The weeks continue and the sounds do too. Let’s get straight into it.
Klara Livet Varandra (Self-Released)
Dead folk-blues (that remind me enough of Flaming Tunes to mention it) from Astrid Mortensen (whose recent Skærgårdslyd is essential listening) and Dan Johansson. Keyboards wheeze like there’s no electricity left in the batteries but the instruments still hold a charge and have sounds that need to be extracted. Mortensen’s voice is a painted shroud covering acoustic guitar strums made woozy by tape libations and the Earth’s axis shifting toward the moon. Most of these songs are covered in a layer of hiss and feel as though they’re radio transmissions from a distant past, accidentally caught and captured. Varandra is a totem to buried memories; a trinket to remind us of the hurt from before so we won’t have to worry about any hurt from tomorrow.
Kenosist The Rising Cost of Free Jazz (Self-Released)
This is one of those albums that leaves my brain scrambled, wondering how it’s possible this thing even exists. MIDI free jazz of the highest order circulates through electronic networks where a million synapses fire at once and the rhythm section never stops morphing. Sonic maximalism flows like a river of futuristic junkfire through thousand-story skyscrapers built in an attempt to touch the sun. Weird grooves fall from constellations. Fake piano runs loop toward infinite zero. Basslines smother starcast horn solos that would make Apollo burn his lyre to dust. The Rising Cost of Free Jazz is completely chaotic, but somehow the hypersensory orchestrations mutate into a hypnotic treatise on capitalist wanderlust and a reverie of anarchic fusion. It’s totally amazing.
Shirley Mastic s/t (Daksina)
A collection of songs that are a decade old but haven’t lost an ounce of their potency. Shirley Mastic channels the energy of a thousand suns with her voice, sending wisdom through the airwaves that hits a little too hard. Her voice is visceral, unadorned. Songs about life-changing losses, empathy, and dreams about suicidal premonition left to age in a place where the messages blossomed and wilted and became eternal. Mastic’s approach is straightforward and raw, but her words and her voice have become eternal. This is pure magic.
Forbes Graham Invocation of a Quadrilateral (Self-Released)
I am always here for new music from the great Forbes Graham. Invocation of a Quadrilateral is a dizzying set of pieces. Scattershot trumpet zigzags hone into the computer-generated synthetic chaos like a spotlight searching for a way into the underground tunnel network. Quiet pings distill messages from another lifetime into a series of subaquatic blips containing a secret message we’ll never know. “They’re Trying to Get Out” is aptly named as the looping voices buried beneath layers of repeating hiss and fuzz are cryptic, ghostly. Electronic forests teem with life hidden beneath synthetic fauna and in the crumbling bark. Once the landscape is deconstructed down to zeroes and ones, there’s no chance to find our way back home.
Road To Saturn Inner Thread (Dub Cthonic)
The duo of eleOnora and Richard T. mine primordial voids to conjure up prime, disparate aural sorcery. Vocal acrobatics search for limits but find none. High-frequency squeals and guttural exultations color the blood-red sky with piercing black arrows, eschewing the minimalist synth and guitar tangles like a clairvoyant cipher. Speculative angles generated from Richard T’s stellar explorations are broken by the quiet force of eleOnora’s voice and as they crash into the ancient causeways, light blooms and the world spins again.
Matt LaJoie Aroostook Flyer (Flower Room)
I can’t imagine a time when I’m not completely drawn to Matt LaJoie’s guitar improvisations. I’m but a nimble moth to the contemplative illumination his looping excursions breathe into existence. Aroostook Flyer has a wistful feeling throughout enkindled by dreams of cross-country train expeditions. Each song is like its own little oasis colored by season and locale. Muddled tones sink beneath the humidity while in other places the cold and fresh air adds a brisk edge to the winding aural expanses. LaJoie takes us all over this imaginary version of our own world with Aroostook Flyer and as soon as it quiets for the night I’m ready to ride the rails again.
The Modern Folk Vernal MF Equinox (Self-Released)
Straight up, I love J. Moss’s parched guitar excursions. This is music built of notes conjured from the dust left behind after we’ve left our harshest memories behind to bake in the sun. Emotive leads twist into monuments of regret where we memorialize the rainbow shards of light bleeding in from tomorrow. The MF trio band is on hand to strengthen the grooves and add a little salt to the wound. Same goes for the lush field recordings from our guy, Joel Berk, bringing the eternal serenade into the parlor so Moss can warm it up with quixotic vocal drones and steel-string incantations. With the days getting longer, let’s send more spirits into the night.
