Dave Seidel, "Involution"

cover imageThis challenging and overwhelming double album is my first exposure to this NH-based composer, and it was quite a synapse-frying introduction to his uncompromising vision. While Seidel has only been releasing albums as a composer for the last decade or so, he was an active part of NYC's flourishing Downtown music scene in the '80s, and his work feels like it is spiritually descended from that era. Or perhaps from even before that, as he cites Alvin Lucier and La Monte Young as key influences. Unlike most artists inspired by Young, however, Seidel did not stop at dabbling in Just Intonation. Instead, he took "Young's ideal of previously unheard sounds, those that may engender new sensations and emotions in the listener" and ran with it, delving even deeper into unusual tunings until he could bring to life the sonorities that he was chasing. In practical terms, that means that the two compositions here ("Involution" and "Hexany Permutations") are longform drone works teaming with strange and buzzing harmonic collisions, which makes Phill Niblock's XI Records exactly the right home for this epic. While I suspect many people will find Seidel's single-minded and no-frills approach to conjuring unfamiliar sounds intimidatingly difficult, this album will definitely make a big impression on anyone fascinated by the physics and physicality of sound.

XI Records

Dave Seidel is not the first artist to be inspired by the work of Alvin Lucier, but the album that struck him was not one of the usual classics. Instead, Seidel found himself fascinated by a more recent composition, "The Orpheus Variations," which was "based on a particular sonority from the first movement of Igor Stravinsky's ballet score, Orpheus; a sonority that has haunted Lucier for decades." I find "sonority" to be an elusive quality to define, but Lucier's notes on The Orpheus Variations album provide some clarity for what Seidel is attempting, as Lucier views sonority as a sort of phantom energy field that sometimes forms from the unpredictable interactions of waveforms. On Involution, Seidel exactingly employs a modular synthesizer and CSound to conjure one ghostly, buzzing energy field after another like a sorcerer. He succeeds most beautifully with the three-part "Involution," which resembles an endlessly shifting feedback sculpture in which alien dissonances take shape and dissolve into buzzing drones. It calls to mind a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat, as it is a series of pregnant lulls punctuated by blossoming microtonal events that make the air feel humming and alive. The six-part "Hexany Solution" feels like a darker, more disconcertingly alien variation of the same phenomenon, as it exists in an uncanny valley that transforms melody into something that feels wrong and grotesque. It reminds me of Michael Gordon's Decasia, suggesting a time-stretched recording of an out-of-tune string quartet that feels unnervingly artificial, as though someone who never heard a cello was trying to reproduce its sound waves with a modular synthesizer. I mean that as a compliment, as otherworldly harmonies and tunings rarely yield comforting and consonant sensations, yet Seidel's queasy and unsettling sound fields are very much not for the dissonance-averse. Given that and the complete absence of any firmer melodic or textural ground, immersing myself in Involution for its full two-plus hour duration is a bit of an endurance test, yet I am nevertheless fascinated by the unique and reality-bending soundscapes that Seidel brings vividly to life. This is challenging and adventurous sound art unlike nearly anything else that I have heard.

Samples can be found here.

  2345 Hits

Kyle Bobby Dunn, "The Cohesive Redundancies-P1"

cover imageThis is the first installment of "an ongoing album series with an undecided end point examining futility and beauty." Those are hardly new themes for Kyle Bobby Dunn, so I am not sure why they needed their own series, but any new KBD opus is fine by me. Dunn is a unique figure in the ambient drone milieu for a number of reasons, but the most significant for me is his unique gift for crafting soundscapes with a very real emotional intensity at their core. When he directly hits the mark with a composition like "Triple Axel on Cremazie" or "The Searchers," he achieves something poignant and transcendent that is damn hard to come by. I suppose one caveat with Dunn's work is that such moments are usually hidden within sprawling double-, triple-, or quadruple-LP epics, but this latest album is a more focused and concise release. More importantly, the bulk of the album is devoted to the absolutely sublime 48-minute "Fantasia on a Theme of Affection." The other two pieces are memorable as well, arguably making this the closest that Dunn has come to releasing an "all killer, no filler" masterpiece.

Self-Released

"Thresholding" kicks off the album in striking and surprising fashion, as Dunn unleashes an industrial-sounding drone that oscillates slowly and menacingly. Gradually that foundation is subtly fleshed out with additional depth and harmonic color, but the most compelling part is the murky undercurrent of dissonance that roils within. While it never intensifies enough to consume its surroundings (it is the album's shortest piece), Dunn does manage to resolve it in startling fashion with a nightmarishly plunging pitch-shift. I did not expect such a cold and alienating piece from Dunn, but it is masterfully crafted, and I loved the simmering uneasiness beneath the drones. That said, it is immediately eclipsed by the dream-like reverie of "Fantasia on a Theme of Affection." On its surface, it is not a radical departure for Dunn, as a ghostly see-sawing guitar motif languorously unfolds over a backdrop of shimmering haze. However, it stealthily amasses deepening harmonies and an aching poignance as it lingers in a state of billowing suspended animation. It is the sort of piece that I could enjoy in an endless loop, as Dunn's attention to textural detail is truly something to behold. Nearly every sound is spectral, hissing, smeared, quivering, or enigmatic in a beautifully hypnagogic, soft-focus way. The album closes with the divergent "Pavane for the Internal Monologue," which is centered on a repeating, bittersweet piano chord and its long, lingering decay. Eventually, a hesitant melody emerges, and the piece moves closer to the liquid shimmer of Harold Budd, yet the real show lies in the space between the notes, as dissolving tones form murky harmonies, and quiet sounds of wood and shuffling paper start to evoke an enigmatic sense of place. While the bookends do not quite hit the same heights as the album's centerpiece, all three pieces are strong enough to make this one of Dunn's finest albums to date.

Samples can be found here.

  1735 Hits

Dolphin Midwives, "Body of Water"

cover imageI loved Sage Fisher's last album (the wonderful and hallucinatory Liminal Garden), so I was quite eager to find out how she would follow such a unique vision. Now that Body of Water has been released, I have my answer and it is very much an expectation-subverting one. While the harp arguably remains Fisher's primary instrument, her vocals take a much more prominent role with this latest opus. That is a twist, certainly, but it is not THE twist, which is that Fisher enlisted the aid of acclaimed producer Tucker Martine to craft a suite of songs that feels like a sensual and psychotropic strain of outsider R&B. Whether it is close enough to the real thing to make an impact beyond underground electronic music circles remains to be seen, but Fisher's stylistic reinvention is an extremely cool and surprising one regardless. Admittedly, it took me a few listens to fully warm to the unabashed pop hooks that fill this album, but Fisher's more lysergic impulses are never far away, resulting in an immersive swirl of delightful mindfuckery anchored by memorable hooks, simmering grooves, and a newly unveiled soulfulness.

