Monthly Spins: April 2018

I guess I could say this every month but there’s so much amazing stuff to share with you that it’s a little overwhelming. Many of these albums I’ve listened to several, even a dozen times already and can easily imagine them making the best of the 2018 list and it’s only April. A lot of intense and dark, mainly instrumental sounds with some rather light touches as well. Enjoy!

Tangents: Stents + Arteries & Stateless
File Under: new jazz, electronic, post-rock
Since I am new to Tangents I decided to highlight both the 2016 Stateless and the brand new Ep Stents + Arteries because this is an astonishingly good group of players, especially percussionist/drummer and free improviser Evan Dorian who guides and glues the whole thing together in a fantastic display of skill and intuitive grandeur. He is accompanied by guitarist/singer Shoeb Ahmad, British electronic producer Ollie Brown, Peter Hollo on cello, Adrian Lim-Klumpes guitar for an overall remarkable album that often feels like acoustic jazz, or post-rock taken right to the edge of…well…some brilliant shit is all I will say. The new Ep is toned down a bit but fits right in with Stateless. They also have a first album called simply I which was supposedly recorded live in the studio without any post editing and slicing. All three of these are great and worthy of a listen, or many listens. Stents especially has been played many times in the last few weeks.

Todd W. Emmert: A New Normal
File Under: folkatronic experimental dirges
Imagine a ship full of refugees returning home after fleeing some natural calamity or war. As the boat pulls into the harbor a band on deck starts playing, mimicking and mirroring the excitement and exhilaration the passengers are feeling as the ship slowly pulls into the dock where thousands of family, friends and fellow countrymen are waiting the return with an equal intensity of feelings. The city around them is in ruins, but banners and flags are flying.There is that fine line in indigenous folk music when a dirge and a celebratory dance collide and manage to express both a sense of anguish and loss and a reawakening of joy simultaneously. Here it is, music of the spheres, grand and expansive avant-folk dirges that wax and wane creating a wall of sound waves that could fit right into a dark ambient context except that the guitar is so prominent. This is what Todd has to say on his Bc page: “I’ve been playing music for over 25 years. My first project was called "Shortman" and ran from 1991 to 1994. Then I recorded as Inspector 22 from 1997 to 2015. And now it's just me, Todd W. Emmert, 2015 and beyond.”

Hidden Glow: Fimian
File Under: analog experimental, Russian avant-garde, improvisation
Sometimes I just surf around Bc Discover and choose Experimental/NewReleases/All Formats and frankly judge the albums by their covers or band name. I click on a sample and if it seems compelling I’ll go to the album page and listen to the whole thing. This is how I found this gem by Moscow-based Dmitry Vlasov who has a knack for sonic exploration via analog machines and instruments. In an email exchange he admits to “exploring the architecture and engineering of a more complex sound” and working live and improvising most of these compositions. “And it is very important for me to give to the listener straight and fair sound of analog synthesizers.” This is his first full length working as Hidden Glow and I look forward to hearing more of this type of remarkable work in the future. I’ve probably listened to this more than anything else on the list over the last month. Complex and dark stuff with a real sense of improvisation.

Rapoon: Airstrikes
File Under: ambient ethno-distopia
I like it when a record sounds like what it feels like to be alive and living in America during this time of distress, on a fragile globe lost in space, with volition fleeting as the difference between the real and the simulation begin to overlap. So is it any surprise that Rapoon is none other than the key originator of one of the most innovative and relentlessly uncompromising bands :zoviet*france, now doing this ethnographic-ambient solo project with quite a few albums under this Rapoon moniker. Robin Storey was born in 1955 and studied classes in experimental composition while in college in the 1970’s, formed :zoviet*france in 1979. Besides an interest in Krautrock, Story collaborated on performances of the works of Karlheinz Stockhausen. Here he mixes world sounds with what sound like computer generated voices that create an atmosphere of dread and uncertainty and underscore what it feels like to be alive at this moment.

Borusiade: A Body
File Under: synth-pop, EBM and new wave
Born in Bucharest Miruna Boruzescu has just dropped her third release and first full length A Body, which is a joyous excursion into the analog world of synthesizers. A soundtrack for the dark times in which we live and one that’s gotten a lot of rotations in this house. She brings a Berlin, Eastern European intensity and gothicness to her sound. See also the EP Jeopardy, which came out late last year and is also excellent.

