Claire Cronin - Came Down a Storm (Ba Da Bing Records!, 2016)

Listening to Claire Cronin play songs off Came Down a Storm live and then stepping into a record like this was a revelatory experience. Claire Cronin plays stately, lithe folk music that in its form brings to mind more of pastoral British and New Zealand psych-folk than it does the starkness of the American West where Claire has made her home. There are skeletal passages that retain all of the weight and emotional heft of a voice and acoustic guitar that jump straight from wax into a living room (or bedroom where I saw her perform these). These come in the literary qualities of Cronin's image-making, the way she can take defeatism out of the inevitability of death and process of dying, as well as her minor key lines and the slight quiver in her voice that rattles from the back of her throat towards the end of passages. Much of the ineffable qualities of Came Down a Storm, however, come in her composing partnership with Deerhoof's John Dietrich. With Dietrich these skeletal songs are introduced to entire worlds sound created by acoustic instruments bent and stretched to create ominous maws or incredibly moving passages of droning organs underneath distant drumming, prepared guitar to discordant, belfry-shaking noise-laden squalor. Those familiar with Dietrich's work with Powerdove's Arrest are aware of Dietrich's ability to supplement and augment ideas that are already fully furnished into some other, but familiar, beast.


Lyonnais - Anatomy of an Image (Geographic North, 2016)

Sermonizing over heavy drone, shrapnel-spewing guitar and a healthy amount of saxophone shredding, Farbod Kokabi's vocals on "Vienna Circles" suggest observance of a world of utter absurdity and paranoid self-reflection, something akin to David Byrne's narrator in "Once in a Lifetime". The Talking Heads comparisons stop there as Lyonnais' latest album explores the darker underbelly of manicured post-punk. Like This Heat being remixed by HEALTH. Anatomy of an Image offers an exploded view of the mechanics of writing these type of songs that both menace and hypnotize, burying some anxiety-producing rivulets of jagged riffing underneath the dark magic of a lock-steady kraut groove. But not even this protective spell allows deep unease and paranoia to seep through relentlessly dancy bass lines. It starts somewhere in Kokabi's faraway baritone howl, spews out from Kokabi and Lee Tesche's stutter-stepping guitars and TJ Blake's electronically-augmented drumming. With both Kokabi and Farzad Moghaddam are two of the founding members of the excellent Geographic North, while Tesche and Blake play in Algeirs and Lotus Plaza respectively it is difficult to call Lyonnais a side project. The project is as expansive as it is focused, alienating as it is immediately arresting.


Seven Feathers Rainwater - New Wig (Self-Released, 2016)

It has been a long time since I've written about Seven Feathers Rainwater. Their last longplayer 15 Apple Magicians was my favorite of 2011 and serves as a time capsule of a lot of thingsthat were happening in 2011 both musically and personally. Seven Feathers Rainwater is a Salt Lake City band which formed when I was living there and grew in terms of quality of ideas and musicianship by the time that album came out and I left the city. Returning to this time with New Wig, I can fortunately say that Seven Feathers Rainwater did not get stuck in stasis. The maximalist-propulsive electronic compositions that Animal Collective helped usher into the musical zeitgeist of the time with Merriweather Post Pavilion hasn't completely diminished, but Seven Feathers Rainwater, like the rest of us, have come down from that wide-eyed sugar rush. New Wig still burrows deep into trance-inducing psychedelia under the weight of a thousand pedals and electronics, however, New Wig, feels much more off the floor and less bound by time. "Dreamin'" for example, segues from the hazy bliss of a languid pace of poly-layered, sunbaked slowburner into a Madchester-inspired swath of dense late-80's psych-pop/dance bleed. It's  easy to get lost in the beautiful slow fade from one passage to another, a type of bleary-eyed transition from one dream state to another while still faintly tracking the circular, looping progression from form to pure expression. A wonderful return.


Slomo Drags - Slomo Drags (Already Dead, 2016)

Damnit if this isn't the most supremely perfect pop records to come out this year. A wonderful collection of crunchy power pop chord progressions, fist-pumping singalong choruses, punchy horns and, their obvious ace-in-the-hole the addition of Marcus Rubio/More Eaze's deft left-field pop sensibilities on synthesizer and immediately recognizable breathy falsetto. Slomo Drags are a beautiful homage to Prince, Ric Ocasek and Beulah all wrapped into a bright pink tape coffin. The songwriting is tongue-in-check clever without being precious, whip-smart and tight without being antiseptic. The most convincing reason why I should still care about indie rock in the last few years.

