Mouchoir Étanche, "Une Fille Pétrifiée"

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The main reason that I follow Marc Richter's career is simply that he keeps releasing great albums, but he deserves a lot of credit for being one of the most restlessly creative and consistently adventurous artists in the electronic music underground. In keeping with that theme, this latest Black to Comm side project is arguably another experimental playground akin to Jemh Circs, yet Mouchoir Étanche's first full-length unveils a surprisingly focused vision best described as "somewhere between a chopped & screwed opera and a fever dream about an imaginary Dario Argento film set in a cathedral."

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The delirious intensity of the opening "Enter Mirror Hotel" is probably the perfect distillation of this latest direction, but it has some tough competition from a few other pieces deeper in the album, such as "Sécheresse," which brings together an achingly gorgeous descending organ theme with an evocative host of found sounds (children playing, ringing metal chimes) that overtake the original motif and transform into a smeared nightmare. "Le rêveur illimité" is yet another favorite, as overlapping layers of a woman speaking in French tumble over each other while eerie drones mass and slowly undulate beneath. It sounds a hell of lot like what would happen if Félicia Atkinson decided to create her own alternate soundtrack to Suspiria (which I sincerely hope she someday does). Admittedly, some of Une fille pétrifiée's other pieces are occasionally too indulgent for my taste, but Richter is generally in fine form, as he sustains a unbroken mood of haunted and bleary hypnagogic ambiance while still playfully stretching and twisting samples far beyond recognizability. In theory, Richter's finest work will always wind up on his more formal and "composed" Black to Comm albums, but he clearly has too many excellent ideas for just one outlet and some of those ideas work quite beautifully in this more spontaneous and collage-inspired incarnation.

Samples can be found here.

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Dennis Young, "Bella"

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Simon Scott, "Apart"

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Axebreaker, "They Wear the Mask and Their Face Grows to Fit It"

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Soft Kill, "Dead Kids, R.I.P. City"

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Aperus, "Archaic Signals"

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Thisquietarmy x Away, "The Singularity, Phase I"

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Mint Field, "Sentimiento Mundial"

Cover of Mint Field - Sentimiento MundialThe latest from Mexico City’s Mint Field brings members of Ulrika Spacek on board. The album achieves a gentle balance between fever and dream that shows growth over the predecessor’s fuzzed-out psychedelia. Sentimiento Mundial allures with wistful, airy melodies that touch on multiple genres, working in moments of their usual dark subterfuge.

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Limbs Bin, "Unrelenting Barrage of Flowers and Amethyst Energy"

cover image As the favorite son of the Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts, Josh Landes's Limbs Bin has been a consistently impressive amalgamation of full auto drum machines and harsh electronics. Unrelenting Barrage of Flowers and Amethyst Energy consists of two rather brief live sets recorded last year, the first at the Dayton Noise Symposium II in Ohio, the second at Mass Grind Violence in Providence, Rhode Island. Recorded three months apart, the vibe is certainly different from one show to the other, but both are consistently brilliant.

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Ana Roxanne, "Because of a Flower"

cover imageAna Roxanne's cryptically titled debut mini-LP was one of 2019's most pleasant surprises, as she masterfully wielded a minimal palette of hazy vocals, subtle instrumentation, and field recordings to construct a suite of songs that felt both remarkably intimate and completely untethered to conventional structure or contemporary trends. In fact, I suspect I could have been easily convinced that ~~~ was a highly coveted private press obscurity from the early '80s. This latest release (her first for Kranky) takes a somewhat different direction in some ways, but thankfully remains every bit as beguiling as its predecessor: the field recordings may be less prominent and Roxanne's previous impressionistic, amorphous structures have been largely replaced with more conventional shapes, yet the hooks are now stronger and the songs more memorable. That feels like a perfectly acceptable trade-off in my book. While I am historically dismayed when artists that that I enjoy move further away from the idiosyncrasies that made their early work so special, Roxanne proves herself to be the rare exception to that trend, as the best moments of Because of a Flower take the warmth and melodicism of ~~~ to some truly beautiful new heights.

