Review: lojii – Lofeye (Youngbloods, Mar 23)

I recently mentioned that lojii & Swarvy’s Due Rent was one of the only hip-hop albums I loved last year. While I was initially drawn to its dusty, inventive production, it was lojii’s entertaining flow and lyrical earnestness that kept me coming back. His chops have only improved on his new solo record Lofeye, tackling less concrete subject matter with dizzying rhyme schemes and endlessly creative instrumentals. lojii employs a wide variety of producers across the album’s 14 tracks, with results ranging from Thook’s dark atmospherics on leading track “Spook Who Sat by da Floor” to the schizophrenic musique concrète of Marc Rebillet on “Run It Down,” which probably has the craziest beat I’ve ever heard in a hip-hop song. Despite the much larger talent pool, everything on Lofeye feels like it fits; it all has a smoky, shadowy feel to it, and lojii’s smooth bars are always center stage. It’s a lot to take in at first, but Lofeye has already well exceeded my expectations, and I’m hoping that further exploration will only cement its quality.

Review: Lauren Tosswill – My Home in the Year (Enmossed, Jan 31)

There’s an almost uncomfortable tactility to My Home in the Year. In the monstrous opening title track, heavy metal objects are dragged and feet clunk on hardwood floors, juxtaposed with heavily manipulated loops of Tosswill’s spellbinding voice. The sounds are never fully unveil their identities, yet are present enough that the listener can fully explore them. This balance is key to the album’s amazing composition, with the unique timbres evoking a variety of emotions as they build in volume and interlock with each other, always hiding just behind a shield of enigma. Even the vocal elements are mysterious despite their origin being known. Tosswill’s wordless scrapes, grating inhales, and Yoshida-esque oscillations introduce incredible textures, allowing for an entirely a cappella track like “Kes” to be equally as captivating as any of the others. Despite making use of a relatively sparse sonic palette, My Home in the Year is impossibly lush; on the album page, it’s explained as residing “beyond the eye’s eye to our depths,” and somehow that arcane description kind of makes sense. Don’t ask me why, just listen.

In addition, Ms. Tosswill did a fascinating interview about her work with ATTN:Magazine. Also, all proceeds from Bandcamp sales of My Home in the Year go to Maine Inside Out, a nonprofit that works with incarcerated individuals to put on theatre productions.

Review: Rafael Anton Irisarri – Sirimiri (Umor Rex, Mar 16)

It seems like not too long ago that I was reviewing a Rafael Anton Irisarri album (that being because Midnight Colours came out less than a month ago). Not many artists can maintain such a frequent release schedule and consistent quality at the same time, but Sirimiri will silence the skeptics. Where Midnight Colours was bright and chromatic, Sirimiri is cool and nocturnal, with Irisarri’s masterful drone sculpting taking on an icy edge. The lush constructions and attention to detail has not been abandoned, however; every track draws from a variety of ideas, moving through and layering each of the elements in a way that feels very natural. Closing track “Mountain Stream” is one of my favorite things Irisarri has done, its cold synth melodies and shifting wintry ambiance somehow masking a hidden warmth. It evokes an alluring snowy landscape; but one that is viewed safely from a warm living room. Really wish I would’ve picked up the tape before it sold out, but what can you do.

Review: Setsuko – The Shackles of Birth (Dog Knights Productions, Mar 6)

I had a strange experience with The Shackles of Birth today. Towards the end of my first listen, the realization of how awesome it really is sort of crept up on me, a pretty uncommon thing in very in-your-face, immediate music like this. I was confused, until I realized that my delayed acknowledgment of its badassery was due to my brain automatically filing it away as a hardcore classic that I listen to regularly, rather than a new album I just discovered. Yes, the record is that good; it’s short, furious, and to-the-point, the gritty yet dynamic mix bowling you over like a freight train. The Shackles of Birth has everything I could possibly ask for, with vocals that sound more like tortured howls than screams, powerful drums that pound away blasts and d-beats alike, and dissonant, angular guitar interplay that stops things from even coming close to boring. It’s been a long time since I’ve been just plain excited about an album, but this one is seriously an accomplishment. And I guess my brain was mostly right; I will definitely be listening to this regularly, and it is most certainly classic material. You can pick up the physical LP here.

