Severed Heads - Since The Accident (1983): News that Garry Bradbury had passed away was spreading over the weekend, and it pushed me to listen to some of his work with the band Severed Heads. I hadn't really listened to this band at all, I was only familiar with his solo album "Yakovlevian Torque", a wonderful collection of tunes that manages to keep things feeling instantly musical while it adventures off into various odd directions. If you're entirely unfamiliar with the artist, I would strongly recommend learning from the expert perspective of Paul Gough (aka Pimmon), who had a radio tribute covering a great deal of Bradbury's music, and I'm not sure how long that link will stay online, so act fast! I really enjoyed this album, I wouldn't want to single out anything as specifically belonging to Bradbury since there's a few people credited with tape stuff, I'd run the risk of misattributing something. But this one has some industrial synth tunes that are given a strange and playful energy with all sorts of manipulations of recorded sound happening underneath the surface, sometimes emerging topside. I feel like this kind of connects to some LA Free Music Society stuff in my mental map, though I'll need more time to understand exactly how that makes sense, if it does. Some great music here though, that's for sure.
Parker Sprout - Milk In The Sun (2022): I've really been enjoying my time with the psychedelic bedroom pop on this album. Everything here is trimmed down to the essentials, boosted to the ceiling with various effects. Nothing goes over 3 minutes, and most of it is under 2. There are some institial tracks that trade in the songwriting for some loose sonic weirdness, but I wouldn't call them filler, they have an essential utility in breaking up the expectations as they accumulate. Since the songwriting is all meat/no fat, I think there'd be a risk of it all running together, but the breaks help keep the catchiness catching. And the work on the sound with all the effects isn't just for style points, it feels like it's enhancing and building off of a warmth that exists within the songs already, sort of like how drugs wouldn't work if your brain didn't already have the receptors for them. I'm not a scientist so I don't know if that's actually how it works, but still, very nice music!
Eventless Plot - Apatris (2022): I love so much of what I've heard from this group, but I had a major roadblock with this one. There's this super high frequency, around 19-20 kHz, and it goes imbalanced between the channels in a way that I cannot physically handle. But maybe it's just because I'm a digital listener. This was released on cassette, and I'm pretty sure this sound is beyond the frequency response ceiling for that medium, unless you have one of those fancy audiophile decks. So maybe I should just try to emulate the effect of that medium with an EQ or something (or maybe just actually start listening to tapes)? But at the same time, maybe this is just like a roller coaster that I'm too short to ride. Maybe I'll never have the level of understanding that the people who are tall enough can get, because it does seem like there's something substantial in what these extreme sounds and their movements mean for the music. But perhaps I can get something worked out without losing that characteristic of the music. Even if I never get on the ride, this has been an interesting experience. It had never occurred to me to look at this group's music through a spectrogram, but now it's got me looking at how Anisixia (an album that totally works for me) uses the high frequencies, so that's been very cool and has added some depth to that experience.
Lag OS - Natura Oculta (2021): This is one that I neglected to follow up on last year, and I really should have been on top of it. I caught the previous Lag OS album on Anòmia back in 2018, and I burned that thing into my brain. The sounds were on the abstract side of digital synthesis, but there's a primordial rhythm to it, sort of like the pulse that guides Rashad Becker's Traditional Music Of Notional Species and how that gets used to establish a different evolutionary path for new sound grammar. This one builds off that work and takes away the pulse, showing us what it would look like for a world to be seeded with this new life and left to run for a few billion years. The intro is very deceptive, it gives you a little chiming melody and makes you think "oh this isn't so weird", but then you get dunked in the deep end and it fucking rules. Love it!
Milan Knizak - Aktual Univerzita (2022): I need to actually purchase this one so I can read the liner notes and get some better context for it. I've heard Knizak's classic "Broken Music", with music made from pieced together record fragments, but never heard anything else. There's more to him than just that project though, like what is going on in this video?! It's some wild stuff. But as for the music at hand, the broken music stuff does come into play on the 2nd track, with the Opening Performance Orchestra working from samples from that material. And then that group also provides the music in the first track as well, I guess I need to learn more about their whole deal as well! Even in this state of ignorance, I still have been enjoying this. It has such as explosive start, taking glass shattering, and then exploding the sound itself. It settles into something a little more comfortable, though still in the area of electroacoustics that some may consider difficult (though I think it's relatively quite easy to listen to, at least until the other explosive portions later on). I'm not really engaging with it beyond the level of "hey that sounds cool", but I think once I dig in to the liner notes I can start to get a little deeper with it.
Nick Mason - Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports (1981): Listening to Atrocity Exhibition made me want to finally investigate the source of the sample on "Ain't It Funny", and this thing is pretty far out. I never really got into Pink Floyd (Mason is the drummer), but it doesn't actually matter because the real force driving this music is Carla Bley. These weird jazz-rock songs originated from her, I'm not sure why Mason gets top billing, probably a marketing thing. I'm most enamored with the wild energy on the sample source "Wervin'" and also on opener "Can't Get My Motor To Start", which features multiple vocalists chirping up with automotive troubleshooting ideas, sounding increasingly worried as the track chugs along in fits and starts. But the whole thing is a good time, glad I checked it out!
Actors Artificial - Untimeliness & Default Settings (2022): This one is a great mix of coldly focused rock and electronics, starting off with just guitar and drums establishing a foundational loop, which slowly gets overwhelmed by a complex network of feedback. It builds and builds, but then suddenly the center collapses, and the electronics fully intervene to continue the march. The second half of the album seems to repeat this process, but in reverse. It's so cool to experience, like watching a high quality time-lapse video of the organic decay of a massive object.
