Emptyset, "Skin"

cover imageThis latest EP is something of a daring experimental coda to this year’s excellent Borders, as studio wizards James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas attempt to translate their crushing, frequency-saturated onslaught into purely acoustic recording techniques. Obviously, there has been a lot of foreshadowing throughout the duo’s career hinting at this direction given Emptyset's longstanding fascination with architecture and natural resonance, but it was not until Borders that the essential missing piece was added to the formula: the viscerally biting snarl and rattle of a homemade zither. Given that Skin further constrains an already hyper-constrained vein of minimalism, this EP is primarily just for existing fans eager to see how well Ginzburg and Purgas handle pushing their vision to a seemingly self-sabotaging extreme, but a few of these simple variations survive the transformation with quite a lot of raw power intact.

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7841 Hits

David First, "Civil War Songs (For Solo Harmonica)"

cover image The third installment in David First's Same Animal, Different Cages album series (which are constructed from the use of a single instrument) is a contradictory piece of art. On one hand, it is clearly the most song-focused of the series thus far: a record of melodies and more conventional structures that contrast with the often pure experiments of the previous installments for guitar and analog synthesizer. However, by nature of the instrument used this time, a harmonica, I found it to be a more challenging work, but one that is still as rewarding as the releases that preceded it, and perhaps the most conceptually rich as well.

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Aaron Turner & Daniel Menche, "Nox"

cover imageWhile the gargantuan, triple disc Sleeper from Daniel Menche is still relatively new, he and SIGE head Aaron Turner (he of an immense number of projects) also managed to find the time to record this collaborative LP. Recorded over a two year span, Nox is far more inviting and downright beautiful than I would have expected from two artists who have always shown hints of the sort in the past.

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9924 Hits

Carla dal Forno, "The Garden"

cover imageCarla dal Forno's latest EP is an absolute stunner, distilling her dark pop genius into four perfect gems of dreamy, intimate, haunted, and endearingly ramshackle beauty. Aside from being four of the finest songs that she has ever recorded (any one of these pieces could be a single), The Garden is most striking for the improbable collision of influences that dal Forno seems to balance effortlessly: in a perverse way, this Australian dreampop chanteuese might be the most perfect and transcendent embodiment of the Blackest Ever Black aesthetic. While her songs are certainly catchy and propulsive (a inarguable anomaly in that milieu), The Garden's feast of hooks blossoms out of an ultra-DIY/underground backdrop of stark and gritty basslines, primative drum machine clatter, tape hiss, and warped electronics. At its best, The Garden sounds like a singularly muscular and half-sexy/half-unnerving dreampop album that is too well informed by the darker, uglier undercurrents of post-punk and early industrial to ever lapse into soft-focus navel-gazing.

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Dr√∏ne, "Mappa Mundi"

cover imageAfter two fine vinyl releases on Pomperipossa, Mark van Hoen and Mike Harding's mesmerizing sound collage project now takes a detour to Touch's Field Music imprint. While the transition to CD format does not seem to have made much of a structural impact (the album still feels like a single, abstract, and longform piece), Mappa Mundi is nonetheless a radically different album from last year's more musical A Perfect Blind. The abandonment of the more composed, melodic, and "structured" elements of their sound may seem like a deeply counterintuitive move after such a wonderful leap forward, yet Drøne prove themselves to be remarkably fluid and adept at changing their aesthetic to fit their conceptual inspirations. In this case, the stated objective is "tracing and describing the audio surrounding and occupying the planet Earth," which mostly translates into a hauntingly strange and mysterious immersion into a crackling entropy of phantom radio transmissions, squalls of static, choruses of insects, and creepily digitized voices.

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Midwife, "Like Author, Like Daughter"

cover imageI have to admit that I was legitimately blindsided by this latest project from Sister Grotto's Madeline Johnston, but I would have been eagerly anticipating it if I had been at all aware of her previous work, as last year's You Don't Have To Be A House To Be Haunted is similarly quietly stunning.  The key difference with Midwife is simply that Johnston (with the aid of co-producer Tucker Theodore) has now distilled her languorous and hazy dreampop vision into something a bit tighter, hookier, and more sharp-edged.  Obviously, any female solo artist making artfully blurred, melancholy, and reverb-swathed music is doomed to be deluged with Grouper comparisons (favorable, in this case), yet Johnston's aesthetic is quite a bit more muscular and direct, albeit slowed to a somnambulant Codeine-esque crawl.  While those are certainly great reference points to have, the real magic of Like Author, Like Daughter largely lies in the songcraft and execution, as this is simply a batch of strong, memorable songs presented beautifully.

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cover imageThe debut release from Monika Khot (also a member of Zen Mother) as Nordra is one of those sort of records that just gleefully trounces unnecessarily invented borders between genres without a single care or consideration for what an album should sound like. Khot rarely settles into a single style or even structure for these four songs, but there is method to the madness. A full gamut of alternative pop, techno, and drone metal show up, sometimes within the span of a single song.

