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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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4047 Hits

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

cover imageI 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.

2541 Hits

Richard Skelton, "Four Workings"

cover imageThis 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.

2840 Hits

Nurse With Wound, "Barren"

cover imageThis 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:

3374 Hits

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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3422 Hits

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

cover imageThis 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.

3372 Hits

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

cover imageThis 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.

3249 Hits

Domiziano Maselli, "Lazzaro"

cover imageThis 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.

2424 Hits

Expo Seventy, "Evolution"

cover image

I'm abandoning this one. Please delete.

1022 Hits

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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3382 Hits

Peter Murphy, "Should the World Fail to Fall Apart"

Should the World Fail to Fall Apart cover imageShould the World Fail to Fall Apart finds Murphy not entirely moving away from the entanglements of his former group, elaborating on the musical styles explored in Dalis Car. The musical stylings of his debut were problematic for me on its original release, enamored as I was of Bauhaus. Still, over the years, it has grown to become one of my personal favorites of his solo works despite it often being deemed one of his less worthy offerings. The album is reminiscent of a transition period, but the reissue is a reminder of his brilliance.

Beggars Banquet / The Arkive

On his debut, Murphy continues to take cues from the romantics through passionate vocal delivery, lyrics, and melody, toning down the Bowie influence but maintaining a dramatic delivery. While he would gain a wider solo audience with Love Hysteria and Deep, it's astounding a man not yet out of his twenties seems a wiser and more practiced fifties, further supported by a fantastic cast of musicians. Guitar work from former bandmate Daniel Ash, Turkish fretless master Erkan Oğur, and co-producer Howard Hughes bring strength to the tracks, with Magazine's own John McGeoch providing guitar on Murphy's inspired cover of "The Light Pours Out of Me," with the interpretation of Pere Ubu's "Final Solution" only somewhat less inspired. A driving bassline from Eddie Branch is the central force behind "Blue Heart." Former bandmate Daniel Ash provides indeed "manic" guitar on "The Answer is Clear" over tribal drum programming and sweeping orchestral arrangements.

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3234 Hits

The Humble Bee, "A Miscellany for the Quiet Hours"

cover imageIt admittedly took me a while to finally connect all the dots in my head, but it dawned on me recently that The Boats were kind of the Throbbing Gristle of a hard-to-define strain of ambient-adjacent bittersweet melancholia. My case: both Andrew Hargreaves and/or Craig Tattersall have been consistently involved in a host of varied and wonderful projects for more than two decades now (Hood, The Remote Viewer, Tape Loop Orchestra, etc.). The tape loop-focused The Humble Bee is Tattersall's most prolific and consistent endeavor; he has been releasing solo work and collaborations under that moniker since 2009. In fact, this album was the project's debut, but I only recently heard it for the first time, as its initial release was a limited CDr in a handmade case made from repurposed book covers (pictured). Last month, it got a well-deserved reissue on vinyl from the endearingly eccentric Astral Industries with VERY different cover art and it sold out instantly. That gives me hope for humanity, as this incredibly beautiful and absolutely sublime release deserves as much exposure as it can get. A Miscellany for the Quiet Hours is a stone-cold classic.

Cotton Goods/Astral Industries

Given the literary/antiquarian bent of the original packaging, "The Bedside Book" fittingly opens the album on a note of dreamily flickering, sepia-toned wistfulness. It conjures an understatedly gorgeous pile-up of frayed, overlapping, and gently crackling antique music box loops. The hits just keep coming from there, as Tattersall ingeniously weaves sparse melodic fragments into richly textured and sometimes achingly beautiful collages that feel like the work of an enchanted Victrola. I realize that the magic of this album is simply "Craig Tattersall has a great ear for loops and is extremely skilled at collaging them in interesting, soulful ways." However, it is still a genuinely surprising and improbable convergence of different threads. It sometimes seems like Mary Lattimore recorded source material for Everyone Alive Wants Answers–era Colleen, but then Philip Jeck cannibalized their album and teamed up with a jazz guy for an impressionistic and understated accompaniment to a night of classic silent film. In less convoluted terms, that means that Tattersall uses a lot of simple, but lovely harp-like melodies that pop, crackle, and warble in pleasantly languorous fashion, but sometimes a double bass or a trumpet will steer things in a more sensual or noir direction. The album highlight is probably "Technical Press," which punches up Tattersall's already beautiful vision with a cool bass loop and plenty of wobbly and warped psychedelic flourishes. Elsewhere, "With Answers" makes similarly effective use of backwards sounds, but in more throbbing, ambient-minded fashion, while the closing "P209" feels like a killer dub techno classic that's been frayed and hiss-ravaged into something a bit more hypnagogic. While those four pieces are currently my favorites, competition is unusually fierce, as Tattersall's instincts are absolutely unerring on this album.

