Thursday, December 22, 2011

Best Albums of 2011 #10 Eli Keszler - Cold Pin (REL)

Sound artist and multipercussionist Eli Keszler's seems to be fascinated by producing overwhelming noise with no electronics. Rather than twiddling knobs like many of his contemporaries, Keszler's approach is mechanical-acoustic. For Cold Pin, Keszler took 14 strings ranging from 3 to 25 feet in length and installed them on one of the curved walls of Boston's domed cyclorama of the Battle of Gettsyburg. Motors were installed on the strings which were subsequently connected to a series of micro-controllers, pick-ups and rca cables. For this installation, the motors were employed to strike the strings, creating ferocious, resonant, percussive attacks at often earsplitting volume. The result is richly textured and a fascinating study in using natural environments and non-electronic approaches to explore the outer limits of what is traditionally seen as noise music. This album version of Cold Pin features one lengthy track that's just a recording of Keszler operating the motors to attack the strings. It's blazing, shrill, brittle and cacophonous, an almost overwhelming listen. The other track, also recorded live, features a lineup of additional musicians improving alongside Keszler's strings. Keszler himself plays drums, crotales installation and guitar, the great Geoff Mullen plays guitar, Ashley Paul plays clarinet, guitar, and greenbox, trumpeter extraordinaire Greg Kelley has his horn, Reuben Son is on bassoon, and Benjamin Nelson plays cello. While the strings alone are fascinating, with this killer lineup the installation gets taken to a whole new level. The human and the mechanical meld together into roaring, spasmodic clusters of sound. With intensely, unabashedly noisy dissonance and punchy harmonic sustain the ear melting noisescape conjured up by these musicians against the backdrops of Keszler's installation is ferocious and just plain awesome.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Best Albums of 2011 #11 Nicholas Szczepanik - Please Stop Loving Me (Streamline)

Please Stop Loving Me - a stirring opus from drone maestro Nicholas Szczepanik - is probably the best "ambient" album released this year. Part of the reason is that "ambient" is an apt descriptor but all too often that word carries with it a pejorative connotation, referring to aimless and dreary tone music. Szczepanik's output is ambient but in a captivating, depthless way, one that entrances and transports the listener. That's especially true here. Please Stop Loving Me is utterly vast and dense, thick with mountainous static and oceanic canyons of tectonic drone. The album - a single, 47-minute long piece - manages to be tender and delicate and intimate, steeped in melancholy, but at the same time feels huge, pulsing like the tides along a frozen shore. Built, it seems, entirely around Szczepanik's organ and electronics, the music comes at times with the mournful quietude of whispering ghosts, at others with the solemn grandeur of a dying star. It begins murmuring like a hymn heard in the womb, continues through its resplendent middle passage, and slowly slides into its shimmering, crystalline final act. There's even a glorious moment near the end where the organ rings out joyful, elating, full to the brim with light, before fading ever so gently into silence. All told it's a stunning three-quarters of an hour and one of the finest pieces of ambient music I've heard in some time.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Best Albums of 2011 #12 Destroyer - Kaputt (Merge)

I have to admit off the bat, I was reluctant to include this album - Kaputt by Dan Bejar's astonishingly great Destroyer project - on this list. It doesn't fit the aesthetic of the blog and I was concerned it might seem out of place. In the end, I decided it's just too damn good not too include and, were this a more general music blog, it would probably be placed somewhere closer to number 5. In any event, Dan Bejar has written one of the strangest, most compelling, and most bafflingly brilliant albums of the year and easily the best "indie rock" album (whatever that means) I've heard since I don't even know when. The weird thing is I'm having a really hard time figuring out exactly why Kaputt is so good. Much of the instrumentation sounds like it was lifted off a yacht circa 1979 or a smooth rock or lite jazz radio station. It's often saccharine and corny with trilling, reverb-y saxophone and trumpet and fretless bass and swaying sounding synths and classic rock guitar riffs. Kaputt should, all told, be lame. It should be corny. It shouldn't work. But somehow, miraculously, it does. Bejar made a ridiculously bold choice with his compositions here and the fact that the music on this album is so fascinating and catchy and engaging is testament to his skill as a composer.

Of course, what brings this album over the top is Bejar's lyrics. Wry and sad, clever and strange, never cliche or straightforward, Bejar spins winding, dense, and poetic tales of  frustration and alienation and lives devoured by meaningless pursuits ("Wasting your days, chasing some girls, alright/Chasing cocaine through the backrooms of the world all night" Bejar sings on the track "Kaputt" and "poor girl you're never going to make it/New York City just wants to see you naked, and they will" he intones on "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker" (a deeply unsettling song throughout)). His voice is nasally and deadpan, often accompanied by backup female vocals but not in the grating, impossibly irritating way found, for example, on The Dirty Projector's Bitter Orca. Lyrical motifs and even phrases pop up again and again throughout the record but these too grab the listener, force him to pay attention, are all the more engrossing for their oddity and repetition. And a lot of vocal phrases stick out immediately for their poetry and obliqueness ("You were on the side of good/I was inside of the sea's guts" or "A savage night at the opera/Another savage night at the club/Let's face it, old souls like us are being born to die/It's not a war till someone loses an eye" are just two of many, many notable lines). So for whatever reason, Kaputt works. It takes all these musical elements that are goofy and kitschy and makes them beautiful and exciting and it couples them with lyrics that are often inscrutable and bizarre. Despite the fact that its various parts, on paper, should be unpleasant, Kaputt is probably the album I've listened to the most this year. It's a revelatory listen and should not be missed.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Best of 2011 - Runners Up

The following albums were exceptional, got a ton of playtime on my stereo and ipod, and kept me coming back over and over from the first time I heard them until now. Although I ultimately ruled them out of the the Top 12 list that is soon to come, they were on some variation of the list at some point or another. Each is brilliant and well worth your time and money.

Pete Swanson - Man with Potential (Type)

Man with Potential is the second album this year released by ex-Yellow Swans member Pete Swanson but to an unknowing listener, hearing the two back-to-back (the other was called I Don't Rock at All) you'd be hard pressed to recognize that they were the work of the same artist. With this, his debut on Type, Swanson moves away from the blazing guitarscapes of his earlier solo work (all excellent) and enters a far weirder phase, one that draws from the abrasive squall and feedback found in much Yellow Swans material but with deranged, schizoid beats heavily factoring into the mix. Explosive expanses of white noise jockey with sonically flayed techno and mutilated house music to stunning effect. Like diving into the ocean and hearing a rave on an imploding submarine a mile beneath the waves.


Deaf Center - Owl Splinters (Type)

Deaf Center - the duo of Erik K. Skodvin (Svarte Greiner, the Miasmah label) and Otto Totland (Nest) - hails from Norway. The endless winters, months of darkness, and vast, frozen landscapes of that country can be intimately felt throughout this haunting, mysterious work that combines neo-classical with drone and abstract noise to create something deep, dark, and decidedly beautiful. Creaking, scraping cello  from Skodvin and plaintive piano from Totland weave between powerful, rumbling bass drones and vast, swelling walls of noise. Huge and densely cacophonous, Owl Splinters pummels the listener, allowing small gasps of air with lovely intermittent solo vignettes for cello or piano. But these are brief and soon gripping darkness settles in once more. A crumbling, echoing, scorched epic, Owl Splinters is miles ahead of Deaf Center's excellent debut from several years back. The wait for this followup was long but well worth it.