Beacon Sound

After a brief yet surreal introduction of cooing looped vocals and skipping Oval-esque electronics, the autotuned R&B of the title piece reveals the unexpected new direction. When I listened to the album initially, I kept waiting for "Body of Water" to cleverly derail into more hallucinatory and abstract territory, but that moment never came. The vocals are processed into semi-artificiality and there is an eerily ghostly atmosphere, but the piece is otherwise straight-up melodic pop, as Fisher's inner dance diva belts out a sultry melody over a stark backdrop of deep bass, slow kick drum, and a quietly simmering haze of electronics. Rather than a fluke, that piece is a statement of intent that sets the tone for all that follows. That pop-inspired side reaches its apotheosis with "Clearing," which could easily be mistaken for a killer Portishead remix. At the opposite end of the spectrum are a couple of stellar harp pieces: the rippling and gently heaving psychedelia of "Fountain" and the swooningly melodic "Idyll." The remainder of the songs evoke the artfully glitchy and pixelated pop of an imagined cyberpunk future, but Fisher keeps things stark, weird, and intimate enough to make that seem like an appealing trajectory. "Capricorn" is a particular highlight, resembling some kind of spaced-out synth-driven future funk that is wonderfully unstable and out of phase. Elsewhere, I loved "Break," which gradually transforms into a delirious swirl of pitch-shifted voices suggesting a chopped and screwed Enya classic, as well as the frayed and shuddering vocal loops of the two-part "Hummingbird." In fact, I like just about everything on this album, as even the most straightforwardly melodic pieces are inventive and art-damaged enough to stand out as compelling, fresh, and unique.

Samples can be found here.

  1952 Hits

Motion Sickness of Time Travel, "If We Were Landscapes"

cover imageThere was a period between 2010 and 2013 in which Rachel Evans seemed like a universally celebrated and ubiquitous figure in the "experimental music" milieu, as she released a flurry of tapes and LPs on a variety of great labels in a very short span. Since then, she has embraced a considerably more quiet and homespun approach to her art, self-releasing a steady and increasingly eclectic stream of limited edition tapes/CDrs/art objects to the delight of fans like myself. This latest release is an especially divergent and ambitious one, as Evans rarely releases vinyl and even more rarely shifts her focus towards acoustic instrumentation or conventional songcraft. The latter deserves an asterisk though, as there is only one brief song lurking within these two longform soundscapes and it largely appears in submerged form, but it is still quite a good one regardless. While the appearance of that surprise song is very much an album highlight, it is just one part of a larger and wonderfully hallucinatory whole. In fact, If We Were Landscapes is strong evidence that the golden age of Motion Sickness of Time Travel is still unfolding and that Evans' acclaimed run of albums like Seeping Through the Veil of Unconscious was actually just the tip of an expanding iceberg of future delights.

Self-Released

I am not sure how the vinyl or CD versions of this release sound, but something noteworthy about the digital version is that it has an extremely quiet mix (so much so that I actually punched up the gain with software). I mention that primarily because this is an album that demands some real volume, as one of its most wonderful aspects is how Evans fluidly and stealthily blurs and transforms her moods and motifs. The opening "Self-Portrait in Decay" is a perfect introduction, as slowly heaving cello drones blossom into a layered fantasia of backwards vocals, elusive violin melodies, and deep moaning strings. Initially, it seems like a faint transmission of a ‘70s folk song is getting picked up by her amp, then it sounds like she is playing violin along with a lovely ballad on the radio, then it gradually emerges that Evans herself is the soulful balladeer. It is an absolutely gorgeous interlude and easily ranks among my favorite passages in Evans' discography. However, that swooning crescendo does not impede the evolving mindfuckery one bit. The second half of the piece dissolves that song fragment into a shimmering haze of uneasy harmonies, reversed melodies, and a menacing host of darker, sharper tones. The following "Your Layered Silhouette, Unwinding" is similarly brilliant, as another reversed melody winds its way into a curdled orchestral nightmare, then gradually melts into a coda akin to a ravaged tape of an organ hymn. Both pieces are fascinating and complex plunges into vividly realized and darkly psychotropic soundworlds, which makes If We Are Landscapes one hell of an album.

Samples can be found here.

  1764 Hits

"Strain Crack & Break: Music From The Nurse With Wound List Volume Two (Germany)"

cover imageAs a longtime Nurse With Wound fan, I have always been a bit amused and perplexed by the almost-religious reverence that people continue to have for Steven Stapleton's famous list. For one, it is hard to process that there was once a teenager in the '70s who was so cool that adults all over the world would spend the next forty years trying to replicate his record collection. Secondly, it seems like any underground bands from that era who have managed to remain obscure until now have probably earned that fate for valid reasons, as there have been plenty of blogs and reissue labels tirelessly unearthing and championing freaky sounds since the advent of the internet. Consequently, when this series was announced, I wondered what could still possibly be left undiscovered. That said, the idea of a Stapleton-curated tour of the most outré and adventurous prog, jazz, and avant-garde artists of the early- and mid-1970s still packs quite an appeal for me, so I am delighted that this better-late-than-never series exists. It admittedly took me a while to warm to the French volume, as I tend to run screaming from proggy indulgence and unfiltered Dada antics and there was plenty of both, but there were definitely some gems as well. Unsurprisingly, this stronger second volume features an even higher proportion of such gems, as it is not a mere coincidence that krautrock had a larger cultural impact than its French counterpart.

Finders Keepers

Much like the first volume, this latest one is packed full of unfamiliar names, which is an impressive feat given how deeply fans have mined '70s German music for killer obscurities. I was, however, vaguely familiar with Wolfgang Dauner and Limpe Fuchs beforehand, probably because they are responsible for some of the album’s most weird and cacophonous moments and that tends to be my wheelhouse. Dauner's piece, for example, sounds like several fusion bands falling down a flight of stairs, while Anima-Sounds' piece captures a (possibly nude) Fuchs wildly free-drumming and yelping along with a sliding and blurting chaos of homemade instruments. It is easy to see how the latter would have blown some goddamn minds at the time, though it does leave something to be desired in the realm of songcraft. The bulk of the album's other luminaries tend to exist in a gray area where jazz, prog, and psychedelia all blur together into unfamiliar new strains. For example, Association P.C.'s "Scorpion" resembles a Miles Davis-less Bitches Brew session, while the feral-sounding Exmagma call to mind Richard Hell or James Chance fronting King Crimson. Elsewhere, My Solid Ground evokes a baffling collision of This Heat and early Coil with the organ bombast of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. I dearly wish the latter element was absent, but the non-organ passages are right up my alley. That said, the most wonderful surprises are the two lengthy jams that close the album. In Thirsty Moon's "Big City," a very NWW-sounding percussion motif steadily builds into a heavy rolling groove flavored with subtle elements of sound collage that rivals much of Can's stronger work. Gomorrha's "Trauma" is similarly driven by a muscular beat, but instead blossoms into a molten tour de force of spacey psychedelia. Yet another favorite is the hallucinatory marching band mindfuck of erstwhile Neu!/Kraftwerk member Eberhard Kranemann's "Fritz Müller" guise. The rest of the songs make a compelling and varied suite of inspired oddities, but the Gomorrha, Thirsty Moon, and Fritz Müller pieces all felt revelatory enough to trigger an immediate album-hunting binge. While Steven Stapleton has been one of my favorite artists for ages, it is now dawning on me that he is one hell of a great curator as well.

