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Simon Scott, "Apart"

Cover of Simon Scott - ApartCOVID-19 has torn people apart and brutally impacted lives. Having lost his father to the disease in April, Apart is Scott’s musical release of his grief entwined with the natural tumult of a much-loved nature preserve spent traversing in youth with his father. These protected wetlands house species that are slowly disappearing, comprising a distinct sonic environment that changes with its inhabitants’ demise. By capturing his current environment as part of his grieving process, Scott harnessed his awareness of temporality in all things as a musical expression to allow him to heal. Scott captures ten representations of this ephemeral world through field recordings centered around a piano, with electronic treatment to achieve an expressive and emotional musical ride.

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4133 Hits

Axebreaker, "They Wear the Mask and Their Face Grows to Fit It"

cover image With obviously no dearth of source material or motivation, Locrian and The Holy Circle’s Terence Hannum has released a third album this year as his solo anti-fascist power electronics guise Axebreaker. Dense with rage, frustration, and noise, They Wear the Mask and Their Face Grows to Fit It does not stray drastically far from his previous albums, but continues his growing legacy of anger and nuanced aggressive electronic arrangements. A combination of catharsis and complexity, Hannum's work is as conceptually narrative as it is purely visceral.

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4487 Hits

Soft Kill, "Dead Kids, R.I.P. City"

Cover of Soft Kill - Dead Kids, R.I.P. CityHomelessness is driven by many things, but it has one thing in common: everyone who is afflicted is human. With this recognition comes both a feeling of cold reality and an expectation of change. The latest from Portland’s Soft Kill—a city that has one of the highest homeless populations in the United States—was forged through their personal encounters with the youngest "lost" denizens of the city. Dead Kids, R.I.P. City lays out stark, confronting tales of addiction, bravery in abandonment, and hope amongst loneliness through luminous soundscapes and lingering melodies. What followed is their most complex yet accessible release yet, a richly human and mournful album from a band already associated with melancholy.

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5413 Hits

Aperus, "Archaic Signals"

cover imageEven though I should absolutely know better, I have spent plenty of time and money over the years trying to find new artists that scratch roughly the same itch that several of my favorites did in their prime. In my heart, I know that no one will ever be able to replicate the magic of classic Dead Can Dance or Zoviet France or whoever, but that certainly does not stop me from endlessly disappointing myself with my doomed and stupid quest. Sometimes, however, I am drawn towards an album due to its surface resemblance to something familiar only to discover that the artist shot right past the target nostalgia zone to achieve something that is unique and wonderful in its own right. That is the case with this latest release from Brian McWilliams' long-running Aperus project, which calls to both the "sci-fi tribal" aesthetic of classic Zoviet France/Rapoon and the desert/ethno-ambient side of Projekt's late ‘90s heyday (Steve Roach, et al.). As far as I am concerned, that is an absolutely wonderful stylistic niche to stake out, but McWilliams' execution is what elevates Archaic Signal into something truly special. Rather than simply recalling the iconic figures who birthed a milieu that I love, this album reveals that those original visions have evolved into a compelling new phase with some visionary architects of its own.

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5160 Hits

Thisquietarmy x Away, "The Singularity, Phase I"

Cover of Thisquietarmy x Away - The Singularity, Phase IMontreal-based guitarist and designer Eric Quach (Thisquietarmy, Hypnodrone Ensemble, Destroyalldreamers, others) teams up with drummer and artist Michel « Away » Langevin of progressive sci-fi metal legends Voïvod. That these two world-traveling Canadians crossed paths is tremendously fortunate. The Singularity, Phase I blends the immersive rhythms of Langevin superimposed on the myriad techniques of guitar master Quach, crossing musical genres to create a hypnotic and thrilling tribal experience. The expert ear of Quach, the practiced hands of Langevin and the combined musical knowledge of the duo bring to life a fruitful mind-bending soundscape of heavy motorik rhythms, prolonged drones, futuristic sound effects and frenetic improvised jams.

