Enhet För Fri Musik, "Inom Dig, Inom Mig"

cover imageBelgium’s Aguirre Records seems to have quite a talent for digging up some singularly obscure, weird, and surprising releases lately.  The latest one to knock me sideways is this one, a free-folk project that seemingly involves most of the Swedish underground. Ostensibly formed to reignite and continue the tradition of communal psych genius of heavyweights like Pärson Sound, Enhet För Fri Muzik made a rather intriguing detour along the way and wound up deep in idiosyncratic and otherworldly "outsider folk" territory instead.  Even that is a bit of an oversimplification though, as Sofie Herner's alternately fragile, distracted, ritualistic, and trance-like vocals are unpredictably accompanied with everything from saxophones to field recordings of birds and streams.  Admittedly, tight songcraft was clearly not a big priority during these sessions, but Inom Dig casts an absorbing spell of timeless unreality that transcends mere melodies and hooks.

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Demen, "Nektyr"

cover imageThis is the debut release from Swedish chanteuse Irma Orm, an album that Kranky has been eagerly anticipating for a couple of years after receiving an anonymous and mysterious invitation to hear some early recordings.  If I had to guess why the album took so long to complete, I would venture to say that one of those early pieces was probably the opening "Niorum" and that Orm has spent the entire time trying in vain to recapture that brilliance.  She admittedly succeeds at least once, but the bulk of Nektyr sounds like a stark, time-stretched, and drifting marriage of This Mortal Coil and the Twin Peaks soundtrack that is shrouded in shadow and artfully blurred into dream-like soft-focus.  I suppose the highlights sound a lot like that too, but Nektyr works best when there is a skeleton of a hooky song lurking amidst all the darkness and fog.

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White Hills, "Stop Mute Defeat"

cover imageWhite Hills has always been kind of a frustrating band for me, but Dave W's single-minded devotion to psych-rock excess occasionally hits some flashes of sustained greatness, so I keep coming back anyway. If anything, he can be relied upon to consistently deliver one or two prime doses of unhinged psych-guitar squall every album...until now, that is.  In a somewhat startling turn of events, Dave and bassist Ego Sensation have returned from their brief hiatus with quite a radical reinvention of their sound.  I am not sure if White Hills' new aesthetic is categorically better than the old one, as Dave’s messy and indulgent guitar heroics have a definite appeal, but this latest batch of songs is definitely tighter, catchier, and more focused than their past work.  Equally significant: this album abandons all traces of the duo’s Hawkwind fixation in favor of a trip into my nostalgic comfort zone of ‘90s Wax Trax!-style industrial.  To their credit, White Hills make some welcome improvements to that formula, embellishing the expected drum machines and cut-up samples with some wonderfully fluid and muscular bass lines and a more simmering, understated touch to their lingering psychedelic side.

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Loke Rahbek, "City of Women"

cover imageI have been on an extended Croatian Amor bender since last year's Love Means Taking Action, so I was delighted when I found out that Loke Rahbek was releasing his first solo album under his own name on Editions Mego.  Unsurprisingly, City of Women does not sound much like Croatian Amor at all, as Rahbek has been involved in at least a dozen other projects.  In fact, this release is billed as sort of a culminating convergence of Rahbek's varied and prolific history of underground music projects, though it is not nearly the radical compositional leap forward one might expect from that statement.  Instead, City of Women is a lot like a well-produced Loke Rahbek buffet that offers discrete forays into the many facets of his artistry (noise, dense synth soundscapes, sound collage, and even an occasional piano miniature) rather than a thematically consistent major work.  Several of the piece are quite good, naturally, but expectations should be moderated: this is only another characteristically fine Rahbek release rather than the beginning of a bold new chapter.

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The Holy Circle

cover imageLocrian is still an active band, but vocalist/keyboardist Terence Hannum has added another side project to his roster: The Holy Circle. Featuring his wife Erica Burgner-Hannum on vocals and Nathan Jurgenson (Screen Vinyl Image) on drums, the project could not be more different than his other recent one, the anti-fascist Axebreaker (recently reviewed). With The Holy Circle the mood is much more peaceful and elegant, with an emphasis on melody and songwriting, but maintaining that experimental edge Hannum is known for.

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Robert Crouch, "Sublunar"

cover imageCrouch's last release, A Gradual Accumulation of Ideas Becomes Truth (Line), was a heavily conceptual work touching on location and memory that, even divorced from its intellectual underpinning, was an excellent piece of sound art. Sublunar may not be as steeped in concept, but again the audio (a live performance mixing existing material and field recordings) is the most important facet, and again he excels in creating a disorienting piece of familiar and unfamiliar sounds that blur together wonderfully.

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Ars Phoenix/The Viirus, "De(p)letions"

cover imageThis split tape manages to capture what sounds like the final Ars Phonenix release (though vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Jon Glover and keyboardist/vocalist Caitlyn Grimalkin are continuing as Pass/Ages), and one of only a handful of works by Adam Batley's Viirus project. Besides both hailing from the wild lands of Florida (not what I would consider a hotbed for electronic music), they also share the commonality of creating skeletal, yet catchy and moody electronic pop, making for an exceptional pairing.

