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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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280 Hits

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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218 Hits

Klara Lewis & Yuki Tsujii, "Salt Water"

Salt WaterI am always eager to hear anything new from the reliably weird and inventive Klara Lewis, but the unpredictability of her collaborative releases is especially pronounced. Notably, Salt Water is the first of those collaborations in which I was not previously familiar with her creative foil. It also seems like quite a leftfield pairing on paper, given that Yuki Tsujii is best known as the guitarist for a hard-to-categorize Japanese rock band based in London (Bo Ningen). Fortunately, everything made sense once I learned that Tsujii is now based in Stockholm (Lewis is Swedish) and that he had previously collaborated with both Faust and Keiji Haino (his primal, convulsive playing here would be right at home on an album by the latter). Also of note: Lewis is described as a "loop finder" in the album's description, which feels like an extremely apt description of her role on Salt Water. Unsurprisingly, the loops that she found are extremely cool, resulting in an album that often sounds like scrabbling guitar noise assaulting an eclectic array of '60s exotica, classical, and film score samples.

The Trilogy Tapes

The album opens in simultaneously promising and frustrating fashion, as Tsujii unleashes a fitful, stuttering, and scrabbling spew of notes over a gorgeously shimmering and pulsing loop. Initially, that feels like quite a winning combination, but it soon starts to overstay its welcome a bit and often feels too improvisatory to justify its nearly 9-minute running time (it's more than twice as long as any other piece on the album). That said, it still ultimately winds up at an interesting destination, as the sounds gradually become more gnarled, grainy, and distorted in a way that calls to mind early laptop pioneers like Fenn O'Berg. The following "Close Up" also initially sounds like it could have been plucked from a laptop album circa 2000, as its haunting and sensuous vocal loop is strafed by sputtering static and possibly a chorus of frogs. Notably, however, Lewis and Tsujii quickly transcend that "early laptop" aesthetic to evoke something akin to a haunted sex lagoon, which is quite a neat trick. Moreover, the pair do not unnecessarily linger around and move onto the next piece after about three minutes, which feels like just the right length for a piece with the stylistic constraint of having a single repeating loop as its backbone.

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595 Hits

Quitter/Canady, "Psychological Morphology"

This is anPsychological Morphology odd collaboration in multiple ways. Andrew Quitter (Suburbia Melting, Regosphere) and Jonathan Canady (Deathpile, Dead World) is not the noise excursion I would have expected based on the artists involved. Instead, it is more of a deconstructed sludgy rock/metal album, with production as influenced by noise as it is cinematic sound design.

Malsonus/Dumpster Score

The genesis of Psychological Morphology is another collaborative project never manifested. Canady started a noise rock project called Diamond Cult that involved one performance and a few releases, existing only between 2009 and 2011. The raw material he provides on here (guitars, synths) was intended for a collaboration that never occurred. These sessions (recorded with James Plotkin) were pulled out of storage a decade-ish later and handed over to Quitter, who took these bits and constructed a full-fledged record out of them.

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779 Hits

Julian Sartorius, "Hidden Tracks: Domodossola – Weissmies"

Hidden Tracks: Domodossola – WeissmiesThis Swiss percussionist has been quietly carving out a very cool and unique niche for himself over the last decade, as he continually finds unusual conceptual scenarios to combine with his virtuosic playing. I greatly enjoyed 2021's aptly titled Locked Grooves, but had not yet delved too deeply into his earlier work, so I had missed the first installment of Hidden Tracks: 2017's Basel – Gen​è​ve. For that album, Sartorius brought his drumsticks along for a 10-day, 270km hike along Switzerland's Jura Ridgeway Trail and recorded improvised beats on whatever intriguing sound sources he encountered (trees, empty silos, corn stalks, etc.). On this latest installment, his journey is now vertical, as Sartorius kept a similar beat diary as he climbed from the Italian village of Domodossola "to the peak of Weissmies (4017m above sea level) in the Swiss Valais." In theory, that upped the game considerably constraint-wise, as Sartorius gradually leaves behind both humanity and trees in his ascent, but that comparative dearth of available sound sources was no match for his resourceful inventiveness.

Everest Records

The album is presented as a series of eight pieces that mirror Sartorius's ascent in 500 meter intervals, so the first piece (272m_↗_500m) is built from sounds recorded in Domodossola and the last piece is assembled entirely from sounds collected near the mountain summit. Notably, Sartorius was joined by videographer Stephan Hermann and his footage makes for a wonderfully illustrative guide to the shifting terrain that the duo encountered. It also helpfully illuminates how Sartorius was able to make these recordings, which is something that initially baffled me, as some of these pieces seemed impossibly complex to perform in real-time and Julian made a point of stating that "no electronic effects or sound processing were used." That claim is indeed factual, but there was some post-recording assembly involved: Sartorius recorded multiple tracks (usually played one-handed while the other hand wielded a microphone), then assembled layered beatscapes from the sounds collected at each elevation. That essentially means that a kick drum pattern might have been recorded with one pile of rocks, but the rest of the beat may have been recorded using a completely different pile of rocks. That said, that finished recordings make for a very impressive audio illusion, as it often sounds like Julian's drumming is taking place in real-time and intuitively interacting with non-percussive field recordings of cars, birds, planes, radios, cows, and sprinklers.

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1260 Hits

Robert Poss, "Drones, Songs and Fairy Dust"

Drones, Songs and Fairy DustAcross the 16 songs that make up this album, the title makes perfect sense: a myriad of abstract, expansive pieces, full-fledged songs, and odd little miniatures. All of them are linked together with Robert Poss's infinite love for the electric guitar, however, and as a whole, it encapsulates much of the sound he has cultivated throughout his entire career.

