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Luster

LusterThe wordless devotional singing and giddy organ accompaniment of Delphine Dora's Hymnes Apophatiques led me to explore the Morc catalog. Therein I developed an audio crush on Bingo Trappers (who were composing an ode to Mimi Parker a decade ago), discovered Lowered's heartbreaking Music For Empty Rooms, arrived better late than never to an appreciation of the drone folk of both Pifkin and Roxane Métayer, but firstly dived into the sweetly sinister debut album from Luster.

Morc

The group create uncluttered yet foreboding and mournful atmospheres from their distinctive singing and bass, cello, drums, flute, guitar, harmonium, and violin playing. I must confess that I often second guess the running order of album tracks and so it was, initially, with the eight songs on Luster, and in particular the opener "All is Dark Inside" with a funereal pace and shockingly simple rhymes ("serious" with "mysterious") which struck me as better moved to the final place, if not discarded altogether since the actual closing song "Out of Time" works so well.

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2368 Hits

loscil // lawrence english, "Colours Of Air"

Colours Of AirThis stellar collaboration springs from a conversation that Scott Morgan and Lawrence English once had about especially "rich sources" for electronic music composition. Unsurprisingly, that discussion led to the inspiration behind much of English's recent solo work: a 19th century pipe organ housed at the Old Museum in his native Brisbane. Colours Of Air is often quite different from English's drone-inspired solo fare, however, as he and Morgan sifted "the swells and drones of the organ for every shivering shade of radiance" and found "flickering infinities in ancient configurations of wind, brass, stone, and dust." In less poetic terms, that means that these eight color-themed pieces "reduce and expand" English's pipe organ recordings into a hallucinatory fantasia enhanced by Morgan's talents for elegantly textured sound design and submerged, slow-motion dub techno pulses. Obviously, promising-sounding collaborations between electronic music luminaries are a dime a dozen, but this is one of the rare ones that feels like an inspired departure from expected terrain and something greater than the sum of its parts. While I suspect my perception is at least partially colored by the album description and the timeless majesty and religious nature of old pipe organs, the best moments of this album beautifully evoke what I would imagine light filtering through stained glass would sound like if I had been blessed with synesthesia.

kranky

The opening "Cyan" is the album's masterpiece, as it slowly builds from the "suspended animation" feel of a single looping organ chord into a slow-motion loscil-style dub techno piece with a gorgeously warm, alive, and shimmering ball of light at its heart. While the remaining pieces admittedly feel a bit less supernatural and transcendent than that initial statement, "Cyan" is nevertheless an ideal illustration of the "rich source" notion that guides the album: the piece is basically just a few chords and a simple bass pattern, but Morgan and English do one hell of a job at luxuriating in the glimmering details of those chords. That is not the duo's only trick, however, as the rest of the album features a number of compelling variations on their sacred-sounding minimalist deconstructions. For example, "Aqua" gradually evolves from a seesawing bed of melancholy yet dreamily aquatic-sounding chords into a smeared, Noveller-esque melody that evokes the haze of a comet slowly streaking through the cold night sky over a mountain range.

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2621 Hits

Duane Pitre, "Varolii Patterns"

Varolii PatternsThis latest cassette/digital release from composer/Just Intonation enthusiast Duane Pitre has its origins in a piece written for the brass ensemble Zinc & Copper a few years back (“Pons”), as he stumbled upon an intriguing process while “experimenting with microtonal electronics.” While those experiments did not ultimately make it into the final piece, they later surfaced as one element within 2021’s Omniscient Voices. That was just a fraction of the material recorded using that process, however, as Pitre had repeated it several dozen times and found himself with a considerable backlog of compelling material that was not an ideal fit for Omniscient Voices. Naturally, that led to the release of Varolii Patterns, which collects six of those process experiments that Pitre deemed strong enough to stand on their own both individually and as an album-length statement. The result is a unique and hypnotic suite of Just Intonation synth pieces that make magic from shifting patterns that “slip in and out of rhythmic focus.”