Posh Isolation Compilation VA: I Could Go Anywhere But Again I Go With You
File Under: a rare event when a compilation is worthy of repeat listens
Often as I am surfing through reviews sites I listen to a clip or watch a video of a band and then immediately look them up on Tidal and add them to my “listen to later” album stash but often by the time I get around to listening to some of these I’ve forgotten the original source material and have no idea why I thought to list it in the first place. Take this album I Could Go Anywhere But Again I Go With You as an example. As I listened I did so as I normally take in music which is to listen as if one person or a group of persons had created the sounds, like a regular album in it’s entirety, which is how my geezer brain likes to process music. It was only after the fact, and during a second listen that I realized it was a giant compilation and that it works consistently as a whole, which is not usually the case with compilations, especially like this one with artists all from the same label. I do not tend to listen to or review compilations because they are by their very nature all over the place and would require an extra amount of effort in writing a review given that (in this case) there are 24 different tracks. Which brings up an interesting question, which is one in which the archivist, the DJ (as in the free form 1970’s days of early FM) uses her skills and intuition to compile a set list that “makes sense” or at least offers juxtaposition as a prelude to awareness. In the future I’m going to try and listen to more compilations precisely because I miss that curatorial mind at work creating set lists, like the early 70’s FM stations or the college radio that was around in the 1980s. Give it a spin. It’s a good one. I don’t know if putting this together was a solo effort or done by a group but it has reawakened that urge to pay more attention to this sort of thing in the future. Now I need to look up some of the artists listed here and follow up and listen to their albums. Also, see here this amazing list of the 40 best compilations according to
The Quietus.

Haley Heynderickx: I Need to Start A Gerden
File Under: lucid folkish debut
Portland singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx struggled to complete her first album, but her persistence has left us with this exuberant and lucid album. Its restraint and simplicity are compelling to these ears, although she is nearly always alone with an electric or acoustic guitar, there is also percussion, bass, trombone and other subtleties added to the mix that keeps this from being contained by the constraints of merely being called Folk.

Kilchofer: The Book Room
File Under: experimental ambient electronics
What a sprawling and lovely album we have here from Benjamin Kilchofer, which weaves in and out of pulsing and organic structures, while deftly interweaving polyrhythmic layers upon layers that leave the listener in that state of heightened awareness you might find yourself in after coming out of a matinee at the cinema into the light of late afternoon, having just seen something that has left you in a dazed state of exuberance and doubt. You’ve been moved and changed in some way but you’re not sure how or what it means.

Fujiya & Miyagi: Different Blades From the Same Pair of Scissors
File Under: deep space kraut explorations
This Brighton UK group have been at this a long time and they rarely deviate from a steady funkified diet of slippery riffs and clockwork-like rhythmic permutations exploring all things Kraut. The first cut itself is a 43 minute long raga, and the whole album clocks in at an hour and a half. Yeah, it’s an unabashed throwback but its a hell of a lot of fun driving along this motorik at full speed.

K. Leimer: Imposed Order/Imposed Absence (Remastered + Expanded) (1983)
File Under: american kraut, ambient
Kerry Leimer is undergoing a sort of renaissance of late, what with several reissues of obscure and impossible to find originals of his 70’s and 80’s output. Thanks to the RVNG label, who sifted through original master tapes to release Period of Review (Original Recording: 1975-1983) we now have a better understanding of how this American took to heart the work of German komische pioneers, as well as nods to Eno and Hassell. Imposed Order is an album released in 1983 to a less than enthusiastic audience, not because of the quality of this work but only because of the vicissitudes of life that relegates some to obscurity. But now the internet has made it possible for formally unknown artists to thrive and rerelease their older works and reclaim critical attention. There are now eight albums up on Tidal and a couple on Bandcamp and they are all worth a listen but I would start with this one and the aforementioned Period of Review, although the latter is primitive by comparison.

Raphael Vanoli: Bibrax
File Under: otherworldly guitar explorations
I remember a late day at he beach in North Carolina when I put on flippers and swam out just beyond the breaking waves and there were these huge, gentle, rolling waves coming in one after another without any rip tide so I was able to just sit there in place with easy occasional kicks of the flippers and I stayed out there for two hours and it reminded me of what Raphael Vanoli is up to with Bibrax, where he takes an ordinary Stratocaster and runs it through two volume booster pedals, Bugbrand and Boss delays, and an array of amplifiers to where all he has to do is gently blow on the strings or tap the guitar and he’s able to create these fantastic sound fields. Like Christian Fennesz, Vanoli creates entire sonic worlds out of almost nothing. As you listen to this you have to constantly remind yourself that there is only one electric guitar making what feels like a small symphony of sound.

