Madeleine Cocolas, "Bodies"

BodiesThis latest full-length from Australian composer Madeleine Cocolas is billed as a companion piece to 2022’s acclaimed Spectral, as the two albums have something of a conceptual yin/yang relationship: Spectral was devoted to “evoking memories and emotions,” while Bodies “is about being present in your body.” The title also has a dual meaning this time around, as Cocolas sought to explore “similarities between bodies of water and human bodies” and “blur the boundaries between them.” As is the case with most conceptual inspirations behind instrumental albums, it is hard to say how much of that actually comes through in the music, but it makes for interesting contextual background and it seems to have triggered a significant creative evolution, as Madeleine makes beautiful use of manipulated field recordings. That element alone is enough to set her apart from other ambient/drone artists in the Room40 milieu, but I was also struck by her talents for sound design and virtuosic ability to interweave countless moving parts in dynamically compelling ways. At its best, Bodies feels like a minor deep listening/headphone masterpiece.

Room40

The opening “Bodies I” provides an alluring introduction to Cocolas’s current vision, as it slowly fades in as a seismic drone throb beneath gently undulating and murmuring strings lingering in a flickering state of suspended animation. Gradually, it intensifies in power and takes on a more spacy, dreamlike tone, but the overall effect is akin to that of a billowing cloud of blissed-out ambiance with a roiling and unpredictable swirl of anguish and unease at its center. It is probably one of the most mesmerizing headphone pleasures on the album, but the following “Drift” is a similarly inspired slow burn. For one, it is the first piece to noticeably involve water sounds and her talent for sound design transforms those sounds into something that feels wonderfully immersive, viscous, and physical. “Drift” is also an unusually melodic piece, as a pulsing organ melody is gradually fleshed out with warm, rich chords. Also unusual: the chords and melody predictably steal the focus initially, but closer listening reveals a vivid psychotropic wonderland beneath the surface, as the layers of moving parts increasingly bend, smear, pan, change speeds, change rhythms, and organically ebb and flow around the melody. To my ears, that is what makes Madeleine Cocolas’s work feel like something special and singular: her genius for weaving together richly detailed layers of continually evolving field recordings, processed voices, and electronic instruments into a seamless organic fantasia.

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280 Hits

Raoul Eden, "Incarnation"

IncarnationThis is the vinyl debut from American Primitive-inspired French guitarist Raoul Eden, but it previously surfaced as a self-released CD back in 2023 (a previous “incarnation,” if you will). That makes the chronology of Eden’s evolution a little blurry, as his other album (Anima, released on Scissor Tail) was recorded that same year. In any case, Incarnation is an absolute tour de force, as Eden tries his damndest to fill the void left by Jack Rose’s passing and gamely spices up his “primitive psychedelic blues” vision by incorporating Indian, Arabic, Turkish, Moroccan, and Taureg influences. Obviously, the solo steel string guitarist tradition of looking to the East for cool ideas goes back to at least Robbie Basho, but Eden executes that assimilation quite beautifully (and unusually seamlessly). In fact, Eden executes just about everything beautifully and that is the bit that elevates Incarnation into something quite striking and singular, as he brings an ecstatic intensity to almost every single one of these six pieces, resulting in a strain of fingerstyle guitar that often gloriously feels like a runaway train leaving a rain of sparks in its wake.

Self-Released

The album opens with one of its two extended centerpieces, “Red Sun of a Moonless Morning.” Clocking in at eight minutes, the piece opens with a brief and tender Middle Eastern-sounding reverie, but quickly ramps up to a feeling of breathless, unstoppable forward motion once the ringing arpeggios kick in. Naturally, there are plenty of melodies, cool virtuosic flourishes, and well-timed dynamic pauses along the way, but the best part for me is the sense of almost violent spontaneity that Eden achieves: melodies snap and twang brightly, chords slash, and the arc of the piece is unpredictable and shapeshifting in a way that feels organic and intuitive rather than composed. Given the technical demands of the piece and its seamless transitions from theme to theme, I am sure that Eden had practiced and performed the piece a hundred times before hitting “record,” but I am also sure that his muscles were tautly coiled and ready to unleash the most rapturous and volcanic version possible when that moment finally came. To some degree, Eden employs the time-tested strategy of bridging composed passages together with more free-form improvisations to give his pieces a sense of immediacy and unpredictability, but the sheer passion that Eden brings to his playing makes even the composed passages seem deeply felt, primal, and in-the-moment.

