Kyle Bobby Dunn, "The Cohesive Redundancies-P1"

This is the first installment of "an ongoing album series with an undecided end point examining futility and beauty." Those are hardly new themes for Kyle Bobby Dunn, so I am not sure why they needed their own series, but any new KBD opus is fine by me. Dunn is a unique figure in the ambient drone milieu for a number of reasons, but the most significant for me is his unique gift for crafting soundscapes with a very real emotional intensity at their core. When he directly hits the mark with a composition like "Triple Axel on Cremazie" or "The Searchers," he achieves something poignant and transcendent that is damn hard to come by. I suppose one caveat with Dunn's work is that such moments are usually hidden within sprawling double-, triple-, or quadruple-LP epics, but this latest album is a more focused and concise release. More importantly, the bulk of the album is devoted to the absolutely sublime 48-minute "Fantasia on a Theme of Affection." The other two pieces are memorable as well, arguably making this the closest that Dunn has come to releasing an "all killer, no filler" masterpiece.

Self-Released

"Thresholding" kicks off the album in striking and surprising fashion, as Dunn unleashes an industrial-sounding drone that oscillates slowly and menacingly. Gradually that foundation is subtly fleshed out with additional depth and harmonic color, but the most compelling part is the murky undercurrent of dissonance that roils within. While it never intensifies enough to consume its surroundings (it is the album's shortest piece), Dunn does manage to resolve it in startling fashion with a nightmarishly plunging pitch-shift. I did not expect such a cold and alienating piece from Dunn, but it is masterfully crafted, and I loved the simmering uneasiness beneath the drones. That said, it is immediately eclipsed by the dream-like reverie of "Fantasia on a Theme of Affection." On its surface, it is not a radical departure for Dunn, as a ghostly see-sawing guitar motif languorously unfolds over a backdrop of shimmering haze. However, it stealthily amasses deepening harmonies and an aching poignance as it lingers in a state of billowing suspended animation. It is the sort of piece that I could enjoy in an endless loop, as Dunn's attention to textural detail is truly something to behold. Nearly every sound is spectral, hissing, smeared, quivering, or enigmatic in a beautifully hypnagogic, soft-focus way. The album closes with the divergent "Pavane for the Internal Monologue," which is centered on a repeating, bittersweet piano chord and its long, lingering decay. Eventually, a hesitant melody emerges, and the piece moves closer to the liquid shimmer of Harold Budd, yet the real show lies in the space between the notes, as dissolving tones form murky harmonies, and quiet sounds of wood and shuffling paper start to evoke an enigmatic sense of place. While the bookends do not quite hit the same heights as the album's centerpiece, all three pieces are strong enough to make this one of Dunn's finest albums to date.

Samples can be found here.

Dolphin Midwives, "Body of Water"

I loved Sage Fisher's last album (the wonderful and hallucinatory Liminal Garden), so I was quite eager to find out how she would follow such a unique vision. Now that Body of Water has been released, I have my answer and it is very much an expectation-subverting one. While the harp arguably remains Fisher's primary instrument, her vocals take a much more prominent role with this latest opus. That is a twist, certainly, but it is not THE twist, which is that Fisher enlisted the aid of acclaimed producer Tucker Martine to craft a suite of songs that feels like a sensual and psychotropic strain of outsider R&B. Whether it is close enough to the real thing to make an impact beyond underground electronic music circles remains to be seen, but Fisher's stylistic reinvention is an extremely cool and surprising one regardless. Admittedly, it took me a few listens to fully warm to the unabashed pop hooks that fill this album, but Fisher's more lysergic impulses are never far away, resulting in an immersive swirl of delightful mindfuckery anchored by memorable hooks, simmering grooves, and a newly unveiled soulfulness.

Beacon Sound

After a brief yet surreal introduction of cooing looped vocals and skipping Oval-esque electronics, the autotuned R&B of the title piece reveals the unexpected new direction. When I listened to the album initially, I kept waiting for "Body of Water" to cleverly derail into more hallucinatory and abstract territory, but that moment never came. The vocals are processed into semi-artificiality and there is an eerily ghostly atmosphere, but the piece is otherwise straight-up melodic pop, as Fisher's inner dance diva belts out a sultry melody over a stark backdrop of deep bass, slow kick drum, and a quietly simmering haze of electronics. Rather than a fluke, that piece is a statement of intent that sets the tone for all that follows. That pop-inspired side reaches its apotheosis with "Clearing," which could easily be mistaken for a killer Portishead remix. At the opposite end of the spectrum are a couple of stellar harp pieces: the rippling and gently heaving psychedelia of "Fountain" and the swooningly melodic "Idyll." The remainder of the songs evoke the artfully glitchy and pixelated pop of an imagined cyberpunk future, but Fisher keeps things stark, weird, and intimate enough to make that seem like an appealing trajectory. "Capricorn" is a particular highlight, resembling some kind of spaced-out synth-driven future funk that is wonderfully unstable and out of phase. Elsewhere, I loved "Break," which gradually transforms into a delirious swirl of pitch-shifted voices suggesting a chopped and screwed Enya classic, as well as the frayed and shuddering vocal loops of the two-part "Hummingbird." In fact, I like just about everything on this album, as even the most straightforwardly melodic pieces are inventive and art-damaged enough to stand out as compelling, fresh, and unique.

Samples can be found here.