Kira McSpice Postdrome (Self-Released)
Beautiful, haunting landscapes fill the universe Kira McSpice creates on Postdrome. Creative arrangements become the perfect setting for McSpice’s spellbinding voice. Her delivery and tone are riveting, weaving cosmic tales across guitars and harps, cellos and birds. Silhouettes slink through noir passages leaving trails of color in their wake as the tonal palettes advance and shift from darker moods into bright, harsh mornings. McSpice carves a visceral path with her incredible performance, especially on songs like the ethereal “Devices” and gritty “Turning.” Postdrome is utterly captivating.
Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson / Andy Heck Boyd Ideas on Tape (Radical Documents)
One of the descriptors for this session of sonic fuckere is ‘unhinged’ and it’s hard to argue. Strange plucks fall through the ceiling, bringing all the disintegrating insulation from the attic with them to perfume this space with a little fiberglass spice. Sound poetry devolves into internalized voices arguing with the inside of our own skull. Split personalities diverge in a sliding doors moment where the end result is still the same and it’s never a happy ending. Cars pass on the highway. Every moment of silence is a bastion of loneliness and exhaustion. The music dies. Somehow, Ideas on Tape becomes crucial. Everyone should hear it. I feel like I need a shower.
Angela Winter Sonic Essences (Self-Released)
As soon as I heard the ghostly a capella wonder of “Divine Love,” the second song on Angela Winter’s spectral Sonic Essences, I lost myself. Her expansive range floats and lilts like beguiling shadows cast across a sea glass beach, shimmering in a thousand directions scattering every color of light imaginable. It’s stunning. Elsewhere, subterranean tonal drifts resonate with an aqueous gleam. Insects and birds buzz through lush sonic gardens, imbuing the expansive spaces with frenetic, bright energy as a contrast to the glassine aural undercurrents.
Ariel Kalma Maui Postcard (Self-Released)
Thank god for Ariel Kalma. The French composer’s archives run deeper than an ocean trench and Maui Postcard is some freshly revived magic. Most of this was recorded in the mid-to-late 80s and it’s filled with kaleidoscopic synthesizer riffing and mysticism-infused ruminations. Slap bass motifs are a shock to the system but slide right into the winding worlds Kalma conjures. Spiritual jazz undercurrents ripple in the waters beneath these cosmic concoctions, fully illuminated by enchanting vocals from Ellika Hansen and the entire vibe captured on “O I Am Sax,” recorded during a Tantra workshop in 1988. Maui Postcard is a tropical slice of forgotten history.
Seth Andrew Davis/Michael Eaton/Damon Smith/Kyle Quass Ghost Tantras (Mother Brain)
Incredible set of quartet improvisations from this Midwest crew (okay, Eaton’s from NYC but still). Davis’s guitar and electronics add an incredible array of interesting textures, moving from bubbling liquid mercury and emotive string speculation to surgical-edged metallics and everything in between. Certain pieces tread more experimental zones, creating soundscapes saturated in crystalline reflections and empty space, but in the moments where the proto-rhythms get cranked up, there’s a real sonic ecstasy exploding into free jazz-laced zones. Smith shows he can play anything and everything with precision-focused force and the horns interplay in exciting and captivating ways as though Quass and Eaton are on some kind of telepathic string. Ghost Tantras is a sprawling, cosmic delight.
Violent Butlins, Grey Malkin, Simon F Shaw Murder of Crows (Self-Released)
This excellent piece has a sprawling feeling that seems like a much bigger creation than a trio could create. That’s the magic of “Murder of Crows,” though. Parched guitar passages sacrifice every last bit of moisture to the buoyant synth arpeggios and rubber bass lines, leaving fossilized riffs behind to be uncovered by future generations. This is the sound of a ghost town clinging to the last bits of blue sky before succumbing to a lifetime of midnight. Levitating drones find remnants of past promises, but the weight carried by Butlins’s (aka Eva Gnatiuk) guitar sorcery is too much. Bowed bass meditations eventually disintegrate into a cacophony of bird squeal and angular steel shakedowns. Everything may be over, but it was one hell of a ride along the way.
Whirling Hall Of Knives Blown Vestige (Cruel Nature)
Some kind of forgotten sacred idea, buried in the catacombs for millennia, is dug up and spilled into the world on Blown Vestige. This is music that is pensive and concerned, yet it never holds back and begins to unravel as the darkness becomes overbearing. Cinematic textures grow into full-blown monuments of sound shrouded in minor chords and blown-out drones. Electricity scatters across last year’s bones leaving remnants of decaying energy to solidify into stoic rhythms and fading arpeggios. The truth slices through in the end with fuzz-laden guitar sacrifices, giving one last look at the old Gods before letting the ancient ones wash across the land.