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

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

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

Monday, February 1st, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

1. Loren Connors - Airs (Recital)

Originally released in 1999, Airs was my 2015 introduction to this virtousic and prolific guitarist. For first time listeners, Connors has the ability to wring every last drop from a guitar line. He lends his guitar voice of unrestrained mournfulness. It comes across in the way he hesitates a half-second before his fingers press down on the string, his ghostly overdubs and the reverb that only comes from being alone in a very large space. He knows when to let last notes hang, reverberating further and further into the cavernous maw of silence, or when to crowd notes on top of each other like conversations competing for space and equal air time. While most of his Airs are relatively short affairs - few clock in more than two minutes - they are too easy to get lost in and lose track of time.

2. Savant - Artificial Dance (RVNG INTL.)

Sounding completely contemporary in the world of outré experimental dance music, Savant’s Artificial Dance is a commanding follow-up to RVNG Intl.’s a-star-is-reborn retrospective of avant-garde dance music producer Kerry Leimer. Leimer’s Artificial Dance (under the moniker Savant) is born out of sessions with several Seattle-based post-punk musicians who Leimer assembled for the sole purpose of creating intentionally awkward, exploratory music by asking each member to play an instrument outside of their expertise. In these takes, usually only given loose musical guidelines, small miracles emerged. Chance, aleatoric pairings and the joy of discovery that comes from the beginner’s mind began shaping these compositions that sound, even today, incredibly prescient. This record comes to strike a chord somewhere between the NYC dance-rock revival of LCD Soundsystem, !!!, and the late-great Out Hud, with Cage-ian and Reich-ian principles of chance and minimalism.

3. Hush Arbors - Gualala Blues (Dismal Niche)

I know at times 2014 seems mountains removed from where we are now. What were we even doing then? Recorded clean in the heat of California afternoon way back then, Keith Wood laid down these unhurried, folksy, woodsy solo acoustic guitar tracks against the backdrop of an unadorned apartment with planes flying overhead, gently contributing to the ambiance usually swallowed by tape hiss. Following runs with Thurston Moore, Current93 and Sunburned Hand of Man, Wood gives virtuosity a place to roam and gather its thoughts, alone and in context. Fingers against steel. Some notes held longer than others. Lovingly reissued by Dismal Niche, this is a tape perfect for cold days when even the tiniest inward spark radiates throughout the entire apartment - empty as it is.

4. Bing & Ruth - City Lake (RVNG INTL)

Another masterpiece uncovered by the fine folk at RVNG INTL. Released in 2010 to limited quantities, City Lake is an incredibly moving album full of songs that travel from percussive, minimalist intensity to placid orchestral arrangements - often within the same composition. Tomorrow was the Golden Age may have cemented Bing & Ruth in the panoply of untouchable modern classical music, City Lake, when given it's due, ranks equally in the same league as that record measured by the incredible depth it dives into with each piano-led composition. Wistful and mournful - driving across a bridge at night in a light snow.

5. Sun City Girls - Torch of the Mystics (Abduction)

Duh.

Monday, January 4th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

1. Rachel Grimes - The Clearing (Temporary Residence, LTD)

There has been nothing that I have heard recently that has been as gripping or cathartic as Rachel Grimes’ (that is the Rachel in Rachel’s y’all) newest solo album. Every time I listen to it (tapered down to about 1xday now) I am held under its sway of emotive/half-improvised, percussive piano lines, swelling strings that ring out with crystal-eyed intent. Rachel’s always kept post-rock and classical music in productive tension with each other. Stripped from the auspices of post-rock, however, a Rachel Grimes’ solo record is everything you expect it to be: a genius, cohesive 21st century composer’s exploration of wordless landscapes, evocative temperament and flawless production

 

2. Alex Cobb - Chantepleure (Students of Decay)

Chantepleure is a French word meaning to sing and to cry simultaneously. Although it’s totally instrumental with tonal passages and movements unfolding in the time it takes for a candle to fully dissipate, Cobb creates gorgeous synth and guitar sounds somewhere in that fuzzy line of emotional demarcation of a beautiful song gurgling up through sobbing tears.

 

3. King Woman - Doubt (The Flenser)

Doubt. It is a bitter, soul-searching, caustic and ultimately cathartic debut that takes us through all of the anger, sadness and empty self-liberation of a breakup in 20 minutes of drone-metal riffs, post-rock epicness and funeral-slow percussion...Esfandiari’s impassioned croon channels smoky hints of PJ Harvey that float over feedback-drenched landscapes, slow-motion thrash riffs and percussion tuned to the sick thud of a punch thrown against a brick wall.

