Klara Lewis and Nik Colk Void, "Full-On"

Full-On As Alter's album description insightfully observes, a collaboration between these two Editions Mego alumnae "somehow seemed inevitable," yet I was still pleasantly surprised at how seamlessly Lewis and Void were able to combine their visions into something that feels both new and wonderful. On one level, the success of this union makes perfect sense, as both artists tend to turn out some of their strongest work in collaborative situations (Carter Tutti Void and Lewis's KLMNOPQ EP with Peder Mannerfelt being prime examples of that phenomenon). However, both artists excel in extremely specific realms that have some limitations: Lewis is exceptionally good at collaging non-musical sounds, while Void seems particularly adept at crafting eccentric noise-damaged techno.

Alter

Obviously, beat-driven sound collages were a distinct possibility, but so were any number of other options, so I had no clear expectations about where this shared vision would ultimately land. Now that said shared vision has landed, however, I can confidently state that Full-On resembles a deeply unconventional beat tape and quite a good one at that. While I suspect some listeners will initially find the album's kaleidoscopic parade of brief loops and vignettes exasperatingly sketchlike (there are a lot of 1-minute songs), I personally warmed to Full-On almost immediately, as practically every piece that made it onto the album is compelling, inventive, and endearingly idiosyncratic.

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1846 Hits

Caterina Barbieri, "Myuthafoo"

MyuthafooThis latest album from Barbieri is intended as a sister album to 2019's landmark Ecstatic Computation and has been released to correspond with the imminent reissue of the latter. The central difference between the two albums is that Myuthafoo gradually and organically took shape during Barbieri's extensive touring, as the "nomadic, interactive energy" of those many live dates inspired her to play with experimental variations in her process each night. More specifically, she would program patterns into her sequencer, then feed them into her "arsenal of noise generators" to explore different combinations and the most compelling results were set aside for future expansion and/or eventual release.

light-years

In characteristically cerebral fashion, Barbieri's arcane processes have their roots in cosmogony, as she is fascinated with how a small number of limited options can "branch out into a much larger structure, eventually reaching towards an open-ended cosmos of possibility." Admittedly, comparing Myuthafoo to the birth of a universe will probably establish unreasonably high expectations for some listeners, but they can at least console themselves with yet another killer Caterina Barbieri album while they patiently wait for a new and better universe to form.

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1575 Hits

Big Blood, "First Aid Kit"

First Aid KitThis latest LP from Big Blood is their first for Ba Da Bing and a spiritual successor of sorts to Do You Want to Have a Skeleton Dream?, as the band are back in "full family trio retro-pop extravaganza" mode. For the most part, Quinnissa (who was apparently only 13 when this album was recorded) handles the lead vocals for a series of hooky, bass-driven garage rock nuggets, though there are also a couple of headier Colleen-sung gems for fans of the band's darker, more psychedelic side. Notably, Caleb's frayed yelp is entirely absent from the proceedings, but it probably would have felt out of place among the unabashed throwback pop fare. Moreover, First Aid Kit feels like a full-on Quinnissa showcase, which makes for a rather unique entry in the Big Blood canon, as she is one hell of a belter and also spontaneously improvised all her lyrics during recordings. As Caleb notes in the album description, being in a band with your teenage daughter is admittedly something of a messy and volatile situation ("lots of practices end with her being tossed from the band"), but I can see why they are sticking with this format, as Quinnissa increasingly feels like a pop supernova in its formative stages.

Ba Da Bing/Feeding Tube

This album's overall feel is something akin to a raucous wedding reception in which members of The Cramps and B-52's join forces for a spirited and spontaneous set of half-remembered '60s bubblegum pop covers. The opening "In My Head" represents that vein in its purest form, as it is built from little more than a meaty bass line, a simple thumping beat, and a subtly surf-damaged guitar tone. The most perfect iteration of that aesthetic comes much later on the album, as "1000 Times" feels like a raw and raucous cover of an imagined classic by someone like The Ronettes. Elsewhere, the dark paranoia of "Never Ending Nightmare" is yet another notable Quinnissa showcase, though its unsettling subject matter is nicely invigorated by a bouncy bassline, quirky percussion, and a killer chorus hook. Quinnissa also handles lead vocals on "Infinite Space," but that piece feels like a comparative anomaly more akin to Big Blood's non-Quinnissa fare. It still feels a bit unusually anthemic and driving for a Big Blood song, but reaching infinitely to space is a more traditional lyrical theme for the band and there are some very cool howling psych touches in the periphery. Admittedly, a lot of Quinnissa's lyrics sound like they were composed by a 13-year-old, but as the album's description insightfully observes, "teenage impulses fit right in with the band's intent, which is making music that's honest, inclusive and flawed." To their everlasting credit, Big Blood seem to be endlessly resourceful in their balancing of flawed spontaneity and thoughtful art, as Mulkerin harvests "the ghostly presence of past takes" as a subtly trippy background layer throughout the album.

