Robert Piotrowicz, "Walser"

cover imageHis last major release, Samoobrona (with Lukáš Jiřička) may have had Piotrowicz trying something rather different by scoring a radio play, but Walser is a step back into the conventional album format, even if it was originally intended as a score for the film of the same title. However, that motivation to try new things as far as instrumentation and composition goes (something that has been a distinct facet of his recent works) is not lost here. Electric and acoustic instruments blend together, making for perhaps his most diverse and complex work to date.

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7001 Hits

Transparens

cover imagePart of the impetus of this three cassette compilation (by Wren Turco, who also contributes one of the tapes) was to showcase experimental electronic work by female artists that, not only often marginalized because of their gender, are also relatively new on the scene. With her, Gambletron, and NaEE RobERts, a wide spectrum of electronic art is presented, from Gambletron's more discordant abstraction, to Turco’s stripped down deconstructed techno, into NaEE RoBErts' more conventional song structures. All three tapes stand strongly on their own, but also compliment each other exceptionally well, making for a very strong compilation.

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8729 Hits

High Plains, "Cinderland"

cover imageThis is the debut release from the duo of Loscil's Scott Morgan and classically trained cellist Mark Bridges.  The pair met while at a residency in Alberta, then convened for two weeks of winter recording in renovated schoolhouse in Wyoming.  Consequently, High Plains is quite an apt name for this project, succinctly capturing both the windswept isolation of the region and the project's deeply melancholy aesthetic.  Being unfamiliar with Bridges, I expected High Plains to be a rather Loscil-esque endeavor, but the only truly significant similarity is that this album continues the bleak trajectory of Monument Builders: Cinderland mostly feels like a neo-classical soundtrack to an art film or perhaps like a stark and drone-damaged homage to Dirty Three.

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4175 Hits

Norman Westberg, "Jasper Sits Out"

cover imageRoom40's excavation campaign of Norman Westberg’s wonderfully hypnotic and self-released solo guitar work continues with this 2014 tribute to the Westberg family dog. Notably, this release was already reissued once before (as an extremely limited vinyl edition by Hallow Ground), but this new incarnation is both remastered and expanded.  More notable still, Jasper Sits Out was the first of Westberg's homemade releases that Lawrence English ever heard, making it the album that inadvertently dragged this quietly beautiful facet of his artistry into the light.  As such, I half-expected Jasper to be a towering culmination of the entire reissue campaign, but it is more or less on the same level as all the consistently fine preceding releases (aside from one truly dazzling piece).

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144522 Hits

Allegory Chapel Ltd., "Without Tears: Noise in Theory & Practice"

cover imageElden M's recent resurgence as Allegory Chapel Ltd. has nary taken a pause since reappearing three years ago following an 18 year silence. What might be the most surprising fact, however, is that Without Tears: Noise in Theory & Practice is actually his first full length vinyl release since the project's inception in 1986, amidst a varied array of tapes and CDs. This fact obviously has not been lost on him though, because this album is a comprehensive and cohesive work that covers the full gamut of the ACL sound, from the past to the present, presenting a singular and unique artist and his diverse, complex output.

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6796 Hits

VVV, "Why El Paso Sky"

cover imageIranian born, Austin raised artist Shawhin Izaddoost’s new release as VVV may, at least superficially, follow the hip-hop derived model of the mix tape as a collection of ideas and unfinished work, but that is not entirely accurate. Why El Paso Sky feels mostly like a fully polished and realized release. A combination of rich, complex ambient moments, vintage synth sequences, and strong beats are exceptionally well done on here, with a mix that captures both cerebral production and avant garde sounds with straight ahead physical rhythms and melodies.

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9384 Hits

Relay for Death, "Natural Incapacity", "Anxiety of the Eye"

cover imageRelay for Death, the noise(ish) project of twins Rachal and Roxann Spikula, has a brief but exceptionally bizarre history already. For their debut release Birth of an Older, Much More Ugly Christ, they used only the materials recorded in their hospital room during a three-month medical study, resulting in an empty, depressing, yet gripping work. Then, after a five-year hiatus, they released both of these late last year. The two releases are distinctly different from each other, but both uniquely brilliant and fascinating in their discomfort.