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218 Hits

Klara Lewis & Yuki Tsujii, "Salt Water"

Salt WaterI am always eager to hear anything new from the reliably weird and inventive Klara Lewis, but the unpredictability of her collaborative releases is especially pronounced. Notably, Salt Water is the first of those collaborations in which I was not previously familiar with her creative foil. It also seems like quite a leftfield pairing on paper, given that Yuki Tsujii is best known as the guitarist for a hard-to-categorize Japanese rock band based in London (Bo Ningen). Fortunately, everything made sense once I learned that Tsujii is now based in Stockholm (Lewis is Swedish) and that he had previously collaborated with both Faust and Keiji Haino (his primal, convulsive playing here would be right at home on an album by the latter). Also of note: Lewis is described as a "loop finder" in the album's description, which feels like an extremely apt description of her role on Salt Water. Unsurprisingly, the loops that she found are extremely cool, resulting in an album that often sounds like scrabbling guitar noise assaulting an eclectic array of '60s exotica, classical, and film score samples.

The Trilogy Tapes

The album opens in simultaneously promising and frustrating fashion, as Tsujii unleashes a fitful, stuttering, and scrabbling spew of notes over a gorgeously shimmering and pulsing loop. Initially, that feels like quite a winning combination, but it soon starts to overstay its welcome a bit and often feels too improvisatory to justify its nearly 9-minute running time (it's more than twice as long as any other piece on the album). That said, it still ultimately winds up at an interesting destination, as the sounds gradually become more gnarled, grainy, and distorted in a way that calls to mind early laptop pioneers like Fenn O'Berg. The following "Close Up" also initially sounds like it could have been plucked from a laptop album circa 2000, as its haunting and sensuous vocal loop is strafed by sputtering static and possibly a chorus of frogs. Notably, however, Lewis and Tsujii quickly transcend that "early laptop" aesthetic to evoke something akin to a haunted sex lagoon, which is quite a neat trick. Moreover, the pair do not unnecessarily linger around and move onto the next piece after about three minutes, which feels like just the right length for a piece with the stylistic constraint of having a single repeating loop as its backbone.

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595 Hits

Julian Sartorius, "Hidden Tracks: Domodossola – Weissmies"

Hidden Tracks: Domodossola – WeissmiesThis Swiss percussionist has been quietly carving out a very cool and unique niche for himself over the last decade, as he continually finds unusual conceptual scenarios to combine with his virtuosic playing. I greatly enjoyed 2021's aptly titled Locked Grooves, but had not yet delved too deeply into his earlier work, so I had missed the first installment of Hidden Tracks: 2017's Basel – Gen​è​ve. For that album, Sartorius brought his drumsticks along for a 10-day, 270km hike along Switzerland's Jura Ridgeway Trail and recorded improvised beats on whatever intriguing sound sources he encountered (trees, empty silos, corn stalks, etc.). On this latest installment, his journey is now vertical, as Sartorius kept a similar beat diary as he climbed from the Italian village of Domodossola "to the peak of Weissmies (4017m above sea level) in the Swiss Valais." In theory, that upped the game considerably constraint-wise, as Sartorius gradually leaves behind both humanity and trees in his ascent, but that comparative dearth of available sound sources was no match for his resourceful inventiveness.

Everest Records

The album is presented as a series of eight pieces that mirror Sartorius's ascent in 500 meter intervals, so the first piece (272m_↗_500m) is built from sounds recorded in Domodossola and the last piece is assembled entirely from sounds collected near the mountain summit. Notably, Sartorius was joined by videographer Stephan Hermann and his footage makes for a wonderfully illustrative guide to the shifting terrain that the duo encountered. It also helpfully illuminates how Sartorius was able to make these recordings, which is something that initially baffled me, as some of these pieces seemed impossibly complex to perform in real-time and Julian made a point of stating that "no electronic effects or sound processing were used." That claim is indeed factual, but there was some post-recording assembly involved: Sartorius recorded multiple tracks (usually played one-handed while the other hand wielded a microphone), then assembled layered beatscapes from the sounds collected at each elevation. That essentially means that a kick drum pattern might have been recorded with one pile of rocks, but the rest of the beat may have been recorded using a completely different pile of rocks. That said, that finished recordings make for a very impressive audio illusion, as it often sounds like Julian's drumming is taking place in real-time and intuitively interacting with non-percussive field recordings of cars, birds, planes, radios, cows, and sprinklers.

