Review: Water Source – We Went for a Swim and Parted Ways (self-released, Oct 25)

Water Source, a new project based in Portland, seems to be deeply concerned with distance. Besides the fact that distances from water sources are significant pieces of information for architects and planners, the artist’s visual and auditory aesthetic evokes it more in a sense of removal or detachment: brightly colored sledders and a barn through the wintry expanse of a cloudy-day snowfall, a yellowed old photograph bordered by simple white fabric, quotidian transmissions played back on a janky deck surrounded by the pressurized swell of silence. Tape music in this style is already interesting on its own, all languid blur and noisy nothingness, but when placed within a larger environment, whether real or artificial, casts it in an exquisite new light (UVC, Emily Eigner, Muddy Pussy). While the first part of the brief We Went for a Swim and Parted Ways is steeped in the warm comfort of passed time and memory, with fractured melodies and chord progressions twirling shakily on sticking spindles that thread between sparse object fiddling, the two following it seem to align with the subtle maritime theme hinted at by the title and artwork. II is a fleeting sketch of docked seafaring vessels bobbing against their restraints fused with a sputtering stem of shattered speech, and III, perhaps the most eclectic section, dances an erratic broken-toy waltz through tangentially theatrical episodes of no-fi concrète loops, ponderous piano, and clumsily bowed cello. Yes, much of We Went for a Swim takes place “far away,” no binoculars are necessary, not even a slight squint; there is beauty in the beyond.

Review: Natural Temple – Natural Temple (Lab Rat, Oct 24)

Natural Temple’s self-titled reminds me quite favorably of some of the weirder stuff I’ve stumbled across on both Free Music Archive and Youtube—Recordings, Disk 01; Multi-Channel Analysis of Naive Doppler Simulation; Dial Up—but also has the added bonus of being just a bit more discoverable (we have all seen over and over that, when it’s done well enough in the first place, accessibility does not cheapen obscurity). This mysterious, ephemeral little release is one of only a few digital-only albums currently uploaded to the Louisiana net label Lab Rat’s page, and it’s also my favorite so far, even setting aside my affection for eponymous debuts from reclusive or otherwise anonymous artists. Each minuscule track is sparingly formed with low-fidelity digital interference like bitcrushed shortwave signals or corrupted sound files, often rendered in an unexpectedly tactile form via microscopic sound design, processing, and arrangement. It’s pointless yet still entertaining to compare these completely detached, abstracted textures to familiar real-world sound events; for example, “Underneath” could simultaneously be a reticent, hermitic extended-turntable improvisation, a close amplification of liquid sizzling on a hotplate, a proximal hydrophone voyeurization of a crowd on the boardwalk above. The artist experiments with silence and reductionism as well, paring down their already minimal sonic palette to barely more than a ghost-in-the-machine whisper on “The Signal (Long Lost),” which despite its profound artificiality somehow manages to evoke the same spectral nostalgia for nonexistent futures as the most organic of hauntological works. Looking up the barcode on the cover doesn’t answer any questions; the numbers, at least, are the EAN-13 for the eight-pack of BIC Velleda 1721 whiteboard markers. Maybe you’re supposed to chow down on them while you listen. Worked for me.

Review: Gospel – Shrapnel (Phage Tapes, Oct 22)

Chock-full of sharp, scalding sounds as coldly synthetic and casually incendiary as the unsettling artwork, Matt Hex’s newest tape under his Gospel alias is a rapturous caustic nightmare. Shrapnel, true to its title, plays with textures that could just as well have been wrested from rusty machinery, slaughterhouse tools, or an overheating furnace chamber than a chain of pedals, objects, and effects. The opening “Incineration Angel,” perhaps the name of the seraphic figure featured centrally on the cover, is a brutal, uncompromising introduction that sets the stage for the particular sort of noise we’re dealing with here: artificial and lifeless, the passive abstract residue of industrialization and militarism rather than gestural blasts revealing the presence of their deliverer, and yet still tearing to life, or whatever it is (and staying there) with the vicious force of a whole network of volcanic eruptions. “Pivot Pin” is what initially brought slaughterhouses—things I usually prefer to avoid thinking about—to mind; its uncanny slowed utterances and distorted electronic interference already feel plenty gory and pestilential, but to top it off the short track concludes with a skittering loop of what sounds like a slim blade being sharpened by a shaky hand. “Hand and Hoof” seems precariously balanced between digital and tactile abrasion, a volatile, vivisected current of shuddering static and scraping, scratching scrap metal, and the whole tape seems to lead up to “Barbaric,” which builds from what sounds like a mashup of a particularly active Haters set with disaster footage clips to an extraordinarily loud, searing conclusion. Intense, violent, and unfeeling: BE NOT AFRAID.

