TeasipsProxemic Realms (Heavy Mess, 2016)

On her debut album with the moniker Teasips, Angela Francis Wilson (one ½ of the duo Electric Sound Bath) moves out of the realm of creating music as practice of guided meditation and into the realm of sound sculpting that has, at its core, the dynamic relationship between tension and release. Proxemic Realms manages to space sounds in three-dimensional reality. Deeply moving pulls of modulated synthesizer and processed pan flute slowly floating into the foreground and then receding while the omnipresent hum of evening insects and low rumble of distant thunder maintain clear spatial relation with human-made sounds. Tension mounts as pan flutes begin doubling back on themselves creating lines of growing unease while matched with the increasing growl of thunder. Modulated synth scraping deep below the low-end while the upper register is occupied by the frantic bowing of grasshoppers. Moving out of its role of leavening influence, the field recordings on this album have clear interaction with the musical movements showcased both as an accompanying mood piece or musical/non-musical counterpart in its spatial relationship. A wonderfully unfolding and patient tape.

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Christian Michael FilardoEvidence (Heavy Mess, 2016)

After seeing Christian Michael Filardo perform a set similar to the description of this tape – two improvised clarinet performances while under the influence of a mescaline compound – I was holding my breath for something much more confrontational than the relatively soothing and occasionally violent tape known as Evidence. Mostly known for his pointillist electronic compositions and visual arts work, Evidence is a direct, albeit augmented, brain-to-tape document that freezes in carbonate a performance that blurs clean runs on a clarinet into ragged stabs of air through reed and into the sounds of breath and lips over and through the instrument. A mouthing that resembles a make-out. The sounds Filardo is able to pull out of the clarinet by breathing around and into the reed are akin to experiments in exhalation by the Norwegian jazz ensemble Ballrogg's Klaus Elerhusen Holm. It is a short but ultimately rewarding document as we listen to the unedited mind of an established outsider genius at work.

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Blush Stains – Impurities (Heavy Mess, 2016)

Blush Stains is the bedroom downer-droner pop project from Seven Feathers Rainwater’s Taylor Christensen and it is one of the most compelling listens of the year. The album is bookended by maximalist pop songs that heave emotionally resonant hooks under the scratchy wool blanket of decomposing magnetic tape and a beautiful mid-section built on reverbed-out slow-scrawl burners. Christensen’s voice is often exhausted, a buried crawl under the heavy drones that range from static-charged pulls of harsh noise and elegant tonal gathering. On the album opener and closer Christensen puts this to the service of swelling compositions that highlight his ability to write emotionally wrought songs that recall Planning for Burial’s ability to float above dense and noisy soundscapes with heavy-lidded calm and reserve, transmuting anxiety through the gather and release of cloud-based drones and the occasional lead guitar chugging out from beneath the din.

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AnthénePermanence (Cathedral Transmissions, 2016)

Brad Deschamps – proprietor of Polar Seas Recordings and one ½ of North Atlantic Drift – has crafted an ambient record of pure tidal drift. Drones that hit in that blissful golden mean between spectral aural lightness and deep, resonant pulls of a lunar tide low-end that are held together in momentary stasis without birth or death. Gently lapping drones break over uneasy baritone washes of softened static on “Disquiet” while the album’s tonal center “Permanence” is a slow build wash filled with deeply felt guitar drifts and fragmentary high-end tendrils that spiral out of the corpus of the song with mathematic irregularity until we are left with resonating fragments of guitar drones gathering and receding back into the sea which gave it life. One of the most unrestrained and unabashedly beautiful records of the year.

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Bitter Fictions Jettison (Shaking Box Music, 2016)

An array of pedals, an amp and a guitar, Devin Friesen’s Bitter Fictions project is distillation of guitar-based drone music – solipsism mimicked as conversations between the past, present and decayed future of the looped guitar line existing and dying all at once in front of us. Clanging prepared guitar hangs over the low rumble of a chest-rattling drone while bright, metallic solo lines shoot roman candle sparks that blaze against a dark backdrop only to be extinguished in the black sea. The Calgary based musician sculpts wet feedback and tape decay to create tension-filled soundscapes that fill an entire room with resolute musical lines and jettisoned clatter. Somewhere at the center of all of this is a human heart, manual dexterity and a patience to see sounds through to their not-so-bitter end – rejoining the sea of sound being pooled, collected and then born again, channeled the circuitous maze of cords from guitar, through effects pedals and out through the amplifier onto tape, and then back again. The circle is never broken.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Amulets In Flux