Jerkagram: All Eyes On Me
File Under: twin brothers from LA, post-rock
It does sort of sneak up on you after several listens, the clamoring punctuality of math rock, jazz, post-hardcore with its goofiness and a smattering of psych. Not only is this duo brothers, they are also identical twins and bring to this album that ineffable element that comes when genetically-similar peeps (think any family that has ever put a band together) play in a sort of other worldly sync that you can’t quite put your finger on. There is also cello, saxophone, and other voices in this often primal and fierce mix.

Notable Videos & Singles

Reggie Watts Covers Van Halen’s Panama
File Under: covers don’t get much better or funnier than this

Amen Dunes: Miki Dora
File Under: first single from the new album that should be out March 30th.

At Dawn from christina vantzou on Vimeo

Christina Vantzou: At Dawn
File Under: from her fourth full length which will be released on Kranky shortly

Jack Whitten: An Artist’s Life | ART21
File Under: In memoriam 2018

Notable Books

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
File Under: essential reading
When it comes to the subject of extinction there are really only two options currently available: Elon Musk/SpaceX and, well…extinction. This one won a pulitzer and Elizabeth Kolbert, a long time contributor to the New Yorker, has once again written a book that is cogent and lucidly told. She explains the real story of the six extinction events that have taken place on earth. The very phrase “extinction event” needs to be reconsidered in the sense that the majority of them have taken place over hundreds of thousands of years, even millions of years, which, while a mere blip on a 3 billion year old planet, means that such events took longer than it has for Homo Sapiens to develop into a world dominating species. She does not hold out much hope that our own extinction event the Anthropocene Era (the sixth) will come on as gradually as they have in the past, because, except for the asteroid strike and some super volcanos, we better get our act together (go Elon Musk!) or we’re in real deep dodo.

From The Archives

New Order: Power Corruption & Lies (1983) "Blue Monday" (1983)
File Under: an underrated 80’s masterpiece
The 1970’s officially began in 1973 with the signing of the Vietnam peace accords and the beginning of Watergate. They ended in 1983 with the CDC announcement of an impending epidemic of AIDS. New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies arrived just in time to signal the end of the great liberal era and helped set the tone for the 80’s. Born from the gothic post-punk ashes of Joy Division after lead singer Ian Cutis committed suicide in 1980, New Order reformed with guitarist Bernard Sumner taking over lead singer duties. Their first full length Movement was released in 1981 to a mixed critical success as critics and fans alike thought it was too close to the Joy Division sound. In the next year and a half they released only two singles, “Everything’s Gone Green” and “Blue Monday” which sounded like nothing else before it and was a clear signal that New Order had developed a new sound much more heavy on electronics. These two releases created a shockwave of anticipation. If Joy Division was a gothic dirge of conceptual angst then the mature New Order expressed a transcendent dread mixed with equal parts danceable ecstasy.

It was Reagan’s America now, with Pershing II and MX nuclear missiles being deployed into mainland Europe and the nuclear clock was moved up to nearly midnight. Watching the post-nuclear ABC made-for-TV movie The Day After didn’t help the mood of uncertainty and gloom. The mood amongst younger people was sort of “fuck it! We’re all going to die anyway so we might as well imbibe and dance.”

Bernard Summer chose the title based upon an action/art piece done by a then obscure German artist named Gerhard Richter who spray-painted "Power, Corruption and Lies" across the front of Cologne’s Kunsthalle exhibition of conceptual art. This evanescent moment of longing and dread was what distinguished New Order’s sound from so many other bands at the time. There was a lyrical and emotional resonance to the songwriting. Take these lines from “586” a song that is easily equal to the masterpiece of “Blue Monday.”

I hear silence/I hear silence in my heart/From a distance/Turn your back and run from me/ Can you hear me deep inside?/Did you hear me calling from a distance?

Sumner’s voice comes as if from the darkest outpost of the soul, a journey into the light of day as tormented as it is beautiful. In the craggy voice we hear the passionate edge of despair and dissolution, the slow burn of suppressed rage and tenaciously held hope. Put this one on loud and don’t forget to dance.

Joe Surdna is a practicing artist and writer who has published in Playboy, GQ, Zoetrope and has worked on several alt-weeklies as an entertainment reporter focusing on art, new music, and film reviews.

grantray's picture

Your lists are overwhelming every month. That's what's so great about them ;)

Joe Surdna's picture

Thanks for the positive feedback. I rarely get comments so I often feel like I'm in vacuum. The real joy to this gig is turning on people to great music. Cheers,

grantray's picture

I pat myself on the back if I get through more than a quarter of your list before you publish the next list. But my Tidal list of favorite albums is bonkers good now with stuff that's not just old flames but new and fresh and weird and fun and dark and droney and freaky. I mean, I always went for that kind of breadth in my collection before the the internets, but now there's a whole bunch more than before.

Vacuum schmacuum