New Listens & Selected Repeats:
Haptic - Weird Undying Annihilation (2021): I started my year with a great decision, with the latest from Haptic (the trio of Steven Hess, Joseph Clayton Mills, and Adam Sonderberg), played just before falling asleep. I had been seeing the album pop up on some individual end of year lists that were otherwise full of known delights, so when the label that put this out (Notice Recordings) announced they were running a sale, it felt like an easy decision to give it a blind purchase. I didn't have any experience with the trio as a whole, but I consider Mills' album The Process with Marvin Tate to be an all-time great, so there was some existing affinity. I was rolling the dice on whether it would work in the hypnagogic state, but it was the perfect time! It's a slow music, full of sounds with a roughed-up fidelity that sponge up the saturation of the relatively cleaner sounding components, so that nothing is too colorful for tired eyes. The official description for the album says that they were going for a steadicam type of feel, long fluid shots with drawn out zooms. The specifics of how they accomplish this will have to reveal themselves to me later, but whatever they were doing, it was absolutely working for me here.
Cardiacs - Sing To God (1996): After I woke up on Saturday, I was having some minor issues with my right ear, so I wasn't listening to much of anything (though I did eventually get some mono 50's jazz in the left). The situation improved by Sunday evening, so I listened to this Cardiacs album with my wife. It was actually my first time going through the whole thing, though she had already made sure that I'd heard some of the tracks ahead of time. I'm so glad that I had her with me on the journey, because this dense and twitchy carnival prog is totally the kind of thing that I want to hear, because I was a bit intimidated by the length and reputation, but getting to share the experience with a loved one is like the ultimate cheat code for getting in the door. Like sometimes there's bands who I can recognize are great, and on an intellectual level I can see that I should have an affinity for them, but I just can't make them make sense in my life on my own. But this experience ignited something, and the place has been made! I think it also helped that I was going through this issue with my ear, listening to so little music. And then along comes this album, jam-packed with so much music. Love it when the right time finally arrives!
John Coltrane - Blue Train (1957): My ear issue wasn't fully resolved, but I was still hungry for some tunes, so I went back to the mono mindset and browsed thru some 50's jazz. Of course, I still had to set my phone's accessibility settings to mono because this was a stereo remaster, but I feel like it's better to do that to music that was originally intended for mono. In spite of the less-than-ideal circumstances, I still was glad to check this out. There's so many classics that I've never gotten around to hearing, it was about time I heard this one. I'm still at a point where I'm hearing the genre more than the music, like I can't really say much in the way of specifics just yet. One thing that stood out to me was the trombone by Curtis Fuller, particularly on the track "Moment's Notice", where everyone else takes their moment with a flurry of notes, but then Fuller comes in and leaves so much space. There's something I find hilarious about that, in a way that plays into how fun the overall tune is. I was having a great time with it. But then I read the top rated 5 star review of the album on Rate Your Music from someone who probably listens to more jazz than me, and they specifically called out this part with Fuller as an old-timey blemish on an otherwise flawless album. So I probably have more to understand about what makes this album so widely significant to other people, but I feel like I'm always going to think that part is cool.
Dominic Cole - Everyone Thinks Their Dreams Are Interesting (2021): My ear issue was resolved, and I was ready for something bold and adventurous, and this one seemed like it would fit the bill (it did, I have fantastic instincts). This album has a really interesting take on what it means for music to be dreamlike. I'm not exactly an expert on dreaming, I'm in a state where cannabis is legal, which means I don't remember having dreams most of the time. But the ones that I can remember never had any reverb, so I've never felt like the "dream" genres had anything to do with the activity. This music is on the extreme side of synthesis, with lots of sounds around the high end of frequency perception. So it's not like it has the "correct dream aesthetic" either. But it's in the use of continuity breaks where it feels like it's capturing something real about the dream process. The audio is generated based on the recitation of dreams (helpfully included as the track titles), and then that gets fed into whatever sound generating machines are being used. But there's these abrupt shifts in the outputs, the rules that govern what happens to the input have jumped to a new position, as though key parts of the narrative that connect scene A to scene B have been removed. But the momentum stays entirely unaffected, and everything stays making complete sense. This feels like the experience I would get if I could actually watch a recording of my dreams. Fascinating stuff, I'm very glad that I didn't miss this one.
Tomutonttu - Seikkailun Tuoksu (2021): The playful electronic music that Jan Anderzén has been cooking up since Kemialliset Ystävät's 2014 album Alas Rattoisaa Virtaa has been a total joy to witness, but this new single was the first time I ever connected what he was doing to the work of Foodman. I think it's this track Varpaat in particular, it totally feels like a less grid-driven cousin of Yasuragi Land to me. Love it!