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1260 Hits

Moonshake, "Eva Luna" Deluxe Edition

Eva LunaI believe I stumbled upon Moonshake's singular 1992 debut full-length by blind luck at a used record store, but I cannot remember if I picked it up because I was already vaguely aware that Margaret Fiedler was cool or if it was still pre-Laika. In any case, I always thought of Moonshake primarily as Fieldler's alternately frustrating and brilliant first band. In hindsight, however, I failed to appreciate how truly radical this foursome were during their brief flourish and dearly wish that I had dug a bit deeper back then, as Eva Luna could have (and should have) been my gateway into an amazing world of killer underground music that I was not yet aware of (krautrock, post-punk, free jazz, Jamaican dub, and even the C86 scene). Listening to this expanded reissue now with considerably more adventurous ears, I still find this album oft-frustrating, but I am newly struck by how almost every song features at least one moment where Moonshake sounded like the best band on the goddamn planet. That white-hot inspiration did not always sustain itself for an entire song, but this reissue beautifully strengthens the original album with some welcome gems from the band's early EPs.

Beggars Arkive/Matador/Too Pure

The idea for Moonshake first took shape after the 1990 demise of guitarist/singer Dave Callahan's previous band The Wolfhounds. He was weary of playing rock music and wanted to try something more eclectic and sample-driven, but he was less than thrilled with the sound of his own voice, so he placed an ad in Melody Maker for a female guitarist and Margaret Fielder was the only person who responded. Callahan's original plan was allegedly to combine Byrds-inspired vocal harmonies with samples and Metal Box-inspired dubwise post-punk, but both of those influences fell by the wayside once Fiedler's own creative input started to shape their sound. The new band's first release was 1991's First EP on Creation Records, which is something of a gem in its own right, but sounds completely different from Moonshake of Eva Luna: the shoegaze-y melodicism of First is very much in line with other Creation bands of the time like Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine. That achievement did not suit Callahan at all, so the band set out to completely reinvent themselves for their next major statement (spoiler alert: the PIL influence came back in a big way, but was joined by some fresh influences from hip-hop, free jazz, noise, and elsewhere).

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1474 Hits

Lise Barkas & Lisa Käuffert, "Lo Becat"

Lo BecatThis album is definitely one of the more unlikely underground hits to cross my path in recent memory, as this strikingly unique bagpipe performance first quietly surfaced as an extremely limited CDr back in 2017 on Strasbourg's Soleils Bleus label. Last year, however, it got a well-deserved vinyl resurrection on Belgium's forward-thinking Morc Records and it sold out almost immediately (as did last month's repress, unsurprisingly). Notably, the bagpipe has historically not been my favorite instrument, but I've said the same thing in the past about harps and harpsichords only to have my mind blown by Joanna Newsom, Mary Lattimore, and Catherine Christer Hennix, so this is merely the latest revelation that any instrument can sound amazing in the right hands. I also never expected the French traditional music scene to be the source of so many stellar contemporary albums, yet Lise and Lisa have just joined my personal pantheon of Gallic folkies (France, Tanz Mein Herz, etc.) who have dropped killer left-field psych gems in recent years. That is an especially impressive feat for Kaüffert, given that she is a German bagpiper.

Soleils Bleus/Morc

As far as I can tell, Lo Becat was originally recorded back in 2016 for a radio broadcast, but Lise and Lisa have been playing together as a duo since 2014. While Kaüffert's own origin story remains a mystery to me, Barkas' journey to traditional music amusingly began via Coil, as she was entranced by Cliff Stapleton's hurdy-gurdy playing. That eventually led her to the music of France's Yann Gourdon and her involvement in more traditional fare, but that was mostly because there is a lot more demand for bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy players in the traditional/folk music scenes than in the experimental one (Coil is no longer hiring, I'm afraid). In the years since, however, Barkas and her like-minded friends have carved out a unique niche through the band L'Écluse (Kaüffert is also a member) and collectives like Kreis. Unsurprisingly, Lo Becat is the appropriately unusual fruit of a union between two avant-garde-minded bagpipers with one foot in traditional music circles, as it is essentially a loose fantasia upon an old ballad entitled "la belle va au jardin des amours" (Beauty Goes To The Garden of Love) that segues into a folk dance. Neither of the two pieces incorporated into Lo Becat are familiar to me as an American, of course, but I doubt a dueling bagpipe version of either would be recognizable to many French people either. That said, a timeless and beloved melody is always a solid foundation for adventurous experimentation or improv.

