Monte Burrows - Ikki Ni (Wounded Knife, 2016)

Monte Burrows is the codename for Spring Break Tapes! founder Joe MCkay's musical outlet. And what an outlet it is: two side-long compositions of great movement, weight and decay. "Silhouettes 1-5" rises high on rich orchestral synth swells, dips down into the depths of contact mic sub bass only to ascend again to some mezzanine level of a pit orchestra's tension-filled passage warped through reel-to-reel tape manipulation. The piece ends with a stately Basinski-ish micro-movement that rises above the fray and ends triumphant, having escaped slow death of gradually erasing magnetic tape. "Shadows of Manitou" is a gloriously submerged track swimming in tightly composed and stitched together phrases of synthesized harmony under the weight of heavy mechanical and digital detritus comprising the most heavily soundscape-designed composition on this tape. A beautifully affecting piece of work fans of Basinski and Jeck would instantly find companionship with. 

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Wander - Kat Gat Sea (Wounded Knife, 2016)

Italian folk-drone duo Vincenzo De Luce and Matteo Tranchesi create a startlingly good case for the acoustic guitar on their cassette release for Wounded Knife. The duo's compositions stretch and contort the acoustic guitar to take in a terrifyingly vast catalog of sounds that range from the rustic, Tompkins Square folk ramblings to menacing dronescapes composed of the sound fluctuations, mechanical and output-based manipulations of the entire body of the guitar. Both of these sides are done in perfect execution. Songs like "Unfinished Departures" and "Faded Memories" are two unsettlingly somber compositions composed of two guitars striking balance between filling and emptying sonic space with gentle ascending minimalist lines with underlying drones that imbue each composition with light and/or deep sense of dread. Other tracks like "Red Barn" let aggressive noise-led elements, for example the sample and meditation the air through the mouthpiece of a trumpet being tuned and manipulated like a HAM radio, bleed into gentle, reflective blues and folk-inspired lines. Album standout is the closer "Black Powder" that features some Barn Owl heavy electric guitar rumbling leads and accompaniment by the metal on metal sonic possibilities of a hollow bodied acoustic guitar. Inspiring stuff.

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braeyden jae - perpetual child (Wounded Knife, 2016)

'Ecstatic' is an adjective I don't hear thrown around enough when talking or writing about ambient music or experimental music. But there it is on the blurb for braeyden jae's Wounded Knife release. I've been writing about braeyden's music for a long time but that word has always been just out of my grasp. Perhaps there is nothing better than describing aspects of braeyden's when he reaches the track's climax and steals home with 'ecstatic' runs up and down the bass guitar's neck physically pushing an entire ocean's worth of tones into the next register and beyond into the world of near-harmonics. There is a lot of emotion behind those movements that the listener will read into it, but joy isn't out of the realm of possibility behind those bending, ascending notes and the gradual descent into softened drones of sparkling light. Perpetual Child, possibly more than any other braeyden jae release, leads us and keeps us there under the gentle glare of some shiny, fogged sea lapping over a deep obsidian core. A memento of a darker place deep below the surface. 

Monday, May 23rd, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

Danny Paul Grody - Sketches for Winter VI: "Other States" (Geographic North, 2016)

And with this we have the end of winter, a slow loosening grasp that comes with a cyclical forgetting and remembering of warmth. I'm writing this well into May in the middle of an awkwardly placed cold spell. Remembering winter has brought me back to Daniel Paul Grody's excellent contribution to Geographic North's Sketches for Winter series. Grody's tape is an effortless blend of placid American Primitivist guitar (think Scott Tuma and Lake Mary) being played out in languid contemplation in a living room near a roaring wood burning fireplace instead of the front porch which seems to be natural habitat for these kind of folk-drone compositions. This inward turning displays some beautiful drone passages beneath the deft, rhythmic propulsion of Grody's acoustic guitar. Washes of heavy reverb flow through and illuminate these passages leaving spectral tracings like pyrite glinting in a quick moving river. Field recordings of forests and streams remind us that life is hibernating just beyond March. A wonderful tape to lose 30 minutes in while watching life return outside your window.

