Noveller, "Aphantasia"

cover imageSarah Lipstate's latest opus enigmatically borrows its title from a disorder in which those afflicted lose the ability to create mental imagery and associations (it literally translates as "without imagination"). If there is a polar opposite of that disorder, there is a strong probability that Lipstate has it, as Aphantasia is an absolute tour de force of imaginative, vividly realized visions. In fact, there are twenty-two such self-contained visions on the album and very few of them stretch beyond a minute or two in length. That can be a bit exasperating at times, as the most wonderful ideas are often some of the most ephemeral, but the sheer volume of killer motifs on display could have been the framework for four albums of great fully formed songs rather than one dazzling array of brief vignettes. That unusual album structure was entirely by design, of course, as Lipstate viewed each song as a "a short sharp flash," further noting that "if her usual process brought about cinematic results, these were something new – something swift and intriguing." The "something new" is that the album is intended as something akin to a poetry collection, and it succeeds admirably in that light while still remaining extremely damn cinematic regardless. The fragmentary nature of this album will likely garner a somewhat polarized response from fans, but I doubt that anyone will question whether Lipstate is at the height of her creative powers right now.

Self-Released

The best way to view Aphantasia is as an impressionist funhouse in which each door reveals a fleeting glimpse of something wonderful (or disturbing) that quickly dissolves to make way for the next vision. The darkest vignettes mostly arrive early on, as "Rune (for Silent Guitar)" feels like the soundtrack to a psychedelic folk horror film, while smeared and curdled synth tones of "A Valley of Snakes" call to mind a lurid, art-damaged giallo classic. Elsewhere, the more substantial "The Haunted Man" feels like a great post-rock band adding quietly smoldering accompaniment to an eerily lit Dario Argento film. The darkness resurfaces a few more times near end of the album as well, as "The Gatherer" feels like a creepy, feedback-ravaged faerie tale, while "Night/Heist" briefly resembles a nightmarishly Lynchian rockabilly band. In between and around those more haunted moments, the remaining seventeen songs are like a highlight reel of imaginary dreampop, 4AD, and goth-rock classics from the late '80s and early '90s (though they seldom make it very far beyond the opening hook). The best pieces sound like Lipstate channeled some beloved band from the shoegaze/dreampop golden age, made some sort of ingenious and welcome improvement, isolated the best part, then quickly moved onto the next challenge. In "to love / dream you," for example, she evokes a more tender and burbling Lovesliescrushing, then later repeats that same feat even more impressively with "Annalemma." Elsewhere, "Vanishing" sounds like the achingly gorgeous coda of an imagined Slowdive masterpiece, while "33" feels like a glimpse of an absolutely sublime lost Durutti Column classic. At other times, Lipstate conjures a more psych-minded Bauhaus or Santo & Johnny lost in a phantasmagoric fever dream. Throughout it all, she unleashes a characteristically dazzling host of killer effects and cool textures. I expected that part, obviously, but did not expect her to casually toss off so many gorgeous melodic themes as well. Admittedly, part of me wishes there was at least one perfect, fully realized single akin to "Deep Shelter" here, but the sheer volume of great ideas on display makes for a wonderfully kaleidoscopic and immersive whole.

Samples can be found here.

  1692 Hits

DJ Plead, "Relentless Trills"

cover imageNewly remastered by Rashad Becker and given a vinyl reissue, Relentless Trills first surfaced on cassette as part of Boomkat's eclectic Documenting Sound series devoted to home recordings made during the pandemic. Given those origins, it makes sense that this full-length debut showcases a very different side of DJ Plead's artistry than his impressive run of oft-killer EPs. Given that, curious listeners intrigued by the Australian producer's unique blend of cutting edge UK dance subgenres with Middle Eastern influences like dabke and mahraganat should probably head to 2020's Going For It EP first to experience the "out-of-control Lebanese wedding party" brilliance of prime DJ Plead before exploring this inspired detour. That said, this surprisingly experimental, stripped-down, and post-punk-adjacent departure from his strengths is quite a compelling listen in its own right. Boomkat's description rightly tosses around adjectives like "humid" and "sensual" to describe this bedroom DIY fantasia of floating Middle Eastern melodies and languorously simmering grooves, but that does not paint the entire picture, as Relentless Trills also masterfully dips its toes in hazy psychedelia, plunderphonics, and a hauntingly beautiful beatless synth piece. The latter ("RT6") unexpectedly steals the show, as DJ Plead (Jarred Beeler) has a remarkably great ear for melody and atmosphere, yet this entire release is quite a singular, propulsive, and (of course) sensually humid experience from start to finish.