Samples can be found here.

2438 Hits

Joe Colley, "Trance Tapes"

cover imageBack in 2016, noise/sound art legend Joe Colley returned from a lengthy hiatus to release the solid No Way In on Jason Lescalleet's Glistening Examples, but he has been extremely quiet ever since, surfacing only to release a tape of a durational live performance last year. Happily, he is back again with another major statement and it is quite a monster. It is also unusually accessible at times, as Trance Tapes lives up to its name beautifully (though those trances inevitably curdle into nightmare territory). In some ways, this album resembles a classic noise tape on the more "industrial" side of the spectrum, as each of the four pieces is built from a foundation of relentless, obsessively repeating "machine-noise" to varying degrees. That is merely the starting point, however, as each piece rapidly blossoms into a vividly psychotropic mindbomb of viscerally buzzing frequencies and hypnotically repeating chirps, bleeps, throbs, and looping drones. I suspect many serious noise fans would roll their eyes or spit out their drink in disbelief if I had the temerity to proclaim this a career highlight, so I will refrain from doing that. However, it is extremely difficult to imagine a Joe Colley or Crawl Unit album in which he was able to realize his vision with more clarity and focus than he does with this near-perfect tour de force.

No Rent

"Program One" kicks off the album with insistent, rapid pulses of machine-like hum that initially feel like a locked groove, but rapidly begin accumulating both momentum and layers of killer mindfuckery. By the time the piece is even one-third through, it has blossomed into a nightmare of gibbering, squirming, and clicking insectoid cacophony. It then dissolves into a throbbing and otherworldly coda of futuristic electronic chirps that accumulate high frequencies that make the air vibrate and my brain buzz. That sensation is an extremely familiar one with Trance Tapes, as Colley is quite adept at luring me into a numbed state with mechanical repetition while sneakily unleashing high frequencies that will relentlessly drill deeper and deeper into my consciousness. Anyone who makes it through that entire song at reasonably high volume will absolutely feel slightly insane by the end. I mean that as a compliment, but I suspect a person could easily be convinced that this tape was leaked from some secret CIA black ops project involving the weaponization of high frequencies.  

"Program Two" gleefully keeps those more brain-burrowing frequency attacks coming (sharper than ever!), but also feels like an army of wind-up toys showed up as well. It is the album's greatest endurance test, but I feel like I am the one at fault for being too mentally weak to withstand the full force of Colley's merciless sensory assault. The second half is thankfully a bit less malevolently sanity-eroding, yet it is every bit as good. "Program Three" resembles a vast futuristic field of hissing sprinklers and robot lawnmowers that grows progressively more smeared and buzzy, while "Program Four" sounds like a couple of '70s synth guys attempting to mimic a (psychedelic) frog pond at night. Surprisingly, that final piece is almost semi-melodic at times, like a small but sweet reward for joining Colley in such a deep plunge down an oft-disturbing rabbit hole.

Samples can be found here.

2904 Hits

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

cover imageThis 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.

