List: Favorite Releases of 2022

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.

The Rest

Ghost Food – ROT GM (Sweet Wreath, May 1)
Darksmith – Imposter (Throne Heap, Jul 1)
Lilien Rosarian – Every Flower in My Garden (self-released, Apr 16)
Magpie Cemetery – Grove of Cherished Corpses (Black Artifact, Aug 5)
Hypoxyphilia – Any Day Could Be the Day (BPP, Dec 1)
God Mother – Obeveklig (self-released, May 6)
Bulk Carrier – Federal (Blood Ties, Jul 6)
Gurun Gurun – Uzu Oto (Buh, Apr 24)
Moth Cock – Whipped Stream and Other Earthly Delights (Hausu Mountain, Sep 10)
Komare – Grace to Breathe That Void (Penultimate Press, Jun 12)
Beyond the Grasp of Light – Hell (self-released, Feb 10)
Amphibian – Hanging Nettles (Small Mercies, Dec 2)
Patrick Shiroishi & Dylan Fujioka – のの 二 (self-released, Feb 19)
Total Sweetheart – Early to Bed (Dada Drumming, Jun 17)
The Wind in the Trees – Architects of Light (Twelve Gauge, Jul 15)
Cherry Bullet – Cherry Wish (FNC, Mar 2)
Treasure Hunt (Next Year’s Snow, Jan 5)
Schamaso Sadonania – Coitusversuche (Monolithische Aktion, Jan 22)
Zeal & Ardor (MVKA, Feb 11)
Asha SheshadriInterior Monologues (Hold, Mar 4)
Gemengung – Forced Collapse (AAD DIY, Apr 4)
Flacco’s Bizarre Adventure – Sugar ~ Shit ~ Silk ~ Sweat (self-released, May 6)
Suncarcass – Flower Crown (Lurker Bias, Feb 17)
Oumou Sangaré – Timbuktu (World Circuit, Apr 15)

List: Favorite Multi-Artist Compilations of 2022

A new round of fresh picks. Variously.

Fertile Grounds (ODMOWA, November)

Released alongside the self-titled Humectant Interruption tape mentioned in the last list, Fertile Grounds rounds out a hearty 2022 for the soon-to-be-Miami-based ODMOWA imprint—call 917-456-9133 for catalog. Scattered self-help audio extracts escort ears through a packed tracklist featuring newly established label staples HI and Smell & Quim (whose Spermathlon got the reissue treatment earlier this year) alongside names both familiar and unfamiliar: John Duncan, Knurl, Anal Character, Kapotte Muziek. Ridiculously eclectic and thoroughly bizarre at every turn.

Music from Saharan WhatsApp (Sahel Sounds, Jul 6)

Already renowned for curating digital-age approaches to African traditional and pop music with releases from the Wau Wau Collectif and Tidiane Thiame, Sahel Sounds has put out what might be their best material yet with Music from Saharan WhatsApp, a sublime compilation cobbled together from cellphone-recorded jams and performances initially exchanged via the titular network and released in individual volumes. Every track is fantastic, but few pieces of music have affected me as deeply as Andal Sukabe’s intimate “Hay Malale.”

Singing in the Summer Sky (Small Mercies, October)

Much like last year’s Year of the Rat, Small Mercies’ most recent compilation gathers the lion’s share of the label’s usual suspects for a diverse yet consistent collection of abstract sound pieces. The project I know the least about, Movers, kicks things off with a well-chosen sample leading into a seething slab of analog harsh. From there the extremity ranges from Plague Mother’s trademark incendiary blasts to subdued, droning dark ambience from Scant and No Dreams. Though I haven’t been able to get into their work in the past, it’s Mistletoe that contributes what is probably my favorite track.

Morning Sketches Vol. II (Hamilton Tapes, Jun 23)

Nathan Ivanco’s aptly named Hamilton Tapes has an established aesthetic that pretty much every release embodies, but I don’t think I’ve heard one that does it as comprehensively as Morning Sketches Vol. II. 16 artists, projects, and aliases of nebulous identity fill both sides of a C80 with dust-smothered tape music that tends toward the humbly sublime. The names I do know represent a patchy who’s who of Canadian DIY lo-fi sound art, so needless to say, Korean Undok Group fans will find lots to love here.

PP-01 (Party Perfect!!!, Dec 2)

We may have lost the great Peter Rehberg last year, but radical computer music is nonetheless alive and well, evidenced by exciting new collectives and labels like Party Perfect!!!. Their first release presents four albums in a single connected unit, but despite the lengthy runtime each volume tends to lead in to the next, and before you know it you’ve listened to the whole thing. Stefan Maier’s 2018 performance work The Arranger, powered by a machine learning algorithm, is some of the best glitch music I’ve heard in a long time, but everything here has plenty to offer. Original review

River of Revenge: Brazilian Country Music 1929–1961 (Death Is Not the End, Nov 25)

An initiative that has quickly established itself as a leading source for quality archival material, Death Is Not the End is notable not just for the quality of the curation itself but also for the wide variety of styles and traditions they highlight. River of Revenge documents the earliest origins of Brazil’s sertaneja genre, a counterpoint of sorts to American country music, and anyone interested in the former will find plenty to love here too. At first swathed in dust and marred by crackle, the recordings progress chronologically toward more contemporary formations, making the full experience—as with many DINtE releases—not just a musical experience, but an educational one as well.

Pool Position (Second Sleep, Nov 30)

Loosely guided by the spectro-visceral aesthetics of sound artists Alice Kemp and Rudolf (who both contribute a solo track as well as a collaboration), the more diverse of the two new V/A releases from Italy’s Second Sleep offers a skeletal potpourri of drone, collage, field recording, conceptual art, and more. Renato Grieco hangs a bit of a left turn with “The Most Intense Light Experience This Voice Has Ever Had,” an unusual spoken word tract that reminds me of Hardworking Families’ “Hindered Soul”; Charmaine Lee pitches in with her virtuosic vocal improvisation technique for “小心肉,” perhaps the noisiest cut of the bunch; and Canti Magnetici alum Aniello wraps up with a ponderous pool of tape ambient.

Irida Records: Hybrid Musics from Texas and Beyond, 1979–1986 (Blank Forms, Oct 7)

Another collection whose premise and purview are concerned with the history of the music in addition to the music itself, Blank Forms’ massive seven-volume anthology of forgotten material from the fleeting Canton-based imprint Irida covers a staggering amount of ground. The work of owner-operator Jerry Hunt features prominently, joining several other composers for an array of avant-garde classical and electronic music that feels just as exciting now as it must have been four decades ago. For fans of Dockstader, Stockhausen, Oliveros, etc.

The Blorp Esette Gazette Vols. 3 & 4 (Gilgongo, Nov 11)

Few vestiges of the early American avant-garde have survived and thrived more than the Los Angeles Free Music Society, a once location-based collective that has expanded both geographically and stylistically over the past few decades. Across two discs, eminent founding figure Ace Farren Ford and new-generation voice John Wiese stand shoulder to shoulder with a vast quantity of names old and new, known and unknown (to me at least): {An EeL}, Million Brazilians, Control Unit, etc. The sprawling set is the first issuing in the Gazette series since 2013, and it hopefully won’t be the last.

Mensajes del agua: Nuevos sonidos desde Perú Vol. 1 (Buh, Feb 2)

Compiled by Buh Records honcho Luis Alvarado, Mensajes del agua is accompanied by a lived-in account of the state of the contemporary experimental music scene in Peru, the vibrancy of which Alvarado states is “most apparent in the emergence of collectives to promote new music made by young people, such as Dehumanización or Retama, as well as in the development of a new strand of electroacoustic composition connected with circuits of the musical underground.” Unsurprisingly, the tracks run the gamut of subversive approaches, from field recording assemblage to formal modern classical arrangements.

List: Favorite Compilations, Reissues, and Archival Releases of 2022

A truly great year for this category, especially with regard to noise, African music, and jazz. These picks pull from both those and many other areas: records I’ve loved rising again alongside ones I’d never heard of before, catchalls from bands I’ve followed in the past together with reverent discography treatments completely new to my ears. They all have at least one thing in common though, clearly.

Sunshine Has Blown remastered LP+CD (Pentiments, Dec 4)

There’s not much to say about the sole release by Joel Stern and Adam Park’s short-lived collective that hasn’t already been said, even just by Christoph J. Harris for this deluxe edition’s liner notes printed on the bonus CD sleeve. The spacious remaster by Jos Smolders renders the warmly haunting transmissions as even more delicate, even more organic. This is what makes Sunshine Has Blown’s music so special: it sounds as if it came from another world, and yet at the same time it is palpably made by human hands. I never thought I’d hear more beyond the three performances that comprise the original, but three unreleased tracks on the bonus CD—one recorded the day after the Mormon Gibbon show with presumably the same lineup of Velvet Pesu on cello, the other two from May of 2006—offer a glimpse of what might have been. But it was, and that’s what matters.

Albert Ayler – La Cave Cleveland Live 1966, Revisited (Hat Hut, Jan 28)

The latest and just-as-greatest archival Ayler double CD from Hat Hut, along with last year’s 1966: Berlin, Lörrach, Paris & Stockholm, Revisited (which includes spruced-up versions of the cuts featured on the original Lörrach / Paris 1966 LP), have seriously shaken the foundations of the complete Greenwich Village recordings as my pronounced desert island option for the beloved saxophone visionary. Featuring Mutawef A. Shaheed on bass, previously heard only on the massive Holy Ghost set, and Michael Samson—about whom I can’t find much at all—on violin, the raucous joy of the sextet yet again illustrates how Ayler’s still-unmatched approach to free jazz possessed (and possesses) both impermanent nuance and consistent beauty.

The New Blockaders – Changez les Blockeurs 40th Antiversary LP (Urashima, July)

Another staple that has been written about extensively, Changez les Blockeurs occupies a unique space in every listener’s mind, and yet we all must agree to thank it for kickstarting noise culture as it exists today. While it may seem like just the latest in a scattered series of reissues, this fortieth anniversary vinyl edition from Urashima feels like something definitive, reimagining the original artwork and manifesto with the care of people who love this record just as much as I do.

Incapacitants – As Loud as Possible (Total Black, Mar 18)

Again, need I say more? Though admittedly I’ve never been the most devoted Incapacitants fan, this album has always been a favorite, both encapsulating the 90s noise zeitgeist and presaging approaches that arose much later. Plus, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today if I hadn’t had the privilege of seeing Mikawa play a cramped, intimate solo set in a record store back room. I doubt anyone would be surprised to hear I love noise, but this year I was reminded of just how much I love it. So excuse the nostalgia.

Motel Bible – Regression (Heathen Hand / Zegema Beach, Jan 22)

Sometimes it happens that these super-limited scene reissues and discography roundups introduce me to bands I’ve never heard of. Regression was one of those for which I knew the music beforehand and was excited to hear it revamped (much like with Hayworth’s A Nostalgic Battle-Scar last year), and it did not disappoint. Opening with the now definitive version of the instrumental opener from a previously obscure untitled tape and closing with a full live set from 2005, this is unquestionably some of the finest techgrind ever recorded.

MP5 (Hostile 1, July)

Both brief cassettes by the Dayton duo of Matthew Reis (Developer) and Luke Tandy (Being) are collected and remastered on this limited digipak release, which also happens to be probably my most frequently listened-to CD of the second half of the year. The two Midwest stalwarts, unsurprisingly, shred even more as a unit than they do apart. Addictively crunchy pedal attack and technical semi-auto cutup meet somewhere in the middle and get torn apart from both sides.

Blackout – Dreamworld: Othaside (Trill Hill / Snubnoze, Aug 6)

For fans of Memphis hip-hop either old or new, Blackout needs no introduction. 1995’s Dreamworld was easily one of the crowning achievements of the city’s mid-90s cassette culture, perfecting and defining the kind of smothered, psychedelic, legitimately terrifying horrorcore that artists are still trying (and usually failing) to replicate. Recorded in the same sessions as that legendary album but presumably cut for not fitting as well thematically, the tracks on Dreamworld: Othaside demonstrate the timelessness of Blackout’s slow, plodding drum machine beats and hypnotic mantra-flows. The fidelity is much higher than in my preferred rip of the original, but the songs hold up, remaining just as fresh as the trap it inspired and as lived-in as the classic Southern sound from which it grew.

Humectant Interruption (ODMOWA, November)

For the new issue of the Untitled zine (it just officially dropped today, if you’re interested in a copy I have a few extra) I contributed a piece about various features and points of interest in low-fidelity harsh noise. I hadn’t heard this exhumed single-sider from hermitic Flushing label ODMOWA when I wrote that; if I had, it certainly would have been included. Joel St. Germain recorded this previously unheard Humectant Interruption material in 1998, almost 25 years prior to its master and subsequent release, and it’s more exciting than half the brand-new stuff I’ve stumbled across recently.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – In Concert (Steeplechase, Dec 16)

The legendary evolving combo once again appears on this list, this time with a 1962 Copenhagen set that features what retrospectively might be the Messengers’ most star-studded lineup: Hubbard, Shorter, Fuller, Walton, Merritt. The fidelity is a bit tinny, a bit trebly, but once the band settles in you remember why labels are still unearthing their live recordings sixty years later. I’d go so far as to say the purchase is worth it just for “It’s Only a Papermoon”… I think I have a new favorite Blakey solo.

Celestine Ukwu and His Philosophers National – No Condition Is Permanent (Mississippi, Aug 5)

More than a few of the highlife remasters I’ve heard have been overbearing, the compression often squeezing the tenderness out of the quieter, softer originals. Thankfully the lush, considered interplay of Ukwu and his best known band is not just preserved, but bolstered by Tim Stollenwerk’s treatment—every minuscule nuance of the flowing hand-percussion grooves, agile guitar work, and poignant lyrics in both Igbo and English has plenty of room to breathe and dissolve. There’s no chomping noise-reduction patch slapped over the vinyl crackle either, and thank god, because I don’t think the Nigerian legend’s voice ever sounds better than when it bleeds out of the grooves themselves.

Beatrice Harrison – His Delicious Voice So Liquid: The Complete May 1927 Nightingale Recordings (Canary, Jul 7)

The story behind these recordings is almost, if not just as fascinating as the soundscapes they capture. There’s plenty of reading to do courtesy of Baltimore-based archival project Canary Records, but the elevator pitch will likely be enough to intrigue anyone reading this list: nightingales plus cello plus recording and broadcasting techniques that were and are beyond innovative. There isn’t much music from this era I enjoy other than Washington Phillips, so I’m thankful to musicologist and curator Ian Nagoski for introducing me to yet another historic visionary.

Triple Negative – Rodez Island Cyclone (Cost of Living, May 23)

Covering a wider span of time than anything else on this list, Triple Negative’s latest release traces the project’s creative trajectory from sketches assembled as early as 2004 to tracks recorded alongside those comprising their last few records. This collection is unsurprisingly the group’s most eclectic, but every single thing on it has that indefinable aura that makes Triple Negative sound like no other band on earth. Original review

Julius Eastman – Stay on It (Week—End, Dec 20)

This LP pressing with “Stay on It” as the A side and “The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc” as the B isn’t a huge deal in the sense that the same recordings of both compositions were previously released as part of Unjust Malaise, but it’s nonetheless good to see Eastman’s work reaching new ears through any channel, and convenient to have my two favorites of his as a unit. The physical LP doesn’t seem to be out yet, so keep an eye out in 2023.

Gert-Jan Prins – 86–95 (Why Keith Dropped the S, Oct 3)

No matter how good their current output may be, some artists’ early ephemera are much more interesting than others’. 86–95 introduced an odd situation for me; other than the MEGO CDs Risk and Break Before Make not much of Dutch electronics whisperer Gert-Jan Prins’ oeuvre has grabbed me, yet these early works couldn’t be more up my alley. The rudimentary but ambitious recordings have the breadth and volatility of an improviser gradually honing the tools and techniques they’ll go on to use and perfect throughout the rest of their career—a wonderful process to be privy to.

Iron Knowledge – Rat Race (Peppermint, Jul 15)

One of a smattering of short-lived funk units whose best (and often only) songs were featured on Memphix’s 2002 compilation Chains and Black Exhaust, Iron Knowledge hailed from Youngstown, OH, and—just like fellow Chains contributors, Memphis natives, and genre namesakes Blackrock—cut just one 7″ before fizzling out and being lost to time, until now. Almost a half century after the group’s active years comes Rat Race, a squeaky-clean remaster of three unreleased songs still firmly steeped in the milieu of early 70s groove rock.

Feature: Favorite Albums of 2021

Not only have I run out of thought-provoking intro material, I’ve also used up all of my “clever” bits of subversion that I use when I’m too lazy to write actual copy. So have this obnoxiously self-aware and meaning-null series of words instead. Happy new year. 

I’m sorry for the formatting for the honorable mentions is a bit weird on both desktop and mobile. I really have no idea how to fix it but I’ll keep trying.

Also, sorry about the links. All fixed now—I think. Ugh.

UVC – Broken Phonemes of the Unconscious(ness) Grid (Regional Bears, Oct 10)

UVC has always been an artist to whom I attribute brevity as one of his main strengths, so I’ll admit I was the tiniest bit skeptical when I saw that this Regional Bears tape was a C46 (less “will this be bad?”, more “how in the hell will this work?”). But as soon as the A side–spanning first track on Broken Phonemes of the Unconscious(ness) Grid settled into its “groove”—an innocuous yet wholly singular sound-universe of tape whir, noisy blankness, and trivial mundanity that defines not even the loudest of UVC tapes, but other memorable one-off BPF projects like Winston 1 and Bill Lewis Medicine Cabinet as well—it was like coming home. There’s something so intensely fascinating about the null-zone between instantaneity and retrospectivity that this “music” occupies, a place where sounds are both “here” and “there.” Throughout the humble opus, closely recorded scrabble/shuffle and analog-grimed tedium drones inexplicably harmonize and congeal into unperceivable, impossible currents that activate stuttering loop churns and other structural destabilizers; plucky junk-electronics pinch and ping into the dusty void; distant domestic clatter both coexists with and contradicts claustrophobic DI noise. I swear, it’s like he made this specifically for me.


Billy Strings – Renewal (Rounder, Sep 23)

Michigan-born, Nashville-based songwriter Billy Strings (a.k.a. William Apostol) is a name that’s unfortunately unfamiliar to many, but ubiquitous to few (both this record and the one prior to it easily hit #1 on the Billboard bluegrass charts), but if anything can change that it’s his sprawling, ambitious third solo effort Renewal. Fans who discovered his music via 2019’s Home, such as myself, may have expected him to delve even further into jam-heavy electric psychedelia on subsequent releases, but the 70-minute, 16-track double LP is a thoroughly acoustic outing, with the classic lineup of banjo, mandolin, double bass, and violin (performed by Billy Failing, Jarrod Walker, Royal Masat, and John Mailander, respectively) rendered in sublime, spacious clarity alongside Apostol’s trusty six-string and additional contributions. Every single song is a self-contained, mesmerizing masterpiece: beautifully ragged group harmonies and infectious solo exchanges power straightforward foot-stompers like “Secrets” and “The Fire on My Tongue”; expertly applied tension-and-release bolsters longer jams on “Heartbeat of America” and the spellbinding “Hide and Seek”; and it’s all rounded out by flawless nods to the deepest roots of this music in the form of the Walker/Ward-penned “Red Daisy” and “Running the Route.” It gets better every single time you listen, I’m not joking. Thanks Billy.


___ Duo – Music (music. dot. com!!!, Jan 16)

When I first heard Music it was called ., an even more evasive and inconvenient title that nonetheless represents well what the musicians behind the various ___ collective projects are going for. Completely formal or serious (or even worse, “academic”) electroacoustic improvisation has become utterly boring in this new age, and thus I’m finding myself drawn to subversive music created using even more unlikely sources and combinations thereof. Music certainly fits the bill with its credits of synth, sequencer, turntable, cello, sampler, and guitar to one unnamed performer and tapes, flute, voice, and live processing to the other, but ___ Duo doesn’t just obstinately oppose any sort of conventional instrument selection—they also refuse to make anything remotely conventional with them either, an approach that paradoxically leads to crude, asymmetrical lumps of misplaced convention amidst dense abstraction. I once again feel obligated to bring up the short-lived but legendary Sunshine Has Blown ensemble, whose once-untouched uniqueness I see reflected in the sluggish, sun-cracked swathing of “hr9%$KtQP#jedpVW” and the shabby loops of “fSvvbsg_6M97zj@A.” This is the future, unfortunately.


Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR (Geffen, May 21)

It’s not often that I appreciate an album so deeply for being not just a pop-culture juggernaut, but also essentially a voice of an entire generation, so when it does happen, I make sure to value it. At just 18, Olivia Rodrigo has handily met that tall order with her first full-length album, and thus, beyond the strength of the music itself, SOUR feels nothing less than important. It’s as much a love letter to the artists that made Rodrigo the artist and songwriter she is today as it is an incendiary teen-pop reset: “brutal” feels very much in the vein of early- to mid-00s bad girl pop rock, but with a decidedly Gen-Z supply of frankness and impatience; “1 step forward, 3 steps back” incorporates a piano melody from a Taylor Swift song; and, of course, “good 4 u” is a not-so-subtle tribute to you-know-what by you-know-who. But unsurprisingly it’s the sleek, deftly produced, newfangled cuts that I’m personally most partial to: the unruly percussion, soaring melodies, and gloriously cringeworthy youthfulness of “deja vu”; the endless replayable and sing-alongable “drivers license”; the unapologetic and stiltedly propulsive “jealousy, jealousy.” I have no doubt that SOUR won’t take long to be seen/heard as a product of its time, and I also have no doubt that I will love it even more for it.


Irreversible Entanglements – Open the Gates (International Anthem, Nov 12) 

I wasn’t exactly coy about my love for east coast super-quintet Irreversible Entanglement’s last record Who Sent You?, so their first double LP being featured here shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, but I’m also sure I speak for both myself and many others when I say that Open the Gates is even more spectacular than I ever could have anticipated. Though much of the album’s appeal comes from its lengthy instrumental sections and the way they steadily progress while both intertwining with and springboarding off of Moor Mother/Camae Ayewa’s reverberant spoken mantras, the brief opening title track is one of the band’s best yet, featuring a quite-distinctly Luke Stewart bass groove and an invigorating rhythmic energy that carries over even into the patient, slow-building haze of “Keys to Creation.” As a whole the record feels at once like a smooth-seamed suite of continuous collective imagination (it was recorded in a single day back in January) and like a jewel-studded “best of” compilation due to each cut’s heaping helping of memorable moments—Aquiles Navarro’s vivid trumpet that lays the groundwork for centerpiece “Water Meditation,” for example, or Tcheser Holmes’s fluid groove-trades with both Ayewa and Stewart on “Storm Came Twice.” Consistently awe-inspiring, mind-warming, and life-affirming.


Georgia (Rodent Tapes, Oct 6)

One of the first albums I discovered when I was just beginning to learn all the things music could be was Bugskull’s Phantasies and Senseitions, a scuzzy outsider lo-fi classic that puts on display both the uncanniness and the comfort that “poor” recording quality can frame so fittingly. Nothing, and I mean nothing, has ever come so close to evoking the same unsayable things as Georgia does. The Toronto duo’s eponymous debut, despite being digital-only as far as I can tell, is pretty damn close to the same sort of obscurity that invariably complements this type of music; no one (not even me—yet—I’m ashamed to admit) has bought it on Bandcamp, the band itself is nigh-unGoogleable, and the label that put it out doesn’t seem to have much information to offer either. But the loose collection of thirteen tunes speaks for itself. “Ottawa” sets the stage with its ramshackle collage of bright, naïve guitar noodling and textural soup like the song of a small army of malfunctioning radios; “Souvenir” is a breathtaking bit of simple singer/songwriter drift complete with soothing dual-vocal coziness; and “Condensation” is a noisy, Pumice-esque mass of overblown beauty that’s nothing less than magic. It’s like being slowly wrapped in an impossibly soft, warm blanket with just enough scratchiness to remind you how soft and warm you are.


SZSZRZ – No Trees Were Harmed During the Process of Making These Recordings (self-released, Sep 3)

Few other musical works in 2021 are as profoundly calming as this first album from the Polish method-trio of Tomasz Pizio, Jędrzej Siwek, and Łukasz Suchy, an exercise in sonic subtlety that can serve as both reminder and soundtrack to stop, sit, and take more than just a few deep breaths every now and then. Comprising seven tracks of both raw and processed/arranged recordings of creaking branches, No Trees Were Harmed During the Process of Making These Recordings focuses on the familiar yet captivating ambience of the serene outdoors, and it seems to me that the roles of at least the just-creakers (Pizio for numbers one, two, and three; Suchy for four and five) being essentially equivalent to breeze-assisting acolytes is no accident; this music is about simultaneously inserting and removing ourselves, appreciating the natural rhythm, sway, and stasis that surround us while acknowledging and fulfilling our limited place within it all. In this way, Siwek’s “Reworks” are simply another level or plane of reserved interaction, an auditory realization of the invisible but beautiful connections we frequently take for granted.


Lifelost – Punitive Damnation (Onism Productions, Dec 10)

The year’s best black metal release took its sweet time revealing itself, but we were finally given the gruesome gift of Lifelost’s second record Punitive Damnation earlier this month, and it was worth every second of the wait. I hadn’t heard the first declaration from this solo project by Spanish multi-instrumentalist Phlegeton, 2018’s Dialogues from Beyond, before I discovered this one, but either is certainly a sufficiently harrowing introduction to the bleak, twisted world conjured up by the astral auteur’s equally bleak, twisted mind, a world “where time, words and human hierarchies lack meaning, where a supernatural pain underlies as punishment.” Pain (more like agony), despair (more like desolation), fear (more like terror), and god knows what else are all innate to these oppressive, labyrinthine assaults; breakneck blasts burst into supercharged sludge-doom like rotting-planet supernovas, plodding gallops wrapped in pitch-black noise both hypnotize and pummel, the barest hints of some semblance of triumph emerge at the farthest edges of anguish. Actually wait, no, that was just your brain finally granting you the small mercy of shutting itself down.

The Rest

Wayne Snow – Figurine
(Roche Musique, Sep 24)
Katz Mulk – Vital Attachments (Klammklang,
Oct 1)
Kharàce – Dakhalè (Xenoglossy Productions, Jan 15)
L’Rain – Fatigue (Mexican Summer, Jun 25)
Succumb – XXI (The Flenser,
Sep 24)
Album cover of Journal 2020 by Wind Tide
Wind Tide – Journal 2020 (self-released, Mar 14)
ZelooperZ – Van Gogh’s Left Ear (Bruiser Brigade,
Jul 8)
Michael Barthel – Vollmacht (Regional Bears,
Jan 13)
Computer Crimes – Paola (Sanpaku, Aug 4)
Bryan Day & Seymour Glass – Crooked Doppler (Tanzprocesz, Oct 15)
Michael Foster & Ben Bennett – Contractions (Astral Spirits, May 7)
Cities Aviv – The Crashing Sound of How It Goes (FXCK RXP, Apr 16)
Serpent of the Abyss – Wrapped in Darkness (self-released, Sep 5)
Moment – Broken Resonance (Space21, Jun 7)
Joanna Mattrey – Dirge (Dear Life, Sep 24)
RXM Reality – Advent (Orange Milk, Jun 25)
:RAH: – Songs of the South (Strange Noise, Oct 23)
Network Glass – CHAPEL69-2 (dingn\dents,
Dec 22)
Dylan Burchett – Scenes and Objects (self-released,
Aug 16)
Doja Cat – Planet Her (Kemosabe / RCA, Jun 25)
Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales (RCA, Jan 8)
Chynna – Drug Opera (TWIN,
Aug 20)
Wau Wau Collectif – Yaral Sa Doom (Sahel Sounds,
Feb 26)

List: Favorite Short Releases of 2021

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 (“Hello Ghost”) 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.