Boomkat Editions

This album instantly won me over within the first moments of its endearingly weird opener, which ingeniously marries a very insistent and ‘80s-sounding "funk punk" bass line with samples from some kind of Middle Eastern talk show. There is also a cool Arabic synth melody running throughout the song, but my favorite part is how the talk show keeps unpredictably being autotuned into ephemeral melodies. Talk show samples aside, "RT1" is fairly representative of the entire album, as nearly all of the sounds originate from the same Yamaha 'Oriental' keyboard. Beeler's amusingly self-deprecating liner notes also state that he recorded lots of "self-indulgent melodic hooks" and initially set out to make a drum-less ambient album of sorts. At some point, he changed his mind and added some simple rhythmic accompaniment ("I'm praying that this tape doesn't sound like Deep Forest") and ultimately landed upon something that resembles Gang of Four backing a virtuosic Middle Eastern wedding musician. Notably, those "self indulgent" melodies are the best part of the album, as every song has some kind of wonderfully smoky, winding, or soulful hook that fluidly unfold over an obsessively repeating staccato groove (often dancehall-inspired, but more stark and thudding). That "staccato" bit was an odd choice given how adept DJ Plead has been at unleashing vibrant and complex rhythms in the past, but the songcraft is strong enough to make it work despite that (it feels akin to watching a boxer handily demolish an opponent with one hand tied behind his back). That said, "RT3" feels like an instant highlight primarily because the groove is allowed to flow a bit more than usual. Then again, the closer dispenses with a beat altogether to combine a dreamily fluttering melody with a pulsing chord progression that feels like a psychedelically deconstructed house classic and it is absolutely gorgeous. There is not a weak piece in the bunch though, as DJ Plead's melodic and songcraft instincts are remarkably unerring. I cannot even begin to imagine how great the resultant album would be if he ever figures out how to seamlessly combine this side of his work with his usual rhythmic intensity.

Samples can be found here.

  1624 Hits

Beatriz Ferreyra, "Canto+"

cover imageRoom40 continues its campaign to celebrate this Argentinian composer's underheard body of work with a second volume of selected pieces very different from the voice- and field recording-centric fare of last year's Echos+. That said, Canto+ does share its predecessor's curatorial aesthetic of combining pieces from her more prolific ‘70s heyday with more recent work and the differing eras sit quite comfortably together. To some degree, Canto+ feels like a very synth-driven album, as there are plenty of modular synth sounds and textures fluttering and chirping around, but nailing down an overarching vision that unites these pieces is surprisingly elusive, as every piece is full of unexpected and surreal detours into unfamiliar terrain. In fact, that elusiveness is arguably what most defines Ferreyra's work the most here, as a major recurring theme of Canto+ is the organically fluid and oft-surprising way in which these pieces evolve: they never linger very long in familiar melodic or structural territory, yet they always wind up getting somewhere unique and compelling. Of the two Room40 collections, I still prefer Echos+ as a whole, but a piece like "Canto del loco (Mad Man's Song)" would probably be a highlight on just about any release (Ferreyra-related or otherwise). Ferreyra's vision can admittedly be challenging at times, but the rewards make it a journey well worth taking.

Room40

It is always a pleasant surprise when the best song on an album is also the longest and that is the case with the aforementioned "Canto del loco." Happily, it delivers on its provocative title too, resembling the sort of hallucinatory tour de force that could only be brought to life by a mad genius, as Ferreyra alternately conjures a rubbery and rhythmic chorus of psychedelic frogs, an enchanted night meadow of flickering fireflies, an eruption of spectral banshees, and several other equally bizarre scenes over the course of the piece's twelve minutes. Sometimes it also sounds like disjointedly alien and gelatinous synth blatting, but just about everything Ferreyra unleashes feels wildly unique, eerily beautiful, or unnervingly otherworldly. It is definitely a ride that I did not want to end. Fortunately, the pieces that follow are compellingly weird too (if somewhat less unrelentingly dazzling). On "Pas de 3…ou plus," a hushed and hissing swirl of voices turns into something akin to an asteroid field before resolving into a dripping, gurgling, and echoing coda of liquid sounds. Then the following "Jingle Bayle's" sounds like a scene in a whimsically haunted clocktower that blossoms into a full-on Lovecraftian nightmare. I believe both of those pieces are more recent ones (composed nearly four decades after 1974's "Canto del loco"), but "Etude aux sons flegmatiques" returns to the '70s for another fine extended piece. It initially sounds like a deep bell tone is supernaturally transforming into a lysergically bleary haze of shifting feedback, but ultimately blossoms into something resembling a simmering and understated noise guitar performance of amplified squeaks, creaks, and whines (I bet there is probably a Kevin Drumm album in a similar vein lurking somewhere in his vast discography). The final piece then shifts gears yet again, as "Au revoir l’Ami" calls to mind ghosts flitting in and out of the shadows during an electroacoustic improv session in an abandoned and partially submerged factory. All five pieces are impressive feats of mindfuckery, but I was most struck by the twisting and turning trajectories they each took to get there. Beatriz Ferreyra is a composer like no other, as this album is like exploring a funhouse in which a new trapdoor is always poised to drop me somewhere even more unfamiliar.

Samples can be found here.

  1941 Hits

The House in the Woods, "Spectral Corridor"

cover imageThis appears to be the first major release for this long-running (if fitful) Pye Corner Audio side project, as Martin Jenkins' previous albums under this alias have all been limited CD-Rs. It certainly feels like a suitably strong statement for such an occasion. In the words of Ecstatic, Spectral Corridor "treads the line between occult soundtrack and zonked out space jam," which is a fairly apt characterization of Jenkins' latest aesthetic evolution even if it does not quite do justice to the sublime beauty of some of these pieces. According to Jenkins, this project draws its inspiration from "field recordings of walks through forests wielding finger chimes, long slow tape loops, treated guitars, elegiac organ tones, free running oscillator banks and chance operations," which mostly translates into slowly pulsing drones, subtle psychedelic touches, and a pervading air of shadowy mystery. That said, Spectral Corridor sounds considerably different from its more lush 2013 predecessor Bucolica, as Jenkins clearly took the "spectral" part of the album title very seriously, distilling his synth-centric ambient/drone to a wonderfully haunted-sounding and elegantly brooding suite of gently phantasmagoric soundscapes.

