Private Elevators - First Feelings

Adrian Knight was one of 2014's most intriguing artists. Pictures of Lindsey was a perfectly self-effacing appropriation of innocuous sitcom interlude/opening credits that was adventurous in its exploration of the facile, churning out funny, touching and ultimately affirming situational pieces in the process. Turns out, Adrian Knight and musical partner Matthew Evans, turn down for beautiful ambient music composed of decaying tones and elegant ascending and descending three-note lines. A lot of ambient music seems to operate on the process of finding the golden middle of tones and stretching them into infinite streams of light with no sense of creation or extinction. "First Feelings" has much of those effused drones sustaining the hour + tape, however, the most emotionally resonant aspects are the peaks and valleys where fingers press down heavily on synthesizers to create simple running lines that cut through the ambrosia-thick drones and then peter out and die with the elegance and somberness of a William Basinski-style tape death.

Purchase from Perfect Wave

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Forest Management - Sharper Focus

Sharper Focus, along with 2015's Encounter are engrossing, enveloping nighttime/early morning records. Sharper Focus relies on slow, building movements that increase in intensity and tension until reaching the quietest of apexes. With this on in the background or low volume, you probably won't get it, however, close listens reveal the ponderous mechanical motions of heavily pawed piano chords with distinctive cresting and resolution. Much of the record does, however, exist in those disorienting moments when you slowly come out of some deep REM-cycle sleep and the edges of familiar things are blurred and slightly out-of-place that persist well into the first cup of coffee. With this warm, somatic soup serving as a baseline, those distinctive movements stand out in sharp relief.Transcribed onto tape these dream-like passages become a bit more grounded in the physical realm, however, with a majority of the tension being resolved in the subconscious.

Purchase from Perfect Wave

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Tropical Rock - 3 Lewej

Tropical Rock is a collaboration between Kathleen Baird - whose work with Spires that in the Sunset Rise we've gushed over - and Camilla Padgitt-Coles (Ivy Meadows). The two explore some marshy, magical worlds through improvisation with Baird on the Casio PX800 and Padgitt-Coles on the Tenori-On. The result is an airy, spacious field of clanging, chiming tones and playful melodies that embed themselves deep into your neural pathways. Many solely improvised works are cloistered experiences. Albums to experience all at once - a celebration of spontaneity and connection. 3 Lewej was a tape I found myself coming back to over and over again. It may have been the novelty of the Tenori-On, an instrument I've heard referenced to, but never on full-display. More than anything it is those moments of undeniable genius that find the two musicians in total synchronicity with each other. Strange-yet-familiar tones settling in comfortably next to one another like they've known each other for years. The result is unmistakable and hard to shake.

Purchase from Perfect Wave

Monday, March 2nd, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

“It sounds like therapy for a generation who grew up with the internet, where the density and modularity of music has flourished at such a rate that we never get time alone with just one song or idea anymore.” - Adam Devlin, Tiny Mixtapes.

The tendency to treat Giant Claw's music like a clown-car of impossible ideas of horizontal importance is to miss the cohesiveness of Giant Claw's output and albums, even if that palate is as big and ever-expanding as...well, the internet. On This track donated by the Columbus, Ohio musician we find Giant Claw tackling extreme modes. Swinging from the playfulness of the synthesized oboe and the cultural significance of punctuating beats with a gunshot. Except this isn't punctuation. The gunshot kills the track right as it reaches its zenith. Literally. But, in experimental music, unlike American lives, there are second acts and infinite lives.

Like all Heligator releases all proceeds go to the Malindza Refugee Camp Library in Swaziland, Africa. There has been some turbulence at the camp, your donations help keep open a library (and pay the stipend of a librarian) that is an oasis of stability and hope in the otherwise turbulent life of a refugee.

Malindza Refugee Camp Blog

Friday, February 27th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

No, you don't have to double-check your calendar... it's totally almost March, ain't gonna deny it. For whatever reason I'm still stuck in the bowels of 2014 Hell, trying to claw my way back into some semblance of being "on top" of this game somehow. Which... let's be honest, that's just never gonna happen. Anyway, I think that a lot of folks maybe think I ONLY listen to cassette tapes, which is just not true (although don't get me wrong... I love me some cassettes). But as a matter of chance, I recently acquired a gorgeous new Luxman PD264 tunrtable, meaning I was able to move my beloved Pro-Ject Essential off to the side and over next to my desk with a headphone pre-amp hookup, which now allows for me to review stuff while having the deck at arm's length. Clutch. So that, my friends, was the key to me finally getting this little piece of work done -- I've been newly inspired to play some catch-up on some long-overdue reviews (of which more are certainly to come... hopefully-certainly, but yeah, pretty sure this time). And anyway, no apologies! Why would I apologize for doing this? I'm crazy enough as it is for even trying, so you're gonna get it, and you're gonna deal with it, dammit. Here are five LPs that blew me away last year, and stay tuned for more.

-Crawf

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King Tears Bat Trip

King  Tears  Bat  Trip

(Debacle Records)
 
Debacle Records really did us all a big favor saving King Tears Bat Trip from obscurity by putting a face on this record. Specifically, that’s a lion’s face on this record, spinning around your turntable as the 18-minute A-side “Stolen Police Car” beats you down to a bloody pulp. Once a cassette/digital affair back in 2012 on Hanged Man Recordings, the long-running Seattle label’s stunning picture-disc edition of this incredible album is a thing of pure joy, one that comes in a terrifyingly loud and abrasive package of relentless drumming, squalls of roaring guitar drones and heart-stopping saxophone solos to round out this insanely talented and versatile group. Drum-circle core is now a genre, by the way, and it’s a genre of one: King Tears Bat Trip. The mighty. The miraculous. Absolutely essential.
 
 
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Charlatan

Local  Agent

(Umor Rex)
 
Brad Rose: Seasoned noise’ist, or hip-hop producer for hire? Uh… can it be both? Even the stuff that doesn’t have any kind of a real defined backbeat on this record still has the slow roll-and-heave of something heavy, something dripping with dark rhythm. It’s suitable for some mic-spit to be sure… but make no mistake! This is still Brad Rose we’re talking about, the mastermind behind Digitalis Industries and progenitor of the Foxy Digitalis webzine of lore, so of course his real focus is on the scrambled-egg-synths, the atonal micro-chip melodies, and the general making of the unworkable somehow totally and cosmically work. This is music suffering a circuit-bent mainframe, slightly impaired in one way, while gaining an adverse amount of proficiency in another area to balance things properly. A man of many projects and guises, and now a father, Rose’s own musical projects gradually feel like they're getting farther apart from each other, but that has only translated into more focused and detailed work, and in the case of Charlatan, that means that each individual blip, pop, pipe, and fizzle you can find with Local Agent is given a particular shape and trajectory, its own character in each track’s own little narrative. While I admit that I’ve only really engaged with a fraction of what this man’s put to tape/wax/mp3, of that small fraction, this one rises to the top as easily the best Rose-related project I’ve yet to encounter.
 
 
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Kösmonaut

Future  Machines

(These Are Not Records)
 
OK, so this stuff can be a head-thuddingly difficult to process to put yourself through. (A process, yes, although there are really only two steps here: press play, allow brain to explode... Possible third: clean-up). It's incredibly patience-testing, with its... constants. Constantly constant, the onslaught of synths and restless rhythms, piling up and up, melodies leapfrogging each other and those high frequencies raining down on drones of rapid-fire baritone. Because everything stays basically one tempo and one volume, which is some kind of a "FASTLOUD" mash as far as I can tell, it stands to reason that this can wear a little on the ears. Worth it. Completely engrossing and relentlessly chaotic but (for the most part) incredibly balanced as well. Along with Panabrite, Black Unicorn, Brain Fruit, and Grapefruit, Patrick R Pärk is easily ranked among synthesizer masters of our age. Oh, also: Blood-red clear vinyl edition of (100) was done, nightly tucked into a cool half-wrap 12-inch sleeve and goldenrod insert. Terrific release.
 
