Much like last year, I don’t have much to say as far as profound introductions or reflections go. I guess I just want to thank everyone for bearing with me the last twelve—well, mainly the last nine—months as I figure out how to maintain the site post-Bandcamp. My posting frequency dropped dramatically (even the writeups below are shorter than usual, which is why I’ve classified this as a list rather than a feature), and yet the views and clicks did not follow suit, a testament to all of your wonderfulness. The schedule will likely continue to fluctuate as I navigate life changes and other hurdles, but as I reminded everyone in the open letter back in March, I fully intend to still be reviewing as I disintegrate on my deathbed. The time between now and then will be a long, slow, limping stumble. And I can’t wait to take you all down with me every time I fall.
(Note: the honorable mentions will probably look weird on mobile. I’ve given up on trying to fix that.)
Mamaleek – Diner Coffee (The Flenser, Sep 30)
Everything Mamaleek have ever recorded has been leading up to this. Diner Coffee is a sublime culmination of the enigmatic project-turned-collective’s singular genrefuck, plucking the best elements from previous releases and seamlessly integrating them into a dark, surreal amalgam of jazz-rock, avant-sludge, and brooding, sinister ambience. The atmospheres are enthralling, the lyrics are captivatingly cryptic, and the vibes are immaculate. Never fails to make me crave a cup of coffee.
T.E.F. – Wrought (Dada Drumming, Oct 10)
Every time T.E.F. puts out a new full length, it’s a big deal. That’s nothing new. But it’s been quite a long time since he, or anyone, has created something this masterful. Wrought is both a love letter to harsh noise as a genre and a new, unmatched standard that I have no doubt will serve as a beacon for other artists to strive toward. Novak renders every basic technique—loops, feedback, cutup, etc.—as a fully composite musical language, one that produces the loudest and most intense noise I’ve ever heard. Seriously. The first time it kicks in on “77” is nothing less than a spiritual experience. As Tim Riggins said, “Texas [noise] forever.”
Barn Sour – One Trick Pony (Staighre, Mar 11)
2023 will see the final performances and general end of Barn Sour, a project headed by Winnipeg’s inimitable Pat Klassen. It’s a testament to how incredible the music was (and is) that such a radically bizarre, subversive effort reached so many appreciative ears across all sectors of the underground. One Trick Pony is the last release comprising entirely new material (One Trick Pony, a supercut suite featuring both self-sampling and previously unheard additions, is set to release on CD later this month) and I couldn’t imagine a better manifestation. Nine months later “Peace, Be Still (Mane Mix)” still scares the shit out of me, and it probably always will. Original review
Jérôme Noetinger – Sur quelques mondes étranges (Gagarin, Sep 2)
Jérôme Noetinger has been one of the most interesting and consistent voices in contemporary improvisation since the turn of the century (and before that too), and yet he’s only released two full-length solo albums during that time—2018’s dR CD on PiedNu and now Sur quelques mondes étranges. After decades of finetuning his craft, Noetinger “plays” the Revox with more skill and panache than I or most other musicians play conventional instruments. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call this his best work, a masterclass in EAI-via-concrète that I’ll still be listening to years on.
Astéréotypie – Aucun mec ne ressemble à Brad Pitt dans la Drôme (La Belle Brute, Jun 1)
Besides having what is likely the best album title of the year, Aucun mec ne ressemble à Brad Pitt dans la Drôme is a step up for multifarious French collaboration Astéréotypie in virtually every way. While first-wave post-rock flavors were apparent on the past two records, the influence is full-throttle here, with blazing krautrock stampedes and searing, textural guitar work providing the backing for the band’s most verbose lyrical rants yet. With an opener like “Le Pacha” the rest of the tracks could be mediocre and I’d barely notice, but every single cut on here earns its place and then some (yes, even the iPhone skit).
They Hate Change – Finally, New (Jagjaguwar, May 13)
Finally, New is aptly named, at least for me; I’ve been waiting for a new They Hate Change full-length since the very first time I heard their Maneuvers EP. The Florida duo’s sound is always changing, and yet it’s also always unmistakable—who else but the Bedroom Rap All-Stars would make a hip-hop LP almost entirely driven by drum and bass instrumentals? “Stuntro” showcases both MCs’ chops for the uninitiated, and the bar only continues to rise, the deceptively complex bars and breathless pace storming through destined classics like “Blatant Localism” and “X-Ray Spex.”
Negation – 1988 Mitsubishi Montero Sport (WAY, Feb 19)
New York’s most technical cutup surgeon has once again concisely outdone himself with 1988 Mitsubishi Montero Sport, a two-track CD-R “dedicated to one specific and inoperable vehicle.” It’s hard to describe Negation’s approach to the unenlightened, besides the indisputable fact that nothing else sounds like it, but rest assured you will find yourself eviscerated by the high-octane title track and hypnotized by the sutured web of “Switchstop.” It’s gone just as quickly as it started—better listen again.
RXM Reality – Sick for You (Hausu Mountain, Mar 25)
I don’t keep up with the Chicago-based Hausu Moutain as actively as I should, but based on what I have heard I’m not sure there’s a better or more comprehensive illustration of the label’s aesthetic than RXM Reality’s newest. Sick for You both expands upon and streamlines the dizzying flashcore spasms and intricate deconstructed club anti-rhythms while adding new tinctures of digital hardcore that crank the already overwhelming style formula up to eleven. I usually don’t make comparisons like this, but… if you’ve ever wondered what being inside a washing machine with acid as detergent and adrenaline as softener is like, look no further.
Defeat – Teared Up (Gut Form, May 7)
Outsider music has slowly but steadily evolved from an ascribed descriptor into a genre in itself. You’d think that might dull the intrigue that made it something worth pointing out in the first place, but most of the time that isn’t the case. Take the work of Josh Hogan for example, the most recent of which comes in the form of this sprawling two-disc debut by Defeat. Focused and purposeful even as it loosely stitches together everything under the sun, field recordings and folk ditties and barn-attic electronics, the nearly two hours of Teared Up never fail to provide a musical journey of both epic and humble proportions.
Dolphins of Venice – Mutuals (Mahorka, Jan 27)
Taking cues from such monumental statements as Since I Left You and Person Pitch, the Dolphins of Venice make their biggest splash yet with Mutuals. All fifty minutes of the album are saturated with verdant steam and swampy wetness, shrouding simple yet infectious bass lines and overlapping samples in a glorious organic glow. My favorite moment of the whole thing might be the “FT Rogman” remix, a dreamy repurposing of the instantly recognizable piano chords of Swell Maps’ “A Raincoat’s Room,” but as a whole it’s one of the most replayable records I’ve heard in a long time.