cover imageIt seemed like last year's Tack För Kaffet / So Long was the bittersweet swansong for a shape-shifting creative force that brought the world so much timeless psychedelia, but a handful of the participants from that album have now surfaced anew. Of Träden's four members, only founding guitarist Jakob Sjöholm remains from Träd, Gräs Och Stenar's original line-up, yet this latest incarnation feels like the natural next chapter for an entity that has always been fairly loosely defined. While there is nothing particularly ambitious or revelatory on this album, this new foursome prove to be especially adept at crafting warm, fluid, and unpretentious music that perfectly evokes the quiet pleasures of a handful of talented friends comfortably jamming and bouncing ideas off of one another in a countryside studio. Some of those jams ultimately turned into very good songs, of course, but the real magic of Träden is that the band feels free, sincere, casually experimental, and joyful in a way that is rarely heard these days.

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Catherine Christer Hennix, "Selected Early Keyboard Works"

cover imageIt is quite rare for me to be interested in anyone's archival rehearsal tapes, but Catherine Christer Hennix's oft-fascinating career has been woefully under-documented until only recently. In fact, this is arguably her formal vinyl debut, a milestone that improbably took more than four decades to reach. These recordings date back from 1976, when her ensemble The Deontic Miracle was performing at the Dream Music Festival in Sweden, but the album mostly features Hennix by herself playing a keyboard tuned to just-intonation. Given that these three pieces were never intended for release, it is no surprise that there is occasionally a meandering, improvisatory feel, but a few of them blossom into a wonderfully hallucinatory swirl of uneasily harmonizing overtones. Selected Early Keyboard Works is a bit more than a fine collection of unreleased material though, as it highlights a more unpolished and intimate side of Hennix's vision than her other releases. More importantly, it features one of the greatest pieces ever recorded by the La Monte Young/Pandit Pran Nath milieu.

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Thomas Ankersmit, "Homage to Dick Raaijmakers"

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I suspect I am far from alone in being unfamiliar with the music of Dutch composer Dick Raaijmakers, as there is not a hell of a lot of electronic music from the '18 and early '60s that has aged well. In his time, however, he was an important and pioneering figure in that milieu, performing significant electro-acoustic research and co-founding STEIM. He was also a thoughtful and inventive theorist and his ideas have proven to be a bit more timeless than his recordings. For this piece, originally commissioned by Sonic Acts, Thomas Ankersmit worked with similar tools to those that were available to Raaijmakers, but the album's true raison d'être is the exploration of holophonic sound fields. Wielding frequencies with scalpel-like precision, Ankersmit is able to trick the inner ear into conjuring new sounds that do not actually exist on the recording, transforming and evolving as the listener's spatial relationship to the speakers changes. It is a very neat trick, obviously, at times feeling like the album has physically burrowed directly into my head and started aggressively rearranging things. Ankersmit definitely would have been burned as a witch if this album had been made in earlier times.

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Glenn Jones, "The Giant Who Ate Himself and Other New Works for 6 & 12 String Guitar"

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Every couple years or so, a new Glenn Jones album modestly enters the world, unveiling a fresh batch of warm and lovely American Primitive-inspired guitar works. Appropriately, The Giant Who Ate Himself is a reference to Jones' longtime friend and mentor John Fahey, who certainly casts a formidable shadow over much of the more compelling acoustic guitar music in his wake. More than anyone else, however, Jones seems like the underappreciated (yet considerably less hostile) spiritual heir to Fahey’s throne, though Jones is far more of A Comparatively Well-Adjusted Artist Who Reliably Releases Good Albums. Of course, the American Primitive aesthetic quickly became much larger than Fahey himself and it is all too easy to fall into the trap of legend worship–there is a much larger tradition of great and visionary American acoustic guitarists that continues to thrive and it would be more accurate to simply state that Jones is one of its unbending pillars. Trends come and trends go, but Glenn Jones remains a timeless, distinctive, and consistently delightful presence through it all.

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Julee Cruise, "The Voice of Love"

cover imageNewly reissued on Sacred Bones, The Voice of Love (1993) was Cruise's second and final album with the singular songwriting team of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti. I suspect it did not sell particularly well upon its release, as I found my copy in a cut-out bin and it was Cruise's final album for Warner Brothers, but it has since rightly attained the cult stature it deserves. It is admittedly a bit uneven compared with its more illustrious predecessor (1989's Floating Into The Night), uncannily mirroring Lynch's own changing fortunes, as Night featured music from Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks while Voice features pieces from Wild at Heart, Fire Walk With Me, and Industrial Symphony No. 1. Still, a significant amount of that initial magic lingered and continued to blossom, as The Voice of Love fitfully captures some of the finest work of Cruise's "ghostly chanteuse" phase. It may be an imperfect classic album, but it is a classic album nonetheless.

