Radian, "Distorted Rooms"

Distorted RoomsIt has somehow been seven years since this long-running Vienna trio last surfaced with 2016's stellar On Dark Silent Off, but they seem to have spent that time diligently dreaming up innovative new ways to be amazing. In a general sense, Radian's vision is not a far cry from the austere, jazz-adjacent post-rock of their celebrated labelmates Tortoise. The magic of Radian, however, lies in the band's singular attention to detail and their quixotic compulsion to continually turn sounds upside-down in imaginative feats of dynamic sorcery. The overall effect is akin to that of dub techno being made by an incredibly tight live band, but the live aspect is quite illusory, as Distorted Rooms presumably sounds almost nothing like what the band originally recorded (in fact, the band themself note that one piece "eliminates nearly all traces of the original performance"). While many of the sounds do remain present in one form or another, Radian revels in celebrating and amplifying the barely audible and non-musical bits while also eliminating or burying the louder, more traditional "rock" tropes like chords and melodies. Obviously, The Dead C have made a fine career out of similarly deconstructing and inverting rock music, but Radian are the gleaming, precision-engineered opposite of Dead C's own shambling, spontaneous, and blown-out vision.

Thrill Jockey

The opening "Cold Suns" was also the album's first single, but it is unclear if it was chosen because the band believed it to be one of the most perfect distillations of their vision or if they merely thought it was one of the album's more immediately gratifying pieces. I suspect the reason may be the latter, as the album's second single "Skyskryp12" features a similar level of comparatively heightened drama. For the most part, however, "Cold Suns" offers a fairly representative first impression of Radian's current direction: gently stuttering loops, killer drumming, and a remarkably minimalist palette of guitar sounds. Unlike many other songs on the album, however, it eventually coheres into a brooding and tense chord progression, which lands the piece in somewhere near the post-punk revivalism of Moin (at least until the bottom drops out for a lengthy outro of distorted vocals, smoldering distortion, whimpering synth quivers, and broken, skeletal drums). "Skyskryp12" has a roughly similar aesthetic, but with one key difference: after it collapses upon itself, it kicks back into gear and builds towards a darkly cinematic crescendo. While both pieces are admittedly enjoyable and satisfying, however, the album's strongest pieces tend to be the ones with a bit of a lighter touch.

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1652 Hits

Colleen, "Le jour et la nuit du réel"

Le jour et la nuit du réelAs someone who has loved Cécile Schott's work since 2003's Everyone Alive Wants Answers, I have long been fascinated by the various twists and turns that her vision has undergone over the years. While there have certainly been stretches in which she has lingered upon a vision for more than one album, Schott's creative restlessness invariably steers her into adventurous and unfamiliar territory eventually. As a result, Colleen's small discography is divided into an impressive number of distinct phases (the sample-driven collage era, the viola da gamba years, the synthesizer years, etc.). In a general sense, this latest full-length (her ninth) is a continuation her recent synthesizer phase, but it is also a significant break from her previous work in that vein: Le jour et la nuit du réel is seven-suite double album of minimalist vignettes exploring how a motif can be significantly transformed through the manipulation of synthesizer settings alone. Given the fundamental constraints of that vision, the album admittedly feels a bit less substantial than several of Colleen's previous releases, but connoisseurs of nuance and elegant simplicity will find much to love.

Thrill Jockey

The album's title translates as "The day and the night of reality," which is a nod to both the album's structure and its primary inspiration. The "reality" bit is a reference to how "subtle or radical" changes to synth settings can completely transform how the same melodic phrase is perceived by the listener, which Schott likens to how new information can transform our feelings about a person or situation (i.e. our perception of reality). In keeping with that theme of transformation, the album is divided into "day" and "night" LPs and the first LP concludes with a suite entitled ""Be without being seen," which is intended to function as a "twilight transition zone." According to Schott, the "day" pieces feature "more friction, tension, and abrasive timbres" in order to channel the "invigoration of daylight," while the "night" pieces feature "slower, more melancholy textures and longer trails of delay." Being a longtime fan of both melancholy and trails of delay, I personally prefer the album's second half, but both sides of the album share a hell of a lot more common ground than they do differences: every single piece on the album is essentially a simple melody unspooling over a shifting bed of arpeggios. Schott's gear was similarly stripped down, as the entire album was recorded analog-style with just a Moog Grandmother synth and two delays (Roland RE-201 Space Echo and "her trusted Moogerfooger Analog Delay") and "no additional digital production." Interestingly, this album is the first entirely instrumental album that Schott has recorded in well over a decade, but it began its life as an "an album of songs with lyrics in the style of her previous album," so Schott's muse definitely led her quite far from where she originally intended to go (and I suspect this new vision must have been considerably more challenging to realize than what she originally had planned).