In 1923 two Russian explorers set out to find the hollow earth kingdom of Shambhala. While it is open for debate if Nicholas and Helena Roerich discovered the mythical Tibetan kingdom, their expedition across Tibet and India brought various mountain peaks and fauna into Western classification. A discovery of something already known but lacking taxonomy. Randall Taylor’s work under the moniker Amulets has been one of great reaching and striving, treks into territory not so much undiscovered as it is yet to be defined, looping guitar lines and night sky streaking drones as emotional markers and sign posts along the way. On In Flux, these trails are slight wisps of fragmentary guitar-lines circling each other like worried smoke from a signal fire. These tendril-like lines dance around each other in repeating, additive layers under the deep pull of tape manipulation and submerged drone. Other instances, such as on “Counterparts” these lines are drawn together in huge swells of power chord worship under the crackling electric storm of feedback and distortion. One of Amulets’ most challenging and rewarding works today. A welcome addition to the Wounded Knife family.

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Lake Mary & Nathan Wheeler Also

Most well-known for his composition work around acoustic guitar, Lake Mary has found a collaborator in Nathan Wheeler that allows left-turns like this to be incredibly rewarding furrows into emotional pay dirt. Also is comprised of two side long pieces, the first of which, is the output of an acoustic piano, harmonium and computer-generated drones. Chaz Prymek (Lake Mary) opens the track with a steamroller minimalist passage that continues to fan its marathon-length major chord plumage through the 15 minute A-side of the tape. Nathan Wheeler supplies subtle and deft touches of droning omnipresence from harmonium and computer generated signal. It is an astounding piece of work. A lesson in endurance and melting tonal shifts. Side B, “Flamingo Cup” finds the duo exploring mawing drone and the see-saw of Prymek’s bowed guitar. More cicada than city hum. A comforting, giving and empowering listen.

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Nils Quak - einige sehr populäre songs

Drawn to the subterranean pulsations and commanding, chest-rattling drones of the German electronic musician, einige sehr populäre songs is the sound of a tired city filtered through a cheap upper-floor apartment of a high rise built on unsure architecture. Bucolic synth arpeggios seep through corrugated concrete walls, submerged beats clamor like the hooves of subway cars rattling beneath the street and the ouroboros drone is always before us, tonally shifting back on itself and eating its own tail. Sentient drum machine patterns on “Singular Events Framing The Day” slow-decay until they resemble the drip of sulfuric water torture in some dank basement. Conversely, the relatively bright tonal patterns of “The Burden of Dreams” is a pointillist composition made up of a thousand synthesized patterns with a swelling major-chord drone running underneath the entire thing. It is a wonderful send-off for late night writing sessions.

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German ArmyDiego Garcia

I just feel blessed to live in a world where music like German Army exists. For fans of the insanely prolific duo you will know that it is often hard to classify what you are hearing. While German Army has many antecedents: serrated 80’s minimal wave, the inherent spiritualism of komische and the sharp (softened) skronk of no-wave, but as for contemporaries, it is hard to think of too many that match the level of dedication to craft and output across labels and platforms. There is a ritualism to this music, a deep sense of patterned spiritual response to repeating synth arpeggios – a shambolic trance in the far-away vocals and programmed percussion that comes into the auditory field out of another dimension. Anxiety-inducing hard-edits of self-possessed drum patterns are held in tension incredibly blissful tonal center and comfort found in repetition. Named after a fraught island – and possible CIA blacksite and definite site of removal of an entire colony of people – Diego Garcia balances the natural beauty of a pristine tropical island with the nefarious meddling of one colonialist government after another. Great beauty and great dread in one sonic space. One of my favorite tapes of the year.

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Sébastien Branche, Miguel A. García, Wojtek Kurek, Mateusz Wysocki Harigrams

A cloistered electro-acoustic soundscape that bends familiar everyday sounds into disquieting fragments of auditory illusion that slowly form from aleatoric visitations into rhythmic superstructure. A meeting of likeminded experimental artists existing in each other’s sonic space and pushing record. An exercise in extreme frequencies and marathon-level patience on the A-side collaboration and straight from the gate collaborative intensity of the B-Side. Harigrams is the work of French saxophonist Sébastien Branche who can bend and mold his instrument into unrecognizable pretzels of auxiliary breath placement and sustained tones, Basque sound artist Miguel A. García who utilizes electronics and the Jen Brio keyboard to provide auditory shadings ghost-like tonal fragmentation. The two met up with Warsaw-based drummer Wojtek Kurek and field recording artist Mateusz Wysocki to create a 42 minute improvised piece of music that creates worlds inside worlds, sustained electronic droning folding in on itself while every instrument disguises itself into something so far outside of itself it takes a furious reading of the line-up to attempt to understand the sound source. A vital and compelling exploration of collective improvisation and collaborative sound-sculpting.