Motion Sickness of Time Travel, "If We Were Landscapes"

There was a period between 2010 and 2013 in which Rachel Evans seemed like a universally celebrated and ubiquitous figure in the "experimental music" milieu, as she released a flurry of tapes and LPs on a variety of great labels in a very short span. Since then, she has embraced a considerably more quiet and homespun approach to her art, self-releasing a steady and increasingly eclectic stream of limited edition tapes/CDrs/art objects to the delight of fans like myself. This latest release is an especially divergent and ambitious one, as Evans rarely releases vinyl and even more rarely shifts her focus towards acoustic instrumentation or conventional songcraft. The latter deserves an asterisk though, as there is only one brief song lurking within these two longform soundscapes and it largely appears in submerged form, but it is still quite a good one regardless. While the appearance of that surprise song is very much an album highlight, it is just one part of a larger and wonderfully hallucinatory whole. In fact, If We Were Landscapes is strong evidence that the golden age of Motion Sickness of Time Travel is still unfolding and that Evans' acclaimed run of albums like Seeping Through the Veil of Unconscious was actually just the tip of an expanding iceberg of future delights.

Self-Released

I am not sure how the vinyl or CD versions of this release sound, but something noteworthy about the digital version is that it has an extremely quiet mix (so much so that I actually punched up the gain with software). I mention that primarily because this is an album that demands some real volume, as one of its most wonderful aspects is how Evans fluidly and stealthily blurs and transforms her moods and motifs. The opening "Self-Portrait in Decay" is a perfect introduction, as slowly heaving cello drones blossom into a layered fantasia of backwards vocals, elusive violin melodies, and deep moaning strings. Initially, it seems like a faint transmission of a ‘70s folk song is getting picked up by her amp, then it sounds like she is playing violin along with a lovely ballad on the radio, then it gradually emerges that Evans herself is the soulful balladeer. It is an absolutely gorgeous interlude and easily ranks among my favorite passages in Evans' discography. However, that swooning crescendo does not impede the evolving mindfuckery one bit. The second half of the piece dissolves that song fragment into a shimmering haze of uneasy harmonies, reversed melodies, and a menacing host of darker, sharper tones. The following "Your Layered Silhouette, Unwinding" is similarly brilliant, as another reversed melody winds its way into a curdled orchestral nightmare, then gradually melts into a coda akin to a ravaged tape of an organ hymn. Both pieces are fascinating and complex plunges into vividly realized and darkly psychotropic soundworlds, which makes If We Are Landscapes one hell of an album.

Samples can be found here.

"Strain Crack & Break: Music From The Nurse With Wound List Volume Two (Germany)"

As a longtime Nurse With Wound fan, I have always been a bit amused and perplexed by the almost-religious reverence that people continue to have for Steven Stapleton's famous list. For one, it is hard to process that there was once a teenager in the '70s who was so cool that adults all over the world would spend the next forty years trying to replicate his record collection. Secondly, it seems like any underground bands from that era who have managed to remain obscure until now have probably earned that fate for valid reasons, as there have been plenty of blogs and reissue labels tirelessly unearthing and championing freaky sounds since the advent of the internet. Consequently, when this series was announced, I wondered what could still possibly be left undiscovered. That said, the idea of a Stapleton-curated tour of the most outré and adventurous prog, jazz, and avant-garde artists of the early- and mid-1970s still packs quite an appeal for me, so I am delighted that this better-late-than-never series exists. It admittedly took me a while to warm to the French volume, as I tend to run screaming from proggy indulgence and unfiltered Dada antics and there was plenty of both, but there were definitely some gems as well. Unsurprisingly, this stronger second volume features an even higher proportion of such gems, as it is not a mere coincidence that krautrock had a larger cultural impact than its French counterpart.

Finders Keepers

Much like the first volume, this latest one is packed full of unfamiliar names, which is an impressive feat given how deeply fans have mined '70s German music for killer obscurities. I was, however, vaguely familiar with Wolfgang Dauner and Limpe Fuchs beforehand, probably because they are responsible for some of the album’s most weird and cacophonous moments and that tends to be my wheelhouse. Dauner's piece, for example, sounds like several fusion bands falling down a flight of stairs, while Anima-Sounds' piece captures a (possibly nude) Fuchs wildly free-drumming and yelping along with a sliding and blurting chaos of homemade instruments. It is easy to see how the latter would have blown some goddamn minds at the time, though it does leave something to be desired in the realm of songcraft. The bulk of the album's other luminaries tend to exist in a gray area where jazz, prog, and psychedelia all blur together into unfamiliar new strains. For example, Association P.C.'s "Scorpion" resembles a Miles Davis-less Bitches Brew session, while the feral-sounding Exmagma call to mind Richard Hell or James Chance fronting King Crimson. Elsewhere, My Solid Ground evokes a baffling collision of This Heat and early Coil with the organ bombast of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. I dearly wish the latter element was absent, but the non-organ passages are right up my alley. That said, the most wonderful surprises are the two lengthy jams that close the album. In Thirsty Moon's "Big City," a very NWW-sounding percussion motif steadily builds into a heavy rolling groove flavored with subtle elements of sound collage that rivals much of Can's stronger work. Gomorrha's "Trauma" is similarly driven by a muscular beat, but instead blossoms into a molten tour de force of spacey psychedelia. Yet another favorite is the hallucinatory marching band mindfuck of erstwhile Neu!/Kraftwerk member Eberhard Kranemann's "Fritz Müller" guise. The rest of the songs make a compelling and varied suite of inspired oddities, but the Gomorrha, Thirsty Moon, and Fritz Müller pieces all felt revelatory enough to trigger an immediate album-hunting binge. While Steven Stapleton has been one of my favorite artists for ages, it is now dawning on me that he is one hell of a great curator as well.

Samples can be found here.