Review: Kate Carr – I Ended Out Moving to Brixton (Flaming Pines, Mar 9)

London-based artist Kate Carr’s unique soundscapes could almost be compared to paintings. In much of her work, and especially in I Ended Out Moving to Brixton, she aims to describe a physical location or environment using the variety of sounds heard within it. This new release on Flaming Pines is especially vivid, presenting Carr’s perception of the rapidly changing city of Brixton. “Rapid” also describes much of the piece; individual sounds and recordings dissipate almost as soon as they appear, forcing the listener to pay close attention. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m walking through downtown at rush hour, when everyone around me is hurrying somewhere and I almost feel as though I should be hurrying too. Carr captures this almost stressful feeling of movement with disarming panning, frequent splicing, and the layering of noises on top of each other, but she also somehow presents a feeling of comfort within the chaos; initially unfamiliar sounds are repeated throughout the piece, subtly developing an almost rhythmic security amidst the hustle and bustle. I’d say the non-diegetic contributions are the weak points here; I have nothing against musical elements within field recording based pieces like this, but the new age-esque synths and computerized percussion are so out of place against the careful beauty of the environmental sounds. But regardless, Carr succeeds yet again in painting a colorful sonic portrait, and even though I’ve never physically been to Brixton I feel like I know it a little better now.

Review: Nick Keeling & Kaily Moon Schenker – Marker (Torn Light, Jan 8)

This tape came out quite a bit earlier in the year, but I only recently got my hands on it; it was a physical-only release and Torn Light was sold out of copies. However, I had the opportunity to see this duo perform some live improvisations last Saturday, and was able to pick up Marker at the merch table. It’s the first and possibly only collaboration between musician/sound artist Nick Keeling and classically trained cellist Kaily Schenker, and is mainly composed of improvisational pieces with cello, piano, vibraphone, and 8-track tapes. Needless to say, both artists are tremendously skilled at their respective instruments, but the real treat here is the evolution of Keeling’s tape work, which is more developed than ever before. He uses a custom-built system of three modified 8-track machines, the tape circling in an infinite loop in and out of each, allowing for live manipulation of both his and Schenker’s playing. The dusty stutter of the imperfect loops blends incredibly well with the sounds coming from the actual instruments, giving Marker a unique, fragile beauty that is only extended by its exclusive presentation on cassette. I’ve been told it can be purchased from Thousands of Dead Gods’ Discogs page despite not being listed.

Review: Nagual / Tongue Depressor Split (Pidgeon, Feb 22)

Both sides of the new split tape by Connecticut-based duos Nagual and Tongue Depressor are abrasive in a way that is somehow not off-putting. The noisy, clattering guitar and effect interplay between Nagual’s David Shapiro and Ian McColm is chaotic, violent even; but it’s also inexplicably warm, and magnetic. The way these musicians sculpt string buzzes, rattles, angular notes, and hypnotic loops into detailed soundscapes is truly amazing. Tongue Depressor’s side, composed of fluid violin and fiddle drones performed by members Zach Rowden and Henry Birdsey, is equally dense despite its sparser palette. You can almost hear the resin crumbling off the bows as they are mercilessly dragged along the strings, giving the lush harmonies a jagged edge. I’m undoubtedly reminded of the organic pieces of the Dream Syndicate, but Rowden and Birdsey are not concerned with “eternal music;” near the end of the track, the notes dissipate, and we are left with jarringly percussive bowing that builds to a noisy conclusion. A fantastic showing from both artists, and thanks to Pidgeon Records for putting it all in a nice package.