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Charles Barabé + Roadside Picnic - National House Milk

After having released one of my favorite tapes this year on Orange Milk, the Montreal-based synth and soundscape-based musician returns with the UK based Roadside Picnic to produce what is likely their finest work since their 2014 release Worn Paths in Crown Dust on A Giant Fern. Centered around chopped and digitally fragmented drum machine patterns over and beneath fluttering synth and piano lines, synthesized vocal textures reminiscent of Barabé’s Orange Milk release, washes of scattering static and contact mic stabs, horror movie ambiance and massive amounts of sound shoved through tiny portals until all becomes a giant smeared blur of oscillating floating points. Highly dramatic build ups, tear downs held together in fragmentary stasis ins short song bursts. Stitched together to create a warped tapestry greater than the sum of its parts.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)
Sleep Drive

I completely understand the implications of using a platform such as your own blog to promote a record put out on the label you run. But I will be completely honest with you. I NEED you to hear this. Here's why. Writing about music on this blog has lasted longer than my relationship with my wife, taken me through two degrees and two years of Peace Corps. For all of that time spent writing and even more time being paid attention to listening to music there have been few albums that have had such immediate return on investment as this record. From the plodding percussion and commanding lead synth line of "Hood" to the hypnotic looping of massaged drones and off-kilter beats of "Kasuisai" to the maximum melt and buried piano pieces fighting through cumulous layers of softened noise in cicada lifecycle appearances on the sidelong ambient B-Side of "Msdass", Sleep Drive is a record that had me completely transfixed without any sense of lost time.

It has been a de-centering experience watching response move to passion and from passion  to calculated plans, spreadsheets, budgets, hours in front of a computer sending press e-mails into the void. But at the heart of it, putting out a record is not very different than gushing on a music blog about a piece of music. You love it and you hope by exposure through a forum, that this discovery you made will spread through viral replication, setting off triggers of those who are genetically predisposed to share in the same idiosyncratic joy-finding in cloud-scraping ambient passages, aching silence between the crisp snap of a plodding beat, the giddy sense of being lost in a room of funhouse mirrors that stretch and compress synth lines into kaleidoscopic controlled chaos. I know there are people out there who feel the same way. Weirdos who feel the same heart-stirring in decaying tone. That's why I feel no type of way about writing about this record on this site. I NEED you to hear this. The same way I NEED you to hear every album by every artist I write about. In this case, if you like this record and decide to purchase it, you will be helping the label continue to put out music that I feel is absolutely vital for people to hear. 

Friday, September 16th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Jon Lorenz - For T.C. (Soft Exit, 2016)

Cincinnati, OH experimental stalwart and saxophonist Jon Lorenz (Wasteland Jazz Unit, Public Housing) has released a new tape on the excellent Bellevue, KY label Soft Exit. Recorded in the wake of Tony Conrad's passing, For T.C. channels Conrad's piercing upper-register and looping, droning passages that accumulate dread and beauty until reaching a rapturous climax where everything not sound becomes swallowed in a massive sheet of noise. On the tape's highly dynamic A-Side, Lorenz processes his saxophone to capture - in moments of mindflaying noise - terror-locust swarms of harsh noise, isolated mechanics of the instrument itself and the saxophone transformed into unrecognizable squeals and submerged subterranean wind over exposed contact mic. Side-B is a marathon of frantic saxophone passages looped in and out of themselves in terrifying speed and regularity bookended by uneasy ambient passages. It is graceful and intense. Tony Conrad's passing this year has highlighted how the experimental luminary has inspired generations of weirdos across various mediums and instrumentations. Lorenz pays a fitting tribute. 