The Tony Williams Lifetime - Emergency! (1969): I take part in a weekly album club, and the pick for this week was In A Silent Way. I struggle with finding something to say about classic albums, like I don't want to just say "it's a classic!" as though I'm upholding a tradition, I want to get specific. But so many of the specifics have already been covered, thoroughly, by people who know way more than me about the subject. I decided to go exploring something from the album's personnel. It just so happened to be John McLaughlin's birthday, so I looked through his credits, and this one (led by fellow Silent Way contributor Tony Williams) jumped out at me. It seemed like one of those ones I should've heard by now but haven't. It didn't really help me with figuring out what to say about the club pick, but I am so glad I decided to take this for a spin. It's got this lightly fried amplification on the guitar and organ (by Larry Young!) that beautifully compliments the high energy shredding bits. "Via The Spectrum Road" is a track that's going to stick with me for sure, the way it goes between the vocals on the slow groove and then blasts off with the wilder portions, that's a great time!
Kill Alters - Armed To The Teeth L.M.O.M.M. (2022): This album doesn't come out until February 11th, but I've got an early preview copy, and I can't get enough of it! This band has been around since 2015, sprouting from an archive of tapes recorded by Bonnie Baxter's mother, who was living with OCD and Tourette's Syndrome. The recordings ranged from prepared skits to raw, unfiltered moments, and sometimes even featured a young Baxter herself. For the first outing, it was just Baxter solo, taking samples from the archive and building out full songs with electronics and her own singing. The material was pretty dark, but eventually the band was expanded to include Hisham Bharoocha and Nico Kennedy, with a stated goal of finding the light. The first release from the full band was No Self Helps, and the sound brightened, but it wasn't like the murk and distortion disappeared, it's more like all the clearer portions of the sound were isolated and made slightly louder than the rest. This did not mean that the songs lacked power, the drums still hit hard, and Baxter's vocal performances weren't holding anything back. But it did mean that jumping into the lower fidelity of the archive recordings was a bit of an adjustment. But I don't get a sense of a dominant fidelity in this new album. A big part of that is with the vocals, there's different performances of the same lyrics stacked up, with drastically different approaches to technique and recording quality happening simultaneously. They make room for so much possibility, which allows for some of the deepest integration of the tape archive into the core of the songs that the project has ever had. I don't want to go too in depth here yet, I'll do that closer to the release date. But for now I'll just say that I think this is an incredible realization of the unique potential of this project, and I am already certain it will be a highlight of my year.
Uwalmassa - Malar (2022): I'll have more opportunities to talk about this one later, I've been listening to this one a lot as well. So for now I'll just say that anyone who is like me and loves to hear electronic music that explores drums as a pitch delivery system in conjunction with complex rhythmic arrangements: you absolutely need to hear this.
Burial - Antidawn EP (2022): I did not feel interested in this one while listening, but I don't think that's a reflection of the music's quality. I might end up feeling any kind of way about it in the future, but I've got nothing this time.
NYZ - YRACDHI (2022): This is an exclusive that just came out for the Bandcamp subscription that David Burraston has going. You may know him from that highly in-depth interview with Aphex Twin from 2014, but since that time, he's also been building quite the large discography that go deep into some of the coolest music machines. On the one hand it can feel like some laboratory electronics, like it's happening in a totally sterile environment. But there's still an artistic personality, it just happens to have high levels of knowledge and curiosity about synthesis and machines. But there's plenty more than that, like a great sense of humor. This one's a 20 minute ride with the Yamaha FS1R, a rack mount synth introduced in 1998 that was quickly rejected by consumers for being way too hard to use. In addition to the machine's powerful FM synthesis that has already featured on previous NYZ releases, it also has some strong formant synthesis capabilities. And that is on display here on this piece, a string of complex percussive robo-babbling, directed by the MANIAC cellular automata sequencer. That may sound like it could be cold and impersonal, but there's a joke in it. All that you can understand from voice is "A" and "I". Ironically, I think that goes a long way towards maintaining awareness of the human at the other end of this music. I wouldn't say that this is an essential major work in the whole discography, but it's still a delightful treat for the faithful.