Important

As every artist knows, finding fresh ways to escape familiar patterns is a constant struggle and there have been countless ingenious strategies devised to subvert creative stagnation since John Cage famously blew everyone’s minds in the 1950s by embracing the I Ching as his guiding force. I have no idea what Pitre’s own process entailed beyond using an eight-voice synth tuned to Just Intonation, but the end product certainly feels more like a living organic entity than a series of compositions. Naturally, the tuning alone ensures that Varolii Patterns is brimming with unfamiliar and otherworldly harmonies, but the rhythm of the shifting patterns is unusual and unfamiliar as well, approximating the shifting, erratic rhythm of ocean waves rather than the rigid time signature of composed music. To my ears, the haunting “Varolii Pattern 10-1” is the most mesmerizing of the album’s variations on a theme, as a steady pulse smears into an undulating and hallucinatory haze of strange dissonances and oscillations. Moreover, it rarely sounds like Pitre is ever doing something as mundane as simply playing notes and chords–it instead feels like an interwoven tapestry of moaning, whimpering, dissolving, and smearing sounds resembling the ambient sounds of an extradimensional aviary where the normal physics of sound no longer apply.

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2203 Hits

Wormhook, "Workaday Strangeness: Gyrating Death Throes From A Void Axiom"

Workaday Strangeness: Gyrating Death Throes From A Void AxiomThis is the second offering from Wormhook, and it is a fine blend of cathartic inner voices with something akin to ancient incantations from the great beyond, augmented, but not swamped, by hand-chamfered electronics and fragile guitar. Umpteen lyrical references to clouds, nature, stones, rain, and heaven, cannot obscure that Wormhook's radical psalmody is far from the tangled common or garden variety of free folk hedgerow bustle, approaching instead the trance-state wisdom of a delirious time-traveling street corner prophet deciphering Sumerian inscriptions to an audience of none.

Akashic

Which is not to say that the record is anything less than rather holy and crystal clear. Wormhook may sound at times as if they are channeling the spirit of a Beckett character, joyfully and defiantly hauling themselves through wet leaves by their elbows, but they never sound as if they are channeling the confessional voice from author Adam Thorpe's unforgettable chapter "Stitches" - only decipherable every thirty or so readings after a midwinter nap, four glasses of sherry and a game of naked Twister. Indeed, the lyric sheet enclosed with the vinyl version of Workaday Strangeness is hardly needed. Unless, like me, you simply can't believe that double glazing is mentioned not once but twice (in separate songs) and to good effect.

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2258 Hits

Celer, "Selected Self-releases 2006-2007"

Selected Self-releases 2006-2007Given Celer’s incredibly voluminous discography, releasing any kind of comprehensive retrospective would be one hell of a quixotic and cost-prohibitive endeavor, but this collection does the next best thing. Weighing in at 14 discs spanning 10 albums, this boxed set celebrates an especially significant and prolific era in the project’s evolution: the self-released albums that Will Long and the late Danielle Baquet-Long (Chubby Wolf) recorded as a duo before the latter’s passing in 2009. Not all of them, mind you, but this collection seems to at least cover the ones that matter most. Given that Celer is based in Japan and Bandcamp was still in its formative stages back then, I suspect very few people were hip enough to pounce on the duo’s early CD-Rs at the time of their original release, but the world definitely began to take notice soon after, as I remember Celer albums being a very hot commodity sometime around 2008/2009 when they started getting widely re-released. Unsurprisingly, there are some remastered fan favorites from that era included here, such as Continents and Cantus Libres, but I have grown so accustomed to Long’s current elegantly minimalist dream-drone aesthetic that I was legitimately surprised by the wider palette of moods and atmospheres explored at the project’s inception. Naturally, the gorgeously warm ambient dreamscapes that Celer has long been synonymous with are still the main draw here, but they are not the only draw, as I found it very illuminating to revisit the less-remembered noirish and sci-fi-inspired sides of the duo’s exploratory beginnings.

Two Acorns

This collection is only being released as a limited edition physical boxed set, which makes a lot of sense for a couple of big reasons. The mundane one is that all of these albums are already readily available in remastered form, so this retrospective is very much for the project’s more devoted fans. The more poetic and heartfelt reason is that this boxed set is essentially a memorial to the Dani era and music was merely one facet of the duo’s artistic vision. Obviously, the music is the biggest and most relevant reason for Celer’s continued appeal, but the project has always been something of a multimedia love story/travel diary as well, as the accompanying images and texts often provided important context, clues, and deeper shades of meaning. In fact, I sincerely doubt that Celer would have made such a deep impression if Will and Dani had not found a way to make ambient/drone music feel like something personal and intimate (a feat very few others have achieved). Consequently, making this a collection a physical object with all of Dani’s poems and photos intact seems like the only proper way to celebrate the duo’s shared story. That said, nearly all of the texts, images, and song titles do tend to be teasingly enigmatic. In fact, they almost act like an inversion of the film/film score relationship, as they color my perception of the music without providing much actual information beyond a sense of place and an impressionist glimpse of how Will and Dani were feeling about both life and each other at the time. While I would probably love a Will Long memoir or travel diary, the decision to portray that period instead as an elusive, elliptical, and mysterious collection of dreamlike sounds, images, and words is admittedly the more alluring and Celer-esque path to take. Words and unambiguous meanings are cool and all, but struggling to express the ineffable is a beautiful and noble way to spend an artistic career.