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2471 Hits

Nicol Eltzroth Rosendorf, "Internal Return"

Internal ReturnI enjoyed Nicol Eltzroth Rosendorf's gnarled, doom-soaked debut Big Other (2020) quite a bit, but I enjoyed it in a casual way and failed to truly grasp the full extent of his singular and ambitious vision. While that situation has thankfully been remedied by this latest opus, the music of Internal Return is just one piece of a much larger and more complex ambition that incorporates Jewish tradition, artificial intelligence, video art, and a uniquely disturbing visual aesthetic that resembles a vivid sci-fi nightmare that blurs together several dystopian cinematic futures at once. Curiously, when taken by itself, the music of Internal Return is more elusive and ambiguous than its more crushing and epic predecessor. When combined with Rosendorf's AI-created videos, however, Internal Return transforms into a viscerally unsettling mindfuck that will probably haunt me for weeks. As Rosendorf himself puts it: "It is not a comfortable place to be in, at least not exactly; like being adrift in an imageless dream, it produces monsters of a kind that, once they are receding into memory, we get the sense they were not actually terrifying, just... strange." Hopefully, those monsters will recede into memory for me soon, as I am still very much lingering in the "terrified" stage for now.

Negative Capability Editions

As was the case with Big Other, Rosendorf enlisted an eclectic array of talented guests to help him realize his vision and Tzadik/Davka alum Daniel Hoffman kicks off the album with a fiery klezmer-informed violin solo over a roiling bed of doom-inspired drones. As Rosendorf sees it, Hoffman's violin acts as "a furious, yet frail guiding voice in a void" while "the music treads a path that you cannot follow, one that arbitrarily narrows down, twists and turns whenever you're certain you have it right." He also compares the underlying music to a series of depth charges and "an apocalypse in miniature," which sounds about right to me. Without the accompanying videos, Internal Return feels like being trapped in a crumbling and haunted fun house: it approximates a labyrinth of darkly surreal scenes that feel more like fleeting, enigmatic impressions than compositions with a deliberate dynamic arc or cathartic payoff. There is one exception, however, as the album's smoldering final drone epic ("Immer Besser") tags in Liturgy drummer Greg Fox for a ferociously volcanic crescendo of sludgy doom metal chords and machine-like blast beats. That piece is the closest thing that Internal Return has to a single, as the remaining pieces are too deconstructed to make a deep impact outside their intended context (musically, at least).

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2260 Hits

Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt, "Play at Duke"

Play at DukeThese two singular artists have been fitfully playing together for roughly a decade now and they have released a number of albums documenting their incredible duo performances. Notably, their most recent union was for 2021's absolutely killer Made Out of Sound album, but that one was a bit of an aberration for the duo, as it was a studio creation crafted remotely. Happily, Play at Duke captures the pair back together on stage where they belong. The stage in question was unsurprisingly at Duke University, but the album's prosaic title omits a rather significant detail: the performance in question closed out Three Lobed Recording's 21st anniversary festival in appropriately riveting fashion. While both artists rank among my favorite musicians and have truly incredible chemistry as an improv unit, some performances are undeniably better than others and Play at Duke feels like an especially inspired night to me. Moreover, Orcutt and Corsano make a virtue of brevity as well, as there is not a single wasted note or even a hint of a lull in this 25-minute tour de force.

Palilalia

The performance feels like an unusually joyous one right from its first rolling toms and major chords, which makes sense given that the performance was the culmination of a three-day festival in which Orcutt and Corsano were surrounded by great music, a host of their peers, and a sizable audience of receptive fans waiting to be properly blown away. It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment in which I was blown away myself upon hearing the album, but I am confident that it occurred some time during first of the performance's three sections, as the duo quickly strain toward the transcendent and ecstatic (Orcutt's wordless vocal howls tend to be a fairly reliable indicator that a particularly incendiary performance is underway). Naturally, there are plenty of killer licks and technically dazzling drum fills throughout the album, but the true beauty lies less in what Corsano and Orcutt play than it does in how they play it, how they interact with each other, and how they feed off the volatile spontaneity of live improvisation.

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2265 Hits

Natural Wonder Beauty Concept

Natural Wonder Beauty Concept While I am a fan of both DJ Python (Brian Piñeyro) and Ana Roxanne, a collaboration between the two is not something that I would have ever foreseen happening due to the substantial gulf between their styles. Unusual circumstances can lead to unexpected places, however, and the two mutual admirers found themselves both adrift and living in NYC in 2020 ("well-loved albums aside, no one was playing shows, and a general listlessness and disconnection prevailed"). As a result, the two finally met in person and soon began working on new music together ("studio experimentation was the instinctive extension of a friendship finding its feet"). Before they could finish an album, however, circumstances changed again and Piñeyro returned to the European club scene, while Roxanne toured the world and moved back to California.

