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Asmus Tietchens, "Schatten Ohne Licht" and "Parallelen"

On two distinct new albums, legendary composer Asmus Tietchens approaches different subject material with his current technique of recycling sounds beyond the point of any recognition. Schatten Ohne Licht (Shadow Without Light) is grounded in post-anthropological concepts influenced by scholar/writer Ulrich Horstmann's conceptualization of a planet devoid of biological life. Comparatively, Parallelen would seem focused on more theoretical mathematics and a greater sense of the abstract.

Schatten Ohne LichtThe opening title piece of Schatten Ohne Licht features Tietchens blending quiet tones with distant, low-end rumbles, with both the higher and lower frequencies layering and building throughout. Towards the half-way point he switches things around, using the same components but swapping around the arrangements, becoming a different sounding piece entirely. "Anthroporsaurus" follows a similar approach, pairing floating hints of melody with deep space pulsations and a machinery like chug, although the sum total of the parts is more delicate than anything else.

Black Rose

Later, "Es ist Endlich Still" (It's Finally Quiet) is a perfect example of the post-organic life themes of the album. High register crystalline sounds are joined with liquid, wet noise. Combining strange outbursts, flattened frequencies, and some occasional crackling, it sounds as empty and devoid of life as the title would insinuate. Closer "Kolosse" is an appropriately dramatic ending, all shimmering and looming space with chiming swells peppered throughout. As a whole it is more forceful and heavy compared to the other pieces on the disc, and results in a fitting climax for the album.

Parallelen

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539 Hits

More Klementines, "Who Remembers Light"

Who Remembers LightOn their second album this trio continues the sound of their 2018's self-titled debut, expanding the dense, continually flowing sound showcased there even further. Across three instrumentals (and one shorter vocal based song), More Klementines effortlessly jump between expansive improvised passages with taut, motorik rhythmic sections, resulting in a perfect junction of two very different styles.

Feeding Tube / Twin Lakes

Dynamic shifts are something More Klementines accomplishes effortlessly. Right from the opening of "Hot Peace," Michael Kiefer propels the lengthy session with subtle, understated drumming and delicate chimes, while guitarist Jon Schlesinger and multiple instrumentalist Steubs weave in layered guitar and bass. Occasionally drifting towards jam band territory (but keeping things tastefully psychedelic and dissonant), the trio drift into an expansive, open passage about two thirds of the way through, eventually building back to a wall of guitar scrapes and scatter-shot drumming.

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631 Hits

Darkroom, "Fallout 4"

Fallout 4This is my first encounter with this UK-based improv unit, but Fallout 4 is the latest installment of a series of live documents that began all the way back in 2001. The band/collective itself has existed since 1996, though it seems like there's been at least one decade-long hiatus and the ensemble's members have all been active in other projects ranging from prog to ambient to art pop (while Andrew Ostler has been busy building modular synth hardware, among other things). Notably, Darkroom has recently reactivated and released some new material, but the performance documented here dates back to 2012 and the aesthetic lies somewhere between slow-burning Tarentel-style post-rock and Tangerine Dream-inspired space ambient (though Can was apparently a significant inspiration as well). On a related note, the album was mastered by Jono Podmore, who played a significant role in yet another fine vault project (Can's The Lost Tapes). I suspect Podmore had a challenging task on his hands, as the band tellingly state that he was chosen both for "his ability to control sonic forces" and "to make sure it was finally done." While this album and the Fallout series in general capture the band in a more noirish and shadowy mood than usual, I can see why they were so keen to get these recordings out into the world even a decade late, as much of this album is spacey, slow-motion psych magic.

Expert Sleepers

At the time of the recording, Darkroom were pared down to just the core duo of Michael Bearpark (guitars) and Andrew Ostler (synths) and two of the album's three pieces are taken from the final date of the pair's 2012 tour. Amusingly, Bearpark and Ostler note that some of that performance happened "even after most of the audience had left," as they found themselves in an unusually inspired mood that night and were in no hurry to stop playing. The album's third piece is culled from other recordings from the tour, though it is not specified whether "Tuesday's Ghost" is from a different gig or a rehearsal tape. Regardless of where and when it was recorded, "Tuesday's Ghost" is one hell of a killer piece. It slowly fades into existence with hazy synth drones and a languorous bass pulse, which is a very common theme for the album, but the beauty lies in how the duo organically transform that gently spacey ambient into a hypnotic, immersive, and shoegaze-damaged epic. Each of album's three pieces gets to that place eventually, but "Tuesday's Ghost" captures the pair in especially fine form, transcending their usual fare with inspired touches like a warbling, supernatural-sounding loop; a quavering feedback howl; and a simmering, charmingly Latin-influenced beat (once it all properly catches fire, at least).

