Luke Owen expands his beloved NTS show and cult label into a full-fledged musical project with this hypnotic selection of turntablist blues, folk and gospel sounds. Like the Caretaker let loose on a box of American Primitive recordings - crackle blues!
For years now, Owen has been building a collection of crumbling blues, pirate radio hauntology, spiritual music, ghost folk and dusty proto jazz, sharing it on his excellent NTS show and via his eponymous label. Now, armed with a pitch-controlled turntable and delay pedal, he gives some of these sounds his own unique spin, piping the music thru a process that magnifies the feeling of melancholy and nostalgia.
Woozy and disorienting, each track highlights the imperfections in the recordings, allowing surface noise and tape hiss to turn into instruments of their own. It's like a hybrid of Philip Jeck and Leyland Kirby: ghostly and distinct, but deep and absorbing, re-contextualising old sounds without a shred of cynicism.
Christina Vantzou inaugurates Zin Taylor and Emilie Lauriola's newly minted Slow Moves label with this low key stunner of an album, once again throwing us into off-piste shadow realms through a use of veiled field recordings, padded synths and oblique, quiet instrumentation - a perfect follow-up to last year’s deeply hallucinogenic 'Multi Natural’ album and highly recommended if you’re as bowled over by Michèle Bokanowski’s film score work as we are.
'Releasing Spores’ is described by Vantzou as “…a soundtrack of events, composed and delivered as a documentary about a place…”, and blasts off into alien landscapes designed to confuse the senses: synthesizer sounds that mimic instruments, field recordings that sound synthesized - and so on. Each layer is designed to invoke a mental knot, fluxing between the digital sophistication of contemporary experimental electronics and the dusty nostalgia of old wildlife documentaries, Boards of Canada’s famed early interludes and dispassionate 1970s sci-fi sound design.
Evoking colours that lie outside our visible spectrum; Vantzou’s take on Minimalism is like one of those vast submerged cities, from the surface you observe little more than a ripple, but dive in and a whole world materialises before your eyes. This is music designed for immersive listening; offsetting subtle mood shifts with expansive sound staging and spatial shenanigans designed to heighten emotional rather than academic resonance - never succumbing to any aesthetic lowest common denominators. Much like Michèle Bokanowski, Vantzou manages to find that elusive spot between the overly emotional and the sterile, instead caressing the senses with sounds that at turns glow and disorientate. The trick is to submit completely.
New on Room 40's Tape series.
"It may sound implausible now, but in the early 2000s Australia felt a long way away from the rest of the world. Brisbane, where I still live today, felt even further removed. This remoteness had its challenges, but also its charms.
In 2001, Zane Trow then director of the Brisbane Powerhouse invited me to perform at an Open Day for the centre with my trio I/O3 and DJ Olive. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this engagement would spark a number of connections that tie directly into this edition. Following that live performance (released as Powerhouse Sessions in 2002), I was invited to curate a performance series, Fabrique, focused on new and emergent musics for Brisbane Powerhouse. At the same time, DJ Olive mentioned that he had started a new imprint, Phonomena, with Toshio Kajiwara and one of the first releases they were planning was from Aki Onda, whom Olive described as using a set of Walkmans that make a whole universe. I was intrigued.
The following year, Aki Onda not only produced Cassette Memories Volume I ‘Ancient And Modern' for Phonomena, but a few months later released a second volume ‘Bon Voyage!’ with the always inspiring Improvised Music From Japan label. Both of these editions marked out overlapping territories relating to tape music, field recordings and most of all perceptions of memory (how it is lost and then found again, how it can constructed and deconstructed - sometimes simultaneously). In early 2004, I wrote to Aki and invited him to Australia for a series of performances including two in Brisbane; one at Fabrique and another as part of NineHoursNorth, a dedicated program of Japanese music I was curating at the Judith Wright Centre Of Contemporary Art.
Each of Aki’s performances typified the expansive nature of his practice. Although the medium and tools may have been identical (cassettes, Walkmans, delay pedals and fender twin amps), the focus of each performance was markedly different. For NinehoursNorth, Aki deployed the approach he presented on 'Bon Voyage!’, long-form field recordings were re-amped and in the process of their unfolding a perception of time being bent in and out of shape emerged. There was a sense of the strange familiar, as bird songs, city scapes, voices, instruments and various environments were melted together and reconfigured through the intense volume produced by the amplifiers.
For Fabrique, the recording collected on this edition, Aki undertook a more performative method that reflected the sense of pacing and movement collected on ‘Ancient And Modern’. What surprised me most about his performance was how closely it resembled the compositional sensibilities captured on the record. In my mind’s ear I had heard ‘Ancient And Modern’ as a highly orchestrated work, a process of layering and transformation. Upon hearing Aki’s performance, it became clear what was captured in that recording was a transcription of an experimental and utterly personal performative language that had unfastened the walkman from its conceptual bounds as a device for linear acoustic playback.