Mexican Summer

Fortunately, the pair were still able to meet up occasionally and eventually had enough material to convene in Los Angeles and Brooklyn to finish an album. Given the pedigree of those involved, it is no surprise that Natural Wonder Beauty Concept is a compelling project, but it takes some unexpected directions: while Piñeyro's recent collaboration with Ela Minus resulted in a poppier strain of DJ Python's "deep reggaeton," Roxanne's influence often steers Piñeyro's beats in a more vaporous and ambient-inspired direction.

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1924 Hits

"When the Frog from the Well Sees the Ocean (Reports from English UFOlklore)"

When the Frog from the Well Sees the Ocean (Reports from English UFOlklore)This latest collection from Folklore Tapes borrows its title from a Japanese proverb about knowing one's limitations ("the frog in the well knows nothing of the sea"), which was itself borrowed from a Chinese fable. In the context of an album devoted to UFO lore, of course, humans are the frogs, the infinite universe is the ocean, and the usual eclectic Folklore Tapes cast of characters gleefully devote themselves to celebrating the colorful hoaxes and stories of their countrymen who claim to have experienced a visit from extraterrestrial life. While alien visitations are admittedly a bit outside the usual realm of Folklore Tapes' research, I would be hard pressed to think of a roster of artists better suited to tackle the topic, as just about everyone involved brings a freewheeling playfulness to the theme and surprises abound. This is yet another characteristically brilliant and inspired compilation from the inimitable Folklore Tapes. Hell, it might even be their best yet.

Folklore Tapes

As is the case with most major Folklore Tapes releases, this collection exists only in physical form, as music and scholarship are eternally intertwined for the label (the LP includes quite a comprehensive essay by Jez Winship, as well as artist notes about stories that inspired their individual pieces). Also as expected, the album's contributors are a welcome murderers' row of names that will likely be familiar only to those who have delved into previous Folklore Tapes collections. That said, the album does include a killer (if brief) new piece from Dean McPhee ("The Second Message") that is predictably an album highlight. Unsurprisingly, I am predisposed to enjoy just about everything he releases, but "The Second Message" is doubly enjoyable for being something of an aberration, as McPhee's usual sustain-heavy melodicism is beautifully enhanced by a gorgeous descending chord motif and an unexpectedly wild and psychotropic finale. I was also thoroughly delighted by the trio of Carl Turney, Brian Campbell & Peter Smyth, as "July Aitee" is a perfectly distilled swirl of groovy, synth-driven dreampop magic (as well as a healthy bit of howling chaos).

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2112 Hits

Klara Lewis and Nik Colk Void, "Full-On"

Full-On As Alter's album description insightfully observes, a collaboration between these two Editions Mego alumnae "somehow seemed inevitable," yet I was still pleasantly surprised at how seamlessly Lewis and Void were able to combine their visions into something that feels both new and wonderful. On one level, the success of this union makes perfect sense, as both artists tend to turn out some of their strongest work in collaborative situations (Carter Tutti Void and Lewis's KLMNOPQ EP with Peder Mannerfelt being prime examples of that phenomenon). However, both artists excel in extremely specific realms that have some limitations: Lewis is exceptionally good at collaging non-musical sounds, while Void seems particularly adept at crafting eccentric noise-damaged techno.

Alter

Obviously, beat-driven sound collages were a distinct possibility, but so were any number of other options, so I had no clear expectations about where this shared vision would ultimately land. Now that said shared vision has landed, however, I can confidently state that Full-On resembles a deeply unconventional beat tape and quite a good one at that. While I suspect some listeners will initially find the album's kaleidoscopic parade of brief loops and vignettes exasperatingly sketchlike (there are a lot of 1-minute songs), I personally warmed to Full-On almost immediately, as practically every piece that made it onto the album is compelling, inventive, and endearingly idiosyncratic.

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1995 Hits

Caterina Barbieri, "Myuthafoo"

MyuthafooThis latest album from Barbieri is intended as a sister album to 2019's landmark Ecstatic Computation and has been released to correspond with the imminent reissue of the latter. The central difference between the two albums is that Myuthafoo gradually and organically took shape during Barbieri's extensive touring, as the "nomadic, interactive energy" of those many live dates inspired her to play with experimental variations in her process each night. More specifically, she would program patterns into her sequencer, then feed them into her "arsenal of noise generators" to explore different combinations and the most compelling results were set aside for future expansion and/or eventual release.

light-years

In characteristically cerebral fashion, Barbieri's arcane processes have their roots in cosmogony, as she is fascinated with how a small number of limited options can "branch out into a much larger structure, eventually reaching towards an open-ended cosmos of possibility." Admittedly, comparing Myuthafoo to the birth of a universe will probably establish unreasonably high expectations for some listeners, but they can at least console themselves with yet another killer Caterina Barbieri album while they patiently wait for a new and better universe to form.

