Windy Weber & Carl Hultgren are ambient rock royalty and a household name among the Terrastock devout. Their music is an ethereal lattice of sparkling, layered melodic fragments like so much brightly entwined coral, and subdued, profound vocals expertly placed. It uncovers the strata of human emotion, evoking emotions like hope, sadness, vitality, and joy. I find myself irrepressibly moved to tears by their clean, beautiful creations, both live and recorded. Allegiance and Conviction is squarely within their prior sound, while still being fresh enough to warrant spending quality time with.
For the most part, I can always be relied upon to enthusiastically support any talented artist who leaves their comfort zone behind to explore increasingly weird and uncharted territory. I do have my weaknesses, however, and one of the major ones is my undying love for classic Mille Plateaux/Chain Reaction-style dub techno. Consequently, I am hopelessly fixated on early Vladislav Delay albums like Entain and the newly reissued Multila. That is a damn shame, as Sasu Ripatti has made quite a lot of wonderful and forward-thinking music since and I have definitely not dug into his later work nearly as much as I should. This latest album, the first new Vladislav full-length in roughly five years, is a particularly effective and timely reminder that I am an absolute chump for sleeping on many of Ripatti's major statements over the years. Rakka is quite an ambitiously intense and inventive affair, seamlessly blurring together elements of Tim Hecker-style blown-out ambiance, power electronics, techno deconstruction, and production mastery into an explosive tour de force.
Alison Chesley, a classically trained cellist, is one of those performers whose collaborations are many and varied, spanning across genres and decades in her long career. Her credits include contributions to over 100 albums1, with styles ranging from post-rock, to metal, to college rock, to new music, to film score. Solo project Helen Money is the culmination of these influences, with cello the principal actor in her experiments with chamber rock, subtle effects to round sharp corners, and heavy riffs to chop the serenity back up again.
This latest release from Student of Decay‚Äôs eclectic and unpredictable sister label is an unexpectedly melodic and accessible one, though it still fits comfortably within Soda Gong's ethos of exploring the more playful and trend-averse fringes of experimental music. While this is technically only Malkin's second solo album under his own name, he has been a prolific and ubiquitous figure in the LA scene for quite some time, surfacing in a number of different guises and collaborations. In fact, I just belatedly discovered that he played on one of my favorite songs from the Not Not Fun milieu (LA Vampires/Maria Minerva's "A Lover & A Friend"). Given that pedigree, it is not surprising that A Typical Night in the Pit has a very "LA" feel to it, but it is an endearingly vaporous and neon-lit one, evoking a kind of dreamlike and hazy strain of jazz. It maybe errs a bit too much on the side of atmosphere to feel like a truly substantial statement, but Malkin has both style for days and an impressively unerring instinct for manipulating light, space, and texture. If I saw a film with this as the soundtrack, I would definitely stick around to the end to find out who the hell managed to make smoky, noirish jazz sound so fresh and endearingly skewed.
With a flurry of recent activity, including the Herbstsonne album also under his own name and Electric as Organum, David Jackman has been rather prolific in the past year. While I admittedly cannot say I know for sure what separates a David Jackman record from an Organum one (or why this one is credited to just his surname), Silence in that Time clearly shares some kinship with last year's Herbstsonne. Both feature his use of wide-open spaces, symmetrical song structures, and punctuations of massive piano chords, but the other details are where the difference lies.
Before his untimely passing in 2017, Matt Shoemaker had a number of releases completed and ready to be released, including Mercurial Horizon. Recorded at various times between 2008 and 2012, during one of his most prolific phases, the album was completed five years ago, but just now being released. Split into two half hour pieces, it almost seems built for cassette, but thankfully presented as a gorgeous CD by the Elevator Bath label that does wonders to capture the depth and nuance of his work. Beautiful, unsettling, and bleak, it makes for an amazing disc that was worth the wait.
