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Keiji Haino/Jozef Dumoulin/Teun Verbruggen, "The Miracles Of Only One Thing"

cover imageOn paper, this is quite an improbable and unexpected collaboration: an iconic and mercurial Japanese noise-guitar god teams up with a pair of serious Belgian jazz musicians.  For one, Keiji Haino generally tends to work with artists that are nearly as outré as himself (My Cat is an Alien, Merzbow, Peter Brötzmann, etc.).  Also, playing with an elemental force as unpredictable and unhinged as Haino seems like it would be roughly as harrowing as riding a bucking bronco for anyone new to his orbit.  To their credit, however, both Verbruggen and Demoulin prove to be inspiring foils and manage to ably follow Haino's muse to whichever strange places it wanders.  Needless to say, this is very much Haino's show, veering wildly between free-form chaos, roiling electronic maelstroms, feral howling, and a few passages of sublime accessibility.  Given that, Miracles is a bit of an overwhelming mixed bag as a whole, but one with some genuine flashes of brilliance inside.

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Oto Hiax

cover imageAfter first quietly surfacing with a self-released EP back in 2015, this duo of Seefeel's Mark Clifford and Loops Haunt's Scott Gordon make their formal debut with a full-length on Editions Mego.  While hints of both artists' main gigs are evident, this drone-centric and abstract project is very much its own thing.  For the most part, this album is a likeable suite of incidental vignettes built from warm, sustained synth tones, but a handful of pieces transcend that modest aesthetic and delve into admirably novel territory.  If I were being glib, I would describe the highlights as "hauntological drone," but that has misleading dark ambient connotations and does not do Oto Hiax any justice at all.  Instead, I will just say that Clifford and Gordon have found an evocative and subtly haunting way of blurring together dream-like and gently hallucinatory soundscapes with the sharp edges of reality.

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Growing, "Disorder"

cover imageAfter a lengthy six-year hiatus, this long-running bi-coastal duo have unexpectedly resurfaced with a new LP of buzzing, bass-heavy drones.  I am not sure if Disorder necessarily counts as a radical departure given Growing's history of constant re-invention, but it is certainly a remarkably far cry from their last full-length (2010's dance-damaged and sampler-centric PUMPS!). It also bears little resemblance to the more shimmering and gently psychedelic fare for which Growing is best known.  Instead, the dominant aesthetic seems to be that of Kevin Doria’s recent pure drone work as Total Life, though that vision sounds artfully blurred together with Joe DeNardo's own (noisier) Ornament project, adding some welcome layers of depth and harmonic complexity.  While it does not necessarily recapture the magic of the duo's prime, it makes up for it by opening a promising and surprisingly visceral new chapter.

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Jon Mueller, "dHrAaNwDn"

cover imageIf there has been a running theme throughout Jon Mueller’s career, it would be his exploration of the intersection between sound and spirituality. He has tackled both largely in abstract interpretations: he is a multi-instrumentalist, and has delved into themes and imagery from a multitude of religions and spiritual practices throughout his career as an artist. dHrAaNwDn (Hand Drawn) is perhaps among the most fully realized examples of his passions, however. A stunning double record set, the audio is culled from six hours of improvised percussion performances recorded live in the Shaker Meeting House of Albany, New York, exemplifying not only Mueller’s adeptness at performing, but his ear for recording and capturing environments as well.

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Sutcliffe Jugend, "S L A V E S"

cover imageKevin Tomkins and Paul Taylor’s legendary Sutcliffe Jugend project has alternated between periods of being extremely prolific, followed by utter silence ever since its inception. Their first albums as SJ appeared in 1982, one of which was the legendary 10 tape We Spit On Their Graves, then no new material for 14 years. The pattern has repeated ever since, though admittedly not to the same extremity. S L A V E S, a six CD release, capped off a busy 2016, preceded by three other full length albums. Sprawling is an appropriate term, but it is very well developed, varied, and also makes clear that Tomkins and Taylor have no intent of staying in that narrow box most associate with the project.

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Lawrence English, "Cruel Optimism"

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In recent years, my expectations of what a new Lawrence English album might sound like have gotten increasingly blurry, as he has an admirable tendency to explore new concepts and collaborations that lure him far away from the classic drone fare that initially put him on the map.  Cruel Optimism is arguably a return to English's more straightforward drone work in some ways, but it feels like quite a corroded and scorched return, which certainly fits nicely with English's somewhat dark conceptual inspiration.  Needless to say, it is a characteristically fine album and quite a distinctive one as well, evoking a kind of bleak orchestral grandeur flourishing amidst crumbling ruin and decay.

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Steel Hook Prostheses, "Calm Morbidity"

cover imageTexas duo Steel Hook Prostheses are a decade and a half into their career of blackened electronics and malicious noise, and with each new release they continue to find new spins on their intentionally desolate and unpleasant sound. Calm Morbidity is a consistent, yet diverse record that does different things and goes in varying directions, but never loses focus, and also never lightens the mood.

