Review: Greymouth – Can Run (Cost of Living, Jan 27)

The spirit of Quemada Records lives on in Japan-based duo Greymouth and their consistently inventive output of squirrely anti-rock and tape-tracked outsider dross since 2015’s self-titled debut LP. That being said, Can Run might be their least rockin’ material yet, and certainly features the most uninterrupted improvisational stretches they’ve released. With the stuffy backroom tabletop feel and the use of both conventional instruments and objects/electronics, much of this tape feels more like a toy-chest Teletopa than the previous echoings of Armpit or Witcyst, and that, unsurprisingly, is A-OK with me. The majority of the two twentyish-minute sides, though not exactly filled with high-fidelity stereo width, plays as if one were sitting in the center of a shed while Anderson and Sadgrove make their slow, deliberate rounds along the rows of plastic synths and tape machines and tchotchkes, setting a loop to unspool here, fiddling with a dial there. It all seems to lead somewhere and nowhere at once, an aspect that is perhaps clearest on the B side, which sounds like a whole lot of (albeit beautiful) water-treading, until guest vocalist Motoko Kikkawa—who has previously recorded with excellent but unsung collaborators (and house favorites) Lee Noyes and Radio Cegeste—enters the fold and you realize how much everything has progressed. Yes, this is probably the project’s most abstract work, but no matter how many remnants of recognizable “music” are or aren’t present, Greymouth always fully draw me into their ramshackle little world.

Review: Zbyszko Cracker / MAURICIO – Shovlin’ (Grandmother’s House, Jan 13)

Despite the not-quite-welcome reminder of the alarming fact that New York hasn’t seen snow this entire month, the sequel to 2021’s Mowin’ I didn’t know I wanted—no, that’s not right; the sequel I wanted but didn’t think I would ever have—is a wonderful way to start the year. Just as literal and straightforward as the first installment, Shovlin’, this time on slim-cased CD-Rs (with a j-card as the cover, which is never my favorite choice, but it works better here than it does in most other contexts), documents each of the same two toilers reverently performing their seasonal housework, this time amidst the crisp crunch of wintertime. Wauconda, IL’s Zbyszko Cracker’s scooping session is ten minutes longer than the entire Mowin’ tape, and even though that one wasn’t in a hurry either by any means, it feels more spacious and mobile, yet also closer to the cold tactility of the ground rather than the heat-hazed, clipping-flecked summer air, even as heavy winds max out the mic from time to time. Presumably having to cover less ground in Salt Lake City, MAURICIO (credited as MO on the last go-round) works up quite a cacophony, the forceful stabs and scrapes of the shovel edge locking into brief but deep rhythms, lending some—but not all—of the satisfaction that comes with clearing a whole section of besnowed concrete to the listener as one hears patch after patch of the stuff being peeled away.

Review: Shadow Pattern – Outside Inside (Inside Outside) (Radiant Clay, Jan 13)

It’s been a while since I was last a devoted field recordist, both because I now mostly prefer to just appreciate sounds in the moment and because there are just so many other people much better at it than me. Outside Inside (Inside Outside) is a beautiful reminder of that, a slipshod but nonetheless fluid audio journey that somehow manages to mean just as much to its listeners as it seemingly did to its capturer. I believe this is the first proper full-length from Shadow Pattern, one of the more abstract projects of Nathan Ivanco’s that has surfaced on various Hamilton Tapes releases, Various soundwalks, actions, improvisations, and some less intentional-sounding bits recorded over the course of two years are spliced together into a muffled mélange that’s both captivatingly narrative and comfortingly trivial, birds and voice and bells and violin and all of the ephemera in the space between. The artfully careless blend of observance and performance call to mind other favorite artists doing similar work—Max Nordile Hair Clinic, Ruda Vera, Staubitz and Waterhouse—but the organic scrapbook synthesis sets Shadow Pattern apart, cellotaping otherwise disparate clippings to the level playing field of magnetic tape. It’s only January, but it’s hard to say if the rest of the year will offer up anything as gorgeous as the middle section of the B side of this LP. Pure magic.

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.

Mix: The Yule Goat

Following last December’s The Tryal of Old Christmas, the venerable Brachliegen Tapes has once again brought festive tidings to eager wind-reddened ears with The Yule Goat, a dark, icy trudge into the melodies and mysteries of the all-powerful solstice. In recognition of George Rayner-Law and friends’ consistently sublime work, and in the interest of remembering the roots of certain now-unrecognizable traditions, let’s gather around the hearth for a spell and listen to the snow fall. May Winter be merciful.