The first foray into Warren Defever's teenage tape archive (last year's All The Mirrors in the House) was an absolute revelation that actively courted disbelief, but this second installment is a bit more modest in its scope. As a result, Return To Never unavoidably feels a bit underwhelming and insubstantial by comparison, but it is still a likable album that scratches roughly the same itch, as I am very much a fan of Defever's homespun, early lo-fi experiments. While there are still a healthy number of melodic guitar pieces strewn throughout the album, Return to Never is generally a more experimental and abstract affair than the previous volume. Phrases like "analogue murk" and "greyscale industrial drone" are tossed around in the album's description and they are fairly apt: if All The Mirrors captured a teenage Defever accidentally inventing shoegaze, Return to Never captures him accidentally mirroring the sounds of the early '80s noise underground (or at least calls to mind someone playing shoegaze-style guitar over such a tape). The warmer, more "ambient" passages still tend to be the best ones, but if some moments from Return to Never had found their way onto an early Broken Flag tape, I doubt anyone would have blinked or raised an eyebrow.
As a longtime NWW fan, the prospect of an ambitious, long-gestating triple LP release entitled Trippin‚Äô Musik naturally filled me with glee and anticipation, as I envisioned another Soliloquy For Lilith-level classic. That enthusiasm remained undampened by the jabbering and splattering loop lunacy of Experimente II: Son of Trippin‚Äô Music, as it seemed like that was intended as more of an outtake collection than a teasing glimpse of what was to come. As it turns out, however, it was very much the latter, as Trippin' Musik is often an obsessively loop-driven affair that basically expands upon Experimente II rather than transcending it. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but Trippin‚Äô Musik is occasionally surprising in both its extremity and single-mindedness. This is a bizarre and challenging album even by Nurse With Wound standards.
I cannot say that I love every one of Jan St. Werner's bizarre solo albums, but his unwavering passion for pure experimentation and escalating unfamiliarity is certainly admirable and endearing. On this latest release, however, he takes a break from his extremely outr√© Fiepblatter Catalogue project to celebrate the incomparable ramblings of his former Von S√ºdenfed bandmate: the late Mark E. Smith. The heart of the album is an edit of a "bespoke light and sound environment" that first premiered in Manchester back in 2014, while the remainder is (for the most part) fleshed out with some orphaned, Smith-centric work that was composed for other reasons. Unsurprisingly, it is Smith's near-constant presence as a cranky, surrealist raconteur that provides most of Molocular Meditation's charm, but St. Werner's noisy, blurting and scattershot electronics do a effective job of creating a disorienting "sci-fi dystopia" backdrop for those musings. At its best, Molocular Meditation feels like Smith's voice erupting through the noisy squall of a bank of malfunctioning computers, but the album has a whole is a prickly, challenging, and elusive affair (which, I suppose, is exactly what I expect from St. Werner at this stage in his career).
If someone had told me twenty years ago that Cerberus Shoal would someday evolve into a '60s girl group-style family band, I probably would have thought that I had fallen asleep and was having an extremely weird and perplexing dream. Nevertheless, that improbable future has now come to pass with Do You Wanna Have a Skeleton Dream?, which is Colleen Kinsella and Caleb Mulkerin's first album to feature their daughter Quinnisa as a full member of the band. As befits such an auspicious occasion, Skeleton Dream is an especially fun and ambitious anomaly within the already unpredictable Big Blood discography. While I am hesitant to describe any release by this long-running Portland, Maine project as a "party album," such a classification would not be terribly wide of the mark here, as this release is comprised almost entirety of hooky, retro-minded pop songs. Characteristically, however, Skeleton Dream's appeal runs quite a bit deeper than a mere collection of entertaining classic pop pastiches, occasionally catching me off-guard with some wonderfully haunting and darkly hallucinatory moments.
Both Ryoko Akama and Anne-F Jacques have large discographies focusing on the creation of music with improvised and constructed devices based on everyday objects, so working together makes perfect sense. The two live collaborations Evaporation is comprised of feature the duo blending the methodologies of live performance and art installation, with the self-guiding objects manipulated in real time as the two move about the performance space while adjusting the objects and mixing the sound. The resulting recordings are two unique, yet complementary long-form works that, while difficult at times, are captivating throughout.