 

4. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)

“Fuck me, I’m falling apart” could be Stevens’ most satisfying lines he has ever uttered as measured both by delivery (recorded onto an iPhone in an Oregon hotel room) and in context (a hymn of wavering faith). It was also my personal mantra for this year. What makes Carrie & Lowell—a record by admittedly devout Christian—such an amazing album to soundtrack your faith crisis is that it dredges so much ambiguity and ambivalence in the face of personal and existential loss. Where does one go from here?

 

5. Holly Herndon - Platform (4AD/RVNG INTL)

There was little in 2015 that approached Herndon's mastery of outre dance music as a platform to shoehorn in some of the years' wildest compositional twists and turns without sacrificing compelling listenability on a variety of levels. This is the experimental pop music that I imagined we would be swimming in the future we don't deserve and probably will never have.

 

6. Vales - Vales (Shatter Your Leaves)

If there was one album that put a loss of faith in the universal yet agonizingly personal realm of the loss of a loved one, it was Asa Horvitz’s chamber-pop ode to the death of his best friend at the age of 23. It’s full of hyper-contextual, young-dude-in-2015 recollections of moving to Brooklyn, getting into bike accidents and having real friends held in tension. Vales offers call-and-response contrast to crushing existential questions about the fragility and randomness of existence with knotty, fully fleshed orchestral compositions held under the sway of Horvitz’s beautifully unpolished and striving vocals.

 

7. Steve Hauschildt - Where All is Fled (Kranky)

I think it can be pretty well argued that Emeralds reached some kind of watershed in American experimental music. The output by each member post-Emeralds is a testament to the talent that collectively pooled there. Hauschildt's latest for Kranky is nothing less than an emotional synth masterpiece. A collection of slow-drifting, elegant songs full of gorgeous washes and bubbling arpeggios that are completely arresting - drawing you into fully formed landscapes of fully rendered mountains and valleys of sound.

 

8. Ruhe - Patriarchs (Eilean Rec)

Portland, Oregon minimalist composer Bryan Ruhe creates cavernous spaces between his carefully selected piano notes and ebullient drones to hurl a life’s worth of insecurities into. Patriarchs is a stately album centered around simple and stark piano lines with electroacoustic flourishes bolstered by choral pieces and a notable lyrical meditation on venerated patriarchs that, in reality, are “rotten to the core/but somehow still the chosen ones.” Killing our idols never seemed so important as it did in 2015.

 

9. Head Dress - Mesa (Horror Fiction)

Creeping and crawling riffs heavier than a death in the family and holier than the flames from 1,000 sacred texts. Head Dress takes the dense Barn Owl/Sunn O))) inspired guitar drones and rolls it across the great expanses of the American Southwest making this the best unintentional Country Western record of 2015.

 

10. Liturgy - Ark Work (Thrill Jockey)

Ark Work is a triumphant, bewildering and, yes, transcendent, album that stands heads and shoulders above anything else in their discography and delivers on any promise ever given that Liturgy would bring something new to metal but create a new kind of music created and driven by a prevailing philosophy which consumes itself like a snake eating its own tail. On Ark Work Hunt-Hendrix and Greg Fox finally do this. Marrying electronically augmented blast-beats over Mahler-inspired keyboard and horn passages with Hunt-Hendrix's rapid-fire vocal delivery more akin polysyllabic Midwestern rap than any kind of metal trope. Phew. It is intense.

11. Boduf Songs - Stench of Exist (The Flenser)

Stench of Exist is a coming storm that never quite breaks. Mat Sweet's songs are both intimate and sweeping at the same time. Sweet's voice is a breathy, plaintive one that comes down hard on each syllable and then hangs and dissipates slowly. Stench of Exist's move from simple piano and guitar songs with electronic flourishes to full-band, depthless compositions that are ambitious and cryptic as they are laid-open in confessional bloodletting. 

 

12. Rafael Anton Irisaari - A Fragile Geography (Room40)

Irisaari's latest album is said to explore "the tensions of contemporary America, contrasting passages of great beauty and calm with harrowing waves of density and pressure.” To me, this record seems to strike squarely in the diminishing after-effects of both events. The nameless ennui that takes place in many of America's tranquil and beautiful geographic locations and the feeling of being utterly alone in the universe after some harrowing incident involving violence or the threat thereof...Something all too common in America.

 

13. 夕方の犬 (Dog in the Evening) - Oct. 16th. 1964 (Spring Break Tapes!)

An absolutely stunning ambient-protest record. Compositions written to bring attention to China's violation of a 100 country agreement to ban atmospheric nuclear testing by the Japanese sound-artist 夕方の犬 highlight experimental music's ability to contextualize issues without a single word or power chord. Serene, clarion-clear tones sound through processed field recordings and wavering fluctuations in the atmosphere. An incredibly powerful record given the context. 

