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Alasdair Roberts, "Grief in the Kitchen and Mirth in The Hall"

Grief in the Kitchen and Mirth in The HallThis is the fifth album of traditional folk tunes which Alasdair Roberts has issued. He has also released several albums of his own compositions and it is a mark of his skill that it is pretty much impossible to tell the difference, and to know whether songs are his own imaginings or not. All share an erudite sensibility, often mixing his plaintive ghostly wailing voice (sometimes mournful, often joyous) with fine, spidery, guitar accompaniment. This new record is a deep collection, full of sweet spots, rich in detail, crystal clear in execution, and teeming with life. As usual, he reveals the multilayered meanings and nuances in even the most apparently straightforward songs, as with "The Bonny Moorhen" of Celtic folklore, and "Drimindown," a simple tale of a lost cow but also a devastating loss of a family's livelihood.

Drag City

I probably first heard and liked the music of Alasdair Roberts in August 1997 when on an English summer holiday at Woodspring Priory—or Worspring as it was known in the Middle Ages. It was founded in 1210 by William de Courtenay, grandson of Reginald Fitz-Urse, one of the assassins of St Thomas Becket. Providing an income for the locals was likely a way for de Courtenay to purge his family's ongoing guilt, and indeed St Thomas is patron saint of the priory and his martyrdom depicted on its seal.

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1330 Hits

Oval, "Romantiq"

RomantiqThis latest album from Markus Popp marks yet another intriguing stylistic detour for his endlessly shapeshifting Oval project, as he delves into "an omnipresent and yet oft ill-defined, even maligned area of music and art–the romantic." The idea for this album first began as a multimedia collaboration with digital artist Robert Seidel intended for the grand opening of Frankfurt's German Romantic Museum, but the endeavor soon evolved and expanded beyond the original purpose, as the two artists "sought a more expansive definition of 'romantic,' extending outward from the museum's comprehensive survey of the 19th-century epoch in art." That said, I suspect only Popp knows how influences from literature, architecture, and visual art helped shape the album, as my ears can only process the final destination and not the journey. In the case of Romantiq, that destination feels like a series of brief vignettes/miniatures assembled from period instrumentation and filtered through Popp's fragmented and idiosyncratic vision. Given that this is an Oval album, of course, very few of the 19th-century sounds are instantly recognizable as such (aside from some occasional piano), but Popp's kaleidoscopic and deconstructed homage to the past is a characteristically compelling and intriguingly unique outlier in the Oval canon (and it is often a textural marvel as well).

Thrill Jockey

The album's description promises a perfume-like experience ("rich scents flooding the senses before evaporating on the breeze"), which feels weirdly apt, as most of the pieces feel like a fleeting impression of something beautiful rather than an intentionally substantial experience (though the album itself is a substantial whole). That approach makes sense given the album's origins as just one part of a larger installation, yet these pieces do not feel like they are missing anything—they simply feel purposely ephemeral, elusive, and impressionistic. In more concrete terms, many of the pieces sound like a music box made of crystal that has been modified to make its simple melodies unpredictably stammer, smear, and flicker. While that is an admittedly cool baseline aesthetic, the stronger pieces on the album tend to be the ones that enhance that foundation with some kind of inspired addition. For example, the opening "Zauberwort" features both a trombone and a recording of an opera singer unrecognizably "atomized into smoke trails."

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1992 Hits

Tujiko Noriko, "Crepuscule I & II"

I am obsessed with circles, but you don't need to share that obsession to notice and appreciate the gesture of respect here from Tujiko Noriko to Peter Rehberg with the insistence that Crepuscule I & II be issued in various formats, including cassette. Many years ago she dropped a cassette tape into the hands of the MEGO and Editions MEGO label founder. The tape contained her first album and, despite it being a big departure from the typically more brash and raw fare he was normally releasing, Rehberg liked what he heard and gave it a proper push. Universal acclaim did not follow.

