Rafael Toral, "Spectral Evolution"

Spectral EvolutionBefore I heard this album, I mistakenly believed that I had a reasonable familiarity with Rafael Toral's oeuvre, as I had heard and enjoyed a handful of his classic guitar-era albums such as 2001's Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance. That said, it had been a while since I had kept tabs on his work, so I was quite curious to hear what made this "quintessential album of guitar music" exciting enough to reawaken Jim O'Rourke's decades-dormant Moikai label. As it turns out, absolutely everything about Spectral Evolution feels like a goddamn revelation to me and I am now kicking myself for sleeping on Toral's post-guitar Space Program-era of experimentation with self-built instruments. The psychotropic omnipresence of those self-built instruments makes it amusingly misleading to call Spectral Evolution Toral's return to guitar music, but if the presence of some recognizable guitar sounds lures more listeners towards this one-of-a-kind work of genius, I believe that claim has served a worthy purpose. Listening to this album was like hearing classic Merzbow or My Cat Is An Alien for the first time, as Toral plays entirely by his own set of rules and succeeds spectacularly.

Moikai

After being properly gobsmacked by one of the album's early "singles" ("Fifths Twice"), I was not sure that I was even listening to the right album when I finally played Spectral Evolution for the first time. That feeling quickly dissipated after the first minute, but the album deceptively begins with Toral casually improvising around a few jazzy chords.on a relatively clean and effects-free electric guitar. It does not take long at all before that pleasant motif is absorbed by an otherworldly cacophony of whining harmonics and squirming electronics, however, and the wild ride that ensues leaves those jazz chords so far in the rearview mirror that they feel like a memory from a previous life. If someone held a gun to my head and demanded that I coherently explain what was happening in the album's opening minutes, I would probably resign myself to my imminent death, but "I think an alien jungle just crash landed onto an organ mass in Mindfuck City" is probably a reasonably accurate summation…temporarily, at least. If I waited another minute or so, however, I would probably lean more towards "a group of psychotic puppets just formed a jarringly discordant marching band and kicked this Mardi Gras party into overdrive!" Consequently, it is hopeless to make any generalizations about Toral's vision for this album at all unless that generalization is something vague like "an unpredictable series of dissolving lysergic mirages dreamed up by a madman."

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2693 Hits

Maria W. Horn, "Panoptikon"

PanoptikonI tend to enjoy damn near everything that Sweden's XKatedral label releases, but this half-disturbing/half-transcendent tour de force by co-founder Maria W. Horn still managed to completely blindside me. Panoptikon's four-part suite was originally composed for a macabre installation at the "disbanded Vita Duvan (White Dove) panopticon prison in Luleå, Sweden." Being a panopticon, Vita Duvan had an unusual circular design "to create a sense of omniscient surveillance," but that is just the tip of a very grim iceberg, as it was also known for its brutal isolation tactics as well as rampant torture and execution. While the prison mercifully ceased operations in 1979, I suspect I would've needed months of therapy to recover from Horn's installation alone, as it pulsed in synchronization with the prison's lights and the cells contained speakers broadcasting the imagined voices of the doomed prisoners. Thankfully, the decontextualized album is considerably less harrowing than its origin suggests, as its dark choral opening quickly expands into an immersive swirl of heady drones, spacy synths, and timelessly beautiful vocal motifs.

Xkatedral

The heart of the album is the opening "Omnia citra mortem," which borrows its name from a legal term that translates as "everything until death." In the context of Vita Duvan, that meant that no one could be sentenced to death for a crime they did not confess to, but they could certainly be tortured until a confession was made. Needless to say, few were inclined to stick around very long, as being beheaded with an axe was vastly preferable to the alternative. According to Horn's research, the crimes that could land one in Vita Duvan could be as minor as "drunkenness" or "vagrancy," but several dozen unfortunate women met their end there because miscarriage and abortion were considered "child murder" at the time.

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1809 Hits

Dean McPhee, "Astral Gold"

Astral GoldThis fifth full-length from Yorkshire-based guitar visionary Dean McPhee is actually a compilation of sorts, bringing together the pieces from his out-of-print Cosmos / Ether lathe cut 7" (2022) with a couple of gems from Folklore Tapes compilation appearances. Happily, however, Astral Gold is also rounded out with a pair of new pieces and one of them ("The Sediment of Creation") easily ranks among McPhee's finest work. Given that I was already a huge fan of one of the Folklore Tapes pieces included here, that is more than enough to make this a solid release, but it is also an unexpectedly focused and thematically compelling one given the varied origins and inspirations of these songs. It is quite an aptly named release as well, as the languorously meditative and cosmic mood of these pieces seem like they would be an ideal soundtrack for any astral traveling that one might have on the horizon.

