Six Organs of Admittance, "The Veiled Sea"

cover imageMy relationship with Ben Chasny's discography has always been a hit-or-miss one, as some of his albums are very much Not For Me, yet I can think of few other artists who are as intensely committed to endlessly evolving and trying out bold new ideas. This latest release is a prime example of that, as The Veiled Sea can be glibly described as "the album where Ben Chasny unleashes some absolutely face-melting shredfests." In characteristically open-minded fashion, Chasny drew inspiration for this album from an extremely unusual source: "'80s American pop shredder" Steve Stevens, who I knew primarily as Billy Idol's guitarist, but who others may recall from the theme from Top Gun (or Michael Jackson's "Dirty Diana"). Given that Top Gun and contemporary psychedelia seem like a truly deranged collision of aesthetics to bring together, I was a bit apprehensive about this release and expected an audaciously over-the-top album that I would probably only listen to once. Instead, it was something considerably more soulful and compelling than I ever expected, as Chasny swings for the fences on a couple of songs and connects beautifully, crafting a pair of the most perfect pieces of his entire career. There is also a wild Faust cover and some more ambient-minded pieces rounding out the album to varying degrees of success, but the only crucial thing to know about The Veiled Sea is that "Last Station, Veiled Sea" may very well be the "must hear" song of the year in underground music circles.

Three Lobed

There are technically six songs on The Veiled Sea, but the party does not begin in earnest until the third piece, "All That They Left You." To my ears, it sounds like Carter Tutti Void and A Certain Ratio are jamming with Appetite for Destruction-era Slash, as it is a feast of jangly post-punk guitars, brooding industrial thump, and indulgently fiery hard-rock shredding. There is a catchy song lurking in there too, as the soloing frequently breaks to make room for a haunting, processed-sounding vocal hook (Chasny sounds a bit like a sultry but lovesick robot). For the most part, though, it is simply Chasny ripping shit up on his guitar over a cool, heavy groove and it rules. A brief and likable interlude of tender piano ambiance follows ("Old Dawn"), then the album hits its zenith with "Last Station, Veiled Sea," which unexpectedly resembles This Mortal Coil at first (languorous drones, vaguely androgynous-sounding vocals, a dreamily melancholy mood, etc.). After about three minutes, however, Chasny unleashes an absolute supernova of a guitar solo that is equal parts movingly gorgeous and viscerally violent (it features plenty of Orcutt-esque scrabbling, slashing, and gnarled flourishes). Sadly, it only lasts about ten minutes, but Chasny sounds absolutely possessed and I am sure he could have gone on for another half hour with absolutely no dip at all in soulful intensity at all. Not much could follow such god-tier brilliance, but the surprise Faust cover that closes the album is quite satisfying nonetheless. The bouncy, playful original version of "J'ai Mal aux Dents" sounds like a bunch of mischievous art weirdos jamming on a fake Velvet Underground song. In Chasny's hands, however, it becomes a heavier, more trancelike juggernaut, as he uses a tumbling drum pattern and chanting backing vocals as a propulsive backdrop for a roiling, spacey guitar solo. It is quite a delight, but the main reasons to hear this album are the twin highlights of "All That They Left You" and "Last Station, Veiled Sea," which unavoidably eclipse everything around them.

Samples can be found here.

Noveller, "Aphantasia"

cover imageSarah Lipstate's latest opus enigmatically borrows its title from a disorder in which those afflicted lose the ability to create mental imagery and associations (it literally translates as "without imagination"). If there is a polar opposite of that disorder, there is a strong probability that Lipstate has it, as Aphantasia is an absolute tour de force of imaginative, vividly realized visions. In fact, there are twenty-two such self-contained visions on the album and very few of them stretch beyond a minute or two in length. That can be a bit exasperating at times, as the most wonderful ideas are often some of the most ephemeral, but the sheer volume of killer motifs on display could have been the framework for four albums of great fully formed songs rather than one dazzling array of brief vignettes. That unusual album structure was entirely by design, of course, as Lipstate viewed each song as a "a short sharp flash," further noting that "if her usual process brought about cinematic results, these were something new – something swift and intriguing." The "something new" is that the album is intended as something akin to a poetry collection, and it succeeds admirably in that light while still remaining extremely damn cinematic regardless. The fragmentary nature of this album will likely garner a somewhat polarized response from fans, but I doubt that anyone will question whether Lipstate is at the height of her creative powers right now.