List: Favorite Cassette Releases of 2021

I haven’t had access to my turntable for a significant portion of the year, and thus have been attempting to assuage the heartbreak by stocking up on a somehow even more obsolete class of physical music media. Did it actually help? No. Do I regret spending money I could’ve used for transit, groceries, and weed on flimsy-hinged plastic bricks that constantly litter all surfaces of my disastrously cluttered bedroom? Hell no.

Note: This list should be considered in conjunction with the two summary posts yet to come.

Zbysko Cracker / MO – Mowin’ (Grandmother’s House, Oct 29)

Certainly one of, if not the most “non-musical” musical releases I’ve come across this year. You get exactly what it says on the tin, and whether you listen to these two 15-minute sides of leisurely lawn care as audiotherapy, productivity ambience, lullabies, or just the charming bits of careless pseudo-composition that they are, Mowin’, despite its resolute commitment to artistic minimalism, is a tape with which it’s impossible not to fall in love.

Mažas Kiekis – Much Like Yourself (Chocolate Monk, September)

According to Nyoukis’s introduction, the story behind Gnaw Bone, IN artist Mažas Kiekis’s first-ever tape makes it a perfect fit for Choccy Monk: unsolicited submission, degrees of removal, deep-set idiosyncrasies. Much Like Yourself is an easily digestible but not so easily forgotten slab of messy, delirious sound poetry fed through the murky mastications of magnetic tape cut-ups. Kiekis—and I do not suggest this lightly—may be the next-generation stateside heir to Germany’s Michael Barthel.

Guido Gamboa – Music for Tape and Spectral/Granular Processes (Second Sleep, October)

I’ll buy anything Guido Gamboa puts out without hesitation, but I’ll admit, even I was a bit skeptical about a release so pointedly exploratory and scientific from a technical standpoint from this artist whom I’ve always appreciated because of his seamless assimilations. I shouldn’t have worried, unsurprisingly; the four self-contained pieces collected by Music for Tape are some of the Chicago paragon’s best, and the detailed liner notes offer a look into the specific methodologies utilized for each.

presque fantôme (dents de scie, Sep 6)

A new project from the reclusive Geneva artist also behind the crève-chiens alias and elusively fruitful dents de scie imprint, presque fantôme is clattering outsider tape-noise of the highest order, and this self-titled debut has been one of my most consistent plays since I picked it up back in September. Think early Darksmith, 010001111000, Matt Krefting, Termite Acropolis . . . yeah. This is the good shit.

Bent Duo – Ramble (self-released, Jun 28)

David Friend and Bill Solomon’s Bent Duo collaboration would be fascinating enough without a recorded musical element—their presentations blur the lines between performance and installation, and audience participation is used as a flexible vehicle for exploring spaces that would otherwise remain stubbornly closed—but Ramble, a “re-imagining” of the multimedia project of the same name, is the perfect avenue to sufficiently engage with their work from any distance, because I’m not sure music has ever been this intimate or clandestine.

Van Gelder Skelter – The Aerosol Transit Lounge Showdown (Born Physical Form, April)

The steady flux of new and increasingly more entertaining aliases/projects into the Born Physical Form catalog slowed slightly this year, but the quality underwent no such diminishment. I still haven’t heard Microphone Crumb’s Primate Sequences, the most recent tape by the mysterious Philadelphia tape twiddler, but it’s hard to imagine it being better than The Aerosol Transit Lounge Showdown, a quick pair of squirrely, slipshod sketches that seem to get more bewildering each time.

Tupperware – American Underbelly (Deluxe Bias, Jan 24)

Barely more than three minutes of brash, equal parts angry and arty hardcore recorded in gloriously primitive mono is apparently all it takes to win my heart. There are perhaps no other tapes that I have played more than American Underbelly this year. The Olympia, WA band have also recently erected the other side of their set of year-framing bookends with their nearly just as diminutive self-titled EP, which was released on cassette and 7″ on the 21st.

Hair Clinic – At Work and at Home (Music for People, Jun 24)

With this fairly new alias, Oakland oddball Max Nordile has cemented himself as one of the greats in a scene where “greatness” often holds no esteem, nor even meaning. “Jim’s Place”, released last year by Regional Bears, saw Nordile turn his indiscriminate lens to the unruly outdoors, but At Work and at Home represents almost the exact opposite: a rough, noisy survey of the dross and detritus of domestic spaces. Short but sweet.

Mister Baby – Sidewalk Pop (Paisley Shirt, Feb 5)

A cozy little gem of a tape that can almost certainly provide some much-needed escapism for anyone who pops it in. The fuzzed-out twee bliss of unforgettable cuts like “Moonlight Racing,” “Cake Shop,” and particularly the extended cover of Aqua’s “Dr. Jones” evokes the featherweight carelessness and warmed bones of a dreamy summer day, and has me with my ear to the silk-grassed ground in rapt vigilance for whatever Mashikian comes up with next.

Heejin Jang / Network Glass / Philippe Vandal (Ultraviolet Light, Apr 8)

Three contemporary computer music heavyweights (primarily of the irreverent variety) gather for this spectacular split tape produced by Baltimore’s formidable Ultraviolet Light. The highlight here for me personally is Network Glass’s track on the A side, which nearly broaches the singular territory previously established, explored, and violated via modern classic Twitch, but both Jang and Vandal contribute excellent material as well, the former’s serving as fitting bookends for the whole tape.

Hit with the Joke Hammer (Crooked Branch Collections, Jun 4)

If the rattling spindles and warble-wrack of presque fantôme weren’t enough nourishment for your bag of bones, Hit with the Joke Hammer is here to help. The second in a promising series of short tapes from Nashville’s newly minted Crooked Branch Collections, it presents noise in its most stripped-down manifestation (or one of them, at least), a tightly contained but still dizzying stumble through whirs and rustles and scratches and gurgles.

Alex Cunningham – Rivaled (Void Castle, Feb 23)

For the hopefully large amount of you who have heard Rivaled already, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that there are few tracks, or even full-length works, from this year that can match (rival, if you will) the searingly seraphic blast of “Faith.” However, the much more subdued, less immediate “Void” on the B side has steadily become just as transcendent, and each of the halves very much feels like a different, unique  attempt at the same thing—but both handily succeed.

This Friendship Is Sailing – Live on Curious Ear Radio (Beartown, November)

When I ordered a pair of tapes from Beartown’s newest batch it was Natalia Beylis’s Variations on a Sewing Machine that I expected to connect with most, but I ended up playing this collection of live-in-studio magic from the quartet of Sam Andreae, David Birchall, Greta Buitkute, and Maggie Nicols even more often. A softer, quieter companion of sorts to Andreae and Birchall’s previous work with Yan Jun on Click Here (and There) for More Information earlier this year.

Connive – Verleugnung (Play & Ceremony, Nov 5)

After last year’s self-titled debut cassette on Reserve Matinee, this plastic-bagged C90 is an impressive next step for Michael Stumpf’s Connive project, a sprawling odyssey filled with screeching, swelling, looping harsh that has that indescribable effect of simultaneously slowing down and speeding up time. Though stylistic lineage in noise music is usually pointless to trace, Stumpf seems to have a spider-leg drawing influence from each and every one of the genre’s notable hotspots, and thus pretty much everyone will find something they like in the maelstrom of Verleugnung.