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1721 Hits

Big Blood, "First Aid Kit"

First Aid KitThis latest LP from Big Blood is their first for Ba Da Bing and a spiritual successor of sorts to Do You Want to Have a Skeleton Dream?, as the band are back in "full family trio retro-pop extravaganza" mode. For the most part, Quinnissa (who was apparently only 13 when this album was recorded) handles the lead vocals for a series of hooky, bass-driven garage rock nuggets, though there are also a couple of headier Colleen-sung gems for fans of the band's darker, more psychedelic side. Notably, Caleb's frayed yelp is entirely absent from the proceedings, but it probably would have felt out of place among the unabashed throwback pop fare. Moreover, First Aid Kit feels like a full-on Quinnissa showcase, which makes for a rather unique entry in the Big Blood canon, as she is one hell of a belter and also spontaneously improvised all her lyrics during recordings. As Caleb notes in the album description, being in a band with your teenage daughter is admittedly something of a messy and volatile situation ("lots of practices end with her being tossed from the band"), but I can see why they are sticking with this format, as Quinnissa increasingly feels like a pop supernova in its formative stages.

Ba Da Bing/Feeding Tube

This album's overall feel is something akin to a raucous wedding reception in which members of The Cramps and B-52's join forces for a spirited and spontaneous set of half-remembered '60s bubblegum pop covers. The opening "In My Head" represents that vein in its purest form, as it is built from little more than a meaty bass line, a simple thumping beat, and a subtly surf-damaged guitar tone. The most perfect iteration of that aesthetic comes much later on the album, as "1000 Times" feels like a raw and raucous cover of an imagined classic by someone like The Ronettes. Elsewhere, the dark paranoia of "Never Ending Nightmare" is yet another notable Quinnissa showcase, though its unsettling subject matter is nicely invigorated by a bouncy bassline, quirky percussion, and a killer chorus hook. Quinnissa also handles lead vocals on "Infinite Space," but that piece feels like a comparative anomaly more akin to Big Blood's non-Quinnissa fare. It still feels a bit unusually anthemic and driving for a Big Blood song, but reaching infinitely to space is a more traditional lyrical theme for the band and there are some very cool howling psych touches in the periphery. Admittedly, a lot of Quinnissa's lyrics sound like they were composed by a 13-year-old, but as the album's description insightfully observes, "teenage impulses fit right in with the band's intent, which is making music that's honest, inclusive and flawed." To their everlasting credit, Big Blood seem to be endlessly resourceful in their balancing of flawed spontaneity and thoughtful art, as Mulkerin harvests "the ghostly presence of past takes" as a subtly trippy background layer throughout the album.

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1617 Hits

Wolf Eyes, "Dreams In Splattered Lines"

Dreams In Splattered LinesThis latest LP from Wolf Eyes is something of a major release for the duo, as they are currently celebrating their 25th year with "their first widely-distributed non-compilation album in six years." Fittingly, Dreams In Splattered Lines is one of the project's most compelling and sophisticated albums to date, which is likely the result of some recent developments that would have seemed absolutely unimaginable when the project first began (collaborating with a Pulitzer Prize winner, a viral video for a fashion company, sharing stages with jazz titans, a residency at The New York Public Library, etc.). The library residency in particular played an especially large role in shaping this album, as the duo built a number of new instruments while they were there and also spent a lot of time absorbing the Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Of course, the truly interesting bit is how inventively Nate Young and John Olson assimilated all their new ideas, as well as the fact that their more high art/avant-garde influences amusingly collide with a newfound fascination with how "hit songs" work. While Wolf Eyes have sporadically dazzled me over the years as a cool noise band, Dreams In Splattered Lines feels like the album where they have arguably become the spiritual heirs to Throbbing Gristle in channeling the best ideas of the 20th century avant-garde into a zeitgeist-capturing mirror of the times (a post-hope world of crumbling institutions and widespread alienation).

Disciples

The album is billed as "a surreal dreamscape of disorienting sound collages, where hit songs are transformed into terrariums of sonic flora and decimated fauna," which is a considerably more elegant description than my own "a masterfully choreographed ballet of shit." The album itself is not shit, of course, but the sounds themselves are quite a cavalcade of rotten, shambling, broken, strangled, and ugly sounds conjured from inventively misused gear. The opening "Car Wash Two" is an especially illustrative example of the latter, as it "includes a Short Hands track playing on the car radio while waves of white noise and contact microphones are plunging into water buckets." That trick was then coupled with an added "meta" twist: the recording was then "played in a car while going through an actual car wash" before it was ultimately layered and mixed in the studio. Notably, that piece is singled out as an example of the duo's new "hit single" mindset, but that trait is only evident in an oblique way that involves terrariums. More immediately graspable, however, is the fact that almost every song on the album is distilled to a punchy two- or three-minute running time. On the lesser pieces, it can sometimes feel like a song is over before it gets a chance to make a deep impression, but the stronger pieces tend to regularly attain "all killer, no filler" nirvana.