Self-Released

The best way to view Aphantasia is as an impressionist funhouse in which each door reveals a fleeting glimpse of something wonderful (or disturbing) that quickly dissolves to make way for the next vision. The darkest vignettes mostly arrive early on, as "Rune (for Silent Guitar)" feels like the soundtrack to a psychedelic folk horror film, while smeared and curdled synth tones of "A Valley of Snakes" call to mind a lurid, art-damaged giallo classic. Elsewhere, the more substantial "The Haunted Man" feels like a great post-rock band adding quietly smoldering accompaniment to an eerily lit Dario Argento film. The darkness resurfaces a few more times near end of the album as well, as "The Gatherer" feels like a creepy, feedback-ravaged faerie tale, while "Night/Heist" briefly resembles a nightmarishly Lynchian rockabilly band. In between and around those more haunted moments, the remaining seventeen songs are like a highlight reel of imaginary dreampop, 4AD, and goth-rock classics from the late '80s and early '90s (though they seldom make it very far beyond the opening hook). The best pieces sound like Lipstate channeled some beloved band from the shoegaze/dreampop golden age, made some sort of ingenious and welcome improvement, isolated the best part, then quickly moved onto the next challenge. In "to love / dream you," for example, she evokes a more tender and burbling Lovesliescrushing, then later repeats that same feat even more impressively with "Annalemma." Elsewhere, "Vanishing" sounds like the achingly gorgeous coda of an imagined Slowdive masterpiece, while "33" feels like a glimpse of an absolutely sublime lost Durutti Column classic. At other times, Lipstate conjures a more psych-minded Bauhaus or Santo & Johnny lost in a phantasmagoric fever dream. Throughout it all, she unleashes a characteristically dazzling host of killer effects and cool textures. I expected that part, obviously, but did not expect her to casually toss off so many gorgeous melodic themes as well. Admittedly, part of me wishes there was at least one perfect, fully realized single akin to "Deep Shelter" here, but the sheer volume of great ideas on display makes for a wonderfully kaleidoscopic and immersive whole.

Samples can be found here.

Anders Br√∏rby, "Constant Shallowness Leads to Body Horror"

cover imageI was not familiar with this Norwegian artist until a few weeks ago, but I find that just about everything on Ireland's wonderfully weird and adventurous Fort Evil Fruit is worth hearing. That seems to be doubly true when an album also features amusingly Cronenbergian child art and a droll Coil reference. Unsurprisingly, Cronenberg and Coil are among Br√∏rby's many influences for this album, but they thankfully do not surface in derivative or unimaginative ways. Instead, Constant Shallowness Leads to Body Horror is an unexpectedly amiable "love letter to taste-defining early influences" presented as a flickering fever dream of Br√∏rby's fond childhood memories of grainy VHS films, surreal late night television commercials, videogames with friends, and the thrill of discovering underground music's weird and shadowy fringes. All of that predictably sounds great to me, but what makes this album even better is that Br√∏rby proves remarkably adept at filtering all of that into a focused, distinctive, and oft-beautiful vision. In its own bizarre way, Constant Shallowness is an outsider pop album, as the heart of these pieces is Br√∏rby's strong melodic sensibility and a real knack for cool percussion. That alone would be enough to make this a strong release, but Br√∏rby went one step further and enveloped his warm, ramshackle, and endearingly lovely pop vignettes in a stammering, obsessive, and phantasmagoric swirl of vividly multidimensional mindfuckery. He is exceptionally good at that last bit, making this one hell of a immersive album.

