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Jason Wietlispach, "Oak Creek Recordings"

Jason Wietlispach, Oak Creek RecordingsThis confident and well-balanced record by multi-instrumentalist and producer Jason Wietlispach confounded my high expectations. From the intriguing choice of instruments and the way they are played and recorded, to the subtle variety and flow of the music, it is an inspired assemblage of diverse musical elements. Some are finely layered and deliberately structured, others more improvised, but all add to the unfussy atmosphere and clear sense of direction pervading Oak Creek Recordings.

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6759 Hits

"Calendar Customs"

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It is remarkable that I did not sprain my finger mashing the "order now" button when this vinyl boxed set was announced, as Folklore Tapes' elusive season-themed cassettes are among the label's most crucial releases. Being someone who has not always been particularly enthusiastic about cassette culture, I was slow to realize just how unique and special those limited releases were when the series first appeared. Consequently, this lavish boxed set is the first time that I heard many of these pieces, though the strange and eclectic stable of artists is certainly an endearingly familiar one for me at this point. Obviously, having extremely high expectations for something is usually a sure-fire way to end up disappointed, but Calendar Customs actually exceeded my hopes, opening up a deep rabbit hole into an idiosyncratic, phantasmagoric, and sublime alternate history.

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7109 Hits

Alan F. Jones & Derek Rogers, "Cedars"

cover image Cedars is the second collaboration to be released between electronic artists Alan F. Jones and Derek Rogers, though unlike the previous Repetend, Parallax (2015), this is a live recording, rather than a studio collaboration. Recorded in May 2017 in Dallas, Texas, the single piece that comprises this album highlights the different, at times contradictory approaches Jones and Rogers have towards art and composition, and the whole performance seems to be defined by these contrasts, yet somehow the overall sound gels together brilliantly.

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8812 Hits

Ekin Fil, "Ghosts Inside", "Inflame"

cover imageThe Turkish artist Ekin Fil (also known as Ekin Üzeltüzenci) follows up her excellent 2016 LP Being Near (also available on Helen Scarsdale) with two distinctly different, yet both exceptional new releases. The reasons for these differences are obvious, with one being a conventional album and the other a film score, but each also cast a focus on different aspects to her work, with the former emphasizing her unique pop sensibilities within a traditional song framework, while the latter her approach to electronics and production.

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7428 Hits

Silvia Kastel, "Air Lows"

cover imageRemarkably, this is Silvia Kastel's first solo full-length album, which is an improbably late milestone given that she has been prolifically releasing a steady flow of unusual and inventive tapes and collaborations for almost a decade. Her aesthetic over the years has been quite a chameleonic and unpredictably evolving one, blithely delving into noise, no wave, sound art, modular synthesizer experiments, and a genre-blurring array of other excursions. Characteristically, Air Lows is similarly hard to categorize, but its shadowy, deconstructionist vignettes are certainly a good fit for Blackest Ever Black, evoking the feel of a sleepwalker slowly making their way through an abandoned landscape of urban decay. Some of these pieces are admittedly more fully formed than others, making for a bit of an exasperating whole at times, but the stronger moments definitely have a darkly languorous allure.

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6359 Hits

Alvin Lucier, "Criss Cross/Hanover"

cover imageNow in his late 80s, Alvin Lucier has had a long career of radical compositions that explore phase interference, the resonance of spaces, and deeply unconventional sound sources. Although his output has certainly slowed in recent years, he remains as idiosyncratic and experimental as ever, recently becoming interested in unexplored possibilities for the electric guitar. The first half of this album is just such a piece, as "Criss Cross" was composed in 2013 for Stephen O'Malley and Oren Ambarchi (who perform it here). O'Malley and Ambarchi return for "Hanover" as well, albeit as part of an ensemble that roughly mirrors the 1918 Dartmouth Jazz Band pictured on the album cover (Lucier's father was the violinist). Needless to say, nothing on this album sounds even remotely like guitar music, though "Criss Cross" is not a dramatic departure from some of Lucier's previous work with competing phases. The nightmarishly spectral chamber music of "Hanover," on the other hand, is quite a large (and harrowing) surprise.

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7036 Hits

Lea Bertucci, "Metal Aether"

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My first exposure to this NYC-based alto saxophonist/composer’s work was last year's excellent All That is Solid Melts Into Air cassette, which featured some wonderfully snarling and churning double-bass drones. For her follow-up, Bertucci returns to NNA Tapes for a full-length LP sans string ensemble, focusing instead on her own solo performances. Naturally, her saxophone plays a large role, particularly in the fluttering and reverberant minimalism of the opening piece, but Bertucci also has a deep fondness for tapes and field recordings, resulting in an unusual and absorbing mélange of saxophone squalls, bloodcurdling squeals, simmering reveries of uncomfortably dissonant drones, and languorously dreamlike soundscapes.

