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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Cloudsound - Static Sense & Wonder Stasis (пANOEON, 2016)

Cloudsound returns with another album full of resplendent drone, a perfectly titled longplayer of songs that contain so much musicality, stirring melodies and exploration of space beneath its placid, tranquil surface. I've been mulling over the phrase "Wonder Stasis" since I've heard this record and while being the title of the album's 28 minute closer, I think the phrase here reveals a lot of what draws me to this record and ambient, drone-based music in general. While it is easy to point out the utilitarian effects of ambient music - it's calming effects, it's ability to imbue other activities with purpose and meaning - so much of the calming equilibrium belies how much music is happening at any given moment. Cloudsound's tracks are filled with long, eliding drones that unspool like tape held out of a car window, but between those massive tonal shifts are even smaller births and deaths of pulling, effulgent tones, small guitar runs, surging walls of softened distortion, feather-light arpeggios and porous walls of sound to float and be held in, rather than bashing our fists against. Out on cassette from the lovely пANOEON label out of Yaroslavl, Russia.  

Panoptique Electrical - Disappearing Music for a Face (Sound in Silence, 2016)

For someone who came of age in the era of CD-R labels it is really lovely to see labels continuing to put out compelling releases with aesthetically interesting packaging on CD. Some of my favorite releases this year came from Polar Seas Recordings, Eilean Records and now Sound in Silence - an Athens, Greece Based label. Disappearing Music for a Face comes on the heels of Jason Sweeney's highly regarded collaboration with Richard Adams of Hood and The Declining Winter (a hugely influential artist for me) and highlights the Adelaide, Australia musician's ability to compose spacious and airy electro-acoustic compositions with a variety of collaborators. Centered around hypnotic acoustic piano lines, Sweeney and collaborators wrap these compositions with swelling drone, low-end rumbling, upper-register tonal fluctuations and, on the case of "A Forest Forlorn" and "Near Life" slow BPM electronic percussion that serve to accentuate the linear movement of the album. By building off of a firm foundation of Sweeney's piano compositions each accruement is able to find ample space in the high-ceiling cathedral of the album. Highly recommended.

Oxherding - The Past is Gone and The Future is Not Yet Here (Self-Released, 2016)

"Damn. I love everything about this tape" were my initial thoughts when I received this in the mail before even putting it in the deck. The J-Card spanning shot of the sky, the clear cassette with beautiful black overlaid print, the little card dedicating the cassette to "everyone fighting against injustice and hatred in my broken hometown of St. Louis, Missouri". It is heartbreaking and ambitious. The idea of wordless music as protest music. White helmet, war-time medic. Classic style drone in the vein of Stars of the Lid assembling and massaging massive walls of drone underneath open-skied production that allow each assemblage to sound out apart and together in unison with the overall barge of the composition cutting a slow clip through some placid, high-cliffed channel. It is a gracious sort of gift. Creating these healing passages and dedicating them to your city that have recently erupted in flames. A balm to soothe the aching psyches of your peers and fellow citizens trying to process so much ugliness and bravery of the human condition.

Tristan Welch - Washington D.C. (Self-Released, 2016)

A laudable 16 minute debut by Fairfax, VA drone artist Tristan Welch. Drones in the key of "D" and "C" that are both palpable and weightless. The kind of ambient tape you can put on and blissfully forget you are listening to while wondering why your day-to-day seems somehow imbued with some golden light of meaning. Deeper listens reveal a layering of lapped notes within the same key, an excercise in kinetic meditation. Individual notes puncturing the ether and then collapsing back onto itself. Spooling and unspooling like the chain on an anchor reacting to the tides.

Endurance - City of Signals (Illuminated Paths, 2016)

"There have been people without cities. But what about cities without people?" - Saul Bellow

City of Signals serves as a soundtrack to short story of an abandoned city where the only remnants of human beings are the machines programmed to run without the aid of humans. Traffic signals direct empty streets. Automated trains glide without passengers. Computers still regulate themselves. The tape by Canada-via-Japan musician Joshua Stefane captures the emptiness and pathos that come with imagining a city without people in it. In it he captures the repeating, programmed pulse emitting sounds of digital code controlling mechanical objects while putting those sounds to the services of musical movements that tend to trigger emotions of sadness and wistfulness without being too sentimental. Light arpeggiated synth lines and long pulls of resonant drone intermingle with natural field recordings. Evidence that nature will eventually assume its rightful place. Trees growing in empty hotel lobbies. Vines choking rail systems and growing through broken windows. Conceptually and musically, it is hard not to imagine this being one of the best ambient releases of the year. 