Bass Ritual

The album opens with the two pieces from the Cosmos/Ether single on Reverb Worship, which was originally something of a divergent release for McPhee, as both songs feel more like the extremely understated work of a cosmic-minded '70s psych band than McPhee's usual fare (Manuel Göttsching being the obvious reference point). That said, the two pieces still sound a hell of a lot like Dean McPhee--they just happen to have unusually prominent bass lines. Of the two, I prefer "Ether," as it plays more to McPhee's strengths of hazy, reverbent melodies and looping chord patterns. While I love both the gently pulsing chord progress and the lingering vapor trails that hang in the wake of the lead guitar melody, McPhee's larger achievement lies in how he seems to slow and blur the passage of time: the way his notes seem to burn off or ripple away into silence is often more significant than the notes themselves. The uncluttered clarity of his playing is similarly striking and out-of-step with the current musical landscape, as he consciously avoids any excess notes or layers that would dilute the direct/real-time beauty of his themes.

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1113 Hits

"Flux Gourmet Original Motion Picture Soundtrack"

Flux GourmetI acknowledge it is only February right now, but I believe I can confidently state that this soundtrack will be the weirdest and most mystifying new album that I will encounter this year. The film itself was released back in 2022 and follows the trials and tribulations of an imaginary performance art group during a surreal and contentious month-long artist residency. It is an absolutely brilliant and wickedly funny film (possibly director Peter Strickland's finest work) and joins similarly deranged fare like Holy Mountain in the pantheon of cinema so audaciously batshit crazy that it is hard to fathom how it was ever financed, cast, or released. As befits such a bananas endeavor, the soundtrack features a murderers' row of compelling artists from the experimental/psych fringes, drawing participants from Broadcast, Nurse With Wound, Stereolab, Neutral Milk Hotel, Swans, and elsewhere. Obviously, that seems like a solid recipe for a unique album, but it is a unique album with a twist, as the heart of it all is Strickland's own Sonic Catering Band, a shifting collective devoted to transforming the preparation of vegetarian meals into ritualistic noise performances.

Ba Da Bing

The Sonic Catering Band allegedly formed as an anonymous ensemble in 1996 after finding unexpected inspiration in a bout of food poisoning. The band's mission statement is quite simple (if comically niche): "to employ a similar approach to electronic music as to (vegetarian) food; taking the raw sounds recorded from the cooking and preparing of a meal and treating them through processing, cutting, mixing and layering. No source sounds other than those coming from the cooking of the dish are used and as a commitment to artistic integrity, every dish is consumed by all members of the Band." The project spawned a record label (Peripheral Conserve) as well, releasing work by many of the folks who appear on the soundtrack as well as some other hard-to-categorize art provocateurs like The Bohman Brothers and Faust's Jean-Hervé Péron. Unsurprisingly, the project also resulted in some truly memorable-sounding performances ("on the wall by the table hung a lifesize 5ft gingerbread man with headphones on, listening to the sound of himself being cooked.").

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1794 Hits

Dead Bandit, "Memory Thirteen"

Memory ThirteenThis is the second album from the instrumental duo of Ellis Swan and James Schimpl and the first Dead Bandit album to follow Swan's killer 2022 solo album 3am. Happily, Memory Thirteen returns to the hypnagogic "witching hour" vibes of 3am, but it also marks a very compelling creative leap forward into fresh stylistic terrain. To my ears, that blearily dreamlike terrain is best described as "what if Boduf Songs scored a gig as the house band at a strip club in the Donnie Darko universe?" Needless to say, that is a very tricky and hyper-specific niche to fill, yet Dead Bandit consistently find new ways to combine hushed and haunted late-night melancholy with neon-soaked sensuousness, deadpan cool, and dreampop shimmer.

Quindi

The opening "Two Clocks" introduces most of the elements central to the duo's current vision: understated guitar melodies, well-timed flickers of human warmth, submerged and distressed-sounding textures, and slow-motion, head-nodding beats. It is a fine way to start an album, but it feels more like a setting of the stage than a legitimate album highlight (even if it undergoes a gorgeously dreamlike transformation around the halfway point). The first unambiguous highlight follows soon after, however, as "Blackbird" feels like a window into a narcotic and carnivalesque cabaret of eerie melody, throbbing bass, lysergically smeared textures, and simmering, seething intensity.

