North Atlantic DriftVisitor (Polar Seas Recordings, 2016)

I’ve been supremely psyched on Polar Seas Recordings latest output. The North Atlantic Drift/Northumbria split and anthéne’s Repose tap into glacial drones that drift serenely through half-frozen seas of like worried icebergs. In ambient music, huge doors move on the tiniest hinges. The opening track of Visitor by North Atlantic Sea signals a sleight, but overwhelmingly massive change in direction. “Recluse” starts with a clean, persistent beat and bass line that rumble straight through your solar plexus creating a warped version of a slow-motion house beat heard reverberating from beneath the floorboards. This move into beat oriented arenas with gorgeous overlays of North Atlantic Drift arcing drone places the track into a strangely upbeat and major key zone. This will later be revisited in the stark and plodding “Everest” caught in the undertow of Jesu-tinged dark-ambient or sidelined to showcase the gorgeous, eliding tones of “Meridian” that lap upon one another in slow-motion decay. Highly recommended if only for high res photo booklet and CD envelope that account for the physical packaging.


The Volume Settings FolderLaguna (Oscarson Records, 2016)

The Volume Settings Folder is the alias of Italian ambient-drone musician M. Beckmann who serves as guide and director of precise and emotionally resonant drones composed out of crackling, electrical-charged clouds. These tones resonate with the quiet vibrato of the untrained human voice singing an elegy. Sharp volume swells and slow-motion air-show disaster come downs sans parachute. Beckmann has an innate sense of when to throttle back, allowing the strands of sinewy, American-primitivist lines to sing out and punctuate the thick, humid air of low cloud cover drone and when to push the overwhelming omnichord into maximum, peaking ocean-tone. A truly gorgeous CD that was mailed to me overseas; one of the best “Eureka” moments of 2016.


LFZ LFZ (Stimulus Progression, 2016)

Originally recorded last year but reissued via Stimulus Progression, LFZ finds Sean Smith bending and corralling the guitar into tonal phrasings that I’ve never heard before. Unearthly passages rich in timbre, majestically capturing the dynamic range of frequencies along each line’s ebb and flow into the light. Composed of two-sidelong pieces, “Fair Winds & Following Seas” is a cut for the ages. A track comprised of weighty movements, “Fair Winds” moves from breathtaking swoops of guitar tone of incredible range before moving into intense passages of organ-drones played heavily in an ancient, abandoned church of stone-cloud density before arpeggiated guitar eddy into the foreground bringing to mind passages of Cluster and Harmonia. Side B is an equally compelling, all-improvised track that maintains the additive intensity of and steel-eyed persistence of the best Kraut players. Striking an impressive balance between the calculation of structural movements with the innate responsiveness and emotional intelligence of improvisation, LFZ is quite possibly one of the year’s best releases.


IcepickAmaranth (Astral Spirits, 2016)

Astral Spirits literally RIPS into the vinyl world with this insanely great collective improv by the legendary Chris Corsano on drums, Nate Wooley on trumpet and Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on double bass. The album is filled with moments that, if dissected and surgically removed from the whole of the album – movements of relatively straight improvised post-bop to expressive meditations on the sheer mechanical movements of music – would be showcases, resume builders of three musicians on top of their game. Together, in totality, sound impossibly honed and interconnected as if directed from some higher power with some greater purpose. One such standout is Haker-Flaten’s impressively aggressive way he goes after bass lines on "Rossa Corsa" - attacking them with super villain tenacity in conjunction and with incredible dynamic range during his solo. Wooley showcases his ability to wring literally every sound a trumpet and mouth can make on the criminally short “Fuchsia” from airy breathspaces to flatulent lows. The album’s most impressive piece is the B-Side spanning “Rare Rufescent” wherein the track moves on a non-linear path from structured chaos to internal-shared logic chaos communicated using telepathy and Jungian archetypes. Listening at high volumes reveal Corsano playing every inch of his drum set, woody chops echo beneath splashy fills and inhuman snare hits while Haker-Flaten runs speed trials around Wooley’s in-the red-runs across a ruinous tonal field. A truly magnificent thing to behold.

Order from Astral Spirits

Monday, April 25th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

If you've been wondering why there has been a dearth of reviews on the Tome, please look no further than the eyes of that painting above. Now, imagine those eyes staring back at you from a 12" x 12" canvas containing a glowing white orb that shines behind those slightly manic, slightly tired eyes. Those eyes were painted by Andrew Alba on the cover of braeyden jae's newest LP "fog mirror" on my newest venture, Whited Sepulchre Records.

