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Organum Electronics, "Noughwhere"; David Jackman "A Cloud of Light"

NoughwhereDavid Jackman proceeds through the latest two entries in Die Stadt's current subscription series of his new work with some sense of continuity with recent works as well as the first two installments of the series (Darcknes and Quietude, both as Organum Electronics). However, and perhaps most clearly indicated by the different moniker he is using, the two discs emphasize different facets of Jackman's art, while still representing linked parts of a long-form project.

Die Stadt

As Organum Electronics, Noughwhere is the more forceful of the pair. Obviously utilizing electronic instrumentation throughout, Jackman begins with an organ-like sustained tone, but soon incorporates more abrasive electronic sounds. Throughout the 56-minute-long piece, the tones are often overshadowed by his use of the resonating electronic noise, which makes this the more challenging of the two albums. He does use one clearly non-electronic element throughout: the massive tolling bell that has been featured in much of his recent work. Even that, however, receives some level of sonic manipulation, with him intensifying the sound into something even heavier than its natural qualities.

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937 Hits

John Cage/Aaron Dilloway, "Rozart Mix"

Rozart MixIn 1965, John Cage "composed" a piece for Alvin Lucier that debuted at Brandeis University's then-new Rose Art Museum (Lucier was employed as Brandeis's chorus director at the time). The score for the piece was characteristically Cage-ian, as it was essentially just "correspondence and notes regarding the preparation of magnetic tape" and left plenty of room for chance and spontaneity to play significant roles. While Cage settled upon a total of 88 loops to mirror the number of keys on a piano, the contents and length of those loops were left very open-ended (as was the duration of the piece itself, as its beginning and ending were determined by the arrival and departure of the audience). There was also an element of mischief to the piece as well, as Cage's original vision included loops as long as 45 feet that stretched over a fountain and also included instructions for what to do when some of the loops inevitably broke mid-performance. Unsurprisingly, performances of "Rozart Mix" are quite rare for those reasons, but Aaron Dilloway was recently lucky enough to land the time and resources necessary to perform his own personalized interpretation and there is literally no one on earth who could be better suited for such an endeavor.

Hanson

This album's origins date back to 2020, as Dilloway was contacted by the John Cage Trust and Acra, NY's Wave Farm about staging a fresh performance of the piece. The following year, Dilloway spent "a wonderful and intense week" at Bard College researching Cage's notes and materials, then performed a 6-hour version at the Trust with the assistance of Rose Actor-Engel, Twig Harper, C. Lavender, Quintron, Robert Turman, and John Wiese. According to Dilloway, the performance involved "12 individually amplified reel to reel tape machines, placed around multiple floors of a house, playing 88 tape loops spliced together by 5 to 175 splices" and "created an overwhelming and joyous environment of cacophonous sound." Amusingly, that performance just leapt to the top of my ever-expanding list of "missed concert" regrets, as I used to live a mere 10 minutes from Bard College. Alas. On the bright side, the durational constraints of vinyl have distilled that performance to a mere 16 minutes of surrealist magic that I can now experience at home. It is certainly less immersive and hypnotic than a 6-hour dose would be, but the new brevity imbues the piece with the "all killer, no filler" feel of a great noise set, so I am definitely not complaining.

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1226 Hits

Frédéric D. Oberland / Grégory Dargent / Tony Elieh / Wassim Halal, "SIHR"

SIHRThis unique quartet unusually originated as a collaboration between two French photographers, as Frédéric D. Oberland and Grégory Dargent performed some improvised duo concerts a few years back to accompany screenings and exhibits in Cairo, Beirut, and elsewhere. The duo was then expanded into a quartet to include Lebanese bassist Tony Elieh and darbuka player Wassim Halal and a three-day "improvised sound bacchanalia" ensued. The foursome describe themselves as a "post-anything quartet featuring multi-instrumentalists from the Mediterranean inland Sea" and share an ambitious vision of "new folklore for a devastated planet" and "tangos danced on the glowing ashes of our days." In less colorfully poetic terms, SIHR is a visceral and freewheeling collision of Arabic percussion, snatches of Middle Eastern melodies, timeless folk instrumentation, and ambitiously weird/mangled/abused synth sounds. In fact, literally everyone other than Halal plays a synth of some kind, which makes for a deeply strange collision of traditional music and outré electronics. While SIHR only fully transcends its improvisatory roots on the more melodic and sax-driven "YouGotALight," the album as a whole is an oft-fascinating outlier and this quartet truly never resembles any other improv ensemble that I have encountered.