Sunken Cheek - From Behind (Soft Exit, 2016)

Released on a flexi 7" from Soft Exit, the latest from the Ithaca, NY noise musician is an exploration into gnawing, ever-increasing anxiety punctuated by moments of sheer, primal panic. A steady pulse, oscillating through the entire track serves as a conduit in which much darker things pass through. Stabs of microphone feedback, pulses of high-register metallic grit that turn horror-film violin staccato, tortured, disembodied voices always present - both coloring the tonal center of the composition as well as providing moments when the fight-flight partition has cracked and paralyzing fear sets in. An excellent, seat-paralyzing exercise in dread and unease.

Frank Baugh & Grant Evans - We Know Nothing. Nor is there Anything to Know (Adversary, 2016)

We announced on Friday that the music festival Crawf and I have worked on for the past five years - Goldrush Music Festival - had run its course and would not be continuing on. Doing a bit of backtracking on Grant Evans I came across this interview Crawf and Jamie did with Grant and Rachel Evans (Motion Sickness of Time Travel) before the first ever Goldrush music festival in 2011. Grant and Rachel played under the moniker Quiet Evenings, running the excellent label Hooker Vision (R.I.P) and solo under Nova Scotian Arms. Seems fitting that in 2016 I am covering Evans' collaboration with Goldrush 2015 alumni and luminary behind Sparkling Wide Pressure, Frank Baugh. The result is a subtly beautiful CDR that dips into cavernous analog sound sculpting of audio detritus, plenty of exigent harshness pressing firmly against your temples and the earnest synth arpeggios of some warped VHS sci-fi film. It is not hard to take in the hour long CDR in a single sitting, it is dynamic and compelling, moving from foundational samples and contact mic manipulation into fully fleshed out compositions that are fully 3D and moving. There are moments of real brilliance at work: the sunfried psych-raga play out of "These Were the Lonely Nights" stands alone as a compositional outlier, the 8 minute mark of "Poppy Thieves" is the album's apex where the scattered bits of audio data are coalesced into a Ben Frost-level aura of approaching terror. It is a beautiful terrorbird.

Siavash Amini and Matt Finney - Familial Rot (Umor Rex, 2016)

Two artists who are no strangers to the Tome, Iranian drone-composer Siavash Amini and spoken-word artist Matt Finney have put together an arresting tape for Mexico City label Umor Rex. This split tape is an incredible showcase for the two artists. Siavash Amini has long straddled the line between chest-caving drone and modern-classical compositions, for Familial Rot Amini's compositions wade deep into the red, crafting cresting waves of static into angelic drones of processed guitar set to the haunting narration of a family crushed under the minutiae of modern life. A dissolution caused by the small secrets that cause huge rifts told in hyper-specific vignettes by Matt Finney. Finney is no stranger to collaborations. Past partnerships have found him partnering with ambient musician under the name Finneyerkes and the Ukrainian post-rock musician Heinali to carry his dire observations of poverty, despair and the strangulation of the Southern working class. Finney has found a near perfect collaborator with Amini. Finney's narration evokes the wide-screen spectacle of small details of Terrance Malick, in the wrong hands his narratives can seem overbearingly cinematic. With Amini's focus on placid drones dissolving into rivers of whitened noise and back again, Familial Rot is easily amongst the best individual efforts for both musicians and one of the more affecting releases of 2016.

Jib Kidder - New Works for Realistic Mixer (Care of Editions, 2016)

Entirely composed on a no-input mixer with a drum machine, New Works for Realistic Mixer is an abject left turn from the lush, orchestrated Teaspoon to the Ocean but a par-for-the-course move in the jibberverse. Ostensibly a jittery, no-frills dance record on the excellent German label Care of, Jib Kidder coaxes lock-step beats and searing lines of sound out of the notoriously difficult to manage instrument. From the high-pitched harshness of the opening track backed by the solitary thud of a programmed thud, it is clear that the album isn't going to be a straightforwardly enjoyable album, but rather one of those oddly rewarding albums that is conceptually rich but still fills that primal urge to feel something leaden and hard pass through your body. Beats pound in stolid regularity while high-register tones squeal and squeak, a harsh low end scrapes the grime filled dance floor. These are arranged in a jittery, anxious procession that offer unfolding views into the mind of the creator. There is little additive pressure in these compositions, but rather a whittling down into essential sounds bound together with a linear aggression and a steady hand. 