Kink Gong, "Zomianscape I -II"

It is quite a daunting task to keep up with Laurent Jeanneau's massive, continually expanding, and oft-challenging discography, but his vinyl releases always tend to be strong and focused statements worth investigating. In that regard, Jeanneau is having quite a great year, as this latest LP is his third excellent album of 2021 (Kink Gong's Zomia Vol. 1 and Sublime Frequencies' Mien (Yao) being the other two). Zomianscape continues Jeanneau's fascination with "Zomia," which is a half-conceptual/half-geographic term for the ethnic minorities in the hills and mountains of Southeast Asia who live outside national laws and customs. The term was first coined by historian Willem van Schendel in 2002, but it was James C. Scott's The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia that particularly struck Jeanneau, as he conceived of the Zomia series as a "mythological soundscape inspired by a semi-utopic region where state rules don't apply." The raw material for these first two longform "Zomianscapes" was recorded over ten years in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and China, but the boundaries between individual cultures, field recordings, and Jeanneau's own contributions are beautifully dissolved into a mesmerizing stew of hallucinatory sound collage. I suppose Zomia Vol. I achieved a similar end in more bite-sized doses, but this follow up offers a deeper, more immersive plunge.

ESITU

Even with the aid of Jeanneau's thorough notes about the content of each piece, it is a hopelessly impossible task to try to describe what happens in either of these two Zomianscapes in any kind of detail. For the most part, however, both pieces are a shape-shifting swirl of traditional lutes, hand percussion, panpipe-like mouth organs, and a wide array of singing and speaking voices from a cast of talented contributors such as "Bulang Lawa Man and Drunk Wife." In the album description, Jeanneau mentions that he simultaneously (and fatefully) discovered the Ocora and GRM labels as a teen, which concisely conveys significant insight into the unique collision of impulses shaping the Kink Gong aesthetic. In practical terms, Jeanneau's ocora-inspired devotion to recording and preserving rarely heard traditional music means that the absolute baseline for any Kink Gong album is "there will probably be voices, instruments, and melodies unlike anything I have ever heard before." Naturally, each Kink Gong album is shaped significantly by the character of the recordings Jeanneau uses as well as the degree of GRM-style electronic experimentation. The latter is abundant on Zomianscapes, as each piece is vibrant, hallucinatory, layered, and endlessly in flux (and both pieces are great). The warbly mouth organ in the opening piece calls to mind a traditional Laotian variation of Fennesz's Endless Summer in its early moments, but soon embarks upon a trip through a lysergic fog of fragmented voices and twanging strings en route to a hypnotic finale of looping vocal melody. The second piece is even better still, as it slowly blossoms from metal percussion into a haunting chorus of chanting women over quavering drones. For his final trick, Jeanneau then dissolves it all into a smeared and hissing crescendo of ringing metal, clapping hands, and an escalating roar of garbled voices and murky dissonance. While I have only experienced a mere fraction of Kink Gong's 100+ albums at this point, this one is definitely a favorite among the ones I have heard.

Samples can be found here.

Limbs Bin, "Burnt White Elephant"

Western Massachusetts' loudest deadhead Josh Landes has followed up his live set Unrelenting Barrage of Flowers and Amethyst Energy from last year with a new studio album (well, at 18 minutes, it counts as an album in the noisecore world) that furthers his legacy of intensity and absurdity. Balancing electronic blowouts with creative field recordings, it is another disc of explosive fun.

Damien Records

Admittedly, these 23 songs (that are only around 30 seconds each in length) sound like broken up segments of three longer pieces rather than individual pieces. They flow consistently into one another, with each track marker opening with a vocal outburst and what sounds like Landes restarting the max BPM drum machine. Beyond that, the sizzling electronics and sputtering noises continue uninterrupted from one short burst to the next. Burnt White Elephant makes for the most chaotic of his albums that I have heard thus far, with the erratic electronics blasting from beginning to end, but never in the form of loops or anything sequenced. It is more like Landes set his gear up and just rolls it down a hill, and I mean that as a compliment.

Around these short blasts, he includes a series of field recordings captured around the Berkshires region, something like "Wormholes and Megaliths" featuring what sounds like rain and passing by a jazz band, while "Van Deusenville Railroad Blues" is exactly what it sounds like: the sound of trains passing through. The album closes on “Harry Bids You Goodnight” which is just shy of one minute of a snoring cat. Intentional or not, Burnt White Elephant seems like a day in the life of a noise artist: harsh, distorted art outbursts punctuated with the quiet mundane nature of life.

Like every Limbs Bin release I have heard, Josh Landes again blends the intense with the absurd. His work is as aggressive or violent sounding as any great harsh noise/power electronics/whatever genre release should, but devoid of the macho posturing or juvenile provocation. Instead it is just the right amount of silliness that makes the chaos and hostility fun, without dulling its impact in the slightest.

Samples can be found here.

Band of Pain/SRMeixner, "Priti Deceit"

Taking a cue from the politicization of the COVID pandemic, Band of Pain (Steve Pittis) and Contrastate's Stephen Meixner teamed up for this collaborative single, with each taking the lead on a solo piece, and then a balanced collaboration to conclude. Heavily based on samples of speeches and news reports, it is certainly a politically charged work, but one that remains heavily rooted in both artists’ post-industrial and absurdist sensibilities.

Dirter Promotions

Band of Pain's "Priti Vacunt" is pretty overt in the target of their ire: UK Home Secretary Priti Patel. A self-described right wing hardliner, Patel was involved in a lobbying scandal around COVID-19 contracts, which is where most of this disgust comes from. The piece itself is a myriad of echoed speech samples and bent electronic tones. The droning, open spaces are unrelentingly bleak, with an insincere sounding sample of “sorry” punctuating the less identifiable moments. In the closing minutes Pittis brings in a thin, distorted rhythmic thump that is all too short.

On the other side of this 10", the Meixner helmed "Deceit" opens up with some pummeling drum programming, but soon the focus is shifted to some American evangelical preacher’s ranting about the disease and vaccination as a noisy, somewhat melodic passage is paraded through. What sounds like even further treated voice samples become an additional element, and Meixner utilizes an intentionally jerky stop/start dynamic throughout. The concluding collaboration "End Result" features less in the way of obvious voice samples but instead fragments of speech or other sounds, pulled apart and reconstructed into something entirely different. The layering is complex and the ambiguity is unsettling, bordering on creepy.