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Monte Burrows - Ikki Ni (Wounded Knife, 2016)

Monte Burrows is the codename for Spring Break Tapes! founder Joe MCkay's musical outlet. And what an outlet it is: two side-long compositions of great movement, weight and decay. "Silhouettes 1-5" rises high on rich orchestral synth swells, dips down into the depths of contact mic sub bass only to ascend again to some mezzanine level of a pit orchestra's tension-filled passage warped through reel-to-reel tape manipulation. The piece ends with a stately Basinski-ish micro-movement that rises above the fray and ends triumphant, having escaped slow death of gradually erasing magnetic tape. "Shadows of Manitou" is a gloriously submerged track swimming in tightly composed and stitched together phrases of synthesized harmony under the weight of heavy mechanical and digital detritus comprising the most heavily soundscape-designed composition on this tape. A beautifully affecting piece of work fans of Basinski and Jeck would instantly find companionship with. 


Wander - Kat Gat Sea (Wounded Knife, 2016)

Italian folk-drone duo Vincenzo De Luce and Matteo Tranchesi create a startlingly good case for the acoustic guitar on their cassette release for Wounded Knife. The duo's compositions stretch and contort the acoustic guitar to take in a terrifyingly vast catalog of sounds that range from the rustic, Tompkins Square folk ramblings to menacing dronescapes composed of the sound fluctuations, mechanical and output-based manipulations of the entire body of the guitar. Both of these sides are done in perfect execution. Songs like "Unfinished Departures" and "Faded Memories" are two unsettlingly somber compositions composed of two guitars striking balance between filling and emptying sonic space with gentle ascending minimalist lines with underlying drones that imbue each composition with light and/or deep sense of dread. Other tracks like "Red Barn" let aggressive noise-led elements, for example the sample and meditation the air through the mouthpiece of a trumpet being tuned and manipulated like a HAM radio, bleed into gentle, reflective blues and folk-inspired lines. Album standout is the closer "Black Powder" that features some Barn Owl heavy electric guitar rumbling leads and accompaniment by the metal on metal sonic possibilities of a hollow bodied acoustic guitar. Inspiring stuff.


braeyden jae - perpetual child (Wounded Knife, 2016)

'Ecstatic' is an adjective I don't hear thrown around enough when talking or writing about ambient music or experimental music. But there it is on the blurb for braeyden jae's Wounded Knife release. I've been writing about braeyden's music for a long time but that word has always been just out of my grasp. Perhaps there is nothing better than describing aspects of braeyden's when he reaches the track's climax and steals home with 'ecstatic' runs up and down the bass guitar's neck physically pushing an entire ocean's worth of tones into the next register and beyond into the world of near-harmonics. There is a lot of emotion behind those movements that the listener will read into it, but joy isn't out of the realm of possibility behind those bending, ascending notes and the gradual descent into softened drones of sparkling light. Perpetual Child, possibly more than any other braeyden jae release, leads us and keeps us there under the gentle glare of some shiny, fogged sea lapping over a deep obsidian core. A memento of a darker place deep below the surface. 

Monday, May 23rd, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Danny Paul Grody - Sketches for Winter VI: "Other States" (Geographic North, 2016)

And with this we have the end of winter, a slow loosening grasp that comes with a cyclical forgetting and remembering of warmth. I'm writing this well into May in the middle of an awkwardly placed cold spell. Remembering winter has brought me back to Daniel Paul Grody's excellent contribution to Geographic North's Sketches for Winter series. Grody's tape is an effortless blend of placid American Primitivist guitar (think Scott Tuma and Lake Mary) being played out in languid contemplation in a living room near a roaring wood burning fireplace instead of the front porch which seems to be natural habitat for these kind of folk-drone compositions. This inward turning displays some beautiful drone passages beneath the deft, rhythmic propulsion of Grody's acoustic guitar. Washes of heavy reverb flow through and illuminate these passages leaving spectral tracings like pyrite glinting in a quick moving river. Field recordings of forests and streams remind us that life is hibernating just beyond March. A wonderful tape to lose 30 minutes in while watching life return outside your window.


