Favorites of 2014

In my book, 2014 has got to be the best year for creative new recordings I can remember. Thanks to all of the amazing artists and labels who continue to create such deeply affecting work and make it available to the public.

I'm going to try and let the music speak for itself in this post. As time permits over the next few days, I'm going to add mega-linkage to appropriate artist/label pages for all of these stellar recordings. But for now, here are a few lists of the materials profiled in my "favorites of 2014" podcast. And here's the podcast itself:

My favorite 25 recordings of 2014:

1. Giant Claw - DARK WEB, Orange Milk/Noumenal Loom
2. Zeek Sheck - JOIN US, Resipiscent Records
3. Cloud Becomes Your Hand - Rocks or Cakes, Northern Spy/Feeding Tube
4. David Rosenboom and William Winant - Zones of Influence, Pogus
5. Nick Storring - Endless Conjecture, Orange Milk
6. Battle Trance - Palace of Wind, NNA Tapes/New Amsterdam Records
7. Charles Barabe - Stigmates, 905 Tapes
8. Kara-Lis coverdale - A 480, Constellation Tatsu
9. Wozzeck - Act 5, Intonema
10. Swoon - Words/No Words, Already Dead Tapes
11. Keith Rankin - The Crane Engine, Knertz
12. Yves Malone - Three Movies, Field Hymns
13. VaVatican - I love you (dora lee), NNA Tapes
14. Regular Music - Vase and Ass, Skrot Up
15. Azure Carter & Alan Sondheim - Avatar Woman, Public Eyesore
16. Blood Rhythms (Arvo Zylo) - Assembly, No Part of It/RRRecords
17. Totenbaum Trager/Project Muet - split cassette, Arachnidiscs Recordings
18. Sontag Shogun - Tale, Palaver Press
19. Noah Creshevsky - The Four Seasons, Tzadik (late 2013)
20. Death Blues - Non-Fiction, Sige records
21. Period - 2, Public Eyesore
22. Pajjama - Karakasa, Orange Milk
23. Horse Lords - Hidden Cities, NNA Tapes
24. Illusion of Safety - Surrender, No Part of It
25. Liz Allbee/Hans Grusel - split LP, Resipiscent Records

My favorite Synth Zoners, 2014

1. Black Hat - Thought of Two, Hausu Moutain
2. Cremator - Clear Air Turbulence, Series Aphonos
3. Jonas Reinhardt - Ganymede, Constellation Tatsu
4. Black Unicorn - Traced Landscapes, Field Hymns
5. ARU - Consumed, self-released
6. Xunholm - Asleep in the Shattered Mirror, Skrot Up
7. Half High - Calling Nina, Eiderdown
8. Panabrite - Pavillion, Immune Recordings
9. Pulse Emitter - Alien Vacation, Expansive
10 Kosmonaut - Future Machines, These Are Not Records

My favorite improvisation-related recordings, 2014

1. Music for Hard Times, City of Cardboard, Public Eyesore
2. Matt Nelson - Lower Bottoms, Tubapede Records
3. Kaplan/Merega/Moffett, Crows and Motives, Underwolf Records
4. Street Priest - More Nasty, Humbler
5. Ballister - The Ballister Monologues, Astral Spirits
6. LaPlante/Dunn/Smith, Ancestral Instrument, NNA Tapes
7. Bennett/Wright - Tangle, Public Eyesore
8. Barker/Dunmall/Dahl - Luddite, New Atlantis Records
9. Jones/Shipp - The Darkseid Recital, AUM Fidelity
10. Keir Neuringer - Ceremonies Out of the Air, New Atlantis

My favorite "Sticks and Strings" records, 2014

1. Many Arms - Suspended Definition, Tzadik
2. U SCO - Treffpunkt, New Atlantis
3. Form and Mess - s/t, Sickroom Records
4. Brandon Seabrook - Sylphid Vitalizers, New Atlantis
5. Jealousy Mountain Duo - No. 3, Blunoise Records
6. Hyrrokkin - Pristine Origin, Sickroom/New Atlantis
7. bob Bucko Jr - Crank Spirit, Personal Archives/5cm Recordings
8. pak - NYJPN, Magaibutsu Limited
9. Zevious - Passing Through the Wall, Cuneiform Records
10. J. Spaceman & Kid Millions - Live at Le Poisson Rouge, Northern Spy

My favorite electroacoustic/acousmatic records, 2014

1. Les - Echo, Skrot Up
2. Trumpet Trumpet Synthesizer - Oh Baby (split w/Horaflora, Weird Ear Records)
3. Macho Blush - Unsick, Crash Symbols
4. Bus Gas - Snake Hymns, Spring Break Tapes
5. Hiyohiyoipseniyo - al ARMA, Nyapster
6. Looks Realistic - VA/A, Beer on the Rug
7. Problems that Fix Themselves - Which is Worse, Already Dead Tapes
8. Massimo Falascone - Variazioni Mumacs, Public Eyesore
9. Mahler Haze - Counterfactual, Personal Archives
10. Stred Sveta - Tlaotlon/Stred Sveta split, Baba Vanga

