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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Caterina Barbieri, "Patterns of Consciousness"

cover imageFollowing a handful of elusive limited edition cassettes, Berlin-based composer Caterina Barbieri makes her formal debut in a big way with this massive and mesmerizing double LP epic.  On one level, Patterns of Consciousness is quite possibly the epitome of Important Records' long-standing obsession with pure synthesizer albums.  On deeper level, however, this album is a unique and ambitious experiment that also happens to be synth-based, as it is structurally inspired by Barbieri's interest in baroque lute music and conceptually inspired by a desire to trigger a fracture in consciousness through subtle shifts in hypnotically repeated patterns.  Either way, it is quite an achievement.

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Legendary Pink Dots, "Chemical Playschool 19 & 20"

cover imageOver the last two decades or so, my Legendary Pink Dots fandom has gone through quite a few different phases, but my current self is most enamored with the Chemical Playschool series.  Each new installment always feels like a large and mysterious gift-wrapped box that unexpectedly shows up at my house, stuffed full of plenty of random things that I did not particularly want and a few revelatory surprises that absolutely knock me sideways (finding the latter is always the fun part, obviously).  This latest plunge into the band's unfettered experimental urges, quietly released for the band's fall 2016 tour, is an especially rich treasure trove: it does not so much feel like a meandering psychedelic fever dream of orphaned ideas and studio experiments so much as a rich tapestry of evocative and coherent themes expertly blurred together into a mesmerizing fantasia.  This is easily one of my favorite LPD albums in recent memory.

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Evan Caminiti, "Toxic City Music"

cover imageThis latest album continues to explore the more electronic phase of Evan Caminiti's art, yet feels quite a bit different from his other recent work.  Inspired by the "psychic and physical toxicity of life in late capitalism," Toxic City Music is a corroded, crackling, and bleary miasma of processed guitar and industrial textures gleaned from Caminiti's surroundings in NYC.  While the prevailing aesthetic is a somewhat noirish ambient fantasia on urban decay and alienation, the smoggy gloom is artfully balanced out by some fine spectral dub-techno touches. In fact, this record is most successful when viewed as a deeply experimental electronic dub album, as Caminiti is not so much appropriating a new influence as he is dipping it into the acid bath of his flickering and smoky dystopic vision, then presenting the barely recognizable remains.  Toxic City may be a diffuse, shadowy, and understated vision, but it is a very compelling and distinctive one as well.

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3487 Hits

Gnod, "Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing..."

cover imageI had a very unfortunate false start with Gnod, as the first time I heard them, I mistakenly concluded that they were basically the UK version of White Hills rather than a deeply radical and experimental entity of Swans-like intensity.  With the benefit of hindsight, I have since embraced them as one of the single most exciting forces to emerge from the underground in recent years.  Thankfully, no one at all will be likely to repeat my mistake after hearing Just Say No, though it admittedly tones down the band’s more arty and indulgent tendencies quite a bit in service of visceral brute force (the album title provides a very unambiguous clue as to the band's current mindset). Of course, as much as I enjoy raw power, punk energy, and hardcore fury on their own, the beauty of this album lies in how brilliantly Gnod manage to blend heavy music with their longstanding Krautrock and psych fascinations, enhancing the expected monster riffs with bulldozing no-frills repetition, seismic percussion grooves, Gang of Four-style minimalism, and a wonderful textural chaos of electronics and radio broadcasts.

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cover imageThe plain, unmarked white shell and clinical titling of break_fold's debut certainly adds a mysterious quality to this project. There is no hint as to what to expect musically, and that alone always makes me curious. That ambiguity carries onto the tape itself, in the form of complex and diverse beat heavy electronics that excels as much in mood and texture as it does in pleasant melodies and memorable rhythms.

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Axebreaker, "Burning False Flags"

cover imageAxebreaker is a new project from Locrian vocalist/keyboardist Terence Hannum, and one that harkens back to the earliest days of the power electronics scene (right when it transitioned from the world of industrial), while putting an entirely modern spin on the sound. It is heavily politically charged and packed with all of the anger and rage I could have hoped for. The strength of Hannum’s performance ensures, however, that it will still be relevant even when the political landscape shifts to something hopefully more pleasant in the USA.