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Orra - They Mean No Harm (Heavy Mess, 2016)

A ponderous, heavily-spaced electroacoustic slowburner from Sean Conrad (Ashan, Inner Islands Records) and Jennifer Williams (Gossimer) is a realtime exercise in space-finding between two interconnected beings. Pregnant pauses follow sonorous guitar-lines bending and arcing in the upper register that are played back through a ghostly apparatus that leave the casing of the passage while letting the soul rattle about like a ghost in the machine. About half-way through "Glass Sisters", Williams' voice rises through the settling electroacoustic mist, ebbing and flowing with the same regularity of the passages of silence and sound. Then the essential stringness of strings are explored: the oxymoronic brittleness of metal, the tensile slack and tightness. These are played over a faraway oscillation and buried, leading, coaxing voice that creeps in so slowly you swear it was there the whole time. The B-Side, "Come Down the Night" is a propulsive passage of basement effused beats, washes of warbly synthesizer drones, wandering acoustic instrumentation and contact mic solipsisms into a wonderfully pastoral marriage of all four. A satisfyingly calming and contemplative listen.

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Urthsla - Wannsee (Field Hymns, 2016)

A revelatory record by Berlin's Artem Bezukladnikov for Field Hymns. Wannsee rides the spectral drift from droning passages with acoustic folk overlays to forever-ascending kraut synth lines that break free into earthy, reverb-laden psych burners that mark the return of the pastoral that never really left. The tape's eponymous B-Side is a hushed, intimate hymn underneath piles and piles of pillowy drone before a stately guitar riff breaks free from understatement and arrives, smearing its painted-black likeness across the entire canvas. Boris's heavy meditation on Nick Drake on "Farewell" comes to mind in its crushing annd hope-in-humanity giving power. Like "Farewell", the riff endlessly replicates itself, squeezing into noise-laden, roof-scratching intensity of epic squalor, or pulsing radiantly beneath the surface of roiling, searching drones. If I do a best-of list this year, Wannsee will definitely be on there.

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dugout canoe - Over Unity (Self-Released, 2016)

"Over Unity" by Denver D.I.Y. vet and Goldrush alumni Jacob Isaacs is a 54 minute journey through perma-ascending minimal synth lines that slow fade into hyper-pointilist compositions that layer chopped shoegaze guitars over self-aware programmed electronics that play like a pinchinco machine caught in a wormhole. There is this strange effect, halfway through "Over Unity I" where notes are flying at and past you at such speed and regularity that it becomes impossible to grasp individual notes, yet, comprehend the superstructure of the composition itself, a sort of meta-melody constructed from the rise and fall of a thousand independent musical movements. I'm not sure if that makes any sense, but it feels true. The way this tape segues through these sections is one of the most exciting things about these compositions. All wind-up and major release when the BPM slows a bit and some space opens up to reveal sugary melodies, washes of dense, drunk electronics, echoes of earthly voices, buried-but-unashamed electronica, pastoral industrial, trigger-effect reverbed out bass lines Over Unity is arresting from the jump, a rare record that demands so little from the listener but delivers a million sensory pleasures at regular intervals, plus it is recorded and mixed by Ryan McRyhew (Thug Entrancer) so, can't stop, won't stop with this one.

Monday, May 16th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)
Blindside / You Don't Have to Be a House to Be Haunted

I'll give you a second to collect yourself. There is a feeling that comes after listening to Sister Grotto tape of utter exhaustion. Like being pulled from an icy river you were sure you were going to drown in, it takes a minute or two orient yourself with the above-ground world. The sharp definition of blacks and whites, sharp edges and the contour of the earth's massive shape. These come back to you slowly, layer-upon-layer, but you'll never get that feeling back of abandoning this world. The faint glimpse of colors dancing on the back of your eyelids or some glowing half-light of another world.