 

14. Jim O'Rourke - Simple Songs (Drag City)

It is both extremely hard and incredibly easy to describe why this is such a great record. One Youtube comment I read hit the nail on the head (which is a very strange place to find wisdom), "Jim O'Rourke is like an abstract painter who occasionally likes to remind you he can paint in hyper-realism too". Recorded in Japan, Simple Songs is reminiscent of the best moments of Todd Rundgren or Harry Nilsson without having to wade through a sagging shelf worth of discography. Perfect and heartbreakingly good.

 

15. Trupa Trupa - Headache (Blue Tapes/X-Ray Records)

In a year that indie rock seemed to be fully and completely dead, Headache by the Polish band Trupa Trupa seemed to revive some life in the bloated genre. Located somewhere between Clinic, Can andLouisville KY's barbed take on American post-punk, Headache is a pulverizing and sonically enveloping record that encapsulates the actual potential of four guys with guitar, bass, keys, drums and real ideas can deliver on. Buy this.

 

16. Shampoo Boy - Crack (Blackest Ever Black)

The 2015 follow up to the brutalizing Licht, Crack is a thick, unyieldingly heavy and cantankerous album. Three long-form compositions full of subterranean crackling electronics, submerged drones and fucking heavy as rocks lead-guitar (if such a thing exists in the noise/drone universe) providing feedback-drenched overtones or sky-cracking lead shredding over a rolling sea of disturbed electronics and spooked bass lines make up the body of this strange animal. 

 

17. Rob Mazurek - Vortice of the Faun (Astral Spirits)

Mazurek has subversively utilized electronic music as frontier-pushing element to further the experimental and improvisational nature of jazz and free music. Untethered from any live acoustic instrumentation, it is fascinating to hear how Mazurek channels and decides where sounds and textures go on a highly composed tape that sounds like it could shatter into a million pieces of improvised squalor at any moment. Instead, Vortice of the Faun spends equal time in harsh chaos as much as softened droning passages that are easy on the ears and psyche. It is a tape worth wasting an entire afternoon in.

 

18. Shilpa Ray - Last Year's Savage (Northern Spy)

One of the few powerful voices that still exist in rock music, Ray's voice can go from coo to war-torn sneer in a minuscule movement, but damn, does it stick. Last Year's Savage is an album that meditates on rock-dude-at-the-top posturing and alter-ego skewering in the world of twitter-fights and patriarchy's masked removed to reveal a very scared pharma-bro on a perp walk. An engrossing triumph of the ego. 

 

19. Sparkling Wide Pressure - Clouds and Stairs (No Kings)

Clouds and Stairs is an album that never really left my turntable. The versatility of the record, released in spring, is one of the few that can take you through the entire year - from windows wide open summer mornings to hunkered hibernation watching the snow fall, this record was a soundtrack that simply made sense for all of these. Truly a high watermark on a remarkable career.

 

20. Lesionread - Greatest Hits Vol. 1 (Live God)

I wish I had the confidence of Lesionread. Seriously. This is one of the most self-confident, fully-realized, lived-in worlds created by someone probably a lot younger than me with boundless energy and a touch of mania. Greatest Hits is auteur on god-mode. How many minutes are on a tape? Fuck it, run that thing til it runs off the spools. Vol. II is probably rotting away on his computer just waiting to see the light of day and Vol. 15 is already in the works. The only comparison I can give to the sheer audacity of this record is Jerry Paper's Big Pop for Chameleon World, Sir Benedick the Moor's El Negro or...Justin Timberlake. A tape that trawls all genres and knows no boundaries.

21. Benoît Pioulard - Sonnet (Kranky)

22. Boan - Mentiras (Holodeck)

23. Circuit des Yeux - In Plain Speech (Thrill Jockey)

24. Kill West - Smoke Beach (Dismal Niche)

25. Sister Grotto & braeyden jae - Born to Lose/Born to Leave (Antiquated Future)

26. Ilyas Ahmed - I am All Your Own (Immune Recordings)

27. Hidden Persuaders - Elegies and Curses (A Giant Fern)

28. Drowse - Soon Asleep (Apneic Void)

29. Clay Rendering - Snowthorn (Hospital Productions)

30. Valet - Nature (Kranky)

31. Föllakzoid - III (Sacred Bones)

32. Dag Rosenqvist - The Forest Diaries (Eilean Rec)

33. Viet Cong - Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar)

34. Leb Laze - When Doves Fly (Geographic North)

35. Xua - Mekong Moon (Debacle)

36. High aura'd & Mike Shiflet - Awake (Type)

37. Raphi Gottesman - Signed, Noisemaker (Fluere Tapes)

38. Nico Niquo - Epitaph (Orange Milk)

39. Amulets - The Old Testament/59 Fields of Ruin (Self-Released)

40. Mamaleek - Via Delorosa (The Flenser)

41. Selaroda - viaje a través de sonidos transportative (Inner Islands)

42. Félicia Atkinson - A Readymade Ceremony (Shelter Press)

43. PERILS - PERILS (Desire Path)

44. More Eaze - '(Frail)' (Already Dead) 

45. Spheruleus - Peripheres (Eilean Rec)

46. Powerdove - Arrest (Sick Room Records)

47. Our Love Will Destroy the World - Carnivorous Rainbows (Ba Da Bing!)

48. Bell Witch - Four Phantoms (Profound Lore)

49. Angelo Harmsworth - Cerrillos Disco (Lime Lodge)

50. anthéne - repose (Polar Seas Recordings)

