Diamanda Galás, "In Concert"

In ConcertAs far as I can tell, this is probably Diamanda Galás' tenth live album to date and it documents a pair of 2017 performances in Chicago and Seattle (Galás' previous live album, At Saint Thomas the Apostle Harlem, dates from the previous year). For the uninitiated, that probably sounds like an excessive number of live albums, but the improvisatory nature of Diamanda's art ensures that every single live performance is a truly singular event. Of course, actually experiencing Diamanda Galás live (an essential experience) is not quite the same as hearing a recording of the performance, much like watching a professionally shot video of a burning house is not quite the same as actually being inside one. That said, it is still a wild and compelling experience nonetheless and the lines between studio albums and live albums are increasingly academic given her volcanic spontaneity and preference for single-take recordings. The similarities to jazz do not end there, however, as Diamanda Galás in Concert is devoted to radical piano-and-voice interpretations of an eclectic and fascinating array of unconventional standards.

Intravenal Sound Operations

I recently saw someone suggest that Diamanda Galás "has felt the pain and suffering of the entire world her whole life" and it unexpectedly stuck with me. Regardless of whether that statement is actually true, it occurred to me that Galás is somewhat akin to cross between a sin-eater and The Picture of Dorian Gray, but instead of allowing guilty souls to finally rest in peace, she just screams humanity's ugly sins right back in our collective faces with harrowing intensity. The most obvious illustration of that dynamic is Diamanda's undiminished rage and sadness over the cruelty of how the world handled the AIDS epidemic, but she has plenty of similarly strong feelings about oppression and genocide too and that comes through even in her choice of cover songs (though "cover" is a hopelessly inadequate term for any song reshaped by Diamanda Galás). In keeping with that theme, she describes four of the songs included here as being "for and by the forsaken, outcast and debased," while the remaining three tackle yet another familiar theme: the dark side of love. That said, the stylistic breadth of her source material covers an impressively wide swath of both time and space, as she gamely finds and celebrates the connective tissue that runs through "rembetika, soul, ranchera, country and free jazz" (and even that is hardly a comprehensive list of all of the various cultural threads that Diamanda Galás In Concert touches upon).

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People Like Us, "COPIA"

CopiaThis latest album from Vicki Bennett, her first since 2018, is a characteristically dizzying and multilayered collage fantasia drawn from her currently touring AV performance "The Library of Babel." Fittingly, the album title has a dual meaning (either "abundance" or "copy"), but the deeper conceptual vein lies in the AV performance's title nod to a Jorge Luis Borges short story. In that story, "isolated librarians" struggle to "find meaningful texts amidst an overwhelming number of nonsensical or irrelevant books." Naturally, that nicely mirrors our own existential struggle to make sense of life while drowning in vast amounts of information, which Bennett colorfully portrays as "a journey through cinema and sound where the actors are set adrift from their story, left with pure experience." Fans of Bennett's previous work will find a lot of familiar samples, melodies, and themes set adrift from previous songs as well, as COPIA feels like a fever dream tour of the project's discography distilled into one memorably unhinged plunge down the psychedelic rabbit hole. Such self-cannibalism is very much in character for the project, of course, but a few of COPIA's fresh variations on a theme rank among Bennett's most mesmerizing work.

Cutting Hedge

The album is billed as a plunge into "profound realms of existential collage and sampling" in which Bennett and her many collaborators (Ergo Phizmiz, Matmos, etc.) celebrate the gleeful appropriation and recontextualization of our shared pop culture "as expressions of timeless connectivity." I mention that last part because the project can seem fun and kitschy on its surface, but Bennett rightly sees herself more like a folk artist, collecting meaningful fragments of culture and recombining them in alternately amusing, insightful, and poignant ways. In particular, Bennett has always seemed especially drawn towards American and British pop culture moments from the mid-20th century that portray society in romanticized, innocent, or utopian ways and that remains true here, as COPIA is teeming with kaleidoscopic fragments of iconic Disney moments, easy listening crooners, Motown, snatches of The Wizard of Oz, and the wide-eyed optimism of songs like Percy Faith's "A Summer Place" and Jackie DeShannon's "What The World Needs Now." It is hard to say how much of COPIA's source material has previously surfaced (somewhere between "most of it" and "all of it," I think), but the context is definitely a new one, as this album feels like a delirious longform hallucination rather than a collection of discrete songs.