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6220 Hits

Murderous Vision, "My Necropolis"

cover imageThe latest release from Stephen Petrus's long running dark electronic/death industrial project may not deviate far out of the comfort zone of its discography, but that is really a moot point. Instead, it works as the culmination of styles he has dabbled in, but with the self-assured sheen of an experienced artist. I will admit it personally hits some specific nostalgia buttons for me as well, but even objectively it is an excellent piece of malicious, sinister electronics.

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5470 Hits

TALSounds, "Lovesick"

cover imageNatalie Chami is best known for being one-third of Chicago's Good Willsmith, but she has also been a prolific solo artist, releasing a slew of cassettes on labels like Hausu Mountain since 2011.  Love Sick is Chami's debut full-length and it is quite a stunner: based on Chami's past, I was merely expecting a suite of atypically skillful analog synth sketches and experiments.  Instead, Love Sick is a gorgeously sultry and blearily hypnagogic feast of visionary outsider soul.  Happily, most of Chami's experimental and improvisatory impulses survived that transformation intact, which is what makes this such a unique album: Chami does not downplay her more lysergic and unpredictable edges so much as find a way to shape them into languorously seductive hooks.  When that happens, some great songs result, yet the more impressive achievement is how Love Sick coheres into such an intermittently dark and absorbing whole, like an erotic dream that subtly morphs into a nightmare.

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10281 Hits

David Nance, "Negative Boogie"

cover imageI embarrassingly came very close to sleeping on this brilliantly unhinged and raucous album, as most critically acclaimed rock music these days tends to underwhelm me.  Omaha's Nance is an entirely different story though, as Negative Boogie does a damn fine job recapturing the hostility and recklessness that made bands like Suicide and The Cramps so much cooler than everyone else.  Of course, Negative Boogie does not sound at all like either of those bands, but Nance's incandescent intensity and viscerally slashing guitars have a way of making even a Merle Haggard cover sound feral and frightening.

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5471 Hits

Richard Chartier, "Removed", Pinkcourtesyphone, "Something You Are Or Something You Do"

cover imageWith both of his primary projects releasing new material at nearly the same time, it becomes tempting to compare and contrast Richard Chartier’s academic-tinged solo work with the slightly campy (at least in presentation) Pinkcourtesyphone, and at the superficial level there is a lot of similarity. Both Removed and Something You Are Or Something You Do are slow, sparse works that at times drift into near silence, but besides the mood and presentation, the actual compositional approach separates them most. The two are rather distinct works that each capture part of Chartier’s style extremely effectively.

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Novi_sad, "Wound_Burner"

cover imageCompared to the multimedia project Sirens from last year, Thanasis Kaproulias’s latest work as Novi_sad is more of a return to his older style as far as composition goes. The single piece that makes up this album may be less concept-heavy, with the only information included being that is is based on environmental recordings in the US, Sweden, Brazil, and the Greek countryside. But even stripped back to just music, Wound_Burner excels in both its diversity and its sense of cohesion. Throughout the 45 minutes he mixes in digital interference, noisy found sounds, traditional electronics, and even voice (courtesy of Irini Kyriakidou in a swirling, yet structurally consistent and gripping album.

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5285 Hits

"Pop Makossa - The Invasive Dance Beat Of Cameroon 1976‚Äã-‚Äã1984"

cover imageA new Analog Africa compilation is almost always a major event for me, particularly since the general trend is that they seem to get both better and more imaginative with each passing year.  A significant reason for that success is that label head Samy Ben Redjeb has been increasingly drawn away from the heavily anthologized regions of Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, and Kenya and into less explored territories and more unusual, ephemeral microscenes.  Pop Makossa offers a bit of both, journeying into Cameroon and capturing the brief window in which the prevailing pop style absorbed the funk and disco sounds coming from the US.  If this collection is any indication, Redjeb and co-curator Déni Shain have found quite a rich and largely untapped vein, as these twelves pieces are a feast of fluid basslines, tight songcraft, strong hooks, and seductive grooves.

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5100 Hits

Ben Frost, "Threshold of Faith"

cover imageLast summer, Ben Frost flew to Chicago to record with Steve Albini for two weeks, an engineer who certainly shares his appreciation for raw power.  It turned out to be quite a fruitful union, yielding roughly two hours of (presumably) explosive new material that will likely be surfacing for the next several months of the foreseeable future.  This EP is the first salvo from that stockpile of blown-out, impossibly dense speaker-shredders, acting as a bit of a teaser for a full-length due in late September. As expected, Threshold of Faith absolutely erupts from the first notes, capturing Frost at the top of his gnarled, seismic game once again.  In fact, an EP seem to be the perfect format for Frost, as he is at his best when he shows up, unleashes a hellstorm of face-melting elemental force, then gets out before any numbness starts to set in.

