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Nonconnah, "Unicorn Family"

Unicorn FamilyThis latest release from husband and wife duo Zach & Denny Corsa appears to be their fifth full-length under the Nonconnah name (the duo were previously known as Lost Trail) and it is characteristically wonderful. As is the norm for Nonconnah, Unicorn Family was culled from several years of recordings featuring a host of eclectic collaborators (folks from Lilys, Half Japanese, Fire-Toolz, etc.) and those recordings have been expertly stitched together into beautifully layered and evocative soundscapes teeming with cool tape effects, thought-provoking samples, and killer shoegaze-inspired guitar work. In short, business as usual, but Nonconnah's business is consistently being one of the greatest drone projects on earth, so this is already a lock for one of my favorite albums of the year. Aside from the presence of a lovely lo-fi folk gem with actual singing, the only other notable departures from Nonconnah's existing run of gorgeous albums are shorter song durations than usual and the fact that the duo's samples have more of an eschatological bent. I suppose this album is an unusually focused and distilled statement as well, but that feels like a lateral move given how much I loved the sprawling immensity of Don't Go Down To Lonesome Holler.

Was Ist Das?

The album opens on an unusually simple and intimate note with "It's Eschatology! The Musical," which approximates a melancholy Microphones-esque strain of indie folk recorded directly to boombox. Despite its amusing title and throwaway final line of "that's how the album starts," it is a legitimately lovely, soulful, and direct way to kick off an album that is otherwise composed entirely of complexly layered soundscapes of tape loops and shimmering guitar noise. I have been an enthusiastic fan of those soundscapes for a while, of course, as well as an equally huge fan of the way the pair transform sped-up tape loops into rapturously dizzying and swirling mini-symphonies at the heart of their drone pieces. Given that, I do not have anything particularly fresh to say on those topics other than that I was newly struck by how the combination of slow drones and sped up tapes evokes the hypnotic streaking of car lights in time-lapse footage of a busy highway at night.

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2035 Hits

Tim Hecker, "No Highs"

No HighsThis latest opus from Tim Hecker is amusingly billed as "a beacon of unease against the deluge of false positive corporate ambient." Given the weighty themes of his previous albums, Hecker's actual inspiration presumably runs much deeper than that, yet the "beacon of unease" part of that claim may be more literal than it sounds, as one of the album's central features is described as "Morse code pulse programming." While I am not well-versed enough in Morse code to determine if Hecker's oddly timed rhythms are covertly incorporating text or a narrative into these warped and nightmarish soundscapes, the gnarled and harrowing melodies that accompany those erratic pulses are more than enough to make the album thoroughly compelling listening regardless. Aside from that, No Highs marks yet another significant creative breakthrough for a formidable artist hellbent on continual reinvention and bold evolution. While it is hard to predict whether or not No Highs will someday be considered one of Hecker's defining masterpieces or merely an admirable and unique detour, its handful of set pieces feel quite brilliant to me and I do not expect my feelings to change on that point..

Kranky

The general tone of No Highs feels like a continuation of the smeared, howling anguish of Konoyo and Anoyo, approximating lonely distress signals emitted from the smoldering ruins of Konoyo's planetary death spasms. Compositionally, however, No Highs feels like an entirely different animal altogether, as Hecker has swapped out roiling maximalism for simmering minimalism and distilled his palette to little more than insistently telegraph-like synth pings punctuated with occasional plunges into swirling and howling cosmic horror. In fact, the album makes me feel like I am stationed at a desolate outpost in a blackened wasteland nervously watching apocalyptic storms mass on the distant horizon. Unsurprisingly, the strongest pieces tend to be the ones where those storms reach their full fury, such as the opening "Monotony."

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2553 Hits

Ale Hop & Laura Robles, "Agua dulce"