Purchase on Care Of Editions

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

"Wine into Water" is a seamless transition from analog imagery into fractal digital pixelation under the heavy-lidded spell of Jennifer William's delicate song craft, silken guitar lines and refractions into noise-laden interludes. The transformation from liquid to crystallization takes eons to occur, on "Water into Wine" we are lulled into this full change with images of inky liquid superimposed into spidery tendrils until, through the course of the song and almost invisibly, those images harden into full digital crystallization, pulling itself apart as Gossimer's lithe fingers compose the transubstantiation. Gossimer's tape Close the Circle, Lay the Stone are full of these moments. Shapeshifting compositions that twist and turn into spirals and shifting crystal staircases. It is out now on braeyden jae's Heavy Mess label. 

Monday, September 12th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Highlighting Jacob Koestler's penchant for eking the beauty out of post-industrial rustbelt cities by showcasing our collapsed industry's ubiquitous infrastructure as novel and sadbeautiful against the lithe movement of the human form in high definition, "Spacer" embodies the human warmth he brings to cold dead places - underpasses, train yards, sofas along the side of a rural highway. A visual artist and musician living in Cleveland, OH, Koestler's Rural Carrier project keeps the human heartbeat and cold technology in tension with one another. Koestler utilizes plenty of dubby percussion, harsh tones and start-stop arpeggios that provide a hypnotic, dread-inducing backdrop in which dancer Maria Custer slow-motion vogues to. It is chilling in its effect. A mournful elegy - dancing atop the remains of a post-war future. Make America great again.

Jacob Koestler is a co-founder of the Johnstown, PA arts collective My Idea of Fun.

Spacer by Rural Carrier from Jacob Koestler on Vimeo.

Friday, September 9th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

There are a few artists you should count lucky to hear in your twenties. William Basinski and Scott Tuma are two of them. Basinski radically changes the way you look at medium's relationship to music, while Tuma challenges conventions of genre to create something that transcends but never quite leaves the orbit of folk music. Listening to The River 1 2 3 4 I heard elements of ambient music in banjo lines, looped acoustic guitar and eternal-breath organ drones. There was real dirt under those nails picking out meditative melodies and exploratory meanders. Ambient music - as a imbuing source - was taken out of processed guitar and synthesizer music that made tonal shifts seem weightless and into a genre weighted and rooted to the land.

The pairing of Scott Tuma with Columbia, MO's Nevada Greene on Ragged Hollow 12" is an encouragingly fruitful conversation between generations. Nevada Greene's stirring oeuvre of work thus far is heavily indebted to Tuma's explosion of folk music - fleshing out Tuma's evocative guitar work with compositional acuity adding strings, synthesizers and woodwinds to find similar fertile soil further down the river. 

Nevada Greene's A-Side find the collective treading friendly and familiar paths of swaths of effulgent strings cutting paths through dual-guitar interplay both gentle and resolute. "Earthquake Hollow" is a track full of deer-trails that take circuitous routes that always loop back to the main melody. Reaching a false summit about 8 minutes in, "Earthquake Hollow" dissolves into total effulgent drone - an unbroken golden ray - until all sound fades out and all we are left with is a field recording of the birds - something that could have been with us the entire time.

Tuma's "All the Ragged Glory" finds massive pay-dirt in the interplay between guitar work that are immediate and crystal clear and lines that are processed a bit more distant riding out the eddies and swells of a moving current always present in the track. Strings rise and fall throughout the composition until guitars are almost silenced. The encompassing maw of multi-layered strings take the reigns in highly emotional movements in which Tuma's guitar serves the role of coloring and shading.

This 12" record is being released on Columbia's Hitt Records and distrubuted through Thrill Jockey. Hear these performed live as Scott Tuma and Nevada Greene hit through the road on a Midwest tour and return to Columbia for the insanely well curated Dismal Niche Festival

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - In Summer (Geographic North, 2016)

I am currently writing this review in full summer mode. In my attic, in shorts, fan on full blast writing a perfectly summery release while covered in mosquito bites from a late evening dog walk. It stands to reason that the shining skull breath master himself has relatively positive associations when it comes to summer as a concpet or creative timeframe - although he makes it explicitly clear that this is not strictly a summer record. "Love's Refrain", which chisles blasted out bass lines into insanely positivist guitar arpeggios, throws us into the album almost in mid-sentence, like walking into a party where awkward introductions have already been made and everyone is hitting their well-lubricated stride. The track accrues more auditory deitrus before its inevitable unraveling, but in those few golden minutes we have something akin to a Washed Out bass line being filtered through Belong analog sand blasting. The album takes frequent dips into worlds of low-register ambient rattle, field recordings and muted tonal shifts only to process them back through the heaving percussion of tracks like the eponymous "In Summer" and "Blue Nudes I-IV" - the albums stand alone best track. The metaphorical peg that In Summer hangs it swimsuit for skinny dips in moonlit mountain ponds.