2648 Hits

Leider, "A Fog Like Liars Loving"

cover imageThis is the debut album from a Berlin-based foursome dedicated to performing the works of Malaysian-born composer/trombonist Rishin Singh. Notably, Singh is also a member of Konzert Minimal, which is a modern classical ensemble dedicated to performing compositions by the Wandelweiser collective. In a 2016 New Yorker profile of the Wandelweiser milieu, Alex Ross noted that one recurring theme in their work is a "ghost tonality never achieves stability; it will frustrate those who expect one chord to lead logically to another." Singh's own vision shares a lot of similar stylistic terrain, as A Fog Like Liars Loving is nothing if not ghostly (and creepy (and unsettling)). It resembles an alternate universe version of Low in which they were a chamber music ensemble that listened to a steady diet of nothing but Jandek, Scott Walker, Marble Index-era Nico, and warped old folk records played at the wrong speed. That said, Singh definitely has an unusually sophisticated sensibility regarding dissonant harmonies and the entire album has an eerily nocturnal, dread-soaked, and somnambulant feel that is uniquely Leider's own. Purportedly, the album also features an "understated gallows humor," which is also an achievement of sorts, as Singh has managed to cultivate a strain of black humor so bleak that even I often have a hard time detecting it.

Beacon Sound

I never would have guessed on my own that this album was written by a male trombonist, as the most prominent threads that run throughout these songs are the dual female vocals of Annie Gårlid and Stine Sterne, the moaning strings, and the curdled, murky flutes. All are abundant in the creeping fog of dread and hanging dissonance that is the opening "The Weeping Wound," but the quartet's blurred gloom is also imbued with a sense of insistent (if glacial) forward motion by a simple drum machine pattern. Ironically, it is often that minimal drum machine element that determines how well a song works, as the compositions themselves are so purposely wraithlike and alienating that even the slightest rhythm feels like a welcome injection of life and physicality (akin to a still-beating heart faintly thumping within a corpse). When that beat disappears, Leider approximate a traditional folk ensemble from an earlier era that has been exhumed, reanimated, and handed rotted, mis-tuned instruments…and then asked to envision what The Wicker Man soundtrack would sound like if it had been an Ingmar Bergman film. That said, one of those beatless pieces is arguably the album's bleakly compelling centerpiece, as "Great Expectations" transforms a few lines of Dickens into a menacing dirge that erupts into a visceral, squealing catharsis. "Colder Underground" is another dirge/highlight, calling to mind a time-stretched Celtic folk ensemble accompanied by a slowly beating heart. It even has a hook, as the repeating refrain of "do you find it funny?" is surprisingly catchy and also feels like the final thing I might hear before being murdered by a coven of forest witches. I suspect I would probably like the rest of the album considerably more if it were less relentlessly dour (it makes for difficult entertainment), but Singh's focused vision feels like a promising success as art, as I can easily imagine an installation based on this album being a macabre sensation at a contemporary art museum.

Samples can be found here.

2715 Hits

loscil, "Clara"

cover imageThis latest release from Scott Morgan’s long-running loscil project is a bit of a conceptual detour from his usual fare, as the entire album was "sourced from a single three-minute composition performed by a 22-piece string orchestra in Budapest." That is not all, however, as that brave composition's unconventional journey also included an intermediate stage in which it was "lathe-cut on to a 7-inch, then 'scratched and abused to add texture and color.'" Despite those unusual origins, Clara still sounds exactly like a loscil album, as Morgan is nothing if not consistent. In this case, that basically translates as "a slow-motion dub techno album lurking behind a grayscale ambient fog," but the magic lies in the execution (as always) and Morgan has never been a slouch in that regard. In fact, he succeeds on two fronts with this release, as Clara is both another fine loscil album and an impressive feat of inventive de-/ re-construction, as Morgan managed to transform three minutes of music into a varied, absorbing, and dynamically satisfying album-length statement (and he made it all seem effortless and natural to boot).

