Below, you’ll find a list of our favorite 30 releases of the last six months. Lots of fantastic albums just missed the cut (releases by ZS, William Tyler, Alan Licht, Aki Onda, Haino/O’Rourke/Ambarchi, Pete Swanson, Hair Police, D/P/I, coolmemoryz, etc.) and still others were too divisive to include on the list (Random Access Memories and Yeezus, in particular), but there is a LOT OF LOVE for the artists and albums that actually made the list. Similar to last year’s mid-year list, not all of the picks have full-length reviews, so look for new blurbs on albums by 18+, L. Pierre, Foodman, Stara Rzeka, and Inga Copeland. The rest are snippets from our original reviews, because you know, if you don’t think too hard about it, copying-and-pasting writing is sorta as cool as sampling music.
“Abandon is a sacrificial rite, one that thus brings to mind Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, but it’s not that it sounds like the No Wavers, exactly. Rather, there’s the same quality of a speculum scraping open the Id, transforming logos back into mythos. Chardiet shares Lydia Lunch’s confrontationalism, her need to make her audience uncomfortable, to evidence her contempt and nihilistic rejection of any connection except that in which suffering is inherent (which is all connections), to make the listener feel her pain with an impact visceral as well as aesthetic. ‘Pitted’s’ insistent thud might be the door of Lunch’s closet slamming shut, while in moments like ‘Ache’s’ hindquarters, there’s a certain soughing, defeated dreaminess, which gestures past ‘dark ambience’ (if I may use that awful phrase) to Nico’s frozen warnings. But let’s leave comparisons aside: Abandon’s hammering slow pneumatic-drill beats are not so much an all-out assault as a grueling siege, in which the beleaguered inhabitants of the psyche find themselves starving, barely existing in a rising cesspool of their own shit and vomit, ridden with epidemic disease, turning to cannibalism and to frantic final Decameronesque debaucheries.” [full review]
“Mohammad consists of Nikos Veliotis, Costantino Kiriakos, and ILIOS, three artists from Greece who demonstrate their mawkish grit on cello, contrabass, and oscillators respectively. Som Sakrifis is their first release on PAN, and it holds the potential to literally drench its audience in uncompromising free-fall drone of the most miserable temperament. Whereas the term ‘drone’ may have been given questionable press of late, particularly in conjunction with misguided EBow experiments and ambient mediocrity, Mohammad pump it full of scorched engine oil and set the whole downhearted business ablaze. What prevails is the aftermath: a foul-tasting gust of smoke that pins one to the spot before forcing participation in some kind of hypnotic procession. Cards on the table: what we are dealing with here are three excruciatingly slow pieces of music that suggest the aforementioned instruments are being painstakingly abused. Som Sakrifis resides in a stygian realm between the flickering stars and the bioluminescent plankton that outline faraway ocean activity.” [full review]
Autre Ne Veut
“More important than critical theory or semiotics is the simple fact that these songs work as pop. Anxiety would be a failure were it to come across as an academic exercise, a late-arriving dilettante’s attempt at the music of the masses. Its appeal should be obvious enough to anyone who hears it, but it is also easily understood that there are many barriers to enjoyment that mark this particular path. The histrionic emotionalism of Anxiety will turn off those put off by bombast. This is an understandable feeling. There are moments when I listen to Anxiety and feel repulsed by its intensity. That said, I never feel a lack of admiration for what it achieves, for the mood it evokes, sustains, and perfects. There is no moment wasted, no shout, no silence that is without meaning. This is art that undertakes no less a task than the comprehension of the meaning of life in a deeply contradictory era. The importance of this pursuit should not be diminished nor confused by matters of newness and oldness. After all, there is little more radical than criticism of the self. The lack of vanity, the frank way it strives for accessibility only serves to further magnify the greatness of Anxiety. It does the most ideal thing art can do: it tries to make sense of life itself, without pretense or guile.” [full review]
MIXTA2E, the second release from the enigmatic “Boy”/”Sis” L.A. duo 18+, collects heard and unheard tracks released since their first mixtape, highlighting with frightening consistency the versatility and seductiveness of their ever-expanding music world. It’s not an easy one either. Sure, there are melodies: Sis offers disembodied, arm’s-length lullabies that sound like they’re read off a laptop screen, while Boy spits stuttering rap verses with a vacant, affectless urgency. And yes, there are rhythms too, many sourced from other artists, others possibly created in Logic. But the album comes off as blank and as artificial as the visual world they depict/portray/create in their videos (which are absolutely stunning, by the way), a simulacrum of sexuality repressed by the sterility of the virtual data stream, mimetic gestures of avatar flesh trapped in a perverse landscape where obsession meets fetishism meets emptiness meets violence meets love meets horror. What’s even scarier? This is only a snapshot of what these two are capable of.