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718 Hits

Rafael Toral, "Spectral Evolution"

Spectral EvolutionBefore I heard this album, I mistakenly believed that I had a reasonable familiarity with Rafael Toral's oeuvre, as I had heard and enjoyed a handful of his classic guitar-era albums such as 2001's Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance. That said, it had been a while since I had kept tabs on his work, so I was quite curious to hear what made this "quintessential album of guitar music" exciting enough to reawaken Jim O'Rourke's decades-dormant Moikai label. As it turns out, absolutely everything about Spectral Evolution feels like a goddamn revelation to me and I am now kicking myself for sleeping on Toral's post-guitar Space Program-era of experimentation with self-built instruments. The psychotropic omnipresence of those self-built instruments makes it amusingly misleading to call Spectral Evolution Toral's return to guitar music, but if the presence of some recognizable guitar sounds lures more listeners towards this one-of-a-kind work of genius, I believe that claim has served a worthy purpose. Listening to this album was like hearing classic Merzbow or My Cat Is An Alien for the first time, as Toral plays entirely by his own set of rules and succeeds spectacularly.

Moikai

After being properly gobsmacked by one of the album's early "singles" ("Fifths Twice"), I was not sure that I was even listening to the right album when I finally played Spectral Evolution for the first time. That feeling quickly dissipated after the first minute, but the album deceptively begins with Toral casually improvising around a few jazzy chords.on a relatively clean and effects-free electric guitar. It does not take long at all before that pleasant motif is absorbed by an otherworldly cacophony of whining harmonics and squirming electronics, however, and the wild ride that ensues leaves those jazz chords so far in the rearview mirror that they feel like a memory from a previous life. If someone held a gun to my head and demanded that I coherently explain what was happening in the album's opening minutes, I would probably resign myself to my imminent death, but "I think an alien jungle just crash landed onto an organ mass in Mindfuck City" is probably a reasonably accurate summation…temporarily, at least. If I waited another minute or so, however, I would probably lean more towards "a group of psychotic puppets just formed a jarringly discordant marching band and kicked this Mardi Gras party into overdrive!" Consequently, it is hopeless to make any generalizations about Toral's vision for this album at all unless that generalization is something vague like "an unpredictable series of dissolving lysergic mirages dreamed up by a madman."

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2003 Hits

Maria W. Horn, "Panoptikon"

PanoptikonI tend to enjoy damn near everything that Sweden's XKatedral label releases, but this half-disturbing/half-transcendent tour de force by co-founder Maria W. Horn still managed to completely blindside me. Panoptikon's four-part suite was originally composed for a macabre installation at the "disbanded Vita Duvan (White Dove) panopticon prison in Luleå, Sweden." Being a panopticon, Vita Duvan had an unusual circular design "to create a sense of omniscient surveillance," but that is just the tip of a very grim iceberg, as it was also known for its brutal isolation tactics as well as rampant torture and execution. While the prison mercifully ceased operations in 1979, I suspect I would've needed months of therapy to recover from Horn's installation alone, as it pulsed in synchronization with the prison's lights and the cells contained speakers broadcasting the imagined voices of the doomed prisoners. Thankfully, the decontextualized album is considerably less harrowing than its origin suggests, as its dark choral opening quickly expands into an immersive swirl of heady drones, spacy synths, and timelessly beautiful vocal motifs.

Xkatedral

The heart of the album is the opening "Omnia citra mortem," which borrows its name from a legal term that translates as "everything until death." In the context of Vita Duvan, that meant that no one could be sentenced to death for a crime they did not confess to, but they could certainly be tortured until a confession was made. Needless to say, few were inclined to stick around very long, as being beheaded with an axe was vastly preferable to the alternative. According to Horn's research, the crimes that could land one in Vita Duvan could be as minor as "drunkenness" or "vagrancy," but several dozen unfortunate women met their end there because miscarriage and abortion were considered "child murder" at the time.

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1290 Hits

Dean McPhee, "Astral Gold"

Astral GoldThis fifth full-length from Yorkshire-based guitar visionary Dean McPhee is actually a compilation of sorts, bringing together the pieces from his out-of-print Cosmos / Ether lathe cut 7" (2022) with a couple of gems from Folklore Tapes compilation appearances. Happily, however, Astral Gold is also rounded out with a pair of new pieces and one of them ("The Sediment of Creation") easily ranks among McPhee's finest work. Given that I was already a huge fan of one of the Folklore Tapes pieces included here, that is more than enough to make this a solid release, but it is also an unexpectedly focused and thematically compelling one given the varied origins and inspirations of these songs. It is quite an aptly named release as well, as the languorously meditative and cosmic mood of these pieces seem like they would be an ideal soundtrack for any astral traveling that one might have on the horizon.