Orra - They Mean No Harm (Heavy Mess, 2016)

A ponderous, heavily-spaced electroacoustic slowburner from Sean Conrad (Ashan, Inner Islands Records) and Jennifer Williams (Gossimer) is a realtime exercise in space-finding between two interconnected beings. Pregnant pauses follow sonorous guitar-lines bending and arcing in the upper register that are played back through a ghostly apparatus that leave the casing of the passage while letting the soul rattle about like a ghost in the machine. About half-way through "Glass Sisters", Williams' voice rises through the settling electroacoustic mist, ebbing and flowing with the same regularity of the passages of silence and sound. Then the essential stringness of strings are explored: the oxymoronic brittleness of metal, the tensile slack and tightness. These are played over a faraway oscillation and buried, leading, coaxing voice that creeps in so slowly you swear it was there the whole time. The B-Side, "Come Down the Night" is a propulsive passage of basement effused beats, washes of warbly synthesizer drones, wandering acoustic instrumentation and contact mic solipsisms into a wonderfully pastoral marriage of all four. A satisfyingly calming and contemplative listen.


Urthsla - Wannsee (Field Hymns, 2016)

A revelatory record by Berlin's Artem Bezukladnikov for Field Hymns. Wannsee rides the spectral drift from droning passages with acoustic folk overlays to forever-ascending kraut synth lines that break free into earthy, reverb-laden psych burners that mark the return of the pastoral that never really left. The tape's eponymous B-Side is a hushed, intimate hymn underneath piles and piles of pillowy drone before a stately guitar riff breaks free from understatement and arrives, smearing its painted-black likeness across the entire canvas. Boris's heavy meditation on Nick Drake on "Farewell" comes to mind in its crushing annd hope-in-humanity giving power. Like "Farewell", the riff endlessly replicates itself, squeezing into noise-laden, roof-scratching intensity of epic squalor, or pulsing radiantly beneath the surface of roiling, searching drones. If I do a best-of list this year, Wannsee will definitely be on there.


dugout canoe - Over Unity (Self-Released, 2016)

"Over Unity" by Denver D.I.Y. vet and Goldrush alumni Jacob Isaacs is a 54 minute journey through perma-ascending minimal synth lines that slow fade into hyper-pointilist compositions that layer chopped shoegaze guitars over self-aware programmed electronics that play like a pinchinco machine caught in a wormhole. There is this strange effect, halfway through "Over Unity I" where notes are flying at and past you at such speed and regularity that it becomes impossible to grasp individual notes, yet, comprehend the superstructure of the composition itself, a sort of meta-melody constructed from the rise and fall of a thousand independent musical movements. I'm not sure if that makes any sense, but it feels true. The way this tape segues through these sections is one of the most exciting things about these compositions. All wind-up and major release when the BPM slows a bit and some space opens up to reveal sugary melodies, washes of dense, drunk electronics, echoes of earthly voices, buried-but-unashamed electronica, pastoral industrial, trigger-effect reverbed out bass lines Over Unity is arresting from the jump, a rare record that demands so little from the listener but delivers a million sensory pleasures at regular intervals, plus it is recorded and mixed by Ryan McRyhew (Thug Entrancer) so, can't stop, won't stop with this one.

Monday, May 16th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)
Blindside / You Don't Have to Be a House to Be Haunted

I'll give you a second to collect yourself. There is a feeling that comes after listening to Sister Grotto tape of utter exhaustion. Like being pulled from an icy river you were sure you were going to drown in, it takes a minute or two orient yourself with the above-ground world. The sharp definition of blacks and whites, sharp edges and the contour of the earth's massive shape. These come back to you slowly, layer-upon-layer, but you'll never get that feeling back of abandoning this world. The faint glimpse of colors dancing on the back of your eyelids or some glowing half-light of another world.

