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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)

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)

There are a few artists you should count lucky to hear in your twenties. William Basinski and Scott Tuma are two of them. Basinski radically changes the way you look at medium's relationship to music, while Tuma challenges conventions of genre to create something that transcends but never quite leaves the orbit of folk music. Listening to The River 1 2 3 4 I heard elements of ambient music in banjo lines, looped acoustic guitar and eternal-breath organ drones. There was real dirt under those nails picking out meditative melodies and exploratory meanders. Ambient music - as a imbuing source - was taken out of processed guitar and synthesizer music that made tonal shifts seem weightless and into a genre weighted and rooted to the land.

The pairing of Scott Tuma with Columbia, MO's Nevada Greene on Ragged Hollow 12" is an encouragingly fruitful conversation between generations. Nevada Greene's stirring oeuvre of work thus far is heavily indebted to Tuma's explosion of folk music - fleshing out Tuma's evocative guitar work with compositional acuity adding strings, synthesizers and woodwinds to find similar fertile soil further down the river. 

Nevada Greene's A-Side find the collective treading friendly and familiar paths of swaths of effulgent strings cutting paths through dual-guitar interplay both gentle and resolute. "Earthquake Hollow" is a track full of deer-trails that take circuitous routes that always loop back to the main melody. Reaching a false summit about 8 minutes in, "Earthquake Hollow" dissolves into total effulgent drone - an unbroken golden ray - until all sound fades out and all we are left with is a field recording of the birds - something that could have been with us the entire time.

Tuma's "All the Ragged Glory" finds massive pay-dirt in the interplay between guitar work that are immediate and crystal clear and lines that are processed a bit more distant riding out the eddies and swells of a moving current always present in the track. Strings rise and fall throughout the composition until guitars are almost silenced. The encompassing maw of multi-layered strings take the reigns in highly emotional movements in which Tuma's guitar serves the role of coloring and shading.

This 12" record is being released on Columbia's Hitt Records and distrubuted through Thrill Jockey. Hear these performed live as Scott Tuma and Nevada Greene hit through the road on a Midwest tour and return to Columbia for the insanely well curated Dismal Niche Festival

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

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)