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5437 Hits

Mint Field, "Sentimiento Mundial"

Cover of Mint Field - Sentimiento MundialThe latest from Mexico City’s Mint Field brings members of Ulrika Spacek on board. The album achieves a gentle balance between fever and dream that shows growth over the predecessor’s fuzzed-out psychedelia. Sentimiento Mundial allures with wistful, airy melodies that touch on multiple genres, working in moments of their usual dark subterfuge.

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4049 Hits

Limbs Bin, "Unrelenting Barrage of Flowers and Amethyst Energy"

cover image As the favorite son of the Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts, Josh Landes's Limbs Bin has been a consistently impressive amalgamation of full auto drum machines and harsh electronics. Unrelenting Barrage of Flowers and Amethyst Energy consists of two rather brief live sets recorded last year, the first at the Dayton Noise Symposium II in Ohio, the second at Mass Grind Violence in Providence, Rhode Island. Recorded three months apart, the vibe is certainly different from one show to the other, but both are consistently brilliant.

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4079 Hits

Ana Roxanne, "Because of a Flower"

cover imageAna Roxanne's cryptically titled debut mini-LP was one of 2019's most pleasant surprises, as she masterfully wielded a minimal palette of hazy vocals, subtle instrumentation, and field recordings to construct a suite of songs that felt both remarkably intimate and completely untethered to conventional structure or contemporary trends. In fact, I suspect I could have been easily convinced that ~~~ was a highly coveted private press obscurity from the early '80s. This latest release (her first for Kranky) takes a somewhat different direction in some ways, but thankfully remains every bit as beguiling as its predecessor: the field recordings may be less prominent and Roxanne's previous impressionistic, amorphous structures have been largely replaced with more conventional shapes, yet the hooks are now stronger and the songs more memorable. That feels like a perfectly acceptable trade-off in my book. While I am historically dismayed when artists that that I enjoy move further away from the idiosyncrasies that made their early work so special, Roxanne proves herself to be the rare exception to that trend, as the best moments of Because of a Flower take the warmth and melodicism of ~~~ to some truly beautiful new heights.

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3884 Hits

Yellow6, "Silent Streets And Empty Skies"

Cover of Yellow6 - Silent Streets And Empty SkiesYellow6, the solo project of British guitarist Jon Attwood, first came to my attention through his collaboration with Thisquietarmy for the 2011 album "Death Valley," but Attwood himself has been active in since 2000. Recorded between April and June of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the title of his latest is an indicator of the eerie lack of traffic, people in the streets, and vapor trails from air traffic from a neighboring airport. The fresh time to reflect and social distance—along with the purchase a new guitar—inspired Attwood to create nine pieces of beautifully layered electric guitar and effects that instill calm, to be enjoyed as ambient background music or appreciated for the guitar craft. The sparse, delicate sounds parlay a stillness of these strange times; a stillness that can be both disturbing and enriching, and wrapped in contemplation.

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4014 Hits

Alessandra Novaga, "I Should Have Been a Gardener"

cover imageNew albums from Die Schachtel do not surface very often these days, but just about everything they choose to release is at least enticingly unusual. That trend happily continues with this latest album from Milanese guitarist Alessandra Novaga, who follows her 2017 homage to Rainer Werner Fassbinder with this tribute to yet another iconic cinematic auteur in Derek Jarman. As someone currently obsessing over Andrei Tarkovsky's writings about art, I can say that Novaga is a definite kindred spirit, as I Should Have Been A Gardener obliquely celebrates Jarman himself rather than presenting itself as an imagined soundtrack for any specific film. In fact, I actually wish it was a bit less oblique, as the album only reaches its most memorable heights on the final piece when Novaga’s slow-moving and sublime guitar work is entwined with an old interview with Jarman himself. While that surprise posthumous cameo is certainly welcome, it is not necessarily his presence that elevates that piece into something more transcendent—it is more that Novaga's lovely and understated playing is most effective when it interacts with other textural layers. Almost the entire album is a modest, quiet pleasure though, which I suppose is entirely befitting for a tribute to a man who would have cheerfully devoted his life entirely to gardening under different circumstances.