Sister Grotto Blindside (Heavy Mess, 2016)

Blindside is Sister Grotto's first tape of 2016 that consist of two compositions for braeyden jae's newly-minted label Heavy Mess. If you recall this isn't the first partnership of braeyden and Sister Grotto. Their album Born to Lose / Born to Leave on Antiquated Future was a stunner of collaborative drone. On the A-Side of Blindside we find Sister Grotto in a meditative trance over a ghostly piano line. Brian Eno's "Stuck by the River" comes  to mind but with much more trailing reverb in its wake and keys pressed with obsidian somberness. Minimal passages haunt the composition, punctuating open ground between the grand swoops of Madeline Johnson's breathy, multi-tracked vocals. The phrase "I'm not at home" accumulates more weight and meaning as it is repeated, both in the composition and in the delivery itself. Artifacting, keyed-down vocals lie at the end of the slow decline of the multi-tracked choir of Johnson's own voice as it deliberates on this passage over eliding drones with subtle shifts of hue and color matching the aurora borealis exploding into view as we press our hands tight against our closed eyes. The second sidelong track is "Blindside's" fraternal drone twin. Stasis broke by bobbing and weaving tones and analog detritus as it eventually blooms into an immensely moving track that drifts and floats like an iceberg with impossible heaviness and lightness.


Sister Grotto You Don't Have to be a House to be Haunted (Self-Released, 2016)

It's May and I'm calling it in early. You Don't Have to Be a House to Be Haunted is the best album of the year. Not just 5 months into 2016 but in perpetuity. You Don't Have to be a House is the culmination of what makes Sister Grotto such a compelling artist. The easy access into her compositions that sound unbelievably rich. Soundscapes that are three dimensional. Johnson's uncanny ability to wring all the emotion of the simplest phrases. And, on You Don't Have to be a House... A sense of scope that is bigger than anything that Johnson has done so far: string accompaniments and a full choir on "Videotape", an unmistakable sense of place and narrative arc on "Uncanny" that pitches Madeline's voice into bottomless pit lows, the powerful simplicity and mystery of "Witness". This tape feels big enough to live in. Tons of labyrinth-like hallways, tiny closets of packaged melodies that don't appear until the 3rd or 4th listen, hedge-mazes and creaking floorboards of unrequited and unspent energy that haunt these three tracks like a Victorian mansion. I would suppose the closest comparison we have is Grouper. But where Grouper's compositions often feel inundated by place - room tone and drone slowly blending into one - Sister Grotto's compositions, especially fleshed out as they are here, seem to come from vignettes of 8mm film that are insular and in-the-mind as they are universal. You Don't Have to be a House... is a singular product although it is Johnson's most collaborative to date, the most personal although it's title is inspired by Dickinson and it's first track is a meditation on a Radiohead track. There's really nothing like it.

Monday, May 9th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

North Atlantic DriftVisitor (Polar Seas Recordings, 2016)

I’ve been supremely psyched on Polar Seas Recordings latest output. The North Atlantic Drift/Northumbria split and anthéne’s Repose tap into glacial drones that drift serenely through half-frozen seas of like worried icebergs. In ambient music, huge doors move on the tiniest hinges. The opening track of Visitor by North Atlantic Sea signals a sleight, but overwhelmingly massive change in direction. “Recluse” starts with a clean, persistent beat and bass line that rumble straight through your solar plexus creating a warped version of a slow-motion house beat heard reverberating from beneath the floorboards. This move into beat oriented arenas with gorgeous overlays of North Atlantic Drift arcing drone places the track into a strangely upbeat and major key zone. This will later be revisited in the stark and plodding “Everest” caught in the undertow of Jesu-tinged dark-ambient or sidelined to showcase the gorgeous, eliding tones of “Meridian” that lap upon one another in slow-motion decay. Highly recommended if only for high res photo booklet and CD envelope that account for the physical packaging.


The Volume Settings FolderLaguna (Oscarson Records, 2016)

The Volume Settings Folder is the alias of Italian ambient-drone musician M. Beckmann who serves as guide and director of precise and emotionally resonant drones composed out of crackling, electrical-charged clouds. These tones resonate with the quiet vibrato of the untrained human voice singing an elegy. Sharp volume swells and slow-motion air-show disaster come downs sans parachute. Beckmann has an innate sense of when to throttle back, allowing the strands of sinewy, American-primitivist lines to sing out and punctuate the thick, humid air of low cloud cover drone and when to push the overwhelming omnichord into maximum, peaking ocean-tone. A truly gorgeous CD that was mailed to me overseas; one of the best “Eureka” moments of 2016.