Agua dulceThis is the debut collaboration between two Berlin-based Peruvian musicians and also marks my first exposure to percussionist Laura Robles. I am, however, reasonably familiar with the alien soundscapes of Ale Hop (Alejandra Cárdenas) and this union seems to have inspired some of her finest work to date. Notably, Robles is "reputed to be one of the best cajón players in Peru," which is useful context given how radically (yet lovingly) the pair deconstruct and reinvigorate the instrument ("a symbol of resistance, experimentation and transformation" in Peru). In more practical terms, that means that Cárdenas and Robles dramatically disrupt, distort, and repurpose traditional dance rhythms into a wild psychotropic mindfuck. In fact, it sometimes sounds like Robles recorded her parts alone as a freeform performance at an Ayahuasca ceremony or something, but the seemingly roving and divergent threads always come together in impressive fashion in the end. Amusingly, I would have thought that the enigmatically and erratically shifting rhythms of Agua dolce would be damn near impossible to dance to, yet these pieces apparently made quite a splash when the duo coupled with dancer/choreographer Liza Alpiźar Aguilar for the Heroines Of Sound festival. Whether or not that means that I would be a terrible choreographer is hard to say, however, as the finished album may have ultimately landed in far more lysergic territory due to Cárdenas' additional edits and production wizardry.

Buh

The album borrows its title from "the most popular beach in Lima," which is near where "both artists lived during their childhood, houses apart, without ever meeting one another." Improbably, they eventually met as expats on the other side of the world and happily found themselves to be kindred spirits tuned into the same outré wavelength. I suppose Robles is arguably the more conventional of the two despite playing Peruvian music in Germany on a self-built electric cajón, but that is only because Ale Hop often sounds like she is from a completely different planet or dimension altogether. The most impressive example of that otherworldliness comes at the midpoint of "Lamento," as the hissing, blatting electronics and sleepy Latin rhythms seem like they are suddenly interrupted by the appearance of ghost UFO that propels the proceedings into dazzling new heights of haunting, spacialized phantasmagoria. That said, the entire first half of the album is one mesmerizing psychotropic jungle freakout after another, as Cárdenas unleashes her inner tropical Lovecraft to conjure a host of squirming, gelatinous, seething, buzzing, and jabbering electronic sounds over Robles' clattering percussion workouts.

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2118 Hits

Marta Mist, "Eyes Like Pools"

Eyes Like PoolsThis is my first exposure to this UK-based collective centered around Gavin Miller (worriedaboutsatan) and Sophie Green (formerly of Her Name is Calla), but they have been fitfully releasing albums for more than a decade now. Their last major release, Scavengers, was back in 2016 on Time-Released Sound, so Eyes Like Pools both ends a lengthy hiatus and marks the collective’s first appearance on Athens’ sound in silence label. Much like Miller’s worriedaboutsatan project, this latest statement from Marta Mist occupies a vaguely cinematic stylistic niche where ambient and post-rock blur together, but Eyes Like Pools parts ways from worriedaboutsatan by swapping out electronic beats for Green’s achingly lovely violin melodies. While the more ambient side of Marta Mist’s current vision is appropriately warm and immersive, those pieces tend to be quite brief and the more substantial string-driven pieces are the true heart of the album (and it is a fiery heart indeed).

sound in silence

The album opens with a pleasant yet deceptive intro of gently rolling piano arpeggios before unveiling the first of its three major highlights: the 14-minute “Alway On.” The piece begins modestly enough with some lovely violin drones, but tendrils of melody soon start to appear and a low industrial hum gradually blossoms into a slow-moving chord progression driven by deep, warm bass tones. There are admittedly a couple of moments where it starts to err a bit too far towards soft-focus prettiness for my taste, but Green’s sliding, smearing, and occasionally snarling violin carves through the bliss haze enough to keep me transfixed regardless. More importantly, “Always On” delighted me with a very cool and unexpected ending in which echoey guitar chords slowly emerge from the ambient haze like a vengeful rockabilly ghost.

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2565 Hits

William Basinski,"The Clocktower at the Beach (1979)"

Clocktower BeachWilliam Basinski recorded this music during his time living in San Francisco, when he presumably visited Clocktower Beach. Considering that Basinski once created On Time Out Of Time—music in tribute to quantum entanglement and the theories of Einstein and Rosen, and Einstein, Rosen, and Podolsky, using source recordings of the 1.3 billion year old sounds of two distant massive black holes—undoubtedly the subject matter of The Clocktower at the Beach is one of his more straightforward creations. Fair enough, it is one of his earliest drone pieces, yet his methodology is as intriguing as anything he's done, and (most important of all) the music is a memorable journey into the sadness of things. Back to "mono no aware," then.

Line

About that methodology: it seems that Basinski recorded the night shift at a sausage factory on a battery operated portable cassette player, then made this music from that source material chiefly using a Norelco Continental four speed reel to reel tape recorder. Looping and speed tampering is all very well on paper, but thankfully Basinski's ear is such that there is not the slightest trace of anything horrible, gimmicky, nonsensical, or even dull. Broken 1950s televisions, scavenged from the streets by James Elaine, were also used, I'm unsure exactly how but presumably as another sound source.

