Drowse -Songs to Sleep On (Television Records, 2014)
During my time working in the mental health field (somehow my credentials say QMHS - Qualified Mental Health Specialist - really means nothing) I've seen a lot of people - clients, patients, friends - take a deepening plunge into mental illness. On the other end sometimes comes resurgence, death and more often than not a knowing sort of acceptance that this call of the void will always be a part of their life. Kyle Bates, on his first solo EP (Kyle plays in a pretty awesome band called Sloths), Kyle filters a couple years worth of suicide attempts, breakups, lithium prescription, depression and psychosis in a 15 minute EP that somehow covers an incredible amount of breadth. These dark, churning, chopped drone-based songs narrate and translate the loosening of associations, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that come with a slide into depression. But more than anything, this is a statement of placid acceptance. The light counterbalances the dark. Angelic guitar tones in the upper register are a ceilingless response to the darkness churning beneath, adjacent drum patterns mimic the human heart beating with a will to live. This is a pretty heavy but ultimately life-affirming piece of music to briefly contemplate that void while waiting for a bus or some domestic chore. A PDF comic narrates the process. I wish all my clients had making shoegazey, drone-pop songs coping skills.
Botanist - VI: Flora (The Flenser, 2014)
Just listen to the first movement of this record. A triumphant one-two punch of drums, hammered dulcimer, shimmering guitars and synths before delving into black metal driven blast-beats, incredibly moving and glacially-paced guitar riffing with spectral spools of synths arcing gracefully towards the light over distorted, screamed vocals low in the mix. All this under the one-minute mark on 2014's most forward thinking, avant-garde and straight up accessible metal album. No surprise it is on The Flenser, which has been shattering expectations of heavy music and releasing some truly catholic and large-tent versions of what heavy music can do/be. This is Botanist's sixth album in the series narrating the eventual demise of the world and a miserable botanist alone with his plants imagining a utopian post-apocalypse in which the natural world will take back what is theirs. While indicators of black metal are found throughout this record, Flora takes a decidedly expanded sound palate to explore the world of the fecundity and balance of plant life through the use of a 12-string bass and harmonium, worlds away from the stereotypical vision of black metal as a one-man show of tremolo picked guitar and blast beats. Flora is a measured balance between darkness and light, these two aspects often battling it out in the same song or precise musical movement. One of the best albums of the year.
Hey Mother Death - Highway (Snake Power, 2014)
Highway is anchored by a snaking, ever-gliding bass lines, dubby rhythm sections, ever-ascending synth and guitar lines that give way to squalls of no-wave guitar chatter that the sultry, slinky, bilingual spoken word of Laurence Strelka effortlessly floats over. That voice has the seductive powers to guide motorists to their death like some roadside siren. The duo of Strelka and Denma Pelsinger reside in both Paris and Halifax, Nova Scotia and have created a hypnotic, sexy, downright unstable mix of rythm that is motorik and laser-focused on one hand and unpredictable and esoteric on the other. The two collide in tracks like "The Hills" which an incessant bass line is interrupted by exploding, shrapnel-laden distorted percussion or on the album's most dub-heavy track "Bad Sex" which draws as much on funk and early hip-hop communiqués out of dub's jet-engine suck of every sound surrounding it. With the minimal set-up and easy to describe musical output, Highway covers an amazing amount of ground and is endlessly listenable. Suitable for late nights for lovers in some sort of liminal Blue Velvet/Twin Peaks style club. All crushed velvet everything.
Mamaleek - He Never Said a Mumblin Word (The Flenser, 2014)
An expansive, bleak album skirting transgressive black metal, lo-fidelity electronics and middle-eastern motifs that make this an ultimately spiritual affair. Spiritual in cleansing, self-flagellating, radical guilt siiiiinnnnk into redemptive despair and holy anger. "He Never Said a Mumblin Word", the eponymous leading track is a marvelous pairing of heavy, slow riffing, plodding drums, angelic choirs bathed in pure celestial light being played in some adjacent higher heaven while the Mamaleek brothers (a mysterious San Francisco duo) scream and cry out in petition or protest. Guttural vocals from heaven's sub-basement. The guitars, however, are wrapped in a sheen of muslin feedback and fuzz, while drumming never quite reaches blast-beat frenzy, instead is programmed to the pitch of a cartridge of compressed air being punctured at frightening regularity. Landscapes of clanging, avante-terror, rainbow bridges of light offering passageway into the briefly glimpsed celestial tones only to fall to ribbons at your feet. Shards of light bouncing off the stoney, terrestrial plane you are doomed or blessed to spend eternity on. Breathtaking polarities in this relatively short album. The Flenser can do no wrong.