Straw Yule goat in Sweden covered with snow

00:00. Graham Lambkin & Jason Lescalleet – “Listen, the Snow Is Falling” from The Breadwinner (Erstwhile, 2008)

07:25. Degradation – “Ebb, Static…” from The Yule Goat (Brachliegen, 2022)

12:30. Brian Whitman – “City Sidewalk Steadfast Clime” from A Singular Christmas (self-released, 2004)

15:02. Carlo Giustini – “Quando qui vivevano altre ” from Non Uscire (No Rent, 2018)

21:17. Nuno Canavarro – eighth untitled track from Plux Quba (Ama Romanta, 1988)

23:58. Lower Bar Collective – “Holy” from Christmas (self-released, 2021)

33:35. George Rayner-Law – “Prudence in Your Entertainment” [excerpt] from The Tryal of Old Christmas (Brachliegen, 2021)

36:07. Plinth – “St. Lucia’s Day” Pt. 3 from Wintersongs (Dorset Paeans, 2001)

39:22. Chartreuse – “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” from Last Winter We Didn’t Sing V/A comp (Thor’s Rubber Hammer, 2008)

45:12. Aarktica – “Like Embers” from We Will Find the Light (Darla, 2022)

Review: Yama Yuki – Tufan (Impulsive Habitat, Dec 5)

Mie-born, Tokyo-based sound artist Yama Yuki deserves my thanks not just for the generally excellent phonography on display here but also for reintroducing me to Impulsive Habitat, a netlabel I’d previously encountered through Alma Laprida’s Teleférico and then promptly let slip from my memory. Each work is fully Creative Commons–licensed and available for free lossless digital download—something that, if you’ve been following this site for any length of time (let alone the past year), you know I appreciate. I was also drawn to Tufan because of its duration. Approximately 3″-length single track releases are an ideal medium for field recordists, the perfect amount of time to develop the character of the captured or created environment with just the right amount of progression. Yama’s latest, recorded over the course of 24 hours after a typhoon made landfall, is all about rain, from the soaking, blurred rhythms of torrential downpours to the soothing drone of a receding storm. At first it’s hard to tell if the latter is what’s occurring at the outset of the piece, the sounds of a wet night bifurcated into closeby droplets and a distant low din, but the two elements soon seem to phase in and out with each other, sometimes layering into a full immersive experience of both humans and nature getting drenched, other times refurling into their disparate state, as if the observer has just stepped under an awning or onto a porch. The stereo breadth is fantastic, allowing for the most fleeting of brake squeals and digital interference to seep in on each side, but Yama also knows when to yank it away, which is an experience I’d rather not spoil (you’ll just have to listen). It speaks volumes of the artist’s skill and sensibility that such an ambitious concept statement is successfully conveyed in just 23 minutes:

This track was created as part of my study to understand how intensely humans and surrounding objects/beings are subjected to external natural forces. If you happen to be outside during a natural hazard, there is no way you can avoid being involved in it. Throughout human history, we have continuously tried to protect ourselves from the force of nature, but that is still an impossible task, and we always find ourselves vulnerable to it. In this work, I wanted to explore the theme of vulnerability of human existence within this world. Tufan means “rainstorm” or “flood” in Turkish and it has its origin in Arabic, but similar words are found in many languages, including the Japanese “Taifu.”

Review: Various Artists – PP-01 (Party Perfect!!!, Dec 2)

For the debut release from new Chicago- and Queens-based arrival Party Perfect!!!, three contemporary sound artists and one duo—Hunter Brown and Dominic Coles as Other Plastics, whose Overtime Liquor I reviewed here in 2020—each contribute an album-length section to a massive tetraptych compilation, simply titled after its own catalog number. It’s an interesting way to take the first step, and intuitively seems to center the label as just as much collective as imprint. What’s more, each self-contained work fits both thematically and sonically with those that come after and/or before, making a full listen a lengthy but worthwhile endeavor. Despite the duration, boredom isn’t really a concern here; composer and improviser Michelle Lou’s untitled suite of four tracks kicks off with a bang, ripping ragged digital knives through plasticine barriers, filling the field with thick glitch storms that break into sawtooth drones and quieter, sparser realms. The MEGO-esque maelstroms continue with The Arranger, a machine-listening algorithm written and performed by Stefan Maier at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in 2018, which has all the volatile, stochastic kinesis of Florian Hecker’s noisiest records with the heady conceptualism of his more recent work. Both “diffusions” of Maier’s piece, one via speakers and the other via headphones, are absolute joys to experience, the movements so manifold I’m convinced the code is somehow processing more than just itself.