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Diamanda Gal√°s, "All the Way" and "At Saint Thomas The Apostle Harlem"

cover imageAfter nearly a decade-long recording hiatus, iconic force of nature Diamanda Galás has resurfaced with pair of themed albums of characteristically dark covers and interpretations.  Linked by two different versions of the traditional "O Death," the partially studio-recorded All The Way revisits the familiar territory of classic blues and country while the St. Thomas the Apostle live performance delves into the even more familiar subject of death.  Both albums have their moments of brilliance, but the St. Thomas performance is arguably more accessible, if only because Galás's demonic operatic flourishes  feel a bit more at home in her own arrangements of poems and texts than they do when all that firepower is directed at, say, a Johnny Paycheck song.  Also, it is quite a bit looser and more varied.  Accessibility is quite relative with an artist as simultaneously beloved and polarizing as Galás though, as even the sultriest, sexiest jazz standards can erupt into primal, window-rattling intensity with absolutely no warning.

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Noveller, "A Pink Sunset For No One"

cover imageI have an unfortunate tendency to take Sarah Lipstate's work for granted, as if it is somehow not enough that she is one of the most distinctive and inventive solo guitarists currently active.  Part of that is her own fault, as she periodically produces work so beautiful and sublime that she transcends her role as guitarist and instead seems like one of the most compelling artists around.  Those are the moments that I am always chasing and I have not experienced one since the title piece on 2013's No Dreams.  Happily, Pink Sunset manages to floor me once more with "Deep Shelter."  There are a few other memorable moments on this solid and likeable album as well, but not quite enough to disabuse me of my belief that Lipstate is gradually accumulating the material for an absolutely stunning greatest hits album at a rate of one fresh masterpiece every few years.

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5485 Hits

Wolf Eyes, "Undertow"

cover imageI am only a casual Wolf Eyes fan, so the bulk of their endless tide of releases passes by me unnoticed.  Every couple of years, however, they unleash something big to remind everyone that they are just as relevant as ever and continuing to tirelessly evolve.  The latest salvo in that vein is ostensibly this one, which also happens to be the inaugural release for the band's new Lower Floor Music imprint.  Stylistically, the two bookend pieces share a lot of common ground with the better moments of 2013's No Answer : Lower Floors, eschewing noise for something resembling deconstructed rock music that has gone sick and wrong.  When it sticks to that template, Undertow is quite good, but the more abstract and sketchlike material separating its two highlights makes for a somewhat uneven whole.

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4205 Hits

Jacaszek, "KWIATY"

cover imageI have historically had a complicated relationship with Michal Jacaszek's music, as I love his aesthetic and he consistently releases deeply immersive and intriguing albums, yet he has an uncanny knack for stylistic quirks that subjectively rub me the wrong way (harpsichords, a penchant for gloom and somberness, etc.).  Consequently, I was more or less just waiting around for an album to finally surface that was a bit more to my taste and KWIATY is that album. One one hand, Jacaszek mostly sticks to his familiar territory of dark, hiss-ravaged neo-classical fare, but the new twist is that he enlisted a trio of female vocalists to give voice to the metaphysical poetry of 17th century Englishman Robert Herrick.  While such a conceit admittedly sounds very arcane and high-concept on paper, it reveals itself to be quite beautiful in execution, often resembling an eerie, crackling, fractured, and otherworldly strain of dreampop.

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4008 Hits

Ensemble Economique, "In Silhouette"

cover imageI truly never know quite what to expect from erstwhile Starving Weirdo Brian Pyle, as his Ensemble Economique project has covered plenty of shifting territory with varying results over the last decade.  His albums are certainly always intriguing and often deliciously aberrant, but I have not been truly knocked sideways since 2011's Crossing The Path, By Torchlight.  With In Silhouette, his 12th album, Pyle steps away from his recent forays into darkwave to plunge back into the unapologetically hallucinatory and warped terrain that I love best.  He has not entirely jettisoned his dark pop instructs though, as In Silhouette's deep psychedelia is enhanced by host of whispering and mysterious female voices.  While not every piece quite captures Pyle at his zenith, In Silhouette is cinematic in the best sense of the word, as it feels like being plunged completely (and uncomfortably) into a noirish and Lynchian world of shadow, menace, and dark sexuality.

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8371 Hits

Oikos, "The Great Upheaval"

cover imageFor their first vinyl release, Rafael Femiano (guitars and electronics) and Felipe Pavon (drums and percussion) pulled out all of the stops on the most recent Oikos release. In this case, that metaphor may be a bit of a misnomer, since most of The Great Upheaval is much more about mood and ambience than full bore explosions of sound, although those feature here as well. The tasteful balance of the two, and the impeccable compositional structures, results in an album that is gripping in its intentional bleakness.

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5154 Hits