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6053 Hits

Stromstad, "New Devoted Human"

cover imageNorway's Kristoffer Oustad and the Finnish duo of STROM.ec (Jasse Tuukki and Toni Myöhänen) are no stranger to dreary, aggressive electronic music, so a collaboration between the two comes as no surprise. I have some familiarity with both artists and I have been a fan of everything I have heard from them so far, but it was rarely surprising or unexpected in sound. With these two projects coming together, however, the final product stands out even more uniquely than their solo material. New Devoted Human is richer, more complex, and more fully fleshed out than I expected, and has an impressive amount of depth and complexity that is strong and memorable on all fronts.

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6614 Hits

Kazuma Kubota & Mei Zhiyong, "Session June.12.2016"

cover image Both Kazuma Kubota and Mei Zhiyong are relatively new to the realm of harsh noise, but they have individually worked with some of the biggest names associated with the genre, such as Macronympha, Torturing Nurse, and Kazumoto Endo (among a multitude of others). This collaborative session is refreshingly no frills and stripped to the barest foundations of what traditional noise is and should be, and at a time in which so many artists are stepping away from the style, it is wonderful to hear something that is as classic and timeless as this.

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6430 Hits

Vanessa Rossetto, "Fashion Tape"

cover imageThe artwork and title of this new tape captures the vibe that Vanessa Rossetto conjures up early on rather well: a sort of 1980s damaged mélange of consumerism and high art that is as visceral and to the point as it is conceptually high-minded. What follows is a complex mix of electronic composition, treated field recordings, and who knows what else, making for a wonderfully nuanced, extremely compelling cassette of equally beautiful and abrasive sounds.

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7405 Hits

Elizabeth Cottern, "Heschl's Gyrus"

cover imageI recently stumbled upon this bizarre debut during an especially deep Bandcamp plunge and it is deliciously unlike anything else that I have ever heard. Both the artist and the label are shrouded in a decent amount of mystery, but Heschl's Gyrus draws its inspiration from Cottern's fascination with "psychical auditory phenomena." Stylistically, she builds her harrowing auditory hallucinations from heavy, earthy drones akin to Richard Skelton's recent work, but builds them to crescendos that often feel like a swirling and feverish psychotic break from reality. Sometimes it can be beautiful, but the true genius of this album lies in the profoundly disturbing, alien, and intensely uncomfortable heights reached by pieces of "Akoasm II."

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5907 Hits

Abul Mogard, "Works"

cover imageAccording to legend, this enigmatic Serbian composer became deeply interested in music as a means of trying to recapture the sounds of the metal factory that he had worked at in Belgrade. If this 2016 collection of his early cassette releases succeeded in that aesthetic objective, that factory must have quite a terrifying edifice, as the best pieces evoke a relentless and pummeling mechanized horror akin to Fritz Lang's Metropolis. More importantly, some of these songs are absolutely mesmerizing and Mogard intersperses his lengthy industrial trance spells with some unexpectedly tender and melancholy glimpses of light. Bittersweetly, Mogard has since left this revelatory phase behind to devote himself to more overtly beautiful and transcendent fare, yet every time I put this album on, I am sucked deeper and deeper into its complex evocation of mercilessly inhuman machinery poignantly mingled with soul and bleak radiance. To some degree, I wish I had covered Works back when it came out, but I suspect it needed some time to grow on me before I could fully appreciate it for what it is: one of the true masterpieces of the last decade.

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6693 Hits

Colleen, "Colleen Et Les Boîtes À Musique"

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Recently reissued, this unusual EP/mini-album was originally composed as a continuous hour-long piece for the French radio program Atelier de Création Radiophonique. The adventurously narrow theme of the endeavor itself is the unusual part, as the entire program was created from sounds generated from antique music boxes. Given that extreme constraint, this material was never intended to be formally released as an album, but Leaf liked these alternately surreal and playful experiments enough to release it anyway (albeit in somewhat altered form). When it was first released back in 2006, this modest release felt somewhat slight and anticlimactic in the wake of Colleen's classic first two albums, yet I have gradually warmed to it quite a bit over the years. While I still think much of this release is strictly for devout fans, it would be a mistake to overlook it completely, as it features a couple of woefully underheard gems.

