Carl Stone, "Ganci & Figli" and "Au Jus/The Jugged Hare"

cover imageGiven how many years I have been actively chasing down unique and bizarre albums, it is mystifying how most of Carl Stone's oeuvre has eluded me thus far, though his recent albums have admittedly felt almost too experimental for me (and in a hyper-caffeinated way to boot). Sometimes, however, I finally hear the right song at the right time and everything clicks into place. In the case of Stone, that revelation came in the form of the Ganci & Figli EP, wherein he gleefully transforms some anthemic contemporary dance music samples into two very divergent and inventive collages. "Figli" in particular is fun and deliriously rapturous in a way that I almost never encounter in experimental music. The same is true of the even more eccentric "The Jugged Hare," which was released earlier in the year. While I am not sure if Stone has recently perfected this side of his art or if my own sensibility has finally shifted enough to embrace what he has been doing all along, this recent pair of singles feels like the work of man who is operating on an entirely different level than his peers, playfully cannibalizing pop culture to make high art that feels like a confetti bomb going off at an out-of-control dance party.

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GNOD and João Pais Filipe, "Faca de Fogo"

Cover of Faca De FogoGNOD has made a career —a lifestyle —as a creative collective of musicians that weave together rhythmic, trance-inducing psychedelia and cacophonous pandemonium, unafraid of experimentation across genres. For this release, they connected with Portuguese experimental percussionist João Pais Filipe after meeting up at the Milhoes de Festa event in Barcelos, Portugal. This resulting experiment, improvised over 3 days and recorded in four at João's metal shop, was originally intended to premiere at the (now-socially distanced) 2020 Supersonic Festival in Birmingham, England. Overflowing with meditative tribal percussion and ritual, shamanic musical mantras, these four lengthy tracks ride a rollercoaster of moody atmospherics, Kraut-driven psychedelia and industrial mechanization, and will take an already widened musical mind for a ride.

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Nicol Eltzroth Rosendorf, "Big Other"

cover image As Scratched Glass, Nicol Eltzroth Rosendorf (alongside Jon Lukens) has released two stripped down tapes riddled with obscure sounds and intricate, nuanced production. Minimal, yet rich; dark, yet inviting, they were a study in contrasts and contradictions. For Big Other, he not only has opted for the vinyl format, but also working under his own name. Indicative of change, the record is certainly a different sounding one based on his previous work. With the integration of rhythms and the vocal contributions of Jarboe, but still featuring just the right amount of abstraction, the final product feels like the natural evolution of a composer/producer who had already set a high water mark before, but continues to push ahead.

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Esplendor Geométrico, "Cinética"

cover imageI am not sure which is more remarkable: the fact that these iconic industrialists are currently celebrating their 40th anniversary or the fact that they somehow seem to be getting even better in recent years. Aside from Legendary Pink Dots or Swans, I am hard-pressed to think of any other band that has had such an impressive renaissance after their supposed heyday and this particular case is all the more remarkable since Arturo Lanz has remained so single-mindedly focused on pursuing the same narrow stylistic niche all along. Given that consistency, it is no surprise that Cinética is yet another feast of pummeling industrial-strength percussion loops featuring a yet another handful of alternately propulsive and crushing highlights. However, I was surprised at how this latest batch of rhythmic assaults occasionally transcends the duo's "industrial dance" aesthetic to approach a sort of trance-inducing strain of heavy psych.

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Tengger, "Nomad"

Cover of Tengger - NomadMartial artist, philosopher and actor Bruce Lee famously stated "Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend." Lee’s words were not merely pretty poetry, he lived them. Tengger are pan-Asian duo Itta and Marqido with their young son RAAI, and like Lee, Tengger craft their music in the same way they live their lives: with intention. They have built their principals—and fan following—after many years touring and living on the road, recording their music surrounded by unfamiliar cultures and environments. Self-described as EPT (Electronic Psychedelic Traveller) music, their name translates to "borderless sky beyond description" in Mongolian, and their music paints landscapes in the mind. Nomad is no exception to this rule, and their latest brings their philosophy, their music, and their moniker to a majestic head, offering an album of journey and movement that encourages flowing around the claustrophobia and confinement of 2020.

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Pauline Oliveros and Alan Courtis, "Telematic Concert"

Luminary Pauline Oliveros passed away in 2016, her career spanned fifty years of boundary-dissolving music making. This previously unreleased concert recorded in 2009 has been unearthed for release on Spleencoffin in 2020. Here she plays her accordion and her expanded instrument system along with collaborator Alan Courtis on unstringed guitar and fx.