Motion Sickness of Time Travel - Luminaries and Synastry (Digitalis)

After a slew of tapes on a number of labels - including her own excellent imprint, Hooker Vision - the vinyl debut (excluding a vinyl reissue of the Seeping Through a Veil in the Unconscious cassette) of Rachel Evans' Luminaries and Synastry marks the best release yet from her Motion Sickness of Time Travel solo project. Employing a cosmic tapestry of endlessly looping and scattering arpeggiated synths and ethereal wordless vocals, Evans evokes spacewalks and dreamstates almost simultaneously. The music manages to often be both the most song-y of Evans' career (for example her vocals are more prominent here than ever before, less distant and more direct) and still maintain the floating, atmospheric daze of her earlier work. Luminaries and Synastry is perhaps the album that most deserves the adjective "sublime" out of everything released this year.


Richard Knox and Frederic D. Oberland - The Rustle of the Stars (Gizeh)

The title of this stunning collaboration refers to a phenomenon that occurs in the Arctic when the collision of particles in one's breath with particles in the frigid air can actually be faintly heard by the naked ear. It's a telling title for an album that is about "a polar journey to the ends of the earth." Among the many instruments and sounds employed - including strings and choral work from a number of contributors - are field recordings, processed guitar, and bowed glockenspiel from Knox, and piano, guitar, dulcimer, harmonium, and analog electronics from Oberland. The result is bleak and beautiful, an exploration, it seems, of both the physical darkness of polar winter and the inner darkness that surely grows from being trapped in a world of ice and snow at the ends of the earth. With strings and swelling, textured guitar dominating these barren soundscapes, Knox and Oberland have crafted one of the finest ambient/classical albums since Stars of the Lid's "And Their Refinement of the Decline."


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2011 Mix Tape #2

Here's mix number two containing tracks exclusively from 2011. As with the first one, there's a few tracks from the upcoming Best of 2011 list but a bunch are not. There's math-y post-rock from And So I Watch You From Afar, manic yet virtuosic acoustic guitar playing from Bill Orcutt, melancholy strings and drone from A Winged Victory for the Sullen, and mechanical clatter and buzz from Ernst Karel's field recordings plus 11 more. All of them come from cool albums that are well worth your time and money in any case.

1. Mogwai - Mexican Grand Prix
2. Lee Noble - Desire Isn't Suffering
4. Danny Paul Grody - Hello From Everywhere
5. Evangelista - Artificial Lamb
6. Bill Orcutt - Till I Get Satisfied
7. Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason - Venia
8. The Drift - The Skull Hand Smiles/May You Fare Well
9. Jon Porras - Calm
10. A Winged Victory for the Sullen - Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears
11. Ezekiel Honig - Subverting the Memory of Your Surroundings
12. Ernst Karel - Stans-Kalti
13. Higuma - Burning Colors
14. Grouper - Water People
15. Colin Stetson - From No Part of Me Could I Summon a Voice

Sunday, December 4, 2011

2011 Mix Tape #1

Here's a mix tape featuring music exclusively from 2011. Some of the tracks here come from albums on the forthcoming Hollow Press Best of 2011 list but several are from elsewhere. There's a good bit of diversity here, from the moody, gothic atmosphere of Zola Jesus' pop to the relentlessly abrasive mechanical percussion of Red Horse's sound art, and from the melancholy drone of Nest to the cosmic synths of Motion Sickness of Time Travel, with plenty in between. Take a listen. A couple more mixes should be on the way before year's end!

1. Zola Jesus - Vessel
2. Blackout Beach - Hornet's Fury into the Bandit's Mouth
3. Red Horse - Part 1
4. Pete Swanson - Misery Beat
5. Roll the Dice - See You Monday
6. Juv - Lys
7. Julie Holter - The Falling Age
8. Isidore Ducasse - Here's Lies a Youth Who Died of Consumption
9. Matt Christensen - Simple Lives Mean Nothing
10. Nest - Koretz's Meteor
11. Motion Sickness of Time Travel - Like Dunes
12. Tim Hecker - Analog Paralysis, 1978
13. David Lynch - She Rise Up
14. The Caretaker - Mental Caverns Without Sunshine

Friday, December 2, 2011

Best of 2011 - Best Label: Type

Over the next couple weeks, I'll be rolling out Hollow Press' Best Albums of the Year list. To change things up and make the formatting a little more intuitive, I'll be counting down with one post per day over December, starting with album number 12 and working down to album number 1. Some of these albums have been posted here before, most haven't. This was a tough list to make. When I initially put together all the albums that really grabbed me from the past 12 months, the list ran up toward 40 in number. Obviously in the name of brevity and sanity, I'll only be posting what I ultimately, and perhaps even a little arbitrarily, decided were my top 12 and maybe a handful of runners up. These lists are always problematic since, if I set about choosing a top 12 one month ago or one month from now, there would be at least a few different albums and almost certainly a different order for the ones that remained. Of course, I like making lists like this and now seems as good a time as any. And, it goes without saying, all twelve albums are really brilliant in any case and well worth buying (although, unless and until asked to remove them, there'll be links for you fine folks to give them a listen).

Before I begin the countdown, I need to single out what in my mind is easily the best label from the past year and quite possibly the best label currently operating. Type Records, run by Bostonian-by-way-of-England John Twells (perhaps best known his music under the Xela moniker) has an output of unimpeachable quality. More than that, however, is Twell's dedication to releasing a vast range of musical styles and genres, all with impeccable album art, on superb sounding vinyl, with stellar bonuses from cool colored vinyl to album-length CDs of bonus material included with initial vinyl pressings. Consider some of the albums that came out on Type in 2011: Deaf Center's Owl Splinters out of Norway is dark and deep drone music for cello and piano, processed into a mysterious, expansive fog, epic and dense. Rene Hell's The Terminal Symphony is an album of studied, meticulous synthesizer journeys exploring themes and motifs more often found in classical symphonies. Ezekiel Honig's Folding in on Itself is a gorgeous, melancholy album made from field recordings of New York City, deeply submerged beats, decaying acoustic instruments, and skittering percussion. John Mueller's Alphabet of Movements is pure percussion, a hypnotic, cacophonous, and cathartic squall. Clam Casino's Instrumentals is straightup instrumental hip hop. Red Horse's self-titled album is an unrelentingly intense and abrasive noise album that relies largely on a veritable arsenal of homemade acoustic instruments, motors, and wire boxes, a decidedly DIY punk approach to generally more staid avant-garde and abstract sound art. William Fowler Collins' The Resurrection Unseen is like a black metal album that has been power sanded down to pure texture, utterly dark, challenging, and almost impossibly bleak. And so on.

Twells seems convinced that his label should be a vehicle for music he thinks is great, regardless of what form it takes. Many fans on the Type forums and elsewhere seemed perplexed by Twells' decision to release an instrumental hip hop album. The fact is, it's definitely not the best thing Type put out this year but it's a damn cool record, one I and many others would probably never have come across had it not come out on Type. The world of noise and drone can be insular and, given the number of great albums that come out under those admittedly broad and more or less meaningless genre designations, it can be very easy to ignore everything else. While many labels pick one sound and stick to it come hell or high water, with each new Type release a listener can be sure of hearing something engaging and new and exciting. A handful of Type albums are on my current top 12 list. Earlier iterations of the list contained as many as 5. A top 25 would, for example, easily contain that many and probably more.