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Marielle V. Jakobsons - Star Core (Thrill Jockey, 2016)

Adding a thrilling depth and compositional fearlessness to her solo follow up to 2012's brilliant Glass Canyons (Students of Decay), Jakobsons first for Thrill Jockey finds the multi-instrumentalist exploring the intersections of modern classical and prescient synthesizer based music. Listening to Jakobsons' harmonic shifts through the course of an 8-9 minute song is like watching a supertanker cut through a canal. Something so massive moving at impossible speed. Forming around the superstructure of tonal shifts on synthesizers, Jakobson weaves cinematic strings, flute, voice and winding, yet backbone-sturdy fretless bass lines around the song's core adding deeper hues and flashes of bright technicolor. The album's title track, for example, pairs delicate arpeggios with elegant ballroom strings over the deep pulse of a synthesizer and bass guitar sounding out from the substrate in inky, black plumes that seem to hang and hover - never quite dissipating until the track gradually unwinds. It is a beautiful album, deep and studious. A wonderful overture from a group of sound artists associated with Mills College creating music that is anything but academic, but deeply felt and emotionally resonant.

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Kyle Landstra - Jewelled Moon Codex (Inner Islands, 2016)

On the Chicago synth-maestro's latest, situated quite nicely in the Inner Islands batch, is an album that coaxes synthesized strands of pure tone into gently lapping waves that pulse and unfold with careful patience and precision. Composed of two sidelong tracks, the tape starts with "Low Light Living" a song filled with airy, but keenly dampened, synthesizer pulls and shimmering, faintly radiating lines that arc like welder's sparks against pure darkness. High drama. Release. The B-Side "Jeweled Moon" is all pathos-filled deep-end rumbles, sustained tones punching straight through sooty basement windows out into the atmosphere like reverse sunbeams. Dynamic peaks and valleys. Synth lines fraying into static as they reach their apex and start their descent. Caught and collapsing in the arms of another ascending shaft of light. 

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Inner Travels - Clear Seeing (Inner Islands, 2016)

S. Targo, who once recorded under the name Riot Meadows - a project I very much seemed to like back in 2012 - has returned under a new name and new sense of purpose. When I wrote that review of the Riot Meadows tape I seemed to be reacting to the messy, vexing duality of meditative noise. A thing that balanced chance and randomness with intended effect of bringing about clarity and focus. On Inner Travels, Targo has sharpened his gaze to create tonal clusters of notes that facilitate a sense of ease and clarity. Parsed in ever-widening intervals these clear individual ascending notes, punctuated with a deeply felt bass note, are repeated over meditative drones, bell-like arpeggios and field recordings. In fact, it is easy to think of this tape like a field recorder's journal. An individual with a non-tuned ear, a vacationer lets say, will go out "nature" and bask in what he considers silence - the lack of man-made sound. A field recorder will decamp to the same spot during the same period of time and marvel at just how loud and busy nature is. The interplay of thousands of sounds, that if we are only tuned to registering man-made sounds, we completely miss. Cursory listens we may just pick up the dominant musical lines, simple repeating phrases that float over the composition. We may even be lulled into a meditative state due to the tendency we have to associate this kind of music with purposeful relaxing activities. But just below the surface and in the silence between notes there is a whole world of sound.

Friday, August 26th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Matthew Barlow - Hatha (Inner Islands, 2016)

"Just being, without striving. A place of stillness." For those with Type A tendencies, such as myself, "just being" would be easier to obtain if "just being" weren't an reward unto itself and came with some kind of trophy. Instead, any mindfulness techniques I employ all have utilitarian purposes. My morning meditations start usually like this:  "This 10 minutes of meditation this morning will help me be 60 % less stressed today as measured by the fewer times I clench my fists in anger to prevent punching a wall". Matthew Barlow's Hatha is an album, however, I can put on and leave on as a steady stream through my consciousness: either through intent, purposeful listens or existing an illuminating glow somewhere beyond the edges of determined mental processing. Pan flute, riverside glenn field recordings and harp-like synths that appear and disappear in similar intervals to rain through thick foliage make up the "Sun" side while nocturnal insect sounds, even more distant pan flute and macrotonal drones streak through the sky like a comet's slow procession on the B Side "Moon". An end unto itself, Hatha is near perfect.