Samples can be found here.

  1795 Hits

Kink Gong, "Zomianscape I -II"

cover imageIt is quite a daunting task to keep up with Laurent Jeanneau's massive, continually expanding, and oft-challenging discography, but his vinyl releases always tend to be strong and focused statements worth investigating. In that regard, Jeanneau is having quite a great year, as this latest LP is his third excellent album of 2021 (Kink Gong's Zomia Vol. 1 and Sublime Frequencies' Mien (Yao) being the other two). Zomianscape continues Jeanneau's fascination with "Zomia," which is a half-conceptual/half-geographic term for the ethnic minorities in the hills and mountains of Southeast Asia who live outside national laws and customs. The term was first coined by historian Willem van Schendel in 2002, but it was James C. Scott's The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia that particularly struck Jeanneau, as he conceived of the Zomia series as a "mythological soundscape inspired by a semi-utopic region where state rules don't apply." The raw material for these first two longform "Zomianscapes" was recorded over ten years in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and China, but the boundaries between individual cultures, field recordings, and Jeanneau's own contributions are beautifully dissolved into a mesmerizing stew of hallucinatory sound collage. I suppose Zomia Vol. I achieved a similar end in more bite-sized doses, but this follow up offers a deeper, more immersive plunge.

ESITU

Even with the aid of Jeanneau's thorough notes about the content of each piece, it is a hopelessly impossible task to try to describe what happens in either of these two Zomianscapes in any kind of detail. For the most part, however, both pieces are a shape-shifting swirl of traditional lutes, hand percussion, panpipe-like mouth organs, and a wide array of singing and speaking voices from a cast of talented contributors such as "Bulang Lawa Man and Drunk Wife." In the album description, Jeanneau mentions that he simultaneously (and fatefully) discovered the Ocora and GRM labels as a teen, which concisely conveys significant insight into the unique collision of impulses shaping the Kink Gong aesthetic. In practical terms, Jeanneau's ocora-inspired devotion to recording and preserving rarely heard traditional music means that the absolute baseline for any Kink Gong album is "there will probably be voices, instruments, and melodies unlike anything I have ever heard before." Naturally, each Kink Gong album is shaped significantly by the character of the recordings Jeanneau uses as well as the degree of GRM-style electronic experimentation. The latter is abundant on Zomianscapes, as each piece is vibrant, hallucinatory, layered, and endlessly in flux (and both pieces are great). The warbly mouth organ in the opening piece calls to mind a traditional Laotian variation of Fennesz's Endless Summer in its early moments, but soon embarks upon a trip through a lysergic fog of fragmented voices and twanging strings en route to a hypnotic finale of looping vocal melody. The second piece is even better still, as it slowly blossoms from metal percussion into a haunting chorus of chanting women over quavering drones. For his final trick, Jeanneau then dissolves it all into a smeared and hissing crescendo of ringing metal, clapping hands, and an escalating roar of garbled voices and murky dissonance. While I have only experienced a mere fraction of Kink Gong's 100+ albums at this point, this one is definitely a favorite among the ones I have heard.

Samples can be found here.

  1965 Hits

Jon Collin, "Music From Cassettes, Etc., 2008-2017"

cover imageI initially slept on this album, as the prosaic title made it sound like a collection of old and orphaned songs rather than a minor sound collage masterpiece. The former would be just fine by me (in a non-urgent way), but the fact that this album is actually the latter completely blindsided me. As the label puts it, Collin pulled "shining diamonds from his discography" and put them "in a new context with more recently recorded segments." In more practical terms, this means that the album beautifully bleeds together ephemeral highlights from Collin's discography into a soulfully mesmerizing, endlessly evolving impressionist fantasia. In its most striking moments, Music From Cassettes, Etc. makes me feel like I am a Dickensian ghost experiencing all the warmest moments from Collin's life through a flickering projector.

Fördämning Arkiv

The first side rolls in as a fog of tape hiss and crackle that sounds like a ravaged dictaphone recording of a bus tour somewhere in some exotic tropical place. Soon, however, a simple twanging acoustic guitar piece starts to fade in. It is quite a warm and deeply emotive performance, so I was sad to see it go as it gradually became consumed by a slowly oscillating hum that later dissipates into enigmatic dictaphone hiss once more. That theme of slowly dissolving vignettes is the heart of the album, but the variety, beauty, and cumulative power of them is what makes this album transcendent and bittersweet. On the A side, the dream parade makes further noteworthy stops at deconstructed blues and something akin to a tribute band that accidentally double-booked themselves as both Pink Floyd and The Dead C, but valiantly blurred them together to give everyone the concert of their lives. The playing near the end is absolutely amazing, as Collin whips up a rapturous Orcutt-level firestorm of wild hammer-ons and swooping slides for the volcanic finale. The second side offers a similarly mesmerizing but completely different phantasmagoria of fragmented delights. Sometimes I find myself at a languorous campfire jam in which lupine howls harmonize with a sliding melody, while at other times I am catching the fiery performance of a noise rock band from a reverberant alley. Elsewhere, Collin's collage sounds like a ravaged tape loop of an organ mass backing a demonic squall of white-hot electric guitar catharsis. Throughout it all, Collin maintains a perfect balance of soulful melody, lo-fi ruin, and sharp-edged feral intensity, the latter of which definitely surprised me (he sounds absolutely possessed during some of his solos). The whole album is great from beginning to end, as Collin hits one perfect moment of tender melody or viscerally howling noise guitar incandescence after another with nary a lull between them. This is an instant classic.

Samples can be found here.