 
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PHORK

High  End

(NNA)
 
The People's Higher Order of Royal Kinship here followed a flurry of cassette releases with easily the most texturally rich and rhythmically fertile music from Neil Renalda to date. Tilling the sonic soil with meaty rhythms and tender textures run through the slicer and chopped into staccato bits, High End managed to pack its meager dots of sound in tight enough to give the music a weighty girth.
 The rhythms themselves aren't all that unfamiliar, but they sure feel new when sounds are constantly swiveling back and forth, samples of fireworks, drippy faucets, and robotic voices all balled up into mutant, tip-toeing hip-hop beats, and synths getting caught in a CD-player-skip stutter. If you were getting sick and tired of the whole "producer" schtick and were looking for someone doing things not just a little, but a LOT different; from a different point of view, say, that of an alien space-station rather than the proverbial bedroom, PHORK is gonna be your best bet.
 
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The Deep Freeze Mice

The  Best  of  the  Deep  Freeze Mice

(Night People)

One of the great atrocities of 2014 is the way in which Crawford Philleo failed to provide coverage for a perfectly amazing reissued collection of perfectly amazing songs by a perfectly amazing band called The Deep Freeze Mice. Fronted by a friendly and responsive gentleman named Alan, who released most of his band's music and other obscurities on his own label Cordelia over the years, the Mice gave it a very good run for the better part of a decade (namely the 80s), puckering up their punk chops while zigzagging through diagonal pop songs, and doing it with a hot-stuff organ player (that a Farfisa? Damn.) With jumbling sections ricocheting like a DEVO tune, the sweetness of the Velvets, and just the right amount of a sour crassness, these guys were just way too brilliant and way too much fun for me to be keeping this to myself, right? So, there you go. You all must know this band, and now, with this collection, there's never been a better time to get acquainted.

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

Baldruin - Miniaturen

Miniaturen or "miniatures" in German consists of 21 tracks with a running time of about 31 minutes. Needless to say this album represents a sampling platter of Johannes Schebler's synthesizer and sound recordings rather than deep meditations. In these relatively short tracks, however, Schebler finds new and novel means in which to convert everything at his disposal in the service of some bent idea of pop music. Heavily pawed keyboards, bubbling beats, softened distortion, sound inputs from every source (mouth, bells, jars, plants) that are synthesized to some Frankenstein level of overwhelming their master. The textures and tonal qualities range from earthy and aquarian to ethereal and space-adjacent. Organics sampled to sound electronic in origin and electronics sampled to sound organic. Miniaturen is a record sounding as if it was conceived at night after a disjointed, not at all unpleasant dream, and this is the means in which to conjure it back in exquisite, dioramic detail.

Purchase on A Giant Fern

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Developer - AGF24

9:00 AM. My inner ear turned inside of me and said, "fuck, really dude?" the split-second I pushed play. I wouldn't say that is necessarily the wrong response. Developer's harsh, cut noise takes no shortcuts or dampens the contact mic stabs of tortured tones straight through the cochlea. AG24, however, isn't a monolithic slab or uninterrupted sandstorm, rather it is a cut-up pastiche of harsh sounds edited with care and acute precision. Dayton, OH has noise on lock. I work there on the weekends and I always stop by Omega Records to check out their impressive collection of noise cassettes and records. Besides finding two copies of past Goldrush Cassettes (!!??) I've found several of the artists I am covering on this blog put out by a Portuguese based label. Besides destroying my ears in the morning, realizing that the world is smaller than I ever imagined is one of the many pleasures of writing about music.

Purcahse on A Giant Fern

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Head Dress - Deicide

Precious little can be found about Head Dress online, but this slab of granular drones, terminally modulating noise-scrapes is enough to warrant some significant attention. This is situated very much in the left-field of noise-influenced ambient, but it is hardly an unpleasant listen. I am particularly drawn to the surging, peaking synth lines set free at regular intervals from "LRA Effigy", the consistent harshness of "SSM (for AS)" that gradually fades into the dying signal of sentient machinery, the downtempo beauty and blown-out beat palate of "mpdrumssssKRGx2". This one of the few noisier records I found myself studying to and walking to - a very selective canon if I may say. So, Head Dress. Quit being a stranger. You've shared your beating mechanical heart with us, let's see the rest.

Purchase on A Giant Fern

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Masayuki Imanashi - Cycle

I made the observation a few weeks back that I listen to way to much drone music after hearing some random ambient machine sounds and thinking, "who is this?". Likewise, it is easy to get caught up in Masayuki Imanashi's Cycles and forget that this was ever touched by human hands. The sounds are not random or aleatoric, per se. Rather, the listen is intensely personal. Like voyeuristically observing the inner lives of machinery in their most private moments. It is an immersive journey through a high noise floor of static, short stabs of harsh noise, oddly organic mechanical sounds all stitched together with such purpose it is art the same way that painfully recreating Alpine Germanic villages is art. Not in the interpretation but in the act of recreation. In this case it is the recreation is forcing a Radioshack worth of electronics forced through a cheese grater and mechanical insects captured on magnetic tape. Cycles is worth losing yourself in.

Purchase on A Giant Fern

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Sindre Bjerga - A Thousand Nothings Beocme Something

A Thousand Nothings Become Something is a brilliant title for Sindre Bjerga's latest cassette recorded live in Seoul. Bjerga, a Norwegian sound artist who has collaborated with Tome favorites in the past including Micromelancolié and Anla Courtis, takes us into moments of pure improvised genius. Moving from crackling drones to heavy tape manipulation of yesterday's pop hits, the entire movement is a catching, clunky (in the best sense) ride through semi-improvised manipulation of Bjerga's elements. In Bjerga's case those elements include a variety of inputs including prerecorded music on cassettes manipulated at Bjerga's caressing or destroying whim. Ultimately, it is benevolence that wins the day in the end. A thousand of of unconnected parts are broken down to their elemental nature and patched together with little more than intention and innovation. A thousand props to Sindre Bjerga for recording and capturing the firing of the synapses (both internal and external) that create fearlessly fucked art.

Purchase on A Giant Fern

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Sunny Dunes - Whims of a Rainy Day

I encountered this tape from Lyon, France duo Sunny Dunes as I waited for a bus, half-frozen in Cincinnati's latest deep freeze. The result was an immediately inner-warmth that comes with the brain immediately recalling the sounds of warmer climates. Side A begins with field recordings of an idyllic lakeshore during summer. Children laughing, the stereo-panning recording of a child running across a wooden dock, before moving into tonally sweet, floating synths whose ghostly reverb follow lines with a decaying sense of grace. These synth lines are eventually met with equally ethereal drones until they reach a climax of sorts before pulling back until just the floating, swirling, heavily pawed drones remain and are paired with the pitter-patter of electronic beats. Side B begins a bit more distressed, intense, arpeggios lines over slightly more worried synth lines, interrupted by static, disembodied carnival organs and deconstructed synth jingles. Keep a stack of these on deck for the next few weeks America. It's gonna be alright.

Purchase on A Giant Fern

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Wether - Take Notes

Rounding out our journey through A Giant Fern's massive tape batch is Wether, a heavy exposition of rapidly descending and ascending pitch-shifted synths parsed out over tremendous spans of space and time. Laser-gun, spacecraft emergency protocols filtered, isolated and manipulated until it all starts to make sense. "Warm Rejections" run synth arpeggios is S U R V I V E, Blade Runner and Beyond the Black Rainbow processed into a near seven minutes of white-knuckle drive mixtape through what expanses of came before the big bang. "Let's Talk About Space, Baby" is a call into the void of virgin space-dolphins. These deconstructed synth compositions are welcoming in their pure dedication to the instrument itself. Someday we are going to find the "brain" patch (a matter of correct wiring, I'm sure) and synthesizers will sing unaccompanied. It will sound eerily familiar if you've got this tape somewhere on your shelf.

Purchase on A Giant Fern

Friday, February 20th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

Heligator Records (run by Tome founder Ryan H.) is extremely excited to bring to you this collection of gold-bathed guitar tones by American-by-the-way-of-Sweden Lee Boyd, who records under the name cloudsound.