Band of the year: German Army. German emm effing Army. Viva La GeAr! At the end of the podcast, you'll hear a medley of 2014 GeAr pieces, which includes:

1. Narrative Myth, from s/t Trapdoor Tapes
2. Chickahominy 1 from Millerite Masai, Yerevan Tapes
3. Bayard Taylor, from Pennantia, 905 Tapes
4. TestIndia, form Social Catalyst, Jozik Records
5. Catherine Movoisin, from Socotra Scripture, Horror Fiction Tapes
6. Mumbai, from Tassili Plateau, Field Hymns
7. Semblance, from T'rung, Lighten Up Sounds
8. Fragment, from Barrineans, Lava Church
9. Takotna, from Cargo Circuits, A.C.T.I.O.N
10. Harem Diseases, from Jivaro Witnesses, Burka for Everybody (originally on Holland Village, dub ditch picnic)


New episode of the Words on Sounds Podcast available

This week's edition of the Words on Sounds Podcast features:

--A short supersynth cut from the latest Slasher Film Festival Strategy onForeign Sounds / Children of the Night
--an excerpt of an early solo violin piece by Philip Glass
--an excerpt of a heavy new drone piece by Braeyden Jae on Spring Break Tapes
--the perfect winter solstice music from Noah Creshevsky's "The Four Seasons" album on Tzadik Records
--an excerpt from the heavy new Blood Rhythms (Arvo Zylo) LP on No Part of It (along with ordering info)
--a holiday-appropriate jam from Charles Barabé's stunner on 905 Tapes
--a slow grind from Norway's MoE on Fysisk Format
--a contemporary take on no-wave from The Pink Noise on Skrot Up
--killer new improv from Broken Trap Ensemble on Astral Spirits
--a weird but addictive piece from Office Skin's new tape on Lighten Up Sounds
--a track from the new q///q on Skrot Up
--swirling synths from 555's tape on Constellation Tatsu
--and a heavy minimal/maximal asskicker from killer BOB's split on New Atlantis Records

Tune in, turn on, drop out!
--an excerpt of a heavy new drone piece by Braeyden Jae on Spring Break Tapes--the perfect winter solstice music from Noah Creshevsky's "The Four Seasons" album on Tzadik Records--an excerpt from the heavy new Blood Rhythms (Arvo Zylo) LP on No Part of It (along with ordering info)--a holiday-appropriate jam from Charles Barabé's stunner on 905 Tapes--a slow grind from Norway's MoE on Fysisk Format--a contemporary take on no-wave from The Pink Noise on Skrot Up--killer new improv from Broken Trap Ensemble on Astral Spirits--a weird but addictive piece from Office Skin's new tape on Lighten Up Sounds--a track from the new q///q on Skrot Up--swirling synths from 555's tape on Constellation Tatsu--and a heavy minimal/maximal asskicker from killer BOB's split on New Atlantis Records

Tune in, turn on, drop out!


Episode 15 of the Words on Sounds Podcast now available

Lots of great music on this week's Words on Sounds podcast, including:
--fantastic new Ultraabriight on Orange Milk Records
--a great piece from the new Bary Center tape on Skrot Up
--an excerpt from the wonderful Jon Mueller/Death Blues release Non-Fiction on SIGE Records
--a fun Marc Ribot jam from a Northern Spy RSD 7''
--old-school Expo `70 via a recent reissue on Sonic Meditations
--a gorgeously-orchestrated single from Ape School on Hometapes
--A playful piece from NOOK's new digital album (featuring Kenny Warren)
--rich introspection from the new Monte Burrows tape on Spring Break Tapes
--a great don vito jam from their split 7'' with Jealousy Mountain Duo
--a heavy piece from Charles Barabé's release on Tranquility Tapes
--waves of thick psych jamming from Fungal Abyss's new tape on Eiderdown Records
--an excerpt from Joseph Bastardo and Howard D Stelzer's wicked collab on 905 Tapes


Words on Sounds podcast, episode 14

A baker's dozen of great pieces on this week's edition of the Words on Sounds Podcast:

--a piece from Nick Storring's new cassette on Orange Milk Records
--a very nice surprise of a b-side from St. Vincent's Black Friday 10'' single
--a favorite touch people piece of mine from Darren's Rainy Road Records cassette last year
--heavy acoustic improv from SULT's new album
--a classic Octis single
--a classic transitional piece from Normal Love's 7'' on High Two
--great electroacoustic treatments from Charles Barabé's "Empreintes" tape on Jeunesse Cosmique
--similarly great electroacoustic from Massimo Falascone's disc on Public Eyesore / Eh?
--a short solo bari circular breathing jam from Curt Oren
--wonderful layered treatments of his own string quartet recordings from Patrick Higgins
--a piece from the early-ish recorded portion of Jon Mueller's Death Blues project, co-released by TaigaRecords and Hometapes
--a textured, piano-dominant piece from Black Thread/ Cascading Fragments
--and the opening banger from the new Horse Lords LP on NNA Tapes

Tune in, turn on, drop out!