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5103 Hits

Sky Furrows

cover image As a four piece from the Albany, New York region consisting of some of the most well known members of the small, but dedicated noise/psych scene, Sky Furrows is a project that is seemingly from another time that belies the band’s avant garde tendencies. Rather than blending disparate genres or delving into deep electronic improvisations, the album is a concise, somewhat predictable one, but that is in no means an insult. Instead this self-titled album is almost like a time capsule uncovered from some three decades past, and one that beautifully encapsulates a sound and a scene that was all too brief.

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5101 Hits

The Fall, "The Frenz Experiment"

Cover of The Fall - Frenz ExperimentThere are three main periods The Fall may be grouped into: the raw punk early years, the more "melodious" classic years, and the post-'90s period up to Mark E. Smith’s passing in 2018. The Frenz Experiment, originally released in 1988 and reissued this year by Beggars Banquet, is part of the "classic" years, a time when the band churned out a series of nearly perfect albums.

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4878 Hits

Lucrecia Dalt, "No era sólida"

cover imageWith 2018's Anticlines, this Berlin-based artist established herself as one of the more adventurous and unique composers to surface in the experimental music scene in recent years and I am pleased to report that this follow-up burrows even deeper into the oft-fascinating rabbit hole of its predecessor. On a conceptual level, that deepening manifests itself in No era sólida’s deeply unusual themes, as the album is billed as a "suspended auditory illusion" that "embraces the possibilities of possession." Thankfully, the possession in this case is not of the demonic variety, as Dalt instead envisions the album as a sort of interrogation room where she interacts with an invented character named Lia. If Dalt were a lesser artist, such a premise would likely send me running in the other direction, but she executes it in such a subtle and abstract way that listening to No era sólida feels akin to unexpectedly finding myself in Twin Peaks' "red room": everything familiar is unrecognizably transformed into something disconcertingly alien and enigmatic. While the rare songs that blur into pop-like territory (such as "Ser boca") are generally the album's strongest moments, the entirety of No era sólida casts an impressively unique and haunting spell.

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5618 Hits

Less Bells, "Mourning Jewelry"

Cover of Less Bells - Mourning JewelryMourning Jewelry, the second release from Julie Carpenter’s orchestral outlet, fashions beauty out of grief, even as it takes listeners on a complex journey through darkness and grace, conveying it in not a single lyric. As with the prior release Solifuge, the palette consists of both electronic and acoustic instruments — choir, violin, cello, piano, flute, synth, bells, and this time, more acoustic guitar — that encourages the listener to succumb to grief, at times to feel overwhelmed but to be cathartically guided through and out of the challenging quagmire of emotions.

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5173 Hits

Bob Mould, "Blue Hearts"

Cover of Bob Mould - Blue HeartsBob Mould’s career stems from a raw rock aesthetic full of fury, but he has never limited himself to it, as can be attested to as recently as his 2019 album Sunshine Rock, awash in joyful power pop melodies. Cue up 2020 and almost on a complete turnaround, he fully unleashes on Blue Hearts, holding nothing back of the raw emotions that many of us have been experiencing. Utilizing a power trio format that is his earmark, Mould has crafted a raging slab of mobilizing brilliance that is both a reactive and proactive rallying cry for our future, dialing in to anger, disbelief and disorientation that transcend the current headlines, filtered through Mould’s own storied past.

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4682 Hits

Susana López, "Crónica de un Secuestro"

cover image In what will undoubtedly become a trend for artists in the coming months, Susana López’s latest work was conceived, constructed, and finalized during the lockdown. Largely completed early on, during the month of March, López took advantage of that forced isolation to produce this lengthy, rich disc of synthesizers, electronics, and processed voices. Although the sense of claustrophobia and tension are apparent, there is far more to Crónica de un Secuestro than just that.