Editions Mego

Just before Peter Rehnerg's death he was apparently digging a pre-release of this new album. The opening track "Prayer" may have gripped him; it certainly floored me, with Tujiko instantly wringing great emotional heft from machine templates. Sadly it is as short as it is sweet. I cannot, and will never, understand why this simple but dazzling piece is issued as a mere 2.22 minute duration, rather than 22 minutes, or even 2 hours 22 minutes. Baffling. The album title refers to twilight, and much of the music is reflective and meditative—without being sluggish or over-sentimental. To paraphrase a philosopher or poet whose name I forget, in terms of our lifespans "everyone imagines that it is late morning, but it actually is midafternoon." Part of the human condition, perhaps. At any rate, Crepuscule seems to be a musing about time passing, about ends, beginnings, and transitions, as much as a reference to the twilight realm as a quality of light, with atmospheres of melancholy or nostalgia, of uncertainty and mystery.

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1733 Hits

Lucy Liyou, "Dog Dreams (​개​꿈​)"

Dog DreamsThis latest full-length from Lucy Liyou is described as a "rumination on the double-sidedness of trauma and love." The title is a Korean idiom with multiple meanings ("could mean anything from fanciful daydreams to nightmarish terrors") and was chosen very deliberately, as Liyou is fascinated by what our dream lives say about us and our subconscious desires. Interestingly, Dog Dreams is billed as only Liyou's second album (she is quite a prolific artist), but apparently everything other than 2020's Welfare is considered either an EP or a collaboration. In some ways, Dog Dreams feels like a logical evolution from that debut, but I was surprised to find that Liyou moved away from her text-to-speech narratives, as I previously thought that element was absolutely central to her aesthetic. In their place, however, are elusive Robert Ashley-esque dialogues of murmuring voices hovering at the edge of intelligibility. While I expected to miss the playfully dark humor of those robotic voices quite a lot (I found them very endearing), the newly tender and human voices fit the dreamlike beauty of Dog Dreams' three sound collages quite nicely.

American Dreams

Unsurprisingly, Dog Dreams has its roots in Liyou's own recurring dreams, but it is also a dialogue of sorts with co-producer Nick Zanca, as the two artists first worked on the album separately before convening in Zanca's studio to shape the final version. The opening title piece provides a fairly representative introduction to the album, as a melange of faint pops, hisses, and crackles slowly blossoms into a pleasantly flickering and psychotropic collage of tender piano melodies, water sounds, and sensuously hushed vocals. Interestingly, the aforementioned melange of strange sounds came from recordings of saliva (albeit "dilated and rendered unfamiliar through Zanca's adroit mixing"), which is definitely not something that I would have guessed on my own. Characteristically, the vocals are the best part of the piece, as Liyou and Zanca's voices enigmatically mingle, overlap, and harmonize in a fractured, shapeshifting dialogue. Uncharacteristically, however, "Dog Dreams" transforms into something resembling Xiu Xiu's Jaime Stewart interpreting a tender R&B-tinged ballad from a Disney soundtrack. While I certainly did not see that curveball coming, it is very on-brand for Liyou, as she has always been an inventive magpie keen to assimilate any and all compelling sounds and ideas that bleed into her life.

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1627 Hits

Kalia Vandever, "We Fell In Turn"

We Fell In TurnVandever's first solo album was recorded in three days and features her improvising on (mainly) trombone, effects, and voice. The improvised approach never shoves this music even an inch away from clarity, deftness, and emotional depth. Every piece feels fresh, abstract and dreamlike—as if she's channeling spirit voices from elsewhere—but all are restrained by the beguiling warmth, subtle tension, and comforting understatement of her sonorous playing. It's marvelous to hear the trombone burst, or maybe a more accurate descriptor would be slide, free of all genre association.

AKP

From the opening tune, entitled "Recollections From Shore," the album riffs off echoes and memories from Vandever's childhood in Hawaii, although this knowledge did not stop my imagination from going wherever it wished. During "Stillness In Hand" I was soon picturing steam trains huffing and puffing through a damper, gently undulating, European landscape. Then, while enjoying "Temper the Wound" I began seeing myself flying a box kite high in the sky one 1960s summer day on the East coast of England. That latter piece and also the even slower track "Held In" both give the feeling of having been created by harnessing pain or past scars to produce sounds that balance sadness with strength and survival. I have read of her mentioning waking from dreams in tears, or being comforted by visits from past memories and spirits—some when asleep and others when awake. At any rate, the softness and subtlety of this music lingers in the brain like the sound of hard-earned and humble wisdom. In Vandever's hands the trombone leaves behind any single genre or any other limitation. Effects are not overdone, and technique is hidden in plain sight as simple unhurried phrases loop, fold, or crumble slightly into themselves in a barely decipherable but extremely melodic manner.