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675 Hits

Ellis Swan, "3am"

3amThis Chicago-based singer-songwriter is a bit of an enigma to me, as details about his discography are quite slim. As far as I can tell, however, 3am is his second solo album, which is noteworthy given that it has been 8 long years since Swan’s similarly excellent debut (I'll Be Around) surfaced. What he was up to during that hiatus is mostly unknown to me (aside from "drawing the night in around his private, unnerving vigil," of course), but one thing I do know is that he formed a duo with James Schimpl called Dead Bandit that released their debut on Quindi last year (the same label behind this album). In any case, 3am is one hell of an aptly titled album, as it very much has the feel of a hushed, late-night confessional via four-track. The overall aesthetic calls to mind the "desolate outsider folk" blurring of an insomniac Elliott Smith or Zelienople with the homespun intimacy of early Iron and Wine, yet the pervasive mood of late night sadness is beautifully balanced with cool production tricks and shades of more lively and eclectic influences like Suicide and Charlie Megira.

Quindi

The album’s description insightfully notes that Swan’s aesthetic plays “on the natural distortion and delirium which occurs at the farthest end of the night,” which is an excellent way to explain how this album differs dramatically from ostensibly similar artists exploring the “after late night television pain” vein such as Russian Tsarlag or Matt Christensen. Swan has some darkness to exorcise, to be sure (check out “Hospice”), but 3am feels more like a batch of poignant and hook-filled gems that were handed off to the night itself for a “late night delirium” production overhaul. Obviously, that is not what actually happened, which makes Swan a bit of a visionary production-wise: he uses the same roughly instrumentation as everyone else, but those instruments are inevitably veiled in hiss, buried deep in the mix, or distorted by their lo-fi recording process (Swan apparently “drags the music through layer upon layer of tape fuzz” as part of his process). Significantly, he goes the opposite route with his vocals, as they sound close mic’d in a way where it feels like Swan is whispering directly into my ear. Rather than hiding himself in a fog of reverb and hiss, he expertly wields murk to weave a haunted and hallucinatory backdrop for his stark, emotionally direct songs. The album’s lead single “Puppeteers Tears” is an especially fine illustration of Swan’s inspired strain of ghostly Americana, as it feels like something from The Creek Drank the Cradle eerily enhanced with a haunting whistle loop, a buried organ motif, and a primitive drum machine groove.

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734 Hits

Andrew Chalk, "The End Times"

The End TimesKeeping up with Andrew Chalk’s discography has always been an amusingly challenging endeavor, but the challenge has shifted from pouncing on limited edition physical releases to vigilantly ensuring that he does not quietly surface with a substantial new opus of some kind without my notice. The most recent substantial new opus is this one on Colin Potter’s ICR label, which is billed as Chalk’s “first new solo album in five years.” It certainly feels like a major statement to me, though the meaning of terms like “new” and “album” can be quite blurry and elusive given Chalk’s singularly minimalist approach to providing album details. In any case, The End Times was (perhaps prophetically) recorded earlier this year and marks a rare CD release after Chalk’s recent run of cassettes. Beyond that, further details are quite slim. That is just fine by me, as the only thing that actually matters is that Andrew Chalk is still making incredibly beautiful and distinctive music, as The End Times is a characteristically sublime and immersive dreamscape of tender melodies, elegantly shifting moods, and vividly detailed textures.

ICR

The opening “House of the Holy” provides an appropriately representative introduction to the album’s overall aesthetic, as a vaporous melody of blurred, lingering notes unfolds over a gently gurgling pulse. As the album unfolds, a few subtle new details emerge that set The End Times apart from some of Chalk’s other recent work, but the most prominent features throughout are the quivering, liquid-like character of the notes and the ephemeral brevity of the pieces. Rather than evolving and expanding, these 13 pieces instead feel like a series of enigmatic mirages that offer a fleeting and flickering glimpse of heaven before dissolving back into nothingness. Given all the gentle, blurred sounds and the tone of meditative reverie, it is deceptively easy to mistake The End Times for ambient music, yet it reveals itself to be considerably more than that for those willing to fully immerse themselves in Chalk’s slow-motion fantasia of beautiful details and small yet significant events. I view it as somewhat akin to looking through a rain-streaked window–it is easy to gaze through the glass and simply think “today is a wet and overcast day,” but it is also possible to appreciate how the individual droplets quiver and roll down the glass or how the streaks of water subtly bend and warp the appearance of the outside world. Albums like this are the reason why the genre term “lowercase” needed to exist, as Chalk’s compositions are incredibly rich, but the size of the reward is directly proportional to how closely one listens.

