Celer, "Selected Self-releases 2006-2007"

Selected Self-releases 2006-2007Given Celer’s incredibly voluminous discography, releasing any kind of comprehensive retrospective would be one hell of a quixotic and cost-prohibitive endeavor, but this collection does the next best thing. Weighing in at 14 discs spanning 10 albums, this boxed set celebrates an especially significant and prolific era in the project’s evolution: the self-released albums that Will Long and the late Danielle Baquet-Long (Chubby Wolf) recorded as a duo before the latter’s passing in 2009. Not all of them, mind you, but this collection seems to at least cover the ones that matter most. Given that Celer is based in Japan and Bandcamp was still in its formative stages back then, I suspect very few people were hip enough to pounce on the duo’s early CD-Rs at the time of their original release, but the world definitely began to take notice soon after, as I remember Celer albums being a very hot commodity sometime around 2008/2009 when they started getting widely re-released. Unsurprisingly, there are some remastered fan favorites from that era included here, such as Continents and Cantus Libres, but I have grown so accustomed to Long’s current elegantly minimalist dream-drone aesthetic that I was legitimately surprised by the wider palette of moods and atmospheres explored at the project’s inception. Naturally, the gorgeously warm ambient dreamscapes that Celer has long been synonymous with are still the main draw here, but they are not the only draw, as I found it very illuminating to revisit the less-remembered noirish and sci-fi-inspired sides of the duo’s exploratory beginnings.

Two Acorns

This collection is only being released as a limited edition physical boxed set, which makes a lot of sense for a couple of big reasons. The mundane one is that all of these albums are already readily available in remastered form, so this retrospective is very much for the project’s more devoted fans. The more poetic and heartfelt reason is that this boxed set is essentially a memorial to the Dani era and music was merely one facet of the duo’s artistic vision. Obviously, the music is the biggest and most relevant reason for Celer’s continued appeal, but the project has always been something of a multimedia love story/travel diary as well, as the accompanying images and texts often provided important context, clues, and deeper shades of meaning. In fact, I sincerely doubt that Celer would have made such a deep impression if Will and Dani had not found a way to make ambient/drone music feel like something personal and intimate (a feat very few others have achieved). Consequently, making this a collection a physical object with all of Dani’s poems and photos intact seems like the only proper way to celebrate the duo’s shared story. That said, nearly all of the texts, images, and song titles do tend to be teasingly enigmatic. In fact, they almost act like an inversion of the film/film score relationship, as they color my perception of the music without providing much actual information beyond a sense of place and an impressionist glimpse of how Will and Dani were feeling about both life and each other at the time. While I would probably love a Will Long memoir or travel diary, the decision to portray that period instead as an elusive, elliptical, and mysterious collection of dreamlike sounds, images, and words is admittedly the more alluring and Celer-esque path to take. Words and unambiguous meanings are cool and all, but struggling to express the ineffable is a beautiful and noble way to spend an artistic career.

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Roméo Poirier, "Living Room"

Living RoomThis third album from former lifeguard/Brussels-based electronic composer Poirier may very well be the most beautiful distillation of his gently psychotropic strain of loop-driven, summery, surf-side electronica to date. The same could have been said of 2020's Hotel Nota, of course, but Poirier's work genuinely seems to become more fascinating with each fresh album (and each new detail that I read about his inspirations). Unsurprisingly, Living Room does not dramatically depart from the "Jan Jelinek inspecting a coral reef" aesthetic first debuted on 2016's Plage Arri​è​re, but it feels like Poirier's sundappled, beach-friendly vision of languorously flickering loops is increasingly headed deeper into more exotica-inspired territory, which is almost always a good move in my book. Aside from that continuing stylistic evolution, Living Room is also significant for being the first Poirier album to feature another one of his long-standing fascinations: the innate musicality of the human voice (particularly when de-coupled from language and meaning). Unsurprisingly, Poirier incorporates that new feature in a characteristically compelling and poignant way, as the album is peppered with chopped, screwed, and decontextualized fragments from his musician father's sample collection. The result is not quite "pop," yet it gets surprisingly close to it at times and those ephemeral glimpses of human warmth suit Poirier's swaying and sublime tropical dream beautifully.