Originally released back in 1989 on the New Albion label, this landmark celebration of extreme natural reverb has finally received a long-deserved reissue in honor of its thirtieth anniversary. Obviously, production technology has evolved quite a lot since the '80s and site-specific performances have since become a somewhat common occurrence in the experimental music world, so Deep Listening does not feel quite as radical now as it did when it was first released. Nevertheless, it is still quite a strange and magical album, as I cannot think of any other accordionists who have descended into a two million gallon cistern to explore the incredible acoustic possibilities inherent in a 45-second reverb decay. As someone without a deep technical understanding of how reverb works, I found the new liner notes from recording engineer Al Swanson and Peter Ward quite helpful in explaining exactly why these recordings feel so unreal, but such knowledge is not necessary to appreciate this album: I have been able to enjoy the epic and eerie slow-motion beauty of Deep Listening for years without knowing a single goddamn thing about phase integrity or slap-back. While I cannot say I was exactly clamoring to see this album released in the vinyl format, I am absolutely delighted to see it resurrected and back in the public consciousness.
I am hardly unique in this regard, but Markus Popp's classic run of mid-'90s albums made a huge impression on me, acting as a Rosetta Stone that led me to a world of radical (and also not-so-radical) electronic music far more compelling than the punk and industrial music that I was into at the time. Sadly, I cannot say that I have been a particularly loyal fan over the ensuing two decades, so I did not stick with Popp through his various bold attempts to reinvent his aesthetic. However, his work has never stopped interesting me‚Äìit is just that the allure of his earlier work was its perfect balance of bold concept and skilled execution. And, of course, an artist only gets to make a mind-blowing first impression once. As a result, later Oval albums simply did not leave a deep impression on me anything like that left by 94 Diskont. That said, there is definitely something to be said for masterful execution on its own and Scis fitfully captures Popp at the absolute height of his powers in that regard (particularly on the second half of the album). While my nostalgia‚Äîand expectation‚Äîclouded vision makes it impossible to rank this album within Oval's discography with any degree of objectivity, I feel quite confident in stating that some of the individual songs on Scis easily stand among the finest of Popp's long career (especially "Mikk").
I always love scavenging the internet for interesting end-of-year lists every December, as I invariably find a handful of great albums and films that I slept on like a fool. In fact, a lot of those belated finds wind up being among my favorites, as the albums I miss tend to be inspired and refreshing departures from the labels and scenes that I usually follow. This unusual debut album from LA's Ana Roxanne was one such find from last year, as it surfaced back in March and I probably dismissed it instantly as a vinyl reissue of some private press New Age obscurity (if I noticed it at all). Given both the look of the album and Roxanne's aesthetic, that is not a terribly outlandish conclusion to make, but a closer listen reveals that ~~~ is considerably more compelling and distinctive than it first appears. For example, Roxanne checks two boxes that have historically been strong indicators of a radical compositional approach: she both studied Hindustani singing in India and attended the fabled Mills College. As a result, Roxanne has an unusually sophisticated understanding of harmony and avant-garde compositional techniques for this stylistic milieu. Such a path would normally steer an artist towards an Eastern drone/La Monte Young vein, yet Roxanne deftly sidesteps anything resembling a predictable path, as ~~~ can best be described as what might result if a mermaid studied with Eliane Radigue: drone-based minimalism that evokes a soft-focus idyll of lapping waves and floating, angelic voices.
