2008: Eureka! Albums of 2008
The Well-Tuned Music Critic

The definition of the "avant-garde" is slippery. The term itself implies a linear progression, presumably fronted by a unified force. But where's the starting point then? Where's the center from which we're moving? Where's the unity? Cramming what we've come to conceptualize as "avant-garde" into a temporal framework is like building a house on Steven Stapleton's beard. But whether it's Karlheinz Stockhausen or The Caretaker, Charles Ives or Paavoharju, Can or Magik Markers, Albert Ayler or Wasteland Jazz Unit, what does exist is a shared sense of movement. These artists may not come from the same starting point, may not sound remotely like one another, and may not be heading toward the same sonic territory (or anything at all), but they share a similar impulse, an energy that has shaped our musical narratives more than you might think.

Rather than expanding our favorites list to 50 albums, we've decided to once again complement it with these lesser-heard albums. Unlike the favorites list, there was no voting, no polling, no heavy discussion of what was to be included here. Instead, these 25 Eureka! albums represent our insatiable desire for different approaches, different aesthetics, different concepts, different ways of listening, and with so many exciting Eureka! albums coming out every year and with so few publications covering them, we thought it best to also once again compile 25 albums that were never properly reviewed on the site (you can find proper reviews here). Enjoy!

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Endless Boogie - Focus Level
[No Quarter]
by Mangoon

The 1971 French film La Gran Bouffe depicts a group of suicidal men whose final plan for self-termination is to whip up a feast so great that all involved would simply eat themselves to death. As the characters gorge on layered cakes, legs of turkey, and other various delicacies, they one by one are eliminated until everyone is turned into plump corpses. It's in this spirit of over-indulgence that Endless Boogie released their first widely available release this year, a 2LP behemoth, whose 80 minutes of country-fried licks and succulent Beefheartian choogle was slathered with enough FDA-approved grooves to shake a T-Bone at. Endless Boogie reminded us that saying “enough” is for the weak, and tracks like "Steak Rock," "The Manly Vibe," and "Smoking Figs in the Backyard" showcased a strong pro-grilling agenda. Record collector extraordinaire Paul Majors lead the group through unending riffage, vocally insisting on being fed weird things and sometimes sounding not unlike a squid eating dough out of a polyethylene bag. If the opening lyrics to "Smoking Figs" ("Smoking figs in the backyard/ With my friends/ The grill is out/ The meat is cooking/ Once again") doesn't make you want to dust off the old grill, then I don't know what will.

Endless Boogie - No Quarter
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Paavoharju - Laulu Laakson Kukista
[Fonal]
by Keith Kawaii

Perhaps the most tangible act of postmodernism is an artist's refusal of technological progression in favor of talk boys, home recordings, and fuzz. Yet contrary to any high-minded standards, most purveyors of lo-fidelity music believe their methods simply reveal a life and vibrancy missing from manipulated studio sound. Paavoharju occupy both headspaces at once, exploiting the perception that authenticity lies in primitive recordings and using it to sneak through complex layers of modern, sonic idealism. Nothing matters outside of perception. Through this lens, Laulu Laakson Kukista appeared as a rich stew of conflicting currents. It inhabited a range of places in space and time, tricking itself (and us) into a sense of timelessness. Evenly floating across genres and borders, Paavoharju sounded both foreign and familiar, like an old, fuzzy memory somehow recorded directly from your frontal lobe.

Paavoharju - Fonal
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Christina Carter - A Blossom Fell
[Many Breaths]
by Gabriel Keehn

Since the early-'90s and with her work in the singularly important Texas duo-trio-duo Charalambides (which laid the groundwork and continues to act as an exemplar for the entire corner of the musical world known as “New Weird America”), Christina Carter has dedicated herself to a thoroughgoing reexamination of what “Americana” really means today, if anything. Through a dust-blown, ingeniously open-brewing of ambience, folk, noise, and blues filtered through exiguous and almost infinitely elastic song-structures, Carter has cultivated probably the most truly “new” body of work around today. The present document, released through Carter's own Many Breaths label and as a “sibling” to her epic Masque Femine, is a collection of classic jazz songs and show tunes recorded with completely improvised melodies and startling vocal reinterpretations. A somewhat more direct and piercing emotional arrow than its sibling, one cannot help but be caught off guard by the beauty and layering of meaning that Carter injects into these seemingly childish, simple songs. A subtle landmark on the path of Christina Carter's revisionist history.