  1727 Hits

Richard Skelton, "Four Workings"

cover imageThis latest album from Skelton seems intended to be a major new statement, though not quite a formal follow-up to last year's These Charms May be Sung Over a Wound, as double LPs are a real rarity in the prolific composer's discography. If it was not intended as such, it certainly has the ambitious conceptual framework and focused power of his strongest work. For these four pieces, Skelton used a self-devised divination deck of Proto-Indo-European word roots for inspiration, making the album the fruit of an occult-tinged and antiquarian word game. Skelton also maintained the same restricted palette and duration for each piece, yet the tone varies significantly between them, as he treated each composition as a meditation upon a single, unvoiced question. To some degree, Four Workings is an especially ambient-minded release, as the hypnotically repeating melodic fragments are reminiscent of Celer's most loop-driven fare. The similarities mostly end there, however, as the billowing ambiance is often a smokescreen for a more sharp-edged and sophisticated undercurrent that slowly emerges from the murky depths. This is an unusually strong suite of compositions for Skelton's current phase, and the first piece in particular is probably among his finest moments to date.

Aeolian

The opening "[ ken- ] commencement" initially takes shape as a slow, sad melody of distorted string swells that languorously unfolds. Notably, however, the notes start to accumulate a shimmering wake with a sharp metallic edge. That element ultimately steals the show, as it merges with some deep drones around the piece's halfway point to blossom into a quavering crescendo of complex, bittersweet harmonies. It calls to mind a spectral orchestra playing an achingly beautiful slow-motion symphony of notes that lazily streak, quiver, and break apart. It is a damn-near perfect piece. The central melody, dreamily fluttering core, and frayed textures all combine to leave a deep and haunting impression. The following "[ aus- ] radiance" is a bit more billowing and soft-focused, evoking the flickering play of sunlight across a bank of dark, slow-moving clouds. The third piece ("[ aus- ] radiance") initially has the same aesthetic, but unexpectedly blooms into yet another album highlight. At times, it evokes a time-stretched recording of an organist soundtracking a silent horror film, but with a twist: the lovelorn organist unconsciously transforms everything into a wistful reverie. Gradually, it turns into an angelic yet steadily darkening haze that cocoons the oblivious organ melody. The closer ("[ ghē- ] releasement") takes more time than usual to get going. What begins as a glacially see-sawing pulse weaves through a fog of quietly roiling noise to become a hazily remembered/half-imagined ‘70s synthy space ambient album a la Tangerine Dream. While I wish that final piece was more of a dynamic culmination than a vaguely meditative comedown, the previous pieces admittedly set the bar unfairly high. If something like Four Workings is what results whenever Skelton makes up his own archeologically themed divination deck, I would see little incentive to abandon that strategy.

Samples can be found here.

  2015 Hits

Nurse With Wound, "Barren"

cover imageThis double album had the misfortune of being released near the end of 2020, so it lamentably did not quite get the attention that it deserved (and being a live album probably did not help matters much either).  Granted, it has admittedly been a while since the NWW camp dropped an album that I would breathlessly proclaim a stone-cold masterpiece, yet the project's current era features quite a formidable lineup. In fact, most United Dairies/ICR releases in recent years have been refreshingly solid for an entity with such a vast and historically erratic discography. Barren happily continues that trend, documenting two performances from differing lineup configurations that have been deemed "amongst their most unusual performances." In this context, however, "unusual" means "very professional-sounding longform works conspicuously free of sinister whimsy." Significantly, the two performances are almost unrecognizable as NWW despite cannibalizing a pair of studio releases. They make for quite a satisfying deep-psych/spaced-out ambient release in their own right, however, as there is no rule stating that albums need to be representative to be enjoyable.

ICR

On the first disk, Steven Stapleton, Colin Potter, and Paul Beauchamp warp and deconstruct "Letter From Topor" & "Eyes Of A Scanning Girl" from [Sic] in a 2012 Florence concert. On the second, Andrew Liles replaced Beauchamp for a 2013 show in Karlsruhe that mangles "Opium Cabaret" from Terms and Conditions May Apply. The two pieces feel like they spring from the same vision, however, and that vision is one quite fond of extremely slow-burning psychotropic drones. More bluntly, that means both halves of this album take a while to catch fire, as it seems like the trio is recording, mixing, and subtly adding new layers in real time (the first disk is even called "Confluence"). As such, Barren demands some patience, as each drone-heavy performance seems to unfold on a supernaturally stretched time scale. In fact, Barren feels akin to a deep space ambient album a la The Magnificent Void, except there is a dimensional rift and a cacophony of lysergic bird songs, garbled voices, found-sound pile-ups, space crickets, exotic pop songs, and heavy electronic buzzes kept bleeding into the cold emptiness. The more eclectic second disk ("Transfiguration") is the stronger of the two and "Transfiguration 2" is probably the most stand-out piece on the album, as it follows the faint strains of a ghostly cabaret chanteuse into a shape-shifting mindfuck of smoky noir jazz and wah-wah-drenched desert psych oases. Both disks build into sufficiently surreal and vivid crescendos to justify their duration, however, as the overall trend is that each gets better and better as they unfold. Epic length aside, my only other caveat is that the all-enveloping drones dilute too much of NWW's essence to make this a crucial release by normal Stapleton standards. That said, it is nevertheless a very likable one-off plunge down a deep space rabbit hole, roughly resembling either a Black Stars-era Lustmord remix of a NWW album or its reverse.

Samples:

  2450 Hits

"Mien (Yao) – Cannon Singing in China, Vietnam, Laos"

cover imageThis collection of (mostly) acapella field recordings from Kink Gong's Laurent Jeanneau truly emphasizes the "sublime" part of the Sublime Frequencies vision, as this is quite an eerily lovely and mesmerizing album. While the recordings span three different countries (China, Laos, and Vietnam), they are all roughly rooted in a single cultural milieu: the Chinese hill tribes known pejoratively as the Yao ("dog" or "savage"). Understandably, a large number of these tribal folk prefer the name Mien ("people"), but they are a multifarious bunch that have spread beyond China into Southeast Asia and evolved into numerous distinctive and divergent subcultures. The first half of the album is devoted to very pure and simple canon singing ("an initial melody is imitated at a specified time interval by one or more parts"), while the second half offers some compelling and more fleshed-out variations. While the "raw, ethereal, and cosmic" performances that Laurent captured need no additional enhancement to captivate me, the variations are every bit as great as the undiluted essence and give the album an impressively strong dynamic arc.

Sublime Frequencies

The opening "Lan Pan Moon" is a haunting and chant-like duet between two Laotian women (Keo and Na) centered upon a droning root tone. While the piece could not be much more simple melodically, the two women achieve an otherworldly beauty in the way they harmonize around the hypnotically cyclical motif. In fact, it feels akin to a harmonic dance, as the two voices keep diverging then reconverging into quavering unison, and the whole thing feels akin to a Lucier-ian feat of phase manipulation. The following "Kai Tian Pi Di" is a similarly unaccompanied duet (from China this time), but it shares some common stylistic ground with old African American work songs (there is even some bluesy note-bending). The album's second half kicks off with another piece from China, but it seems like an especially virtuosic version of the form, as the lead voice embellishes the central melody with a host of unusual bends, stammers, and ululation-like flourishes. The closing "Dao Cham" (from Vietnam) is still more divergent, however, as the heart of the piece is the clanging and rattling percussion of a lively ritualistic street procession. Gradually, the voices of the singers grow more prominent, yet the real beauty of the piece lies in how the various voices (singing and otherwise) lysergically drift in and out of focus. While I am not sure how intentional that was on Jeanneau's part, I certainly enjoy the effect, as it nicely blurs the line between field recording and sound collage. Due to the propulsive rhythm, the metallic physicality of the cymbals, and the surprise psychedelic elements, "Dao Cham" is my personal favorite on the album, but every single one of these pieces could be a revelation for adventurous ears.

