Grow Horns - Thunderous Fixations (Live God Collective, 2016)
Accustomed to much of Live God's output and Cincinnati/Midwest experimental music in general, I fully expected and braced myself for Thunderous Fixations to be an exercise in analog-fed harsh noise. Being surprised when it wasn't was a lesson in humility and a recognition of the incredibly varied output to come out of the Cincinnati based tape label in general. Miles Uroshevic formerly of Ann Weigel and currently playing along the famed Nelson Slater as part of the name-shifting Illusion Dogs, crafts much of Thunderous Fixations around simple, acoustic melodies and a voice that recalls Chris Weisman on some Oaklandazulasylum-era Why? lo-fi shit. These are earnest and focused song-songs that often push Uroshevic's voice into a falsetto just outside of its natural range. The yearning for something greater in both impetus and delivery - its output buried under magnetic tape hiss or as plaintive as a living room set. The dips into harsh noise, or at least augmented fragments of unfinished songs, are welcome reprieves into abstraction when the mournfulness directness gets too real.
Dura - Oceans of Solaris (Marmara Records, 2016)
Oceans of Solaris, Mattson Ogg's latest under the moniker Dura, begins with a propulsive, driving bass line underneath solar flares of buzzing drone and deep dives of processed output. This mid-game change up serves as a wonderful placeholder in Dura's extensive catalog, mostly known for crafting swelling movements of wisps and shudders, the mass of this record is something you can grasp the contours of. As the propulsion melts into a glacial pool of inky, surging waters of roiling synth and guitar drones open canyon-wide fissures into the onyx black earth that reveal something below the substrate of these tracks something radiant and hidden. A light shining through the most obsidian of all Dura releases. An album that slowly sheds layer after layer darkness to reveal new life under the thick canopy. Highly recommended.
Medina/Walsh – Vault of Angels (Debacle, 2016)
Embracing the inherent intimacy and wild possibility of the duo arrangement, Joshua Medina and Paurl Walsh enter into hyphenated last name power couple status and create one of the most satisfying of 2016 releases, an auspicious proper debut if there ever was one. PNW experimentalists to their core, Medina’s medium is delicate lines of finger-picked guitar. Not necessarily American Primitivist, but it is hard to completely escape that tag, but it exists in a liminal space more akin to the neo-psychedelic discoveries of 70’s Britain or that delicate bridge of Bridget St. John. Paurl Walsh is a classically trained musician pulling deep synth drones and layered, sonic architecture birthed out of the intersectionality of modern composition and drone. Exploring the interlacing between the two’s contributions to the whole greater than its sums we find moments of unrestrained beauty when the duo-ship is at its most pronounced, where Medina’s pilot fish runs of arpeggiated guitar dart in and out of the supertanker of the duo’s graceful glide through unbroken ocean. It’s a dynamic, textured album that demands several turns before you feel like you can begin to map its terrain – often that terrain is dark and foreboding, aural accumulation of precipitation and dread, other times it is a placid, still and wondrous. Our own braeyden jae adds his characteristic ambient shredding on the eponymous “Vault of Angels” dropping another accordion folder of evidence to the case of making this one of the best albums of the year.
Insect Factory – Work (Insect Fields, 2016)
D.C guitarist Jeff Barsky’s tireless output under the moniker Insect Factory has been an exploration of light-infused drones – like watching those backlit clouds slowly come alive signaling a new morning in a city with high amounts of pollution – with heavy, patiently-placed guitar lines that ring out and through the steady lap of hazy, guitar wash and tape manipulation. There is a somber weight to these compositions, a heavy-lidded, hypnotic motion to the B-side where the rhythmic loop of feedback crests over buried piano notes that feed back into itself to create a narcologue journey when you break through the haze and every sensory feature seems enhanced and locked in with a deeper rhythm. The A-side’s penchant for semi-improvised guitar lines that ring through effulgent clouds until they are suddenly pulled back up through some crooked shoot and ladder is classic Insect Factory: dropping some epic-sounding contemplative guitar line played with the intensity and intentionality knowing that this clarity is ephemeral and fleeting. Rewards for those who listen close and wake up early.
Benjamin Finger - 10 (Sellout! Records)
Benjamin Finger, the shape-shifting Oslo musician, producer and DJ has thrown us for a bit of a loop on his latest LP out on Sellout! Records. Much like the trajectory of Kevin Greenspon, Finger translates the engulfing nature of his ambient and tightly composed experimental works into techno landscapes that retain much of the enveloping nature of previous works. On 10, Finger takes us a guided tour through Techno's (with a capitol T) fractious neighborhoods with the subbass wobble of "Stretchpantz", to the gradual ramping out of the chill-out "Party Corpse" and the distorted arpeggios and high hats recall the best of 90's techno on "Kangaroo Court". Full of in-jokes and deliberate nods to electronic music's dancefloor prophets, Finger keeps a tight 4-4 pulse on tracks that chart a course using linear trajectory and melodic synthesizer lines to create a highly memorable and hard-beat, angular dance record. Much like the co-worker who gets drunk at the party and reveals a much more complicated human than their persona at work, Benjamin Finger lets his club-freak flag fly on 10 and can't help but come out with a highly listenable, highly danceable record centered on propulsion and melody. If you are even more keen to hang out with your co-worker after he/she wears the lampshade, reveals a deep knowledge of Electronic Body Music and pukes in your purse, this record is for you.
Stag Hare - Velvet & Bone (Inner Islands, 2016)
I am sustained and energized in times of darkness by the idea of the album given as a gift to salve fractured psyches. In this sense, the most anodyne of all musical forms is transformed into a political statement simply by its timing and positioning as a tool for those fighting against fascism. Maalox and water are just as important as bricks and stones in the fight against state terrorism. Velvet and Bone is a record that feels delivered just in time. Stag Hare has long created music that feels positioned to heal if one were to give into it. Velvet and Bone explores the ethereality of ambient music, a sense of experiencing the physical world with oven mitts, all senses muted and processed through a thick auger, with the physical sensation of beat bypassing the ear canal and passing through your sternum. On Velvet and Bone, Stag Hare expertly coalesces these two sensations to create something that works within and through the sonic milieu around you and beats right into the core of your body. It's rewarding to see the linear trajectory of artists continuing to drill down on intention and impact while expanding their sonic palate to encompass more possibilities. One of Stag Hare's finest works to date.