Legendary Pink Dots, "Festive"

cover imageIt is rare for me to get very enthusiastic about tour-only releases, as I feel that artists generally want their best material to be heard by as many people as possible rather than just a handful of collectors.  This compilation of The Legendary Pink Dots’ ephemeral holiday EPs was an exception though, as it has always driven me slightly crazy that I had missed the boat on so many special one-off releases.  Also, Edward Ka-Spel always seemed like the rare artist who might be unpredictable and prolific enough to cheerfully release his best material in an incredibly limited edition.  Upon hearing the sprawling Festive, I can safely say that that was not the case, as a lot of LPD's holiday epics tend to be drifting, understated soundscapes or amusing experiments in twisting and tweaking samples, but a few pieces are legitimately striking and the cumulative effect of all this material at once is pleasantly overwhelming.  As such, this prolonged plunge into the benignly deranged holiday rabbit hole is strictly for fans of the Dots' more abstract and unrepentantly indulgent side.

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ant'lrd, "Sleep Drive"

cover imageThere is a distinctly lo-fi theme that runs through Colin Blanton's (ant'lrd) newest release. The three lengthy pieces are all nicely covered in a light haze of noise and distortion, but it never fully obscures the beautiful melodies and motorized rhythms that lurk beneath that scratchy, decaying surface. Instead, that element of dirt and grime enhances what it covers, resulting in an album that wonderfully blends the raw with the delicate.

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B/B/S/, "Palace"

cover imageOne important lesson that I have learned over the years is that promising-sounding collaborations between experimental music artists are almost always disappointing, as the resultant releases tend to be half-baked edits and reworkings of improvised jams that occurred when all the musicians involved happened to be in the same town for a day.  Consequently, it was a delight to discover that this trio of Aidan Baker,  Andrea Belfi, and Erik Skodvin feel like the exact opposite of that. While this second full-length for Miasmah was admittedly improvised over the course of a couple days in Berlin, Palace is the work of a band with both strong vision and razor-sharp focus. Of the three artists involved, Palace is most similar to Skodvin's solo aesthetic, but these deliciously tension-filled and slow-burning reveries easily transcend the sum of their parts.

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Machinefabriek, "Crumble"

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Late last year, Rutger Zuyderveldt teamed up with violinist Anne Bakker for the brilliantly tense, nerve-jangling, and unique Deining EP.  Naturally, when I learned that Bakker had returned to the Machinefabriek fold for an even longer work, I had to hear it.  As it turns out, however, Crumble is absolutely nothing like its predecessor at all.  Part of that is certainly due to the additional presence of vocalist Edita Karkoschka, but (as with Deining) it is ultimately Zuyderveldt that pieces everything together in service of his vision.  That vision, in this case, is quite a bizarre one, quixotically cramming gorgeous neo-classicism, sultry vocals, spiritual-sounding reveries, and a whole lot of harsh noise into a single longform piece.  As a whole, it seems a bit maniacally over-ambitious and fragmented to me, but it definitely contains a handful of wonderful moments.

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Sarah Hennies, "Everything Else"

cover imageFollowing up her excellent album Gather & Release from earlier this year on Category of Manifestation, percussionist Sarah Hennies showcases her continually developing skills as both a composer and performer. Intentionally stretching the definition of what truly constitutes percussion at times, Everything Else is another distinctly different, yet no less amazing entry in her discography.

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Mantra Percussion, "Michael Gordon Timber Remixed"

cover imageAs an ostensibly cultured person, I pay embarrassingly little attention to current activity in the modern classical and jazz scenes, which is likely a lingering remnant of my uncompromisingly punk/DIY-centric formative years.  For the most part, this has not backfired on me, but occasionally something absolutely amazing manages to pass by me totally unnoticed, such as Michael Gordon's staggering minimalist epic Timber (2011).  Thankfully, fate has conveniently intervened to give me a second chance to celebrate the joys of this singular percussive masterwork, as it has now surfaced yet again as a live album with a companion disc of remixes from a murderers' row of experimental luminaries like Fennesz, Tim Hecker, Oneohtrix Point Never, Squarepusher, and Ikue Mori.  For the most part, the original piece proves extremely difficult to improve upon, but several of the remixers certainly make a compellingly valiant effort.