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Taylor Deupree, "Sti​.​ll"

Sti​.​llI had a roommate back in the '90s who was deeply into the ambient side of techno, which was something that I intensely loathed at the time. Unbeknownst to me, however, that was my first exposure to the seemingly ubiquitous and eternal Taylor Deupree (via his Human Mesh Dance and Prototype 909 projects). I have since grown to genuinely love his work, of course, but I am sufficiently guilty of taking him for granted that I slept on his landmark 2002 album Stil. The same is not true of Joseph Branciforte (who runs the greyfade label), as he was so taken with the album that he embarked upon a multi-year project to "bring Deupree's explorations of extreme repetition and stillness into the world of notated chamber music." That initially seemed like quite a quixotic endeavor to me, but the resultant album is an absolute revelation, as breaking Deupree's elegantly skipping and sublime ambient magic up into individual acoustic components reveals an incredible degree of harmonic and dynamic sophistication that would have been otherwise lost on me. To paraphrase a scene from Mad Men, hearing Sti.ll after listening to Stil. feels like the moment in The Wizard of Oz when everything unexpectedly bursts into vivid color.

12k/Nettwerk

According to Deupree, the original album was inspired by the seascapes of Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto and led to a significant change in the direction of his own vision (the idea of "stillness" became a guiding theme, as alluded to by the album's title). Compositionally, that change manifested itself in the four longform pieces of Stil. being devoted entirely to the "complex repetition of looping passages," as Deupree found that sustained immersion in repeating patterns could reveal "hidden pulses and movements not initially apparent," which is a vision that historically resonates quite deeply with me. In nuts-and-bolts terms, the original album was assembled from "melodic and granular passages juxtaposed in variable-length loops." Naturally, the "variable length" bit is what triggers the subtle, slow-motion transformations in these pieces, but Deupree illustrated the process more dramatically by noting that Stil.'s title piece was "based entirely on oscillating variations in a single 0.33 second tonal fragment." In short, small changes eventually bring fascinating and unexpected results.

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Nový Svět, "DeGenerazione"

DeGenerazioneThe enigmatic, inscrutable, and defunct Austrian duo of Jürgen Weber and Lili Novy/Frl. Tost has long been a subject of fascination for me, as I have had a bunch of their albums for years and enjoyed them, yet knew virtually nothing about them at all. In fact, I still would find it incredibly challenging to even answer a simple question like "what does Nový Svět sound like?" as their elusive discography continually blurs the lines between industrial, folk, cabaret, improv, collage, and whatever other esoteric influences they decided to assimilate for a given album. Amusingly, they also had a quixotic tendency to record albums in languages other than their native German, as evidenced by this newly released album from the vaults, which was originally intended to complete a "Spanish trilogy" back in 2007. In characteristically contrarian and mystifying fashion, it was shelved for being "too Spanish" and a synth album (Todas Las Últimas Cosas) was released instead. If this were any other band, I would drive myself crazy wondering why they would allow such an mesmerizing and wonderfully weird album to languish unheard, but baffling choices were basically the norm for Nový Svět. In any case, this album rules and I am thrilled to finally get to hear it.

Quindi

Aside from rudimentary and potentially dubious details like "Nový Svět were originally Vienna-based and formed in 1997," most of my knowledge of the band's history amusingly comes from a 1999 Russian interview in which the hapless interviewer kept asking an obviously disinterested Weber about how Futurism shaped the project's vision. Given that Weber glibly dismissed a few prominent Futurists as embarrassing weirdos and dandies in the interview, it is probably safe to say that they were not a terribly big influence, but he did seem to know a hell of a lot about the European avant-garde despite attributing the band's origins largely to alcohol and having a bunch of instruments lying around. Based on what little I know, it seems that the project's shapeshifting vision was more likely shaped by an interest in traditional music and instrumentation colliding with a fondness for tape loops and samplers, but Nový Svět also seemed to be shaped quite a bit by their immediate surroundings and a host of non-musical influences (theater, Buddhism, hedonism, folklore, Cage, Pasolini, Esperanto, Art Brut, etc.)..

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Hollywood Dream Trip, "Second Album"

First issued in 2013 as a limited-to-50 CDr, the, um, second album by the duo of Christoph Heemann and Will Long (Celer) was initially released in conjunction with a tour and has been only digitally available since. For its tenth anniversary, Black Rose Recordings have reissued this second (of three) recordings from the project on a wider available physical edition, ensuring that its lush, yet sparse collection of electronics are available once again for those longing for a tangible copy.

