Brainwashed Radio: The Podcast Edition

Abu Dhabi by MatthewMusic from The Golden Palominos, Codeine, Julia Reidy / Morten Joh, Jeremy Cunningham / Dustin Laurenzi / Paul Bryan, Ripatti Deluxe, Motion Sickness of Time Travel, Dambala, Junior Boys, Born Under A Rhyming Planet, Wickerbird, Cloud Management, and Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra.

Photo of Abu Dhabi by Matthew.

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Julian Sartorius, "Locked Grooves"

cover imageWhen I first found out about this album, I was not quite sure how to feel about its ambitious structural premise, as the idea of a vinyl record with 112 locked grooves felt suspiciously like a willfully annoying conceptual art statement. That said, I am unable to ever resist the allure of a killer drummer in an indulgent mood, so I was still quite eager to hear what Sartorius had planned for his unique format. My first impression was a favorable one, as I have been on a bit of a Niagara bender and the shifting beat patterns here called to mind a slowed and deconstructed kindred spirit to the tour de force of "Sangandongo." My next impression was mild exasperation, as I was not thrilled that every amazing beat lasted a mere minute before giving way to something new. That revealed the appeal of the physical release though, as this album is packed full of hypnotic rhythms that would make absolutely trance-inducing infinite loops. Naturally, that opens up a host of compelling interactive ways to experience the album, as it is a Pandora's box of multifarious percussive delights. To some degree, I expected something in that vein (as far as gimmicks go, this is a very cool and well thought-out one), but I was still blindsided by both the sheer imagination of Sartorius's rhythms and the way the album as a whole feels like a transcendent psychedelic epic by the end. As La Monte Young and others have decisively proven, sustained immersion in a very insistent and focused vision can feel like a remarkably profound and mind-rewiring experience.

-OUS

I listened to this album in its digital form, which doubtlessly provided a radically different experience than the vinyl. Nevertheless, the building blocks are identical, as each numbered piece is essentially a 1.8 second loop allowed to play out for exactly one minute and one second. Each piece segues seamlessly into the next with no space in between and all feel like they are roughly the same tempo, so the whole album has a hypnotically consistent flow. At first, the beats seem cool but fairly straightforward, but indications that Sartorius has something more ambitious in mind begin to appear quickly, as he starts sneaking increasingly adventurous sounds, patterns, and flourishes into the insistent pulse. I believe I was first hooked by skittering, off-kilter rhythm of the fourth piece, but that loop was soon eclipsed by even more killer beats, which themselves became eclipsed by still others as the album unfolded. It is hard to nail down an overarching pattern to the sequencing, but there are occasional runs where Sartorius unleashes a flurry of dazzling loops in rapid succession and it all seems to cumulatively build into something wonderful.

Part of the album's brilliance is that those clusters tend to all be compelling for different reasons, as sometimes Sartorius works in a virtuosic fill, while other times he locks into an especially lurching, tumbling, or downright weird time signature without the slightest dip in the album's propulsive forward motion. Sometimes it feels like I am being swept along by a tide, while other times it feels I am descending like an almost ritualistic rhythmic trance, which is an impressive feat for an album this ostensibly one-dimensional and purposely fragmented. Notably, Sartorius used a "prepared" drum kit, which enables a surprisingly varied range of sounds and levels of textural complexity. For example, "Locked Groove 084" feels like a killer hip-hop beat tape, while "Locked Groove 051" feels like it could be plucked from a Sublime Frequencies album and "Locked Groove 047" sounds like a futuristic industrial banger. Other times, Sartorius locks into something that feels like Indian techno, a free jazz drummer going wild in a junkyard, or something absolutely alien-sounding, like the gurgling and clanging "Locked Groove 011." Anyone looking for a great drummer showcasing a wildly imaginative array of beats will not be disappointed here, yet I was most surprised by how masterfully Sartorius overshot that mark to craft something considerably larger than the sum of its parts. Sartorius's stated goal was that "listeners will experience these compositions like they would explore a painting," and he succeeded far beyond my expectations in that regard. Locked Grooves is a deliciously rich vein that succeeds both as a whole and as a collection of compelling fragments that can be isolated and recontextualized into something equally fascinating. As far as solo drummer albums go, Locked Grooves is high art that masterfully raises the bar for what is possible.