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Lovesliescrushing, "Bloweyelashwish"

cover imageReleased on Projekt back in 1993, Lovesliescrushing’s debut remains one of the great underappreciated shoegaze albums of all time, as Scott Cortez and Melissa Arpin took the deliciously warped guitars of My Bloody Valentine and stripped away all the rock elements to leave only a churning ocean of fuzzed-out bliss. With their later albums, the duo smoothed out their rough edges a bit and became a bit more focused on crafting more structured songs, but the more frayed and experimental nature of Bloweyelashwish has made it an enduring favorite of mine. In a perfect and just world, Scott Cortez would be a fixture in any conversation about the most inventive and compelling guitar stylists of the last two decades and this album would be held up as the irrefutable evidence of that.

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Sungod, "Wave Refraction"

cover imageMuch like their previous, self-titled album on the Holodeck label, Austin’s Sungod—the duo of Michael C. Sharp and Braden Balentine—completely ignore any sort of traditional genre demarcations and instead produce a sprawling instrumental work that covers a little bit of everything, musically speaking. From gigantic, boisterous jam sessions to restrained, intricate compositions, Wave Refraction is an expertly composed, diverse work with an exceptional sense of style and panache.

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Thomas Bey William Bailey, "La Production Interdite"

cover image Musician, researcher, and author Thomas Bey William Bailey has been prolific in all of the disciplines in which he has worked, and La Production Interdite is an excellent entry in his musical body of work. Spread into two 30 minute pieces, one fully instrumental and one with spoken word vocals, Bailey succeeds in a strong piece of sonic, as well as conceptual art that comes together brilliantly with both distinct elements enhancing the other perfectly.

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Neutral, "När"

cover imageThis duo of Sofie Herner and Sewer Election's Dan Johannsson is probably my favorite project to emerge from Sweden's flourishing underground in recent years. När, their third album, was originally released on vinyl back in 2017, but I believe it only became widely available in digital form this spring. While Neutral's aesthetic has certainly evolved over the years, Herner's idiosyncratic and oft-creepy lo-fi pop experiments and Johannsson's noisy textures always combine to form something stranger and more compelling than the sum of their parts. I suppose Neutral's closest kindred spirits are probably The Shadow Ring, but the best moments on När sound more like an surreal and intimate answering machine message or a ransom note delivered in the form of a blurry and distorted VHS tape.

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Ian William Craig, "A Turn of Breath"

cover imageRecently reissued in expanded form, A Turn of Breath was Ian William Craig's 2014 formal debut, though it was predated by a handful of digital-only and cassette releases. In fact, I am quite fond of his first two Recital Program albums, even if they betray a strong Tim Hecker influence. With A Turn of Breath, however, Craig made a major creative leap forward, casting aside any lingering derivative touches to establish himself as one of the most talented and distinctive sound artists in recent memory. Using just his voice as his primary instrument, Craig employs an arsenal of tape players to transform his simple, naked melodies into swooning and warbling dream-like bliss. He later expanded considerably on that aesthetic with the more song-based and shoegaze-inspired Centres, but that vision was already quite lovely and fully formed here–A Turn of Breath just happens to be a more fragmented, flickering, and hallucinatory incarnation of it.

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break_fold, "27_05_17-21_01_18"

cover image Following up last year’s equally difficult titled tape release, the mysterious break_fold project’s newest work, 27_05_17-21_01_18 continues the stripped-down techno style that the artist cultivated on that previous release, but in a way that demonstrates a sense of growth and complexity in comparison. With a unified sound across each of the seven songs—but different arrangements for each—the final product is a varied, satisfying one that draws from a wide variety of rhythm oriented electronic music.

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Birchville Cat Motel, "With Maples Ablaze"

cover imageFor years, I have rightly hailed Campbell Kneale as one of the true dark wizards of gnarled guitar noise, but I did not fully appreciate the depth and breadth of his vision until only recently: pre-Bandcamp, it was quite a difficult, expensive, and overwhelming endeavor to keep up with his sprawling body of work. As a result, several landmark albums fell through the cracks and remain woefully underappreciated to this day. One such example is this 2004 release on the now-defunct Scarcelight label, a hallucinatory suite of musique concrète, deep drones, and innovative collage that drew in a murderers' row of talented collaborators like John Wiese, Bruce Russell, Jonathan Coleclough, Peter Wright, and Neil Campbell. As with many Kneale releases, With Maples Ablaze occasionally dips into some nerve-jangling and dissonant territory, but the high points are legitimately amazing to behold.

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8193 Hits

Liberez, "The Letter"

cover imageNewly reissued, 2011's The Letter was Liberez's formal debut, but it is new to me and confirms that John Hannon's gnarled post-industrial vision was great right from the beginning. In some ways, I suppose The Letter is a bit more primitive than the shifting ensemble's more recent releases, but that is more of an asset than a shortcoming with this project–it simply means that Hannon and his collaborators sound even more like a bunch of early '80s experimentalists bashing on oil drums and chopping up tape loops in a freezing squat or abandoned warehouse. I suppose Hannon's more recent work is a bit more distinctive in some ways, often resembling some kind of Eastern European folk music played with rusted junkyard instruments and blown-out amps, but The Letter has enough visceral power, freewheeling experimentation, and unconventional percussion to stand out in its own right. It might actually be my favorite of Liberez's three albums, though Sane Men Surround is damn hard to top.

