Laurent Jeanneau's work as Kink Gong has been one of the most compellingly quixotic and unique projects in underground music for almost two decades, but I have only recently begun to scratch the surface of his mountain of work. He is probably best known as a prolific ethnomusicologist, occasionally surfacing on Sublime Frequencies. He has also self-released over 150 collections of ethnic minority music recorded during his many travels throughout Africa, China, and Southeast Asia. Naturally, that restless curiosity has made a deep impact on Jeanneau's own sensibility as an artist, resulting in a series fairly uncategorizable collage-based soundscape albums like this landmark 2013 release. At the root of Voices are a host of recordings of indigenous vocalists made in China, Vietnam, and Laos, but Jeanneau ingeniously transforms them into a haunting, otherworldly, and timeless vision that blurs the boundaries of tradition, experimentation, art, and reality.
This inscrutable cabal of post-industrial scavengers continues to burrow into our murky cultural subconscious with a pair of minor new releases. Characteristically, both albums are heavily conceptual and mystery-shrouded, but The Recounting of Night Time at least volunteers that it "focuses principally on a certain piece of German gothic cinema made during the late 1970s." That certainly seems to suggest that a badly worn VHS of Werner Herzog's Nosferatu is at the heart of the sounds, but Fossil Aerosol Mining Project are (as always) far more interested in what time has done to the physical media than than whatever that media's original intended content was. About the superior Archeological Testing in the Land of Monkeys, even less is revealed ("A fatigued response to reminders of a cyclical past, surprisingly exaggerated in the years of the rooster and the dog"). Both releases offer their flashes of inspiration, but it is the digital-only and conceptually vague Archeological Testing that unexpectedly feels like some of the collective's finest work to date.
This unusual reissue quietly entered the world last December when everyone was frantically obsessing over the year-end lists and features, so it did not get nearly the attention it deserved. It is certainly an odd release for a couple of reasons, but the most obvious one is that a 35-year-old album of bird songs was resurrected by a record label best known for avant-garde and experimental music. The other is that Birds of Venezuela was just one of over one hundred albums recorded and released by French ornithologist Jean-Claude Roch√©. That naturally begged the questions "What makes this album the special one?" and "Who exactly is this for?". As it turns out, the liner notes by David Toop answer the former and the album itself decisively answered the latter: this album is for me because it is amazing. In fact, Toop actually started planning a trip to the Amazon soon after hearing this Birds of Venezuela and I probably would have done the same, as a strong case could be made that the most texturally and melodically compelling music scene of the mid-‚Äò70s was the Venezuelan rain forests.
Spiral Wave Nomads is the newly formed duo of multi-instrumentalist Eric Hardiman (Rambutan, Century Plants, Burnt Hills) and drummer Michael Kiefer (More Klementines). As a new duo, their first record is surprisingly a fully formed excursion: an excellent balance of structure and improvisation, and a sound that never stands still, but also demonstrates consistency and focus from song to song. The final product is a complex, yet entirely enjoyable suite of enveloping psychedelia that engages without bludgeoning.
While a series of archival live releases have appeared recently, the self-titled BLOODYMINDED is the first new studio material from the legendary Chicago noise/power electronics project since 2013‚Äôs Within the Walls. It also marks the first time that all six permanent members of the international band: Xavier Laradji, Will Lindsay, James Moy, Isidro Reyes, Pieter Schoolwerth, and de facto band leader Mark Solotroff have recorded together at the same location. This was heralded by a live performance just before the few crew entered the studio (released as The Struggle of Togetherness, but live BLOODYMINDED is a very different beast.¬† On stage they are a writhing mass of black leather, cheap plastic synths, and far more microphones than necessary. The result is the deconstruction of rock show clich√©s complete with between song banter and dedications, some of which are longer in duration than the song itself, which may be just a five second blast of synth. In the studio, however, the thematic depth and obsessive attention to sonic detail is much more obvious, resulting in the band's best work to date.
