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 (“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.

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 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.

Review: TUSK – Cotard (self-released, Nov 21)

Not unlike Sidon Coleman’s The Box, which I reviewed last month, Mansfield, OH newcomer TUSK’s digital debut is an eclectic, slipshod collage covered in countless sets of one person’s fingerprints. Though the album’s title might imply its contents are more subdued or drone-based (in the vein of Depletion’s Cotard Delusion, perhaps), Cotard, despite most of it not being overtly abrasive or frenetic, feels shifty and paranoid, always either crawling toward the next sonic episode with plenty of furtive over-the-shoulder looks or writhing within the current one to the point of complete exhaustion. And “exhaustion,” it turns out, is the name of the game here; much like the altered perceptions of those diagnosed with its namesake disorder, this release is anemic, artificial, torpid, dead. The unnamed artist behind the TUSK alias wields a reasonably diverse repertoire in the form of guitar, drums, samples, and “guts,” yet each of the nine tracks is a tightly contained, often oppressively claustrophobic exercise in raw auditory minimalism. The beginning of “Basement Couch” is a misleading bit of bubbling brightness before we make our slow but sure descent below ground, where TUSK manages to scrape up the most lifeless of textures: limp thrift-store amplifier worship on “Fuck Around n Find Out,” barely audible bass frequencies on “Subconscious,” paper-thin trash electronics on the lengthy “Focus on Yr Inner Beauty.” While the whole thing is great, it’s the last few tracks that truly seem like something special, particularly “One More Stormy Night.” I am God and He is dead.

Review: Old Saw – Country Tropics (Lobby Art, Nov 19)

After a thoroughly demoralizing week, this gorgeous debut LP from motley instrumental collective Old Saw came at exactly the right time. Guided by the meditative drifts of composer and sound engineer Henry Birdsey’s steel guitar (both lap and pedal), the sextet also features Ira Dorsett on fiddle, Bob Driftwood on banjo, Rev. Clarence Lewis on pipe organ, Harper Reed on guitars, and Ann Rowlis on bells. I briefly wrote about the elusive category of devotional music in my Dun Sug review a few days ago, and the introductory text to Country Tropics continues the conversation much more eloquently: “However, devotional music is not solely concerned with a skyward glance—what does it look like to raise up the rust, look upon fractured branches, gaze at the density of a low fog across a field? Instead of us looking up at the land, what if the land was looking back at us?” In this way, the delicate ambience woven by these skilled musicians is not simply made up of reactions to or harmonies with each other, but also individually and wholly comprises responses to the beauty of the world around them.

The liner notes again hit the nail on the head when they describe how “the crew stretches and bends chords to their resting place”; though these four loosely structured pieces ascend to great (yet still humble) heights with elegiac laments, subdued textural swells, and pillowy climaxes like the pale winter sun emerging from the grayness of the sky, they are all also profoundly anchored odes to the earth, peaceful appreciations for the rocks and plants and water and soil that will eventually become our resting place. What’s more, it’s as if each track is designed for each performer to shine: “Dead Creek Drawl” trusses triumph with Driftwood’s evocative rolls and thick beams of radiance from Lewis’s organ; “The Mechanical Bull at Our Lady of the Valley” draws primarily from the interplay between Reed’s fingerpicked nylons, Rowlis’s bells, and Birdsey’s seraphic phrasings; “Dirtbikes of Heaven, Grains of the Field” opens the skylight for Dorset’s emotional bow drones to soar through; and “Chewing the Bridle” is a unifying tour-de-force for all six musicians. Music for those who have ever hit a huge jump on their bike and briefly wished to remain suspended in the sky forever, but then immediately after that wanted nothing more than to return their feet to the ground.