- Ryan H.

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Black Spirituals - Black Tape (Astral Spirits, 2016)

Black Spirituals are an act that defy easy categorization. Upon first listening to the Oakland duo’s recently released Black Tape, one immediately encounters the raw, elemental power of Marshall Trammel’s percussive improvisations. Comparisons may be made to some of the free jazz drummers of yore, but then the listener is presented with the heavy drones and mournful squeals of electronics, performed by Zachary James Watkins. Just the very idea of two artists like these collaborating in the same sonic and physical space is already enough to invite adventurous listeners in.

Each of the two long form pieces that make up either side of Black Tape begin with a theme presented as a group of tones or a percussive pattern that is performed as a way for the either member to offer a response. What ensues is a performative dynamic, wherein the individual paths of both artists intersect and diverge at varying points throughout the composition. It’s as if two soloists are improvising separately and simultaneously, and indeed that is what occurs throughout the duration of the tape; as soon as one can pick up on a groove, it’s abandoned for another idea or theme. Eventually, it too ebbs and another swell of percussive blasts and noise take over. Ideas, themes, and sonic dynamics are presented here in such a barrage and without pause, that one has to wonder just how the duo have tapped into such an instinctual pace. It is a performance dynamic that I’m sure is a delicate one to uphold, but at the same time it most assuredly grants each artist plenty of space to explore their individual ideas and innermost workings of their shared craft. For Wakins and Trammel, improvisation isn’t just a means to some sonic end, it is a method of investigation, of ferreting out the shared ancestral space that free jazz, drone, and Black spiritual music all inhabit.

- Kyle Mace

Purchase on Monofonus Press/Astral Spirits

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Bloodwall - Tonic (Lighten Up Sounds, 2016)

Minneapolis native Graham Baldwin has been making drone-heavy sounds with a number of outfits over the years, most notably with Visitor, Three Walls, and Land. All of which aimed for stellar heights, and with compelling results.

Tonic is Baldwin’s latest effort, released under his solo moniker Bloodwall, and with less personnel comes an even more focused and minimal sound. Where previous efforts with other musicians have focused on the usage of guitar and drums to create epic dronescapes, Bloodwall’s sound is significantly less percussive, marked by the use of only synthesizer, organ, and guitar.

This pared-down approach works quite well on Tonic, where looping, analogue phrases of organ and synthesizer give Baldwin the framework upon which he weaves improvised, serpentine melodies that morph and mutate over the course of each composition. “Pink Head With Child” is a great example of this approach, where the track crests and coasts along its trajectory, guided by Baldwin’s instinctual and intricate loop work. In fact, this is how each track on Tonic works; compositions alter and shift according to a hidden, liminal plan that guides each track, and this is something that Bloodwall as a project taps into remarkably well.

 - Kyle Mace

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Andrew Elaban - Gestalt (Hollow Eyes, 2016)

Composed of two 20 minute tracks, Andrew Elaban's Gestalt hits on some golden mean of longform ambient-drone tapes. Through the eliding, tonal shifts from golden dawn to golden dusk we hear dips into Eno-style heavily pawed synthesizers, blown-out drones of Belong and the unhurried patience and pacing of Stars of the Lid. Elaban, a Cleveland/Cincinnati based musician, approaches these tracks with a meditative clarity, marshaling tones that are always present in our environment - but amplified, fleshed out and corralled under Elaban's deft arrangements. These tracks aren't meditative in that they have much in the way of New Age synthesizer music. There is a basement rattling low end here that could unravel into harshness if knobs were cranked a little more to the left.  Rather, it is meditative in the sense that there is little judgement, but plenty of discernment, of the massive river of sound flowing through these tracks, the end result being Elaban's observations and careful nudges into compositions that feel wholly formed from their creation instead of stitched together in post.

- Ryan H.