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2507 Hits

Roméo Poirier, "Living Room"

Living RoomThis third album from former lifeguard/Brussels-based electronic composer Poirier may very well be the most beautiful distillation of his gently psychotropic strain of loop-driven, summery, surf-side electronica to date. The same could have been said of 2020's Hotel Nota, of course, but Poirier's work genuinely seems to become more fascinating with each fresh album (and each new detail that I read about his inspirations). Unsurprisingly, Living Room does not dramatically depart from the "Jan Jelinek inspecting a coral reef" aesthetic first debuted on 2016's Plage Arri​è​re, but it feels like Poirier's sundappled, beach-friendly vision of languorously flickering loops is increasingly headed deeper into more exotica-inspired territory, which is almost always a good move in my book. Aside from that continuing stylistic evolution, Living Room is also significant for being the first Poirier album to feature another one of his long-standing fascinations: the innate musicality of the human voice (particularly when de-coupled from language and meaning). Unsurprisingly, Poirier incorporates that new feature in a characteristically compelling and poignant way, as the album is peppered with chopped, screwed, and decontextualized fragments from his musician father's sample collection. The result is not quite "pop," yet it gets surprisingly close to it at times and those ephemeral glimpses of human warmth suit Poirier's swaying and sublime tropical dream beautifully.

Faitiche

The opening "Statuario" is a reasonably representative introduction to the album's multifarious delights, though its lazily sensuous bass pulse creeps more into a loscil-esque strain of aquatic-sounding dub techno than most of the other pieces. Aside from that, however, "Statuario" is a moonlit fantasia of chirping psychotropic frogs, submerged and enigmatic orchestral fragments, blurred and hissing textures, and sophisticated harmonies. That latter bit is a surprisingly crucial part of the album, as Poirier's chord progressions and melodies rarely feel conventional–there are almost always passing shadows of dissonance and hints of uneasy harmonies gnawing at the edges of Poirier's Endless Summer-esque bliss. That element makes Living Room a more complex and mysterious experience than I expected, but Poirier displays an impressive lightness of touch with his more jazz-inspired tendencies. I am tempted to describe the baseline aesthetic of Living Room as "bathtub-recorded Endless Summer" meets "loscil doing a DJ set at a tiki bar," which admittedly sounds very appealing, but there are too many interesting twists throughout the album for that glib assessment to feel right. There are obviously other artists who have made killer recordings in this vein before Poirier, but that does not prevent Living Room from rivaling those earlier classics and Poirier brings an especially fresh and innovative aesthetic to the table.

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2477 Hits

Eiko Ishibashi, "For McCoy"

For McCoyAlthough initially premiered on Bandcamp in 2021, Eiko Ishibashi's ode to Jack McCoy—Sam Waterston's character from the television show Law & Order—was remixed by Jim O'Rourke and issued on vinyl in 2022. It is a dazzling album of crisp ambient tones, colored with aching jazz and minimalist drone, wherein Ishibashi creates dense, mysterious, but also light and dreamy atmospheres. Such a fine balance is perhaps to be expected from a composer and multi-instrumentalist who grew up banned from listening to pop radio, has worked with avantgarde giants such as Merzbow, made an album about her family's role in Japan's sins in Manchuria, yet also takes inspiration from Genesis's prog anthem "Supper's Ready," scored anime, had an Oscar-nominated soundtrack (for Drive My Car), loves Columbo, and watches Law & Order.

Black Truffle

From what I have gathered, the character of Jack McCoy has a somewhat vague backstory, so it probably doesn't matter that I've never actually seen him on screen or even heard his voice, as this is no barrier to enjoying Eiko Ishibashi's affectionate depiction of his emotional life and personal history. Indeed, from first to last, the 40 minutes of For McCoy are completely enjoyable. The album is perfect, an expert balance of organic progression and structural know-how. Ishbashi's haunting flute playing, delicate synths and organ are complemented by the superb violin work of MIO.O, O'Rourke on double bass and (I think) guitar, along with the light-touch drumming of Joe Talia and Tatsuhisha Yamamoto. More icing on the cake comes from both Ishibashi's wordless vocal work (almost a la Norma Winstone) refreshing the album at precisely the right moment, and the multi-tracked saxophone of Daisuke Fujiwara. The latter shoots a lonesome gumshoe detective quality into proceedings, rather like part of the blissfully gut-wrenching soundtrack to Polanski's unforgettable Chinatown.