[Christina Carter->www.manybreaths.com]
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Sam Goldberg - Dark Corners
[Tusco/Embassy]
by Jspicer

A product of Cleveland -- a city with an exponentially growing experimental scene -- Sam Goldberg injected the cold, dank odor of Lake Erie into Dark Corners. Two 10-minute tracks was all it took for Goldberg to deliver his disconnected view of a town always short on luck and full of hardship. Side A delved into the harsh industrial winter of a city in shambles; sparse guitar and hollow loops echoed the ruin. Side B, however, transformed Goldberg's work into futuristic landscapes, like a lost composition from the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack. The spacey drone slowly built until the blackened skies were awash in colorful waves of sound before collapsing under the oppressive hand of the Ghost of Noise Past. As lonely as Dark Corners may be, it shined a light on those blanketed angles.

Sam Goldberg - Tusco/Embassy
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Runhild Gammelsæter - Amplicon
[Utech]
by Mr P

If you're unfamiliar with Khlyst or Thorr's Hammer, you'd probably be shocked by Runhild Gammelsæter's vocals on her debut solo album, Amplicon (even more shocked when you see what she looks like). Swiftly jumping between a host of vocal permutations -- chilling whispers, stately wails, stuttered vocal tics, soft croons, guttural growls, suffocated caterwauling -- Gammelsæter exhaustingly explored her vocals cords in 36 minutes of some of the most unnerving music I've ever heard. Its disorienting aesthetics, bizarre juxtapositions, and unrelenting delivery were so far removed from conventional aesthetics that even the most seasoned experimental music listeners had troubles synthesizing their critiques, much less leaving the album playing. Here's where even the rhetoric of hyperbole seemed to fall shot. Rather than subscribing to the tropes of doom metal, Amplicon's lyrical content was a rumination on "life and death, birth and cessation," described using scientific terminology (unsurprising, considering Gammelsæter's PhD in cell physiology). It was all appropriately backdropped with a penetrating exhibition of drones, loops, organs, acoustic guitar, and backward atmospherics that was both undoubtedly frightening and positively sublime.

Runhild Gammelsæter - Utech
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No Neck Blues Band - Clomeim
[Locust]
by Seth K

Coming out at the end of October, maybe Clomeim was mistakenly overlooked, getting lost in reviewers' year-end shuffle. Maybe they exhausted their audience with endless archives of live shows. Whatever the reason, it's a shame this album didn't receive more attention, because it was one of NNCK's finest hours. Once again, they proved -- perhaps to a greater extent than ever -- that, while commune-esque bands come and go, these veterans are still one of the best, most innovative leaders in the genre. Recorded in a proper studio, Clomeim was a refreshing release for NNCK, known more for their prolific, rambling, and often mediocre live recordings. And after listening to this album, it's a wonder why they don't go into the studio more often -- the production combined with a little self-editing (which they're not known for) made Clomeim one of their most consistent releases. Rather than sensing greatness and then waiting for it to happen again, Clomeim concentrated itself, trimming the fat and allowing a cohesive album to emerge. It's difficult to grasp NNCK's growth from release to release, but Clomeim certainly sums up their sound of the last five years, reinvigorating my interest and making me wonder where they'll gradually transcend to next.

No Neck Blues Band - Locust
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Bill Dixon Orchestra - 17 Musicians In Search Of A Sound: Darfur
[Aum Fidelity]
John Jolley

Live Aid this is not. Probably the most dissonant piece of work in his catalog, Bill Dixon's latest release addresses the genocide in Darfur with an urgency completely absent from virtually all other music made in response to humanitarian crises. The 17 musicians making up Dixon's new orchestra plunge into depths hitherto unheard in this brand of "free" jazz, with clearly scripted moments intermingling with a unique improvisational aesthetic informed by everything from this decade's infatuation with noise music to Bernard Hermann's vast examinations on the nature of tension and raw panic -- like Xenakis started a jam band. After several shorter group pieces to introduce the tone and themes of the work, the listener reaches the 23-minute long "Sinopia" (so named for the color of blood), a collection of solo voices slowly converging like conspirators in an unimaginable crime, providing the most psychologically unsettling and thusly the most powerful moment on the disc. The third act, if it could be called that, is a brief return to the doom-laden brass clouds of the first act, ending suddenly in an overwhelming ovation underscored by a dedicated and organized group of detrimentalists booing like ghosts. A must-have for all disenfranchised by the escapist tendencies of today's music.