Bass Ritual

The album opens with the two pieces from the Cosmos/Ether single on Reverb Worship, which was originally something of a divergent release for McPhee, as both songs feel more like the extremely understated work of a cosmic-minded '70s psych band than McPhee's usual fare (Manuel Göttsching being the obvious reference point). That said, the two pieces still sound a hell of a lot like Dean McPhee--they just happen to have unusually prominent bass lines. Of the two, I prefer "Ether," as it plays more to McPhee's strengths of hazy, reverbent melodies and looping chord patterns. While I love both the gently pulsing chord progress and the lingering vapor trails that hang in the wake of the lead guitar melody, McPhee's larger achievement lies in how he seems to slow and blur the passage of time: the way his notes seem to burn off or ripple away into silence is often more significant than the notes themselves. The uncluttered clarity of his playing is similarly striking and out-of-step with the current musical landscape, as he consciously avoids any excess notes or layers that would dilute the direct/real-time beauty of his themes.

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708 Hits

"Flux Gourmet Original Motion Picture Soundtrack"

Flux GourmetI acknowledge it is only February right now, but I believe I can confidently state that this soundtrack will be the weirdest and most mystifying new album that I will encounter this year. The film itself was released back in 2022 and follows the trials and tribulations of an imaginary performance art group during a surreal and contentious month-long artist residency. It is an absolutely brilliant and wickedly funny film (possibly director Peter Strickland's finest work) and joins similarly deranged fare like Holy Mountain in the pantheon of cinema so audaciously batshit crazy that it is hard to fathom how it was ever financed, cast, or released. As befits such a bananas endeavor, the soundtrack features a murderers' row of compelling artists from the experimental/psych fringes, drawing participants from Broadcast, Nurse With Wound, Stereolab, Neutral Milk Hotel, Swans, and elsewhere. Obviously, that seems like a solid recipe for a unique album, but it is a unique album with a twist, as the heart of it all is Strickland's own Sonic Catering Band, a shifting collective devoted to transforming the preparation of vegetarian meals into ritualistic noise performances.

Ba Da Bing

The Sonic Catering Band allegedly formed as an anonymous ensemble in 1996 after finding unexpected inspiration in a bout of food poisoning. The band's mission statement is quite simple (if comically niche): "to employ a similar approach to electronic music as to (vegetarian) food; taking the raw sounds recorded from the cooking and preparing of a meal and treating them through processing, cutting, mixing and layering. No source sounds other than those coming from the cooking of the dish are used and as a commitment to artistic integrity, every dish is consumed by all members of the Band." The project spawned a record label (Peripheral Conserve) as well, releasing work by many of the folks who appear on the soundtrack as well as some other hard-to-categorize art provocateurs like The Bohman Brothers and Faust's Jean-Hervé Péron. Unsurprisingly, the project also resulted in some truly memorable-sounding performances ("on the wall by the table hung a lifesize 5ft gingerbread man with headphones on, listening to the sound of himself being cooked.").

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1363 Hits

Dead Bandit, "Memory Thirteen"

Memory ThirteenThis is the second album from the instrumental duo of Ellis Swan and James Schimpl and the first Dead Bandit album to follow Swan's killer 2022 solo album 3am. Happily, Memory Thirteen returns to the hypnagogic "witching hour" vibes of 3am, but it also marks a very compelling creative leap forward into fresh stylistic terrain. To my ears, that blearily dreamlike terrain is best described as "what if Boduf Songs scored a gig as the house band at a strip club in the Donnie Darko universe?" Needless to say, that is a very tricky and hyper-specific niche to fill, yet Dead Bandit consistently find new ways to combine hushed and haunted late-night melancholy with neon-soaked sensuousness, deadpan cool, and dreampop shimmer.

Quindi

The opening "Two Clocks" introduces most of the elements central to the duo's current vision: understated guitar melodies, well-timed flickers of human warmth, submerged and distressed-sounding textures, and slow-motion, head-nodding beats. It is a fine way to start an album, but it feels more like a setting of the stage than a legitimate album highlight (even if it undergoes a gorgeously dreamlike transformation around the halfway point). The first unambiguous highlight follows soon after, however, as "Blackbird" feels like a window into a narcotic and carnivalesque cabaret of eerie melody, throbbing bass, lysergically smeared textures, and simmering, seething intensity.