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2403 Hits

Parashi, "Vinegar Baths"

Mike Griffin's Parashi project has never been an easy one to pin down as far as expectations go. While never predictable, the material was usually abstract and not musical in the conventional sense, existing somewhere on a continuum between harsh noise and less abrasive, almost early Cabaret Voltaire like treatments of tapes and effects. For Vinegar Baths, he certainly retains these elements, but the emphasis is on guitar, bass, and surprisingly, vocals.

Carbon

It is possible that this shift was precipitated by Griffin's role as guitarist in the upstate NY rock supergroup Sky Furrows, or perhaps motivated by something else entirely. A song like "Letters in the Wrong Order" straddles the line between music and noise, with abstract guitar and noisy loops establishing a foundation, but with Griffin's vocals and more conventional guitar added it feels like an attempt at folk music with the wrong instrumentation, and I mean that as a compliment.

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2183 Hits

Ernest Hood, "Back to the Woodlands"

Back to the WoodlandsErnest Hood is best known for the 1975 release Neighborhoods, a unique album of locations recorded during his travels through Oregon combined later with his zither and synthesizer music. It is far more common now but Hood was a pioneer in the use of "found sound." Back To The Woodlands harks from the same (1972-1982) period but has never been released until now. It is a fine addition to Hood's legacy of work which is reflective, warm, and inviting, without being easy, silly, or overly sentimental.

Freedom To Spend

Neighborhoods is a classic. It was originally intended as a gift for housebound people in order that they could listen and enjoy feeling transported somewhere else. This was something dear to Ernest Hood's heart, himself having been stricken with polio since his twenties, forced to spend a whole year in an iron lung, and thereafter get around on crutches or in a wheelchair. Unsurprisingly, there is a bittersweet quality to all of Hood's music. His location recordings capture children gently mocking each other (a playground chant of "Johnny's got a sweetheart" is riffed into the 11 minute track "After School" on Neighborhoods), the thud of basketballs, birdcall, frog croak, insect chirp, snippets of conversation, an ice cream truck, screen doors, a model T driving over a manhole cover, hollers, clanging metalworking tools, small planes, tales being told, a can kicked down the road, and more. All merge with Hood's instrumentation to create a tender and tangible nostalgic sound, sound which is naturally capable of stimulating remembrance of our own childhood memories: father whistling, the smell of baking, the wet brain-damaging smack of a cement heavy caseball, the lady next door sunbathing with the radio on, and so on.

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2155 Hits

Darksmith, “Imposter”

ImposterWith a debut in 2007, the enigmatic Darksmith has a relatively dense body of work centered around manipulated tapes and electronic excursions. Imposter is one in a series of releases sharing these qualities, as well as consistently strange artistic consistency visually. Unexpecting changes from meditative to chaotic are the norm in this chaotic, yet beautiful disc.

Throne Heap

Originally slated to be an LP, Imposter maintains the original structure intended, presented as two side long pieces on the CD with some roughly discernable pauses where I believe original breaks were intended to be. The first half (side?), "Looking for Idiots/Problem with Everyone," is comparably the mellower one. Leading from a steady tone and flat, white noise, he builds with strange digital interference sounds and crunchy layers. With bits of field recordings weaved in and out, the first section is almost peaceful in its own, disjointed way. The second half is a bit rawer, with violent clattering, scrapes, banging, and what almost sounds like a horse running around and wrecking everything.

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2180 Hits

2022 Annual Readers Poll: The Results

The Brainwashed Readers Poll aims to be set apart by other online music polls. The staff and contributors aren't here to dictate to readers what we think people should be enjoying, we welcome the community to voice their opinion, and then we add our bits and pieces after.

Thanks again to all who have taken part in this year's Readers Poll. And thanks to all for your patience as this was the first year voting began after the year ended. Lots of surprises this year but keep in mind we all have been voting on what we liked and the items that seem to overlap the most with people rise to the top. See something missing? Sorry, it's a readers poll, participate more next year!

