A wistful, fractal collection of introspective songs built from fragments of other people’s voices, sounds, and music by French/Canadian artist Jean Cousin aka Joni Void
“Mise En Abyme is the second full-length by Joni Void, the avant-electronica project of France/Canada producer Jean Cousin, following his acutely accomplished and acclaimed 2017 debut album Selfless. (#8 Experimental Album of 2017 at Pitchfork, among other accolades.)
Grappling with a cascade of heartbreaks and discontinuities over the past year, Cousin calls the new album a “time-travel experiment”, as he culls sounds from devices and sources spanning childhood to the present (phones, cameras, video games, home movies) to retrieve and reframe subjective memories, histories and “regressions through former selves” through immersion in the evocative potential of the mostly wordless voices of others. The resulting sonic portraits simultaneously convey formally abstract dislocations and highly emotive warmth, interiority, humanity and specificity.
Side A especially highlights these works – the “with people” half of the album, replete with contemplative, melancholic songs, each featuring a deconstructed performance by a different female voice, propelled to varying degrees with additive rhythmic and textural layers. Side B is the “isolation” half: vocal samples continue to make appearances, including Cousin’s own voice on the vertiginous “Voix Sans Issue” and his own lyrics on the computer-narrated text-to-speech spoken word of the confessional “Deep Impression” – but the contrasting vibe is more claustrophobic, anxious and febrile.
Mise En Abyme ends with a throwback to Cousin’s pre-Joni Void keyboard-based works as johnny_ripper on the gorgeous Rhodes piece “Persistence”, while the closing exuberant maximalist jam of “Resolve” fittingly samples every previous song and locks the album into a self-referential recursive sequence.”
Without question, some of the most beautiful Quiet music you'll likely ever hear, compiled in a 4 hour-long triple disc set.
'Fremde Zeit - Addendum' collects five pieces of engrossingly etheric, liminal composition by Jakob Ullmann (1958), the widely acknowledged master of quiet music and cover star of The Wire magazine.
For us, as we'd imagine many others, this is a striking first introduction to the devoted German minimalist's very particular body of work. Comprising 4 hours of barely-there strings, percussions, wind instruments and voices prefaced by the instruction "Please choose, for each piece, the volume settings of your sound system so as to just barely mask the ambient sounds in the room", this is music made for concentrated listening, recorded and specifically designed to give listeners "the opportunity to hear more, and better" by the simple but essential notion that "We hear better because we make an effort to hear better."
With this is mind, we're invited into a sound world which actively, yet effortlessly and sublimely challenges our perceptions of space and time with a compelling, transcendent effect akin to that of listening to music by, say, Eliane Radigue or Morton Feldman, yet with an alien, detached appeal entirely its own. Due to their extended durations - no piece is shorter than 34 mins, and over an hour at the longest - we form temporal impressions which blur the boundaries between our immediate space and the apparent vastness of the recording, teasing our sixth sense to wander on a knife edge of trepidation and somnolence.
Yet, musically, it covers a far more subtle spectrum of emotions and cabalistic atmospheres casting metaphoric allusions to "…antiquity, to the Middle Ages, to the Baroque, to the 20th Century and to the present" by means of its extreme dilation of space/time and anticipation, and relegation of distortion or any untempered gestures.
Once you've heard this music it should come as little surprise Ullmann studied sacred music in Dresden from 1979-1982 - his music could be the lingering resonance of an Arvo Pärt piece played in a huge cathedral, and it carries the weight of history - spanning over 18 years of work, the results are duly, deeply considered.
A revelatory package, whose impact will surely emerge and manifest as slowly, yet powerfully, as the music itself.
On this newly released work Jakob Ullmann combines his appreciation of Cageian principles with sacred composition in utterly riveting ways, resulting in two of the most extreme and uncompromising examples of his “quiet music” - that is, a music which is composed and realised to be played just above the volume of each listener’s ambient background.
And in case you’re not aware of what we mean by “extreme”, we’re talking seriously quiet - bordering on silent - instrumental gestures; the kind of creaks and klangs that, on the most glib level, recall a “ghost” in your house at midnight, while on a more serious, theological level, are intended to heighten the listener’s sense of the unknown, the metaphysical, the spiritual: the sacred.
In both works the ‘hallmarks’ of Jakob Ullmann’s intently defined yet unfathomably open style of composition come to light. On Müntzers stern, a pre-recorded performance of a hymnal text written by the German theologian is played back at barely perceptible volume into the same space where Dafne Vicente-Sandoval translates the graphic score for bassoon. The result is a totally sparse yet breathtakingly pensive piece where it’s beautifully uncertain what we’re hearing - is that the chance sound of a distant plane or Dafne’s bassoon? Are those voices in your head, outside the window, or on the recording? Either way, the barely-there but complex results are genuinely ambiguous, forming a total breakdown of conventions that leave the listener with far more questions than they answer.
On solo II, part of a group of works relating to the notion of disappearing musics completed in 1992 following Ullmann’s conversations with John Cage, the effect of Dafne’s bassoon, recorded in Kartäuserkirche (Bürgerliches Waisenhaus) is even more extreme. Holistically taking into account everything from the thermal fluctuation of the space and the way it affects Dafne’s reed, to its unique acoustic imprint, and by turns what lies outside its walls, the piece directly builds on Ullmann’s dialogue with Cage, and induces us into a sort of lucid dream state where time dissolves, outside becomes inside, and we feel physically sublimated into the piece and its projected timbral architecture.
As Ullmann’s music has come to light beyond the most rarified classical corridors over the last decade (with thanks to its champions such as Stephen O’Malley and Bill Kouligas, among others), the composer’s radical approach and uncompromising beliefs have given us some of the most memorable and perception-altering musical experiences imaginable. We can surely add these two new Ullmann works to that set of life-affirming and quietly challenging experiences.
Incredible, transfixing avant-classical solo piano and dynamic, puristic synthesis from Iranian-American composer Cameron Shafii. Big RIYL Kevin Drumm, Iancu Dumitrescu, Mika Vainio, Luigi Nono
Following the short-run edition of his ‘DzGI’ tape in 2015, it’s fair to call ‘Corpora Vilia’ Cameron Shafii’s definitive release to date. Consolidating the Ph.D. student and Ge-Stell label boss’s fascinations with the physics of sound, specifically digital synthesis and spectromorphology, Shafii’s 2nd release places exacting techniques at the service of a uniquely refreshing, playful, and genuinely bewildering music.
In three durational parts, Shafii presents a wealth of micro-edited sounds arranged into radical synthetic symphonies. Structured around deeply uncanny transitions between acoustic and digital spheres, they each reveal inception-like worlds within worlds, using every integer of the sound field to draw ears between his spectral presences and pointillist acoustic strikes with a quietly breathtaking grasp of proprioceptive chicanery.
With ‘Points and Planes of Potential Future Violations’ he establishes a beguiling soundfield foregrounding insectoid electronics over cascading piano arpeggios in the midground, punctuated by percussive violence and leading to head-wrenching chaos recalling Luigi Nono’s ‘Non Consumiamo Marx’ classic. ‘Text 27 (Lise in Fernsehspiel)’ follows, rendering pink hued ambient harmonics centre stage, surrounded by vertically creeping strings while near-infrasonic bass turns the stage to jelly, before ‘Spatial Envy; or Suture and Cut-Pieces’ again extends the strangest timbral combinations and perception-baiting segues.
Ultimately it’s one of those releases that will constantly make you stop and double-check what you’re listening to. It’s floored us each time we return to it, at least. Lovers of leading edge experimental composition of all stripes need ‘Corpora Vilia’ in their listening lives.
Quiet music conceptualist and practitioner, Jakob Ullmann's 2nd release and first with Editions RZ was first issued in 2005.
It yields a single 73 minute piece written for an ensemble of thirteen solo strings and up to three additional solo parts arranged to explore the filigree infidelities of their range between almost "pure", natural harmonics to diffuse noise at the lowest threshold of perception thanks to masterly feats of restrained technicality and the composer's vision.
Of course, this is much more than an exercise in academic or technical exactitude. Ullmann's score elicits the players to play at the edge of their nerves and skill to reaffirm the piece's sureness and manifest the slightest differentiations, sustaining our attention in pensile equilibrium so that the most minor shifts in pace, tone, timbre ensure optimal effect, and live up to the piece's conceptual power.
‘And We Are Passing Through Silently’ is the sublime first survey of reworks/remixes by cult synthesist Abul Mogard, including extended reworks of Brian Eno and Gordon Sharp (Cindytalk), Aïsha Devi, Fovea Hex, Penelope Trappes and more.