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3339 Hits

Mike Majkowski, "Coast"

CoastThis is apparently the twelfth solo album from Berlin-based double bassist Mike Majknowski, but—far more significantly—it is also the follow up to 2021's killer Four Pieces and is very much in the same vein. That vein lies somewhere between loscil-style dubwise soundscapes and the austere sophistication of classic Tortoise or early Oren Ambarchi, which is certainly a fine place to set up shop, but that is merely the backdrop for some truly fascinating forays into sustained, simmering tension and exquisitely slow-burning heaviness. Unsurprisingly, I am like a moth to a flame when it comes to longform smoldering minimalism and I can think of few artists who can match Majknowski's execution, as he consistently weaves magic from little more than a few moving parts and a healthy appreciation for coiled, seething intensity.

Fragments Editions

The album consists of two side-long pieces ("Spiral" and "Later") that feel like divergent variations on a similar theme. "Spiral" opens with little more than a simple bass pattern, the pulse of a lonely high hat, and semi-rhythmic washes of bleary feedback or ravaged synth. There is also something resembling a minor key vibraphone melody languorously weaving through the mix, but it feels more like impressionistic coloring rather than a focal point. Gradually, a pulsing synth motif fades in that feels out-of-sync with the rest of the rhythm, giving the piece an organically shapeshifting feel that propels it into increasingly frayed and subtly unpredictable terrain: reliable rhythms start to falter, textures become more distorted, and the relationship between the various parts is increasingly in flux. It calls to mind a spider patiently spinning an incredibly intricate web while also resembling a state of suspended animation that is increasingly gnawed by an unsettling outside darkness.

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2022 Hits

Lol Coxhill & Morgan Fisher, "Slow Music"

Slow MusicI can hardly think of anything better for Aguirre to have reissued on vinyl than Morgan Fisher's collaboration with Lol Coxhill, originally released in1980 on Fisher's short-lived Pipe label. More than four decades later Slow Music is a rare phenomenon: a masterpiece which truly sounds like one. It remains an ambient landmark, an elemental work of art and imagination, and a painstaking labor of love.

Aguirre

Coxhill started out in standard jazz, Fisher in popular music, but from these fairly conventional points, both set about making creative leaps to develop their talents, and vice versa. Fisher quickly went into and out of such disparate groups as Third Ear Band and Mott the Hoople before his penchant for experimentation led—via Miniatures (his 1980 collection of 51 one minute tracks by everyone from Gavin Bryars, XTC, and Penguin Cafe Orchestra, to Ivor Cutler, Robert Wyatt, and The Damned)—to his own radically experimental music. Coxhill accelerated into his distinctly wild yet restrained style of saxophone playing, bringing him into contact with future members of the legendary Hatfield & The North, Kevin Ayers, Shirley Collins, Derek Bailey, and many others, in addition to acting roles on stage and screen. The pair worked together for the first time one year before Slow Music when Coxhill came into the studio for Fisher's Hybrid Kids, ostensibly a collection of various mutant art-punk groups, all of whom were in fact Morgan Fisher in disguise.

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2229 Hits

The Notwist, "Vertigo Days: Live from Alien Research Center"

Vertigo DaysThe Notwist tend to regard their live shows as launchpads where they can blast off from their studio albums on voyages of discovery. Live from Alien Research Center is a terrific document of that process, as the group re-explore the contents of Vertigo Days; their 2021 release which featured an array of guests from Angel Bat Dawid to Juana Molina. 2021-23 might seem a speedy recycling of the same material, but there is valuable quality of freedom and looseness in these live versions; stretched out and stitched together in the kosmische style.

Morr Music

As enjoyable as it has been to spend the past week on an accelerated hypnostroll through The Notwist discography, that probably cannot compensate for the inattention I've paid to it for around two decades. Over that 20 year period, there has been encouragement from reliable sources, which caused the opposite effect… since nothing provokes the contrarian quite like another person imagining they've discovered something which aligns with our own taste. At any rate, and not only in my imagination, The Notwist has been something of an invisible or taken-for-granted phenomenon, at once both subterranean and ubiquitous, not being there while always being there. With no evidence whatsoever, I feel they are content with this position. After all, without being a pastiche, their music and methodology mirrors the long revered German and European music revolution which sparked Tangerine Dream, Faust, Popol Vuh and others into a Year Zero rejection of both the shackles of military history and the occupying force of US music.

