"When the Frog from the Well Sees the Ocean (Reports from English UFOlklore)"

When the Frog from the Well Sees the Ocean (Reports from English UFOlklore)This latest collection from Folklore Tapes borrows its title from a Japanese proverb about knowing one's limitations ("the frog in the well knows nothing of the sea"), which was itself borrowed from a Chinese fable. In the context of an album devoted to UFO lore, of course, humans are the frogs, the infinite universe is the ocean, and the usual eclectic Folklore Tapes cast of characters gleefully devote themselves to celebrating the colorful hoaxes and stories of their countrymen who claim to have experienced a visit from extraterrestrial life. While alien visitations are admittedly a bit outside the usual realm of Folklore Tapes' research, I would be hard pressed to think of a roster of artists better suited to tackle the topic, as just about everyone involved brings a freewheeling playfulness to the theme and surprises abound. This is yet another characteristically brilliant and inspired compilation from the inimitable Folklore Tapes. Hell, it might even be their best yet.

Folklore Tapes

As is the case with most major Folklore Tapes releases, this collection exists only in physical form, as music and scholarship are eternally intertwined for the label (the LP includes quite a comprehensive essay by Jez Winship, as well as artist notes about stories that inspired their individual pieces). Also as expected, the album's contributors are a welcome murderers' row of names that will likely be familiar only to those who have delved into previous Folklore Tapes collections. That said, the album does include a killer (if brief) new piece from Dean McPhee ("The Second Message") that is predictably an album highlight. Unsurprisingly, I am predisposed to enjoy just about everything he releases, but "The Second Message" is doubly enjoyable for being something of an aberration, as McPhee's usual sustain-heavy melodicism is beautifully enhanced by a gorgeous descending chord motif and an unexpectedly wild and psychotropic finale. I was also thoroughly delighted by the trio of Carl Turney, Brian Campbell & Peter Smyth, as "July Aitee" is a perfectly distilled swirl of groovy, synth-driven dreampop magic (as well as a healthy bit of howling chaos).

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Matt Weston, "Embrace This Twilight"

Embrace This TwilightLike 2021's Four Lies in the Eavesdrop Business, composer/multi-instrumentalist Matt Weston's latest work is a lengthy double record. However, this time he specifically utilizes the format to create four side-long and expansive pieces that constantly develop, bringing in a multitude of different sounds and elements. The result is a series of intense, dense compositions that can be hard to keep up with at first, but eventually reveal a deep sense of complexity in their structures.

7272Music

"The Drunken Dance with the Telegrapher" is the first (and longest) of the four works. It clocks in at over 17 minutes and is always shifting and evolving through that entire duration. Opening with oddly processed, mangled sounds that resemble a pained monster, Weston adds sporadic, intense drumming and a creepy, droning ambience. He introduces high pitched noises and metallic pulses, the piece goes into shrill, harsh spaces at times, but the captivating bent tapes and layered tones keep it from being anything but an endurance test. Percussive thuds, drill-like electronic tones, and tumbling drums all appear at different times, making for a dizzying piece.

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Klara Lewis and Nik Colk Void, "Full-On"

Full-On As Alter's album description insightfully observes, a collaboration between these two Editions Mego alumnae "somehow seemed inevitable," yet I was still pleasantly surprised at how seamlessly Lewis and Void were able to combine their visions into something that feels both new and wonderful. On one level, the success of this union makes perfect sense, as both artists tend to turn out some of their strongest work in collaborative situations (Carter Tutti Void and Lewis's KLMNOPQ EP with Peder Mannerfelt being prime examples of that phenomenon). However, both artists excel in extremely specific realms that have some limitations: Lewis is exceptionally good at collaging non-musical sounds, while Void seems particularly adept at crafting eccentric noise-damaged techno.

Alter

Obviously, beat-driven sound collages were a distinct possibility, but so were any number of other options, so I had no clear expectations about where this shared vision would ultimately land. Now that said shared vision has landed, however, I can confidently state that Full-On resembles a deeply unconventional beat tape and quite a good one at that. While I suspect some listeners will initially find the album's kaleidoscopic parade of brief loops and vignettes exasperatingly sketchlike (there are a lot of 1-minute songs), I personally warmed to Full-On almost immediately, as practically every piece that made it onto the album is compelling, inventive, and endearingly idiosyncratic.

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Caterina Barbieri, "Myuthafoo"

MyuthafooThis latest album from Barbieri is intended as a sister album to 2019's landmark Ecstatic Computation and has been released to correspond with the imminent reissue of the latter. The central difference between the two albums is that Myuthafoo gradually and organically took shape during Barbieri's extensive touring, as the "nomadic, interactive energy" of those many live dates inspired her to play with experimental variations in her process each night. More specifically, she would program patterns into her sequencer, then feed them into her "arsenal of noise generators" to explore different combinations and the most compelling results were set aside for future expansion and/or eventual release.

light-years

In characteristically cerebral fashion, Barbieri's arcane processes have their roots in cosmogony, as she is fascinated with how a small number of limited options can "branch out into a much larger structure, eventually reaching towards an open-ended cosmos of possibility." Admittedly, comparing Myuthafoo to the birth of a universe will probably establish unreasonably high expectations for some listeners, but they can at least console themselves with yet another killer Caterina Barbieri album while they patiently wait for a new and better universe to form.