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2696 Hits

My Cat Is An Alien, "Spiritual Noise — RINASCIMENTO"

Spiritual Noise — RINASCIMENTOThe latest ambitious durational epic from the Opalio brothers is thankfully not nearly as daunting as its 15-disc physical form suggests, as RINASCIMENTO ("Renaissance") is composed of 15 movements of varying lengths ranging from 5 to 40 minutes. The reasoning behind the unusual format is arguably twofold, as the Opalios' belief that "each sound claims its own space" is extended to dedicate a full disc to each movement and listeners are invited to "subvert the order" to make use of "random/chance operation à la Cage." There is an additional piece to the puzzle as well, however, as the handcrafted box and CD-R format were deliberately chosen as a return to MCIAA's "radical DIY" origins and as a pointed commentary on underground music's current maddening dependence on vinyl pressing plants and predatory corporations. Unsurprisingly, the primary appeal of RINASCIMENTO is the same as that of every other multi-hour MCIAA tour de force: it is a sustained and mind-altering plunge into otherworldly psychedelia that abandons nearly all earthbound notions of harmony, melody, structure, and instrumentation (and that is not an exaggeration). While the brothers' sonic palette will be a familiar one for longtime MCIAA fans (being a two-person real-time "spontaneous composition" project has some limitations), RINASCIMENTO is nevertheless one hell of a statement, as it collects the duo's most revelatory flashes of inspiration from an entire year of recordings (several of which capture the duo in peak longform form).

Elliptical Noise

The first movement of this 5 ½ hour epic is a deceptively brief and harsh one, as a miasma of tape hiss, whines, and jangling metal sounds call to mind someone slowly dragging a mass of metal cans ("just married!") around a burst pipe in a queasy swirl of alien harmonies and gibbering electronics. In theory, the fifteenth and final movement (smoldering feedback slowly streaking over thumping ritualistic percussion amidst a fog of cooing voices) is not radically different from that opening piece, but it certainly FEELS very different when it eventually comes because it is impossible to listen to 5+ hours of MCIAA without feeling like one's mind has been fundamentally transformed in some way by the sustained plunge into the Opalio's smeared, unnerving, and otherworldly vision. That said, some of the longer movements can achieve a similar effect in drastically reduced time on their own.

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1646 Hits

UCC Harlo, "Topos"

ToposThis is the second solo album from NYC-based violist/composer/musicologist Annie Garlid and it borrows its name from the Greek word for "place." Notably, Garlid moved back to the US in 2018 after spending a decade in Europe (playing viola in a German opera orchestra, among other things) and that return to her home country unsurprisingly stirred up some deep and unfamiliar thoughts and feelings. Those ruminations directly inspired Topos conceptually, as the album is a meditation on the "simultaneous familiarity and foreignness" of Garlid's surroundings and her entanglement "with a place that was both in her memory and in front of her eyes." Regardless of its inspirations, Topos is a very different (and stronger) album than its predecessor United, as Garlid's medieval and baroque influences are newly downplayed in favor of a more sensuous, hallucinatory, and vocal-centric vision. While that transformation makes a lot of sense given Garlid's work with artists like Caterina Barbieri, Holly Herndon, Emptyset, and ASMR artist Claire Tolan, her assimilation of those disparate influences is impressively seamless and inventive, as Topos feels like the blossoming of a compelling and distinctive new vision.

Subtext Recordings

The five pieces that compose Topos cover an unexpectedly expansive stylistic territory, as each individual piece takes a very different path than the other four. For example, the opening "Riverbeds" is not a far cry from Laura Cannell's sublime art-folk, as string drones sensuously rub up against one another beneath hushed, spoken vocals. It is a fine piece, but the two that follow are the ones where Garlid's vision truly catches fire.

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1674 Hits

Oval, "Romantiq"

RomantiqThis latest album from Markus Popp marks yet another intriguing stylistic detour for his endlessly shapeshifting Oval project, as he delves into "an omnipresent and yet oft ill-defined, even maligned area of music and art–the romantic." The idea for this album first began as a multimedia collaboration with digital artist Robert Seidel intended for the grand opening of Frankfurt's German Romantic Museum, but the endeavor soon evolved and expanded beyond the original purpose, as the two artists "sought a more expansive definition of 'romantic,' extending outward from the museum's comprehensive survey of the 19th-century epoch in art." That said, I suspect only Popp knows how influences from literature, architecture, and visual art helped shape the album, as my ears can only process the final destination and not the journey. In the case of Romantiq, that destination feels like a series of brief vignettes/miniatures assembled from period instrumentation and filtered through Popp's fragmented and idiosyncratic vision. Given that this is an Oval album, of course, very few of the 19th-century sounds are instantly recognizable as such (aside from some occasional piano), but Popp's kaleidoscopic and deconstructed homage to the past is a characteristically compelling and intriguingly unique outlier in the Oval canon (and it is often a textural marvel as well).