Kranky

The opening "Lux" rolls in like a thick fog of slow-motion melancholy, as deep, exhalation-like chords swell and dissipate around a steadily intensifying core of shimmering drones. It is exactly the kind of piece I expect from loscil, which is generally a good thing, but there are a handful of other pieces that feel like something considerably more transcendent. The first such piece is "Lumina," which is basically feels like the rough draft of “Lux” heard several drafts later, as it is centered around a similar theme of slowly billowing clouds of ambient murk. This time, however, there is a hissing and shuffling rhythmic undercurrent and a quietly bubbling arpeggio melody to elevate it into something far more memorable. It also seems to get better and better the more I listen to it, as Morgan is a master of textural nuance, as the bleak grandeur of "Lumina" is a feast of frayed, rippling, hissing, and billowing sounds that complement each other beautifully. The following "Lucida" is also noteworthy, as it delves into a brighter, warmer strain of glacial dub-inflected ambiance, but also has a subtly disorienting pulse that feels like a lonely buoy fading off into the distance of a sun-dappled sea. It is the two-song run that comes next that feels like the heart of the album, however, as "Stella" feels like an especially cinematic and noirish incarnation of Clara's themes, calling to mind a lovesick John Le Carre character brooding at a desolately beautiful beach in the winter, while “Vespera” is unexpectedly sensual and twinkling. Later, "Orta" is another strong candidate for the album’s best piece, as slow, beautiful chords form a languorous, dreamlike pulse while submerged field recordings subtly enhance that blissful sense of unreality. Elsewhere, "Flamma" feels like another glimpse into the same haunting beach noir as "Stella," while the radiant thrum of the closing title piece feels like an angel giving a drone performance from inside a cloud. Clara is more than a fresh batch of strong individual songs though, as the various pieces form a beautifully meditative and constantly evolving whole that feels akin to watching distant thunderstorms darken the skies (and then slowly dissipate) from the inside of a cozy seaside home.

Samples can be found here.

2643 Hits

Giusto Pio, "Motore Immobile"

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The recent news of the death of Franco Battiato drew me to Giusto Pio’s solo debut album, a classic of Italian minimalism. Produced by Battiato in 1979 and first released on Cramps records, Motore Immobile was generally ignored before languishing in obscurity. The Soave label reissued the album on vinyl in 2017, the year of Pio’s passing, and issued a vinyl repress shortly before Battiato died: an appropriate symmetry for two men who worked so beautifully together. The quality of their musicianship and compositional skill is such that, with simple organ drone, modest voice, delicate violin, and resonant piano, a vivid and sacred impression is created.

Soave

There is no law against trying to describe the subtle mystery and calm in this magnificent recording, but there probably ought to be. Let me first, then, defer to an expert writer on minimalism to succinctly describe those elements that Pio uses to achieve so much. As Alan Licht says "on the first side/title track, he uses a droning organ and moves very calmly from triad to triad, superimposing the next one briefly before moving on, occasionally expanding the sound with octave doubling and then just as quickly subtracting the lower tones. Intermittent humming and violin provide additional notes. On the second side, 'Ananta,' he uses a piano flourish to introduce each triad, landing on the tonic note each time."

The organ on the title track is played by Danilo Lorenzini and Michele Fedrigotti. Giusto Pio himself adds violin, and Martin Kleist doesn’t so much sing as hum almost beneath the surface of consciousness. Pio's violin playing has the care and precision of a sculptor or surgeon, shaping the music, and paring it down to bare bones. Matching the human voice with the organ drones produces a profound and spiritual harmony. Earlier in life I found the organ (in church) overpowering. It seemed at times to obliterate the congregation, as might a tool of class-based domination. While achieving a stunning musical purity, Motore Immobile also preserves the importance of the human voice. I have now come to love the organ, and recent works such as Kali Malone's The Sacrificial Code, where the instrument appears to be alive and breathing, have helped with that. For Pio's second piece, "Ananta," Lorenzini plays organ and Fedrigotti switches to piano. It too is an unforgettable work, dazzling as sunlight hitting colored glass objects in a Venetian shop window. Motore Immobile has a place among other classics of the period, such as Roberto Cacciapaglia's Sei note in logica (1979), Luciano Cilio's Dialoghi Del Presente (1977), and Franco Battiato's L’Egitto Prima Delle Sabbie (1978) that is assured for all time.

samples available here

3058 Hits

Carl Stone, "Stolen Car"

cover imageIn theory, this album was released last September (which feels like a hundred years ago), but the LP only recently made its way into stores and distros, which is an increasingly familiar story these days. Fortunately, that long delay inspired me to revisit the album with fresh ears and I discovered that I actually liked it quite a lot more than I remembered. That statement deserves an asterisk though, as my earlier issue with Stolen Car was merely that I had already played the amazing Au Jus/The Jugged Hare and Ganci & Figli singles to death and those are probably the four best songs here. That unsurprisingly made the actual album a bit of an anticlimax, as my expectations were absolutely sky high and only those singles could meet them. Had I not already been extremely familiar with those four pieces, however, I suspect Stolen Car's release would have inspired me to run out into the street to grab random strangers by the shoulders and demand to know why they were just going about their mundane lives when they could be listening to this delirious, rapturous swirl of kaleidoscopic pop brilliance instead. On the bright side, not doing that may have spared me a night in jail, so I guess it all ultimately worked out. Admittedly, I still think this is a bit of an uneven album, but it is at least half of a masterpiece too, as I am hard-pressed to think of many people who can touch Carl Stone at the height of his powers (which he is frequently at here).

Unseen Worlds

Carl Stone has certainly had a lengthy and fascinating career, but his recent work feels like it is on a different plane altogether and that plane is quite an endearingly fun and gleefully deranged place to be. In fact, it is a challenge to wrap my mind around the fact that the same man whose "jazz rock" band auditioned for Frank Zappa's label in the late '60s is also responsible for the opening "Pasjoli," which sounds like an Egyptian disco album being pulled apart by a black hole in the middle of an '80s hip hop block party. While it is not the best song on the album, "Pasjoli" does quite a fine job of laying down all of the album's themes in impressively vivid and dizzying fashion: from the first note to the last, Stolen Car is a manic, stammering, go-for-broke culmination of Stone's unique approach to cultural appropriation (absolutely everything is fair game and disorienting juxtapositions are both welcome and rampant). Aside from the four songs previously released as singles (the swirling, delirious pop cut-up "Figli" being the best), my favorite piece is "Bojuk," which feels like a soulful contemporary dance hit chopped into an unintelligible fragment language coupled with an anthemic hook that feels like it should have its own line dance. In general, the poppiest songs on Stolen Car are the best, but Stone's eccentric vision of "pop" feels like the entire history of The Eurovision Song Contest condensed into a single wild hallucination. Or perhaps like someone crammed Dexy's Midnight Runners, a classical quartet, a dance diva, a turntablist, and some yodelers into an elevator and told them they couldn’t leave until they recorded a hit together. I also enjoyed the divergent "Huanchaco," which resembles a tight fusion band remixed into jackhammering psychedelic lunacy by a maniac. Admittedly, there are also a handful of songs that do not quite hit the mark, but they are decisively outweighed by the great ones and Stolen Car as a whole sounds like a wildly pixelated and accelerated version of Jon Hassell's Fourth World aesthetic beamed back from twenty years in the future.

Samples can be found here.

2821 Hits

People Like Us, "Welcome Abroad"

cover imageI was a bit surprised to see this album getting the "10-year-anniversary deluxe vinyl reissue" treatment, as I did not remember it making a particularly big splash when it was first issued on Illegal Art back in 2011. Then again, I would be hard-pressed to think of any album in the "plunderphonics" milieu that has made a big splash in the last two decades, as existing in a legal gray area in a litigious world is not exactly optimal for promoting records. In any case, I missed this album the first time around because I mistakenly thought that I was already reasonably familiar with Vicki Bennett's work and found it charming, fun, and clever, but not quite something that destined to deeply move me or blow my mind. As it turns out, I was very wrong about that, as this album reaches some truly dazzling and remarkably poignant heights. While I do regret that I could have spent the last decade regularly enjoying this magnum opus, Welcome Abroad actually feels like a perfect album to experience for the first time in 2021, as it was recorded while Bennett found herself unexpectedly stranded in the US due to the Iceland volcano's impact on air travel. Consequently, Bennett was preoccupied with themes of "displacement" and "a longing for elsewhere," which are themes that feel especially universal and powerful in light of the last couple years. And, of course, there is no one better at transforming recontextualized fragments of pop culture ephemera into a life-affirming phantasia of mischievous joie de vivre than Vicki Bennett.