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

Indek Ghost Archive (Dream Discs Records, 2015)

A startling, fractured take on post-industrial grime and IDM sent through an open cenobite portal, Jeremy Bible's alter-ego, Indek, has created one of the most challenging and intriguing albums of 2015. With electronic beats tuned to insinkerator at irregular intervals and pregnant pauses that make the oncoming onslaught hit even harder, Ghost Archive's low-end and stuttering, harshened beats keep coming with machine gun tenacity. Not afraid to let beats speed into a bright mechanical death in some blaze of glory, tracks like "Mastoid" do a lot to gain a brilliant sense of compositional authority over a middle that often cannot be held. The track breaks and and then rebuilds upon itself with a oceanic regularity of waves of data or a post-cataclysmic wave off toxic sludge. Ghost Archive allows us to experience music from well within the machine, a stirring guttural cry of digital angst. These calls are coming from within the house.

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En City of Brides (Students of Decay, 2015)

What Students of Decay lacked in quantity this year, they more than made up for it in quality. En, comprised of SOD alum Maxwell August Croy and James Devane, feels like eavesdropping on an intimate conversation between two collaborators. Overlapping drones of various inputs make grand gestures towards transcendence as they float above, beneath and through Croy's koto or ringing guitar. As a 2xLP full of meditative sustained tones, City of Brides is incredibly dynamic. Tracks such as "Secret Samba", which feature lightly pulsing drones, are about as crystalline and pure as can be achieved without some omnipotent godhand guiding the composition. Such tracks make songs like "Blonde is Back" - which features drones that skirt the harsher tone table a la Tim Hecker - sound pulverizing when you listen back. The album centerpieces, "Song for Diminished Lovemaking" is a slow-building behemoth of a song that etches its long, cavernous drones into the soft grey matter of your still-forming brain. A truly stunning long-player.

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Mike Majkowski Bright Astonishment of the Night (Bocian Records, 2015)

Bright Astonishment of the Night is a lean, focused record that explores the rich sonority and resonance of the massive, hollow body of the acoustic double-bass. Bright Astonishment of the Night explores those spaces between notes wherein the deep low-end notes of the double-bass echo forth and die a beautiful, slow half-life. Loud and repeated listens opens a channel to hear those notes ring out into the dark, their demise capturing new dimensions of resonance as they sputter out. Overlaid on these explorations into sound and silence are Majkowski's wringing tones created by a bowing process that find a delicate middle between sonorous and guttural, organic and mechanical, rusted but newly birthed. It is a fine method album, each tone played out with exactitude and great attention to the delicate dimensions that dictate sound, but within the tones themselves are vast emotional landscapes of richness and wonder, pausing a bit on the gilded edge of bowed note to send thoughts towards the bereaved and destitute. The album covers quite a bit of this terrain, from the sparse and vast "Sleep and Oblivion" to the roiling, catch-and-release tension of "Ultramarine". It is easy to lose quite a bit of time in careful, observational listening when attempting to do something else. Highly recommended.

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Housewives Work (Hands in the Dark, 2015)

The best laid plans, right? UK post-punk band retires to the French countryside to record their most terrifying and brutal album to date. A searing, muscular record full of brittle guitar tones, hypnotic bass lines and polyrhythmic, fully-stacked percussion. An electric fence nearby prevents clean signals for amplified guitars and bass, so the group is forced to build the album from the ground up, utilizing the rusting implements of a post-agricultural farm to build intense, teetering piles of percussive madness banged, scraped and tapped out onto  hulking farm instruments. The landscape is turned back on itself while extensive field recordings are looped and processed provide a nervous noise floor of unplaceable organic tones. With the full presence of all instruments involved - the guitar and bass later folded into the mix - we get the true import, from a recorded piece of music nonetheless, of this larger-than-life post-punk band. Seething with brutalist rage and posturing of Swans and the genre-shattering noise and rhythmic attention of This Heat, Housewives possess an anger and vitriol not heard out of the UK underground in quite some time.

