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Episode 520: May 9, 2021

Derelict Farm Shed by RainThere is no shortage of excellent music, as proven again with this week's episode

Give us an hour, we'll give you twelve tunes. New music from MJ Guider, Rob Noyes, Xordox, Raglani, Meat Beat Manifesto, Schlammpeitziger, Thomas Ankersmit, Dope Purple, Rinnovare (feat. Benoît Pioulard), and Edward Ka-Spel with some other music from Karate and Andrew Chalk.

"Derelict Farm Shed" photo in Davenport, CA by Rain.

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Forced Exposure New Releases for the Week of 5/10/2021

New music is due from Yasmin Williams, Faith Coloccia & Philip Jeck, and Those Fucking Snowflakes, while old music is due from The Green Child, Keiji Haino, and MF DOOM.

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Dean McPhee, "Witch's Ladder"

cover image

At this point in his career, each new Dean McPhee release feels like a legitimate event, as he surfaces quite rarely and always hits me with at least one absolutely stunning piece when he does.  Consequently, this review could probably be condensed to merely "Dean McPhee has a new album," as that would convey everything necessary to perk up the ears of most people already familiar with his body of achingly beautiful, slow-burning guitar magic.  Unsurprisingly, Witch's Ladder does nothing to dash those dauntingly high expectations, as it picks up right where 2017's Four Stones left off and that one was a very strong contender for McPhee’s finest album.  And now Witch's Ladder is a strong contender for that honor as well.  Beyond that, the only salient details are that the cover art comes from visionary symbolist painter Agnes Pelton and that the album's second half is a near-perfect two-song run of hauntingly sublime beauty.

Hood Faire

Given his association with the Folklore Tapes milieu, McPhee's unusual choice of cover art is not a surprise, but it is a telling detail that provides some insight into what he seems to be reaching towards with his own work.  When reading The Whitney's description of last year's Pelton exhibition, I was repeatedly struck by phrases like "meditative stillness," "shimmering veils of light," and "awareness of a world that lay behind physical appearances."  All of those phrases are apt for the five songs of Witch's Ladder as well, but McPhee admirably finds an ingenious array of ways to get there.  That said, the pieces do all share a rough foundational aesthetic of "fingerpicked 'folk music' played on an electric guitar," though each either ultimately builds into something considerably more transcendent or blossoms into quietly beautiful psychedelia in the margins.  All are excellent and feature emotively smoldering or lyrically melodic solos at their core, but the most interesting twists occur in the final three pieces (in ascending order of brilliance, no less).  In "Red Lebanese," for example, the winding and languorously smoke-like melody fitfully evokes a trippy synth spiraling off into space, while "Eksdale Path" unexpectedly coheres into a killer "dual-guitar harmony" passage.  As much as I love "Eksdale Path," however, it is immediately eclipsed by the epic closer, as "Witch's Ladder" is basically three songs' worth of killer ideas seamlessly blended into one.  In fact, I had not even finished typing "sounds like the twin-guitar attack of classic Iron Maiden just dropped by for a surprisingly tasteful cameo" before it turned into a hallucinatory duel between intertwining forwards and backwards guitar melodies (or at least a convincing illusion of it).  It is a characteristically mesmerizing bit of show-stealing slow-motion sorcery, but the show already quite wonderful beforehand, as there truly is not a single wasted note on this album.  Witch's Ladder is another instant classic from Dean McPhee.

Samples can be found here.

 

Ak'chamel, The Giver Of Illness, "Totemist"

cover image

This singular album was released back in February 2020 right before the pandemic upended everything, so I sadly never got around to writing about it.  I am attempting to right that wrong now, however, as this inscrutable and anonymous Texas duo is the most consistently fascinating psych project around and this album has been in fairly heavy rotation for me since it came out.  Granted, "consistently fascinating" is not quite the same thing as "consistently great," but Totemist is an unusually accessible release for the creepily costumed pair, as this vinyl debut ostensibly "marks a new direction" for the project.  That mostly just means that these "fourth world post-colonial cultural cannibalists" wrote more a more melodic and focused batch of songs than usual and took a break from "the oppressively lo-fi sound" of their previous tapes.  Happily. all of those changes suit the band quite well, but Ak'Chamel still basically sound like a haunted, shambling pile of Sun City Girls and Sublime Frequencies albums that has been possessed by the spirit of an ancient shaman.  Which, of course, is exactly how I would want them to sound.