Thrill Jockey

The album's description promises a perfume-like experience ("rich scents flooding the senses before evaporating on the breeze"), which feels weirdly apt, as most of the pieces feel like a fleeting impression of something beautiful rather than an intentionally substantial experience (though the album itself is a substantial whole). That approach makes sense given the album's origins as just one part of a larger installation, yet these pieces do not feel like they are missing anything—they simply feel purposely ephemeral, elusive, and impressionistic. In more concrete terms, many of the pieces sound like a music box made of crystal that has been modified to make its simple melodies unpredictably stammer, smear, and flicker. While that is an admittedly cool baseline aesthetic, the stronger pieces on the album tend to be the ones that enhance that foundation with some kind of inspired addition. For example, the opening "Zauberwort" features both a trombone and a recording of an opera singer unrecognizably "atomized into smoke trails."

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1976 Hits

Lucy Liyou, "Dog Dreams (​개​꿈​)"

Dog DreamsThis latest full-length from Lucy Liyou is described as a "rumination on the double-sidedness of trauma and love." The title is a Korean idiom with multiple meanings ("could mean anything from fanciful daydreams to nightmarish terrors") and was chosen very deliberately, as Liyou is fascinated by what our dream lives say about us and our subconscious desires. Interestingly, Dog Dreams is billed as only Liyou's second album (she is quite a prolific artist), but apparently everything other than 2020's Welfare is considered either an EP or a collaboration. In some ways, Dog Dreams feels like a logical evolution from that debut, but I was surprised to find that Liyou moved away from her text-to-speech narratives, as I previously thought that element was absolutely central to her aesthetic. In their place, however, are elusive Robert Ashley-esque dialogues of murmuring voices hovering at the edge of intelligibility. While I expected to miss the playfully dark humor of those robotic voices quite a lot (I found them very endearing), the newly tender and human voices fit the dreamlike beauty of Dog Dreams' three sound collages quite nicely.

American Dreams

Unsurprisingly, Dog Dreams has its roots in Liyou's own recurring dreams, but it is also a dialogue of sorts with co-producer Nick Zanca, as the two artists first worked on the album separately before convening in Zanca's studio to shape the final version. The opening title piece provides a fairly representative introduction to the album, as a melange of faint pops, hisses, and crackles slowly blossoms into a pleasantly flickering and psychotropic collage of tender piano melodies, water sounds, and sensuously hushed vocals. Interestingly, the aforementioned melange of strange sounds came from recordings of saliva (albeit "dilated and rendered unfamiliar through Zanca's adroit mixing"), which is definitely not something that I would have guessed on my own. Characteristically, the vocals are the best part of the piece, as Liyou and Zanca's voices enigmatically mingle, overlap, and harmonize in a fractured, shapeshifting dialogue. Uncharacteristically, however, "Dog Dreams" transforms into something resembling Xiu Xiu's Jaime Stewart interpreting a tender R&B-tinged ballad from a Disney soundtrack. While I certainly did not see that curveball coming, it is very on-brand for Liyou, as she has always been an inventive magpie keen to assimilate any and all compelling sounds and ideas that bleed into her life.

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1603 Hits

Jean-Noël Rebilly and Andrew Chalk, "Tsilla"

TsillaThis is the second duo collaboration between Chalk and Rebilly, as the pair previously surfaced with L'état Intermédiaire back in 2018. Their shared history goes back to at least 2012 though, as they teamed up with Vikki Jackman for A Paper Doll's Whisper Of Spring. While details about Tsilla are less scarce than usual due to its release on An'archives rather than Chalk's famously terse Faraway Press imprint, I still know very little about Rebilly other than the fact that he plays the clarinet. Beyond that, I am unwilling to hazard any guesses about who is playing what here, as both artists' contributions are largely blurred into a painterly haze (not entirely unfamiliar territory for Chalk). Far more relevant than the instrumentation is the album's inspiration: engraver Cécile Reims, whose "denuded landscapes," "spiraling abstractions," and "unearthly radiance" may have inspired Chalk's visual art as well. If not, Reims is at least a kindred spirit and her collaborations with Hans Bellmer, Leonor Fini, and Salvador Dali probably make a decent enough consolation prize. Reims's deepest impact on Tsilla may have been upon the process rather than the outcome, however, as the pair set out to honor her "tender weaving of emotional complexity carved with the hand-held and simple tools of artisans" in their own way ("a similar transfiguration of base materials"). Regardless of how it was made, Tsilla is quite a unique album in the Chalk canon, as the best pieces evoke a beautifully nightmarish strain of impressionism.

An'archives

The album opens in unexpectedly tense and disturbing fashion with "Pliskiné," as shivering strings quiver in dissonant harmonies over a bed of subtle, slowly shifting drones like a swarm of hallucinatory bees with bad intentions. For better or worse, that particular descent into horror is not a representative one, though Tsilla is quite a dark and uncharacteristically heavy album for Chalk (and presumably for Rebilly as well). "Pliskiné" aside, the album's other deep plunge into nightmare territory is "Hauteville," which feels like a groaning, slow-motion descent into squirming, buzzing cosmic horror at its most exquisite. In general, the longer pieces tend to be the strongest while the shorter pieces feel more like bridges or interludes, though "Visages d'Espagne" is a notable exception that resembles a seasick duet between a koto and a vibrato pedal.