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1325 Hits

Tristan Allen, "Tin Iso and the Dawn"

Tin Iso and the DawnThis is New York-based composer/puppeteer Tristan Allen's full-length debut and it is quite an ambitious one, as Tin Iso and the Dawn is the first chapter of a planned "shadow puppet symphony" trilogy loosely based on Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" that has been in the works since 2015. From where I am standing, there are innumerable ways in which such an album could go wrong and they range from "forgettable score to cool puppet show" to "cloyingly precious" to "outright bombastic." Instead, however, Tin Iso and the Dawn sounds like a stone-cold masterpiece dropped by a creative supernova. Listening back to Allen's previous discography (a pair of classical piano EPs), it almost feels like this vision materialized out of nowhere, but the seeds of this puppet-centric magnum opus may have been planted more than a decade ago when Allen co-wrote a piece with Amanda Palmer in the early days of her "Dresden Dolls hiatus" solo career.

RVNG

The album begins in somewhat deceptive fashion, as "Opening" is initially just a bittersweet solo piano melody that feels like a simple yet lovely classical piece built from a few well-chosen arpeggios. That is familiar territory for Allen, but that familiarity begins unraveling in under a minute, as the arpeggios are quickly enlivened with harmonies, melodic flourishes, rhythmic disruptions, psychotropic tendrils, and a wake of groans and lingering decays. Then yet another surprise happens in the final minute, as it sounds like Allen stops playing, closes the piano, and lets the lingering haze of murk threaten to become a self-perpetuating drone piece. If Allen were some kind of Andy Kaufman-style performance artist/comedian, it would have been a solid move to let that haze of decay play out for another forty minutes, but it instead segues into the first of four acts ("Act I: Stars and Moon"). From that point onward, Tin Iso and the Dawn features a near-unbroken run of achingly beautiful and unique orchestral pieces.

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2424 Hits

Richard Sears, "Appear to Fade"

Appear to FadeMuch to my surprise, my favorite tape music album of 2023 did not come from any of the usual suspects (Nonconnah, Lilien Rosarian, Ian William Craig, etc.) and instead came courtesy of this unusual collaboration between newly Parisian jazz pianist/composer Richard Sears and producer Ari Chersky. While I am unfamiliar with Sears' previous activities in NYC's avant-garde scene before his trans-Atlantic relocation, Appear to Fade is an entirely new animal altogether, as it is a series of collages built from decontextualized/recontextualized recordings of solo piano compositions and live improvisations. I can understand why this is being released as a Richard Sears album, given the fact that he played everything and has some serious jazz cred to boot, but the impact of Chesky's editing and healthy appreciation for pleasures of analog tape distortion elevates those recordings into something brilliant that feels far greater than the sum of its parts. While much of that success is due to the pair's unerring intuitions and Sears' undeniably beautiful playing, the real magic of Appear to Fade lies in how masterfully the duo were able to organically weave together looping melodies with fluid and spontaneous-sounding improvisations while evoking a mesmerizing mirage of elegantly shifting moods.

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The opening "Tracing Time" is quite possibly one of the most gorgeous tape-based pieces that I have heard in my life, as a delicate piano melody lazily winds through a shifting and swaying landscape of straining tape warbles, analog murk, and subtly rhythmic swells. Moreover, beyond its immediately obvious melodic and textural pleasures, the piece evokes a wonderful strain of frayed and unraveling opulence and also feels like time is fitfully freezing and reversing due to all the ingenious tape manipulations. There is even a surprise twist at the end, as the dream-like bliss curdles into something more ominous that resembles the soundtrack from a mangled VHS of a Bela Lugosi-style classic vampire film played backwards. Obviously, it does not take a genius to realize that putting your best foot forward is a great way to kick off an album, but there is definitely an art to sequencing the remaining pieces so they feel like different flavors of wonderful rather than a dip in quality. To their credit, Sears and Chesky succeed beautifully in that regard and even managed to keep a second masterpiece ("Manresa") in the chamber until nearly the end of the album.