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Hollow Boys Violent Ascension (BLIGHT, 2015)

Coming in with a sweeping and seemingly brand new of cabinet of pedals and amplifiers, Hollow Boys returns with a lunar-step in their discography. Once confined in the lo-fi downer post-punk/psych-pop - probably by circumstance alone - Violent Ascension is a fully-fleshed, high-fidelity gut-punch of a record that puts Hollow Boys' most potent weapon - Ali Jaafar's droll, but ringing and forever ascending, voice - in context with substantially heavier guitars and chugging bass lines. Taking a step out of the ethereality of past flirtations with dream-pop is a record that was cut with some teeth. The relatively short album is heavy on guitar sounds that envelop completely. The aural equivalent of being stuck inside of a seashell with the sound of the ocean forever surrounding you. Hollow Boys can write a damn-near perfect pop song and dress it completely in black and punch it out with astounding knack for clarity in overwhelming sound.

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No Sky God Infidel (Shatter Your Leaves, 2015)

I leave off writing about music in 2015 (before my year end list) with a delightful parting shot from No Sky God - the nondiest psych-rock band led by Shatter Your Leaves album head-dude Stu Watson with a cast of New York gigging pros. Infidel is half wistful love letter to the universe/half cease-and-desist letter to a former friend that seemed bent on ripping the first letter in half. Taking cues from late-era George Harrison, Tim Buckley and No Depression-era alt-country crooners. Contained within are memorable, hum-along hooks, jazzy bridges, soaring choruses in strained falsetto and persistent framing of universal questions in straight forward lines. One would think that a poet like Watson (check out his awesome literary compilation Prelude) would be a bit more helplessly obscure in his reference points. His literary training, however, allows him to distill and transcend by pouring existential crises into positivist lines of hope and catharsis. 

Monday, December 14th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

W R I T H E - House of Porcelain (Soft Exit, 2015)

Whether you know it or not, somewhere in your bleak Midwestern city someone is necromancing a community's worth of undiluted pain and exclusionary angst through a four-channel mixer, naked contact mics and source input stabbed directly into the neck of this great atoning, post-industrial savior. W R I T H E is Soft Exit's opening volley across the river into the Queen City from Bellevue, KY. A highly dynamic slab of harsh noise full of pregnant pauses, throttling back in sudden bursts and sandstorm across contact mic worth of howling, grating, gnashing tones put through the torture rack. Soul-cleansing harsh noise produced at maximum volume while never sounding peaked or chopped - but always peaking.

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Soft Exit Soft Exit I (Soft Exit, 2015)

Soft Exit, both the label name and nom de guerre of Dustin Bingaman, is excellent in purveying and coalescing much of the strains of experimental/noise happening in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky. For Bingaman's first release on his newly minted label, Soft Exit I starts with a persistent beat like a steady drip of water from a rusty pipe slowly eating away at a limestone foundation. Gently folded in and looped are washes of windswept noise that arrive with the impact of an icy breath across the back of your neck - a small taste of the nuclear holocaust plaguescape that follows with the black helicopter, stereo-panning rotors, oscillators, perma-fucked theremins,  buried demonic vocals and a recycling and mutation of the looped windscape first encountered on "BLANKFACE". A micro-tonal, percussion-based coda ends the tape on point.

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Aaron Moss Shafted (Soft Exit, 2015)

Aaron Moss's "Shafted" sounds as if it were created inside of a human mouth. Every sound  put through the bevy of contact mics and processors sound strangely organic and/or much too close to the ear-drum - mimicking that muffled closeness that occurs with severe sinus congestion. Part One of Shafted begins with a roiling sea of oscillating tones punctuated with distant sounds of mechanical operations - metal scrapes of bare copper plates - and stabs of contact mic harshness. From here the soundscape moves into an Innerspace-type intimacy into some strangely organic sounds held in place with some fucked-kalimba played at irregular intervals. Side B delves deeper into more extreme higher frequencies, eventually sliding into a noisescape full of low rumbling digital thunder, digital stabs of light, clay-tool scraping and bracing adhesive sounds. An astute and inventive tape full of obscured inputs and tonal variety.

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...And then, there's Googly Eyes. Solo output from Public Housing/Dreams in Hell drummer Luke Stegall that takes licentious cues from Electric Eels, Pere Ubu and The Screamers to create 12 short bursts of shotshell dispersed energy. That dispersion comes in waves of synthesizer augmunted proto-punk anchored by Stegall's muscular rhythm-section, strangled saxophone courtesy of Jon Lorenz, fuckin' in the streets Motor City white dude funk, post-industrial hellscapes and bunged-up country-fried bedroom electronics. It is impossible not to react to this tape on a visceral level. A kind of automechanical steering wheel drumming, peeling out of your work in an inherited Volvo trying to remember how it felt to really feel it, that empty liberation that comes after double-timed drum track pounded way too hard on a kit too small while sweat soaked through your cotton poly-blend shirt. Get googly.