Samples can be found here.

Midwife, "Luminol"

cover imageThis latest album from Madeline Johnston takes its title from a forensic chemical that emits a blue glow when it comes in contact with blood at a crime scene. That macabre yet beautiful transformation provides the album's guiding metaphor, as Johnston attempts the similar feat of "turning trial and tribulation into sources of light." That is thematically familiar Midwife territory, of course, but Luminol feels like the beginning of a new phase stylistically, as these songs are simultaneously more anthemic and more starkly minimal than the project’s previous fare. While that is not necessarily an unstable combination, Johnston does tone down her artier tendencies to fitfully showcase a newfound love of tighter songcraft and hard rock-inspired swagger. That approach suits her unexpectedly well, as some of the better moments of Luminol resemble a hiss-ravaged shoegaze deconstruction of a power ballad by someone like Lita Ford, Pat Benatar, or Joan Jett, which is certainly something I was not expecting to encounter here. Luminol is definitely more of an straightforward "rock" record than I anticipated. For the most part, however, Johnston’s hazy, slow-motion, and abstracted homages to ‘80s and ‘90s rock radio work quite well, as this album seems to have instantly become a fan favorite. Some fans of previous albums will likely miss Midwife's sharper edges, but I suspect most will warm to this more punchy and comparatively playful side of Johnston's art.

The Flenser

The album's release was preceded by a pair of singles that beautiful illustrate two of the divergent stylistic directions in this somewhat transitional-feeling phase. My favorable is the ultra-minimal slow burn of the opening "God is a Cop," which is based upon little more than a descending keyboard melody and a repeating, hiss-soaked refrain of "I can't kill the evil thoughts." Eventually Johnston expands upon those lyrics, but the most impressive facet of the piece is how she creates such a perfect simmering tension that every newly added note or embellishment feels like a glimpse of a tightly restrained underlying storm. The closing "Christina’s World" is similarly minimal, but feels unexpectedly radiant and gospel-inspired, as it builds to a repeating group refrain of "show me the way" over some simple piano chords (though it is spiced up with some winding harmonized guitar parts in the periphery). In between those two poles of dark and light lie a curious array of emotional shades and varying degrees of greatness.

The more accessible end of the spectrum is represented by the slowly chugging "Enemy" (akin to a shoegaze-damaged mutation of '90s grunge) and another uplifting piano-driven piece in the vein of "Christina’s World" ("Promise Ring"). The latter has some appealing twists though, as Johnston sweetly sings "love will break your heart forever" like a fatalist mantra while a cool undercurrent of trippy guitars gradually intensifies. It also features some very "hard rock" riff flourishes that are amusingly effective. Aside from "God is a Cop," the strongest piece is probably the sole throwback to Midwife's earlier seething intensity, "Colorado," which uses the mantric repetition of a couple of rueful phrases as a foundation for killer guitar pyrotechnics somewhere between Pink Floyd and grinding noise. Elsewhere, "2020" is the most fascinating piece, as Johnston jacks a chorus from The Offspring to approximate Joan Jett-style pop on a sleazy, druggy bender. It sounds like the imaginary band that would be playing at an extremely hip club in an arty, neon-soaked cult film, which is a very cool niche to land in. It also makes me wonder if there are other layers of pop culture appropriation happening elsewhere, as Luminol may very well be a bittersweet love letter to the ambient sounds of Johnston's past (she notes at another point that she is "born to run," for example). Than again, maybe I am projecting all of that. In any case, Luminol is yet another solid album from Midwife. It does not quite rank among my personal pantheon of stone-cold Midwife masterpieces, but the great moments remain as powerful as ever.

Samples can be found here.

Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective, "Ngủ Ngày Ngay Ngày Tận Thế"

cover imageUnraveling the discography and line-up mutations of this Ho Chi Minh City-based collective turned out to be quite an unexpected challenge, as they have been releasing full-lengths and EPs since at least 2014, yet this latest album is being billed as the project's debut. I thought this might be the first release with "collective" appended to the group's name, but that is not the case either. That said, the project now appears to be a trio consisting of original members Phạm Thế Vũ and Jung Buffalo, as well as relatively recent addition Zach Schreier (who ostensibly composed much of the album). In any case, this latest release bears little stylistic resemblance to several of RCD's previous releases. Much of that is likely due to the involvement of Berlin-based producer Ziúr, who alternately punched up the songs to Subtext's exactingly high standards, "reduced them to a cinder," or "beamed them into the fifth dimension." Regardless of how this album took shape, it is quite a dazzling and deliriously kinetic achievement, resembling a freewheeling Carl Stone-esque plunderphonic tour de force of shapeshifting Vietnamese cultural fragments.

Subtext

The title of this album roughly translates "Sleeping Through the Apocalypse," which is a colorful yet remarkably apt description of the trio's dizzying and disorienting vision. The "sleep" part is a bit misleading though, as this album more closely evokes the troubled, jumbled, and cacophonous dreams of an overstimulated and media-saturated mind in an increasingly unraveling world. In more concrete terms, that means the album is a hyper-caffeinated maelstrom of surreal collisions and transformations. I tend to loathe most releases that could be described as "aggressively genre-defying" or "like _____ in a blender," but there is a coherent overarching "sound collage" vision here that weaves all of those jarring shifts into a churning and warping near-masterpiece of mindfuckery. Given that, trying to accurately describe even a single song is hopeless, as my notes are filled with phrases like "the most incredible Terry Riley song ever just became Vietnamese cloud rap karaoke." The closing "Đme giựt mồng" that I just described is one of the album's stone-cold gems, but there are quite a few other highlights to be found as well. Some other favorites are "Aztec Glue" ("dreamy pulsing synth reverie gets violently interrupted by an in-the-red Ben Frost remix") and pair of pieces that feel like they could be the work of a supernaturally possessed radio ("Eri Eri…" and "Infinite"). The former sounds like a deranged pile of overlapping stations or Carl Stone at his most kaleidoscopic and unstable, but the collective further spice things up with psychotically shifting speeds and an unexpectedly rapturous crescendo. "Infinite," on the other hand, sounds like Vietnamese dance pop chopped and stretched into a stammering nightmare. The stammering is especially impressive, as the piece sometimes feels like a cacophony of the world's airwaves is organically shaping into pulsing rhythms. At other times, the album calls to mind free jazz, whale songs, or Popul Vuh and absolutely all of it is vividly fried, as this album is a gleefully shapeshifting feast of wide-ranging and inspired ideas from start to finish. In fact, it feels favorably like channel-surfing through like a dozen different cool albums at once. This is instantly one of my favorite albums in the Subtext canon.

Samples can be found here.

TJO, "Dispatches from the Drift"

cover imageAs alluded to in its title, Dispatches from the Drift is something of an accidental album, as it is a collection of keyboard improvisations that Tara Jane O'Neil informally recorded during the pandemic lockdown that were never intended for release. In fact, many were casually recorded on her phone and most "were promptly forgotten," but O'Neil happened to stumble back upon them while digging around for fragments of inspiration that could blossom into fully formed songs. These are not the ones met that criteria. but they amount to something similarly wonderful. As O'Neil herself puts it, these pieces are the ones that "were not looking for a form or seeking to be known," so she decided to present them as they were without further polishing or embellishment ("complete, traveling pieces that resolve or simply end"). In lesser hands, such an album would feel like a series of unfinished sketches, but O'Neil's instincts regarding this experiment are remarkably unerring. For the most part, the "keyboard improvisations" origin ensures that the album tends to linger in pleasantly blurred "ambient" territory, but there are quite a few striking surprises lurking here too (some very "dreampop" and some considerably more outré). The entire album is quite a leftfield delight though, as it feels every bit as strong as O'Neil's more formal work. Her inspiration simply took a different shape this time around.

