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Esplendor Geométrico, "Cinética"

cover imageI am not sure which is more remarkable: the fact that these iconic industrialists are currently celebrating their 40th anniversary or the fact that they somehow seem to be getting even better in recent years. Aside from Legendary Pink Dots or Swans, I am hard-pressed to think of any other band that has had such an impressive renaissance after their supposed heyday and this particular case is all the more remarkable since Arturo Lanz has remained so single-mindedly focused on pursuing the same narrow stylistic niche all along. Given that consistency, it is no surprise that Cinética is yet another feast of pummeling industrial-strength percussion loops featuring a yet another handful of alternately propulsive and crushing highlights. However, I was surprised at how this latest batch of rhythmic assaults occasionally transcends the duo's "industrial dance" aesthetic to approach a sort of trance-inducing strain of heavy psych.

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5775 Hits

Tengger, "Nomad"

Cover of Tengger - NomadMartial artist, philosopher and actor Bruce Lee famously stated "Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend." Lee’s words were not merely pretty poetry, he lived them. Tengger are pan-Asian duo Itta and Marqido with their young son RAAI, and like Lee, Tengger craft their music in the same way they live their lives: with intention. They have built their principals—and fan following—after many years touring and living on the road, recording their music surrounded by unfamiliar cultures and environments. Self-described as EPT (Electronic Psychedelic Traveller) music, their name translates to "borderless sky beyond description" in Mongolian, and their music paints landscapes in the mind. Nomad is no exception to this rule, and their latest brings their philosophy, their music, and their moniker to a majestic head, offering an album of journey and movement that encourages flowing around the claustrophobia and confinement of 2020.

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4578 Hits

Pauline Oliveros and Alan Courtis, "Telematic Concert"

Luminary Pauline Oliveros passed away in 2016, her career spanned fifty years of boundary-dissolving music making. This previously unreleased concert recorded in 2009 has been unearthed for release on Spleencoffin in 2020. Here she plays her accordion and her expanded instrument system along with collaborator Alan Courtis on unstringed guitar and fx.

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4111 Hits

Tom James Scott, "Mine is the Heron"

cover imageI wish I was more familiar with Tom James Scott's work, as he is an artist that has an uncanny knack for unexpectedly turning up in my life again and again. I believe I first encountered him during Bo'Weavil's heyday and then again as an erstwhile member of Liberez, but I know him best as a semi-regular Andrew Chalk collaborator. And—much like Chalk—Scott tends to keep a very low profile, quietly releasing his last several solo albums on his own Skire imprint. Consequently, this latest release is a noteworthy event, as it marks his stateside debut on Students of Decay. Given both SOD's aesthetic and Scott's past, it is no surprise that Mine is the Heron hews very close to Chalk's own understated minimalism (they do have a shared vision, after all). Nevertheless, Scott's solo aesthetic is still quite a distinctive one, as Heron is a gorgeous and melodic suite of elegant piano miniatures and blurrily sublime meditations. It is also a very intimate and diaristic-sounding album, as it feels like a collection of spontaneously improvised flashes of inspiration edited by someone with absolutely unerring instincts for capturing simple, fleeting moments of beauty.

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Inventions, "Continuous Portrait" is the project of Eluvium's Matthew Robert Cooper and Explosions in the Sky's Mark T. Smith, however these instrumentals on Continuous Portrait are less dramatic than either project. This is music that would be appropriate filling a sun kissed atrium, like Grand Central Station at dawn. It ticks along at a brisk pace, with some structure borrowed from rock music, and embellishments of vocal and bird samples, strings, reeds, xylophone, and the pleasantly unidentifiable.

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3899 Hits

Severed Heads, "Clean"

cover imageI have been a Severed Heads fan for more than twenty years now, yet I somehow never got around to investigating this early album until it was reissued earlier this year. I would like to blame poor distribution, as this album has essentially only been self-released up until now, but I definitely snapped up several other rare albums when Tom Ellard started reissuing them as self-released CD-Rs in the early 2000s. I suspect I was just insufficiently skeptical of the widespread belief that Ellard's golden age began with 1983's Since the Accident. I should have known better, as Clean was the last album to involve founding member Richard Fielding at all (Fielding later went on to found the similarly wonderful The Loop Orchestra). For the most part, however, Clean was almost entirely Ellard's show and it illustrates that he was already in his prime as a gleefully mischievous and eccentric loop-mangler as far back as 1980 or 1981. Admittedly, Ellard did not start indulging his poppier instincts in earnest for a few more years, but Clean is playful, fun, and idiosyncratic enough to hold up just fine without them.

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4773 Hits

Joseph Allred, "The True Light" string maestro Joseph Allred quietly releases, on average, around three or four albums a year, a catalog consisting of mostly instrumental works with vocals on an occasional song. This set of instrumentals consists of five examples of technical fingerpick showmanship that surrounds listeners with an outpouring of emotive musical warmth, wordless stories that communicate straight to the soul.

