limited releases were when the series first appeared. Consequently, this lavish boxed set is the first time that I heard many of these pieces, though the strange and eclectic stable of artists is certainly an endearingly familiar one for me at this point. Obviously, having extremely high expectations for something is usually a sure-fire way to end up disappointed, but Calendar Customs actually exceeded my hopes, opening up a deep rabbit hole into an idiosyncratic, phantasmagoric, and sublime alternate history.
Cedars is the second collaboration to be released between electronic artists Alan F. Jones and Derek Rogers, though unlike the previous Repetend, Parallax (2015), this is a live recording, rather than a studio collaboration. Recorded in May 2017 in Dallas, Texas, the single piece that comprises this album highlights the different, at times contradictory approaches Jones and Rogers have towards art and composition, and the whole performance seems to be defined by these contrasts, yet somehow the overall sound gels together brilliantly.
The Turkish artist Ekin Fil (also known as Ekin √úzelt√ºzenci) follows up her excellent 2016 LP Being Near (also available on Helen Scarsdale) with two distinctly different, yet both exceptional new releases. The reasons for these differences are obvious, with one being a conventional album and the other a film score, but each also cast a focus on different aspects to her work, with the former emphasizing her unique pop sensibilities within a traditional song framework, while the latter her approach to electronics and production.
Remarkably, this is Silvia Kastel's first solo full-length album, which is an improbably late milestone given that she has been prolifically releasing a steady flow of unusual and inventive tapes and collaborations for almost a decade. Her aesthetic over the years has been quite a chameleonic and unpredictably evolving one, blithely delving into noise, no wave, sound art, modular synthesizer experiments, and a genre-blurring array of other excursions. Characteristically, Air Lows is similarly hard to categorize, but its shadowy, deconstructionist vignettes are certainly a good fit for Blackest Ever Black, evoking the feel of a sleepwalker slowly making their way through an abandoned landscape of urban decay. Some of these pieces are admittedly more fully formed than others, making for a bit of an exasperating whole at times, but the stronger moments definitely have a darkly languorous allure.
Now in his late 80s, Alvin Lucier has had a long career of radical compositions that explore phase interference, the resonance of spaces, and deeply unconventional sound sources. Although his output has certainly slowed in recent years, he remains as idiosyncratic and experimental as ever, recently becoming interested in unexplored possibilities for the electric guitar. The first half of this album is just such a piece, as "Criss Cross" was composed in 2013 for Stephen O'Malley and Oren Ambarchi (who perform it here). O'Malley and Ambarchi return for "Hanover" as well, albeit as part of an ensemble that roughly mirrors the 1918 Dartmouth Jazz Band pictured on the album cover (Lucier's father was the violinist). Needless to say, nothing on this album sounds even remotely like guitar music, though "Criss Cross" is not a dramatic departure from some of Lucier's previous work with competing phases. The nightmarishly spectral chamber music of "Hanover," on the other hand, is quite a large (and harrowing) surprise.
My first exposure to this NYC-based alto saxophonist/composer‚Äôs work was last year's excellent All That is Solid Melts Into Air cassette, which featured some wonderfully snarling and churning double-bass drones. For her follow-up, Bertucci returns to NNA Tapes for a full-length LP sans string ensemble, focusing instead on her own solo performances. Naturally, her saxophone plays a large role, particularly in the fluttering and reverberant minimalism of the opening piece, but Bertucci also has a deep fondness for tapes and field recordings, resulting in an unusual and absorbing m√©lange of saxophone squalls, bloodcurdling squeals, simmering reveries of uncomfortably dissonant drones, and languorously dreamlike soundscapes.
Norway's Kristoffer Oustad and the Finnish duo of STROM.ec (Jasse Tuukki and Toni My√∂h√§nen) are no stranger to dreary, aggressive electronic music, so a collaboration between the two comes as no surprise. I have some familiarity with both artists and I have been a fan of everything I have heard from them so far, but it was rarely surprising or unexpected in sound. With these two projects coming together, however, the final product stands out even more uniquely than their solo material. New Devoted Human is richer, more complex, and more fully fleshed out than I expected, and has an impressive amount of depth and complexity that is strong and memorable on all fronts.
Both Kazuma Kubota and Mei Zhiyong are relatively new to the realm of harsh noise, but they have individually worked with some of the biggest names associated with the genre, such as Macronympha, Torturing Nurse, and Kazumoto Endo (among a multitude of others). This collaborative session is refreshingly no frills and stripped to the barest foundations of what traditional noise is and should be, and at a time in which so many artists are stepping away from the style, it is wonderful to hear something that is as classic and timeless as this.