Ecstatic

The album opens with a plinky yet insistent drum machine pattern that is quickly joined by a seesawing pulse of deep drones. Eventually, the piece ("Tone Intervals") gets fleshed out with warmer harmonies, submerged melodic fragments, and a woozily oscillating thrum. It is a perfectly executed slow burn, as Jenkins masterfully weaves together a handful of simple themes into a hypnotically swaying reverie that slowly builds in intensity and rhythmic complexity. For that one piece, Jenkins seems like he is operating on a plane of inventive minimalism that few others can touch, as the purring, quavering, and gently heaving rhythm elevates a good piece into quite a great one. The following "Spectral Corridor Part 4" is another highlight, albeit a very different and far more dramatic one. For me, it evokes a cold sky full of eerily pulsing and twinkling stars, but it also sounds like some killer early '70s space synth guy scoring a film about a macabre bit of forest folklore. Yet another gem is the tenderly languorous dreamscape "Quadratic," which unfolds like warm waves lapping the shore of an enchanted grotto. It is by far the most nakedly beautiful piece on the album and feels like a perfectly crafted loop that could extend forever, but Jenkins also performs some neat textural sleight of hand, as it steadily takes on a more hissing and quivering character as it folds. To my ears, the rest of the album does not quite hit the same heights, but it is impressively solid nonetheless, as Jenkins alternates between more minimal drone pieces and something akin to Tangerine Dream scoring a scary and intense film set in a space station or futuristic city (a description that applies to much of the four-part title suite). Fans of retro-futurist synth atmospheres will especially dig the latter, as that is one realm where Jenkins truly excels.

Samples can be found here.

  1394 Hits

Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective, "Ngủ Ngày Ngay Ngày Tận Thế"

cover imageUnraveling the discography and line-up mutations of this Ho Chi Minh City-based collective turned out to be quite an unexpected challenge, as they have been releasing full-lengths and EPs since at least 2014, yet this latest album is being billed as the project's debut. I thought this might be the first release with "collective" appended to the group's name, but that is not the case either. That said, the project now appears to be a trio consisting of original members Phạm Thế Vũ and Jung Buffalo, as well as relatively recent addition Zach Schreier (who ostensibly composed much of the album). In any case, this latest release bears little stylistic resemblance to several of RCD's previous releases. Much of that is likely due to the involvement of Berlin-based producer Ziúr, who alternately punched up the songs to Subtext's exactingly high standards, "reduced them to a cinder," or "beamed them into the fifth dimension." Regardless of how this album took shape, it is quite a dazzling and deliriously kinetic achievement, resembling a freewheeling Carl Stone-esque plunderphonic tour de force of shapeshifting Vietnamese cultural fragments.

Subtext

The title of this album roughly translates "Sleeping Through the Apocalypse," which is a colorful yet remarkably apt description of the trio's dizzying and disorienting vision. The "sleep" part is a bit misleading though, as this album more closely evokes the troubled, jumbled, and cacophonous dreams of an overstimulated and media-saturated mind in an increasingly unraveling world. In more concrete terms, that means the album is a hyper-caffeinated maelstrom of surreal collisions and transformations. I tend to loathe most releases that could be described as "aggressively genre-defying" or "like _____ in a blender," but there is a coherent overarching "sound collage" vision here that weaves all of those jarring shifts into a churning and warping near-masterpiece of mindfuckery. Given that, trying to accurately describe even a single song is hopeless, as my notes are filled with phrases like "the most incredible Terry Riley song ever just became Vietnamese cloud rap karaoke." The closing "Đme giựt mồng" that I just described is one of the album's stone-cold gems, but there are quite a few other highlights to be found as well. Some other favorites are "Aztec Glue" ("dreamy pulsing synth reverie gets violently interrupted by an in-the-red Ben Frost remix") and pair of pieces that feel like they could be the work of a supernaturally possessed radio ("Eri Eri…" and "Infinite"). The former sounds like a deranged pile of overlapping stations or Carl Stone at his most kaleidoscopic and unstable, but the collective further spice things up with psychotically shifting speeds and an unexpectedly rapturous crescendo. "Infinite," on the other hand, sounds like Vietnamese dance pop chopped and stretched into a stammering nightmare. The stammering is especially impressive, as the piece sometimes feels like a cacophony of the world's airwaves is organically shaping into pulsing rhythms. At other times, the album calls to mind free jazz, whale songs, or Popul Vuh and absolutely all of it is vividly fried, as this album is a gleefully shapeshifting feast of wide-ranging and inspired ideas from start to finish. In fact, it feels favorably like channel-surfing through like a dozen different cool albums at once. This is instantly one of my favorite albums in the Subtext canon.

Samples can be found here.

