It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize it, but Akira Rabelais has quietly been one of the most unique and intriguing figures in experimental music for the last couple of decades, blurring the lines between collage, modern composition, ambient music, and conceptual art with each release. This latest album has apparently been a labor of love for years, drawing contributions from an eclectic array of collaborators including Harold Budd, Ben Frost, Kassel Jaeger, Stephan Mathieu, Geir Jenssen, and a pair of French photographers. Admittedly, a bevy of talented participants is not always an infallible recipe for a great album, but it was this time, as CXVI resembles a temporally dislocated and hallucinatory m√©lange of This Mortal Coil, Erik Satie, and a 19th century Parisian opium den.
While Frederikke Hoffmeier is justifiably best-known for her solo Puce Mary project, she has had a hand in quite a few collaborative projects over the years as well (a common trait within the Post Isolation milieu). Most have been one-off events, but this duo with Jesse Sanes (Liebestod/Hoax) has held together long enough to make a second album (or arguably a third, if their earlier Fejhed project counts). I am delighted that it did, as JH1.FS3 have evolved from a solid noise act into something considerably more distinctive and wonderful. In fact, Trials and Tribulations shares a hell of a lot of common ground with last year's brilliant The Drought, though the focus is shifted away from Hoffmeier's confessional-sounding spoken word and more towards an inventive and vibrant onslaught of mangled and haunting textures. It sounds like two dueling noise artists at top of their games, except they are trading imaginative, sharply realized textures rather than escalating ferocity. And it also feels like Hoffmeier has brought the same incredible level of compositional and editing rigor to this album that she brought to her most recent solo work. The Drought was one of my favorite albums of 2018 and Trials and Tribulations will likely be one of my favorite albums of 2019: it is a bit more seething and understated, but it is every bit as masterfully crafted.
This latest EP is a companion piece of sorts to Caminiti's 2017 Toxic City album, albeit one that draws its inspiration from NYC's hidden oases of calm and space rather than its more claustrophobic and dystopian elements. Much like its predecessor, Refraction continues to explore Caminiti's deep interest in dub techno, yet he has stretched the boundaries of the form in an intriguing, thoughtful, and almost quixotic way: with these four pieces, he attempts to replace the rhythm of the dancefloor with a more languorous and organic pulse ("like a circulatory system made audible"). With casual and relatively inattentive listening, these experiments feel kind of like a classic Basic Channel or Mille Plateaux release that has been deconstructed and stretched into something vaporous and drifting rather than pulsing, but the depth and quiet beauty of Caminiti's unconventional vision comes into vivid focus when Refraction is experienced through headphones.
This prolific Nottingham-based duo are back with their fifth formal full-length and the first to be released on their own Extreme Eating imprint. Unsurprisingly, Eton Alive does not tamper much with the band‚Äôs signature backdrop of spare, simple grooves and Jason Williamson has no shortage of fresh topics that displease him. That consistency is a huge part of Sleaford Mods' charm though (along with Andrew Fearn‚Äôs eternally deadpan, head-bobbing presence, of course): sometimes the grooves are quite good and sometimes they are not, but they exist primarily as a platform for Williamson to unleash his vitriolic, heavily accented, and sometimes blackly funny stream-of-consciousness critiques of everything that rankles his sensibilities. Given the pair's continued hyper-constrained aesthetic and one-note approach to mood and melody, Eton Alive is a characteristically hit-or-miss affair, as everything depends the inspiration or impenetrability Williamson‚Äôs wordplay and how it fits with Fearn‚Äôs minimal, repetitive beats. That is to be expected though. During its strongest moments like "Top It Up," Eton Alive can be quite a bracing and invigorating reminder that Sleaford Mods are a singular bastion of integrity and spirited, free-floating hostility in a world that desperately needs both.
Sebastian Banaszczyk's sound recycling project Bionulor's recent works have been part of larger multimedia projects such as theater, but for A. S., he has returned to a purely audio format. He maintains a thematic unity to the album, however, making it as conceptual as any of his prior works. For this one, his starting point was the work of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. Banaszczyk strikes that perfect balance between creating something new while allowing the source material to be recognizable throughout.
Mark Solotroff‚Äôs contributions to harsh electronic music cannot be overstated. Beginning with the adult bookstore sleaze of the 1980s power electronics project Intrinsic Action into the present day psychologically disturbing noise of Bloodyminded (which, in a live context, becomes the perfect deconstruction of rock performance) and the doom metal tinged Anatomy of Habit, he has been an influential force for the past 35 years. This does not even take into account his multitude of solo and side projects, such as these two recent cassettes. All of his work is joined together by a single, distinct thread: a love of analog synthesizers that borders on the obsessive. Here those synths are used to create the perfect soundtrack to city isolation.