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Spires That in the Sunset Rise with Michael Zerang - Kata Physin (No Index Recordings, 2016)

Acclaimed Chicago percussionist Michael Zerang joins Kathleen Baird and Taralie Peterson to form a formidable trio of unpredictably synced improvisers in order to debut Kata Physin, the inaugural tape on Baird's new No Index Recordings label. I've long been a fan of STITSR's shape-shifting output, the recent distillation of Baird and Peterson's explorations of shared sonic space - most notably through intense discoveries in vocal interplay - has sounded the most vital. On Kata Physin the two multi-instrumentalists wrap their spiky, mostly string-based conversations around Zerang's dynamic percussion - often as a textural component to the looser moments of tension-filled passages of forming and organizing to fully-realized moments of ascendency where Zerang's hand-percussive passages form the compositional backbone in which Peterson and Baird's string and vocal tendrils stem from and then loop back to in various shapes and sizes. These are moments of sheer ascendancy and joy that come with increasing frequency with repeated listenings. An auspicious debut for suuure. 

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Sapropelic Pycnic - A Love Supreme (No Index Recordings, 2016)

It's been 50 years since John Coletrane released A Love Supreme. About 15 from when I first heard it as a high schooler and found myself weeping alone in my room for a much different reason than I had ever before. My initial emotional response to A Love Supreme was so intense that I haven't listened to it properly for a few years. I've returned to the piece by the way of Kathleen Baird's (Spires That in the Sunset Rise) tribute to the album through her Sapropelic Pycnic project. A Love Supreme starts with Baird reciting and then riffing on a poem Coletrane wrote in the liner notes to A Love Supreme with Baird's musical partner Taralie Peterson's deft and doubled alto-saxophone welcoming the recitation with gracious arms. "And then He Wrote the Meditations" is Baird's exploration of Gil Scott-Heron's poem about Coletrane in a composition performed completely by Baird - her characteristic flute playfully darting in and out of her rolling piano lines as her pitch-shifted voice growls, lilts and yelps Scott-Heron's dedicatory prayer to Coletrane. Baird ends the album on a meditation on A Love Supreme that is distinctly Baird's: a boring into the main modes and emotional fabric of the piece using her voice and flute, Peterson's Alto Sax and Andy Ortmann's deep drones and funeral slow percussion, Baird's voice sending out Coletrane's leading melody into the void. A ritual not to call back the dead in imitation but to feel and recreate the essence of something timeless.

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Staraya Derevnya - Kadita Sessions (Weakie Discs, 2016)

To give you some scope, the last time we wrote about Staraya Derevnya's last record - From Inside the Log, Crawf was double posting from Foxy Digitialis (R.I.P.)....Heady days. The good news is the intensity and initial weirdness of that 2010 release haven't changed but instead been refined and given a new ecstatic voice in this 2016 release by UK-based/Israeli-originated musician. Kadita Sessions starts with straight-out-of-the-gate intensity encapsulated in a throaty caterwaul let loose by vocalist/composer Gosha Hniu. The track then unfolds into fully propulsive electro-acoustic rager that channels early-00's percussive noise-jams. The rest of the album is a bit more restrained moving from severely wrecked takes on lounge, trip-hop, traditional folk, harsh noise and broken electronic compositions that meld 70's kraut percussive heaviness into loose-limbed electronics all while Gosha's deftly versatile croons, growls and bellows through these compositions that balance bookshelf-crashing noise and tightly composed pieces on top of a deep precipice prone to strong drafts of wind. The album retains an inherent listenability, compositionally dynamic - a blending traditional Israeli melodies with kitchen-sink electro-acoustic whimsy -  and filled with enough novel sounds strangled out of various broken toys, instruments and esophagus that the album stands up in gale-force winds. A lovely, unexpected find.

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Rodeo - Dust Bowl (Already Dead, 2016)

Dust Bowl is a tape full of stately melodies and flourishes that pursue a reverence for rather than a recreation of a fabled American West. Content to let these pensive acoustic lines linger on the line like wisps of cotton on a barbed wire fence under a sky of foreboding drones, this trio from Denmark (which contains Rene Gonzalez Schelbeck aka Western Skies Motel) produce forlorn and melancholic Western music often romanticized by Spaghetti Westerns' ornate compositional structures. While the subject matter itself is romantic (rodeos, dust bowls, ghost towns and tumbleweeds) the overall tone of this tape is pretty bleak. Even the jaunty, classical guitar and melodica led tracks are done in a minor key that indicates you don't want to stay in this town past sundown. Other, solo-guitar and drone tracks dwell on the West as it exists now, forlorn, desolate, a promise delivered and quickly extinguished through finite resources and unconquerable distances. Dust Bowl is a fine record to get lost in. The recording is lush and exquisite, the subject matter a favorite of mine and the playing here is technically mastered and proficient. A surprising ,but perfectly apt 201st record for the diverse Already Dead roster.

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)