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Kompjotr Eplektrika - Polyspærion (Self-Released, 2016)

A strange record in a striking LP jacket that contains on it letters that are as indecipherable (but weirdly beautiful) as the music contained within. Kompjotr Eplektrika is music as hieroglyphics. Communication in digital jolts and whistles, the swift pop of slowed oscillating frequencies and glitched alien club tracks recorded and sealed up in a thin black tomb. Communiques that lack a Rosetta Stone, although Nurse with Wound, August Traeger and Oval offer clues and peeks into what is going on in that laptop of Mats Björk. The Danish musician works over wet analog sputtering, metronome stuck in a polar reversal and future ceremonial rhythms to create a record that never quite lets you sink in and get comfortable. While never grating, its anxious, the jittery rhythms and smeared harsh tones mimic the sound of a computer throwing up its hard drive or a full synth rack becoming self-aware the moment before falling down a flight of stairs. Out of these loosely held together bits and pieces, Björk is able to tie just enough melody into a percussive lunge forward with notes hitting all over the tonal range. A strange and beautiful record.

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Black Eagle Child Lobelia (Geology Records, 2016)

Black Eagle Child has the uncanny ability to marry pastoral post-folk – high humidity front porch rambles to sparse and exploratory arpeggios that are thick with pathos and tinged with nostalgia for the disappearing horizon of definable memories – and soaring guitar lines that ascend above the field recordings and layers of looped acoustic and electric guitars. Lobelia creates emotional landscapes of great loss combined with those flying dreams that we have where we are soaring above the fragments of broken lives. Through little else than manual dexterity, a few pedals, field recordings and sparse percussion, Lobelia is able to cover extensive ground. Songs like “The Rivers Course” and “Summer Street” are bucolic explorations on blues-informed guitar lines with cavernous space between lines filled with field recordings of glistening afternoons under forest canopies. “The Quarry Slide” contains one of those irresistible eliding guitar passages over looped guitar passages and auxiliary percussion in the vein of Marc McGuire’s more heroic phrasings. A blissful exploration of an imagined utopia.

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Secret Pyramid Distant Works II (Self-Released, 2016)

Amir Abbey’s work carries a distinct sense of holiness to it. Enshrouded under thick mists that envelop a coastline in one gulp, Distant Works operates as if lost in a dense fog. All sharp points are blurred to their most vital components, landmarks obscured through the passage of time. On this latest self-released collection – following two stunning releases on Cincinnati’s Students of Decay – Abbey creates works of subtle movement and shift, dense ambient passages that feature stirring arrangements for strings, piano and synth as well as the Theremin sounding ondes martenot. These passages are bolstered by a thick shroud of field recordings, tape manipulation and soul-searing drones that ride the razor’s edge between bucolic and warm and dark and unsettling. Distant Works is an album for deep contemplation. An ambiguous blank canvas that can hold anxiety as much as it can wonder and reverence.

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Vapor LanesHieratic Teen (Usonian, 2016)

Pressed on vivid pink vinyl and housed in a melty, goopy blue jacket, entombed within is a collection of A. Karuna’s unsettling and nervous drones. Starting with the lovely arpeggiated “Appearing”, which meditates on a three note ascending and descending pattern, Hieratic Teen soon veers into the sort of unsettling, nocturnal micro-tones of that appear and disappear beneath your hearing threshold. “Mary” is one of those sorts of tracks, a constant digital wind through digital glass. It is a whistling, throbbing, roiling sea of drones and distant, sacred percussion. The album’s centerpiece and best track “ Embers” is the most dynamic noise/drone 10 + minute experience on the album. Submerged synth lines surface into the red while doubling back on themselves to create moving, whole cloth tonal shifts that tug on weary heartstrings and suspend heavy-lidded eyes. It’s a surprising moment of warmth and beauty on an album that tends to use tonal frequency to keep listeners at arm’s length. It is an album of true solipsism and solitude, an album of indulgences, risks and large payoffs.