Fort Evil Fruit

In an amusingly valiant commitment to thematic consistency, the album opens with a bit of "constant shallowness" and closes with a small helping of "body horror." That opening piece ("Baby, You’re Disharmonic") is one of my favorites, as an obsessively repeating and erratically transforming commercial snippet laments hair care woes over a woozy and hallucinatory strain of hypnagogic synth pop. In a broad sense, it sounds like LA Vampires chopped and screwed an Enya/Negativland mash-up, yet it is considerably more haunting and poignant than such a playful collision of aesthetics would suggest. Some more overt nods to other artists appear later, such as the Tim Hecker-esque roiling, distorted majesty of "Imaginary Scene II" or the Oval-esque skipping loops of "Still Warm." To some degree, that makes those pieces a bit less distinctive than others, yet it mostly seems like Brørby learned Hecker's and Popp's best tricks and promptly set about using them in his own way. In any case, "Imaginary Scene II" is unquestionably one of the album's many highlights, as the twinkling piano melody buried in the churning maelstrom is an achingly lovely touch. For the most part, however, I prefer the pieces with beats, as one of the album's greatest pleasures lies in how expertly Brørby manages to transform his simple, warm, and subtly beautiful melodic themes into something wonderfully weird with inventive percussion and vivid intrusions of layered, jabbering psychedelia. The best of that side of Brørby's vision is probably "Dungeon Crawlers Leveling Up," which marries thick, spacey synths with a lurching groove and a host of crunching, crackling, and squealing industrial textures. Elsewhere, "I'm Sorry..." sounds like a jackhammering construction project distantly unfolding in a blissful cloudlike heaven of soft-focus chords and chirping birds, while "Pre-Sports..." sounds like a funky live drummer and a distressed tape of a techno anthem emerging together from a churning nightmare. If there is anything that resembles Coil at all here, it is the smeared, twilit atmosphere of "See No Evil Hear All Evil," but even that ultimately winds up with a simmering, sultry groove. It is admittedly a strong piece, but so is absolutely everything else on this wonderful album.

Samples can be found here.

Santiago Pilado-Matheu, "La revolución y la tierra"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a1899664795_10.jpgIn Peru, Gonzalo Benavente Secco’s controversial documentary La revolución y la tierra, has drawn huge cinema audiences, perhaps because its subject, the 1969 Land Reform Act, still bitterly divides opinion more than fifty years later. So much so that TV Peru bowed to pressure and refused to broadcast the film, which skillfully folds scenes from old Pervuian films into the mix, in the run up to the elections of 2021. Santiago Pilado-Matheu’s deceptively simple soundtrack uses ambient electronics, loops, dubby Afro-Latin rhythms, Andean drone and melody, film dialogue, and speech excerpts by peasant leaders, to create a comforting yet sinister landscape of memory.

Buh

My off-the-cuff knowledge of Peru consists of four facts. Michael Bond’s fictional bear Paddington came from "darkest Peru" and legendary broadcaster John Peel died on holiday there. It was the location for Werner Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, filmed on the stone steps of Huayna Picchu, on tributaries of the Amazon river, and in the Peruvian rainforest. Herzog claims to have written the screenplay in less than three days, mostly on a long bus trip with his soccer team - one of whom vomited on several pages which Herzog had to discard. Lastly I recall Peru’s Teofilo Cubillas, in hs nation's fabulous white kit with diagonal red slash, smashing in a wicked free kick with the outside of his right foot, the first of his two goals that vomited on Scotland’s hubris at the 1978 World Cup.

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Beatriz Ferreyra, "Canto+"

cover imageRoom40 continues its campaign to celebrate this Argentinian composer's underheard body of work with a second volume of selected pieces very different from the voice- and field recording-centric fare of last year's Echos+. That said, Canto+ does share its predecessor's curatorial aesthetic of combining pieces from her more prolific ‘70s heyday with more recent work and the differing eras sit quite comfortably together. To some degree, Canto+ feels like a very synth-driven album, as there are plenty of modular synth sounds and textures fluttering and chirping around, but nailing down an overarching vision that unites these pieces is surprisingly elusive, as every piece is full of unexpected and surreal detours into unfamiliar terrain. In fact, that elusiveness is arguably what most defines Ferreyra's work the most here, as a major recurring theme of Canto+ is the organically fluid and oft-surprising way in which these pieces evolve: they never linger very long in familiar melodic or structural territory, yet they always wind up getting somewhere unique and compelling. Of the two Room40 collections, I still prefer Echos+ as a whole, but a piece like "Canto del loco (Mad Man's Song)" would probably be a highlight on just about any release (Ferreyra-related or otherwise). Ferreyra's vision can admittedly be challenging at times, but the rewards make it a journey well worth taking.