Matt Nida - Explorer (Hel Audio, 2014)
Taking a leap out of the incredibly fertile Provo/Orem, UT experimental-electronic kinship of musicians, London's Matt Nida creates a wonderful pastiche of sci-fi soundtracks (think John Carpenter's Dark Star), Fabric/Warp sonic territory of forward-thinking techno and dance all under the strict guidance of vintage analog synth and hardware. The way these tracks unfold over the course of the tape, big, bright beats, punchy, clean snares and ascending/descending arpeggios running all over the keys. This type of sci-fi homage has been road tested in many DJ residency at clubs across UK when it takes unnoticeable twists and turns into danceable grooves. Hot love in outer space. Hel Audio has been one of my favorite labels to arise in the last few years. Love the aesthetic of each tape, logo and obsession with laser-guided melodies of experimental electronic music.
No Lands - Negative Space (New Amsterdam, 2014)
No Lands is the moniker and main artistic outlet for Michael Hammond, an intriguing Brooklyn artist who effortlessly melds forward-thinking pop maximalism with fearlessly broad strokes of severely fucking around with tone and pitch in a normative pop template. Except, this isn't a normative pop template, but rather a map of a pop song. You can trace a line between verse, chorus, bridge, etc...And these are executed brilliantly. Big, bright, hooky choruses that swell and diminish only to be picked up again with greater ferocity. But in between these poles is a street view of the city Hammond is occupying, pitches dovetail into extremely high and low frequencies, making this one of the most thrilling headphone experiences of this year. These same explorations in frequencies are often applied to Hammond's heavily processed vocals, filtering them through some sort of strange wind tunnel directly into your brain. These are strung between elegant, crystalline guitar lines and subtle, Faith-era Cure bass lines. Bright, shining synth lines ring out in shimmering spools of incandescence. Bright chemtrails of fluorescent light in beautifully timed intervals. All of this leads to a logical end, but in the twists and turns, the angled and impossible architecture, a new skin is laid across old frames of barren cities. A glowing warmth radiates through sewers and canopy-lit glow behind skyscraper glass. An inner glow that lights everything from within. That's what guides these songs. Drop a pin. You'll find your way there.
Memorials of Distinction - V/A How to Organize your Life and Get Rid of Clutter (Memorials of Distinction, 2014)
I've been listening to this tape obsessively since I got it last week. Memorials of Distinction is a newly minted label out of Brighton, UK. This compilation serves as an entry point into what (I hope) will be a long and fruitful career of putting out weirdo, lo-fi jams for the masses. How to Organize Your Life and Get Rid of Clutter starts with an interesting premise. Stitching a handful of bands onto a comp. recorded over a corporate motivational training tape by a dude named Ab Jackson. I've been giving the name "Ab" a disproportionate amount of thought since I got this tape. What is that short for? Abe, which is short for Abraham? Alvin Brian Jackson? Who knows. The self-help tape is a humorous (practical!) piece of ephemera back to a time when computer information was saved on floppy disks (which you should always color code for improved organization). Across this sage advice is a cross-section of beautiful lo-fi compositions from around the world from UK, Sweden, Mexico and the U.S. Notable standouts include the lilting, raw, straight-into-laptop mic of Porridge Radio, swirling, soft-psych of Smiling Disease and Mad Kid Library Trap, the clomping idiot beats of Estamos Fritos and the field-recording/post-punk miasma of Satanic Ritual Abuse are bright standouts. Shambling indie-rock/hip-hop of Mewlips hits a bit too close to home, often sounding dangerously close to Yoni Wolf's impressionistic talk-rap drawl. This is a pretty grand start to a tape label whom I am hopeful will be a vibrant source for continued warped tapes and further guidance on how to organize my cluttered desk/mind.