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3121 Hits

Emptyset, "Ash"

Ash It has been a while since this duo of James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas last surfaced, but they are back with a new EP to celebrate Subtext's 50th release. Since releasing 2019's Blossoms, the pair have been quite busy with other projects, as Purgas's research played a crucial role in the release of The NID Tapes: Electronic Music from India 1969​-​1972 while Ginzburg has kept himself occupied with running a record label, releasing solo albums, and performing as part of "experimental supergroup" Osmium. Emptyset was never fully dormant, however, and Ginzburg and Purgas convened in Bristol this summer to shape their accumulated ideas into one of their most focused and singular releases in recent memory. It is also one of their most concise, as ash clocks in at an extremely lean 16-minutes. If this were any other project, that brevity would suggest a serious dearth of fresh ideas or compelling new material, but it is exactly the right length for a perfect distillation of Emptyset's viscerally spasmodic and pummeling percussion assaults.

Subtext

Much like their Manchester peers Autechre, it is very easy to forget that James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas were ever interested in making beat-driven music aimed for the dancefloor, as they long ago plunged into an avant-garde rabbit hole of abstract deconstructionism, cutting edge sound design, and self-built instruments and have not looked back since. I bring up that origin for a reason, as understanding that ash was inspired by Bristol's sound system culture is crucial to grasping the appeal of the duo's current vision. In fact, I was initially underwhelmed by these songs, as I could not understand why Ginzburg in particular would want to regress to punishing, no-frills rhythm workouts after blowing me away with the droning immensity of his 2021 solo album crystallise, a frozen eye.

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2358 Hits

Black to Comm, "At Zeenath Parallel Heavens"

At Zeenath Parallel HeavensI am almost always intrigued by the eclectic and unusual inspirations behind Marc Richter albums and this latest full-length for Thrill Jockey is no exception. The core concept at the heart of this one is the "hybridity within each and every one of us," which Richter set out to mirror through a mixture of self-created sounds and manipulated samples. Things got more interesting along the way, however, as Richter had the epiphany that his own methods are quite similar to artificial intelligence "hallucinations," which is a phenomenon in which an overloaded AI starts perceiving non-existent patterns or spewing incorrect or nonsensical conclusions.

Thrill Jockey

Beyond that, the methods behind this album remain an enigma to me, as does the inspiration behind the album's curious title, though Richter does note that the song titles borrow phrases from poetry and mythology with a deliberate leaning towards erotic innuendos and the ridiculous. Naturally, most of the humor and ridiculousness that found its way into these sound collages is far too buried or oblique to be readily apparent to listeners, but I had no trouble at all grasping that At Zeenath Parallel Heavens is yet another excellent Black to Comm album. In fact, this might be one of the most beautifully focused and immersive albums that Richter has ever released.

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2054 Hits

Aki Onda, "Transmissions From The Radio Midnight"

Transmissions From The Radio MidnightThis is one of the more enigmatic and compellingly inscrutable albums that I have heard in quite some time, but I could probably say the same thing about a half dozen other Aki Onda albums at this point. This particular project began in 2006 when Onda acquired a slim handheld AM/FM radio/cassette recorder and began bringing it with him whenever he traveled: each night when he went to bed, he would turn on the radio and scan the dial in search of something interesting to soundtrack his descent into sleep.

Dinzu Artefacts

Unsurprisingly, that nightly ritual was soon enhanced by Onda's fascination with the spaces on the dial in which multiple frequencies overlap in surreal and unpredictable ways and his nightly hunt for entertainment soon transformed into a sound art project. Naturally, the spontaneous and unique juxtapositions of colliding transmissions are the album's most immediate/obvious pleasure and there are some great ones strewn throughout the album. However, those surface-level pleasures are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, as any inquisitive mind will easily find a host of deeper layers and meanings to contemplate.

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1961 Hits

Fortunato Durutti Marinetti, "Eight Waves In Search Of An Ocean"

Eight Waves In Search Of An OceanI have not encountered Dan Colussi's work before this album, but the Turin-born artist is a bit of a lifer, as he has been steadily releasing music and touring for the last 20 years with various Canadian bands "of varying degrees of obscurity." His solo project, Fortunato Durutti Marinetti, first surfaced back in 2020 with the acclaimed Desire cassette. This latest release is his second for Soft Abuse (and his first for Quindi) and it is something of a bold creative leap forward, as returning collaborator/producer Sandro Perri has steered the project into a more synthpop direction with the addition of synths, drum machines, and other electronic touches.

