Monthly Spins: January 2018

By its very nature this first list of 2018 is all 2017 releases and some I specifically left off the Best of 2017 list so that I would be sure and have some delicious offerings left over, not to mention the avalanche of stuff gleaned from The Quietus and Bandcamp lists.

A new year and for some odd reason I still have hope for humanity and I’m expecting those making music will not disappoint us. Cheers!

Sourdure: Mantras
File Under: earthatronics, incantations, antediluvian-deep-space, fourth world
Ok, so this is my great Monthly Surprise when I discover something so other-worldly and beautiful that I feel like I’m in an interzone, waffling back and forth between dreams and whatever this other illusion is, this fading empire. A Frenchman named Ernest Bergez is behind all the wonder to be found in Sourdure as he was commissioned by Association Dome for the ECHOS Festival that took place beneath a giant, curved, over-hanging cliff face near the village of Le Fai farm in Le Six in the French alps. Situated on this farm are several ancient and giant horns, which are pointed at the 2km high parabola-shaped cliff. Bergez teamed up with Julien Dessailly who played uilleann pipes, low whistle and haida bagpipes and all the field recording sounds of water, birds, footsteps and who knows what, were not layered in after each live recording but left in to the mix as they were captured. This really sounds like nothing else on earth. Trust me. It’s stunning and incantatory.

Zimpel / Ziołek: Zimpel/Ziolek
File Under: kraut-trance-jazz-fusion
Zimpel is always up to something new and this collaboration with Ziolek finds new heights in the lexicon of a Kraut-inspired, jazz-inflected aural journeys into the outer mountains of eastern european folk, so far east that chanting sometimes occurs. And then there’s the whole prog thing. Post-rock? Post-jazz? If this is prog then it might very well be a new species, transcending at the DNA level into a new, hybrid chain of aural space. It’s a vibe I hope they continue to explore together.

Fire-Toolz: Drip Mental
File Under: trans-deconstruction, experimental, vaporwave
Using preexisting forms and already occurring sound feels right at this moment. Chicago electronic wizard and multi-instrumentalist Angel Marioid has been at this for a while, releasing music on an ever shifting platform of names and this is her third and best in the Fire-Toolz guise. She has recently come out as trans and along with pushing non-binary gender norms, she also makes—to these ears—a joyously complex series of cuts that include black metal howls, alongside ingenious sound collages that burble and coalesce into ever shifting montages. This is a new form of music just emerging chrysalis-like into our rapidly transforming world and Fire-Toolz is right at the edge of that wave.


Lee Noble: The Hell You Come In
File Under: ambient electronics
Imagine you’re having a dream where you’re a character in the 70’s movie Logan’s Run or even Roller Ball for that matter, and of course a dream like this would need an appropriate flashback soundtrack with all the purposeful vintage sythesizer references, and let’s just go ahead and update it to sound like it was made in 2017. Here’s just a slice of the vintage gear being used in this record: Moog Source, Korg MS-10, Korg SQ-1, Sequential circuits Six-Trak, Modular Sythesizer, delay pedals, manipulated cassette tape, guitar, samples, voice, percussion.

Nadah El Shazly: Ahwar
File Under: unexpected regions of the world collide
The last thing you might expect upon hearing this album was that Nadah El Shazly started out in a Misfits cover band. She produced, wrote and composed the whole thing and recorded both in Cairo and Canada in collaboration with The Dwarfs of East Agouza’s Maurice Louca and Sam Shalabi, as well as a who’s who of supporting players from Montreal’s improv and contemporary-classical scenes, many of whom are also members of the Land of Kush ensemble. Shazly does not shy away from her Egyptian roots and sings mostly in Arabic, but there the similarity to “middle eastern music” ends and we have moments of free-jazz, pop-infused melodies, dissonant vocal manipulations, psychedelic modalities, and electronic haze. In many ways this is a continuance of the kaleidoscopic and very appealing conglomeration of styles found on the Land of Kush The Big Mango album (Tidal), which I highly recommend as well.

Moritz Von Oswald & Ordo Sakhna: S/T
File Under: divine collaboration
As a document this album is a little jumbled in structure, given that the collaboration turns abruptly from traditional Kyrgyzstanian folk, into sonic collages of polyrhythmic structures with a density of scope that might feel like the shift between moods can seem abrupt. That said, there are stand out pieces which steer clear of Trad customs and venture into an electronic world. Oswald considered this document an “intimate scrapbook” of his collaboration with the Bishkek-based collective.

Indian Wells: Where The World Ends
File Under: electronic
Italian producer Indian Wells aka Pietro Iannuzzi occupies the worlds of Caribous and Bonobos, gathering layers and adding textures and subtle nuances as he goes about constructing his sonic world.

Caiti Baker: Zinc
File Under: Aussie soul, R&B, blues, hip hop, big band
A sensation down under Caiti Baker comes from a musical family so her talent comes deep within her DNA. Baker’s bluesman father lays down some mean guitar tracks in these stand out cuts. I’m not usually into this sort of blues/soul/ R&B thing but Baker can really swing and this record stands out from the usual cliches of this genre because the players are all tight and top-notch and Baker’s passion boils over into a bonafide swing.