Faitiche

The opening "Statuario" is a reasonably representative introduction to the album's multifarious delights, though its lazily sensuous bass pulse creeps more into a loscil-esque strain of aquatic-sounding dub techno than most of the other pieces. Aside from that, however, "Statuario" is a moonlit fantasia of chirping psychotropic frogs, submerged and enigmatic orchestral fragments, blurred and hissing textures, and sophisticated harmonies. That latter bit is a surprisingly crucial part of the album, as Poirier's chord progressions and melodies rarely feel conventional–there are almost always passing shadows of dissonance and hints of uneasy harmonies gnawing at the edges of Poirier's Endless Summer-esque bliss. That element makes Living Room a more complex and mysterious experience than I expected, but Poirier displays an impressive lightness of touch with his more jazz-inspired tendencies. I am tempted to describe the baseline aesthetic of Living Room as "bathtub-recorded Endless Summer" meets "loscil doing a DJ set at a tiki bar," which admittedly sounds very appealing, but there are too many interesting twists throughout the album for that glib assessment to feel right. There are obviously other artists who have made killer recordings in this vein before Poirier, but that does not prevent Living Room from rivaling those earlier classics and Poirier brings an especially fresh and innovative aesthetic to the table.

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Eiko Ishibashi, "For McCoy"

For McCoyAlthough initially premiered on Bandcamp in 2021, Eiko Ishibashi's ode to Jack McCoy—Sam Waterston's character from the television show Law & Order—was remixed by Jim O'Rourke and issued on vinyl in 2022. It is a dazzling album of crisp ambient tones, colored with aching jazz and minimalist drone, wherein Ishibashi creates dense, mysterious, but also light and dreamy atmospheres. Such a fine balance is perhaps to be expected from a composer and multi-instrumentalist who grew up banned from listening to pop radio, has worked with avantgarde giants such as Merzbow, made an album about her family's role in Japan's sins in Manchuria, yet also takes inspiration from Genesis's prog anthem "Supper's Ready," scored anime, had an Oscar-nominated soundtrack (for Drive My Car), loves Columbo, and watches Law & Order.

Black Truffle

From what I have gathered, the character of Jack McCoy has a somewhat vague backstory, so it probably doesn't matter that I've never actually seen him on screen or even heard his voice, as this is no barrier to enjoying Eiko Ishibashi's affectionate depiction of his emotional life and personal history. Indeed, from first to last, the 40 minutes of For McCoy are completely enjoyable. The album is perfect, an expert balance of organic progression and structural know-how. Ishbashi's haunting flute playing, delicate synths and organ are complemented by the superb violin work of MIO.O, O'Rourke on double bass and (I think) guitar, along with the light-touch drumming of Joe Talia and Tatsuhisha Yamamoto. More icing on the cake comes from both Ishibashi's wordless vocal work (almost a la Norma Winstone) refreshing the album at precisely the right moment, and the multi-tracked saxophone of Daisuke Fujiwara. The latter shoots a lonesome gumshoe detective quality into proceedings, rather like part of the blissfully gut-wrenching soundtrack to Polanski's unforgettable Chinatown.

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Parashi, "Vinegar Baths"

Mike Griffin's Parashi project has never been an easy one to pin down as far as expectations go. While never predictable, the material was usually abstract and not musical in the conventional sense, existing somewhere on a continuum between harsh noise and less abrasive, almost early Cabaret Voltaire like treatments of tapes and effects. For Vinegar Baths, he certainly retains these elements, but the emphasis is on guitar, bass, and surprisingly, vocals.

Carbon

It is possible that this shift was precipitated by Griffin's role as guitarist in the upstate NY rock supergroup Sky Furrows, or perhaps motivated by something else entirely. A song like "Letters in the Wrong Order" straddles the line between music and noise, with abstract guitar and noisy loops establishing a foundation, but with Griffin's vocals and more conventional guitar added it feels like an attempt at folk music with the wrong instrumentation, and I mean that as a compliment.