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1874 Hits

Bill Orcutt, "Jump On It"

Jump On ItThis latest LP from San Francisco-based guitar visionary Bill Orcutt is a spiritual successor of sorts to 2013's A History of Every One, as that was apparently his last solo acoustic guitar album. The resemblance between the two albums largely ends there, however, as Jump On It is as different from the deconstructed standards of History as it is from last week's Chatham-esque guitar quartet performance for NPR. While I do enjoy Orcutt's Editions Mego solo era quite a bit, there is no denying that his artistry has evolved dramatically over the last decade and his recent work definitely connects with me on a deeper level. In more concrete terms, Orcutt's work no longer resembles the choppy, convulsive, and possessed-sounding fare of History, as he has since reined in his more fiery, passionate impulses enough to leave more room for passages of tender, simple beauty. In fact, Jump On It might be the farthest that the balance has swung towards the latter, as the characteristic Orcutt violence is a rare presence in the collection of quietly lovely and spontaneous-sounding guitar miniatures.

Palilalia

The album opens in appropriately gorgeous fashion, as the first minute of "What Do You Do With Memory" is devoted to a tender, halting and bittersweet arpeggio motif, though the piece then takes a detour before reprising that wonderful theme for the finale. The detour is admittedly brief, but so is the song itself, which illustrates a central feature of this album: these pieces generally feel like a series of spontaneous snapshots/3-minute vignettes rather than fully formed compositions that build into something more. That is not meant as a critique, but it does mean that Jump On It is something other than Orcutt's next major artistic statement. I am tempted to say that most of this album feels akin to a pleasant but loose improvisation around a campfire, but there are also some pieces that evoke an usually meditative Django Reinhardt playing alone in a late-night hotel room.

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Kammerflimmer Kollektief, "Schemen"

SchemenThis eleventh album from Germany's Kammerflimmer Kollektief is not my first exposure to the project, but it did succeed in making me wonder why I have not been a passionate fan of their work before now. Admittedly, the idea of harmonium-driven free-form jazz/psychedelia is not quite my cup of tea on paper, which goes a long way towards explaining why I was so slow to embrace this project, yet the right execution can transform just about anything into gold and this foursome are extremely good at what they do. It also does not hurt that the Kammerflimmer gang have some intriguing and unusual inspirations, as they namecheck both Franz Mesmer and underheard German psychonauts The Cocoon in addition to the requisite nod to Can. Kammerflimmer Kollektief certainly assimilate those influences in a unique way though, as the best songs on Schemen sound like a killer post-rock/psych band blessed with an unusually great rhythm section and real talents for roiling guitar noise, simmering tension, and volcanic catharsis.

Karlrecords

This unique and eclectic project was founded by guitarist Thomas Weber back in the late '90s and has had a somewhat fluid membership since, but it is safe to say Heike Aumüller significantly transformed its trajectory when she joined the fold in 2002, as she is responsible for both the band's unusual cover art and the even more unusual use of harmonium. Unsurprisingly, I encounter the harmonium a lot with drone music, as it lends itself to that aesthetic perfectly, but Aumüller generally uses it for more melodic purposes and clearly has no aversion to dissonance, as it sounds like she is beating her bandmates to death with an accordion in "Zweites Kapitel [ruckartig]" and "Fünftes Kapitel [kreuzweis]." While "Zweites Kapitel" is an endearingly explosive feast of scrabbling guitar noise, clattering free-form drumming, and tormented bow scrapes, the album's stronger pieces tend to be those which take a more simmering and sensuous approach.

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2162 Hits

Nonconnah, "Unicorn Family"

Unicorn FamilyThis latest release from husband and wife duo Zach & Denny Corsa appears to be their fifth full-length under the Nonconnah name (the duo were previously known as Lost Trail) and it is characteristically wonderful. As is the norm for Nonconnah, Unicorn Family was culled from several years of recordings featuring a host of eclectic collaborators (folks from Lilys, Half Japanese, Fire-Toolz, etc.) and those recordings have been expertly stitched together into beautifully layered and evocative soundscapes teeming with cool tape effects, thought-provoking samples, and killer shoegaze-inspired guitar work. In short, business as usual, but Nonconnah's business is consistently being one of the greatest drone projects on earth, so this is already a lock for one of my favorite albums of the year. Aside from the presence of a lovely lo-fi folk gem with actual singing, the only other notable departures from Nonconnah's existing run of gorgeous albums are shorter song durations than usual and the fact that the duo's samples have more of an eschatological bent. I suppose this album is an unusually focused and distilled statement as well, but that feels like a lateral move given how much I loved the sprawling immensity of Don't Go Down To Lonesome Holler.

Was Ist Das?