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1482 Hits

Wolf Eyes, "Dreams In Splattered Lines"

Dreams In Splattered LinesThis latest LP from Wolf Eyes is something of a major release for the duo, as they are currently celebrating their 25th year with "their first widely-distributed non-compilation album in six years." Fittingly, Dreams In Splattered Lines is one of the project's most compelling and sophisticated albums to date, which is likely the result of some recent developments that would have seemed absolutely unimaginable when the project first began (collaborating with a Pulitzer Prize winner, a viral video for a fashion company, sharing stages with jazz titans, a residency at The New York Public Library, etc.). The library residency in particular played an especially large role in shaping this album, as the duo built a number of new instruments while they were there and also spent a lot of time absorbing the Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Of course, the truly interesting bit is how inventively Nate Young and John Olson assimilated all their new ideas, as well as the fact that their more high art/avant-garde influences amusingly collide with a newfound fascination with how "hit songs" work. While Wolf Eyes have sporadically dazzled me over the years as a cool noise band, Dreams In Splattered Lines feels like the album where they have arguably become the spiritual heirs to Throbbing Gristle in channeling the best ideas of the 20th century avant-garde into a zeitgeist-capturing mirror of the times (a post-hope world of crumbling institutions and widespread alienation).

Disciples

The album is billed as "a surreal dreamscape of disorienting sound collages, where hit songs are transformed into terrariums of sonic flora and decimated fauna," which is a considerably more elegant description than my own "a masterfully choreographed ballet of shit." The album itself is not shit, of course, but the sounds themselves are quite a cavalcade of rotten, shambling, broken, strangled, and ugly sounds conjured from inventively misused gear. The opening "Car Wash Two" is an especially illustrative example of the latter, as it "includes a Short Hands track playing on the car radio while waves of white noise and contact microphones are plunging into water buckets." That trick was then coupled with an added "meta" twist: the recording was then "played in a car while going through an actual car wash" before it was ultimately layered and mixed in the studio. Notably, that piece is singled out as an example of the duo's new "hit single" mindset, but that trait is only evident in an oblique way that involves terrariums. More immediately graspable, however, is the fact that almost every song on the album is distilled to a punchy two- or three-minute running time. On the lesser pieces, it can sometimes feel like a song is over before it gets a chance to make a deep impression, but the stronger pieces tend to regularly attain "all killer, no filler" nirvana.

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2505 Hits

My Cat Is An Alien, "Spiritual Noise — RINASCIMENTO"

Spiritual Noise — RINASCIMENTOThe latest ambitious durational epic from the Opalio brothers is thankfully not nearly as daunting as its 15-disc physical form suggests, as RINASCIMENTO ("Renaissance") is composed of 15 movements of varying lengths ranging from 5 to 40 minutes. The reasoning behind the unusual format is arguably twofold, as the Opalios' belief that "each sound claims its own space" is extended to dedicate a full disc to each movement and listeners are invited to "subvert the order" to make use of "random/chance operation à la Cage." There is an additional piece to the puzzle as well, however, as the handcrafted box and CD-R format were deliberately chosen as a return to MCIAA's "radical DIY" origins and as a pointed commentary on underground music's current maddening dependence on vinyl pressing plants and predatory corporations. Unsurprisingly, the primary appeal of RINASCIMENTO is the same as that of every other multi-hour MCIAA tour de force: it is a sustained and mind-altering plunge into otherworldly psychedelia that abandons nearly all earthbound notions of harmony, melody, structure, and instrumentation (and that is not an exaggeration). While the brothers' sonic palette will be a familiar one for longtime MCIAA fans (being a two-person real-time "spontaneous composition" project has some limitations), RINASCIMENTO is nevertheless one hell of a statement, as it collects the duo's most revelatory flashes of inspiration from an entire year of recordings (several of which capture the duo in peak longform form).

Elliptical Noise

The first movement of this 5 ½ hour epic is a deceptively brief and harsh one, as a miasma of tape hiss, whines, and jangling metal sounds call to mind someone slowly dragging a mass of metal cans ("just married!") around a burst pipe in a queasy swirl of alien harmonies and gibbering electronics. In theory, the fifteenth and final movement (smoldering feedback slowly streaking over thumping ritualistic percussion amidst a fog of cooing voices) is not radically different from that opening piece, but it certainly FEELS very different when it eventually comes because it is impossible to listen to 5+ hours of MCIAA without feeling like one's mind has been fundamentally transformed in some way by the sustained plunge into the Opalio's smeared, unnerving, and otherworldly vision. That said, some of the longer movements can achieve a similar effect in drastically reduced time on their own.