Orindal

The album unexpectedly opens with a tenderly lovely piece that feels like a great would-be single, as the watery, quavering arpeggios and hushed vocals of "A Sunday 2020" feel plucked from a great This Mortal Coil album. No other piece on the album revisits that particular territory, which is not surprising, as O'Neil notes that it is the one exception where she embellished the original take (with some subtle guitar). She opted to include it anyway, however, as both the vocals and the keyboard part were improvised enough to give it thematic consistency with the rest of the pieces. It also highlights an endearing thread that runs through the album, as Dispatches from the Drift seamlessly mingles warm nostalgia for a particular era of music with contemporary flourishes and a dreamlike timelessness that make everything feel fresh and pleasantly unfamiliar. Moreover, O'Neil is impressively freewheeling in her stylistic inspirations. Sometimes the album sounds like a lost recording from Eno's Apollo sessions, while other times it resembles one of Warren Defever's teenage tapes, an out-of-phase accordion drone piece, a prog-minded bagpipe collective, or a traditional folk ensemble experimenting with Slowdive's gear. In every case, the results are invariably compelling. To my ears, the strongest piece is "Wind With Dog," which is a wonderfully woozy and bittersweetly gorgeous feast of dancing, quivering melodies and ghostly overtones. Elsewhere, O'Neil channels squirming heavy psych drones ("It's Been A Long Time"), a tropical steel drum band trying their hand at ceremonial trance music ("Ventura Tuesday"), and something akin to a stark, tremelo-heavy cover of a lovesick torch song. Naturally, there is an informality and unpredictably loose structure to all of these pieces given their spontaneous origins, but that intimate, imperfect, and searching feel generally suits them just fine. And sometimes I am even ambushed by something that feels like a wonderful premeditated set piece, such as when a haze of decaying notes forms a complex swirl of oscillations. The beauty of the album is that none of those cool textural or harmonic surprises here were planned, as O’Neil essentially tricked herself into approaching music in an entirely different and instinctual way and plenty of happy accidents ensued. In some ways, that approach makes it hard to point to any individual piece as a fully articulated and focused glimpse of perfection, but the album's warmly beautiful soft-focus mood and unexpected twists and turns add up to an unusually inspired, lovely, and immersive whole.

Samples can be found here.

Aaron Dilloway & Lucrecia Dalt, "Lucy & Aaron"

cover imageThe underground/experimental music world is full of promising-sounding collaborations that yield underwhelming or half-baked results, but Lucy & Aaron is a wonderfully refreshing exception to that recurring phenomenon. Part of that success is likely due to the pair's long history together, as they have been fans of each other's work (and close friends) since meeting at a festival in Madeira back in 2010. Moreover, Dalt and Dilloway have actually inspired and impacted each other's work over the years, which probably went a long way in setting the stage for such a natural-sounding and symbiotic blurring together of visions. As Dalt puts it, "we crossed our signals, sometimes his affecting mine, or the other way around, we just wanted to make a fun, weird and inevitably emotive record that somehow captured so many things we love about music." Naturally, Dilloway's endearingly disorienting and creepy tape loops tend to be the foundation for much of the album, as Dalt's own backdrops tend to be quite stark and minimal. The mood of the album is quite a bit different from typical Dilloway fare, however, as Dalt's melodic influence transforms his obsessively repeating fragments of simmering psychotropic weirdness into a broken and playfully warped "pop" album like no other.