In performance (and his recordings as I now realised) Aki Onda sought to bend, and break, expectations of time and linearity. In doing so he opened up new ways of appreciating themes of texture, pulse, rhythm and repetition. William S. Burroughs often wrote of the cut-up as a device for causing a rupture in time and that certain new ways of knowing and understanding might ooze out from these cuts, to my ears Aki Onda’s sounds were doing just this. He was taking elements from the world we collectively knew and he was refocusing them, cutting into them and removing their sense of ‘natural’ time, in doing so he allowed us all to forgo our desire for the familiar in favour of something unknown and perhaps even unknowable.
To revisit this performance nearly two decades on, I am struck by this same sense of reaching out into something that is not altogether clear, but maintains a deep invitational attraction, an acoustic allure that remains as compelling today as it did then…perhaps even more so."
Intensely quiet, artful improv duelling by Korean and Argentinian players, allowing for lots of pent lacunæ and often hovering on the liminal. RIYL Okkyung Lee, Keiji Haino, Senyawa
“The debut album by international power duo DASOMxVIOLETA, a virtuosic meeting of minds between Seoul's Dasom Baek (traditional Korean flutes) and Violeta García (cello) of Buenos Aires. <Absence> is the sound of two leading composers and improvisers pushing their instruments to the technical and creative limit, then beyond into places unnavigated, futuristic and often haunting.
Dasom and Violeta tussle with playful and brutal mastery between passages of sparse melody, acrobatic percussion and harmonic drift, while interjecting voices fracture and reassemble into intimate, improbable forms. It is hard to imagine an album more abundant in ideas and motifs, all atomised as soon as they are brought to life. The effect is a tapestry of rugged spirits - moving, and at times just plain beautiful.
Recommended for fans of Okkyung Lee, John Butcher, Messiaen, and Ernst Reijseger.”
Good Morning Tapes snag this ace chopped & screwed mixtape from "Californian artist & nomadic free spirit” Swampy, best known as a photographer and artist who's appeared in National Geographic, Time magazine & Juxtapoz.
Swampy's online diary/journal of his train hopping adventures set the backdrop for the mixtape, built around his own edits of everything from countrified railtrack blues to fuzzed out desert rock, bubbling 'soothing sounds for baby’ to slowed down gospel and squashed funk - all with evocative transitions and the littlest hobo vibes you just cant argue with. As the label put it:
“Swampy has an intuitive knack for not only capturing magical moments & incredible scenery on his travels, but also a gifted musical ear, crafting his own chopped & screwed edits to accompany these online visual diaries - which will melt any nostalgic heart that yearns to roam free.”
Aye, it’s a goodun.
"Work on 'Fragile' began last August at the height of lockdown. Grill locked himself in the recording studio where he found himself experimenting with new sounds and technologies and was able to learn more about the techniques involved in mixing, production and arrangement. "The aim was to write a physical album maintaining an energy throughout and utilising sounds and structures I'm interested in. Using limitation was a big part of the process to push what I used as far as possible. Reading about Robin Guthrie's breakdown of Cocteau Twins minimal setups across different albums and how Prince distorted the Linn Drum Machine were also inspirations."
Musically, 'Fragile' is a more dance-centric record than 2020's 'Ride', with eleven blistering tracks aimed straight for the dancefloor. From the lush, pulsing synths and blistering beats of 'Another Time', to the hazy, sun-soaked 'Wildflower', Grill seeks to create dance music that is endlessly catchy and hugely uplifting. He draws heavily on a Euro-dance influence in his search for pop perfection with melody instrinsic to each track. The Italo disco sound of Giorgio Moroder is never too far away, climaxing with the pumping 'Crash' while the emotive dance of New Order is echoed in 'Wandering Sky' and 'Romance'.
From a visual perspective, 'Fragile' is inspired by gothic, renaissance art and architecture. The album artwork is a photograph Grill took on Château d'If, a fortress and former prison located on the Île d'If, the smallest island in the Frioul archipelago, a short distance from Marseille in southeastern France."
Spellbinding, all-female selection from JD Twitch, realised as musical therapy during a bout of Covid and now making for a sterling 8th addition to his unmissable mixtape series
What was planned as a post-punk special became a very different affair when Twitch was isolating after picking up the bug during his first DJ set out of quarantine. Hard luck for him turned into a treat for us, ‘The Word Is Love (Women Of The World)’ features over 90 mins of peachy picks running the gamut of global styles penned over the past 75 years.
The vibes are exemplary, healing, enchanting; coursing from the blues to buddhist music, synth-pop to disco-not-disco, thru folk-rock and dream-pop, before ultimately returning to source in the blues, all guided by an expert hand.
On her fourth album, Maxine Funke makes pure, deeply memorable, deceptively simple folk music that will appeal to anyone into Sibylle Baier, Liz Harris, Bridget St. John, Smog , Harvest-era Neil Young or Vashti Bunyan. A proper special, once again, from A Colourful Storm.
