Etelin, "Hui Terra"

cover imageEtelin is the newest project from Students of Decay label head Alex Cobb, marking quite a radical break from the ambient drone of his previous oeuvre. That transformation stems largely from Cobb's frustration with the current experimental music scene, which has calcified into various genres and trends in recent years, losing much of the playfulness and actual experimentation that made the milieu so initially compelling. Obviously, Cobb is not alone in that feeling, as there are several outliers currently making groundbreaking and unique work (Cam Deas and Rashad Becker spring immediately to mind), yet Hui Terra is very much an unusual album that pointedly and willfully turns its back on the zeitgeist. At its best, the album hits some sustained passages of dreamlike beauty, but the bulk of Hui Terra is a bit more modest in its ambitions, unfolding like a more fragmented and hallucinatory re-envisioning of classic GRM fare.

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Attilio Novellino, "A Conscious Effort"

cover imageI was completely unaware of this Italian sound artist's work until only recently, but he seems to be having quite a big year, as his duo with Roberto P. Siguera (Luton) released their bleakly lovely debut on Lost Tribe Sound and now there is this leftfield gem of a solo album. While I am sure comparing one underheard artist to another is quite a quixotic endeavor, there have to be some people out there who remember Talvihorros's Descent into Delta album and Novellino does something similar here: A Conscious Effort feels like a sustained and immersive plunge into the mysteries of the mind. In keeping with the ambition of its apparent conceptual inspirations, the music is a shape-shifting and kaleidoscopic fantasia that seamlessly blurs together roiling drones, viscerally snarling feedback, skipping loop experimentation, and even an occasional eruption of pummeling, slow-motion doom metal. Naturally, I prefer some threads more than others, but the entire album flows together beautifully and evocatively.

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1998 Readers Poll Re-Count - The Results

Two decades ago the Annual Readers Poll began. The old version of the first annual readers poll can still be viewed online here, but we wanted to re-examine 1998 in the new system and get a broader picture of the music of that year. Perhaps these are truly the releases that have withstood 20 years of listening or the readership demographics have changed in 20 years. Either way, thanks to all who participated. Look for a 1997 recount nomination round coming soon and the 2018 Annual Readers Poll to follow.

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Jon Porras, "Voice of the Air"

cover imageBarn Owl was always an intriguingly fluid and evolving project and that creative restlessness has certainly continuing on into the solo work of Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras. For this latest release, Porras takes his conceptual inspiration from Indian musician Gita Sarabhai, who once mentioned in a conversation with John Cage that art exists to "sober and quiet the mind, thus rendering it susceptible to divine influences." As such, the tone of Voice of the Air is largely a meditative and drone-based one, but Porras also had some new revelations about composition along the way, diving into John Chowning's frequency modulation (FM) synthesis ideas and exploring how to use them as a structural basis for his own work. The results of that experimentation are often quite wonderful, as Voice of the Air is an album filled with strong, simple themes that vibrantly squirm, shiver, and oscillate with shifting textures.

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Sean McCann, "Saccharine Scores"

cover imageSean McCann celebrates the 50th release of his endlessly evolving Recital Program imprint with a major new work of his own, combining his dual love of literature and music into a unique album/book pairing. Of the two halves of the work, the book takes more of a supporting role, providing personal insights about the birth of each piece as well as the accompanying texts that appear throughout the album in often unrecognizably abstract or altered form. The album itself is kind of a compilation of sorts, bringing together four thematically similar pieces that are a mixture of live and studio performances and new and previously released work. The two new longform pieces that elegantly blend together speech and orchestral composition are the true heart of the album, however, and they are what make Saccharine Scores a landmark release in McCann’s discography. Glibly put, this is the album that places McCann quite firmly into "Robert Ashley" territory rather than "Andrew Chalk" territory, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that his voice as a writer is every bit as distinctive as his talents as a composer.

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Carla dal Forno, "Top of the Pops"

cover imageOriginally only available on cassette during dal Forno's summer tour, this EP of six eclectic covers is now available digitally. As anyone who has heard her occasional NTS Radio DJ appearances can attest, dal Forno has delightfully wide-ranging taste and definitely appreciates a great hook when she hears it, so it is not at all surprising that there are some extremely deep cuts here (The Kiwi Animal) mingled with a few names that actually have spent time at the top of the pop charts (Lana del Ray and The B-52s). While the latter's early "Give Me Back My Man" undergoes quite an impressive transformation, Carla is generally quite reverent with her source material, taking a handful of great songs and simply paring them down to their stark and intimate essence.

