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Eluvium, "(Whirring Marvels In) Consensus Reality"

Consensus RealityMatthew Cooper's newest Eluvium album is apparently inspired by two works of poetic literature by T.S.Eliot and Richard Brautigan. That's easier said than done, of course, and equally unclear is how Cooper has changed his compositional methodology because of a debilitating medical problem with his left shoulder and arm. It is hard to decipher exactly what is meant by, to paraphrase, blending electronic automations with traditional songwriting and using algorithms to extract from several years of notebook scribble. Perhaps this means he has worked in cyborgian harmony with machines, which would fit with the Brautigan reference point of All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace.

Temporary Residence

I enjoyed the entire album, although did wonder a couple of times if I'd left the Buddha Machine on in the bathroom.

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1882 Hits

Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru, "Jerusalem"

JerusalemEmahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru passed on early this year, but not before this album was released to celebrate her 99th birthday. It collects pieces originally issued in 1972 as Song of Jerusalem, including the stunning title track and "Quand La Mer Furieuse" in which Gebru sings; a moment which probably should not draw parallels with "Garbo Talks!" (when the speaking voice of that star of silent films first shocked audiences to sleep) but is as startlingly beautiful as you might expect if you have heard her play her compositions for piano at all. These she does in a manner impossible to hear without feeling as if the sun has come out from behind a cloud and is gently warming the side of your face. Reach for adjectives and terms such as liturgical, classical, homemade, and heavenly, but the key word is definitely "transcendent."

Mississippi Records

No superficial label can stick to Emahoy Gebru—although some have been applied which won't be repeated here. The cornerstone of her music is her study of St Yared, the sixth century religious scholar and composer of thousands of hymns, known for devising an 8-note (and 10-note) notation system of music, capable of three different melodic categories. Yared's persistence is legendary and he is the blueprint for the traditional Ethiopian philosophy of musicians making themselves submissive in order to be open to receive musical inspiration from a higher realm. Yaredian melodies are viewed as literally heavenly, timeless or eternal, and capable of creating ecstatic out-of-body trances. Gebru's music follows this path. Her piano playing is neither icy nor flowery, but rather a calm cosmic spot somewhere between the two: like the quiet and tidy alley between rows of houses in a large town where the protagonist in Murukami's Wind Up Bird Chronicle shelters from the stresses and strains of his life (away from memories, strange phone calls, flashbacks, dreams of being pursued, urban ennui, and the obligatory missing cat.)

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1884 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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1830 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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3012 Hits

Jan Jelinek, "Seascape - polyptych"

Seascape - polyptychBack in 2017 Jan Jelinek created a 43 minute radio play called Zwischen featuring Alice Schwarzer, John Cage, Hubert Fichte, Marshall McLuhan, Susan Sontag, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Joseph Beuys, Friedericke Mayröcker, Joschka Fischer, Jonathan Meese, Jean Baudrillard, Lady Gaga, Slavoj Zizek, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Marcel Duchamp, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Miranda July, Yoko Ono, Ernst Jandl, Arno Schmidt, Herbert Wehner and Max Ernst.

Faitiche

He took speech from these 22 people and edited together their pauses into sound collages of silence. Each collage was also wired or programmed to control the amplitude and frequency of a modular synthesizer. The resulting electronic sounds were then mixed with the unarticulated words and silence to form twenty-two pieces. A shorter version trimmed to twelve sound constructs was released as an album in 2018.

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1877 Hits

Dorothy Moskovitz & The United States of Alchemy, "Under an Endless Sky"

Under an Endless SkyDorothy Moskovitz was the singer in The United States of America, a short-lived group which made one legendary self-titled album. That was in December 1967 and she later became a member of Country Joe McDonald's band, sang live jazz, composed for children, commercials, theater, and became an elementary school music teacher. Her return on Under an Endless Sky, recorded with Italian electronic composer Francesco Paolo Paladino and writer Luca Ferrari is astonishing, and never more so at the moment around two and a half minutes into the opening title track when we hear Dorothy Moskovitz sing for the first time in a very long time*. If her voice once sounded cooler and more urbane than Catherine Ribeiro's, more innocent and intelligent than Grace Slick's, in 2023 it has a crumbling beauty and defiant timbre usually associated with Robert Wyatt or Nico (who apparently once tried to join TUSoA). Comparisons are entertaining but also odious; Moskovitz is a strange, distinctive treasure, perhaps unique.