Arguably one the bigger enigmas in modern synth music, Abul Mogard has established a reputation for his singular synth works, mostly issued by Steve Moore’s VCO and Alessio Natalizia’s Ecstatic label since 2012. Prized for his slow-building, etheric and beatific style of composition, Mogard has also been in demand as a remixer over the years, and it’s in this role that Houndstooth focus upon, rounding up and presenting a handful of his strongest remixes for other artists, including many on vinyl for the first time. In each case Mogard extracts the artist or band’s essence and diffuses it into his own, billowing soundscapes with a time-dilating, meditative and romantic appeal that’s long been at the core of his synthy magick.
Where Abul’s solo work is purely instrumental, his reworks are the only place you’ll find him handling with vocals, and the best of those are found in ‘And We Are Passing Through Silently’. Perhaps understandably, he’s most impressive when working with other veteran souls. This is most clearly apparent on the 2nd disc, offering a stunning expansion of Gordon Sharp’s plaintive vocal in Massimo Pupillo/Becoming Animal’s ‘The Sky Is Ever Falling’ that surely reminds of his earliest work with This Mortal Coil, while he also deeply enchants with a glacial rendering of Fovea Hex and Brian Eno’s ‘We Dream All The Dark Away’ that sounds like it escapes a Clannad Seance in ’89.
Factor in a vertiginous spin of Aïsha Devi’s ‘O.M.A.’, the gently psychedelic rework of Nick Nicely’s ‘London South’, and a sweetly refined mix of Penelope Trappes, and it’s not hard to hear what all the fuss about, especially if you like Alessandro Cortini or Steve Moore!
"Rounding up divine renderings of songs by Aïsha Devi, Penelope Trappes (The Golden Filter) and nick nicely (heralded by luminaries of the US underground Ariel Pink and John Maus), the album culminates with Brian Eno’s collaboration with Irish avant-folk band Fovea Hex.
Also included is Abul’s brand new rework of Becoming Animal’s ‘The Sky Is Ever Falling’ featuring vocals from Cinder (This Mortal Coil/Cindytalk) and Massimo Pupillo on bass (Zu/Thurston Moore/Stephen O’Malley), exclusive to this release.
A must for fans of Alessandro Cortini, Pye Corner Audio, Fennesz, Gas.
Angel-Ho takes to Hyperdub with her killer debut album proper, ‘Death Becomes Her’
Metamorphosing from the bullet-riddled chrysalis of her ‘Red Devil’ mixtape into a melodically colourful and vital voice in new electronic club music, the South African artist is accompanied by guest vox from K Rizz, Queezy and K-$, plus production by Gaika, Nunu, Bon and Asmara Maroof, who all play their role in “killing the old self, and expressing a poetic way of assuming a new identity.”
The album is thus about “emancipation and trans identity”, and reveals Angel-Ho as a gifted lyricist/vocalist as well as a master of curious, probing arrangements of tone, texture and rhythm. But, for anyone familiar (or even slightly obsessed) with her fractious ‘Red Devil’ mixtape, her advance into far more tempered and filigree sound organisation may come as a shock. Her music now more closely resembles the hard-won styles of Arca and Lotic, with stronger binds to mutant R&B and Rap, as well as core influence from SA musics such as Gqom and Kwaito.
Where her previous releases were effectively dizzying, abstract descriptions of South Africa and the trans-global Black and queer experience, ‘Death Becomes Her’ merges the figurative and brutalist with more literal, and poetic expressions, for a varied and full frontal definition of Angel-Ho as an artist. Songs such as the Kwaito-esque dance-pop of ‘Like A Girl’, and ‘Muse To You’ are just that, proper dance songs with verse/chorus structures and stunningly animated/animating rhythms, while ‘Baby Tee’ offers a smart sidespin on R&B conventions, and others naturally push the prism toward the avant, as with the use of Bee-Gees choruses in the blinding, off-key and jagged ‘Live’ or the Coil-ed poise of ‘Pose’, or the keening, oblique shape of ‘Bussy’.
London five-piece Housewives return for more anarchic genre-blending adventures on their second LP, Twilight Splendour
"Bringing to mind the digital meditations of legendary producer Oneohtrix Point Never, Twilight Splendour presents a love letter from an early AI to its owner, its concept-led songs strewn with “ecstatic messages of frustration and a desire to connect”.Since forming five years ago, Housewives have drawn from such diverse scenes as post-punk, jazz, drone, electronic and avant-garde. 2013 saw the release of an eponymous debut EP via Brighton label Faux Discx, while their first-full length record, ‘Work’—recorded at a barn in a desolate corner in the south of France—arrived two years later.
2017 live album FF06116 marked the band’s first collaboration with experimental saxophonist Ben Vince. Following on from these early statements, Housewives are now set to unleash their game-changing new album—turning away from performance-based writing, the human, and facing the cold light of computers head on."
The Necks’ dynamo percussionist Tony Buck helms and pushes equally skilled improviser Massimo Pupillo (Zu) to ritualistic drone zones in their densely absorbing debut collaboration
“Atmospheric and pulsating release TIME BEING/UNSEEN brings together, Tony Buck(The Necks) on drums/percussion and Massimo Pupillo(Zu) on bass.
Tony Buck is regarded as one of Australia’s most creative and adventurous exports, with vast experience across the globe. As a drummer, percussionist, improviser, guitarist, video maker and producer, he has been involved in a highly diverse array of projects but is probably best known around the world as a member of the trio “The Necks”.
Massimo Pupillo (Ostia - Roma) is a bass and double bass player and composer. Best known for being the bassist of Zu, which produced bio 15 albums with labels like Atavistic / Touch n 'Go (USA), Southern (EU), Heads (JAPAN), Ipecac Records (USA), TROST(AT) and numerous singles and split with other labels.”
Laurel Halo delivers a deadly instalment for DJ-Kicks with her 29-track sequence of zingers from overlapping zones of the ‘floor...
With a mercurial yet gritty flow owing as much to UK as Detroit and Durban dancefloor styles, Laurel wickedly and coherently keeps the mix in flux between alternating patterns, textures and subtly emotive tones, lacing her own exclusive parts and those from Nick León, Rrose and Ikonika, into a Lovelacian jacquard of iridescent allure and intricacy.
Alongside her 1 hour mix, all the tracks are available unmixed, with a big Gqom highlight in Griffit Vigo’s ‘A.C.I.D. (Electronic Gqom Mix)’ and to an extent, in Panda Lassow’s mutant, EU take on Gqom ‘Lachowa’, while the likes of Siete Catorce’s haunting latinx ace for Hypermedium, and Group A’s sprung EBm ace ‘Ketabil’ highlight the diversity and cross-floor unity at the core of Laurel’s dancefloor nous.
The viny 13 track set that takes in exclusive highlights such as Rrose’s nose-drip techno in ‘Cricoid Pressure’, along with Ikonika’s industrial funk ace ‘Bodied (OG Mix)’, Nick Léon’s kinky ‘Pelican Dub’, and Laurel’s kicking Detroit styles in ‘Sweetie’. Elsewhere, you’ll find smart picks such as Group A’s overlooked EBM zinger ‘Ketabali’, a freaky spin on Gqom from Panda Lassow, and Siete Catorce’s brooding swerve in ‘Canto’, taken from his EP for Hypermedium.
Duster emerged from a cloud of lonely bong rips to take indie rock to the moon, and beyond.
"Scotch-taped guitars toggle between a chorus of brittle winter trees and a blanket of distorted fuzz. The low rumble of a cardboard box being kicked in a dead mall keeps pace in the background, as muffled, sung-spoken vocals ponder the great mysteries of modern mundanity. Three years of home recording accidents and blown-out 2AM studio experiments are spread across four LPs or three CDs, gathering the short-lived trio’s Stratosphere and Contemporary Movement albums, 1975 EP, singles, demos, and other miscellaneous debris into one escape pod, now free to drift in the endless void of space.
Mastered from a mix of crusty cassettes, decaying DATs, and warbly analog tape, Capsule Losing Contact is housed in a moon dusted slipcase with all four albums secured in heavy weight tip-on jackets. An accompanying lyric book guides the listener through Duster’s lo-fi worldview, adorned with the last gasps of an expired golden age as captured on Polaroid and disposable Kodak cameras."
Strong, soulful debut album from Vancouver, CA’s Jayda G, paying tribute to classic Chicago styles in 9 effortlessly distinctive parts - big highlights in the disco come-on of ‘Stanley’s get Down (No Parking on the DF)’, and the brimming broken beats of ‘Sunshine in the Valley’, while ‘Orca’s Reprise’ beautifully points to her new age inspirations...