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1653 Hits

David Christian, "Letters From A Forest"

Letters From A ForestLetters From A Forest uses snippets of conversation, sung and spoken lyrics, simple guitar and piano lines, and (as Christian puts it) fake strings, to create what we can call collage atmospherics. The sum of these parts is a tender sounding album, crammed full of romanticized lyrics with a tough, honest, edge and a wondrous stream of consciousness style. When hearing tracks like the "The Ballad of Martin and Caroline,"—a tale of fates deeply entwined in a doomed love spiral—I felt like I was half napping or jet lagged in a spare room, overhearing friends babbling to one another about deceased acquaintances,musical heroes, old records,chance meetings, and the places where it all happened. As such, Letters is an ode to an array of magnificent and magnificently flawed people (some well known, others characters from local legend). It is a sketchbook of notes, more poetic than pathetic, with a palpably emotional tug, celebrating the contradictory nature of life.

Comet Gain

David Christian has been issuing records for a couple of decades or more, mostly as the group Comet Gain (which seems to have existed in an alternate reality close and concurrent to mine, but totally invisible to me), yet much of his music feels like bumping into an old friend and picking up exactly with whatever you were talking about years ago. This release hits with a wave of happy/sad reflection, full of understated emotion and unflinching humor. A highlight among many is "The Ballad of Terry Hall," a heartbreaking ode to the fallen deadpan Specials frontman—also appreciating Martin Duffy from Felt (and one or two others) along the way. Here is an unabashedly enthusiastic appreciation of music and also of being oneself however strange, shy, or weird that may be. Christian illuminates the flip side, too: the undertone of serious melancholy which no one escapes in this life. He clearly has the life experience to sound off the cuff while reeling off detailed evocations of people in a style both nostalgic and unflinchingly frank, and he grasps the minor yet essential paradox of how certain dead end jobs are a fertile breeding ground for sparks of creativity, dreams of stardom, addiction, delusion, theft, and humor.

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1500 Hits

Jean-Noël Rebilly and Andrew Chalk, "Tsilla"

TsillaThis is the second duo collaboration between Chalk and Rebilly, as the pair previously surfaced with L'état Intermédiaire back in 2018. Their shared history goes back to at least 2012 though, as they teamed up with Vikki Jackman for A Paper Doll's Whisper Of Spring. While details about Tsilla are less scarce than usual due to its release on An'archives rather than Chalk's famously terse Faraway Press imprint, I still know very little about Rebilly other than the fact that he plays the clarinet. Beyond that, I am unwilling to hazard any guesses about who is playing what here, as both artists' contributions are largely blurred into a painterly haze (not entirely unfamiliar territory for Chalk). Far more relevant than the instrumentation is the album's inspiration: engraver Cécile Reims, whose "denuded landscapes," "spiraling abstractions," and "unearthly radiance" may have inspired Chalk's visual art as well. If not, Reims is at least a kindred spirit and her collaborations with Hans Bellmer, Leonor Fini, and Salvador Dali probably make a decent enough consolation prize. Reims's deepest impact on Tsilla may have been upon the process rather than the outcome, however, as the pair set out to honor her "tender weaving of emotional complexity carved with the hand-held and simple tools of artisans" in their own way ("a similar transfiguration of base materials"). Regardless of how it was made, Tsilla is quite a unique album in the Chalk canon, as the best pieces evoke a beautifully nightmarish strain of impressionism.

An'archives

The album opens in unexpectedly tense and disturbing fashion with "Pliskiné," as shivering strings quiver in dissonant harmonies over a bed of subtle, slowly shifting drones like a swarm of hallucinatory bees with bad intentions. For better or worse, that particular descent into horror is not a representative one, though Tsilla is quite a dark and uncharacteristically heavy album for Chalk (and presumably for Rebilly as well). "Pliskiné" aside, the album's other deep plunge into nightmare territory is "Hauteville," which feels like a groaning, slow-motion descent into squirming, buzzing cosmic horror at its most exquisite. In general, the longer pieces tend to be the strongest while the shorter pieces feel more like bridges or interludes, though "Visages d'Espagne" is a notable exception that resembles a seasick duet between a koto and a vibrato pedal.

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1893 Hits

Bill Orcutt, "Jump On It"

Jump On ItThis latest LP from San Francisco-based guitar visionary Bill Orcutt is a spiritual successor of sorts to 2013's A History of Every One, as that was apparently his last solo acoustic guitar album. The resemblance between the two albums largely ends there, however, as Jump On It is as different from the deconstructed standards of History as it is from last week's Chatham-esque guitar quartet performance for NPR. While I do enjoy Orcutt's Editions Mego solo era quite a bit, there is no denying that his artistry has evolved dramatically over the last decade and his recent work definitely connects with me on a deeper level. In more concrete terms, Orcutt's work no longer resembles the choppy, convulsive, and possessed-sounding fare of History, as he has since reined in his more fiery, passionate impulses enough to leave more room for passages of tender, simple beauty. In fact, Jump On It might be the farthest that the balance has swung towards the latter, as the characteristic Orcutt violence is a rare presence in the collection of quietly lovely and spontaneous-sounding guitar miniatures.

Palilalia

The album opens in appropriately gorgeous fashion, as the first minute of "What Do You Do With Memory" is devoted to a tender, halting and bittersweet arpeggio motif, though the piece then takes a detour before reprising that wonderful theme for the finale. The detour is admittedly brief, but so is the song itself, which illustrates a central feature of this album: these pieces generally feel like a series of spontaneous snapshots/3-minute vignettes rather than fully formed compositions that build into something more. That is not meant as a critique, but it does mean that Jump On It is something other than Orcutt's next major artistic statement. I am tempted to say that most of this album feels akin to a pleasant but loose improvisation around a campfire, but there are also some pieces that evoke an usually meditative Django Reinhardt playing alone in a late-night hotel room.

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1906 Hits

Illusion of Safety & Z'EV

Illusion of Safety & Z'EVFinally seeing the light of day after two years of production related delays, with the recordings dating back even longer than that, this collaboration between Daniel Burke (IOS) and the late Stefan Weisser (Z'EV) could almost be a time capsule, except the sound of it is entirely timeless. Recorded and mixed between 2008 and 2012, the two lengthy pieces that make up this self-titled album clearly bear the mark of both individuals, but mesh together beautifully in the very different sounding sides of the record.

Feast of Hate and Fear / Cipher Productions / Oxidation / Korm Plastics / Drone / Personal Archives / Public Eyesore / Tribe Tapes / Liquid Death / No Part of It

Although a mail-based collaboration, Z'EV and IOS's work complement each other perfectly, with the acoustic percussion from the former weaved into the electronics and field recordings of the latter, and both artists having a hand in further mixing and processing afterwards. These elements are clear on both side-long pieces that make up the album, but structurally the two halves differ rather notably.

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1972 Hits

Contrastate, "35 Project"

35 ProjectA 10" record rigidly divided into four different pieces (each mostly around four minutes in length), this new work from the enigmatic sounding, long-standing UK project is mostly centered around the same authoritarian lyrical elements, but each differs significantly in their compositional approach. A complex mix of styles define each piece, neither of which are too similar to another, but are unquestionably Contrastate, and showcases all of the unique sounds they are known for.

Black Rose Records

The aforementioned lyrical elements are quite dystopian "You do not have the right to be free/ you do not have the right to shelter and food/You do not have the right to love/You do not have the right to work" are just a few examples and appear in various stages of processing throughout. The first of the four untitled pieces is classic Contrastate: bursts of noise, sustained digital sounds, fragments of voice, and a significant number of loops layered atop one another. Lush synth passages and bits of conversation are consistent with the trio's previous works. For the second, the use of loops continues, but with hints of melody and cut up percussion pervade, making for a more spacious and restrained feel in comparison.

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1803 Hits

Kammerflimmer Kollektief, "Schemen"

SchemenThis eleventh album from Germany's Kammerflimmer Kollektief is not my first exposure to the project, but it did succeed in making me wonder why I have not been a passionate fan of their work before now. Admittedly, the idea of harmonium-driven free-form jazz/psychedelia is not quite my cup of tea on paper, which goes a long way towards explaining why I was so slow to embrace this project, yet the right execution can transform just about anything into gold and this foursome are extremely good at what they do. It also does not hurt that the Kammerflimmer gang have some intriguing and unusual inspirations, as they namecheck both Franz Mesmer and underheard German psychonauts The Cocoon in addition to the requisite nod to Can. Kammerflimmer Kollektief certainly assimilate those influences in a unique way though, as the best songs on Schemen sound like a killer post-rock/psych band blessed with an unusually great rhythm section and real talents for roiling guitar noise, simmering tension, and volcanic catharsis.

Karlrecords

This unique and eclectic project was founded by guitarist Thomas Weber back in the late '90s and has had a somewhat fluid membership since, but it is safe to say Heike Aumüller significantly transformed its trajectory when she joined the fold in 2002, as she is responsible for both the band's unusual cover art and the even more unusual use of harmonium. Unsurprisingly, I encounter the harmonium a lot with drone music, as it lends itself to that aesthetic perfectly, but Aumüller generally uses it for more melodic purposes and clearly has no aversion to dissonance, as it sounds like she is beating her bandmates to death with an accordion in "Zweites Kapitel [ruckartig]" and "Fünftes Kapitel [kreuzweis]." While "Zweites Kapitel" is an endearingly explosive feast of scrabbling guitar noise, clattering free-form drumming, and tormented bow scrapes, the album's stronger pieces tend to be those which take a more simmering and sensuous approach.

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2181 Hits

David Colohan, "A Lunar Standstill"

A Lunar StandstillIn the village of Stanton Drew, and dating from around 4,500 years ago, is the third largest complex of standing stone circles in England. David Colohan visited the site one rainy morning in early 2020 and was inspired by the mix of winter sunshine and eerie ancient atmosphere to create a record of his impressions. Fair enough, since people rarely send postcards from their travels anymore. Actually, the postcard analogy only works if it allows for someone designing a postcard when they get home, since Colohan's use of field recordings is minimal and he doesn't really create music in situ. He's done this before with other locations but A Lunar Standstill is easily his most consistent recording.

Woodford Halse

Colohan uses alto saxophone, clarinet, electric guitar, field recordings, harmonium, mellotron, modular synthesizer, trombone, and voice. Maybe I am triggered in a good way by the harmonium but much of this music gives off such a warm and pleasant hum that I started dreaming about Ivor Cutler as a Druid—although I hope that does not sound trite, as Cutler's music has a spiritual grace and trusty home grown solemnity which bestows upon it a uniquely absurd sense of substance and sincerity. The more bizarre it gets the more serious it becomes. On the subject of bizarre, Colohan's "A Static Field" is strange—as if it were composed for divining sticks, ley lines, and glow worms.

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2036 Hits

Nonconnah, "Unicorn Family"

Unicorn FamilyThis latest release from husband and wife duo Zach & Denny Corsa appears to be their fifth full-length under the Nonconnah name (the duo were previously known as Lost Trail) and it is characteristically wonderful. As is the norm for Nonconnah, Unicorn Family was culled from several years of recordings featuring a host of eclectic collaborators (folks from Lilys, Half Japanese, Fire-Toolz, etc.) and those recordings have been expertly stitched together into beautifully layered and evocative soundscapes teeming with cool tape effects, thought-provoking samples, and killer shoegaze-inspired guitar work. In short, business as usual, but Nonconnah's business is consistently being one of the greatest drone projects on earth, so this is already a lock for one of my favorite albums of the year. Aside from the presence of a lovely lo-fi folk gem with actual singing, the only other notable departures from Nonconnah's existing run of gorgeous albums are shorter song durations than usual and the fact that the duo's samples have more of an eschatological bent. I suppose this album is an unusually focused and distilled statement as well, but that feels like a lateral move given how much I loved the sprawling immensity of Don't Go Down To Lonesome Holler.