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9081 Hits

Kassel Jaeger & Jim O'Rourke, "Wakes on Cerulean"

cover imageI was not sure quite what to expect with this collaboration, as Jim O'Rourke is quite an adept shape-shifter and Kassel Jaeger (Francoise Bonnet) is a bit of an unknown quantity as well.  Also, many seemingly enticing pairings tend to feel like the polished and edited distillation of a single improv session. Wakes on Cerulean does not entirely elude that free-form and off-the-cuff territory, but it is a consistently rich and vibrant release nonetheless.  More importantly, it sometimes shares a lot of stylistic common ground with O'Rourke’s classic I'm Happy And I'm Singing album, albeit one frequently embellished by an inventive host of field recordings.  Cerulean probably errs a bit too much into genial burbling and restlessly shifting through motifs to quite attain canonical greatness itself, but it boasts enough striking passages to compensate for the lesser moments. With a bit more work, Cerulean probably could have surpassed I'm Happy and I'm Singing.

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4860 Hits

Keiji Haino/Jozef Dumoulin/Teun Verbruggen, "The Miracles Of Only One Thing"

cover imageOn paper, this is quite an improbable and unexpected collaboration: an iconic and mercurial Japanese noise-guitar god teams up with a pair of serious Belgian jazz musicians.  For one, Keiji Haino generally tends to work with artists that are nearly as outré as himself (My Cat is an Alien, Merzbow, Peter Brötzmann, etc.).  Also, playing with an elemental force as unpredictable and unhinged as Haino seems like it would be roughly as harrowing as riding a bucking bronco for anyone new to his orbit.  To their credit, however, both Verbruggen and Demoulin prove to be inspiring foils and manage to ably follow Haino's muse to whichever strange places it wanders.  Needless to say, this is very much Haino's show, veering wildly between free-form chaos, roiling electronic maelstroms, feral howling, and a few passages of sublime accessibility.  Given that, Miracles is a bit of an overwhelming mixed bag as a whole, but one with some genuine flashes of brilliance inside.

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15202 Hits

Oto Hiax

cover imageAfter first quietly surfacing with a self-released EP back in 2015, this duo of Seefeel's Mark Clifford and Loops Haunt's Scott Gordon make their formal debut with a full-length on Editions Mego.  While hints of both artists' main gigs are evident, this drone-centric and abstract project is very much its own thing.  For the most part, this album is a likeable suite of incidental vignettes built from warm, sustained synth tones, but a handful of pieces transcend that modest aesthetic and delve into admirably novel territory.  If I were being glib, I would describe the highlights as "hauntological drone," but that has misleading dark ambient connotations and does not do Oto Hiax any justice at all.  Instead, I will just say that Clifford and Gordon have found an evocative and subtly haunting way of blurring together dream-like and gently hallucinatory soundscapes with the sharp edges of reality.

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4636 Hits

Growing, "Disorder"

cover imageAfter a lengthy six-year hiatus, this long-running bi-coastal duo have unexpectedly resurfaced with a new LP of buzzing, bass-heavy drones.  I am not sure if Disorder necessarily counts as a radical departure given Growing's history of constant re-invention, but it is certainly a remarkably far cry from their last full-length (2010's dance-damaged and sampler-centric PUMPS!). It also bears little resemblance to the more shimmering and gently psychedelic fare for which Growing is best known.  Instead, the dominant aesthetic seems to be that of Kevin Doria’s recent pure drone work as Total Life, though that vision sounds artfully blurred together with Joe DeNardo's own (noisier) Ornament project, adding some welcome layers of depth and harmonic complexity.  While it does not necessarily recapture the magic of the duo's prime, it makes up for it by opening a promising and surprisingly visceral new chapter.

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5571 Hits

Jon Mueller, "dHrAaNwDn"

cover imageIf there has been a running theme throughout Jon Mueller’s career, it would be his exploration of the intersection between sound and spirituality. He has tackled both largely in abstract interpretations: he is a multi-instrumentalist, and has delved into themes and imagery from a multitude of religions and spiritual practices throughout his career as an artist. dHrAaNwDn (Hand Drawn) is perhaps among the most fully realized examples of his passions, however. A stunning double record set, the audio is culled from six hours of improvised percussion performances recorded live in the Shaker Meeting House of Albany, New York, exemplifying not only Mueller’s adeptness at performing, but his ear for recording and capturing environments as well.

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16846 Hits

Sutcliffe Jugend, "S L A V E S"

cover imageKevin Tomkins and Paul Taylor’s legendary Sutcliffe Jugend project has alternated between periods of being extremely prolific, followed by utter silence ever since its inception. Their first albums as SJ appeared in 1982, one of which was the legendary 10 tape We Spit On Their Graves, then no new material for 14 years. The pattern has repeated ever since, though admittedly not to the same extremity. S L A V E S, a six CD release, capped off a busy 2016, preceded by three other full length albums. Sprawling is an appropriate term, but it is very well developed, varied, and also makes clear that Tomkins and Taylor have no intent of staying in that narrow box most associate with the project.