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946 Hits

Tristan Allen, "Tin Iso and the Dawn"

Tin Iso and the DawnThis is New York-based composer/puppeteer Tristan Allen's full-length debut and it is quite an ambitious one, as Tin Iso and the Dawn is the first chapter of a planned "shadow puppet symphony" trilogy loosely based on Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" that has been in the works since 2015. From where I am standing, there are innumerable ways in which such an album could go wrong and they range from "forgettable score to cool puppet show" to "cloyingly precious" to "outright bombastic." Instead, however, Tin Iso and the Dawn sounds like a stone-cold masterpiece dropped by a creative supernova. Listening back to Allen's previous discography (a pair of classical piano EPs), it almost feels like this vision materialized out of nowhere, but the seeds of this puppet-centric magnum opus may have been planted more than a decade ago when Allen co-wrote a piece with Amanda Palmer in the early days of her "Dresden Dolls hiatus" solo career.

RVNG

The album begins in somewhat deceptive fashion, as "Opening" is initially just a bittersweet solo piano melody that feels like a simple yet lovely classical piece built from a few well-chosen arpeggios. That is familiar territory for Allen, but that familiarity begins unraveling in under a minute, as the arpeggios are quickly enlivened with harmonies, melodic flourishes, rhythmic disruptions, psychotropic tendrils, and a wake of groans and lingering decays. Then yet another surprise happens in the final minute, as it sounds like Allen stops playing, closes the piano, and lets the lingering haze of murk threaten to become a self-perpetuating drone piece. If Allen were some kind of Andy Kaufman-style performance artist/comedian, it would have been a solid move to let that haze of decay play out for another forty minutes, but it instead segues into the first of four acts ("Act I: Stars and Moon"). From that point onward, Tin Iso and the Dawn features a near-unbroken run of achingly beautiful and unique orchestral pieces.

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2110 Hits

Richard Sears, "Appear to Fade"

Appear to FadeMuch to my surprise, my favorite tape music album of 2023 did not come from any of the usual suspects (Nonconnah, Lilien Rosarian, Ian William Craig, etc.) and instead came courtesy of this unusual collaboration between newly Parisian jazz pianist/composer Richard Sears and producer Ari Chersky. While I am unfamiliar with Sears' previous activities in NYC's avant-garde scene before his trans-Atlantic relocation, Appear to Fade is an entirely new animal altogether, as it is a series of collages built from decontextualized/recontextualized recordings of solo piano compositions and live improvisations. I can understand why this is being released as a Richard Sears album, given the fact that he played everything and has some serious jazz cred to boot, but the impact of Chesky's editing and healthy appreciation for pleasures of analog tape distortion elevates those recordings into something brilliant that feels far greater than the sum of its parts. While much of that success is due to the pair's unerring intuitions and Sears' undeniably beautiful playing, the real magic of Appear to Fade lies in how masterfully the duo were able to organically weave together looping melodies with fluid and spontaneous-sounding improvisations while evoking a mesmerizing mirage of elegantly shifting moods.

figureeight

The opening "Tracing Time" is quite possibly one of the most gorgeous tape-based pieces that I have heard in my life, as a delicate piano melody lazily winds through a shifting and swaying landscape of straining tape warbles, analog murk, and subtly rhythmic swells. Moreover, beyond its immediately obvious melodic and textural pleasures, the piece evokes a wonderful strain of frayed and unraveling opulence and also feels like time is fitfully freezing and reversing due to all the ingenious tape manipulations. There is even a surprise twist at the end, as the dream-like bliss curdles into something more ominous that resembles the soundtrack from a mangled VHS of a Bela Lugosi-style classic vampire film played backwards. Obviously, it does not take a genius to realize that putting your best foot forward is a great way to kick off an album, but there is definitely an art to sequencing the remaining pieces so they feel like different flavors of wonderful rather than a dip in quality. To their credit, Sears and Chesky succeed beautifully in that regard and even managed to keep a second masterpiece ("Manresa") in the chamber until nearly the end of the album.