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4194 Hits

Jonn Gauntletier, "Horrorpop"

cover image From a quick glance at the cover of this album, it would seem that Jonn Gauntletier (half of Pass/ages and a third of the defunct Ars Phoenix) had delved in the world of power electronics. The blown out, high contrast pic of him (in color on the CD version), mic in hand, leaning over a table of electronic gear gives off these vibes, but that is completely incorrect. Instead, the title Horrorpop is the true indicator, being an album of songs that blur the lines between horror movie ambience/soundtrack and straight ahead synth pop. Considering how well he navigates the two genres without falling into cliché (I would not describe any of these as being "synthwave" nor blatant John Carpenter emulation), the final product is one of excellent depth and complexity, but propelled by infectious rhythms and brilliant melodies.

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4321 Hits

Roly Porter, "Kistvaen"

cover imageAs far as I am concerned, any new release from Roly Porter is a noteworthy event, as he is absolutely not an artist who does anything by half measures. From his bold conceptual themes right down to every single aspect of sound design, each Porter full-length is a masterfully crafted and viscerally heavy statement unlike anything else. For this latest opus, Porter drew inspiration from the ancient burial tombs scattered across the moorlands of southwestern England, envisioning them as a sort of "mirror, or gate in time." In keeping with that fluid vision of time, Kistvaen achieves a distinctive marriage of timeless folk music traditions and cutting-edge production wizardry. While Porter occasionally errs too much on the side of portentous ambient gloom for my liking, Kistvaen reaches some rapturously sublime heights when he focuses on chopping and manipulating the vocals of his talented collaborators.

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4877 Hits

Aki Onda, "Nam June's Spirit Was Speaking To Me"

cover imageExplicitly paying homage to a titan of the 20th century avant-garde is always a risky undertaking, as it unavoidably invites daunting expectations and often unflattering comparisons. Occasionally, however, an artist will come up with a suitably ingenious and radical angle and something new emerges that is every bit as intriguing as its original inspiration. Happily, Aki Onda's first release for Recital Program is one of those rare revelations, as it documents a series of "séances" in which Nam June Paik's spirit may or may not have crept into a series of radio transmissions. While I am personally quite skeptical about supernatural matters, enigmatically manipulating and haunting the airwaves from beyond the grave does seem like something Paik would absolutely do if he had the chance. That said, Nam June's Spirit Was Speaking To Me is an endearingly bizarre album regardless of whether or not the spirit world was involved, transforming distortion and interference into hallucinatory noisescapes that feel like the bridge between the darkness of early industrial music and the gleeful experimentalism of the LAFMS.

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6893 Hits

Noveller, "Arrow" is guitarist and filmmaker Sarah Lipstate, and with this, her ninth studio album, I humbly bestow on her the title "Brian Eno on six strings." Recorded and mixed in her Moon Canyon studio with the rolling expanse of Los Angeles canyons as her vista, her latest marks a shift in mood and sound from her prior release, A Pink Sunset for No One, which was crafted amidst the bustling urban landscape of Brooklyn, New York. Her relocation from east to west coast and new environment have impacted her musical experiments. Pink offered majestic, shimmering, psychedelic landscapes coated in drone and dark synth-wave. Arrow commands an ethereal, awe-inspiring, and expansive terrain awash in swells of cinematic guitar effects that function as mini symphonies. The darkness of her prior work is still apparent, but more evenly blended throughout.

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4642 Hits

AF Jones, "A Jurist For Nothing"

cover image As a former electronics specialist aboard a naval submarine and currently an audio engineer at his own Laminal Audio studio, AF Jones is clearly well versed in the world of sound design and audio processing. This becomes abundantly clear on A Jurist For Nothing given its nuance and production. Various electronic sounds and heavily processed field recordings are of course no surprise given the genre, but the subtle way in which Jones blends in conventional instrumentation, culminating in a Townes Van Zandt cover, is what makes this record most unique.

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6257 Hits

Ellen Fullman, "In The Sea" Fullman's drones are as massive as the custom instruments that she creates this tremendous music on. She is known for her 70-foot Long String instrument, tuned in just intonation and played with rosin-coated fingers. At first listen, it's a monolithic block of sound, stretching out into seeming infinity. But on closer inspection, there are many subtleties of pitch, dynamics, and surround sound that captivate and maintain interest.

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5330 Hits

Fitted, "First Fits" are Mike Watt (The Minutemen, fIREHOSE, many others), Graham Lewis and Matthew Simms of Wire, and Bob Lee (The Freeks, The Black Gang, Fearless Leader). The names Watt and Lewis should make most music aficionados run for their wallet, but the first album from this supergroup was released with little fanfare. Imagine tossing together the punk of The Minutemen and Wire’s experimentalism, alternately fronted by Lewis’ resigned, wavering vocals and Watt’s staccato uttering. The two legendary bassists provide an onslaught of heaviness, broken by the psychedelic guitar swirls of Simms and Lee’s bright drum beats, and then drive everything home founded on years of musicianship from four practiced musicians.

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11361 Hits

Racine, "Quelque Chose Tombe" uses billowing, amorphous sound as a backdrop for melodic improvisations of various instruments, both acoustic and digitally manipulated. Their creations are pop song length instrumentals that meander, peak, and decay in a highly dynamic, tightly packed box. Surprises abound for those who listen patiently, and moments of the sublime cut through like a glade in a forest.

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4302 Hits

Benjamin Finger, "Less One Knows"

cover imageOne aspect of Benjamin Finger's work that I have always appreciated is his drive to continually tweak and reinvent his sound with each new album. On this latest release, apparently his 14th solo full-length, he opts for a loose, stripped-down approach, focusing mostly on guitar sketches that often feel like the demo tapes for a solid shoegaze album. In some ways, it is quite remarkable how far Finger has moved away from the skewed, psych-damaged pop of early albums like Woods of Broccoli and Sombunall, but that trajectory makes perfect sense if his career is viewed like a disintegrating Basinski-esque tape loop: his pop sensibility has not disappeared so much as it has been ingeniously diffracted, distilled, and deconstructed into new forms with each fresh release. That said, Less One Knows has a stronger emphasis on hooks than a lot of other recent Finger albums and that is a welcome development. This album may not be quite as substantial as some of his other fare, but the comparative intimacy, melodicism, and fragility suit his aesthetic nicely.

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4684 Hits

Seabuckthorn, "Through a Vulnerable Occur"

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Over the last several years, it has seemed like each new Seabuckthorn release marks yet another significant creative breakthrough for Andy Cartwright. This latest one, his first for France's IIKKI Books imprint, is intended as a multimedia "dialogue" with Australian photographer Sophie Gabrielle. Given the increasingly cinematic cast of this project, composing an accompaniment for a book of stark and striking photographs is hardly a stretch, but Cartwright's vision has nevertheless grown even more sophisticated since last year's Crossing. Much like its predecessor, Through A Vulnerable Occur showcases Cartwright's ingenious and endlessly evolving talent for rendering his guitar largely unrecognizable as such, yet his emphasis on details, textures, and small scale dynamics is even more pronounced and masterful this time around. Given that Vulnerable Occur crosses the blurry line between melodic "songs" and more abstract soundscapes a bit more than previous releases, it admittedly took me a few listens to fully warm to it. Once I was fully immersed its rich tapestry of layers and nuances, however, Vulnerable Occur revealed itself to be a slow-burning masterpiece of elegantly controlled tension.

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4913 Hits

TALsounds, "Acquiesce"

cover imageIt has been three years since Natalie Chami’s last solo album (2017’s dreamlike and seductive Love Sick) and quite a lot has changed in her life since then. Given that this project is essentially a very intimate and abstractly diaristic one, that passing of time has unsurprisingly led to significant (if subtle) transformations in the tone of Chami's vision. Thankfully, her genius for soulful, sensuous, and blearily hallucinatory pop-like improvisations remains wonderfully intact, but Acquiesce feels more like a series of languorous, meditative reveries than it does an emotionally smoldering R&B-inspired break-up album. Admittedly, the collision of that latter aesthetic with Chami's artier, more experimental side was a large part of what made Love Sick such a great and unique album, but her emotional directness, natural fluidity, and strong melodic intuition are every bit as evident and effective as they were 2017. While Acquiesce does not quite rise to the same level as its predecessor as a whole, its handful of highlights are easily as gorgeous as any of Chami's previous work.

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7248 Hits


DusterIn late 2019, multi-instrumentalists Clay Parton, Canaan Dove Amber, and Jason Albertini, AKA Duster, quietly announced their first release in 19 years would be available in December. The band have never been a household name—despite being a long-standing influence on indie bands across an array of genres such as slowcore, space-rock, lo-fi, or post-rock—but with this release it is a great time to get acquainted. The same core formula of keeping it simple is still here: as stated by Parton, they try to strip out as much as possible while conveying the same underlying sentiment. However, the 2019 formula leaves Duster changed. If the band were slotted into the slowcore genre before, then this release takes the genre to new breaking points. This is a great thing, because like a rubber band stretched to maximum tension, the backlash from letting go is going to be powerful, but sting on contact. The experience is worth it.

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4967 Hits

Kassel Jaeger & Jim O'Rourke, "In Cobalt Aura Sleeps"

cover imageAs both an experimentalist and a songwriter, Jim O’Rourke has been responsible for a number of beloved and highly influential albums over the course of his storied career, but he is a bit of a prolific wild card as well: it is damn near impossible to guess which albums will capture him in an especially inspired mood and which will not. That said, his previous collaboration with Kassel Jaeger (2017's Wakes on Cerulean) had some very promising passages that transcended typical drone/sound art fare, so I was quite curious to see if this follow-up would flesh out their shared vision into something truly great. As it turns out, In Cobalt Aura Sleeps is a hell of a lot like its predecessor: fitfully wonderful, but not without some lulls. Nevertheless, it does feel like a significant evolution, as it is both darker and more tightly focused than Cerulean, erring more on the side of "understated" and "curiously constructed" rather than "too improvisatory." Fortunately, those hurdles can be mostly overcome with the aid of some headphones and suitable volume, revealing a satisfyingly strong album that is richly textured, absorbing, and mysterious.

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4776 Hits