Brainwashed Radio: The Podcast Edition

Mountain in Japan photo by Chris

Three new episodes for your listening enjoyment.

After two weeks off, we are back with three brand new episodes: three hours / 36 tunes.

Episode 697 features music from Beak>, Brothertiger, Kate Carr, Gnod, Taylor Deupree, FIN, Church Andrews & Matt Davies, Ortrotasce, Bill MacKay, Celer, Kaboom Karavan, and Ida.

Episode 698 boasts a lineup of tracks from Susanna, Nonpareils, KMRU, A Place To Bury Strangers, final, Coti K., Dalton Alexander, Akio Suzuki, The Shadow Ring, Filther, Aaron Dilloway, and Ghost Dubs.

Episode 699 is bursting at the seams with jams from Crash Course In Science, Chrystabell and David Lynch, Machinedrum, Ekin Fil, Finlay Shakespeare, Actress, Mercury Rev, Dave Brown / Jason Kahn, øjeRum, d'Eon, Jeremy Gignoux, and Shellac.

Mountain photo taken in Japan by Chris.

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Rafael Toral, "Spectral Evolution"

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

Moikai

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

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Maria W. Horn, "Panoptikon"

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

Xkatedral

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

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Dean McPhee, "Astral Gold"

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

Bass Ritual

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

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Organum Electronics, "Quietude", "Darcknes"

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

Die Stadt

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

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"Flux Gourmet Original Motion Picture Soundtrack"

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

Ba Da Bing

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

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Dead Bandit, "Memory Thirteen"

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

Quindi

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

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Concepción Huerta, "The Earth Has Memory"

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

Elevator Bath

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

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Matt Weston, "This is Broken"

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

7272Music

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

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Tristan Allen, "Tin Iso and the Dawn"

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

RVNG

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

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Richard Sears, "Appear to Fade"

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

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

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