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2011 Hits

Valentina Goncharova, "Recordings 1987-1991, Vol1"

Recordings 1987-1991, Vol 1This first volume of Valentina Goncharova's home studio recordings is devoted to her remarkable solo work over a four year period from 1987. The first six tracks in particular illustrate her genius for balancing written composition with spontaneity, and for manipulating sources (such as her voice and cello) into beautifully hypnotic maelstroms of melodic dissonance.

Shukai

I have read about the breadth and artistic vision of Valentina Goncharova, her classical studies, her quest for experimentation, her embrace of musique concrete and drone, free jazz and underground rock, her interests in Boulez, Riley, Stockhausen and others, and her wildly inventive home studio shenanigans. None of which fully prepared me for the mind-melting allure of her best music, with it's hypnotic frequencies, and mastery of space and spirit.

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2281 Hits

Cisser Mæhl, "Innemuseum"

InnemuseumThis debut album from Danish artist/multi-instrumentalist Cecilie "Cisser" Mæhl is easily one of the strongest releases from Berlin's Sonic Pieces in recent memory. Mæhl has already carved out an impressively distinctive niche. Innemuseum first began taking shape in the summer of 2019 when Mæhl made a bunch of field recordings while working at a mountain lodge in Norway (though those recordings would ultimately become a very small part of the puzzle). After moving to Oslo, she rented a studio space and eventually met some inspiring people who helped guide her towards realizing her unconventional vision (Jenny Hval, Stephan Mathieu, and the increasingly ubiquitous and versatile Lasse Marhaug). The involvement of the latter was especially surprising for me, as this album has the intimate feel of a bedroom chamber pop masterpiece conjured from little more than a violin, a drum machine, and an ancient piano, which is generally not where I expect someone from Testicle Hazard to turn up. That said, the homespun, elegantly minimal feel of these pieces is presented in beautifully detailed, crystalline clarity, which is presumably where the Marhaug magic came into play. I suspect this album would still be quite good even if submerged in tape hiss and murk, as Mæhl has a lovely voice and plenty of great ideas, but the fact that these otherwise hushed songs explode in vivid color beautifully elevates Innemuseum to another level altogether.

Sonic Pieces

The opening "Menneskeaftryk" kicks off the album in strikingly lovely fashion, as Mæhl sensuously sings in Dutch over a backdrop of muted arpeggios that fitfully blossoms into swooningly romantic orchestral swells. The following "Små Ting" is similarly stellar, as a shuffling drum machine groove propels Mæhl's playfully dancing melody into a realm somewhere between a seductive cabaret performance and the "haunted fairytale" aesthetic of Brannten Schnüre. While both pieces succeed primarily due to the strength of Mæhl's melodies and the charisma and soul of her vocal performance, there are a number of interesting compositional and production nuances that make them stand out even further. The big one is that Mæhl's vocals (and presumably several of the instruments as well) are close-mic'd, which gives every piece a sense of intimacy and physical presence, but there is an organic fluidity to the vocal melodies that feels wonderfully spontaneous and alive as well.

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2707 Hits

John Bence, "Archangels"

ArchangelsArchangels has an unhurried pace which I find deeply satisfying. John Bence shapes electronics, voice, piano, percussion and orchestration into dense and haunting forms, and although he creates some dynamic and challenging sounds, he never forgets that human ears need melodies and tunes. The spiritual concerns underpinning this creation also make it a good stepping off point to investigate and learn about a variety of concepts which have occupied people throughout human history.

Thrill Jockey

It is no accident that the album begins with a piece entitled "Psalm 34.4," a simple form of which states "I sought the Lord, and he heard me, And delivered me from all my fears." Quite what Bence is getting at here matters more for him than me, because my main concern is that Archangels is a genuinely intriguing and enjoyable album to listen to. Although given his victory over addiction, perhaps the album documents Bence's interest in his spiritual health, or even his gratitude for divine help. In an increasingly secular world, where such matters as diet, finances, physical fitness, and relationships blare incessantly for our attention, Archangels sounds like one man listening to himself and searching for faith.

