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.