Brainwashed Radio: The Podcast Edition

Solstice moon in the West Midlands by James

Hotter than July.

This week's episode has plenty of fresh new music by Marie Davidson, Kim Gordon, Mabe Fratti, Guided By Voices, Holy Tongue meets Shackleton, Softcult, Terence Fixmer, Alan Licht, pigbaby, and Eiko Ishibashi, plus some vault goodies from Bombay S Jayashri and Pete Namlook & Richie Hawtin.

Solstice moon in West Midlands, UK photo by James.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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