An explosive sophomore LP by Brooklyn's chaotically controlled trio. Blown out, driving and relentless to the last second. The web of minimal and rhythmically knit guitar work combined with an unstoppable rhythm section creates groove-ridden riff perfection.
Alvarius B. – Baroque Primitiva
Alan Bishop's latest solo-record. Complete with lo-fi acoustic covers and whimsically charming arrangements. His voice belts out as well as it ever did in SCG, and the tunes carry a warm and homeward mood throughout.
Charalambides – Exile
Houston's legendary experimental duo deliver a beautifully put together and stoic record. Complete with the usual heady temperament, the Carters have a feel that's matured so noticeably and lush. The track “Words Inside” sticks out on this record. Some of the best vocal performances of Christina Carter's career.
Master Musicians of Bukkake – Totem Three
The third installment of their “Totem” series. MMoB serves up what might be my favorite record of the series. This record has it's share of transcendent drone-outs on the eastern tinge but also has some of the more rhythmic pieces I've heard of bands in this vein. Not to mention the synthesizers are unashamed and out front. I want drugs.
Seun Kuti and the Egypt 80 – From Africa With Fury: Rise
While the influences are more than obvious, this might be the most eclectic and “together” Afrofunk record since the Fela's Afrodisiac. Seun's band is more than tight, they are a swinging monster. The track “For Dem Eye” gets special mention, as it might have the most infectious beat of the year.
Grails – Deep Politics
Grails is a band that needs no introduction. This record might be their most defining yet. While the Black Tar... series speaks volumes at their influences and songwriting capabilities, Deep Politics proves, yet again, that they are a whole new animal.
The Necks – Mindset
As an Australian Jazz trio, these guys have released some of the most challenging, and rewarding records of the genre in the past two decades. With two sidelong tracks they almost condense some of the more hectic and peak parts of their more expansive works. “Rum Jungle” plays like having your head under a piston, while “Daylights” would represent the headache after, waiting for sweet relief.
Disappears – Guider
Recent hot commodities Disappears give us a record that actually focuses in MORE on the pumping tremolo riffs, catchy vocals and bustling drums to make an LP that actually has less tracks, but more character than their previous effort Lux. “Revisiting” in particular hones my favorite parts of their sound, clocking in at just under 16 minutes.
Mark Mcguire – Living With Yourself
It's pretty common knowledge that this Emeralds alum has his own style of syncopated, freaked out guitar wrapped in a magnanimous and patient sensibility. This record was kind of a late-realization to me. I had heard his previous works and was jamming A Young Person's Guide to... quite often, but the very personal and empathetic style of this record proved to be a great soundtrack to the winter months here in Texas.
Glenn Jones – The Wanting
Cul De Sac guitarist Glenn Jones pulls out his longest solo effort yet. A 2xLP with a side-long finale (Feat. Chris Corsano). While some of the tracks were on a split he released earlier this year, the body of work speaks for itself. In terms of primitive VOLK, he widens his range even further than his previous three LP's. This record is complete with some of the best open-back banjo tunes of his career as well.
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Horizontal Structures
I am hard put to name a more forward thinking sound artist than Moritz von Oswald, whose work in Basic Channel, Rhythm & Sound, and the Chain Reaction label have so dominated my year. But none of that, however far-reaching and otherworldly, prepares for the overwhelming brilliance of his vision in the Moritz von Oswald Trio, actually a quintet on this outing, mashing up von Oswald's string synths and Fender Rhodes and Max Loderbauer's expert modern electronics with Sasu Ripatti's clanging, driving percussion, Paul St. Hillaire's dubbed out space guitar, and most interestingly, Marc Muellbauer on acoustic double bass. The concept alone destroys the need for further description, for here we have the format and approach of a classic jazz unit, the preference for live performance and minimalist collective improvisation, applied to the entire history of electronic music. The rhythms move and groove like only Can or early-70s Miles could with persistent motorik, funked out percussion, both electric and acoustic and sinuous snakey bass lines; yet the songs also encompass the stoic space research of early Schulze, Cluster, and TD, the heady pot-smoke haze of dub and space rock, and the attention to detail and production techniques typical of modern dance. This results in a very patient form of hypnotic post-everything music, each piece building into distinct and far out journeys that beg hearing by any fan of true psychedelic music.
Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
A strangely compelling trip from start to finish. Confusion abounds anytime I try to analyze just why I love this record so much. Yet I find something absolutely entrancing in the bands syncretic combination of dancey bass heavy grooves, tropical and eastern melodies, adventurous vocals moving as easily from alien R&B to Bollywood coos and twitters, shoegaze guitars, incredible drumming, and some of the best sounding electronic programming I have really ever heard, especially the synthesizers...the gloriously gooey and lush synthesizers that dominate everything. A strange record that exists out of space or time. No precedent comes to mind for what happens here, especially in the band's back catalog, which impresses me not. References, though easy enough to spot, are twisted and contorted into a unique collage, the audio equivalent of some brilliant tapestry, woven by one using all the normal tools, yet achieving colors and patterns never before considered.
Circle – Infektio
As the years go on, I only seem to like Circle more and more. No band I can think of so daringly reinvents themselves every album while continuing to deliver exceptional musical quality. Infektio finds Circle ever exploring new horizons. Beginning with the near impenetrable "Salvos", who's bubbling synths and cold militant percussion set the stage for a satisfyingly dark trip, the listener journeys through fields of sound that at once feel familiar to Circle's universe, yet appear skewed in some sort of disturbing way. The hypnotic motorik pulse feels as present as ever, yet used more subtly than before, weaving in and out of strands of deep space electronics, jazzy skitter, and brief explosions of prog rock bombast. Perhaps in ways similar to pieces from Tyrant and Triumph, but with almost no black metal edge this time around, and more present and dominating synthesizers.
Grails – Deep Politics
Another excursion into the opiated netherworld of Grails. Joined most significantly by Timba Harris throughout, Grails continues to confound with their cinematic approach to some sort of pan-ethnic psychedelic music. The Secret Chief's presence calls to mind the long lost Timothy Horner, whose Ellis-ian viol screeching so dominated and elevated The Burden of Hope and Redlight of years past, yet the strings now, despite grandiose intensity, are used subtly to expand the music into moodier and more emotionally engaging horizons. We get a little less Middle Eastern and Oriental flare than Grails are known for, but the albums effortless progression between mystical drum machine flute mash ups, epic noir-Prog work outs, Gila indebted kraut-folk, and melancholic down-tempo jazz shows yet another way forward for all forms of cosmic music.
Master Musicians of Bukkake – Totem Three
The last entry into one of the better musical trilogies I can think of, and it shines ever as bright as Totem One and Totem Two, if not brighter. The vocal drones and incantations that so accentuated Part 1, yet were downplayed in Part 2, now resurface with renewed inspiration. Led most obviously by impressive careen of Alan Bishop, the vibratory human voices soar over the hypnotic combination of exotic instrumentation and galactic synthesizers. As usual with the work of Randall Dunn, the expert production allows the wide range of tones and timbres to dance within their own space while also vibing together to create this absurdly engaging occult progression into forms of mystical knowledge both mental and oscillatory.
The Necks – Mindset
I came late to the world of the Necks, but searching out and listening to as much of their music as possible was one of the most rewarding explorations of any musical universe I have yet experienced. The journey culminated with Mindset, one of the Necks shortest offerings and also their first to find its way onto wax. Owing to the nature of the medium, the Necks alter their expected approach by producing two relatively short pieces that stand as well independently as together. "Rum Jungle" find the Necks spinning and weaving the animalistic intensity of free jazz into an absurdly engaging and over the top display of wild pulsing physicality. "Daylights", on the surface, seems to be the cool down necessary after the invigorating first side, yet continual listens reveal a subtle fire that is every bit as mind-melting as "Rum Jungle", achieved within dimensions even more abstract.
Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer – Re: ECM
A dream it must be, to have unlimited access to the vast archives of ECM; yet how daunting given the sheer number of releases and the overwhelming consistency and quality of Manfred Eicher's vision. Max Loderbauer and Ricardo Villalobos need little introduction, the former because of his great work in NSI, Sun Electric, and the Moritz von Oswald Trio, the latter because of album after album of the most inspiring and jaw dropping minimal techno of the last decade. For Re: ECM however, the duo's proclivity for heady electronics moves far to the background, with only minimal bass loops and synth chirps used tastefully to expand their arrangements and mash-ups. Most everything I have heard on ECM stands perfectly well, but hearing the various releases combined in novel ways creates a magical atmosphere that somehow soars beyond the sum of parts involved. From the very outset, the release exudes vibes of the transcendental as the entire development of out-music as seen through the lense of ECM unfolds in a dizzying panorama of disembodied chants, drones, subtle free jazz, creepy avant-garde experimentation, and pan-exotic textures.
A Winged Victory for the Sullen – A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Stars of the Lid work so infrequently now that any least gift from their Olympus of Pure Ambience finds me in an anticipatory stupor. Especially considering the prospect of hearing yet another collaboration involving the somehow more obscure Adam Wiltzie. His two prior collaborations outside of the Lid mothership, The Dead Texan with Christina Vantzou, and Aix Em Klemm with Bobby Donne of Labradford, stand as two of my favorite records of all time. Something about Wiltzie's work outside of SOTL, while maintaining the patience and lush beauty, seems more immediate and emotionally engaging, with subtle of hints of song structure ever appearing. A Winged Victory for the Sullen, which finds Wiltzie working with pianist Dustin O'Halloran, continues this loose development. The piano dominates the proceedings here with O'Halloran's deft yet restrained playing and melancholic melodies. Wiltzie backs the twinkling beauty of the piano with an arsenal of gentle guitar, string, and electronic drones that form a billowing cloud of purposeful and affecting ambiance. Like most SOTL related projects, each listen truly reveals new layers of sonic meaning, as the brain, ever searching for new connections, discovers gorgeiously evolving relationships between every least detail.
Zombi – Escape Velocity
Perhaps Zombi's definitive statement thus far. Escape Velocity exudes absolute confidence in every aspect of its presentation. The record, split neatly into sides composed primarily by each member of the duo, starts off with Steve Moore's brain chilling sequence work outs. The courageous minimalism employed on his three compositions strikes me the most, usually involving just one very complex sequencer pattern playing off of Pattera's prog inflected, yet increasingly kraut-discotized drumming. The majestic keyboards once so dominant in Zombi's sound are used merely to add minimal cinematic flare as the serpentine arpeggios escalate in intensity, approaching that fabled sphere of programming ability only occupied by post-Phaedra Tangerine Dream. Bewildering, truly. Pattera's compositions, though also stripped down, exude a pronounced progressive flare. The sequencing remains as intricate and precise as the preceding tracks, yet over the top and symphonic harmonies generate a sense of drama absent from the more spaced out, calculated feel of Side A.
Alvarius B. – Baroque Primitiva
Coming relatively soon after SCG's fantastic Funeral Mariachi, this release finds Alan Bishop exploring similarly subdued and beautiful songcraft, seemingly out of character with a discography that includes Dante's Disneyland Inferno and the impenetrable Jack's Creek. Hooks abound as Bishop delivers his most wholesome and pleasing vocal performance to date. Very little of the confrontational, shrieking, ranting, and snotty mystic appears here; we are instead blessed with Bishop tackling many timeless tunes, further emphasizing his skill as an arranger and his ability to create affecting, timeless pop music. A lo-fi and incredibly intimate atmosphere prevails as we journey through Bishop originals, and fantastic covers including the Beach Boys and heavy emphasis on the work of Ennio Morricone, who's influence has (fortunately) ever dominated Bishop's music.