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6200 Hits

MJ Guider, "Sour Cherry Bell"

Cover of MJ Guider - Sour Cherry BellThe third release from musician and DJ Melissa Guion was recorded largely in her home, with only limited studio time, and is truly a step forward from her earlier releases. Where 2018’s Precious Systems had heavy emphasis on ethereal moodiness, Sour Cherry Bell delivers a bigger punch, one that is more forceful and up-front — raw power. The release is filled with dark synthesizers and demanding drum machines, balanced by airy, angelic vocals and atmospheric soundscapes for a moody and dreamy effect that suggests movement: mental, emotional, and physical. This quickly became a 2020 album of the year for me.

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8749 Hits

Téléplasmiste, "To Kiss Earth Goodbye"

cover imageIt has been three years since this eclectic duo last released a proper full-length, though they have released a few fitfully intriguing cassettes in the interim. While I enjoyed the looser, more abstract side of the project showcased on last year's Science Religion, it did not quite build upon the incredible promise of Frequency is the New Ecstasy's incredible "Astodaan." That particular piece suggested that Téléplasmiste might someday deserve their own place in the illustrious Coil/Cyclobe continuum of heavy, occult-tinged, post-industrial psychedelia, though neither Mark Pilkington or Michael J. York are exactly starving for underground cred (Pilkington runs Strange Attractor Press and York was briefly a touring member of Coil). The twist is that the two artists make for a pair every bit as curious and improbable as Golden Retriever, as York's expertise in bagpipes and other wind instruments is hardly common as a guiding force in the post-industrial milieu and Pilkington is not exactly a conventional musician himself. In the context of Téléplasmiste, however, the pair tend to focus on combining heady synth drones and eerie, ritualistic pipes to evoke something akin to a portal to an altered state of consciousness. Occasionally their more bubbly kosmische side rubs me the wrong way, but the lion's share of this album is both wonderful and mesmerizing.

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16039 Hits

Ike Yard, "Night After Night"

cover imageSuperior Viaduct's Ike Yard reissue campaign continues (and presumably ends) with this, the band's woefully underheard debut EP. Night After Night was recorded shortly after the band formed and was originally released on Belgium's Les Disques Du Crépuscule back in 1981. It has never been reissued before now, which means that it was never actually available domestically (except as an import) during Ike Yard's brief initial lifespan. That is unfortunate, as it is objectively one of the better releases to emerge from NYC's No Wave scene, even if it was completely eclipsed by Ike Yard's classic full-length a year later. The difference between the two releases is quite an interesting and significant one, as Night After Night feels like the work of an actual human band with recognizable instruments rather than an audacious feat of stark, alienating production. On one level, the transformation between the two releases calls to mind pre-Martin Hannett Warsaw versus the iconic post-Hannett Joy Division, but the aesthetic itself is closer to a Public Image Ltd. homage by people who thought Jah Wobble and Keith Levene's parts were the only bits worth saving.

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4596 Hits

X, "Alphabetland"

Cover of X - AlphabetlandSince 2016, I maintained there would be the advent of a new mantra: "Make Music Great Again." Sometimes the reference became more specific, replaced with Punk or Deathrock depending on my mood, but the message remained the same: the impetus for music with a message would be opened. We’ve seen legends returning to take advantage of the era to release new work, so there was a mix of both surprise and lack thereof when, completely unannounced, legendary punk band X dropped ALPHABETLAND, their first studio release in 27 years (and the first with their original line-up in the past 35 years) to coincide with the 40th anniversary of their classic 1980 debut Los Angeles. A fresh blast from the past that looks to the future, X come racing out of the gate with the same ferociousness and insistent melody of any of their classics.

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4810 Hits