Vilhelm Bromander - Aurora (2022): There's so many great subscriptions available on Bandcamp, but in my opinion, one of the best to get on board with is this one for the Warm Winters Ltd. label. They've built up a strong catalog of music that never sacrifices an ounce of personality in the pursuit of beauty, and this album from Bromander is a fine addition. This one is an ensemble primarily featuring saxophone, clarinet and pump organ, though there's a few other instruments in the mix. The sound is warm and intimate, it's like the musicians have come over to play in your living room with the goal of making you cry without ever sounding wholly sad. There's some looseness, and I guess the description even states that half of the musicians are playing with unfamiliar instruments, but I think that's all to the benefit to the music. The feeling is in such a vulnerable position that it could get wiped away with additional polish, and these decisions help keep it attached on the surface. This is a great one, the closer is especially satisfying, don't miss it!
claire rousay - sometimes i feel like i have no friends (2021): This came out in late December, and I got it through another Bandcamp subscription (for Rousay specifically, also highly recommended!), but I waited to check it out because the title seemed heavy and I was already a bit drained from the end of year holiday season. But the piece is more than just that statement. And I feel like I might be spoiling something by going further, so I am going to force you to highlight the rest of this text if you wish to read it: the title line occurs in an opening monologue and it's immediately followed by 'sometimes I feel like I have too many'. I'm taking my time with this piece, and I don't think I have the whole picture yet. But what really catches my eye right now is how the presentation of this music works with the contents of the music to set expectations that the music can later subvert. The only way to legitimately get the music is through Bandcamp, and when you load up the page you're immediately presented with the lyrics of that opening monologue. You could start the track up and read the whole thing before it even gets going. That's what I did. And then, as it was playing, I pieced together that the album art is probably the view from a bedroom window, which made me view the text as an anxious mind wandering around the doubts that can appear in connections with others, and around the ability to be ok with yourself. And then the speech actually begins, and the synth drone backing pushes that anxiety in the text and reinforces the sense that this feeling would never end. But then when it gets to the conclusion point, with Rousay asking whether she is going to be enough for herself, whether she will be able to hold her own hand through to the end, the constancy breaks and we get the guest contribution of Mari Maurice on violin, and all the sadness melts away, and it's like the beauty of connection with others becomes accessible just from starting that dialog with the self. So maybe this is less heavy than I had anticipated, though I feel like there's still more that I need to learn about it. Stellar stuff, very much worth checking out!
Earl Sweatshirt - Sick! (2022): I didn't catch the joke of the line “Caught a feeling, mama had me out in Temple / Not religious we was really out in Philly” until I read this review on Passion of the Weiss, there's a lot of lyrical talent that goes over my head with Earl. So you should go read reviews like that one to get a better look at what makes this music special. But even without that perspective, I still get a lot out of this music. It's so entertaining to hear what he does with his voice on tracks like "Tabula Rase", the pitch drops when he gets to 'these days'/'delays'/'freeze frame' and how that works with the tone of the rest of the lyrics, it's so musically satisfying to hear it happen. There's so much of that satisfaction to be found in what he does, it's fantastic work.
Peter Brötzmann / Fred Van Hove / Han Bennink / Albert Mangelsdorff - Live In Berlin '71 (1991): After news of Fred Van Hove's passing, I saw some discussion about this album in a chat room, so I figured I'd check it out. He's a figure that I've not really got much experience with, I've checked out some of the stuff with Brötzmann that gets high praise, but I could never find that type of appreciation for myself. But I think this might just be the one that makes this European free improvisation scene make sense to me. I'm taking it slow with this one (it's two CDs), so I don't think I have anything meaningful to say about the music just yet, except for that it is great. I'm not sure if there has been any in-depth rememberances of Van Hove in English, but this one from Lies Steppe is still touching even when machine-translated from Dutch.
Jessica Ackerley / Patrick Shiroishi - Extremities (2020): Here's another album I picked up from the Notice Recordings sale, along with the Haptic album I heard last week. This one starts off with the players rapidly interlocked for the first two tracks, moving like they're race cars staying neck and neck. Like it made me think of this Amon Tobin music video with a race car, made by the guy who did the Gantz Graf music video, but then I went back and watched it on mute with this as the soundtrack, and the visuals didn't really live up to my memory of the speed. So it's possible that this music takes the form of an even better speeding object. But then after the openers, they dismantle the momentum and give time some space, before building back with a different kind of power. There's so much I still need to understand with this (like what exactly is happening with Shiroishi right around 6:50 and 7:20 in Bulderdash, it sounds cool and is so well integrated), but that lack of understanding is no barrier to the joys of this music.
I'm not sure how I feel about this habit of mine, where I listen to an album I've never heard from artists who have recently passed away. It's important that I hear this music, they're always people that I should know more from. But there is something about the way that these artists become most visible to me in their death, it unsettles me. But it's also beautiful to see people share the music that meant something to them from an artist who has recently passed, I want to see what they're putting out there. I don't think I'm doing anything egregious, like it'd be fucked up if I was trying to use these beginner experiences to claim the personal significance of long time fans for myself. Maybe I just need to avoid going shallow with it, make sure that I don't just leave it in this moment, and continue to build an appreciation for their work outside of these times. It's something I'll need to keep thinking about, because it's going to keep happening.
Still figuring out how to balance the work on this project, I only covered the new listens for this week since I'm already falling further behind. But I'll be getting some of the repeats featured in the coming weeks, stay tuned!
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