As John Jagos sings "Save me from the grip of the modern age" early on in "Tangerine," the opening track of the latest from his alter-ego Brothertiger, three words spring to mind: sparkling, honest, and nostalgic. Indeed, the music hearkens back to the ilk of carefully crafted new wave sounds in the vein of ABC and Spandau Ballet, minus any flamboyance and serving up no pretentiousness. What remains is perfectly composed chill electronic pop, melody at the forefront. With sounds like summer wafting wistfully through headphones as I write, this is music perfect for road trips in the middle of nowhere, lounging on a beach recliner while the waves roll in, or simply snuggling under a blanket with the music present like a good friend.
I was caught completely off guard by this latest opus from Dalt, as much of it sounds more like a three-way collaboration between Astrud Gilberto, Perez Prado, and Walter Wanderley than anything resembling the warped and stark electronic pop mutations that the Colombian composer has become synonymous with. After my initial disbelief subsided, however, I quickly decided that ¡Ay! may very well be the strongest album of Dalt's career to date. I suspect Dalt herself would probably agree, as it would be fair to say that her vision remains as compelling and innovative as ever, but she has merely kicked her self-imposed artistic restraints to the curb and embraced the warmer, more sensuous, and melodic sounds that she grew up around. Or, as the album description colorfully puts it, "through the spiraling tendencies of time and topography, Lucrecia has arrived where she began." In any case, the end result is a wonderfully sultry and evocative collection of seductive vocals and tropical rhythms beautifully enhanced with a host of psychotropic and industrial-damaged touches. And she somehow makes it sound like the most natural thing in the world. I definitely did not expect Dalt to secretly be a tropical pop genius at all, which makes her previous albums all the more fascinating now that I know that they were made while pointedly suppressing some of her greatest strengths.
The opening "No Tiempo" initially evokes a "late-night cable" fever dream vibe in which a Bela Lugosi vampire movie blurs into an organ-happy televangelist, but it quickly transforms into swaying tropical bliss once the flutes and the lazily sultry groove make the scene. It has the feel of a Wanderley/Gilberto collaboration that has been punched up (and sexed up) for contemporary ears by an intrepid DJ (though I was still startled by the brass finale). It is a great piece, but it is immediately eclipsed by the following "El Galatzó," which masterfully combines hushed, confessional-sounding vocals with bass strums, trilling flutes, cooing backing vox, swelling strings, industrial scrapes, strangled feedback, and killer hand-percussion to cast a sustained spell of noir-ish, cinematic seduction. While "El Galatzó" would be my personal pick for the album's reigning highlight, the album is not hurting for other hot contenders for that honor. In "Contenida," for example, a hallucinatory fog and a jazzy double bass motif cohere into some kind of humid and dubby bossa nova mindfuck, which then beautifully erupts in a viscerally clattering metal percussion frenzy. If the whole album sustained a similarly perfect balance of ambitious dub/industrial production brilliance and sultry songcraft, I would have no hesitation at all about proclaiming ¡Ay! to be the album of the year.
This is Mikko Singh's best and most consistent record yet as Haleiwa. Both his first full length releases Pura Vida dude and Palm Trees Of The Subarctic were light and dreamy, while his third Cloud Formations accelerated Haleiwa onto another level, driven by good tunes and several great moments, not least the plunge through synthesizers into warm bass driven melody on the opener "HKI-97," and the digital blips of "Foggy" which (perhaps unconsciously) resembles Brian Wilson frantically transposing part of "California Girls" into morse code. That third record heralded a deeper sound, perhaps because Singh switched to analog cassette and reel-to-reel tape recording, and it also included more variety although for no clear reason. Hallway Waverider avoids that pitfall by finding a sweet spot and then showing little or no desire to move very far away.
Of course there is variety here, but it is subsumed beneath a definite creative vision; a vision which looks backwards. Dedicated to his mother who passed away in 2015, and inspired by his own earlier self spending winter months skateboarding in his bedroom while listening to music. The overall sound is of music for surfing, but surfing on air, memory, and metaphor, back to the halcyon days of carefreeness and family love. If there is any slight hint of original Dick Dale surf guitar twang (or even Psychocandy style surfing on polluted Glaswegian effluent) it has died peacefully and gone to heaven in a sonic envelope of featherlight fuzz.