'Seance' is an understated wonder; Funke has released an acclaimed run of low-key DIY folk records on labels like Feeding Tube, Next Best Way and Epic Sweep, and this latest is possibly her most concise and resolved to date. Stripped but never icy, Funke's songwriting is amiguous, tender and focused, but her voice is the key - using delicate tones to illustrate an internal world brimming with memories of love and loss.
Using just guitar and voice, tape hiss, location artefacts that waft into view (passing cars, life outside), some organ and a single metronome-like perucssive heartbeat, Funke meditates on themes using dreamlike imagery and tangled poetry - it all seems simple, but takes countless listens to unpick. There's euphoria, anxiety, romance and pain hidden beneath her wavering words, and - like all the best songs - all it takes is the slightest key change to turn you to cinder.
What a pleasure <3
Steven Raekwon Reynolds is a singer/songwriter and producer from New York City by way of Buffalo, NY. 'Where I’m At Now' is self-produced and self-recorded (save for drums on two songs, driven by the relentlessness of the East Village and the quiet serenity of Edwardsville.
"The abstractions of his earlier musings transform into a warm wave of genreless coherence, drawing influences from across R&B, rock, folk, and pop to build a record that shines in its quiet spaces as much as its sweeping movements. Simply put, Where I’m at Now is an album where S. Raekwon is no longer invested in hiding. These records don’t contain answers, but signals toward what feels like the right direction. This music serves as a gentle, yet intentional reminder that we only need to be who we are in the moment, and we’re worth becoming who we know we can be."
Deerhoof return with a studio album recorded in individual isolation, 'Actually, You Can', on Joyful Noise Recordings.
"Over eighteen boundless albums as experimental as they are pop, Deerhoof has continuously quested for radical sounds and daring storytelling. Galvanized by the challenge of unifying many styles of music, Deerhoof landed on their next record’s concept: baroque gone DIY. Actually, You Can is a genre-abundant record that uses technicolor vibrancy and arpeggiated muscularity to offer a vital shock from capitalism’s purgatorial hold. “In the United States now, to be a moral person means to be a criminal, whether it has to do with a general strike or forming a union or Black Lives Matter protests,” clarifies Saunier of the album’s countercultural embrace of liberation. “If you follow the rules, you’re guilty. That’s the spirit we were trying to express: an angelic prison bust, a glamorous prison bust.” It’s a condemnation of America’s mundanity, replacing violence with the heartfelt power of mutualism.
With state lines and oceans separating band members, Deerhoof not only reinvented their sonic and thematic credo, but also their recording process. Deerhoof’s players are not strangers to home-recording their individual parts, and have long embraced composing via file trading. But 2020’s halt to touring kicked off their longest separation from playing together, foregrounding new priorities. As the group’s combined demos became increasingly layered, bassist and vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki put her foot down, insisting the new album should replicate concert energy. Visualizing the quartet on huge stages with past tourmates Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Saunier fugue-arranged his bandmates’ complex demos into songs to make an audience smile and dance. He sought out far-traveling delays, heavy playing, and unique panning to evoke the power of outdoor music. Matsuzaki scrutinized spots that would betray the conceit, eliminating anything that took away from the sound of onstage grandeur. “We spent so much time imagining playing together in the process of recording, it’s almost like a false memory of us playing this music together,” Saunier marvels.
For Deerhoof’s members to continually uncover new corners of their own talent requires deep wells of gratitude, not only for each others’ creativity but for the freedom their career affords. But by embracing each other’s art with curiosity, Deerhoof authors a musical alphabet that continues to astound and inspire, a unique lexicon expanding limitlessly with each album. For new listeners and decades-long devotees, Deerhoof’s electrifying, generous approach to collaborative worldbuilding on Actually, You Can is an emboldening call to support our communities with renewed strength, infinite love, and the resilience to keep exploring."
claire rousay debuts on Shelter Press with a stunning configuration of her unique dream cartography, weaving field recordings and voice notes with layered strings and synth work for a heartstopping deployment of ambient intimacy.
Preceding a debut album proper for the label due soon, '17 roles (All Mapped Out)’ takes us on a journey from a ringing railroad crossing and domestic rustle, thru quietly glorious inner landscapes and into reverberating x pastoral strings and lambent pads that coalesce to attune the ear to claire’s aural purview with half-heard riffs on friends, life in the digital realm, and the afterlife. Set to the slightest but most transfixing shifts in tone and texture that possess an incredible capacity to bring you to tears, often unexpectedly, her everyday sounds are magnified to gently distort their meaning and heighten their sensuality, effectively glimpsing the firmament from far away in a sort of waking dream gaze.
As with claire’s myriad releases during the past few years, her music’s low-key treatise on loneliness, friendship and existentialism has uncannily come into its own this year, appealing to atomised souls seeking connection thru music. This one in particular feels to strongly capture and characterise a mix of fleeting and torpid emotions in a way that evokes the passage of time and the fragile sense of place in the world like nothing else you’ll hear on the scene, like a rare orchid poking out from the crumbling facade of ambient convention.