Contemporary political and social criticism aside, the two Steves have created a compelling single that certainly falls in line with their other works as Band of Pain and Contrastate. Idiosyncratic processing, heavily treated samples, noisy outbursts and even the occasional hint of rhythm feature heavily here.  Tempered with just the right amount of black humor (fitting the topic at hand perfectly), the final product reminded me of the unconventional and challenging sample heavy music that was coming out of the UK industrial scene during the mid 1990s (which makes sense given the inception of these projects), but still sounding completely contemporary, nicely hinting at nostalgia while staying modern and fresh.

Keiji Haino / Jim O'Rourke / Oren Ambarchi, "Each side has a depth of 5 seconds..."

Recorded live at Tokyo’s Super Deluxe club in 2017, this trio's 10th release is dedicated to Hideo Ikeezumi, founder of the incredible P.S.F. label and Modern Music store who died the same day. Mr.Ikeezumi was a fierce and relentless advocate for Japan’s underground scene and an early champion of Haino. For this concert, the three agreed their unrehearsed improvisation would be “electronic” but not which instruments any of them would play. Haino also uses a double-reed horn, the suona, traditionally used in a variety of settings and rituals including funerals, producing blaring, high-pitched sounds for both the living and the dead. I find this a bold, delicate, fascinating, and ultimately rather moving, album; albeit with a title far too long to mention in such a brief review.

Black Truffle

Other than the suona, it is not always possible to know who is making which sound, and that does not really matter. The important thing is to hear the trio responding to each other brilliantly, without flashiness, and feel the music retaining it's intensity even as the longer pieces take their time to develop. These improvisations have (known and unknown) creative methods by which elements of harmony, melody, and rhythm are achieved. The group's abstract expressionism, unpredictable, coherent, and deliberate, allows gives plenty of opportunity for subjective interpretation. At times I imagined an airtight module in space, at others un-manned train trucks engaged in dubious activities far beneath a mountain. I heard traces of bleeping static buzz and pictured a dystopian wilderness, stalactites thawing and dripping in a radioactive cave, locusts crawling inside air ducts, an astronaut's life support system going into crisis mode, a security patrol blasting horns five light years away, and the feeling of waking from a nap to find the launderette is flooding. As with several albums by the group, it is possible to see Haino as the central figure, perhaps like an actor in a film, with O’Rourke and Ambarchi setting up the lighting, or changing the scenery, but on the other hand things seem nicely balanced, with perfectly equal exchanges. For example, as the suona wails with longer and longer notes like a grief stricken bird crying out into eternity, alternated with passages where Haino must be catching his breath, O’Rourke and Ambarchi provide deeper and lower tones, some gong-like sustain, a section of higher-frequency twinkling and pulsing, slow bass notes and a fading signal.

The shorter final track (of four) is full of whooshing, crackling, echo: a beautiful coda as if the machines somehow continued to play after the trio had gone, suggestive perhaps of a residue of life, or the detection of brain wave activity after physical death. By the way, Dewey Redman used to play the suona (which he called a “musette”) as did Mick Karn, who listed it as a “dida.” I must add that the album cover is stunning - Lasse Marhaug’s photograph from Norway, of the Ellingsrudåsen station on the Oslo metro, line 2. The last stop on the line; the exit that goes into the forest.

samples available here

Can, "Live in Stuttgart 1975"

Can Live in Stuttgart 1975 cover imageLegendary German kosmiche band Can is not a "hits" band. Despite being known for classic studio work with individual tracks such as "Vitamin C," "Halleluwah," "Mother Sky," and "Future Days," Can, first and foremost, are an improvisational band. While this was a core driver of their studio output, it is particularly evident in their live performances, of which bootlegs of assorted quality exist, noted for never playing a song the same way twice. Singer Damo Suzuki had left the group by this time and Can had released their sixth official studio recording, Landed, an album some fans identify as the marker of Can's slide from greatness. A meticulously produced album, the rock sheen of that studio album could not tell the story of Can's true nature. This polished bootleg — for which we have a devoted fan with large pants to thank — separates the studio mystique from the musicians, showcasing their enduring and practiced talent, revealing the genius of the band's four original members that forever make Can an icon of music history.

Mute / Spoon

This legendary performance features Irmin Schmidt on keys, Jaki Leibezeit on drums, Michel Karoli on guitar, and Holger Czukay on bass. Live in Stuttgart 1975 is the first in a series of polished bootlegs, remastered from tape by sole remaining member Schmidt and longtime producer Rene Tinner, and available officially for the first time on various media formats, notably in a beautiful orange 3-disc vinyl version. There's not much revealing about the tracks at first glance, numbered simply one to five in German, with the shortest track clocking in at 9:31 and ranging to 35:58. Nor is there anything particularly revealing about the cover art, a stack of amps in a live setting superimposed with butterflies, moths, and the odd mosquito. It's not until cracking open the artifact is the essence revealed.

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Fehler Kuti, "Professional People"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a2160160686_16.jpgSeeing this release announced as music for "squares" or gated communities, unlikely to appeal to your "woke friends" made me approach it as one might any potential minefield. Learning that Julian Warner, aka Fehler Kuti, is a cultural anthropologist, actor, writer, editor, speaker, art festival curator and producer didn’t lighten the mood much as I feared an onslaught of dry polemic. What a relief then to simply get hooked by these hypnotic tunes - several of which were lullabies for Warner’s newborn child. Professional People reveals as a transcultural concept album, lightly touched with softly spoken wit, 8-bit space jazz, cosmic Euro-pulse, pan, chant, Afro-neon groove, wordless harmony, and melancholic synth. Some of the song titles can act as political signposts, but lyrics are few, mostly oblique, and any message subliminal: hidden in plain sight amid references to bureaucracy, cars, office buildings, home, leisure, gardens, and security. There is no holy indigestible agitprop, no denial of anyone else’s struggle, and Warner leaves academic language and analyses of class, race, and history for the books. He’s razor sharp, but kind, and rather than cutting with words he sprinkles sardonic humor and personal history in with broader observations. The whole record invites everyone to swing along together in our various states of alienated inclusion. Phew. I won’t hear many more enjoyable albums this year.