Samples can be found here.

  2496 Hits

Dagar Gyil Ensemble Of Lawra, "Dagara - Gyil Music of Ghana's Upper West Region"

cover imageThis mesmerizing and unique gem from Sublime Frequencies documents some killer field recordings made by Hisham Mayet in the Upper West region of Ghana back in 2019. I knew absolutely nothing about gyril music before hearing this album, but the most salient detail is that the primary instrument is a traditional xylophone used by the Lobi people. That does not even remotely convey how strange and wonderful these recordings are, but SF's description includes phrases like "long form trance music" and "acoustic techno," and those seem to hit the mark in spirit. To me, this album sounds like a ritualistic drum circle, but way more sophisticated, melodic, and psych-damaged than anything I would expect from actual communal percussion. As with a lot of field-recorded Sublime Frequency fare, it is very easy to dismiss this album as just an interesting window into an underheard culture from a cursory or casual listen. Once I listened to Dagara in a focused way, however, it quickly revealed itself to be something quite transcendent, as it seamlessly merges the otherness of great "experimental" music with an almost ecstatic visceral intensity.

Sublime Frequencies

This album is ostensibly composed of two separate pieces that each span one side of vinyl, but the digital version is presented as a single 40-minute track, and the latter is exactly what it feels like. You can drop the needle anywhere on Dagara and roughly expect to get the same thing every time: vibrant percussion rhythms and unusual-sounding, interwoven xylophone melodies. That is primarily because no one piece of the puzzle stands out as particularly brilliant or memorable on its own. That said, the insanely complex web of overlapping rhythms and processed-sounding textures is legitimately amazing. And so is the way that the piece subtly and organically transforms like a dense cloud of migrating birds effortless shifting direction in perfect unison. It all cumulatively amounts to something psychedelic as hell, leading me to both envy whatever wavelength these cats are on AND marvel at how they managed to get there in perfect harmony. This is total hive mind, wheels-within-wheels territory in the best way. Beyond that, I would describe the overall aesthetic as "a tropical steel drum band went to India to study classical raga and Eastern spirituality and returned home completely unrecognizable and waaaaaay into psychedelics." That is a compliment (I would totally listen to such a band), but it also feels like that hypothetical band was then grist for a killer sound collage by a great tape artist. While I assume this was recorded entirely live, the smearing, deep vibraphone-like tones and the stammering, hesitating melodies sound alien and hallucinatory, similar to a serendipitous pile-up of unrelated loops locking gloriously in sync. There is much happening and all of it is interesting. In fact, I would be truly hard pressed to think of a "complex polyrhythm" opus from the 20th century avant-garde that could beat this ensemble at that game. Albums like this are exactly why I love Sublime Frequencies, as Dagara is a richly immersive tour de force of constantly shifting, interwoven patterns.

Samples can be found here.

  2514 Hits

Domiziano Maselli, "Lazzaro"

cover imageThis second album from Milan-based visual artist/electro-acoustic composer Domiziano Maselli can be a disorienting collision of disparate inspirations at times, but it is certainly an intensely visceral and compelling experience when it hits the mark. Opal's description of the album mentions that Maselli possesses an "uncanny skill to create non-conformist drama," which feels like an apt characterization. It is similarly fair to say that Maselli likely has an extreme fondness for the gloomy prime of artists like Haxan Cloak and Raime, as well as a deep appreciation for Emptyset's seismic and intense approach to sound design. Elements of all three are certainly present on Lazzaro, though Maselli proves quite adept at building upon their best bits. That said, there are also a few pieces that radically break from the influences Maselli wears on his sleeve and they are uniformly brilliant. In one case, he approximates a massive contraption of slowly whirling jagged, rusted metal blades, while elsewhere he unleashes something akin to a demonically possessed string quartet hellbent on conjuring the darkest psychedelia. For me, Lazarro is a very strong album for those two pieces alone, but his execution for everything else is quite impressive as well.

Opal Tapes

The opening "The Burrow" is the first of Lazzaro's two monster highlights, as it resembles a more malevolent and corroded sister to Eli Keszler's stellar Cold Pin album. It feels more like I am inside a vast, churning and scraping metal installation than like am hearing an electro-acoustic composition performed by a human, which is a neat trick. That said, there is evidence of Maselli's hand in some of the peripheral mindfuckery, as the mechanized intensity is enhanced by waves of seismic sub-bass, something resembling a flock of nightmarish birds, and some stammering and ravaged chords. At one point, I almost felt like I was aboard the Nostromo being menaced by skittering sounds from inside the walls. The following "A Desolation Chant" heads in a very different direction, approximating a soulful, reverberating sax solo in an empty parking garage. However, it often feels seem like the noirish sax licks transform into something menacing and sentient as they echo around their subterranean concrete environment, as there is a dark undercurrent of murky, gnarled dissonance and bass throb. Next, a brief interlude of storm sounds cleanses the palette for the album's second masterwork: the heaving and explosive string onslaught of "Gethsemane." While it has a haunted-sounding melodic motif at its core, the real magic lies in the violently sawing attack of the bow, the squealing harmonics, and the lysergic descending smears that appear in the background around the halfway point. To my ears, the epic two-part closer "Lazzaro" does not quite hit the same heights, but it is not a misfire either, as the diptych calls to mind a folk ensemble blearily emerging from a cave in the smoldering aftermath of the eschaton. That seems like a damn fitting way to end such a wonderfully blackened and intense album.

Samples can be found here.

  1520 Hits

Expo Seventy, "Evolution"

cover image

I'm abandoning this one. Please delete.

