Richard Skelton, "Towards a Frontier"

cover imageBilled as Skelton's most ambitious composition to date, Towards a Frontier is a 66-minute epic that is part of larger multimedia project assembled during three trips to rural East Iceland. Characteristically, this is an album very much shaped by the natural environment that Skelton was immersed in as this piece was gradually conjured into being. More specifically, Towards a Frontier draws its primary inspiration from the changing seasons as experienced from an Icelandic mountain range. While less instantly gratifying than some of Skelton's other recent works, this album has a masterfully paced slow-burning majesty and mesmerizing elemental power that gradually reveals itself with repeated, attentive listens. Notably, nature does not seem particularly benign here, but Skelton keeps the mood intriguingly ambiguous as the piece unfolds, hinting at the primal, cosmic horror of our insignificance while simultaneously evoking something akin to religious ecstasy.

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Vox Populi!, "Magiques Créations"

cover imageEver since their cult favorite Half Dead Ganja Music album was reissued back in 2013, I have been fascinated by this deeply unusual "ethno-industrial" duo from France and have done a decent amount of digging to track down the rest of their back catalog. That has proven to be a somewhat convoluted task, leading to lots of dead blog links as well as a few wonderful unofficial compilations. In fact, several of the best songs on this new digital-only collection have appeared on those unofficial releases, while some others appear to have come from an untitled 1988 tape. Curiously, a lot of these experiments spanning 1984 to 1989 are just as good as anything that appeared on Vox Populi's formal albums (in some cases, even better), making this kind of a crucial bit of underground industrial archeology on Emotional Rescue's part. I suppose motivated or frugal listeners can probably find a lot of these songs elsewhere if they put their minds to it, but this is an extremely well-curated collection that provides an excellent introduction to one of the most creative, cool, and underappreciated bands of the '80s cassette underground.

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Aaron Dilloway, "Switches"

cover imageThe wonderfully unsettling and playfully creepy The Gag File deservedly got a lot of attention last year, but Aaron Dilloway also quietly released another excellent album on a small Dutch label in the late fall. While less audacious and considerably less intent on evoking some kind of sad, wobbly, and hissing nightmare world, Switches is still a wonderfully bizarre, distinctive, and obsessive-sounding album. In fact, the sickly, frayed, and hypnotic locked groove-style loops of Switches almost feel like a perverse prelude to The Gag File, relentlessly repeating gnarled and disorienting snatches of half-melodies to peel away the last vestiges of sanity to prime me for the malevolent and Ligotti-esque funhouse to come.

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Luciernaga/John Lindaman

cover image Both Joao Da Silva (Luciernaga) and John Lindaman utilize primarily a guitar to create expansive, occasionally difficult passages of abstract sound and noise, so pairing them together on this tape makes perfect sense. What becomes more striking by doing this, however, are their differences. With Luciernaga delivering a single live piece that is about an expansive sense of ambience, and a more free improv suite from Lindaman, both sides excel because of their differences, presenting two very different sides of a tried and true style.

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Nakama, "Worst Generation"

cover imageFor their fourth album in a relatively short timespan, the Norwegian group (now a five piece) have produced their first fully improvised work, and it is a strange one. Besides the fact that the concept here is mostly just thematic, compared to the more composition-based ideas they have used on previous albums, the performances are bizarre and impossible to classify, sounding like nothing else they have done, and the record is all the stronger for it.

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Meat Beat Manifesto, "Impossible Star"

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After a bit of a lengthy hiatus, Jack Dangers has returned with quite a bombshell of a new Meat Beat album. Self-described as resembling "an MC Escher optical illusion that spirals around and around and never seems to end," Impossible Star feels like a deep and hallucinatory plunge into a dance club in a dread-filled, dystopian near-future. Everything I would expect from a new Meat Beat album is certainly present (vocoders, cool samples, infectious grooves, deep bass, vintage synths, etc.), yet Impossible Star feels like a large and unexpected leap forward. While Dangers has historically always been near the vanguard of fresh evolutions in dance and electronic music, this album is perversely backward-looking in a way, seamlessly synthesizing the best of MBM's previous directions into something fresh like a post-industrial magpie. As a result, Impossible Star does not feel like a definitive (and unavoidably ephemeral) representation of electronic music in 2018 so much as it feel like something much more ageless, prophetic, and deliciously warped.

