North Atlantic Drift – Visitor (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 Folder – Laguna (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.
Icepick – Amaranth (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.