To me, "II" sounds like it was birthed in discovery. It is an effort to capture moments of unexpected beauty when a pedal is turned ever-so-slightly, or that moment right before dusk when the sky explodes into radiant oranges and reds. "II" is full of moments like that. Faintly oscillating guitar drones, opaque guitar lines etched with waves of distortion that crest just at the right moment. This album is about trying to stake a living in those moments.

Turning on the sustain pedal is the aural equivalent of taking a picture. We could live in this hope forever.

As always, all proceeds from the sale of "II" will go to the Malindza Refugee Camp Library to pay for the general upkeep, supplies and stipend for the librarian. The camp has been experiencing a rough time. Your donations go a long way.

www.malindzarefugeecamplibrary.blogspot.com

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

Sult - Svimmelhed (Conrad Sound/Humbler Records)

This. This is a terrifying, life-affirming, hyrda-conspiracy of acoustic noise. Did you read that last part. Acoustic noise. I've spent countless hours watching someone craft spells of concrete denseness using a couple of oscillators, floor pedals, contact mics and drum machines, but the concept of acoustic noise is a frightening potential that is executed flawlessly by this Oslo/San Francisco group. I saw Sult play a weekday noise show here in Cincinnati. I can assure you, watching this is x10,000 more powerful than listening to it. Divorced from seeing the means of production, sounds can mimic anything if manipulated right. But seeing Sult play live I watched with my jaw on the floor. There is no way an acoustic guitar can sound like that, no way a contrabass can rattle or chatter that violently or that eerie, scraping sound is coming from a drum. Creating sonic textures that are overwhelming in their ferocity and sound completely unearthly as acoustic instruments. Imagine Aufgehoben, Z's and Diamond Terrifier but even more menacing and noise-addled. If I wasn't just getting to this now, and if this category existed, I would have named this the noise album of the year. Hands down. You need to hear this. Now. nownownow.

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Lake Mary - There are Always Second Chances in the Mountains (Planted Tapes)

Lake Mary's second album on Planted Tapes (a tape label run by Tome co-founder Crawf) finds Lake Mary charting courses further and further into the waters of drone-based realism, while using his sonorous, hyper-complex acoustic guitar passages as islands in which finds refuge. Islands in a sea of cavernous drone. We can talk about that sea. Huge washes and pulls of glossy, bright drones under which choppy currents of dissonance and distortion swirl and roil. Then there are those moments when everything drops out and Lake Mary's multi-tracked acoustic guitar lines stand naked and backlit, sometimes still wet and dripping with iridescent sustained tones or paired with dramatic flourishes of bowed cellos or the open maw of some well-accoutermented brass. There are Always Second Chances in the Mountains is a cairn on Lake Mary's path to something sunlit and ascending. A lovely, meandering course upwards with no fixed destination per se. This thing is a work of beauty, and if you pony up for a physical release, the tape comes in a beautiful, handmade cedar box more ranch home rambler than tape coffin

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Back Sash - Rises (Self-Released)

It is always refreshing to find some new noise/synth weirdos playing in Cincinnati. Rises is what monastic music would be if monks played synth-based un-party jams inspired by equal parts Throbbing Gristle and James Ferraro. Heavily pawed synth/organ from up in the belfry and very much alone. Admittedly, Rises keeps the barrier for entry fairly high. The title track is a drunken punchup through Castlevannia synths and unhinged vocal gesticulations. The rest of Rises throttles back a bit and the confrontational misanthrope is replaced by cavernous slow-motion synth workouts that score your West-End drive through in the middle of the night. It is up to no good. Ending the EP is 1209, a nighttime rendezvous with some crack-addled ghoul in a burned down tenement lot. Dislocated laughter, rattling contact mics and deep ponderous piano plunking somewhere in some god-forsaken crawlspace. Cincinoisey FTW.

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Shahman - Demise of a Body (Dismal Niche)

This tape should come with some kind of content warning on it. A Tipper-sticker that should read something like, "warning do not listen to this if you expect to do anything else with your day or are afraid of crying at your office (or wherever else you clandestinely listen to music)". Demise of a Body was written by the Toronto twin-brother duo following the passing of their mother from cancer. The album is a continuous, one-take, ritualized exercise in catharsis and visceral mourning, transmuting sorrow and rage into huge, droning guitar riffs, feedback-drenched passages and propulsive, ancient rhythm-making. The passage moves from massive sludgy riffs, gloom-heavy repetition and atmospherics and the highly expressive appropriation of Western blues scales as an active or unconscious nod to Constellation's darker hues of post-rock. The entire thing should (obviously) be taken in one listening session to have the true import of the record to sink in. We could talk about the spoken word intro, "Spoken in fading light, I leave you to rest" but to do so in the context of a hastily written record review just seems...profane. Meaning, not equal to the spiritual significance of what that piece means to the brothers Johnson or to you, the listener, who may or may not be able to relate to it. I hope you can. Loss and the residual acceptance is a powerful medium for change in terms of inner and communal renewal. You've been warned. Explicit content.

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Alexander Ortega - Wallwalker (Self-Released)

Another record on a admittedly spiritual, ritual kick. Wallwalker, Alexander Ortega's (who has played out in several SLC punk bands) debut solo outing has produced a short, three-song EP that turns the concept of stripping the sturdy punk structure down to its most reductive and derivative dude with an acoustic guitar into a wildly experimental exploration into the vast territory explored with minimal accoutrements. Ortega utilizes an "emulation of kargyraa and sygyt throat singing" in "Broken Color System // Year of the Snake" and "Wallwalker" which take Ortega's already affected and distressed voice (a weird combination of Chuck Ragan and Ian Dury) into full on possession-mode. A sound somewhere between a wail and groan that starts from somewhere deep inside Ortega's diaphragm. This isn't some embarrassing Fat Wreck Chords throwaway that no used CD shop will take but you can't bring yourself to throw out. This is a truly experimental exploration into the dynamics of voice within a pop construct.

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Graham Repulski - Maple Stag (All Tens)

Graham Repulski hasn't only captured the sonic nuances of early GBV, but damn it, if he hasn't tackled that sweet, sweet pocket of Pollard tunefulness. 11 tracks that seethe as they spin through strands of saccharine sweetness. I think I am going for a cotton candy analogy there because Repulski can make the most no-fi, backmasked, jagged guitar riff and distorted vocal absolute pure pop confection. Sandwiched between some of the most endearing riffs and hooks you will hear in 2015 (although this was a late 2014 release) are some bleeding-eared guitar deconstructions and angular No-Wave riffage. These add some much needed molars to an album that has plenty of teeth. Something to chew on between mega-hit after mega-hit of non-sequiters screamed against a wailing wall of feedback. I would follow this album anywhere. Straight down the rabbit hole of caterwauling noise-rock anthems. I think GBV did something like reform or finally break up or cancel a bunch of shows or something this year. Forget that noise. This is the new noise. 

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Caddywhompus - Feathering a Nest (Community Records)

Witness the triumphant return of the New Orleans duo known as Caddywhompus (or Cazzy Whompys by a confused Memphis bar owner). Feathering a Nest is Caddywhompus at the top of their game. Huge swells of corralled feedback that break into a million different arpeggios played with inhuman speed, kaleidoscopic songs that twist and careen into anthemic choruses and back into math freak-outs back into droned-out bridges of temporary calm seas. Production is at 10 on this record, sounds are both naked (as in not clothed in heavy sheets of tape hiss) and layered sufficiently to bathe every guitar line, from the picked arpeggios to the bright power chords, in a glowing, golden sheen of refined audio sweetness. An album by a band that deserved the noise that it got late this year. It is a rare album that I could see appealing to literally anyone with any level of musical indoctrination. Come for the gee-whiz factor, stay for absolute tightness and brilliant songwriting. 