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Severed Heads, "Clean"

cover imageI have been a Severed Heads fan for more than twenty years now, yet I somehow never got around to investigating this early album until it was reissued earlier this year. I would like to blame poor distribution, as this album has essentially only been self-released up until now, but I definitely snapped up several other rare albums when Tom Ellard started reissuing them as self-released CD-Rs in the early 2000s. I suspect I was just insufficiently skeptical of the widespread belief that Ellard's golden age began with 1983's Since the Accident. I should have known better, as Clean was the last album to involve founding member Richard Fielding at all (Fielding later went on to found the similarly wonderful The Loop Orchestra). For the most part, however, Clean was almost entirely Ellard's show and it illustrates that he was already in his prime as a gleefully mischievous and eccentric loop-mangler as far back as 1980 or 1981. Admittedly, Ellard did not start indulging his poppier instincts in earnest for a few more years, but Clean is playful, fun, and idiosyncratic enough to hold up just fine without them.

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Inventions, "Continuous Portrait" is the project of Eluvium's Matthew Robert Cooper and Explosions in the Sky's Mark T. Smith, however these instrumentals on Continuous Portrait are less dramatic than either project. This is music that would be appropriate filling a sun kissed atrium, like Grand Central Station at dawn. It ticks along at a brisk pace, with some structure borrowed from rock music, and embellishments of vocal and bird samples, strings, reeds, xylophone, and the pleasantly unidentifiable.

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Tom James Scott, "Mine is the Heron"

cover imageI wish I was more familiar with Tom James Scott's work, as he is an artist that has an uncanny knack for unexpectedly turning up in my life again and again. I believe I first encountered him during Bo'Weavil's heyday and then again as an erstwhile member of Liberez, but I know him best as a semi-regular Andrew Chalk collaborator. And—much like Chalk—Scott tends to keep a very low profile, quietly releasing his last several solo albums on his own Skire imprint. Consequently, this latest release is a noteworthy event, as it marks his stateside debut on Students of Decay. Given both SOD's aesthetic and Scott's past, it is no surprise that Mine is the Heron hews very close to Chalk's own understated minimalism (they do have a shared vision, after all). Nevertheless, Scott's solo aesthetic is still quite a distinctive one, as Heron is a gorgeous and melodic suite of elegant piano miniatures and blurrily sublime meditations. It is also a very intimate and diaristic-sounding album, as it feels like a collection of spontaneously improvised flashes of inspiration edited by someone with absolutely unerring instincts for capturing simple, fleeting moments of beauty.

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Joseph Allred, "The True Light" string maestro Joseph Allred quietly releases, on average, around three or four albums a year, a catalog consisting of mostly instrumental works with vocals on an occasional song. This set of instrumentals consists of five examples of technical fingerpick showmanship that surrounds listeners with an outpouring of emotive musical warmth, wordless stories that communicate straight to the soul.

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Jonn Gauntletier, "Horrorpop"

cover image From a quick glance at the cover of this album, it would seem that Jonn Gauntletier (half of Pass/ages and a third of the defunct Ars Phoenix) had delved in the world of power electronics. The blown out, high contrast pic of him (in color on the CD version), mic in hand, leaning over a table of electronic gear gives off these vibes, but that is completely incorrect. Instead, the title Horrorpop is the true indicator, being an album of songs that blur the lines between horror movie ambience/soundtrack and straight ahead synth pop. Considering how well he navigates the two genres without falling into cliché (I would not describe any of these as being "synthwave" nor blatant John Carpenter emulation), the final product is one of excellent depth and complexity, but propelled by infectious rhythms and brilliant melodies.

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Aki Onda, "Nam June's Spirit Was Speaking To Me"

cover imageExplicitly paying homage to a titan of the 20th century avant-garde is always a risky undertaking, as it unavoidably invites daunting expectations and often unflattering comparisons. Occasionally, however, an artist will come up with a suitably ingenious and radical angle and something new emerges that is every bit as intriguing as its original inspiration. Happily, Aki Onda's first release for Recital Program is one of those rare revelations, as it documents a series of "séances" in which Nam June Paik's spirit may or may not have crept into a series of radio transmissions. While I am personally quite skeptical about supernatural matters, enigmatically manipulating and haunting the airwaves from beyond the grave does seem like something Paik would absolutely do if he had the chance. That said, Nam June's Spirit Was Speaking To Me is an endearingly bizarre album regardless of whether or not the spirit world was involved, transforming distortion and interference into hallucinatory noisescapes that feel like the bridge between the darkness of early industrial music and the gleeful experimentalism of the LAFMS.

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Roly Porter, "Kistvaen"

cover imageAs far as I am concerned, any new release from Roly Porter is a noteworthy event, as he is absolutely not an artist who does anything by half measures. From his bold conceptual themes right down to every single aspect of sound design, each Porter full-length is a masterfully crafted and viscerally heavy statement unlike anything else. For this latest opus, Porter drew inspiration from the ancient burial tombs scattered across the moorlands of southwestern England, envisioning them as a sort of "mirror, or gate in time." In keeping with that fluid vision of time, Kistvaen achieves a distinctive marriage of timeless folk music traditions and cutting-edge production wizardry. While Porter occasionally errs too much on the side of portentous ambient gloom for my liking, Kistvaen reaches some rapturously sublime heights when he focuses on chopping and manipulating the vocals of his talented collaborators.