Room40

It is always a pleasant surprise when the best song on an album is also the longest and that is the case with the aforementioned "Canto del loco." Happily, it delivers on its provocative title too, resembling the sort of hallucinatory tour de force that could only be brought to life by a mad genius, as Ferreyra alternately conjures a rubbery and rhythmic chorus of psychedelic frogs, an enchanted night meadow of flickering fireflies, an eruption of spectral banshees, and several other equally bizarre scenes over the course of the piece's twelve minutes. Sometimes it also sounds like disjointedly alien and gelatinous synth blatting, but just about everything Ferreyra unleashes feels wildly unique, eerily beautiful, or unnervingly otherworldly. It is definitely a ride that I did not want to end. Fortunately, the pieces that follow are compellingly weird too (if somewhat less unrelentingly dazzling). On "Pas de 3…ou plus," a hushed and hissing swirl of voices turns into something akin to an asteroid field before resolving into a dripping, gurgling, and echoing coda of liquid sounds. Then the following "Jingle Bayle's" sounds like a scene in a whimsically haunted clocktower that blossoms into a full-on Lovecraftian nightmare. I believe both of those pieces are more recent ones (composed nearly four decades after 1974's "Canto del loco"), but "Etude aux sons flegmatiques" returns to the '70s for another fine extended piece. It initially sounds like a deep bell tone is supernaturally transforming into a lysergically bleary haze of shifting feedback, but ultimately blossoms into something resembling a simmering and understated noise guitar performance of amplified squeaks, creaks, and whines (I bet there is probably a Kevin Drumm album in a similar vein lurking somewhere in his vast discography). The final piece then shifts gears yet again, as "Au revoir l’Ami" calls to mind ghosts flitting in and out of the shadows during an electroacoustic improv session in an abandoned and partially submerged factory. All five pieces are impressive feats of mindfuckery, but I was most struck by the twisting and turning trajectories they each took to get there. Beatriz Ferreyra is a composer like no other, as this album is like exploring a funhouse in which a new trapdoor is always poised to drop me somewhere even more unfamiliar.

Samples can be found here.

DJ Plead, "Relentless Trills"

cover imageNewly remastered by Rashad Becker and given a vinyl reissue, Relentless Trills first surfaced on cassette as part of Boomkat's eclectic Documenting Sound series devoted to home recordings made during the pandemic. Given those origins, it makes sense that this full-length debut showcases a very different side of DJ Plead's artistry than his impressive run of oft-killer EPs. Given that, curious listeners intrigued by the Australian producer's unique blend of cutting edge UK dance subgenres with Middle Eastern influences like dabke and mahraganat should probably head to 2020's Going For It EP first to experience the "out-of-control Lebanese wedding party" brilliance of prime DJ Plead before exploring this inspired detour. That said, this surprisingly experimental, stripped-down, and post-punk-adjacent departure from his strengths is quite a compelling listen in its own right. Boomkat's description rightly tosses around adjectives like "humid" and "sensual" to describe this bedroom DIY fantasia of floating Middle Eastern melodies and languorously simmering grooves, but that does not paint the entire picture, as Relentless Trills also masterfully dips its toes in hazy psychedelia, plunderphonics, and a hauntingly beautiful beatless synth piece. The latter ("RT6") unexpectedly steals the show, as DJ Plead (Jarred Beeler) has a remarkably great ear for melody and atmosphere, yet this entire release is quite a singular, propulsive, and (of course) sensually humid experience from start to finish.