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Reinier van Houdt, "Paths of the Errant Gaze"

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This Dutch pianist first crossed my path as part of the murderers' row of unusual contributors to Current 93's I Am The Last of All The Field That Fell, an event that would easily be the high point of most musicians' careers.  In Van Houdt's case, however, it was merely the most recent of a long string of interesting and provocative ventures, as his prominent role in the avant-garde community has led to participation in all kinds of important premiers and work with titans such as Luc Ferrari and John Cage.  As such, it is a bit surprising that his first solo album would surface on the rather post-industrial-centric Hallow Ground imprint.  That was quite a bit less surprising when I actually heard it though, as Van Houdt largely casts aside his background as a classical pianist to explore the darker electronic fringes as well as tortured theatricality a la Scott Walker.  Naturally, some veins are more compelling than others, but Paths of the Errant Gaze is certainly a strange and fascinating journey.

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Ian William Craig, "Centres"

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It has taken me an embarrassingly long time to finally acknowledge the sublime brilliance of Vancouver-based polymath Ian William Craig, but he certainly has not made it easy, as every album that I have heard from him seems to showcase a new facet of his elusive aesthetic (classical pianist, distressed tape experimenter, instrument builder, the next Tim Hecker, hallucinatory hymnal composer, etc.).  Also, much of his best work was quietly released in limited vinyl editions on Sean McCann’s Recital Program imprint (and the stellar Heretic Surface does not even appear in Discogs), so it was easy to miss.  With his latest release, however, Craig seems poised to breakthrough to a larger audience.  At the very least, Centres is certainly a creative breakthrough, expertly weaving together several different experimental and esoteric threads into an excellent batch of actual songs with hooks.  If it is possible to make a largely guitar-free classic shoegaze album, Craig has done it with Centres.

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Sarah Davachi, "Vergers"

cover imageSarah Davachi’s impressively prolific 2016 finally winds to a close with this release, which is arguably the finest of her three albums this year.  Following the uncharacteristically acoustic/organic All My Circles Run, Vergers again returns to the synthesizer (in this case, a rare, vintage, and analog EMS Synthi 100), but the two albums are actually not all that different: a completed Sarah Davachi album always sounds languorous, gently hallucinatory, and elegantly minimal regardless of how it originally started.  In any case, the big draw here is the opening 20-minute epic "Gentle So Gentle," as it is easily one of Davachi's strongest and most beautifully sustained compositions to date.

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Jemh Circs

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This cryptically titled release is a new side project from Black to Comm’s Marc Richter, inaugurating his equally new Cellule 75 imprint.  In some ways, Jemh Circs is quite a radical departure for Richter, following the zeitgeist-grabbing footsteps of The Range by diving into the limitless pleasure garden of chopped-up and recontextualized YouTube samples.  Vintage Oval is yet another clear touchstone, as Richter aggressive obliterates his raw material into an obsessively skipping and looping fantasia.  Happily, however, the specter of Richter's own Black to Comm aesthetic drifts throughout all of these disorientingly kaleidoscopic experiments as well, intermittently resulting in passages of lush beauty and eerie disquietude.

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Radian, "On Dark Silent Off"

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It has been seven years since these Viennese avant-rock deconstructionists last surfaced with a proper full-length release, so I was not quite sure what to expect with this album, particularly since my interest in the "post-rock" milieu has since dwindled to almost zero.  Also, aside from a one-off collaboration with Giant Sand's Howe Gelb, On Dark Silent Off is the band's first album without founding member Stefan Németh.  As it turns out, any misgivings that I may have had about Radian's place in the current musical landscape were instantly erased, as the trio is every bit as unconventional, imaginative, quietly heavy, relevant, and singular as ever.

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Steve Hauschildt, "Strands"

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For some reason, I never fully appreciated Emeralds when they were around, but I think I am belatedly redressing that wrong with my interest in Steve Hauschildt’s quietly impressive and steadily evolving solo career.  Prior to Strands, I was most taken with his more "Kraftwerk' moments on 2012's Sequitur, but this latest release often feels like a gorgeous culmination of Hauschildt's artistry, eschewing almost all traces of Vangelis-inspired retro-futurist pastiche to weave a lush and languorous reverie inspired by both creation/destruction myths and the famously burning river of his own hometown of Cleveland.