Akuphone

It is impossible to speculate on the identity of Ak'Chamel without instantly thinking of the Bishop brothers, as Totemist feels like a perfect blend of Sir Richard's Eastern-influenced guitar virtuosity and the warped vision and dark humor of Alvarius B.  Also, Sublime Frequencies regulars Robert Millis and Mark Gergis are both explicitly involved.  Case closed!  That said, if the Bishops are behind Ak’Chamel, it only raises more questions ("so why was Ak’Chamel briefly a black metal band?" being one that springs to mind).  In any case, Totemist would have made a truly killer follow up to Funeral Mariachi regardless of who was involved, as Ak’Chamel are legitimately quite good at making droning, Middle Eastern-inspired desert psychedelia.  The real magic of the album, however, lies in how those perfectly good desert-psych jams regularly dissolve like a mirage to reveal something considerably darker, weirder, and more hallucinatory.  At various points, Totemist calls to mind heavy trance-inducing harmonium drones, a wrong-speed field recording of an ancient tribal ritual, a chorus of sinister puppets, a cannibalized Phurpa album, and a fever dream about an all-Muppet mariachi band.  Needless to say, it is a hypnotically creepy and surreal journey indeed, but considerably less nightmarish than some of the duo's previous releases (parts of which would seem perfectly at home in an evidence bag labeled "Dyatlov Pass Incident" or an alternate reality where The Blair Witch was actively involved in the early 2000s cassette underground).  There are admittedly still some traces of that dark and murky terrain here, but Totemist is wonderful largely because of how effortlessly and organically the two poles of the bands' vision bleed into each another like an increasingly malfunctioning reality simulation.  If I had to choose a favorite song, I would go with the colorfully titled "The Funeral of a Woman Whose Soul is Trapped in the Sun" or "Phallus Palace," but Totemist's phantasmagoric vision quest is best experienced as a sustained immersion.

Samples can be found here.

 

Die Munch Machine, "MunchRockzZampler"

MunchRockzZampler cover imageDie Munch Machine is the side project of Tim Cedar and Jon Hamilton from Part Chimp. While both Part Chimp and Die Munch Machine may perform loud, the similarities extend no further. Die Munch Machine slough off the stoner doom skin in favor of feedback-populated motorik space funk. While not essential listening, this is a fun listen for spaceheads and fans of kosmische rock.

Part Chimp

With the album best heard as a set, each song flows into the next with minimal filler, generally a pair of songs serving as a standout "suite" of sorts. Opener "OperaSeal" kicks things off with a familiar motorik beat, a strong bassline, and a persistent drum rhythm complementing kosmische keyboards, the drum slap immediately echoed in "Aspergerus Assburgers." "Mo+" is a funky slab of keyboard-driven groove that bleeps its way into the slightly less rhythmic but no less danceable "Mongo Inerane." "KarmaLada" slathers on a layer of psyched-out vocals over a driving beat and distorted synths, segueing smoothly into the fuzzy vocals and chunky bassline of "Dumb Down." The album has a noisy end in the final pair of tracks, "Totale Forever" and "Cheeseburger Man," which I prefer to think are homages to The Fall and Throbbing Gristle, respectively. While one cannot mistake Die Munch Machine for either, those who appreciate the former should easily find common ground here.

Sound samples can be found here.

 

Growing, "Diptych"

cover imageIt has been quite a long time since these shape-shifting drone stalwarts from Kranky's golden age last surfaced with a major release, aside from the gnarled, bass-heavy Disorder LP that teasingly appeared on Important back in 2017.  While I am certainly happy to have them back, this latest release from the core duo of Joe Denardo and Kevin Doria takes a somewhat unexpectedly minimalist and meditative direction.  I am tempted to call Diptych a "return to form," but Growing have several different appealing forms they could potentially return to and this one arguably feels like a mis-remembered return to the pair's Kranky era, as these radiant slow-motion reveries pieces more akin to Stars of the Lid than any Growing album I recall.  Whether that is a step in the right direction or not is hard to say, as a strong case could be made that project's killer run of weirder, spacier releases in 2007 & 2008 was its zenith and that this latest opus sands away all of the duo's distinctive quirks and sharp edges.  From a purely artistic perspective, however, Diptych is quite an impressive achievement, as Doria and Denardo distill drone to its purest essence with an almost supernatural degree of control and patience.