Words on Sounds Podcast, episode 13

Episode 13 of the Words on Sound Podcast is now available, featuring:

--A track from the new Zs album that will be released in January on Northern Spy
--A piece from the great new Jessica Pavone album on Taiga Records
--A cut from Pulse Emitter's LP on Immune Recordings
--a track from a 7'' by percussionist Matt Weston
--a short burner from Joey Molinaro's "International Coven of Dangerous Violinistry"
--seriously layered craziness from Looks Realistic's tape on Beer On The Rug
--A song from this summer's Walker/Melchoir 7'' on Kill Shaman Records
--A beautiful tune from a Cerberus Shoal 7'' on Eternal Otter Records
--Deep listening from Che Chen's 7'' on Pilgrim Talk
--an unpredictable tune from a Mutandini Karl 7'' on Knertz
--gorgeously orchestrated and performed solo work from Nick Storring on Scissor Tail Editions
--collaged weirdness from Pierrot Lunaire's 7'' on Hooker Vision
--and an intense, heavy duo workout from Matta Gawa on New Atlantis Records
Amazing show! Get your ears ready...


New Zs album Xe due in January

It's been a long wait for a new full-length from NYC's uber-iconoclasts Zs. Since 2010's "New Slaves," the band released a "holy trinity" of short end-of-era jams in witness to their lineup of the time coming to its end (Sky Burial, 33, and This Body Will be a Corpse), and the wonderful sextet-era retrospective box set "Score." Last year brought "Grain," in which the newest Zs roster (Greg Fox and Patrick Higgins have joined Sam Hillmer) heavily rework the final unreleased recordings of the previous lineup. It's a conceptually fascinating album, essentially drawing the project's next breath out of its own recorded momentum, but to be honest, I found its ritual-rebirth implications more interesting conceptually than musically.

However, the band has been workshopping their next major work(s) in live performances over the last few years, as they've often done before, and new album "Xe" has just been announced for release on January 27 via Northern Spy. You can preorder it here already, which will net you a sweet poster designed by Tauba Auerbach as well.

I'll be doing a full review of this album next year for sure, but it's a damned fine record. You'll hear a lot more live-electronics textural work on "Xe," which is already resonating with me way more than "Grain" (they have a highly sculpted, musique concrete approach toward live electronics on these pieces),but fans of the most rigorous maximal/minimal extremities of previous albums will find much to love here as well. The 18-minute title track is currently making my day about a million times better than I expected--it's classic Zs, perfectly composed and performed. I'm really digging "Corps," too, full of gorgeous clean guitar tones balancing blazing drum work punctuated with Hillmer's sax. Glad to see you coming back to the new arrivals bin, Zs! The five-year wait was a drag, but "Xe" is well worth the wait.


Words on Sounds Podcast Ep. 12 now available

Episode 12 of the Words on Sounds podcast is now available, featuring:

--a selection from the mind-bogglingly good new Charles Barabé tape on 905 Tapes
--a haunting synth workout from the new Xunholm tape on Skrot Up
--a beautiful, harmonically-rich jam on Dereck Higgins' new LP, "Murphy" on DVH Recordings
--ominous rumbles from the new Megaherbs disc
--an unusually uptempo and sample-based track from German Army's latest on 905
--an excerpt from the A-side of the great new live ARU tape on Warm Gospel
--gnarly live-tracked avant-rockness from PC Worship's bonus cassette from Northern Spy
--uplifting synth densities from Xepter Rose via Constellation Tatsu
--a nice instrumental from Bbjr on his "Blast the Past" comp
--power-doom-jazz from Whoopie Pie on VEAL RECORDS
--great electroacoustic treatments from Johannes Lauxen on knertz
--and an excerpt of a dreamachine-bound drone piece by PSALM'N'LOCKER on YEREVAN TAPES

Tune in, click on, drop out!


PSALM'N'LOCKER - Op. 01, Music for Dreamachine

I was super pumped to see this new release of "Music for Dreamachine" on Yerevan Tapes, as I've been making and using Dreamachines for over 20 years. The Burroughs/Gysin continuum is a huge part of my life, and the Dreamachine and other visual/auditory flicker-production techniques are always worth a try in my book.