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Ernest Hood, "Back to the Woodlands"

Back to the WoodlandsErnest Hood is best known for the 1975 release Neighborhoods, a unique album of locations recorded during his travels through Oregon combined later with his zither and synthesizer music. It is far more common now but Hood was a pioneer in the use of "found sound." Back To The Woodlands harks from the same (1972-1982) period but has never been released until now. It is a fine addition to Hood's legacy of work which is reflective, warm, and inviting, without being easy, silly, or overly sentimental.

Freedom To Spend

Neighborhoods is a classic. It was originally intended as a gift for housebound people in order that they could listen and enjoy feeling transported somewhere else. This was something dear to Ernest Hood's heart, himself having been stricken with polio since his twenties, forced to spend a whole year in an iron lung, and thereafter get around on crutches or in a wheelchair. Unsurprisingly, there is a bittersweet quality to all of Hood's music. His location recordings capture children gently mocking each other (a playground chant of "Johnny's got a sweetheart" is riffed into the 11 minute track "After School" on Neighborhoods), the thud of basketballs, birdcall, frog croak, insect chirp, snippets of conversation, an ice cream truck, screen doors, a model T driving over a manhole cover, hollers, clanging metalworking tools, small planes, tales being told, a can kicked down the road, and more. All merge with Hood's instrumentation to create a tender and tangible nostalgic sound, sound which is naturally capable of stimulating remembrance of our own childhood memories: father whistling, the smell of baking, the wet brain-damaging smack of a cement heavy caseball, the lady next door sunbathing with the radio on, and so on.

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Darksmith, “Imposter”

ImposterWith a debut in 2007, the enigmatic Darksmith has a relatively dense body of work centered around manipulated tapes and electronic excursions. Imposter is one in a series of releases sharing these qualities, as well as consistently strange artistic consistency visually. Unexpecting changes from meditative to chaotic are the norm in this chaotic, yet beautiful disc.

Throne Heap

Originally slated to be an LP, Imposter maintains the original structure intended, presented as two side long pieces on the CD with some roughly discernable pauses where I believe original breaks were intended to be. The first half (side?), "Looking for Idiots/Problem with Everyone," is comparably the mellower one. Leading from a steady tone and flat, white noise, he builds with strange digital interference sounds and crunchy layers. With bits of field recordings weaved in and out, the first section is almost peaceful in its own, disjointed way. The second half is a bit rawer, with violent clattering, scrapes, banging, and what almost sounds like a horse running around and wrecking everything.

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2022 Annual Readers Poll: The Results

The Brainwashed Readers Poll aims to be set apart by other online music polls. The staff and contributors aren't here to dictate to readers what we think people should be enjoying, we welcome the community to voice their opinion, and then we add our bits and pieces after.

Thanks again to all who have taken part in this year's Readers Poll. And thanks to all for your patience as this was the first year voting began after the year ended. Lots of surprises this year but keep in mind we all have been voting on what we liked and the items that seem to overlap the most with people rise to the top. See something missing? Sorry, it's a readers poll, participate more next year!

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Kali Malone, "Does Spring Hide Its Joy"

Does Spring Hide Its JoyThis latest release from this eternally innovative Stockholm-based composer is a durational tour de force that first began to take shape in empty Berlin concert halls in the early months of the pandemic. While I note with grim humor that the pandemic has itself become an endlessly shifting durational tour de force, Malone’s primary inspiration came instead from the ambient sense of unreality and distorted time that became pervasive as the fabric of normal daily life quickly unraveled. Like many other artists, Malone suddenly found herself with plenty of free time during that period of dread, isolation, and uncertainty, yet she was fortunate enough to get an invitation to record new music at Berlin’s Funkhaus and MONOM and even luckier still to have some extremely talented friends around with newly open schedules themselves. In short, the stars were in perfect alignment for one hell of an avant-drone dream team to form, as Malone (armed with 72 sine wave oscillators) tapped in like-minded souls Stephen O’Malley and Lucy Railton and the expected slow-burning dark sorcery ensued. Does Spring Hide Its Joy feels like an inspired twist on the longform drone majesty of artists like Éliane Radigue, as Malone employed just intonation to layer complex and otherworldly harmonies while her collaborators gamely helped ensure that the crescendos were visceral, gnarled and snarling enough to leave a deep impression.