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

Hollow Boys - Believe in Nothing

Hollow Boys is a Minneapolis, MN trio that subsists on a sturdy diet of detached aloofness that buries three yearning hearts under swirling, C86 guitar jangle, 90's alterna-rock crunch coupled with strict health codes and the half-drunk blurriness and red-eyes under the influence of snakepiss (which is a made up MN colloquial term for whatever Minneapolis drink as shitty beer). It is dark. Gloomy. Never maudlin but not above letting every instrument shed a tear or two under grey, ghostly fog of the droning reverb. Front Hollow Boy Ali Jaafar's voice is a thing that pireces through the drift. A plaintive thing that is honest and naked. Possessing the detached crooning of Morrissey with the everyman's vibrato of The Dears' Murray Lightburn, Jaafar's carries an otherwise adept version of Rough Trade influenced gloomy, dreary guitar rock to wuthering heights. 

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Brown Bread - Mitote

It has been awhile since we've heard from Brown Bread. All the way back in 2011 Crawf gave a glowing review to her cleverly titled release Is Dead. You see Brown Bread is an obscure euphemism for being dead. So the title...You are clever. You get it. Mitote, I am informed, is "an ancient and secular round dance of the Aztecs and other tribes", so, you get it...right? Mitote, possibly similar to or totally unlike the Aztec dance, is built from the ground up almost exclusively out of layers of Brown Bread's (a Becky in the real world) beautifully sticky sweet, upper-register voice. The entire affair is completely minimal. Some looped percussion, a few keyed-up synth lines, field samples, and an avalanche of reverb on the lot of it. If Grouper can move mountains and bring down buildings with her voice and a few three-note progressions, Brown Bread can change the tides and cause a room full of cloistered, painfully self-aware millennials rage the night away. I remember a time when the playful, child-like innocence of groups like High Places were going to rule the world. This fulfills those promises and then some. Let these hymns of domestic bliss, bucolic garden walks and nomadic idyll sink deep.

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Stupid Bummed - Flowers and Lace

Remember feelings? Not just feelings, but feelings? The italicization back there is me forcing those vowels into a near whine through a half-open mouth with my eyes squinted shut tight. If you don't know what I mean then you never lived through your late teens/early twenties, because that's when I remember having them. Having developed coping skills in my later life that attempts to put personal problem in context of a big/pointless world has numbed their acuity, but every once and a while, writing about music something shakes me into a nostalgic wistfulness and unnamed longing that was, like, my 24-7 emotional affect from 18-23. Stupid Bummed's lo-fi casio jams did that for me. Giovanni Chumpitazi gets it. These maudlin, emotional ballads under sway of programmed beats and heavily pawed keyboard lines (imagine His Name is Alive or a more lo-fi and less Belgian Styrofoam) are an open diary to a less jaded, less world-weary place where your shit still seemed big enough to keep a journal. "Close to My Heart" scored every walk through empty suburban streets when something big and unnamed consumed me and heartbroken/hopeful pang should be the culminating slow dance for every senior prom/religious camp closing soiree. These songs are insidiously tuneful, whip-smart and may totally ruin your day with all those pesky, you know, feelings.

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The Lowered - Crayons Over Scalding Rocks

The Inland Empire trio The Lowered are a darkly sophisticated folk-pop band. Equal parts Laurel Canyon haziness filtered through mid-00's indie classiness when kids started learning their instruments and/or conservatory kids stopped writing belabored operas and concertos and started writing belabored indie pop songs mixed with truly heroic layman's vocals. Think Howe Gelb or Scott Walker's plaintive croon with a strange Chris Issak lilt at the end. Crayons Over Scalding Rocks exists in the liminal space between intricate lead guitar and playful bass lines and a workman's country twang. This is a space where both can exist without getting into shouting matches with each other over FOX News editorials. Crayons Over Scalding Rocks is a brilliant and deeply affecting tape, with as much depth in production and composition as I've heard in a cassette-only release.  

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Terminus Cursus - 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6

How good does it feel to write these words, "influenced by the noisier side of second-wave emo, Terminus Cursus takes cues from the squalor and emotional release of bands like Virtuous Humor, Prozac Memory, Roadside Monument and Drive Like Jehu." I feel...validated. Like years spent listening to that shit through the car stereo driving around frozen suburban streets payed off in the form a, possibly completely unfounded, comparison in a music review. But here we are. Terminus Cursus, if you are reading this, thank you. Your cathartic, dissonant post-punk is not lost on me. I am especially smitten by Patrick Mugan's lower-than-low caterwaul, a thing channeling The Meat Puppets channeling Harry Stafford backed by meaty mid-section of a Crank! Records compilation band churning out power chords under minimal distortion and off AF recorded in some St. Petersburg, FL sea-cave or St. Petersburg, Russia nuclear reactor. Damn it if this wasn't the best 2014 punk tape I heard (that I am now writing up in 2015). 

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

Ahoy from your old pal Crawf! Every time I show up around here I have to say something like "long time no see!" or "sorry I've been away!" Which I am, of course. I've been keeping exceptionally busy as always, working a full-time day job, planning and organizing GOLDRUSH Music Festival, and listening to as much music as humanly possible. Sorry to be such a Tome-ghost lately, but I really appreciate Ryan giving me space here to air out specific thoughts when I need to, and I really want to thank him for keeping this platform going the entire time and killing it so hard in the process. Ryan's passion and enthusiasm for music is so apparent, he really does a great job of reporting on all the crazy shit that comes our way, and I'm honored to still be somewhat included when I can contribute. If you're interested in following me a little more closely throughout the upcoming year, feel free to look for my work at Tiny Mix Tapes and Decoder Magazine, and of course I'll be checking in with team-TOME periodically with reviews and commentary on this wonderful, weird wide world of crazy ass music.

This article began as a list of 50 albums. Pretty quickly I realized I'd never be able to pull something like that off, so I pared it down to 30. Then I decided to just focus on tapes. Then I pared that down to 20, when I realized there was no way in hell I'd be able to pull off 30. And so that brings me to the following... TWENTY tapes that I found to be indespensible in 2014. And of course this thing is a total disaster. I received and reviewed so many cassettes, and have yet to review so many more (still working on it), so consider this a "running" list instead of anything definitive, and maybe look for another installment soon if I can muster the strength. Truly, there's never been a better time to be a music fan, or to own a good cassette deck, so if you haven't taken the plunge yet, here are 20 good reasons to do so right away. I numbered these only to keep track of how many write-ups I had going, so please don't consider these ranked in any way, and enjoy!

-Crawf

xxx

1. David Lackner

Synthetic  Love  Dream

Galtta Media )

Is New York paying attention to David Lackner yet? His jazz-leaning Galtta label was a bit quieter than it has been in previous years, but that didn't stop the two releases he did put out from both being complete and total knockouts. Granted, Adrian Knight's neo-90s-sitcom jazz-pop tape was a glitzy show-stealer (more on that later...), but Lackner's compositions for this work, beautifully rendered in the cover artwork by his wife Gabrielle Muller, were just as delicately performed and positively oozed with... well, "cool" is close, but doesn't fully capture this one's hypnotic hums and fiery flicker, all set to the pace of something like 40 beats-per-minute. Two minimalist jazz pieces, smokey, inter-weaving tenor sax solos over the droning sidetone keyboard Knight lays down with astonishing poise, and 2014's most patient drummer ever-grooving into this record's black hole of sheer mood. Hey, Side A features some kick-ass vocals by Lydia Lunch, too. If you live in Brooklyn and haven't seen these cats perform yet, you're crazy and I kind of hate you a little.

xxx

 

2. RAMZi

Bébites

Pygmi Animals )

Apparently Phoebé Guillemot's laptop and file storage gear was recently stolen, effectively ending RAMZi, the brilliant Montréalite beat-maker, as we currently know her. WHAT?! This cannot be. And if it is, that only makes this document all the more important. Bébites is but a hint, only a gesture as to the limits sounds can go toward making one's booty shake. I finally reviewed this one a bit ago after spending weeks looking for the words, and now here it is in front of me again... and I have few more to offer. I'll stick with the B's this time and try to keep it quick: Bizarre. Bonkers. Of a new Breed. Buhhhhh.......... Really, I just can't recommend her work enough, and I know whatever the next iteration of Guillemot's distinguished sound is, it'll be just as perplexing, fascinating, alien, and altogether wonderful. So here's to new beginnings, ay?