Alien Transistor

With the aid of stalwarts from The Notwist, Fehler Kuti builds a laid back sound with drive but also plenty of breathing space. Markus Acher's brilliant drumming is key, and Micha Acher adds sousaphone and trumpet flourishes. Equally, Sascha Schwegeler's steel drum helps make "Transatlantic Ideology" a standout track. Here Kuti gently references a popcultural and socio-theoretical Afro-Americanophilia in Germany that must be addressed as it deflects from anti-racist movements and away from other racist exploitations (systematic exclusion of Romani people, capitalist exploitation of eastern European migrant laborers). Off record he points out that Black Germans do not make up a racialized labor underclass, so in this sense the leftist fetish of the African American plight is devoid of its revolutionary potential when directed at the Black German. I say "gently" but, as with several stunning lines laid into the fabric of this album "Is a black man humanoid?" made me jump. I uncomfortably recalled the satirical essay "Are The Jews Human?" which got that awkward old stick Wyndham Lewis into a spot of critical bother. Whereas Lewis was brilliant but easily depicted as a brute, Warner’s unflinching honesty about his own status as a professional "manager of color" is his calling card. He insists his class are using the paradigm of diversity as a tool to escape their fate, without changing the class relations as a whole. Who better, then, to warn us: "This song is a song to end all ties, to say goodbye to old, and say hello to new, lies." If that sounds heavy, it’s actually as catchy as The Bonzo Dog Band doing "Terry Keeps His Clips On."

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Jon Collin, "Music From Cassettes, Etc., 2008-2017"

I initially slept on this album, as the prosaic title made it sound like a collection of old and orphaned songs rather than a minor sound collage masterpiece. The former would be just fine by me (in a non-urgent way), but the fact that this album is actually the latter completely blindsided me. As the label puts it, Collin pulled "shining diamonds from his discography" and put them "in a new context with more recently recorded segments." In more practical terms, this means that the album beautifully bleeds together ephemeral highlights from Collin's discography into a soulfully mesmerizing, endlessly evolving impressionist fantasia. In its most striking moments, Music From Cassettes, Etc. makes me feel like I am a Dickensian ghost experiencing all the warmest moments from Collin's life through a flickering projector.

Fördämning Arkiv

The first side rolls in as a fog of tape hiss and crackle that sounds like a ravaged dictaphone recording of a bus tour somewhere in some exotic tropical place. Soon, however, a simple twanging acoustic guitar piece starts to fade in. It is quite a warm and deeply emotive performance, so I was sad to see it go as it gradually became consumed by a slowly oscillating hum that later dissipates into enigmatic dictaphone hiss once more. That theme of slowly dissolving vignettes is the heart of the album, but the variety, beauty, and cumulative power of them is what makes this album transcendent and bittersweet. On the A side, the dream parade makes further noteworthy stops at deconstructed blues and something akin to a tribute band that accidentally double-booked themselves as both Pink Floyd and The Dead C, but valiantly blurred them together to give everyone the concert of their lives. The playing near the end is absolutely amazing, as Collin whips up a rapturous Orcutt-level firestorm of wild hammer-ons and swooping slides for the volcanic finale. The second side offers a similarly mesmerizing but completely different phantasmagoria of fragmented delights. Sometimes I find myself at a languorous campfire jam in which lupine howls harmonize with a sliding melody, while at other times I am catching the fiery performance of a noise rock band from a reverberant alley. Elsewhere, Collin's collage sounds like a ravaged tape loop of an organ mass backing a demonic squall of white-hot electric guitar catharsis. Throughout it all, Collin maintains a perfect balance of soulful melody, lo-fi ruin, and sharp-edged feral intensity, the latter of which definitely surprised me (he sounds absolutely possessed during some of his solos). The whole album is great from beginning to end, as Collin hits one perfect moment of tender melody or viscerally howling noise guitar incandescence after another with nary a lull between them. This is an instant classic.

Samples can be found here.

Richard Skelton, "Four Workings"

This latest album from Skelton seems intended to be a major new statement, though not quite a formal follow-up to last year's These Charms May be Sung Over a Wound, as double LPs are a real rarity in the prolific composer's discography. If it was not intended as such, it certainly has the ambitious conceptual framework and focused power of his strongest work. For these four pieces, Skelton used a self-devised divination deck of Proto-Indo-European word roots for inspiration, making the album the fruit of an occult-tinged and antiquarian word game. Skelton also maintained the same restricted palette and duration for each piece, yet the tone varies significantly between them, as he treated each composition as a meditation upon a single, unvoiced question. To some degree, Four Workings is an especially ambient-minded release, as the hypnotically repeating melodic fragments are reminiscent of Celer's most loop-driven fare. The similarities mostly end there, however, as the billowing ambiance is often a smokescreen for a more sharp-edged and sophisticated undercurrent that slowly emerges from the murky depths. This is an unusually strong suite of compositions for Skelton's current phase, and the first piece in particular is probably among his finest moments to date.