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Shovels Beat the SunSky Wires (Bitrot, 2016)

Sky Wires is intense. Like buckle yourself in and expect not to see daylight for an hour intense. Buried under concrete slabs of drone from a variety of inputs - cello, lap steel guitar, synthesizers, processed trombone, electronics - not that you would be able to parse out any of them individually. Sky Wires hits you up front with an impregnable wall of drone, with tonal shifts happening throughout the entirety of the song, sometimes incomprehensibly within the whole. Shovels Beat the Sun is comprised of two German drone-aficionados Bjorn Granzow (End of the World Championship) and Steve Fors (Aeronaut) and find the two sculpting melodies out of metric tons of static and bending rebar-thick processed noise into monolithic structures and haunting melodies. This interplay between overwhelming amplifier worship and musical superstructure highlight the album’s two best features: Sky Wire’s tendency to crush and then coddle. Punish and forgive.

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David NewlynLinen (Polar Seas Recordings, 2016)

Linen takes the shape of whatever hard surface it covers. For David Newlyn’s shape-shifting album of solo-piano and modular synthesizer, Newlyn’s work envelops many different spaces while maintaining constant motifs of placidity and subtle, shifting movement. Linen begins with a beautifully wistful piano piece with violin accompaniment. An elegant and sparse arrangement that serves as a perfect mise en scène for the rest of the record that traverses between the unsettling and the divine. Linen then takes a sharp left turn into the modular synthesizer driven “Chemical” which lays thick tendrils of processed tones and wisps of fragmentary births and death of augmented tone over a vague superstructure. Much more bed sheet blowing in the analog wind than covering for ghosts. This push and pull between easily won beauty of solo piano and the patient, but more challenging synthesizer pieces, create an album that rejects stasis and placidity often associated with modern classical music while operating under aesthetic of minimal ripples in a mountain lake. The production on this album is amazing, utilizing ample amounts of natural reverb, the notes sound cavernous and distant. Album closer “I’ll Walk Home” is able to pull both of these tendencies together and create a stately elegant fade out perfect for bleary walks home under the influence of fatigue and alcohol.

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M. Ostermeier Tiny Birds (Home Normal, 2016)

M. Ostermeier’s latest album on Home Normal is a further exploration of the interplay between sparse solo piano compositions and micro-tonal embellishments. As a reductive explanation, Ostermeier composes contemplative solo piano pieces of arranged melodies with plenty of room for exploratory note clusters before striking out into a new melodic phrase before returning to the anchoring composition. Ostermeier’s compositions perennially inhabits rainy Saturday afternoons spent indoors. Even the brightest notes are put to the service of some unnamed nostalgia. These compositions are bolstered by manipulated sound objects that tend to support the avian theme of this record. Mechanical squeals tuned to the chirp of a bird, rattles, pops, clinks inhabit the spaces between the deep caverns between notes denoting and mimicking the aleatoric and often patternless flight of birds in repose. An occasional violin joins Ostermeier’s solipsism, this time joined by Christoph Berg. M. Ostermeier has long been one of my favorite pianists and modern composers. Deep listens to this record reveal melodies that pull on the heartstrings while creating stirring mood pieces to lose an afternoon in.

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MJ Guider Precious Systems (Kranky, 2016)

After an impressive EP on the always meticulously curated Constellation Tatsu, the enigmatic MJ Guider’s debut on Kranky would seem like a major leap if Precious Systems wasn’t so fucking perfect. Cold and distant Roland 808 marshal eliding drones reflecting swamp lights dancing across the ruins of a hurricane sunken city, and that voice – Melissa Guion’s voice sounds as if it has never smoked a cigarette or huffed gasoline – no sharp edges while remaining the driving factor of each song. Precious Systems isn’t a sterile coldwave affair – when the album gets its hooks into you, the syncopated groove conjures night drives through bombed out cities at recklessly high speeds. There is this sickened synth sound that sounds like a decaying siren on the album opener “Lit Negative” that I can’t get out of my head. MJ Guider has received comparisons to Liz Harris’s project Grouper, on tracks like “Former Future Beings” Guion channels Harris’s aching vocal delivery sounding out beneath the pall of slowly chugging guitars underneath mountains of reverb. “Evencycle”, the album’s 10 minute centerpiece, unfolds as a slow-motion dance track with Guion’s voice as a percussive instrument. It is a driving, highly positivist song that reaches rapturous heights when listened to under the right circumstances. One of 2016’s best debuts by far.