Hanson

The best summation I can come up with for this album's aesthetic is that it sounds like Lucrecia Dalt's already frayed and alien-sounding pop was fed through a nightmare machine set somewhere between "Kafkaesque" and "arty Giallo film." There is nothing that feels outright malevolent or violent, but there is also nothing familiar and nearly all of it feels unsettling and disturbingly tactile. The songs are roughly structured like pop songs, as there are vocal melodies, grooves, and sometimes even hook-like approximations of a chorus, yet all of it feels unrecognizably grimy, broken, and obsessive in a host of intriguing ways. The entire album is a creepily surreal delight, as it is hard to imagine a single piece that could not be someone's favorite, but my current personal favorites are "The Blob," "Niles Baroque," and several of the weirdly beautiful psych-inspired pieces that come near the end of the album. "The Blob" is probably the album’s most unexpected surprise, as it sounds like Pat Benatar made a dreampop album for 4AD but a deranged dub producer got his hands on it and replaced the entire rhythm section with one of those little wind-up monkeys with a drum. "Niles Baroque" is similarly melodic (there are even dual vocal harmonies), but the groove is centered on a lurching bass throb that feels viscerally gelatinous. Those two pieces, along with treble-ravaged and industrial-damaged single "Demands Of Ordinary Devotion," are the ones where Dalt and Dilloway's aesthetics most seamlessly combine into curdled pop pleasures, but I am also a huge fan of the outliers that feel like something I would not expect from either artist. The best of those is probably "Tense Cuts," which sounds like a collaboration between a factory, a locked groove of church organ motif, an ASMR recording, and a broken speaker, but there are some even more unlikely moments that approximate a grim Russian ballroom dance ("Voyria") or fleetingly resemble '80s Legendary Pink Dots ("The Tunnel"). I could easily write a paragraph about every single piece here though, as each slithering tendril of this unholy pop union is memorable, unique, and unexpected in some way. Lucy & Aaron is absolutely going to be all over "best of 2021" lists this December (my own included).

Samples can be found here.

Dave Seidel, "Involution"

cover imageThis challenging and overwhelming double album is my first exposure to this NH-based composer, and it was quite a synapse-frying introduction to his uncompromising vision. While Seidel has only been releasing albums as a composer for the last decade or so, he was an active part of NYC's flourishing Downtown music scene in the '80s, and his work feels like it is spiritually descended from that era. Or perhaps from even before that, as he cites Alvin Lucier and La Monte Young as key influences. Unlike most artists inspired by Young, however, Seidel did not stop at dabbling in Just Intonation. Instead, he took "Young's ideal of previously unheard sounds, those that may engender new sensations and emotions in the listener" and ran with it, delving even deeper into unusual tunings until he could bring to life the sonorities that he was chasing. In practical terms, that means that the two compositions here ("Involution" and "Hexany Permutations") are longform drone works teaming with strange and buzzing harmonic collisions, which makes Phill Niblock's XI Records exactly the right home for this epic. While I suspect many people will find Seidel's single-minded and no-frills approach to conjuring unfamiliar sounds intimidatingly difficult, this album will definitely make a big impression on anyone fascinated by the physics and physicality of sound.

XI Records

Dave Seidel is not the first artist to be inspired by the work of Alvin Lucier, but the album that struck him was not one of the usual classics. Instead, Seidel found himself fascinated by a more recent composition, "The Orpheus Variations," which was "based on a particular sonority from the first movement of Igor Stravinsky's ballet score, Orpheus; a sonority that has haunted Lucier for decades." I find "sonority" to be an elusive quality to define, but Lucier's notes on The Orpheus Variations album provide some clarity for what Seidel is attempting, as Lucier views sonority as a sort of phantom energy field that sometimes forms from the unpredictable interactions of waveforms. On Involution, Seidel exactingly employs a modular synthesizer and CSound to conjure one ghostly, buzzing energy field after another like a sorcerer. He succeeds most beautifully with the three-part "Involution," which resembles an endlessly shifting feedback sculpture in which alien dissonances take shape and dissolve into buzzing drones. It calls to mind a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat, as it is a series of pregnant lulls punctuated by blossoming microtonal events that make the air feel humming and alive. The six-part "Hexany Solution" feels like a darker, more disconcertingly alien variation of the same phenomenon, as it exists in an uncanny valley that transforms melody into something that feels wrong and grotesque. It reminds me of Michael Gordon's Decasia, suggesting a time-stretched recording of an out-of-tune string quartet that feels unnervingly artificial, as though someone who never heard a cello was trying to reproduce its sound waves with a modular synthesizer. I mean that as a compliment, as otherworldly harmonies and tunings rarely yield comforting and consonant sensations, yet Seidel's queasy and unsettling sound fields are very much not for the dissonance-averse. Given that and the complete absence of any firmer melodic or textural ground, immersing myself in Involution for its full two-plus hour duration is a bit of an endurance test, yet I am nevertheless fascinated by the unique and reality-bending soundscapes that Seidel brings vividly to life. This is challenging and adventurous sound art unlike nearly anything else that I have heard.