Bill Dixon Orchestra - Aum Fidelity
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Chaos Through Programming - Books About the Internet
[Push the Button Multimedia]
by Papaya

I'm not sure how I was introduced to DIY label Push the Button, but I'm really glad I was. From its MySpace, you can buy or trade for music and zines, which embodies pretty much everything enjoyable about '00s culture, and I mean that in the best way possible. All the tracks I've had the pleasure of hearing from this label has been stellar, though the only full album I've heard up until now is this excellent CD-R from Chaos Through Programming. Internet is a single track in the neighborhood of 34 minutes, but it's setup like a spastic mix tape of sorts. It's electronic music that jumps through and combines enough electronic genres to avoid falling prey to any of them. The album avoids backing itself into corners, and each element is balanced in such a way as to compliment the others, avoiding any stagnating parts. It even comes with a mini-zine, which is equally enjoyable. One of the best albums I heard this year and definitely the best Pocahontas sample.

Push the Button Multimedia
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The Owl Service and Alison O'Donnell - The Fabric of Folk
[Static Caravan]
by David Nadelle

Many negatives can be lobbed at social networking sites, but if one is able to facilitate a chance meeting and outstanding collaboration, such as in this case, then maybe there is hope for intelligent life on the web after all. This five-song EP brings together two talented generations of folk artists: The Owl Service's Steven Collins and Alison O'Donnell of now-legendary folk-proggies Mellow Candle. While the two traditional renditions on this disc (plus one instrumental liaison) were much more than serviceable, they tended to stick to rather conservative designs. There is nothing wrong with that -- some of my best friends are conservative! -- but they are overshadowed by the two original compositions, which were especially intriguing. The ultra-pleasant duet “The Fabric of Life” highlighted O'Donnell's strong vocals, while album opener, “The Wooden Coat,” with its barren feel and moody lyrics, was as close as this release came to “free” or “freak,” or “weird” or “wyrd.” Make no mistake: this is FOLK music, albeit sometimes very dark folk, but it may be the straightest thing ever to garner our coveted “Eureka!” label. Indeed, its sober nature is why it is a remarkable oddity. The Fabric of Folk doesn't boldly go anywhere it shouldn't, choosing instead to hug tradition tightly while experimenting with the flood of new ideas brought about by an inspired partnership.

The Owl Service - Alison O'Donnell - Static Caravan
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Sickness - Mudlark
[Self Abuse/Ninth Circle]
by Paul Haney

Many crafters of noise release their music at a dizzying, prolific pace, which works for them, given the sheer endurance and subtle masochism required by its audience. The contentious, anti-bullshit sentiments of Sickness are no exception. Chris Goudreau's flagship project traffics in the most ear-shattering, attention span-breaking, and generally unsettling assortments of sonics: harsh blasts of undiluted feedback and piercing squeals of atonal beaming, all punishingly manipulated to the highest reaches of malevolence. Collecting slews of barely-there runs of microlabel rarities may elicit the assumed fear of non-cohesion on such a collection, but little else sounds so single-mindedly perfected as Goudreau's horrific tantrums of abuse -- and unlike many artists who seem to apathetically water-down their talents over extended periods of time, Goudreau has only become a more blindsiding force, sharpening his attack in a manner few harsh noise artists reach throughout their long careers. It's difficult to stomach in an hour-long sitting, but it's without question some of the most enduringly exhilarating and sadistically challenging sounds available.