Tompkins Square

The United States of America is indeed a legendary recording, and I realize that term is overused nearly to the point of being meaningless, but the record holds up more than fifty years later. The group had some fairly obvious 1960s politics at their core, but also a serious avant garde intent in their sound. They dispensed with electric guitars in favor of strings, keyboards, and primitive improvised electronics. Electrical engineer Tom Oberheim was commissioned to make a ring modulator and aerospace engineer Richard Durrett built electronic oscillators into a monophonic synthesizer. An octave divider was applied to electric violin, drums wired with contact microphones, and slinkies hung from cymbals for a musique concrète effect. Group leader Donald Byrd—previously a member of the Fluxus movement which included John Cage and La Monte Young—also threw in references to older American music such as ragtime, country blues, and—perhaps in a nod to Charles Ives—marching bands.

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2025 Hits

Colin Andrew Sheffield, "Don't Ever Let Me Know," "Images"

Don't Ever Let Me KnowReleasing two full length albums mere months from each other, Colin Andrew Sheffield has been especially active in 2023. Considering his previous Repair Me Now dates back to 2018, it is a veritable flurry of activity. However, this is not a case where Don't Ever Let Me Know and Images seem like a double album split into two separate works, but both are thematically and structurally different from one another, even if both clearly showcase his approach of mangling samples and recordings into entirely different creations.

Aufabwegen / Elevator Bath

Simply looking at the song lists, the difference between these two records is clear: Don't Ever Let Me Know is two side-long pieces, while Images is a suite of eight more conventionally timed songs. The underlying models are different, also, with the former specifically drawing from recordings from or about his (and his father's) hometown of El Paso, Texas, and the latter exclusively sourced from jazz records. As expected, none of these recordings are at all apparent, but there seems to be a sense of nostalgia imbued into the album conveyed abstractly.

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1895 Hits

Zizia, "Genera"

The latest cassette from the enigmatic duo Zizia (astrologer Amber Wolfe and natural scientist Jarrod Fowler) is intentionally ambiguous just from its presentation. No information presented within the tape itself, its neon green case covers a blurry photo of the Zizia flower and an intricately printed abstract image on the cassette shell, without a single bit of text included on either. A quick search online finds a website that offers details, listings of insects, plants, and artists that serve only to confound more than clarify. The self-identified concept of anti-musicology is apparent, however, and results in a complex and diverse suite of two lengthy noise works.

self-released

Split into two 18-minute segments, each covering half of the tape, the first immediately explodes with an intense blast of noise that quickly recedes to allow sustained tones and metallic rattling to fade in. Wolfe and Fowler utilize consistent sonic building blocks throughout, but layer them in what seems to be superficially sounds like chaotic and erratic structures, but extremely complex. Digital stuttering and metallic pinging noises appear throughout, the use of cymbals being the only easily identifiable element from the list provided via the release's website. Noise surges and drops, with insect and field recordings cast atop murky textures.

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1853 Hits

Seah, "Conduits of the Hydrosphere," "Clouds and Spectres"

Conduits of the HydrosphereThese two albums from Seah, also known as multimedia artist and philosopher Chelsea Heikes, seemingly draw from different elemental categories, which ends up setting the foundation for the sounds contained within. The first, Conduits of the Hydrosphere, clearly draws from water while Clouds and Spectres is appropriately expansive, vapor-like, and ghostly at times. Released separately, they feel like complementary works that act as variations on sonic exploration.

Somnimage

All five pieces that make up Conduits feature either direct or indirect references to water, which is unsurprising given the title. Seah makes this immediately apparent from the opening "Asteroidal Origin of Water," with multiple layers of water recordings, filtered differently and stacked atop one another to create a wall of liquid sound. She utilizes space well, as echoing, warped noises and rattling shrieks all vie for the focus. Aquatic field recordings also obscure a subtle tone beneath on "Songs Stones Sing to the Sea," which remains understated amidst scraping noises and a deep, lo-fi digital rumble.

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2147 Hits

Benoit Pioulard,"Eidetic"

EideticBack in 2019 Benoit Pioulard (Thomas Meluch) issued Sylva—an album full of abstract hyper-saturated lo-fi drone-pop sonic textures, which came with an 84 page collection of nature photographs in a linen book. Two pieces with vocals stood out: the brilliantly Bibioesque "Keep" and the less jangly but equally catchy "Meristem." These songs could not have been more appealing to me if Meluch had somehow used a machine to extract my personal dream essence as I slept. Naturally, I promptly forgot to write anything about Sylva, but Eidetic is a leap forward, with more vocals, so I'm glad I kept my powder dry.

Morr

Distraction is embedded into modern life and that is why I did not write about Sylva, rather than a consequence of memory. I know this because the record left an impression and I've listened to it several times since 2019. It was stored in at least my short term, if not long term, memory. Eidetic memory, controlled primarily by the posterior parietal cortex of the parietal lobe of the brain, is a temporary form of short-term memory. Everyone has eidetic memory to a degree; it is the ability to see something soon after you look away. For most people, the image lasts from a fraction of a second to maybe a couple of seconds. Visual images in eidetic memory are either discarded or passed to short-term memory where they may be recalled for days, weeks, or months, then discarded or relayed to long-term memory. Of course since both Sylva and Eidetic are audio information this may not be literally pertinent but it is a way to begin to approach Eidetic and to paraphrase Basil Fawlty with his German guests "you (Thomas Meluch) started it."

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2177 Hits

CV Vision,"In The Valley of The Dandies"

In The Valley of The DandiesEvery so often a beautifully flawed pseudo-concept album gets released which it is almost a sin to try to describe. So it is with this absolutely mesmerizing record, a taste-smashing, fabulously old-fashioned, wobbly blitzkrieg of slippery, retro-futuristic, prog rock precision. As a rule I try to avoid describing music by talking about other music the reader may or may not have heard, but the gloves are coming off for this one. Imagine if modern psych groups weren't so one-paced, if Barclay James Harvest had a wah wah pedal and enjoyed fiddling with tape speeds, if Yes were fronted by Serge Gainsbourg or had a sense of humor, if The Opium Warlords and Bo Hansen joined The Mike Sammes Singers; and it all sounded perfectly natural. Juxtaposition and incongruity are at the heart of The Valley of The Dandies: a wonderfully unpredictable recording which manages to sound deliberately dated, and also touches on mythical themes ("explored" would be an exaggeration) but not in a po-faced or over-referential manner. The music is sometimes grandiose but CV Vision does not portray by resorting to a dull slow burn plodding pace. These tunes are amusing, bright, clever, and dynamic, the lyrics intriguingly clumsy but yet light and unobtrusive. There is an unknowable quality to this album, though; and a certain confidence in its completeness. It can not be reduced to a few neat genres, has a rich complexity but never sounds cluttered or gets bogged down. This is a real gem: clean, clear and valuable. It may become a cult classic or merely prove to be a refreshing oddity. Either way I played this thing through five times without a break!

Bureau-B

As such, it is weird to speak of individual tracks but here we go. The opener "Welcome" sounds like a cryogenic time reversal accident has resulted in Wendy Carlos waking up in medieval times and getting right to work with mysterious bleeps and ominous thuds. There then follows a bout of funky bass driven prog rock jousting called "The Pious Wanderer." Drums seem to shatter and splat, and the German lyrics waft on a flute like breeze as the track races onward and then clicks into "The Messenger Faster Than The Wind" which includes a child talking of swords pulled from stones followed by the waking from death of a rightful King, returning to save the land at time of great need—presumably during a hideous outbreak of repressive good taste. It brings to mind a futurist motorik-lite version of an ancient prediction woven into tapestry. In one of several brilliantly incongruous moves, CV Vision sings the word "messenger" with a decidedly un-folky edge, more as if he were trying to impress a crowd of bikini clad beauties on Copacabana beach. "Ride My Seesaw" was never this odd.

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2124 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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1877 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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1979 Hits

Turner Williams Jr. "Briars on A Dewdrop"

Briars On A DewdropJust about anything which bucks stereotypes, and the more effortlessly the better, is usually fine and dandy with me. The notion of a sustained outbreak of surrealism down in Alabama is therefore beyond delicious. I say this because there's a definite sense in which Turner Williams Jr. is following in the rambling loose limbed footsteps of such musicians as Ron Pate, Fred Lane, LaDonna Smith, and particularly Davey Williams, who studied with Johnny Shines and was part of the whole Raudelunas Pataphysical Revue scene - playing alto and guitar on such pieces as "The Lonely Astronaut" and "Concerto For Active Frogs''. Let me say here that the origin of pataphysics is perhaps best left to another time, since Alfred Jarry's absurdity and all that merde (absinthe-fueled and otherwise) simply cannot be skimmed over.

Feeding Tube

On the three tracks here, at least, Williams Jr. manages to play a variety of strings with a truly wild yet intensely focused style. I have not heard much like it. In a humdrum world of scissor kicking guitarists he's a real Fosbury Flop. The resulting waves of jangled and strangled sounds at times resemble a bottleneck jam of notes being squeezed and released; like traffic buzzing along, slowing, and then oozing through a toll gate to speed along or crash and explode. Eastern-tinged vibrations dominate throughout, as if electricity were throbbing along desert telegraph wires, setting fire to antique receiving equipment in some remote Embassy with a boom, crackle and pop, and dispatching fierce hums and whines of distorted feedback, throbbing backwards and squealing up through hot air rising and howling like out-of-control robot space-wolves bouncing off an old knackered rusted satellite on their way to oblivion. Or maybe to Oblivion, Alabama.

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1605 Hits

Alasdair Roberts, "Grief in the Kitchen and Mirth in The Hall"

Grief in the Kitchen and Mirth in The HallThis is the fifth album of traditional folk tunes which Alasdair Roberts has issued. He has also released several albums of his own compositions and it is a mark of his skill that it is pretty much impossible to tell the difference, and to know whether songs are his own imaginings or not. All share an erudite sensibility, often mixing his plaintive ghostly wailing voice (sometimes mournful, often joyous) with fine, spidery, guitar accompaniment. This new record is a deep collection, full of sweet spots, rich in detail, crystal clear in execution, and teeming with life. As usual, he reveals the multilayered meanings and nuances in even the most apparently straightforward songs, as with "The Bonny Moorhen" of Celtic folklore, and "Drimindown," a simple tale of a lost cow but also a devastating loss of a family's livelihood.

Drag City

I probably first heard and liked the music of Alasdair Roberts in August 1997 when on an English summer holiday at Woodspring Priory—or Worspring as it was known in the Middle Ages. It was founded in 1210 by William de Courtenay, grandson of Reginald Fitz-Urse, one of the assassins of St Thomas Becket. Providing an income for the locals was likely a way for de Courtenay to purge his family's ongoing guilt, and indeed St Thomas is patron saint of the priory and his martyrdom depicted on its seal.

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1510 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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2160 Hits

Tujiko Noriko, "Crepuscule I & II"

I am obsessed with circles, but you don't need to share that obsession to notice and appreciate the gesture of respect here from Tujiko Noriko to Peter Rehberg with the insistence that Crepuscule I & II be issued in various formats, including cassette. Many years ago she dropped a cassette tape into the hands of the MEGO and Editions MEGO label founder. The tape contained her first album and, despite it being a big departure from the typically more brash and raw fare he was normally releasing, Rehberg liked what he heard and gave it a proper push. Universal acclaim did not follow.

Editions Mego

Just before Peter Rehnerg's death he was apparently digging a pre-release of this new album. The opening track "Prayer" may have gripped him; it certainly floored me, with Tujiko instantly wringing great emotional heft from machine templates. Sadly it is as short as it is sweet. I cannot, and will never, understand why this simple but dazzling piece is issued as a mere 2.22 minute duration, rather than 22 minutes, or even 2 hours 22 minutes. Baffling. The album title refers to twilight, and much of the music is reflective and meditative—without being sluggish or over-sentimental. To paraphrase a philosopher or poet whose name I forget, in terms of our lifespans "everyone imagines that it is late morning, but it actually is midafternoon." Part of the human condition, perhaps. At any rate, Crepuscule seems to be a musing about time passing, about ends, beginnings, and transitions, as much as a reference to the twilight realm as a quality of light, with atmospheres of melancholy or nostalgia, of uncertainty and mystery.

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1914 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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1777 Hits

Kalia Vandever, "We Fell In Turn"

We Fell In TurnVandever's first solo album was recorded in three days and features her improvising on (mainly) trombone, effects, and voice. The improvised approach never shoves this music even an inch away from clarity, deftness, and emotional depth. Every piece feels fresh, abstract and dreamlike—as if she's channeling spirit voices from elsewhere—but all are restrained by the beguiling warmth, subtle tension, and comforting understatement of her sonorous playing. It's marvelous to hear the trombone burst, or maybe a more accurate descriptor would be slide, free of all genre association.

AKP

From the opening tune, entitled "Recollections From Shore," the album riffs off echoes and memories from Vandever's childhood in Hawaii, although this knowledge did not stop my imagination from going wherever it wished. During "Stillness In Hand" I was soon picturing steam trains huffing and puffing through a damper, gently undulating, European landscape. Then, while enjoying "Temper the Wound" I began seeing myself flying a box kite high in the sky one 1960s summer day on the East coast of England. That latter piece and also the even slower track "Held In" both give the feeling of having been created by harnessing pain or past scars to produce sounds that balance sadness with strength and survival. I have read of her mentioning waking from dreams in tears, or being comforted by visits from past memories and spirits—some when asleep and others when awake. At any rate, the softness and subtlety of this music lingers in the brain like the sound of hard-earned and humble wisdom. In Vandever's hands the trombone leaves behind any single genre or any other limitation. Effects are not overdone, and technique is hidden in plain sight as simple unhurried phrases loop, fold, or crumble slightly into themselves in a barely decipherable but extremely melodic manner.

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David Christian, "Letters From A Forest"

Letters From A ForestLetters From A Forest uses snippets of conversation, sung and spoken lyrics, simple guitar and piano lines, and (as Christian puts it) fake strings, to create what we can call collage atmospherics. The sum of these parts is a tender sounding album, crammed full of romanticized lyrics with a tough, honest, edge and a wondrous stream of consciousness style. When hearing tracks like the "The Ballad of Martin and Caroline,"—a tale of fates deeply entwined in a doomed love spiral—I felt like I was half napping or jet lagged in a spare room, overhearing friends babbling to one another about deceased acquaintances,musical heroes, old records,chance meetings, and the places where it all happened. As such, Letters is an ode to an array of magnificent and magnificently flawed people (some well known, others characters from local legend). It is a sketchbook of notes, more poetic than pathetic, with a palpably emotional tug, celebrating the contradictory nature of life.

Comet Gain

David Christian has been issuing records for a couple of decades or more, mostly as the group Comet Gain (which seems to have existed in an alternate reality close and concurrent to mine, but totally invisible to me), yet much of his music feels like bumping into an old friend and picking up exactly with whatever you were talking about years ago. This release hits with a wave of happy/sad reflection, full of understated emotion and unflinching humor. A highlight among many is "The Ballad of Terry Hall," a heartbreaking ode to the fallen deadpan Specials frontman—also appreciating Martin Duffy from Felt (and one or two others) along the way. Here is an unabashedly enthusiastic appreciation of music and also of being oneself however strange, shy, or weird that may be. Christian illuminates the flip side, too: the undertone of serious melancholy which no one escapes in this life. He clearly has the life experience to sound off the cuff while reeling off detailed evocations of people in a style both nostalgic and unflinchingly frank, and he grasps the minor yet essential paradox of how certain dead end jobs are a fertile breeding ground for sparks of creativity, dreams of stardom, addiction, delusion, theft, and humor.

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