  1929 Hits

Midwife, "Luminol"

cover imageThis latest album from Madeline Johnston takes its title from a forensic chemical that emits a blue glow when it comes in contact with blood at a crime scene. That macabre yet beautiful transformation provides the album's guiding metaphor, as Johnston attempts the similar feat of "turning trial and tribulation into sources of light." That is thematically familiar Midwife territory, of course, but Luminol feels like the beginning of a new phase stylistically, as these songs are simultaneously more anthemic and more starkly minimal than the project’s previous fare. While that is not necessarily an unstable combination, Johnston does tone down her artier tendencies to fitfully showcase a newfound love of tighter songcraft and hard rock-inspired swagger. That approach suits her unexpectedly well, as some of the better moments of Luminol resemble a hiss-ravaged shoegaze deconstruction of a power ballad by someone like Lita Ford, Pat Benatar, or Joan Jett, which is certainly something I was not expecting to encounter here. Luminol is definitely more of an straightforward "rock" record than I anticipated. For the most part, however, Johnston’s hazy, slow-motion, and abstracted homages to ‘80s and ‘90s rock radio work quite well, as this album seems to have instantly become a fan favorite. Some fans of previous albums will likely miss Midwife's sharper edges, but I suspect most will warm to this more punchy and comparatively playful side of Johnston's art.

The Flenser

The album's release was preceded by a pair of singles that beautiful illustrate two of the divergent stylistic directions in this somewhat transitional-feeling phase. My favorable is the ultra-minimal slow burn of the opening "God is a Cop," which is based upon little more than a descending keyboard melody and a repeating, hiss-soaked refrain of "I can't kill the evil thoughts." Eventually Johnston expands upon those lyrics, but the most impressive facet of the piece is how she creates such a perfect simmering tension that every newly added note or embellishment feels like a glimpse of a tightly restrained underlying storm. The closing "Christina’s World" is similarly minimal, but feels unexpectedly radiant and gospel-inspired, as it builds to a repeating group refrain of "show me the way" over some simple piano chords (though it is spiced up with some winding harmonized guitar parts in the periphery). In between those two poles of dark and light lie a curious array of emotional shades and varying degrees of greatness.

The more accessible end of the spectrum is represented by the slowly chugging "Enemy" (akin to a shoegaze-damaged mutation of '90s grunge) and another uplifting piano-driven piece in the vein of "Christina’s World" ("Promise Ring"). The latter has some appealing twists though, as Johnston sweetly sings "love will break your heart forever" like a fatalist mantra while a cool undercurrent of trippy guitars gradually intensifies. It also features some very "hard rock" riff flourishes that are amusingly effective. Aside from "God is a Cop," the strongest piece is probably the sole throwback to Midwife's earlier seething intensity, "Colorado," which uses the mantric repetition of a couple of rueful phrases as a foundation for killer guitar pyrotechnics somewhere between Pink Floyd and grinding noise. Elsewhere, "2020" is the most fascinating piece, as Johnston jacks a chorus from The Offspring to approximate Joan Jett-style pop on a sleazy, druggy bender. It sounds like the imaginary band that would be playing at an extremely hip club in an arty, neon-soaked cult film, which is a very cool niche to land in. It also makes me wonder if there are other layers of pop culture appropriation happening elsewhere, as Luminol may very well be a bittersweet love letter to the ambient sounds of Johnston's past (she notes at another point that she is "born to run," for example). Than again, maybe I am projecting all of that. In any case, Luminol is yet another solid album from Midwife. It does not quite rank among my personal pantheon of stone-cold Midwife masterpieces, but the great moments remain as powerful as ever.

Samples can be found here.

  1570 Hits

Julian Sartorius, "Locked Grooves"

cover imageWhen I first found out about this album, I was not quite sure how to feel about its ambitious structural premise, as the idea of a vinyl record with 112 locked grooves felt suspiciously like a willfully annoying conceptual art statement. That said, I am unable to ever resist the allure of a killer drummer in an indulgent mood, so I was still quite eager to hear what Sartorius had planned for his unique format. My first impression was a favorable one, as I have been on a bit of a Niagara bender and the shifting beat patterns here called to mind a slowed and deconstructed kindred spirit to the tour de force of "Sangandongo." My next impression was mild exasperation, as I was not thrilled that every amazing beat lasted a mere minute before giving way to something new. That revealed the appeal of the physical release though, as this album is packed full of hypnotic rhythms that would make absolutely trance-inducing infinite loops. Naturally, that opens up a host of compelling interactive ways to experience the album, as it is a Pandora's box of multifarious percussive delights. To some degree, I expected something in that vein (as far as gimmicks go, this is a very cool and well thought-out one), but I was still blindsided by both the sheer imagination of Sartorius's rhythms and the way the album as a whole feels like a transcendent psychedelic epic by the end. As La Monte Young and others have decisively proven, sustained immersion in a very insistent and focused vision can feel like a remarkably profound and mind-rewiring experience.

-OUS

I listened to this album in its digital form, which doubtlessly provided a radically different experience than the vinyl. Nevertheless, the building blocks are identical, as each numbered piece is essentially a 1.8 second loop allowed to play out for exactly one minute and one second. Each piece segues seamlessly into the next with no space in between and all feel like they are roughly the same tempo, so the whole album has a hypnotically consistent flow. At first, the beats seem cool but fairly straightforward, but indications that Sartorius has something more ambitious in mind begin to appear quickly, as he starts sneaking increasingly adventurous sounds, patterns, and flourishes into the insistent pulse. I believe I was first hooked by skittering, off-kilter rhythm of the fourth piece, but that loop was soon eclipsed by even more killer beats, which themselves became eclipsed by still others as the album unfolded. It is hard to nail down an overarching pattern to the sequencing, but there are occasional runs where Sartorius unleashes a flurry of dazzling loops in rapid succession and it all seems to cumulatively build into something wonderful.