Sickness - Self Abuse - Ninth Circle
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Magic Lantern - High Beams
[Not Not Fun]
by Mangoon

With all the psychedelic music bubbling lysergically at the surface of the music scene this year, you might've thought 2008 seemed a little more like 1968. Worldwide, a resurgence of interest in this style of music has sparked a new breed of psychonauts, and Magic Lantern are some of the most enlightened of these new travelers. Emerging from the primordial ooze of the busy California psych scene, their sound melds the droning power of fellow Long Beach pals Robedoor and Pocahaunted with the axe-wielding electric storm of other Southern Cali acts like Mammatus or Comets on Fire. Appropriately, High Beams, the Lantern's first release (and previously only available as a CD-R pressed in a mind-numbingly sparse run of 30), evoked the '60s in all its intensity. Tracks like "Deathshead Hawkmoth" and "Cactus Raga" were immensely dank, while "Feasting on Energy" was easily the orgone-accumulator of the year. Imagine the trance-inducing grooviness of Goldenrod or The Heads being fed acid by Timothy Leary and Ash Ra Temple while riding a magic carpet into Randy Holden's pituitary gland, and you're not far away from Magic Lantern's soundworld.

Magic Lantern - Not Not Fun
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WAVVES - WAVVES
[Woodsist]
by Jspicer

Writing about WAVVES seems like a no-brainer, as Nathan Daniel William is certainly pegged for success. Never mind whether or not the hype surrounding WAVVES is controlling the narrative; those who have put their ear to the speaker have been pleasantly treated to the penetrating, fuzzed-out surf of WAVVES' self-titled cassette-turned-CD. On this album, William combined the Big Sur aesthetic with heavy doses of distortion and confusion. It sounded like Ariel Pink marrying Brian Wilson as Bug Muff officiated -- a lazy description, sure, but the musing is apt. Indeed, it would be to the disservice of WAVVES to not call it what it is: '60s-inspired beach punk. There is no shame in loving something so simple. Sometimes the greatest pleasures in life are the least complex, and any beach bum will gladly echo the same sentiment as long as you have the patience to listen.

WAVVES - Woodsist
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Hasegawa-Shizuo - Songs of an Umbilical Cord
[Tiliqua]
by Seth K

Limited to an expensive vinyl-only pressing of 400, most people, myself and vinyl fetishists aside, probably missed out on the latest by Hasegawa-Shizuo. And while it's not for everyone, Songs of an Umbilical Chord was surprisingly accessible for what it was. Coming off the tails of their more widely available CD release on Japanese landmark psychedelic label, PSF, these Japanese psych/noise/improv veterans created a singular piece of improvisation, referencing 20th-century art music rather than free-jazz. Patience was key to this record, both in their performance and in our listening. The duo took their time in setting a bleak, reverb-drenched mood, and those who typically take interest in the intricacies of decay time and the sonorities of silence had a lot to sink their teeth into. Call it a gross generalization, but their Japanese roots (education system, work force, art history) was also important to this album's success. Similar to Taj Mahal Travellers (also Japanese), it's hard to imagine that attention deficit-stricken Americans would be able to maintain this deep a level of focus in their improvisation. With one foot tracing the strangely exotic and the other firmly grounded in high art, this duo provided a refreshing voice rarely heard in contemporary improvisation.

Hasegawa-Shizuo - Tiliqua
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Wasteland Jazz Unit - Solar Static Coves
[American Tapes]
by Gabriel Keehn

In 1986, Frank Zappa released an album titled Jazz From Hell, and now, nearly 20 years later, it seems that we finally have a proper referent for that term, one I'm sure not even Zappa could have seen coming. Wasteland Jazz Unit is the Cincinnati duo of saxophonist Jon Lorenz and clarinetist John Rich. These Midwestern boys have been releasing music for about two years but have brutally murdered and simultaneously freed more instruments than most so-called “free jazz” groups do in their lifetimes. Solar Static Coves is a relentless demand for a genre apocalypse and an ensuing rebirth. Saxophones bleat for their lives at the slaughterhouse of the droning tones that crawl around the periphery of the album. Clarinets are tied to chairs in cement rooms with no windows, beaten daily for years with oscillating noise bats. A sort of coerced nirvana arises among these elements who constantly assure the mutual destruction of all the others. Jazz from hell, from mars, from the depths of Gary Busey's soul -- call it whatever you want, but it's the future.