For those not familiar with the concept, the Dreamachine creates stroboscopic flicker patterns that you can use to stimulate alpha wave activity in your brain. This in turn can induce states of relaxation, meditation, creative headspaces, visual hallucination patterns, and occasionally outright visions if you're lucky. Or maybe unlucky. There are contemporary eyeglass/headphone-based devices like the Brain Machine or PSiO that create similar sound and light flicker patterns, or you can just hold a little strobe light up to your (closed) eyelids for a similar effect, but the old-school Dreamachine has to win for style points. You can build your own for cheap, too--you just need a janky old turntable, a hunk of thick posterboard, and something to cut holes. You can find lots of information and DIY plans at Interzone Creations. I made my own for years, which weren't pretty but worked fine, and I upgraded to a sexier "classic" template made by 10111.org via Important Records a few years ago which makes me feel like I'm vibing with the Beat Hotel lineage.

The Dreamachine functions by inducing steady flicker patterns in the alpha range, around 7-13 flickers per second. But how does one emulate these effects with music? Almost any kind of music seems to enhance the experience, but there have been a few efforts more closely aligned with the experience, like Throbbing Gristle's "Heathen Earth" album and the Hafler Trio/Psychic TV "Present Brion Gysin's Dreamachine" release. Those recordings feel intuitively-connected to the Dreamachine experience, encouraging a kind of cinematic relationship. With the new head-mounted class of related gadgets, headphones often provide sounds made more mathematically from binaural beats, an aural-perception effect created from the difference in two closely-related pitches. If you produce beats in the 7-13 Hz range, you're potentially stimulating the alpha band, and you'll perceive that as a sort of rumble or heavy vibration. If you move the results up a few octaves, they'll be audible as extremely low pitches audible around the bottom extreme of most playback systems.

Fundamentally a drone piece with gentle shifts in texture and weight, PSALM'N'LOCKER's "Music for Dreamachine" splits the difference between bland mathematics and soundtrack dramatics. This piece is quite deliberate in creating low-frequency beats through difference tones produced by 2 Bontempi air organs that are slightly out of tune from one another. But it also ebbs and flows musically, sounding both inspired by and designed to enhance the shifting geometric patterns associated with the Dreamachine. The reeds of the small organs carry overtones of their own, further complicating the location of precise beats as their relationships vary at different intervals, but they make for a musically-satisfying timbral pallette compared to the more medicinal qualities of pure sine wave-based binaural work. One hears the difference tones as rumbles, gurgles, or sometimes as very low notes that seem to be felt more than heard, and if you stay the recommended minimum distance away from the speakers, you'll also find that you can locate different beating effects within the complex field of sound simply by moving your head around. The beats often manifest as insectoid kinds of sounds, especially recalling the stridulation of crickets. And the piece is carefully recorded with a pair of nice microphones into a portable reel-to-reel machine--I'm guessing that the recordings stayed in an analog signal path from creation to duplication, and the final consumer copies sound lovely on cassette.

All told, Luca Garino and his PSALM'N'LOCKER project have made a fine solo debut--this piece is creative, thoughtfully-executed, and a pleasure to experience. If you're into good drone-based music, you're sure to enjoy this album regardless of your proximity to stroboscopic paraphernalia. And the packaging is especially noteworthy, too--Yerevan has produced this as a one-sided tape to eliminate a side break in the middle of this 28-minute piece, a smart decision. The artwork, also made by Garino, is reproduced on luxurious opaque vellum paper, evoking the light-manipulation attributes of the Dreamachine, and producing a striking composite image as two separate photos fold to become visible together on the cover. Dream on.


Podcast Episode 11 now available

A baker's dozen of great pieces, most freshly released in the last week or two, await your lucky ears on this week's edition of the podcast:


Three more Words on Sounds Podcast episodes

The podcast routine is still falling into place--I've been forgetting to post the new episode links here when they become available. In case I should forget in the future, if you check the Words on Sounds mixcloud page once a week, or "follow" me there, you'll find one new podcast every week. But I'll try to put the info here, too.

Today's episode just went up, and it's a banger: 

The week before had some great new material, too. Love that new Jon Mueller/Death Blues "Ensemble" record, Bus Gas, Killer BOB...a feast for your ears:

And episode 7 was something different: as I'm leaving the Other Music radio show to focus on reviews and podcasts, the other 2 current DJs have decided to leave, too. The show's history goes back around 25 years, with lots of different DJs over time, all of whom have been involved with making music as well as spinning it on the radio, and this podcast offers a history of music made by Other Music DJs. Some of this music would never have been made if it weren't for relationships that started around the OM show. Very much worth a listen (and I'm playing on a few of these recordings myself, such as the Philemon piece):

Tonight will be my last Other Music show at KZUM. It's bittersweet, for sure, but I hope I can serve everyone better with more time to focus on reviews, and the podcast will naturally evolve out of my note-taking process. Thanks for reading, and thanks for listening.