xxx

3. Huckleberry Friend / Various Artists

Upload  Leaves  -  Delete  Fragment

( Singapore Sling )

The only thing I love (an eensy, teensy little bit) more than Singapore Sling's catalog of "album" tapes from their artist roster is the sub-catalog they have of label curator (and really excellent collage and video artist) Huckleberry Friend's mixtapes. This was one of the stranger "Spring" seasonal mixes I've ever heard, and at first listen it just didn't make any sense to me whatsoever. But the more I melted into these Reggae terrors on my many May bike rides, those backwards bass lines, those warped rhythms and screeching hyper-sonics, the more it just didn't matter. With selections from the above-raved-about RAMZi, Andy Boay, Seth Graham, High Wolf, Komodo Haunts, and a shitload more I didn't even know about until I got this tape, Upload Leaves doubles as a glance into electronic muisic's continued elusive sprawl and the lengths to which artists are going these days to operate in new compositional spaces and frameworks within the contemporary moment. A terrific variety of the endless curiosities that all come together to underscore the real underground of 2014, with whatever grace a mix of weird-ass music like this can have.

xxx

4. Phipps pt

Kiss  Me  So  Many  Times  You  Can't  Count  My  Love

( Sanity Muffin )

Here's the thing... this tape came out in 2013. *ducks*. Whatever, guys! This only came to my mailbox a couple of weeks ago, and I've clocked enough plays on this sucker that I just can't not include it in this little (hah!) 2014 recap. This album almost immediately grew to become a part of me from my very first listen. Truly, though — the voice of Lovage Sharrock has become a mole on my neck, permanently tattooed to my very being, calming me when I'm getting stressed out and encouraging me to plow through a tough job when I hit a road block. A performance of heart-melting ballads dipped in an ice-bath of reverb, and you're just above it all, breathing in the ensuing steam and gaining its strength by osmosis. Sweet sweetness, holy holiness; it's just lovely, complete with a haunting rendition of Robert Wyatt's "Sea Song" to boot. This is the only thing I've heard by this woman, and I'm already convinced she's one of the most over-looked and under-appreciated artists of our day. I'll begrudgingly end here: For fans of Grouper. But don't let my laziness and inability to articulate fool you! Grouper, this ain't, and that's ok for both Phipps pt and for Grouper. And for you, too, trust me. Pro-tip: Sanity Muffin releases can be hard to track down digital copies of, so it’s wise to hop on their tapes while they’re still available. (Major hint).

xxx

5. Sad Horse

Purple  on  Purple  Makes  Purple

( Field Hymns )

I think a lot of people must think tapes these days are reserved for the typical ultra-noise or ultra-ambient folks. And certainly those are there (and appear all over this damned list, you betcha), but hell if the cassette isn't also a terrific medium for your bread'n'butter punk rock. And I heard a healthy number of great new bands doing shit with drums on tape this year, but this Portland duet kind of edged itself into the rack I'm writing about right now, only because it was so damned rude to me. Sad Horse kicked me in the stomach, gave me the finger, and then a big-ole, wet, sloppy smack on the lips. Then they fucked up the beat and then they blasted me with a chorus right when I was getting ready to punch them back. Too much sitting down in 2014. Get on your feet, fucker, and do something that might hurt a little. You need the pain. Take it, swallow it down. Rage it. Rage it right.

xxx

6. Couples Counseling

Couples  Counseling

( Blood Oath Slumber Party )

Couples Counseling was the sound I wanted for pop music this year. Interesting syncopations using a variety of popcorn-percussive textures, simple verse/chorus refrains drifting between cleverly composed interludes... but the real sell here is that voice of Virginia de las Pozas', multi tracked into prismatic harmonies that twist themselves into these easy-breezy melodies. Bonus: Couples Counseling has to be the best make-out tape of the year, especially for cassette dorks like us... just give me a day or two to try and get the timing right and I'll let you know how it goes.

xxx

7. Millions

It's  Always  There

( Tape Drift )

So, it was a great year for synth-pop, rock, guitar, ambient… what about noise? Honestly I couldn’t really totally completely say whether or not it was a good or bad year for noise (I’m guessing it was?), but there were definitely a couple of tapes/artists that turned my head, and one of them was Millions, AKA David Suss. “Noise,” I guess is a stretch, as here we have a lot of drone, some ambience, power electronics and then plenty of… well, I guess just noise. A Brooklynite who spends equal amounts of attention to textural detail, harmonic balance, timing and dynamics, all coming together in compositions best served cold… and fucking LOUD. All-immersive, stunning beauty, and also pretty damned frightening when it wants to be, Millions was the total package. Suss also released an excellent tape with 905 tapes this year as well, and shows no signs of slowing down into 2015, so here's looking forward.

xxx

8. Marcus Rubio

The  Land  of  Disenfranchisement

( Already Dead Tapes )

I'm trying to think of other albums that came out this year that had an honest to god overture in them. Scratch that, albums that came out in the past decade? Rubio’s quasi light-opera approach and careful compositional arranging on this tape was fresh and inventive amidst his clearly strong sense for creating catchy melodic leads with clever wordplay. I've heard some of his earlier work, and he's always shown a real deft ability to combine styles and genres in a unique way, but this album is full of tracks with much more fully-realized and rounded shapes to them, all the while emphasizing the pop elements just enough to make this one universally approachable, engaging and a hopelessly fun listen.

xxx

9. Caroline Says

50,000,000  Elvis  Fans  Can’t  Be  Wrong

( Noumenal Loom / Happenin' Records )

I noted several times over the course of the year how odd I felt like it was that I was reviewing so much... you know, normal music. Rock and roll tapes. Is the cassette really just a fad band-bands are clinging onto? If they are, does it matter? Answer: Fucking hell no. Reason: I got to be introduced to amazing new groups like Caroline Says, who whipped up a batch of super simple California pop for this album, plucked plaintively from the clean channels of their amplifiers to the tune of a pitch-perfect vocalist with a voice so buttery you can feel the pounds piling on as you listen. Through breezy, trotting tempos and downtrodden piano ballads alike, this tape proved the perfect warm-up for the chilly months and the best cool-down during my summer swelter. A crime that I never reviewed it during the regular calendar year, but maybe this'll make up for it?

xxx

10. Ballerine Nadiya

Ballerine  Nadiya

( Singapore Sling )

Singapore Sling had another incredible year. The Russian imprint has this silly habit of putting out music by emergent artists I’ve never heard of, all of whom are making their catchiest, hookiest, prettiest, weirdest, tape-flippin’est stuff. Seriously, their streak is just out of control, and this one from the mysterious Ballerine Nadiya was one of the more unique titles to cross my tape deck. Grown-up pop melodies eyed through the lenses of a seven year old’s pink heart-shaped sunglasses, Mr. Microphone in one hand and a wobbly Casiotone beneath the other. A really interesting adjunct to the mossy sounds of 4-tracked solo pop musicians these days, mostly coming out on Singapore Sling — this is one of the imprint’s very best releases to date (which is saying a lot lot lot), and maybe this whole style’s new flagship recording. 

xxx

11. The Declining Winter

Lost  Songs

( Sanity Muffin )

2014 was full of breaths of fresh air from just about every direction, but none were fresher than whatever breeze blew in this crucial new material from Hood mastermind Richard Adams. Smooth tunes, a soft touch and salted with the slightest tear made Lost Songs a place where you wanted to find yourself spin after spin. Not just a tape, but a companion. Someone to walk around with you, talk to you in its low whispers, tell you secrets and groove with you, softly. 

xxx

12. Tereshkova

Fog  and  Other  Memories

Already Dead Tapes )