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5163 Hits

Akira Rabelais, "Spellewauerynsherde"

cover imageThis singular album was originally released back in 2004 on David Sylvian’s Samadhisound label, but Boomkat has just issued it on vinyl for the first time (along with quite a lot of accompanying praise about its status as an absolute masterpiece).  As curmudgeonly as I am, I have to agree–while the epic centerpiece of Spellewauerynsherde could probably benefit from somewhat sharper execution, these seven pieces cumulatively amount to quite a quietly staggering whole.  Rapturous beauty aside, Spellewauerynsherde is also quite a radical and inventive bit of sound art, as it was crafted entirely from feeding medieval choral music in Rabelais' self-designed Argeïphontes Lyre software, which seems to work by mutating, disintegrating, and recombining the source material.  Naturally, the sublime and unusual source material itself deserves a healthy amount of the credit for this album's timeless beauty, but Rabelais' transformative magic has unquestionably elevated it into something considerably more otherworldly and mysterious.

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Wolf Eyes, "Strange Days II"

cover imageI am very much enjoying this new chapter of Wolf Eyes' career, as this second release on their Lower Floor imprint is every bit as deliciously wrong-sounding as Undertow, yet breaks some intriguing new ground.  The world is littered with iconic noise artists who flogged their one great idea to death and it is refreshing to see that John Olson, Nate Young, and James Baljo seem quite hellbent on avoiding that fate these days.  Granted, Strange Days II is only a lean 20-minute EP, but it is enough of a compelling detour to justify its existence despite that: it may be brief, but it is a complete and coherent statement.  As with most recent Wolf Eyes fare, it would be quite a stretch to call Strange Days II "noise," yet the trio definitely apply the genre’s tactics to unleash a corroded, thudding, and dystopian caricature of jazz (or at least a pleasingly gnarled twist on Zoviet France-style sci-fi tribalism).

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Ora, "Time Out of Mind"

cover imageOra was always a rather curious and enigmatic project, as the collective formed by Andrew Chalk and Darren Tate in the '80s has been historically characterized by extremely limited releases and shifting membership.  Time Out of Mind adds yet another strange chapter to the Ora tale, as it is a reworking of unreleased material that largely pre-dates Ora's debut release (1992's DAAC cassette).  Chalk and Tate make it clear that this is not a "lost album" though–it is more of an alternate history, suggesting a path that the project might have explored without the intervention of line-up changes and new working methods.  Naturally, Chalk fans will probably swoop down on this album en masse, as material from this project is so maddeningly rare, but this collection is a modest and understated affair content-wise, consisting primarily of brief sketches and vignettes of mysterious field recordings and bleary drones.

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5840 Hits

Colin Andrew Sheffield and James Eck Rippie, "Essential Anatomies"

cover imageCompiling recent small-run cassette works into a luxurious double record set, Essential Anatomies represents a reunion for the duo of Colin Andrew Sheffield and James Eck Rippie.  Collaborators since 2000 and friends for even longer, the four lengthy recordings here capture their Texas reunion in 2015, and with its undeniable sense of complexity and cohesion, makes it clear that they have not missed a step from their time apart.

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10519 Hits

Elodie, "Odyssee"

cover imageThis collaboration between Andrew Chalk and Timo Van Luijk (Af Ursin) has been active since 2011, yet this is the first of their albums that I have actually heard, as Van Luijk shares Chalk's love of limited, small press-style releases.  As a result, Elodie's output has mostly been a series of vinyl-only releases from Belgium and Japan, though Stephen O'Malley’s Ideologic Organ has thankfully stepped up to get their next album to a wider audience.  On paper, Odyssee seems like a very poor choice for my first Elodie experience, as it has two traits that generally make me steer clear of an album: it is both a live recording and the soundtrack to a film.  In reality, however, this album is quietly stunning, taking Debussy-style Impressionism into gorgeously smoky, twilit, and eerily hallucinatory territory.

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Edward Ka-Spel, "High On Station Yellow Moon"

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Edward Ka-Spel is certainly having quite an amazing year, already releasing two great albums in the form of I Can Spin A Rainbow and The Brown Acid Caveat.  This deeply strange and proggy solo effort is kind of a bizarre bridge between those two peaks, featuring occasional contributions from Amanda Palmer and seemingly expanding upon the thematic premise of The Tear Garden's "Lola’s Rock."  High On Station Yellow Moon also feels like a repository for all of Ka-Spel's recent ideas that were too abstract and unstructured for his "proper" albums–like a pressure-release valve for an overactive mind.  In that sense, there is a definite resemblance to the collaged, free-form aesthetic of The Legendary Pink Dots' Chemical Playschool series, albeit with a fairly consistent and intriguing thematic thread weaving through it all.  Another similarity to the Chemical Playschool series is that Yellow Moon can be a meandering and frustrating listen at times, but patient listeners will be rewarded by an occasional sustained passage that captures Ka-Spel at the absolute peak of his powers.

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5283 Hits