By far the briefest segment, multidisciplinary artist Michael Flora’s Emergent Spectra covers immense ground despite the short lengths of the title tracks and the constricted minimalism of a pure data palette. Some of the sketches, namely 004 and 006, blow through a half-hour’s worth of complexity in less than a minute, the wrenching cut-ups and hard pans leading up to the starkly linear progression of “Folded Spectra.” The stretch of sterile synthesis is followed up by what is perhaps the most “human” of the quadrants, a field recording–based effort by Other Plastics to reveal “the rhythmic profile of various forms of contemporary leisure.” almost leisure has a much more defined thesis than the duo’s traditionally improvised debut, its sprawling sound-map of decontextualized conversation and spatial wormholes evoking the uncanny humor and illuminations of Network Glass’s Twitch user anthropology. As is probably clear by now, any of these could easily hold its own as a distinct release, but I think PP-01 is greater than just the sum of its parts.

Review: Partial – Partial Previews (Suppedaneum, Nov 29)

It’s been more than a month since my last review. What better way to return to the fold than writing about a release that doesn’t technically feature any music at all?

Partial Previews, the first new work from Chicago duo Partial (Haptic member and Suppedaneum honcho Joseph Clayton Mills with Coppice half and Future Vessel mastermind Noé Cuéllar) since 2014’s sublime LL comprises the following pieces, available as a unit for free plus the cost of shipping:

1. One matte gray paper folder, slightly textured, with a single interior pocket. The folder measures 6 ½ inches by 8 ¼ inches and weighs 1 oz (27 g). The word “Previews” is embossed on the cover in a serif font.

2. One audio cassette with blue leader tape, encased in clear acrylic with silver metallic foil labels affixed to both sides, held together with five small black screws. The cassette is blank and approximately 30 minutes in duration. The cassette measures 4 inches by 2½ inches by ½ inch and weighs 1.1 oz (31 g).

3. Two acrylic dice, one of which is black with white markings and one of which is white with black markings. On each of the dice, two faces are marked with a single line, horizontal or vertical depending on the orientation. Two faces are marked with a cross consisting of two lines of equal length. Two faces are blank. The corners of the dice are rounded. Each of the dice is ⅝ of an inch in height. Each of the dice weighs 0.2 oz (4 g).

4. Three rectangular sheets of blank white paper. One sheet is matte cardstock; one sheet has a glossy, reflective sheen on one side; and one sheet is translucent vellum. Each sheet measures 5 inches by 7 inches. The cardstock sheet weighs 0.1 oz (3 g). The glossy sheet weighs 0.2 oz (4 g). The translucent vellum weighs less than 0.1 oz (less than 1 g).

5. One hexagonal pencil with #2 graphite lead, sharpened, with a soft nonsmear latex-free eraser affixed to one end. The other end is sharpened. The pencil is painted red, is approximately 3 ¾ inches in length, and weighs 0.1 oz (3 g). This pencil is certified to conform to ASTM standard D4236 by the Pencil Makers Association of America.

6. One smooth red acrylic disc, the surface of which is blank and slightly reflective, 2 inches in diameter and ⅛ inch in thickness, weighing 0.3 oz (7 g).

The written instructions are equally straightforward: “Place the red disc within your field of vision while recording or being recorded. Conceal the red disc when not recording or being recorded. / Read faces for suggestions on how to use Partial Previews. / Partial Previews are proportionate to one’s ratio of uncertainty to action as faces become less blank.” The digital supplement to the release, free to download on the Suppedaneum Bandcamp page, provides further suggestions for effective use. Bookend tracks “⊞” and “⊟” ostensibly feature the audio from both sides of the blank cassette, fifteen minutes each of empty analog hiss, though the former seems to be an external microphone recording and the latter direct-input. Together with the completely silent “▢” they form three levels of involvement with or observation of the “material” contained on the tape. I would say that it’s unclear whether the sonic aspect is even essential to the work as a whole or it’s just one of many equally inconsequential angles to approach whatever the actual essence is, but in this case such statements are just as redundant as what they attempt to describe. Maybe it’s ironic that it takes a meeting of such conceptually minded artists to create something so thoroughly literal, or maybe the irony is that literality itself is rendered obsolete. We’ve all heard the “At the end of the day, it’s just an apple” routine; could the tangible components have been described any more accurately? Does holding them in one’s hands—actually using them for whatever purpose is allowed by the unspoken constraints of such specificity—make them any more real? I don’t fucking know. What use are questions that have answers?