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2017 Readers Poll - The Results

Once again it's time to thank everyone for their participation in the Brainwashed Annual Readers Poll. As always, the Readers Poll doesn't particularly represent what the staff and writers feel are the best and worst of the year, but we happily once again provide commentary. All the best for 2018!

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High Aura'd, " No River Long Enough Doesn't Contain a Bend"

cover imageFollowing up an excellent collaboration with Mike Shiflet in 2015, John Kolodij’s latest release as High Aura'd is a further expansion and refinement for his niche carved out in the realm of doomy ambience and electronic experimentation tinged with a hint of folk Americana. Presented as beautifully as it sounds, No River Long Enough Doesn't Contain a Bend is the right balance of familiar and innovative sounds that are combined expertly.

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Maggi Payne, "Crystal"

cover imageFor good reason, it is usually a safe bet to assume that any newly reissued '80s obscurity entitled something like "Crystal" is going to be lazily pastoral New Age-y synth noodling. This album, originally released in 1986 on Lovely Music, is quite an unexpected and dramatic exception to that generalization though. Perversely, Payne uses roughly the same palette (flute, synth, voice) that one might expect for such serene fare, yet Crystal is a strikingly dark, heavy, and unnerving album from start to finish. I cannot say I have ever encountered anything else quite like it, which makes some sense given Payne's pedigree and general milieu (she is co-director of the famed Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College). The nearest human reference points are probably Gyorgy Ligeti or the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, but Crystal most closely resembles a deep plunge in howling cosmic horror or the endless void of space. Given its challenging and uncomfortable nature, it is easy to see why Payne's work is less well-known than that of her less menacing contemporaries Eliane Radigue and Pauline Oliveros, but her vision was certainly no less formidable.

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Tomoko Sauvage, "Musique Hydromantique"

cover imageAlthough she has only released one full-length album before now, Paris-based artist Tomoko Sauvage has been making very strange and beautiful music for over a decade. The reason for that lean discography became instantly apparent when I watched video of one of her performances, as a mere recording cannot hope to capture the fascinating and ritual-like installation that makes her work so singular: Sauvage sits in a circle of ceramic bowls beneath ice blocks suspended from the ceiling by rope (each bowl mic'd with a hydrophone). As can be expected, there are plenty of slowly dripping and gently sloshing sounds to be found here, but Musique Hydromantique takes the idea of water-based sound art to a much deeper and more compelling extreme than I previously thought possible, manipulating subaquatic feedback and "singing bubbles" to wonderfully eerie and otherworldly effect.

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VVV, "Shadow World"

cover imageShawhin Izaddoost, the man behind VVV, put out a mixtape entitled Why El Paso Sky earlier this year, and it was quite a teaser. Murky, ambient rhythms and catchy melodies appeared throughout, all wrapped in unique production that gave the cassette an identity all its own. He has followed it with Shadow World, a full-length record that is drawn from the same palette as the previous work, but with a stronger sense of cohesion and consistency to make for an engaging album from beginning to end.

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Godflesh, "Post Self"

cover imageThe second full length album since Godflesh's 2010 reformation, Post Self seemingly came out of nowhere, with little of the anticipation or hype that surrounded 2014's A World Lit Only By Fire. As someone who follows Justin Broadrick on all forms of social media, I personally only heard of it due to a preorder email from an online store. My first listen to it ended up defying the expectations which I had, based on the post-reform work I have heard from the duo. I suppose that that is exactly what a great Godflesh album should do, and Post Self manages to defy very, very well.

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Ian Watson & Rob Hayler, "Metronome"'s perhaps coincidence that Rob Hayler’s most recent tape release has coincided with the recent disassembly, and retiring, of his legendarily No Audience Underground Midwich alias. A single piece, assembled from source material from fellow UK Noise / drone player Ian Watson, Metronome is a blurred cut and mix of smudged digital / analogue tin and tape wreckage.