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2714 Hits

Emptyset, "Ash"

Ash It has been a while since this duo of James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas last surfaced, but they are back with a new EP to celebrate Subtext's 50th release. Since releasing 2019's Blossoms, the pair have been quite busy with other projects, as Purgas's research played a crucial role in the release of The NID Tapes: Electronic Music from India 1969​-​1972 while Ginzburg has kept himself occupied with running a record label, releasing solo albums, and performing as part of "experimental supergroup" Osmium. Emptyset was never fully dormant, however, and Ginzburg and Purgas convened in Bristol this summer to shape their accumulated ideas into one of their most focused and singular releases in recent memory. It is also one of their most concise, as ash clocks in at an extremely lean 16-minutes. If this were any other project, that brevity would suggest a serious dearth of fresh ideas or compelling new material, but it is exactly the right length for a perfect distillation of Emptyset's viscerally spasmodic and pummeling percussion assaults.

Subtext

Much like their Manchester peers Autechre, it is very easy to forget that James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas were ever interested in making beat-driven music aimed for the dancefloor, as they long ago plunged into an avant-garde rabbit hole of abstract deconstructionism, cutting edge sound design, and self-built instruments and have not looked back since. I bring up that origin for a reason, as understanding that ash was inspired by Bristol's sound system culture is crucial to grasping the appeal of the duo's current vision. In fact, I was initially underwhelmed by these songs, as I could not understand why Ginzburg in particular would want to regress to punishing, no-frills rhythm workouts after blowing me away with the droning immensity of his 2021 solo album crystallise, a frozen eye.

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1929 Hits

Black to Comm, "At Zeenath Parallel Heavens"

At Zeenath Parallel HeavensI am almost always intrigued by the eclectic and unusual inspirations behind Marc Richter albums and this latest full-length for Thrill Jockey is no exception. The core concept at the heart of this one is the "hybridity within each and every one of us," which Richter set out to mirror through a mixture of self-created sounds and manipulated samples. Things got more interesting along the way, however, as Richter had the epiphany that his own methods are quite similar to artificial intelligence "hallucinations," which is a phenomenon in which an overloaded AI starts perceiving non-existent patterns or spewing incorrect or nonsensical conclusions.

Thrill Jockey

Beyond that, the methods behind this album remain an enigma to me, as does the inspiration behind the album's curious title, though Richter does note that the song titles borrow phrases from poetry and mythology with a deliberate leaning towards erotic innuendos and the ridiculous. Naturally, most of the humor and ridiculousness that found its way into these sound collages is far too buried or oblique to be readily apparent to listeners, but I had no trouble at all grasping that At Zeenath Parallel Heavens is yet another excellent Black to Comm album. In fact, this might be one of the most beautifully focused and immersive albums that Richter has ever released.

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1687 Hits

Aki Onda, "Transmissions From The Radio Midnight"

Transmissions From The Radio MidnightThis is one of the more enigmatic and compellingly inscrutable albums that I have heard in quite some time, but I could probably say the same thing about a half dozen other Aki Onda albums at this point. This particular project began in 2006 when Onda acquired a slim handheld AM/FM radio/cassette recorder and began bringing it with him whenever he traveled: each night when he went to bed, he would turn on the radio and scan the dial in search of something interesting to soundtrack his descent into sleep.

Dinzu Artefacts

Unsurprisingly, that nightly ritual was soon enhanced by Onda's fascination with the spaces on the dial in which multiple frequencies overlap in surreal and unpredictable ways and his nightly hunt for entertainment soon transformed into a sound art project. Naturally, the spontaneous and unique juxtapositions of colliding transmissions are the album's most immediate/obvious pleasure and there are some great ones strewn throughout the album. However, those surface-level pleasures are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, as any inquisitive mind will easily find a host of deeper layers and meanings to contemplate.

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1556 Hits

Fortunato Durutti Marinetti, "Eight Waves In Search Of An Ocean"

Eight Waves In Search Of An OceanI have not encountered Dan Colussi's work before this album, but the Turin-born artist is a bit of a lifer, as he has been steadily releasing music and touring for the last 20 years with various Canadian bands "of varying degrees of obscurity." His solo project, Fortunato Durutti Marinetti, first surfaced back in 2020 with the acclaimed Desire cassette. This latest release is his second for Soft Abuse (and his first for Quindi) and it is something of a bold creative leap forward, as returning collaborator/producer Sandro Perri has steered the project into a more synthpop direction with the addition of synths, drum machines, and other electronic touches.