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Eluvium, "(Whirring Marvels In) Consensus Reality"

Consensus RealityMatthew Cooper's newest Eluvium album is apparently inspired by two works of poetic literature by T.S.Eliot and Richard Brautigan. That's easier said than done, of course, and equally unclear is how Cooper has changed his compositional methodology because of a debilitating medical problem with his left shoulder and arm. It is hard to decipher exactly what is meant by, to paraphrase, blending electronic automations with traditional songwriting and using algorithms to extract from several years of notebook scribble. Perhaps this means he has worked in cyborgian harmony with machines, which would fit with the Brautigan reference point of All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace.

Temporary Residence

I enjoyed the entire album, although did wonder a couple of times if I'd left the Buddha Machine on in the bathroom.

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Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru, "Jerusalem"

JerusalemEmahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru passed on early this year, but not before this album was released to celebrate her 99th birthday. It collects pieces originally issued in 1972 as Song of Jerusalem, including the stunning title track and "Quand La Mer Furieuse" in which Gebru sings; a moment which probably should not draw parallels with "Garbo Talks!" (when the speaking voice of that star of silent films first shocked audiences to sleep) but is as startlingly beautiful as you might expect if you have heard her play her compositions for piano at all. These she does in a manner impossible to hear without feeling as if the sun has come out from behind a cloud and is gently warming the side of your face. Reach for adjectives and terms such as liturgical, classical, homemade, and heavenly, but the key word is definitely "transcendent."

Mississippi Records

No superficial label can stick to Emahoy Gebru—although some have been applied which won't be repeated here. The cornerstone of her music is her study of St Yared, the sixth century religious scholar and composer of thousands of hymns, known for devising an 8-note (and 10-note) notation system of music, capable of three different melodic categories. Yared's persistence is legendary and he is the blueprint for the traditional Ethiopian philosophy of musicians making themselves submissive in order to be open to receive musical inspiration from a higher realm. Yaredian melodies are viewed as literally heavenly, timeless or eternal, and capable of creating ecstatic out-of-body trances. Gebru's music follows this path. Her piano playing is neither icy nor flowery, but rather a calm cosmic spot somewhere between the two: like the quiet and tidy alley between rows of houses in a large town where the protagonist in Murukami's Wind Up Bird Chronicle shelters from the stresses and strains of his life (away from memories, strange phone calls, flashbacks, dreams of being pursued, urban ennui, and the obligatory missing cat.)

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Big Blood, "First Aid Kit"

First Aid KitThis latest LP from Big Blood is their first for Ba Da Bing and a spiritual successor of sorts to Do You Want to Have a Skeleton Dream?, as the band are back in "full family trio retro-pop extravaganza" mode. For the most part, Quinnissa (who was apparently only 13 when this album was recorded) handles the lead vocals for a series of hooky, bass-driven garage rock nuggets, though there are also a couple of headier Colleen-sung gems for fans of the band's darker, more psychedelic side. Notably, Caleb's frayed yelp is entirely absent from the proceedings, but it probably would have felt out of place among the unabashed throwback pop fare. Moreover, First Aid Kit feels like a full-on Quinnissa showcase, which makes for a rather unique entry in the Big Blood canon, as she is one hell of a belter and also spontaneously improvised all her lyrics during recordings. As Caleb notes in the album description, being in a band with your teenage daughter is admittedly something of a messy and volatile situation ("lots of practices end with her being tossed from the band"), but I can see why they are sticking with this format, as Quinnissa increasingly feels like a pop supernova in its formative stages.

Ba Da Bing/Feeding Tube

This album's overall feel is something akin to a raucous wedding reception in which members of The Cramps and B-52's join forces for a spirited and spontaneous set of half-remembered '60s bubblegum pop covers. The opening "In My Head" represents that vein in its purest form, as it is built from little more than a meaty bass line, a simple thumping beat, and a subtly surf-damaged guitar tone. The most perfect iteration of that aesthetic comes much later on the album, as "1000 Times" feels like a raw and raucous cover of an imagined classic by someone like The Ronettes. Elsewhere, the dark paranoia of "Never Ending Nightmare" is yet another notable Quinnissa showcase, though its unsettling subject matter is nicely invigorated by a bouncy bassline, quirky percussion, and a killer chorus hook. Quinnissa also handles lead vocals on "Infinite Space," but that piece feels like a comparative anomaly more akin to Big Blood's non-Quinnissa fare. It still feels a bit unusually anthemic and driving for a Big Blood song, but reaching infinitely to space is a more traditional lyrical theme for the band and there are some very cool howling psych touches in the periphery. Admittedly, a lot of Quinnissa's lyrics sound like they were composed by a 13-year-old, but as the album's description insightfully observes, "teenage impulses fit right in with the band's intent, which is making music that's honest, inclusive and flawed." To their everlasting credit, Big Blood seem to be endlessly resourceful in their balancing of flawed spontaneity and thoughtful art, as Mulkerin harvests "the ghostly presence of past takes" as a subtly trippy background layer throughout the album.