“The album is a natural progression from a string of EPs both solo and alongside her friend and mentor DJ Fett Burger (Sex Tags Mania), often appearing on the Freakout Cult label the two ran jointly until 2018 and most recently her newly minted JMG Recordings imprint. Also renowned for her high-energy performances as a DJ, the past 12 months have seen Jayda play London’s formidable Printworks venue alongside the likes of Marcellus Pittman, Moodymann and Omar-S; be invited by The Black Madonna to play at her Warehouse Project takeover; and perform at festivals like Field Day, Kala, Melt!, AVA and the xx’s Night And Day.
Growing up some 6 hours outside Vancouver surrounded by an abundance of nature sparked an early interest in biology and the natural world, a passion that has endured and intensified to this day and is inextricably intertwined with her musical output. In 2018 she completed her Masters in Resource and Environmental Management specialising in environmental toxicology, wherein she investigated the effects of human activity on the Salish Sea killer whales (orcas) of Vancouver, in her native British Columbia. It was also the year that she finished recording her debut album as Jayda G: “Significant Changes”. The title of the album was the most used phrase in her final thesis and exemplifies how intertwined her work in science is with her work in music. “I’m trying to bring my two worlds together… to bridge the communication gap, engage people in a new way”, she explains. “I don’t know if people in the electronic music world will want to talk about the environment but I think I should try! I think it’s our duty to use a platform like this in a positive way, that’s our social responsibility.”
“I just want people to feel not so hopeless… there's a lot of really depressing things going on, but people are doing good work out there and finding out really interesting stuff, so I just want people to be informed of those things, so that they feel inspired in whatever work that they do.””
Animal Collective founder Dave Portner spools off a new Avey Tare adventure, apparently still gassed on the psychedelic surreality of AC’s ‘Tangerine Reef’, and with a killer thing for Maurizio’s eternal M5 groove in ‘What’s The Goodside?’
“Cows On Hourglass Pond was recorded between january - March 2018 by Dave Portner at Lauging Gas in Asheville, NC on a Tascam 48 half-inch reel-to-reel tape machine. It follows the 2017 release of Avey tare’s Eucalyptus, and 2018’s audiovisual album Tangerine Reef, a collaboration between Animal Collective and avant-garde coral macro-videographers Coral Morphologic."
Mutant R&B starlet Lafawndah places her vocals front and centre over bashy, technoid backdrops produced by Aaron David Ross (Gatekeeper/ADR) and others on her debut album ‘Ancestor Boy’, following up her recent link-up with Midori Takada.
“The debut full- length album from Lafawndah, ANCESTOR BOY, released via her own label imprint CONCORDIA, is a bracing statement of intent, heralding an artist unbound in scope, scale, and intensity. She opens 2019 with bold single DADDY, plotting new territory onto her own highly personalized map of influence – a map drawing the club, composition, and pop into thrillingly unresolved, ultramodern erotics.
Lafawndah’s 2018 was filled with myriad musical highlights and successes - including a celebrated performance featuring peers Tirzah, Kelsey Lu and more at London’s South Bank in December, growing from her acclaimed HONEY COLONY mixtapes. Meanwhile her heart-stopping inter-generational music & film collaboration with japanese ambient legend Midori Takada in Le Renard Bleu (with KENZO and Partel Oliva) continues to echo into new forms, with a full production performance titled ‘Ceremonial Blue’ premiering at the Barbican, London in April. And streaming now, her achingly beautiful self-directed video for JOSEPH - a lullaby and an ode to newborn life co-written with Jamie Woon and also featuring on ANCESTOR BOY - has set Lafawndah apart as an independent director with a singular vision spanning multiple media and artforms.
Having in her prior self-titled and TAN EPs upturned geography, in ANCESTOR BOY Lafawndah digs deep to unravel geology, mining emotions of the deep past and future. The album’s physicality is elemental; its memory, mineral. It is a becoming- of- age story for a people yet to come, created out of a need to find the others. In the middle of the album’s sonic and lyrical onslaught is the desire to share the uncertainties of growing up when you don’t belong anywhere. Crafted with the aid of fellow travelers Nick Weiss, Aaron David Ross, and James Connolly,
ANCESTOR BOY’s maximalism- it’s overflow of detail, of feeling, of ideas- serves to amplify a frequent lyrical motif: the sensation that one body, one lifetime, isn’t big enough for what you’re feeling. The record is pregnant with memories shared across more than one mind, recalling the storytelling antagonisms of Nina Simone at her most strident and unpredictable. In response, the rhythmic aggressions of her music have grown even more determined and psychedelic, drawing a line in fire between Jimmy Jam’s turnt industrialism on Control and the furious unease of Red Mecca- era Cabaret Voltaire.
With a palate equal parts chrome and dirt, ice and depth, Lafawndah’s finesse with song architecture imbues the LP with an uncanny addictiveness: anthems loaded with trap doors.
ANCESTOR BOY imagines a pop music that is neither imperial nor local, but a freedom of movement; a residue, perhaps, from the album’s nomadic creation between Los Angeles, Mexico City, New York, London, and Paris.”
LP5 is Apparat’s first release since 2013’s Krieg und Frieden (Music for Theatre), and follows two studio albums, II and III (Mute / Monkeytown) by Moderat, the trio he founded with Modeselektor’s Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary.
"Sublime and delicate, the album finds greatness in small things and in unexpected twists; it joins musical fragments together and glows from the cracks in between. For Ring, it is also a document of artistic insight and autonomy. “I was only able to make the record this way because Moderat exists,” he says. “Having a huge stage with Moderat gave me a setting for grand gestures and meant I could unburden Apparat from these aspirations. I don’t have to write big pop hymns here; I can just immerse myself in the details and the structures.”
Still hymnic, LP5 doesn’t rely on dramatic gestures and theatrical amplification, instead it lives off delicately sculpted sounds crackling alongside filigree beeping and twitching.
Like previous Apparat albums, the new release sees Sascha Ring collaborate with cellist Philipp Thimm and on the alb,um you can also hear trombone, trumpet and saxophone, a harp, a double bass and other strings. Tracks were developed over endless group improvisations and lavish orchestral sessions – some of these sessions are only apparent in the final mix as fluttering echoes, just barely noticeable. The album was recorded in Berlin at AP4, JRS, Vox-Ton & Hansa Studios, mixed by Gareth Jones and Sascha Ring.
From elegiac techno to deep orchestral pop ballads, Apparat‘s work has always had a common denominator: an elegance that embraces and gives nuanced layers of detail and a near universal beauty.”
Rotherham rave imp Rian Treanor kicks up to Planet Mu for ‘Ataxia’, his debut album following introductory EPs with The Death of Rave and Warp’s resuscitated Arcola sublabel.
Under the title ‘ATAXIA’, chosen literally for its meaning - “the loss of control of bodily movements” - as well as its figurative, asymmetric quality, Rian sequences ramped versions of his tracks for The Death of Rave along with shockingly forward new gear that plays into his love of Dadaist vocal cut-ups. The result is an immensely playful and beguiling album, cannily messing with listeners’ sense of rhythmic anticipation in a dare-to-be-different style that’s tripped up and put a big daft grin on dancefloors everywhere from Boiler Room in Helsinki to Uganda’s Nyege Nyege Tapes festival.
Where his earlier EPs were mostly improvised, Rian spent more time shaping the tracks for ‘ATAXIA’. Taking cues from his mentor and father, eminent sound artist Mark Fell, as well a rich SoYo rave heritage, he sticks to an economical palette, making each stab, drum and pad count in the democracy of the mix. From these relatively simple, if now more refined elements, Rian’s suss comes into play in the structuring, using his background as a visual artist to create disruptive patterns of angular yet fluid syncopation and irregular symmetries that both allow for and connote a sort of hyper-natural order of chaos.
While resembling the styles of speed garage, synth-pop, bleep techno and extreme computer music that he grew up with, Rian’s pointedly mischievous approach jumbles those styles, using the tactility of Max/MSP to rejig them with more unpredictable and playfully wrong-footing effect, embracing the dancefloor’s radical potential to reprogram minds and bodies.
Concepts aside, though, ‘ATAXIA’ is a lot of fun. Rian’s dry Yorkshire humour is in full effect in the cut-up vocals of the openings and closing numbers, while the recursive ballistics of ‘B1’ are bound to tie bodies in knots, ‘C2’ advances his absorbingly intricate melodic sequencing, and the rhymelodic chicanery of ‘D2’ ranks among the most stunning, inexorably funky cuts in his catalogue.
Our album of the year 2018 is Eli Keszler’s ‘Stadium'; an isolationist avant-jazz masterpiece that's both highly complex and entirely accessible. With his close collaborators Daniel ‘0PN’ Lopatin and Laurel Halo smoking in the back seat, on ‘Stadium’ Keszler somehow manages to emulate a feeling of being lost in a crowd, of time slowing down as the world accelerates around you. In a year full of global upheaval and noise - it was the album that offered us the greatest sanctuary.