Silver Current

This album initially seemed very straightforward to me, but sneakily became more and more interesting with repeat listens and a bit of idle reflection upon its mysteries.  One such mystery is Growing's decision to call a three-song album Diptych, which caused me to wonder if the two things being references were Doria and Denardo or the sun and moon from album's eclipse cover art.  Then I realized that the eclipse provided a flawed but insightful Rosetta Stone for grasping the essence of this latest direction, as each piece feels like slow motion footage of a mesmerizing celestial event: seemingly nothing happens for a long time, then something subtly rapturous begins to reveal itself.  The flaw with eclipse imagery is merely that nothing here undergoes a particularly dramatic transformation nor is there much perceptible darkness to speak of (though a dissonant undercurrent does briefly appear in the closing "Swallow Turn").  Instead, these pieces feel more like solar flares blossoming from the surface of the sun in extremely glacial fashion.  Of the three, "Swallow Turn" is my favorite, as it is the most condensed and varied: it is half the length of the others, yet still feels epic and it even includes some bird songs and spacey synth-sounding flourishes near the end.  The other two offer their own compelling twists though: "Variable Speeds" culminates with an unexpected heavy and pulsing bass buzz, while "Down + Distance" initially sounds like a shimmering organ drone but dissolves into a vapor trail of low-end thrum and smears of sculpted feedback.  Aside from that, it is also very cool that these sounds mostly emanate from just a bass and a guitar and that Doria and Denardo have seemingly achieved total ego death (or at least become obsessive Eliane Radigue fans).  Diptych may be an album that requires significant patience and attention to fall in love with, but it is ultimately one worth loving.

Samples can be found here.

 

The Strange Strings Ensemble, "One for Ra"

cover imageIt fair to say that any album involving the Opalio brothers is destined to be memorably bizarre, but this Sun Ra-inspired EP takes My Cat is an Alien's vision even further out into fringes of outsider psychedelia than usual.  For one, it is almost entirely acoustic, so there are no alientronics or psychotropic drones to be found and Roberto's queasily floating vocals seem (mostly) absent as well.  Obviously, that eliminates nearly everything "familiar" about MCIAA's vision, so it makes a lot of sense to give the project a fresh name. In lieu of the expected alien terrain, the ensemble (rounded out by writer Philippe Robert & Joëlle Vinciarelli) "spontaneously composed" a visceral, churning, and jagged eruption using the "ancient, mostly ethnic, acoustic string instruments from Vinciarelli's vast collection."  In keeping with the Sun Ra theme, the instruments were purposely untuned in homage to the late jazz icon's 1967 Strange Strings album, which Ra dubbed "a study in ignorance" (the Arkestra were given an eclectic array of oft-foreign string instruments that they did not know how to play).  Unsurprisingly, critic Sean Westergaard's assessment of that polarizing Sun Ra opus is even more true of its spiritual heir: "If you don't like 'out,' stay clear of this one."  I, however, am quite fond of "out," so I very much enjoyed this brief, singular, and synapse-frying detour.

Opax/Elliptical Noise/Up Against the Wall, Motherfuckers!

This album is the result of two different collaborations that unexpectedly and happily converged into one, as the Opalios and Robert worked together on the recently published Free Jazz Manifesto, which is a compendium of "must-have classics" and "indispensable curiosities" from that adventurous, forward-thinking milieu.  Naturally, Saturn's most famous son is featured therein, so Sun Ra's wildest and most outré moments were likely something that the Opalios were revisiting and consciously thinking about around the time that Eternal Beyond II was being recorded at Vinciarelli's studio.  Consequently, it made perfect sense to pull in Robert (a non-musician) for a spirited tribute to Sun Ra's classic study in ignorance.  The scraping, scrabbling, and sawing cacophony that ensued calls to mind a post-apocalyptic junkyard band armed with little more than a broken grandfather clock, a piano soundboard strung with rusted barbed wire, and some metal files.  That ragged and squealing maelstrom is arguably anchored by some looped, wordless vocals from Vinciarelli and a pulsing pedal tone for a while, but it ultimately becomes an untethered runaway train of heaving, churning, and squealing intensity.  Fans of sharp, metallic harmonics take note, as this album is very much for you.  While I suspect One for Ra is not intended as a major release given that the whole convulsing and screeching mindfuck barely lasts 17 minutes, that duration feels just about right for such a gleefully challenging and dissonant free-form firestorm.  Sun Ra would be proud.