Sub Rosa

The opening "Oui-Ja'aa" is a fairly representative plunge into this foursome's bizarre collision of disparate aesthetics, as Halal's clattering percussion builds into a hypnotic groove while a maniacally insistent synth figure wanders and trills all over the place. It eventually becomes a bit more melodic in the second half, but the endlessly propulsive and shapeshifting groove is the highlight by a landslide, as it sounds like it could be a live recording of Can on a particular great and adventurous night. Aside from that, "Oui-Ja'aa" also sounds at times like Catherine Christer Hennix has just ridden a war elephant into a Middle Eastern street fair. The following "Enuma Ellis" cools things down a bit, however, resembling something between a strain of droning oud-driven desert rock and a ritualistic street procession gnawed by pulsing swells of howling distorted electric guitar (Oberland's handiwork, I imagine). "YouGotALight" then further reduces the intensity to a sublime simmer, as Oberland's alto sax sensuously weaves a melody across a subdued landscape of quivering and rippling minor key arpeggios, dubwise percussion, melodic bass, and spasms of electric guitar. The final minute is especially wonderful, as a melodic crescendo unexpectedly drifts in. Frankly, it sounds like the best song that Barn Owl never recorded.

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1136 Hits

Alex Keller, "Sleep room"

Sleep RoomAlex Keller's newest album's title, as well as many of the individual song names, are direct references to the CIA's notorious mind control MKUltra project, with thematic linkage due to Keller's use of electromagnetic sounds and interference, which was also part of those experiments. While this would almost be indicative of a harsh noise endurance test, Sleep room is quite the opposite. It may be a bit raw at times, but Keller's singular approach has a massively impressive depth and complexity to it, both stimulating curiosity as to what the sounds actually are and aesthetically engaging at the same time.

Elevator Bath

Keller's employment of electromagnetic transducers takes the form of pieces extracted from other technological sources, such as old modems, network servers, LED lightbulbs, and even a bug zapper and stun gun. Manipulated in real time, rather than just processing existing recordings, means that Keller is able to truly treat these as instruments, rather than just sound sources that act as fodder for effects pedals and plug-ins.

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557 Hits

Diamanda Galás, "In Concert"

In ConcertAs far as I can tell, this is probably Diamanda Galás's tenth live album to date and it documents a pair of 2017 performances in Chicago and Seattle (Galás's previous live album, At Saint Thomas the Apostle Harlem, dates from the previous year). For the uninitiated, that probably sounds like an excessive number of live albums, but the improvisatory nature of Diamanda's art ensures that every single live performance is a truly singular event. Of course, actually experiencing Diamanda Galás live (an essential experience) is not quite the same as hearing a recording of the performance, much like watching a professionally shot video of a burning house is not quite the same as actually being inside one. That said, it is still a wild and compelling experience nonetheless and the lines between studio albums and live albums are increasingly academic given her volcanic spontaneity and preference for single-take recordings. The similarities to jazz do not end there, however, as Diamanda Galás in Concert is devoted to radical piano-and-voice interpretations of an eclectic and fascinating array of unconventional standards.

Intravenal Sound Operations

I recently saw someone suggest that Diamanda Galás "has felt the pain and suffering of the entire world her whole life" and it unexpectedly stuck with me. Regardless of whether that statement is actually true, it occurred to me that Galás is somewhat akin to a cross between a sin-eater and The Picture of Dorian Gray, but instead of allowing guilty souls to finally rest in peace, she just screams humanity's ugly sins right back in our collective faces with harrowing intensity. The most obvious illustration of that dynamic is Galás's undiminished rage and sadness over the cruelty of how the world handled the AIDS epidemic, but she has plenty of similarly strong feelings about oppression and genocide too and that comes through even in her choice of cover songs (though "cover" is a hopelessly inadequate term for any song reshaped by Diamanda Galás). In keeping with that theme, Diamanda describes four of the songs included here as being "for and by the forsaken, outcast and debased," while the remaining three tackle yet another familiar theme: the dark side of love. That said, the stylistic breadth of her source material covers an impressively wide swath of both time and space, as she gamely finds and celebrates the connective tissue that runs through "rembetika, soul, ranchera, country and free jazz" (and even that is hardly a comprehensive list of all of the various cultural threads that Diamanda Galás In Concert touches upon).