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17226 Hits

Kali Malone, "Does Spring Hide Its Joy"

Does Spring Hide Its JoyThis latest release from this eternally innovative Stockholm-based composer is a durational tour de force that first began to take shape in empty Berlin concert halls in the early months of the pandemic. While I note with grim humor that the pandemic has itself become an endlessly shifting durational tour de force, Malone’s primary inspiration came instead from the ambient sense of unreality and distorted time that became pervasive as the fabric of normal daily life quickly unraveled. Like many other artists, Malone suddenly found herself with plenty of free time during that period of dread, isolation, and uncertainty, yet she was fortunate enough to get an invitation to record new music at Berlin’s Funkhaus and MONOM and even luckier still to have some extremely talented friends around with newly open schedules themselves. In short, the stars were in perfect alignment for one hell of an avant-drone dream team to form, as Malone (armed with 72 sine wave oscillators) tapped in like-minded souls Stephen O’Malley and Lucy Railton and the expected slow-burning dark sorcery ensued. Does Spring Hide Its Joy feels like an inspired twist on the longform drone majesty of artists like Éliane Radigue, as Malone employed just intonation to layer complex and otherworldly harmonies while her collaborators gamely helped ensure that the crescendos were visceral, gnarled and snarling enough to leave a deep impression.

Ideologic Organ

I have no doubt at all that Kali Malone brought her usual compositional rigor to this “study in harmonics and non-linear composition with a heightened focus on just intonation and beating interference patterns,” but Does Spring Hide Its Joy is more open-ended than her usual fare and leaves some welcome room for spontaneity and improvisation. Malone envisioned the piece as a puzzle of sorts that is assembled from five-minute blocks approximating a ladder that the musicians can choose to ascend or descend. The total number of blocks is fluid as well. For example, the album versions of the piece are an hour long while the live version can sometimes stretch to 90 minutes (note: the CD includes three performances of the piece while the LP includes only two). On top of that inventive structure, Malone deliberately wrote the piece with her collaborators’ styles and techniques in mind, envisioning the composition as a “framework for subjective interpretation and non-hierarchical movement.” In practical terms, that means that this piece is essentially a drone fantasia of bowed strings, smoldering distortion, and shifting harmonies that occasionally blossoms into something more fiery and transcendent. This being a Kali Malone composition, however, the organically evolving harmonies and oscillations are invariably absorbing, sophisticated, and distinctive regardless of the shape the piece takes. Notably, this album is also a bit more earthy, psychotropic and texturally varied than previous Malone opuses. It feels akin to a ghostly ballet or hallucinatory tendrils of smoke, as the sustained tones of the three players languorously intertwine and dissipate in a dreamlike haze of lingering feedback, overtones, and harmonics.

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2437 Hits

Voice Actor, "Sent From My Telephone"

Sent from my TelephoneThis mammoth and category-defying opus is easily the most wildly ambitious debut in recent memory (if not ever) and also happens to be one of my absolute favorite albums of 2022. It was one hell of an enigma at first as well, as Stroom quietly released the album back in October with absolutely no background information provided at all. Given the absolutely bananas volume of material (4 ½ hours) and the consistently high level of quality, I expected that it would be revealed to be some sort of decade-spanning art project involving an all-star cast of sound art luminaries, but I turned out to be spectacularly wrong about most of that. As it turns out, Voice Actor is instead a recent collaboration between Noa Kurzweil (Supertalented) and Levi Lanser (Ludittes), neither of whom I had previously encountered. However, I was at least partially right about the “art project” bit, as Sent From My Telephone collects three years of pieces that the duo originally intended as a radio play (and there are plenty of guest collaborators involved as well). The heart of the project, however, is Kurzweil’s seductive voice and her enigmatic diaristic monologues, which makes Félicia Atkinson a close kindred spirit, yet Lanser’s varied and phantasmagoric backdrops elevate the project into a mesmerizing durational mindfuck that effortlessly blurs the lines between spoken word, plunderphonics, ambient drone, outsider R&B, psychedelia, and Hype Williams’ hypnagogic sound collage side.