Was Ist Das?

The album opens on an unusually simple and intimate note with "It's Eschatology! The Musical," which approximates a melancholy Microphones-esque strain of indie folk recorded directly to boombox. Despite its amusing title and throwaway final line of "that's how the album starts," it is a legitimately lovely, soulful, and direct way to kick off an album that is otherwise composed entirely of complexly layered soundscapes of tape loops and shimmering guitar noise. I have been an enthusiastic fan of those soundscapes for a while, of course, as well as an equally huge fan of the way the pair transform sped-up tape loops into rapturously dizzying and swirling mini-symphonies at the heart of their drone pieces. Given that, I do not have anything particularly fresh to say on those topics other than that I was newly struck by how the combination of slow drones and sped up tapes evokes the hypnotic streaking of car lights in time-lapse footage of a busy highway at night.

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1938 Hits

Tim Hecker, "No Highs"

No HighsThis latest opus from Tim Hecker is amusingly billed as "a beacon of unease against the deluge of false positive corporate ambient." Given the weighty themes of his previous albums, Hecker's actual inspiration presumably runs much deeper than that, yet the "beacon of unease" part of that claim may be more literal than it sounds, as one of the album's central features is described as "Morse code pulse programming." While I am not well-versed enough in Morse code to determine if Hecker's oddly timed rhythms are covertly incorporating text or a narrative into these warped and nightmarish soundscapes, the gnarled and harrowing melodies that accompany those erratic pulses are more than enough to make the album thoroughly compelling listening regardless. Aside from that, No Highs marks yet another significant creative breakthrough for a formidable artist hellbent on continual reinvention and bold evolution. While it is hard to predict whether or not No Highs will someday be considered one of Hecker's defining masterpieces or merely an admirable and unique detour, its handful of set pieces feel quite brilliant to me and I do not expect my feelings to change on that point..

Kranky

The general tone of No Highs feels like a continuation of the smeared, howling anguish of Konoyo and Anoyo, approximating lonely distress signals emitted from the smoldering ruins of Konoyo's planetary death spasms. Compositionally, however, No Highs feels like an entirely different animal altogether, as Hecker has swapped out roiling maximalism for simmering minimalism and distilled his palette to little more than insistently telegraph-like synth pings punctuated with occasional plunges into swirling and howling cosmic horror. In fact, the album makes me feel like I am stationed at a desolate outpost in a blackened wasteland nervously watching apocalyptic storms mass on the distant horizon. Unsurprisingly, the strongest pieces tend to be the ones where those storms reach their full fury, such as the opening "Monotony."

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2419 Hits

Ale Hop & Laura Robles, "Agua dulce"

Agua dulceThis is the debut collaboration between two Berlin-based Peruvian musicians and also marks my first exposure to percussionist Laura Robles. I am, however, reasonably familiar with the alien soundscapes of Ale Hop (Alejandra Cárdenas) and this union seems to have inspired some of her finest work to date. Notably, Robles is "reputed to be one of the best cajón players in Peru," which is useful context given how radically (yet lovingly) the pair deconstruct and reinvigorate the instrument ("a symbol of resistance, experimentation and transformation" in Peru). In more practical terms, that means that Cárdenas and Robles dramatically disrupt, distort, and repurpose traditional dance rhythms into a wild psychotropic mindfuck. In fact, it sometimes sounds like Robles recorded her parts alone as a freeform performance at an Ayahuasca ceremony or something, but the seemingly roving and divergent threads always come together in impressive fashion in the end. Amusingly, I would have thought that the enigmatically and erratically shifting rhythms of Agua dolce would be damn near impossible to dance to, yet these pieces apparently made quite a splash when the duo coupled with dancer/choreographer Liza Alpiźar Aguilar for the Heroines Of Sound festival. Whether or not that means that I would be a terrible choreographer is hard to say, however, as the finished album may have ultimately landed in far more lysergic territory due to Cárdenas' additional edits and production wizardry.