Mix: All Hallows’ Eve, Revisited

Less a sequel to than an expansion of last year’s mix. This version is more varied, emotional, and abstract. I hope it helps you get into the spirit of the season before it’s too late.

00:00. King of Herrings – “On Two Legs” from The New Musician (self-released, 2020)

01:09. Ghost Food – “Ghost’s Come Home” from Night in My Mind (Sweet Wreath, 2021)

04:42. Unhallowed Eve – “From Beyond the Grave” from The Midnight Hour (self-released, 2019)

07:43. No Artist – “Asleep in the Pumpkins Patch II” from Cassetus Infernus V/A comp (Liquid Library, 2016)

09:07. Monster Zero – “Haunted Homes and Gardens” from Candy from Neighbors (self-released, 2021)

10:24. Blue Friction – A side [excerpt] of Wollstonecraft (self-released, 2014)

14:32. Faux Faunus – “Wean” from Hollow / Wean (self-released, 2014)

19:34. DJC – “Commercial Break” from Son of Shock (self-released, 2021)

20:08. William Hutson – “Shelves of Dusty Skulls” [excerpt] from Spectralities (Deathbomb Arc, 2015)

26:55. AntiVitalis – “A Crumbling Black Castle Looming in the Fog” [excerpt] from “…wing of Roach,” (Gulik, 2021)

29:23. VHS Spectre – “𝔉𝔬𝔤” from Graveyard Tapes (Origami Vato, 2020)

31:46. 舰长电视 [Captain TV] – “Had 2 B the Wind” from Halloween Mixtape 2014 (Plastic Response, 2014)

34:25. Apparition – “The Grave Robbers” from The Ravenous Dusk (Seance, 2018)

39:34. Amethyst & Gold – “What a Wonderful Night to Die” from A Haunted Housewarming (Handwerk Music, 2019)

Review: Electric Indigo – Morpheme (, Oct 19)

When Florian Hecker and Oswald Berthold’s proto–net label began making the material released during its original 1999–2003 tenure available for name-your-price download on Bandcamp a few years ago, I could never have imagined that we would soon be getting new stuff on the imprint as well. But now the glorious, esoteric tradition extreme computer music lives on in the 2020s through this established channel as well as countless more recent sources. It’s somehow fitting that the single phrase from which every single heavily abstracted sound in this new work by Susanne Kirchmayr (as Electric Indigo) was drawn is “To let noise into a system is a kind of fine art in both cybernetic terms and in terms of making music, too.” Live coding, software-based processing and manipulation, digital concrète and synthesis, and other techniques one often sees in this area are all approaches that consist of both precise interaction on the part of the artist and volatile unpredictability on the part of the “instrument”—in other words, no matter how meticulous and antiseptic a piece of computer music is, some “noise” must always be “let… into the system.” This is certainly the case for Morpheme, the audio portion of the Vienna DJ and sound artist’s 2015 multimedia performance of the same name; the swarms of microscopic, granular textures are jagged and rough-hewn, full of cloying artifacts and viscous remnants from the organic context out of which they were ripped, sometimes surgically, other times brutally. Despite these delectable, messy imperfections, and the strict limitations of using only a single speech fragment as a basis for something much longer, Morpheme is staggeringly complex and diverse, jumping from ersatz prog-electronic to formless insect-chatter glitch storm to minimal industrial techno stomp over the course of its final three tracks (“SI”, “TM”, and “EEM”, respectively). Even if one only looks at this and Kirchmayr’s LP from last year on MEGO, Ferrum, it’s clear the future is bright. Whoops! Nope, sorry, it was just my laptop screen. But I have faith.