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1507 Hits

UCC Harlo, "Topos"

ToposThis is the second solo album from NYC-based violist/composer/musicologist Annie Garlid and it borrows its name from the Greek word for "place." Notably, Garlid moved back to the US in 2018 after spending a decade in Europe (playing viola in a German opera orchestra, among other things) and that return to her home country unsurprisingly stirred up some deep and unfamiliar thoughts and feelings. Those ruminations directly inspired Topos conceptually, as the album is a meditation on the "simultaneous familiarity and foreignness" of Garlid's surroundings and her entanglement "with a place that was both in her memory and in front of her eyes." Regardless of its inspirations, Topos is a very different (and stronger) album than its predecessor United, as Garlid's medieval and baroque influences are newly downplayed in favor of a more sensuous, hallucinatory, and vocal-centric vision. While that transformation makes a lot of sense given Garlid's work with artists like Caterina Barbieri, Holly Herndon, Emptyset, and ASMR artist Claire Tolan, her assimilation of those disparate influences is impressively seamless and inventive, as Topos feels like the blossoming of a compelling and distinctive new vision.

Subtext Recordings

The five pieces that compose Topos cover an unexpectedly expansive stylistic territory, as each individual piece takes a very different path than the other four. For example, the opening "Riverbeds" is not a far cry from Laura Cannell's sublime art-folk, as string drones sensuously rub up against one another beneath hushed, spoken vocals. It is a fine piece, but the two that follow are the ones where Garlid's vision truly catches fire.

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1541 Hits

Oval, "Romantiq"

RomantiqThis latest album from Markus Popp marks yet another intriguing stylistic detour for his endlessly shapeshifting Oval project, as he delves into "an omnipresent and yet oft ill-defined, even maligned area of music and art–the romantic." The idea for this album first began as a multimedia collaboration with digital artist Robert Seidel intended for the grand opening of Frankfurt's German Romantic Museum, but the endeavor soon evolved and expanded beyond the original purpose, as the two artists "sought a more expansive definition of 'romantic,' extending outward from the museum's comprehensive survey of the 19th-century epoch in art." That said, I suspect only Popp knows how influences from literature, architecture, and visual art helped shape the album, as my ears can only process the final destination and not the journey. In the case of Romantiq, that destination feels like a series of brief vignettes/miniatures assembled from period instrumentation and filtered through Popp's fragmented and idiosyncratic vision. Given that this is an Oval album, of course, very few of the 19th-century sounds are instantly recognizable as such (aside from some occasional piano), but Popp's kaleidoscopic and deconstructed homage to the past is a characteristically compelling and intriguingly unique outlier in the Oval canon (and it is often a textural marvel as well).

Thrill Jockey

The album's description promises a perfume-like experience ("rich scents flooding the senses before evaporating on the breeze"), which feels weirdly apt, as most of the pieces feel like a fleeting impression of something beautiful rather than an intentionally substantial experience (though the album itself is a substantial whole). That approach makes sense given the album's origins as just one part of a larger installation, yet these pieces do not feel like they are missing anything—they simply feel purposely ephemeral, elusive, and impressionistic. In more concrete terms, many of the pieces sound like a music box made of crystal that has been modified to make its simple melodies unpredictably stammer, smear, and flicker. While that is an admittedly cool baseline aesthetic, the stronger pieces on the album tend to be the ones that enhance that foundation with some kind of inspired addition. For example, the opening "Zauberwort" features both a trombone and a recording of an opera singer unrecognizably "atomized into smoke trails."

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1846 Hits

Lucy Liyou, "Dog Dreams (​개​꿈​)"

Dog DreamsThis latest full-length from Lucy Liyou is described as a "rumination on the double-sidedness of trauma and love." The title is a Korean idiom with multiple meanings ("could mean anything from fanciful daydreams to nightmarish terrors") and was chosen very deliberately, as Liyou is fascinated by what our dream lives say about us and our subconscious desires. Interestingly, Dog Dreams is billed as only Liyou's second album (she is quite a prolific artist), but apparently everything other than 2020's Welfare is considered either an EP or a collaboration. In some ways, Dog Dreams feels like a logical evolution from that debut, but I was surprised to find that Liyou moved away from her text-to-speech narratives, as I previously thought that element was absolutely central to her aesthetic. In their place, however, are elusive Robert Ashley-esque dialogues of murmuring voices hovering at the edge of intelligibility. While I expected to miss the playfully dark humor of those robotic voices quite a lot (I found them very endearing), the newly tender and human voices fit the dreamlike beauty of Dog Dreams' three sound collages quite nicely.

American Dreams

Unsurprisingly, Dog Dreams has its roots in Liyou's own recurring dreams, but it is also a dialogue of sorts with co-producer Nick Zanca, as the two artists first worked on the album separately before convening in Zanca's studio to shape the final version. The opening title piece provides a fairly representative introduction to the album, as a melange of faint pops, hisses, and crackles slowly blossoms into a pleasantly flickering and psychotropic collage of tender piano melodies, water sounds, and sensuously hushed vocals. Interestingly, the aforementioned melange of strange sounds came from recordings of saliva (albeit "dilated and rendered unfamiliar through Zanca's adroit mixing"), which is definitely not something that I would have guessed on my own. Characteristically, the vocals are the best part of the piece, as Liyou and Zanca's voices enigmatically mingle, overlap, and harmonize in a fractured, shapeshifting dialogue. Uncharacteristically, however, "Dog Dreams" transforms into something resembling Xiu Xiu's Jaime Stewart interpreting a tender R&B-tinged ballad from a Disney soundtrack. While I certainly did not see that curveball coming, it is very on-brand for Liyou, as she has always been an inventive magpie keen to assimilate any and all compelling sounds and ideas that bleed into her life.