Painted in diffuse strokes, Keszler offsets rhythmic complexity with spacious Rhodes chords, floating woodwind and field recordings - showing off an expressive grasp of meter and mood while creating a kind of slow-fast simulation that alters your perspective and sense of scale, zooming out from the atomic to a gauzy panoramic view.
Keszler navigates webs of sound as structurally fascinating as a spider’s web or a deep space image of a distant constellation, seemingly moving on eight legs along steep vertical and fast-flowing horizontal axes with a shocking grasp of precision and pointillism that will leave new listeners to his work scratching their heads, wondering how to programme such chicanery electronically. But as longer term followers of Keszler’s work know, the magick is all acoustic and haptic; physically converting impressions of images and emotions into overlapping geometries of geography and psychology - and in this case effectively projecting a singular, inverted form of sonic deep topography, if you will.
While challenging and highly complex in its construction, it’s an album that's also tremendously easy on the ear, effortlessly binding instrumental dexterity with cool blue harmolodic sentiment in a timeless style that could feasibly be dated to any point between the mid ‘70s heyday of jazz-fusion and right now - in the most thought provoking, evocative way. It reminds us of Milford Graves, Jan Jelinek and even Miles Davis at their most smoked out and moody: best enjoyed alone, late at night.
Chalk Hill Blue is a record of electronic ruralism channeling lives threaded through the chalk landscapes of Southern England.
“Will Burns is Caught by the River poet-in-residence, and Hannah Peel is a frequent fixture of Caught by the River festival stages – both with the ‘cosmic colliery’ electronica of her solo work, and with orchestral place-rock band The Magnetic North (of which Chalk Hill Blue producer Erland Cooper is also a member.)
As part of their collaboration, Burns, Peel and Cooper walked the landscapes around Burns’s Wendover house together: their chalk-heeled boots tracing shared routes through the rhythms and repetitions of the place. What emerges in Chalk Hill Blue is a site-specific-non-specific record of creative place portraiture; an album that traces elements of a living landscape, and reworks them into something that is as sensitive and finely-observed as it is visionary.
Burns’s words and Peel’s sounds – deftly fused by Cooper’s sympathetic production – channel the minute shifts in the air and atmosphere of a place, and their resulting emotional effects. The spoken words and sound worlds on Chalk Hill Blue often seem to emerge from subliminal processes of call and answer; a fertile blurring of collective inspiration and intention circling this abstracted chalk landscape.
Perhaps if Delia Derbyshire’s later years in Cumbria had been happier then a record like this might have emerged from the fells, or alternatively if Virginia Astley’s gardens had contained a modular synth or two. Other triangulation points might include Hans Joachim Roedelius’s bucolic kosmiche reveries, Joanna Brouk’s new age minimalism, or James Yorkston’s ambient spoken word experiments. Like the butterfly with which it shares its name, Chalk Hill Blue is a rare thing: a glorious electric pastoral shimmer.”
Chicago’s Oozing Wound are a mass of contradictions: weed lovers whose music hits you with its breakneck head banging force. The band deal with nihilism yet remain addictively fun. Their music is equal parts sludge and thrash, noise and riff-loaded rock.
"‘High Anxiety’ is an unabashed mocking of the madness of modern living, its chemical induced adventures and establishment absurdity, deriding the industrial complex behind established institutions such as NASA while savaging those who deny science. Oozing Wound on ‘High Anxiety’ are nihilistic pied pipers making us laugh our way to the apocalypse.
The album finds guitarist and vocalist Zack Weil, drummer Kyle Reynolds and bassist Kevin Cribbin blending their ferocious energy, sonic experiments and blunt lyricism for a pummelling enjoyable headbanger with an irresistible sneer. On ‘High Anxiety’, Oozing Wound’s songs have become more complex, their attacks more ferocious, and bass and guitar lines more captivating.
The album was recorded in four days at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio. The trio ripped through live-tracking and overdubs, leaving space to experiment with new sounds and effects. The band, having an affinity for the complexities of prog music, managed to bring prog elements to ‘High Anxiety’ without sacrificing any of their songs’ punch. Subtle layers of saxophone, flutes and synths were blended into guitar tones, adding depth and texture without cluttering arrangements. Fist-pumping blasts of whitehot riffing become a Trojan horse for sonic weirdness. The resulting recordings are at once some of their most sonically rich, immediate, and impactful."
The whole “five band years = a lifetime” biz trope is justified by the second album from Sydney’s Low Life. Arriving with an aura of anticipation, 'Downer Edn' (read: Edition) feels like a collective document of the band's timeline since their unforgettable debut ‘Dogging’; an album which made enough of a mark on the punk landscape in 2014 to justify a reissue on London's Alter in 2017.
"Recorded over two years and mixed in 2018 by Mikey Young (Total Control / Eddy Current Suppression Ring), ‘Downer Edn’ sees the core trio of Mitch Tolman, Cristian O’Sullivan and Greg Alfaro expand their ranks to a five piece. Dizzy Daldal of Oily Boys & Orion was brought in to reinforce the thick wall of guitars, whilst fifth member Yuta Matsumura, also of Oily Boys & Orion, re-joined the group later to free Tolman up as a dedicated front man for live duties. The hours of studio work have resulted in making the band sound more confident and fully realised, reaching for and finding a sound that was perhaps unattainable 5 years prior. However, lurking behind the bigger vision and polished production, ‘Downer Edn’ is a complex proposition and remains a dark blast of an album. Expansive and cohesive, yet shimmering and rough; something they can be proud to call a definitive statement.
As far as Australian punk is concerned, Downer Edition not only shatters the boundaries applied by that descriptor, it does so with the lushest attack conceivable. Like their (admitted) influence, the enigmatic Ohio legends of obscurity, V3, seldom has the f*** word been sung (repeatedly) in such a believable and poetic manner. The visceral pounding of melodies throughout the album transforms their inspirations; desperation, neuroses, trauma, survival, hooliganism, violence, hope, rejuvenation, and their hometown of Sydney’s full architectural and social scope - from a realm of intangibility to the very, very tangible. In the words of Mitch, "We’re influenced by Sydney as a whole, whether it be the hot and muggy concrete streets of the West and South West, the "glorious beaches" of South Sydney, the racial tensions left over from the putrid Cronulla riots of 2006, the pompous and superficial fake tan/ bleached teeth combo suburbs of Bondi, as well as Sydney's iconography: The Harbour, the Bridge, the Opera House, Kings Cross. All the desperation embedded in and around these areas, including the eternal influx of troubled people looking to get into trouble, is our experience and main influence."
Unified on ‘RBB,’ ruminating on ‘92’, chasing the escape on ‘Rave Slave,’ and unwillingly defiant on ‘Warrior,’ Downer Edition reaches past the wild ride of Dogging - this truly is the album that Low Life have been threatening to make for nearly a decade."
Released in conjunction with Goner Records in the USA and Cool Death in Australia.
The endlessly inventive Matmos keep abreast of the game in ‘Plastic Anniversary’, their hugely playful and charming follow-up to ‘The Marriage Of True Minds’ 
One of modern dance music’s original deconstructionists, Matmos bring a long and mazy history of conceptualised sonic rearrangement to the table in ‘Plastic Anniversary’. As precedents for the current wave of dance music astringents, they maybe have a lot to answer for, but likewise they also lead the way with their fundamentally rhythm-based style inside, using the most ubiquitous of materials - plastic - to shape a ruck of highly personalised and unconventional songs.
“Taking the concept of “broken beat” literally, “Breaking Bread” is a bouncy digital dancehall number built entirely out of the plucked and twanged fragments of broken vinyl records by the Seventies soft rock group Bread. A mini-suite for plastic container, exercise ball and an amplified DNA kit that recalls both 80s pop and the hectic minimalism of Michael Nyman, “The Crying Pill” stacks frantic patterns of saxophone-like sobs onto deep sub bass stabs that are almost trap. Amplifying squishy synthetic human tissue created by the SynDaver corporation as a substitute for human corpses in medical schools, “Interior with Billiard Balls & Synthetic Fat” pairs squelchy electro made out of gross-out substances with tangy melodic riffs. This odd combination of Cronenbergian body-horror and sunny grooves continues on “Silicone Gel Implant”, a skanking number that works rubbery basslines out of, yes, a breast implant, but by the time the plastic flutes snake into the mix, the source becomes secondary to the trance-like form. Side one closes in a more reflective and somber key, with the title track “Plastic Anniversary”, whose cod-medieval martial drums and horn fanfares recall Matmos’ penchant for anachronism circa “The Civil War” before giving way to a close-mic-ed cascade of plastic poker chips.