This may be Swiss pianist/composer Raphael Loher's first solo album, but he has crossed my path before with his Baumschule trio (featuring Julian Sartorius and Manuel Troller). I am much less familiar with Loher's other trio (KALI), but the importance is that he has spent time improvising with inspiring musicians and has accumulated some very intriguing compositional ideas along the way. Interestingly, Keemuun is itself a bit of an improvisatory collaboration with inspiring (if unwitting) musicians, as Loher often played along with albums by other artists while experimenting with his rapid-fire piano patterns (Beatrice Dillon's rhythmically adventurous Workaround was a particularly central touchstone). In fact, just about everything about this album's evolution feels like fertile grist for a "galaxy brain" meme: a prepared piano album…limited to only ten notes spanning two octaves…improvised against cutting edge techno rhythms…but with all of those foundational rhythms totally excised from the final recording. Needless to say, all of those factors make for a very cool album concept in theory, but I am pleased to report that Loher's brilliant execution has made this a killer album in reality as well.
The album consists of four numbered pieces, the first of which is considerably more subdued and minimal than the others (and shorter too). To my ears, the opener lies somewhere between bleary Morton Feldman-style dissonance and a dying, slightly out-of-tune music box performing its own elegy. It makes a perfectly fine (if understated) introduction, but I doubt I would be writing about Keemuun if it did not catch fire with the second piece and sustain that white-hot level of inspiration for the remainder of the album.
We seem to be in the midst of a long-overdue Delia Derbyshire renaissance at the moment due to the efforts of filmmaker Caroline Catz, Cosey Fanni Tutti, BBC Radiophonic Workshop's Mark Ayres, and others. Fittingly, this unusual and inspired album was commissioned back in 2018 as a score for Catz's similarly unconventional feature-length documentary. Sadly, it seems damn near impossible to see Catz's film at the moment (outside the UK, at least), but this soundtrack was released earlier this year to coincide with Cosey's own foray into telling Derbyshire's story (Re-Sisters: The Lives and Recordings of Delia Derbyshire, Margery Kempe and Cosey Fanni Tutti). The book, film, and album were all inspired by research into Derbyshire's archive and the voluminous recordings and writings that became available after the visionary electronic artist's passing in 2001. Apparently, copyright issues are preventing much of Derbyshire's unearthed work from seeing an official release (there are some great unofficial ones like Inventions For Radio/The Dreams out there), but this album is a compelling consolation prize: using Derbyshire's notes on her compositions and techniques, Cosey has achieved a sort of posthumous homage/collaboration in which her own aesthetic is co-mingled with Derbyshire's singular and groundbreaking techniques and sounds.
While Delia Derbyshire is far from a household name, it is something of a miracle that she ever managed to be revered at all, as her musical career only spanned 15 years and took place at a time when neither women nor electronic music were taken particularly seriously. On top of that, she also had an eccentric personality, a tendency towards alcoholism, and an employer (the BBC) who did not consider her work to be "music" enough for her to be credited as a composer. Fortunately, she was both motivated and fucking brilliant, so she still managed to make a profound impact on the evolution of music despite those incredibly long odds. And it did not hurt that she was responsible for the Doctor Who theme, which made a sizable cultural dent of its own. It is hard to say whether or not there would have been a Throbbing Gristle had Derbyshire and her Radiophonic Workshop colleagues not forced weird electronic music into the mainstream, but I do think Derbyshire might have traumatized the general populace to a Gristle-y degree in the early '60s if her gear had been more portable. Obviously, bloody-minded persistence in the face of disrespect and hostility is a relatable theme for Cosey as well, so it is hard to think of another artist who could be more naturally suited for a project such as this. In short, Catz needed appropriately "Derbyshire" music for her film, but there were very few usable Derbyshire recordings available. Introduce Cosey Fanni Tutti, who immersed herself in the archive's collection (267 reel-to-reel tapes found in cereal boxes, I believe) and Derbyshire's notes and set about casting a Delia-esque spell in her own way on her own gear (though Delia's actual voice does make some appearances). As an aside, this is not Cosey's first homage to Derbyshire, as Carter Tutti's "Coolicon" took its name and inspiration from a metal lampshade that Delia regularly used to make sounds.