Samples can be found here.

 

Ulrich Schnauss & Jonas Munk, "Eight Fragments Of An Illusion"

Eight Fragments Of An Illusion cover imagePart of Ulrich Schnauss's musical history is building layers of beautiful electronic imagery, both within his solo work and partnering with others. Schnauss is paired up once again with Danish recording and mastering engineer Jonas Munk, member of space rockers Causa Sui and half of the ambient chill-out duo Billow Observatory. These two equally talented creators produce a lush mélange of extraordinarily hypnotic dreamscapes on Eight Fragments Of An Illusion. Rich kosmische textures, vibrant guitar, and concentrated layers of electronic atmosphere make for an engaging ride, especially when experienced on headphones.

Azure Vista

The third release from the duo expands upon the more restrictive electronic melodies prevalent in the previous efforts, providing for an expansion of musical interplay and greater emotional depth. The previous collaborations leaned heavily towards Causa Sui-style rock rhythms supported by a '90s analog synth template. Eight Fragments moves beyond this mold, bursting forth with glistening textures, consisting of a satisfying interplay of shimmering guitars, awash in ambient synthesizer, evocative melodies spurred by motorik rhythms. "Asteroid 2467" is the album's ear-catching opening, a heart-swelling piece that ebbs and flows like a wave, drawing out and back into the bright and exuberant "Return To Burlington." The majority of the tracks function like independent stories (hence, fragments) over the album's entirety, evoking mental imagery through practiced waves of sounds and layered instrumentation. My personal favorite, "Perpetual Motion," can easily take its rightful place in the immense catalog of classic Kosmische rock; every nook and cranny of the nearly 11 minutes bursts with gemütlichkeit, a pure feeling of warmth and contentment, and filled with diverse ear ticklers. Every fragment here is magical, easily listened to individually but making up a single illusion. "Polychrome" seals the illusion with a choir of cosmic voices, fading into silence to entrance again. Time to repeat.

Sound samples can be found here.

 

Andrew Chalk, "Paradise Lost"

cover imageNewly reissued on vinyl (and digitally) with beautiful new artwork, Paradise Lost was originally released as a cassette back in 2019.  As is the norm for many Chalk releases, additional details beyond the fact that it exists are quite thin, but this one takes that to an amusing extreme, as the Discogs entry for the original cassette notes "label and artist name are not listed on the release."  That said, I believe I can say with moderate certainty that these two longform pieces were recorded on an 8-track reel-to-reel between 2016 and 2018 and that Chalk primarily played a synthesizer.  Also, his Ghosts on Water bandmate Naoko Suzuki contributed some very well-hidden vocals and created the artwork for the original tape.  To some degree, it makes sense that this album originally surfaced as a very limited-small run tape, as it does not feel like one of Chalk's more significant opuses, but it is quite an enjoyable and interesting release nonetheless.  In fact, the title piece feels like legitimately prime Andrew Chalk material to me, though I suspect many longtime fans will be more fascinated by the surprising and divergent "This Pendent World."

Faraway Press

One interesting bit of information that I stumbled upon while researching this album was a blurb from Daisuke Suzuki's Siren Records noting that this album "strongly recalls the atmosphere of home recording in the '80s."  I got exactly the same impression myself from the opening "This Pendent World," as I had scribbled down that it felt like a duel between two very different artists from the golden age of private press New Age: one kosmische-inspired synth wizard hellbent on taking me to space and another guy who just wants to lull me into a blissful, bucolic reverie with some pretty string swells.  There are also some traces of a third guy who closely resembles contemporary Andrew Chalk, as there is a loose melodic theme of wobbly, liquid tones likely originating from an electric piano.  While that is certainly an odd collision to encounter on a Milton-themed Andrew Chalk record, it works surprisingly well, amiably and amorphously drifting and curling like a trail of smoke.  The following "Paradise Lost" is similarly form-averse, but in a much more compelling way, as its frayed and smeared swells of warm synth tones feel teasingly just out of focus.  Additionally lurking within the artfully blurred dream-fog are a slow-motion tumble of acoustic guitar fragments, ghostly traces of Naoko's lovely singing, and probably some pedal steel too.  I am tempted to make a wince-inducing pun on the album title here, but "Paradise Lost" is simply too beautiful of a piece to deserve such an indignity, vividly evoking the slowly streaking and shifting colors of an especially gorgeous sunset.