If side one is playful and poppy, side two is sharper and darker in its implications, and features more live drumming than any other Matmos album. Things kick off with “Thermoplastic Riot Shield” a single-object study built entirely out of the sound of a police riot shield being stroked, rubbed and struck. The resulting sounds are processed into a tense assemblage of harsh noise, deep dub basslines and jarring cuts of silence. On a squeaky loop straight out of a Jacques Tati film, “The Singing Tube” draws out the pinging resonance of a ten foot long PVC pipe played entirely with plastic toilet brushes, and hits a flanged overtone effect not unlike the string compositions of Arnold Dreyblatt. Bristling with whistles and noisemakers and plastic-gloved handclaps, “Collapse of the Fourth Kingdom” bolts a percussive showcase for the high school marching band playing the signature patterns of drumline and Baltimore club onto jarring edits of LEGO bricks clicking into place and weird smears of processed plastic horns. Since plastic was described by its first developers as a “fourth kingdom” beyond animal, vegetable, and mineral, this track heralds the eventual collapse of the political economy that birthed the oceans of garbage that now choke our world. Thinking the dystopian consequences of plastic through to their post-human conclusion, the final track, “Plastisphere” sounds like a field recording of insects and birds and pattering rain and ocean waves, but is in fact a work of digital sleight of hand: every single sound on this track has been artificially constructed out of samples of bubble wrap, Velcro, plastic bags and straws and, tellingly, an emergency stretcher. After a volatile and vibrant suite of poppy plastic electronics, Plastic Anniversary ends in an acknowledgement of the planetary price yet to be paid.”
The last person we expected to mess about with electronics, Pavement’s overlord Stephen Malkmus has done just that with ‘Groove Denied’; the third album credited to Malkmus, and the first to not feature his backing band, The Jicks
‘Groove Denied’ was entirely performed, produced and engineered by Malkmus. It finds him dabbling with synths and drum machines to intriguing effect on a few numbers that pay homage to “Pete Shelley’s ‘Homospaien,’ the Human League, and DIY synth music circa 1982… but he soon enough sinks back into the indie-pop mire and with it my attention ends there. Remarkably, Malkmus worked on this album for 12-13 years, only for for the label to tell him in 2017 that it was’t the right time to release it. We would have trusted their first instinct.
Reissue of The Fall’s ninth studio album, Bend Sinister, originally released in 1986. This edition is titled Bend Sinister/The 'Domesday' Pay-Off Triad-Plus!
"It was the last of three albums in a row produced by John Leckie and was named after a dystopian novel by Vladimir Nabokov.
After the universal acclaim for the previous year’s This Nation’s Saving Grace, Bend Sinister often stands in its predecessor’s shadow. It is a dark, brooding album made at the height of the group’s Beggars Banquet years and many people include this at the top of the list of favourite Fall albums."
Debut solo album by Australian-born, Liverpool-based composer, saxophonist and founder of Immix Ensemble, Daniel Thorne.
"In Daniel’s own words, “Thematically, this music was inspired by birds-eye aerial images and the idea of perspective - how something incredibly complex like a river or the surface of the ocean is reduced to a simple line or shape when viewed from the heavens. The line between natural and man-made becomes increasingly blurred.”
Every strand is fresh, vital and purposeful. The description ‘seamless’ might suggest a smooth, bland fusion, but here elements overlap in intermittent, undulating layers of mesh. Avant-garde, noise, electronics, ecclesiastical, classical, a touch of jazz and traces of Wyatt-style contemporary folk come together, each occupying their own space while acquiescing with the whole.
“Several compositions are derived from ratios and processes, and are highly calculated, while others evolved in a much more organic way. I wanted to create music that blurred lines between acoustic and electronic, organic and synthetic, composition and improvisation.
I’ve long been a fan of studio-based composition, but have always found the infinite possibilities on offer daunting and, often, a stumbling block. To get around this I set myself a challenge of limiting myself to the physical instruments in my possession – a few different saxophones and a bass synth, with no more than four tracks to record them,” he adds.
Lines of Sight follows Thorne’s work as artistic director of the acclaimed, collaboration-focussed group Immix Ensemble. Together with experimental electronic artist Vessel, he co-wrote Transition released on Erased Tapes in 2016, described by BBC Radio 6’s Mary Anne Hobbs as “a remarkable new piece of music”. More recently, he worked with acclaimed modular synth wizard Luke Abbott, to create a four-part suite, which was premiered live in June 2017. Immix Ensemble have also performed special live commissions with Kelly Lee Owens, Dialect, Jane Weaver and Bill Ryder-Jones, among others.
Prior to leaving Australia, Daniel was fortunate to work with some of the country’s leading new music ensembles as both a composer and performer, receiving commissions from the TURA New Music Festival and the Australia Council, as well as being appointed as Composer in Residence at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. In the UK he was the recipient of the prestigious Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition, and also undertook a residency at Metal Liverpool, which provided him with the time and space to create Immix."
The Cinematic Orchestra are back with a new album.
"Founding member Jason Swinscoe and longtime partner Dominic Smith have enlisted album contributions from collaborators old and new: Moses Sumney, Roots Manuva, Heidi Vogel, Grey Reverend (vocalist on Bonobo’s 'First Fires’), Dorian Concept and Tawiah (Mark Ronson, Kindness), Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (Flying Lotus, Anderson Paak, Thundercat, Hiatus Kaiyote) features on strings and photographer and visual artist Brian “B+” Cross collaborated with Swinscoe and Smith on the album’s concept. The record was mixed by multiple Grammy winner Tom Elmhirst (David Bowie, Frank Ocean, Adele) in Jimi Hendrix’s legendary Electric Lady studios. The album artwork comes courtesy of The Designers Republic™ (Aphex Twin)."
In print once again in all its glory - little introduction needed here, Skam number 008 repressed several times and still a collectors item, 6 tracks wide, every one a classic...
This 35 minute EP from BoC is arguably their most complete outing, having landed a couple of years before ‘Music Has The Right…’ album and including some of their best material - the brooding Detroit inversion ‘See Ya Later’, the Colonel Abrams inspired ‘Nlogax’, the career-defining “Everything You Do Is A Balloon’ and ‘Turquoise Hexagon Sun’ which would later appear on ‘Music Has The Right’.
Unlike so many of their peers from the era, this stuff has aged well. Perhaps it’s the inherent nostalgia built into these productions, but for our money ‘Hi Scores’ is still the finest half hour of music ever produced by Sandison and Eoin, now bolstered by a remaster and repackage job which feels a bit like dusting off your favourite old jacket and taking it for a whirl.
Compiling the final three albums in the 'Everywhere At The End Of Time' series - 4 x CD's and almost 5 hours of material cataloguing the ultimate descent into dementia and oblivion, using a patented prism of sound to connote a final, irreversible transition into the haunted ballroom of the mind that The Caretaker first stepped into with 1999’s ‘Selected Memories From the Haunted Ballroom’.
Invoking Jack Nicolson’s caretaker character in Stanley Kubrick/Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’ as metaphor for issues revolving around mental health and a growing dissociation/dissatisfaction with the world, the project really took on new dimensions in 2005 with the 72-track, 6CD boxset ‘Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia’, which was accompanied by an insightful unpacking of its ideas by cultural critic Mark Fisher aka K-Punk; a stalwart of the project who identified it (alongside music from Burial and Broadcast) among the most vital, emergent works of Hauntological art - a form of music often preoccupied with ideas about memory and nostalgia (but one distinct from pastiche), and the way that they possibly overwhelm, occlude, or even define our sense of being; ideas that resonate with Fisher’s own assertion that capitalism essentially undermines collective thought, distorts the individual, and has tragically lead to a worldwide increase or even ubiquity of mental health-related issues.
By using fusty samples from an obsolete analog format, and by doing so in the 2nd decade of the 2nd millennium, The Caretaker perfectly and perversely bent ideas of anticipation/expectation with his arrangements, playing with notions of convention and repetition with effect that would lead some listeners to wonder if the same record was being released over and again. When combined with Ivan Seal’s bespoke painting for each release from 2011’s ‘An Empty Bliss Beyond This World’ onwards, the project crystallised as a real gesamtkunstwerk for these times, and one arguably defined by a stubborn and intractably chronic drive against the grain of modern popular culture, or even a refusal of it.
And so to the project’s final goodbye. Drifting from the silty departure of ‘Confusion so thick you forget forgetting’, thru the smudged anaesthetisation of ‘A brutal bliss beyond this empty defeat’, and the abyssal, distant echoes of ‘Long decline is over’, to the increased pauses that punctuate the final side’s piece, ‘Place in the World fades away’, it eventually leads to a final coda that breaks the fourth wall.