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1433 Hits

Jean-Noël Rebilly and Andrew Chalk, "Tsilla"

TsillaThis is the second duo collaboration between Chalk and Rebilly, as the pair previously surfaced with L'état Intermédiaire back in 2018. Their shared history goes back to at least 2012 though, as they teamed up with Vikki Jackman for A Paper Doll's Whisper Of Spring. While details about Tsilla are less scarce than usual due to its release on An'archives rather than Chalk's famously terse Faraway Press imprint, I still know very little about Rebilly other than the fact that he plays the clarinet. Beyond that, I am unwilling to hazard any guesses about who is playing what here, as both artists' contributions are largely blurred into a painterly haze (not entirely unfamiliar territory for Chalk). Far more relevant than the instrumentation is the album's inspiration: engraver Cécile Reims, whose "denuded landscapes," "spiraling abstractions," and "unearthly radiance" may have inspired Chalk's visual art as well. If not, Reims is at least a kindred spirit and her collaborations with Hans Bellmer, Leonor Fini, and Salvador Dali probably make a decent enough consolation prize. Reims's deepest impact on Tsilla may have been upon the process rather than the outcome, however, as the pair set out to honor her "tender weaving of emotional complexity carved with the hand-held and simple tools of artisans" in their own way ("a similar transfiguration of base materials"). Regardless of how it was made, Tsilla is quite a unique album in the Chalk canon, as the best pieces evoke a beautifully nightmarish strain of impressionism.

An'archives

The album opens in unexpectedly tense and disturbing fashion with "Pliskiné," as shivering strings quiver in dissonant harmonies over a bed of subtle, slowly shifting drones like a swarm of hallucinatory bees with bad intentions. For better or worse, that particular descent into horror is not a representative one, though Tsilla is quite a dark and uncharacteristically heavy album for Chalk (and presumably for Rebilly as well). "Pliskiné" aside, the album's other deep plunge into nightmare territory is "Hauteville," which feels like a groaning, slow-motion descent into squirming, buzzing cosmic horror at its most exquisite. In general, the longer pieces tend to be the strongest while the shorter pieces feel more like bridges or interludes, though "Visages d'Espagne" is a notable exception that resembles a seasick duet between a koto and a vibrato pedal.

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1737 Hits

Bill Orcutt, "Jump On It"

Jump On ItThis latest LP from San Francisco-based guitar visionary Bill Orcutt is a spiritual successor of sorts to 2013's A History of Every One, as that was apparently his last solo acoustic guitar album. The resemblance between the two albums largely ends there, however, as Jump On It is as different from the deconstructed standards of History as it is from last week's Chatham-esque guitar quartet performance for NPR. While I do enjoy Orcutt's Editions Mego solo era quite a bit, there is no denying that his artistry has evolved dramatically over the last decade and his recent work definitely connects with me on a deeper level. In more concrete terms, Orcutt's work no longer resembles the choppy, convulsive, and possessed-sounding fare of History, as he has since reined in his more fiery, passionate impulses enough to leave more room for passages of tender, simple beauty. In fact, Jump On It might be the farthest that the balance has swung towards the latter, as the characteristic Orcutt violence is a rare presence in the collection of quietly lovely and spontaneous-sounding guitar miniatures.

Palilalia

The album opens in appropriately gorgeous fashion, as the first minute of "What Do You Do With Memory" is devoted to a tender, halting and bittersweet arpeggio motif, though the piece then takes a detour before reprising that wonderful theme for the finale. The detour is admittedly brief, but so is the song itself, which illustrates a central feature of this album: these pieces generally feel like a series of spontaneous snapshots/3-minute vignettes rather than fully formed compositions that build into something more. That is not meant as a critique, but it does mean that Jump On It is something other than Orcutt's next major artistic statement. I am tempted to say that most of this album feels akin to a pleasant but loose improvisation around a campfire, but there are also some pieces that evoke an usually meditative Django Reinhardt playing alone in a late-night hotel room.

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1750 Hits

Kammerflimmer Kollektief, "Schemen"

SchemenThis eleventh album from Germany's Kammerflimmer Kollektief is not my first exposure to the project, but it did succeed in making me wonder why I have not been a passionate fan of their work before now. Admittedly, the idea of harmonium-driven free-form jazz/psychedelia is not quite my cup of tea on paper, which goes a long way towards explaining why I was so slow to embrace this project, yet the right execution can transform just about anything into gold and this foursome are extremely good at what they do. It also does not hurt that the Kammerflimmer gang have some intriguing and unusual inspirations, as they namecheck both Franz Mesmer and underheard German psychonauts The Cocoon in addition to the requisite nod to Can. Kammerflimmer Kollektief certainly assimilate those influences in a unique way though, as the best songs on Schemen sound like a killer post-rock/psych band blessed with an unusually great rhythm section and real talents for roiling guitar noise, simmering tension, and volcanic catharsis.