Trace Elements

Poss is best known for his tenure as guitarist/co-vocalist of Band of Susans, a band that often seems relegated to a footnote in discussions of noisy, unconventional guitar-based rock music, or for a number of years just cited as Page Hamilton's pre-Helmet band. Which is, of course, a disservice given how they expertly bridged the late 1980s "college rock" sound and the avant garde together. This style that he pioneered with bassist/vocalist Susan Stenger is never far on this new album, either.

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1182 Hits

Moonshake, "Eva Luna" Deluxe Edition

Eva LunaI believe I stumbled upon Moonshake's singular 1992 debut full-length by blind luck at a used record store, but I cannot remember if I picked it up because I was already vaguely aware that Margaret Fiedler was cool or if it was still pre-Laika. In any case, I always thought of Moonshake primarily as Fieldler's alternately frustrating and brilliant first band. In hindsight, however, I failed to appreciate how truly radical this foursome were during their brief flourish and dearly wish that I had dug a bit deeper back then, as Eva Luna could have (and should have) been my gateway into an amazing world of killer underground music that I was not yet aware of (krautrock, post-punk, free jazz, Jamaican dub, and even the C86 scene). Listening to this expanded reissue now with considerably more adventurous ears, I still find this album oft-frustrating, but I am newly struck by how almost every song features at least one moment where Moonshake sounded like the best band on the goddamn planet. That white-hot inspiration did not always sustain itself for an entire song, but this reissue beautifully strengthens the original album with some welcome gems from the band's early EPs.

Beggars Arkive/Matador/Too Pure

The idea for Moonshake first took shape after the 1990 demise of guitarist/singer Dave Callahan's previous band The Wolfhounds. He was weary of playing rock music and wanted to try something more eclectic and sample-driven, but he was less than thrilled with the sound of his own voice, so he placed an ad in Melody Maker for a female guitarist and Margaret Fielder was the only person who responded. Callahan's original plan was allegedly to combine Byrds-inspired vocal harmonies with samples and Metal Box-inspired dubwise post-punk, but both of those influences fell by the wayside once Fiedler's own creative input started to shape their sound. The new band's first release was 1991's First EP on Creation Records, which is something of a gem in its own right, but sounds completely different from Moonshake of Eva Luna: the shoegaze-y melodicism of First is very much in line with other Creation bands of the time like Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine. That achievement did not suit Callahan at all, so the band set out to completely reinvent themselves for their next major statement (spoiler alert: the PIL influence came back in a big way, but was joined by some fresh influences from hip-hop, free jazz, noise, and elsewhere).

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1474 Hits

Lise Barkas & Lisa Käuffert, "Lo Becat"

Lo BecatThis album is definitely one of the more unlikely underground hits to cross my path in recent memory, as this strikingly unique bagpipe performance first quietly surfaced as an extremely limited CDr back in 2017 on Strasbourg's Soleils Bleus label. Last year, however, it got a well-deserved vinyl resurrection on Belgium's forward-thinking Morc Records and it sold out almost immediately (as did last month's repress, unsurprisingly). Notably, the bagpipe has historically not been my favorite instrument, but I've said the same thing in the past about harps and harpsichords only to have my mind blown by Joanna Newsom, Mary Lattimore, and Catherine Christer Hennix, so this is merely the latest revelation that any instrument can sound amazing in the right hands. I also never expected the French traditional music scene to be the source of so many stellar contemporary albums, yet Lise and Lisa have just joined my personal pantheon of Gallic folkies (France, Tanz Mein Herz, etc.) who have dropped killer left-field psych gems in recent years. That is an especially impressive feat for Kaüffert, given that she is a German bagpiper.

Soleils Bleus/Morc

As far as I can tell, Lo Becat was originally recorded back in 2016 for a radio broadcast, but Lise and Lisa have been playing together as a duo since 2014. While Kaüffert's own origin story remains a mystery to me, Barkas' journey to traditional music amusingly began via Coil, as she was entranced by Cliff Stapleton's hurdy-gurdy playing. That eventually led her to the music of France's Yann Gourdon and her involvement in more traditional fare, but that was mostly because there is a lot more demand for bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy players in the traditional/folk music scenes than in the experimental one (Coil is no longer hiring, I'm afraid). In the years since, however, Barkas and her like-minded friends have carved out a unique niche through the band L'Écluse (Kaüffert is also a member) and collectives like Kreis. Unsurprisingly, Lo Becat is the appropriately unusual fruit of a union between two avant-garde-minded bagpipers with one foot in traditional music circles, as it is essentially a loose fantasia upon an old ballad entitled "la belle va au jardin des amours" (Beauty Goes To The Garden of Love) that segues into a folk dance. Neither of the two pieces incorporated into Lo Becat are familiar to me as an American, of course, but I doubt a dueling bagpipe version of either would be recognizable to many French people either. That said, a timeless and beloved melody is always a solid foundation for adventurous experimentation or improv.

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718 Hits

Rafael Toral, "Spectral Evolution"

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

Moikai

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

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2003 Hits

Maria W. Horn, "Panoptikon"

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

Xkatedral

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

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1290 Hits

Dean McPhee, "Astral Gold"

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

Bass Ritual

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

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707 Hits

Organum Electronics, "Quietude", "Darcknes"

QuietudeAs the first two installments of a seven-part subscription series on Die Stadt, David Jackman (as Organum Electronics) has fashioned two new long-form pieces that are seemingly sparse in their formation, but like the entirety of his lengthy discography, result in something with so much more depth. Material utilized in other recent works from him are building blocks in these two discs, but compared to the quiet and understated recent material, these align much more closely with his earlier, noisier material, and continues to demonstrate his compositions are as fascinating as ever.