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1656 Hits

People Like Us, "COPIA"

CopiaThis latest album from Vicki Bennett, her first since 2018, is a characteristically dizzying and multilayered collage fantasia drawn from her currently touring AV performance "The Library of Babel." Fittingly, the album title has a dual meaning (either "abundance" or "copy"), but the deeper conceptual vein lies in the AV performance's title nod to a Jorge Luis Borges short story. In that story, "isolated librarians" struggle to "find meaningful texts amidst an overwhelming number of nonsensical or irrelevant books." Naturally, that nicely mirrors our own existential struggle to make sense of life while drowning in vast amounts of information, which Bennett colorfully portrays as "a journey through cinema and sound where the actors are set adrift from their story, left with pure experience." Fans of Bennett's previous work will find a lot of familiar samples, melodies, and themes set adrift from previous songs as well, as COPIA feels like a fever dream tour of the project's discography distilled into one memorably unhinged plunge down the psychedelic rabbit hole. Such self-cannibalism is very much in character for the project, of course, but a few of COPIA's fresh variations on a theme rank among Bennett's most mesmerizing work.

Cutting Hedge

The album is billed as a plunge into "profound realms of existential collage and sampling" in which Bennett and her many collaborators (Ergo Phizmiz, Matmos, etc.) celebrate the gleeful appropriation and recontextualization of our shared pop culture "as expressions of timeless connectivity." I mention that last part because the project can seem fun and kitschy on its surface, but Bennett rightly sees herself more like a folk artist, collecting meaningful fragments of culture and recombining them in alternately amusing, insightful, and poignant ways. In particular, Bennett has always seemed especially drawn towards American and British pop culture moments from the mid-20th century that portray society in romanticized, innocent, or utopian ways and that remains true here, as COPIA is teeming with kaleidoscopic fragments of iconic Disney moments, easy listening crooners, Motown, snatches of The Wizard of Oz, and the wide-eyed optimism of songs like Percy Faith's "A Summer Place" and Jackie DeShannon's "What The World Needs Now." It is hard to say how much of COPIA's source material has previously surfaced (somewhere between "most of it" and "all of it," I think), but the context is definitely a new one, as this album feels like a delirious longform hallucination rather than a collection of discrete songs.

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1547 Hits

Taylor Deupree, "Sti​.​ll"

Sti​.​llI had a roommate back in the '90s who was deeply into the ambient side of techno, which was something that I intensely loathed at the time. Unbeknownst to me, however, that was my first exposure to the seemingly ubiquitous and eternal Taylor Deupree (via his Human Mesh Dance and Prototype 909 projects). I have since grown to genuinely love his work, of course, but I am sufficiently guilty of taking him for granted that I slept on his landmark 2002 album Stil. The same is not true of Joseph Branciforte (who runs the greyfade label), as he was so taken with the album that he embarked upon a multi-year project to "bring Deupree's explorations of extreme repetition and stillness into the world of notated chamber music." That initially seemed like quite a quixotic endeavor to me, but the resultant album is an absolute revelation, as breaking Deupree's elegantly skipping and sublime ambient magic up into individual acoustic components reveals an incredible degree of harmonic and dynamic sophistication that would have been otherwise lost on me. To paraphrase a scene from Mad Men, hearing Sti.ll after listening to Stil. feels like the moment in The Wizard of Oz when everything unexpectedly bursts into vivid color.

12k/Nettwerk

According to Deupree, the original album was inspired by the seascapes of Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto and led to a significant change in the direction of his own vision (the idea of "stillness" became a guiding theme, as alluded to by the album's title). Compositionally, that change manifested itself in the four longform pieces of Stil. being devoted entirely to the "complex repetition of looping passages," as Deupree found that sustained immersion in repeating patterns could reveal "hidden pulses and movements not initially apparent," which is a vision that historically resonates quite deeply with me. In nuts-and-bolts terms, the original album was assembled from "melodic and granular passages juxtaposed in variable-length loops." Naturally, the "variable length" bit is what triggers the subtle, slow-motion transformations in these pieces, but Deupree illustrated the process more dramatically by noting that Stil.'s title piece was "based entirely on oscillating variations in a single 0.33 second tonal fragment." In short, small changes eventually bring fascinating and unexpected results.