Sunday, December 13th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

Austin, TX heavy-drone artist Randall Taylor (AMULETS) is responsible for some of 2015's most prescient and emotionally resonant guitar/noise/tape-looped compositions.  For his track for Heligator Records, AMULETS pulls back the covers a bit on "Sierra Highs" to reveal an arcing, achingly beautiful 13 + track that scratches the firmament with beautiful, ebullient tones, delicate American Primitivist-influenced wisps.

Things have been pretty heavy as of late. Beauty still exists. Beauty will always exist.

All proceeds from this single (and every Heligator release) go directly to the funding of the Malindza Refugee Camp Library. Please consider purchasing as a donation and as a gift to yourself.

Ryan H. (Tome/Heligator founder) did an interview on Cincinnati's NPR station WVXU about Heligator. Check it out here.

Thursday, December 10th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

naps One Hundred Percent Confident (Lily Tapes and Discs, 2015)

Recording under the moniker naps, Jason Calhoun creates gorgeous elisions of sustained organ drone diced and chopped into fragmentary tonal shifts under the spell of transmitter feedback and auditory collages of voices stuck between stations. It is a perfectly quelling tape of crystalline drones that emit in their own stark, naked beauty - unmet by any tape manipulation - or peeking through the swirling static of light tape hiss and transient sharp tones. Deft fingers create melodies of crystalline chords and heavily pawed keyboard lines. Calhoun has proven to be a master of emotionally resonant and heart-achingly good drone under his moniker Paper Armies. naps makes sense as a facet of Calhoun's ever-expanding musical lexicon of somnambulant languages of the emotional heft of a slow-rising drone and subsequent snap of tension when it is broken.

Purchase from Lily Tapes and Discs

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HMS prie (Small Scale Music, 2015)

"Improv at high volumes". The first thing that drew me into prie by this glowing quartet of experimental musicians was seeing Nathan McLaughlin in the liner notes. McLaughlin created some of my favorite and most challenging improvised experimental tapes to date with Riding the Bronc in 2014Channeled through three other players, prie is an incredibly engaging tape of modulated synthesizers carving out sonic space between percussion that moves between blistering and boiling that is mixed super low, scraping tonal washes of tactile noise and tape manipulation. The four compositions are incredibly dynamic for being improvised pieces of music, each follow a genre-resistant ebb-and-flow of multi-climactic build and release to linear lines of treated, textural bliss of bleeding edge noise and ebullient sustained tones. Sudden shifts in tone and timbre sprung from a decision rooted in the the collected subconscious of improvisatory exploration.  Highly recommended.

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Master Class A Kiss is the Beginning of Cannibalism (Broad Beauty, 2015)

Pounding 4-on-the-floor techno for disenchanted hardware freaks spitting their soul through the wire. Precious little is known about this tape or this duo - as the chromatic horned and clawed gentlemen greeting me in the inner j-card would have have me believe - that comes contained in this mysterious, hand-knitted outer-sleeve/fashionable sweatband. Within this tiny coffin are enough rearview window rattling bass hits in machine gun succession, post-industrial lock-step percussion and ever-ascending arpeggiated synths to keep any post-techno necromancer's fraying circuit board of rapidly disconnecting and reassembling wires intact until the next bass-hit knocks them loose again. Insanely good stuff.

Purchase from Broad Beauty Tapes

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Total Discharge Automatic Zone (Self-Released, 2015)

Bizarro synth-punk from Philadelphia that matches strobe-light terror of bleak urban basement shows with a knack for channeling a New Romantics' sense of superior melody and propensity for writing incredibly catchy hooks. Total Discharge is a vision of Philly resident Colin Pate who creates surging, syrupy synth compositions that combine an obvious love for Factory Records dance-oriented post-punk and the layered compositions of retro-leaning synth-pop compatriots. Guitars run riot through these compositions, weaving bent, furious lines through these murky, yet ultimately positivist, tales of complicit depravity.

Purchase from Bandcamp

Monday, December 7th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

 

Lustana Pt. I 

Lustana, the indie rock project by Clay Mahn, is the innagural release for Never Anything Records. A label that I hope will continue to put out albums with obvious aesthetic appeal and content that is outside the realm of most avante-garde/drone tapes taking up miles of magnetic tape but so much in the pocket of charming lo-fi indie rock that strikes a beautiful balance between Plains' Velvet Underground-influenced light-brushed psychedelia and Deerhunter's wistful, sun-baked melodies anchored by a compositional framework that is decidedly in the pocket by a young man who has his hands firmly placed inside of them - creating bursting-but-restrained pop songs with his eyes on the pavement and his heart lodged somewhere in his throat.