Die Stadt

Quietude is the noisier and overall more forceful of the two albums. It beings with an immediate blast of dense buzzing noise that approximates a jet engine very well, but multilayered and treated to give an amazing sense of depth and nuance. At times it almost seems as if it is a basic sound being utilized, such as the hum of a florescent lightbulb, blown out to massive proportions. The sound is sprawling, with intersecting passages shifting focus throughout. Shimmering engine sounds cascade over a continual buzz, with occasionally bassy churning sounds bubbling to the surface. Layers eventually relent alongside what sounds like rattling, scraping chains, leading to a jarring ending.

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1435 Hits

"Flux Gourmet Original Motion Picture Soundtrack"

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

Ba Da Bing

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

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1363 Hits

Dead Bandit, "Memory Thirteen"

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

Quindi

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

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946 Hits

Concepción Huerta, "The Earth Has Memory"

The Earth Has MemoryOn her first solo vinyl release, Mexico's Concepción Huerta largely employs the use of Buchla and Nord synths, recorded in residence at EMS Stockholm. Further tape manipulation is then used to create a record that sits somewhere between atmospheric space and intense noise. Textures and distortion sprawl outward, but occasionally relent to allow some gentle elements to slip in, resulting in a record that sounds rooted not just in the Earth, but also expands far into outer space.

Elevator Bath

The opener of the first side, "Emerges from the Deep" (featuring co-production with Olivia Block) is a perfect summary of how the piece sounds. Opening with muffled tones rising from a deep ocean trench, Huerta crafts a subtle melody that soon transitions into crunchy resonating low frequency sounds, adding a subaquatic heaviness. Eventually the low-end subsides as the piece gently floats off into the distance. Huerta follows with "The Crack Is Illuminated," where sweeping shimmering synths glisten a gentle floating passage, accented by some pleasant buoyant distortion.

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988 Hits

Matt Weston, "This is Broken"

This is BrokenBarely six months after his last double album Embrace This Twilight, Matt Weston has just released another record of idiosyncratic compositions. Consisting of two side-long pieces, Weston balances two notable different approaches to composition, with the first side being the more spacious and sustained, and the other dense and sprawling in approach, linking disparate sounds in an incredible manner.

7272Music

"You Have to Question the Validity of your Sneer," comprising the first side of the record, features Weston exercising restraint into what sounds he works with. In the simplest terms, what resembles a ghostly, inhuman howl opens the piece, with a heavily processed chime/bell/gong/something metallic punctuation throughout. Through the entirety of the piece there are groans and squeals making for an uncomfortable, unsettling lurch. As the piece progresses, he incorporates rumbling, what sounds like war trumpets, and evil screeching birds to the already sinister proceedings. The vibe is darker and more unsettling than a lot of his work, but it is still excellent.

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803 Hits

2023 Annual Readers Poll: The Results

After over two and a half decades, we're miraculously still here and still conducting the longest running online interactive music poll where readers both nominate and vote. The lists aren't perfect, we'll probably be constantly adding more comments, possibly correcting errors, but until then, here we are.

This year we had a record number of entries (over 1500) and the following are what made the top lists.

Thanks again to everyone for their support, participation, and patience.

No Highs

Album of the Year

  1. Tim Hecker, "No Highs" (Kranky)
    "Each new Tim Hecker album these days is a bold and compelling reinvention of his aesthetic and the execution is always flawless. I genuinely did not expect to like Morse code-inspired minimalism this much." —Anthony D'Amico

  2. loscil // lawrence english, "Colours Of Air" (Kranky)
    "Usually mashing together two things that I like does not yield a new third thing that I like, but this album is a rare exception. Gorgeous pieces like 'Cyan' easily stand with either artist's strongest solo work." —Anthony D'Amico

  3. Mary Lattimore, "Goodbye, Hotel Arkada" (Ghostly International)
    "Mary continues to expand her sound and evolve as a composer and arranger, allowing more guests but never distracting from her core sound." —Jon Whitney
    "'Horses, Glossy on the Hill' is one of the most movingly beautiful pieces that Lattimore has ever recorded." —Anthony D'Amico

  4. Caterina Barbieri, "Myuthafoo" (Light-Years)
    "A compelling sister release to Ecstatic Computation devoted to pieces that evolved and transformed as Barbieri tried out new ideas on tour." —Anthony D'Amico

  5. Swans, "The Beggar" (Young God)
    "Demanding the attention of a listener for over two hours is bold, and Swans continue to do this and continue to have success with it."—Jon Whitney

  6. Radian, "Distorted Rooms" (Thrill Jockey)
    "Probably the most inventive and forward-thinking project in the post-rock milieu right now. I truly do not understand why Radian is not as revered and universally beloved as Tortoise." —Anthony D'Amico

  7. Slowdive, "Everything Is Alive" (Dead Oceans)
    "Shoegaze is having a moment this decade, isn't it? This is a worthy winner, and one of the tightest records of their career." — Eve McGivern
  8. KMRU, "Dissolution Grip" (OFNOT)
  9. Colleen, "Le jour et la nuit du réel" (Thrill Jockey)
  10. Colin Stetson, "When we were that what wept for the sea" (52Hz)
    "This album made it abundantly clear that I have not been listening to nearly enough Colin Stetson. 'Infliction' is absolutely sublime." —Anthony D'Amico

  11. Vanishing Twin, "Afternoon X" (Fire)
    "Every Vanishing Twin album boasts at least one perfect weird pop song and this one has the title track. Also "Marbles" has a wonderfully wonky groove." —Anthony D'Amico