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1044 Hits

Nový Svět, "DeGenerazione"

DeGenerazioneThe enigmatic, inscrutable, and defunct Austrian duo of Jürgen Weber and Lili Novy/Frl. Tost has long been a subject of fascination for me, as I have had a bunch of their albums for years and enjoyed them, yet knew virtually nothing about them at all. In fact, I still would find it incredibly challenging to even answer a simple question like "what does Nový Svět sound like?" as their elusive discography continually blurs the lines between industrial, folk, cabaret, improv, collage, and whatever other esoteric influences they decided to assimilate for a given album. Amusingly, they also had a quixotic tendency to record albums in languages other than their native German, as evidenced by this newly released album from the vaults, which was originally intended to complete a "Spanish trilogy" back in 2007. In characteristically contrarian and mystifying fashion, it was shelved for being "too Spanish" and a synth album (Todas Las Últimas Cosas) was released instead. If this were any other band, I would drive myself crazy wondering why they would allow such an mesmerizing and wonderfully weird album to languish unheard, but baffling choices were basically the norm for Nový Svět. In any case, this album rules and I am thrilled to finally get to hear it.

Quindi

Aside from rudimentary and potentially dubious details like "Nový Svět were originally Vienna-based and formed in 1997," most of my knowledge of the band's history amusingly comes from a 1999 Russian interview in which the hapless interviewer kept asking an obviously disinterested Weber about how Futurism shaped the project's vision. Given that Weber glibly dismissed a few prominent Futurists as embarrassing weirdos and dandies in the interview, it is probably safe to say that they were not a terribly big influence, but he did seem to know a hell of a lot about the European avant-garde despite attributing the band's origins largely to alcohol and having a bunch of instruments lying around. Based on what little I know, it seems that the project's shapeshifting vision was more likely shaped by an interest in traditional music and instrumentation colliding with a fondness for tape loops and samplers, but Nový Svět also seemed to be shaped quite a bit by their immediate surroundings and a host of non-musical influences (theater, Buddhism, hedonism, folklore, Cage, Pasolini, Esperanto, Art Brut, etc.)..

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906 Hits

Hollywood Dream Trip, "Second Album"

First issued in 2013 as a limited-to-50 CDr, the, um, second album by the duo of Christoph Heemann and Will Long (Celer) was initially released in conjunction with a tour and has been only digitally available since. For its tenth anniversary, Black Rose Recordings have reissued this second (of three) recordings from the project on a wider available physical edition, ensuring that its lush, yet sparse collection of electronics are available once again for those longing for a tangible copy.

Black Rose Recordings

Consisting of a single 42-ish minute piece that was created using only two synths, a reverb unit, a tone generator, and tapes Second Album's overall sound reflects this intentionally stripped-down setup, but the duo cover a lot of different territories throughout its lengthy duration. Opening with a basic, resonating synth pulsation, the two delicately add in some low frequency elements and subtle melodic tones to flesh everything out.

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822 Hits

Sewer Election/Incipientium, "Sorceress"

SorceressA pairing of two Swedish artists, the veteran Dan Johansson (Sewer Election) and the relative newcomer Gustav Danielsbacka (Incipientium), Sorceress makes for an unsettling collaboration at various points throughout its four compositions. With their heavy use of manipulated tapes, they add an uncomfortably organic sense to the sputtering electronics and junk noise that sound anything but human throughout. It may be unsettling, but it is also delightfully enchanting throughout.

Throne Heap

The album is essentially split into two halves, with Johansson handling mixing duties on the first three shorter pieces, and Danielsbacka tackling the 20 minute fourth and final work. The two different approaches clearly reflect that mixing was handled by each individual, but the overall product complements each other quite well.

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619 Hits

Jim White & Marisa Anderson, "Swallowtail"

SwallowtailThis unusual drum and guitar duo first surfaced back in the dark days of early 2020 with The Quickening, which they boldly recorded without ever having previously performed together. Obviously, both artists are seasoned improvisers and excellent musicians, but I was still taken aback by the instant and incredible chemistry on pieces like that album's title track. Given the significant hurdles like distance, touring schedules, and other collaborations, it understandably took quite some time before the opportunity to reconvene presented itself, but the duo finally managed to meet up in White's native Australia in 2022 for some recording sessions in the coastal town of Point Lonsdale. The resultant album feels a bit different from its predecessor for a couple of reasons (no acoustic guitars this time around, "big change of vibe and scenery"), but the three-part "Bitterroot Valley Suite" beautifully recaptures the magic and spontaneity of the pair's debut while also breaking some very compelling new ground.