LFZ LFZ (Stimulus Progression, 2016)

Originally recorded last year but reissued via Stimulus Progression, LFZ finds Sean Smith bending and corralling the guitar into tonal phrasings that I’ve never heard before. Unearthly passages rich in timbre, majestically capturing the dynamic range of frequencies along each line’s ebb and flow into the light. Composed of two-sidelong pieces, “Fair Winds & Following Seas” is a cut for the ages. A track comprised of weighty movements, “Fair Winds” moves from breathtaking swoops of guitar tone of incredible range before moving into intense passages of organ-drones played heavily in an ancient, abandoned church of stone-cloud density before arpeggiated guitar eddy into the foreground bringing to mind passages of Cluster and Harmonia. Side B is an equally compelling, all-improvised track that maintains the additive intensity of and steel-eyed persistence of the best Kraut players. Striking an impressive balance between the calculation of structural movements with the innate responsiveness and emotional intelligence of improvisation, LFZ is quite possibly one of the year’s best releases.


IcepickAmaranth (Astral Spirits, 2016)

Astral Spirits literally RIPS into the vinyl world with this insanely great collective improv by the legendary Chris Corsano on drums, Nate Wooley on trumpet and Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on double bass. The album is filled with moments that, if dissected and surgically removed from the whole of the album – movements of relatively straight improvised post-bop to expressive meditations on the sheer mechanical movements of music – would be showcases, resume builders of three musicians on top of their game. Together, in totality, sound impossibly honed and interconnected as if directed from some higher power with some greater purpose. One such standout is Haker-Flaten’s impressively aggressive way he goes after bass lines on "Rossa Corsa" - attacking them with super villain tenacity in conjunction and with incredible dynamic range during his solo. Wooley showcases his ability to wring literally every sound a trumpet and mouth can make on the criminally short “Fuchsia” from airy breathspaces to flatulent lows. The album’s most impressive piece is the B-Side spanning “Rare Rufescent” wherein the track moves on a non-linear path from structured chaos to internal-shared logic chaos communicated using telepathy and Jungian archetypes. Listening at high volumes reveal Corsano playing every inch of his drum set, woody chops echo beneath splashy fills and inhuman snare hits while Haker-Flaten runs speed trials around Wooley’s in-the red-runs across a ruinous tonal field. A truly magnificent thing to behold.

Order from Astral Spirits

Monday, April 25th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

If you've been wondering why there has been a dearth of reviews on the Tome, please look no further than the eyes of that painting above. Now, imagine those eyes staring back at you from a 12" x 12" canvas containing a glowing white orb that shines behind those slightly manic, slightly tired eyes. Those eyes were painted by Andrew Alba on the cover of braeyden jae's newest LP "fog mirror" on my newest venture, Whited Sepulchre Records.

Band name origin stories are lame, perhaps label origin stories are lamer, but I'm going to tell it because it says a lot about my reaction to music as a writer and now label owner. I've written about braeyden's music since the near inception of Tome to the Weather Machine through all of its permeations and monikers. Braeyden sent me this record a year ago when we began formulating the idea of putting it out as a vinyl record. Having this album digitally, I would listen to it in various settings. Once, while on a run through Spring Grove Cemetery that runs behind my neighborhood block, I was listening to "fog mirror" and an idea burrowed its way into my head. Ostensibly, "fog mirror" is a beautiful ambient record - one full of eliding, sustained tones, textural drones, buried piano that bob and eddy through layers of enveloping sound. Ambient music has a magical way of obscuring inputs and presenting you with fully formed outputs while masking much of the work and mechanical movement required to produce it - a musical sleight of hand. The best stuff, which I rank "fog mirror" as, presents this self contained finished product along with providing a breadcrumb trail indicating the additive process of making this music. In approaching this kind of instrumental music with little available context into the inputs used to create it, we form emotional attachments to sounds as they are presented - often allowing ourselves to take it in as an consuming whole, or fixating on musical movements that may not be self-evident in passive listening. 