Here, with the outside world muted and only the timbral residue remaining like smoke, everything moves as slow as a Lynchian dream sequence - until a conclusion so ineffably sublime occurs that we can’t mention it for fear of waking up.
Killer, mutant techno and brokebeat variegations from FUMU, Turinn, Kassem Mosse, Peder Mannerfelt, Iueke, Broshuda, CVX and many more on Andy Lyster’s Youth label
Congregating friends and label family from the rudest ends of contemporary electronics, ‘Sports’ finds the label consolidating their tastes for neon-flecked, grey area noise and skudged grooves in 16 absorbingly visceral and bittersweet parts.
FUMU follows his cultishly-acclaimed debut CD for Youth with the hardware-wrestled ambience of ‘Assessment’ and the Pump-like metallic roil of ‘FM’, while Modern Love's Turinn provides two salty highlights in the cracnky-ass hip hop lurch of ‘yu dnt’ and his Muslimgauze-like offbeat, ‘ehektrow.’ Also keeping it in the family, Shamos knuckles out the gristly downstroke of ‘7 Man Town’ and Yugen Disciple supplies the album’s very lushest moment with the early ‘00s electronica styles of ‘First Sighting.’
However the set really comes into its own when Youth diversifies its bonds, bringing in a 2nd circle of mutual souls such as Kassem Mosse with the dreamy buoyancy of ’Silica Gel’, the febrile gamelan of Iueke’s ‘ewt’, some tender minimal wave with ‘Ballad D’Amour’ by RVDS, and the clinical rufige of Gischa Lichtenberger, who all lend a broader range of pattern and texture that keeps Youth’s remit thrillingly wide open and unpredictable.
Having stated on many an occasion that Hardwax affiliates Pete and René, aka Scion, understood and played Basic Channel material in the way it was intended to be played, the release of Ableton's 'Live' software convinced Mark and Moritz that the time had come to try something new out.
And that's precisely what this CD is - components from all 9 Basic Channel 12"s, (plus some choice cuts from related project Rhythm and Sound and remix work for Carl Craig), weave in and out of the mix, flawlessly spliced together, remodeeled and reshaped with a deep understanding of the BC sound and a look towards its future.
The first cut employs fragments from Cyrus's 'Inversion', 'Mutism', 'Radiance III' and the Basic Channel reworking of Cral Craig's 'The Climax' - 4 classics, re-modelled to create something new, somewhere between mixing and remixing - and that's just the opening sequence. Flowing from first moment to last, it's a bit of a benchmark release that not only serves as a testimony to one of the most treasured and beloved catalogues in all of electronic music, but also illustrates that technology really can be about more than just presets and self indulgance.
Fans of Basic Channel will melt into this CD on first play, those of you new to the label will do well to give this a listen and understand exactly what all the fuss has been about...
Helado Negro returns with This Is How You Smile, an album that freely flickers between clarity and obscurity, past and present geographies, bright and unhurried seasons. Miami-born, New York-based artist Roberto Carlos Lange embraces a personal and universal exploration of aura – seen, felt, emitted – on his sixth album and second for RVNG Intl.
“Lange describes the album as the soundtrack of a person approaching you, slowly, for 40 minutes. In “Fantasma Vaga,” one of the first songs he wrote that set his approach for the album, a ghost wanders in from the low end, building a fuller form with each shaking step. Whirring, stops and starts of an eco espectral, may be musician trying to imitate, synthesize, the sound of a haunting, or a ghost itself trying to render the human voice. Lange often visualizes meeting strange beings, the odd encounters that occur in the creative process, a sound form of manipulation, in which who, or what is changing whom, becomes unclear.
This Is How You Smile invites listeners on a walk through the changing colors of early mornings and evenings, writing, recording, or hearing a friend, a figure emerges, and there you are.”
With ‘On Time out of Time’, William Basinski makes audible the sound of black holes decaying across 1.3 billion years of time and space.
It’s no mean feat, taking recordings made with the Interferometers of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) at MIT and turning them into two sublime, voluminous and mesmersiing pieces - the 40 minute ‘On Time Out of Time’, and a more succinct, even beautiful 9 minute piece with the mouthful of a title ‘4(E+D)4(ER=EPR)’. They’re both strong visions from Basinski, but we reckon his 2nd piece is going to see most play.
“‘On Time Out of Time’ is a suite of works originally commissioned for the 2017 installations ‘ER=EPR’ and ‘Orbihedron’ by artists Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand (in collaboration with Jean-Marc Chomaz and LIGO) for the exhibition, ‘Limits of Knowing’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin by curator, Isabel De Sena.
These works utilise, among other things, exclusive source recordings from the Interferometers of LIGO ( (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) capturing the sounds of the merging of two distant massive black holes, 1.3 billion years ago."
Unseen Worlds follow their amazing Laurie Spiegel reissue with a captivating album of avant, shaggy dog stories by Robert Ashley collaborator Sam Ashley and German instrument builder Werner Durand
“I’d Rather Be Lucky Than Good is a new recording collaboration of Sam Ashley and Werner Durand. Sam Ashley’s mystic parables imbued with benevolent humor are drawn from a lifelong pursuit of a present-day shamanism. Werner Durand’s wind work on invented and traditional instruments stems from the minimalist tradition, routed through his own unique studies of obscure world musics.
The two artists first met in Berlin in 1984 while Sam was touring Atalanta with Robert Ashley’s opera company, with whom he was a principle vocalist for many years. Sam Ashley’s work has appeared on other Unseen Worlds releases (J. Jasmine: My New Music) and in solo and collaborative performances alongside “Blue” Gene Tyranny and other artists across the world.
Werner Durand, also active since the late Seventies, performs music for saxophones, Iranian ney, and self-made wind instruments. He is a linchpin figure in the experimental music scene in Germany and abroad following formative studies with Ariel Kalma and Gilbert Artman in Paris, Indian Classical Music with Kamalesh Maitra, and Iranian Ney with Ali Reza Asgharia. He has worked notably with David Behrman (Music With Memory), Arnold Dreyblatt (Animal Magnetism), Muslimgauze, Henning Christiansen, Catherine Christer Hennix (Born of Six), David Toop, and Amelia Cuni (Ashtayama, Diasporagas). He also was a longtime employee of Ursula Block’s gelbe MUSIK (Broken Music).”
ECM artist Arild Anderson wraps his double bass to Clive Bell’s intoxicating Asian woodwind, punctuated by Mark Wastell’s sparing percussion in their ‘Tales Of Hackney’ improvisation for Confront’s Core Series
The resulting 50 minute work, in 9 parts, was extracted from a 10 hour recording session in the titular East London district, late summer 2017. It was edited, mixed and mastered by Rupert Clervaux and with Mark Wastell, who also handled production. From the original session, they divine a series of hard-to-define scenarios as enchanting and heady as a dusky stroll thru Hackney, reflecting a synaesthetic conflux of phosphorescent light and drifting smells, flowing like its mosaic of multi-purpose dwellings riddled and teeming with life, occasionally implying a noirish, even voyeuristic stealth in its more haunted, furtive moments, while others connote a spangled wooziness, and yet more absorb and speak to an idea of London as a humid melting pot, inarguably linked to the Far East as much as downtown NYC, but solipsistically revolving its own dream.
Maja S.K. Ratkje’s spellbinding ‘Sult’ is based on her soundtrack for the ballet suite by Jo Strømgren for the Norwegian national ballet. Leading on from her previous solo LP ‘Crepuscular Hour’, Ratkje is here accompanied by a wildly modified, out-of-tune pump organ in 9 wonderous songs that attest to her non pareil, improvisational brilliance.
Stemming from the ballet adaptation of ‘Sult’, Knut Hamsen’s classic novel about a starving writer in late 19th century Kristiania (now Oslo), Maja’s treatment closely follows its themes in the lyrics and music, but works as a distinctive document in its own right. Under song titles taken from the novel, Maja unfurls surreal, anachronistic scenes akin to a steampunk echo of olde Oslo.
Using an era-appropriate pump organ rigged with metal and PVC tubes, and a wind machine built in, along with resin threads, metal and glass percussion and bow - which she had to learn to play before recording - Maja regales the narration with a fine but beautifully loose grasp of her instrument’s chaotic analog nature, skilfully harmonising with her own, incredible vocal abilities.