Thrill Jockey

In the album's description, Anderson notes that Swallowtail's engineer (Nick Huggins) was an avid surfer "attuned to the cycles of tides and sunrises and sunsets and ocean rhythms" and suggests that "all of that got into the music." I could not possibly agree more with that assessment, though I would have guessed that it was actually White who was the surfing enthusiast, as his drumming throughout this album beautifully mirrors the dynamics of rolling and crashing waves. Notably, Anderson's playing evokes water as well, but I would characterize her circular arpeggio patterns as something more akin to ripples in a pond, which is a strategy that works quite well here. In fact, that magic formula runs throughout nearly all of Swallowtail's strongest pieces, such as the opening "Aerie" and the aforementioned "Bitterroot Valley Suite": Anderson's rippling and chiming arpeggio patterns are breathlessly propelled forward by the rolling, elemental power of White's drumming. That said, those pieces are considerably more dynamically and melodically complex than that sounds, as White's crescendos ebb and flow just like actual waves and Anderson's patterns often branch out into tendrils of melody in the spaces between those climaxes.

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1107 Hits

Myriam Gendron, "Mayday"

MaydayDespite her slim discography, Montreal-based Myriam Gendron has quietly amassed a very passionate following over the last few years, which is quite an impressive feat given that she frequently sings in French and the bulk of her previous oeuvre was devoted to interpretations of French/Québécois traditional music or Dorothy Parker poems. Obviously, such fare is quite far from the zeitgeist of the present time, but that is a big part of Gendron's allure: her work taps into a deeper and more timeless vein that captures the joy and pain of being alive in an unusually profound and direct way. Those same themes unsurprisingly remain central on Mayday (it was assembled in the wake of her mother's passing), but this third album is Gendron's first to focus primarily on her own original compositions as well as her first release to be professionally recorded in an actual studio. To celebrate that auspicious occasion, Gendron is joined by a host of talented collaborators like Dirty Three's Jim White, Body/Head's Bill Nace, and Marisa Anderson. Characteristically, the result is yet another absolutely mesmerizing Myriam Gendron album.

Thrill Jockey/Feeding Tube

Every single Myriam Gendron album to date has included at least one achingly gorgeous and perfect song (Not So Deep As A Well's "Recurrence," Ma Délire's "Go Away From My Window," etc.) and that trend happily continues here. In fact, Mayday actually features TWO such emotional gut punches. The first is "Long Way Home," which calls to mind a great lost '70s folk rock gem by someone like John Martyn. As always, I love Gendron's sad, low voice as well as her lyrics and her simple, unpretentious approach to melody, but this one simply has one heartbreaking line after another. Despite that, the piece still feels wonderfully bittersweet and uplifting due to its arrangement, as Gendron is joined by Marisa Anderson on lead guitar and Jim White on drums to balance the song's deep sadness with rolling and swaying folk rock magic. That "full band" approach is the ideal setting for such a poignant, quietly heavy piece, which is an unexpected evolution of sorts: I have long believed that Gendron's most beautiful songs would work every bit as well with no instrumental accompaniment at all (like all the best folk/traditional music), but Mayday features a handful of pieces in which well-placed guest appearances launch an already hauntingly beautiful song to another level altogether.

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1092 Hits

Celer, "It Would Be Giving Up"

It Would Be Giving UpThis latest boxed set to emerge from Will Long's Celer reissue campaign celebrates one of the project's more recent works, as It Would Be Giving Up was originally released as a digital-only album back in late 2020. As was the case with previous reissues, the album has been remastered by Stephan Mathieu, but the more exciting bit is that I had never actually heard this particular album before and it instantly became my favorite Celer release by a wide margin. That makes sense, as according to Long, It Would Be Giving Up is thematically tied to two of Celer's other recent classics (Future Predictions and Memory Repetitions), as the three albums focus upon "ensemble pieces made with tape loops and analog instruments" and share a certain "wall of sound" aesthetic. While my love of Future Predictions is well-documented and remains as strong as ever, I now believe that It Would Be Giving Up is the single most essential album in Celer's entire discography, as it beautifully transcends the ambient/drone milieu to strain towards ecstatic heartache as high art.

Two Acorns

The album consists of four longform pieces that are each relegated to their own separate disc. That initially seemed like a curious decision, as the first two pieces could have easily fit on the same disc, but I ultimately decided that it made perfect sense to treat each piece like a standalone album or EP. In essence, It Would Be Giving Up is essentially four top-tier Celer releases with enough stylistic and thematic common ground to be presented together, which is important to note, as there is not a single weak piece to be found. This album is a four-disc tour de force because that is simply how much great material Long had recorded: nothing is unnecessarily extended and there is no filler to be found anywhere. This is simply four absolutely stellar pieces in a row without a detour or lull in sight.