Wasteland Jazz Unit - American Tapes
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Magik Markers - Gucci Rapidshare Download
[Three Lobed]
by Kenny Bloggins

Magik Markers blur lines and topple preconceived notions with valor. Maintaining an impressive acumen for balancing construction and freeform, the melodic and the atonal, the group creates motorik-informed structures while allowing the music's pistons to churn and traverse a few meters above the earth's surface. Nowhere is this more evident than on this year's release for Three Lobed's Oscillations III series. With a title reflecting the zeitgeist of how we all seem to enjoy music these days, Gucci Rapidshare Download was a brain-burning psychedelic statement -- steady and stacked, always expansive but never "freakin' out." With this album -- bookended by two especially remarkable tracks (the gorgeous and foreboding "There Is No Path Which Is Not Straight" and the sparse and gutteral "The Place Where What Has Been Taken Is Returned") -- Magik Markers added a smoky jazz vibe onto their usual brainfuck psychedelics. In fact, the combination of the stunning vocal harmonies, melodic tones, psychedelia, and rock-it-till-it-collapses compositions even evoked a sort of noise-damaged early Yo La Tengo with perhaps a gentler, wayward Bardo Pond. Neither comparison was a stretch, though both were indicative of how multi-faceted Magik Markers have become.

Magik Markers - Three Lobed
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Ric Royer & G Lucas Crane - Dark Cabinet of the Strange Weird
[Ehse]
by David Nadelle

It has been a long forever since I had heard a good gothic collaboration. Hearkening back to the days of radio nasties and coming off like a bizarro-“Munsters” (so, actually eerie and funny?), Royer and Crane pulled out all the shock stops as they crept their way through macabre stories-with-sound, like on “Pig Dog Baby,” “Creepy Aunt Nikki,” and “Man with One Eye and a Hook for a Hand” (the latter is a peculiar piece with hilarious asides by Royer). Horror should unnerve and challenge, but mock-horror should fascinate and delight, and Dark Cabinet of the Strange Weird certainly did. There were no mounting horrifying crescendos or terrifying rides to the edge of darkness, but there were plenty of toothsome, subtly spooky, old-style tales of suspense. One would be half-right to think of Dark Cabinet of the Strange Weird as a mere novelty (the cob-webbed album comes cased in an Erin Womack-illustrated crypt box), but they would be short-changing it; this ghoulish union was, surprisingly, a very embraceable example of surreal narrative and sound-torturing that remained with the listener well past its conclusion, but not necessarily for the “chilling” reasons you may think. Release of the year? Hardly. Smile of the year? Definitely.

Ric Royer - G Lucas Crane->myspace.com/nonhorse] - [Ehse
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Astrobrite - One Hit Wonder
[Vinyl Junkie]
by Brendan Phillips

Maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but I think it's safe to say that shoegaze might be coming back for a second try, what with Bradford Cox's dual knockouts, bands like School of Seven Bells reworking Cocteau Twins, albeit with a little more punch and fervor, and The Magnetic Fields doing JAMC impressions. (Did you hear MBV was touring?) But in this resurgence of blissfully overwhelmed music, the one fear is that, well, these new bands just won't cut it, eschewing the spaced-out, deafening heart of the genre for nifty studio tricks. Supergazers Astrobrite -- mainly the solo work of Scott Cortez of loveliescrushing -- quell the fear with One Hit Wonder, a collection of "unreleased 4 track gems" culled from as far back as 1993, and it's certainly a shift from their previous works. Last year's Whitenoise Superstar was all standard fare -- hushed, wordless vocals, embellished strokes of enveloping guitars, neo-Loveless (though, really, what else is there?). One Hit Wonder takes the formula from harmless to downright harmful, what once was subdued here becoming noisy and alienating. From the industrial backbone and lacerating distortion of the opening title track to the album's whiplash centerpiece, "Atomic Fireball," One Hit Wonder successfully proves that while being tame has its rewards, strapping on a pair and getting messy is equally as advantageous.