Portal’s unique choice of mythos reflects in every layer of their being, all the way down to the costumes they wear. In its own way, Vexovoid is a kind of devotional music for Lovecraftian deities. But more importantly, it evokes them, unseating the listener’s expectations of stability and intelligibility and replacing them with horror and convolution. Their strangeness marks them out from more typical death metal bands, while still retaining their brutality and extremity, a distinction that results from the ideas that animate Portal’s work and their commitment to forming their music into a vehicle for the monsters to which they bow. Vexovoid refines these ideas into a more audible form, closing off the listener’s ability to escape it. Just don’t listen too closely or the structure might start making sense. [full review]
The Island Come True
Bibulous perv-poet Aidan Moffat brought his L. Pierre project out of retirement for one last job: a re-negotiation with a previous decade’s worth of unused samples and field recordings that brought about The Island Come True, a beat-tape of peculiar aches and inexplicable bruises. Waves break against keening orchestral flourishes; seagulls cackle over steepling melancholia; a child laughs; a woman exhorts; loops rise and fall like the tides. If the methodology chimes with The Focus Group’s uncanny excavations and reconstructions, the mournful swoon-and-crackle of the sonic carries liminal echoes of The Caretaker, Philip Jeck, and even William Bevan, himself no stranger to the art of DSP collage. The comparison may appear far-fetched, but Moffat and Bevan both tease a sepulchral pallor into a vulnerable glow. What passes for the warm breeze of a recently departed subway train in Burial’s work has here become something more disorientingly intimate: the warm cushion of a recently vacated toilet seat.
[Hippos in Tanks/World Music]
“[You’d] have to be pretty thick to take Blunt at face value by now; his seeming embodiment and parody of celebrity worship has been a losing game for anyone trying to tidily summarize his persona, let alone his work. But The Redeemer does come across as something closer to honesty and warmth than anything we’ve previously heard or seen from Blunt, and where that first seems possible is (somewhat paradoxically) in the endless undermining, reframing, and rug-pulling of his own symbolic narrative. Billed as a start-to-finish relationship study, complete with a romantic, string-saturated prelude and dramatic solo piano closer, the actual story remains frustratingly out of focus, eluding interrogation with its strange syntax, genre meldings, and distinct lack of movement despite a dizzying back-and-forth emotional pull. The periodic voicemails, a potentially useful shortcut to clear exposition, are difficult to make out and proceed without much progression, as if the same vague sentiment is gradually decaying with repetition. If a ‘plot’ exists, it adheres to one of Ben Marcus’s preferred definitions: ‘small piece of ground,’ ‘setting,’ ‘the space in which a story occurs.’ The narrative is largely felt as a thematic trajectory, a cyclical journey from the first spark of love, to its erosion into parody, to its sudden renewal as understood through a glass darkly.” [full review]
Innocence Is Kinky
“Like the actress Reneé Falconetti’s riveting confrontation with the male gaze in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, Hval’s work is most gripping when she confronts the aural equivalent of the male gaze, as in the fascinating ‘Mephisto in the Water.’ Upon first listen, it’s one of the prettiest songs on the album, composed of a wispy loop of piano, dusted with John Parish’s White Chalk and a simple, sing-song melody. There’s none of the lascivious whispering of the first track; instead, it sounds innocent, in a ‘Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia’ sort of way. The listener relaxes. Then, something odd begins to happen. Hval’s voice climbs and climbs in pitch. At first, it sounds like an idle, childlike game, in character with the rest of the song, but then it begins to go wrong. The childlike melody begins to tremble as Hval makes her voice climb octaves until it cracks, the vocal apparatus fails, and all we can hear is a vocalized squeak amid a gasp of air. The gap between word and voice becomes audible as articulation is lost. All that’s left is a quavering ‘ahh,’ the sound you make when your mouth is open for the doctor’s firm tongue depressor, the most open, receptive sound the mouth can make. The attentive listener is forced to reconsider their enjoyment of the song up to this point. This is much more interesting and confrontational than the disclosure that Hval watches porn, because it’s about the relationship between listener and singer, and not just a confession by the singer. Just by listening to the song, you are implicated. One considers how and why Hval is in this compromising position. One wonders when and how he ordered Hval to open up and say ‘ah.’” [full review]
“On first listen, you might be tempted to call Boo’s sampling tendencies ‘populist’ — the vocal tics and pop earworms on Legacy are ripped straight out the hyperlinked and gardenpath-trod 21st-century consciousness. Legacy boasts a cartoon hydra-head of uncanny anthropomorphic voices: the specter of R&B’s lost goddess Aaliyah, Tarzan’s weird yodel-scream, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, that creepy little kid from that one Kung Fu movie that GZA sampled on Liquid Swords, Justin Timberlake, the ‘motivational speech’ from Full Metal Jacket, and, of course, the chorus of zen-focused battletrack mantras and dancefloor declarations gracing nearly every track, courtesy of Mr. Boo himself. In the hands of most
DJs producers musicians, an audio collage as eclectic as the one on Legacy would dissolve into an incomprehensible mess of pop culture regurgitation, a chain of empty signifiers cloying for the listener’s attention. But RP Boo’s tracks dance in the space between entropy and subtlety so gracefully that every sample in Boo’s repertoire shows up at the precise right moment, always in fierce lockstep with drums and totally crucial to maintaining the music’s careful balance between chaos and forward momentum.” [full review]
“[On Cover Versions, Andrew Pekler selects] an assortment of images from exotica and library record covers and then manipulates their authorship in order to erase any symbolic affiliations with the past. […] These are scores produced at little expense, bled of authorship by those who benefited from the anonymous play-safe sounds that emphasize such questionable production. They come modified here in distorted forms, as twisted keys on ‘Seascape / Ship’ and a pulsating glitch on ‘Sunset / Sunrise’ that literally causes a tingling sensation in the esophagus. The fact that these tunes were so easy to come by in second-hand stores is an indication of their generic value today outside the confides of specific recognition. Pekler has ‘covered’ music formed within these bizarre fringes and manipulated it to create something utterly transfixing. Not only is he reworking the art forms of yesteryear for inquisitive audiences, but he is redefining the margins, crafting results in the guise of audio miniatures that tell anonymous tales of cultural shift channeled through long-forgotten voices that have never sounded so stirring.” [full review]