Part of the album's brilliance is that those clusters tend to all be compelling for different reasons, as sometimes Sartorius works in a virtuosic fill, while other times he locks into an especially lurching, tumbling, or downright weird time signature without the slightest dip in the album's propulsive forward motion. Sometimes it feels like I am being swept along by a tide, while other times it feels I am descending like an almost ritualistic rhythmic trance, which is an impressive feat for an album this ostensibly one-dimensional and purposely fragmented. Notably, Sartorius used a "prepared" drum kit, which enables a surprisingly varied range of sounds and levels of textural complexity. For example, "Locked Groove 084" feels like a killer hip-hop beat tape, while "Locked Groove 051" feels like it could be plucked from a Sublime Frequencies album and "Locked Groove 047" sounds like a futuristic industrial banger. Other times, Sartorius locks into something that feels like Indian techno, a free jazz drummer going wild in a junkyard, or something absolutely alien-sounding, like the gurgling and clanging "Locked Groove 011." Anyone looking for a great drummer showcasing a wildly imaginative array of beats will not be disappointed here, yet I was most surprised by how masterfully Sartorius overshot that mark to craft something considerably larger than the sum of its parts. Sartorius's stated goal was that "listeners will experience these compositions like they would explore a painting," and he succeeded far beyond my expectations in that regard. Locked Grooves is a deliciously rich vein that succeeds both as a whole and as a collection of compelling fragments that can be isolated and recontextualized into something equally fascinating. As far as solo drummer albums go, Locked Grooves is high art that masterfully raises the bar for what is possible.

Samples can be found here.

  1811 Hits

TJO, "Dispatches from the Drift"

cover imageAs alluded to in its title, Dispatches from the Drift is something of an accidental album, as it is a collection of keyboard improvisations that Tara Jane O'Neil informally recorded during the pandemic lockdown that were never intended for release. In fact, many were casually recorded on her phone and most "were promptly forgotten," but O'Neil happened to stumble back upon them while digging around for fragments of inspiration that could blossom into fully formed songs. These are not the ones met that criteria. but they amount to something similarly wonderful. As O'Neil herself puts it, these pieces are the ones that "were not looking for a form or seeking to be known," so she decided to present them as they were without further polishing or embellishment ("complete, traveling pieces that resolve or simply end"). In lesser hands, such an album would feel like a series of unfinished sketches, but O'Neil's instincts regarding this experiment are remarkably unerring. For the most part, the "keyboard improvisations" origin ensures that the album tends to linger in pleasantly blurred "ambient" territory, but there are quite a few striking surprises lurking here too (some very "dreampop" and some considerably more outré). The entire album is quite a leftfield delight though, as it feels every bit as strong as O'Neil's more formal work. Her inspiration simply took a different shape this time around.

Orindal

The album unexpectedly opens with a tenderly lovely piece that feels like a great would-be single, as the watery, quavering arpeggios and hushed vocals of "A Sunday 2020" feel plucked from a great This Mortal Coil album. No other piece on the album revisits that particular territory, which is not surprising, as O'Neil notes that it is the one exception where she embellished the original take (with some subtle guitar). She opted to include it anyway, however, as both the vocals and the keyboard part were improvised enough to give it thematic consistency with the rest of the pieces. It also highlights an endearing thread that runs through the album, as Dispatches from the Drift seamlessly mingles warm nostalgia for a particular era of music with contemporary flourishes and a dreamlike timelessness that make everything feel fresh and pleasantly unfamiliar. Moreover, O'Neil is impressively freewheeling in her stylistic inspirations. Sometimes the album sounds like a lost recording from Eno's Apollo sessions, while other times it resembles one of Warren Defever's teenage tapes, an out-of-phase accordion drone piece, a prog-minded bagpipe collective, or a traditional folk ensemble experimenting with Slowdive's gear. In every case, the results are invariably compelling. To my ears, the strongest piece is "Wind With Dog," which is a wonderfully woozy and bittersweetly gorgeous feast of dancing, quivering melodies and ghostly overtones. Elsewhere, O'Neil channels squirming heavy psych drones ("It's Been A Long Time"), a tropical steel drum band trying their hand at ceremonial trance music ("Ventura Tuesday"), and something akin to a stark, tremelo-heavy cover of a lovesick torch song. Naturally, there is an informality and unpredictably loose structure to all of these pieces given their spontaneous origins, but that intimate, imperfect, and searching feel generally suits them just fine. And sometimes I am even ambushed by something that feels like a wonderful premeditated set piece, such as when a haze of decaying notes forms a complex swirl of oscillations. The beauty of the album is that none of those cool textural or harmonic surprises here were planned, as O’Neil essentially tricked herself into approaching music in an entirely different and instinctual way and plenty of happy accidents ensued. In some ways, that approach makes it hard to point to any individual piece as a fully articulated and focused glimpse of perfection, but the album's warmly beautiful soft-focus mood and unexpected twists and turns add up to an unusually inspired, lovely, and immersive whole.

Samples can be found here.