Street Priest - More Nasty

It's been just over a year since drummer/composer Ronald Shannon Jackson died, and I'm still way bummed about his passing. What an amazing career: after jamming with Albert Ayler in the 60s, he was behind the kit on my favorite Ornette Coleman albums, "Dancing in Your Head" and "Body Meta." He's all over Cecil Taylor's killing late-70s LPs, and his work in the 80s leading the Decoding Society took Ornette's funk/jazz vibes into even deeper and darker places. And the avant-jazz supergroups, Power Tools and Last Exit? Jesus. I don't often hear him referenced among the most iconic of jazz-related artists, but he should definitely be part of that discussion.

With that in mind, this seems like the perfect time for Bay-Area trio Street Priest to get their first tape into the world. "More Nasty" is an impressive debut, making reference to the Decoding Society by band name and album title, and harnessing the raw energy of RSJ projects at their gnarliest. This rhythm section has a serious pedigree in aggressive music, with Matt Chandler of Burmese on bass, and long-time Ettrick co-conspirator Jacob Felix Heule on drums. As an aside, I was lucky enough to catch Ettrick on a tour that stopped in Lincoln years ago (thanks, Unitarian Church!), and they laid down a duo free-grind set that I still think of often, trading duties between sax and drums. Definitely get some Ettrick in your ears if you haven't already. Guitarist Kristian Aspelin completes the trio, a perfect fit whose diverse approaches to the guitar give Street Priest a lot of musical latitude.

"More Nasty" captures the intensity of the Decoding Society, but this isn't a "heads and solos" project: Street Priest are working mostly with a non-idiomatic free improv approach. They occasionally bring out splinters of free-funk grooves, and their extreme music backgrounds inform the most dense, heavy moments on the album, like most of the album-closer "Market," but I'm especially taken by how often this trio plays in careful, hushed passages. In its frequent quieter passages, this album can sound like a saturnine electroacoustic project. This power-trio-to-lowercase-improv feat is difficult to pull off successfully, but they totally nail it with style and thoughtful interplay to spare. I'm reminded of that Sandy Ewen/Damon Smith/Weasel Walter disc from a few years ago: with both recordings, the heaviest moments leave an immediate impact, but there are plentiful subtle gestures that continue to reveal themselves on repeated listening.

Like a lot of the best improv albums, there are times where it's hard to tell who is playing what: on opening piece "Turk," for example (and all four tunes are named for streets in SF's Tenderloin), the whole trio work themselves toward a crescendo of short, scraped sounds, but generally the bass seems to be working with higher pitches than guitar--or are those metal percussion sounds? Most of the sound manipulations in this music sound like they're done with little fuss, simply digging into instruments with a little help from distortion pedals, but there are times when I'm pretty sure someone has a loop pedal handy, and there must be a lot of harsh-sounding auxiliary percussion at the ready as well. And there are times when individual contributions are clear: Aspelin digs into deep guitar feedback workouts in "Taylor," his amp alternately singing and screaming, and the outro of that piece has some great busy kit playing from Heule. The best bass work here is probably found in "Sixth," and it's heavy on extended technique, with slowly bowed and scraped rumbles, detuned strings, and hammered-sounding articulations dominating the soundstage. Everyone plays their asses off here--and the group listens to their own interplay with just as much discipline.

The first release on Heule's new Humbler imprint, "More Nasty" is pro-dubbed on some especially fine chrome tape--this is probably the best-sounding tape I've heard in a while, loud and full-frequency. The album art has that "metal demo" vibe at a distance, but it's on a heavy, textured paper that feels as substantial as the music in your hands. A fine debut that definitely leaves me hungry for more--and considering that these recordings were made before passing of RSJ, this project feels much more like a celebration than an elegy. More "More Nasty," please.


Bus Gas - Snake Hymns

I've been a fan of Nebraska drone-zoners Bus Gas for a few years now. While there is a long-running tradition of quality experimental music 'round these parts, nobody gets close to the epic dreamscapes of the Bus Gas crew. Their gradually-widening, nuanced textural workouts have often
felt like improvised songforms, a droned-out distillation of postrock guitar timbres, but deliberately improvising toward those kind of weighty triumphant meridians one finds at the climax of Godspeed or Explosions tunes. Their first two tape releases, "Six Movements in Four Hours" on Sweat Lodge Guru, and "Train Out" on Germany's venerable Sic Sic, are beautiful documents of their approach.

But "Snake Hymns," the new Bus Gas album just released by Spring Break Tapes, is a heavy surprise: the pieces here are generally shorter but hit your psyche like a new concentrated form of ambience, feeling much longer than their actual running times. An arsenal of synths and threadbare looped fragments, all immersed in various overdriven and outright distorted environments, have wrested control of these pieces from guitars and basses, evoking the thornier periods of Tangerine Dream or early Cluster mixed with Badalamenti soundtracks. And rather than improvising on basic ideas, these pieces feel deeply composed, richly layered, and carefully refined for maximum impact.