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746 Hits

A Lily, "Saru I-Qamar"

Saru l​-​QamarMy familiarity with James Vella is primarily through his role running the excellent Phantom Limb label, but that is just one facet of a varied career, as he is also a fiction writer and a member of the Canterbury-based post-rock ensemble Yndi Halda. He records as a solo artist too and has been sporadically releasing albums as A Lily for almost two decades now. Notably, Vella is also of Maltese descent, which inspired this wonderful stylistic detour: Saru l-Qamar is assembled from tapes of home recordings archived by the Maltese heritage organization Magna Żmien. Naturally, that made my ears perk up immediately, as I often enjoy the crackling and hissing escapism of dispatches from long-dead people in far-flung places, but the “oneiric bliss” of Vella’s achingly beautiful and hallucinatory collages proved to be an unexpected and welcome enhancement. This is one of my favorite albums of the year thus far.

Phantom Limb

The album’s title translates as “They Became The Moon,” which is a lovely and poetic way of saying that the lives and loves of previous generations remain part of the fabric of our lives forever (like the moon, they are “always present, but always out of reach”). Naturally, Vella’s own family surfaces (in the cover art), but the bulk of these recordings are snatches of traditional Maltese folk songs known as għana. Normally, the phrase “folk song” conveys a canon of specific songs and lyrics that have existed for generations, but għana departs from that tradition in being a malleable song form that people can use to tell their own stories. According to Vella, “from the ‘60s until the modern era, it was common for Maltese families to receive reel tapes from relatives abroad,” as that was simply how people shared news with distant friends and family. In short, Maltese people had their own cassette underground in which they regularly exchanged personalized songs with each other. Unsurprisingly, I am now retroactively mad that my own family never exchanged songs about mundane events like getting a new cat or whatever. Life could be so much more beautiful than it currently is.

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607 Hits

Celer, "Engaged Touches (Expanded and Remastered)"

Engaged Touches (Expanded and Remastered)Will Long's ambitious campaign to remaster and reissue key highlights from Celer's overwhelmingly vast discography continues with this expanded reincarnation of 2009's Engaged Touches (appropriately released on fellow ex-pat/ambient artist Ian Hawgood's Home Normal label during its Japan-based era). The album is an especially noteworthy release within the Celer canon for a couple of reasons, but the big one is that it ranks alongside 2008's Discourses of the Withered and 2019's Xièxie as one of the project's perennial fan favorites. While my own pantheon of essential Celer albums does not always align with that of said fanbase, this one's prominent place makes sense, as it was definitely one of the most high-profile albums released during the white-hot height of Celer-mania. As such, it was probably one of the first Celer albums that many people heard. It is also inarguably one of the strongest albums recorded during the project's early days as a husband-and-wife duo with Danielle Baquet-Long (Chubby Wolf) and most of the other contenders were not yet widely available before Bandcamp transformed the musical landscape. Given that, a reissue was both welcome and inevitable, but those who already love this album will likely be thrilled by the prospect of hearing it in its newly expanded and remastered form.

Two Acorns

Much like how Wong Kar Wai was unable to resist tweaking the color grading of his films when the opportunity to release 4K restorations of his oeuvre presented itself, this version of Engaged Touches has been transformed and reshaped a bit by Long. Obviously, just about any artist can find room for improvement with the benefit of hindsight, but assessing whether this expansion is a significant improvement over the original is a bit tricky given the nature of the music (endlessly repeating slow-motion loops). In any case, this new version is roughly three times as long as the original (now either 3 CDs or 5 vinyl sides), but it is also two versions of the same album: the first two discs offer a new version with extended track lengths, while the third disc remains faithful to the original in every way except being remastered by Stephan Mathieu.

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1558 Hits

Six Organs of Admittance, "Time is Glass"

Time is GlassThis latest release from Ben Chasney's shapeshifting and long-running psych project is billed as a sort of homecoming album, as Chasney recently moved back to California's famed Humboldt County region after a few decades away. As befits an album recorded on a picturesque coast best known for weed and beautiful redwood forests, Time Is Glass is an especially intimate, casual, and mellow Six Organs album (the cover art of a beachside dog walk captures the tone quite nicely, I think). Admittedly, that softer side of Six Organs is usually not my cup of tea (I am a fundamentally un-mellow person), but I genuinely appreciate Chasney's passion for continual evolution and reinvention and there is already a sizable backlog of Six Organs material that falls more in my comfort zone. As such, I am always willing to indulge Chasney's erratic muse wherever it may lead. More importantly, I consider Chasney to be something of a fitful and unpredictable guitar visionary: there are admittedly plenty of Six Organs songs that leave me cold, but it is never safe to assume that a new Chasney album will be devoid of flashes of brilliance. In keeping with that theme, Time Is Glass is a bit of an uneven album for me, but it does feature two sustained flashes of brilliance that rank among Chasney's finest work.