  12. O Yuki Conjugate, "A Tension Of Opposites Vols 3 & 4" (OYC Limited)
    "I'm always glad to see OYC get some love! Always carefully crafted, and a fine entry into their catalog." — Eve McGivern

  13. Lea Bertucci, "Of Shadow and Substance" (Cibachrome Editions)
    "Two commissioned compositions that nudged Bertucci out of her comfort zone and into some of the finest work that she's ever recorded." —Anthony D'Amico

  14. Black To Comm, "At Zeenath Parallel Heavens" (Thrill Jockey)
    "I always find Marc Richter's work interesting and unique, but his run of Thrill Jockey albums has been especially strong. Yet another wonderful and hallucinatory headphone album, but now with added antiquarian erotic innuendo." —Anthony D'Amico

  15. Forest Swords, "Bolted" (Ninja Tune)
  16. Yo la Tengo, "This Stupid World" (Matador)
    "I've gone through so many musical phases in my life and Yo La Tengo has continued to release cool albums throughout all of them. 'Miles Away' is pure slow-motion bliss." —Anthony D'Amico

  17. PJ Harvey, "I Inside the Old Year Dying" (Partisan)
  18. William Ryan Fritch, "Cohesion" (Lost Tribe Sound)
  19. Oval, "Romantiq" (Thrill Jockey)
  20. Klara Lewis & Nik Colk Void, "Full-On" (Alter)
    "Playful and spontaneous-sounding miniatures from two artists who are very much on the same wavelength. I especially enjoyed the duo's more 'fun' side characterized by pieces like 'Junk Funk.'" —Anthony D'Amico

  21. FACS, "Still Life In Decay" (Trouble In Mind)
  22. The Necks, "Travel" (Northen Spy)
  23. Godflesh, "Purge" (Avalanche)
    "With the heavy use of loops and samples, Purge sits nicely between Songs of Love and Hate and Us and Them without sounding as dated." - Creaig Dunton

  24. Nonconnah, "Unicorn Family" (Was Ist Das?)
    "Nonconnah has been steadily releasing one shoegaze-damaged collage masterpiece after another lately and this is the latest one. One of my absolute favorite projects around. Characteristically transcendent." —Anthony D'Amico

  25. CV & JAB, "Κλίμα (Klima)" (Editions Basilic)
    "For a second I thought this was CV Vision's monumental 2023 release. Then I woke up."—Duncan Edwards

  26. Liturgy, "93696" (Thrill Jockey)
    "I don't know why they keep tagging the term black metal to Haela Hunt-Hendrix's Liturgy project when listening feels like a blast of blinding brightness not unlike footage of the atom bomb being detonated."—Jon Whitney
  27. Blonde Redhead, "Sit Down for Dinner" (Section1)
  28. emptyset, "ash" (Subtext)
    "James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas bring Bristol sound system culture right to your living room to appropriately seismic effect." —Anthony D'Amico

  29. Midwife & Vyva Melinkolya, "Orbweaving" (The Flenser)
    "An excellent matching of the minds. NMP could possibly be my favorite song of the year."—Jon Whitney

  30. Craven Faults, "Standers" (The Leaf Label)
    "A(nother) wonderful release from Craven Faults, showcasing what it means to be some the best kosmische available in the 21st Century." — Eve McGivern

  31. Film School, "Field" (Felte)
    "This entry should have been much higher; what an incredible blend of dream pop, shoegaze, psychedelia and pop bliss. Still, I'll take it." — Eve McGivern

  32. Loraine James, "Gentle Confrontation" (Hyperdub)
    "Lush, kaleidoscopically multifaceted, and emotionally resonant. Yet another gem from Loraine James." —Anthony D'Amico

  33. Big Blood, "First Aid Kit" (Ba Da Bing!/Feeding Tube/dontrustheruin)
    "The hooks. This is what makes even the most gritty home recordings become some of the most loved music in our collections. They may never make it to pop radio but they bring the hooks like so few are able to do."—Jon Whitney

  34. Mandy, Indiana, "i've seen a way" (Fire Talk)
    "A Manchester-based post-punk band with clattering industrial percussion, plenty of gnarled noise, and a French woman who occasionally raps? Check! And the album was partially recorded in a cave and a crypt? Check! Count me in." —Anthony D'Amico

  35. ANOHNI and the Johnsons, "My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross" (Secretly Canadian)
  36. bdrmm, "I Don't Know" (Rock Action)
  37. Nation of Language, "Strange Disciple" (Play It Again Sam)
    "This one instantly hooked me! I think they just get better and better. Again, would have loved to see this a lot higher on the list, but I'm glad readers liked it enough to get it within the Top 50." — Eve McGivern

  38. Lea Bertucci & Lawrence English, "Chthonic" (American Dreams)
  39. Laurel Halo, "Atlas" (Awe)
    "I enjoyed this understated album just fine, but I'm still perplexed by how many people were instantly hailing it as The Album of The Year when it was released." —Anthony D'Amico

  40. Tristan Allen, "Tin Iso and the Dawn" (RVNG Intl.)
    "All of the beauty, melancholy, and wonder of an epic puppet romance, minus the puppets (for now). One of the year's most pleasant surprises for me." —Anthony D'Amico

  41. thisquietarmy, "Hiatus" ([self-released])
  42. Aidan Baker, Jana Sotzko, Melissa Guion, "Trio Not Trio - Letzte" (Gizeh)
  43. Death and Vanilla, "Flicker" (Fire)
  44. Zaumne, "Parfum" (sferic)
  45. Kassel Jaeger, "Shifted in Dreams" (Shelter Press)
    "My first exposure to Jaeger's work stunned me." —Duncan Edwards

