Matthew Barlow - Hatha (Inner Islands, 2016)

"Just being, without striving. A place of stillness." For those with Type A tendencies, such as myself, "just being" would be easier to obtain if "just being" weren't an reward unto itself and came with some kind of trophy. Instead, any mindfulness techniques I employ all have utilitarian purposes. My morning meditations start usually like this:  "This 10 minutes of meditation this morning will help me be 60 % less stressed today as measured by the fewer times I clench my fists in anger to prevent punching a wall". Matthew Barlow's Hatha is an album, however, I can put on and leave on as a steady stream through my consciousness: either through intent, purposeful listens or existing an illuminating glow somewhere beyond the edges of determined mental processing. Pan flute, riverside glenn field recordings and harp-like synths that appear and disappear in similar intervals to rain through thick foliage make up the "Sun" side while nocturnal insect sounds, even more distant pan flute and macrotonal drones streak through the sky like a comet's slow procession on the B Side "Moon". An end unto itself, Hatha is near perfect.

- Ryan H.


Black Spirituals - Black Tape (Astral Spirits, 2016)

Black Spirituals are an act that defy easy categorization. Upon first listening to the Oakland duo’s recently released Black Tape, one immediately encounters the raw, elemental power of Marshall Trammel’s percussive improvisations. Comparisons may be made to some of the free jazz drummers of yore, but then the listener is presented with the heavy drones and mournful squeals of electronics, performed by Zachary James Watkins. Just the very idea of two artists like these collaborating in the same sonic and physical space is already enough to invite adventurous listeners in.

Each of the two long form pieces that make up either side of Black Tape begin with a theme presented as a group of tones or a percussive pattern that is performed as a way for the either member to offer a response. What ensues is a performative dynamic, wherein the individual paths of both artists intersect and diverge at varying points throughout the composition. It’s as if two soloists are improvising separately and simultaneously, and indeed that is what occurs throughout the duration of the tape; as soon as one can pick up on a groove, it’s abandoned for another idea or theme. Eventually, it too ebbs and another swell of percussive blasts and noise take over. Ideas, themes, and sonic dynamics are presented here in such a barrage and without pause, that one has to wonder just how the duo have tapped into such an instinctual pace. It is a performance dynamic that I’m sure is a delicate one to uphold, but at the same time it most assuredly grants each artist plenty of space to explore their individual ideas and innermost workings of their shared craft. For Wakins and Trammel, improvisation isn’t just a means to some sonic end, it is a method of investigation, of ferreting out the shared ancestral space that free jazz, drone, and Black spiritual music all inhabit.

- Kyle Mace

Purchase on Monofonus Press/Astral Spirits


Bloodwall - Tonic (Lighten Up Sounds, 2016)

Minneapolis native Graham Baldwin has been making drone-heavy sounds with a number of outfits over the years, most notably with Visitor, Three Walls, and Land. All of which aimed for stellar heights, and with compelling results.

Tonic is Baldwin’s latest effort, released under his solo moniker Bloodwall, and with less personnel comes an even more focused and minimal sound. Where previous efforts with other musicians have focused on the usage of guitar and drums to create epic dronescapes, Bloodwall’s sound is significantly less percussive, marked by the use of only synthesizer, organ, and guitar.

This pared-down approach works quite well on Tonic, where looping, analogue phrases of organ and synthesizer give Baldwin the framework upon which he weaves improvised, serpentine melodies that morph and mutate over the course of each composition. “Pink Head With Child” is a great example of this approach, where the track crests and coasts along its trajectory, guided by Baldwin’s instinctual and intricate loop work. In fact, this is how each track on Tonic works; compositions alter and shift according to a hidden, liminal plan that guides each track, and this is something that Bloodwall as a project taps into remarkably well.