Feature: Favorite New Labels from 2021

As someone who also operates an independent label with minimal funds, 2021 was not an easy year for it. And yet, plenty of ambitious artists and curators not only found the time and the resources to bring the music they love to the world, but also the drive to begin doing it in the first place. These are my favorite imprints that were first established in this accursed year of your lord.

Black Artifact (Fort Worth, TX, USA)

Anyone who follows this site is well aware that I never shut up about how much I despise the traditional “noise aesthetic”: obnoxiously provocative black-and-white collages, irresponsible invocations of misogynistic violence, juvenile edginess masquerading as serious art. Black Artifact, which announced itself in early January with tapes by brand new projects Insignificant Spirit and Gemengung, is a perfect example of the glorious antithesis of the aforementioned. Each release deals uniquely in creative minimalism in both visual and auditory contexts, and thus they are all singular mysteries to delve into and decipher. My personal highlights are the crude, clumsy concrète of Temple Garments’ brief Dim Radiance; Gemengung’s brutal wall-ish follow-up to their “remix” of Effigy of the ForgottenThe Indifference of Nature (both of which I reviewed here); and SBTDOH’s An Ode to Rock Throwers C11, which is easily some of the best and most concise harsh I’ve heard all year.

Modern Concern (Chicago, IL, USA)

Founded and operated by Chicago musician and soundmaker Andy Klingensmith, Modern Concern is a reverent outlet for exploratory sound art of all kinds, each release presented in extremely limited, carefully homemade CDr or tape runs. Field Dept., Klingensmith’s ongoing collaboration with fellow recorder/researcher Estlin Usher, has so far been one of the main projects featured in the label’s catalog, but their output has steadily become more diverse (from a stylistic perspective, that is…), and it’s the more recent introduction of the Thick Descriptions series, beautifully amaray-cased editions “dedicated to multi-media placestudies [sic] and works of acoustic ecology which utilize unmanipulated, candid field recording techniques.” For an entity so small, however, it is quite prolific, and at 14 total releases for the whole year I had to concede my original goal of picking up every single one in the interest of my meager bank account, but this, undoubtedly, is far from the worst problem to have.

Bromtol Largesse (Austin, TX, USA)

Some may know Neal D. Retke as the subject of Neal D Retke for President!, a 2013 documentary short in which filmographer Victor Van Rossem makes the cross-continental trek from Belgium to the United States in search of a tenuous Facebook connection—a sort of irreverent follow-up to Searching for Sugar Man, perhaps. Retke has been around long before that though, putting out unusual (to say the least) music under both his artistic and curatorial alias of {An} EeL. The “Antarctica”-based Bromtol Largesse (actually a transnational collaboration with the Netherlands’ Volker Störtebeker) is a much newer excursion, beginning its operations in January and releasing more than twenty digital albums since then. Most, if not all of the projects most likely feature Retke, but satisfying variation is not at all an issue here; from the bizarre first “action report” സാമുദായിക dochádzať दान to the absolutely superb three-way harsh noise split by Bukkake Tech, ElekTrauma, and Takeshita, there is certainly something for everyone . . . or, perhaps, everything for no one.

Dasa Tapes (Thessaloniki, Greece)

Savvas Metaxas and Danai Giannakapoulou’s eclectic new label first caught my attention with a release from Glia, a project by Virginia’s Jonathan Ifiok Ntuk that in my eyes/ears is one of the most exciting recent developments in DIY abstract electronica. Since that first batch—which also contained tapes from the collaboration between Ross Birdwise and Karl Fousek as well as some of Metaxas’s own music by way of RETE, his duo with Vasilis Liolios—Dasa has released two more well-curated sets of three, featuring reasonably recognizable names like Eventless Plot and Ben Vida alongside lesser-known (at least to me) artists: Rahel Kraft, Paul Ramage, Elena Kakaliagou. A clean house cover design theme unifies the fascinating work of these myriad creatives, each highlighting a new “hand drawn acrylic painting” presumably done by one or both of the founder-operators.

Titibête (Vienna, Austria)

Though it has only served as the vehicle for two very short digital-only releases this year, Titibête grew from a tiny blip on my radar to a label I’ll be paying extremely close attention to in the future, mostly due to the strength of that aforementioned pair of works by Rosa and Pigeon Discrimination.

Field Strike (unknown location)

This small tape label only just got started earlier this month, but it’s already easily one of my favorites. The incredible first batch of releases by Retraction Pocket (Deterioration Ceremony), Opaque (Black Moncler Hudson), and Maltreatment (Well Raised) are essential listening for any fan of harsh/wall.

Apologies (London, UK)

Apologies has exactly one release under its belt so far, but that single work will be more than enough to convince those “in the know,” even beyond the fact that I will be watching any venture from the mind of Tom White with rapt attention. The pensive sound, voice, and space sketches of Accidental Stereo at the Peninsula, a short collaboration with Renato Grieco, are a perfect introduction.

Anhedonic Records (NC, USA)

Anhedonic made a brash inaugural announcement back in July with the release of two brutal slabs of merciless harsh, Labor of Love’s self-titled and Calf Puller’s Slaktsvin. The strength of these two tapes alone, particularly the former, would be enough for a great year, but the label continued its efforts with the crushing Three Silver Swords and then a drastic stylistic swerve in the form of Piss Dream.

adhuman (Brighton, UK)

A new archival platform and esoteric distro from one of my favorite artists working today, Duncan Harrison. Collected Voice, Text and Tape Works and Korm 88, which compile recordings by Josh Peterson (previously released on various cassettes) and Emil Beaulieau (unreleased), respectively, are a formidable set of releases for the label’s first year of operation.

Mono Time (UK)

Dealing mostly in subdued, often hauntological ambience both light and dark, Mono Time first came to my attention quite recently due to November’s Zebularin release, Concrete Vague. Most of their modest but still impressive first-year catalog would usually be soft for my tastes, but something about the unutterable realities and unrealities explored in We All Think You Should Leave and Ghosts of the British Motorway makes the music irresistibly beguiling.

List: Favorite Compilations, Reissues, and Archival Releases of 2021

Not totally through with the year yet, of course, but I think at this stage I’m ready for at least this list. For most of the posts in this edition of NNMEOYGFFTEAF (Noise Not Music End-of-Year Get Fucked Festival to End All Festivals), quantity is the name of the game. Just trying to bring you as many potential discoveries as possible.

Monnier (Hardcore Detonation, Jun 6)

Although the differences between my mid-year and end-of-year picks are shaping up to be drastic, Monnier’s self-titled cassette, which collects 2018’s original Monnier and 2021’s EP 2, has been a formidably consistent favorite. With its vicious, rough-edged technical crispness and addictive riff wielding it is is everything I could possibly want in grind, and because of that, despite its brutal simplicity, it feels like so much more.