Review: OMS – Twentieth Day, Tenth Month, Thirty-Eight Minutes, Forty-Seven Seconds (218, Oct 20)

Auspiciously introduced as “some histrionic bitch ambient for the ego,” the newest release from 218, my newest favorite label is just as ambitious, adventurous, and aspirational as one could possibly expect. Twentieth Day, Tenth Month, Thirty-Eight Minutes, Forty-Seven Seconds is the first and perhaps—so far—the only piece of music put out by OMS, a project about which there is absolute zero further information (other than the implied descriptors of “histrionic” and “bitch,” I suppose), and though I honestly anticipated the opposite, the barebones innocuity of the straightforward title is not at all reflected in the track itself, which is positively bursting at the seams with complexity, abstraction, and meditative maximalism. Despite evoking plenty of glorious, tranquil lethargy with its soft sweeps of expressive piano and plasticine new-age washes, “Autumn, Anno Domini” moves quite quickly, twirling and tumbling leisurely like a densely mosaicked sea turtle in a rushing ocean current; the first time, I was more than halfway through before I even really processed what was happening. There are some sharp edges here and there—sprouting boils of screeching dissonance, a jagged chunk of indulgent electric guitar noodling, hallucinatory vocal incursions—but everything always resolves in these beautiful intermittent structural wells into which the clashing, myriad assortments cascade and out of which sublime major-key distillations flow. A therapeutic think tank (the aquarium kind) for the thickheaded.

Review: Practical Uses for Worms – 电指挥官过渡 (self-released, Oct 18)

What is there to even say about 电指挥官过渡  (Electric Commander Transition)? Should I focus on enticing anyone who reads this to listen to it, or to ward them away entirely? Can one become a more complete person by burrowing into this relatively new genre that seems to finally be the absolute nadir of conventional musicality in an experimental context (“field recordings” from <20-view Youtube videos, random text-to-speech readouts, the most utterly unappetizing digital excavations possible), or is it just a fast-track to degeneracy? If you’re here, though, you probably gave up asking those questions a long time ago, so I suppose all I can do is give my fellow weirdos an idea of what you’re getting into. This seems to be the most official full-length so far from recently initiated Wilmington, DE project Practical Uses for Worms apart from August’s The Plastic Sutra (perhaps an unintentional companion for Daphne X’s upcoming The Plumb Sutra??), and is built on mangled, low-fidelity samples and extracts of voices speaking in both Mandarin and English—though the approach, to me, is a distinctly modern one, the low sample rates and bit-chopping echo the golden age of the beloved label. The one intelligible piece of source material seems to be an audiobook or other sort of reading of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which crops up in “M1rr0r Cable CommAnder Sun Tzu mix,” but overall the short release seems to stake much of its intrigue on the obscurity of its origins. This is the internet-age equivalent of a delirious, surreal found-tape collage, as a whole rising above and becoming, in a way, distinct from its many disparate, individual parts, and while our fascination with the mysteries and resonances of physical objects, the intangible labyrinth of the net only becomes more complex and enigmatic as it continues to grow each and every day—how can one not stick a curious hand into the muck?

Review: Household Appliances – Everything in the Kitchen Sink (Unmapped Zones, Oct 16)

After dabbling in areas as diverse as minimal electronica, dusty bedroom pop, sprightly dungeon synth, and more throughout the various aliases grouped together on the Unmapped Zones page, Hemet, CA–based artist Joel Major (also known as Camp Wonderful and a member of Strange Visitors) turns to the crud gathered in the tile grout after all those recording sessions to generate Everything in the Kitchen Sink. Perhaps (aptly) named for the unspeakable smorgasbord of dirty dishes, soggy food leftovers, smelly oil-water, and other shudder-worthy detritus that eventually gathers in the sink basin of any dwelling occupied by procrastinators, the single-track release comprises pretty typical fare for “junk heap audio collage”: trivial field recordings captured with derelict dictaphones and damaged tapes; whirring, wiggling, warbling fast-forwards and rewinds; messy clumps and fumbling scrabbles. For a 10-minute piece it’s surprisingly varied, stumbling erratically from rotary clatter that could just as well be a rattling minecart grinding along a track as simply the amplified playback of a blank cassette. Major tends to use the wobbling tendrils of high-speed scrubbing in much the same way as the crude electronic pulses and buzzes that occasionally make their way into the mix, layering them overtop of the central churn as textural ornaments rather than structural destabilizers. Around six or so minutes in, fans of no-fi trash improv (think Ruda Vera, Filthy Turd, Liam Kramer-White) will find plenty to love in a brief vignette of ragged breathing and tape-rip revue before it decomposes into piercing whistles and swampy gurgles. Though the sole track is titled “Side A” and the cover art formatted for tape, there’s no actual physical edition to be found . . . I hope that changes soon.