Drag City

Listening to this album, I was newly struck by the improbable stylistic gray area that Chasney's oeuvre inhabits: Six Organs of Admittance has basically been an underground/psych institution since the turn of the millennium, but it always seemed like Ben's vision was shaped by classic rock almost as much as it was inspired by artists like Loren Connors and Richard Bishop. That is definitely not an easy balance to navigate or seamlessly maintain, but sometimes the collision of those two sides yields extremely cool results (Chasney's talents for dual-guitar harmonies and occasional fiery shredding have always delighted me).

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1126 Hits

Abul Mogard and Rafael Anton Irisarri, "Impossibly Distant, Impossibly Close"

Impossibly Distant, Impossibly CloseThis collaboration has its origins in a sold-out opening night show from Madrid's 2023 SoundSet series, as Irisarri and Guido Zen tore the roof off the Condeduque cultural center ambient-style with their encore duet. Naturally, that intense performance ("Waking Up Dizzy on a Bastion") is included here for the benefit of hapless chumps like me who were on the wrong continent that night, but the experience inspired the two artists to keep their partnership going afterwards (albeit remotely). That continued creative union eventually resulted in a longform studio piece ("Place of Forever") that is every bit as impressive as the Madrid performance, if not even better. Unsurprisingly, I have been a fan of both artists for quite some time and this album is one of those rare times in which an ostensible match made in heaven actually sounds as absolutely mesmerizing as I hoped it would. This album is pure blackened drone nirvana.

Black Knoll Editions

The album opens with the new studio piece ("Place of Forever"), which gradually fades in from silence as a subdued chord progression, a host of pops and crackles, and a bleary industrial drone that languorously pans and undulates through space. If this were a lesser album, I can guarantee that I would be frustrated that it took a full 7 or 8 minutes before the opening piece finally started to catch fire, but such a long, slow build up feels quite confident and earned here: if I know a piece will eventually blossom into something incredible, the slow, simmering ascension to that point becomes incredibly tantalizing rather than an unnecessary lull.

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1158 Hits

Adam Wiltzie, "Eleven Fugues For Sodium Pentothal"

Eleven Fugues For Sodium PentothalAfter teasingly releasing a pair of soundtracks under his given name, Adam Wiltzie's latest solo album marks a return (of sorts) to the ambient/drone terrain of his beloved former duo with the late Brian McBride (Stars of the Lid). Unsurprisingly, the titular barbiturate/anesthetic deserves some credit for inspiring this shift in direction, as Wiltzie sometimes yearns for a "sacred escape" from the "daily emotional meat grinder of life," but the album also drew inspiration from his recent move to the Flemish countryside and a recurring dream ("if someone listened to the music I created, then they would die"). Based on my own listening experience, I can tentatively say that the album is probably not lethal (outside of dreams, at least) and also that it will presumably delight those Wiltzie fans who have been patiently longing for such a "return to form." That said, Wiltzie's vision is characteristically a bit of an understated one, so the pleasures of Eleven Fugues for Sodium Pentothal tend to be subtle, ephemeral, and sneakily slow-burning ones.

Kranky

The album opens with quite a varied and impressive four-song run of absolutely sublime, slow-motion beauty beginning with the enigmatically titled "Buried At Westwood Memorial Park, In An Unmarked Grave, To The Left Of Walter Matthau." The piece opens in somewhat unsettling and vaguely menacing fashion with eerie whines and seething ambiance, but soon blossoms into brighter, warmer territory once the strings come in (Wiltzie enhanced his home studio recordings with orchestral recordings made in Budapest at Hungary's former national radio facility). Once all the various elements are properly in place, the piece gradually achieves quite a wonderful strain of slow-motion grandeur that feels akin to a bittersweet sunset. That is admittedly textbook "Stars of the Lid" terrain, but Wiltzie's solo muse rarely lingers anywhere predictable or safe for long: the piece also features a dissolving middle section and a healthy amount of bending, smearing dissonance and tension (though the final section returns to shimmering beauty in a big way). My dark horse favorite on the album is the following "Tissue of Lies," however. Much like the opener, it opens in deceptively predictable fashion, but then an absolutely gorgeous two-chord guitar motif appears to fill the air with lingering ghost trail shimmer before abruptly disintegrating into a slow, hazy fade out (I actually shouted "Noooo!!!!" at my stereo when the transition to a third chord hit).