Luke Younger has been increasingly ambitious in reinventing the Helm aesthetic with each fresh release over the last several years, but this latest release still caught me off-guard a bit: the bulk of Chemical Flowers is very different from the killer single ("I Knew You Would Respond") that preceded its release. To some degree, that admittedly fits Younger's pattern, as each of his EPs tends to feature one brilliant centerpiece surrounded by the more expected post-industrial sound collages. Though it is a full-length (and one that features string arrangements from JG Thirlwell), Chemical Flowers more or less replicates that same approach by simply doubling the amount of collages. That is perfectly fine by me, as I tend to enjoy Younger's abstract side almost as much as his beat-driven side and he is in especially fine form here. These collages are quite a bit different than usual though, as it sounds like there are a handful of '70s or '80s New Age/ambient albums lurking at the heart of Flowers that have been scorched, warped, and mangled beyond recognition.
My Cat is an Alien has always been very much an "outsider art" phenomenon, as the Opalio brothers have spent the last two decades tirelessly conjuring and reshaping a hermetic alternate reality replete with its own unique philosophy and cosmology. In the process, they have released some truly original and beguiling auditory dispatches from their remote home in the Alps, but music is just one part of their larger vision and that vision has drawn increasing interest from the art world. For this latest release, the brothers unveil a new collaborative imprint with gallerist and publisher Marco Contini that seeks to bring the various threads of the their artistry together into a focused and harmonious whole. That endeavor is off to an excellent start, as Spiritual Noise is quite an impressive achievement as an art object. It is also an excellent album, as each of the two lengthy pieces unveils a fresh new facet of the duo's deep space trance states.
I have only been familiar with William Ryan Fritch's work for a couple of years, but he became one of my absolute favorite artists almost instantly. In fact, I have such unshakable faith in his vision that I even pounced on this lavish collection of works for film despite my similarly unshakable apathy towards soundtrack albums. My rational was that his first major release in two years had to be something truly special and the handful of pieces released in advance of the album seemed to bear that out. As it happens, the rest of this double album is every bit as wonderful as those teasers: Deceptive Cadence may very well be Fritch‚Äôs career-defining masterpiece. It certainly deserves to be, as Fritch approached it as a true labor of love, tirelessly revisiting, reworking, and paring down years of disparate projects until he had a gorgeously bittersweet tour de force of sublime grandeur.
Billed as a companion piece to 2018's stellar Impossible Star, Opaque Couch√© continues Meat Beat's recent hot streak with a double album packed with inventive and meticulously crafted dance music virtuosity. Given that Jack Dangers' work has passed though quite a succession of different phases over the years, Impossible Star is indeed Opaque Couch√©'s closest reference point, yet the two albums go in significantly different directions within their roughly similar stylistic territories (and only this one pays homage to one of the world's ugliest colors). Whereas its predecessor embraced the feel of an inhuman and paranoid sci-fi dystopia, Opaque Couch√© takes that futuristic bent in much more playful and propulsively kinetic direction. Naturally, it all sounds great, as Dangers is a singularly exacting producer. His true genius, however, lies in how seamlessly he is able to mash together high art, deadpan kitsch, and vibrantly infectious drum loops. Admittedly, that has been true for quite a long time, but he seems to creep closer and closer to achieving the perfect balance with each new release.
In its ongoing series of artist-curated compilations, the Idle Chatter label asked interdisciplinary New York-based artist Muyassar Kurdi to compile its latest release. Specifically presenting female artists from around the world, Reality Tunnels not only further demonstrates the vast expanse of what can be defined as experimental music, but also gives some largely (and unjustly) unrecognized artists a platform to be heard.