Boomkat Editions

This album instantly won me over within the first moments of its endearingly weird opener, which ingeniously marries a very insistent and ‘80s-sounding "funk punk" bass line with samples from some kind of Middle Eastern talk show. There is also a cool Arabic synth melody running throughout the song, but my favorite part is how the talk show keeps unpredictably being autotuned into ephemeral melodies. Talk show samples aside, "RT1" is fairly representative of the entire album, as nearly all of the sounds originate from the same Yamaha 'Oriental' keyboard. Beeler's amusingly self-deprecating liner notes also state that he recorded lots of "self-indulgent melodic hooks" and initially set out to make a drum-less ambient album of sorts. At some point, he changed his mind and added some simple rhythmic accompaniment ("I'm praying that this tape doesn't sound like Deep Forest") and ultimately landed upon something that resembles Gang of Four backing a virtuosic Middle Eastern wedding musician. Notably, those "self indulgent" melodies are the best part of the album, as every song has some kind of wonderfully smoky, winding, or soulful hook that fluidly unfold over an obsessively repeating staccato groove (often dancehall-inspired, but more stark and thudding). That "staccato" bit was an odd choice given how adept DJ Plead has been at unleashing vibrant and complex rhythms in the past, but the songcraft is strong enough to make it work despite that (it feels akin to watching a boxer handily demolish an opponent with one hand tied behind his back). That said, "RT3" feels like an instant highlight primarily because the groove is allowed to flow a bit more than usual. Then again, the closer dispenses with a beat altogether to combine a dreamily fluttering melody with a pulsing chord progression that feels like a psychedelically deconstructed house classic and it is absolutely gorgeous. There is not a weak piece in the bunch though, as DJ Plead's melodic and songcraft instincts are remarkably unerring. I cannot even begin to imagine how great the resultant album would be if he ever figures out how to seamlessly combine this side of his work with his usual rhythmic intensity.

Samples can be found here.

"La Ola Interior: Spanish Ambient & Acid Exoticism 1983‚Äã-‚Äã1990"

cover imageSince the invention of cassette tapes, every country has had its own independent tape scene—whether independent musicians with limited release output via the medium or distributors sharing music under harsh conditions. Spain is particularly distinct in this time since, following the death of dictator Francisco Franco the prior decade, the country's creative class was reawakened and allowed to flourish. This tasty compilation from Swiss label Bongo Joe harnesses this movement, focusing on an array of Spanish and Spanish-related electronic music released between 1983 and 1990 that bleeds exoticism rooted in ambient investigations. The compilation succeeds at painting a picture of a lesser-known world of Balearic mysticism with Ibiza-influenced beats and treatments.

Les Disques Bongo Joe

Disc one of this two-disc compilation opens with the hypnotic ambient piece "Transparent" by Miguel A. Ruiz and ends with the fantastic "Trivandrum" by the same. It was "Trivandrum" that immediately caught my attention, sampling what appears to be video game audio over a majestic electronic loop of drums and bass. Both tracks are taken from the 1986 release Climatery but sound tremendously fresh yet today. Since the early eighties, Madrid musician Ruiz has worked under various names (Técnica Material, Orfeón Gargarín, Codachrom, Dekatron II, Michel Des Airlines, Funeral Souvenir, more) yet seems to be little known outside of his native country. Similarities to early O Yuki Conjugate exist, making use of mantric loops and tribal elements founded on a futuristic backdrop. Ruiz is a repeat name, along with Barcelona native Victor Nubla (1956-2020), the more well-known of the two. Nubla's "Chandernagor" is present, showcasing modulated clarinet for which he was known, as well as "20000 Lenguas" ("20,000 languages"), which puts his synthesizer work on display in a clangorous chorus of vocals.

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New Candys, 'Vyvyd"

Vivid cover imageThe latest from Italy's New Candys blasts immediately from the gate with an ear-candy combination of pulsating synth and massive drums, bass to match, and world-weary vocals before exploding into millions of crystalline guitar chords coated in fuzz-drenched reverb, resulting in what is quite possibly the most danceable tune the group has ever crafted. All the psyched-out power of prior releases exists, but their fourth full-length comes with the added bonus of cleaner production, allowing the powerhouse rhythm section to step forward amidst what feels to be a recharged songwriting team. Vyvyd becomes less a title and more an experience.

