I’m out of words. What do I even say at this point? Happy holidays? Be safe? Fuck you? I love you? I wasn’t paying attention, so I’ll just go with the last thing I heard, however inaccurate it may be. I love you.
Note: This list is to be considered in conjunction with both the previous and the next posts.
CBN – Crimes Against White America (Phage Tapes, Nov 5)
I don’t know if there was a single musical work released this year as compulsively replayable, unapologetically brutal, and punishingly relevant as CBN’s Crimes Against White America 12″. Many of you probably saw my Anti–Power Electronics mix and the terrifying backlash it received, so music that directly confronts whiteness, by both those who uphold it and those subjected to it, in such a violent and merciless manner is more necessary now than ever. When in doubt, “SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH” and spin Crimes yet again.
Ashcircle – Level Up Everywhere (verz, Dec 10)
To call Ashcircle’s music political is both accurate and inaccurate. Yes, the improvisational electricity and strangled aggression that undergirds the nuanced sampler-spamming and high-velocity electroacoustic exchanges originate in resolute opposition to Tory rule, but the duo’s singular formula also deliberately subverts not just standard political discourse but also the very conventions upon which it is based, completely discarding any semblance of “civility” or “respect”—which, it seems, is really the only way to go these days. What’s more, Level Up Everywhere is easily their best work yet.
Serpent Column – Katartisis (Dissociative Visions, Aug 27)
The mysterious duo of extreme music heavyweights James Hamzey (a.k.a. Theophilos) and Maya Chun have consistently impressed with every single release, but Katartisis, with its overblown, largely unmastered production style and much more agile compositions, feels like even more of an exciting next step. The bright, dexterous guitar riffs lend an almost screamo-esque energy to the still crushingly metallic proceedings, and Chun’s drum work is as awe-inspiring and complementary as always, especially on “Edelweiss,” a track so heavy that maniacal laughter is really the only possible response.
Ellen Phan – Visual Squash (anòmia, Dec 24)
I’m sure that all you MOTHERFUCKERS publishing your end-of-year lists before December even hits are just sad, sad people deep down, but you should be even sadder knowing that such a pointlessly incomplete critical net misses gems like Visual Squash, sound artist and therapist Ellen Phan’s first musical release since 2018’s Ideomotor Response tape. This gorgeously packaged CD is even shorter than that C16 at just 11 minutes, but it’s still Phan’s most fully realized work yet, an impossibly organic array of fluid glitch that somehow synonymizes the electrical and the existential.
Virhe (Starving Light Collective, Nov 1)
Most hardcore fans are well aware that the Finnish scene has always been on another level, producing legends from Vox Populi in the early 80s to Death Basket in just the past few years, but I don’t know if there’s ever been a band from the country—or anywhere, really—as exciting and/or eviscerating as Virhe. Last year’s demo did plenty to hint at the quartet’s significant potential, and yet this vicious self-titled tape makes even those tracks look tame; fans of fluoride, Svffer, and other bright points of the elusive “false grind” style that are looking for a bit more grit need search no further.
Savannah Conley – Surprise, Surprise (EMPIRE, Apr 30)
Nashville’s Savannah Conley took up permanent residence in my brain with her Twenty-Twenty 7″ back in 2018, and it’s hard to believe there were three years between that and the release of Surprise, Surprise, which I may love even more. Few opening tracks this year are as earworming and addictive as the tantalizingly short “Being Around You” with its invigorating electric coda, and Conley’s effortless mixture of easygoing country ramble and supercharged dream pop is at its best on “Dream Boy” and “Never Want to Be in Love.”
Ghost Dance – Indian Babies: How to Keep Them Well (self-released, Mar 5)
Along with Maraud, anonymous project Ghost Dance is one of the formidable figures at the forefront of a quickly growing Indigenous power electronics scene, and Indian Babies: How to Keep Them Well, a perfect encapsulation of the artist’s scathingly sardonic approach to deconstructing jargon-dressed anti-Native rhetoric new and old, is a spectacular debut. Just as much harsh noise as PE, the sample-heavy set of two tracks are both disturbing and cathartic exercises in pain, anger, and resistance. “IN SOLIDARITY / IN WAR.”
Dominic Coles – Everyone Thinks Their Dreams Are Interesting (Wandelweiser, Dec 20)
I first discovered Queens sound artist Dominic Coles’ work via the irreverent cracked-electronics improv of Other Plastics, his duo with Hunter Brown, but this brief, ephemeral, and yet deeply affecting work produced by Edition Wandelweiser (an important label whose material I nonetheless hardly ever find interesting, let alone good) is something else entirely. It’s a detailed, silence-filled exploration into the microscopic innards of sound-producing devices loosely based on dream journal entries, and is thus difficult to describe in any way that does it true justice—other than one word: sublime.