Astrobrite
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Nachtmystium - Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1
[Century Media]
by Joe Davenport

I'm sure plenty of readers out there might have disregarded Nachtmystium as “hipster metal,” simply because they got some love from a few online publications of certain notoriety. Those same people, however, missed out on one of the finest black metal albums since Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse. Assassins sounded ferocious in parts and zoned-out in others. Frontman Blake Judd is a noted Pink Floyd fan, but the space-rock elements on this album are more reminiscent of Lemmy's pre-Motörhead psychedelic group, Hawkwind. Chunky guitar riffs were combined with the requisite tremolo-picking, blast beats segued into electronic passages, and the vocals went from screeching to gang-style shouting. Assassins was described by Judd as an attempt to destroy preconceived notions of what the black metal style -- and, in turn, his band -- was capable of encompassing. Along with groups such as Wold, Alcest, and Deathspell Omega, Nachtmystium are living up to that description and helping to redefine the limits of black metal for a whole new generation. It's proof positive that you don't have to wear corpse paint and hail from Norway to turn heads.

Nachtmystium - Century Media
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Ursula Bogner - Recordings 1969-1988
[Faitiche]
by Keith Kawaii

The most exciting thing about Ursula Bogner is how many others like her might exist. A housewife and pharmacist, she held a vast interest in the bizarre, creating minimalist, often esoteric synthesizer music in her spare time. Her sound remains unusually pure and devoid of grandeur, hearkening back to the rhythmic experiments and jingles of early electronic purveyor Raymond Scott. There are no big statements here, only the blips of vintage machines finding their shape and slowly stumbling into inviting rhythms and melodies. It's as if every instrument was being explored one feature at a time. The recordings are simple and charming, the aural equivalent of a thought process running its natural course. It's no wonder, then, that each piece, though brief, sounds appropriately paced. Bogner's music never saw release in her lifetime (she died in 1994) and was probably never intended for consumption at all. But here it is anyway, an anomaly in 2008 that, despite its backstory, sounds oddly timeless in this age of expansive musical exploration. I can't help imagining housewives everywhere sneaking off to the basement after the kids are asleep, indulging in their own little synthesizer heaven.

Faitiche
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irr. app. (ext.) - Aspiring To An Empty Gesture Volume 1
[Errata In Excelsus]
by Mr P

Detachment shouldn't be so engaging. Yet Matt Waldron, head dude of irr. app. (ext.), proves that juxtaposition, dislocation, and textural explorations don't have to rely on sonic narratives for value. That's not to say that Waldron ignores it altogether, but any sense of story on Aspiring To An Empty Gesture Volume 1 -- the first in a series dedicated to documenting the sparse performances of irr. app. (ext.) -- is either ridiculously exaggerated or undermined in some fashion. Indeed: it's hard to take seriously a Scottish toast when its punctuated by gunshot blasts, yet it's even harder to take seriously a music critic attempting to describe the sounds. But that's partly the point. Description would only place these sound-sources back into the contexts from which they were purposefully stolen. For all the so-called "deconstructionists" undermining time and rationalism in their so-called "avant-garde" compositions, here we have an artist who can see the humor in it all. Did I mention the Nurse with Wound and Residents interpretations? What about Waldron filling in on vocals for David Tibet on "Dead Side of the Moon"? This album is like Max Ernst melting Max Morise into a Karl Marx mold. Meanwhile, literary critic Walter Benjamin is in the corner, jerking off.

irr. app. (ext.) - Errata In Excelsus
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Collections of Colonies of Bees - Six Guitars
[Table of the Elements]
by R. Little

After 10 years as a band, Collections of Colonies of Bees are finally getting a fair shake with their home at Table of the Elements. The group -- consisting of core members Chris Rosenau and Jon Mueller, as well as several other members -- has reimagined its folk/bluegrass + modern experimentations several times over, to the point that their latest full-length album, Birds, was described as "where Rhys Chatham and Arnold Dreyblatt meet pop," a far shift indeed from the band's original premise. Keeping with this fluctuating narrative, COCOB followed with a staggeringly gorgeous avant-post-whatever piece, appropriately titled Six Guitars (only available on clear, etched vinyl). The music on Six Guitars was excruciatingly delicate, an epiphany dragged out and exaggerated, yet remaining equally moving. If you think that last sentence sounded pretentious, consider the fact that the band included an online supplement complete with an actual score of the piece, in which their various extended techniques were properly notated. Meaning, they put some Xs on a piece of paper to remind them to hit their guitars with pencils. Yes, pencils.