Samples can be found here.

 

Magic Castles, "Sun Reign"

Sun Reign cover imageMinneapolis-based Magic Castles make a glorious return with their fourth release on Anton Newcombe's label, weaving together jangly hooks and minor chords and slathering it with fuzz. The release is triumphant in that it was released at all, following the band's 2016 hiatus and songwriter Jason Edmonds' near-fatal car accident in 2019, not to mention contending with a pandemic. Sun Reign is a lush and dreamy masterpiece of layered musical intensities, awash in evocative imagery and heartful melodies.

'A' Recordings Ltd.

The music grabs hold with the plaintive "Sunburst" and never lets go, producing a perfume of joyful wistfulness atop minor chords, dropping low to rise airborne in exuberant joy, vocals low in the mix in favor of musical atmosphere and jangle onslaught. Hazy vocal harmonies interplay with sparkling guitar, ethereal violins, and a gentle yet encouraging rhythm section, preferring to drift comfortably through a paisley landscape but unafraid to cross into pop or folk territories. Case in point, "Lost Dimension" would appear to be the most blissed-out title, but at its heart is a song of longing: "Feeling so torn in two / caused me to lose time and space / gotta leave this empty space / Lost in another dimension without you." Many of the tracks reference a certain nostalgia for sixties folk, brought firmly to modern terra firma riding on a darker, but not despairing, energy. "Ode to the Wind," "Valley of Nysa" and "Surmise" are particularly reminiscent of that timeframe, suggestive of bands like Pentangle or Fairport Convention but with a thick topcoat of distortion and a paisley pop sensibility dialed to the maximum. The result is a masterful blend of evocative atmosphere and memorable melodies fueled by fuzzy guitars and passionate musicians.

The video for "Lost Dimension" can be found here.

 
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Review of the Day

Brandlmayr/Dafeldecker/Németh/Siewert, "Die InstabilitÄt der Symmetrie"
dOc / Grob
The next addition to in increasing collection of music by these fantastically driven sonic players (see: Trapist, Radian, Dean Roberts) marries some of the free jazz tendencies with an affinity for retro noisemaking devices. Whereas the Trapist album reviewed last week would appeal to a number of Talk Talk fans, this album will probably find a warm place in the heart of many Wolf Eyes fans. While the liner notes describe the process of recording with respect to a room's atmosphere and space, my own mental image of the record is quite different. I see a very alien world. A world where the physical laws of nature that we have grown accustomed to on this planet do not necessarily apply. New colors, new landscapes, and a new language, all of which are neither describable nor translatable, but something which has to be experienced first hand to truly appreciated. Recorded in 2001 and 2002, faintly tapped drum kits and timid guitars provide stability and recognition while outbursts of analogue static and high frequency communication lines blur the electromagnetism in the atmosphere. The planet and its characteristics are brilliantly established through "Part 1" and "Part 2," while by "Part 3," actual beings are seemingly introduced. Like the utter bizzareness of the film Fantastic Planet, these foreign beings do not take recongnizable forms nor communicate in the same way humans understand. It's on this track, "Part 3," where it's almost as if a conversation is taking place between the aliens. Whether or not the quartet is imagining such a world during their recording is a different story, but the music created between the members is very conversational, simply without words as we know them. "Part 4" is much like a human contact would be to this new world. The alien landscapes have been established but the guitar introduces itself, and at first, tries to mimic the electronic hums, drones and squeals. As the contact between explorers and natives develops, each take turns in demonstrating what each species can do: the guitar and bass begin to play more familiar lines and between riffs, seems to alternate with the electronics for attention focus. This continues and escalates to the point of everybody playing together in a audio soup of sorts, where everybody has let down their guard and has grown a fondness for sharing themselves with new found friends. If Die InstabilitŠt der Symmetrie is like a visit to an alien world, the final track, "Part 5" is much like the sorrowful departure, as the melodies and tunes form in a very concluding manner, with low bass notes in a melancholy motion as the new found friends must say goodbye, perhaps forever. The ship drifts off into space as the whirry hums quell in the end. Fade to black. As a viewer to my own interpretation of the album as a fictitious documentary, I hope the explorers and natives will meet up again some other day for another rewarding adventure.

samples:


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