Despite having never read the book or visited Oslo, Maja’s music and singing takes us right there, to the same cold cobbled streets where Hamsen wrote his semi-autobiographical account of a starving artist trying to make it, and where you might encounter images that gave rise to Edvard Munch’s ’Skrik’ . Through the resilience of her voice and the queasy, off-kilter shanty feel of the pump organ, Maja most romantically and acutely connotes that atmosphere with the timeless charm of a bard, troubadour or dramaturgist, or quite simply the ambiguous, dreamy nature of the most potent art.
Liv’ - which preceded ‘Minus’ by several years - is a previously-unreleased studio album
"Recorded over three days at Sarm West (Bob Marley, ‘Exodus’) live from start to finish (with additional vocals and saxophone added at a later date) by Daniel Blumberg on Steinberger guitar, harmonica and vocals; Billy Steiger on violin; Kohhei Matsuda on monosynth and Tom Wheatley on double bass."
Add Sleaford Mods to The Fall in a small bowl, stir half-heartedly while scrolling thru memes, remove mulch from bowl, lick it, spit it out, and you have something like ’Stunning Luxury’.
“Snapped Ankles have taken on the guise of the very agents of their community’s demise – the property developers and brokers who heat the market on the promise of Stunning Luxury. With their adopted warehouse habitat under constant threat, the woodwose have taken this sharp-suited incarnation in order to infiltrate. The resistance starts here.
From humble forest beginnings via bohemian East London on debut album Come Play The Trees, Snapped Ankles are moving on. The log synths have been transformed into gaudy “To Let” and “For Sale” signs, which have become the new instrument of choice for the discerning woodwose. The sounds they eke out of the housing bubble are as frenzied and unstable as you’d expect. Dystopian bangers. Illicit thrills. Stunning Luxury moves quickly through life in the capital: microdosing mindfulness in the morning, a poisoned nod to the marketing department, investment portfolios and death by same day delivery.
Snapped Ankles may appear to have further integrated with the city, but they never lose their outsider eye. Not content to take modern life at face value, they’re here to innovate. ‘Three Steps to a Development’ reveals the secrets of successful and aggressive gentrification learnt from an old bee-keeping manual. ‘Rechargeable’ seeks to harness the kinetic energy of dance to power the city. We need a pulse! ‘Letter from Hampi Mountain’ gives a nod to those that laid the groundwork for Snapped Ankles and invites like-minded individuals to suit up and join in.
The primal rhythms and forest chants are all present and correct. On the surface it’s hedonistic business as usual – a communal dance for the ages. But there’s a sense of discomfort too. There’s subversion, but it’s not clear who’s subverting who. There’s a message, but it’s often fragmented. Keep dancing. Keep foraging. Perhaps the woodwose are human after all…”
The debut album that never was from cult 4AD band Rema- Rema, featuring former members of The Models and Siouxsie and The Banshees, they were among the first bands to be released on 4AD. Their only contribution to the label’s storied history, they split-up before their EP's release, going on to form or join bands as diverse as Renegade Soundwave, The Wolfgang Press, Mass and Adam and the Ants.
"Rema-Rema featured former members of The Models and Siouxsie and The Banshees, and their much-loved Wheel in the Roses EP (1980) was among the first records to be released on 4AD. Their only contribution to the label’s storied history, they split-up before its release, going on to form or join bands as diverse as Renegade Soundwave, The Wolfgang Press, Mass, and Adam and the Ants.
The debut album that never was, Fond Reflections, comes almost forty years after their debut EP and has been culled from the band’s rich archive of reel-to-reel and cassette recordings, with member Gary Asquith and mixing engineer Takatsuna Mukai painstakingly working on them to make this collection as cohesive as possible. The ten tracks pretty much reflect the band’s live set and is the closest to what their debut album could have sounded like. Worth noting too that although all their 1980 EP tracks are present on this album, they are different recordings.”
Erstwhile Coil member Thighpaulsandra strip right down to voice and electronics with gurning, cabarat-ready results
“As audacious as the sleeve it comes housed in, the UK’s most eccentric audio malefactor returns with his eighth studio album, Practical Electronics with Thighpaulsandra. Unique in the Thighpaulsandra oeuvre, this one eschews the usual group based recordings, consisting of electronics and vocals only.
Hovering between haunted narratives and extended instrumental sequences Practical Electronics is an eccentric excursion into playful pop and fearless electronic experimentation. Simultaneously intimidating and accessible, the energy of this untamed mind unleashes an artefact where high art unfolds as an oblique electronic cabaret.
Having cut is teeth amongst such legendary outfits such as Coil and Spiritualized Thighpaulsandra has constantly catapulted himself further and further into a musical landscape utterly of his own devising. Practical Electronics is the latest exemplary installment of a voice that is uncompromising as it is outlandish.”
Nurse With Wound and Current 93 ring masters, Steven Stapleton & David Tibet fence a comprehensive collection of their duo collaborations in ‘The Threat of Memory’, spread over 4CDs with a bonus CD of outtakes from the ‘Musical Pumpkin Cottage’ recording sessions
Preceded by a 2LP which contains material not found in this boxset, ‘The Threat of Memory’ is an unmissable portal into the minds of two of electronic and occult musick’s most feted se’ers. Spanning material recorded between 1991-1998, it finds Stapleton and Tibet as dark interpreters of a parallel sonic universe, acting as mediums for unheimlich energies and phenomena that short circuit perceptions of the difference between soundtrack music, dark ambient, and arcane ritual.
On the journey they’re joined by various nefarious characters of England’s hidden reverse, with NWW member Colin Potter contributing to the maudlin atmospheres of 1991’s ‘The Sadness of Things’ and ‘The Grave And Beautiful Name of Sadness’ on the first disc, whilst the krautrock concerns of 1996’s ‘Musical Pumpkin Cottage’ and ‘’Bubblehead’ pay druggy tribute to Can et al with amazing avant-techno results in the latter, which they also explore under its German title iteration ‘Musicalischer Kürbs=Hütte’ in much greater, psychedelic “primitive vocative” depth.
The previously CD only 1998 release ‘Octopus’ follows with a guest appearance by Penny Rimbaud ov Crass in the rapid flux of ‘Left Her For A Cartoon Octopus’, alongside the shimmering projection of ‘The Fire of the Mind’, and St. Tiny Tim’s opining on the devil in the psych-rock eruption of ‘Just What Do You Mean By “Antichrist”?’, before the final disc ‘BubbleBreath’ commits odds and ends of previously unreleased versions and mixes from ‘Musical Pumpkin Cottage’, revolving driving draughts of ‘The Dead Side of the Moon Part 1’, the very Craig Leon-esque ‘BubbleHead = DreamBreath’ pulser, and a gorgeous, unreleased ether-dream version of ‘The Fire of the Mind’.
Ryuichi Sakamoto’s ravishing and rare solo piano suite ‘BTTB’ is finally issued on vinyl - expanded, reshuffled, and newly replete with liner notes by none other than Haruki Murakami. Trust it’s swoon-worthy stuff.
Originally released in 1998 and hard to get hold of outside of Japan, ‘BTTB’, or ‘Back To The Basics’ is now reissued on 2LP to mark its 20th anniversary. It’s effectively a definitive edition of ‘BTTB’, reshuffled from the original 2LP pressing to also include ‘Energy Flow’ from the BTTB’ maxi-single, (which peaked at No.4 in the Japanese singles charts), as well as the slippery elegance of ‘Reversing’, both on the vinyl album for the first time.
Tech specs aside, this new edition is a sumptuous testament to Sakamoto’s effortlessly natural, poetic evocations of emotion, by then channelling some 30 years work as an arranger of classic synthpop (YMO, collabs with David Sylvian), and seminal soundtracks (Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence; The Last Emperor) into some of his most stripped down yet affective music, hovering on the line between precise, mindful composition and intuitively fluid improvisation.
While the majority of the material here features Sakamoto playing conventionally beautiful solo piano with magnificent highlights on the likes of ‘Opus’, he also extends into experimental, prepared piano on a handful of pieces, both serene and frantic, such as ‘Prelude’, ‘Sonata’ and ‘Uetax’, cannily resonating with Aphex Twin’s prepared piano pieces on ‘Drukqs’, which were released just two years later.
‘Seven Horses For Seven Kings’ is the staggering new Black To Comm album by Marc Richter, who applies a whole new rhythmic force to his avant-garde sound designs with results landing in a wildly imaginative space between Rashad Becker, Cam Deas, and Nurse With Wound...
The project’s first new album since ‘Black To Comm’ for Type in 2014 marks a radical new phase for the german artist. Drawing on recent years’ work, ranging from writing for theatre and film to composing for art installations, apps and sleep music, Richter has realised a phantasmagoria of limitless sound in ‘Seven Horses For Seven Kings’ that plays to the full extent of his powers, and then some, then a bit more. It fulminates dense, emotive energy and intense sensation at every angle, piling in battalions of swarming horns, sky-clawing metal axe riffs and batteries of arcane techno-primitivist percussion in a way that will leave followers of his earlier work astonished at the switch-up, while newcomers will no doubt be shocked into exploring his other work after coming thru and down form this immense album.