It is difficult for me to imagine Analog Africa ever releasing a predictable or uninspired compilation, as Samy Ben Redjeb seems fundamentally incapable of ever focusing his attention on a scene or place that has already been anthologized by his crate-digging peers. Mogadisco is predictable in one regard though, as Redjeb makes his return to the African continent after Jamb√∫ e Os M√≠ticos Sons Da Amaz√¥nia's surprise detour into Brazil. Characteristically, however, Redjeb swims against the tide, as he decided to go digging in one of the world's most dangerous and tourist-unfriendly places after seeing a video about the Radio Mogadishu archives. A less driven person would have been immediately put off by the need to have an armed escort every single time he went outside, but that is the difference between Redjeb and everyone else: if he heard that there was a killer record hidden at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, he would either find a way to get to it or die trying. As usual, Redjeb's efforts yielded some genuinely wonderful finds, though this latest batch of long-forgotten and obscure gems is not quite as rhythmically unique as those on other Analog Africa collections. Fortunately, most of these artists managed to achieve a distinctive character in other ways. Analog Africa's hot streak remains unbroken.
Compared to his last release on the SIGE label, the three CD Sleeper, Melting Gravity is a much tighter affair: a single LP with two side-long pieces. Unsurprisingly then, Menche stays more stylistically focused, and surprisingly creates some of the most musical sounding work yet. Most definitely not a full on noise work, but also more varied and dynamic than his more ambient works, it is yet another unique work from one of the most unique artists currently active.
Explaining why one Celer album is significantly better than another is no simple task, as Will Long is generally an extremely consistent artist who has released a huge volume of warmly lovely, loop-based ambient drone albums. Consequently, it is dangerously easy to take his artistry for granted, as a casual listener would not be crazy for finding a lot of Celer's oeuvre relatively interchangeable. From my perspective, however, Celer can be viewed as Long's tireless and Romantic quest to conjure up fragments of melody so achingly sublime that they can be looped into infinity. In that regard, Long has rarely come closer to realizing that dream than he does on Future Predictions. These four lengthy compositions capture Long at the absolute peak of his powers, resulting in the rarest of achievements: a 2+ hour album that leaves me wanting more and regularly inspires me to start it all over again as soon as it ends.
I was starting to get a little worried about Big Blood, as they went almost all of 2019 without releasing any new music. Thankfully, however, they were just quietly amassing material for not one but TWO new albums to be released in rapid succession. The first of the pair is this one, a self-released duo recording that surfaced digitally at the end of December. Obviously, they chose to give the more rocking family affair Do You Want to Have A Skeleton Dream? the more high-profile release, but that does not necessarily mean that that album got all the best songs. In fact, there are a couple of absolutely beautiful pieces on this more modest, stripped-down and fitfully ballad-centered release. Consequently, I have no doubt that there will someday be a deluxe reissue in Deep Maine's future, as it certainly deserves it. Until then, however, "A Message Sent" is an instant classic no matter which format it appears in.
With these two new releases recorded and released in 2019, Stephen Petrus's long running noise/death industrial/ambient/whatever project continues to be productive and constantly evolving, demonstrating his wide array of influences and talents. Here are two distinctly different sounding discs, one a shared release with fellow dark synth fan David Reed (also a member of Nightmares), and the second featuring Murderous Vision in duo configuration with the addition of Jeff Curtis on bass. Each of the discs are remarkable, and exemplify just how much versatility there is in Petrus's work.
I suppose I have been probably been aware of Rrose since the project first appeared back in 2011, but the electronic music scene is teeming with hot new trends and hip new producers that come and go all the time and I lack the time and will to keep up with them all. If someone is doing something genuinely interesting, I tend to find out about it eventually and I can live with being a little late to the party. That said, there were obviously some signs that Rrose was different right from the start (the mysterious alter ego, the nod to Marcel Duchamp, etc.). It was not until she recorded a James Tenney piece, however, that I realized that this project was something considerably weirder and more ambitious than I would ever have expected. Happily, Rrose's trajectory has only gotten more unpredictable and intriguing since, arguably culminating in a recent collaboration with Charlemagne Palestine. It was her series of collaborations with Lucy (as The Lotus Eaters and otherwise) that ultimately drew me fully into Rrose's fitfully stellar discography though. Much to my delight, this debut solo full-length (after nearly a decade of EPs and collaborations) is roughly in the same vein as those Lucy collaborations, as Rrose continues to perfect her potent mix of deep bass, heavy rhythms, and warped, hallucinatory electronics.