Buh

The album borrows its title from "the most popular beach in Lima," which is near where "both artists lived during their childhood, houses apart, without ever meeting one another." Improbably, they eventually met as expats on the other side of the world and happily found themselves to be kindred spirits tuned into the same outré wavelength. I suppose Robles is arguably the more conventional of the two despite playing Peruvian music in Germany on a self-built electric cajón, but that is only because Ale Hop often sounds like she is from a completely different planet or dimension altogether. The most impressive example of that otherworldliness comes at the midpoint of "Lamento," as the hissing, blatting electronics and sleepy Latin rhythms seem like they are suddenly interrupted by the appearance of ghost UFO that propels the proceedings into dazzling new heights of haunting, spacialized phantasmagoria. That said, the entire first half of the album is one mesmerizing psychotropic jungle freakout after another, as Cárdenas unleashes her inner tropical Lovecraft to conjure a host of squirming, gelatinous, seething, buzzing, and jabbering electronic sounds over Robles' clattering percussion workouts.

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2019 Hits

Marta Mist, "Eyes Like Pools"

Eyes Like PoolsThis is my first exposure to this UK-based collective centered around Gavin Miller (worriedaboutsatan) and Sophie Green (formerly of Her Name is Calla), but they have been fitfully releasing albums for more than a decade now. Their last major release, Scavengers, was back in 2016 on Time-Released Sound, so Eyes Like Pools both ends a lengthy hiatus and marks the collective’s first appearance on Athens’ sound in silence label. Much like Miller’s worriedaboutsatan project, this latest statement from Marta Mist occupies a vaguely cinematic stylistic niche where ambient and post-rock blur together, but Eyes Like Pools parts ways from worriedaboutsatan by swapping out electronic beats for Green’s achingly lovely violin melodies. While the more ambient side of Marta Mist’s current vision is appropriately warm and immersive, those pieces tend to be quite brief and the more substantial string-driven pieces are the true heart of the album (and it is a fiery heart indeed).

sound in silence

The album opens with a pleasant yet deceptive intro of gently rolling piano arpeggios before unveiling the first of its three major highlights: the 14-minute “Alway On.” The piece begins modestly enough with some lovely violin drones, but tendrils of melody soon start to appear and a low industrial hum gradually blossoms into a slow-moving chord progression driven by deep, warm bass tones. There are admittedly a couple of moments where it starts to err a bit too far towards soft-focus prettiness for my taste, but Green’s sliding, smearing, and occasionally snarling violin carves through the bliss haze enough to keep me transfixed regardless. More importantly, “Always On” delighted me with a very cool and unexpected ending in which echoey guitar chords slowly emerge from the ambient haze like a vengeful rockabilly ghost.

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2440 Hits

William Basinski,"The Clocktower at the Beach (1979)"

Clocktower BeachWilliam Basinski recorded this music during his time living in San Francisco, when he presumably visited Clocktower Beach. Considering that Basinski once created On Time Out Of Time—music in tribute to quantum entanglement and the theories of Einstein and Rosen, and Einstein, Rosen, and Podolsky, using source recordings of the 1.3 billion year old sounds of two distant massive black holes—undoubtedly the subject matter of The Clocktower at the Beach is one of his more straightforward creations. Fair enough, it is one of his earliest drone pieces, yet his methodology is as intriguing as anything he's done, and (most important of all) the music is a memorable journey into the sadness of things. Back to "mono no aware," then.

Line

About that methodology: it seems that Basinski recorded the night shift at a sausage factory on a battery operated portable cassette player, then made this music from that source material chiefly using a Norelco Continental four speed reel to reel tape recorder. Looping and speed tampering is all very well on paper, but thankfully Basinski's ear is such that there is not the slightest trace of anything horrible, gimmicky, nonsensical, or even dull. Broken 1950s televisions, scavenged from the streets by James Elaine, were also used, I'm unsure exactly how but presumably as another sound source.