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798 Hits

Oren Ambarchi, "Shebang"

Shebang Few artists have consistently fascinated and perplexed me quite like Oren Ambarchi, as I absolutely loved his early solo guitar albums like Grapes From the Estate, then witnessed him spend the next 15 or 20 years exploring improvisatory and rhythmic-driven detours to continually intensifying and breathless acclaim. I imagine it feels somewhat akin to being a Velvet Underground fan encountering unanimous rapturous praise for their post-Cale albums–I get the appeal, but that would not be my personal go-to era if I wanted to illustrate that band's greatness. Then again, maybe my perspective on Ambarchi's evolution would shift dramatically if I just liked jazz fusion more. In any case, I can certainly understand the unusual trajectory from Oren's viewpoint, as few would pass up a chance to form a trio with Jim O'Rourke and Keiji Haino and jamming with talented friends over mutant krautrock/fusion grooves seems like a hell of a lot more fun than making slow-motion guitar magic by yourself (can't fault a guy for loving spontaneity and challenging new collaborations). Both spontaneity and inspiring guest performances abound on Shebang, as Ambarchi enlisted quite a killer (virtual) ensemble, resulting in one of my favorite of his albums in recent memory (2016's Hubris being the other serious contender).

Drag City

The album is essentially a single 35-minute piece, but there are four numbered sections that segue seamlessly into one another. The first begins with a quirkily rhythmic and twinkling electric guitar motif that is soon joined by additional layers that bring unpredictably interwoven melodies and a stilted, oddly timed funkiness. It does not take long before the sheer intricacy and rhythmic sophistication of its various moving parts starts to feel dazzling and virtuosic, but the piece soon gets even better as it becomes more bass-heavy while bleary shades of psychedelia begin to bleed in. The second section announces itself when Joe Talia's skittering, shuffling drums emerge from a haze of feedback and shimmer. Curiously, all of the prominent themes from the first section fall away for a very stripped down palette of drums, subtle piano, rhythmic palm-muted guitar, and an occasional bass clarinet skwonk, but that downshift into simmering spaciousness nicely set the stage for me to be completely wrong-footed by the inspired appearance of BJ Cole's Hawaiian-sounding pedal steel.

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680 Hits

National Screen Service, "A New Kind of Summer"

A New Kind of SummerA noisy wall of sound is combined perfectly with atmospheric hooky tunes on this wonderful latest release from National Screen Service. I came across the 2017 release Hotels of the New Wave on Bandcamp, which caught my ears initially (however it is sadly seems no longer seems available from there). The project appears to have started in 2014 (Sea Level Trials can still be obtained from Bandcamp), and apart from being from somewhere in England, that's the extent of all I know of them (him? her?). To me it feels as if that mystery can genuinely make the music more engaging, allowing it to speak for itself while as listeners, we are free to engage the imagination. Released oddly (or tactfully) on the first Friday of October, A New Kind of Summer is a perfect warm summery album adaptable to other seasons.

mpls ltd

With all music crafted without words, I imagine this album title hinting at being created during the first active summer following the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the moodier Hotels of the New WaveA New Kind of Summer positively exudes a warm ambiance from the start with "Safe Dunes," but soon enough, we are greeted with familiar and friendly guitar layers before the music cascades into elegant noise. The beats are motorik, hook upon laden hook from the first song, and well into the following.

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540 Hits

Horace Andy, "Midnight Rocker" and "Midnight Scorchers"

I am a big fan of Adrian Sherwood's passion for luring the greatest luminaries in Jamaican music history into late-career collaborations, as it is hard to imagine a better deal than working with On-U Sound's murderers' row of killer musicians and having a contemporary dub visionary at the console. Midnight Rocker (released in April) was the first fruit of Sherwood's union with Horace Andy and (unsurprisingly) focuses primarily on Andy's legendary voice while putting a new spin on a few of the Jamaican tenor's signature jams (along with a nod to his more recent work with Massive Attack). Given the caliber of everyone involved, Rocker is a predictably likable album and an impressive return for Andy, but a big part of the fun with classic Jamaican music is the inevitable wave of dubs and variations that follow, so I connected much more deeply with the newly released companion album, Midnight Scorchers. Wisely, Andy's voice remains a central focus, so it is easy to recognize the hooks and melodies from the previous album in their new context, yet Sherwood allows himself to go a bit wild in the studio for a "sound system" take on the material. To my ears, the same songs are the strongest on both albums, but the weaker songs from Rocker benefit significantly from the more adventurous arrangements and production on Scorchers.