C.C.C.C. – Test Tube Fantasy Extended Edition (New Forces, May 21)

If you’ve been following the site for any amount of time you’re probably aware of the unyielding love I have for C.C.C.C., so all the recent reissuing and remastering of their older work has been an amazing wave to ride. Though the transcendent live recordings of Loud Sounds Dopa remain untouchable, this extended LP edition of the legendary Test Tube Fantasy 7″ may be the best archival offering yet with nearly fifteen minutes of unheard bonus material on each side. Sidekick hell lick perfection.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – First Flight to Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings (Blue Note, Dec 10)

I first heard Blakey hit the skins on Cannonball Adderley’s version of “Autumn Leaves,” probably close to ten years ago now, and his distinct presence and style have been permanent mainstays in my jazz tastes ever since. No matter how bizarre, raucous, or abstract you like your quintet jams to be, the Messengers’ infectious approach to bop will always appeal, and this incredible unearthing from Blue Note is case in point. A longer and better review by a friend

Hayworth – A Nostalgic Battle-Scar (Wax Vessel, Oct 12)

Wax Vessel’s pell-mell descent into the hellscape of cashgrab musical novelties hasn’t been pleasant to witness, but even so there’s something to be said for the digital versions being made available for the modest price of $1 each. The remaster of Hayworth’s two full-lengths that comprises A Nostalgic Battle-Scar is subtle but complementary, enough so that the double LP feels like more than just a simple re-release. The studio recording of “The Industrial Park” still has nothing on the demo version, though.

White Suns – Modern Preserves (Flag Day Recordings, Feb 5)

For me, The Lower Way was a disappointment even after the marked stylistic swerve of Psychic Drift (a record I actually really like), but luckily White Suns didn’t entirely fumble the opportunity for a killer 2021 thanks to Flag Day’s cassette release of Modern Preserves, a grimy basement smorgasbord of no-fi live recordings, meandering jams, and semi-coherent unreleased tracks. Somewhat similar to Black Dice’s Natty LightModern Preserves is an invigoratingly violent re-affirmation for a band that has lost their edge.

Armenia – ボロボロ (Swollen Gargantuan Fecal Fetus, Feb 16)

With ボロボロ (pronounced “boro boro”), Leonardo Sabatto’s prolific Armenia project joins the ranks of the most legendary harsh noise endurance assaults—Killer Bug’s Beyond the Valley of the Tapes, C.C.C.C.’s Early Works, etc.—in terms of both auditory causticity and sheer breadth. Amidst countless shorter pieces, each of which scorches with unique intensity, it’s the nearly hour-long bombardments like “Putrefaccion Ficticia” and “Hurana Personalidad” that make this staggering slab of work so memorable.

Ones – “A Going Concern” (Ongoing Discipline, Feb 22)

It’s often true that the musical ventures that never really get off the ground (so to speak) are the best, or at least the most interesting, and in that same vein there’s something unutterably wonderful with which the music is imbued when it is exhumed and redressed in this way. The slipshod genius of outsider improv duo Ones is on full display in the comprehensive “A Going Concern” CD release, a multifarious celebration of the mundane and usefully useless.

Blacks’ Myths I & II (Atlantic Rhythms, Sep 17)

This nifty Blacks’ Myths I & II has been one of my most played in my modest subset-collection since I picked up a copy from Luke himself at one of Chris Williams and Laura Sofía Pérez’s Bien Lit events, and, along with Monnier, is another example of a two-album collection in which each originally individual work somehow (and significantly) gains from being paired with the other. The contemplative sketches and spoken musings by Dr. Thomas Stanley (Bushmeat Sound) of II are a perfect counterpoint to immediately follow the sprawling, spacious jams of I.

Fursaxa – Alone in the Dark Wood reissue (Stench ov Death, Sep 16)

One of the defining albums of the early- to mid-aughts American weirdo-folk scene returns to physical format with Stench ov Death’s official cassette reissue. It’s strangely difficult to write about for a record that has been so ingrained and ubiquitous in my regular listening for many years, but those also into Fursaxa are undoubtedly well aware of this slippery elusiveness; despite the profoundly earthbound and occult atmosphere of Alone in the Dark Wood, it still feels as ephemeral as an anxious cloud of smoke.

…Kagel… – Quartet 1998, Trio 1997 (scatter, Feb 5)

Somewhat of a more austere sibling to the Ones CD listed above, this lengthy archival release draws from recordings of performances executed more than two decades ago, each meandering swath featuring the core trio of Mark Collins, Doug Theriault, and James Wood on a motley arsenal of amplifications and abstractions of objects, instruments, surfaces, and more. The quartet suite also adds an extra double bass to the mix, tweaked, flexed, and tortured by Matthew Sperry.

Trucido – Das Butcher reissue (self-released, Mar 15)

Originally distributed in 1992 in an ultra-limited edition of ten recycled cassettes (with the added guerilla factor of the original music on the extraneous tape not being dubbed over), Das Butcher, one of Michael Nine’s first audio works, has been crudely reanimated from one of these original copies into a dual digital/cassette reissue. Upon its initial creation the material was not actually intended for anyone’s ears other than Nine’s, and this hermitically introspective approach still gives the music a dusty but resolute shine all these years later.

Plants – Tapes 2014-2015 (Hemlock Garden, Jan 11)

There’s no explicit confirmation of the recording timeframe for Tapes 2014-2015 outside of the title, and those years weren’t too long ago anyway, but the vividly organic expanse of Plants’ lengthy audio-scrapbook certainly belongs on this list because the music itself already feels like something that had been entombed for hundreds of years before being retrieved by the artist(s). It’s still not nearly as long as Daughter of Darkness, but I’m still frequently reminded of it; blazing moonlight, burning silence, all of nature folding in on top of you.

Preening – Discography 2016-2020 (Discos Peroquébien, Nov 8)

One of the world’s most hardworking neo–no wave units bares every ugly inch on this compilation collecting work from demos and studio releases over the past four years. Despite that limited range, the tape reintroduces nearly 40 songs, from the humble beginnings of the first demo to the rabid tour-de-force that is Gang Laughter. The even more contorted heirs to The Contortions.

Ahlzagailzehguh – Enemy of the Future (Troniks, Feb 18)

Phil Blankenship’s Troniks continues to build its superb roster of compilations with Enemy of the Future, an intimidating set of 24 winding tracks from the genre-defining artist. The double CD loses a bit of punch from a rather quiet mastering job, but it’s still some of my favorite Ahlzagailzehguh material I’ve heard; this music is a singular but foundational piece in the twisted bridge between atmospheric and cut-up harsh.

Feature: Control Valve

Founded and operated by Roger H. Smith, the musician behind the prolific Chefkirk project, Control Valve was active for a little over a decade from its inception in 2009, closing just when netlabels are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Distributed in individual lossy downloads a la, the many releases in the label’s impressive catalog span the gamut of DIY experimental music in the 2010s, and now they’re all archived and available for name-your-price download on Bandcamp (there’s also a lot of great stuff on as well). Here are my personal highlights.

Pregnant Spore – Garden Performance (2012)

Though it’s undoubtedly a drop in the ocean of Angel Marcloid’s staggering discography, Garden Performance is hardly a throwaway release. It’s a colorful mass of volatile noise tinkering, bursting at the seams with boisterous glitch storms and mangled preset patches. I use the word “tinker” because manual exploration feels like the sole structural element here, like Marcloid is simply experimenting with a new tabletop setup and just happened to get some pretty spectacular results, but at the same time much of the music feels so much larger and more elaborate than that. Great stuff.