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Anahita, "Tourmaline"

cover imageCuriously, this visionary and otherwordly collaboration between Fursaxa's Tara Burke and Espers' Helena Espvall was only released this year despite being recorded roughly seven years ago. That is quite a shame, as Tourmaline might have had an enthusiastic reception if it had come out during freak folk's brief day in the sun. Then again, maybe not, as this album goes even farther out than Burke's already deeply outré solo records. In any case, Tourmaline is a wonderful album, as it feels a lot like like experiencing a series of unsettling supernatural events in the darkest depths of a thick forest at night. If I did not know anything about the album's provenance, I would have guessed that it was a lost private press obscurity by an artist that either went mad, wandered into the desert, or vanished under mysterious circumstances soon after the recording was complete (i.e. exactly the sort of thing that I am drawn to like a moth).

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Af Ursin, "Murrille"

cover imageGiven how much I have been enjoying Timo von Luijk's recent collaborations with Andrew Chalk, it seemed like a perfect time to dig into some of his strange and underheard solo albums, most of which were released on his own Le Scie Dorée imprint. Murrille, von Luijk’s debut as Af Ursin, was originally released back in 2002, but was later remastered and reissued by Robot Records. While the album’s description references some fairly apt touchstones like "early krautrock" and the more experimental side of France’s Futura label, Murrille is mostly an uncategorizably unique and idiosyncratic affair, resembling field recordings of a remote cargo cult trying to mimic jazz using rusted found instruments.

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Elodie, "Vieux Silence"

cover imageFor their latest album, the duo of Andrew Chalk and Timo van Luijk (Af Ursin) take an unexpected detour from their impressive run of limited self-released albums for an appearance on Stephen O'Malley’s eclectic Ideologic Organ imprint. To honor this auspicious occasion, the core line-up is fleshed out with returning collaborators Tom James Scott and Jean Noël Rebilly, as well as pedal steel guitarist Daniel Morris. In all other respects, however, Vieux Silence is every bit a traditional Elodie album, unfolding as a flickering impressionist dream that seems to emanate from a time and place totally unlike our own. As an album, it does not necessarily tower above the rest of Elodie's consistently fine oeuvre, but the title piece might be the single most achingly gorgeous piece that Chalk and van Luijk have recorded together to date.

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Michael C. Sharp, "Never Enough Time"

cover imageMichael C. Sharp is no stranger to the world of electronic music, being a member of Austin’s psych heavy Sungod. His previous experience, however, has been that of a drummer, which does not at all come through on Never Enough Time. While the five songs on this tape are built largely upon interlocking loops, there is nary a drum sound to be found. Instead it is a rich suite of synth excursions, with a bit of tasteful guitar thrown in for good measure, culminating in an elegant and powerful record.

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The Vomit Arsonist, "Meditations on Giving Up Completely"

cover imageA fitting follow-up to 2015's Only Red, Andy Grant again delivers a strong suite of harsh, aggressive electronics, but with a slightly different mood to it. Anger and frustration still abounds, but it seems to be shaded with a self-aware futility and nihilism that is very fitting and appropriate for the title.

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cover image It is hard to not feel twinges of nostalgia on Marker’s self-titled debut. The stiff drum machine beats, the lush synthesizers and chorus-heavy guitars call to mind a number of bands without ever actually sounding like them, feeling like a fitting devotion to a style without ever trying to copy its most notable practitioners, resulting in a warm, alluring album that has managed to sneak under the radar this year.

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cover imageThis is the debut album from an ambitious project that brings together half of Wire (Matthew Simms and Graham Lewis), idiosyncratic synth supernova Thighpaulsandra, and percussion virtuouso Valentina Magaletti. Naturally, any project where Thighpaulsandra is untethered by someone else's clearly defined aesthetic is destined to be a bit of a stylistic rollercoaster (even more so when Graham Lewis's own eccentricity is factored in), so UUUU is quite a freewheeling and disorienting affair at times, dabbling equally in prog, psych-rock freak-out, drone, krautrock homage, experimentation, and Lewis-style "pop" weirdness. It should also come as no surprise that UUUU's work feels quite spontaneous and improvisatory and occasionally errs into bombast and indulgence. Such moments are largely eclipsed by the times when everything gloriously locks into place, however, as this foursome almost always find a way to wrest some vistas of sublime beauty or flashes of transcendent inspiration from their wild and lysergic free-rock excursions.

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