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Envenomist, "Bleeding Out"

cover imageDavid Reed's newest album as Envenomist may be a collection of six songs, but the presentation and consistency between them seems more akin to a long from composition broken into distinct pieces. His bleak analog synthesizer works have been notable as a recent member of Bloodyminded, and as part of the trio Nightmares with Mark Solotroff and Jonathan Canady, but here he is in sole control. Perhaps due to it being a fully solo excursion or his compositional intent, the arrangement is sparse but strong, and the final product is a bleak synthesizer creep that hints at film score but is an entity entirely unto itself.

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Alan Courtis, "Los Galpones"

cover imageAlan Courtis (aka Anla Courtis) is one of those composers that at times is occasionally too prolific, spreading himself thin over numerous collaborations and solo works each year. Because of that, his work is sometimes less focused than it could be, simply due to the extreme breadth of what he puts out. However, when one of his releases is obviously a fully realized concept, his work is usually exceptionally compelling.  Los Galpones (The Sheds) is one of his more targeted works, by that standard. A record built upon mostly just guitar and metallic objects, it is a wonderfully unified suite of four distinct pieces that work together perfectly and creates a nuanced sense of post-industrial decay.

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Jim Haynes, "Flammable Materials from Foreign Lands", "Throttle and Calibration"

cover imageFor his two most recent (near simultaneous) releases, Jim Haynes has scaled back his audial representation of decay to something a bit colder and more intentionally off-putting. Both albums are largely based on field recordings taken from a residency in Estonia, and capturing the detritus of Soviet era electronics (and some still active) via shortwave and then processing the results. The final products may be somewhat sparser than his other works, but no less fascinating, and with an additional menacing edge.

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My Cat is an Alien, "Eternal Beyond" and "RE‚Äã-‚ÄãSI‚Äã-‚ÄãSTEN‚Äã-‚ÄãZA‚Äã!‚Äã"

cover imageThis winter marks the 20th anniversary of Maurizio and Roberto Opalio’s singular My Cat is an Alien project, a milestone that they are celebrating with a pair of fascinating and divergent releases.  Originally recorded back in 2015, Eternal Beyond is the fruit of an explosive and wildly experimental 4-day session with French black metal vocalist Joëlle Vinciarelli that does not sound at all like black metal.  RE-SI-STEN-ZA!, on the other hand, is billed as a sort of culmination of My Cat is an Alien’s entire career.  As I have not yet heard much of the Opalio’s earlier work, I cannot vouch for the truth of that, but I was pleasantly surprised by the title piece, which sounds like the work of a radical art commune a la Amon Düül embellished and collaged by a talented noise/musique concrète artist.

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HEXA, "Factory Photographs"

cover imageXiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart and Lawrence English are not two artists that I would have ever thought to pair together, but a shared appreciation for David Lynch is probably as solid a foundation for a collaboration as any.  Also, HEXA makes perfect sense given the circumstances:  Xiu Xiu recorded an incredible Twin Peaks homage,  Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art assembled a major retrospective of Lynch’s work, and Lawrence English is one of Australia’s most prominent and distinctive sound artists.  Notably, however, this commissioned accompaniment to Lynch's photographs of abandoned factories sounds almost nothing like either English or Xiu Xiu.  Instead, it sounds a hell of a lot like an artfully restrained and simmering noise album.  More specifically, Factory Photographs is industrial music in the most literal sense of the word, resembling nothing less than the troubled dreams of a ruined and long-deserted factory.

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Eli Keszler, "Last Signs of Speed"

cover imageEli Keszler's Cold Pin was easily one of most remarkable and inventive albums of 2011, but he has largely been working under my radar ever since, steadily releasing a flow of live recordings and small-edition vinyl-only collaborations.  Consequently, I was delighted to discover that he was finally ready to unleash another solo opus.  Last Signs of Speed, the inaugural release from Berlin's Empty Editions, is inherently a bit less radical than Cold Pin, as it is sadly not built from a motorized string installation.  It may as well have been built from a motorized percussion installation though, as Keszler's hyper-kinetic free-jazz-inspired drumming is compellingly inhuman and unpredictable.  There is also some music: the album description intriguingly references both Scientist and Iannis Xenakis as key influences, but that dub influence is a damn subtle one.  Instead, Last Signs generally sounds more like Xenakis mixed with a truckload of drumsticks being fitfully poured down a long and winding flight of stairs (in the best way possible).