 - Kyle Mace


Andrew Elaban - Gestalt (Hollow Eyes, 2016)

Composed of two 20 minute tracks, Andrew Elaban's Gestalt hits on some golden mean of longform ambient-drone tapes. Through the eliding, tonal shifts from golden dawn to golden dusk we hear dips into Eno-style heavily pawed synthesizers, blown-out drones of Belong and the unhurried patience and pacing of Stars of the Lid. Elaban, a Cleveland/Cincinnati based musician, approaches these tracks with a meditative clarity, marshaling tones that are always present in our environment - but amplified, fleshed out and corralled under Elaban's deft arrangements. These tracks aren't meditative in that they have much in the way of New Age synthesizer music. There is a basement rattling low end here that could unravel into harshness if knobs were cranked a little more to the left.  Rather, it is meditative in the sense that there is little judgement, but plenty of discernment, of the massive river of sound flowing through these tracks, the end result being Elaban's observations and careful nudges into compositions that feel wholly formed from their creation instead of stitched together in post.

- Ryan H.

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Spires That in the Sunset Rise with Michael Zerang - Kata Physin (No Index Recordings, 2016)

Acclaimed Chicago percussionist Michael Zerang joins Kathleen Baird and Taralie Peterson to form a formidable trio of unpredictably synced improvisers in order to debut Kata Physin, the inaugural tape on Baird's new No Index Recordings label. I've long been a fan of STITSR's shape-shifting output, the recent distillation of Baird and Peterson's explorations of shared sonic space - most notably through intense discoveries in vocal interplay - has sounded the most vital. On Kata Physin the two multi-instrumentalists wrap their spiky, mostly string-based conversations around Zerang's dynamic percussion - often as a textural component to the looser moments of tension-filled passages of forming and organizing to fully-realized moments of ascendency where Zerang's hand-percussive passages form the compositional backbone in which Peterson and Baird's string and vocal tendrils stem from and then loop back to in various shapes and sizes. These are moments of sheer ascendancy and joy that come with increasing frequency with repeated listenings. An auspicious debut for suuure. 


Sapropelic Pycnic - A Love Supreme (No Index Recordings, 2016)

It's been 50 years since John Coletrane released A Love Supreme. About 15 from when I first heard it as a high schooler and found myself weeping alone in my room for a much different reason than I had ever before. My initial emotional response to A Love Supreme was so intense that I haven't listened to it properly for a few years. I've returned to the piece by the way of Kathleen Baird's (Spires That in the Sunset Rise) tribute to the album through her Sapropelic Pycnic project. A Love Supreme starts with Baird reciting and then riffing on a poem Coletrane wrote in the liner notes to A Love Supreme with Baird's musical partner Taralie Peterson's deft and doubled alto-saxophone welcoming the recitation with gracious arms. "And then He Wrote the Meditations" is Baird's exploration of Gil Scott-Heron's poem about Coletrane in a composition performed completely by Baird - her characteristic flute playfully darting in and out of her rolling piano lines as her pitch-shifted voice growls, lilts and yelps Scott-Heron's dedicatory prayer to Coletrane. Baird ends the album on a meditation on A Love Supreme that is distinctly Baird's: a boring into the main modes and emotional fabric of the piece using her voice and flute, Peterson's Alto Sax and Andy Ortmann's deep drones and funeral slow percussion, Baird's voice sending out Coletrane's leading melody into the void. A ritual not to call back the dead in imitation but to feel and recreate the essence of something timeless.


Staraya Derevnya - Kadita Sessions (Weakie Discs, 2016)

To give you some scope, the last time we wrote about Staraya Derevnya's last record - From Inside the Log, Crawf was double posting from Foxy Digitialis (R.I.P.)....Heady days. The good news is the intensity and initial weirdness of that 2010 release haven't changed but instead been refined and given a new ecstatic voice in this 2016 release by UK-based/Israeli-originated musician. Kadita Sessions starts with straight-out-of-the-gate intensity encapsulated in a throaty caterwaul let loose by vocalist/composer Gosha Hniu. The track then unfolds into fully propulsive electro-acoustic rager that channels early-00's percussive noise-jams. The rest of the album is a bit more restrained moving from severely wrecked takes on lounge, trip-hop, traditional folk, harsh noise and broken electronic compositions that meld 70's kraut percussive heaviness into loose-limbed electronics all while Gosha's deftly versatile croons, growls and bellows through these compositions that balance bookshelf-crashing noise and tightly composed pieces on top of a deep precipice prone to strong drafts of wind. The album retains an inherent listenability, compositionally dynamic - a blending traditional Israeli melodies with kitchen-sink electro-acoustic whimsy -  and filled with enough novel sounds strangled out of various broken toys, instruments and esophagus that the album stands up in gale-force winds. A lovely, unexpected find.