This unusual and fitfully fascinating album was quietly released near the end of 2018 on the small New Orleans-based Pinkbox Teleport label. INRA are themselves based in Berlin, yet The Content Consuming Its Form sounds very much like it was partially birthed in a bleak and blighted late-'70s industrial area, favorably recalling the UK‚Äôs finest art-damaged dystopian experimentalists of the period. While I probably would (guiltily) enjoy an album that was essentially straight-up Throbbing Gristle worship, INRA merely recapture the intelligence, low-budget futurism, and deep sense of post-modern alienation that defined the milieu of the era. Stylistically, they reanimate the formula with fresh blood in the form of kinetic drumming and nods to the heavier side of the dance music underground. While not every song gets the balance of murky mood and skittering, propulsive rhythms exactly right, the ones that do are a deliciously inventive feast of post-industrial collage done beautifully.
As Ellen Fullman can likely attest, one of the downsides to inventing your own instrument with 100-foot-long strings is that it definitely limits the number of possible venues for your performances. Another is that Fullman's Long String Instrument takes roughly five days to install and tune, adding yet another level of amusing inconvenience to the endeavor. Fortunately, an optimal situation surfaced in 2016, as John Chantler's First Edition Festival was given access to Stockholm‚Äôs Performing Arts Museum while it was being renovated. Given the limited "pure drone" nature of her instrument, the success of Fullman‚Äôs work can be heavily dependent on finding an appropriately sympathetic foil who can add vivid splashes of color and new layers of emotional depth to that rich harmonic backdrop. In that regard, Fullman could not possibly have hoped for a more talented and amenable collaborator than avant garde cello virtuoso Okkyung Lee.
This is arguably the formal debut album from Portland harpist Sage Fisher, though she previously surfaced with a fine cassette (Orchid Fire) back in 2016. Liminal Garden is on a completely different level than its more homespun predecessor though. If someone had told me fifteen years ago that several of my favorite artists would be harpists in the not too distant future, I would probably have thought they were completely delusional, but the instrument has undergone quite an incredible renaissance since Joanna Newsom's early albums blew up. While it is probably too soon to tell whether the more mysticism-minded Fisher has definitively earned a place in the same illustrious pantheon as Newsom and Mary Lattimore, her inventive use of effects and processing here frequently transcends harpistry altogether and calls to mind some of the most iconoclastic laptop composers of the early twenty-first century (if they lived in a fairy tale-like crystal palace in an enchanted forest). This is a wonderful and unexpected gem.
As someone who already reviewed Bowery Electric's third album 19 years ago, I can't discuss it now without recognizing the importance of their second album and the differences in the world where each existed. Whereas Beat was very much the right record at the right time, Lushlife, in hindsight, feels like the wrong record at the wrong time. What made the world listen to Beat was its seemingly effortless mastery of sound, structure, and songcraft. The group didn't follow a particular formula between tracks and it never felt as if they were obliged to reach for a hit single. Released originally in late 1996 on Kranky in the USA, it grabbed the attention of Beggars Banquet for a release in Europe followed by two remix 12" singles, a remix album, and worldwide distribution to the follow-up. While they may have not explicitly been tasked with the duty of creating a pop-breakthrough, Lushlife feels at times like Bowery Electric are aiming for it. The songs were certainly more consciously composed, lyrically dense, and the sounds on the whole were much more vibrant and stunning than previously. Martha's vocals are more pronounced and confident, the bass riffs are a thunderous force, the guitars are sublime, and the strings are gorgeous. The dominating backbone of the record is the hip-hop beats, which eventually becomes its weakness.
I am hesitant to state that Private Parts is one of the most unique and weirdly beautiful albums of the 20th century, as that will likely sound like overheated hyperbole to anyone who has not heard it. Nevertheless, it is exactly that. Originally released back in 1978 and newly reissued, Ashley's hushed and intimate second album was unlike anything that came before it and no one else has since come anywhere close to replicating its precarious magic. That includes Ashley himself, as he revisited and expanded upon this album's themes with his ambitious television opera Perfect Lives, an ‚Äò80s avant-garde landmark that has comparatively aged quite poorly. The elegantly simple piano-and-voice palette goes a long way towards making Private Parts feel timeless, but not nearly as much as the fact that it does not even sound like it was recorded on earth. Rather, it evokes the feeling of sitting next to an incredibly interesting, enigmatic, and gregarious man in heaven's waiting room.
Thanks again to everyone who participated in the Recount of the 1999 Annual Brainwashed Readers Poll.
The original vote which took place at the end of 1999 was clearly less expansive and inclusive, however the new top picks aren't drastically different than the original vote for the most part. Numerous releases which have now charted weren't even on the radar of most readers at the time while other releases have noticeably dropped in popularity due to changing times and changing opinions.
No more polls until the end of 2019.
Over the last several years, Marc Richter's Black to Comm project has swelled considerably in ambition and scope, blossoming into a shape-shifting and idiosyncratic force with a strong propensity for the epic. With this latest album, his first for Thrill Jockey, Richter reaches a darkly hallucinatory new plateau with his art. It is difficult to say whether Seven Horses For Seven Kings is Richter's masterpiece, as there is stiff competition from a couple of his other recent albums, but it is unquestionably his heaviest and most vividly absorbing opus to date, unfolding as a disorienting and harrowing nightmare that increasingly stretches and strains towards transcendence.