“Seven Horses For Seven Kings was completed during a particularly prolific period for Richter. Working on a broad range of commissions since his last album - from writing for film and theatre works to composing for art installations, apps and sleep music - generated a flurry of new ideas and influences. Site-specific residencies in particular let Richter shift his focus from melody and song architecture to more abstract sound art. Extensive touring would equally come to inform a key shift in Richter’s music, simulating the raw, unpredictable energy of live performances on record. Rather than ironing out mistakes in samples or his own playing, he exploits or even forces such imperfections. While rhythm has been largely absent from previous Black To Comm releases, here the music seems totally bound to it, from the fractured techno breaks of ”Fly on You”, to the pounding war drums of “Rameses II” and pulsing Mellotron sounds of “Angel Investor”. The album’s breath-taking pace drives Richter’s music to new levels of intensity.
Richter’s creative practice is informed as much by careful, attentive listening as it is studio experimentation. Pieces often begin life as a single sound that catches his ear, be it a record from his extensive collection, or something in the natural environment. Samples and instrumentation are sometimes presented authentically, a deliberate reference to an era, place or player, and at other times are twisted beyond recognition. Samples from contemporary artists like Nils Frahm are bent and compounded with fragments of early recorded music and medieval song. Richter blurs the lines between organic instrumentation and digital production to the extent that the two become inseparable. Being able to separate sound from context gives Richter complete command of the emotional impact of his music, imbuing pieces with meaning or stripping it back as he sees fit.
While Richter questions whether instrumental music needs to have deeper meaning beyond its sonic qualities, he accepts that the wider world inevitably bleeds into his art. Reflecting the violence and unreality of modern life, Seven Horses For Seven Kings is unashamedly dark, undeniably angry. But rather than be consumed by such emotions, Richter employs them as ecstatic release. Through his mastery of sound, he achieves transcendence through noise, beauty through intensity.”
Carsten Nicolai concludes Alva Noto’s UNI-prefixed release cycle with UNIEQAV, the 3rd and most dancefloor-focussed instalment of the series. The follow-up to Unitxt  and Univrs  pairs pendulous minimal techno and electro rhythms with wide, sheer electronic drones in a way that strongly recalls recent Monolake output as well as Ilpo Väisänen in full swang. Comparisons aside, though, it’s unmistakably Alva Noto.
Pursuing the project’s roots in the dancefloor of Tokyo’s UNIT club to a satisfyingly logical endpoint, Nicolai rolls out 12 typically mercurial yet gripping sound designs defined by their fluid dynamics and seemingly fathomless dimensions intended to render the club or your head underwater, thanks to a still remarkable grasp of purified tonal minimalism/maximalism and studied sensitivity to proprioception.
The results are filigree yet robust, firmed up for deployment on the sickest sound system you can lay your hands on, but also highly pleasurable in a headphone or sofa-inclined context, keeping us rapt and twitching from the dubwise plong and looming pads of Uni Sub and the Robert Henke-esque pressure systems of Uni Mia.
The nervous skeleton of Uni Version flows into singular Alva Noto sounds in the jabbing pointillism of Uni Clip and the staggering scale of Uni Normal, with major highlights in the widescreen drama of Uni Blue, and footwork-like rapid movement join Uni Edit, while Anne-James Chaton’s vocal lend a sharp contrast in Uni Dna.
’Sileen II’ is a gently radiant, minimalist drone work for electronics and bass clarinet, performed by Gareth Davis and written by Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek) - marking his first release with Edition Wandelweiser after scores of releases over the past 15 years.
Originally commissioned as a work for 50 members of a local music school in Belgium, 2016, early performances of ‘Sileen’ were chaotic and challenging to the extent that one of the horn players fainted during rehearsals. Zuydervelt later decided to return to the piece in the studio, and came out with ’Sileen II’, a much reduced and more intimate version using Gareth’s clarinet and some electronics for colour. This was subsequently slowed by 50%, in the process revealing a wash of gently overlapping tones and their glacial, airborne harmonic relationships.
Through the relatively simple gesture of slowing down the music, Zuydervelt in effect opens it out, providing more time and space to be absorbed by its floating tone clusters and beating frequencies, revealing hitherto unheard worlds within worlds in a way that could be taken as metaphor for the everyday - if our lives didn’t demand it, wouldn’t it be great if we could all slow down and take life at half pace, just imagine what you would notice and how much objective perceptions may change. In effect, Zuydervelt’s offering the chance to do just that with ’Sileen II’.
Slowdive's Simon Scott gathers recordings made during downtime from touring with his band, hashing out a wonderfully gauzy mesh of field recordings made across continents and woven with original strings and electronic arrangements...
“Soundings, his debut studio album for Touch (he previously released the live album ‘Floodlines’ in 2016 and re-issued “Below Sea Level” in 2017), finds Simon Scott, the composer and sound ecologist, using field recordings from various cities around the globe; modular synthesizer treatments; live strings and laptop electronics to create an album of transition and shifting time zones. The recordings were edited and composed in hotels rooms across the world as Scott was constantly on tour as the drummer for Slowdive, who successfully reformed in 2014.
Hodos, the album opener, begins with 85 mph Storm Barney recordings, ending with the fading sounds of bellbirds and cicadas recorded in Brisbane 2018. “I took a home recording I made of Storm Barney in Cambridge, listening to it on repeat when I was flying from continent to continent. I wanted this to be the starting point of the process of musically documenting how much travelling I was doing”. This album was created from the US to Asia, South America to Europe and the Arctic Circle back to the UK via California. “Working in hotel rooms and on flights, listening to and editing the recordings I’d made from all of these distant cities formed the basis of the album. It’s the soundtrack to four years of my life in flux with constant change, jet lag, excitement and the seeming perpetual motion of travelling”.”
One of those rare artists who gets better with each release, Susanna is joined again by partner and producer Helge Sten (Deathprod), and a new band of Norse whippersnappers - The Brotherhood of Our Lady - for a soaring suite inspired by Hieronymus Bosch. While Susanna’s vocals and song-writing channel Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Tori Amos and Diamond Galas, the musical palette is wonderfully singular, with sophisticated piano and string arrangements riddled with unconventional details. In the loveliest sense this is an album both my folk-loving mother and I could enthuse about.
"The incredible, ahead-of-its-time art of medieval Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch bears strong comparison with the music of Norwegian artist Susanna. Visionary, disturbing, spiritual; vivid images of darkness and light, good and evil, heaven and hell and the folly of mankind. Like her songs, Bosch’s iconic images range from the panoramic to the intimate, and express bliss, torment and tortuous inner conflicts.
On Garden of Earthly Delights, her 13th album, Susanna takes a selection of Bosch’s paintings as starting points for a fervent, poetic rosary of fantastical songs and stories. Tracks like ‘Gluttony and Lust’, ‘Death and the Miser’ and ‘Ship of Fools’, reflect Bosch’s depictions of sin and human weakness, while ‘Wayfarer’, ‘Ecstasy’ and ‘Beautiful Life’ suggest the transcendent search for spiritual rewards.
Originally a commissioned work for the Vossajazz Festival 2017, Garden of Earthly Delights ranges from soul searching balladry to sonorous electronic expanses. Some listeners might catch echoes of the melodic range of Joni Mitchell, the confessional darkness of Nina Simone and the traumatised intensity of Diamanda Galas, filtered through a medieval folk and modern experimental sensibility. But there’s no mistaking the powerful, questing clarity of Susanna’s distinctive voice, and the core of symbolic imagery she draws on from ancient mythology via medieval mysticism to present-day consumer society.
Accompanying her own wanderings on vocals, piano and electronics, Susanna assembled The Brotherhood of Our Lady, a new group (named after the religious organisation that sponsored Bosch) drawn from Norway’s current dynamic, young and open minded music scene, with members of bands like Skadedyr, Stina Stjern, Listen to Girl and Propan. The album was recorded in the extraordinary Ocean Sound Studio on the Northwest coast of Norway, a fully equipped wooden hut that sits on a rocky outcrop at the edge of the sea. All programming and production was done by Susanna and regular partner Helge Sten (Supersilent, Deathprod), with mixing by Andrew Scheps (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Lana Del Rey, First Aid Kit, etc). The team and the wild location extract some of Susanna’s spookiest and richest sonic performances to date, with a vivid range of colours to match Bosch’s extravagant imagery.”