Soft Abuse/Quindi

Notably, Colussi is an artist who makes no secret of his influences (Robert Wyatt, Lou Reed, Annette Peacock, etc.), but the main one definitely seems to be Leonard Cohen and this album amusingly mirrors Cohen's own stylistic evolution from his acoustic beginnings into the kitschier, more jazz-influenced work of his later years. I cannot say that I was entirely thrilled by that move in Cohen's case, but Cohen did not have Sandro Perri in his corner: the louche "yacht rock" charm of these arrangements is frequently the perfect counterbalance to Colussi's wonderful literary melancholy.

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1171 Hits

Lea Bertucci, "Of Shadow and Substance"

Of Shadow and SubstanceThis latest full-length from NY-based composer/multi-instrumentalist Lea Bertucci features two longform Just Intonation commissions composed for small ensembles. Given that, it is no surprise that Of Shadow and Substance is a unique album within her discography, but the added participants and the non-standard tuning were not the only new elements, as Bertucci embraced a "textural approach to composition" as well.

Cibachrome Editions

The results are quite unique and compelling, as Bertucci and her collaborators nimbly avoided any missteps or predictable decisions to produce a shapeshifting and emotionally intense drone album like no other. In fact, even Bertucci herself was a bit surprised with how Of Shadow and Substance turned out, as she notes that these two pieces feel informed by a "sense of deep, ancestral knowing" beyond herself as an individual, which seems like a valid and insightful claim, given that she shared the driver's seat with both ancient mathematical relationships and textural affinities and was also inherently prevented from falling back on any familiar scales or melodies. Ladies and gentlemen, Lea Bertucci has just crossed over into The Twilight Zone (or at least into releasing a killer album that borrows its title from that show's introduction).

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1833 Hits

Mary Lattimore, "Goodbye, Hotel Arkada"

Goodbye, Hotel ArkadaThis six-song album borrows its title from a beloved Croatian hotel damningly slated for modernization, which is a fitting inspiration for an album that "celebrates and mourns the tragedy and beauty of the ephemeral." Obviously, that is an especially resonant theme these days, given the endlessly accelerating pace of change and the relentless erosion of the comforting and familiar. Lattimore has always been unusually well-attuned to such feelings, but Goodbye, Hotel Arkada is also inspired by her passions for collaboration and travel, both of which "shake loose strands of inspiration."

Ghostly International

In keeping with those themes, this album features a number of intriguing collaborators (Slowdive's Rachel Goswell, The Cure's Lol Tolhurst, etc.), as well as a number of pieces inspired by warm memories of specific places and times from her travels, tours, and childhood. In fact, this is now the second Lattimore release that alludes to the island of Hvar (the first being 2020's landmark Silver Ladders). Naturally, the end result of all those reawakened memories and inspired collaborations is yet another gorgeous Mary Lattimore album, but it took a few listens before I fully appreciated this one's magic, as Goodbye, Hotel Arkada often feels deceptively simple on its surface. In reality, however, these are some of Lattimore's most focused and beautifully crafted pieces to date (they just take a little bit longer than usual to reveal their full depths).

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1391 Hits

American Cream Band, "Presents"

PresentsThis is not my first exposure to Nathan Nelson's freewheeling Twin-Cities improv collective, but it may as well have been, as the droning kosmische psychedelia of last year's Embrace You Millions provided no hint at all of the dramatic stylistic reinvention looming on the horizon. To my ears, the band's entertaining new direction is best described as "James Chance fronts the B-52s," but the album's description goes even further and promises both "a spiritually-charged journey" and "a shit-kicking party record." The fact that Presents emphatically delivers on the latter claim is quite an impressive feat indeed, as the number of shit-kicking party records successfully recorded by shapeshifting collectives of synth and space rock enthusiasts tends to historically be quite low. To their everlasting credit, American Cream Band buck that trend quite decisively, as Nelson seems literally evangelical in his desire to make a fun and raucous party album and he assembled one hell of a killer band to bring that dream to life.

Quindi

The "building blocks" for Presents were originally recorded back in December 2021, as Nelson brought ten musicians to Cannon Falls' Pachyderm studio to "live together," "eat together," and "lay down some drum-heavy sessions." That studio choice was presumably quite deliberate, as Nelson seems like a guy who is intuitively attuned to seeking and setting the right vibe and Pachyderm birthed quite a few iconic albums in its first heyday (The Wedding Present's Seamonsters and PJ Harvey's Rid of Me being two prime examples) and became a post-foreclosure labor of love for the late engineer John Kuker in more recent years.

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1522 Hits