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Wolf Eyes, "Dreams In Splattered Lines"

Dreams In Splattered LinesThis latest LP from Wolf Eyes is something of a major release for the duo, as they are currently celebrating their 25th year with "their first widely-distributed non-compilation album in six years." Fittingly, Dreams In Splattered Lines is one of the project's most compelling and sophisticated albums to date, which is likely the result of some recent developments that would have seemed absolutely unimaginable when the project first began (collaborating with a Pulitzer Prize winner, a viral video for a fashion company, sharing stages with jazz titans, a residency at The New York Public Library, etc.). The library residency in particular played an especially large role in shaping this album, as the duo built a number of new instruments while they were there and also spent a lot of time absorbing the Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Of course, the truly interesting bit is how inventively Nate Young and John Olson assimilated all their new ideas, as well as the fact that their more high art/avant-garde influences amusingly collide with a newfound fascination with how "hit songs" work. While Wolf Eyes have sporadically dazzled me over the years as a cool noise band, Dreams In Splattered Lines feels like the album where they have arguably become the spiritual heirs to Throbbing Gristle in channeling the best ideas of the 20th century avant-garde into a zeitgeist-capturing mirror of the times (a post-hope world of crumbling institutions and widespread alienation).

Disciples

The album is billed as "a surreal dreamscape of disorienting sound collages, where hit songs are transformed into terrariums of sonic flora and decimated fauna," which is a considerably more elegant description than my own "a masterfully choreographed ballet of shit." The album itself is not shit, of course, but the sounds themselves are quite a cavalcade of rotten, shambling, broken, strangled, and ugly sounds conjured from inventively misused gear. The opening "Car Wash Two" is an especially illustrative example of the latter, as it "includes a Short Hands track playing on the car radio while waves of white noise and contact microphones are plunging into water buckets." That trick was then coupled with an added "meta" twist: the recording was then "played in a car while going through an actual car wash" before it was ultimately layered and mixed in the studio. Notably, that piece is singled out as an example of the duo's new "hit single" mindset, but that trait is only evident in an oblique way that involves terrariums. More immediately graspable, however, is the fact that almost every song on the album is distilled to a punchy two- or three-minute running time. On the lesser pieces, it can sometimes feel like a song is over before it gets a chance to make a deep impression, but the stronger pieces tend to regularly attain "all killer, no filler" nirvana.

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Jan Jelinek, "Seascape - polyptych"

Seascape - polyptychBack in 2017 Jan Jelinek created a 43 minute radio play called Zwischen featuring Alice Schwarzer, John Cage, Hubert Fichte, Marshall McLuhan, Susan Sontag, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Joseph Beuys, Friedericke Mayröcker, Joschka Fischer, Jonathan Meese, Jean Baudrillard, Lady Gaga, Slavoj Zizek, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Marcel Duchamp, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Miranda July, Yoko Ono, Ernst Jandl, Arno Schmidt, Herbert Wehner and Max Ernst.

Faitiche

He took speech from these 22 people and edited together their pauses into sound collages of silence. Each collage was also wired or programmed to control the amplitude and frequency of a modular synthesizer. The resulting electronic sounds were then mixed with the unarticulated words and silence to form twenty-two pieces. A shorter version trimmed to twelve sound constructs was released as an album in 2018.

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Dorothy Moskovitz & The United States of Alchemy, "Under an Endless Sky"

Under an Endless SkyDorothy Moskovitz was the singer in The United States of America, a short-lived group which made one legendary self-titled album. That was in December 1967 and she later became a member of Country Joe McDonald's band, sang live jazz, composed for children, commercials, theater, and became an elementary school music teacher. Her return on Under an Endless Sky, recorded with Italian electronic composer Francesco Paolo Paladino and writer Luca Ferrari is astonishing, and never more so at the moment around two and a half minutes into the opening title track when we hear Dorothy Moskovitz sing for the first time in a very long time*. If her voice once sounded cooler and more urbane than Catherine Ribeiro's, more innocent and intelligent than Grace Slick's, in 2023 it has a crumbling beauty and defiant timbre usually associated with Robert Wyatt or Nico (who apparently once tried to join TUSoA). Comparisons are entertaining but also odious; Moskovitz is a strange, distinctive treasure, perhaps unique.

Tompkins Square

The United States of America is indeed a legendary recording, and I realize that term is overused nearly to the point of being meaningless, but the record holds up more than fifty years later. The group had some fairly obvious 1960s politics at their core, but also a serious avant garde intent in their sound. They dispensed with electric guitars in favor of strings, keyboards, and primitive improvised electronics. Electrical engineer Tom Oberheim was commissioned to make a ring modulator and aerospace engineer Richard Durrett built electronic oscillators into a monophonic synthesizer. An octave divider was applied to electric violin, drums wired with contact microphones, and slinkies hung from cymbals for a musique concrète effect. Group leader Donald Byrd—previously a member of the Fluxus movement which included John Cage and La Monte Young—also threw in references to older American music such as ragtime, country blues, and—perhaps in a nod to Charles Ives—marching bands.

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