Album opener "20/20 Vision Quest" establishes a murky, film-noir kind of vibe. It's held together by a short, hypnotic synth loop until its last third, where a subtle rhythm sneaks into the mix, seemingly made by capturing the sound of a distorted tremolo pedal revving a speaker cabinet. Fragments of melodies and synth/environmental pads swell in and out of the mix, and the goal here is sustaining a dark mood, as opposed to building to a crescendo. Then things get a little sweaty with "Positive Throckmorton," a piece suspended between low rumbling oscillations, an ominous low bass riff, and a long-running snarl of feedback that serves as a pedalpoint for some pizzicato-sounding muted guitars. The distortion on parts within this mix feels disorienting at times, and you have to grab onto the resonance of the never-ending feedback as a kind of safety rope.

The variety of overdriven sounds and fearless experimentalism with these otherwise "ambient" mixes opens up a wider emotional spectrum than one often finds in ambient/new-agey recordings that stick with clean tones and clinical mixing. The clarinet lines in "Night Slugs," for example, take on a dirty saxophone sound in their distorted/reverb-drenched treatment, a great contrast with clear guitar tones competing for melodic space. The bass lines that gradually overtake and release "First Scum, First Serve" contrast similarly with symphonic loops treading through that piece, while rumbling away any dust that might have gathered near your speakers.

I love the layered, thoughtful approach throughout this album, but I must admit that the last track, "Sad Hill," is my favorite. Though it's a very minimal piece compared to the rest of the record, it hits me right in the chest (and it has a few tricks up its sleeve). The tape rolls up to speed at its beginning, revealing low Duane Eddy guitar tones and buzzing amps, A touching, somber riff repeats multiple times, with occasional pauses and distorted embellishments. The tape machine warbles toward the end, struggling back to unity pitch, and eventually it's switched off. But that crazy lo-fi tone: we must be listening to a very loud performance that was recorded to tape, being played back itself through another loud playback system and re-recorded for our pleasure. That's some serious meta-post-noir, folks. And it sounds decayed and beautiful and full of memories, and I wish the tape machine inside the recording didn't get turned off so soon. Interestingly, the piece ends differently on the digital version than the actual cassette--on the cassette, it cuts off abruptly (and it's not a dubbing issue--there's still a few seconds of tape left), as though to imply that in another "Schrodinger's cassette" universe, it might go on forever. Choose your own adventure. Well played, Bus Gas!

A fantastic release. Bus Gas has found the essence of their sound, and it really shows. It's not often that one can think of drone/ambient music as the source for earworms, but that's just happens with pieces like "20/20 Vision Quest" and "Awake, Awake, Awake"--they resurface in your mind later, continuing to alter your senses and salt your wounds. This one's in a small edition of 100, pro-dubbed and featuring some beautiful, understated artwork on both sides of the j-card. Grab one from Spring Break Tapes while you still can.

Bus Gas Snake Hymns Teaser from Uphill Downhill on Vimeo.


Jealousy Mountain Duo - No. 3

I've happily covered their fantastic albums before, here and here, and I'm glad to report that Jealousy Mountain Duo is back with a new album and a new US tour. While still feeling like a familiar set of pieces for those who dig the first two records, the band leans into new directions on No_03: this is simultaneously a more playful outing, and an investigation into the possibilities of strategic dissonance within what is generally a very tuneful duo.

To my ears, guitarist Berger has especially stepped up his game on this album. Opening tune "DACKEL DIE BELLEN HEISSEN" immediately embraces a new set of approaches--like most of the JMD catalog, he establishes some looped riffs early in the piece and plays over them in a variety of contexts, but the looped section here employs more dissonance and chromatic movement than one often heard on the first two records. Atop these vaguely ominous, shifting chords, Berger digs into extended technique, grabbing a lot of harsh, metallic-sounding muted notes, punctuated with scrapes, aggressive unisons and octaves, and weird interval leaps. The piece occasionally pauses, lurching forward into new directions after each breath.

The second tune, "FRIENDS OF SONNY FOSCHINO," finds JMD working in a sort of opposite direction that's even more playful than previous albums. Berger's softly-articulated octave slides at the opening of the piece give way to a pointillistic riff propelled by Schneider's frantic drumming. The chorus passages sound absolutely massive as Schneider invents new ways to hit fifty drums at once, and then the band drops back down in dynamics to the subtle introduction parts again and again. A great use of dynamic range, rhythmic pauses, and all-out glorious abandon in the choruses. It's hard to believe there are only two musicians producing this wild din at times.

Later in the album, it sounds like Berger is working with some heavy guitar processing, wild high-frequency oscillations rising from the thunderous low riffage he establishes earlier in "THE RINCON PIO SOUND." That's followed by another especially playful piece, "NORDIC WALKING," which was featured on a great split 7'' with Don Vito last year. I really dig the fun behind-the-scenes false start to that tune, too.