Aeolian

The opening "[ ken- ] commencement" initially takes shape as a slow, sad melody of distorted string swells that languorously unfolds. Notably, however, the notes start to accumulate a shimmering wake with a sharp metallic edge. That element ultimately steals the show, as it merges with some deep drones around the piece's halfway point to blossom into a quavering crescendo of complex, bittersweet harmonies. It calls to mind a spectral orchestra playing an achingly beautiful slow-motion symphony of notes that lazily streak, quiver, and break apart. It is a damn-near perfect piece. The central melody, dreamily fluttering core, and frayed textures all combine to leave a deep and haunting impression. The following "[ aus- ] radiance" is a bit more billowing and soft-focused, evoking the flickering play of sunlight across a bank of dark, slow-moving clouds. The third piece ("[ aus- ] radiance") initially has the same aesthetic, but unexpectedly blooms into yet another album highlight. At times, it evokes a time-stretched recording of an organist soundtracking a silent horror film, but with a twist: the lovelorn organist unconsciously transforms everything into a wistful reverie. Gradually, it turns into an angelic yet steadily darkening haze that cocoons the oblivious organ melody. The closer ("[ ghē- ] releasement") takes more time than usual to get going. What begins as a glacially see-sawing pulse weaves through a fog of quietly roiling noise to become a hazily remembered/half-imagined ‘70s synthy space ambient album a la Tangerine Dream. While I wish that final piece was more of a dynamic culmination than a vaguely meditative comedown, the previous pieces admittedly set the bar unfairly high. If something like Four Workings is what results whenever Skelton makes up his own archeologically themed divination deck, I would see little incentive to abandon that strategy.

Samples can be found here.

Nurse With Wound, "Barren"

This double album had the misfortune of being released near the end of 2020, so it lamentably did not quite get the attention that it deserved (and being a live album probably did not help matters much either).  Granted, it has admittedly been a while since the NWW camp dropped an album that I would breathlessly proclaim a stone-cold masterpiece, yet the project's current era features quite a formidable lineup. In fact, most United Dairies/ICR releases in recent years have been refreshingly solid for an entity with such a vast and historically erratic discography. Barren happily continues that trend, documenting two performances from differing lineup configurations that have been deemed "amongst their most unusual performances." In this context, however, "unusual" means "very professional-sounding longform works conspicuously free of sinister whimsy." Significantly, the two performances are almost unrecognizable as NWW despite cannibalizing a pair of studio releases. They make for quite a satisfying deep-psych/spaced-out ambient release in their own right, however, as there is no rule stating that albums need to be representative to be enjoyable.

ICR

On the first disk, Steven Stapleton, Colin Potter, and Paul Beauchamp warp and deconstruct "Letter From Topor" & "Eyes Of A Scanning Girl" from [Sic] in a 2012 Florence concert. On the second, Andrew Liles replaced Beauchamp for a 2013 show in Karlsruhe that mangles "Opium Cabaret" from Terms and Conditions May Apply. The two pieces feel like they spring from the same vision, however, and that vision is one quite fond of extremely slow-burning psychotropic drones. More bluntly, that means both halves of this album take a while to catch fire, as it seems like the trio is recording, mixing, and subtly adding new layers in real time (the first disk is even called "Confluence"). As such, Barren demands some patience, as each drone-heavy performance seems to unfold on a supernaturally stretched time scale. In fact, Barren feels akin to a deep space ambient album a la The Magnificent Void, except there is a dimensional rift and a cacophony of lysergic bird songs, garbled voices, found-sound pile-ups, space crickets, exotic pop songs, and heavy electronic buzzes kept bleeding into the cold emptiness. The more eclectic second disk ("Transfiguration") is the stronger of the two and "Transfiguration 2" is probably the most stand-out piece on the album, as it follows the faint strains of a ghostly cabaret chanteuse into a shape-shifting mindfuck of smoky noir jazz and wah-wah-drenched desert psych oases. Both disks build into sufficiently surreal and vivid crescendos to justify their duration, however, as the overall trend is that each gets better and better as they unfold. Epic length aside, my only other caveat is that the all-enveloping drones dilute too much of NWW's essence to make this a crucial release by normal Stapleton standards. That said, it is nevertheless a very likable one-off plunge down a deep space rabbit hole, roughly resembling either a Black Stars-era Lustmord remix of a NWW album or its reverse.

Samples:

Peter Murphy, "Love Hysteria"

Love Hysteria cover image1988's Love Hysteria was my introduction to Peter Murphy as a solo artist, likely initiated by MTV's 120 Minutes airplay of "All Night Long." A minor hit in the United States, this and a host of other strong tracks from Murphy's second solo release would see Murphy exposed to a renewed audience as a solo performer, those both unfamiliar and familiar with his back catalog. Some of this may be attributable to the start of Murphy's songwriting collaboration with Paul Statham (ex B-Movie). This fruitful union would see the two working together for another six albums, producing some of his best-loved works over the next few years. This work alone spawned the aforementioned "All Night Long" as well as masterworks "Indigo Eyes," "Dragnet Drag," and "Blind Sublime."

Beggars Banquet / The Arkive

Sometimes, writing a review about one's revered musicians can be a struggle, challenging as it may be to separate one's memories of a much-loved album with time and place. As I transitioned from high school to college, the dawn of the nineties was approaching, and the familiarities I'd felt growing up in the eighties seemed to be fading. New music, shifting places, different friends, and the loss of a certain comfort was on the horizon as I completed my last year of high school. This era felt ripe for the birth of a massive amount of new music, but I felt a need for stability and nostalgia as life marched on into unknown directions. The darker, romantic music I had embraced in high school that had such an impact on my life seemed to be changing, not always for the better, and I felt a longing for something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I was thus relieved when seeing 120 Minutes' airing of "All Night Long," an artist I was familiar with and that, up to that point, was not aware had embarked on a solo career. I instantly liked the song, so I went to pick up the vinyl at a local record shop, albeit with some trepidation.

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Expo Seventy, "Evolution"

I'm abandoning this one. Please delete.

