Another week in the books. Another pile of excellent tunes to dig through. Last week, my label, The Jewel Garden, released this blown-out proto dub gem from Carl Antonowicz’s Open Casket Sound System. Carl illustrates/collaborates on the Illustrated Reviews with me for Foxy Digitalis, and he’s put together a 16-page illustrated zine to go along with the album. Check it out! Meanwhile, on to the reviews…
Bill Nace/Emily Robb split (Open Mouth)
It doesn’t get much better than this. Bill Nace fuses frazzled tape fuckere and taishōgoto glitz into a fiery cascade of molten strings. Cutups sting the underbelly, but washes of melodic psychedelia tickle the ashes into a freeform dance. Nace is cruising, shooting out the lights with hypnotic glee. Emily Robb (whose How to Moonwalk was a late-year scorcher in 2021) breaks the glass on another burned-out kaleidoscope. She wields her guitar like a scythe, slicing across the ground like a deep-cut sorcerer. She’s got that same raw edge that Nace uses a trademarked perfume, but she hits her own death blues runs like an emancipated wailer. Essential listening.
Thick Air Pillars Of Creation (Not Not Fun)
Matt LaJoie’s Thick Air project returns for another expedition into deep space resonance and celestial meditations. Pillars Of Creation may be my favorite Thick Air release, with its remarkable title track filled with pointed chord progressions and glimmering panoramas. Acrobatic rhythms pepper the synthetic highways and obscure leads, teetering on a diamond edge above a sea of airy transistors. Revolving around a central station, the bubbling cosmos spills over toward hypnotic leads whistling in the solar wind. LaJoie builds an array of rotational atmospheres with melodic anchors connected to triumphant, neon bliss. Fantastic.
Plankton Wat Hidden Path (Thrill Jockey)
Dewey Mahood gets lost in the secret woods on his latest gem for Thrill Jockey, Hidden Path. Whimsy flows outward and upward in plumes of languid guitar smoke and electric reverie. Mahood’s always had this excellent feel for finding hypnotic melodies that seem like they’ve been discarded, left for dead, but he’s able to bring them back to life. Hidden Path is filled with those moments, like the slow crawl of “Solitude Amongst the Trees” and the psychedelic spillage running through “A Window in the Mirror.” Expansive vistas emerge toward the horizon on the propulsive title track as though it’s the beacon the rest of the record is reaching for. Plankton Wat strikes gold again.
Mary Yalex Ohra (Muzan Editions)
Ohra is a luminescent breath of fresh air. Across ten pastoral hymns, Mary Yalex builds a glistening world of sonic glass and fantastical hallucinations. Synthesizers become animated figurines, singing alien songs within crystalized shadows. Minimal rhythms pulse through arpeggiated veins like the neon lifeblood of future societies. Emotive drones are cast in a restrained light beam, bursting with melodic reverie when they land on soft surfaces. So much of Ohra is gentle and welcoming. It finds strength in the quiet beauty of tranquility and delicate moments. Each note is an arrow, a heartbeat.
Hawksmoor Head Coach (Spun Out of Control)
A cinematic, instrumental synthwave album inspired by “the druidic, Solstice referencing layout of Milton Keynes”? Count me in, obviously. James McKeon’s Hawksmoor project constructs a memorable record of dark passageways and hidden identities fueled by indelible hooks and emotive divergences. Square wave architecture rises methodically to block out the sun. Voices and strings twist together, forming celestial dirges gliding away, out of reach. Guitar arrangements shimmer beneath fading light, beckoning toward a dead-end neon facade. Head Coach manages to be ethereal and massive simultaneously, full of drama and suspense. Incredible.
ragenap Thriving Culture (American Dreams)
Joel Berk is cooking with gas again. Thriving Culture crunches across the parched landscape like a river snake, lost and confused but never losing sight of the mirage in the distance. Berk’s sucked all the moisture out of these sprawling guitar missives, leaving them as dry as kindling and ready to ignite. There’s always a mile-long melody buried in there, though, obscured by decaying fuzz, imbued with glacial elegance. The louder these stretched-out spells get, the more powerful they become. At high volume, we levitate and find our way back into the rivers above the clouds. Thriving Culture is filled with aural sorcery.