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Caterina Barbieri, "Born Again in the Voltage"

cover imageLast year's Patterns of Consciousness was a massive, ambitious, and occasionally dazzling psychotropic opus that sought to reshape consciousness through pattern manipulation, instantly establishing Caterina Barbieri as one of the most compelling contemporary synthesizer composers. Naturally, it will be a damn tough act to follow, but Born Again in the Voltage is not its highly anticipated successor, as its four pieces were recorded back in 2014 and 2015. On this more drone-based affair composed for the Buchla 200, Barbieri is joined by cellist Antonello Mostacci for a more modest and understated batch of songs. As such, Voltage is not quite as striking or distinctive as Barbieri's debut, but it is still quite good and "How to Decode an Illusion" is an absolutely gorgeous work.

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Fosil Sangiran, "Khayal Kuno", "Pasar Fosil"

cover imageFosil Sangiran is a previously unused pseudonym for the late Matt Shoemaker, who passed away in August 2017. Although he had a lengthy body of work under his own name, these works were to be issued under a different name as to reflect the differing intent he took during these recordings. Both of these cassettes consist of material that was recorded between 2012 and 2013 during Shoemaker's time living in Java, Indonesia, which is evident in the music itself. There are parallels to be heard to the work under his own name, but both Pasar Fosil and Khayal Kuno have distinctly different qualities, both in comparison to his other work and even between one another, but both represent differing facets to an artist that left us far too soon.

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Todd Anderson-Kunert, "A Good Time to Go"

cover imageAustralia’s Todd Anderson-Kunert’s discography as a sound artist may have been relatively brief thus far (his earliest solo electronic work as Autonomous dates from 2007), but the quality has been exceptionally strong given his relative newness on the scene, and A Good Time to Go is no different. His blend of experimental electronics is an especially dynamic one that builds brilliantly from piece to piece on this tape, covering a wide spectrum of mood and diversity, while still functioning as a cohesive album.

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Zu93, "Mirror Emperor"

cover imageThe inimitable David Tibet returns to House of Mythology for a second inspired collaboration, this time teaming up with shape-shifting Italian ensemble Zu. Unlike his more spacey and indulgent union with Youth, however, Mirror Emperor feels very much like a Current 93 album. That similarity is not due to any lack of vision on Zu's part though, as this album is very much driven by a David Tibet in peak wild-eyed, apocalyptic prophet form: Mirror Emperor is essentially a fiery, hallucinatory, and poetic tour de force that drags Zu down a deep rabbit hole in the UnWorld on the other side of the mirror. As such, Mirror Emperor is a dazzling and compelling album primarily because Tibet had a vivid vision that he breathlessly shares with an incandescent passion. The music is often quite good as well, of course, but Mirror Emperor is more of a lysergic epic poem than a collection of discrete songs. That is just fine by me, as few things are more captivating than pure, undiluted Tibet with a microphone and some strong feelings to share.

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Louise Landes Levi, "IKIRU or The Wanderer"

cover imageThis unique album quietly surfaced back in April, but it is one of 2018's most wonderfully unexpected releases, as it is the first of Landes Levi's recordings to ever be made widely available. Although she has amassed a small cult following through her releases on Belgium's Sloow Tapes, Landes Levi has largely remained an obscure figure in music circles, rarely recording and jokingly describing herself in a recent Wire interview as a "street musician made good." It would be more apt to describe her as reluctant drone royalty, however, as she co-founded The Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company in the '60s, an ensemble that also included folks like Terry Riley and Angus MacLise. She also studied with La Monte Young and an improbable host of legendary Indian musicians over the years. On IKIRU, Landes Levi is joined by luminaries of a different sort, as her haunting sarangi melodies are backed by Belgian underground veterans Bart de Paepe and Timo von Luijk. IKIRU would have certainly been a mournfully lovely album with just Landes Levi's unadorned sarangi playing, but her sympathetic collaborators take her viscerally elegiac vision into wonderfully ritualistic and hallucinatory deep-psych territory.

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Midwife, "Prayer Hands" EP

cover imageRecorded during the turbulent period following the closure of beloved Denver DIY space Rhinoceropolis, Prayer Hands takes the hazy, melancholy dream-pop beauty of Like Author, Like Daughter and distills it into a gut-punch of simmering and seething emotion. While the swooning, elegantly blurred pop of "Angel" is probably the release's biggest hook, Madeline Johnston and collaborator Tucker Theodore gamely expand the Midwife aesthetic in some more visceral and experimental directions as well. The result is a near-perfect release that features three gorgeously haunting gems of hissing and hypnagogic shoegaze heaven in a row.

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9833 Hits

Black Spirituals, "Black Access/Black Axes"

cover imageAs the pairing of drummer/percussionist Marshall Trammell and Zachary James Watkins on guitars and electronics, Black Spirituals has had a short, but overwhelmingly brilliant run of experimental albums. Black Access/Black Axes represents the final release in this arrangement (Watkins will be continuing to use the name, however, but with different collaborators), and also a band at the their peak. Drawing from the worlds of noise, jazz, and rock—but never easily settling in to any of those more limiting genres—the album instead encompasses everything, and makes for one of the most multifaceted, and amazing, albums so far this year.

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9500 Hits