My favorite moments on No_03, though, come in "GOTT IST NICHT NETT," which sets up another slinky chromatic riff that's decorated with some subtle hands-across-the-strings sounds in its establishing loop. Berger adds some heavy palm-muted punctuations to the primary figure as Schneider finds ways to work with and against the main rhythmic pulse, pumping the tempo slightly up and down with tasty work all around the kit. A melodica seems to make an appearance at the perfect moments in this tune as well, adding a nice legato contrast to the crisp, short drum articulations.

Another excellent album from one of the most interesting avant-rock duos working today. And for folks located in the states, they're visiting our humble shores on tour right now with fellow German band Don Vito, a hard-to-pigeonhole avant-punk trio (for Lincoln readers, join me at the Zoo Bar on Wednesday, Oct. 14th where JMD and Don Vito will be joined by Ron Wax and Gnawstic at 9 PM). You can find other tour dates below the BandCamp player, and having seen JMD live myself a couple of years ago, these are shows you really want to catch.

Oct 05
Sugar City
Buffalo, NY

Oct 06
The Smiling Skull
Athens, OH

Oct 07
The Bunker
Grand Rapids, MI

Oct 08
Now That's Class
Cleveland, OH

Oct 09
Cactus Club
Milwaukee, WI

Oct 10
Grandpa Bay
Chicago, IL
Oct 11
Schlafly Tap Room
St Louis, MO

Oct 12
Columbia, MO

Oct 13
Vaudeville Mews
Des Moines, IA

Oct 14
The Zoo Bar
Lincoln, NE

Oct 15
Mutiny Information Cafe
Denver, CO

Oct 17
The Yeti
Tulsa, OK

Oct 18
1919 Hemphill
Fort Worth, TX

Oct 20
Circle Bar
New Orleans, LA

Oct 21
Stone Fox
Nashville, TN

Oct 22
Conundrum Music Hall
West Columbia, SC

Oct 23
Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery
Atlanta, GA

Oct 25
Athens, GA

Oct 26
The Fuzz Factory
St Petersburg, FL

Oct 27
Burro Bar
Jacksonville, FL

Oct 28
Hang Fire
Savannah, GA

Oct 30
Kung Fu Necktie Upstairs
Philadelphia, PA

Podcast Episode 6 now available!

Episode 6 of the Words on Sounds Podcast is now available, featuring a piece from Matthew Dotson's latest digital release, a track from the new Jealousy Mountain Duo, a short Adam Zahller piece for toy piano, a track from the brand-new Giant Claw tape on Suite 309, a labyrinthine piece from Yowie's last LP on SKiN GRAFT Records, a great Yamagishi/Suhrke collab piece on the "In Flux" compilation on Brave Wave Productions, a quick acid-psych burner from the new Goat album, a sneak preview of the upcoming Strategy tape on Field Hymns, a stormy piece by O'Death on their latest from Northern Spy, a great solo bari sax piece by Jonah Parzen-Johnson from his disc onPrimary Records, great skatchbox-fueled improv from Music for Hard Times on their Public Eyesore / Eh? CD, a heavy electroacoustic headphone jam from Nick Hoffman and Miguel A. Garcia on their Intonema collaboration, and deep-listening improv from Zoor's disc on Umlaut Records. Grab your headphones and dig in!



Two more Words on Sounds podcasts are available

I still need to get into the habit of integrating the podcasts with the review blog--there are a total of four Words on Sounds podcasts now available. You can simply go here to check out all of them, or click "play" on the players below to hear the newest two that I forgot to post about here:

Giant Claw - DARK WEB

I imagine that the modern-day Oracle of Oscillation, Giant Claw's Keith Rankin, is somewhat relieved that his new record "DARK WEB" is finally shipping, for the simple reason that I'll quit pestering him about it. While I've been down with the 'Claw for a long time, I was ultra excited by the first taste of his new direction in the track "005" that was featured as part of the Sunup Recordings "Living Room Visions" compilation back in January. What a crazy piece: tiny pop vocal samples parsed small enough to obliterate most textual content, reassembled into powerful new melodies and banks of angelic harmonies, lurching forward in weird stuttering rhythms and bursts of hyperspeed orchestral-MIDI passages. The melodic sensibilities of Giant Claw were recognizable, but everything else pointed toward a very new soundworld.

I'm always receptive to letting new music affect me deeply, but that short piece rattled around in my head more than any other four minute audio experience in recent memory. And a whole record of similarly-composed material was supposed to be coming soon...

Dear readers, that time has arrived. Simply put, DARK WEB is a game-changer, and I don't resort to cliches lightly. Densely layered with musical ideas, combining disparate genres and their philosophical underpinnings in wild new ways, this record has torn a new hole in my musical universe, and I suspect it will (deservedly) reside at the top of many best-of-the-year lists.