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Yellow6, "Silent Streets And Empty Skies"

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Alessandra Novaga, "I Should Have Been a Gardener"

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Sky Furrows

cover image As a four piece from the Albany, New York region consisting of some of the most well known members of the small, but dedicated noise/psych scene, Sky Furrows is a project that is seemingly from another time that belies the band’s avant garde tendencies. Rather than blending disparate genres or delving into deep electronic improvisations, the album is a concise, somewhat predictable one, but that is in no means an insult. Instead this self-titled album is almost like a time capsule uncovered from some three decades past, and one that beautifully encapsulates a sound and a scene that was all too brief.

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The Fall, "The Frenz Experiment"

Cover of The Fall - Frenz ExperimentThere are three main periods The Fall may be grouped into: the raw punk early years, the more "melodious" classic years, and the post-'90s period up to Mark E. Smith’s passing in 2018. The Frenz Experiment, originally released in 1988 and reissued this year by Beggars Banquet, is part of the "classic" years, a time when the band churned out a series of nearly perfect albums.

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Lucrecia Dalt, "No era sólida"

cover imageWith 2018's Anticlines, this Berlin-based artist established herself as one of the more adventurous and unique composers to surface in the experimental music scene in recent years and I am pleased to report that this follow-up burrows even deeper into the oft-fascinating rabbit hole of its predecessor. On a conceptual level, that deepening manifests itself in No era sólida’s deeply unusual themes, as the album is billed as a "suspended auditory illusion" that "embraces the possibilities of possession." Thankfully, the possession in this case is not of the demonic variety, as Dalt instead envisions the album as a sort of interrogation room where she interacts with an invented character named Lia. If Dalt were a lesser artist, such a premise would likely send me running in the other direction, but she executes it in such a subtle and abstract way that listening to No era sólida feels akin to unexpectedly finding myself in Twin Peaks' "red room": everything familiar is unrecognizably transformed into something disconcertingly alien and enigmatic. While the rare songs that blur into pop-like territory (such as "Ser boca") are generally the album's strongest moments, the entirety of No era sólida casts an impressively unique and haunting spell.

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Less Bells, "Mourning Jewelry"

Cover of Less Bells - Mourning JewelryMourning Jewelry, the second release from Julie Carpenter’s orchestral outlet, fashions beauty out of grief, even as it takes listeners on a complex journey through darkness and grace, conveying it in not a single lyric. As with the prior release Solifuge, the palette consists of both electronic and acoustic instruments — choir, violin, cello, piano, flute, synth, bells, and this time, more acoustic guitar — that encourages the listener to succumb to grief, at times to feel overwhelmed but to be cathartically guided through and out of the challenging quagmire of emotions.

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Susana López, "Crónica de un Secuestro"

cover image In what will undoubtedly become a trend for artists in the coming months, Susana López’s latest work was conceived, constructed, and finalized during the lockdown. Largely completed early on, during the month of March, López took advantage of that forced isolation to produce this lengthy, rich disc of synthesizers, electronics, and processed voices. Although the sense of claustrophobia and tension are apparent, there is far more to Crónica de un Secuestro than just that.

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Bob Mould, "Blue Hearts"

Cover of Bob Mould - Blue HeartsBob Mould’s career stems from a raw rock aesthetic full of fury, but he has never limited himself to it, as can be attested to as recently as his 2019 album Sunshine Rock, awash in joyful power pop melodies. Cue up 2020 and almost on a complete turnaround, he fully unleashes on Blue Hearts, holding nothing back of the raw emotions that many of us have been experiencing. Utilizing a power trio format that is his earmark, Mould has crafted a raging slab of mobilizing brilliance that is both a reactive and proactive rallying cry for our future, dialing in to anger, disbelief and disorientation that transcend the current headlines, filtered through Mould’s own storied past.

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MJ Guider, "Sour Cherry Bell"

Cover of MJ Guider - Sour Cherry BellThe third release from musician and DJ Melissa Guion was recorded largely in her home, with only limited studio time, and is truly a step forward from her earlier releases. Where 2018’s Precious Systems had heavy emphasis on ethereal moodiness, Sour Cherry Bell delivers a bigger punch, one that is more forceful and up-front — raw power. The release is filled with dark synthesizers and demanding drum machines, balanced by airy, angelic vocals and atmospheric soundscapes for a moody and dreamy effect that suggests movement: mental, emotional, and physical. This quickly became a 2020 album of the year for me.

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