This was the case for me while running. I was mesmerized by the musical output, moved by it emotionally, cognizant of the musical input, but even more aware of its real input - the need to create something beautiful in a world that, in a cosmic sleight of hand, buries that beauty in places that aren't always apparent as well as the weight of existential dread that forces our hand to create or consume (to take inside ourselves) something of great beauty as a way to dispel the darkness. This all started to make sense...this record, the cemetery...

Jesus once said to the ruling religious class of Jerusalem, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." As I ran past these beautifully ornate sepulchres and mausoleums I meditated on that phrase I remembered from my devoutly religious youth. This album - the musical output of great beauty inspired by equal parts wonder and dread, the physical medium which contains it - a pure white slab of wax - were these really just tombs whose beauty was a totem against the crushing fear of death? The input obscured by the gorgeous output? The white marble facade containing rotting flesh and dead man's bones? 

I guess, this is to say, after years and years of listening to and writing about ambient and experimental music, being this involved and close to a piece of music this powerful had a profound change on how I approach and how I interpret music. 

I am thrilled to share it with the world. I hope you like it. Please consider purchasing it. It also comes with a split cassette of braeyden jae and Portland's ant'lrd containing compositions written for and about friends and family who contributed to helping get Whited Sepulchre Records off the ground. Thanks.

The Tome will resume its normally scheduled reviews after this week.

Ryan H.

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

In advance of Son Lux's show tonight at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center with Dawn of Midi, Son Lux's people reached out to me to request, what I was hoping, was going to be a podcast but turned into a solid e-mail interview rager. This is what it took to shake me from perpetual TOME slumber and get back on the wobbly bike of providing content for this site. 

TOME: You are probably aware of this, but you have some Cincinnati connections. Your first album and remix EP were put out through .anticon which has some strong Cinci roots. My question is, you “arrived” with an absolutely massive debut record full myriad sounds and influences on an already “post-everything” record label. Do you have a stylistic or genre-based bedrock that your compositions grew out of, or is everything pretty much “in the air” so to speak?

SON LUX: I think the bedrock of my personal approach owes more to lineages of artists than it does with genres at large. My influences have affected me deeply, but they have come from different communities and circumstances. In that sense, the ethos of .anticon was a natural fit for my work.

TOME: I’ve read that you didn’t necessarily come from a musical family but persisted in playing piano. What were some early musical discoveries, those “oh shit” moments in music that hit you in the stomach a) emotionally b) on a compositional level? – those don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.

SON LUX: Typically, I didn't really feel an "oh shit" level of awe unless a discovery satisfied both criteria. Two notable examples from my childhood are Bela Bartok and Prince.

TOME: While Son Lux sounds like the product of a pretty singular voice, you’ve collaborated to no end both on your studio albums and as newly formed trio on Bones. Can you tell me about an instance or two where you’ve collaborated with someone on essentially “your song” where that individual either completely nailed what you had envisioned or opened the song up in a completely new way?

SON LUX: Working with Lorde on the song "Easy," and with Hanna Benn on the song "You Don't Know Me," are two examples that come to mind in which the artist accomplished something that simultaneously felt like both of the outcomes you described. When surprise is the vision, the only way to nail it is by doing the unexpected.

TOME: On a personal level (asking for myself…or a friend) Ostensibly, you seem very busy. How do you prevent from burning out? Do you have some magical self-care tips or is creating music just that compelling to you to constantly be creating and working?

SON LUX: First of all, I drink a shit load of coffee. I actually love working on a variety of projects at once. When I feel like I'm losing inspiration or momentum on one project, I can just switch to a different one. It helps to keep things fresh. Also I spend as much time as I can with my loved ones- with my wife and my dog. Taking that kind of time actually really helps with productivity.

TOME: These next two questions are my personal reactions to (what I see) as major themes in your work: Would you say that dread influences your work…on a personal or existential level? Are we doomed as a species…Asking for a friend.

SON LUX: Look to the next one for the answer!

TOME: Would you say that wonder influences your work…on a personal or existential level? Are we humans amazing or what? Both dread and wonder definitely influence Son Lux greatly.

SON LUX: They may seem at odds with each other but I think that, like most opposites, they are deeply intertwined.

Ryan H.

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

This shouldn't come as any surprise, but in the face of oppression and despair, dance is a revolutionary act more powerful than any slogan, sign or online petition.