On top of the sheer quality and scope of Type's output, the label deserves a nod for its album artwork and design. A big reason many people like vinyl - apart from the boost in audio fidelity - is that album sleeves can be pieces of art. Type's record sleeves are, with few exceptions, gorgeous. They are generally very minimal. No words appear on the front of the sleeves and the images are generally quite abstract. Rather than describe them, I've posted a bunch below. Of course, these pictures don't do them much justice. The sleeves are always on matte stock which give them an amazing tactile quality and often contribute to the look of the artwork as well, adding texture and heft to what could on a different medium be flat and glossy. This may seem like an odd thing to praise but it's the things like this that demonstrate an absolute commitment to all the details of a release. The music is obviously what's most important but artwork plays a big role in how we as listeners can experience an album. And, of course, those vinyl-only bonus CDs that come with a bunch of Type releases are always flat out brilliant, essentially giving the buyer two albums for the price of one. Sure, an online store and high quality mp3 download codes with vinyl would be very welcome additions and an insert here and there might be cool but Type has a fairly minimalist aesthetic and I totally respect that.

Perhaps this seems overly effusive so I'll end here. But I will say that if you explore the output of any label you weren't previously aware of or weren't wholly familiar, Type should be it. Indeed, its entire back catalog is equally rich. Here's to another stellar year in 2012.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Julia Holter - Tragedy


Fans of deep, female led, space-y, blissed out drone-pop - artists like Grouper, Motion Sickness of Time Travel, Pocahaunted, even Zola Jesus - rejoice: Julia Holter's Tragedy is a staggeringly good debut (Holter has put out a handful of small releases but this is her first proper album), an album that's noisy and dreamy, rich in resplendent drone, with a sonic palette that runs the gamut from abstract, avant-garde noise and gothic atmospherics, to reverb soaked ghostliness and almost pop-y hooks, pulling in elements of woodsy folk and psychedelia along the way. Oh, and it's based on Hippolytus by Euripides. Despite some similarities, Holter's compositional range is actually broader than a lot of her contemporaries. I love the work of Liz Harris and Rachel Evans as much as the next guy but each of their individual albums has a distinct, fairly fixed sound to it. This isn't a bad thing - especially when that sound is often so good to begin with - but in some ways Tragedy is more engaging from start to finish for its broader scope and greater complexity.

While Evans' work is often fairly cosmic in a sort of minimal, skeletally framed kind of way and Harris' is drowning in reverb, an impossibly deep and distant  and melancholy sound, Holter's work here is often far darker, almost doom-y, and generally more complicated, shifting and overlapping compositional styles with ease. It makes sense that an album based on a Greek tragedy - one that even draws lyrical content from the text of that tragedy - would be dark. But Holter moves beyond the staid and formalized tone of her source material to create something big and unnerving and powerful, an emotional work that knows when to pull back and never goes too heavy on the pathos or melodrama but can still move and surprise and unsettle a listener.

Tragedy is hard to classify or pin down. Consider the opening track. It begins with an insectoid buzz. There's a distant fog horn shrouded in sonic mist and intermittent blasts from what sounds like a bass saxophone. Then an old opera record kicks in, rife with static and wear, old-timey strings rise and fall when suddenly you become aware of Holter's humming rising up through the mix, slicing through layers of fragile static pulse. It's surprising and strange and compelling, a clashing tapestry of sound and a telling sign of what's to come. Throughout, vocals switch from straight up pop vocalization to choral chants with layered vocals a la Julianna Barwick, to vocodored, cyborgish passages of disjointed narrative and are sometimes all three at once in an overlapping polyphony. Many of the pieces consist mainly of winding, slowly building instrumentals. The crackling of old phonographs or disintegrating tapes whisper under discordant, jarring piano, woozy, atonal strings, humming synthesizers and organ, eerie, gaseous decay, skittering, jangling percussion, garbled field recordings, blasts of lowing brass. There's melodies here and even hooks but when they appear they are often deeply buried or come gusting up out of turbulent audio collages and fractured drones and pulsing harmonics. Tragedy is definitely an accomplished piece of work. As I slowly compile my "Best Albums of 2011" this blog, I'm having a hard time imagining a list without this one on it.

(if you want to buy this on vinyl, act fast. 
The first edition sold out quickly
and the second one is equally limited)

Tune in soon for posts featuring Roll the Dice, Danny Paul Grody, Nate Wooley, Catherine Christer Hennix, and Hollow Press' favorite albums of 2011 (possibly including a mixtape or two for the uninitiated and/or curious).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Merce Cunningham's Pond Way

Choreography by Merce Cunningham, sound by Brian Eno, set by Roy Lichtenstein

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ernst Karel - Swiss Mountain Transport Systems (Gruenrekorder)

Many of us live in a state of near constant self-imposed sonic stimulation. We are forever talking on cellphones or listening to ipods, rushing from place to place with music and podcasts and satellite radio and videos streaming on our tablets. Meanwhile the world goes on around us. The irony of this is if one knows how to listen to the world - the real world - one can often find a soundtrack equally rich and stimulating and beautiful to anything we can think to cram onto our mp3 players. Ernst Karel - a sound artist and musician from Chicago - demonstrates this truth with jaw dropping aplomb on his latest release, "Swiss Mountain Transport System." The title of this album says it all. At close to 80 minutes in length, Karel offers his listeners a number of unprocessed field recordings taken on various gondolas, funiculars, and chairlifts in the mountains of Switzerland - from ancient, creaking gondolas to whirring, highspeed chairlifts. That's it. No instruments, no electronic processing, no synthesizers or oscillators or guitar feedback. And yet, despite that, Karel has created one of the most gorgeous, engaging, and fascinating albums of the year. It also happens to work almost perfectly as a drone or minimalist noise album. Through Karel's carefully positioned microphones, these means of mountain conveyance can be heard as accidental electro-mechanical music boxes, an entire world of sound contained in each car. They drone, they are percussive, they amplify and refract and echo and encase sound. Wires ring and reverberate, gears rumble and click, doors creak and whoosh. The mechanical and industrial intersects with other elements of the world - murmured voices across platforms, a peal of church bells off in the distance, a clang of cow bells, a clattering of helicopter rotors, frigid gusts of wind.

As Karel captures it, these unprocessed, unorchestrated sounds - largely mechanical and man-made but nonetheless "organic" in that they belong firmly to a lived environment, integrated in with the natural, and are not created as an end in themselves as with music or intentionally crafted sounds but rather exist as a part of the man/nature soundscape that is a byproduct of a world inhabited by living beings - are immensely affective and evocative. For an album that seems to be about movement, about traversing space, these recordings are incredibly successful not because they are beautiful - though they absolutely are - but because they evoke the mountains and they evoke transportation through that rugged terrain in a remarkably lucid way.

Recorded in stereo with multiple mics, this album truly comes to life when heard through a decent set of headphones. The sound envelopes the listener and we are whisked away through the Alps as Karel's recordings convey with remarkable clarity a sense of distance, of movement, of sound as it's really heard, in the real world. A collection of pure field recordings, it is perhaps ironic that in order to hear - as Karel has captured it - not only the utter beauty in the perpetual sonic landscape that surrounds us but also its incredible, inherent musicality that we must sit and listen closely, headphones firmly donned, without distraction. But one of the things that's so special about this album is that once you listen to it in this way, once you recognize the richness and depth of the world of sound that exists outside our headphones and in the most unexpected of places (we don't think of funiculars and gondolas as being all that interesting as such), it's possible to start discovering similar depth in places one experiences daily and simply never pauses to think about twice. As with all important and truly successful art, "Swiss Mountain Transport System" can radically alter the way one perceives the world.