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16811 Hits

Lawrence English, "Cruel Optimism"

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In recent years, my expectations of what a new Lawrence English album might sound like have gotten increasingly blurry, as he has an admirable tendency to explore new concepts and collaborations that lure him far away from the classic drone fare that initially put him on the map.  Cruel Optimism is arguably a return to English's more straightforward drone work in some ways, but it feels like quite a corroded and scorched return, which certainly fits nicely with English's somewhat dark conceptual inspiration.  Needless to say, it is a characteristically fine album and quite a distinctive one as well, evoking a kind of bleak orchestral grandeur flourishing amidst crumbling ruin and decay.

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4642 Hits

Steel Hook Prostheses, "Calm Morbidity"

cover imageTexas duo Steel Hook Prostheses are a decade and a half into their career of blackened electronics and malicious noise, and with each new release they continue to find new spins on their intentionally desolate and unpleasant sound. Calm Morbidity is a consistent, yet diverse record that does different things and goes in varying directions, but never loses focus, and also never lightens the mood.

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4021 Hits

Envenomist, "Bleeding Out"

cover imageDavid Reed's newest album as Envenomist may be a collection of six songs, but the presentation and consistency between them seems more akin to a long from composition broken into distinct pieces. His bleak analog synthesizer works have been notable as a recent member of Bloodyminded, and as part of the trio Nightmares with Mark Solotroff and Jonathan Canady, but here he is in sole control. Perhaps due to it being a fully solo excursion or his compositional intent, the arrangement is sparse but strong, and the final product is a bleak synthesizer creep that hints at film score but is an entity entirely unto itself.

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7900 Hits

Alan Courtis, "Los Galpones"

cover imageAlan Courtis (aka Anla Courtis) is one of those composers that at times is occasionally too prolific, spreading himself thin over numerous collaborations and solo works each year. Because of that, his work is sometimes less focused than it could be, simply due to the extreme breadth of what he puts out. However, when one of his releases is obviously a fully realized concept, his work is usually exceptionally compelling.  Los Galpones (The Sheds) is one of his more targeted works, by that standard. A record built upon mostly just guitar and metallic objects, it is a wonderfully unified suite of four distinct pieces that work together perfectly and creates a nuanced sense of post-industrial decay.

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4395 Hits

Jim Haynes, "Flammable Materials from Foreign Lands", "Throttle and Calibration"

cover imageFor his two most recent (near simultaneous) releases, Jim Haynes has scaled back his audial representation of decay to something a bit colder and more intentionally off-putting. Both albums are largely based on field recordings taken from a residency in Estonia, and capturing the detritus of Soviet era electronics (and some still active) via shortwave and then processing the results. The final products may be somewhat sparser than his other works, but no less fascinating, and with an additional menacing edge.

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3488 Hits

My Cat is an Alien, "Eternal Beyond" and "RE‚Äã-‚ÄãSI‚Äã-‚ÄãSTEN‚Äã-‚ÄãZA‚Äã!‚Äã"

cover imageThis winter marks the 20th anniversary of Maurizio and Roberto Opalio’s singular My Cat is an Alien project, a milestone that they are celebrating with a pair of fascinating and divergent releases.  Originally recorded back in 2015, Eternal Beyond is the fruit of an explosive and wildly experimental 4-day session with French black metal vocalist Joëlle Vinciarelli that does not sound at all like black metal.  RE-SI-STEN-ZA!, on the other hand, is billed as a sort of culmination of My Cat is an Alien’s entire career.  As I have not yet heard much of the Opalio’s earlier work, I cannot vouch for the truth of that, but I was pleasantly surprised by the title piece, which sounds like the work of a radical art commune a la Amon Düül embellished and collaged by a talented noise/musique concrète artist.

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7316 Hits

HEXA, "Factory Photographs"

cover imageXiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart and Lawrence English are not two artists that I would have ever thought to pair together, but a shared appreciation for David Lynch is probably as solid a foundation for a collaboration as any.  Also, HEXA makes perfect sense given the circumstances:  Xiu Xiu recorded an incredible Twin Peaks homage,  Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art assembled a major retrospective of Lynch’s work, and Lawrence English is one of Australia’s most prominent and distinctive sound artists.  Notably, however, this commissioned accompaniment to Lynch's photographs of abandoned factories sounds almost nothing like either English or Xiu Xiu.  Instead, it sounds a hell of a lot like an artfully restrained and simmering noise album.  More specifically, Factory Photographs is industrial music in the most literal sense of the word, resembling nothing less than the troubled dreams of a ruined and long-deserted factory.

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3225 Hits