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2536 Hits

Myriad Valley, "Otherworld"

OtherworldThis latest enigmatic find from Arizona's eternally far out and fascinating Was Ist Das? label will be an absolute revelation for anyone who misses Natural Snow Buildings as much as I do. Otherworld is apparently the debut release for this project, but any further details beyond that are non-existent other than the fact that these four pieces were recorded by someone named "Joe" in 2022. While the label's description name-checks a few '70s psych heavy-hitters as reference points in addition to Natural Snow Buildings (Third Ear Band and Popul Vuh), those elements manifest themselves much more subtly, as Otherworld is an oft-transcendent plunge into folk horror-inspired cosmic drone sorcery. That all-encompassing devotion to heavyweight drone majesty is also where Myriad Valley departs from Mehdi and Solange's path, as Joe does not let himself get distracted by any songcraft aspirations, opting instead to focus entirely on crafting massive, sustained psychotropic drones that feel like ancient field recordings from some remote mountain cult hellbent on opening an extra-dimensional portal through sheer vibrational magic.

Was ist Das?

The opening "Hanging Crystal Garden" makes for quite a mesmerizing introduction to Myriad Valley, as slow waves of buzzing tanpura lap at the shores of an occult nightmare. The buzzing tanpura drones are a ubiquitous feature throughout the album, as is ritualistic hand percussion (in this case, something like rattling bells), but this particular piece has an especially otherworldly and sinister vibe due to the strangled dissonance of the pipes and the way the notes increasingly bleed together and dissolve into sharp feedback. Notably, "Hanging Crystal Garden" is the album's shortest piece (at eight minutes) despite being the most inspired, but that makes sense given its nerve-jangling intensity. The much longer second piece is considerably calmer and more radiant (at first, anyway), almost calling to mind a restorative early morning yogic meditation to clear the mind of the previous night's cosmic horror, human sacrifice, and demon summoning.

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2122 Hits

Laraaji, "Segue To Infinity"

Segue to InfinityThis quadruple LP boxed set is likely to be an absolute revelation for Laraaji fans, as Numero Group has combined his landmark 1978 debut (Celestial Vibration) with the equivalent of three lost albums recorded around the same time. The albums in question surfaced in 2021 when some acetates from an abandoned storage locker were auctioned off and passed through a flea market and Ebay before being spotted by eagle-eyed college student Jake Fischer, who snapped them up for $114 after recognizing Laraaji's given name (Edward Larry Gordon, the name he was still using at the time of Celestial Vibration's release). Amusingly, even Laraaji himself is a bit mystified by the provenance of these recordings, as the documentation states that they were recorded at a studio in Long Island 200 miles from where the Celestial Vibration sessions took place (ZBS in Fort Edward). While it remains unclear whether the Fort Edward tapes were merely transferred in Long Island or whether these recordings actually originate from a different session altogether in Queens, they are unmistakably Laraaji and they are frequently as good or better than the album that actually got released. Finds like this are exactly why there are Discogs fiends hunting for lost private press New Age music, as the late '70s and early '80s were a golden age for bedroom visionaries who thanklessly explored the cosmos with little hope of ever reaching an audience. Laraaji deserves a particularly special place in that pantheon, as he may have been the most forward-thinking visionary of them all and also took his autoharp to the goddamn streets to expand the consciousness of unwitting strangers.

Numero Group

The story of how former Baptist/Apollo Theater comedian/cult film actor/Marvin Gaye collaborator/street musician/West Village folk scenester Ed "Flash" Gordon eventually transformed into Laraaji is far too lengthy for me to do it any justice here, but one especially significant event was that Gordon became very interested in Eastern spirituality after his role in Putney Swope stirred up doubts about the righteousness of the path he was on. A "paranormal sound-hearing experience" and a fateful decision to trade his guitar in for an autoharp at a pawnshop soon followed, as well as the similarly fateful purchase of a contact pickup and some effects pedals. While the autoharp was an entirely new instrument for Gordon, he dove wholeheartedly into exploring open tunings and effects and quickly arrived at a new sound he dubbed "Celestial Vibration." Having reached that point, I suspect Laraaji would have been totally content to play in parks, dance/yoga studios, and holistic centers around his community forever, as getting a record deal probably does not seem all that important once you have already figured out how to channel celestial vibrations. Exterior forces intervened, however, and Gordon met a lawyer named Stuart White who was absolutely enthralled with his music and eager to start up an independent record label (SWN). That resulted in the release of Celestial Vibration (now regarded as a classic), but not many people noticed and the label soon folded. Thankfully, Laraaji met another motivated fan soon after (Brian Eno) and the two eventually collaborated on 1980's Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance). I am tempted to say that the rest is history, but Laraaji's work only started getting regularly anthologized and reissued in the last decade.