Be warned: this album requires a good deal of patience. Many will find it boring but for those really willing to sit with it, its rewards continue to unfold listen after listen. It's refreshingly direct - a rarity in our world of ultra-processed music - and restrained, elegant and as simple as can be. At the same time, it's deeper and more nuanced than pretty much anything I've heard in a long while. A completely essential listen, one I cannot recommend highly enough.

Link Removed by Request

Monday, October 24, 2011

Maryanne Amacher at Ars Electronica, 1989

Thanks to Maxwell @ Root Blog for the link

more posts coming soon, including stuff by Ernst Karel, Catherine Christer Hennix, Roland Kayne, Aaron Martin and more.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Svarte Greiner - Twin and Miscellanea

Svarte Greiner is the solo project of Norway's Erik K. Skodvin, perhaps better known as one-half of Deaf Center. For years now, Skodvin has been taking cello, electronics, tape, and what sounds like mic'd scrap metal and turning out haunted soundscapes, blackened to a pitch, steeped in nightmares, owing, it seems, a huge debt to our primal fear of things that go bump in the night. Earlier this year, Deaf Center put out their newest album, the obliquely titled Owl Splinters, and included with a limited number of the first pressing a bonus CD. Type, the label that put out Owl Splinters, has gotten into the habit of doing this, rewarding fans who manage to snap up a copy of many of their albums before they inevitable go out of print and start selling for four times the original price on discogs and ebay. Recent LPs by Yellow Swans, Richard Skellton, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, and Rene Hell to name just a few all had free bonus CDs. It's a really wonderful trend, especially since these bonus CDs are far from random, cast-off freebies; Generally they account for enough music to constitute a wholly separate album. That's certainly the case here with Twin,  Owl Splinter's bonus CD containing a single, nearly 46-minute track from Skodvin under the Svarte Greiner moniker. It's hard to tell but this piece may be a reworking of material from Owl Splinters. In any event, it's entirely it's own beast and probably the best thing Svarte Greiner has done to date.

Twin starts off with an oceanically deep loop of droning processed cello. It almost sounds like the solemn chanting of a long forgotten sect of Alpine monks huddled in their frost encrusted monasteries hewn from the mountains themselves. This loop builds upon itself, adding dimensions, taking on a ragged edge, pulsing with sinister harmonics, fraying tendrils of static, a sawing rasp of tangled feedback. The intensity rises through the first third, eerie and laden with menace, the sound, perhaps, of a fractured and ever-disintegrating world. At the same time it is an ancient, almost primal sound. This isn't music for the end of the world by machines; rather it is the soundtrack to the terror of night and the unknown violence therein surely felt by our early ancestors, cavemen praying for a splinter of flint to throw - even for a moment, even if just a spark - some light into the perpetual black. A slowly heaving, wailing, crumbling, roaring pulse of drone washes over the listener.

Around the 16-minute mark, things change. The bellow and roar of the first third is gone. A siren-like sweep of electronics washes out over an utterly desolate expanse of ghostly ambiance. A tangle of murmuring, chaotically bowed strings rises and falls through a dank mist of analog murk - reminiscent of Xela's The Sublime but less minimal, more deeply layered. Percussion like snapping tree limbs, rusted metal on rusted metal, creaking door hinges is woven into this tapestry or sound

Twin's final third is almost suffocatingly intense. Loops of decaying cello, a funereal organ, disintegrating bits of tape and static - dissolving audio detritus threaded throughout. The final minutes are all organ in full dirge, long forgotten radios playing out their final, static-ridden moments of life. It's black as pitch, an apocalyptic, scorched earth blast to sing us into oblivion.

And yet, despite all this, Twin is exceptionally beautiful. Bleak, yes, but it's clearly the work of a master craftsman. Immensely affective and evocative, fans of drone, noise, and even modern and avant-garde classical alike should give this a serious listen.

Included in the download are some other rare Svarte Greiner goodies. Rips of the Ragsokk and Depardieu 7"s from 2006, plus a track from the SMM: Context compilation put out by Ghostly International last year and the 18-minute long "A Night Without Harm," a live recording from early 2007. Nightmares for everyone!!

Saint Yorda

I don't know much about Saint Yorda - or anything really - other than one of the members of the band is named Kevin and he sent me this link. I'm pretty sure "Some Songs That We Recorded With Cathal" isn't an album title and this is more or less a collection of songs but it's well worth a listen in any case. If you live in the North East, autumn is officially underway and this collection of songs is perfect for the season. Languid and cool, a bit foggy, these songs make a great soundtrack to chilly, gray fall days like these. There are vocals with some wavering echo and reverb, skeletal electronic beats and a scattering of bleeps and bloops - syncopated, almost danceable in a kind of codeine-induced way (especially on the track "Sakawa Boys"). Some of the band's influences seem pretty clear. Beach House fans will fall in love with a lot of these tunes. The track "Ocean" quavers and thrums like a Grouper track. "Death Ray" sounds a heck of a lot like more recent Radiohead tracks in the best possible way. "Surf Song" is just that - a very surf-y track but more along the lines of something Julian Lynch or possibly even Dirty Beaches might turn out with an ultra-simple drum machine loop adding percussion. "Yr Bones" is a mournful, synth heavy song, reminiscent of a sad song off a soundtrack to a John Waters movies. None of which is to say the band is mimicking these artists. Saint Yorba definitely has a sound of its own but it's one that cuts across a bunch of genres that other artists have colonized. In any event, it's well worth a listen. Check out some of their tunes below and follow the link to their bandcamp page where there's more to hear and download.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Nicholas Szczepanik - Please Stop Loving Me

Please Stop Loving Me, the meticulous, hypnotic new album from Nicholas Szczepanik (a name that's about as hard to type quickly as it is to pronounce) is a single 47-minute long piece of utterly transportive, thickly layered drone. Guided by a single organ note that subtly shifts, ebbs, and flows, this album-length piece is like an entire symphony in terms of scope and emotion and movement but one collapsed into itself and then slowed to the speed of plate tectonics. In terms of momentum but also scale, this album is akin to some kind of sonic continental drift. And I mean that in the best possible way; Please Stop Loving Me is stunning from its deep, echoing intro - murmuring like a hymn heard in the womb - through its glistening, resplendent middle passage, and into its shimmering, crystalline final act. Tim Hecker and Szczepanik are contemporaries and there are shades of the former's benchmark setting Radio Amor here but this year Szczepanik has bested Hecker, himself one of the very best in the biz. Both men put out albums of deep, expansive drone music with a heavily processed church organ taking center stage. Ravedeath, 1972 - Hecker's contribution that features the mighty Ben Frost on production duties - may be great but it doesn't achieve the emotional depth or sonic richness found here. Szczepanik's organ and electronics come at times with the mournful quietude of whispering ghosts, at others with the solemn grandeur of a dying star. There's even a glorious moment near the end where the instrument rings out joyful, elating, full to the brim with light, before fading ever so gently into silence. Please Stop Loving Me is not only one of the best drone albums of the year, it's one of the best things I've heard this year of any kind. 


