Something something about the unstoppable passage of time, the importance of preservation, yadda yadda. Here’s the list.
Harry Pussy – Superstar (Palilalia, Oct 15)
For me, the music of the beloved and profanely-named duo of guitarist Bill Orcutt and drummer Adris Hoyos has always been best consumed in compiled form. Unlike some other fans, I’m not as partial to the more ambitious long forms of releases like Vigilance, Let’s Build a Pussy, and Ride a Dove (while the former two aren’t quite as well-celebrated, the latter certainly is) as I am to the deranged art-shitcore bursts of the self-titled debut and Fuck You. Both of those are immortalized—as well as bundled with unreleased tracks, rarities, and live versions with wildly varying levels of intelligibility—on What Was Music? (1996) and You’ll Never Play This Town Again (2003), two piecemeal yet quite lengthy collections that, until now, have comprised the entirety of my HP intake. But something about the spectacular brevity of Superstar, a newly released 7″ that presents previously unheard studio recordings (with the exception of “HP Superstar,” which was included on What Was Music?), most of which court lengths between 30 seconds and a minute, just works. I’ve seen some complaints about the relatively high fidelity compared to many of the band’s other stylistically comparable works, but I couldn’t disagree more; something about the interplay between Orcutt’s immediately recognizable string torture and Hoyos’s sporadic, almost-but-not-quite-arrhythmic hits being filled not with oppressive fuzz and hiss, but instead with reasonable clarity and even empty space, is absolutely magnetic. I think this is why I enjoy the briefness so much here: for me at least, the no-fi approach to recording is much more complementary to their messy, sprawling structures, while Superstar’s vicious squall is made sharper and more eviscerating by its (again, relatively) heightened coherence. Hopefully this well-retrospective reminder of HP’s existence will expose an entire new generation to their cathartic musical ugliness.
Gen Ken Montgomery – Endogeny (Tribe Tapes, Jan 22)
Probably the best part about reissues is seeing how many other people love the same music you do. Digging so deep into the abstract and the avant-garde can often be a lonely pursuit, so it’s always nice to be reminded that there are many others just like you. It’s also a testament to the timelessness of this stuff that the guy who handled the revival of this classic tape hadn’t even been born when it was originally released in 1990; thanks to the resources of the internet, young people who missed out on the glory days of mail art and tape trading in the late 80s and early 90s can still hear and experience a lot of the material, even more so now that things like this are being put on Bandcamp. Endogeny has been my favorite Gen Ken Montgomery release since I first discovered his work. All of it is steeped in the amplified micro-textural cacophony and everyday improvisation that I love so much, but these two side-long pieces are particularly resonant due to their inspired incorporation of ambient tinges and an almost psychedelic meditativeness. Montgomery is a master of the craft and here he is at the height of his powers. The j-card design is rather unrefined and slipshod—but I can’t think of any other physical form this equally unrefined and slipshod music should take.
Anaheim – A Collection of Songs from the Past 6 Months (self-released, Apr 15)
After a long drought of fresh new moody bedroom folk, 2020 has provided those partial to the sound with a host of superb additions to the canon. The appeal of the genre is rooted in the unspoken, the unutterable emotions that lurk in the corner shadows on gloom-filled Sunday evenings or the pit of your stomach when you realize something isn’t what you thought it was; thus, appreciation of the music, being inextricably and intimately personal, is often difficult to articulate. But I think in the case of local Cincinnati singer/songwriter Anaheim’s recent anthology, a confession of critical uncertainty may be the highest praise I could give. I’ve met and hung out with the guy a few times, but even if you haven’t had that opportunity, by the end of A Collection of Songs you’ll feel like you know him pretty well—and that’s always significant artistic accomplishment in my book. Some of this ineffable individuality manifests in the form of specific names (“Greta is my good friend,” “When Janie’s on the porch…”) and experiences, while other times it’s much more abstract: something about the persistent distance of the muffled percussion is unshakably wistful; certain acoustic guitar festoonments curl on the edges of the stereo field like hushed, whispered secrets; supplementary field recordings and imperfectly trimmed tracks invoke a sublime earthiness. There are obvious comparisons to popular artists that could be made (Alex G, Elvis Depressedly, etc.) but this superb release stands on its own in every way possible.
C.C.C.C. – Loud Sounds Dopa / The Cherry Point – Night of the Bloody Tapes (Helicopter & Troniks, Jul 20 / Sep 4)
Is this cheating? Should I not take advantage of the fact that two of the select few harsh noise albums I consider “perfect” were reissued this year? It feels too easy, but not including these two CDs on this list would just be wrong. There’s not much to say about either that hasn’t already been said—and if you’re here on the site reading this, chances are you’ve heard one or both—so I’ll focus on the packaging of these revamped printings. Both come in the sleek matte gatefold digipaks that are Helicopter’s medium of choice; Night of the Bloody Tapes also has a foldout panel that reveals extra artwork. Neither of the albums’ first-edition covers and designs seem to have been changed significantly (no new art credit is provided for Night and the actual disc features Liz Harris’s original blood splatter; Loud Sounds Dopa has been slightly renovated by Wiese to make the darker threads in the faded blue of the cover more difficult to see) but that’s not a bad thing. Just feels good to actually hold (and own) two releases I thought I’d never physically possess in my hands.