Karlrecords

This unique and eclectic project was founded by guitarist Thomas Weber back in the late '90s and has had a somewhat fluid membership since, but it is safe to say Heike Aumüller significantly transformed its trajectory when she joined the fold in 2002, as she is responsible for both the band's unusual cover art and the even more unusual use of harmonium. Unsurprisingly, I encounter the harmonium a lot with drone music, as it lends itself to that aesthetic perfectly, but Aumüller generally uses it for more melodic purposes and clearly has no aversion to dissonance, as it sounds like she is beating her bandmates to death with an accordion in "Zweites Kapitel [ruckartig]" and "Fünftes Kapitel [kreuzweis]." While "Zweites Kapitel" is an endearingly explosive feast of scrabbling guitar noise, clattering free-form drumming, and tormented bow scrapes, the album's stronger pieces tend to be those which take a more simmering and sensuous approach.

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1990 Hits

Nonconnah, "Unicorn Family"

Unicorn FamilyThis latest release from husband and wife duo Zach & Denny Corsa appears to be their fifth full-length under the Nonconnah name (the duo were previously known as Lost Trail) and it is characteristically wonderful. As is the norm for Nonconnah, Unicorn Family was culled from several years of recordings featuring a host of eclectic collaborators (folks from Lilys, Half Japanese, Fire-Toolz, etc.) and those recordings have been expertly stitched together into beautifully layered and evocative soundscapes teeming with cool tape effects, thought-provoking samples, and killer shoegaze-inspired guitar work. In short, business as usual, but Nonconnah's business is consistently being one of the greatest drone projects on earth, so this is already a lock for one of my favorite albums of the year. Aside from the presence of a lovely lo-fi folk gem with actual singing, the only other notable departures from Nonconnah's existing run of gorgeous albums are shorter song durations than usual and the fact that the duo's samples have more of an eschatological bent. I suppose this album is an unusually focused and distilled statement as well, but that feels like a lateral move given how much I loved the sprawling immensity of Don't Go Down To Lonesome Holler.

Was Ist Das?

The album opens on an unusually simple and intimate note with "It's Eschatology! The Musical," which approximates a melancholy Microphones-esque strain of indie folk recorded directly to boombox. Despite its amusing title and throwaway final line of "that's how the album starts," it is a legitimately lovely, soulful, and direct way to kick off an album that is otherwise composed entirely of complexly layered soundscapes of tape loops and shimmering guitar noise. I have been an enthusiastic fan of those soundscapes for a while, of course, as well as an equally huge fan of the way the pair transform sped-up tape loops into rapturously dizzying and swirling mini-symphonies at the heart of their drone pieces. Given that, I do not have anything particularly fresh to say on those topics other than that I was newly struck by how the combination of slow drones and sped up tapes evokes the hypnotic streaking of car lights in time-lapse footage of a busy highway at night.

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1792 Hits

Tim Hecker, "No Highs"

No HighsThis latest opus from Tim Hecker is amusingly billed as "a beacon of unease against the deluge of false positive corporate ambient." Given the weighty themes of his previous albums, Hecker's actual inspiration presumably runs much deeper than that, yet the "beacon of unease" part of that claim may be more literal than it sounds, as one of the album's central features is described as "Morse code pulse programming." While I am not well-versed enough in Morse code to determine if Hecker's oddly timed rhythms are covertly incorporating text or a narrative into these warped and nightmarish soundscapes, the gnarled and harrowing melodies that accompany those erratic pulses are more than enough to make the album thoroughly compelling listening regardless. Aside from that, No Highs marks yet another significant creative breakthrough for a formidable artist hellbent on continual reinvention and bold evolution. While it is hard to predict whether or not No Highs will someday be considered one of Hecker's defining masterpieces or merely an admirable and unique detour, its handful of set pieces feel quite brilliant to me and I do not expect my feelings to change on that point..

Kranky

The general tone of No Highs feels like a continuation of the smeared, howling anguish of Konoyo and Anoyo, approximating lonely distress signals emitted from the smoldering ruins of Konoyo's planetary death spasms. Compositionally, however, No Highs feels like an entirely different animal altogether, as Hecker has swapped out roiling maximalism for simmering minimalism and distilled his palette to little more than insistently telegraph-like synth pings punctuated with occasional plunges into swirling and howling cosmic horror. In fact, the album makes me feel like I am stationed at a desolate outpost in a blackened wasteland nervously watching apocalyptic storms mass on the distant horizon. Unsurprisingly, the strongest pieces tend to be the ones where those storms reach their full fury, such as the opening "Monotony."