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Canyon Hands - Their Copy Hearts Beat at Their Chests

static roar/whispering in wires

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Liz Harris (Grouper) - Mirror Hall pt. 1: Jeweled Light

Last year, Liz Harris better known to the world as Grouper released a small art book on the venerable Root Strata label. Liz's art is actually quite evocative of her music in some ways. It's often incredibly dense,  made up of repeating, interwoven patterns and is quite beautiful. But for me, the real point of interest was the dvd that came with the book. Clocking in at over an hour long, the movie is a continuation of Liz's art in moving images and, given that there's music playing the whole time, in sound - the medium by which we know her best. What we have here is that piece of music, all 66 minutes of it. The piece is an epic tape collage, water logged, absolutely drenched in reverb and murmuring static. Field recordings filter through the murk at times, distant and bathed in fuzz or hazed almost to the point of pure texture. Around a quarter of an hour in, Liz's trademark electric piano, trembling and melancholy rises to the surface, contending with a veritable avalanche of static that sounds like a hurricane heard from some bunker deep underground. Around 25 minutes in, thing turn sinister, a menacing series of overtones - courtesy of Rob Fisk on viola - cut through the swirling swoosh of decaying radios and distant thunderstorms that have taken us this far. Voices can be heard in far off corners, a thrum of reverb and a menacing low, almost reminiscent of the quieter moments from The North Sea takes us down dark corridors, ghostly and dreadful. Eventually we are back in the world of gently murmuring static, wind in microphones, the sounds, perhaps, of a city far beneath, interrupted by at long last by Harris' voice as we've come to expect it - a chorus, fragile, mournful, utterly haunting and lovely. We veer then into more straight up drone territory, the static is all but gone, pianos ring out, waver, keen, mournful, beneath an almost Stars of the Lid dronescape. This passage is transportive, entrancing, lovely and sad. After the 50 minute mark, we're back in Grouper territory, drone-y and washed out, reverb and static, flickering, hazy vocals. More static. A single, plaintive piano wanders, picks up a sinister clip over an ever growing mess of feedback - again shades of the North Sea here - and this too then gives way to yet another Grouper-esque moment of keyboard and static wash. With five minutes to spare, there is more darkness, more rumbling like forgotten machines built for nefarious purposes, a buzzing line of feedback over a wash of static like cars passing over rainslicked pavement, slowly fading into silence.

Unfortunately Divide is sold out but you can buy more great stuff from Root Strata here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Ghost of 29 Megacycles - Love Via Paper Planes

This shimmering, ethereal debut album came out in 2009 on the now tragically defunct Sound&Fury imprint and quietly slipped under most people's radars. It's a shame, because it's a gorgeous album full of sprawling dronescapes lovingly crafted from haunted, whispering vocals, coldly thrumming and heavily reverberated guitars and gauzy, glowing organ. It's a chilly sounding album but enveloping nonetheless, rich in texture and carefully crafted washes of sound. At 15 minutes long, the opening track accounts for about a third of the total run time. It's decidedly minimal with constant waves of guitar and organ serving as the backdrop to a hushed, wordless chorus. The second track is far more guitar heavy, but droned out almost to the point of a pure wash of sound. Its slow burn progression, melancholy and meditative, is reminiscent of Stars of the Lid. The title track and the one following it, entitled "Dusted," could easily be one long piece. On the first, a languorous guitarscape drives the piece forward. The latter swells with vibrant, near-hypnotic organ tones, the guitar shimmering within it. On both, those same tender, wordless, washed out vocals sing almost mantra-like throughout. The album ends unexpectedly with a cover of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End." For the first time, the vocals are clear, albeit distant and almost tremulous, as if coming from some room far, far away. It's a wonderfully melancholy piece and a fantastic way to close out this mysterious yet highly accomplished album. This is shoegaze for fans of pure ambience, or as if My Bloody Valentine decided to make a drone album. In any case, it's a gem and is not to be missed.

Band's Website

Monday, June 20, 2011


It's a new day and Hollow Press is back online. After weeks of crazy deadlines and adventures the musical spelunking can once again commence. We're kicking things off with three releases by Australia's Cameron Webb aka Seaworthy, a maestro of guitar and electronic minimalism.

First up is "Codes Adrift." Released in an edition of 100 CD-Rs, placed in hand made envelopes, and sealed with wax by the now tragically defunct Sound&Fury records, "Codes Adrift" is two untitled tracks sprawling out over just under half an hour. The two pieces could almost be one, a quietly pulsing and sublimely peaceful journey comprised entirely of looped and layered guitar tone and feedback. The sensation of listening to this record is of one sitting on a small boat in the middle of an absolutely endless sea but being completely at peace with this fact. A wistfully lulling siren call shifts and lows, an almost organ-like thrum, while Webb picks and plucks his guitar quietly around this softly swirling ebb and flow. Although some new elements creep into the track 2 - bits of static and softly glitchy pulses rattle and whisper, lonely and nostalgic; the volume and intensity picks up - the sonic journey "Codes Adrift" takes listeners on is essentially without interruption. The two pieces feed into one another and, like the tides they seem to draw inspiration from, could pulse inward and outward forever. It's a powerful yet delicate piece of music, decidedly minimal but incredibly deep.

Codes Adrift
Codes Adrift is long out of print and probably can't be purchased anywhere. Sorry!

Next there's "1897," an album recorded entirely in an old ammunition depot from the titular year. Once again Webb's guitar playing is at the fore here although meditative electronic thrum and lovely field recordings of wind, birds, rain, and running water are woven throughout, creating a fully realized sonic world, one that drifts through haunted corners of dusty attics and over rainswept meadows, mournful and brimming with melancholy. One of the most impressive parts of this album is the timbre of Webb's guitar, at times reminiscent of Loren Connors, which picks up a huge amount of natural reverb from the physical space in which the album was recorded. But some tracks are far more electronic heavy than others, eschewing traditional guitar sounds altogether. Sparse, glowering drone pieces crop up amongst the rippling guitar and delicate sigh of wind and rain through leaves. Stark and chilly, this isn't happy listening but it's perhaps Webb's best to date.

Buy or go here

Finally there's "Map in Hand," a rather different album from the last couple but still definitely part of the Seaworthy oeuvre. "Map in Hand" is more hopeful, a warmer and overall more involved production. Electronics play a bigger role, the guitar is less prevalent, at least in it's traditional state. While many songs on "1897" are just Webb improvising on guitar with little to no significant processing, "Map in Hand" is more concerned with creating glowing, densely layered soundscapes. Rather than stark and mournful, these are more transportive, crackling with analog buzz and thrumming with strange energy. The result is soft and languid and beautiful. It's not a very easy album and will bore some but for those with the patience it's wonderful and rewarding, a perfect soundtrack to a late night summer drive through the country, surrounded by dark fields but warm and secure and speeding into the unknown.

Map in Hand
Buy or go here

Saturday, May 21, 2011


So for the past month or so I've been finishing my senior thesis and finals and all that good stuff hence the total lack of posts. That's going to continue for the next couple weeks. BUT I have good stuff planned for the future. More mixes are in the works and posts of rare and out of print albums from Seaworthy, The North Sea, The Ghost of 29 Megacycles, Svarte Greiner, Liz Harris, Christopher McFall, and Sundrips plus some cool concert bootlegs are all in the works. Come mid-June(ish) things will pick up, promise!