Hot on the heels of the seismic sine-wave experimentation of Front Variations, this pair of EPs rounds out Richard Skelton's prolific winter with a welcome return to more familiar territory. Both intended as accompaniments to his most recent book of poetry (Dark Hollow Dark), the two releases take differing themes as inspiration, but both paths ultimately lead to strong, slow-burning drone pieces. Of the two, the darker and more primal Another Hand is the more powerful and fully realized work. Together, the releases complement each other beautifully to form an extremely satisfying and haunting diptych.
I have mixed feelings about vinyl-only reissues, but there is no denying that they are an extremely effective way to rekindle interest in a long-neglected album that should not be languishing in obscurity. This album is an excellent example of that phenomenon, as Geelriandre/Arthesis has been fairly easy to track down digitally for a while and few were clamoring for it. Now that it is getting a formal physical resurrection, however, it is deservedly back in the public consciousness. As far as Radigue albums go, it is a somewhat unique one, occupying a grey area between the more divergent Alga Marghen albums and her more universally revered drone epics. It shares much more common ground with the latter, but it sometimes feels like an embryonic version that is still partially indebted to the avant-garde zeitgeist of the era. Nevertheless, it is quite a fascinating album, taking an alternate and almost sci-fi-damaged path quite unlike the pure and focused vision of Radigue's later recordings.
It recently occurred to me that Phill Niblock has a remarkably meager discography for a visionary composer with a body of work that spans five decades. I hesitate to describe anyone's career as undocumented these days, as the experimental music world is drowning in live recordings, unfortunate one-off collaborations, vault scrapings, and unnecessary reissues. Nevertheless, Music for Cello makes a strong case that Niblock probably has quite a backlog of unheard masterpieces wrongfully gathering dust somewhere, as the three pieces compiled here all date back roughly forty years (or more). However, they all sound like they could have been recorded this week. While these pieces chronologically represent quite an early stage of Niblock's lifelong fascination with sustained acoustic tones and the interplay of frequencies, his mastery of the form was already amply evident. In fact, Music For Cello is actually superior to some albums from Niblock's classic run of Touch releases. I am delighted that I finally got to hear it.
The Dead C have been on an impressive hot streak in recent years, so it was a reasonably safe bet that I would be delighted yet again by Rare Ravers. However, I was definitely not expecting such a revelatory leap forward this deep into the band's career. Immodestly described as "recorded and burned through a thousand galaxies of dust and doubt and endless infinite wonder, transforming both time and space," this album feels like it was conscientiously sculpted to ravaged perfection in an actual studio and it sounds absolutely amazing. As it turns out, The Dead C's long history of rehearsal tape-level sound quality and shambolic, messy self-indulgence concealed the fact that they were secretly an extremely tight band capable of unleashing firestorms of howling guitar noise with the precision of a scalpel. I imagine some fans are still holding out hope that the band will someday return to writing actual songs with lyrics and vocals, but this album is an instant classic as far as I am concerned.
Alive in Dark Rooms is the third live release from Joao Da Silva‚Äôs Luciernaga project, following two equally limited, handmade CDs from 2015 and 2017. Compiling four full performances between 2017 and 2018 it functions not only as a snapshot of how the Luciernaga project translates to a live setting, but also is a brilliant overview of the different styles and approaches Da Silva has been working with these past years. At times meditative and beautiful, and at other turns dark and harsh, it is a superb document of his recent work.
Alhough I lamentably cannot claim to have been a fan since the beginning, I have been aware of Ectoplasm Girls' intermittently surfacing bouts of outsider genius long enough to feel like a fool for sleeping on this latest solo album from Nadine Byrne (released last spring). In my defense, it was billed as a soundtrack and I am generally averse to such things, but Dreaming Remembering is quite unlike anything resembling a conventional soundtrack that I have heard. Instead, this album feels like a collection of B-sides from a great synth pop/minimal wave artist, stretching and reshaping their hook-heavy hits into something considerably weirder, more abstract, and subtly hallucinatory. Some pieces are certainly more substantial than others, but the best moments bring an extremely appealing pop sensibility to the synth and experimental music milieu.
Without question, The Shadow Ring were one of the strangest and most inscrutable bands to ever exist, yet Graham Lambkin's gnomic solo career frequently makes his previous band look downright conventional by comparison. That is not an unambiguously wonderful achievement, however, as a lot of Lambkin's work leaves me wondering what on earth he is trying to convey and who such albums are for. For better or worse, the presence of √Åine O'Dwyer does little to steer Lambkin towards more musical terrain. In fact, this latest release only doubles down further on Lambkin's recent cryptic, no-fi aesthetic, seemingly unfolding as a fragmented and abstract travelogue of a couple's travels across England, Ireland, and Sweden. ¬†As with all Graham Lambkin albums, Green Ways is certainly unique and intriguing, but it is more of an unsolvable mystery and an experiment in extreme artistic constraints than it is a great album.