On-U Sound

Midnight Rocker borrows its title from the opening line of Massive Attack's "Safe From Harm," which was the lead song on their 1991 debut Blue Lines. Notably, that album was the beginning of Andy's recurring involvement with that project, but "Safe From Harm" is a curious song to revisit, as Andy did not sing on the original and it has a darker, more dramatic tone than the rest of Midnight Rocker. Given how wildly successful that album was, I imagine its inclusion here was a savvy choice, but its killer bass and tambourine groove plays far more to Sherwood's strengths than the lyrics and tone do to Andy's. The album's other trips down memory lane are a handful of contemporized resurrections from Andy's own sprawling discography such as "This Must Be Hell, "Materialist," and "Mr. Bassie." Of that lot, "Mr. Bassie" fares the best, as it boasts a strong melodic hook and wades into increasingly dubby territory as it unfolds.

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696 Hits

Greg Davis, "New Primes"

New PrimesBack in 2009, Important Records released a landmark compilation entitled The Harmonic Series (A Compilation Of Musical Works In Just Intonation). Significantly, that album featured a Greg Davis piece entitled "Star Primes (For James Tenney)," which was Davis's earliest foray into composing using just intonation. Nearly a decade later, greyfade founder Joseph Branciforte found himself mesmerized by that piece on a long drive back home from Vermont and was inspired to contact Davis to discuss the unusual process behind the piece. As it turns out, Davis's interest in mathematical just intonation experiments ran quite deeply, as it formed the entire basis for his 2009 album Primes. Naturally, the enthusiastic Branciforte encouraged Davis to revisit his work in that vein, which led to an 8-channel performance at NYC's Fridman Gallery in 2019. The aptly titled New Primes is a reworking of that new material repurposed for a stereo home-listening experience. Needless to say, math-driven sine wave drones are not for everyone, but the cold and futuristic alien beauty of these pieces will likely resonate deeply with fans of otherworldly "ghost in the machine" opuses like Nurse With Wound's Soliloquy For Lilith.

greyfade

My interest in "generative and process-based music" is considerably more casual than Davis's or Branciforte's, but it is not hard to understand the allure, as I imagine every serious musician on earth endlessly struggles to escape familiar patterns and an excellent way to do that is to create some kind of system that either opens new pathways or makes repeating those patterns impossible. Obviously, John Cage's I Ching-driven work is an especially noteworthy touchstone, while Ben Chasny's Hexadic compositions are a more recent prominent example, but there are presumably limitless ways to elude predictable compositional paths (albeit with wildly varying results in listenability). Davis's own system is a bit more complex than my feeble mind can handle, but it can be roughly summarized as "using prime number sets as a way to develop just intonation tuning relationships and intervals" which he realizes through a "custom software system in the Max/MSP environment, using a network of pure sine tones."

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704 Hits

Moth Cock, "Whipped Stream and Other Earthly Delights"

Whipped Stream and Other Earthly DelightsI doubt anyone can truly say that they know what to expect from a new Hausu Mountain release, but I still felt a bit gobsmacked by the latest from this ambitiously unhinged Ohio duo. While it may read like hyperbole to the uninitiated, the label's claim that Whipped Stream is a "durational smorgasbord of new music capable of knocking even the most seasoned zoner onto their ass" feels like an apt description of this triple cassette behemoth of fried and kaleidoscopic derangement (it clock in at roughly 3½ hours, after all). As I have not yet been lucky enough to experience Moth Cock's cacophonous sensory onslaught live, I was also a bit stunned to learn that most or all these pieces were culled from real-time performances. I honestly do not comprehend how two guys armed with a sax, loop pedals, and a "decades-old Electribe sampler / drum machine" can whip up such a vividly textured and wildly imaginative hurricane of sound so quickly and organically, as there seems to be some real hive mind shit afoot with these dudes. Unsurprisingly, I am at a loss to find a succinct description to explain what transpires over the course of this singular opus, but most of Whipped Stream can be reasonably described as a gnarled psychedelic freakout mashed together with Borbetomagus-style free jazz, the '80s noise tape underground, and jabbering sound collage lunacy. In the wrong hands, such an outré stew coupled with such an indulgent duration would be an effective recipe for total unlistenability, but I'll be damned if Moth Cock have not emerged from this quixotic endeavor looking like fitfully brilliant visionaries. I should add the caveat that Moth Cock also seem willfully annoying at times, but it is rare that such bumps in the road are not ultimately transformed into a near-perfect mindfuck or something unexpectedly sublime.

Hausu Mountain

It did not take long at all for me to fall in love with this album, as the opening "Castles Off Jersey" is an absolute tour de force that starts off as a layered and trippy homage to Terry Riley-esque sax-driven drone and only gets deeper and weirder from there. Along the way, it makes stops at gnarled, howling noise and burbling kosmische synth en route to an impressively apocalyptic and layered crescendo of swirling orchestral samples and electronic chaos. The following "Threefer Thursday" is still more bananas, calling to mind the viscous, squirming synths of Rashad Becker's Traditional Music Of Notional Species series before throwing sleepy Hawaiian slide guitar into the mix for an exotica nightmare. It's an audaciously sanity-dissolving collision, but that is merely the jumping off point into an unexpectedly gorgeous stretch of warm, woozy chords…and then the bottom drops out again for a finale of cold, churning industrial-damaged psychedelia that feels like it could have been plucked from a live Throbbing Gristle performance.