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Noveller, "Arrow" is guitarist and filmmaker Sarah Lipstate, and with this, her ninth studio album, I humbly bestow on her the title "Brian Eno on six strings." Recorded and mixed in her Moon Canyon studio with the rolling expanse of Los Angeles canyons as her vista, her latest marks a shift in mood and sound from her prior release, A Pink Sunset for No One, which was crafted amidst the bustling urban landscape of Brooklyn, New York. Her relocation from east to west coast and new environment have impacted her musical experiments. Pink offered majestic, shimmering, psychedelic landscapes coated in drone and dark synth-wave. Arrow commands an ethereal, awe-inspiring, and expansive terrain awash in swells of cinematic guitar effects that function as mini symphonies. The darkness of her prior work is still apparent, but more evenly blended throughout.

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AF Jones, "A Jurist For Nothing"

cover image As a former electronics specialist aboard a naval submarine and currently an audio engineer at his own Laminal Audio studio, AF Jones is clearly well versed in the world of sound design and audio processing. This becomes abundantly clear on A Jurist For Nothing given its nuance and production. Various electronic sounds and heavily processed field recordings are of course no surprise given the genre, but the subtle way in which Jones blends in conventional instrumentation, culminating in a Townes Van Zandt cover, is what makes this record most unique.

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Ellen Fullman, "In The Sea" Fullman's drones are as massive as the custom instruments that she creates this tremendous music on. She is known for her 70-foot Long String instrument, tuned in just intonation and played with rosin-coated fingers. At first listen, it's a monolithic block of sound, stretching out into seeming infinity. But on closer inspection, there are many subtleties of pitch, dynamics, and surround sound that captivate and maintain interest.

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Fitted, "First Fits" are Mike Watt (The Minutemen, fIREHOSE, many others), Graham Lewis and Matthew Simms of Wire, and Bob Lee (The Freeks, The Black Gang, Fearless Leader). The names Watt and Lewis should make most music aficionados run for their wallet, but the first album from this supergroup was released with little fanfare. Imagine tossing together the punk of The Minutemen and Wire’s experimentalism, alternately fronted by Lewis’ resigned, wavering vocals and Watt’s staccato uttering. The two legendary bassists provide an onslaught of heaviness, broken by the psychedelic guitar swirls of Simms and Lee’s bright drum beats, and then drive everything home founded on years of musicianship from four practiced musicians.

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Racine, "Quelque Chose Tombe" uses billowing, amorphous sound as a backdrop for melodic improvisations of various instruments, both acoustic and digitally manipulated. Their creations are pop song length instrumentals that meander, peak, and decay in a highly dynamic, tightly packed box. Surprises abound for those who listen patiently, and moments of the sublime cut through like a glade in a forest.

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DusterIn late 2019, multi-instrumentalists Clay Parton, Canaan Dove Amber, and Jason Albertini, AKA Duster, quietly announced their first release in 19 years would be available in December. The band have never been a household name—despite being a long-standing influence on indie bands across an array of genres such as slowcore, space-rock, lo-fi, or post-rock—but with this release it is a great time to get acquainted. The same core formula of keeping it simple is still here: as stated by Parton, they try to strip out as much as possible while conveying the same underlying sentiment. However, the 2019 formula leaves Duster changed. If the band were slotted into the slowcore genre before, then this release takes the genre to new breaking points. This is a great thing, because like a rubber band stretched to maximum tension, the backlash from letting go is going to be powerful, but sting on contact. The experience is worth it.

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TALsounds, "Acquiesce"

cover imageIt has been three years since Natalie Chami’s last solo album (2017’s dreamlike and seductive Love Sick) and quite a lot has changed in her life since then. Given that this project is essentially a very intimate and abstractly diaristic one, that passing of time has unsurprisingly led to significant (if subtle) transformations in the tone of Chami's vision. Thankfully, her genius for soulful, sensuous, and blearily hallucinatory pop-like improvisations remains wonderfully intact, but Acquiesce feels more like a series of languorous, meditative reveries than it does an emotionally smoldering R&B-inspired break-up album. Admittedly, the collision of that latter aesthetic with Chami's artier, more experimental side was a large part of what made Love Sick such a great and unique album, but her emotional directness, natural fluidity, and strong melodic intuition are every bit as evident and effective as they were 2017. While Acquiesce does not quite rise to the same level as its predecessor as a whole, its handful of highlights are easily as gorgeous as any of Chami's previous work.

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