Rodeo - Dust Bowl (Already Dead, 2016)

Dust Bowl is a tape full of stately melodies and flourishes that pursue a reverence for rather than a recreation of a fabled American West. Content to let these pensive acoustic lines linger on the line like wisps of cotton on a barbed wire fence under a sky of foreboding drones, this trio from Denmark (which contains Rene Gonzalez Schelbeck aka Western Skies Motel) produce forlorn and melancholic Western music often romanticized by Spaghetti Westerns' ornate compositional structures. While the subject matter itself is romantic (rodeos, dust bowls, ghost towns and tumbleweeds) the overall tone of this tape is pretty bleak. Even the jaunty, classical guitar and melodica led tracks are done in a minor key that indicates you don't want to stay in this town past sundown. Other, solo-guitar and drone tracks dwell on the West as it exists now, forlorn, desolate, a promise delivered and quickly extinguished through finite resources and unconquerable distances. Dust Bowl is a fine record to get lost in. The recording is lush and exquisite, the subject matter a favorite of mine and the playing here is technically mastered and proficient. A surprising ,but perfectly apt 201st record for the diverse Already Dead roster.

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Rainbow Selection by electronic iconoclast/hardware genius VCR5 gives me so many feels. That’s because it’s source material consists of audio tracks pulled directly from the obsolete physical medium Joe Greathouse, a contemporary in age, and I experienced these television mini-series, music videos and movies on for the first time: namely VCR’s. VCR5’s mere existence supports the argument that many music critics have been making every time a seismic shift in recording happens, the medium matters. And in the case of Rainbow Selector’s 28 samples from films such as Legend, Willow, Sister Act, Star Wars and min-series such as Merlin, none of them would sound quite the same without the woozy, fuzzed-out qualities of VHS audio. The medium both provides unique tonal qualities and the context for this art project.

To be clear, Rainbow Selection is not  necessarily an album, but rather a choose your own adventure style source for sampling by DJ’s, VJ’s and musicians. Rainbow Selector comes with a user manual that is pretty much required reading before approaching something like this, so here’s a mini-tutorial on how to utilize this as a musician or enjoy as a home listener. Rainbow Selector comes with two DVDs containing 14 three minute samples Greathouse has selected from VHS tapes and manipulated with VCR5’s ear for playful melody, maxed out 8-bit sound palate and bending pitches courtesy of VCR5’s 909 drum machine. To enjoy at home you have a few options. In the “Jukebox  mode” you come to a screen with a Mortal Kombat style menu which allows you to choose 28 distinct characters pulled from classic 80’s and 90’s films, TV shows and pop icons. Each character contains a three-minute loop that can be listened to for audio pleasure, or if you sync your Korg ER-1 to the flashing dots, you are able to sample the audio and visual loop to use and re-use in whatever sonic pastiche you can think of conjuring. The samples range from ambient synthscapes to straightforward sampling utilized in hip-hop’s golden age. Greathouse also includes commentary of the source material  - why he chose it, his opinions on it as a piece of ephemera – as well as bios of each of the characters.

For those who wish to remix or use Rainbow Selecton strictly for source material, VCR5 has included instructions on how to sync your korg ER-1 in the ”Instrument Mode” to endlessly manipulate the audio and visual material to create infinite remixes of Rainbow Selection at a higher fidelity than the Jukebox mode.

Medium matters. And in the case of VCR5 the medium of VCR cassettes not only inform the process in which Greathouse makes his music but affects the overall tonal quality of these samples. The extra bit of tremolo on synth and strings in epic sweeping soundtracks, the tracking lines and extra bit of fuzz on the image; these analog artifacts root sound qualities to our memories, creating an inexplicable link between medium and the intertwining ball of aesthetic, marketing, nostalgia and technology.