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Madeleine Cocolas, "Bodies"

BodiesThis latest full-length from Australian composer Madeleine Cocolas is billed as a companion piece to 2022’s acclaimed Spectral, as the two albums have something of a conceptual yin/yang relationship: Spectral was devoted to “evoking memories and emotions,” while Bodies “is about being present in your body.” The title also has a dual meaning this time around, as Cocolas sought to explore “similarities between bodies of water and human bodies” and “blur the boundaries between them.” As is the case with most conceptual inspirations behind instrumental albums, it is hard to say how much of that actually comes through in the music, but it makes for interesting contextual background and it seems to have triggered a significant creative evolution, as Madeleine makes beautiful use of manipulated field recordings. That element alone is enough to set her apart from other ambient/drone artists in the Room40 milieu, but I was also struck by her talents for sound design and virtuosic ability to interweave countless moving parts in dynamically compelling ways. At its best, Bodies feels like a minor deep listening/headphone masterpiece.

Room40

The opening “Bodies I” provides an alluring introduction to Cocolas’s current vision, as it slowly fades in as a seismic drone throb beneath gently undulating and murmuring strings lingering in a flickering state of suspended animation. Gradually, it intensifies in power and takes on a more spacy, dreamlike tone, but the overall effect is akin to that of a billowing cloud of blissed-out ambiance with a roiling and unpredictable swirl of anguish and unease at its center. It is probably one of the most mesmerizing headphone pleasures on the album, but the following “Drift” is a similarly inspired slow burn. For one, it is the first piece to noticeably involve water sounds and her talent for sound design transforms those sounds into something that feels wonderfully immersive, viscous, and physical. “Drift” is also an unusually melodic piece, as a pulsing organ melody is gradually fleshed out with warm, rich chords. Also unusual: the chords and melody predictably steal the focus initially, but closer listening reveals a vivid psychotropic wonderland beneath the surface, as the layers of moving parts increasingly bend, smear, pan, change speeds, change rhythms, and organically ebb and flow around the melody. To my ears, that is what makes Madeleine Cocolas’s work feel like something special and singular: her genius for weaving together richly detailed layers of continually evolving field recordings, processed voices, and electronic instruments into a seamless organic fantasia.

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Raoul Eden, "Incarnation"

IncarnationThis is the vinyl debut from American Primitive-inspired French guitarist Raoul Eden, but it previously surfaced as a self-released CD back in 2023 (a previous “incarnation,” if you will). That makes the chronology of Eden’s evolution a little blurry, as his other album (Anima, released on Scissor Tail) was recorded that same year. In any case, Incarnation is an absolute tour de force, as Eden tries his damndest to fill the void left by Jack Rose’s passing and gamely spices up his “primitive psychedelic blues” vision by incorporating Indian, Arabic, Turkish, Moroccan, and Taureg influences. Obviously, the solo steel string guitarist tradition of looking to the East for cool ideas goes back to at least Robbie Basho, but Eden executes that assimilation quite beautifully (and unusually seamlessly). In fact, Eden executes just about everything beautifully and that is the bit that elevates Incarnation into something quite striking and singular, as he brings an ecstatic intensity to almost every single one of these six pieces, resulting in a strain of fingerstyle guitar that often gloriously feels like a runaway train leaving a rain of sparks in its wake.

Self-Released

The album opens with one of its two extended centerpieces, “Red Sun of a Moonless Morning.” Clocking in at eight minutes, the piece opens with a brief and tender Middle Eastern-sounding reverie, but quickly ramps up to a feeling of breathless, unstoppable forward motion once the ringing arpeggios kick in. Naturally, there are plenty of melodies, cool virtuosic flourishes, and well-timed dynamic pauses along the way, but the best part for me is the sense of almost violent spontaneity that Eden achieves: melodies snap and twang brightly, chords slash, and the arc of the piece is unpredictable and shapeshifting in a way that feels organic and intuitive rather than composed. Given the technical demands of the piece and its seamless transitions from theme to theme, I am sure that Eden had practiced and performed the piece a hundred times before hitting “record,” but I am also sure that his muscles were tautly coiled and ready to unleash the most rapturous and volcanic version possible when that moment finally came. To some degree, Eden employs the time-tested strategy of bridging composed passages together with more free-form improvisations to give his pieces a sense of immediacy and unpredictability, but the sheer passion that Eden brings to his playing makes even the composed passages seem deeply felt, primal, and in-the-moment.

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1907 Hits