Live in Tokyo is a series of 11 distinct interpretations of the 1941 song "Skylark" by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael performed by the quartet consisting of Orlando Lewis on clarinet, Franz-Ludwig Austenmeiser on keyboards, Hayden Pennyfeather on bass, and Roland Spindler on drums. This fact is anything but obvious upon listening, however. Based on the sound alone, it sounds more like an intimate series of improvisations rather than interpretations of a popular song from the 1940s, which was, I am sure, the performers' intent. It may bear some resemblance to its source material, however the quartet manage to create something nearly entirely original.
Eight years ago, Tim Hecker released his landmark Ravedeath, 1972 album and followed it with an EP that revisited the source material in a more organic, stripped-down fashion (Dropped Pianos). With Anoyo, Hecker beautifully revisits that same trick, albeit this time unveiling Konoyo's underlying gagaku ensemble rather than Ravedeath's underlying pianos. The other significant difference is that Anoyo is more than a mere companion piece that pulls back the curtain to reveal the scaffolding of a great album. Rather, Anoyo arguably equals and completes its predecessor, transforming Konoyo's blackened textures and haunted moods into something significantly warmer, more spacious, and more natural-sounding. Moreover, Anoyo gamely stretches even further from Hecker's comfort zone than its parent. Whereas Konoyo essentially fed Hecker's gagaku guests into a woodchipper, this release feels like a thoughtful, meditative, and organic collaboration with them, as Hecker's electronics eerily drift and swirl through the traditional Japanese sounds like a supernatural mist.
Over the last few years, House of Mythology has become a vacation home of sorts for David Tibet, as he keeps returning there for one unique and ambitious side project after another. This latest divergence finds him teaming up with Andrew Liles for a very quixotic undertaking indeed: an album sung entirely in a dead language (Akkadian, one of Tibet's many deep interests). Given that, I had no doubt at all that it would be one the year‚Äôs strangest and unapologetically indulgent releases, but I was still unprepared for how truly bizarre it ultimately turned out to be. Suffice to say, there is nothing else out there quite like Wooden Child, as it feels like an especially unhinged prog opus that took a darkly phantasmagoric turn leading far from any recognizably earthly territory.
This Italian synth visionary made quite a spectacular impression with 2017's Patterns of Consciousness and now makes her Editions Mego debut with its proper follow-up. To some degree, Barbieri picks up exactly where she left off, as Ecstatic Computation shares its predecessor's masterfully executed conceptual conceit: using subtle shifts in obsessively repeating patterns to achieve a trancelike and hallucinatory effect. Given both that objective and Barbieri's singular compositional rigor, Ecstatic Computation bears little resemblance at all to the work of other synth artists, but it also sounds quite different from the sprawling and sometimes overwhelming Patterns of Consciousness as well. While it is hard to pick a favorite between the two albums, this one is definitely the more accessible, as Barbieri has distilled her vision into a much more concise and focused presentation. This album is also quite a bit more varied and unpredictable, as Barbieri occasionally allows the machine-like precision of these pieces to careen off the rails and unleash a glorious and vivid shower of sparks.
I almost slept on this unexpectedly incendiary delight, as it deceptively seemed like just another solid drone album based on my initial and brief exposure to it. Then I noticed that Anna von Hausswolff had described it as "This is just.... wow." Given that she does not seem at all like the sort to be floored easily, I revisited A Meditation of Discord for a proper listen. I found myself sharing her sentiment by the end of the opening "Premonition," as Paul and his violin unleash a slow-burning and breathtaking one-man apocalypse in real time. To some degree, it is undeniably Paul's masterful live loop manipulation that makes that piece such a beguiling and impressive feat, but even if he had a full band and a limitless studio budget at his disposal, its fiery crescendo could not be any more harrowing and visceral. While he regrettably tones down his more volcanic impulses for the album's second half, the squirming and psychotically dissonant final moments of the closer beautifully reignite the album's transcendently disturbing brilliance.