Domiziano Maselli, "Lazzaro"

This second album from Milan-based visual artist/electro-acoustic composer Domiziano Maselli can be a disorienting collision of disparate inspirations at times, but it is certainly an intensely visceral and compelling experience when it hits the mark. Opal's description of the album mentions that Maselli possesses an "uncanny skill to create non-conformist drama," which feels like an apt characterization. It is similarly fair to say that Maselli likely has an extreme fondness for the gloomy prime of artists like Haxan Cloak and Raime, as well as a deep appreciation for Emptyset's seismic and intense approach to sound design. Elements of all three are certainly present on Lazzaro, though Maselli proves quite adept at building upon their best bits. That said, there are also a few pieces that radically break from the influences Maselli wears on his sleeve and they are uniformly brilliant. In one case, he approximates a massive contraption of slowly whirling jagged, rusted metal blades, while elsewhere he unleashes something akin to a demonically possessed string quartet hellbent on conjuring the darkest psychedelia. For me, Lazarro is a very strong album for those two pieces alone, but his execution for everything else is quite impressive as well.

Opal Tapes

The opening "The Burrow" is the first of Lazzaro's two monster highlights, as it resembles a more malevolent and corroded sister to Eli Keszler's stellar Cold Pin album. It feels more like I am inside a vast, churning and scraping metal installation than like am hearing an electro-acoustic composition performed by a human, which is a neat trick. That said, there is evidence of Maselli's hand in some of the peripheral mindfuckery, as the mechanized intensity is enhanced by waves of seismic sub-bass, something resembling a flock of nightmarish birds, and some stammering and ravaged chords. At one point, I almost felt like I was aboard the Nostromo being menaced by skittering sounds from inside the walls. The following "A Desolation Chant" heads in a very different direction, approximating a soulful, reverberating sax solo in an empty parking garage. However, it often feels seem like the noirish sax licks transform into something menacing and sentient as they echo around their subterranean concrete environment, as there is a dark undercurrent of murky, gnarled dissonance and bass throb. Next, a brief interlude of storm sounds cleanses the palette for the album's second masterwork: the heaving and explosive string onslaught of "Gethsemane." While it has a haunted-sounding melodic motif at its core, the real magic lies in the violently sawing attack of the bow, the squealing harmonics, and the lysergic descending smears that appear in the background around the halfway point. To my ears, the epic two-part closer "Lazzaro" does not quite hit the same heights, but it is not a misfire either, as the diptych calls to mind a folk ensemble blearily emerging from a cave in the smoldering aftermath of the eschaton. That seems like a damn fitting way to end such a wonderfully blackened and intense album.

Samples can be found here.

Dagar Gyil Ensemble Of Lawra, "Dagara - Gyil Music of Ghana's Upper West Region"

This mesmerizing and unique gem from Sublime Frequencies documents some killer field recordings made by Hisham Mayet in the Upper West region of Ghana back in 2019. I knew absolutely nothing about gyril music before hearing this album, but the most salient detail is that the primary instrument is a traditional xylophone used by the Lobi people. That does not even remotely convey how strange and wonderful these recordings are, but SF's description includes phrases like "long form trance music" and "acoustic techno," and those seem to hit the mark in spirit. To me, this album sounds like a ritualistic drum circle, but way more sophisticated, melodic, and psych-damaged than anything I would expect from actual communal percussion. As with a lot of field-recorded Sublime Frequency fare, it is very easy to dismiss this album as just an interesting window into an underheard culture from a cursory or casual listen. Once I listened to Dagara in a focused way, however, it quickly revealed itself to be something quite transcendent, as it seamlessly merges the otherness of great "experimental" music with an almost ecstatic visceral intensity.

Sublime Frequencies

This album is ostensibly composed of two separate pieces that each span one side of vinyl, but the digital version is presented as a single 40-minute track, and the latter is exactly what it feels like. You can drop the needle anywhere on Dagara and roughly expect to get the same thing every time: vibrant percussion rhythms and unusual-sounding, interwoven xylophone melodies. That is primarily because no one piece of the puzzle stands out as particularly brilliant or memorable on its own. That said, the insanely complex web of overlapping rhythms and processed-sounding textures is legitimately amazing. And so is the way that the piece subtly and organically transforms like a dense cloud of migrating birds effortless shifting direction in perfect unison. It all cumulatively amounts to something psychedelic as hell, leading me to both envy whatever wavelength these cats are on AND marvel at how they managed to get there in perfect harmony. This is total hive mind, wheels-within-wheels territory in the best way. Beyond that, I would describe the overall aesthetic as "a tropical steel drum band went to India to study classical raga and Eastern spirituality and returned home completely unrecognizable and waaaaaay into psychedelics." That is a compliment (I would totally listen to such a band), but it also feels like that hypothetical band was then grist for a killer sound collage by a great tape artist. While I assume this was recorded entirely live, the smearing, deep vibraphone-like tones and the stammering, hesitating melodies sound alien and hallucinatory, similar to a serendipitous pile-up of unrelated loops locking gloriously in sync. There is much happening and all of it is interesting. In fact, I would be truly hard pressed to think of a "complex polyrhythm" opus from the 20th century avant-garde that could beat this ensemble at that game. Albums like this are exactly why I love Sublime Frequencies, as Dagara is a richly immersive tour de force of constantly shifting, interwoven patterns.

Samples can be found here.

"Mien (Yao) – Cannon Singing in China, Vietnam, Laos"

This collection of (mostly) acapella field recordings from Kink Gong's Laurent Jeanneau truly emphasizes the "sublime" part of the Sublime Frequencies vision, as this is quite an eerily lovely and mesmerizing album. While the recordings span three different countries (China, Laos, and Vietnam), they are all roughly rooted in a single cultural milieu: the Chinese hill tribes known pejoratively as the Yao ("dog" or "savage"). Understandably, a large number of these tribal folk prefer the name Mien ("people"), but they are a multifarious bunch that have spread beyond China into Southeast Asia and evolved into numerous distinctive and divergent subcultures. The first half of the album is devoted to very pure and simple canon singing ("an initial melody is imitated at a specified time interval by one or more parts"), while the second half offers some compelling and more fleshed-out variations. While the "raw, ethereal, and cosmic" performances that Laurent captured need no additional enhancement to captivate me, the variations are every bit as great as the undiluted essence and give the album an impressively strong dynamic arc.