In the meantime go here and listen to two new songs written and performed by the immensely talented Jo Warren aka sTiCkLiPs:

Monday, April 25, 2011

First Third 2011 Mixtape

It's April and that means 2011 is one third over. To celebrate here's a mixtape featuring 17 songs from albums released in the past four months. This was thrown together rather quickly and is in lieu of an actual update so there are some admittedly imperfect transitions on display but this mix does highlight some of the best music we at Hollow Press have heard this year so far.

Mogwai kicks things off with "Rano Piano" from their latest, Hardcore Will Never Die but You Will. An awesomely powerful and catchy guitar riff pulls the song along, anchored by propulsive drums and a whole mess of electronic noise. "Glass Deers" by Braids follows and features a gently picked guitar and gorgeous female vocals (both clean and chopped up and stuttering) along with shuffling drums, electro-pop that's catchy without being irritating, sad and gripping without being melodramatic or banal. Mark Templeton's wonderful "At Your Feet" is layers of electric guitar with percussion from drums and a lot of shaker. The guitar plays a simple refrain throughout with a rising tide of delayed guitar squall building up over it.

These first three tracks should more or less tell you what to expect. This mix goes a lot of places and explores a lot of ground. Deaf Center's "Close Forever Watching" is dark and deep, a very heavy, very waterlogged sonic journey. On the other hand  Matthew Cooper, better known as Eluvium, offers a bright but wistful piece for piano and strummed, delayed guitar along with murmuring, whispering electronics from his original soundtrack for the film Some Days are Better Than Others. Meanwhile Dirty Beaches' "A Hundred Highways" sounds like someone took a 1950s rock and roll LP, rubbed it with dirt and gravel, and threw it on a turntable with an ancient cartridge. It's scuzzy as hell.

Then there's Grouper, Julianne Barwick, and Motion Sickness of Time Travel - three female solo artists - who make their voices - looped, delayed, layered, distorted - into a primary component of their pieces. Barwick's "Envelope" is more or less just her voice, a tremendously affecting track of layered and looped wordless vocals swaying and cascading and folding into one another. Rachel Evens of MSoTT uses her trademark spacey synths and haunted, murmuring vocals to take the listener on a drifting, meditative journey from one of her newest tapes, A Disembodied Voice in the Darkness. Liz Harris aka Grouper absolutely stuns with "Vapor Trails," one of her most powerful tracks yet off of Alien Observer, itself one half of a two album release called A I A (the other half is Dream Loss). Her trembling keyboard, thick with reverb, and softly glowing guitar complement layers of wonderfully soft and ghostly voice, a terribly sad song that sounds like it's drifting up from the bottom of the sea.

Also in the mix, Colin Stetson's undeniable genius on the baritone sax is here for all to hear. Somehow Stetson manages to vocalize in tremendously engaging ways, transforming his instrument into something wholly new in the process, a fact that's true for the entirety of his New History Warfare Volume 2: Judges. This sounds like a heavily processed piece but it's recorded live with no overdubs. It's a thrilling and original piece of music. A Hawk and a Hacksaw offer up a hymn for strings, a mournful, lovely tune dominated by an emotionally bowed violin. Evenings' "Still Young" is a catchy bit of electro instrumentalism with syncopated drum machines and keyboards, a definite must for fans of The Album Leaf. Electronic music master Tim Hecker's piece "No Drums" from the awesomely titled Ravedeath 1972 is drifting, guazy, and contemplative, soft and pulsing, reminiscent of German producer Gas. Ending it all is "Postcards from 1952" off of Explosions in the Sky's latest. It's true that this Texas based band is still doing the whole "post-rock" thing that is arguably derivative and old hat by now but they do it so well that it's impossible to really complain. Their newest is a gorgeous, elating piece of work and this track is one of the most intense of the bunch, a fantastic, stirring piece of music.

Hopefully there's something for everyone here. As always, thoughts are appreciated. Enjoy.

The First-Third-of-2011 Mix

1. Mogwai - Rano Piano
2. Braids - Glass Deers
3. Mark Templeton - At Your Feet
4. Grails - Future Primative
5. Deaf Center - Close Forever Watching
6. Matthew Cooper - Some Days are Better than Others
7. Tape - Dust and Light
8. Rene Hell - Detuned Clarinet
9. Motion Sickness of Time Travel - Vision of Bliss and Peace
10. Evenings - Still Young
11. Dirty Beaches - A Hundred Highways
12. Julianna Barwick - Envelope
13. A Hawk and a Hacksaw - Lazslo Lassu
14. Tim Hecker - No Drums
15. Grouper - Vapor Trails
16. Colin Stetson - In Love and in Justice
17. Explosions in the Sky - Postcards from 1952

Total Runtime: 1:33:27


edit: just noticed the "album title" on the tracks calls this a "first quarter" mix rather than first third. Change as you are wont.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Golden Retriever

For our first actual update in quite some time, we have Golden Retriever's self-titled debut, a drifting cosmic journey for synthesizers and clarinet released in an edition of only 100 cd-rs by Root Strata in 2009. Golden Retriever is the duo of Matt Carlson and Jonathan Sielaff and for their first release they crafted a gorgeous yet sinister set of tracks that could perhaps best be described as the long-lost alternative soundtrack to Blade Runner. This is music for a midnight hovercar drive through the slums of some seedy, neon filled dystopian metropolis. Synthesizers thrum and undulate, glower and crumble, scattering bleeps and bloops off into the stratosphere like archaic, room sized computers communicating with deep space communes. Sielaff's clarinet soars out mournful and clarion clear, looping and layering into a shifting wash of sound at times, and in other moments exploring the more abstract boundaries of jazz. At other times the duo brings the sound down almost into the realms of minimal sound exploration, high end whispers like intercepted phone frequencies, spattering metallic gurgles, dull, lowing buzzes all weave into spooky, mysterious sonic trips through long forgotten laboratories and empty streets. All told, this self-titled debut is fantastic and unique, an amazing excursion that stands head and shoulders above nearly all of the recent glut of synthesizer albums clogging the airwaves. Definitely not to be missed.

Golden Retriever Bandcamp

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Massive Japan Relief Compilation

Antiopic has just released a downloadable Japan relief benefit compilation and it's a doozy, featuring 64 tracks, over 5 hours of music, all exclusive to this compilation. At only $15, it's a real steal and 100% of sales go to Civic Force, a Japanese non-profit helping with the relief effort from the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster. There's tons of amazing drone, noise, psychedelic, ambient, and otherwise experimental music, with artists include Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Grouper, C Spencer Yeh, Fennesz, Akron/Family, Ben Frost, Bear in Heaven, and Tim Hecker contributing among many, many others.