When I first heard the thumping house/disco EP Was It Ever Real?, I had a very hard time believing that it could possibly be a teaser for something more substantial, as much of that EP felt like top-tier Soft Pink Truth that leaves very little room for improvement. If those songs did not make the cut for the full-length, I felt the album surely had to be either absolutely brilliant or absolutely wrong-headed with no possible middle ground. As it turns out, I was at least right about the "little room for improvement" bit, as Is It Going To Get Any Deeper Than This? is not noticeably stronger than the preceding EP. Instead, it feels more like a lateral move, taking Drew Daniel's star-studded house party in a more kaleidoscopically arty and eccentric direction. Unsurprisingly, Deeper features roughly the same international cast of talented guests as the EP, but there are some noteworthy new additions as well, such as Nate Wooley, Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner, and Jaime Stewart (Xiu Xiu). The result is a bit less "all killer, no filler" this time around, but the trade-off is that Deeper is an appropriately deeper and more immersive plunge into Daniel's psyche, touching upon everything from Barry White to George Bataille to krautrock while still managing to be functional, forward-thinking, and archly fun dance music.
The album kicks off in style with its first certified banger, "Deeper," which deceptively fades in with bleary drones before launching into a straight up classic disco groove with all the requisite hand claps and funky guitars. There is enough subtle dissonance to give it a somewhat delirious and unreal feeling right from the jump, but things do not get truly art-damaged until an unexpected church bell passage subsides. While the groove remains unswervingly propulsive for a bit longer, the insistent sexy thump is increasingly mingled with generous helpings of kitschy string stabs, tropical-sounding guitars, hazy flutes, and a host of other inspired psych touches before it all dissolves into smeary abstraction. I suppose the extended running time and ambient comedown preclude "Deeper" from being a hot single, but several of the pieces that immediately follow gamely rekindle the dancefloor fire. "La Joie Devant La Mort" is one of the album's more "perverse pop moments," as Jaime Stewart sings a George Bataille line about being in search of joy before death over an endearingly weird groove that calls to mind Coil's Love's Secret Domain album colliding with "A Fifth of Beethoven" and a chorus of tiny frogs. Wasner then takes the mic for the breezily sensuous "Wanna Know," which milks the album title's question for all its worth over a groove that could have been plucked from a Love Unlimited Orchestra album. The following "Trocadero" then pays homage to the "sleaze" disco subgenre synonymous with the titular SF club before "Mood Swing" ends the first half with a killer slow-building disco fusion of spiritual jazz, gurgling psychedelia, and Reich-ian piano patterns.
On two distinct new albums, legendary composer Asmus Tietchens approaches different subject material with his current technique of recycling sounds beyond the point of any recognition. Schatten Ohne Licht (Shadow Without Light) is grounded in post-anthropological concepts influenced by scholar/writer Ulrich Horstmann's conceptualization of a planet devoid of biological life. Comparatively, Parallelen would seem focused on more theoretical mathematics and a greater sense of the abstract.
The opening title piece of Schatten Ohne Licht features Tietchens blending quiet tones with distant, low-end rumbles, with both the higher and lower frequencies layering and building throughout. Towards the half-way point he switches things around, using the same components but swapping around the arrangements, becoming a different sounding piece entirely. "Anthroporsaurus" follows a similar approach, pairing floating hints of melody with deep space pulsations and a machinery like chug, although the sum total of the parts is more delicate than anything else.
Later, "Es ist Endlich Still" (It's Finally Quiet) is a perfect example of the post-organic life themes of the album. High register crystalline sounds are joined with liquid, wet noise. Combining strange outbursts, flattened frequencies, and some occasional crackling, it sounds as empty and devoid of life as the title would insinuate. Closer "Kolosse" is an appropriately dramatic ending, all shimmering and looming space with chiming swells peppered throughout. As a whole it is more forceful and heavy compared to the other pieces on the disc, and results in a fitting climax for the album.
On their second album this trio continues the sound of their 2018's self-titled debut, expanding the dense, continually flowing sound showcased there even further. Across three instrumentals (and one shorter vocal based song), More Klementines effortlessly jump between expansive improvised passages with taut, motorik rhythmic sections, resulting in a perfect junction of two very different styles.
Dynamic shifts are something More Klementines accomplishes effortlessly. Right from the opening of "Hot Peace," Michael Kiefer propels the lengthy session with subtle, understated drumming and delicate chimes, while guitarist Jon Schlesinger and multiple instrumentalist Steubs weave in layered guitar and bass. Occasionally drifting towards jam band territory (but keeping things tastefully psychedelic and dissonant), the trio drift into an expansive, open passage about two thirds of the way through, eventually building back to a wall of guitar scrapes and scatter-shot drumming.