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Emptyset, "Borders"

cover imageEmptyset has always been a project that I felt weirdly guilty about not appreciating more, as they seemed like a more cerebral and mercilessly deconstructed twist on the UK's industrial-damaged post-dance milieu of Raime, Haxan Cloak, and Demdike Stare.  Also, I love James Ginzburg's Subtext label.  Unfortunately, all their songs sounded vaguely the same to me and I found all the praise for their architectural inspirations a bit mystifying.  Yet still I kept optimistically buying each new album hoping for a masterpiece that never arrived.  Thankfully, this debut release for Thrill Jockey finally makes everything click for me.  The same general template as always is still in place (improbably dense, ribcage-rattling bass and a slow-motion kick drum pulse), but Ginzburg and Paul Purgas have now distilled it into a thing of truly bludgeoning elemental force: Borders absolutely explodes from my speakers.  Also, the duo now wield a bass-heavy homemade "zither" to wonderfully visceral and snarling effect, which I did not see coming at all.  I am officially now a convert.

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Ghédalia Tazart√®s/Andrzej Za≈ǃôsku/Pawe≈Ç Roma≈Ñczuk, "Carp's Head"

cover imageI am not fond of tossing the term "weird" out to describe music. Not only is it a vague and somewhat stigmatizing label, I do not consider a lot of what I hear to fit that term. I mean, I have albums of car crashes (GX Jupitter-Larsen), noise made by a ballerina’s performance (The Rita), and on stage improvised masturbation (The Gerogerigegege). However, Carp’s Head is hard to describe in any other way. With painfully guttural vocals by Ghédalia Tazartès, percussion by Andrzej Załęsku, and everything else by Paweł Romańczuk, it is like an Eastern European folk album vomited on an electro-acoustic work and the two were just mashed together with purely malicious intent.

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Nakama, "Most Intimate"

cover imageGrand Line, Nakama’s last release and the project’s second overall, was a sometimes-chaotic mass of free jazz improvisations held together by a structured sense of composition that seemed to be at odds with the music itself. Most Intimate has a similarly focused conceptual foundation, but rather than the grand gestures of the last album, here they are much more personal, with the quartet members each writing parts for one another to play. The concept is admittedly complex and convoluted, but in execution it works in more ways than just being a novelty.

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Esplendor Geométrico, "Fluida Mekaniko"

cover imageI can think of few bands that are as cheerfully single-minded in their aesthetic vision as Esplendor Geométrico.  In fact, I suspect I could have written a remarkably accurate (if vague) review of Fluida Mekaniko without ever having heard it: lots of visceral and hypnotic percussion loops, no melodic hooks at all, plenty of low-level radio wave and static chaos, and some occasional tuneless and rambling vocals from Saverio Evangelista.  Done.  Predictably, Fluida Mekaniko DOES provide all of that, but I keep buying Esplendor Geométrico albums because they also tend to feature at least one or two absolutely mesmerizing pieces where everything comes together perfectly and Arturo Lanz seems like a goddamn genius. Fluida Mekaniko continues that tradition beautifully and even finds room to let in a bit more light and nuance than usual.  As a result, it is probably one of EG's strongest and most listenable albums yet.

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Expo Seventy, "America Here & Now Sessions"

cover imageIt occurred to me the other day that there was an incredible wave of great, experimentally minded solo guitarists several years back (Area C, Black Eagle Child, Talvihorros) that has either gone completely silent or moved into very different territory and that no one has quite risen up to replace them.  Thankfully, however, the wildly prolific Justin Wright has not gone anywhere and continues to be a tireless torchbearer, both through his Sonic Meditations label and his own Expo Seventy project.  Given the sheer volume of Expo Seventy releases, I tend to only check in on the major ones and this one fits the bill: recorded as part of a three-week art event in Kansas City (America: Here and Now), Wright was able to assemble a like-minded quartet featuring two drummers to back his slow-burning psych-rock pyrotechnics.  At its best, the results are surprisingly accessible and anthemic, like a time-stretched and deconstructed Black Sabbath jam experienced through a heady fog of drugs.

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4677 Hits

RLW, "Flurry of Delusion"

cover imageI never know what to expect when putting on a new Ralf Wehowsky album. He has never let me down, but what form of strange electronics and unconventional compositional techniques he employs is always a mystery. Flurry of Delusion is then, fittingly, another extremely abstract and unpredictable work from the legendary member of P16.D4 that is as much random improvisation as it is rigidly structured composition. Maybe. Or maybe not. The confusion is intentional, by the way.

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Iugula-Thor, "Choosing Your Own Brand of Evil"

cover imageAfter a lengthy dormancy, Andrea Chiaravalli reinstated his long standing harsh electronics project Iugula-Thor in 2012 and has been active ever since, releasing some of the strongest work of his career. This is the first full fledged release since then, with the prior ones being largely splits and singles, and also features Chiaravalli partnering with Paolo Bandera (Sshe Retina Stimulants, Sigillum S) to create a bleak, but multifaceted record of diverse electronics.

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