Brainwashed Radio: The Podcast Edition

Sicily by RobinWe somehow crammed 16 tunes into a single episode today!

New music from Loraine James, James Blackshaw, Godflesh, Gary Wilson, Janette King, Laibach, V/Z, Images Of Goo, Adam Badí Donoval, Surya Botofasina, plus some older tunes by The Residents, Bardo Pond, Minhwi Lee, Roxy Gordon, Goatsnake, and Kruder & Dorfmeister.

Thanks to Robin for her picture in Sicily.

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loscil // lawrence english, "Colours Of Air"

Colours Of AirThis stellar collaboration springs from a conversation that Scott Morgan and Lawrence English once had about especially "rich sources" for electronic music composition. Unsurprisingly, that discussion led to the inspiration behind much of English's recent solo work: a 19th century pipe organ housed at the Old Museum in his native Brisbane. Colours Of Air is often quite different from English's drone-inspired solo fare, however, as he and Morgan sifted "the swells and drones of the organ for every shivering shade of radiance" and found "flickering infinities in ancient configurations of wind, brass, stone, and dust." In less poetic terms, that means that these eight color-themed pieces "reduce and expand" English's pipe organ recordings into a hallucinatory fantasia enhanced by Morgan's talents for elegantly textured sound design and submerged, slow-motion dub techno pulses. Obviously, promising-sounding collaborations between electronic music luminaries are a dime a dozen, but this is one of the rare ones that feels like an inspired departure from expected terrain and something greater than the sum of its parts. While I suspect my perception is at least partially colored by the album description and the timeless majesty and religious nature of old pipe organs, the best moments of this album beautifully evoke what I would imagine light filtering through stained glass would sound like if I had been blessed with synesthesia.

kranky

The opening "Cyan" is the album's masterpiece, as it slowly builds from the "suspended animation" feel of a single looping organ chord into a slow-motion loscil-style dub techno piece with a gorgeously warm, alive, and shimmering ball of light at its heart. While the remaining pieces admittedly feel a bit less supernatural and transcendent than that initial statement, "Cyan" is nevertheless an ideal illustration of the "rich source" notion that guides the album: the piece is basically just a few chords and a simple bass pattern, but Morgan and English do one hell of a job at luxuriating in the glimmering details of those chords. That is not the duo's only trick, however, as the rest of the album features a number of compelling variations on their sacred-sounding minimalist deconstructions. For example, "Aqua" gradually evolves from a seesawing bed of melancholy yet dreamily aquatic-sounding chords into a smeared, Noveller-esque melody that evokes the haze of a comet slowly streaking through the cold night sky over a mountain range.

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Duane Pitre, "Varolii Patterns"

Varolii PatternsThis latest cassette/digital release from composer/Just Intonation enthusiast Duane Pitre has its origins in a piece written for the brass ensemble Zinc & Copper a few years back (“Pons”), as he stumbled upon an intriguing process while “experimenting with microtonal electronics.” While those experiments did not ultimately make it into the final piece, they later surfaced as one element within 2021’s Omniscient Voices. That was just a fraction of the material recorded using that process, however, as Pitre had repeated it several dozen times and found himself with a considerable backlog of compelling material that was not an ideal fit for Omniscient Voices. Naturally, that led to the release of Varolii Patterns, which collects six of those process experiments that Pitre deemed strong enough to stand on their own both individually and as an album-length statement. The result is a unique and hypnotic suite of Just Intonation synth pieces that make magic from shifting patterns that “slip in and out of rhythmic focus.”

Important

As every artist knows, finding fresh ways to escape familiar patterns is a constant struggle and there have been countless ingenious strategies devised to subvert creative stagnation since John Cage famously blew everyone’s minds in the 1950s by embracing the I Ching as his guiding force. I have no idea what Pitre’s own process entailed beyond using an eight-voice synth tuned to Just Intonation, but the end product certainly feels more like a living organic entity than a series of compositions. Naturally, the tuning alone ensures that Varolii Patterns is brimming with unfamiliar and otherworldly harmonies, but the rhythm of the shifting patterns is unusual and unfamiliar as well, approximating the shifting, erratic rhythm of ocean waves rather than the rigid time signature of composed music. To my ears, the haunting “Varolii Pattern 10-1” is the most mesmerizing of the album’s variations on a theme, as a steady pulse smears into an undulating and hallucinatory haze of strange dissonances and oscillations. Moreover, it rarely sounds like Pitre is ever doing something as mundane as simply playing notes and chords–it instead feels like an interwoven tapestry of moaning, whimpering, dissolving, and smearing sounds resembling the ambient sounds of an extradimensional aviary where the normal physics of sound no longer apply.

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Wormhook, "Workaday Strangeness: Gyrating Death Throes From A Void Axiom"

Workaday Strangeness: Gyrating Death Throes From A Void AxiomThis is the second offering from Wormhook, and it is a fine blend of cathartic inner voices with something akin to ancient incantations from the great beyond, augmented, but not swamped, by hand-chamfered electronics and fragile guitar. Umpteen lyrical references to clouds, nature, stones, rain, and heaven, cannot obscure that Wormhook's radical psalmody is far from the tangled common or garden variety of free folk hedgerow bustle, approaching instead the trance-state wisdom of a delirious time-traveling street corner prophet deciphering Sumerian inscriptions to an audience of none.

Akashic

Which is not to say that the record is anything less than rather holy and crystal clear. Wormhook may sound at times as if they are channeling the spirit of a Beckett character, joyfully and defiantly hauling themselves through wet leaves by their elbows, but they never sound as if they are channeling the confessional voice from author Adam Thorpe's unforgettable chapter "Stitches" - only decipherable every thirty or so readings after a midwinter nap, four glasses of sherry and a game of naked Twister. Indeed, the lyric sheet enclosed with the vinyl version of Workaday Strangeness is hardly needed. Unless, like me, you simply can't believe that double glazing is mentioned not once but twice (in separate songs) and to good effect.

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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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