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3168 Hits

Mike Majkowski, "Coast"

CoastThis is apparently the twelfth solo album from Berlin-based double bassist Mike Majknowski, but—far more significantly—it is also the follow up to 2021's killer Four Pieces and is very much in the same vein. That vein lies somewhere between loscil-style dubwise soundscapes and the austere sophistication of classic Tortoise or early Oren Ambarchi, which is certainly a fine place to set up shop, but that is merely the backdrop for some truly fascinating forays into sustained, simmering tension and exquisitely slow-burning heaviness. Unsurprisingly, I am like a moth to a flame when it comes to longform smoldering minimalism and I can think of few artists who can match Majknowski's execution, as he consistently weaves magic from little more than a few moving parts and a healthy appreciation for coiled, seething intensity.

Fragments Editions

The album consists of two side-long pieces ("Spiral" and "Later") that feel like divergent variations on a similar theme. "Spiral" opens with little more than a simple bass pattern, the pulse of a lonely high hat, and semi-rhythmic washes of bleary feedback or ravaged synth. There is also something resembling a minor key vibraphone melody languorously weaving through the mix, but it feels more like impressionistic coloring rather than a focal point. Gradually, a pulsing synth motif fades in that feels out-of-sync with the rest of the rhythm, giving the piece an organically shapeshifting feel that propels it into increasingly frayed and subtly unpredictable terrain: reliable rhythms start to falter, textures become more distorted, and the relationship between the various parts is increasingly in flux. It calls to mind a spider patiently spinning an incredibly intricate web while also resembling a state of suspended animation that is increasingly gnawed by an unsettling outside darkness.

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1920 Hits

Lol Coxhill & Morgan Fisher, "Slow Music"

Slow MusicI can hardly think of anything better for Aguirre to have reissued on vinyl than Morgan Fisher's collaboration with Lol Coxhill, originally released in1980 on Fisher's short-lived Pipe label. More than four decades later Slow Music is a rare phenomenon: a masterpiece which truly sounds like one. It remains an ambient landmark, an elemental work of art and imagination, and a painstaking labor of love.

Aguirre

Coxhill started out in standard jazz, Fisher in popular music, but from these fairly conventional points, both set about making creative leaps to develop their talents, and vice versa. Fisher quickly went into and out of such disparate groups as Third Ear Band and Mott the Hoople before his penchant for experimentation led—via Miniatures (his 1980 collection of 51 one minute tracks by everyone from Gavin Bryars, XTC, and Penguin Cafe Orchestra, to Ivor Cutler, Robert Wyatt, and The Damned)—to his own radically experimental music. Coxhill accelerated into his distinctly wild yet restrained style of saxophone playing, bringing him into contact with future members of the legendary Hatfield & The North, Kevin Ayers, Shirley Collins, Derek Bailey, and many others, in addition to acting roles on stage and screen. The pair worked together for the first time one year before Slow Music when Coxhill came into the studio for Fisher's Hybrid Kids, ostensibly a collection of various mutant art-punk groups, all of whom were in fact Morgan Fisher in disguise.

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The Notwist, "Vertigo Days: Live from Alien Research Center"

Vertigo DaysThe Notwist tend to regard their live shows as launchpads where they can blast off from their studio albums on voyages of discovery. Live from Alien Research Center is a terrific document of that process, as the group re-explore the contents of Vertigo Days; their 2021 release which featured an array of guests from Angel Bat Dawid to Juana Molina. 2021-23 might seem a speedy recycling of the same material, but there is valuable quality of freedom and looseness in these live versions; stretched out and stitched together in the kosmische style.

Morr Music

As enjoyable as it has been to spend the past week on an accelerated hypnostroll through The Notwist discography, that probably cannot compensate for the inattention I've paid to it for around two decades. Over that 20 year period, there has been encouragement from reliable sources, which caused the opposite effect… since nothing provokes the contrarian quite like another person imagining they've discovered something which aligns with our own taste. At any rate, and not only in my imagination, The Notwist has been something of an invisible or taken-for-granted phenomenon, at once both subterranean and ubiquitous, not being there while always being there. With no evidence whatsoever, I feel they are content with this position. After all, without being a pastiche, their music and methodology mirrors the long revered German and European music revolution which sparked Tangerine Dream, Faust, Popol Vuh and others into a Year Zero rejection of both the shackles of military history and the occupying force of US music.

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