Monthly Spins: February 2018

Luigi Russolo and his "Noise Machine" that he invented for his futurist symphonies

There seems to be a lull in January for new album releases after the exhausting and generally baffling Best Albums of 2017 lists and end of year wrap-ups that on occasion offer some real gems. Some stuff that came in late in November and December and a few January releases on the list. It's all downhill from here as we gain 30 minutes of daylight each month and the bitter cold will soon be a memory. Here's to Spring coming early. Some fine standout albums on this month's list. Enjoy and please leave comments if you like anything.

Kemper Norton: Hungen
File Under: post-rock, dirges, electronic
You either get it and go happily into the bogs and foggy moors, ghosting through an enchanted British Isles's sonic universe that is at once ebullient, although laced with regret, and with a sadness that comes with sensing that something has gone terribly wrong with the world, or you resist the temptation. But if you are up for the journey then as you walk along this path you realize that an entire species is trudging along with you. Some might hear the soundtrack to this journey as a dirge, a warning, but some of you will keep on trudging along just ahead of the wave, certain that this is the music of survival.

Available from Bandcamp

Luwten: Luwten
File Under: singer songwriter, Dutch R&B, electronica
With wonderful production and detail Dutch artist Tessa Douwstra has finally released her first full length and it is sung all in English. In a collaboration with percussionist and producer Frank Wienk, Luwten, which translates from Dutch as "places without wind" is as enigmatic a moniker as this entire album is and it is a sound that defies easy categories. It is playful, soulful, inventive and and sticky in that way that makes you want more. Douwstra has said in an interview that she feels mostly at ease in places of solitude and writes and records in this way. But there is little sentiment or despair, just a confidant ebullience. This is one of my favorite things from this month. Joyful and subtle.

Love Theme: S/T
File Under: lysergic, improv-exploration, avant-jazz, psyche
Halfway through the first listen of this album I came out of a fog and found myself wide awake and wondering where I was. Love Theme is the project of ex-Dirty Beaches avatar Alex Zhang Hungtai, with Austin Milne on saxophone and with the help of Simon Frank. The album began with improvisational sessions involving two saxophones, voice, guitar, synthesizer, percussion and drum machine. This is one of those collaborations where the internet allows the "band members" to trade the master files back and forth between, Taipei, Los Angeles, London and Montreal. I don't know if Hungtai did most of the editing of the source material but the result is some pretty expansive psyche-drones, with more life than might be expected from such a dispersed collaboration. Fourth World, indeed. Constant surprises. Wave after resplendent wave on heavy rotation.

Arovane & Hior Chronik: Into My Own
File Under: electronic ambient
A second collaboration between this pair and this time with field recordings added to this experimental ambient album that features piano, vibraphone and harpsichord manipulations. It's a journey, a soundtrack that continues to evolve and reveal more and more depth and emotion.

Simon Fisher Turner: Giraffe
File Under: sprawling, experimental ambient, field recordings
New to me, Simon Fisher Turner has acted in films, been a singer and now claims a spot in the experimental and ambient, field recordings audio tree. Giraffe comes in a long line of many, many fine releases as well as his other aliases. Turner is known for his soundtracks composed for twenty or thirty of Derek Jarman films, as well as for Mike Hodges. As King of Luxembourg there are three albums. Deux Fillies, which is perhaps his best known alias, invented a fake French duo to create that double album. If you're from the UK and or have seen UK TV you have no doubt heard some of his work as intro music and within adverts. There is very little compromise here and that turns out to be my favorite thing about this album that could otherwise be known as The Official Soundtrack For Black Mirror. Let the machines and the field recordings sing together.

JASSS: Weightless
File Under: experimental, industrial, techno
A nice kraut-industrial-dub first album by Silvia Jimenez Alvarez, aka JASSS with shades of jazz, African rhythms, and concrete electronics. This would be a situation where it would be hard to decide whether you nod along, occasionally moving your hips or whether you inculcate the voodoo and your whole body begins to move and suddenly your dancing. Just close your eyes and imagine you are in Berlin and it will all start to make sense.

Stephen Carmona: Times Intention
File Under: refracted diaspora, funk/soul
I've now listened to and enjoyed this five or six times now but I can't really say whether or not this is some funky as hell, chilled shit or is it rambling dross? And I'm going to keep listening in a state of befuddlement as I clearly have no idea why this continues to feel so compelling. So, since I am unable to decide what it is, I'm going to pass this one on to you, dear music lovers. Is it the funk or the blues? Is it a beehive somewhere near your front door? Is it a fine spring day with the world abloom? Where is this place you keep taking me Stephen Carmona?

Joni Void: Selfless
File under: experimental dissolution arcade
The woman doing the voice over on the cut entitled "Observers (Natalie's Song)" asks a series of questions like, "When you see the apple in the plastic bag does it make you feel anything?" Or statements such as: Whenever it is that I happen to catch a stranger's gaze on the street I try my best to smile and I dreamily wonder whether they too feel rapture from ephemeral connections." Of course Joni Void is a guise of French-born and now Montreal-based artist and film student Jean Cousin, who has many releases on Bc under the name Johnny Ripper, where he used to sing and play a piano. Selfless is mostly a collage effort, focusing on found sounds, guest vocals, phone messages, field recordings. "Cinema Without People" is the name of one song and is a guiding theme for how to listen. A wizard for sure and someone to keep an eye on.

Unhuman: Devour Wrath Without Shame
File Under: experimental, noise-ish, distopic-Berlin-vibe
Look as far back as Psychic TV and you can find this thread of tribal-sounding, industrial, fifth world, noise rock that could also be considered dark ambient. This is the first Unhuman album to actually sound like something I've never heard before. Leaving behind a deeply buried vocal mix helps things along in a more trance like way, so that it becomes a form of chanting, a voice calling from out of the darkness. Is the voice a warning, some sublimated roar of defiance? What matters is that these metal/ doom/black players, who are all in other groups, are experimenting and taking risks that might challenge their core audience.