Brilliant follow-up to Tereshkova’s equally-brilliant release on Lillerne last year, I have a feeling this one got a bit lost in the fog of all the dozens of other amazing tapes Already Dead put out this year. Which is really a shame, because the more I listen to this project the more sold I am on the whole thing, even Jeff Lane’s knobby-kneed vocals. The songs this time around were so much more developed; deeper, wider, just bigger, all without leaving a shred of dead-space to fill, yet still managing a slender frame. Economically arranged songs presented in clear, concise terms, while at the same time completely suffocated in psychedelic effects. One of the freakishly-weirder approaches to pop music happening today, so it’s almost a stroke of luck that this also magically works out to be pretty easy to consume on a regular basis, even for the average listener. Hope 2015 treats this project right.

xxx

13. The Spookfish

Living  Room

( Singapore Sling )

Sometimes I wonder if it takes me as long as it does to write about tapes because... because I just want them all to myself. I know, that's incredibly anti-blogger of me, selfish, and even kind of rude. But The Spookfish dodged my review queue for a long time and I think it was because the music contained on this miniature album feels so exclusive to the listener, so instantly personal. Not only is the record a secret, but it's YOUR secret, just you and Dan Goldberg. We hung out a lot this year, me and this cassette, and I guess it just didn’t feel right sharing that with anyone else. Well, the tape is long sold-out by this point, but you can pick up a digital copy still, so spend some time with it yourself and get cozy with those warbly keys and micro-beats all wrapped up in a nice blanket of tape hiss.

xxx

14. Conrad Wedde

Spaceworld

( Field Hymns )

One minute you're meditating, the next you're sippin' lime rickeys on the beach, and later you're slow-dancing cheek-to-cheek beneath the spangle of a cheap disco ball on prom night. Of course, this all takes place... on Mars. I don't really know much about this person, other than it appears that the music he produced was made in New Zealand, but Spaceworld was an instant favorite this year — a sound full of recognizable mantras from about a dozen of your favorite musical styles (ambient, pop, electro, and folk to name... four), mutated just-so to fit whatever weirdo-mold Wedde has so ingeniously set up for his sound. And it’s all executed with the glitter of an eye-twinkle that won't fail to make you give it the proverbial double-take.

xxx

15. Dura

Silver  /  Lawns

( Wounded Knife )

This one just barely edged out Dura's other also-excellent release on Patient Sounds to make my list, and part of it is due to the excellent packaging from Poland’s truly incredible Wounded Knife imprint, complete with a butterfly-stitched booklet and this cool J-band thing for the spine of the cassette case. And even though there’s a pretty gaping hole of sound on the end of one of the tape’s sides (big time cassette faux-pas!), the music here was plenty good enough to keep this one in heavy rotation since it first landed in my mailbox, after all, that's what fast-forward buttons are for, right? Mattson Ogg’s super soft hands seemed to be thrumming guitar strings from every possible direction on this one, each individual voice washing into its neighbor to produce an ear-massage unlike any other in 2014. You can feel this album’s fingertips kneading your brain, the perfect calm-me-down during moments of stress, the perfect mind-vacation during winter bus trips… The perfect ambient music, period.  

xxx

16. The Fun Years

One  Quarter  Descent

( Spring Break Tapes!

Despite the fact that the unable-to-do-wrong guitar/turntable duo know as The Fun Years should probably always have their music on vinyl, that didn’t stop me from purchasing their incredible new album on cassette tape within minutes of its announcement. The 100 copies Spring Break Tapes! made of this guy were long gone in a matter of hours, making this record’s puzzling omission from year-end lists around the web all the more worrisome. Clearly they have a dedicated fan-base, though, and that fan-base was treated to perhaps the best material from this elusive combo yet. Just beautifully ebbing waves of sepia-tinged color and scribbled strokes of sonic calligraphy all over One Quarter Descent. Unbelievably good, here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another 2-3 years for more new music from these incredible musicians.

xxx

17. Yankee Yankee

Segments

( Unit Structure Sound Recordings )

Most probably don’t know this, but Whitney Ota’s Yankee Yankee project saw an unbelievable transformation with the release of this new tape. The last release under the moniker, Ecstatic Dreamer, was a much more electric-kraut concept with sharp guitar amplifiers and even acoustic drums… more like a band-band. But here Ota’s completely on his own with a synthesizer that has what sounds like about 2 millions knobs, exploding through any kind of closed song-structure forms to find his mind meandering through two epic side-long journeys. And you swear he twists each and every single one of those knobs as he makes his way from start to finish, fine tuning delay speeds, loops, micro-melodies, dynamics, and whatever the hell else he can to bend these interstellar wormholes of sound into psychedelic new shapes. The result is fast, intense, confusing, gripping, and beyond mesmerizing. Let your ears gaze in awe.

xxx

18. Poet Named Revolver

Meets  Gruesome

( No Kings )

Is it ok that one of my favorite albums of 2014 actually came out in, like… 2008? Ok, maybe not, but your’e going to deal with it, because No Kings re-issued the sucker this year, and it’s just amazing. Lee Noble, TJ Richards (of Trabajo), and Stephen Molyneux were in a band back in the day called Poet Named Revolver that was the best thing ever, they released the best album ever, and then I guess they broke up, which is the worst thing ever. True story. What we're left with is this incredible document full of barn-burner indie rock and quaking ballads about death. Beautifully sung, passionately played, each and every tune has its own goosebump-raising moments. A tragedy this band isn't still making music on the regular... in fact I'm thinking about passing around a petition. You guys in?

xxx

19. Charles Barabé

Stigmates

( 905 Tapes )

Amid the flurry of terrific, straight-ahead stuff coming out on tape, it sure was nice to have something like Charles Barabé come along to slap me upside my day-dreaming head with a bout of some of the weirdest shit on the planet. A series of "Chapters" divvied out across this tape's lengthy mutant breadth in swampy synthtoropics, theremin meanderings, opera samples and god knows what else. Most of this is completely random and makes very little coherent sense, but it’s all composed with a certain composure and grace that makes Barabé's twisted vision musically brilliant indeed. Can’t wait to check into this guy’s stuff more and see what he comes up with next.

xxx

20. Adrian Knight

Pictures  of  Lindsey

( Galtta Media )

Easily the most-listened to tape I received in 2014 is one that I ended up calling “The single weirdest fucking tape of 2014” in a review earlier this year. What the hell was I talking about? In fact, there were few that were more obscenely normal this year in a lot of ways, which of course was what was so fucking weird about it. Knight's over-the-top arranging, here complete with saxophone and EVI appearances, screamed self-ridicule, especially when you consider the album is a concept record detailing Kinght's many failures in the land of love, the whole thing this completely jokey schmaltz-fest. But that schmaltz-fest is just so brilliantly composed, performed, and flat-out great, offering some of the catchiest moments of pop in 2014, melodies and themes I still find myself humming in my dreams. Everyone I've shown this to has said "Ariel Pink" to me, and that's fine I guess, although Adrian Knight is like 10000000x better.

Friday, January 9th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

1. Kyle Bobby Dunn - Kyle Bobby Dunn and the Infinite Sadness (Students of Decay)

Kyle Bobby Dunn and the Infinite Sadness is a sprawling, 3XLP of elegiac drones, beautiful post-classical compositions all with the typical KBD sass and humor not usually found in a genre that takes itself deadly serious. Despite (or maybe because of) its lengthy running time, this record chalked up more plays than any other on this list with ever-increasing returns. 

Purchase via Students of Decay

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2. Planning for Burial - Desideratum (The Flenser)

A year heavy on the doom and gloom, Desideratum is a crushingly beautiful testament to the power of the electric guitar (sufficiently looped and overlaid) to embody and exorcise the darkest, most futile and ultimately most beautiful aspects of life in 2014. Thom Wasluck has never sounded more confident or fragile in his reverb-heavy thesis.

Purchase via The Flenser

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3. Braeyden Jae - Heaven House (Patient Sounds Intl.)