  2198 Hits

Aaron Dilloway & Lucrecia Dalt, "Lucy & Aaron"

cover imageThe underground/experimental music world is full of promising-sounding collaborations that yield underwhelming or half-baked results, but Lucy & Aaron is a wonderfully refreshing exception to that recurring phenomenon. Part of that success is likely due to the pair's long history together, as they have been fans of each other's work (and close friends) since meeting at a festival in Madeira back in 2010. Moreover, Dalt and Dilloway have actually inspired and impacted each other's work over the years, which probably went a long way in setting the stage for such a natural-sounding and symbiotic blurring together of visions. As Dalt puts it, "we crossed our signals, sometimes his affecting mine, or the other way around, we just wanted to make a fun, weird and inevitably emotive record that somehow captured so many things we love about music." Naturally, Dilloway's endearingly disorienting and creepy tape loops tend to be the foundation for much of the album, as Dalt's own backdrops tend to be quite stark and minimal. The mood of the album is quite a bit different from typical Dilloway fare, however, as Dalt's melodic influence transforms his obsessively repeating fragments of simmering psychotropic weirdness into a broken and playfully warped "pop" album like no other.

Hanson

The best summation I can come up with for this album's aesthetic is that it sounds like Lucrecia Dalt's already frayed and alien-sounding pop was fed through a nightmare machine set somewhere between "Kafkaesque" and "arty Giallo film." There is nothing that feels outright malevolent or violent, but there is also nothing familiar and nearly all of it feels unsettling and disturbingly tactile. The songs are roughly structured like pop songs, as there are vocal melodies, grooves, and sometimes even hook-like approximations of a chorus, yet all of it feels unrecognizably grimy, broken, and obsessive in a host of intriguing ways. The entire album is a creepily surreal delight, as it is hard to imagine a single piece that could not be someone's favorite, but my current personal favorites are "The Blob," "Niles Baroque," and several of the weirdly beautiful psych-inspired pieces that come near the end of the album. "The Blob" is probably the album’s most unexpected surprise, as it sounds like Pat Benatar made a dreampop album for 4AD but a deranged dub producer got his hands on it and replaced the entire rhythm section with one of those little wind-up monkeys with a drum. "Niles Baroque" is similarly melodic (there are even dual vocal harmonies), but the groove is centered on a lurching bass throb that feels viscerally gelatinous. Those two pieces, along with treble-ravaged and industrial-damaged single "Demands Of Ordinary Devotion," are the ones where Dalt and Dilloway's aesthetics most seamlessly combine into curdled pop pleasures, but I am also a huge fan of the outliers that feel like something I would not expect from either artist. The best of those is probably "Tense Cuts," which sounds like a collaboration between a factory, a locked groove of church organ motif, an ASMR recording, and a broken speaker, but there are some even more unlikely moments that approximate a grim Russian ballroom dance ("Voyria") or fleetingly resemble '80s Legendary Pink Dots ("The Tunnel"). I could easily write a paragraph about every single piece here though, as each slithering tendril of this unholy pop union is memorable, unique, and unexpected in some way. Lucy & Aaron is absolutely going to be all over "best of 2021" lists this December (my own included).

Samples can be found here.

  1536 Hits

Tasos Stamou, "Antiqua Graecia"

cover imageThis London-based electroacoustic composer/instrument builder/DIY electronics enthusiast has been engaged in projects and activities for more than a decade now, but this latest album is the first time his singular vision crossed my path. Antiqua Graecia is the final release of a Greek-themed trilogy that began with 2018's Musique con Crète, though there is also a fourth related work that surfaced on Chocolate Monk last year (Greek Drama). The series is the fruit of an extended creative research project that initially began with a residency, but blossomed into repeat summer visits to Crete to hunt for traditional music albums, perform with local musicians, and make field recordings. While I have not fully absorbed the entire series yet, Antique Graecia feels like a significant creative leap forward from previous installments, as Tamou's earlier Greek forays resemble a Sublime Frequencies album dissolved into a fever dream: there was a clear reverence for the source material, yet Tamou's sound collages imbued traditional music with a murky, spectral character. With Antiqua Graecia, Tamou decided to go for broke, gleefully chopping and layering folk songs in a wonderfully psychotropic fantasia. I find all of the strains of Tamou's Greek series to be compelling, but this album is the one that most beautifully transcends tradition to feel like something wonderful and new.

Ikuisuus

This is an album of top-tier psychedelic mindfuckery from start to finish, which makes it very hard to describe with any concise generalizations, but a rough summary like "a supernatural fun house at the center of a Greek street fair" is probably a solid starting point. There is a distinct arc, however, as the first few drone-based pieces steadily deepen my immersion in Tamou's otherworldly fantasia to prime me for the wilder plunges to come. For example, "Madoura" sounds like a nightmarishly insectoid cacophony of buzzing bagpipe-like drones, while the following "Poor Mum" sounds like mid-90s Dead Can Dance made a lysergic soundscape from Nonesuch Explorer classics. We then pass through something akin to a flickering and phantasmagoric Scottish parade in a haunted jungle ("Oil Wrestling"), a phantom rembetiko song with an electronic doppelganger ("Taki’s Sorrow"), and a Lisa Gerrard-sung DCD classic consumed by a sickly, dissonant delirium of smeared chimes ("A Woman's Moan"). All are a delight, but the album fully catches fire with the sixth piece, "Just Pagan." It begins as a psychotropic throb of heavy electronic drones and surreal, jumbled, and haunting layers of melody and field recordings, but gradually transforms into a heartsick folk dance. The following "Epitaph" is yet another highlight, as the gong of a church bell leaves a ringing, bleary haze of high frequencies that morphs into a squirming, menacing electronic buzz mingled with a chanting street procession. The final piece brings that trend of escalating otherworldliness to its curious crescendo, as it feels like a cathedral is invaded by a churning, honking, and squawking cacophony (and a cow) before everything dissolves into a disarmingly sweet and calm rustic oasis. Tamou truly outdid himself with this tour de force, as all of these eight songs seamlessly blur sacred and traditional sounds with vivid, multilayered psychedelia in impressively singular fashion.