The album opens on an unusually simple and intimate note with "It's Eschatology! The Musical," which approximates a melancholy Microphones-esque strain of indie folk recorded directly to boombox. Despite its amusing title and throwaway final line of "that's how the album starts," it is a legitimately lovely, soulful, and direct way to kick off an album that is otherwise composed entirely of complexly layered soundscapes of tape loops and shimmering guitar noise. I have been an enthusiastic fan of those soundscapes for a while, of course, as well as an equally huge fan of the way the pair transform sped-up tape loops into rapturously dizzying and swirling mini-symphonies at the heart of their drone pieces. Given that, I do not have anything particularly fresh to say on those topics other than that I was newly struck by how the combination of slow drones and sped up tapes evokes the hypnotic streaking of car lights in time-lapse footage of a busy highway at night.

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1925 Hits

Tim Hecker, "No Highs"

No HighsThis latest opus from Tim Hecker is amusingly billed as "a beacon of unease against the deluge of false positive corporate ambient." Given the weighty themes of his previous albums, Hecker's actual inspiration presumably runs much deeper than that, yet the "beacon of unease" part of that claim may be more literal than it sounds, as one of the album's central features is described as "Morse code pulse programming." While I am not well-versed enough in Morse code to determine if Hecker's oddly timed rhythms are covertly incorporating text or a narrative into these warped and nightmarish soundscapes, the gnarled and harrowing melodies that accompany those erratic pulses are more than enough to make the album thoroughly compelling listening regardless. Aside from that, No Highs marks yet another significant creative breakthrough for a formidable artist hellbent on continual reinvention and bold evolution. While it is hard to predict whether or not No Highs will someday be considered one of Hecker's defining masterpieces or merely an admirable and unique detour, its handful of set pieces feel quite brilliant to me and I do not expect my feelings to change on that point..

Kranky

The general tone of No Highs feels like a continuation of the smeared, howling anguish of Konoyo and Anoyo, approximating lonely distress signals emitted from the smoldering ruins of Konoyo's planetary death spasms. Compositionally, however, No Highs feels like an entirely different animal altogether, as Hecker has swapped out roiling maximalism for simmering minimalism and distilled his palette to little more than insistently telegraph-like synth pings punctuated with occasional plunges into swirling and howling cosmic horror. In fact, the album makes me feel like I am stationed at a desolate outpost in a blackened wasteland nervously watching apocalyptic storms mass on the distant horizon. Unsurprisingly, the strongest pieces tend to be the ones where those storms reach their full fury, such as the opening "Monotony."

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2399 Hits

Ale Hop & Laura Robles, "Agua dulce"

Agua dulceThis is the debut collaboration between two Berlin-based Peruvian musicians and also marks my first exposure to percussionist Laura Robles. I am, however, reasonably familiar with the alien soundscapes of Ale Hop (Alejandra Cárdenas) and this union seems to have inspired some of her finest work to date. Notably, Robles is "reputed to be one of the best cajón players in Peru," which is useful context given how radically (yet lovingly) the pair deconstruct and reinvigorate the instrument ("a symbol of resistance, experimentation and transformation" in Peru). In more practical terms, that means that Cárdenas and Robles dramatically disrupt, distort, and repurpose traditional dance rhythms into a wild psychotropic mindfuck. In fact, it sometimes sounds like Robles recorded her parts alone as a freeform performance at an Ayahuasca ceremony or something, but the seemingly roving and divergent threads always come together in impressive fashion in the end. Amusingly, I would have thought that the enigmatically and erratically shifting rhythms of Agua dolce would be damn near impossible to dance to, yet these pieces apparently made quite a splash when the duo coupled with dancer/choreographer Liza Alpiźar Aguilar for the Heroines Of Sound festival. Whether or not that means that I would be a terrible choreographer is hard to say, however, as the finished album may have ultimately landed in far more lysergic territory due to Cárdenas' additional edits and production wizardry.

Buh

The album borrows its title from "the most popular beach in Lima," which is near where "both artists lived during their childhood, houses apart, without ever meeting one another." Improbably, they eventually met as expats on the other side of the world and happily found themselves to be kindred spirits tuned into the same outré wavelength. I suppose Robles is arguably the more conventional of the two despite playing Peruvian music in Germany on a self-built electric cajón, but that is only because Ale Hop often sounds like she is from a completely different planet or dimension altogether. The most impressive example of that otherworldliness comes at the midpoint of "Lamento," as the hissing, blatting electronics and sleepy Latin rhythms seem like they are suddenly interrupted by the appearance of ghost UFO that propels the proceedings into dazzling new heights of haunting, spacialized phantasmagoria. That said, the entire first half of the album is one mesmerizing psychotropic jungle freakout after another, as Cárdenas unleashes her inner tropical Lovecraft to conjure a host of squirming, gelatinous, seething, buzzing, and jabbering electronic sounds over Robles' clattering percussion workouts.

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2004 Hits