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Demonstration Synthesis / James Benjamin DS 24 

A pulsing, deep-etching and entirely entrancing collaboration between synth-scene stalwart Demonstration Synthesis and weirdo-pop phenom James Benjamin (aka Hidden Entrance) lend their digital voices to the second tape in Never Anything's catalog. A brilliant hide-and-seek between the two artists sonic terrain - between the austere and minimal synthesized landscapes of Demonstration Synthesis's bell-clear lines and James Benjamin's skewed pop sensibilities and full command of the modulated synth, creating a welcome throwback lightness to a studious and dissected tape of dancing synth lines and underwater dubbed arpeggios. Toronto hooking it up.

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John Dillon The Lost Estate

John Dillon's Lost Estate is an actual place. It exists. Somewhere. Los Angeles, probably. Stuck between stations in the FM static borealis connecting Laurel Canyon haziness of neo-folk longhairs with home studios to the studied, but emotive, new-boy crush of the New Romantics posted up in the valley somewhere planning their descent on Hollywood. Crooning harmonies, inflected through sun-bleached, end-of-the-country folk reach over and through the golden saccharine daze of thick synthesizers where they hang in the air between long takes of baroque prettiness or bloodshot-through-the-heart rock. The kind that sounds perfect accompanying autumn walks or blasting through a peaking bar PA. Actually, I have no idea where Dillon's lost estate is. Someday, when the San Andreas rips California way from the lower 48 like a no longer needed vestigial appendage, it may appear, until then we can assume it is in California.

Sunday, November 29th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

Steve Hauschildt Where All Is Fled (Kranky, 2015)

Steve Hauschildt's sixth record - and third for Kranky - is an emotionally riveting and wholly substantial record in a genre often yielding lightweight explorations into synth-based mood music. Where All is Fled, however, is a record that is dynamic and consistent, one that starts with fluid, sand-shifting tone washes and builds to suspenseful and lovely climaxes of stirring arpeggios and komische-inspired synthscapes. Hauschildt, of course, needs no introduction. As one third of Emeralds - a band that "broke" a culminating mass of young musicians forging new connections between 70's Kraut and New Age music to a wider audience - Hauschildt always felt like that group's unassuming ace in the hole. Since Emeralds' disbanding Hauschildt's output has been a winnowing work, a further edification of layered arpeggios, delicate, unadorned piano lines and rythemless propulsion that builds into a cascading torrent of perpetual motion. Where All is Fled has been a constant and versatile companion, and as I've waited this long to write the review, has been with me for much of 2015. It has accompanied me through paperwork sessions between clients and, most recently, perfectly paced runs through the woods near my house. Much of the bubbling, ebullient lines that make a track like "A Reflecting Pool" sound as if they are starting far away and bubbling up through some viscous liquid before dissipating. Where All is Fled is a precarious record, as the mark that Emeralds made is slowly fading, Hauschildt continues to make sturdy, relevant records that counts as some of the best music of the past few years.

Purchase from Kranky

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Ruhe Patriarchs (Eilean Rec, 2015)

I am constantly amazed at the level of craftsmanship that Eilean Rec is able to bring to the table on each release. While I have loved everything that this label has put out this year, the Pacific Northwest composer Ruhe's work on Patriarchs is the one I have responded the most viscerally to. Simple, descending and ascending piano notes hang suspended in mid-air while their resonance settles and decays like dust through slanted sunlight. While most of the record follows this formula of minimalist piano lines unadorned with little else but highly emotive playing - a heavy heart's worth of weight pressing on those keys - tracks like "Shelter" feature several strands of tape manipulation and distant melodies waxing and waning across the composition with disembodied vocals humming stolen melodies. The eponymous "Patriarchs" features vocals from Ruhe, that in their explorations of our venerated (yet very human and anti-heroic), give a devastatingly accurate critique of our tendency for hero worship of very human and largely unheroic patriarchs...which makes this next sentence seem pretty absurd. RIYL Brian Eno, M. Ostermeier, Simon James Phillips.

Purchase from Bandcamp

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Gordon Ashworth The One You Love & Cannot Trust (Latrogenesis, 2015)

Gordon Ashworth's follow up EP to one of 2014's truly important contributions to the world of experimental music, the full-length S.T.L.A continues that records' exploration of the intersection between sound art, field recordings, eloquent drones and notations of Ashworth's earlier work under the moniker Concern - which often focused on expertly played stringed instruments paired with various manipulations of the instrument or recording process. Guitars and other stringed instruments are all over this record, as is Ashworth's unique fingerpicking style. Ashworth's technique is difficult to classify within anything akin to American Primitivism or European folk music for that matter. It consists of Ringing open notes and quick clusters of deftly picked notes that run over Ashworth's field recordings collected through his travels and through his job moonlighting as a taxi driver in Portland. Sometimes, like on "New Moon" these lines are otherworldly powerful, the lines themselves are easy to pick out - but there is just so much sound happening around those discernible notes that a blissful sort of aural claustrophobia sets in. The nocturnal that permeates Ashworth's releases is strong on this one as is Ashworth's powerful ability to pull drones of crackling tension from adjacent electrical outlet and dread from a conversation happening in the next bando over from your newly gentrified street.