  269 Hits

The Humble Bee, "A Miscellany for the Quiet Hours"

cover imageIt admittedly took me a while to finally connect all the dots in my head, but it dawned on me recently that The Boats were kind of the Throbbing Gristle of a hard-to-define strain of ambient-adjacent bittersweet melancholia. My case: both Andrew Hargreaves and/or Craig Tattersall have been consistently involved in a host of varied and wonderful projects for more than two decades now (Hood, The Remote Viewer, Tape Loop Orchestra, etc.). The tape loop-focused The Humble Bee is Tattersall's most prolific and consistent endeavor; he has been releasing solo work and collaborations under that moniker since 2009. In fact, this album was the project's debut, but I only recently heard it for the first time, as its initial release was a limited CDr in a handmade case made from repurposed book covers (pictured). Last month, it got a well-deserved reissue on vinyl from the endearingly eccentric Astral Industries with VERY different cover art and it sold out instantly. That gives me hope for humanity, as this incredibly beautiful and absolutely sublime release deserves as much exposure as it can get. A Miscellany for the Quiet Hours is a stone-cold classic.

Cotton Goods/Astral Industries

Given the literary/antiquarian bent of the original packaging, "The Bedside Book" fittingly opens the album on a note of dreamily flickering, sepia-toned wistfulness. It conjures an understatedly gorgeous pile-up of frayed, overlapping, and gently crackling antique music box loops. The hits just keep coming from there, as Tattersall ingeniously weaves sparse melodic fragments into richly textured and sometimes achingly beautiful collages that feel like the work of an enchanted Victrola. I realize that the magic of this album is simply "Craig Tattersall has a great ear for loops and is extremely skilled at collaging them in interesting, soulful ways." However, it is still a genuinely surprising and improbable convergence of different threads. It sometimes seems like Mary Lattimore recorded source material for Everyone Alive Wants Answers–era Colleen, but then Philip Jeck cannibalized their album and teamed up with a jazz guy for an impressionistic and understated accompaniment to a night of classic silent film. In less convoluted terms, that means that Tattersall uses a lot of simple, but lovely harp-like melodies that pop, crackle, and warble in pleasantly languorous fashion, but sometimes a double bass or a trumpet will steer things in a more sensual or noir direction. The album highlight is probably "Technical Press," which punches up Tattersall's already beautiful vision with a cool bass loop and plenty of wobbly and warped psychedelic flourishes. Elsewhere, "With Answers" makes similarly effective use of backwards sounds, but in more throbbing, ambient-minded fashion, while the closing "P209" feels like a killer dub techno classic that's been frayed and hiss-ravaged into something a bit more hypnagogic. While those four pieces are currently my favorites, competition is unusually fierce, as Tattersall's instincts are absolutely unerring on this album.

Samples can be found here.

  1641 Hits

Joe Colley, "Trance Tapes"

cover imageBack in 2016, noise/sound art legend Joe Colley returned from a lengthy hiatus to release the solid No Way In on Jason Lescalleet's Glistening Examples, but he has been extremely quiet ever since, surfacing only to release a tape of a durational live performance last year. Happily, he is back again with another major statement and it is quite a monster. It is also unusually accessible at times, as Trance Tapes lives up to its name beautifully (though those trances inevitably curdle into nightmare territory). In some ways, this album resembles a classic noise tape on the more "industrial" side of the spectrum, as each of the four pieces is built from a foundation of relentless, obsessively repeating "machine-noise" to varying degrees. That is merely the starting point, however, as each piece rapidly blossoms into a vividly psychotropic mindbomb of viscerally buzzing frequencies and hypnotically repeating chirps, bleeps, throbs, and looping drones. I suspect many serious noise fans would roll their eyes or spit out their drink in disbelief if I had the temerity to proclaim this a career highlight, so I will refrain from doing that. However, it is extremely difficult to imagine a Joe Colley or Crawl Unit album in which he was able to realize his vision with more clarity and focus than he does with this near-perfect tour de force.

No Rent

"Program One" kicks off the album with insistent, rapid pulses of machine-like hum that initially feel like a locked groove, but rapidly begin accumulating both momentum and layers of killer mindfuckery. By the time the piece is even one-third through, it has blossomed into a nightmare of gibbering, squirming, and clicking insectoid cacophony. It then dissolves into a throbbing and otherworldly coda of futuristic electronic chirps that accumulate high frequencies that make the air vibrate and my brain buzz. That sensation is an extremely familiar one with Trance Tapes, as Colley is quite adept at luring me into a numbed state with mechanical repetition while sneakily unleashing high frequencies that will relentlessly drill deeper and deeper into my consciousness. Anyone who makes it through that entire song at reasonably high volume will absolutely feel slightly insane by the end. I mean that as a compliment, but I suspect a person could easily be convinced that this tape was leaked from some secret CIA black ops project involving the weaponization of high frequencies.  

"Program Two" gleefully keeps those more brain-burrowing frequency attacks coming (sharper than ever!), but also feels like an army of wind-up toys showed up as well. It is the album's greatest endurance test, but I feel like I am the one at fault for being too mentally weak to withstand the full force of Colley's merciless sensory assault. The second half is thankfully a bit less malevolently sanity-eroding, yet it is every bit as good. "Program Three" resembles a vast futuristic field of hissing sprinklers and robot lawnmowers that grows progressively more smeared and buzzy, while "Program Four" sounds like a couple of '70s synth guys attempting to mimic a (psychedelic) frog pond at night. Surprisingly, that final piece is almost semi-melodic at times, like a small but sweet reward for joining Colley in such a deep plunge down an oft-disturbing rabbit hole.

Samples can be found here.

  2060 Hits

I Feel Like a Bombed Cathedral, "γένεσις" (Genesis)

cover imageThis solo drone project from Ulan Bator's Amaury Cambuzat has been one of my favorite discoveries of the last few years, as both AmOrtH and W featured moments that induced me to proclaim that Cambuzat was "a goddamn drone shaman." This latest album was a bit of a surprise, however, as Cambuzat casually made it available as a digital-only release on his Bandcamp page with just a simple description of "This is the very first recording of I Feel Like a Bombed Cathedral." Apparently, the recordings date from early 2018 and I am amazed that Cambuzat did not feel inclined to make them public until now, as a handful of these pieces are absolute gems that rank among the project’s finest work. A few of the other ones admittedly feel like a searching, partially formed vision of the greatness to come, but γένεσις is much, much better than its humble "vault clearing" origins suggest. I would not have been at all disappointed if this was a proper new Bombed Cathedral release, as the album is absolutely teaming with beautifully warped guitar sounds and immersive layers of richly textured psychedelia. In fact, γένεσις only heightens my expectations for whatever Cambuzat might be working on now, as no sane person would keep music this great on the shelf for three years unless they had something even better in the pipeline.