Women of the Pore – Folk Music (Orb Tapes, Jan 19)
Folk Music collects thirteen tracks by enigmatic New Brunswick project Women of the Pore, whose peculiarly- but aptly-titled brand of rhythmic electronica and sound collage, “bunker jazz,” has quickly become a new obsession for me. Some of the pieces were previously released as part of the overwhelming flood of digital singles that saturate the artist’s Bandcamp catalog (“Eyes Which Cry Love,” “Sinking,” “Valley of the Worms,” “(For) Stephen Kirby,” “The Wailing”) and others are either brand new or just unheard. Each one holds its own unique weight amongst the others, however; they all seethe in their own particular ways, whether subdued and surreal as in “The Drags,” plodding and apocalyptic in the case of “Unholy Smoke,” or even warmly effervescent with the S U R V I V E-esque retro-synth arpeggiation and nostalgic atmospherics of “Eyes Which Cry Love”—all of which are in the same three-song cluster. It’s eclectic, definitely, but a brooding, subterranean darkness that persists throughout the entirety of the tape acts as a both tonal and more concretely sonic structural backbone. There’s plenty here for adventurous jazz and electronica fans alike, or even just those in the market for something radically unique. Original review
Gestalt et Jive – Neowise (Al Maslakh, Aug 14)
Although this archival document captures moments of the long-inactive German prog band Gestalt et Jive when they’re immersed in haphazard, improvised transitional interludes and unstructured jam-band abstractions, to me it ends up being not only a more enjoyable but even a more complete full-length release than either of the quartet’s studio LPs. The band drifts between meditative sustained rhythms reminiscent of the rock-ier side of the kosmiche music for which their home country is known, chaotic yet never overwhelming stretches of free time, messy collective noodling, and even a goofy waltz-like tangent in an incredibly organic manner; although all ten movements are said to have been “composed,” it’s hard to imagine that these fluid evolutions are the product of explicit notational instruction rather than mostly spontaneous interaction and intuition, so I’m inclined to believe that the use of that term is as loose as the music itself. The demo-like quality of the cassette recordings imbue it all with both a hazy comfort and a sense of the beautifully unfinished. Original review
Empatía – Discography 7″ (Miss the Stars, Jan 17)
In my case, good emoviolence—and emotional hardcore in general, I suppose—almost always does one of two things: punches me in the face or pokes me in the heart. It’s quite rare to find something that does both, which is why I am so grateful to have discovered fiery four-piece Empatía this year via their comprehensive 2017–2019 discography, put out in January by Miss the Stars Records (I find it interesting that half of the entries on this list came out so early in the year). Assembling a digital-only collection of miscellaneous tracks, a split with fellow Colombian scorchers LAYQA, and a submission to a various artists compilations, the entire set of thirteen tracks fits comfortably on a 33 rpm 7″ record, which is already an indicator that Empatía really knows what they’re doing. The skeletal, almost ethereal production (if there actually was any production done, that is) lends an aching melancholy to the proceedings present even in the most dissonant and abrasive moments of fury; opening two-parter “Abatidx / Alienadx” starts things off strong by displaying the band’s incredible range of brutal blasts, spindly technical detours, and pained beauty, not only shrouded within but unified by the overall ghostliness of the sound. Be careful with this one—it’s viciously addictive.
Олександр Юрченко – • Лічи до ста • Симфонія №1 • (Delta Shock, Jan 18)
Certain professions whose actual responsibilities most of us will never come close to performing or fulfilling have an undeniable, almost romantic appeal: everyone’s dreamed about writing the next great novel, making some legendary scientific breakthrough that cements our place in history, starring in a hit movie and having every dream of fame come true. Some of these are more abstract than others; the aforementioned examples would most likely be accompanied by wealth and prestige, but other fantasies that have crossed my mind are less capitalist indoctrination aftershocks and more, well, human, one being the exquisite intimacy of a solitary archaeological discovery. I’ve previously written about the way in which this romance is fulfilled, at least in part, via the unearthing, if you will, of obscure or forgotten music, but this remastered archival recording by ambitious folk pioneer Oleksandr Yurchenko, the third in a series of similar recent efforts and the second by Ukrainian label Delta Shock, feels like both a musical and a historical exhumation. Originally tracked in 1994, the 25-minute piece swells with sharp resin-shredding bow strokes and subtle electro-acoustic layering, transcendent half-harmonies and fleeting overtones coalescing into a glinting mass of metal, stone, and light. • Лічи до ста • Симфонія №1 • was initially intended to raise money for Yurchenko’s cancer treatment, but unfortunately the beloved artist succumbed to the illness in April. Listen. Remember. Honor.