Band name origin stories are lame, perhaps label origin stories are lamer, but I'm going to tell it because it says a lot about my reaction to music as a writer and now label owner. I've written about braeyden's music since the near inception of Tome to the Weather Machine through all of its permeations and monikers. Braeyden sent me this record a year ago when we began formulating the idea of putting it out as a vinyl record. Having this album digitally, I would listen to it in various settings. Once, while on a run through Spring Grove Cemetery that runs behind my neighborhood block, I was listening to "fog mirror" and an idea burrowed its way into my head. Ostensibly, "fog mirror" is a beautiful ambient record - one full of eliding, sustained tones, textural drones, buried piano that bob and eddy through layers of enveloping sound. Ambient music has a magical way of obscuring inputs and presenting you with fully formed outputs while masking much of the work and mechanical movement required to produce it - a musical sleight of hand. The best stuff, which I rank "fog mirror" as, presents this self contained finished product along with providing a breadcrumb trail indicating the additive process of making this music. In approaching this kind of instrumental music with little available context into the inputs used to create it, we form emotional attachments to sounds as they are presented - often allowing ourselves to take it in as an consuming whole, or fixating on musical movements that may not be self-evident in passive listening. 

This was the case for me while running. I was mesmerized by the musical output, moved by it emotionally, cognizant of the musical input, but even more aware of its real input - the need to create something beautiful in a world that, in a cosmic sleight of hand, buries that beauty in places that aren't always apparent as well as the weight of existential dread that forces our hand to create or consume (to take inside ourselves) something of great beauty as a way to dispel the darkness. This all started to make sense...this record, the cemetery...

Jesus once said to the ruling religious class of Jerusalem, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." As I ran past these beautifully ornate sepulchres and mausoleums I meditated on that phrase I remembered from my devoutly religious youth. This album - the musical output of great beauty inspired by equal parts wonder and dread, the physical medium which contains it - a pure white slab of wax - were these really just tombs whose beauty was a totem against the crushing fear of death? The input obscured by the gorgeous output? The white marble facade containing rotting flesh and dead man's bones? 

I guess, this is to say, after years and years of listening to and writing about ambient and experimental music, being this involved and close to a piece of music this powerful had a profound change on how I approach and how I interpret music. 

I am thrilled to share it with the world. I hope you like it. Please consider purchasing it. It also comes with a split cassette of braeyden jae and Portland's ant'lrd containing compositions written for and about friends and family who contributed to helping get Whited Sepulchre Records off the ground. Thanks.

The Tome will resume its normally scheduled reviews after this week.

Ryan H.

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

In advance of Son Lux's show tonight at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center with Dawn of Midi, Son Lux's people reached out to me to request, what I was hoping, was going to be a podcast but turned into a solid e-mail interview rager. This is what it took to shake me from perpetual TOME slumber and get back on the wobbly bike of providing content for this site. 

TOME: You are probably aware of this, but you have some Cincinnati connections. Your first album and remix EP were put out through .anticon which has some strong Cinci roots. My question is, you “arrived” with an absolutely massive debut record full myriad sounds and influences on an already “post-everything” record label. Do you have a stylistic or genre-based bedrock that your compositions grew out of, or is everything pretty much “in the air” so to speak?

SON LUX: I think the bedrock of my personal approach owes more to lineages of artists than it does with genres at large. My influences have affected me deeply, but they have come from different communities and circumstances. In that sense, the ethos of .anticon was a natural fit for my work.

TOME: I’ve read that you didn’t necessarily come from a musical family but persisted in playing piano. What were some early musical discoveries, those “oh shit” moments in music that hit you in the stomach a) emotionally b) on a compositional level? – those don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.

SON LUX: Typically, I didn't really feel an "oh shit" level of awe unless a discovery satisfied both criteria. Two notable examples from my childhood are Bela Bartok and Prince.

TOME: While Son Lux sounds like the product of a pretty singular voice, you’ve collaborated to no end both on your studio albums and as newly formed trio on Bones. Can you tell me about an instance or two where you’ve collaborated with someone on essentially “your song” where that individual either completely nailed what you had envisioned or opened the song up in a completely new way?

SON LUX: Working with Lorde on the song "Easy," and with Hanna Benn on the song "You Don't Know Me," are two examples that come to mind in which the artist accomplished something that simultaneously felt like both of the outcomes you described. When surprise is the vision, the only way to nail it is by doing the unexpected.

TOME: On a personal level (asking for myself…or a friend) Ostensibly, you seem very busy. How do you prevent from burning out? Do you have some magical self-care tips or is creating music just that compelling to you to constantly be creating and working?

SON LUX: First of all, I drink a shit load of coffee. I actually love working on a variety of projects at once. When I feel like I'm losing inspiration or momentum on one project, I can just switch to a different one. It helps to keep things fresh. Also I spend as much time as I can with my loved ones- with my wife and my dog. Taking that kind of time actually really helps with productivity.

TOME: These next two questions are my personal reactions to (what I see) as major themes in your work: Would you say that dread influences your work…on a personal or existential level? Are we doomed as a species…Asking for a friend.

SON LUX: Look to the next one for the answer!

TOME: Would you say that wonder influences your work…on a personal or existential level? Are we humans amazing or what? Both dread and wonder definitely influence Son Lux greatly.

SON LUX: They may seem at odds with each other but I think that, like most opposites, they are deeply intertwined.

Ryan H.

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


...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)