  46. Paul St. Hilaire, "Tikiman Vol. 1" (Kynant)
    "I greatly appreciate that Paul St. Hilaire is out there valiantly trying to fill the Rhythm & Sound-sized hole in my heart single-handedly." —Anthony D'Amico

  47. African Head Charge, "A Trip To Bolgatanga" (On-U Sound)
    "My vote for most addictive release this year."—Jon Whitney
  48. Elodie, "Clarté Déserte" (La Scie Dorée)
  49. Edward Ka-Spel, "A Carrington Event" ([self-released])
    "It is so easy to get overwhelmed with EKS and LPD releases but there's always a track that stands out as a future classic and my pick is "Taming the Tiger," which has been on heavy rotation since this release."—Jon Whitney
  50. Rrose, "Please Touch" (Eaux)
  51. Divide and Dissolve, "Systemic" (Invada)
  52. The American Analog Set, "For Forever" ([self-released])
    "A surprise and warmly welcomed comeback, looking forward to the archive box coming soon."—Jon Whitney
  53. Kali Malone, "Does Spring Hide Its Joy" (Ideologic Organ)
    "A two- or three-hour magnum opus of heady deep listening recorded in empty concert halls by three like-minded friends in the early days of the pandemic." —Anthony D'Amico

  54. Anthony Naples, "orbs" (ANS)
  55. Edward Ka-Spel, "Tease Seize....Apply" ([self-released])
  56. Jonnine, "Maritz" (Idle Press)
  57. 58918012, "Blue" (Syntes)
  58. Bill Orcutt, "Jump On It" (Palilalia)
    "Bite-sized, reverb-marinated, chunks of high-quality, guitar lyriicism. Memorable."—Duncan Edwards

  59. Water From Your Eyes, "Everyone's Crushed" (Matador)
  60. Joseph Allred, "What Strange Flowers in the Shade" (Feeding Tube)
  61. Cloudland Canyon, "Cloudland Canyon" (Medical)
  62. Saloli, "Canyon" (Kranky)
  63. Wanderwelle, "All Hands Bury The Cliffs At Sea Release" (Important)
    "A deeply upsetting subject renderred into a great lamentation. Sad as hell, though."—Duncan Edwards

  64. The Drin, "Today My Friend You Drunk the Venom" (Feel It)
    "An impressively unhinged and ill-intentioned rock n' roll vision. These guys would have been a solid opening act for The Cramps' legendary mental hospital gig." —Anthony D'Amico

  65. Guided By Voices, "Nowhere to Go But Up" (GBV Inc.)
  66. Eluvium, "(Whirring Marvels In) Consensus Reality" (Temporary Residence)
  67. Kammerflimmer Kollektief, "Schemen" (Karl)
    "This album immediately sent me down a Kammerflimmer Kollektief rabbit hole and I was quite pleased with my findings. I feel like I owe this band a heartfelt apology for sleeping on the previous two decades of their oft-killer discography." —Anthony D'Amico

  68. Angel Bat Dawid, "Requiem for Jazz" (International Anthem)
    "Diamada Galás fans should be taking notice of Angel Bat Dawid. No, she doesn't sound like her one bit. However, as a composer, performer, and sound artist she has the ability to create longform epics such as this one, incorporating her incredible talents, knowledge, and ability, her experiences with spirituality, religion, and oppression, and constructing something beyond the ability to classify and conform into a single genre."—Jon Whitney

  69. Niecy Blues, "Exit Simulation" (Kranky)
    "it's like everything and nothing you would expect from Kranky. The context of a deep, compelling, atmospheric otherworldly listen is nothing new to the label, but the strong roots in southern gospel, soul, and R&B is nearly uncharted territory and it comes together beautifully for my favorite debut album of the year."—Jon Whitney 

  70. La Sécurité, "Stay Safe!" (Mothland)
    "Late 2023 release may have been lost in some of the shuffle, but a very engaging rock album from this Montreal quintet, full of earworms."—Jon Whitney

  71. Mint Field, "Aprender a Ser" (Felte)
  72. Troller, "Drain" (Relapse)
    "A lot has happened in seven years but Troller have returned with an album that didn't grab me like Grapic but has been a slow burn that has grown on me quite a bit."—Jon Whitney
  73. Benoît Pioulard, "Eidetic" (Morr)
  74. Surgeon, "Crash Recoil" (Tresor)
  75. Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, "Remezcla" (Sonic Cathedral)
  76. Alva noto, "HYbr:ID II" (Noton)
  77. Earth House Hold, "How Deep Is Your Devotion" (A Strangely Isolated Place)
    "Not just a new album, but a remastered overview of the entire lifespan of Brock Van Wey's long-running house-inspired side project. Admittedly a bit overwhelming and relentlessly soft-focus, but I absolutely loved some of these pieces." —Anthony D'Amico

  78. Nicol Eltzroth Rosendorf, "Internal Return" (Negative Capability Editions)
  79. Tirzah, "trip9love...???" (Domino)
  80. Grand River, "All Above" (Editions Mego)
  81. Merzbow, "CATalysis" (Elevator Bath)
  82. BIG|BRAVE, "nature morte" (Thrill Jockey)
  83. TALsounds, "Shift" (NNA Tapes)
  84. A Certain Ratio, "1982" (Mute)
  85. V/Z, "Suono Assente" (AD93)
  86. Drop Nineteens, "Hard Light" (Wharf Cat)
    "Probably wins this year's award for Most Time Between Albums. I am very happy for their return."—Jon Whitney