Review: Das Synthetische Mischgewebe – Les Troubles (Pentiments, Oct 15)

As an aspiring label curator with a vision as big as my bank account is small, the release schedule of Guido Gamboa’s Pentiments imprint really speaks to me: barely more than ten entries since its inception in 2015, and yet every single one is a winner. So when any new stuff drops, one had better pay attention, because the Chicago artist/owner-operator is consistently an esteemed source for the best in sonic bricolage, field recording, sound research, and artful nothingness… and after this newest batch ten minutes is all you’ll need to reaffirm that reputation, because that’s the short, deceptively modest amount of time it takes to listen to this new 7″ by the inimitable German project (now solely represented by Guido Hübner), of which I can be quoted as commenting, “this is one of the best things I’ve ever heard.” All of the aforementioned stylistic realms are at least sparingly present in the two succinct cuts, and both Hübner himself and the amazing work he’s done here seem to nicely sum up the elusive appeal of the array of rickety but nonetheless present vestiges, continuations, and homages to 80s mail art/cassette collage that Pentiments makes so many contributions to—Les Troubles, though it sounds plenty fresh and exciting, brings to mind so much of the past (whether you were actually here for it or not). On “Marge,” scratches, shuffles, and sibilations both expansive and claustrophobic (somehow) spread outward into ambiguous dimensions in skittering, meticulous webs—sometimes it’s like putting your ear right up to a label printer, others more of velcro-rip and marble-track orchestra. “Raccord” is more overtly percussive and metallic, first stringing itself up with threads of brass bells raked across concrete and junkyard ambience before tunneling into a spiral of shrieking scrapes and agitated objects, tiny, intricate tinctures swirling together in enthralling unison—micro- made macro-. Enshrine me forever in this lattice of sublime textural tactility… please.

Review: Kelly Ruth – Simulacra (Pseudo Laboratories, Oct 14)

Many of us found new “worlds” in which to spend our time thinking, experimenting, and healing once the first lockdowns started to hit, but for sound and textile artist Kelly Ruth that world is more than real and concrete enough to break free of the abstracting frame quotes. Second Life (SL) is no revolutionary new technology (the open-ended virtual reality platform first became available to “players” in 2003), but the idea of audiovisual performances within video games engines, for the most part, is, and Simulacra, the first of Ruth’s sound work to be produced entirely via her SL avatar and in-engine materials, conspicuously engages with an ongoing conversation and loosely collective adventure in contemporary experimental music. This label-faithful follow-up to her 2019 debut shares that memorable tape’s uncanny but nonetheless concrete physicality, but whereas Forms was literally rooted in the tangible with its contact-based weaving tool amplification, Simulacra challenges that designation simply by existing. In between DJ sets at underwater dance club The Electro Squid, Ruth’s SL avatar toys and tinkers with functional replicas of looms and electronics, the effects of the game’s sound design and sample limitations actually complementing the shuffling machinery manipulations and “vocal” interjections with an almost comforting diminutiveness of stuttering loops, murky fidelity, and physical distance. I’ve never ventured into SL, so it’s difficult to visualize the actual virtual areas in which these performances are occurring, but at several points it seems as though Ruth’s avatar may be holed up in the Squid during the day, playing to an expansive audience of no one as the ocean seethes and bubbles outside. This is a must-listen. For EVERYONE.