Braayden Jae's shape-shifting oeuvre never really prepared me for something like this. Triumphantly heavy drones danced with a dissonance that has only been flirted with in previous releases under Braden's many other monikers. The result is one of the most emotionally resonant drone records of the year and one of the best records of 2014.  

Purchase via Patient Sounds, Intl.

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4. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything (Constellation Records)

It has been about a decade but Thee Silver Mt. Zion has grown out of the shadows of anything Godspeed and post-rock related to become genuine rock stars: a veritable crust-punk Led Zeppelin. From the opening rattle and bombardment of the three-track triptych of power chords and droning violins that start the album, to the crippling "What We Loved Was Not Enough," just try getting through this record without shedding a tear or burning a cop car.

Purchase via Constellation Records

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5. Have a Nice Life - The Unnatural World/Deathconsciousness (The Flenser)

What a year for these guys, amirite? First, the release of one of the most ambitious mixes of noise, post-punk and industrial coupled with straight-up pop sensibilities on The Unnatural World. Then, The Flenser re-releases on vinyl their legendary Enemies List album that cemented their status in musicianship and songwriting in the highest order with Deathconsciousness. HANL ruled 2014.

Purchase The Unnatural World via The Flenser

Purchase Deathconsciousness via The Flenser

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6. Gordon Ashworth - S.T.L.A (Ordinal Records)

S.T.L.A is full of the sounds of nighttime. The mechanical door of a parking garage, the stray dog barking at unseen prowlers, nervous smack energy of nightcrawling denizens all put to service of achingly beautiful, achingly bracing and achingly aching drones. If taken as a record primarily concerned with sound, S.T.L.A would still be tops, except that Ashworth is a musician of no small repute. These drones and sounds are folded into exquisite piano, guitar and piano passages; the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Purchase from Ordinal Records

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7. Dino Spilituni & Nils Quak - Modular Anxiety (Umor Rex)

This album came out in early 2014 and quickly became one of my go-to for completely engaging and encompassing synth-based drones with just enough glitch and dissonance on the Dino Spilituni side and ice-cold and adjacent soloing on a modular synthesizer on the Nils Quak side. The work by both musicians on this record has contributed immensely to the growing body of ambient/drone to make its mark on discerning ears this year and represent the work of two new-comers who have a lot to offer.

Purchase on Umor Rex

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8. Sister Grotto - The Minotaur (Tinyamp Recordings)

I haven't heard Grouper's new record, but I bet I would be hard-pressed to find something more beautiful in the vein of haunting, distant, ambient tapestry-weaving than Madeline Johnston's work as Sister Grotto on The Minotaur. Incredibly moving ambient passages woven into gentle guitar lines and field-samples. This was the one record that I personally championed to everyone I met. One listen will reveal why.

Purchase via Tinyamp Recordings

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9. Bus Gas - Snake Hymns (Spring Break Tapes!)

Bus Gas is the heir apparent to The Fun Years/Godspeed! brand of apocalyptic guitar passages. Notes prang out into a sea of floating, dead drones and signal back in ghostly, decomposing doubles of themselves. The listen is a test in sustained somberness, but dammit if it isn't some of the best guitar-based music put out in 2014. 

Purchase via Spring Break Tapes! 

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10. Symbol - Online Architecture (Holodeck)

Not only one of my favorite synth-based albums of the year, but by far my favorite album cover. In a lot of ways Symbol (AKA Christopher Royal King whose other band This Will Destroy You is also on this list) represents the best of so many great synth records that came out on Holodeck Records this year. King makes his graceful synth sounds triumphant even when they are slowly decaying from tape manipulation and planned obsolescence. This album is the truth. 

Purchase via Holodeck

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11. Chris Schlarb - Making the Saint (Asthmatic Kitty)

This record was recorded alone in Southern California's oldest wooden structure, a small space that belies the vastness of the tones Schlarb is able to coax from his guitar. I've always been a fan of Schlarb's large ensemble jazz pieces with strong musical personalities that blur so many genre lines, but this is Schlarb truly in the most primordial of elements: a conversation between man, guitar and ghosts.

Purchase via Chris Schlarb's bandcamp

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12. Aaron Martin - Comet's Coma (Eilean Rec)

Nothing prepared me for how truly beautiful this record sounds. Topeka, KS-based Aaron Martin is a lovely multi-instrumentalist, and whether it is a nimbly-picked guitar, bowed banjo, or cello, his compositional choices always leave ample blank spaces for whatever the listener wants to pour into them. The rich and sonorous acoustic instrumentation coupled with field samples and graceful drones were the aural equivalent of coming home to a glowing, warm cabin after hiking miles in the snow. 

Purchase from Eilean Rec

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13. Protoymartyr - Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art)

I really have no idea how to parse out the meaning of this record's title. Inside, however, is a blistering, brilliant collection of taught post-punk songs fronted with one of the most arresting voices I heard in 2014. I saw these dudes play in Cincinnati this year, the lead singer dressed was like an ambulance-chasing reporter who seemed genuinely impressed with how well his band played. I would be too. This is the new nervous-twitch of urban decay post-punk from Detroit.

Purchase from Hardly Art

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14. ØjeRum - There is a Flaw in my Iris (A Giant Fern)

Sparse and melancholy acoustic pieces that float with the weight of a feather. There is a Flaw in my Iris was put out via Portugal's A Giant Fern, which boasted an impressive crop of experimental music this year. This Danish composer/singer-songwriter can blow down a house with little more than a whisper. This stuff gets into the cracks of the foundation and reopens old wounds you thought you'd plastered over years ago.

Purchase via A Giant Fern

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15. Black to Comm - Black to Comm (Type)

In his first full-length since 2009's Alphabet 1968, Black to Comm has created a complete, sprawling 2xLP of fully-fleshed songs. To quote Stefon from SNL, this record has everything: radiator hum tuned to some god's golden lyre, pop songs from 3014, the sounds of coal-fed furnaces becoming self-aware and learning blues scales and instructions on how to turn yourself inside out. It's this thing where you grab your...I don't want to give it away. Just listen.

Purchase via Type

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16. Alex Cobb - Marigold and Cable (Shelter Press)

Supreme tranquility and relentless beauty. Unwavering patience and time held in stasis. The Students of Decay founder has hit some golden mean of long-playing drone that imbues any attention-required activity with meaning and some heavy-wash spectral drift. 

Purchase from Shelter Press

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17. Hakobune - Seamless and Here (Patient Sounds, Intl.)

Another perfect ambient record that rewarded patient, dedicated listens. While compared to Cobb's record (above) Hakobune puts more emphasis on constructing clouds - bright, billowy things comprised of layers upon layers of tones - rather than the structural, tone-by-tone approach by Cobb. Either way, 2014 was a crucial ambient-drone year for me. 

Purchase from Patient Sounds (Intl.)

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18. Marcus Rubio - Land of Disenfranchisement (Already Dead)

A bedroom chamber-pop masterpiece full of 2014's most poignant, whip-smart lines (heavy in religious imagery) from a San Antonio-based experimentalist and all-around nice guy. Rubio's shapeshifting tape moves from expanding/contracting tonality, to everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink composition that somehow transitions from Belle and Sebastian's fey tunesmanship into swirling lo-fi electronics, then on to banjo-heavy breakdowns and back again. It is a trip. Chris Cohen (Captured Tracks recording artist/Deerhoof/The Curtains) lends his left-field proclivities to this record. God, this is good.

Purchase via Marcus Rubio Bandcamp 

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19. White Suns - Totem (The Flenser)

Totem did spectacularly well in 2014 given its caustic, chaotic and completely unhinged approach to noise-rock. These are unforgiving and punishing tracks that push the level of dissonance and opprobrium passed 10. But inside there is pure virtoustic musicianship, elemental, totally cathartic responses to pain, hurt, and boredom. When these coalesce, like in the last two-minutes of "Clairvoyant," the result is a transportive vessel that transcends music.