AODL – Bed Store Morality (2013)

As many of you have probably already heard, avant-garde music legend Peter Rehberg died today, and I’ve been honoring his immense impact on the global scene by revisiting some favorites. I don’t know much about AODL, or the artist’s primary Eucci project, but the dense digital chaos of Bed Store Morality is very much in the spirit of Rehberg’s gleeful electronic maximalism; in recalling an R/S gig at Cafe OTO in 2012, Mark Harwood writes, “An insanely ecstatic Risset effect laden monster which propelled itself around the room, shocking the ears of all. It was described in an online review as ‘a horrible, twisted mesh, like barbed wire being fed into your ears under high pressure.’ Pete got so excited at one point he jumped up on his chair with one fist pummeling the air.” May he rest well, and may his influence forever flourish.

_whALe_ pLAtE_ – Image Is Everything (2009)

Image Is Everything may consist solely of sonified raw image data, but no matter how much actual artistic involvement there was in producing this material, it was certainly selected carefully, because there isn’t a single dull moment across all three tracks. It might just be the fact that I’m a total sucker for the most caustic noise possible, and a lot of this release fits that bill; at times it’s more like a massive drill is burrowing into your head than music, but hey, if you’re reading this that’s probably an enticing pitch.

Marlo Eggplant – Crisis as Opportunity (2012)

The continent-hopping Marlo Eggplant is a name that’s unfamiliar to many, but extremely familiar to few. She’s established herself as a leading figure in the international scene, always reinventing her processes and performances to keep things interesting over the years. Crisis as Opportunity is a release that simultaneously feels primitive and complex; much of its duration is filled with brutish lo-fi noise and other, more musical bits and bobs, but—unsurprisingly—still present is Eggplant’s deceptive complexity, lurking at the edges of a structural sound collage as piecemeal and purposeful as the cover art.

Slime Street – Bloody Haze (2013)

Finding much information at all about Slime Street is next to impossible, but this forgotten outsider noise masterpiece speaks for itself. Haphazardly sculpted from screaming circuit bends, innocuous field recordings, humming faulty connections, and more scraps of sonic junk, the four pieces that comprise Bloody Haze are rough-edged and raucous, and even strangely rapturous in their unhinged abrasion. The brutal “Stalking Scum” is like a gruesome defilement of a pristine pile of recently discarded home appliance innards, mercilessly pushing the boundaries of tolerability—just how I like it.

List: Top Ten for the First Half of 2021


In a format identical to previous lists (2020, 2019, 2018), here are my ten favorite albums that have been released during the first half of 2021. As always, the order is of little importance.

fievelFievel Is Glauque – God’s Trashmen Sent to Right the Mess (la Loi, Jan 1)

This irresistibly charismatic little tape came out literally right at the beginning of the year, so I don’t blame anyone who missed it, but luckily it seems to have been getting the attention it deserves. The newest and best work from eccentric songwriter Zach Phillips, the various ensembles of talented musicians bring to life some of the purest and most earnest pop music you’ll ever hear.

Album cover of Journal 2020 by Wind TideWind Tide – Journal 2020 (self-released, Mar 14)

It’s always a great feeling when less than a minute into an album you already know it’s just what you need. Journal 2020 has been my go-to outdoor reading and walking music this year; its subtle yet always ragged and rough-hewn augmentations of nature are in turn a perfect over-layer for any other environment. Ever wonder what it sounds like inside a tree? Original review


Michael Barthel – Vollmacht (Regional Bears, Jan 13)

Every single one of Michael Barthel’s audio works defy verbal description in some way, but that is especially the case for Vollmacht. Described as “an acoustic and poetic inquiry into authority and power in human relationships,” the ten-part suite is a harrowing, abstractly narrative experience bolstered by the poet’s  trademark ferocity in both vocal delivery and musical performance.


Bryan Day & Seymour Glass – Crooked Doppler (tanzprocesz, May 27)

Two well-established virtuosos of collage, cobblecore, and clutter-clobber come together for this delightful tape full of tactile toybox sound-worlds, warbling electronic transmissions, and surreal environmental invasions. The combination of Day’s audio-mechanical sensibilities and invented instrument arsenal with Glass’s idiosyncratic ear and insatiable bent for the bizarre is one for the ages.

a2628284613_10Cities Aviv – The Crashing Sound of How It Goes (Total Works, Apr 16)

Words like “sprawling” and “ambitious” aren’t unique to The Crashing Sound of How It Goes when discussing Cities Aviv’s discography, but this newest album does feel like a sort of culmination of the Memphis visionary’s distinct sound. It’s not perfect, but that imperfection is a large part of what makes it beautiful… and perhaps it’s off set, because whatever “Higher Up There” is, it might be something more than perfect.

a2142576628_10Daniel Iván Bruno – Brazo (TVL, Mar 5)

In the process of fully deconstructing the sonic profile of the harmonica, Daniel Iván Bruno also discovers some of the most piercing, strident sonic frequencies ever recorded. Sounding like a passive AI-generated grotesquery, a strikingly adept pedal-chain assault, and a shrieking mass of dying circuit boards all at once, Brazo is an unmissable ordeal. Original review

monnierMonnier – Monnier (Hardcore Detonation, Jun 6)

For those of us who fell in love with extreme music via the heavyweight technicality of Chang, Marton, Witte, and co., Japanese–Belgian project Monnier may be the second coming. Featuring the vocal talents of Makiko (of Flagitious Idiosyncrasy fame) and multi-instrumentalist Jasper Swerts covering everything else, this collection of two stellar EPs presents what is by far the best grind to come out in the last five years.

sourcesandmethodsAll Ords – Sources and Methods (Index Clean, Feb 14)

With an impressive list of research citations and an ambitious conceptual basis, the first recording by Mark Groves and Joanna Nilson’s All Ords duo is a multifarious indictment of humanity’s current trajectory. Sources and Methods steps carefully through a shadowy garden of societal contexts, imposing its critical voyeurism on manifestations of patriarchy, public surveillance, decaying domesticity, and other salient signs of our distant but no less inevitable doom. “I spent years learning to speak with my mouth closed.”

oliviaOlivia Rodrigo – SOUR (Geffen, May 21)

A delicate balance between escapism and relatability is often the name of the game in pop songwriting, and what makes SOUR so amazing is that it offers both without even seeming to try. Formidable newcomer Olivia Rodrigo discards subtlety so markedly that it’s not even a factor anymore, and invites listeners along for her rollercoaster ride of disillusionment and heartbreak over some truly stellar production.

a1465669829_10IT IT – Two Squirrels Fighting Each Other at the End of the World (self-released, Feb 19)

Even some of the most primitive experimental music remains timeless because of the palpable, wide-eyed curiosity with which it was approached. With their eclectic sample-scapes and intricate instrumental arrangements, enigmatic Pittsburgh ensemble IT IT exude that aura more profoundly than the overwhelming majority of their contemporaries. Two Squirrels… is a fitting new entry in their quickly expanding canon of creativity. Original review