Aris Kinda: Swann & Odette
File Under: darkish ambient electronica
If you listen to as much "ambient" music as I sift through each month you get to the point where "not boring" becomes a place to call home, and often that's enough. Yes, it's ambient electronica and by it's very nature it occupies a specific space to our ears. Consistently evocative and evolving, Swann & Odette beckons the listener to enter their system of sonic wonder and let go.

Shitkid: This Is It (EP)
File Under: goofy DIY-punk grrl
Swedish punk rocker Asa Soderqvit drops a six song bomb in the form of an EP

Michel Banabila: Just Above The Surface
File Under: fourth world, electronic, ambient, new-classical
This under appreciated Dutch artist has released two full length albums within the space of 10 weeks: Trespassing in late November and Just Above The Surface two weeks ago. Banabila was born in 1961 and is a sound artist, composer and has produced musical scores for a ton of albums, film soundtracks, theater plays and dance performances. Using a variety of real instruments, minimal loop-based electronics, drones, field recordings, experimental electronics he creates expansive Fourth World sonic explorations that begs the question: why don't more music lovers know his work?

Notable Singles/Videos

Orchestra Obsolete: Blue Monday (Cover)
File Under: old school, new wave

CCFX: The One to Wait
File Under: Once in a while a video fits perfectly with a song

Russian Rammstein: Du Reicht So Gut
File Under: completely nuts, but it works

Madeline Kenney: Still Learning (feat. Naytronix)
File Under: one of our best album's of the year winner's new single with Tune-Yards producer doing backup

Notable Documentary Film

Chris Marker: Sans Soleil (1983)
File Under: transcendent meditations
First let me tell you about Filmstruck, which is a new app that has recently been added to AppleTV and Roku and other streaming platforms. What Filmstruck gives you is access to the entire Criterion Collection archive of films in Hi Def with the added bonus of the combination of Turner's TCM classic film vault, which means nearly the entire MGM film library. Not everything is available at once, they rotate and collate and put together weekly collections of shorts, or highlight a certain director's work, or feature Classic films from Czech Republic or more recently, and more specifically: The Prague Spring. I'd seen a few Chris Marker shorts before but Sans Soleil is a full length…well, it's not exactly a "documentary" as it is a meditation on time and memory with a VO narration penned by Marker that adds layers of association and finds links between human cultures and is a philosophical inquiry on memory as history reinvented. For any lover of film as an art form I highly recommend this film and buying a subscription to Filmstruck.

Notable Books

Notes On A Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen
Every once in awhile a book comes along that manages to alter the landscape of your viewpoint on what exactly it means to be American; how we have lived in a giant empire, a colossus who's power has been nearly absolute outside our borders and how we generally, as citizens have a mythology about ourselves and our foreign policy as one that upholds our ideas of liberal democracy and human rights, blah, blah, blah, while in reality what most of the world has experienced in our name are repressive dictatorships, American corporate plunder, unaffordable infrastructure upgrades and the resulting unsustainable national debts that often leave independent countries as mere shells of themselves, representative democracies in name only, with the elites who made the deals with vast wealth and their military and police trained in our schools in riot control, surveillance, and torture. A lot of this history I knew but what Hansen has accomplished is part memoir, part history lesson, with her six years spent in Turkey and how that experience challenged her own received ideas on what it means to be American in a Post-American world.

From the Archives

Sonic Youth: Evol (1986)
I was a young, first time freelance writer working for a weekly newspaper and tasked with writing record reviews and feature stories. On the day I got the gig the editor showed me a room in the newspaper's offices that was full of albums. "Review copies," he said, "Take what you want." Fortunately, they were organized and I grabbed an arm load of the ones that had arrived in the last month. One of these was of a band I had never heard of and what-the-hell, I liked the noir, B-movie kink implied by the cover so I was even more surprised that the music inside had zero to do with these cover connotations, but instead offered up a new, unique approach that may or may not have been an intuitive, equilibrium of egos or guided by the shared vision of husband and wife Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon.

Then that rarest of rare thing happened and I started to get the shivers as I played it and I remember thinking "Holy shit. This is what the future of rock sounds like." I played the whole album twice in a row and was ecstatic to share my discovery. This was back when you actually had to call someone on the phone and or ask them to come to your house if you wanted them to hear some new piece of music. I played it for my friend Dean, who lived across the street and I'm pretty sure I told Michael Lavorgna about it over the phone.

I went right out and bought a copy of Bad Moon Rising and saw them live three times, once at the Kennel Club, in Philly in a room without a stage and about 30 people, so you could get up real close and this is when Thurston had about twelve different guitars lined up on stage behind him. Renaldo changed up as well, but Thurston seemed to use a different guitar for every song. At one point he strapped on a beat up old Sears guitar held together with duct tape and with only five strings. He said that he had pulled it from a NY dumpster and wrote the song especially for the way that particular guitar sounded without enhancements or repairs. I don't remember the name of the song but at the end he said, "Once this thing falls apart we'll have to stop playing this song."

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.

Mr Quiet's picture

I Love The Luwten entry here, but I don't speak Dutch. Any ideas about getting a CD purchased under these conditions? Amazon, as usual is a joke for downloading, and My local music store can't find Luwten from any of its sources.

funambulistic's picture

Several tracks on bandcamp for download:
Streaming on Tidal (above) or Soundcloud:

Or you can buy the digital file, CD or LP (and t-shirts!) on Luwten's website: