Brainwashed Radio: The Podcast Edition

Cactuses by Gabriel

Midweek special.

We held off a couple days from the weekend to bring you brand new music from A Place To Bury Strangers, Alan Sparhawk, SAULT, Clinic Stars, Letting Up Despite Great Faults, Midwife, Lilacs & Champagne, Kim Deal, and Andrew Chalk, plus some vault releases from Galaxie 500, Aerial M, and Diamanda Galás.

Cactuses by Gabriel.

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Jim White & Marisa Anderson, "Swallowtail"

SwallowtailThis unusual drum and guitar duo first surfaced back in the dark days of early 2020 with The Quickening, which they boldly recorded without ever having previously performed together. Obviously, both artists are seasoned improvisers and excellent musicians, but I was still taken aback by the instant and incredible chemistry on pieces like that album's title track. Given the significant hurdles like distance, touring schedules, and other collaborations, it understandably took quite some time before the opportunity to reconvene presented itself, but the duo finally managed to meet up in White's native Australia in 2022 for some recording sessions in the coastal town of Point Lonsdale. The resultant album feels a bit different from its predecessor for a couple of reasons (no acoustic guitars this time around, "big change of vibe and scenery"), but the three-part "Bitterroot Valley Suite" beautifully recaptures the magic and spontaneity of the pair's debut while also breaking some very compelling new ground.

Thrill Jockey

In the album's description, Anderson notes that Swallowtail's engineer (Nick Huggins) was an avid surfer "attuned to the cycles of tides and sunrises and sunsets and ocean rhythms" and suggests that "all of that got into the music." I could not possibly agree more with that assessment, though I would have guessed that it was actually White who was the surfing enthusiast, as his drumming throughout this album beautifully mirrors the dynamics of rolling and crashing waves. Notably, Anderson's playing evokes water as well, but I would characterize her circular arpeggio patterns as something more akin to ripples in a pond, which is a strategy that works quite well here. In fact, that magic formula runs throughout nearly all of Swallowtail's strongest pieces, such as the opening "Aerie" and the aforementioned "Bitterroot Valley Suite": Anderson's rippling and chiming arpeggio patterns are breathlessly propelled forward by the rolling, elemental power of White's drumming. That said, those pieces are considerably more dynamically and melodically complex than that sounds, as White's crescendos ebb and flow just like actual waves and Anderson's patterns often branch out into tendrils of melody in the spaces between those climaxes.

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Myriam Gendron, "Mayday"

MaydayDespite her slim discography, Montreal-based Myriam Gendron has quietly amassed a very passionate following over the last few years, which is quite an impressive feat given that she frequently sings in French and the bulk of her previous oeuvre was devoted to interpretations of French/Québécois traditional music or Dorothy Parker poems. Obviously, such fare is quite far from the zeitgeist of the present time, but that is a big part of Gendron's allure: her work taps into a deeper and more timeless vein that captures the joy and pain of being alive in an unusually profound and direct way. Those same themes unsurprisingly remain central on Mayday (it was assembled in the wake of her mother's passing), but this third album is Gendron's first to focus primarily on her own original compositions as well as her first release to be professionally recorded in an actual studio. To celebrate that auspicious occasion, Gendron is joined by a host of talented collaborators like Dirty Three's Jim White, Body/Head's Bill Nace, and Marisa Anderson. Characteristically, the result is yet another absolutely mesmerizing Myriam Gendron album.

Thrill Jockey/Feeding Tube

Every single Myriam Gendron album to date has included at least one achingly gorgeous and perfect song (Not So Deep As A Well's "Recurrence," Ma Délire's "Go Away From My Window," etc.) and that trend happily continues here. In fact, Mayday actually features TWO such emotional gut punches. The first is "Long Way Home," which calls to mind a great lost '70s folk rock gem by someone like John Martyn. As always, I love Gendron's sad, low voice as well as her lyrics and her simple, unpretentious approach to melody, but this one simply has one heartbreaking line after another. Despite that, the piece still feels wonderfully bittersweet and uplifting due to its arrangement, as Gendron is joined by Marisa Anderson on lead guitar and Jim White on drums to balance the song's deep sadness with rolling and swaying folk rock magic. That "full band" approach is the ideal setting for such a poignant, quietly heavy piece, which is an unexpected evolution of sorts: I have long believed that Gendron's most beautiful songs would work every bit as well with no instrumental accompaniment at all (like all the best folk/traditional music), but Mayday features a handful of pieces in which well-placed guest appearances launch an already hauntingly beautiful song to another level altogether.

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Celer, "It Would Be Giving Up"

It Would Be Giving UpThis latest boxed set to emerge from Will Long's Celer reissue campaign celebrates one of the project's more recent works, as It Would Be Giving Up was originally released as a digital-only album back in late 2020. As was the case with previous reissues, the album has been remastered by Stephan Mathieu, but the more exciting bit is that I had never actually heard this particular album before and it instantly became my favorite Celer release by a wide margin. That makes sense, as according to Long, It Would Be Giving Up is thematically tied to two of Celer's other recent classics (Future Predictions and Memory Repetitions), as the three albums focus upon "ensemble pieces made with tape loops and analog instruments" and share a certain "wall of sound" aesthetic. While my love of Future Predictions is well-documented and remains as strong as ever, I now believe that It Would Be Giving Up is the single most essential album in Celer's entire discography, as it beautifully transcends the ambient/drone milieu to strain towards ecstatic heartache as high art.

Two Acorns

The album consists of four longform pieces that are each relegated to their own separate disc. That initially seemed like a curious decision, as the first two pieces could have easily fit on the same disc, but I ultimately decided that it made perfect sense to treat each piece like a standalone album or EP. In essence, It Would Be Giving Up is essentially four top-tier Celer releases with enough stylistic and thematic common ground to be presented together, which is important to note, as there is not a single weak piece to be found. This album is a four-disc tour de force because that is simply how much great material Long had recorded: nothing is unnecessarily extended and there is no filler to be found anywhere. This is simply four absolutely stellar pieces in a row without a detour or lull in sight.

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A Lily, "Saru I-Qamar"

Saru l​-​QamarMy familiarity with James Vella is primarily through his role running the excellent Phantom Limb label, but that is just one facet of a varied career, as he is also a fiction writer and a member of the Canterbury-based post-rock ensemble Yndi Halda. He records as a solo artist too and has been sporadically releasing albums as A Lily for almost two decades now. Notably, Vella is also of Maltese descent, which inspired this wonderful stylistic detour: Saru l-Qamar is assembled from tapes of home recordings archived by the Maltese heritage organization Magna Żmien. Naturally, that made my ears perk up immediately, as I often enjoy the crackling and hissing escapism of dispatches from long-dead people in far-flung places, but the “oneiric bliss” of Vella’s achingly beautiful and hallucinatory collages proved to be an unexpected and welcome enhancement. This is one of my favorite albums of the year thus far.

Phantom Limb

The album’s title translates as “They Became The Moon,” which is a lovely and poetic way of saying that the lives and loves of previous generations remain part of the fabric of our lives forever (like the moon, they are “always present, but always out of reach”). Naturally, Vella’s own family surfaces (in the cover art), but the bulk of these recordings are snatches of traditional Maltese folk songs known as għana. Normally, the phrase “folk song” conveys a canon of specific songs and lyrics that have existed for generations, but għana departs from that tradition in being a malleable song form that people can use to tell their own stories. According to Vella, “from the ‘60s until the modern era, it was common for Maltese families to receive reel tapes from relatives abroad,” as that was simply how people shared news with distant friends and family. In short, Maltese people had their own cassette underground in which they regularly exchanged personalized songs with each other. Unsurprisingly, I am now retroactively mad that my own family never exchanged songs about mundane events like getting a new cat or whatever. Life could be so much more beautiful than it currently is.

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Celer, "Engaged Touches (Expanded and Remastered)"

Engaged Touches (Expanded and Remastered)Will Long's ambitious campaign to remaster and reissue key highlights from Celer's overwhelmingly vast discography continues with this expanded reincarnation of 2009's Engaged Touches (appropriately released on fellow ex-pat/ambient artist Ian Hawgood's Home Normal label during its Japan-based era). The album is an especially noteworthy release within the Celer canon for a couple of reasons, but the big one is that it ranks alongside 2008's Discourses of the Withered and 2019's Xièxie as one of the project's perennial fan favorites. While my own pantheon of essential Celer albums does not always align with that of said fanbase, this one's prominent place makes sense, as it was definitely one of the most high-profile albums released during the white-hot height of Celer-mania. As such, it was probably one of the first Celer albums that many people heard. It is also inarguably one of the strongest albums recorded during the project's early days as a husband-and-wife duo with Danielle Baquet-Long (Chubby Wolf) and most of the other contenders were not yet widely available before Bandcamp transformed the musical landscape. Given that, a reissue was both welcome and inevitable, but those who already love this album will likely be thrilled by the prospect of hearing it in its newly expanded and remastered form.

Two Acorns

Much like how Wong Kar Wai was unable to resist tweaking the color grading of his films when the opportunity to release 4K restorations of his oeuvre presented itself, this version of Engaged Touches has been transformed and reshaped a bit by Long. Obviously, just about any artist can find room for improvement with the benefit of hindsight, but assessing whether this expansion is a significant improvement over the original is a bit tricky given the nature of the music (endlessly repeating slow-motion loops). In any case, this new version is roughly three times as long as the original (now either 3 CDs or 5 vinyl sides), but it is also two versions of the same album: the first two discs offer a new version with extended track lengths, while the third disc remains faithful to the original in every way except being remastered by Stephan Mathieu.

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Six Organs of Admittance, "Time is Glass"

Time is GlassThis latest release from Ben Chasney's shapeshifting and long-running psych project is billed as a sort of homecoming album, as Chasney recently moved back to California's famed Humboldt County region after a few decades away. As befits an album recorded on a picturesque coast best known for weed and beautiful redwood forests, Time Is Glass is an especially intimate, casual, and mellow Six Organs album (the cover art of a beachside dog walk captures the tone quite nicely, I think). Admittedly, that softer side of Six Organs is usually not my cup of tea (I am a fundamentally un-mellow person), but I genuinely appreciate Chasney's passion for continual evolution and reinvention and there is already a sizable backlog of Six Organs material that falls more in my comfort zone. As such, I am always willing to indulge Chasney's erratic muse wherever it may lead. More importantly, I consider Chasney to be something of a fitful and unpredictable guitar visionary: there are admittedly plenty of Six Organs songs that leave me cold, but it is never safe to assume that a new Chasney album will be devoid of flashes of brilliance. In keeping with that theme, Time Is Glass is a bit of an uneven album for me, but it does feature two sustained flashes of brilliance that rank among Chasney's finest work.

Drag City

Listening to this album, I was newly struck by the improbable stylistic gray area that Chasney's oeuvre inhabits: Six Organs of Admittance has basically been an underground/psych institution since the turn of the millennium, but it always seemed like Ben's vision was shaped by classic rock almost as much as it was inspired by artists like Loren Connors and Richard Bishop. That is definitely not an easy balance to navigate or seamlessly maintain, but sometimes the collision of those two sides yields extremely cool results (Chasney's talents for dual-guitar harmonies and occasional fiery shredding have always delighted me).

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Abul Mogard and Rafael Anton Irisarri, "Impossibly Distant, Impossibly Close"

Impossibly Distant, Impossibly CloseThis collaboration has its origins in a sold-out opening night show from Madrid's 2023 SoundSet series, as Irisarri and Guido Zen tore the roof off the Condeduque cultural center ambient-style with their encore duet. Naturally, that intense performance ("Waking Up Dizzy on a Bastion") is included here for the benefit of hapless chumps like me who were on the wrong continent that night, but the experience inspired the two artists to keep their partnership going afterwards (albeit remotely). That continued creative union eventually resulted in a longform studio piece ("Place of Forever") that is every bit as impressive as the Madrid performance, if not even better. Unsurprisingly, I have been a fan of both artists for quite some time and this album is one of those rare times in which an ostensible match made in heaven actually sounds as absolutely mesmerizing as I hoped it would. This album is pure blackened drone nirvana.

Black Knoll Editions

The album opens with the new studio piece ("Place of Forever"), which gradually fades in from silence as a subdued chord progression, a host of pops and crackles, and a bleary industrial drone that languorously pans and undulates through space. If this were a lesser album, I can guarantee that I would be frustrated that it took a full 7 or 8 minutes before the opening piece finally started to catch fire, but such a long, slow build up feels quite confident and earned here: if I know a piece will eventually blossom into something incredible, the slow, simmering ascension to that point becomes incredibly tantalizing rather than an unnecessary lull.

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Adam Wiltzie, "Eleven Fugues For Sodium Pentothal"

Eleven Fugues For Sodium PentothalAfter teasingly releasing a pair of soundtracks under his given name, Adam Wiltzie's latest solo album marks a return (of sorts) to the ambient/drone terrain of his beloved former duo with the late Brian McBride (Stars of the Lid). Unsurprisingly, the titular barbiturate/anesthetic deserves some credit for inspiring this shift in direction, as Wiltzie sometimes yearns for a "sacred escape" from the "daily emotional meat grinder of life," but the album also drew inspiration from his recent move to the Flemish countryside and a recurring dream ("if someone listened to the music I created, then they would die"). Based on my own listening experience, I can tentatively say that the album is probably not lethal (outside of dreams, at least) and also that it will presumably delight those Wiltzie fans who have been patiently longing for such a "return to form." That said, Wiltzie's vision is characteristically a bit of an understated one, so the pleasures of Eleven Fugues for Sodium Pentothal tend to be subtle, ephemeral, and sneakily slow-burning ones.

Kranky

The album opens with quite a varied and impressive four-song run of absolutely sublime, slow-motion beauty beginning with the enigmatically titled "Buried At Westwood Memorial Park, In An Unmarked Grave, To The Left Of Walter Matthau." The piece opens in somewhat unsettling and vaguely menacing fashion with eerie whines and seething ambiance, but soon blossoms into brighter, warmer territory once the strings come in (Wiltzie enhanced his home studio recordings with orchestral recordings made in Budapest at Hungary's former national radio facility). Once all the various elements are properly in place, the piece gradually achieves quite a wonderful strain of slow-motion grandeur that feels akin to a bittersweet sunset. That is admittedly textbook "Stars of the Lid" terrain, but Wiltzie's solo muse rarely lingers anywhere predictable or safe for long: the piece also features a dissolving middle section and a healthy amount of bending, smearing dissonance and tension (though the final section returns to shimmering beauty in a big way). My dark horse favorite on the album is the following "Tissue of Lies," however. Much like the opener, it opens in deceptively predictable fashion, but then an absolutely gorgeous two-chord guitar motif appears to fill the air with lingering ghost trail shimmer before abruptly disintegrating into a slow, hazy fade out (I actually shouted "Noooo!!!!" at my stereo when the transition to a third chord hit).

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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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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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