Soft Abuse/Quindi

Notably, Colussi is an artist who makes no secret of his influences (Robert Wyatt, Lou Reed, Annette Peacock, etc.), but the main one definitely seems to be Leonard Cohen and this album amusingly mirrors Cohen's own stylistic evolution from his acoustic beginnings into the kitschier, more jazz-influenced work of his later years. I cannot say that I was entirely thrilled by that move in Cohen's case, but Cohen did not have Sandro Perri in his corner: the louche "yacht rock" charm of these arrangements is frequently the perfect counterbalance to Colussi's wonderful literary melancholy.

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1511 Hits

Lea Bertucci, "Of Shadow and Substance"

Of Shadow and SubstanceThis latest full-length from NY-based composer/multi-instrumentalist Lea Bertucci features two longform Just Intonation commissions composed for small ensembles. Given that, it is no surprise that Of Shadow and Substance is a unique album within her discography, but the added participants and the non-standard tuning were not the only new elements, as Bertucci embraced a "textural approach to composition" as well.

Cibachrome Editions

The results are quite unique and compelling, as Bertucci and her collaborators nimbly avoided any missteps or predictable decisions to produce a shapeshifting and emotionally intense drone album like no other. In fact, even Bertucci herself was a bit surprised with how Of Shadow and Substance turned out, as she notes that these two pieces feel informed by a "sense of deep, ancestral knowing" beyond herself as an individual, which seems like a valid and insightful claim, given that she shared the driver's seat with both ancient mathematical relationships and textural affinities and was also inherently prevented from falling back on any familiar scales or melodies. Ladies and gentlemen, Lea Bertucci has just crossed over into The Twilight Zone (or at least into releasing a killer album that borrows its title from that show's introduction).

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2197 Hits

Mary Lattimore, "Goodbye, Hotel Arkada"

Goodbye, Hotel ArkadaThis six-song album borrows its title from a beloved Croatian hotel damningly slated for modernization, which is a fitting inspiration for an album that "celebrates and mourns the tragedy and beauty of the ephemeral." Obviously, that is an especially resonant theme these days, given the endlessly accelerating pace of change and the relentless erosion of the comforting and familiar. Lattimore has always been unusually well-attuned to such feelings, but Goodbye, Hotel Arkada is also inspired by her passions for collaboration and travel, both of which "shake loose strands of inspiration."

Ghostly International

In keeping with those themes, this album features a number of intriguing collaborators (Slowdive's Rachel Goswell, The Cure's Lol Tolhurst, etc.), as well as a number of pieces inspired by warm memories of specific places and times from her travels, tours, and childhood. In fact, this is now the second Lattimore release that alludes to the island of Hvar (the first being 2020's landmark Silver Ladders). Naturally, the end result of all those reawakened memories and inspired collaborations is yet another gorgeous Mary Lattimore album, but it took a few listens before I fully appreciated this one's magic, as Goodbye, Hotel Arkada often feels deceptively simple on its surface. In reality, however, these are some of Lattimore's most focused and beautifully crafted pieces to date (they just take a little bit longer than usual to reveal their full depths).

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1773 Hits

American Cream Band, "Presents"

PresentsThis is not my first exposure to Nathan Nelson's freewheeling Twin-Cities improv collective, but it may as well have been, as the droning kosmische psychedelia of last year's Embrace You Millions provided no hint at all of the dramatic stylistic reinvention looming on the horizon. To my ears, the band's entertaining new direction is best described as "James Chance fronts the B-52s," but the album's description goes even further and promises both "a spiritually-charged journey" and "a shit-kicking party record." The fact that Presents emphatically delivers on the latter claim is quite an impressive feat indeed, as the number of shit-kicking party records successfully recorded by shapeshifting collectives of synth and space rock enthusiasts tends to historically be quite low. To their everlasting credit, American Cream Band buck that trend quite decisively, as Nelson seems literally evangelical in his desire to make a fun and raucous party album and he assembled one hell of a killer band to bring that dream to life.

Quindi

The "building blocks" for Presents were originally recorded back in December 2021, as Nelson brought ten musicians to Cannon Falls' Pachyderm studio to "live together," "eat together," and "lay down some drum-heavy sessions." That studio choice was presumably quite deliberate, as Nelson seems like a guy who is intuitively attuned to seeking and setting the right vibe and Pachyderm birthed quite a few iconic albums in its first heyday (The Wedding Present's Seamonsters and PJ Harvey's Rid of Me being two prime examples) and became a post-foreclosure labor of love for the late engineer John Kuker in more recent years.

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1840 Hits

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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1952 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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2808 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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2703 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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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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"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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