It is in that spirit that Heligator Records is honored to present its 27th release by Denver's Thug Entrancer. Conceived in Denver, nurtured in Chicago's South Side and then exploded onto the world in 2014 via Daniel Loptain's software records, Thug Entrancer's formal debut Death After Life exists as an important living document and amalgamation of utilitarian dance music turned mightily on its ear. Building from the ground up, as Ryan McRyhew is known to do, "Neural Shade" expands and contracts along a laser-focused linear progression towards personal liberation. Taking cues from classic Acid House, 90's Techno and Chicgo-style footwork/juke, Thug Entrancer creates musical estuaries in which genres, geographies and cultural histories collect and pool only to be dispersed by McRyhew's razor-beak sequencing and knack for pulling propulsive arpeggios out of digital detritus mixed with clarion clear kickdrum hits and subterranean squashed lows.

All proceeds from "Neural Shade" go directly to fund the Malindza Refugee Camp Library in Swaziland, Africa in which Heligator Records exists to support. It isn't too often that supporting experimental music also means supporting literacy and education for refugees from all over Africa. Malindza Refugee Camp is full of people, who in spite of a whole host of challenges fleeing war, government instability and xenophobic attacks, will be cutting a rug to this song.

Monday, February 1st, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)
l o n g

There’s something a bit warped about John Bellows’s songs that comes through loud and clear on the new l o n g EP, just released on Planted Tapes. The record (erm, tape) belies his history as an unhinged performer, trafficking instead in winding melody and dark humor with delayed punchlines. Bellows plays nearly all of the instruments himself, occasionally inviting in a guest cello line, crafting a rich, woodsy Americana that he bastardizes and turns towards his own whims. It’s kind of puzzling and kind of fucked up and altogether alluring. Bellows recorded l o n g on San Juan Island, Washington, adrift in the Salish Sea, closer to British Columbia than the mainland United States. That’s where this music comes from: at the edge, facing something foreign.

Bellows moved to Washington a half decade ago after a long stint in Chicago and a childhood in rural Kentucky. His 2005 debut Clean Your Clock careened through noisy outsider freak-folk (“Go to Hell”) and Beefheartian protopunk exercises (“(You Just Got) Motherfucked”), and he recorded his own set of fractured fairy tales on the kids-oriented Happy Hits. Elements of all these musical lives are present on l o n g, but they peek out unexpectedly around the corners. This is more polished work, both in craft and execution, largely acoustic and warmly laid down on analog tape. Opener “No Memory” plunks along unsteadily, never quite finding sure footing on the ominous bass line. Bellows’s voice ranges from a rich, sonorous baritone to a wheezing yelp, sometimes over the course of a single line. Sometimes it sounds smug. Sometimes defeated.

Standout (and side A closer) “Straightest Lines” speaks in its own fragmented, upsetting grammar, impenetrable as it is evocative. “Everything is made up of change your mind/I’ve changed my mind and/Everyone is wearing the same disguise.” The song lurches forward insistently, a wounded animal which musters strength for a final stand. “Everyone’s renumbered and arranged in lines/The straightest lines.” It’s dreadful and anxious and magnificent.

On the freewheelin’ side B, “Nothing More” echoes the lush fingerpicking and double-tracked harmonies of the earlier “Fool Like You,” and “Aimless Road” is a fairly straight (and successful) take on Appalachian folk. The lengthy “Make Believe” sees the ripples of domestic violence and budding queer sexuality, ebbing and swelling almost unbearably over nine minutes. “Your fingernails pinch at the needle in your pocket/Still ill conceived you scratch and bleed in your make believe.” It’s one of two tracks rounded out by full live instrumentation, and the small ensemble weaves a tense, foreboding web. Total darkness creeps over l o n g so slowly it’s almost hard to notice, but by the time epilogue “River’s Deceit” rolls around it’s pervasive and inescapable. l o n g is a haunting work, unwilling to give up its secrets easily even after repeated listening, but rewarding those who keep coming back to the well.