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Puce Mary, "The Drought"

cover imageFrederikke Hoffmeier has been a prominent and distinctive voice in the harsh noise scene for the last several years, releasing a steady stream of viscerally throbbing nightmares primarily on Denmark's Posh Isolation label. With this latest release, however, Hoffmeier makes her debut for PAN. More significantly, The Drought also marks a significant leap forward in Hoffmeier's artistry, as a recent residency at MONOM in Berlin completely transformed the way she thought about both space and evoking a strong sense of place. The result of those revelations is something that transcends Puce Mary's noise roots to arrive at a place that is considerably more unique, sensuous, and intimate, though no less disturbing. Hoffmeier is still an absolutely brilliant purveyor of violent, jagged squalls of noise, but she is now quite a bit better at focusing those eruptions for maximum impact.

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Current 93, "The Light Is Leaving Us All"

cover imageThis long-gestating new release from David Tibet and his shifting orbit of collaborators is an unexpected late-career throwback to the dazzling and immersive epics of Current 93's golden age. In Tibet's parlance, it is common for recordings and performances to be described as "channelings" and that seems especially appropriate for The Light Is Leaving Us All, which at times feels like it effortlessly transcends time and space and dissolves reality to open a fleeting portal into an alternate world swirling with unknowable mystery, unearthly beauty, and ineffable sadness. At its best, this album feels like a motley and wild-eyed caravan of minstrels, actors, and puppeteers unexpectedly appeared in a medieval town to share a vividly haunting, hallucinatory, and deeply eschatological fairy tale that will be the last thing that any of the villagers ever hear.

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Qluster, "Elemente" is a dynamic and hypnotic record, not at all reliant upon listener knowledge of the three incarnations of K/C/Qluster nor of the relentless creativity of Hans-Joachim Roedelius. The trio play a range of analogue synths and tracks are coherently sequenced into a whole album: two elements which combine to give a richness, depth and balance to their expression.

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7824 Hits

Murderous Vision, "Voided Landscapes"; "Darkness Descends"

cover imageAs Murderous Vision, Ohio's Stephen Petrus has been one of the pioneers in the US death industrial/power electronics scene for over two decades now. It is a stylistic variation that has largely managed to avoid many of the pitfalls of its European counterpart ("provocative" political ambiguity, rampant misogyny, etc.) but retained the more creative, occasionally occult-tinged, depressive darkness. On Voided Landscapes, he continues this trend with a bit more environmental influence, both overt and subtle. Darkness Descends is a compilation for a festival Petrus curated this past summer in Cleveland and, while produced for the festival itself, stands strongly apart as a compilation of artists that have defined the style.

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7278 Hits

Bob Bellerue, "Music of Liberation"

cover imageIn four lengthy segments, each inhabiting its own side of vinyl, Brooklyn based Bob Bellerue presents a record that draws from his multitude of styles, from carefully constructed drones and outbursts of harsh noise, to less traveled territories, such as subtle melodies. Combined with experimental strategies learned from Bellerue’s work as a sound technician and Music of Liberation becomes a fascinating work in the canon of experimental sound and music, exceptional from both its composition as well as the production.

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Heather Leigh, "Throne"

cover imageThe Heather Leigh that recorded 2015's excellent I Abused Animal seems to have split into two separate artists this year: one who plays wild experimental guitar in a duo with Peter Brötzmann and another who is something of an outsider art-pop vocal diva. This is the latter Leigh. Ostensibly "a record of late-night Americana and heavy femininity," Throne is quite a bold and radical departure from expected territory, often resembling a bizarre and hallucinatory collision of Lou Reed and Kate Bush. That is only the tip of a very strange and intimate iceberg, however, as Leigh also has a curious approach to structure and a bent for confessional subject matter. For the most part, Leigh manages to make this experiment work, as Throne is a memorably unique album, but it only truly catches fire when her guitar playing bursts into the foreground.

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8349 Hits

Rudolf, "Om Kult - Ritual Practice of Conscious Dying, Vol. 1"

cover imageI have never been all that deeply immersed in the international noise scene, but I have certainly been aware of the scatological insanity of Rudolf for a couple of decades now. I always viewed his work like an anarcho-punk might have viewed GG Allin: a compelling spectacle, for sure, but in a completely different category than the serious music that truly mattered. After hearing this singular and bizarrely brilliant mélange of "psychomagick spells and occult yogic instructions," however, I definitely need to go back and cautiously revisit more of's previous ouevre: he clearly grasps something elusive and profound that most other people do not. This release may be the birth of a transcendent and entirely new phase, however, as has allegedly "conquered the nether scatological regions" and moved onto "psycho-spiritual cleansing rituals." As a listener, I did not feel particularly psychically cleansed by this album, but I did not feel coated in filth afterwards either, which is an unexpected step in the right direction. With Om Kult, Rudolf seems to have emerged from the grotesque purification ritual of his previous work as some kind of wild-eyed and uncomfortably intense shaman operating at an unusually high plane of consciousness.