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Thalassa, "Bonds of Prosperity"

cover imageThalassa is the new collaborative project between two titans of the metal tinged avant garde world of guitar: Aaron Turner (Isis, Mamiffer) and William Fowler Collins. Mythical and elemental imagery abounds on the four lengthy pieces split across two LPs, no doubt informed by the contrast of their respective homes: Turner’s cold and damp Pacific Northwest versus Collins’ arid New Mexico home, but the two are entirely on the same page when it comes to performance. Equally fitting into the worlds of old school ambient composition and metallic darkness, Bonds of Prosperity is as bleak as it is engaging.

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Olson/Case/Hardiman, "March of the Mutilated (Vol. 1)"

cover imageSpurred on by an open Facebook post during one of John Olson’s (Wolf Eyes) visits to Upstate New York, this album features him with two local luminaries, Eric Hardiman (Rambutan, Century Plants) and Jeff Case (Burnt Hills) in a purely improvised setting. These three lengthy performances are surprisingly restrained, with Olson exclusively on reeds and wind instruments, Case on drums and Hardiman on saxophone and synths. I am guessing the result is an excellent example of psycho jazz (still not knowing exactly what that means as a genre), though it is surprisingly more conventional than I had expected.

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Francisco López, Untitled (2012-2014), Untitled #352

cover imageThese two new releases from the legendary composer may have come out around the same time, but they both represent extreme ends of his work. The former is a two disc, 16 piece compilation of shorter works created over the span of two years, covering a wide gamut of the López sound. The latter is a flash drive containing a single work (split into 11 distinct parts) five hours and 20 minutes in length, all based on a single sound source. They may be distinctly different in composition and construction, but both are brilliant works in his already shining discography.

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The Inward Circles, "And Right Lines Limit And Close All Bodies"

cover imageAs a longtime Richard Skelton fan, I have been watching his recent trajectory with quite a bit of fascination, as he has been restlessly diving into increasingly varied and arcane territory while distancing himself further and further from his brilliant earlier work with each new release.  While there are still some lingering vestiges of that vibrantly harmonic-strewn string work in his *AR project with Autumn Richardson, Skelton's solo work as The Inward Circles is explicitly (and increasingly) intent on exploring an aesthetic of "burial, obfuscation and mythologization."  In fact, The Inward Circles often seems like a rather perverse name, as Skelton has seemingly ceased burrowing inwards and thrown himself into the epic, timeless, and vast. At times, that newly cosmic scope falls uncomfortably close to dark ambient (a genre that I am generally quite happy to avoid), but it can sometimes yield absolutely crushing and awe-inspiring results as well (Nimrod is Lost).  This latest opus does not quite sustain the lofty heights of some previous Inward Circles classics, but it compensates with a slow-burning majesty that builds to a sustained and wonderful crescendo.

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Helm, "World in Action"

cover imageLuke Younger’s latest EP draws inspiration from his fascination with the UK's media chaos surrounding last year’s Brexit vote.  I suppose that is arguably one good thing to come out of that dark bit of recent history, but Helm already seemed to be doing a perfectly fine job producing fine albums without that unfortunate muse.  Inspirations aside, Helm EPs generally tend to feel a hell of a lot like maxi-singles and they only surface when Younger has made a significant creative breakthrough.  World in Action is no exception to that trend.  In this case, that breakthrough takes the form of the 9-minute "Blue Scene," a gloriously skittering and jazz-damaged cacophony that often resembles a hallucinatory flock of worried geese...with a groove.  Naturally, the remaining three pieces adhere to characteristically Helm-esque levels of quality, but it is quite clear that the wildly skwonking, must-hear tour de force of "Blue Scene" is the reason that this release exists.

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Dr√∏ne, "A Perfect Blind"

cover imageDrøne's second album was bizarrely released as a part of Record Store Day, which was quite an unexpected strategy given that few record stores are clamoring to stock new sound collage albums from Swedish record labels.  As a result, I was kind of expecting A Perfect Blind to be some sort of collectible minor release with eye-catchingly ambitious packaging and swirled gold-flecked vinyl or something.  Instead, it is just another excellent album, though Mark van Hoen and Mike Harding do enlist a murderers' row of talented collaborators including Philip Jeck and Anna von Hausswolff to help realize their expanded vision.  In fact, this album marks quite an impressive and unexpected evolution from the duo’s 2016 debut, using Reversing Into Future's beguiling miasma of shortwave radio transmissions, cryptic snatches of dialog, and droning synths as a foundation for something a bit more substantial and melodic.

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Aaron Dilloway, "The Gag File"

cover imageSince releasing two stellar albums in 2012, Aaron Dilloway has been comparatively quiet, contenting himself with a steady stream of cassettes, collaborations, and reissues.  Apparently, he also spent a bit of that time slowly assembling The Gag File, the long-awaited follow-up opus to Modern Jester.  Given that Dilloway has long been one of the most influential figures in the American noise scene, it is no surprise that The Gag File is a bizarre, aberrant, and fine album.  That said, some aspects were still deliciously wrong-headed enough to catch me off-guard (though the cover art should have been a fair warning).  At its best, The Gag File transcends mere noise entirely and ventures into realms that feel like a vivid kitschy nightmare or the infernal horror of an endless bad party.