Sister Grotto Blindside (Heavy Mess, 2016)

Blindside is Sister Grotto's first tape of 2016 that consist of two compositions for braeyden jae's newly-minted label Heavy Mess. If you recall this isn't the first partnership of braeyden and Sister Grotto. Their album Born to Lose / Born to Leave on Antiquated Future was a stunner of collaborative drone. On the A-Side of Blindside we find Sister Grotto in a meditative trance over a ghostly piano line. Brian Eno's "Stuck by the River" comes  to mind but with much more trailing reverb in its wake and keys pressed with obsidian somberness. Minimal passages haunt the composition, punctuating open ground between the grand swoops of Madeline Johnson's breathy, multi-tracked vocals. The phrase "I'm not at home" accumulates more weight and meaning as it is repeated, both in the composition and in the delivery itself. Artifacting, keyed-down vocals lie at the end of the slow decline of the multi-tracked choir of Johnson's own voice as it deliberates on this passage over eliding drones with subtle shifts of hue and color matching the aurora borealis exploding into view as we press our hands tight against our closed eyes. The second sidelong track is "Blindside's" fraternal drone twin. Stasis broke by bobbing and weaving tones and analog detritus as it eventually blooms into an immensely moving track that drifts and floats like an iceberg with impossible heaviness and lightness.

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Sister Grotto You Don't Have to be a House to be Haunted (Self-Released, 2016)

It's May and I'm calling it in early. You Don't Have to Be a House to Be Haunted is the best album of the year. Not just 5 months into 2016 but in perpetuity. You Don't Have to be a House is the culmination of what makes Sister Grotto such a compelling artist. The easy access into her compositions that sound unbelievably rich. Soundscapes that are three dimensional. Johnson's uncanny ability to wring all the emotion of the simplest phrases. And, on You Don't Have to be a House... A sense of scope that is bigger than anything that Johnson has done so far: string accompaniments and a full choir on "Videotape", an unmistakable sense of place and narrative arc on "Uncanny" that pitches Madeline's voice into bottomless pit lows, the powerful simplicity and mystery of "Witness". This tape feels big enough to live in. Tons of labyrinth-like hallways, tiny closets of packaged melodies that don't appear until the 3rd or 4th listen, hedge-mazes and creaking floorboards of unrequited and unspent energy that haunt these three tracks like a Victorian mansion. I would suppose the closest comparison we have is Grouper. But where Grouper's compositions often feel inundated by place - room tone and drone slowly blending into one - Sister Grotto's compositions, especially fleshed out as they are here, seem to come from vignettes of 8mm film that are insular and in-the-mind as they are universal. You Don't Have to be a House... is a singular product although it is Johnson's most collaborative to date, the most personal although it's title is inspired by Dickinson and it's first track is a meditation on a Radiohead track. There's really nothing like it.

Monday, May 9th, 2016 | Add New Comment (0)

North Atlantic DriftVisitor (Polar Seas Recordings, 2016)

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

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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.

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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.

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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)

Duh.

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

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

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

 

2. Alex Cobb - Chantepleure (Students of Decay)

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

 

3. King Woman - Doubt (The Flenser)

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

6. Vales - Vales (Shatter Your Leaves)

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

 

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

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

 

8. Ruhe - Patriarchs (Eilean Rec)

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

 

9. Head Dress - Mesa (Horror Fiction)

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

 

10. Liturgy - Ark Work (Thrill Jockey)

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

16. Shampoo Boy - Crack (Blackest Ever Black)

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

21. Benoît Pioulard - Sonnet (Kranky)

22. Boan - Mentiras (Holodeck)

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

24. Kill West - Smoke Beach (Dismal Niche)

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

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

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

28. Drowse - Soon Asleep (Apneic Void)

29. Clay Rendering - Snowthorn (Hospital Productions)

30. Valet - Nature (Kranky)

31. Föllakzoid - III (Sacred Bones)

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

33. Viet Cong - Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar)

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

35. Xua - Mekong Moon (Debacle)

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

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

38. Nico Niquo - Epitaph (Orange Milk)

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

40. Mamaleek - Via Delorosa (The Flenser)

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

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

43. PERILS - PERILS (Desire Path)

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

45. Spheruleus - Peripheres (Eilean Rec)

46. Powerdove - Arrest (Sick Room Records)

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

48. Bell Witch - Four Phantoms (Profound Lore)

49. Angelo Harmsworth - Cerrillos Disco (Lime Lodge)

50. anthéne - repose (Polar Seas Recordings)

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