In the early 2000s, Keith Fullerton Whitman parted ways with his Hrvatski moniker and started recording more ambient-minded work under his own name. His first major release in that vein was 2002's Playthroughs (Kranky), an album that is fairly universally acknowledged as a classic of the genre. While I have no argument at all with Playthroughs' status as A Crucial Ambient Album, it is a bit more than that as well, as Whitman devised quite a fascinating and radical compositional approach for the album. Trying to comprehend the actual specifics of the process makes my synapses fizzle and smoke, but the gist is that he fed his guitar into a system of effects and software that produced a completely transformed beast that expanded, evolved, and reshaped with a mind of its own. Being a restlessly creative sort, Whitman soon moved on to other experiments, but he has been periodically revisiting that early system over the last decade with the benefit of newer software. The aptly named Late Playthroughs documents a divergent pair of live resurrections of that set-up dating from last year. Given the uncut, live nature of these pieces, this album is not quite as focused and sharply realized as the original, but it often does a beautiful job of both recapturing that magic and stretching the original aesthetic into stranger, darker terrain.
Argentinian trio Reynols are perhaps one of the most baffling and unabashedly unique artists to arise from the tape/noise underground scene of the past 20 years. Their recorded output has run the gamut of psychedelic rock, pure noise, heavily conceptual works (such as a processed field recording of chickens), and so much more. With the bulk of their work confined to ultra limited cassettes and CDRs, this beautiful collection of six CDs and a DVD, along with extensive liner notes makes for a perfect starting point of collaborations, two unreleased albums, and a slew of unreleased and rare songs.
I am embarrassed to say that I naively thought last year's stellar split with Wayne Robert Thomas might be the dawning of a new era, as Dunn's "The Searchers" was a brilliantly distilled masterpiece of focused, sublime beauty. While there is at least one piece on this latest release that attains a similar degree of dazzling, dreamlike perfection, Dunn's flair for grand gestures has returned with a vengeance for From Here To Eternity (an album that is every bit as characteristically infinite as it is characteristically sad). On one level, I dearly wish Dunn would stop burying his brightest moments in overwhelming double- or triple-album avalanches of ambient drone. On another, however, the sprawling scope of this album offers its own pleasures, as immersing myself into a three-hour reverie of billowing, soft-focus suspended animation is quite a quietly lovely and meditative way to spend an afternoon. To Dunn's great credit, however, there are also some menacing spectres of unexpected violence and dissonance lurking within his fog of drones, revealing that the seeming tranquility is a fragile veneer that conceals simmering tensions and enigmatic depths.
One of the many, many things that I feel vaguely and irrationally guilty about on a daily basis is my failure to take a deep plunge into the Editions Mego-curated Recollection GRM series, as there was a period in my life where I was extremely interested in classic musique concr√®te and was maddeningly unable to find much of it. Consequently, this series would have been an absolute revelation for me back then. Unfortunately, my passion for early electronic music is considerably diminished these days, as my historical curiosity has long since been sated and a lot of very important pieces have not aged particularly well. That said, there are some pieces that have aged quite well indeed and there are always some long-forgotten gems that have eluded me. This, the third Luc Ferrari release in the series, is one of those very pleasant surprises, resurrecting two lengthy tape pieces that range from playfully anarchic to enigmatically seductive.
Sarah Davachi‚Äôs tireless campaign to subvert expectations with each fresh release shows no signs of slowing down, as the label-hopping composer's latest opus partially revisits her formative years as an aspiring pianist. While it would be fair to characterize Pale Bloom as "neo-classical" and a logical progression from 2018's Gave in Rest, Davachi has never been content with pastiche, reverent homage, or returning to previously covered territory. Instead, she seems like an artist increasingly unfixed in time, drawing from the past to give her forward-thinking experiments in harmonies and overtones a foundation that feels temporally ambiguous and self-assuredly independent of contemporary music trends. While there is not any particular piece on Pale Bloom that makes it tower above any of its predecessors, it is unquestionably a uniformly strong collection of new work that studiously avoids the familiar and hints at intriguing new directions to come.