Samples can be found here.

  1580 Hits

Kleistwahr, "Winter"

cover imageBack in 2019, Helen Scarsdale celebrated its 50th release with a ten-cassette wooden box, On Corrosion, that immediately sold out. While I did manage to pounce on that landmark release in time to get one, I have not spent nearly enough time with it, as absorbing ten full-length albums is quite a herculean time commitment. Consequently, I was delighted to see that the label had embarked upon a campaign to reissue some (or all) of its contents and that they were starting with this bombshell from Gary Mundy's long-running Kleistwahr guise. Being a casual fan of Ramleh and the Broken Flag milieu, I thought I had a solid idea of what to expect from this project (noise, possibly involving guitars), but the striking and unique beauty of this album completely blindsided me. It is fitting that Winter debuted on a release entitled On Corrosion, as it has the feeling of an achingly gorgeous drone album that has been corroded and ravaged into something texturally complex and viscerally soulful.

Helen Scarsdale

Due to its original cassette format, Winter is roughly presented as two twenty-minute sides, but each side features two pieces that segue into each other. "We Sense It Through the Even Snow" kicks off the album with the first of its two god-tier highlights, as buzzing, shifting, and smearing organ drones unpredictably form knots of dissonance while harpsichord-like melodies make me feel like I am imprisoned in a darkly enchanted music box. It becomes incredibly gorgeous at some points, but its mesmerizing dream-like trajectory nearly becomes consumed by an engulfing roar of roiling noise (imagine heaven suffering through a brief plague of psychedelic locusts). That piece segues into the more infernal mindfuck "Rust Eats the Future," which sounds like Purple Rain-era Prince's evil twin unleashing ugly, gnarled shredding over a sinister bed of deep, dissonant bell-like tones. Things only continue to get weirder, but the album returns to more beautiful and melodic terrain as the second side opens with another masterpiece, "The Solstice Will Not Save Us." It is built upon a looping semi-melodic howl, but that hook is surrounded by an absolutely feral-sounding maelstrom of noisy guitars and chords that seem to catch fire and burn away. It feels like a hallucinatory fireworks display over a dying world and easily rivals anything I have heard from other celebrated purveyors of fucked-up guitars. Amusingly, the piece I love the most is immediately followed by one called "Everything We Loved Is Gone." However, that closer is quite strong in its own right, as Mundy makes the air come alive with buzzing high frequencies while evoking a lonely, clanking train slowly chugging through a shimmering and spectral dreamscape. All four pieces are excellent, but at least two of them reach a level of sublime brilliance that absolutely floored me. I had no idea that Mundy's art had evolved to this level.

Samples can be found here.

  2057 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

Don Zilla, "Ekizikiza Mubwengula"

cover imageThis debut full-length from Ugandan producer Zilla is something of a much-anticipated event, as his Boutiq studio is a crucial part of the killer underground music scene centered around Kampala's Nyege Nyege Tapes. Ekizikiza Mubwengula was additionally anticipated because it is the follow up to an absolute monster of a single that Zilla released in 2019 on Nyege Nyege's club music-themed sub-label Hakuna Kulala. While this latest release is on that same imprint, these songs are considerably wilder and weirder than the more straightforward (and relentlessly, viscerally danceable) "From the Cave." With Ekizikiza Mubwengula, Zilla shoots right past the cutting edge of contemporary dance music and lands somewhere akin to an industrial-damaged dance deconstruction of Rashad Becker's deeply alien Music for Notional Species. Predictably, I am the exact demographic for such a gleefully unhinged tour de force, and this would be the ideal soundtrack for a party occurring exclusively in my head. Yet it is quite a challenge to imagine songs this pointedly hookless and aggressively outré packing the floors of any but the craziest clubs on earth. Granted, there are a handful of more straightforward pieces here too (Zilla's production is as exacting and punchy as ever), but those will not be the ones that people most remember.

Hakuna Kalala

If Ekizikiza Mubwengula has anything at all that could be considered a follow-up single to "From the Cave," it would be the killer closer "Ekivuuma." It even caused some spontaneous dancing to erupt in my apartment, as it remains infectiously rhythmic despite its many nightmarish and darkly hallucinatory elements. Zilla is something of a virtuoso at crafting heavy industrial-inspired grooves, and "Ekivuuma" is one of his finest creations in that regard, as a skittering, lurching beat and woodpecker-like percussion drag a rumbling bass throb through a lysergic jungle of otherworldly animal howls. It is the best song on the album, but it takes that honor primarily because it feels like the most fully formed. It would admittedly be nice if the other eight pieces felt less like cool percussion vamps, but the consolation prize is that said vamps are invariably inventive, unique, and intensely physical. I am especially fond of "Full Moon," which sounds like a strangled tuba leading a shambling parade of cartoon monsters. Lamentably, it is probably too brief to make my personal highlight reel, but the jackhammering, seismic onslaught of “Entambula” is not. I particularly enjoyed the chopped and stammering vocal hook, as it is one of the rare flashes of human warmth or melody on the album (albeit in brutally mangled form). For the most part, Ekizikiza Mubwengula feels like a broadcast from the dance floor of an alienating, futuristic dystopia where all melody has been replaced with air raid sirens, ominous machine hum, and broken, gnarled, and unrecognizable deconstructions of samples. It is an incredibly striking and instinctive aesthetic for sure, but it is best experienced in bracing, single-song doses, as the relentless industrial bludgeoning starts to yield diminishing returns as an album-length assault.