Buy it here:

Full track listing:

Part One:
1. Fennesz: “Fearless”
2. Helado Negro: “Cabeza Bella”
3. Stephan Mathieu: “(Excerpt from) The Floating World”
4. School of Seven Bells: “Midnight Sun”
5. Lawrence English: “Hotaru”
6. Noveller: “Darkheart”
7. Zeena Parkins: “The Letter”
8. Tom Carter (of Charalambides): “Mended”
9. Akron/Family: “Deep Kazoo”
10. The Ex: “Cold Weather Is Back”
11. Shinji Masuko (of Boredoms/DMBQ): “Botsuon”
12. Oneohtrix Point Never: “The Inside World”
13. Tokimonsta: “Sound Caves”
14. Joshua Abrams: “Jackdaws”
15. Keith Fullerton Whitman: “Anzac #3″
16. Ben Frost: “Sn├Žugla”
17. David Daniell: “Shiho-hiru-tama”
18. Grouper: “Cassiopeia”
19. Tape: “Mirrors”
20. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma: “Moon in a Dewdrop”
21. D. Charles Speer: “Steel Infant”
22. Evan Caminiti (of Barn Owl): “Blue Veil”
23. Blackshaw, Wood, Wood & Tomlinson (James Blackshaw & Hush Arbors): “Are You Alright? (Chump Change)”
24. Nat Baldwin (of Dirty Projectors): “In the Hollows”
25. Chris Forsyth & Shawn Edward Hansen: “Dirty Pool Blues”
26. Zelienople: “Stone Faced About It”
27. Elm (Jon Porras of Barn Owl): “Diamond Dust”
28. Lobisomem: “Kusha”
29. Stabbing Eastwood (Tunde Adebimpe & Ryan Sawyer): “Thundersnow Mountain”
30. Alan Licht & Greg Malcolm: “Natasha Utting Reporting”
31. Scott Tuma: “To: Hasty”
32. Rhys Chatham: “Prayer for the People of Fukushima”

Part Two:
33. Prefuse 73: “The Only Climactic Dissonant Hums”
34. Growing: “Untitled”
35. James Plotkin (of Khanate): “Broken ’96″
36. Totem Test: “Pulse Prayer for Japan”
37. Marcus Schmickler (of Pluramon): “2.71828 Up”
38. Tim Hecker: “Hatred of Music (Double Gate Mix)”
39. Sylvain Chauveau: “Colours in Darkness”
40. Bear In Heaven: “The Days We Have”
41. Spires That In The Sunset Rise with Michael Zerang: “Collision Theory”
42. C. Spencer Yeh: “Solo Violin March 13th 2011″
43. Lau Nau: “Oi Kuolema”
44. Oren Ambarchi: “Merely A Portmanteau”
45. Warm Ghost: “Uncut Diamond (Dripping Pollen Mix)”
46. Bradley & Geofrey (Atlas Sound + White Rainbow): “Mr. Stephen’s Private Service”
47. Peter’s House Music: “Half Step”
48. Leb Laze: “Da Plane Da Plane”
49. Matthewdavid: “Stop Laughing / Be Honest”
50. Sam Prekop: “Lakes River”
51. Simon Scott: “Of You (Before 2082)”
52. Tetuzi Akiyama/Jon Mueller/Jim Schoenecker: “Untitled”
53. Shelley Burgon: “Let It Be New”
54. Giant Sand: “Recovery Mission”
55. William Tyler: “Tears and Saints”
56. Mountains: “Still Life”
57. Ben Vida: “Quadsweep +2 (snkglazz iii)”
58. Maria Chavez: “Natural Disaster #2_2011″
59. Cleared: “Nova”
60. Neptune: “FIG IV”
61. Water Fai: “Tokitomori”
62. Parts & Labor: “Dokonimonai”
63. Jackie-O Motherfucker: “Blood of Life”
64. Greg Davis: “Sho Sai Myo Kichijo Dharani”

again, here's the link to buy:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Motion Sickness of Time Travel - A Disembodied Voice in the Darkness

One of our current favorites here at Hollow Press, Motion Sickness of Time Travel, has put put out a new limited cassette on Teosinte. Buy it here: but act sharpish, there are only 47 copies and it will sell out quickly.


Will probably share the music here once it's gone so check back. Also be sure to keep tabs on MSoTT's website for updates on all sorts of good stuff coming up soon:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Good Stuff House

Good Stuff House is Matt Christensen and Mike Weis of Zelienople in collaboration with former Souled America guitarist Scott Tuma. Here we have their only two albums to date, "Good Stuff House" and "Endless Bummer." On both, Tuma leads the way, spinning out vast, bottomless guitar nocturnes. Weis and Christensen add complex atmospherics, decayed percussion, hidden vocals, all taking Tuma's guitar drone down dark corridors and out into sun drenched deserts. In some ways GSH is a haunted continuation of Souled America, a fog drenched, smoke filled take on Americana.  Think of these as crumbling, droning country albums washed out almost to oblivion. At times this influence is more pronounced than others. On the band's first, self-titled album the opening track is propelled forward by an almost jauntily strummed banjo with layers of pulsing atmospherics in the background. Both albums here are culled from various tapes of improvised live sets and supplemented by studio work and it shows: both feel like explorations into far off places, acoustic guitars and banjos and piano and snarled percussion consumed and overwhelmed by vast undulations of white noise, oceanic echos, caverns of reverb, lost voices swimming out of the ether. And yet, despite how nearly annihilated it is, the Americana influence is undeniably there, sometimes lost altogether to the crumbling static and decomposing reverb but at others rearing up out of the welter. Haunting, fantastic stuff.

Good Stuff House

Endless Bummer

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Birchville Cat Motel: Two Variations

Here we have two albums by New Zealand's legendary Birchville Cat Motel aka Campbell Kneale (now known as Our Love Will Destroy the World) representing two very different sides of the same artist.

First is the two disc "Beautiful Speck Triumph," a drifting cosmic journey over two hours long. The album starts with a dark hum drifting beneath crackling, clicking machine noise and grimy static and whining feedback which swells until it suddenly cuts away and the original hum, grumbling and decaying, spins out the rest of the track, leading into the second piece, an 18-minute excursion that begins with clattering wind chimes and field recordings and spindly static skree, all of which is slowly consumed by a nefarious static blast which in turn is devoured and blotted out by creaking electro-decay and, seemingly out of nowhere, a droning organ which dominates in the third and final track of disc 1, almost an homage of sorts to Star of the Lid, a drifting, glowing soundscape with rustling percussion and a whistful tendril of crackling static seeping through for the first several minutes before surrendering to the organ and a mournful, lowing violin.

The second disc also begins darkly, a constant, resonant organ line with other organs, whispering feedback, and electronic bleeps, a very deep, organic sound piece of drone. This leads into the second track, built on the same single organ note but this time with layers of dense, wordless vocal haze and crunching, grinding percussion, the same static crackle ever present. Finally the music falls away altogether and we're left with a field recording - perhaps taken in a crowded restaurant - and analog decay. This in turn bleeds into the final, 36-minute track in which that organ drone rears its head once more, bigger and angrier than ever, almost roaring as it builds on top of itself, layer upon gauzy, thrumming layer, a giant wash of noise, percussion plodding and a guitar squalling throughout. The final ten minutes are a serene coda, chirping birds sing along with a delicately plucked guitar until it all fades into silence. The whole album is massive and beautiful, an enveloping sonic experience.

Disc 1
Disc 2

Next is "Bird Sister Blasphemy." Where "Beautiful Speck Triumph" was a paean to drone, a shimmering ocean of noise, "Bird Sister Blasphemy" is ungodly loud, absolutely unrelenting in its analog chaos. Track 1 is wildly shredding guitar, woozy, galloping feedback, crashing drums, vocals screaming beneath the muck, an evil sounding, grimy mess of noise, totally for the headbanger crowd. Things only get more chaotic from there, blackened vocals screaming luridly beneath an a torrent of buzzsawing feedback and a ferocious avalanche of drums, almost kosmiche but run through a sonic meat grinder, ultra heavy,  psychedelic metal meets total noise doom. It's ear shattering, deafening, an absolute blizzard of squalling feedback and guitar murk and reeling drums. Brutal, essential listening (at the highest possible volume).