Stroom

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5345 Hits

Omertà, "Collection Particulière"

Collection ParticulièreThe French Standard In-Fi label has been one of my casual obsessions over the last few years and this second album from Omertà was my favorite release that surfaced from that milieu in 2022. From what I can tell as an outsider, there appears to be a loosely knit family of artists, psych enthusiasts, and avant-folk weirdos that convene periodically in varying configurations and occasionally an album will eventually surface documenting whatever magic transpired. Omertà unsurprisingly shares key members with other fitfully killer projects like France and Tanz Mein Herz, but this ensemble is an unique animal for a number of reasons. The most striking of those reasons are the breathy, sensuous vocals of Florence Giroud, who I believe is only active in this one project (as far as rock bands are concerned, at least). Giroud’s vocals aside, Omertà is also far more informed by eroticism, dream states, pop music, and chansons than the usual Standard In-Fi fare. To my ears, something compelling almost always seems to happen whenever Jeremie Sauvage & Mathieu Tilly assemble a group of like-minded artists, but Collection Particuli​è​re’s “Amour Fou” and “Moments in Love” are easily among the most beautifully distilled and haunting pieces that the label has released to date.

Standard In-Fi/Zamzam

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2215 Hits

Ak'chamel, "A Mournful Kingdom of Sand"

A Mournful Kingdom of SandThe latest from this shapeshifting and anonymous southwestern psych duo marks both their return to Akuphone and the first proper follow up to 2020's landmark The Totemist. To some degree, Ak'Chamel revisit roughly the same distinctive stylistic terrain as their last LP, approximating some kind of otherworldly and psychotropic collision of Sun City Girls and Sublime Frequencies. That said, Ak'Chamel do sound a hell of a lot more like a mariachi band soundtracking a jungle puppet nightmare this time around and that festively macabre vibe suits them quite nicely. The band might see things a little differently themselves, as this album is billed as "a perfect soundtrack for the desertification of our world," but experiencing this lysergic Cannibal Holocaust-esque mindfuck is probably just the thing for helping someone appreciate the wide-open spaces and solitude of desert life. In keeping with that desert theme, there are plenty of prominent Middle Eastern melodies and instruments on the album, but Ak'Chamel is singularly adept at dissolving regional boundaries (and possibly dimensional ones as well) in their quest for deep, exotic, and oft-uncategorizable psychedelia.

Akuphone

The album opens in deceptively straightforward fashion, as the first minute of "The Great Saharan-Chihuahuan Assimilation" starts with a minor key Spanish guitar and hand percussion vamp. However, subtle signs of unreality gradually creep in (such as the eerie whistle of throat-singing) before the piece blossoms into a spacious and melodic interlude of Tex-Mex-style surf twang. The following "Clean Coal is a Porous Condom" is similarly musical (if unfamiliar), as Ak'Chamel sound like some kind of outernational supergroup trading Latin, Indian, and surf-inspired licks over a pleasantly lurching "locked groove"-style vamp. Both pieces are quite likable, but the album does not start to wade into the psychedelic deep end until the third piece (the colorfully titled "Amazonian Tribes Mimicking The Sound of Chainsaws With Their Mouths"). Unusually, it is a jaunty yet bittersweet accordion-driven piece at its heart, but the central motif is beautifully enhanced by layers of vivid psychotropic sounds (flutes, voices, ululating, eerie whines, pipe melodies), resulting in something that feels like a festive collision between The Wicker Man and a haunted street fair at the edge of the Amazon.

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2537 Hits

Carla dal Forno, "Come Around"

Come AroundThis latest album from Carla dal Forno is her first since relocating to a small town (Castlemaine) in her native Australia and that dramatic change in environment has understandably made quite an impact on her overall vibe (as the album description puts it, she "returns self-assured and firmly settled within the dense eucalypt bushlands"). Fortunately, it seems like the transformation was an entirely favorable one, as literally everything that made dal Forno's previous work so wonderful and distinctive (ghostly pop hooks, stark bass-driven post-punk grooves, tight songcraft) remains intact. Now, however, her bloodless pop songs are charmingly enhanced with an understated tropical feel as well. For the most part, Come Around is still light years away from anything like a conventional beach party, but songs like the title piece at least come close to approximating a hypnagogic one. Aside from that, dal Forno also displays some impressive creative evolution on the production side, as these nine songs are a feast of subtle dubwise and psych-inspired touches in the periphery. That said, the primary appeal of Come Around is still the same as ever, as dal Forno remains nearly unerring in churning out songs so strong that they truly do not need anything more than her voice, a cool bass line, and a simple drum machine groove to leave a deep impression.