Daniel Iván Bruno – Brazo (TVL, Mar 5)
I’ve already written about Buenos Aires improviser and devout experimentalist Daniel Iván Bruno’s dose of abrasive brevity in a review and for my first-half top ten earlier this year, but Brazo deserves every bit of attention and acclaim it gets. It takes a tremendous amount of skill to strip noise down to such an uncompromisingly scientific level and still retain the powerful, life-affirming impact that more immediate approaches often make simpler, but somehow Bruno does just that. A modern classic.
Ghost Food – Night in My Mind (Sweet Wreath, Oct 22)
This debut CD by Ghost Food, the supernaturally inclined collaboration between multidisciplinary artist/musicians Joel Nelson and Paul Wilm, was the perfect soundtrack to this year’s particularly haunted Halloween season. Born out of a shared “ghostly experience,” the four tracks combine spectral ambience, obtuse spoken word, and memorable songwriting to wondrous effect, and each moment is just as enigmatic and beguiling as the next, whether Wilm is muttering surreal observations about biscuits (“Little Things We Said”) or Nelson is conjuring unforgettable beauty from his arcane arsenal of instruments (“Ghost’s Come Home”).
Rebecca Black – Rebecca Black Was Here (self-released, Jun 16)
Falling in love with “Girlfriend,” the whimsical and utterly infectious closer of Rebecca Black Was Here, was the easy part. My appreciation for the other five songs took a bit longer to materialize, but once I realized that the first few times I listened I just wasn’t paying enough attention, the revelation that this is truly excellent electropop (with exactly the right amount of the obnoxious excess of “hyperpop”) came soon after. And even more exciting than the music itself, perhaps, is the promising future for which it builds the basis.
George Rayner-Law – The Tryal of Old Christmas (Brachliegen Tapes, Dec 10)
The small but fecund subset of experimental music dedicated to evoking some sort of holiday spirit was especially fruitful this year. Idiosyncratic tape wrangler George Rayner-Law’s newest tape The Tryal of Old Christmas is easily one of the highlights, especially the pensive title track on the B side, which stitches together soft organ drones and sliced-up dictaphone mutterings in an ambiguously calming Poem (for Voice & Tape) / I’m Some Songs–esque soundscape.
xfeverfewx – Trans Body Music (Enforced Existence, Oct 12)
Lansing, MI artist xfeverfewx has built an eclectic body of work since January of last year, with material ranging from the painterly voice-and-guitar eccentricities of Huge Black Wings to the longform, droning lo-fi noise of the One Hundred and Twenty-Seven Angels Gathered collaboration with Empty Banks. Trans Body Music, however, is an easy favorite, a compact CDr release that traces the physicality of the artist’s body with unmanipulated contact mic recordings throughout two ten-minute “Bodypoem”s.
Chain Lightning – Aimbot (Amateur Electronics, Sep 17)
Aimbot is synth-punk done right. I could write more but nothing I would come up with would be a better description than the following, quoted directly from the Bandcamp page: “Chain Lightning is like watching TV at grandma’s. Every single show is starring Jim Carrey Jr. The man of every hour. Quantum bio-feedback is nutrition feedback. Mr. Chain Lightning finds a home in your living room PC and sits in a chair. But there’s one thing that’s for sure… Money can’t buy you happiness, but damn, this Tesla’s close.”
The Gabys (ALL Gone, Feb 18)
The label is spot on with their comparisons of The Gabys to golden-age New Zealand scuzz and Black Tambourine, but primary appeal of the English duo is that they reside in a small but nonetheless defined place in which they are entirely alone. A place filled with paradoxes: light and shadow, sweetness and sorrow, song and silence. All of the tracks are excellent, but “Peter Bell” especially sounds like a no-fi classic unearthed from thirty-year-old sun-stained tapes, a sound I’ll never not be a sucker for.
Various Artists – You Have Three Seconds (Welcome to Clydebank, Feb 26)
Beyond just the fact that the roster/tracklist reads like a who’s who of contemporary experimental music (Hair Clinic, Howard Stelzer, Hardworking Families, Territorial Gobbing, Posset, Daniel J. Gregory), You Have Three Seconds is a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable compilation that simultaneously feels like a rich collection of diverse contributions and a single, very impatient sound collage. Plus, new material from Klaysstar, no matter how small an amount, is always a treat.
RXKNephew – Bro Ham (New Breed Trapper, May 7)
I, like many, first heard RXK Nephew—he operates, alternately, under several alias variations—on ZelooperZ’s “Paranormal Snaptivity” (which is featured on this tape as well, in slightly different form, as “Paranormal Shelter”). But I’ve grown to enjoy the Rochester MC nearly as much as my beloved Bruiser baron, especially Bro Ham, which dissolves trap, east coast, and the sparest hints of horrorcore into a murky but distinctive sound that never fully leaves my head. It also gets points for eventually making me aware of another RXK project, Make Drunk Driving Cool Again, that remains one of the best cursory listens I’ve ever had.