Sublime Frequencies

The opening "Lan Pan Moon" is a haunting and chant-like duet between two Laotian women (Keo and Na) centered upon a droning root tone. While the piece could not be much more simple melodically, the two women achieve an otherworldly beauty in the way they harmonize around the hypnotically cyclical motif. In fact, it feels akin to a harmonic dance, as the two voices keep diverging then reconverging into quavering unison, and the whole thing feels akin to a Lucier-ian feat of phase manipulation. The following "Kai Tian Pi Di" is a similarly unaccompanied duet (from China this time), but it shares some common stylistic ground with old African American work songs (there is even some bluesy note-bending). The album's second half kicks off with another piece from China, but it seems like an especially virtuosic version of the form, as the lead voice embellishes the central melody with a host of unusual bends, stammers, and ululation-like flourishes. The closing "Dao Cham" (from Vietnam) is still more divergent, however, as the heart of the piece is the clanging and rattling percussion of a lively ritualistic street procession. Gradually, the voices of the singers grow more prominent, yet the real beauty of the piece lies in how the various voices (singing and otherwise) lysergically drift in and out of focus. While I am not sure how intentional that was on Jeanneau's part, I certainly enjoy the effect, as it nicely blurs the line between field recording and sound collage. Due to the propulsive rhythm, the metallic physicality of the cymbals, and the surprise psychedelic elements, "Dao Cham" is my personal favorite on the album, but every single one of these pieces could be a revelation for adventurous ears.

Samples can be found here.

Rambutan, "Parallel Systems"

cover image As his primary (and solo) project, Albany’s Eric Hardiman's Rambutan is always in flux. Some of his many other projects are a bit more predictable: Sky Furrows is 1980s indie noise rock inspired, Spiral Wave Nomads is more free improvisation, etc., but Rambutan has always been something different. Sometimes the work is harsher, other times more subdued and atmospheric, and instrumentation can very significantly from release to release. For this more conceptually album, there is even less predictability. Featuring 69 contributing artists across 33 pieces and over two and a half hours in length, it is fully encompassing of Hardiman’s body of work, solo and in collaboration with others, and reiterates what a multifaceted and gifted artist and performer he is.

Sedimental/Tape Drift

For Parallel Systems, Hardiman solicited a multitude of participants: friends, collaborators, and personal heroes, to submit recorded contributions that he collaged and blended over the past two years. There are a vast array of collaborators here: representatives from the local Upstate New York/Western Massachusetts scene (Mike Bullock, Rob Forman, Mike Griffin, Matt Weston, plus more), some legendary noise artists (Anla Courtis, John Olson, Howard Stelzer), and even the likes of Guy Picciotto of Fugazi/Rites of Spring, Mission of Burma’s Peter Prescott, and Mike Watt.

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I Feel Like a Bombed Cathedral, "γένεσις" (Genesis)

This solo drone project from Ulan Bator's Amaury Cambuzat has been one of my favorite discoveries of the last few years, as both AmOrtH and W featured moments that induced me to proclaim that Cambuzat was "a goddamn drone shaman." This latest album was a bit of a surprise, however, as Cambuzat casually made it available as a digital-only release on his Bandcamp page with just a simple description of "This is the very first recording of I Feel Like a Bombed Cathedral." Apparently, the recordings date from early 2018 and I am amazed that Cambuzat did not feel inclined to make them public until now, as a handful of these pieces are absolute gems that rank among the project’s finest work. A few of the other ones admittedly feel like a searching, partially formed vision of the greatness to come, but γένεσις is much, much better than its humble "vault clearing" origins suggest. I would not have been at all disappointed if this was a proper new Bombed Cathedral release, as the album is absolutely teaming with beautifully warped guitar sounds and immersive layers of richly textured psychedelia. In fact, γένεσις only heightens my expectations for whatever Cambuzat might be working on now, as no sane person would keep music this great on the shelf for three years unless they had something even better in the pipeline.

Self-Released

I have no idea if the opening "Te Deum" was the birth of this project or not, but it certainly does a hell of a job at conjuring up images of a recently bombed cathedral, as the organ-like tones of Cambuzat's guitar feel like rays of sunlight passing through thick smoke and stained glass (a feeling further enhanced by the deep, elegiac chord progression beneath). It is extremely brief, so it does not rank as an album highlight, but there are at least four other pieces that do. The first admittedly takes a while to get going, as "Tibi Omnes" devotes two minutes to a single sharp feedback-like tone that flickers like a candle. Fortunately, it then spends the next fourteen minutes blossoming into a beautiful, dreamlike vision of a mass in an ancient cathedral that has caught in a film projector and begun to burn and bubble in slow motion. The following "Dignare" gamely continues the "organ-like guitar tones collide with the distending fabric of reality" theme with great success. It roughly approximates the organ accompaniment to a silent gothic horror film, but slowed way down until it bleeds into itself while the projector erratically warps the film. Later "Te Ergo Quaesumus" continues another big theme ("nightmarishly crystalline approximations of a pipe organ"), but also sounds like wind chimes played back at such an extremely slow speed that everything is in a grainy, smeared state of suspended animation. I suppose the closing "γένεσις" could be the true first Bombed Cathedral piece given its name, but I would be surprised, as it is the most brilliant and sophisticated one on the album. It calls to mind a demonic calliope that acts as a nightmare machine, as "wrong" notes in the melody keep lingering to form sickly, infernal harmonies. All of that amounts to an impressively solid album, but anyone who digs Cambuzat's work will absolutely want to hear that title piece, as it is unquestionably a career highlight of some kind.

Samples can be found here.