Kallista

The opening "Side By Side" is a damn-near perfect illustration of dal Forno's distinctive strain of indie pop magic, as crashing waves give way to a rubbery, laid-back bass line and a bittersweet, floating vocal melody. Lyrically, dal Forno still seems to be in the throes of heartache, but also comes across as very clear-eyed, confident, and sensuous. That turns out to be quite an effective combination, as these nine songs radiate deadpan cool and wry playfulness while still maintaining palpable human warmth and soulfulness at their core. That alone would be more than enough to carry this album (along with all the great hooks and bouncy slow-motion bass grooves), but dal Forno is also unusually inventive with beats, psychotropic production touches, and the assimilation of unexpected influences this time around. The album's stellar title piece is a prime example of the latter, as it feels like dal Forno seamlessly mashed together The Shangri-Las and Young Marble Giants to soundtrack a surf movie for ghosts.

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3575 Hits

Matt McBane & Sandbox Percussion, "Bathymetry"

BathymetryAs a teenage surfer Matt McBane became obsessed with the sea and the way in which the bathymetry of the ocean floor affects the way that waves break. His composition Bathymetry mirrors that relationship, with his bass synthesizer providing the platform to shape the more trebly waves of varied percussion played by Sandbox Percussion (a well-named and playful ensemble). On the surface, this album is slightly out of my, rather idiosyncratic, comfort zone. The accompanying videos were off-putting and (politeness dictates that I cannot write what I would cheerfully do with them) ping-pong balls overused. Despite this, my listening curiosity was piqued and held steady. Then halfway through the 40 minute duration, the track "Groundswell" completely won me over, and I rode a wave of enjoyment all the way to the end. Later on, afer repeated listens, it occurred to me that the same process happens on each track, as bursts of percussive grit, pops and scrapes away, to eventually leave the rewarding pearl.

Cantaloupe

For whatever reason, I found that the second half of Bathymetry has a greater emotional and melodic impact, perhaps due to the slower pace and less cluttered soundscape. This allows the synthesizer to be more prominent and the percussion more glassy and transparent (maybe hitting bottles and bowls, or using vibraphone, instead of dropping the aforementioned balls). I have heard nurses describe conversations with certain patients as like playing table tennis with someone who rarely tries to hit the ball back and I detect a similar movement, and progression, here. As intriguing the first twenty minutes or so is, from "Groundswell" onwards it's game on. The use of a traditional drum kit there, and also on "Refraction" comes as a refreshing surprise and the effect is propulsive, as if we've been lowered slowly down into the depths of the ocean which is intriguing, but now are off and zooming around exploring in a small submarine. At several points, including "Coda", we hear what could be an underwater bell or gong; very appropriate as similar to sounds punctuating Hendrix's extended aquatic-themed pieces "1983 A Merman I Should Turn To Be" and "Moon, Turn the Tides… Gently Gently Away." The feel of Bathymetry becomes rather like improvised ambient chamber music with overtones of both dub and Harry Partch, although his percussive bowls were called cloud chamber bowls and it's possibly a breach of some critical rule to mention his name and the word "ambient" in the same sentence.

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2594 Hits

Spiral Wave Nomads, "Magnetic Sky"

Magnetic SkyProlific artists on their own, the duo of Eric Hardiman (guitar/bass/electronics) and Michael Kiefer (drums/keyboards) have still managed to put out their third album in four years as Spiral Wave Nomads. The spacey, psychedelic tinged guitar/bass/drum excursions are of course expected by now, but the inclusion of additional electronic instrumentation makes Magnetic Sky even greater.

Twin Lakes/Feeding Tube

With six songs spread across two sides of vinyl, the duo keeps their performances somewhat succinct, given the improvisational approach. Dynamic drumming and long guitar passages tend to be the focus, but there is so much more going on in the layers beneath. Both Kiefer and Hardiman contribute electronics/synths this time around, and the watery sounds that open “Dissolving into Shape” nicely flesh out the restrained drumming and commanding lead guitar. “Under a Magnetic Sky” is also bathed in soft electronics, covering the outstretched guitar, prominent bass, and taut drumming like a warm, fuzzy blanket. “Carrier Signals” features them leaning a bit more into jazz territory, punctuated with pseudo-Eastern melodies, unconventional drumming, and sitar-like drones.