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5647 Hits

Benjamin Finger, "For Those About to Love"

cover imageIn recent years, Benjamin Finger has become quite a prolific and amusingly elusive artist to try to keep up with, releasing a steady stream of handmade limited editions or small vinyl runs on various European labels. He has also expanded his palette considerably from the gorgeous psych-collages of his debut (Woods of Broccoli), alternately exploring piano miniatures, off-kilter pop experiments, and an occasional stab at gleefully garbled dance music (and sometimes ingeniously blurring the lines that separate those various facets). My favorite side of Finger’s art remains his collage side, however, so I was delighted to find that For Those About To Love was a substantial plunge back down that particular rabbit hole. No one else does sound collage like Finger, as his unshakeable pop sensibility remains intact no matter how deconstructed and lysergic things get, resulting in a lovely snow-globe dream-world swirling with glimpses of warmth, tenderness, and sublime melody.

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6594 Hits

Dean McPhee, "Four Stones"

cover imageOver the course of the last decade, Dean McPhee has quietly and unhurriedly established himself as one of most compelling and unique solo guitar artists around, weaving gorgeously meditative reveries with a masterful use of ghostly delay effects. This latest album, his first since 2015, compiles remastered versions of three pieces that have surfaced on several elusive Folklore Tapes collections, as well as a pair of new pieces. All are characteristically fine, but both "The Devil’s Knell" and the epic "Four Stones" rank among the most mesmerizingly sublime work that McPhee has yet recorded, making this his most essential album to date.

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7028 Hits

Lou Rebecca

cover image On first listen, Lou Rebecca's debut EP sounds like an unabashedly pop-centric record: all vintage synth leads, bass sequences and obvious digital drum machines. Closer listening reveals more layers, however, and while it is no doubt intended to be pop music, there is an additional, subversive depth to the sound that cannot usually be expected from music that so heavily hinges on memorable hooks and melodies.

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6502 Hits

Asmus Tietchens & Terry Burrows, "Watching the Burning Bride/Burning the Watching Bride"

cover imageAs Die Stadt's brilliant reissue campaign nears its end (it looks like about two more remain in the 18 disc series), this double disc compilation covers the first and fourth collaborations Asmus Tietchens had with UK artist Terry Burrows, the first album from 1986 (Watching the Burning Bride) and its 1998 reworking (Burning the Watching Bride). The earlier album is perhaps the most fascinating, as it clearly captures both Tietchens' early synth-heavy rhythmic style (the Sky and Discos Esplendor Geometricos eras), and heralds the more abstract direction his work would soon take.

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7714 Hits

Alex Keller and Sean O'Neill, "LCLX"

cover image LCLX is a rather fast follow-up to this Texas duo’s other recent work, Kruos, but by no means does it seem rushed or hurried. Alex Keller and Sean O'Neill again have produced a work that is both familiar and alien, through careful use of field recordings and understated processing to capture the world around them, mixing the mundane with the uncommon to create environments that sound much more unique then they likely were in the first place.

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6723 Hits

Schlammpeitziger, "Damenbartblick auf Pregnant Hill"

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This is the first album that I have encountered from Jo Zimmermann's long-running and amusingly titled Schlammpeitziger project (the unwieldy pseudonym is borrowed from a fish that apparently breathes through its anus). The general lack of Schlammpeitziger in my life before now is mostly because the bulk of his oeuvre has been released exclusively on German labels, aside from a retrospective of his early years released on Domino back in 2001. I am delighted that he has finally crossed my path though, as I am endlessly fascinated by outliers and iconoclasts and Zimmermann is a prime specimen. He is also a bit of an erratic pop genius, albeit a gleefully absurd and sometimes self-defeating one. At its best, Damenbartblick is a glimpse of what a slightly tipsy Kraftwerk might have sounded like if they were joined by Steven Stapleton in an extremely whimsical mood. Regrettably, Zimmermann only rarely reaches such heights, but they are wonderful while they last (and the remainder of the album is a pleasant enough batch of bubbly synth-pop instrumentals).

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6422 Hits

Teleplasmiste, "Frequency is the New Ecstasy"

cover imageReleased back in early 2017, Frequency is the underheard debut full-length from the duo of Coil/Cyclobe alum Mike York and Mark Pilkington (from Strange Attractor Press). Given that singular and occult-tinged pedigree, it is no surprise that something novel and wonderful emerged from their union. I suppose Coil’s more hallucinatory and amorphous late-period work is a solid touchstone, but it is also a mere jumping-off point, as Teleplasmiste descend even deeper into lysergic drone territory. At its best, Frequency is like a psychoactive depth charge dropped straight into my unconscious, exploding into a disorienting and almost vertigo-inducing swirl of colors and texture. While some of these swirling, smearing, and buzzing synth invocations admittedly strike deeper than others, the album as a whole is a tour de force of hypnotic, slow-burning, and reality-dissolving wave- and frequency-manipulation.

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7243 Hits