Nat Tracey-Miller

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Autistici & Justin Varis - Nine (Eilean Records, 2016)

On Eilean Records fist foray into 2016, the UK/Los Angeles collaborators fall headlong into studious, crystalline electro-acoustic sound sculptures that reside on the bleeding edge between compositional work and sound-art. Both Austistici and Justin Varis build up elongated tones into so much scaffolding, a protruding center in which electronic tailings, organic field-recordings and found sounds circle and add accoutrements to the towering edifice of sound at the composition's tonal center. Some tracks, especially evident on "Grey Orange Red" cling very loosely to compositional elements such as melodic overtones or passages and instead construct loosely-joined edifices of tonal passages that fit together with a painters sense of warmth and hue. Stray bits of piano flutter and fluctuate through magnetic fields of oscillating tones and the pitter-patter of glitched audio fragments anchoring and spiriting away compositions into some permanent-twilight of wilderness-recreating shopping malls and the straw-gold hue of Terrence Malick shooting through a Midwestern wheat field. Like all Eilean Records releases, Nine holds in perfect tension a sense of challenge - an invitation to active listening - and the easily won rewards of hearing so many beautiful sources interacting and assembling together in novel ways.


Gardener - Here You Are Here (BARO Records, 2016)

Chicago's Gardener's highly structural compositions of modulated synth and vocal drone ply linear, albeit looping, passages that recall some of our best impressionist masters. At a micro-level Gardener's tonal shifts, layered sheets of sound and arcing, spiraling keyed lines leave traces like brush strokes of thick acrylic, but zoomed-out and taken at its entirety, it becomes a fully formed picture in the form of a skyward journey. I happened to see Gardener perform these songs in Cincinnati in close equivalency to their recorded output - with quiet patience building from the ground up instead of plucking from chaos. Tones lay flat - however with more intentional relationship to each other - reminiscent of Sarah Davachi's experiments in electro-acoustic programming that stretch flat-pulse tones to their absolute breaking point under the heavy influence of Harold Budd's early works for synthesizer and voice. It is a heady mix, but a completely enveloping listen, one that is thoughtfully mixed by Sean McCann, that, even on cassette, loses nothing to the analog void. Each passage can be clearly delineated until they can't - and when those moments of overwhelming bliss come, where a thousand voices (including Lewis's own) join together in one hive-like drone, it is at the behest of a compositional hand that has been unsheathed throughout the entire listen. Highly recommended.


Various Artists - Long Range Transmissions (Hidden Shoal Recordings, 2016)

I am an unabashed Hidden Shoal fan. The Australian label has been pumping out releases of lush, cinematic aspirations of ambient and neo-classical artists for a better part of it's existence that, at times, is overcome by its eclectic output ranging from conspiracy-punks to 90's slowcore revivalists to every deriviation of weirdos (Australian and otherwise) in between. Long Distance Transmissions, however, is a surprisingly cohesive collection of sprawling ambient, electro-acoustic, post-classical and just about ever derivation (Australian and otherwise) of lushly produced, slightly melancholic, wordless music in between. Highlights include Markus Mehr's Tim Hecker-meets-Heinz Riegler meditative distorted synth composition "Hubble, the chopped and glitched electro-acoustic number by Kryshe, the minor key minimalist techno of Cheekbone and the emotional heft of the 80's nostalgia of Slow Dancing Society's bubbling arpeggios and soundtrack-worthy dynamics. It makes sense that Hidden Shoal also exists as a licensing company, many of these compositions, if not already, seem to soundtrack some deeply resonant scenes in films (never made).


Crone Craft Unloving the Anvil Chorus (EH46 Media, 2016)

"It doesn't really matter, all that matters is that you feel comfortable, that's all". Adulting, right? While the only thing more tedious than reading a millennial think-piece is complaining about said millennial think-piece, Denver's Lindsay Thorson gets the crisis of adulting right. Existential freakouts that capture both the ennui and resigned surrender to beauty in wonder-filled synth-pop songs that sound saccharine sweet on first blush - given Thorson's multi-tracked, treacle sweet vocals and woozy, cavity-filled synth lines and horizon-line percussion - but drop some fretful koans that shoot straight through the brain's executive functioning, right when you need that to process all that adulting you were doing at that job you went to school for. Drawing on Native American legends, neo-pagan ritual magic and filtering it through a post-suburban wasteland of Front Range sprawl of empty strip malls and corporate farm-to-table restaurants. Unloving the Anvil Chorus is longtime Tome favorite JT Schweitzer's newest DIY venture EH46 Media. We are fans.

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)