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JG Thirlwell, "Imponderable OST"

cover imageI had absolutely no idea what to expect from Jim Thirlwell’s latest opus, as I am still a bit shell-shocked from the overwhelming maximalism of 2013’s Soak and all bets are off with soundtrack work.  Also, Tony Oursler's Imponderable is quite a bizarre film by any standards.  Appropriately, the soundtrack is quite bizarre as well, though it is considerably more understated, melodic, and tender than I had anticipated: Thirlwell's eerie, dark, and eclectic vision beautifully mirrors the film’s own noirish pulp-meets-hallucinatory experimentation aesthetic.  Both Oursler and Thirlwell definitely share a puckish appreciation for the nexus where garish "low" art collides with higher, more cerebral fare.  That said, Imponderable is still a soundtrack rather than an original new stand-alone Thirlwell album, so its appeal is very "niche."  Devout Thirlwell fans will definitely not want to miss it though, as it is quite a unique release that takes his aesthetic in some unusual and surprising directions.

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Benoît Pioulard, "The Benoit Pioulard Listening Matter"

cover imageUnlike most Benoît Pioulard enthusiasts, I connect most strongly with Thomas Meluch’s recent instrumental side, so I was a little bit heartbroken when he decided to end his recent hot streak in that regard with a return to more song-based work.  Personal preferences aside, however, Meluch's latest release is an intriguing and unusual one, as he seems to be simultaneously growing more ambitious with his arrangements and more abstract with his structures.  He also seems to be making a conscious effort to be a bit more upbeat and effervescent, albeit in his own muted way.  The overall result admittedly has a "transitional album" feel at times, but The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter definitely takes Meluch's "ambient pop" in a subtly more sun-dappled, blearily vaporous, and fragmented direction.

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Lustmord, "Dark Matter"

cover imageBrian Lustmord's latest opus, allegedly first begun 15 years ago, attempts to evoke the immense void and mystery of space using a host of cosmological recordings from NASA and others as his source material.  There are a number of serious hurdles standing in the way of that ambitious and quixotic objective, sadly, but Dark Matter boasts enough flashes of inspiration to make it an interesting and valiant struggle.  Though serious Lustmord fans will probably be delighted to hear Brian revisiting similar territory to his classic The Place Where the Black Stars Hang album, his epic vision is hobbled a bit by the limitations of the format.

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Lucifer, "Black Mass"

cover imageFirst issued in 1971 and out of print for over three and a half decades, Black Mass is the sole release from Canadian synth innovator Mort Garson under the Lucifer name. A fully electronic-based record, much of the album has a distinctly vintage sound to it, largely due to the electronic instrumentation that was still in its infancy. However, some moments shine through as truly innovative for the time, and with the resurgence of interest in modular synthesizers, it is the perfect time for it to be resurrected.

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Controlled Bleeding, "Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps"

cover imageIn the over three decades since he first began the project, Paul Lemos has guided Controlled Bleeding all over the sonic map, from the early power electronics days into 1980s industrial, and eventually jazz and prog tinged rock improvisations. It makes sense then that, for the first full length release of mostly new work since 2002 (releases since then have been either reissues or contained earlier work), he and his assembled crew of Chvad SB, Mike Bazini, and Anthony Meola have put together two albums of work that draws from all of these eras, and effortlessly manages to shift between periods of the band’s lengthy history at every turn.

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Will Long, "Long Trax"

cover imageAfter a number of years listening to Celer's slow, expansive take on ambient and drone sounds, I would have never expected Will Long to suddenly start making house music. But he has, in a series of three double 12" singles (and compiled into a double CD compilation), and it only takes a few minutes to realize that it is actually a very good combination. Even with the addition of drum machines, Long’s knack for creating warm, inviting spaces of electronic music is still vividly on display, and with some assistance from ambient legend Terre Thaemlitz (under the DJ Sprinkle guise), it may be heralding an entirely new direction in his work.

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4810 Hits

Dead Can Dance

album coverIn 1984, long before anyone's grandparents were only a few keystrokes away from obtaining every morsel of information, this non-descript album cover appeared in the shops. Nowhere on the record were there band member photos or names and roles, producer credits, or lyrics. It was a gamble to purchase a costly import record if you were located here in North America, especially without hearing it first, but most of those in-the-know would gladly take that risk. In this case, it certainly paid off.

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5894 Hits

Public Speaking, "Caress, Redact"

cover imageSome of Jason Anthony Harris' previous recordings as Public Speaking have flirted with more traditional song-like material, but would just as often end up being more in line abstract and chaotic world of noise. For this newest album, however, it seems as if he has settled more comfortably into the role of songwriter, and here, across these seven pieces, he creates a dark, at times very disturbing world presented as off-kilter, bizarre electronic pop.

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7473 Hits