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2289 Hits

Kassel Jaeger, "Shifted in Dreams"

Shifted in DreamsThis latest opus from INA GRM's François J. Bonnet is loosely inspired by René Daumal's unfinished philosophical novel Mount Analogue (1952), which recounts an imagined expedition in which explorers hunt for a mountain that can "only be perceived by the application of obscure knowledge." It has been a few decades since I last read Mount Analogue or watched the film it partially inspired (Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain) so my memory of both is blurry at best, yet that did not impair my appreciation for the album, as Bonnet characteristically channeled the theme in his own inventive and compelling way. The gist is that familiar sounds and structures become increasingly rare as the album unfolds, but Bonnet had a deeper philosophical agenda as well, as Shifted in Dreams is a meditation on how our current world is in a "blurred and uncertain state where the reality of signs loses its consistency while, paradoxically, the reality of senses and impressions becomes imperative, obvious." Bonnet is clearly not a fan of that situation, unsurprisingly, and refers to it as "the reality of demons." Putting aside the death of meaning and general existential horror of our times, however, the dissolving of the familiar is wonderfully fertile creative ground for a Kassel Jaeger album, as Bonnet is exceptionally good at layered and evocative sound design. This is a beautifully crafted headphone album (but probably only for those armed with the obscure knowledge of how to listen deeply).

Shelter Press

In keeping with the central theme of dissolving familiarity, the opening title piece is the most conventionally musical stretch of the album, resembling a warm but melancholy organ mass. There is admittedly a lot of tape hiss and murk obscuring the sound of the organ, but that is probably as close to the recognizable physical world as this album ever gets and that situation does not last long at all (the piece plunges down a rabbit hole of mindfuckery after a few minutes). The general vibe is best described as "I am in a numbing fog of painkillers in a cathedral during an air raid, but everything is in slow motion and also made of crystal." While those crystalline sounds remain a regular occurrence for the duration of the album (Bonnet got his hands on a Cristal Baschet), just about everything else is an elusive and shape-shifting fog of field recordings, asynchronous loops, analog synth, processed guitar, and studio wizardry.

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2296 Hits

Anatomy of Habit, "Black Openings"

Black OpeningsWritten and recorded immediately following 2021's Even if it Takes a Lifetime, Chicago's Anatomy of Habit's newest album is sonically similar, however it does not sound like the second half of a double album. Instead, Black Openings is a stand-alone work that features the same sense of consistency but overall sees the band further refining and expanding their sound, and in this case returning to the bleakness that pervaded their earlier works so brilliantly.

self-released

Listening to Black Openings, I realized that the closest band similar to Anatomy of Habit was the short-lived God, helmed by Kevin Martin.  Both are "supergroups" (in the sense that they featured members from various bands from different, yet complimentary genres) and both balanced intensity and complexity perfectly.  The most significant distinction here is that while both bands draw heavily from various shades of rock, avant garde, electronic, and noise music, AoH forego the jazz component and delve more into electronic music.  The driving force behind AoH's sound is defacto band leader and vocalist Mark Solotroff (Bloodyminded, Intrinsic Action, and a multitude of other projects): his commanding voice is always identifiable and makes for a commanding presence in all three of the album's songs.

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2095 Hits

"The Verbal Matter: An Anthology of Peruvian Sound Poetry"

La Materia Verbal - Antología de la Poesía Sonora PeruanaHere is a stunning history of Peruvian sound poems from 1972-2021. The album concentrates on material which has been recorded and edited, and yet showcases the compositional technique and sound organization across the spectrum of the discipline. It's an important and refreshing collection of 22 inherently absurd musical pieces, accompanied by seriously good liner notes.

Buh

Sound poetry can arguably be traced to oral poetry traditions, but I'm more inclined to believe it emerged from the Dadaist reaction to the horrific carnage of World War One, specifically through Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara. Certainly it progressed through the 20th century parallel with the evolution of recording and editing technology. As mentioned, The Verbal Matter covers all the evolving styles, including montage, verbal dexterity, algorithms and computational parameters, and the use of AI.

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2189 Hits

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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2326 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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2564 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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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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