  87. Martyna Basta, "Slowly Forgetting, Barely Remembering" (Warm Winters)
    "I am very much a Martyna Basta fan. I preferred the more spare Diaries Beneath Fragile Glass EP to this full-length, but her hot streak remains unbroken." —Anthony D'Amico

  88. Matmos, "Return to Archive" (Smithsonian Folkways)
  89. Raphael Rogiń​ski, "Tal​à​n" (Instant Classic)
  90. Frédéric D. Oberland, "Solstices" (Zamzamrec)
  91. Shit And Shine, "2222 And Airport" (The state51 Conspiracy)
  92. Ale Hop & Laura Robles, "Agua Dulce" (Buh)
    "I am always eager to hear whatever idiosyncratic mindfuckery Alejandra Cárdenas records, but teaming up with a talented Peruvian percussionist was a welcome and inspired evolution." —Anthony D'Amico

  93. Piotr Kurek, "Peach Blossom" (Mondoj)
  94. Nonconnah, "Shadows From The Walls Of Death" (Cruel Nature)
  95. Tengger, "Tengger" (Beyond is Beyond is Beyond)
  96. Ben Chasny & Rick Tomlinson, "Waves" (Voix)
  97. Helen Money / Will Thomas, "Trace" (Thrill Jockey)
  98. Justin Walter, "Destroyer" (Kranky)
  99. JK Flesh, "π11" (Pi Electronics)
  100. A Place To Bury Strangers, "See Through You Rerealized" (Dedstrange)

Single of the Year

Legendary Pink Dots Halloween 2023

  1. The Legendary Pink Dots, "The Legendary Pink Dots' Hallowe'en Special 2023" ([self-released])
    "The Legendary Pink Dots' Christmas and Halloween singles invariably delight me every single year. A beloved underground institution that almost always captures Ka-Spel at the height of his powers." —Anthony D'Amico

  2. Caterina Barbieri, "Perennial Fantas" (Light-Years)
    "I definitely did not expect 'Fantas' to keep expanding and evolving for four more years after Ecstatic Computation was released. It's the gift that keeps giving! Possibly forever!" —Anthony D'Amico

  3. The Legendary Pink Dots, "The Legendary Pink Dots' Christmas Special 2023" ([self-released])
    "It is very amusing that my LPD fandom has gradually and imperceptibly evolved from 'these guys collaborated with Skinny Puppy-I should check them out!' to "Edward Ka-Spel is basically my Santa Claus now.'" —Anthony D'Amico

  4. Mary Lattimore, "A Lock of His Hair Under Glass" ([self-released])
  5. The Bug, "Machine I" (Pressure)
  6. Bark Psychosis, "Scum" (Rolling Heads)
  7. Edward Ka-Spel, "All Flags Are False" (Witch Cat)
  8. Aphex twin, "Blackbox Life Recorder 21f In A Room7 F760" (Warp)
    "Enjoyable, but not nearly audacious enough to make a memorable impression." —Anthony D'Amico

  9. Four Tet, "Three Drums" ([self-released])
  10. Sam Prekop and John McEntire / The Soft Pink Truth, "A Yellow Robe Remixes" (Thrill Jockey)
  11. A Winged Victory for the Sullen, "All Our Friends Are Vampires" (Ninja Tune)
  12. The Bug, "Machine II" (Pressure)
  13. Meat Beat Manifesto & DHS, "Man From Mantis" (Love Love)
  14. Om, "Gebel Barkal" (Drag City)
  15. James Blackshaw, "Why Keep Still?" ([self-released])
    "It is wonderful to see Blackshaw releasing new music again, even if it is only one song (for now)." —Anthony D'Amico

  16. Godflesh, "Nero" (Avalanche)
  17. Sun's Signature, "Sun's Signature Extended" (Partisan)
  18. Eric Random & Stephen Mallinder, "Deadeye Remixed" (Emergency Hearts)
  19. Strategy, "Graffiti In Space" (Community Library)
  20. Letting Up Despite Great Faults, "Crumble EP" ([self-released])
  21. Death and Vanilla, "Reimagined by Civilistjävel!" (Fire)
  22. Drab Majesty, "An Object in Motion" (Dais)
  23. Kieran Hebden & William Tyler, "Darkness, Darkness / No Services" (Psychic Hotline)
  24. Mouse on Mars, "3D-LS" (Sonig)
  25. Loraine James, "5 a Day" ([self-released])

Compilation of the Year

Gespensterland

  1. "Gespensterland" (Bureau B)
    "I am 100% the target demographic for a collection of supernaturally inspired German artists 'operating in the margins and intersections of folklore, experimental electronics, dreams and nightmares.' A murderers' row of fringe-dwelling visionaries like Brannten Schn​ü​re." —Anthony D'Amico

  2. "When the Frog from the Well Sees the Ocean (Reports from English UFOlklore)" (Folklore Tapes)
    "Folklore Tapes steps a bit outside of their comfort zone with an eclectic and freewheeling celebration of UFO sightings, alien visitations, and their forever-altered witnesses. A characteristically wonderful and singular collection." —Anthony D'Amico

  3. "Cease & Resist - Sonic Subversion & Anarcho Punk In The UK 1979-1986" (Optimo Music)
    "I really wish this had come out during my lengthy Crass phase." —Anthony D'Amico

  4. "Searchlight Moonbeam" (Efficient Space)
    "Astonishing to hear 'Never Anyone Around To Hear It' by Bo Harwood and John Cassavetes."—Duncan Edwards
    "Both Time is Away and Efficient Space have proven themselves to be pretty damn infallible at digging up cool and eclectic obscurities." —Anthony D'Amico