The artwork and title of this new tape captures the vibe that Vanessa Rossetto conjures up early on rather well: a sort of 1980s damaged m√©lange of consumerism and high art that is as visceral and to the point as it is conceptually high-minded. What follows is a complex mix of electronic composition, treated field recordings, and who knows what else, making for a wonderfully nuanced, extremely compelling cassette of equally beautiful and abrasive sounds.
I recently stumbled upon this bizarre debut during an especially deep Bandcamp plunge and it is deliciously unlike anything else that I have ever heard. Both the artist and the label are shrouded in a decent amount of mystery, but Heschl's Gyrus draws its inspiration from Cottern's fascination with "psychical auditory phenomena." Stylistically, she builds her harrowing auditory hallucinations from heavy, earthy drones akin to Richard Skelton's recent work, but builds them to crescendos that often feel like a swirling and feverish psychotic break from reality. Sometimes it can be beautiful, but the true genius of this album lies in the profoundly disturbing, alien, and intensely uncomfortable heights reached by pieces of "Akoasm II."
According to legend, this enigmatic Serbian composer became deeply interested in music as a means of trying to recapture the sounds of the metal factory that he had worked at in Belgrade. If this 2016 collection of his early cassette releases succeeded in that aesthetic objective, that factory must have quite a terrifying edifice, as the best pieces evoke a relentless and pummeling mechanized horror akin to Fritz Lang's Metropolis. More importantly, some of these songs are absolutely mesmerizing and Mogard intersperses his lengthy industrial trance spells with some unexpectedly tender and melancholy glimpses of light. Bittersweetly, Mogard has since left this revelatory phase behind to devote himself to more overtly beautiful and transcendent fare, yet every time I put this album on, I am sucked deeper and deeper into its complex evocation of mercilessly inhuman machinery poignantly mingled with soul and bleak radiance. To some degree, I wish I had covered Works back when it came out, but I suspect it needed some time to grow on me before I could fully appreciate it for what it is: one of the true masterpieces of the last decade.
Recently reissued, this unusual EP/mini-album was originally composed as a continuous hour-long piece for the French radio program Atelier de Cr√©ation Radiophonique. The adventurously narrow theme of the endeavor itself is the unusual part, as the entire program was created from sounds generated from antique music boxes. Given that extreme constraint, this material was never intended to be formally released as an album, but Leaf liked these alternately surreal and playful experiments enough to release it anyway (albeit in somewhat altered form). When it was first released back in 2006, this modest release felt somewhat slight and anticlimactic in the wake of Colleen's classic first two albums, yet I have gradually warmed to it quite a bit over the years. While I still think much of this release is strictly for devout fans, it would be a mistake to overlook it completely, as it features a couple of woefully underheard gems.
In recent years, Benjamin Finger has become quite a prolific and amusingly elusive artist to try to keep up with, releasing a steady stream of handmade limited editions or small vinyl runs on various European labels. He has also expanded his palette considerably from the gorgeous psych-collages of his debut (Woods of Broccoli), alternately exploring piano miniatures, off-kilter pop experiments, and an occasional stab at gleefully garbled dance music (and sometimes ingeniously blurring the lines that separate those various facets). My favorite side of Finger‚Äôs art remains his collage side, however, so I was delighted to find that For Those About To Love was a substantial plunge back down that particular rabbit hole. No one else does sound collage like Finger, as his unshakeable pop sensibility remains intact no matter how deconstructed and lysergic things get, resulting in a lovely snow-globe dream-world swirling with glimpses of warmth, tenderness, and sublime melody.
Over the course of the last decade, Dean McPhee has quietly and unhurriedly established himself as one of most compelling and unique solo guitar artists around, weaving gorgeously meditative reveries with a masterful use of ghostly delay effects. This latest album, his first since 2015, compiles remastered versions of three pieces that have surfaced on several elusive Folklore Tapes collections, as well as a pair of new pieces. All are characteristically fine, but both "The Devil‚Äôs Knell" and the epic "Four Stones" rank among the most mesmerizingly sublime work that McPhee has yet recorded, making this his most essential album to date.
On first listen, Lou Rebecca's debut EP sounds like an unabashedly pop-centric record: all vintage synth leads, bass sequences and obvious digital drum machines. Closer listening reveals more layers, however, and while it is no doubt intended to be pop music, there is an additional, subversive depth to the sound that cannot usually be expected from music that so heavily hinges on memorable hooks and melodies.