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601 Hits

B. Fleischmann, "Music for Shared Rooms"

Music for Shared RoomsThis is apparently B. Fleischmann's eleventh solo album, which surprised me a bit, as I generally enjoy his work yet have only heard a small fraction of it. That said, the eclectic and shapeshifting Austrian composer's release schedule has slowed considerably since the heyday of IDM/indietronica/glitch pop in the late '90s/early 2000s that put him on the map. In fact, it has been four years since Fleischmann last surfaced with the amusingly titled but hopefully not prophetic Stop Making Fans and Music for Shared Rooms is actually more of a retrospective than a formal new statement. That said, most fans (myself included) are unlikely to have previously encountered any of the sixteen pieces collected here, as the album is a look back at some highlights from Fleischmann's extensive archive of pieces composed for film and theater. That archive apparently includes roughly 600 pieces composed over a stretch of twelve years, so Fleischmann presumably did not have much trouble coming up with a double LP worth of delights. To his credit, however, he decided to rework and recontextualize the selected pieces into a satisfying and thoughtfully constructed whole (and one that also doubles as a "kaleidoscopic glimpse of a forward-thinking musician at home in many different musical worlds"). Admittedly, some of those musical worlds appeal more to me than others, but Fleischmann almost always brings a strong pop sensibility and bittersweet warmth to the table, so the results are invariably wonderful when he hits the mark (which he does with impressive frequency here).

Morr Music

The title Music for Shared Rooms alludes to Fleischmann's vision for this album, as he views his recontextualized scores as something akin to "a photo album" in which each "page" conjures a "different scene in which you can immerse yourself." To his credit, the fundamentally "B. Fleischmann" feel of the pieces remains surprisingly constant despite their myriad moods and disparate original contexts, but nailing down the character of that aesthetic is an elusive task. In a rough sense, however, it is fair to say that Fleischmann achieves a unique blend of "seemingly naive" pop simplicity with exacting production and complex arrangements. Sometimes he admittedly leans a bit too much to the "willfully naive" side for my liking, but his instincts generally tend to be quite solid (if sometimes perplexing). Case in point: "Taxi Driver" opens as some kind of Mission Impossible/Peter Gunn theme hybrid, but unexpectedly transforms into a killer dubby groove that calls to mind prime Tortoise. 

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610 Hits

Kyle Kidd, "Soothsayer"

SoothsayerThis first solo album from queer, androgynous soul singer Kyle Kidd is an incredibly strong contender for best debut of the year, but he/she/they (Kidd embraces all pronounds) has been been steadily releasing great music for a while as part of Cleveland's Mourning [A] BLKstar ensemble. Notably, however, Kidd's past also includes a background in church choirs as well as a stint as an American Idol competitor. Normally learning about the latter would send me running in the opposite direction, but Kidd joins the exclusive pantheon of vocal virtuosos like Ian William Craig and Zola Jesus lured away from a conventional trajectory by a healthy passion for more underground sounds. That said, a decent amount of Soothsayer legitimately feels like it could have burned up the Soul/R&B charts if it had been released in the late '70s and had a major label production team at the console. As time travel was not a viable option, Soothsayer instead found a home on the oft-stellar Chicago indie American Dreams and Kidd's sensuous, hook-filled songs eschew the polished sheen of pop production for a hypnagogic veil of tape hiss and reverb (much to my delight, predictably).

American Dreams

The gospel-inspired opener "Salvation (Ode for Eunice)" is bit of a stylistic anomaly for the album, but the understated, minimal piano chords and subtle flourishes of jazz guitar beneath Kidd's soulful, wailing vocals illustrate one of the more notable and consistent themes on Soothsayer: backing music that sounds like crackling rare grooves unearthed by a moodier, more libidinal Madlib. Consequently, I was quite surprised when I glanced at the album notes and saw the large cast of guest musicians involved, as it genuinely feels I am hearing appropriated unheard grooves from Larry Levan, Arthur Russell, or Ann Peebles' backing band transformed into smoky, subtly psych-damaged Sade territory by a producer with a vision. The result does not exactly feel loop-based, but Kidd's songs tend to be built from single-theme vamps, which is exactly the right move: just lay down a hot groove and give Kidd plenty of room to belt her heart out and a killer song is almost certain to result.