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PatkusThese are But Dreaming Men, Breathe and They Fade (Self-Released, 2016)

The Philadelphia based musician Patkus has composed a highly emotive album that straddles the line between ambient and highly orchestrated post-rock. Composed from the ground up from looped guitar lines, “These Are But Dreaming Men…” takes additive movements and breaks them wide open into lush, evocative soundscapes that breathe with tension and catharsis. The album opens with “Tanam Shud” which starts with a desaturated, fuzzed out guitar line, adding line after line as well as distant percussion to create a composition that wades into the uneasy and mysterious deep waters of unexplained cold war murder mystery. The album’s centerpiece is the deeply affecting “The Doorbell Requiem of Catherine Philomena” – led by swelling strings a handbell rung main melodic motif – the song is a highly satisfying and emotionally resonant exploration into memory and loss. The album closer, “The Minutes”, is the album’s most poignant moment of underserved beauty. Pulling, aching drones, ringing bells and subtly looped guitars that bleed out into a distortion-filled melody that envelops the entire track before slowly fading out – like a pinhole aperture closing on an empty boardwalk.

Monday, October 24th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)
Caress, Redact

Smashing guitars on stage. Biting the heads off of doves. Mock on-stage electrocutions. Appropriation of fascist imagery. The stand-ins for our residual, repressed and displaced violence have served as ineffective shamen. Twisting and contorting the violence that runs red under the thin veneer of a social contract and the failed promise of upwards mobility that binds together middle-class suburban America into surface-level spiritualism-as-commercialism instead of channeling it into transformative art; our prophets of rage have been shown to be nothing but Nick Cage looking-ass bureaucrats. 

In Caress, Redact by Jason Anthony Harris's project Public Speaking, we are confronted with real violence. From the meaty thud of a naked mic hitting a wooden table, to intermittent blasts of atonal squall of a processed saxophone, to the album's narrative core: a father's violence towards his son based on his sexuality, the inherent violence in relationships based on possession. These narratives are sung in croon that belies the violence being exorcised through it.

Comprised from the ground up from samples of manipulated objects: pill bottles, keys jangling, the scrape of mic on wood, these familiar sounds are processed and brought into congregation with lushly composed electro-acoustic arrangements that move from harsh-noise informed blasts to delicate electronic passages. The album starts out with "Blacksite Blues". A percussive, pulverizing march of processed saxophone accentuating the pregnant pauses between Harris's breathy croon. That contrast: the hungry and noisy underneath Harris's soulful voice is at the heart of this record. It sets to underscore the moments of true beauty with narratives of native ugliness of human life: body dysphoria, family instability, fragile masculinity and its need to control physically and psychologically. To caress, and then redact.

Tracks like, "Protect Me From My Own Paws" feature a sophisticated palate of synth arpeggio driven electronic compositions that effortlessly fold in found-sound manipulation with a straightforward pop paradigm. The album's emotional center-piece, "Shifting Weight", features extensive vocal manipulation and Harris's most straight-forward vocal melody and the album's most obvious and named violence. It is a track that means different things for different people. The intersections of physical violence and sexual identity. Family secrets and call-out culture. Brutally honest survivor perspectives and trigger warnings. "Shifting Weight" wades in those murky waters out of necessity. It is easily one of the most powerful songs of 2016. That can be said about the remainder of the album. An auspicious debut for Floordoor, a label owned and run by Harris, that finds his Public Speaking project refining both the noise and the studied electro-acoustic composition, his voice as narrative agent and pop song structures shining through an admittedly intense record.

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Thursday, October 6th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

The latest video off of braeyden jae's Fog Mirror is an invitation to vertigo. High spatial profile and three-dimensional layering as we descend through the copper-plated tunnel of a brass instrument or calcified lotus pod while color-shifting liquid boils. A primordial soup that matches braeyden jae's roiling ambient passage "Two Mirrors Looking" that teems and builds with gentle tonal shifts, heavily strummed guitars and resolute piano emerging from deep below the surface of all that top-level swell and noise. A beautiful visual interpretation of a beautiful song. 

Fog Mirror available on Whited Sepulchre Records.

Thursday, September 29th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

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)