Purcahse on bandcamp

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

Science Fiction - Terrible Lizards (Stimulus Progression, 2016)

Following what is one of the year’s best reissues in LFZ’s stunning ambient masterpiece, Stimulus Progression once again digs up a lost West Coast private-press classic in the form of enigmatic duo Science Fiction. Amassing the output of the group in one release, Terrible Lizards contains two sidelong compositions rooted in riveting tape loops, while the 7” Secret Agent Man is comprised of a warped cover of the eponymous Johnny Rivers hit with a beautiful Eno-esque composition tucked into the b-side. Both sides of Terrible Lizards exist in an agar of deep unease and consigned disappointment with the state of the world. Originally released in 1980 as a super-limited 12” that never quite made it out of Northern California, the fatalism of a track like “…city of god” presupposes our hapless state 26 years later. Comprised of a upper register tape loop that contains the sharp stabs and scrapes of obscured woodwinds and the repeated phrase, “nature has entirely disappeared/we find ourselves in the City of God”, “…city of god” is a meditation on the last message of a civilization brought into the bosom of the heavenly city, not because of righteousness but as self-imposed refugees. Mournfully heavy piano chords and a Fripp-inspired soloing create an ennui-filled composition containing heartfelt dualism. “Terrible Lizards” contains pulsating, minimalist tape loops that blur out until only their husk remains, a Basinski-ish delve into a guided meditation of decay. At this point I am pretty much sold on Stimulus Progression as the 2016 version of the cool older brother/record store clerk who ushers you into some backroom, private-press discoveries that you would have heard no other way. Aces.

Sympathy Pain - Long Gone (Self-Released, 2016)

Shedding monikers usually signals a time when the name itself has outlived the original musical or spiritual impulse that began that flash of creativity in the first place. Such is the case for Skyler Hitchcox who recorded under the name Silver Antlers for about as long as this blog has existed and put out some of my favorite records. Silver Antlers was a useful name. One that signaled transcendence and geography and was rooted in a distinct post-Brooklyn, pre-Merriweather AC beat-oriented drone project. Silver Antlers, however, was always a bit darker then many of his peers, as if the charging arpeggios were aspirational, instead of confessional, tributes to light and corporeal spirituality. For as objectively great as that project was, Sympathy Pain feels like coming home, like nestling right into the cartilage between Hitchcox's ribcage and heart, filling out those change of address cards at the Post Office and establishing residency. Long Gone finds Sympathy Pain awash in aural baths of pulsing guitar tones and eliding drones that start, rather than diminish, in dissonance and distortion. This slow-motion reverse is one of the most complete things on this record. Melodies and drones shed, rather than gather dissonance as they vanish and then reappear; creating conversations that gain more clarity and confidence as they continue. I guess Sympathy Pain hasn't really let go yearning for light, but rather has adjusted to the low lumens sheen of living inside.

Mark Bradley - A History of Silence (Reverb Worship, 2016)

This latest by Mark Bradley has been haunting me since I received it. A highly evocative, dynamic record that straddles many electronic styles - from ambient to industrial - within a narrative that encompasses the overwhelming presence of sound and crushing valleys of silence measured in microseconds. There is a classic soundscape quality to this record with individual tracks moving as entire sheets of buzzing electronics shifting drones that segue into the harsh crunch of aggro-industrial beats, clangs, and fragmented scrapes of feedback and then back to seas of placid synth tones that never quite expire even when they fade out of frequency. Those fragments, when Bradley's work is at behest of late-20th century machine-made electronic music, are some of the most get-out-of-your chair exciting moments I've heard in awhile. Knowing sound palette Bradley is choosing from and the service that he is putting into it is endlessly fascinating. There is this beat that is recycled through the album that I always place with some of my first experiences with electronic music that came when groups like the Prodigy and The Crystal Method were making forays into the mainstream. That beat that sounds like compressed air being run through a bunch of distortion puts an immediate smile on face. There has been relatively little fanfare to this record, but it is a solidly fascinating entry into Bradley's elusive but stunningly brilliant oeuvre. Edition of 40.

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

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)