2017: First Quarter Favorites From LAMPGOD & Lambkin to Charli XCX & Xiu Xiu

The Captain has turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign.

For each of the first three quarters of every year, we celebrate by sharing a list of our favorite music releases. Unlike our year-end lists, these quarter lists are casually compiled, with an aim to spotlight the underdogs and the lesser-heards among the more popular picks. More from this series



Skullflower

The Spirals of Great Harm

[Cold Spring]


The Spirals of Great Harm has a clear lineage in the Skullflower discography. It’s a step beyond Strange Keys to Untune Gods Firmament (also a double album) and Taste the Blood of the Deceiver, though it follows a similar trek down the left-hand path. Played at a low volume, its minor key melodies and themes are apparent enough, but turn it up and its lacerating feedback has a much harsher effect. Bower and collaborator Samantha Davies (the only other constant in the modern Skullflower lineup) unleash hell through ritual guitar abuse. Outsiders may not readily understand how much different this album is from 2014’s dragon-themed Draconis, but to longtime admirers, it’s a step away from that album’s meandering psych, the style of which Bower used to reserve for his Sunroof! project. Kneeling in worship at the altar of the underworld, stacks of amplifiers in tow, Bower and Davies have crafted another indispensable addition to their canon.


Xiu Xiu

FORGET

[Polyvinyl]


Pray for Xiu Xiu. As many of their contemporaries have either faded from the record and/or embraced a life as background material for iPod commercials [ed: NO SHADE ON IPODS], Jamie Stewart’s long-running project has — like unchecked tooth decay — only deepened with age. Delivering maybe their most “accessible” album since formative hit Fabulous Muscles (a record whose key lyric was still “Cremate me after you cum on my lips”), FORGET brings all the self-loathing, harsh sarcasm, wonky instrumentation, and harrowing Dennis Cooperisms we have come to depend on from the Xiuverse. Whether you love it or not, Stewart and his gang have sustained a distinct interpretation of the world through what can feel like a lifetime’s worth of trend-shifting; for this alone, the band’s persistence should be cherished. That FORGET is one of their best albums to date is a surprise and a delight, the sign of a legacy act finding new life (the light, New Order-echoing “Get Up” is an album highlight) and handing us a deceptively poppy, booby-trapped gift to both longtime fans and newcomers.


Rashad Becker

Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. II

[PAN]


Rashad Becker is a musician who is known for mastering other musicians’ work. His operation at Dubplates & Mastering is prolific and now famous in the world of experimental and electronic music, its most recent accomplishments including masters of The Necks’ Unfold, Visible Cloaks’ Reassemblage, and the great new PAN compilation Mono No Aware, but probably the most adventurous and distinctive of the records Becker has engineered of late is his own. He makes music with the freedom of a person who spends a lot of time thinking about the relationship between music and media of expression. PAN officially describes Becker’s Notions as “synthesized sounds that appear to exist hauntingly physical,” alluding to the tension between creativity and materials that enters always into the musical imagination, the tension that Becker gets paid to negotiate on artists’ behalf. The physical “haunts” music, not as an antagonist as if all music were not physical at least in origin, but because of what is risked, what is lost, and what is made when music passes from one physical medium to another, as in the representation of the rapid movements of a trombone’s bell as bumps on a slab of vinyl. Where his first volume of Traditional Music was a bit more self-similar, built from the whirring of buglike tensions and releases, Becker’s second effort explores the glowing horror and breath of reanimation. With species even more personable and diverse than those of its far-out predecessor, Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. II is nothing short of an event in electronic music.


We’ll See x Treece (Prod Hyro)

Constructions Tape

[SWMS/Self-Released]


Drizzy Aubrey may be hip-hop’s new international playboy, assembling identities like a collector on safari, but the UK hip-hop and grime scene has been strong for a while now. We’ll See and Treece, along with lo-fi necromancer Hyro, present an alternative to the rude glitz of Skepta, a drowsy, dour romp through England’s South West and Manchester, tagging walls, popping pills, and trading deft, witty wordplay. There’s something theatrical, entrancing about the scenes on Constructions Tape, and they fade in and out of view like fragments from a VHS tape in a Buckfast bottle. Hyro is as much a character as the MCs — the beats on “SNES-CD” and “Krylon” are loose and minimal. “Rizla” is a stunning example of his sizzling, ambient lo-fi technique. The drugs are the same, the liquor is the same (the slang a little different). For those who find it hard to relate to life on the other side of the Atlantic, you can dig the lads’ antics in a tape-length music video, which explores the highways, fallow fields, and windy beaches of Britain. We’ll See and Treece are practically alone in the entire piece, ghosts in a glittering, unforgiving city.


Jon Mueller

dHrAaNwDn

[Rhythmplex]


Jon Mueller’s dHrAaNwDn is deep and resonant, each quadrant of the 2xLP package filling a distinct void. Mueller is adept at bending innovative recording techniques to fit his drum-offs, and this might be one of his most elaborate schemes. The excerpts found on the wax were captured by a full mobile studio at the historically cogent meeting house of the Shaker Historical Society in Albany, NY. And if you’ve ever been to Albany (as I have, a ton), you know there’s an odd artistic energy enveloping the overlooked city. Using the cavernous environment to its aural advantage, dHrAaNwDn sprawls its percussive attacks out evenly, the dank toms thumping, jumping, and bumping. It’s akin to those loooong rows of files I used to sleep amid when I worked at a complex housing warehouses full of legal files: orderly, sequential, and all-encompassing in its grandeur. dHrAaNwDn hits harder than a drone-out and more comprehensively than the huge push of air that accompanies an explosion, the sound waves bouncing rustically off the “wood and white walls” of the house. So much more to say, so little space; white vinyl, only 200 copies, no digital version, gorgeous artwork, Mueller exploring yet another avant avenue that no one thought to truss.


Amnesia Scanner

AS Truth

[Self-Released]


AS Truth provides a severely ungrounded experience. Leitmotifs abound (water, club, shifter, voice, trepan), Amnesia Scanner build a dizzying piece that is colossally unfathomable yet pragmatically short — done before its working becomes cruel. Living in the tiny turns and rarely caring for much larger than that, AS Truth is the pregame and the function (the buzz and the twitch [the trepanation across the nation (the boogie and the drop) that burrs the hole] that feeds the demon) that wakes you up. I love this album, and OK, in case you’re wondering, I found this for you: this. I guess the surgeon is “actually a quack” but look at him, funny guy. Oh, and apparently this guy trepanned himself. Only later do we find out that ~no~ he didn’t.

For each of the first three quarters of every year, we celebrate by sharing a list of our favorite music releases. Unlike our year-end lists, these quarter lists are casually compiled, with an aim to spotlight the underdogs and the lesser-heards among the more popular picks. More from this series


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