Samples can be found here.

  1552 Hits

Robert Gerard Pietrusko, "Elegiya"

cover imageThis is Pietrusko's first solo album under his own name, but sound art enthusiasts will likely remember his previous outing as Six Microphones (2019). Elegiya is a radically different release, however, as it comfortably fits within the more ambient/drone side of Room40's aesthetic on its surface. Beneath the surface, however, lies a roiling emotional intensity that sometimes becomes downright volcanic. As befits the album's title, Pietrusko drew his inspiration from elegies, but does so in a very unconventional way, as he was most fascinated by themes of repetition and shifting context. As he himself puts it, "the creation and performance of an elegy, however, is not an experience of this original sorrow but is instead its repetition." The more interesting part, however, is that Pietrusku "attempts to capture the contradictory condition of a macro-level stasis versus a tumultuous interior." In more practical terms, that means that Elegiya transforms five piano motifs into a suite of beautifully melancholy ambient pieces that self-destruct into frayed, blown-out eruptions of emotional catharsis.

Room40

The album kicks off in supremely crushing fashion with the epic "Pershing Red Skies," which sets an impossibly high bar for everything that follows. The piece deceptively opens with warm swells of billowing chords, but that proves to be a mirage, as everything gradually becomes sharper, louder, and more frayed en route to being ripped open by seismic waves of juddering synth-like tones. At times it favorably calls to mind Oval or Tim Hecker, but it mostly feels like an great ambient piece whose wake of overtones unexpectedly refracted back something roaring, alive, and all-consuming (like a feedback monster attacking heaven). While "Pershing Red Skies" is unquestionably the album's zenith, the other eight pieces offer similarly deft variations of the same nightmarish inversion. For example, "Iru Descent" sounds like a ghostly factory that manufactures clouds of menacing dissonance, while "UTM 39N" feels like thick, viscous drones slowly undulating and oozing across a desolate prairie towards a distant train. The latter is my second favorite piece on the album, but just about everything on Elegiya blossoms into a memorably intense crescendo of some kind. Usually that crescendo resembles something akin to a Tim Hecker album getting sucked into a gnarled, curdled, and squirming extradimensional horror, which is just fine by me. That said, Pietrusko proves impressively inventive in finding cool news ways to ravage beauty, such as transforming heavenly choruses into snarling, infernal roars or materializing a demonically possessed Victrola inside a quietly churning, hissing soundscape. Given how unrecognizably mutilated some passages feel, I have no idea which instruments Pietrusko's palette included beyond piano, but the whole album feels like someone opened a Pandora's Box of corroded classical music fragments and enigmatic field recordings that transform a somber occasion into something far more visceral and unpredictable. Pietrusko has achieved something truly impressive with Elegiya, crafting a poignant, haunted-sounding drone opus that is repeatedly torn apart from within by a clawing, thrashing elemental force.

Samples can be found here.

  1821 Hits

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

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.

  1951 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.

  1794 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.

  1964 Hits

Limbs Bin, "Burnt White Elephant"

cover image Western Massachusetts' loudest deadhead Josh Landes has followed up his live set Unrelenting Barrage of Flowers and Amethyst Energy from last year with a new studio album (well, at 18 minutes, it counts as an album in the noisecore world) that furthers his legacy of intensity and absurdity. Balancing electronic blowouts with creative field recordings, it is another disc of explosive fun.

Damien Records

Admittedly, these 23 songs (that are only around 30 seconds each in length) sound like broken up segments of three longer pieces rather than individual pieces. They flow consistently into one another, with each track marker opening with a vocal outburst and what sounds like Landes restarting the max BPM drum machine. Beyond that, the sizzling electronics and sputtering noises continue uninterrupted from one short burst to the next. Burnt White Elephant makes for the most chaotic of his albums that I have heard thus far, with the erratic electronics blasting from beginning to end, but never in the form of loops or anything sequenced. It is more like Landes set his gear up and just rolls it down a hill, and I mean that as a compliment.

Around these short blasts, he includes a series of field recordings captured around the Berkshires region, something like "Wormholes and Megaliths" featuring what sounds like rain and passing by a jazz band, while "Van Deusenville Railroad Blues" is exactly what it sounds like: the sound of trains passing through. The album closes on “Harry Bids You Goodnight” which is just shy of one minute of a snoring cat. Intentional or not, Burnt White Elephant seems like a day in the life of a noise artist: harsh, distorted art outbursts punctuated with the quiet mundane nature of life.

Like every Limbs Bin release I have heard, Josh Landes again blends the intense with the absurd. His work is as aggressive or violent sounding as any great harsh noise/power electronics/whatever genre release should, but devoid of the macho posturing or juvenile provocation. Instead it is just the right amount of silliness that makes the chaos and hostility fun, without dulling its impact in the slightest.

Samples can be found here.

  1576 Hits