Little Cloud / Dischi Sotterraneie

Not to be outdone by drum-heavy opening track "Twin Mine," New Candys get down to business immediately on "Evil Evil," with a pounding drum machine joined by real drums before distorted vocals and amped-up guitars complete the richly beautiful noise. Despite the increased use of drum machine, reverb lovers will be richly satisfied across the album, especially on the heartfelt "Begin Again," a song steeped in love and longing: "There I go, once again / Inside your head I will end / Where lives the love we once had / Which now belongs somewhere else." Tracks "Vyvyan Rising" and "Helluva Zoo" favor reverb and jangle over an overpowering rhythm, both allowing vocal harmonies and guitar interplay to take front and center. "Q&K" adds female vocals into the mix, guitar at the forefront, drums pulled back into the mix, and rhythm slowed to create a dreamy incorporeal haze.

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Mark Solotroff, "Not Everybody Makes It"

cover imageMark Solotroff could never be accused of taking it easy when it comes to music, both in terms of style and productivity. Since the beginning of 2020 he has been responsible for three side project releases (Nightmares, The Fortieth Day, and Ensemble Sacrés Garçons), two archival releases from his early Intrinsic Action band, and just a matter of weeks ago a BLOODYMINDED! live compilation. Add that to three volumes of compiled solo material and an album last year, and there’s a massive stack of material that Not Everybody Makes It now sits atop. Even with all of that material, this new album stands out as distinct, and somewhat of an unexpected turn for Solotroff's work, but is still clearly his.

Self-Released

What makes this disc unique is the more significant restraint and lighter touch he employs on all six of these (exactly) ten minute pieces. I would be significantly concerned if he released anything that is not constructed around lo-fi analog synth noises, and that is certainly the foundation of everything here, but the mixes are less dense and the volumes are lower, giving everything a bleaker, more isolated sensibility.

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The House in the Woods, "Spectral Corridor"

cover imageThis appears to be the first major release for this long-running (if fitful) Pye Corner Audio side project, as Martin Jenkins' previous albums under this alias have all been limited CD-Rs. It certainly feels like a suitably strong statement for such an occasion. In the words of Ecstatic, Spectral Corridor "treads the line between occult soundtrack and zonked out space jam," which is a fairly apt characterization of Jenkins' latest aesthetic evolution even if it does not quite do justice to the sublime beauty of some of these pieces. According to Jenkins, this project draws its inspiration from "field recordings of walks through forests wielding finger chimes, long slow tape loops, treated guitars, elegiac organ tones, free running oscillator banks and chance operations," which mostly translates into slowly pulsing drones, subtle psychedelic touches, and a pervading air of shadowy mystery. That said, Spectral Corridor sounds considerably different from its more lush 2013 predecessor Bucolica, as Jenkins clearly took the "spectral" part of the album title very seriously, distilling his synth-centric ambient/drone to a wonderfully haunted-sounding and elegantly brooding suite of gently phantasmagoric soundscapes.

Ecstatic

The album opens with a plinky yet insistent drum machine pattern that is quickly joined by a seesawing pulse of deep drones. Eventually, the piece ("Tone Intervals") gets fleshed out with warmer harmonies, submerged melodic fragments, and a woozily oscillating thrum. It is a perfectly executed slow burn, as Jenkins masterfully weaves together a handful of simple themes into a hypnotically swaying reverie that slowly builds in intensity and rhythmic complexity. For that one piece, Jenkins seems like he is operating on a plane of inventive minimalism that few others can touch, as the purring, quavering, and gently heaving rhythm elevates a good piece into quite a great one. The following "Spectral Corridor Part 4" is another highlight, albeit a very different and far more dramatic one. For me, it evokes a cold sky full of eerily pulsing and twinkling stars, but it also sounds like some killer early '70s space synth guy scoring a film about a macabre bit of forest folklore. Yet another gem is the tenderly languorous dreamscape "Quadratic," which unfolds like warm waves lapping the shore of an enchanted grotto. It is by far the most nakedly beautiful piece on the album and feels like a perfectly crafted loop that could extend forever, but Jenkins also performs some neat textural sleight of hand, as it steadily takes on a more hissing and quivering character as it folds. To my ears, the rest of the album does not quite hit the same heights, but it is impressively solid nonetheless, as Jenkins alternates between more minimal drone pieces and something akin to Tangerine Dream scoring a scary and intense film set in a space station or futuristic city (a description that applies to much of the four-part title suite). Fans of retro-futurist synth atmospheres will especially dig the latter, as that is one realm where Jenkins truly excels.

Samples can be found here.