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Akatombo, "Short Fuse"

cover imageGiven the current social climate across the world, it is not surprising at all that Paul Thomsen Kirk, the Scottish artist (by way of Hiroshima, Japan) has not lightened the mood on his latest work as Akatombo. Short Fuse is a direct follow-up to the 2015 release Sometime, Never, and continues his penchant for memorable rhythms paired with often abrasive electronics and obscure samples, coming together familiar and timeless at the same time his first vinyl release.

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Kara-Lis Coverdale, "Grafts"

cover imageThis Montreal-based composer/producer/church organist has been quite hard to miss over the last several years, collaborating on Tim Hecker's Virgins album, releasing a cassette on one of my favorite tape labels (Sacred Phrases), and garnering much critical praise with her 2015 collaboration with LXV (Sirens).  For her latest release, she joins the Boomkat Editions series with this brief one-sided vinyl EP.  I am not normally a fan of gimmicky vinyl formats, but that condensed format works wonders for Coverdale, as her earlier releases were a bit too uneven, fitfully pastoral, and diffuse to fully connect with me (even though they all admittedly featured some occasional flashes of brilliance).  With Grafts, however, she distills all of the best aspects of her work into roughly 20 minutes of lushly melodic and dreamily multilayered sustained beauty.  In fact, in some ways, Grafts feels like an inspired negative image of Virgins, reimagining that nerve-jangling opus as a languorous, sensuously flowing, and gently hallucinatory reverie of hazy drones and rippling pianos.

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Andrew Chalk, "A Light At The Edge Of The World"

cover imageI was initially planning to write something like "somehow this wonderfully sublime 2015 release managed to slip by me completely unnoticed," but immediately realized that there was no mystery at all: the only effective way to keep abreast of Andrew Chalk's quietly expanding oeuvre is to actively keep an eye on the Faraway Press website and hope that anything I gamble on is up to Chalk's usual high standards.  While a few of his recent releases have admittedly been a bit too pastoral to fully connect with me, the glistening and gently hallucinatory reverie of this single extended piece for electric piano completely hits the mark.  In some ways it reminds me of William Basinski's eroding tape loops or Steve Roach's classic Structures From Silence album, but not in any sort of direct way.  Rather, A Light At The End of The World just feels like a mesmerizing soundscape of almost liquid textures that I could happily listen to an infinite loop for hours.

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Félicia Atkinson, "Hand in Hand"

cover imageFélicia Atkinson's radical artistic transformation over the last several years has been quite an interesting one, as each new release seems to distance her further and further from her excellent work as Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier and into much stranger and more challenging territory.  With her last major statement, 2015's A Readymade Ceremony, Atkinson shifted the focus away from music towards a strong emphasis on whispered spoken-word performance of repurposed found texts mingled with George Bataille and her own poetry.  Hand in Hand goes still further in that direction, often reducing the accompanying music to an absolute minimum to focus almost entirely on an eclectic and evocative array of hushed readings from old plant books, magazines, JG Ballard, Philip K. Dick, and her own writings.  The overall effect is often wonderfully surreal and intimate, but Atkinson’s hyper constrained and minimal palette does not offer enough melodicism or dynamic variety to quite carry a full album.  A few of the individual pieces, however, are quite mesmerizing (particularly the closing "No Fear But Anticipation").

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Alessandro Cortini and Merzbow

cover imageIn classic Important Records fashion, this intriguing collaboration came together as a celebration of a specific vintage analog synthesizer (in this case, the EMS Synthi).  The Synthi is apparently quite well-known for its ability to generate striking analog "sci-fi sounds," which goes a long way towards explaining why Alessandro Cortini does not particularly sound at all like Alessandro Cortini here.  The singularly reliable Masami Akita, however, always unavoidably manages to sound exactly like Merzbow.  As such, this collaboration is best appreciated as an excellent and appealingly divergent Merzbow release, as Cortini's arsenal of drones, blurts, swoops, bloops, and chirps adds a welcome splash of vibrant color to Akita's characteristic howling blizzard of white noise.

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Mary Lattimore, "Collected Pieces"

cover imageModestly billed as a counterpart to last year’s At The Dam album, the prosaically titled Collected Pieces is quite a big and very pleasant surprise, as my expectation was that it would just be some outtakes and orphaned pieces of interest to serious fans only (an expectation that was only reinforced by the limited edition cassette format).  I suppose these six pieces are technically orphans of a sort, as they never made it onto any of Lattimore's formal albums, but it certainly was not because they were not good enough.  Rather, they all just surfaced as an erratic trickle of one-off self-released pieces on Bandcamp and Soundcloud.  That method of working definitely seems to suit Lattimore, as this "box of memories"/impressionist travelogue is at least as good as any of her actual albums and the gorgeous "Wawa By The Ocean" and "The Warm Shoulder" easily rank among her finest moments to date.

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