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797 Hits

Bill Orcutt, "Music For Four Guitars"

Music for Four GuitarsOver the last few years, it has become quite clear to me that any major new solo guitar album from Bill Orcutt is destined to be an inventive, visceral, and damn near essential release. Unsurprisingly, Music for Four Guitars does absolutely nothing to disrupt that impressive run, yet I sometimes forget that Orcutt has a restless creative streak that endlessly propels him both outward and forward like some kind of avant garde shark. As a result, his discography is full of wild surprises, unexpected detours, and challenging experiments such as last year's wonderfully obsessive and completely bananas A Mechanical Joey, so anyone who thinks they know exactly what to expect from a new Bill Orcutt album is either delusional or not paying close enough attention. Case in point: Music for Four Guitars feels like an evolution upon Orcutt's Made Out of Sound approach of using a second track to improvise against himself, but he now expands it to four tracks and shifts to a more composed, focused, and melodic approach very different from his volcanic duo with Chris Corsano. Notably, this project was originally intended for a Rhys Chatham-esque quartet of guitarists and has been gestating since at least 2015, but COVID-era circumstances ultimately led Orcutt to simply do everything himself. As Tom Carter insightfully observes in the album notes, this album is a fascinating hybrid of the feral spontaneity of Orcutt's guitar albums and the "relentless, gridlike composition" of his electronic music that often calls to mind an imaginary Steve Reich-inspired post-punk/post-hardcore project from Touch and Go or Amphetamine Reptile's heyday.

Palilalia

Given how much time I have spent enjoying a handful of Bill Orcutt's recent masterpieces, I occasionally forget that he has been releasing albums for roughly three decades and his scrabbling, explosive improv eruptions are just one stylistic choice in an endlessly evolving body of work. I bring that up because Music For Four Guitars makes it clear that Orcutt could probably churn out killer riffs, intricate countermelodies, and inventive harmonies in his sleep and would seemingly be perfectly at home channeling his inner Glenn Branca, Built to Spill ("In The Rain"), Gang of Four ("From Below"), or art-damaged '90s emo band like Departures and Landfalls-era Boys Life if he felt like it. All of those stylistic threads appear in varying forms here and the determining factors tend to be whether Orcutt is inclined to craft a tense, jerkily staccato rhythm ("A Different View"), sharpen a melody with a spiky counter motif ("Two Things Close Together"), or do both at once ("In Profile").

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860 Hits

Isabel Baker, "I Like God's Style"

I Like Gods Style In 1965, sixteen-year-old Isabel Baker stepped into a recording studio with some session musicians, and two days later emerged with what could be considered the very first Christian rockabilly album, if not the only one of its kind. I've never heard anything like it. 

First of all, imagine being sixteen years old and so in love with someone that you write an entire album about them, belting out every song with a ferocity that can only come from teenage love. Now imagine the object of your love is Jesus Christ and you will understand why and how Isabel Baker came to record this album.

Although hearing this album for the first time stopped me in my tracks, it's unlikely that recording it was a pivotal moment in Isabel's life the way it might have been for other teenage musicians. Isabel's evangelical preacher parents had simply booked the recording studio for her for two days, and then the three of them continued traveling around the country preaching the gospel. She was dedicated to Jesus, not music. Or not exactly.

Romco (1965) / Harkit (2015)

It is obvious that she was listening to the country music of her day, but according to Joe Utterback, the lead guitarist on the album (Isabel played rhythm guitar), "Isabel had no understanding of music and had written nothing down for the sessions. She did not know about keys, time signatures or chord names." She apparently played the songs to the studio musicians over and over and Joe "wrote down the musical layout for each song." This hardly matters. The music is right on from the start and the words only make it better. And Isabel truly sings her heart out. Not for one second would there be any doubt that there is anything more important to her than Jesus and her love for him. 

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787 Hits

The Soft Pink Truth, "Was It Ever Real?"

Was It Ever Real?I had successfully deluded myself into thinking that I had spent my pandemic downtime wisely and constructively for the most part, but learning that Drew Daniel spent that same period assembling an all-star disco ensemble is now making me lament the sad limitations of my imagination and ambition. The resultant album—Is It Going to Get Any Deeper Than This?—is slated for release this October, but this teaser mini-album (part of Thrill Jockey's 30th anniversary campaign of limited/special releases) is one hell of a release in its own right and a true jewel in Daniel's discography. Naturally, the big immediate draws are the killer single "Is It Gonna to Get Any Deeper Than This (Dark Room Mix)" and a disco/deep house reimagining of Coil's classic "The Anal Staircase," but the other two songs are every bit as good (if not better) than that pair, so no self-respecting fan of Daniel's oeuvre will want to sleep on this ostensibly minor release (very few artists choose to release their best work on cassingle in 2022). Naturally, there is plenty of psychotropic weirdness mingled with all the great grooves, but I was still legitimately taken aback by how beautifully Daniels and his collaborators shot past kitsch/homage/pastiche and landed at completely functional, fun, and legit dance music. No one would raise a quizzical eyebrow if someone secretly slipped this album into the playlist at a party (not until "Anal Staircase" dropped, at least).