Black Rose Recordings

Consisting of a single 42-ish minute piece that was created using only two synths, a reverb unit, a tone generator, and tapes Second Album's overall sound reflects this intentionally stripped-down setup, but the duo cover a lot of different territories throughout its lengthy duration. Opening with a basic, resonating synth pulsation, the two delicately add in some low frequency elements and subtle melodic tones to flesh everything out.

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Sewer Election/Incipientium, "Sorceress"

SorceressA pairing of two Swedish artists, the veteran Dan Johansson (Sewer Election) and the relative newcomer Gustav Danielsbacka (Incipientium), Sorceress makes for an unsettling collaboration at various points throughout its four compositions. With their heavy use of manipulated tapes, they add an uncomfortably organic sense to the sputtering electronics and junk noise that sound anything but human throughout. It may be unsettling, but it is also delightfully enchanting throughout.

Throne Heap

The album is essentially split into two halves, with Johansson handling mixing duties on the first three shorter pieces, and Danielsbacka tackling the 20 minute fourth and final work. The two different approaches clearly reflect that mixing was handled by each individual, but the overall product complements each other quite well.

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Jim White & Marisa Anderson, "Swallowtail"

SwallowtailThis unusual drum and guitar duo first surfaced back in the dark days of early 2020 with The Quickening, which they boldly recorded without ever having previously performed together. Obviously, both artists are seasoned improvisers and excellent musicians, but I was still taken aback by the instant and incredible chemistry on pieces like that album's title track. Given the significant hurdles like distance, touring schedules, and other collaborations, it understandably took quite some time before the opportunity to reconvene presented itself, but the duo finally managed to meet up in White's native Australia in 2022 for some recording sessions in the coastal town of Point Lonsdale. The resultant album feels a bit different from its predecessor for a couple of reasons (no acoustic guitars this time around, "big change of vibe and scenery"), but the three-part "Bitterroot Valley Suite" beautifully recaptures the magic and spontaneity of the pair's debut while also breaking some very compelling new ground.

Thrill Jockey

In the album's description, Anderson notes that Swallowtail's engineer (Nick Huggins) was an avid surfer "attuned to the cycles of tides and sunrises and sunsets and ocean rhythms" and suggests that "all of that got into the music." I could not possibly agree more with that assessment, though I would have guessed that it was actually White who was the surfing enthusiast, as his drumming throughout this album beautifully mirrors the dynamics of rolling and crashing waves. Notably, Anderson's playing evokes water as well, but I would characterize her circular arpeggio patterns as something more akin to ripples in a pond, which is a strategy that works quite well here. In fact, that magic formula runs throughout nearly all of Swallowtail's strongest pieces, such as the opening "Aerie" and the aforementioned "Bitterroot Valley Suite": Anderson's rippling and chiming arpeggio patterns are breathlessly propelled forward by the rolling, elemental power of White's drumming. That said, those pieces are considerably more dynamically and melodically complex than that sounds, as White's crescendos ebb and flow just like actual waves and Anderson's patterns often branch out into tendrils of melody in the spaces between those climaxes.

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Myriam Gendron, "Mayday"

MaydayDespite her slim discography, Montreal-based Myriam Gendron has quietly amassed a very passionate following over the last few years, which is quite an impressive feat given that she frequently sings in French and the bulk of her previous oeuvre was devoted to interpretations of French/Québécois traditional music or Dorothy Parker poems. Obviously, such fare is quite far from the zeitgeist of the present time, but that is a big part of Gendron's allure: her work taps into a deeper and more timeless vein that captures the joy and pain of being alive in an unusually profound and direct way. Those same themes unsurprisingly remain central on Mayday (it was assembled in the wake of her mother's passing), but this third album is Gendron's first to focus primarily on her own original compositions as well as her first release to be professionally recorded in an actual studio. To celebrate that auspicious occasion, Gendron is joined by a host of talented collaborators like Dirty Three's Jim White, Body/Head's Bill Nace, and Marisa Anderson. Characteristically, the result is yet another absolutely mesmerizing Myriam Gendron album.