Review: Blood of Chhinnamastika – Black Dakini (Enforced Existence, Nov 17)

Though I originally found the label via some of their tape releases (Reid Karris’s Obscure Sorrows, Tissa Mawartyassari and PBK’s And the Angels Wept Upon Descent collaboration), it’s the humble, handmade CDr editions of RY Myato’s Enforced Existence that are a reliable and consistent source for new music I love: xfeverx’s spellbinding, gestural Trans Body Music; the tactile textures and automated percussion of Jo Bled’s Cleanses the Way Stars Open; and Malice in Their Hearts, a radically reticent set of walls from eternal genre keystone Dosis Letalis. Plus, each will only set you back $3. Yet another great entry has arrived in the form of Black Dakini, California cut-up curio Blood of Chhinnamastika’s newest material: five sprawling tracks that unite several infernal tentacles of stylistic exploration under a single apocalyptic atmosphere. The relatively succinct title track makes a conspicuous entrance with high-velocity stop/starts and brutish live noise collaging that measures up to the best, while “I Was Tortured” takes a vastly different route into a hellstorm of hallucinatory power electronics and seething psychedelia. Though the frenzied aural punishment of “The Terror of the Expansion of Consciousness” may be the album’s centerpiece, both parts of “Offering Into the Fire” present plenty of squalling lo-fi goodness.

Review: Dun Sug – Chump (self-released, Nov 17)

Yet another killer enigmatic project emerges from Leeds in the form of Dun Sug, who after a pair of single track releases has dropped their debut album both digitally and as a “decent cassette” edition of ten. A never completely reliable but mostly consistent rule of thumb is that the smaller the physical run, the weirder or more interesting the music, and thankfully Chump is not an exception. Each of its six sketch-like tracks feels like a profoundly personal exercise, sort of the musical equivalent of “looking out to look in” (and thus it deserves the oft-misused “devotional” tag on Bandcamp much more than most): opener “Rut” is a dense, swathing realization of some echoey indoor area, both spacious and claustrophobic with its counterpointing of expansive reverberations and up-close metallic scrabble; “Snicket” is a fibrous, insectile concrète exercise reminiscent of my favorite material from every anti-music hermit’s eternal inspiration, Yeast Culture; and “Crank” is a reticent excursion into gestural object improvisation. Though the tape never abandons its earthy, homemade appeal, even more ambition manifests in the captivating final three tracks, particularly “CDz,” which traces a thinly sliced skeleton-scape of hiss, shuffle, and paranoiac sublimity. For fans of Dan Gilmore, Small Cruel Party, Angelo Bignamini, and nighttime games of hide and seek.

Mix: Anti–Power Electronics

Power electronics, despite having one of the coolest genre names of all time, has a bad reputation that is mostly well-deserved. Beyond just the stereotype of “angry white dude yelling,” many PE-heavy noise scenes have historically been encouraging environments for all sorts of bigotry and hatred, a trend that appallingly continues to this day (to name one brazen example I recently encountered, Finland’s Freak Animal Records, operated by known white nationalist and staunch racist Mikko Aspa, released a CD by Zyklon SS entitled Racial Superiority in 2019). For this reason, I’ve avoided the genre almost entirely for quite a long time. But it turns out that was a grave mistake, for there are plenty of artists now who are not just stripping the genre of its repulsive associations, but completely reconstructing it as a brash mouthpiece for oppressed marginalized identities and communities. This selection of tracks, many of them from this year, is full of reclamations, profanations, decontextualizations, and condemnations of all kinds. Keep screaming, and fuck Whitehouse.

(And to all the losers coming in from Special Interests, fuck you too.)

00:00. Straight Panic – “Catch/Release” from Apocalypse (Humanhood Recordings, 2021)

03:00. Polexia – “Atoned” from Immolation (SPINE, 2021)

06:06. Vivian – second part of Abduction Plot (self-released, 2021)

12:17. Absoluten Calfeutrail & Blarke Bayer – “Dominating the Discussion” from Conflict Resolution Seminar (AR53 reissue, 2021)

17:31. Scarlet Death – “Trauma Doll” from Scarlet Death (self-released, 2020)

21:33. SAMESEX – “YOU AGAIN” from SMITE (self-released, 2013)

23:22. Dysphoria – “Apart” [excerpt] from Falling // Apart (The Clap, 2019)

27:56. grutesk – “Shame” from F‐‐‐‐t Scum (self-released, 2019)

34:19. Identity Combat – “Pretty Little Ghost” from Self Abuse (Lady Gein, 2019)

38:11. CBN – “U Aint from the Hood” from Crimes Against White America (Phage Tapes, 2021)