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gavin Bryars' "Sinking of the Titanic" (1969)

"Sinking of the Titanic" was Gavin Bryars' first major piece and it remains one of his best, a rarely performed, beautiful and original minimalist multi-media piece for orchestra. The germ of the composition comes from the story that the band on the Titanic went down with the ship playing the Episcopal hymn "Autumn." With this piece, that hymn is performed by the strings and echoed gorgeously and hauntingly in drifting waves throughout the rest of the orchestra. The piece evolves slowly, taking us quietly down with the ship to the ocean floor and then, many years later bringing the ship back up again as it is discovered and explored. Woodblocks ping out sonar beams, a bass clarinet weaves a warm and whirling journey beneath the waves, a crackling recording of an old woman recalling the evacuation of the ship swims up out of crumbling static now and again. The piece ends serenely beneath the ocean, winding through the halls of the decaying ship, faint, melancholy reminiscences of when it was full of life and music whispering beneath a thrumming pulse and snarled static. The hymn remains thematically present throughout, reemerging in full near the end through a glowing pulse of sound. Wonderfully evocative, this recording is gorgeously forlorn and haunting. Not positive which orchestra is performing here but they do a fantastic job in any case. The link is for the full performance, 1:12:35 in length.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Top 10 of 2010 #5-1

5. Grasslung - Sincere Void (Root Strata)

On his first real CD release, Jonas Asher aka Grasslung has created a real stunner, a fantastic drone album that strikes a perfect balance between a pure soundscape and something more organic and tangible. "Roland Park Noose" washes over the listener in graceful waves of noise with a gritty static pulsating throughout, almost rhythmic. "Tired of Remembering" is beautiful and nostalgic, two plaintive piano chords beneath creaking static, like a record player left on as the side plays out in an abandoned house. "Scarred Hands We Drift" is the breathtaking opener, a lush dronescape of delayed notes that creates an almost choral effect over a pulsing sea of warm sound and a high end reverberation like a siren lost in the mist. Each track is its own mini-masterpiece; taken as a whole they form a spectacular, cohesive package.


4. Yellow Swans - Going Places (Type)

Yellow Swans are no more. One of the most exciting duos in noise music has left the scene but Going Places, their final offering, is perhaps their best yet, a searing kosmiche masterpiece, propulsive, haunting, unhinged yet far more constrained and considered than much of their ultra-abrasive earlier work. There's still a hell of a lot of squalling static and glowering, brutal noise to be sure though. Going Places is immensely cacophonous and the louder you listen to it (through the best stereo headphone you can find) the more powerful it becomes. This is the kind of noise album that truly envelopes you, that overwhelms and buries and pummels. But somehow Yellow Swans have made Going Places something wondrous and beautiful as well. Going Places is an apt title: it sounds like the soundtrack to some great cosmic journey and is the perfect end to a long and admirable career.


3. Eluvium - Static Nocturne (Watership Sounds)

In early 2010, ambient maestro Matthew Cooper aka Eluvium released his latest album, Similes. For the first time, Cooper sang on several tracks and added in percussive elements, making his first real "songs." Cooper's voice was dry and laconic, drawing not completely unwarranted aesthetic comparisons to Ian Curtis. But the best parts of that album were the soundscapes over which Cooper sang and while the addition of vocals was interesting and Similes still ended up being a pretty great album it ultimately didn't completely succeed. Enter Static Nocturne several months later, a single 50-minute long track self released by Cooper in an edition of 200 copies on CD in handmade and hand numbered cases. The album long track is stunning, some of the best work Cooper has ever done under any moniker. Cooper created Static Nocturne as an homage to white noise and static - the kind from the world of music as well as the natural world - and it shows. Static Nocturne is transporting, a wonderful, undulating, glowingly calm ocean of sound. Deep, glorious dronescapes shift and roll as the piece moves through its stages. Organs and pianos appear from grainy static fragments, field recordings blear almost to the point and often beyond of recognition, white noise washes - at time thunderously at others with the utmost serenity - over the listener. There's never a dull moment and in the rare moments when Static Nocturne hovers on that line it adds something new or veers off - albeit with sublime composure - in a different direction to recapture the attention of the listener. A truly wonderful album to fall asleep to - and I mean that in the best possible way - Static Nocturne also rewards careful, concentrated listening. So much is going on beneath the crackling, thrumming surface. Cooper has outdone himself here, making one of the finest pieces of ambient music this year.

Buy (hard copies sold out, digital still available)

2. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Love is a Stream (Type)

For the first time with his monumental Love is a Stream, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma makes a full foray into the world of blissed-out shoegaze - something he only hinted at at times before - leaving the haunting, glacial drone of his earlier work aside almost entirely. This is gorgeous, elating music, a torrent of immense, blissful noise, textures blown out with dreamy haze, shimmering walls of sound with buried harmonies humming beneath. It's often summery and hopeful but also incredibly loud and dense, chaotic and harsh, in some ways akin to both My Bloody Valentine and Tim Hecker's "Harmony in Ultraviolet" (fans of both will be very happy with what they hear in any case) but more abstracted, a stunning sort of synthesis of the two which manages to make these references while maintaining a distinctly original sound. There's still a hell of a lot of grit and mountains of harsh white noise static, and droning guitars and synthesizers and washed out, buried vocals all of which come together to make this something all its own. Somehow Cantu-Ledesma managed to do all this and still fill the album with what can almost be described as pop hooks albeit ones nearly lost altogether in the noise. There's melodies here for sure even if it does take a whole lot of digging beneath the gauze of glowing sound to find them. Hugely listenable yet layered and complex, this is a unique, amazing piece of music and the best yet from one of the most exciting artists around.


1. Daniel Bjarnason - Processions (Bedroom Community)

Processions is the debut release of Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason and it is without a doubt one of the finest entries in the modern classical genre in some time. Although not dissimilar to his contemporaries - names like Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, and Johann Johannsson come to mind - Bjarnason eschews the glitchy electronics and computerized flourishes of the latter two and pursues grander, more ambitious compositions than all three. Processions is a wonder, a consistently startling pleasure. Comprised of two three-movement pieces and a stand alone piece, Processions careens and gallops, tugs at the heart and causes it to race, utilizing a full orchestra to beautiful, jarring, and often surprising effect. The first piece opens with a thrilling crescendo of buzzsawing violins, kerthunking pizzicato and crumpling percussion before settling into a quiet serenity. The third movement is a mournful affair, a lone violin weaving a melancholy path over other murmuring strings before flickering into silence. The second piece is far more epic than the first, with spiraling, ferocious piano, a full brass section which blasts and glowers mightily, booming percussion, and monumental crescendos and builds. Still, Bjarnason never lets his compositions become too grandiose or cinematic. There's a remarkable sense of restraint even while Bjarnason takes us to the very edge of the precipice. Processions closes quietly, with a stand along piece for harp ushering us out, allowing us to contemplate the sublime sonic journey we just took. An absolutely essential album and one I happily call Best of 2010.