Thrill Jockey/Feeding Tube

Every single Myriam Gendron album to date has included at least one achingly gorgeous and perfect song (Not So Deep As A Well's "Recurrence," Ma Délire's "Go Away From My Window," etc.) and that trend happily continues here. In fact, Mayday actually features TWO such emotional gut punches. The first is "Long Way Home," which calls to mind a great lost '70s folk rock gem by someone like John Martyn. As always, I love Gendron's sad, low voice as well as her lyrics and her simple, unpretentious approach to melody, but this one simply has one heartbreaking line after another. Despite that, the piece still feels wonderfully bittersweet and uplifting due to its arrangement, as Gendron is joined by Marisa Anderson on lead guitar and Jim White on drums to balance the song's deep sadness with rolling and swaying folk rock magic. That "full band" approach is the ideal setting for such a poignant, quietly heavy piece, which is an unexpected evolution of sorts: I have long believed that Gendron's most beautiful songs would work every bit as well with no instrumental accompaniment at all (like all the best folk/traditional music), but Mayday features a handful of pieces in which well-placed guest appearances launch an already hauntingly beautiful song to another level altogether.

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Celer, "It Would Be Giving Up"

It Would Be Giving UpThis latest boxed set to emerge from Will Long's Celer reissue campaign celebrates one of the project's more recent works, as It Would Be Giving Up was originally released as a digital-only album back in late 2020. As was the case with previous reissues, the album has been remastered by Stephan Mathieu, but the more exciting bit is that I had never actually heard this particular album before and it instantly became my favorite Celer release by a wide margin. That makes sense, as according to Long, It Would Be Giving Up is thematically tied to two of Celer's other recent classics (Future Predictions and Memory Repetitions), as the three albums focus upon "ensemble pieces made with tape loops and analog instruments" and share a certain "wall of sound" aesthetic. While my love of Future Predictions is well-documented and remains as strong as ever, I now believe that It Would Be Giving Up is the single most essential album in Celer's entire discography, as it beautifully transcends the ambient/drone milieu to strain towards ecstatic heartache as high art.

Two Acorns

The album consists of four longform pieces that are each relegated to their own separate disc. That initially seemed like a curious decision, as the first two pieces could have easily fit on the same disc, but I ultimately decided that it made perfect sense to treat each piece like a standalone album or EP. In essence, It Would Be Giving Up is essentially four top-tier Celer releases with enough stylistic and thematic common ground to be presented together, which is important to note, as there is not a single weak piece to be found. This album is a four-disc tour de force because that is simply how much great material Long had recorded: nothing is unnecessarily extended and there is no filler to be found anywhere. This is simply four absolutely stellar pieces in a row without a detour or lull in sight.

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A Lily, "Saru I-Qamar"

Saru l​-​QamarMy familiarity with James Vella is primarily through his role running the excellent Phantom Limb label, but that is just one facet of a varied career, as he is also a fiction writer and a member of the Canterbury-based post-rock ensemble Yndi Halda. He records as a solo artist too and has been sporadically releasing albums as A Lily for almost two decades now. Notably, Vella is also of Maltese descent, which inspired this wonderful stylistic detour: Saru l-Qamar is assembled from tapes of home recordings archived by the Maltese heritage organization Magna Żmien. Naturally, that made my ears perk up immediately, as I often enjoy the crackling and hissing escapism of dispatches from long-dead people in far-flung places, but the “oneiric bliss” of Vella’s achingly beautiful and hallucinatory collages proved to be an unexpected and welcome enhancement. This is one of my favorite albums of the year thus far.

Phantom Limb

The album’s title translates as “They Became The Moon,” which is a lovely and poetic way of saying that the lives and loves of previous generations remain part of the fabric of our lives forever (like the moon, they are “always present, but always out of reach”). Naturally, Vella’s own family surfaces (in the cover art), but the bulk of these recordings are snatches of traditional Maltese folk songs known as għana. Normally, the phrase “folk song” conveys a canon of specific songs and lyrics that have existed for generations, but għana departs from that tradition in being a malleable song form that people can use to tell their own stories. According to Vella, “from the ‘60s until the modern era, it was common for Maltese families to receive reel tapes from relatives abroad,” as that was simply how people shared news with distant friends and family. In short, Maltese people had their own cassette underground in which they regularly exchanged personalized songs with each other. Unsurprisingly, I am now retroactively mad that my own family never exchanged songs about mundane events like getting a new cat or whatever. Life could be so much more beautiful than it currently is.

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