Self-Released

I have no idea if the opening "Te Deum" was the birth of this project or not, but it certainly does a hell of a job at conjuring up images of a recently bombed cathedral, as the organ-like tones of Cambuzat's guitar feel like rays of sunlight passing through thick smoke and stained glass (a feeling further enhanced by the deep, elegiac chord progression beneath). It is extremely brief, so it does not rank as an album highlight, but there are at least four other pieces that do. The first admittedly takes a while to get going, as "Tibi Omnes" devotes two minutes to a single sharp feedback-like tone that flickers like a candle. Fortunately, it then spends the next fourteen minutes blossoming into a beautiful, dreamlike vision of a mass in an ancient cathedral that has caught in a film projector and begun to burn and bubble in slow motion. The following "Dignare" gamely continues the "organ-like guitar tones collide with the distending fabric of reality" theme with great success. It roughly approximates the organ accompaniment to a silent gothic horror film, but slowed way down until it bleeds into itself while the projector erratically warps the film. Later "Te Ergo Quaesumus" continues another big theme ("nightmarishly crystalline approximations of a pipe organ"), but also sounds like wind chimes played back at such an extremely slow speed that everything is in a grainy, smeared state of suspended animation. I suppose the closing "γένεσις" could be the true first Bombed Cathedral piece given its name, but I would be surprised, as it is the most brilliant and sophisticated one on the album. It calls to mind a demonic calliope that acts as a nightmare machine, as "wrong" notes in the melody keep lingering to form sickly, infernal harmonies. All of that amounts to an impressively solid album, but anyone who digs Cambuzat's work will absolutely want to hear that title piece, as it is unquestionably a career highlight of some kind.

Samples can be found here.

  1684 Hits

Leider, "A Fog Like Liars Loving"

cover imageThis is the debut album from a Berlin-based foursome dedicated to performing the works of Malaysian-born composer/trombonist Rishin Singh. Notably, Singh is also a member of Konzert Minimal, which is a modern classical ensemble dedicated to performing compositions by the Wandelweiser collective. In a 2016 New Yorker profile of the Wandelweiser milieu, Alex Ross noted that one recurring theme in their work is a "ghost tonality never achieves stability; it will frustrate those who expect one chord to lead logically to another." Singh's own vision shares a lot of similar stylistic terrain, as A Fog Like Liars Loving is nothing if not ghostly (and creepy (and unsettling)). It resembles an alternate universe version of Low in which they were a chamber music ensemble that listened to a steady diet of nothing but Jandek, Scott Walker, Marble Index-era Nico, and warped old folk records played at the wrong speed. That said, Singh definitely has an unusually sophisticated sensibility regarding dissonant harmonies and the entire album has an eerily nocturnal, dread-soaked, and somnambulant feel that is uniquely Leider's own. Purportedly, the album also features an "understated gallows humor," which is also an achievement of sorts, as Singh has managed to cultivate a strain of black humor so bleak that even I often have a hard time detecting it.

Beacon Sound

I never would have guessed on my own that this album was written by a male trombonist, as the most prominent threads that run throughout these songs are the dual female vocals of Annie Gårlid and Stine Sterne, the moaning strings, and the curdled, murky flutes. All are abundant in the creeping fog of dread and hanging dissonance that is the opening "The Weeping Wound," but the quartet's blurred gloom is also imbued with a sense of insistent (if glacial) forward motion by a simple drum machine pattern. Ironically, it is often that minimal drum machine element that determines how well a song works, as the compositions themselves are so purposely wraithlike and alienating that even the slightest rhythm feels like a welcome injection of life and physicality (akin to a still-beating heart faintly thumping within a corpse). When that beat disappears, Leider approximate a traditional folk ensemble from an earlier era that has been exhumed, reanimated, and handed rotted, mis-tuned instruments…and then asked to envision what The Wicker Man soundtrack would sound like if it had been an Ingmar Bergman film. That said, one of those beatless pieces is arguably the album's bleakly compelling centerpiece, as "Great Expectations" transforms a few lines of Dickens into a menacing dirge that erupts into a visceral, squealing catharsis. "Colder Underground" is another dirge/highlight, calling to mind a time-stretched Celtic folk ensemble accompanied by a slowly beating heart. It even has a hook, as the repeating refrain of "do you find it funny?" is surprisingly catchy and also feels like the final thing I might hear before being murdered by a coven of forest witches. I suspect I would probably like the rest of the album considerably more if it were less relentlessly dour (it makes for difficult entertainment), but Singh's focused vision feels like a promising success as art, as I can easily imagine an installation based on this album being a macabre sensation at a contemporary art museum.

Samples can be found here.

  1744 Hits

loscil, "Clara"

cover imageThis latest release from Scott Morgan’s long-running loscil project is a bit of a conceptual detour from his usual fare, as the entire album was "sourced from a single three-minute composition performed by a 22-piece string orchestra in Budapest." That is not all, however, as that brave composition's unconventional journey also included an intermediate stage in which it was "lathe-cut on to a 7-inch, then 'scratched and abused to add texture and color.'" Despite those unusual origins, Clara still sounds exactly like a loscil album, as Morgan is nothing if not consistent. In this case, that basically translates as "a slow-motion dub techno album lurking behind a grayscale ambient fog," but the magic lies in the execution (as always) and Morgan has never been a slouch in that regard. In fact, he succeeds on two fronts with this release, as Clara is both another fine loscil album and an impressive feat of inventive de-/ re-construction, as Morgan managed to transform three minutes of music into a varied, absorbing, and dynamically satisfying album-length statement (and he made it all seem effortless and natural to boot).

Kranky

The opening "Lux" rolls in like a thick fog of slow-motion melancholy, as deep, exhalation-like chords swell and dissipate around a steadily intensifying core of shimmering drones. It is exactly the kind of piece I expect from loscil, which is generally a good thing, but there are a handful of other pieces that feel like something considerably more transcendent. The first such piece is "Lumina," which is basically feels like the rough draft of “Lux” heard several drafts later, as it is centered around a similar theme of slowly billowing clouds of ambient murk. This time, however, there is a hissing and shuffling rhythmic undercurrent and a quietly bubbling arpeggio melody to elevate it into something far more memorable. It also seems to get better and better the more I listen to it, as Morgan is a master of textural nuance, as the bleak grandeur of "Lumina" is a feast of frayed, rippling, hissing, and billowing sounds that complement each other beautifully. The following "Lucida" is also noteworthy, as it delves into a brighter, warmer strain of glacial dub-inflected ambiance, but also has a subtly disorienting pulse that feels like a lonely buoy fading off into the distance of a sun-dappled sea. It is the two-song run that comes next that feels like the heart of the album, however, as "Stella" feels like an especially cinematic and noirish incarnation of Clara's themes, calling to mind a lovesick John Le Carre character brooding at a desolately beautiful beach in the winter, while “Vespera” is unexpectedly sensual and twinkling. Later, "Orta" is another strong candidate for the album’s best piece, as slow, beautiful chords form a languorous, dreamlike pulse while submerged field recordings subtly enhance that blissful sense of unreality. Elsewhere, "Flamma" feels like another glimpse into the same haunting beach noir as "Stella," while the radiant thrum of the closing title piece feels like an angel giving a drone performance from inside a cloud. Clara is more than a fresh batch of strong individual songs though, as the various pieces form a beautifully meditative and constantly evolving whole that feels akin to watching distant thunderstorms darken the skies (and then slowly dissipate) from the inside of a cozy seaside home.