Ideologic Organ

I have no doubt at all that Kali Malone brought her usual compositional rigor to this “study in harmonics and non-linear composition with a heightened focus on just intonation and beating interference patterns,” but Does Spring Hide Its Joy is more open-ended than her usual fare and leaves some welcome room for spontaneity and improvisation. Malone envisioned the piece as a puzzle of sorts that is assembled from five-minute blocks approximating a ladder that the musicians can choose to ascend or descend. The total number of blocks is fluid as well. For example, the album versions of the piece are an hour long while the live version can sometimes stretch to 90 minutes (note: the CD includes three performances of the piece while the LP includes only two). On top of that inventive structure, Malone deliberately wrote the piece with her collaborators’ styles and techniques in mind, envisioning the composition as a “framework for subjective interpretation and non-hierarchical movement.” In practical terms, that means that this piece is essentially a drone fantasia of bowed strings, smoldering distortion, and shifting harmonies that occasionally blossoms into something more fiery and transcendent. This being a Kali Malone composition, however, the organically evolving harmonies and oscillations are invariably absorbing, sophisticated, and distinctive regardless of the shape the piece takes. Notably, this album is also a bit more earthy, psychotropic and texturally varied than previous Malone opuses. It feels akin to a ghostly ballet or hallucinatory tendrils of smoke, as the sustained tones of the three players languorously intertwine and dissipate in a dreamlike haze of lingering feedback, overtones, and harmonics.

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Voice Actor, "Sent From My Telephone"

Sent from my TelephoneThis mammoth and category-defying opus is easily the most wildly ambitious debut in recent memory (if not ever) and also happens to be one of my absolute favorite albums of 2022. It was one hell of an enigma at first as well, as Stroom quietly released the album back in October with absolutely no background information provided at all. Given the absolutely bananas volume of material (4 ½ hours) and the consistently high level of quality, I expected that it would be revealed to be some sort of decade-spanning art project involving an all-star cast of sound art luminaries, but I turned out to be spectacularly wrong about most of that. As it turns out, Voice Actor is instead a recent collaboration between Noa Kurzweil (Supertalented) and Levi Lanser (Ludittes), neither of whom I had previously encountered. However, I was at least partially right about the “art project” bit, as Sent From My Telephone collects three years of pieces that the duo originally intended as a radio play (and there are plenty of guest collaborators involved as well). The heart of the project, however, is Kurzweil’s seductive voice and her enigmatic diaristic monologues, which makes Félicia Atkinson a close kindred spirit, yet Lanser’s varied and phantasmagoric backdrops elevate the project into a mesmerizing durational mindfuck that effortlessly blurs the lines between spoken word, plunderphonics, ambient drone, outsider R&B, psychedelia, and Hype Williams’ hypnagogic sound collage side.

Stroom

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Omertà, "Collection Particulière"

Collection ParticulièreThe French Standard In-Fi label has been one of my casual obsessions over the last few years and this second album from Omertà was my favorite release that surfaced from that milieu in 2022. From what I can tell as an outsider, there appears to be a loosely knit family of artists, psych enthusiasts, and avant-folk weirdos that convene periodically in varying configurations and occasionally an album will eventually surface documenting whatever magic transpired. Omertà unsurprisingly shares key members with other fitfully killer projects like France and Tanz Mein Herz, but this ensemble is an unique animal for a number of reasons. The most striking of those reasons are the breathy, sensuous vocals of Florence Giroud, who I believe is only active in this one project (as far as rock bands are concerned, at least). Giroud’s vocals aside, Omertà is also far more informed by eroticism, dream states, pop music, and chansons than the usual Standard In-Fi fare. To my ears, something compelling almost always seems to happen whenever Jeremie Sauvage & Mathieu Tilly assemble a group of like-minded artists, but Collection Particuli​è​re’s “Amour Fou” and “Moments in Love” are easily among the most beautifully distilled and haunting pieces that the label has released to date.

Standard In-Fi/Zamzam

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