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2229 Hits

Ale Hop & Laura Robles, "Agua dulce"

Agua dulceThis is the debut collaboration between two Berlin-based Peruvian musicians and also marks my first exposure to percussionist Laura Robles. I am, however, reasonably familiar with the alien soundscapes of Ale Hop (Alejandra Cárdenas) and this union seems to have inspired some of her finest work to date. Notably, Robles is "reputed to be one of the best cajón players in Peru," which is useful context given how radically (yet lovingly) the pair deconstruct and reinvigorate the instrument ("a symbol of resistance, experimentation and transformation" in Peru). In more practical terms, that means that Cárdenas and Robles dramatically disrupt, distort, and repurpose traditional dance rhythms into a wild psychotropic mindfuck. In fact, it sometimes sounds like Robles recorded her parts alone as a freeform performance at an Ayahuasca ceremony or something, but the seemingly roving and divergent threads always come together in impressive fashion in the end. Amusingly, I would have thought that the enigmatically and erratically shifting rhythms of Agua dolce would be damn near impossible to dance to, yet these pieces apparently made quite a splash when the duo coupled with dancer/choreographer Liza Alpiźar Aguilar for the Heroines Of Sound festival. Whether or not that means that I would be a terrible choreographer is hard to say, however, as the finished album may have ultimately landed in far more lysergic territory due to Cárdenas' additional edits and production wizardry.

Buh

The album borrows its title from "the most popular beach in Lima," which is near where "both artists lived during their childhood, houses apart, without ever meeting one another." Improbably, they eventually met as expats on the other side of the world and happily found themselves to be kindred spirits tuned into the same outré wavelength. I suppose Robles is arguably the more conventional of the two despite playing Peruvian music in Germany on a self-built electric cajón, but that is only because Ale Hop often sounds like she is from a completely different planet or dimension altogether. The most impressive example of that otherworldliness comes at the midpoint of "Lamento," as the hissing, blatting electronics and sleepy Latin rhythms seem like they are suddenly interrupted by the appearance of ghost UFO that propels the proceedings into dazzling new heights of haunting, spacialized phantasmagoria. That said, the entire first half of the album is one mesmerizing psychotropic jungle freakout after another, as Cárdenas unleashes her inner tropical Lovecraft to conjure a host of squirming, gelatinous, seething, buzzing, and jabbering electronic sounds over Robles' clattering percussion workouts.

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1877 Hits

Marta Mist, "Eyes Like Pools"

Eyes Like PoolsThis is my first exposure to this UK-based collective centered around Gavin Miller (worriedaboutsatan) and Sophie Green (formerly of Her Name is Calla), but they have been fitfully releasing albums for more than a decade now. Their last major release, Scavengers, was back in 2016 on Time-Released Sound, so Eyes Like Pools both ends a lengthy hiatus and marks the collective’s first appearance on Athens’ sound in silence label. Much like Miller’s worriedaboutsatan project, this latest statement from Marta Mist occupies a vaguely cinematic stylistic niche where ambient and post-rock blur together, but Eyes Like Pools parts ways from worriedaboutsatan by swapping out electronic beats for Green’s achingly lovely violin melodies. While the more ambient side of Marta Mist’s current vision is appropriately warm and immersive, those pieces tend to be quite brief and the more substantial string-driven pieces are the true heart of the album (and it is a fiery heart indeed).

sound in silence

The album opens with a pleasant yet deceptive intro of gently rolling piano arpeggios before unveiling the first of its three major highlights: the 14-minute “Alway On.” The piece begins modestly enough with some lovely violin drones, but tendrils of melody soon start to appear and a low industrial hum gradually blossoms into a slow-moving chord progression driven by deep, warm bass tones. There are admittedly a couple of moments where it starts to err a bit too far towards soft-focus prettiness for my taste, but Green’s sliding, smearing, and occasionally snarling violin carves through the bliss haze enough to keep me transfixed regardless. More importantly, “Always On” delighted me with a very cool and unexpected ending in which echoey guitar chords slowly emerge from the ambient haze like a vengeful rockabilly ghost.

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2302 Hits

Mike Majkowski, "Coast"

CoastThis is apparently the twelfth solo album from Berlin-based double bassist Mike Majknowski, but—far more significantly—it is also the follow up to 2021's killer Four Pieces and is very much in the same vein. That vein lies somewhere between loscil-style dubwise soundscapes and the austere sophistication of classic Tortoise or early Oren Ambarchi, which is certainly a fine place to set up shop, but that is merely the backdrop for some truly fascinating forays into sustained, simmering tension and exquisitely slow-burning heaviness. Unsurprisingly, I am like a moth to a flame when it comes to longform smoldering minimalism and I can think of few artists who can match Majknowski's execution, as he consistently weaves magic from little more than a few moving parts and a healthy appreciation for coiled, seething intensity.