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Nigredo Lunas Negras (Small Scale Music, 2015)

The group of Montreal composers, vocalists and stringed instrument players known as Nigredo have banded together on Lunas Negras to interpret and record a collection of poems by Frederico Garcia Lorca. In this unedited, live recording Geraldine Celerier Eguiluz's equally beautiful and terrifying vocals and classical Spanish influenced guitar are joined with a small troupe of stringed instruments and auxiliary percussion to create a performance that is tightly composed and highly emotional. These emotions range from mournful dirges to ecstatic, pointillist runs through an impressively high upper range. Eguiliuz's voice leads the strings through a diving, lilting, squawking traverse across Lorca's evocative poetry as if each player is sight-reading the poem as it is exiting Eguiliuz's mouth in a breathy exhale and horror-filled scream. There is an impetus: a clarion call and then a tumbling of clunky chord progressions reacting to and coaxing some of the most indelible and unforgettable sounds out of Eguiliz's reedy vocal chords. The tape, like all performances like this, is best enjoyed in its entirety, allowing the full spectrum to sink in and pass through you. Kudos to the newly-minted Small Scale Music for bringing this to light.

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Anthéne Repose (Polar Seas Recordings, 2015)

Sometimes, all you need is a slab of white, granular drone to soothe a troubled psyche or focus your thoughts on a task. The soothing, stretched tones of Anthéne's Repose can do that like little else. Released on Toronto's Polar Seas Recordings this record is full of gentle pulls of spectral light from the dead cold. Bradley Deschamps is one half of North Atlantic Drift who share a similar tonal palate of placid, smoothed over tones that are emotive without being overbearing. Touchstones of Fennesz and Eluvium come immediately to mind. With the serene overtones and textures, this is a record that seeps deep into your subconscious if, perhaps, your attention has slipped away from active listening - you may wonder why you feel in tune with the gradual glacial shift from liquid to solid on a global scale. You need this in your life.

Purchase from Bandcamp.

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The Balustrade Ensemble Renewed Brilliance (Serein, 2015)

There are moments on Renewed Brilliance that hearken to a musical strain that is not present in much of the ilk in this tightly composed, yet spacious ambient music, a courtly medieval chamber orchestra dragged beneath guitar distortion and underwater atmospherics. When it comes up for air loose strands of mellotron, orchestron, dulcitron (having google imaged each before writing this) share top billing with familiar washes of distortion-filled guitars, fluttering harps and vigorous bowing of stringed instruments. I guess there was a time when post-classical was a legit genre, The Balustrade Ensemble actually feel like a group studied and trained enough to wear those pants. Just listen to the way all auxiliary sounds filter out towards the end of "Show Us to the Sky" - a muting of all harpists, oscillators, processed guitars until the sturdy backbone of the track emerges - gentle pulls across a violin's vibrato rich strings. There is a lot in here. I remember buying a CD at a thrift shop of glass armonica music; the ethereality, ringing tones and capturing of stately objectification of mankind's endless tinkering is something I greatly prize about that private press CD, this is that CD times x1,000 paired with incredibly beautiful, expertly crafted washes of ambiance and frighteningly astute multi-instrumentalism, yet led by a sturdy guitar set through multiple stages of tape and digital manipulation. One of the finest and rewarding records of the year.

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From the Mouth of the Sun Into The Well (Fluid Audio, 2015)

At this point From the Mouth of the Sun should need no introduction. Comprised of multi-instrumentalists Dag Rosenqvist (Jasper, TX) and Aaron Martin, From the Mouth of the Sun is an impossibly beautiful pairing of Rosenqvist's late moves towards quiet, stately and sparse piano compositions and Martin's looped and processed cello and bowed banjo. These two fit together in seamless, mutual affection - a bond forged through uploading and unzipping files of gorgeous song stems traveling instantaneously from Gothenburg, Sweden and Topeka, KS. Songs that build like cumulus clouds of incandescent tones reverberating and quivering into each other, building until the break in some beautiful storm cloud of bowed or rung instruments that cut through the gently building haze like a shot through the heart. Huge orchestral swells that sound so clarion clear that it sounds impossible this is a recording. Mournful, elegiac...ennui has a name. God, this album is so fucking good.

Purchase the insanely beautiful and intricately packaged CD from Fluid Audio.

Thursday, November 12th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)