Late Works - Preparations (2022): This one was brought to my attention via e-mail, I saw Max Syedtollan was involved, and I had just recently been writing about my intention to hear everything from him. Great timing! This is a collection of three separate works for prepared piano, all utilizing the same set of sculptures to place on/in the strings. The first performance comes from Finlay Clark, from Still House Plants (great band!), and then the other piece was from someone new to me, Aga Ujma (I've followed up on her work and it is phenomenal, more on that later). The page for this on Cafe OTO's site goes in depth with some great background information about the different setups for each piece, but even if you don't have that, the distinctions between each performer is readily audible. Clark has these moments with big waves of sound, using a dulled color ringing out to strike a contrast with some crystal clear metallic harpsichord type of sounds, in a way that seems to boost their vibrancy. But when those kinds of sharp textures pop up in Ujma's piece, they're punchier and more percussive, serving as punctuation rather than working in the overlap. Or sometimes it's more like the entire music will momentarily move into the sound, like it's a distortion rather than it's own independent thing. And there's also a really distinct fuzziness from £10 woven between some of the strings, it's really great to have in the mix. For all the differences between these two pieces, there's still a similar approach to an emotional landscape that soars into the mountains and falls into valleys, but Syedtollan's piece goes in a different direction. Less concerned with scale, it makes a home in the nervous energy of these distressed strings, fully oriented towards the horizontal power of sustained tension. It's a fantastic collection, not to be missed!
MonoLogue - Alice (2022): I only found out about MonoLogue last year, from the set of three releases that presented her own take on an abstract GRM kind of sound, very cool stuff. But this new release goes in a much different direction. It's aimed at celebrating 150 years of Alice Through the Looking-Glass, though with a much different spirit than the technicolor Disney adaptation, this is more like the world is rendered as a cyanotype. There's a lot of stability in the color and form of the lead synths, and the unusual attributes of the world come from these hazy atmospherics that distort the edges. I think it's a pretty clever way of capturing how peculiar it would feel to enter the world of this book, keeping the focus on the stable element rather than the wackier aspects of the world (I'm guessing that's why this is called Alice and not Wonderland). I'm digging this direction, very glad to see that this side of things is as cool as the rest.
desdansá - against music (2022): Maybe it's because I've been climbing a lot of mountains in Breath of the Wild, but I was inclined to read the opening track on this album as a sonification of a cliff face. I'm unfamiliar with the artist, but I've been starting to pay closer attention to this relatively new label, 時の崖_tokinogake. They've been going for a year and I kept on slacking about checking them out, but they're operating in one of the far out experimental electronics area that I enjoy, so I've been catching up with what they've been doing lately. The specific techniques described on the album page feel like they line up with how I saw it, how it talks about "the interaction of digital synthesis with convolution -- used in stacks, both as filtering and as reverb -- where the rhythmic and harmonic content of the synthesizer would interact and resonate with the samples selected for convolution, creating unexpected rhythms, resonances and dissonances". That sounds like it'd end up like a complex feature of nature turned into music. But as the album goes along, there are some clearer compositional decisions being made, the hand of the author becomes more visible. It's compelling stuff, I'm looking forward to finding out more about desdansá's music and digging in further to this label.
Joe Zawinul - Zawinul (1971): So I was still at a loss for what to say for this album club regarding In A Silent Way. I figured a good way to get something out of me would be to check out this album from Zawinul, since he is the one who composed the title track, and has his own version on here. I guess he was unhappy with the reductions that happened on the Davis album, but I have to say, hearing his version made me incredibly grateful for the simplifications that were made. So this was helpful for me, because I was able to contrast the two, and talk about how hearing this version made me appreciate the way that the Davis version was able to reach something sublime by holding the piece in one place and allowing people to drift into focus. But I don't think this Zawinul album will have a place for me beyond that.
It may look like I didn't listen to as much music on Wednesday as the days around it, but that's because I was in a private room on https://pubby.club/, the latest in a long line of websites that allow people to take turns playing songs at each other. The interface can take some getting used to, but it is worth the effort. I got to make sure that some friends heard songs I wanted them to hear, and in turn I got to hear a bunch of exciting music that I would be unlikely to find on my own. A good session on a site like this is one of the best things you can do online.
All in all, this is a pretty great start to the year! I like that I'm getting back into some very high density repetitions, I've been a lot less focused in my listening and haven't been letting anything get into the kind of frequency that's happening with the Kill Alters and Uwalmassa albums. I don't think it matters that much for how an appreciation for an album gets built, but it's nice when music can claim a set time, like I could look back at this time and go "oh that's when I was really going in heavy with those two albums", it's harder to do that when the repetitions are too spread out. We'll see how that holds up as we get further into the year.
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