  5. "Subliminal Skull Palace II" (Utech)
    "Utech is really doing god's work with this series celebrating tripped-out Japanese guitar music. The Tatsuya Goto and Kawabata Makoto pieces on this one were especially revelatory." —Anthony D'Amico

  6. "Imaginational Anthem vol. XII : I Thought I Told You - A Yorkshire Tribute to Michael Chapman" (Tompkins Square)
  7. "Future Sounds of Kraut Vol. 1" (Compost)
  8. "Space Funk: Afro Futurist Electro Funk in Space 1976-84 2" (Soul Jazz)
  9. "XKatedral Anthology Series II" (XKatedral)
    "Sweden's XKatedral consistently releases some of the most compelling drone/'slowly evolving harmonic and timbral music' around. If you're a connoisseur, this is the vanguard." —Anthony D'Amico

  10. "Kotti Island Disc – An Auditive Snapshot" (Tresor)
  11. "7A19" (Sähkö Recordings)
    "I am reliably drawn to '80s cassette underground compilations like a moth to a flame. I think that probably counts more as a neurosis than a recommendation though." —Anthony D'Amico

  12. "Antipodean Anomalies 2" (Left Ear)
  13. "Ariwa Sounds: The Early Sessions" (Melodies International)
  14. "Channel One Soundsystem: Down in the Dub Vaults" (VP)
    "Unusually quiet year for Jamaican dub compilations (presumably because Soul Jazz is busy being funky in space), but I really enjoyed this one." —Anthony D'Amico

  15. "Denshi Ongaku No Bigaku (The Aesthetics of Japanese Electronic Music Vol 1 & 2)" (Cosmocities)
  16. "American Dreams Diner Open 24 Hours" (American Dreams)
  17. "Radigue: Dedalus / Akama" (Montagne Noire)
  18. "Eccentric Boogie" (Numero Group)
  19. "Pacific Breeze 3: Japanese City Pop, AOR and Boogie 1975–1987" (Light in the Attic)
  20. "Ballads Of Seduction, Fertility And Ritual Slaughter" (Was Ist Das?)
  21. "Contaminazioni No Wave Italiane (1980-1985)" (Spittle)
  22. "The NID Tapes: Electronic Music From India 1969-1972" (The State51 Conspiracy)
  23. "If You Want to Make a Lover: Palm Wine, Akan Blues & Early Guitar Highlife, Pt. I" (Death Is Not The End)
    "The singing and playing here transcends locale or genre and ends up as a mystical bottling of the square-root of charm."—Duncan Edwards

  24. "Mondo Industrial: A Selection Of Rare Tape Music From The '80s & '90s" (Mafarka)
  25. "ElectroDub Vol. 3 & 4" [tie] (Emergency Hearts)

Vault/Reissue of the Year

Commercial Album

  1. The Residents, "Commercial Album" (Cherry Red)
  2. Bowery Electric, "Bowery Electric" (Kranky)
    "An absolutely flawless release, restored to the full tracklist plus given a bonus side of the first EP, sounding just as massive as ever."—Jon Whitney

  3. Drew McDowell, "Lamina" (Dais)
  4. Techno Animal, "Re-Entry (2023 Remaster)" (Relapse)
    "I was really expecting this to take first place, but I may just be biased. Beautiful job reissuing the duo's absolute masterpiece."—Creaig Dunton

  5. Emeralds, "Does It Look Like I'm Here? expanded remaster" (Ghostly)
    "It was cool to get an expanded reissue of this album, but it was already pretty damn canonical." —Anthony D'Amico

  6. Earth, "Earth 2 Special Low Frequency Mix" (Sub Pop)
  7. Andrew Chalk, "Dreams: Scenes I - XV" (Faraway Press)
  8. Moonshake, "Eva Luna" (Beggars Arkive)
    "Some aspects of Moonshake's audacious and influential debut album have not aged particularly well, but 'Little Thing' and 'Sweetheart' are still perennial favorites for me." —Anthony D'Amico

  9. The Legendary Pink Dots, "Only Dreaming" ([self-released])
  10. Sonic Youth, "Live in Brooklyn 2011" (Silver Current)
  11. In The Nursery, "L'Esprit" (ITN Corp)
  12. The Chameleons, "Script of the Bridge" (Blue Apple)
  13. Arthur Russell, "Picture of Bunny Rabbit" (Audika)
    "I hope the vault of Arthur Russell continues to produce more fantastic collections like this. It's okay to vary between styles and maintain a bit of a theme for time and location of recordings. My addiction grows stronger."—Jon Whitney

  14. The Legendary Pink Dots, "Come Out From The Shadows Volume 3: The 80s" ([self-released])
  15. Bardo Pond, "Peel Sessions" (Fire)
  16. Air Miami, "Me. Me. Me." (4AD)
  17. Pan American, "In Daylight Dub" (Foam On A Wave)
  18. Nurse With Wound, "The Sylvie and Babs Hi-Fi Companion" (United Dirter)
  19. Fridge, "Happiness" (Temporary Residence)
  20. Edward Ka-Spel, "Caste O' Graye Skreeëns" ([self-released])
  21. Edward Ka-Spel, "Ghost Logik 2" ([self-released])
  22. Mouse on Mars, "Bilk" (Sonig)
  23. Nurse With Wound, "Brained By Falling Masonry/Cooloorta Moon" (United Dirter)
  24. Nurse With Wound, "Alice The Goon (Funeral Music For Perez Prado)" (B.F.I.)
  25. Big Blood & The Bleedin' Hearts, "Big Blood & The Bleedin' Hearts" (Feeding Tube)
    "One of the finest albums in Big Blood's entire discography finally got a non-CDr physical release! Pretty exciting day at the mailbox." —Anthony D'Amico