Snapped Ankles: Come Play The Trees
File Under: innovative and irresistible post-rock
I’ll admit to feeling a little defeated by trying to explain this remarkable record. Now bonafide members of the New Weird Briton faction, Snapped Ankles create bespoke instruments such as their “log synths” which consist of, well, a log with all sorts of homemade circuits wired into it while it is being pounded on. It is experimental rock in that same way that Can conditioned the brain to all sorts of delicious weirdness and driving motorik and post-everything, I-Dont-Give-A -Shit-What-You-Think rock and roll.

Honey: New Moody Judy
File Under: riff-rock-carnage
A Brooklyn rock trio with members of Amen Dunes and Psychic Ills look backwards to the late 80’s and 90’s to create some flat out blistering Fu Man Chu music as relentless and it is good. This used to be called rock but others have labeled it punk or hardcore and although that may be true to a certain extent it is not immediately obvious.

Mike Cooper: Raft
File Under: guitar, electronics, experimental, geezer sensei
Mike Cooper is 74 years old and a lot of his original work from the late 60’s and 70’s has recently been rereleased. There’s no real place to start from because Cooper is a true sensei and uses electronics, loops, pedal effects, guitars and field recordings to create this gorgeous and beauteous album. I’ll call him an Outsider Artist because he is both very good at what he does and remains, at 74 an inveterate improvisational explorer and visionary.

Justin Walter: Unseen Forces
File Under: avant-electronic-jazz
This record reminds me in some ways of that magnificent White Arcades album by Harold Budd, except that Justin Walter uses a trumpet that he layers in to the mix along with an analog EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument) which is an extremely rare wind-controlled analog synthesizer from the 1970’s and the combination is a long way from the early classic jazz of his first album but thematically robust as his second and great album called Lullabies and Nightmares.

Walker & Royce: Self Help
File Under: hip hop-house
These guys have some lovely beats going on inside this sprawling record. I was immediately taken with the production values and the relentless House-like overtones, that marinate with funk, R&B, hip hop, house.

Nnamdi Ogbonnava: DROOL
File Under: conscious-hip hop, afrofuturism
Left field hip hop artist and Chicago rapper and multi-instrumentalist Ogbonnava makes music “for all of the weird ones out there” with his fast flowing, easy natured vibes and ebullient wordplay.

Ritual Knife: Hate Invocation
File Under: sludge-core, chainsaw hymns
No one wants to feel like this on purpose, to be dragged into a sensory blast of unremitting sludge with guitars amplified by chainsaws, a catharsis without the slightest bit of beauty except maybe this really is a deliriously decadent form of beauty and we’re just now waking up to a reality where we can finally hear it. Volume high. Dancing or moshing is highly encouraged. Now that we can see the not-so-subtle outline of the beast at the heart of our cruel empire it will need an appropriate soundtrack. I suggest this be that soundtrack knowing full well what it’s going to do to your brain.

Teleplasmiste: Frequency is the New Ecstasy
File Under: dark ambient, electronic
A pulsing display of dark ambient atmospherics and calibrated electronic frontierism by long time musicians Michael J York and Mark Pilkington using an assortment of analog synthesizers and generating spatial field displacements that lend themselves to interstellar travel. 

Singles of Note

Jens-Uwe Beyer: The Life Of
File Under: electronic

Miniatures: Honey
File Under: gaze

Ghostpoet: Woe is Meee (Slowdive remix)
File Under: outlier remix

Rose Elinor Dougall: Colour of Water
File Under: A beautiful single, but the rest of the album doesn’t measure up

From The Archives

Harold Budd: The White Arcades (1988)
File Under: classic, transcendant ambient
As musical artifacts go The White Arcades is an edifying master work in the ambient field. Budd is a composer, with a degree from USC and bonafides working with Brian Eno on several albums over the years but he has always been known for his subtlety and restraint. With White Arcades he reached an apogee of transcendent clarity and ambient bliss. This is music I like to put on in the afternoon, and is especially good for reading and writing as it worms its way into your consciousness and elevates. Using only piano and synth and stray comings and goings with the voice of the Cocteau Twins, Robin Guthrie, Arcades unfolds more like a journey, a spatial enhancement of reality that enhances and transforms as it slowly unfolds over its nine pieces. Unlike Eno, who once prescribed ambient as something to be played as a sort of wallpaper, Arcades does work this way if you want it to. Try the Eno technique of putting it on at a volume just above the level of whatever ambient noise surrounds you at the time and it works that way, but at higher volumes it becomes a veritable cathedral-like system of echoes and filtered light. Use it as a tonic, a balm, as it were, to alter reality. With good in-ear headphones it’s especially amazing when riding on trains, be they underground or not. Here it’s the journey that matters most, not the destination.

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.