Samples can be found here.

Kleistwahr, "Winter"

cover imageBack in 2019, Helen Scarsdale celebrated its 50th release with a ten-cassette wooden box, On Corrosion, that immediately sold out. While I did manage to pounce on that landmark release in time to get one, I have not spent nearly enough time with it, as absorbing ten full-length albums is quite a herculean time commitment. Consequently, I was delighted to see that the label had embarked upon a campaign to reissue some (or all) of its contents and that they were starting with this bombshell from Gary Mundy's long-running Kleistwahr guise. Being a casual fan of Ramleh and the Broken Flag milieu, I thought I had a solid idea of what to expect from this project (noise, possibly involving guitars), but the striking and unique beauty of this album completely blindsided me. It is fitting that Winter debuted on a release entitled On Corrosion, as it has the feeling of an achingly gorgeous drone album that has been corroded and ravaged into something texturally complex and viscerally soulful.

Helen Scarsdale

Due to its original cassette format, Winter is roughly presented as two twenty-minute sides, but each side features two pieces that segue into each other. "We Sense It Through the Even Snow" kicks off the album with the first of its two god-tier highlights, as buzzing, shifting, and smearing organ drones unpredictably form knots of dissonance while harpsichord-like melodies make me feel like I am imprisoned in a darkly enchanted music box. It becomes incredibly gorgeous at some points, but its mesmerizing dream-like trajectory nearly becomes consumed by an engulfing roar of roiling noise (imagine heaven suffering through a brief plague of psychedelic locusts). That piece segues into the more infernal mindfuck "Rust Eats the Future," which sounds like Purple Rain-era Prince's evil twin unleashing ugly, gnarled shredding over a sinister bed of deep, dissonant bell-like tones. Things only continue to get weirder, but the album returns to more beautiful and melodic terrain as the second side opens with another masterpiece, "The Solstice Will Not Save Us." It is built upon a looping semi-melodic howl, but that hook is surrounded by an absolutely feral-sounding maelstrom of noisy guitars and chords that seem to catch fire and burn away. It feels like a hallucinatory fireworks display over a dying world and easily rivals anything I have heard from other celebrated purveyors of fucked-up guitars. Amusingly, the piece I love the most is immediately followed by one called "Everything We Loved Is Gone." However, that closer is quite strong in its own right, as Mundy makes the air come alive with buzzing high frequencies while evoking a lonely, clanking train slowly chugging through a shimmering and spectral dreamscape. All four pieces are excellent, but at least two of them reach a level of sublime brilliance that absolutely floored me. I had no idea that Mundy's art had evolved to this level.

Samples can be found here.

Kyle Bobby Dunn, "The Cohesive Redundancies-P1"

cover imageThis is the first installment of "an ongoing album series with an undecided end point examining futility and beauty." Those are hardly new themes for Kyle Bobby Dunn, so I am not sure why they needed their own series, but any new KBD opus is fine by me. Dunn is a unique figure in the ambient drone milieu for a number of reasons, but the most significant for me is his unique gift for crafting soundscapes with a very real emotional intensity at their core. When he directly hits the mark with a composition like "Triple Axel on Cremazie" or "The Searchers," he achieves something poignant and transcendent that is damn hard to come by. I suppose one caveat with Dunn's work is that such moments are usually hidden within sprawling double-, triple-, or quadruple-LP epics, but this latest album is a more focused and concise release. More importantly, the bulk of the album is devoted to the absolutely sublime 48-minute "Fantasia on a Theme of Affection." The other two pieces are memorable as well, arguably making this the closest that Dunn has come to releasing an "all killer, no filler" masterpiece.

Self-Released

"Thresholding" kicks off the album in striking and surprising fashion, as Dunn unleashes an industrial-sounding drone that oscillates slowly and menacingly. Gradually that foundation is subtly fleshed out with additional depth and harmonic color, but the most compelling part is the murky undercurrent of dissonance that roils within. While it never intensifies enough to consume its surroundings (it is the album's shortest piece), Dunn does manage to resolve it in startling fashion with a nightmarishly plunging pitch-shift. I did not expect such a cold and alienating piece from Dunn, but it is masterfully crafted, and I loved the simmering uneasiness beneath the drones. That said, it is immediately eclipsed by the dream-like reverie of "Fantasia on a Theme of Affection." On its surface, it is not a radical departure for Dunn, as a ghostly see-sawing guitar motif languorously unfolds over a backdrop of shimmering haze. However, it stealthily amasses deepening harmonies and an aching poignance as it lingers in a state of billowing suspended animation. It is the sort of piece that I could enjoy in an endless loop, as Dunn's attention to textural detail is truly something to behold. Nearly every sound is spectral, hissing, smeared, quivering, or enigmatic in a beautifully hypnagogic, soft-focus way. The album closes with the divergent "Pavane for the Internal Monologue," which is centered on a repeating, bittersweet piano chord and its long, lingering decay. Eventually, a hesitant melody emerges, and the piece moves closer to the liquid shimmer of Harold Budd, yet the real show lies in the space between the notes, as dissolving tones form murky harmonies, and quiet sounds of wood and shuffling paper start to evoke an enigmatic sense of place. While the bookends do not quite hit the same heights as the album's centerpiece, all three pieces are strong enough to make this one of Dunn's finest albums to date.

Samples can be found here.

Tasos Stamou, "Antiqua Graecia"

cover imageThis London-based electroacoustic composer/instrument builder/DIY electronics enthusiast has been engaged in projects and activities for more than a decade now, but this latest album is the first time his singular vision crossed my path. Antiqua Graecia is the final release of a Greek-themed trilogy that began with 2018's Musique con Crète, though there is also a fourth related work that surfaced on Chocolate Monk last year (Greek Drama). The series is the fruit of an extended creative research project that initially began with a residency, but blossomed into repeat summer visits to Crete to hunt for traditional music albums, perform with local musicians, and make field recordings. While I have not fully absorbed the entire series yet, Antique Graecia feels like a significant creative leap forward from previous installments, as Tamou's earlier Greek forays resemble a Sublime Frequencies album dissolved into a fever dream: there was a clear reverence for the source material, yet Tamou's sound collages imbued traditional music with a murky, spectral character. With Antiqua Graecia, Tamou decided to go for broke, gleefully chopping and layering folk songs in a wonderfully psychotropic fantasia. I find all of the strains of Tamou's Greek series to be compelling, but this album is the one that most beautifully transcends tradition to feel like something wonderful and new.

Ikuisuus

This is an album of top-tier psychedelic mindfuckery from start to finish, which makes it very hard to describe with any concise generalizations, but a rough summary like "a supernatural fun house at the center of a Greek street fair" is probably a solid starting point. There is a distinct arc, however, as the first few drone-based pieces steadily deepen my immersion in Tamou's otherworldly fantasia to prime me for the wilder plunges to come. For example, "Madoura" sounds like a nightmarishly insectoid cacophony of buzzing bagpipe-like drones, while the following "Poor Mum" sounds like mid-90s Dead Can Dance made a lysergic soundscape from Nonesuch Explorer classics. We then pass through something akin to a flickering and phantasmagoric Scottish parade in a haunted jungle ("Oil Wrestling"), a phantom rembetiko song with an electronic doppelganger ("Taki’s Sorrow"), and a Lisa Gerrard-sung DCD classic consumed by a sickly, dissonant delirium of smeared chimes ("A Woman's Moan"). All are a delight, but the album fully catches fire with the sixth piece, "Just Pagan." It begins as a psychotropic throb of heavy electronic drones and surreal, jumbled, and haunting layers of melody and field recordings, but gradually transforms into a heartsick folk dance. The following "Epitaph" is yet another highlight, as the gong of a church bell leaves a ringing, bleary haze of high frequencies that morphs into a squirming, menacing electronic buzz mingled with a chanting street procession. The final piece brings that trend of escalating otherworldliness to its curious crescendo, as it feels like a cathedral is invaded by a churning, honking, and squawking cacophony (and a cow) before everything dissolves into a disarmingly sweet and calm rustic oasis. Tamou truly outdid himself with this tour de force, as all of these eight songs seamlessly blur sacred and traditional sounds with vivid, multilayered psychedelia in impressively singular fashion.

Samples can be found here.

Robert Gerard Pietrusko, "Elegiya"

cover imageThis is Pietrusko's first solo album under his own name, but sound art enthusiasts will likely remember his previous outing as Six Microphones (2019). Elegiya is a radically different release, however, as it comfortably fits within the more ambient/drone side of Room40's aesthetic on its surface. Beneath the surface, however, lies a roiling emotional intensity that sometimes becomes downright volcanic. As befits the album's title, Pietrusko drew his inspiration from elegies, but does so in a very unconventional way, as he was most fascinated by themes of repetition and shifting context. As he himself puts it, "the creation and performance of an elegy, however, is not an experience of this original sorrow but is instead its repetition." The more interesting part, however, is that Pietrusku "attempts to capture the contradictory condition of a macro-level stasis versus a tumultuous interior." In more practical terms, that means that Elegiya transforms five piano motifs into a suite of beautifully melancholy ambient pieces that self-destruct into frayed, blown-out eruptions of emotional catharsis.

Room40

The album kicks off in supremely crushing fashion with the epic "Pershing Red Skies," which sets an impossibly high bar for everything that follows. The piece deceptively opens with warm swells of billowing chords, but that proves to be a mirage, as everything gradually becomes sharper, louder, and more frayed en route to being ripped open by seismic waves of juddering synth-like tones. At times it favorably calls to mind Oval or Tim Hecker, but it mostly feels like an great ambient piece whose wake of overtones unexpectedly refracted back something roaring, alive, and all-consuming (like a feedback monster attacking heaven). While "Pershing Red Skies" is unquestionably the album's zenith, the other eight pieces offer similarly deft variations of the same nightmarish inversion. For example, "Iru Descent" sounds like a ghostly factory that manufactures clouds of menacing dissonance, while "UTM 39N" feels like thick, viscous drones slowly undulating and oozing across a desolate prairie towards a distant train. The latter is my second favorite piece on the album, but just about everything on Elegiya blossoms into a memorably intense crescendo of some kind. Usually that crescendo resembles something akin to a Tim Hecker album getting sucked into a gnarled, curdled, and squirming extradimensional horror, which is just fine by me. That said, Pietrusko proves impressively inventive in finding cool news ways to ravage beauty, such as transforming heavenly choruses into snarling, infernal roars or materializing a demonically possessed Victrola inside a quietly churning, hissing soundscape. Given how unrecognizably mutilated some passages feel, I have no idea which instruments Pietrusko's palette included beyond piano, but the whole album feels like someone opened a Pandora's Box of corroded classical music fragments and enigmatic field recordings that transform a somber occasion into something far more visceral and unpredictable. Pietrusko has achieved something truly impressive with Elegiya, crafting a poignant, haunted-sounding drone opus that is repeatedly torn apart from within by a clawing, thrashing elemental force.

Samples can be found here.