Boxed Set of the Year

Collected Works of NMH

  1. Neutral Milk Hotel, "The Collected Works of..." (Merge)
    "Essentially just a vinyl reissue of 2011's career retrospective with some additional live material added, which is probably somewhat revelatory for more obsessive NMH fans than me. Everyone else can safely just keep listening to In The Aeroplane Over The Sea forever, as there is nothing in the vaults that rivals it." —Anthony D'Amico
    "I'm probably the only person in the world who prefers On Avery Island more, Anthony, but what do I know?"—Jon Whitney

  2. The Residents, "Eskimo" (Psychofon)
  3. Hawkwind, "Space Ritual: 50th Anniversary Edition" (Atomhenge)
  4. Pharoah Sanders, "Pharoah" (Luaka Bop)
  5. Magnolia Electric Co., "Sojourner" (Secretly Canadian)
  6. A.R.Kane, "A.R.Kive" (Rocket Girl)
  7. Pere Ubu, "Elitism for the People 1975 - 1978" (Fire)
  8. Laraaji, "Segue To Infinity" (Numero Group)
  9. [V/A], "Remix Anthology Vol. 1​-​4 2002​-​2022" (Smalltown Supersound)
    "This was my personal favorite boxed set of the year, as it was quite a treasure trove of killer songs that I had never heard before." —Anthony D'Amico

  10. Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso UFO, "Acid Motherly Love" (Riot Season)
  11. Jack Dangers, "Lucky Bag" (Flexidisc)
  12. [V/A], "Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue - Progressive Sounds In UK Alternative Music 1979–89" (Burning Shed)
  13. King Crimson, "Larks' Tongues in Aspic (The Complete Recording Sessions)" (Panegyric)
    "Surprisingly very little overlap between this and the 15 disc set from a decade ago, and I appreciate that it doesn't take up too much shelf space." -- Creaig Dunton

  14. Laibach, "Nova Akropola / Live In Europe 1997-2020 / Live in London 1985-1987" (Cherry Red)
  15. Pere Ubu, "Architecture of Language 1979 - 1982" (Fire)
  16. Killing Joke, "Honor the Fire Live" (Live Here Now, Live Here Now)
  17. Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso UFO, "Vinyl Archives Volume 1" (Riot Season)
  18. Duster, "Moods, Modes" (Numero Group)
  19. Einstürzende Neubauten, "Phase IV - The Singles" (Potomak)
  20. Celer, "Selected Self-Releases 2006-2007" (Two Acorns)
  21. [V/A], "The Complete Obscure Records" (Dialogo)
    "I did not expect a retrospective of Brian Eno's hugely influential imprint to be this low in the rankings. It has admittedly been a long time since I was personally excited about anything Eno-related, but Gavin Bryars' The Sinking of the Titanic is an all-timer for me.'" —Anthony D'Amico
    "Mine didn't arrive until the new year, Anthony."—Jon Whitney


  22. King Crimson, "Absent Lovers (Live in Montreal 1984)" (Discipline Global Mobile)
  23. Karate, "Complete Studio Recordings" (Numero Group)
  24. Luc Ferrari, "L'Œuvre Électronique" (INA GRM)
  25. The New Blockaders, "Etudes de Rien" (Coherent States)

Artist of the Year

  1. The Legendary Pink Dots
  2. Caterina Barbieri
  3. Mary Lattimore
  4. Tim Hecker
  5. The Bug
  6. KMRU
  7. Loraine James
  8. Swans
  9. Godflesh
  10. Benoît Pioulard

Label of the Year

  1. Thrill Jockey
  2. Kranky
    "It comes as no surprise these two labels continue to dominate the Brainwashed Readers Poll. It is a testament to their tireless dedication to quality."—Jon Whitney
  3. Fire
  4. Drag City
  5. Psychofon
  6. International Anthem
  7. Important
  8. Room40
  9. Light-Years
  10. 4AD

New Artist of the Year

Derecho Rhythm Section

"It is important, for me at least, to hear Alan Sparhawk's voice on new music again, and he is not afraid to let us know exactly how he feels. Joined by his children with Mimi Parker, something special is definitely evolving. Hard to say what will become of this project in particular, but I hope to continue to hear all of them together."—Jon Whitney

Lifetime Achievement Recognition

Phill Niblock

Phill Niblock

"As a drone fan, Phill Niblock was always a bit of a living legend for me, as he and contemporaries like Éliane Radigue were instrumental in elevating the form into the realm of high art. Also, he was definitely a guy who understood and appreciated the elemental power of immersive, room-shaking vibrations. Beyond that, however, he played quite an outsized role in building and maintaining NYC's legendary avant-garde scene as the long-time director of Experimental Intermedia. I cannot think of many other people who were hip enough to book artists like Arthur Russell, Rhys Chatham, and Charlemagne Palestine as early as 1973/1974 and the list of other artists who played Niblock-curated shows in the 1970s is basically a who's who of nearly everyone who shaped the late 20th century avant-garde (Annea Lockwood, Suzanne Ciani, Catherine Christer Hennix, Laurie Spiegel, etc.). The musical landscape of 2024 would be a much bleaker place without Niblock's lifelong passion for championing groundbreaking and iconoclastic artists." —Anthony D'Amico

 

2175 Hits

Tristan Allen, "Tin Iso and the Dawn"

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

RVNG

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

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Richard Sears, "Appear to Fade"

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

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

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Emptyset, "Ash"

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

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

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1929 Hits