Fragments Editions

The album consists of two side-long pieces ("Spiral" and "Later") that feel like divergent variations on a similar theme. "Spiral" opens with little more than a simple bass pattern, the pulse of a lonely high hat, and semi-rhythmic washes of bleary feedback or ravaged synth. There is also something resembling a minor key vibraphone melody languorously weaving through the mix, but it feels more like impressionistic coloring rather than a focal point. Gradually, a pulsing synth motif fades in that feels out-of-sync with the rest of the rhythm, giving the piece an organically shapeshifting feel that propels it into increasingly frayed and subtly unpredictable terrain: reliable rhythms start to falter, textures become more distorted, and the relationship between the various parts is increasingly in flux. It calls to mind a spider patiently spinning an incredibly intricate web while also resembling a state of suspended animation that is increasingly gnawed by an unsettling outside darkness.

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1807 Hits

Cisser Mæhl, "Innemuseum"

InnemuseumThis debut album from Danish artist/multi-instrumentalist Cecilie "Cisser" Mæhl is easily one of the strongest releases from Berlin's Sonic Pieces in recent memory. Mæhl has already carved out an impressively distinctive niche. Innemuseum first began taking shape in the summer of 2019 when Mæhl made a bunch of field recordings while working at a mountain lodge in Norway (though those recordings would ultimately become a very small part of the puzzle). After moving to Oslo, she rented a studio space and eventually met some inspiring people who helped guide her towards realizing her unconventional vision (Jenny Hval, Stephan Mathieu, and the increasingly ubiquitous and versatile Lasse Marhaug). The involvement of the latter was especially surprising for me, as this album has the intimate feel of a bedroom chamber pop masterpiece conjured from little more than a violin, a drum machine, and an ancient piano, which is generally not where I expect someone from Testicle Hazard to turn up. That said, the homespun, elegantly minimal feel of these pieces is presented in beautifully detailed, crystalline clarity, which is presumably where the Marhaug magic came into play. I suspect this album would still be quite good even if submerged in tape hiss and murk, as Mæhl has a lovely voice and plenty of great ideas, but the fact that these otherwise hushed songs explode in vivid color beautifully elevates Innemuseum to another level altogether.

Sonic Pieces

The opening "Menneskeaftryk" kicks off the album in strikingly lovely fashion, as Mæhl sensuously sings in Dutch over a backdrop of muted arpeggios that fitfully blossoms into swooningly romantic orchestral swells. The following "Små Ting" is similarly stellar, as a shuffling drum machine groove propels Mæhl's playfully dancing melody into a realm somewhere between a seductive cabaret performance and the "haunted fairytale" aesthetic of Brannten Schnüre. While both pieces succeed primarily due to the strength of Mæhl's melodies and the charisma and soul of her vocal performance, there are a number of interesting compositional and production nuances that make them stand out even further. The big one is that Mæhl's vocals (and presumably several of the instruments as well) are close-mic'd, which gives every piece a sense of intimacy and physical presence, but there is an organic fluidity to the vocal melodies that feels wonderfully spontaneous and alive as well.

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2459 Hits

Myriad Valley, "Otherworld"

OtherworldThis latest enigmatic find from Arizona's eternally far out and fascinating Was Ist Das? label will be an absolute revelation for anyone who misses Natural Snow Buildings as much as I do. Otherworld is apparently the debut release for this project, but any further details beyond that are non-existent other than the fact that these four pieces were recorded by someone named "Joe" in 2022. While the label's description name-checks a few '70s psych heavy-hitters as reference points in addition to Natural Snow Buildings (Third Ear Band and Popul Vuh), those elements manifest themselves much more subtly, as Otherworld is an oft-transcendent plunge into folk horror-inspired cosmic drone sorcery. That all-encompassing devotion to heavyweight drone majesty is also where Myriad Valley departs from Mehdi and Solange's path, as Joe does not let himself get distracted by any songcraft aspirations, opting instead to focus entirely on crafting massive, sustained psychotropic drones that feel like ancient field recordings from some remote mountain cult hellbent on opening an extra-dimensional portal through sheer vibrational magic.

Was ist Das?

The opening "Hanging Crystal Garden" makes for quite a mesmerizing introduction to Myriad Valley, as slow waves of buzzing tanpura lap at the shores of an occult nightmare. The buzzing tanpura drones are a ubiquitous feature throughout the album, as is ritualistic hand percussion (in this case, something like rattling bells), but this particular piece has an especially otherworldly and sinister vibe due to the strangled dissonance of the pipes and the way the notes increasingly bleed together and dissolve into sharp feedback. Notably, "Hanging Crystal Garden" is the album's shortest piece (at eight minutes) despite being the most inspired, but that makes sense given its nerve-jangling intensity. The much longer second piece is considerably calmer and more radiant (at first, anyway), almost calling to mind a restorative early morning yogic meditation to clear the mind of the previous night's cosmic horror, human sacrifice, and demon summoning.