Discrepant

The best way to describe the Welcome Abroad experience is that it feels like a once-great Broadway director bottomed out and attempted to make a comeback with a razzle-dazzle, star-studded extravaganza about homesickness. Unfortunately, they needed cash and all of the willing investors had VERY strong and VERY specific opinions about the tone of the production. Miraculously, the director somehow succeeded in making something dazzling and beautiful, but it absolutely bulged with disorientingly absurd and kitschy leaps between '70s pop hits, vintage cartoons, Weimar Republic cabaret, cowboy movies, easy listening crooners, family sing-a-longs, Bond movies, and campy children's television. And while the show may not perfectly hit the mark with every single number, its many showstoppers are deliriously kinetic, fiendishly clever, and sometimes hit much harder than one would expect from their deceptively cheery tone. The first such gem is "Happy Lost Songs," which sounds like a community theater tribute to John Denver that was infiltrated by a vocal jazz ensemble and several delightful Looney Toons characters. "The Look" is more of a slow burn, but the reward is well worth the journey, as a sultry cabaret chanteuse bleeds into a wistful '60s surfsploitation scene, then it all unexpectedly erupts into a spectacular celebration of AM Gold hits (with plenty of overlapping along the way). Elsewhere, "Ever" feels like a delirious swirl of classic ‘60s girl group heaven, while "Push The Clouds Away" resembles a heartbroken cowboy restlessly playing records while lamenting his loneliness. It is predictably strange and disorienting, but when the right record comes on, it feels crushingly poignant and soulful too. The closing "The Atlantic Conveyor" is yet another emotional depth charge, as the kitschy collision of The Beatles and a schmaltzy Las Vegas crooner melds into a surprisingly moving finale. Nearly everything about this album is both great and fun though, as my notes are riddled with phrases like "The Muppets throw a Mardi Gras Party," "someone gave Piper at the Gates of Dawn-era Syd Barrett a variety show," "Satie on Bald Mountain," and "a singin' and dancin' temper tantrum extravaganza." I think Vicki Bennett might be my favorite artist now. This album is brilliant.

Samples can be found here.

2558 Hits

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

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a3526392432_10.jpgThe Nurse With Wound List is a unique passport to musical discoveries located beyond the horizon of well-trodden flat Earth popular culture. NWW's founder member and sole curator, Steven Stapleton, has teamed with the Finders Keepers label to issue one track by every artist mentioned in the directory of obscurity. The second edition (Germany) is highly anticipated, but this first volume announces a high standard with gems including those from Horrific Child, Jean Guérin, Lard Free, Pierre Henry, and ZNR. Compilation albums can tend to be patchy, but this one is a consistent gift, probably because it originates from a lengthy real world exploration, the kind of which will never be replicated by any amount of fast clicking through the digital haystack. The Strain Crack & Break series is going to confound the expectations of seasoned crate diggers and newcomers alike.

Finders Keepers

Nurse With Wound’s 1979 debut Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella was recorded in six hours and the general reaction can best be described as underwhelmed bemusement. UK music weekly Sounds awarded it ????? instead of using their normal 1-5 stars rating system. The title comes from the surrealist book Les Chants de Maldoror, and NWW dedicated the album to the Nihilist Spasm Band and also Luigi Russolo (author of the Futurist manifesto The Art Of Noises). However, the infamous reputation of Chance Meeting is chiefly due to it containing a list of NWW's favorite uber-obscure artistic influences and inspirations. This idea was taken from an album by German free jazz artist Wolfgang Dauner. Stapleton and co-author John Fothergil argued for months, culling choices from around eight years of rabid record collecting. In Stapleton’s case, this began in 1971 aged 14, when he bought his first Amon Düul album. The pair scoured Soho, and traveled through the UK and Europe scouring second hand shops for anything deemed original or boundary shattering. By 17, Stapleton was living at sound engineer Conny Plank’s house and working as roadie for the band Guru Guru. France is thus a tiny sample of a vast, doggedly idiosyncratic, collection.

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3800 Hits