This is my first encounter with this UK-based improv unit, but Fallout 4 is the latest installment of a series of live documents that began all the way back in 2001. The band/collective itself has existed since 1996, though it seems like there's been at least one decade-long hiatus and the ensemble's members have all been active in other projects ranging from prog to ambient to art pop (while Andrew Ostler has been busy building modular synth hardware, among other things). Notably, Darkroom has recently reactivated and released some new material, but the performance documented here dates back to 2012 and the aesthetic lies somewhere between slow-burning Tarentel-style post-rock and Tangerine Dream-inspired space ambient (though Can was apparently a significant inspiration as well). On a related note, the album was mastered by Jono Podmore, who played a significant role in yet another fine vault project (Can's The Lost Tapes). I suspect Podmore had a challenging task on his hands, as the band tellingly state that he was chosen both for "his ability to control sonic forces" and "to make sure it was finally done." While this album and the Fallout series in general capture the band in a more noirish and shadowy mood than usual, I can see why they were so keen to get these recordings out into the world even a decade late, as much of this album is spacey, slow-motion psych magic.
At the time of the recording, Darkroom were pared down to just the core duo of Michael Bearpark (guitars) and Andrew Ostler (synths) and two of the album's three pieces are taken from the final date of the pair's 2012 tour. Amusingly, Bearpark and Ostler note that some of that performance happened "even after most of the audience had left," as they found themselves in an unusually inspired mood that night and were in no hurry to stop playing. The album's third piece is culled from other recordings from the tour, though it is not specified whether "Tuesday's Ghost" is from a different gig or a rehearsal tape. Regardless of where and when it was recorded, "Tuesday's Ghost" is one hell of a killer piece. It slowly fades into existence with hazy synth drones and a languorous bass pulse, which is a very common theme for the album, but the beauty lies in how the duo organically transform that gently spacey ambient into a hypnotic, immersive, and shoegaze-damaged epic. Each of album's three pieces gets to that place eventually, but "Tuesday's Ghost" captures the pair in especially fine form, transcending their usual fare with inspired touches like a warbling, supernatural-sounding loop; a quavering feedback howl; and a simmering, charmingly Latin-influenced beat (once it all properly catches fire, at least).
This Chicago-based singer-songwriter is a bit of an enigma to me, as details about his discography are quite slim. As far as I can tell, however, 3am is his second solo album, which is noteworthy given that it has been 8 long years since Swan’s similarly excellent debut (I'll Be Around) surfaced. What he was up to during that hiatus is mostly unknown to me (aside from "drawing the night in around his private, unnerving vigil," of course), but one thing I do know is that he formed a duo with James Schimpl called Dead Bandit that released their debut on Quindi last year (the same label behind this album). In any case, 3am is one hell of an aptly titled album, as it very much has the feel of a hushed, late-night confessional via four-track. The overall aesthetic calls to mind the "desolate outsider folk" blurring of an insomniac Elliott Smith or Zelienople with the homespun intimacy of early Iron and Wine, yet the pervasive mood of late night sadness is beautifully balanced with cool production tricks and shades of more lively and eclectic influences like Suicide and Charlie Megira.
The album’s description insightfully notes that Swan’s aesthetic plays “on the natural distortion and delirium which occurs at the farthest end of the night,” which is an excellent way to explain how this album differs dramatically from ostensibly similar artists exploring the “after late night television pain” vein such as Russian Tsarlag or Matt Christensen. Swan has some darkness to exorcise, to be sure (check out “Hospice”), but 3am feels more like a batch of poignant and hook-filled gems that were handed off to the night itself for a “late night delirium” production overhaul. Obviously, that is not what actually happened, which makes Swan a bit of a visionary production-wise: he uses the same roughly instrumentation as everyone else, but those instruments are inevitably veiled in hiss, buried deep in the mix, or distorted by their lo-fi recording process (Swan apparently “drags the music through layer upon layer of tape fuzz” as part of his process). Significantly, he goes the opposite route with his vocals, as they sound close mic’d in a way where it feels like Swan is whispering directly into my ear. Rather than hiding himself in a fog of reverb and hiss, he expertly wields murk to weave a haunted and hallucinatory backdrop for his stark, emotionally direct songs. The album’s lead single “Puppeteers Tears” is an especially fine illustration of Swan’s inspired strain of ghostly Americana, as it feels like something from The Creek Drank the Cradle eerily enhanced with a haunting whistle loop, a buried organ motif, and a primitive drum machine groove.