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1871 Hits

Laraaji, "Segue To Infinity"

Segue to InfinityThis quadruple LP boxed set is likely to be an absolute revelation for Laraaji fans, as Numero Group has combined his landmark 1978 debut (Celestial Vibration) with the equivalent of three lost albums recorded around the same time. The albums in question surfaced in 2021 when some acetates from an abandoned storage locker were auctioned off and passed through a flea market and Ebay before being spotted by eagle-eyed college student Jake Fischer, who snapped them up for $114 after recognizing Laraaji's given name (Edward Larry Gordon, the name he was still using at the time of Celestial Vibration's release). Amusingly, even Laraaji himself is a bit mystified by the provenance of these recordings, as the documentation states that they were recorded at a studio in Long Island 200 miles from where the Celestial Vibration sessions took place (ZBS in Fort Edward). While it remains unclear whether the Fort Edward tapes were merely transferred in Long Island or whether these recordings actually originate from a different session altogether in Queens, they are unmistakably Laraaji and they are frequently as good or better than the album that actually got released. Finds like this are exactly why there are Discogs fiends hunting for lost private press New Age music, as the late '70s and early '80s were a golden age for bedroom visionaries who thanklessly explored the cosmos with little hope of ever reaching an audience. Laraaji deserves a particularly special place in that pantheon, as he may have been the most forward-thinking visionary of them all and also took his autoharp to the goddamn streets to expand the consciousness of unwitting strangers.

Numero Group

The story of how former Baptist/Apollo Theater comedian/cult film actor/Marvin Gaye collaborator/street musician/West Village folk scenester Ed "Flash" Gordon eventually transformed into Laraaji is far too lengthy for me to do it any justice here, but one especially significant event was that Gordon became very interested in Eastern spirituality after his role in Putney Swope stirred up doubts about the righteousness of the path he was on. A "paranormal sound-hearing experience" and a fateful decision to trade his guitar in for an autoharp at a pawnshop soon followed, as well as the similarly fateful purchase of a contact pickup and some effects pedals. While the autoharp was an entirely new instrument for Gordon, he dove wholeheartedly into exploring open tunings and effects and quickly arrived at a new sound he dubbed "Celestial Vibration." Having reached that point, I suspect Laraaji would have been totally content to play in parks, dance/yoga studios, and holistic centers around his community forever, as getting a record deal probably does not seem all that important once you have already figured out how to channel celestial vibrations. Exterior forces intervened, however, and Gordon met a lawyer named Stuart White who was absolutely enthralled with his music and eager to start up an independent record label (SWN). That resulted in the release of Celestial Vibration (now regarded as a classic), but not many people noticed and the label soon folded. Thankfully, Laraaji met another motivated fan soon after (Brian Eno) and the two eventually collaborated on 1980's Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance). I am tempted to say that the rest is history, but Laraaji's work only started getting regularly anthologized and reissued in the last decade.

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2045 Hits

Kassel Jaeger, "Shifted in Dreams"

Shifted in DreamsThis latest opus from INA GRM's François J. Bonnet is loosely inspired by René Daumal's unfinished philosophical novel Mount Analogue (1952), which recounts an imagined expedition in which explorers hunt for a mountain that can "only be perceived by the application of obscure knowledge." It has been a few decades since I last read Mount Analogue or watched the film it partially inspired (Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain) so my memory of both is blurry at best, yet that did not impair my appreciation for the album, as Bonnet characteristically channeled the theme in his own inventive and compelling way. The gist is that familiar sounds and structures become increasingly rare as the album unfolds, but Bonnet had a deeper philosophical agenda as well, as Shifted in Dreams is a meditation on how our current world is in a "blurred and uncertain state where the reality of signs loses its consistency while, paradoxically, the reality of senses and impressions becomes imperative, obvious." Bonnet is clearly not a fan of that situation, unsurprisingly, and refers to it as "the reality of demons." Putting aside the death of meaning and general existential horror of our times, however, the dissolving of the familiar is wonderfully fertile creative ground for a Kassel Jaeger album, as Bonnet is exceptionally good at layered and evocative sound design. This is a beautifully crafted headphone album (but probably only for those armed with the obscure knowledge of how to listen deeply).

Shelter Press

In keeping with the central theme of dissolving familiarity, the opening title piece is the most conventionally musical stretch of the album, resembling a warm but melancholy organ mass. There is admittedly a lot of tape hiss and murk obscuring the sound of the organ, but that is probably as close to the recognizable physical world as this album ever gets and that situation does not last long at all (the piece plunges down a rabbit hole of mindfuckery after a few minutes). The general vibe is best described as "I am in a numbing fog of painkillers in a cathedral during an air raid, but everything is in slow motion and also made of crystal." While those crystalline sounds remain a regular occurrence for the duration of the album (Bonnet got his hands on a Cristal Baschet), just about everything else is an elusive and shape-shifting fog of field recordings, asynchronous loops, analog synth, processed guitar, and studio wizardry.

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2041 Hits