Dividers Crime of Passion (Primordial Void)
There’s a decaying sheen spread across Dividers latest, Crime of Passion, but in that fading greatness is a new kind of beauty. Cosmic vistas melt into elegiac rivers of phased guitars and glass-jawed vocals, fused together through celestial trials and witchery. Dividers’ vein of Americana exists in the highest sky imaginable, utterly untouchable even as it disintegrates into a smoking leaf pile of ambient honky tonk melodies. I am moving to whatever dimension Crime of Passion inhabits. Highest recommendation.
Angelina Yershova + Ynaktera Time For Change (Twin Paradox)
There are numerous moments on Time For Change where it’s as though two different records are playing at the same time. Disjointed arrangements crash into one another, somehow forming something cohesive and engaging. Piano runs have a flair for drama while pristine electronics crackle and dissipate into sterile remnants. Rhythms explode, and Yershova’s voice becomes a magical beacon drawing in every sound with its powerful gravity. Time For Change is a reflection on climate change and the collective conscious. Yershova and Ynaktera break these grandiose ideas into granular details, infusing this music with a richness that draws our focus inward. With so much lushness in these compositions, they feel huge and important.
BLAKMOTH Parallels (Errorgrid)
BLAKMOTH’s work always feels massive, but Parallels pushes it into new realms. Dark, brooding drones pull-down stars into a viscous, volatile pit of funereal acoustics. Parallels is cinematic, moving from glacial, emotive resonance into doleful sonic sludge in the blink of an eye. As always, BLAKMOTH’s compositional skills are impeccable as he pieces together this aural narrative. Singed arrangements blossom into subterranean, bass-laden horror fields. Decayed melodies are signposts along a darkening pathway. Caustic, shuffling rhythms uncloak, using their sullen gravity to lead us toward burnt-out castles beyond the last remnants of civilization. Parallels channels something ancient. Another incredible offering from the doombient king.
Alex Cunningham The Heavens May Cease To Be (Orb Tapes)
Lunar scuzz rains down from midnight darkness in this hellbath of violin collage. The noise wall is alive and well as Cunningham churns out a blast furnace of overblown snarl. Everything is obscured by the angular death rattles and fire-breathing molten symphonies. It’s overwhelming, the intensity so far out of bounds that it’s in another dimension. Sluiced dreams disappear into the gaping maw, sucking up the entire world like a blender possessed by sonorous demons. This is fantastically haunted.
Matt Carlson Exalted Prince of the Royal Mysteries (Self-Released)
Hidden deep beneath the dark, rich soil is an entire ecosystem of exotic lifeforms. As has been the case for well over a decade, Matt Carlson is the archaeological synthesist leading the way to uncover and create unimaginable, unbelievable sound worlds and aural dimensions. Exalted Prince of the Royal Mysteries is bizarre and delightful. Churning fabricated insects bubble and scrape through miniature, cylindrical corridors of every color. Bleeding into gurgling streams of neon chatter, microscopic flora concocts futuristic cairns containing the last sounds of a distant planet. The entire 30-minute piece grows and shrinks like a breathing subterranean landscape. It’s all so wonderful and strange.
Linda Sikhakhane Isambulo (Ropeadope)
South African jazz continues to have its moment. Norway-based saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane glides through rhythmic silhouettes on his third record, Isambulo. Opening this suite of sonic delicacies, he revisits his single “Inner Freedom,” bouncing through jubilant cityscapes and verdant landscapes. A raw, energizing spirit to this version of “Inner Freedom” infects every pore. Sikhakhane is incandescent, fusing blitzing runs with introspective melodies. I have to give a special mention to pianist Lucca Fries, who is the light within each piece on Isambulo, giving everyone else the freedom to explore. Sikhakhane has really hit on something memorable here, well worth seeking out.
Violet Mist Cyberwave (Subexotic)
Dancefloors still exist at the edge of time. Dystopic visions add a serrated edge to the lithe, inviting melodies and arpeggiated dreamscapes. Imperious voiceovers mix with increasingly enigmatic arrangements, building an ominous, suspenseful feeling that becomes more present with each subsequent song. Synthetic shapes climb branched walls, leaving corrosive silhouettes in their wake to further wreck the sterile architecture. It may all be falling apart, but on Cyberwave, the future sounds pretty good. I’ll hate to see it go.