Thrill Jockey

Some years back, one of Drew Daniel's friends was fatefully asked "is it going to get any deeper than this?" while DJing at a club. That question became a "kind of mantra" for Daniel, as he was fascinated by the elusive meaning of that question. I am somewhat fascinated now myself, as it inspired me to think about which elements can imbue a piece with "depth" and whether or not the opening "Is It Gonna to Get Any Deeper Than This (Dark Room Mix)" could be said to meet that enigmatic criteria. My official verdict is "absolutely," as Daniel's bevy of outsider disco brethren inventively ride an absolutely perfect, sensuous, and thumping dub techno-style groove for 8 glorious minutes without ever dispelling the magic with a single misstep. It almost feels like Coil and Rhythm & Sound teamed up to record a libidinal, floor-packing party anthem (it's a damn shame that never actually happened, but it seems like Daniel is perfectly happy and willing to fill that stylistic void himself).

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1110 Hits

William Basinski and Janek Schaefer, ". . . on reflection"

. . . on reflectionThere are several William Basinski albums that I absolutely love, but his various collaborations are rarely as compelling as his solo work (the leftfield Sparkle Division being a notable exception, of course). The fundamental issue is that Basinski's finest moments tend to be an intimate distillation of a single theme to its absolute essence, which does not leave much room at all for anyone else to add something without dispelling the fragile magic. While it is unclear if Janek Schaefer is unusually attuned to Basinski's wavelength or if the duo simply waited until the path to something lasting and beautiful organically revealed itself, I can confidently state that the pair ultimately wound up in exactly the right place regardless of how they got there. If I did not understand and appreciate the sizeable challenges inherent in crafting a hypnotically satisfying and immersive album from a mere handful of notes, I would be amused that Basinski and Schaefer first began working on this album together all the way back in 2014 and that the entire 8-year process basically resulted in just two or three simple piano melodies. In fact, I am still a little amused by this album's nearly decade-long gestation, but that does not make the result any less impressive. Significantly, " . . . on reflection " is dedicated to Harold Budd, but an even closer stylistic kindred spirit is Erik Satie (albeit a blearily impressionistic channeling of the visionary composer's work rather than any kind of straight homage).

Temporary Residence

The opening ". . . on reflection (one)" lays out Basinski and Schaefer's shared vision in gorgeously sublime fashion, as a simple and tenderly melancholy piano melody languorously and unpredictably flickers across a barely audible backdrop of room sounds. Naturally, things are deceptively far more complex than they initially seem though, as it soon sounds like two or loops of different lengths are all playing at once. A lingering haze of delay and decay gradually adds some muted streaks of color, but that is just icing on an already perfect cake, as I could listen to the melodies lazily intertwining forever. In a general sense, the piece calls to mind the delicate prettiness of a music box melody, but beautifully enhances that illusion with weighty emotional depth and seemingly endless variations in the shape and emphasis of the shifting patterns.

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1076 Hits

Steve Fors, "It's Nothing, but Still"

It's Nothing, But Still Previously based in Chicago, Steve Fors has build a small, but strong discography first as half of the duo the Golden Sores, and then on his own as Aeronaut. Now based in Switzerland, It's Nothing, but Still is his first full length solo work under his own name. It certainly feels like a new album, but traces of his previous projects can be heard, which is for the best. Lush with both beauty and darkness, it is nuanced and fascinating.

Hallow Ground

The six distinct pieces that comprise It's Nothing, but Still follow similar structures:  mostly leading off with field recordings, Fors then weaves in dense layers of electronic and acoustic sound that build in intensity and complexity. Even though there may be structural similarity, each piece stands out as unique. A piece such as the opener, "(Good Enough) For Now," begins with wet crunching amidst rain and insects before a swelling passage of cello gives the piece an uneasy sense of inertia. To this, he blends in fragments of conversations and the occasional harsher, wobbling bit of noise, all the while continuing to expand upon the droning tonal elements.