Purchase via The Flenser

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20. Campo-Formio - Here Comes...Campo Formio! (Dead Mofongo)

Bands like Campo-Formio are the reason I blog in 2014. An unsolicited e-mail leads to hours of listening to their available output online, a tour through the Midwest and a show in the back of a taco restaurant on my five-year wedding anniversary (celebrating five years of dragging my wife out to shows), and later a package of vinyl records of their entire discography. Campo-Formio is a Puerto Rican post-punk band who have a studied recall of American Post-Punk bands like The Gories, Minutemen and Squirrel Bait. The result is an incredible pastiche of post-punk, power-pop and surf all filtered through post-globalism appropriation and reinterpretation without pale imitation. A testament to what makes being an internet blogger exciting in 2014.

Purchase via Campo-Formio Bandcamp

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21. Stag Hare - Djrona Trilogy (Djrona)

22. Daniel Bachman - Orange Co. Serenade (Bathetic)

23. Decade in Exile - Transit/Pulse (Crash Symbols)

24. Garek Jon Druss - Music for the Celestial Din (Debacle)

25. Boyfroot - Head High (Live God)

26. Lawrence English - Wilderness of Mirrors (Room40)

27. Porya Hatami - Shallow (Tench)

28. Sontag Shogun - Tale (Palaver Press)

29. Fucked Up - Glass Boys (Matador)

30. V/A: Across the Mountains - A Macedonian Ambient Music Compilation (Silber)

31. 555 - Swan River Yogue (Constellation Tatsu)

32. Botanist - VI: Flora (The Flenser)

33. Bitter Fictions - Derelict Drift (Shaking Box)

34. Oliwa - Time Immemorial (Inner Islands)

35. This Will Destroy You - Another Language (Suicide Squeeze/Holodeck)

36. C.J. Boyd - Precariat (Joyful Noise)

37. Duane Pitre & Cory Allen - The Seeker & The Healer (Students of Decay)

38. Public Housing - Public Housing (Torn Light)

39. Clara Engel - Ashes & Tangerines (Arachnidiscs)

40. V/A: Industry (Hel Audio)

41. No Lands - Negative Space (New Amsterdam)

42. Viet Cong - Cassette (Mexican Summer)

43. Silver Antlers - All a River (Inner Islands)

44. Nate Henricks - Neon For No One (Crash Symbols)

45. Yadayn - Vloed (Navalorama)

46. Invisible Elephant - Sleepwalking (Self-Released)

47. Grizzly Spectre - All of Them Witches (Self-Released)

48. Dura - Silver/Lawns (Wounded Knife)

49. Make-Overs - Move Jinx Hand (KRNGY)

50. Gazer - Fake Bulbs/Phone Commercial (Phratry)

Friday, December 26th, 2014 | Add New Comment (0)

APF Ant-1 (Vwyrd Wurd, 2014)

From what I can gather (and it took me a minute) APF is the moniker of San Jose, Costa Rica noise-drone dude Árböl Pájarö Fuegö, who for the sake of diacritic marks I will refer to as APF from now on. I don't know what cosmic alignment brought APF and Vwyrd Wurd together, but somewhere, under some portentious astrological happening, these two found each other, and it is a match made in consumer electronics, bedroom noise-making heaven. APF's compositions move from lo-fi acoustic jams, to longform noise pieces with scraping, chiseling pulls of harsh noise, to understated drones that copulate freely creating ghostly mutant spawn of one another. APF often works in extreme frequencies such as the punishing "1953" and high-pitched pulls on "Monique". For much of the album, however, APF is able subdue and tame these proclivities and work with tones and frequencies that dance on that knife ridge of dissonance and equitable beauty. It is a fine line and APF walks it well, often many of the best returns being when that tension is most evident. Costa Rica/P.A connect.

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Mooninite Soda (Hel Audio, 2014)

In the post-IDM world of blurring the edges between organic and digital sounds is there better purchase than the soda can? The sharp crack of an opening can, the bubbling CO2 that rises from the sound of liquid being poured onto a glass cup with ice cubes. Brilliant right? Soda by SLC-based electronic musician Mooninite is not only a celebration of the endless sample-ability (which he uses to great ends) of Utah's substitute vice but the sheer world-conquering ubiquity of the drink. When I worked at the refugee camp in Swaziland, Coca-Cola often was easier to obtain than water. Mooninite is not only able to exploit the soundscape in a can potential of soda as a conceit, but create a record of downtempo beats that snap like brittle twigs, skittering drum machine breaks and bucolic, Balearic-inspired synth arpeggios and beats that pulse and bounce with tightly regimented precision all while fronting a casual playfulness. It is always exciting getting a package from Hel Audio. Soda is a step further in shaping Hel Audio's overall aesthetic and reputation for forward-thinking electronic music.

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D O R C E L S I U S Peter Prince et le Mont Analol (Vwyrd Wurd, 2014)

Last entry in Vwyrd Wurd's expanding, benevolent empire. Dorcelsius, a French duo splitting time between Riga and Paris create worlds inside of worlds full of driving, intense house beats that belie the dancefloor conotations for an intense, personal listen. Holy shit, this thing is on 10. Syrupy, sludgy synths reigning over the intense snap of snare drums in heat. Throwback to some formative Detroit/Chicago techno with a total absence of the cool, self-absorbed detachment that we Americans tend to associate with French electronic music. Rather, there is a fully-embodied, tactile engagement with the music as a function of the mind and the body. Knobs are turned, patches plugged in, chords on synths heavily pawed. There is so much human in this beating mechanical heart. Algorhythmic euphoria. Post-industrial messiness and skronk searing holes through the crystal city facade of Parisian nightclub music. This is super plugged in. Vwyrd Wurd never ceases to amaze.

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Braeyden Jae - Gutted (Spring Break Tapes! 2014)

I'll be damned if these weren't some pure-as-the-driven-snow, purified winter drones. No, quite literally, I will be damned. You see, I've put all of my trust and faith into music as surrogate deity. When corporeal, Republican-leaning God(s) cease to invoke wonder and majesty, I will always have the limitless and endlessly captivating channeled-but-uncreated pool of sound to pour devotion and worshipful reverence into. I'm not not saying Braeyden Jae is a prophet, but maybe an oracle? A clairvoyant? Someone able to crystallize and condense whatever mysterious force moves through the cord connecting bass guitar to amplifier. Whomever or whatever he is, Braeyden Jae has created his second in dense, heavy and emotionally resonant drone tapes this year. I am thrilled this one found its way into the hands of Spring Break Tapes! A label I have boundless appreciation for. On Gutted, Braeyden moves his way through two longform drone pieces that start from the ground floor of a low jet-engine's roar and moves to, when Braeyden really opens up the throttle, being inside of a volcano on some Celestial, near-heaven moon. Just try listening to that moment, about 5 1/2 minutes into "The Purpose of Purposeful Delay", when Braeyden just tears into this controlled and corralled wash of feedback, rending the veil a little bit to catch a glimpse of all possible futures and pasts of whatever note he is holding infinitely. One of 2014's most thrilling musical moments.

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There are things in Cincinnati. One of them is no shortage of incestuous pop-punk bands whose whole transcends the sum (melodic, relentlessly uptempo pop-punk) of its parts (members of equally incestuous punk bands). Sleeves is a young band in terms of membership and total time spent playing together, but as a group  represents some of the best of this bumper crop of the loud and fast (Vacation, Black Planet, Swim Team) flourishing in the Queen City. Sleeves is comprised of John Hoffman (Dead North) and Dylan McCartney whose post-punk band Mardou will one day save us all. On their debut tape, the duo (now rounded out as a trio with addition of bassist Alex Collins) play overdriven, hook-filled pop-punk loud, fast and with all the pent-up sexual frustration of a flagellating  zealot. Unplaced and channeled angst and ennui is voiced in the distinctive rough edges on the lines traded by Hoffman and McCartney's trading vocal lines. Remember how raw and tuneful those early Thermals records were? Sex is Stupid has that limbs-flailing intensity and youthful purpose writ large across the fat spine of an under 20-minute tape. I turned 30 today. This kind of stuff still makes me feel like I can move mountains.

Monday, December 8th, 2014 | Add New Comment (0)