Collections of Colonies of Bees - Table of the Elements
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The Skaters - Physicalities of the Sensibilities of Ingrediential Stairways
[Eclipse]
by Paul Haney

The pseudo-nomadic (and increasingly enigmatic) duo of Spencer Clark and James Ferraro have lived a frustrating existence. Documenting the duo's recorded output is next to impossible, with incomplete CD-R runs, exorbitantly priced out-of-print cassettes, and few “proper” releases to come by. Physicalities of the Sensibilities of Ingrediential Stairways, released on the exquisite Eclipse Records imprint, was one of the few recorded statements rendered for relatively mass consumption from the two, and although it lost some of the bewildering delirium of their live shows, the same haunting, no-fi psychedelia was unmistakably glistening in abundance. With a laughably small setup (mics, boomboxes, broken knock-off keyboards) and an ability to lose fidelity even in the live setting, The Skaters nevertheless are one of the best examples of musicians working wonders with very little. The density of their sound was blown to the red on Physicalities, with occasional beats undercutting the abysses of howling vocals and shamanic synths. One drone power deserving of their hype, The Skaters endowed Physicalities with the kind of head-scratching fever dreams that will always sound out-of-place and of their own universe.

The Skaters - Eclipse
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Pocahaunted - Island Diamonds
[Arbor/Not Not Fun]
by Papaya

Keeping up with Pocahaunted can be frustrating at times. With a nearly double-digit number of releases this year alone, it's easy to find yourself hoping they release a real dud so's you won't be forced to buy yet another you don't have the money for. But, as far as I know, this hasn't happened yet, and it certainly didn't happen with Island Diamonds. The addition of beats in the past year has served them well, and hearing them with drummer Bobb Bruno is the perfect recipe for a richer, more colorful type of drone than anything else being produced right now. Diamonds is the group's self-described foray into the world of dub, and even with the tropical vibes permeating the album, it still holds in these icy December weeks just as well. The initial vinyl Arbor pressing sold out immediately, but a CD repress is available from Not Not Fun. Buy now, as it will be the perfect soundtrack to Spring Break 2012.

Pocahaunted - Arbor - Not Not Fun
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Per Nørgård - String Quartets No. 7-10
[Dacapo]
by Keith Kawaii

After recording "Revolution 9," John Lennon apparently went around claiming he had made "the music of the future." Even now, people either laugh or silently nod at the statement. Although we've come a long way since then, we still occasionally hold harmonies and cacophonous sounds in contempt. But even before then, Arnold Schoenberg and his students were probably nodding too -- though never silently -- when they imagined their pure 12-tone sequences. For many, there was a modern, reflective beauty in those dissonant sounds. For some, it was simply mechanical. For others, well, some people are just iconoclastic. Which is another way of saying that a lot of dullness, hype, greatness, nonsense, and anguish has swirled around atonal music since its inception. That Per Nørgård's String Quartets sound, at times, like relics from another century is a testament to the twisted, unpredictable trajectory of "modern" music in itself. But so is the common reaction to Nørgård's pieces. The strings often tremble. They ride long, close, beautifully cutting intervals; we've heard this kind of dissonance before. It doesn't startles us like it used to, but it surely speaks to broader themes. Some hear sorrow, adrenaline, and confusion. Others can only spot fault and heresy. I don't know about the future of music, but that's certainly how it feels right now.

Per Nørgård - Dacapo
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The Caretaker - Persistent Repetition of Phrases
[INSTALL]
by Joe Davenport

The Caretaker (a.k.a. James Kirby) has a distinct sonic identity, one that's indebted to the character of the old ballroom dance 45s that he used to create his sound pieces on Persistent Repetition of Phrases. Imagine William Basinski's Disintegration Loops, but with vinyl as the original source and the degradation purposeful instead of accidental. It all came together to evoke the dreams of a bygone era with an unsettling creepiness. Hints of the original melodies bubbled to the surface but remained nearly indistinguishable through their induction into the lock-grooves and faded light of the album's façade. Sure, his 1999 album, Selected Memories From the Haunted Ballroom, is considered a near-masterpiece by all who heard it, and those wanting to sample The Caretaker's sound need only check his website where an impressive album called Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia is available for free download (all 72 tracks of it!). However, Persistent Repetition of Phrases is perhaps the definitive representation of Kirby's unique aesthetic, and it's also one of the most compelling albums released this year.

The Caretaker - INSTALL

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