I don't think I've ever heard a record that manages to sound so acutely cutting-edge and for-the-ages simultaneously. Its contemporary influences, drawing from vaporwave-ish sample choices, weird Japanese takes on footwork and juke idioms, and perfectly-placed bursts of black-MIDI density, are integrated perfectly with rigorous approaches from the classical "new music" tradition, including the nimble polyphonic canons of Conlon Nancarrow, the high-velocity minimalist "micro-ritmia" of Ernesto Martinez,  and the "hyperrealism" microsample compositions of Noah Creshevsky or Zappa's "Civilization Phaze III." Even taken individually, these are some heavy styles to work with, much less assimilate into a concentrated new whole, yet DARK WEB remains incredibly tuneful and approachable. The pop/R&B roots of the many vocal samples gathered here still shine through, albeit in a new parallel universe, and the stunning craftsmanship behind putting this music together doesn't overshadow the fact that these jams are funky as hell.

While each of its 8 pieces definitely stand on their own, DARK WEB feels like one larger piece to me, which is reinforced by the simple numbered titles of each track from from 001 to 008. The album starts casually, with simple kick drum rhythms and speed-tweaked vocal samples giving way to a very catchy synth melody. "001" feels like an overture in the classical sense, a dreamy prelude to a seriously wild ride. Then "002" wastes little time reprogramming musical synapses: short pop vocal samples are redeployed as rhythms, and black MIDI/Nancarrow-ish passages race through the sound stage to reveal vaporwave textures and helium-infused raps.

I could rave about every moment of this album, but "005" is my favorite fragment of DARK WEB (note: this is a different "005" than the track from January's "Living Room Visions" comp referenced above--that piece has been expanded and re-titled as "006" on the final album). Vocal samples are hocketed around, forming gorgeous melodies and harmonies that remind me of the Dirty Projectors early "Getty Address" glitch opera, wild MIDI harpsichord lines swarm in and out at perfect moments, and great processed synths support the rich framework of vocal samples. The stunning main melody evolves through such fascinating motivic development that I can hardly sit still, altered and recast in MIDI clarinet/horn fragments that feel strangely even more beautiful with their "fake" general MIDI timbres.

In fact, the whole notion of "fake" is called into question from multiple angles with DARK WEB. The conceptual repurposing motivations of vaporwave, altering the focus of disposable forms of music from utility to contemplation, are heavily at play here. So too is Creshevsky's application of the "hyperrealism" concept to music, a similar method of repurposing tiny fragments of found sound, but toward the creation of complex aural spaces with a heart in electroacoustic practices and a note density that evokes impossible virtuosity and the complex timbral nuances of spectralism. And those MIDI sounds introduce their own commentary on high/low-culture distinctions, highlighting the kinship between the intimidating density of Nancarrow's player piano pieces and the crazy black-MIDI YouTube videos of the last few years. It's great to hear a project that so thoroughly embodies multiple perspectives on "reality" in music, too--the music itself is positively delightful, so rather than intellectualizing the complex relationships between all of this stuff, you can simply let the record spin. It all feels incredibly obvious, inevitable, even, when you simply listen. Rankin's album art for DARK WEB bridges these worlds beautifully, too, hanging nicely with the elements one often sees on vaporwave releases but with a nod to "proper" classical new-music visuals.

It's interesting to hear Rankin take a project like Giant Claw, which was previously reliant on "old school" analog instruments that use pre-MIDI CV control technology for synchronization, into such a digital, essentially "post-MIDI" universe. It raises another layer of those "what is real" questions, when one considers that synths were sometimes met with fake-music criticisms in their early years, and now we're in an era of analog vs digital debates in which the older oscillator-based instruments are sometimes regarded as more "real" than their transistor and computer emulation-based counterparts. I seem to recall that the early Synclavier-powered musical excursions of Art of Noise were met with similar digi-reticence, too, and lord knows how much music has been influenced by their approaches (even DARK WEB in its way). Obviously, the music is what matters in the end, and I'm simply amazed to hear how quickly Rankin has mastered the deep potential for computer-based composition. These pieces probably couldn't exist without latest-greatest technology, but they couldn't even be conceived without such a thoughtful musician at the controls, either.

But my only criticism of DARK WEB is using Giant Claw as the band name itself. While I love the whole GC discography, all of the albums up to this one hang together quite closely, and this is a dramatic departure. If it were up to me, I would've picked a new band name for this album. I even have a suggestion: Body by Keith. How about it, dear readers? I'm totally inept at photo editing, but legendary Omaha musician and Vinyl Community guru Dereck Higgins helped me out with this little mockup of the idea:

At any rate, DARK WEB has warmed my heart and massaged my brain profoundly, and I'd highly recommend getting this music in your own ears at your earliest convenience. This LP has just been co-released by Rankin's own Orange Milk Records and the great Noumenal Loom in Alabama. You can also find it on the Giant Claw Bandcamp. And this seems like an appropriate place to remind folks of the fantastic "Crane Engine" cassette release featuring some of Rankin's early work that dropped this summer on Germany's amazing Knertz label (you can read my review of that album here). Between that and DARK WEB, this is a mighty year for Giant Claw-related music.