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3048 Hits

Julia Sabra and Fadi Tabbal, "Snakeskin"

SnakeskinThis is the first full-length collaboration between Sabra and Tabbal, but it is apparently also the sixth collaborative release between Portland's Beacon Sound and Lebanon's Ruptured Records (which was co-founded by Tabbal). While Tabbal's solo work has been a very enjoyable recent discovery for me, this is my first encounter with Julia Sabra, who is normally one-third of the excellent Beirut-based dreampop trio Postcards. The pair do have a history of working together, as Tabbal has co-produced several Postcards releases, but their creative union only began to take shape in the aftermath of Beirut's massive 2020 port explosion (which destroyed Sabra's home, badly injured her partner/bandmate Pascal Semerdjian, and displaced a whopping 300,000 people). Unsurprisingly, one of the primary themes of Snakeskin is the precarious concept of "home" and the "the disappearance of life as we know it" in a volatile and oft-violent world. Those are admittedly more urgent themes in Tabbal and Sabra's neck of the woods than some others (the album was also inspired by the 2021 Palestinian and the invasion of Armenia), but loss and uncertainty eventually come for us all and they make a universally poignant emotional core for an album. And, of course, great art can sometimes emerge from deeply felt tragedies and Tabbal and Sabra are a match made in heaven for that challenge, as Julia's sensuous, floating vocals are the perfect complement to Tabbal's gnarled and heaving soundscapes.

Beacon Sound/Ruptured

The first piece that Sabra and Tabbal wrote together was "Roots," which surfaced last year on Ruptured's The Drone Sessions Vol. 1 compilation. That piece is reprised here as the sublimely beautiful closer, which was a great idea as it is one of the strongest songs on the album. However, it also illustrates how this collaboration has evolved and transformed, as "Roots" has the feel of a dreamy, bittersweet synth masterpiece nicely enhanced with hazy, sensuous vocals. Execution-wise, it is damn hard to top, but the duo's more recent work feels like a creative breakthrough that is greater than the sum of its parts. Put more simply, the pair previously merged their two styles in an expected way to great effect, but then they started organically blurring into a single shared style and the results turned into something more memorable and transcendent. The first major highlight is "All The Birds," which calls to mind a collision between the murky, submerged dub of loscil and what I imagine a bossa nova album by Julee Cruise might have sounded like. As cool as all that sounds, however, the reality is even better due to the muscular, snaking synth undercurrent and surprise snare-roll groove.

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Angelo Harmsworth, "Singe"

SingeI was a bit later to the Angelo Harmsworth party than I would have liked, but the Berlin-based American composer has been fitfully releasing very distinctive blown-out "ambient" albums for about a decade now on an array of hip and discriminating small labels (Opal Tapes, Vaagner, enmossed, Psychic Liberation, etc.). Harmsworth's latest is his first for Students of Decay and marks a rare vinyl outing, as most of his previous physical releases have been limited to cassette. According to the label, Singe "may be the high water mark" of Harmsworth's career to date, which does feel like a completely plausible claim, but one that is very hard to confidently echo given how many killer Harmsworth pieces already exist. Even if Singe fails to conclusively eclipse all of Harmsworth's past triumphs, however, it does seem to be one of his most consistently strong releases and an ideal starting point for the curious. Notably, describing Harmsworth's vision as "ambient" or even "power ambient" feels cruelly reductionist, which is probably why he amusingly titled a 2020 release Fully Automated Luxury Ambient. That imaginary subgenre feels much closer to the mark, as the intensity and textural inventiveness that Angelo brings to these compositions shares far more common ground with artists like Tim Hecker or Fennesz (or collapsing power lines during a live volcano) than it does with anyone trafficking in droning, meditative loops.

Students of Decay

Those craving the aforementioned "collapsing power lines" vibe will have a mercifully short wait, as the opening "Igniting the Periphery" calls to mind buzzing high tension wires swayed by a deep seismic shudder as the surrounding buildings collapse in slow motion. There are some other elements as well, like fragments of twinkling piano and warm waves of frayed drones, but the viscerally heaving, buzzing, and gnarled wreckage at the heart of the piece is the showstopper—everything else is just there to color the mood. That balance holds true for the rest of the album as well, as the Singe experience feels akin to wandering through six cataclysmic yet weirdly beautiful natural disasters. For example, the crackling and hissing "Frothed" evokes slow jets of magma breaking through a buckling, blasted landscape, while "Drip Motion" has the feel of a storm slowly forming and then slowly dissipating. In short, Harmsworth harnesses the proverbial "force of nature" and wields it beautifully. That said, "Drip Motion" is an album highlight for more conventionally musical reasons as well, as it resembles the burning and heaving wreckage of a killer Porter Ricks cut fading in and out of focus. "A Twofold Excess" then ends the album's first half with yet another gem, as it feels like slowed-down footage of a tornado ripping apart a sawmill before dissolving into a sublime coda of sputtering static, tender piano, and warbling, whimpering streaks of psychedelia.

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