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Orphax, "Saxophone Studies"

cover imageWhile this is improbably the first Orphax release to be covered on Brainwashed, Amsterdam's Sietse van Erve has been a significant figure in experimental music circles for nearly two decades, running the fine Moving Furniture label and organizing events at the STEIM Foundation and elsewhere. This latest album is kind of a decade-spanning labor of love, as van Erve solicited audio files from a number of planned collaborators back in 2006 for a project that was eventually abandoned. However, he recently rediscovered some saxophone recordings made by James Fella and decided to revisit them, resulting in the cacophonously brilliant opening piece "JF." To complement that piece, Sietse then enlisted his father to make some fresh new recordings for him to work his transformative magic upon for a companion piece. While the two pieces sound quite different from one another, both are compellingly unusual forays into longform drone that lysergically swirl and undulate with vibrant harmonic interplay.

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Tim Hecker, "Konoyo"

cover imageWhile he has long been one of my favorite artists, Tim Hecker has truly blossomed into a creative supernova over the last several years, as each fresh album seems to set a new standard for the state of electronic music. For the most part, this latest release continues that improbable streak of masterpieces, though Konoyo's vision is radical in a much different way than Love Streams or Virgins. The raw material was quite a bold departure from the norm, however, as Hecker collaborated with a gagaku ensemble in Tokyo. Despite the unusual instrumentation and the unexpected participants, Konoyo still sounds perversely like a classic Tim Hecker album, albeit the broken, squirming ruins of one. I suppose that makes it feel like slightly less of visionary bombshell than some other releases at times, but that is merely because Hecker's focus was on more subtle evolutions this time around, stripping away unnecessary density and adventurously playing with textures and structures to present a hallucinatory masterclass in experimental composition that seethes and churns with dark emotion.

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Sean McCann, "Fountains"

cover imageSean McCann's output has greatly slowed in recent years, as he has become increasing focused on running the fine Recital Program imprint, yet he was easily one of the most wildly prolific figures to emerge from the cassette culture explosion of the early 2000s. As a result, much of his finest work surfaced only ephemerally and many of his early tapes have likely only been heard by the most devoted of Foxy Digitalis readers. One of countless releases that slipped by me (and presumably lots of other people) was this one, originally issued on cassette and CDR on McCann's earlier Roll Over Rover label back in 2010. Despite that humble release, Fountains was an ambitious undertaking, as McCann envisioned it as an "ambient masterwork" that would be the debut release for Recital. He was never quite happy with it though, and moved onto his more orchestral-minded Music for Private Ensemble work instead. I certainly cannot fault McCann's decision, but he was wrong about one thing: Fountains actually is an ambient masterwork (or at least damn close to one).

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Barnacles, "Air Skin Digger", M.B.+Barnacles, "Sidereal Decomposition Activity"

cover image Barnacles, the (mostly) solo project of Italy’s Matteo Uggeri (also a member of Sparkle in Grey) has released two albums nearly simultaneously, and even though the approach to each are drastically different, the final product is entirely complimentary. With one culled from source material of previous releases and the other with the legendary experimental Italian artist and composer, there is a wide gamut of sounds here, but one that has the unified focus of Uggeri’s compositional skills.

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Sarah Davachi, "Gave In Rest"

cover imageThis latest album, Davachi's second of the year, continues the compelling and accelerating evolution of her distinctive vision. In fact, Gave in Rest features some of her most experimental and uncategorizable work to date, incorporating Renaissance-era instrumentation and compositional ideas to create something resembling a spectral secular mass of sorts. While the results of this ambitious divergence can occasionally feel sketch-like, uneven, or less than seamless as Davachi explores unusual structures or revels in the joy of pure sound, the bulk of the album is quite good and a few pieces are absolutely sublime. Even if it does not quite rank among Davachi's strongest releases, Gave in Rest is the album that departs most radically from her comfort zone and delves the deepest into unexplored territory.

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7234 Hits

Ozmotic, "Elusive Balance"

cover image For their third album, the duo of Stanislao Lesnoj (saxophone, electronics) and SmZ (drums, electronics) work effortlessly to achieve the state described by the album title: a precarious mix of vastly differing instrumentation and genres that end up complementing one another quite effectively. The final product largely straddles that unlikely line between jazz and abstract electronica, but in a way that comes across as unique and fresh.

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Olson/Case/Hardiman, "March of the Mutilated Vol. 2 & 3"

cover image In what has become a yearly tradition, Wolf Eyes member and meme master John Olson again hooks up with Upstate NY's Eric Hardiman and Jeff Case to deliver two more discs of psy jazz/free improv/whatever sessions from Case's basement studios. The progression throughout these latest two installments of the March of the Mutilated series is indicative of a clear trajectory, with the trio keeping some things constant, but also a significant amount of change, evolution, and hints at what may be to come during the holiday season of 2018.

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