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1152 Hits

Ashley Paul, "I Am Fog"

I Am FogTen years after her first appearance on Keith Rankin and Seth Graham's perennially bizarre and eclectic Orange Milk label , Paul returns to the fold with her new trio. Naturally, there are plenty of similarities between this latest release and the trio's 2020 debut (Ray), but there has been some significant evolution as well. To my ears, I Am Fog feels considerably more sketchlike and challenging than Ray, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, as anyone seeking out an Ashley Paul album would presumably already have a healthy appreciation for dissonance and deconstruction. A decent analogy might be that Ray is like a short story collection while I Am Fog is more like a series of poems: the voice and vision are instantly recognizable, but these nine pieces are an unusually distilled, minimal, and impressionistic version of that voice. In less abstract terms, that means that I Am Fog again sounds like some kind of unsettling and psychotropic outsider cabaret, but the emphasis is now more upon gnarled/strangled textures and lingering uncomfortable harmonies than it is on melodic hooks and broken, lurching rhythms. In addition to the trio's overall step even further into the outré, the album also features further enticement with one of Paul's strongest "singles" to date ("Shivers").

Orange Milk

As a devout fan of Paul's unsettling and singular work, I am intrigued and fascinated by how her vision has evolved since Otto Willberg and Yoni Silver became regular collaborators. While I do miss her prickly, pointillist guitar playing a bit with this album, I quite like how Silver and Willberg provide a somewhat more traditional "jazz trio" foundation for Paul's excursions into the alien and unknown rather than simply following her into increasingly broken and sickly frontiers of strangled dissonance. The opening "A Feeling" is an especially interesting example of that dynamic, as the slow-motion chord progression and male/female vocal harmonies approximate a curdled and unraveling "black lodge" version of Low. My favorite pieces tend to fall on the "creepy and lysergic outsider cabaret" side of the spectrum however. "Escape" is the strongest incarnation of that aesthetic, as it resembles a haunted nursery rhyme recited over an obsessively repeating bass pulse, a broken-sounding martial beat, and sax playing that unpredictably drifts back and forth between a blearily melodic hook and a host of tormented whines and squeaks. It feels like someone accidentally left their childlike whimsy outside and it became partially rotted and macabre overnight.

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915 Hits

Insect Factory, "Celestial Cycles"

Celestial Cycles Jeff Barsky has been quietly releasing alternately sublime and noise-ravaged guitar albums for years and this latest album finds him returning to LA's oft ahead-of-the-curve Already Dead Tapes (where he last surfaced with 2015's Flickering). Normally, I would not describe an edition of 100 tapes as a major release, but most of Barsky's solo work has historically appeared on his own Insect Fields imprint so Celestial Cycles will likely reach more ears than usual. Fittingly, it is an especially strong album, capturing Barsky at the absolute height of his powers. While few solo guitarists can summon dreamlike beauty from their ax as reliably and masterfully as Barsky, the centerpiece of this album is unquestionably the swirling and nightmarish closing epic "Become The Birds," which arguably recaptures the magic of Campbell Kneale's Birchville Cat Motel project in its prime (which is damn high praise coming from me).  

Already Dead Tapes

The brief yet lovely "Follow the Moon" introduces Celestial Cycles' general aesthetic of quavering drones, flickering harmonic whines, and rippling flurries of hammer-ons and pull-offs before the album begins in earnest with the more substantial "Celestial Shift." Given the loop-based nature of Insect Factory, extended durations tend to almost always result in increased textural and harmonic sophistication and "Celestial Shift" is a solid illustration of that, as the expected shimmering beauty is nicely enhanced with a host of twinkling, smoldering, buzzing, and seesawing themes. If the remainder of the album was simply four more variations of that vision, I would be perfectly happy, but Barsky instead chose to go with a parade of cool twists and curveballs and the album is better and more memorable for it.

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910 Hits

Laura Cannell, “Antiphony of the Trees”

Antiphony of the TreesI only recently heard Laura Cannell’s fabulous album The Earth With Her Crowns from 2020 and could easily spend 500 words praising its dazzling allure and stark—yet comforting—beauty. Time marches on, though, and since she already has two new releases in 2022 I am focusing on the present year. Both are excellent but, of the two, I am most immediately impressed by Antiphony, wherein Cannell uses alto, bass, and tenor recorders to riff on the birdsong of rural Suffolk , where she lives, which called to her amid the quietness of lockdown. It is riveting and a work that I am unlikely to set aside any time soon. 

Brawl

Laura Cannell’s background in baroque, medieval, and renaissance music suits this project down to the ground, as does her understanding of folk music tradition. Her playing makes it easy to visualize figures throughout the centuries inspired by the call and response of the winged creatures around them to blow into recorders in castles, churchyards, classrooms, farmyards and meadows. Cannell can play double recorders and also create a third tone between the two oscillations. This ability, along with her penchant for drone and delay, indicates a sensibility which honors tradition without being rooted in any regional spot. She clearly understands the power of simplicity and repetition without becoming predictable, and embraces imaginative  abstraction without sacrificing melody or sounding feeble. All of which lifts her compositions on Antiphony of the Trees away from the mimicry of nature and into a magical realm closer to sacred chamber music. 

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1448 Hits