Samples can be found here.

  1842 Hits

People Like Us, "Welcome Abroad"

cover imageI was a bit surprised to see this album getting the "10-year-anniversary deluxe vinyl reissue" treatment, as I did not remember it making a particularly big splash when it was first issued on Illegal Art back in 2011. Then again, I would be hard-pressed to think of any album in the "plunderphonics" milieu that has made a big splash in the last two decades, as existing in a legal gray area in a litigious world is not exactly optimal for promoting records. In any case, I missed this album the first time around because I mistakenly thought that I was already reasonably familiar with Vicki Bennett's work and found it charming, fun, and clever, but not quite something that destined to deeply move me or blow my mind. As it turns out, I was very wrong about that, as this album reaches some truly dazzling and remarkably poignant heights. While I do regret that I could have spent the last decade regularly enjoying this magnum opus, Welcome Abroad actually feels like a perfect album to experience for the first time in 2021, as it was recorded while Bennett found herself unexpectedly stranded in the US due to the Iceland volcano's impact on air travel. Consequently, Bennett was preoccupied with themes of "displacement" and "a longing for elsewhere," which are themes that feel especially universal and powerful in light of the last couple years. And, of course, there is no one better at transforming recontextualized fragments of pop culture ephemera into a life-affirming phantasia of mischievous joie de vivre than Vicki Bennett.

Discrepant

The best way to describe the Welcome Abroad experience is that it feels like a once-great Broadway director bottomed out and attempted to make a comeback with a razzle-dazzle, star-studded extravaganza about homesickness. Unfortunately, they needed cash and all of the willing investors had VERY strong and VERY specific opinions about the tone of the production. Miraculously, the director somehow succeeded in making something dazzling and beautiful, but it absolutely bulged with disorientingly absurd and kitschy leaps between '70s pop hits, vintage cartoons, Weimar Republic cabaret, cowboy movies, easy listening crooners, family sing-a-longs, Bond movies, and campy children's television. And while the show may not perfectly hit the mark with every single number, its many showstoppers are deliriously kinetic, fiendishly clever, and sometimes hit much harder than one would expect from their deceptively cheery tone. The first such gem is "Happy Lost Songs," which sounds like a community theater tribute to John Denver that was infiltrated by a vocal jazz ensemble and several delightful Looney Toons characters. "The Look" is more of a slow burn, but the reward is well worth the journey, as a sultry cabaret chanteuse bleeds into a wistful '60s surfsploitation scene, then it all unexpectedly erupts into a spectacular celebration of AM Gold hits (with plenty of overlapping along the way). Elsewhere, "Ever" feels like a delirious swirl of classic ‘60s girl group heaven, while "Push The Clouds Away" resembles a heartbroken cowboy restlessly playing records while lamenting his loneliness. It is predictably strange and disorienting, but when the right record comes on, it feels crushingly poignant and soulful too. The closing "The Atlantic Conveyor" is yet another emotional depth charge, as the kitschy collision of The Beatles and a schmaltzy Las Vegas crooner melds into a surprisingly moving finale. Nearly everything about this album is both great and fun though, as my notes are riddled with phrases like "The Muppets throw a Mardi Gras Party," "someone gave Piper at the Gates of Dawn-era Syd Barrett a variety show," "Satie on Bald Mountain," and "a singin' and dancin' temper tantrum extravaganza." I think Vicki Bennett might be my favorite artist now. This album is brilliant.

Samples can be found here.

  1761 Hits

Carl Stone, "Stolen Car"

cover imageIn theory, this album was released last September (which feels like a hundred years ago), but the LP only recently made its way into stores and distros, which is an increasingly familiar story these days. Fortunately, that long delay inspired me to revisit the album with fresh ears and I discovered that I actually liked it quite a lot more than I remembered. That statement deserves an asterisk though, as my earlier issue with Stolen Car was merely that I had already played the amazing Au Jus/The Jugged Hare and Ganci & Figli singles to death and those are probably the four best songs here. That unsurprisingly made the actual album a bit of an anticlimax, as my expectations were absolutely sky high and only those singles could meet them. Had I not already been extremely familiar with those four pieces, however, I suspect Stolen Car's release would have inspired me to run out into the street to grab random strangers by the shoulders and demand to know why they were just going about their mundane lives when they could be listening to this delirious, rapturous swirl of kaleidoscopic pop brilliance instead. On the bright side, not doing that may have spared me a night in jail, so I guess it all ultimately worked out. Admittedly, I still think this is a bit of an uneven album, but it is at least half of a masterpiece too, as I am hard-pressed to think of many people who can touch Carl Stone at the height of his powers (which he is frequently at here).

Unseen Worlds

Carl Stone has certainly had a lengthy and fascinating career, but his recent work feels like it is on a different plane altogether and that plane is quite an endearingly fun and gleefully deranged place to be. In fact, it is a challenge to wrap my mind around the fact that the same man whose "jazz rock" band auditioned for Frank Zappa's label in the late '60s is also responsible for the opening "Pasjoli," which sounds like an Egyptian disco album being pulled apart by a black hole in the middle of an '80s hip hop block party. While it is not the best song on the album, "Pasjoli" does quite a fine job of laying down all of the album's themes in impressively vivid and dizzying fashion: from the first note to the last, Stolen Car is a manic, stammering, go-for-broke culmination of Stone's unique approach to cultural appropriation (absolutely everything is fair game and disorienting juxtapositions are both welcome and rampant). Aside from the four songs previously released as singles (the swirling, delirious pop cut-up "Figli" being the best), my favorite piece is "Bojuk," which feels like a soulful contemporary dance hit chopped into an unintelligible fragment language coupled with an anthemic hook that feels like it should have its own line dance. In general, the poppiest songs on Stolen Car are the best, but Stone's eccentric vision of "pop" feels like the entire history of The Eurovision Song Contest condensed into a single wild hallucination. Or perhaps like someone crammed Dexy's Midnight Runners, a classical quartet, a dance diva, a turntablist, and some yodelers into an elevator and told them they couldn’t leave until they recorded a hit together. I also enjoyed the divergent "Huanchaco," which resembles a tight fusion band remixed into jackhammering psychedelic lunacy by a maniac. Admittedly, there are also a handful of songs that do not quite hit the mark, but they are decisively outweighed by the great ones and Stolen Car as a whole sounds like a wildly pixelated and accelerated version of Jon Hassell's Fourth World aesthetic beamed back from twenty years in the future.

Samples can be found here.

  1920 Hits