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

The Captain has turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign.

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Three months in, and we haven’t destroyed ourselves! To celebrate this achievement, we’re once again sharing our favorite releases from the last few months. A lot of it is pretty heavy, focusing on grief (Mount Eerie), cruelty (Lawrence English), and self-loathing (Xiu Xiu), with other fun stuff like ritual guitar abuse (Skullflower) and the glowing horror of reanimation (Rashad Becker). But we also loved everything from urban gallery funk (Cybervision Simulcast) and philosophic horse opera (Sun Araw) to playful Afromutations (Riddlore) and pop so sugary sweet it’ll rot your teeth (Charli XCX). Something for everyone. ;)

Since these quarter lists are more informal than our year-end features, the shortlist before the list proper is equally important (especially Dasychira’s Immolated EP, which got a lot of love since assembling this list). Check ‘em all out below, and maybe see you in another three?

Shortlist: Moon B’s Lifeworld 2: Udaya, nekomimi + luvfexxx, LUVISCOLD, Sophiaaaahjkl;8901’s Toilet Abstraction Tapes, Gabor Lazar’s Crisis of Representation, Darren Keen’s It’s Never Too Late To Say You’re Welcome, Mega Bog’s Happy Together, Tonstartssbandht’s Sorcerer, Dasychira’s Immolated, Drake’s More Life, William Basinski’s A Shadow in Time, Roc Marciano’s Rosebudd’s Revenge, Future’s HNDRXX, Blanck Mass’ World Eater, and PAN’s mono no aware compilation.


Mount Eerie

A Crow Looked At Me

[P.W. Elverum & Sun]


I can barely listen to A Crow Looked At Me, an album with little room for novelty, one I’m sure Phil Elverum never wanted to make. Death is the least novel thing in life, but it makes a novelty out of what never was before. Phil (who I feel maybe too close to now) makes white noise of branches, canyons of grocery store aisles, a sunset of what is not dust. He doesn’t have to make meaning of Death, because words become futile when confronted with something so simple and absolute. His grief seems just to be here, contained by the same microphone as guitar, the way someone who dies just can’t be. I don’t think music had ever made me cry only for someone else, but none of this sounds like it was made for anyone but Geneviève and himself. He says he doesn’t want to learn anything from his wife’s death, but by the time you’ve shut your eyes for 40 minutes, alone with the creaking floor and counted days and Pacific birds and spoken dreams, I can’t imagine not coming away with (something) more. It’s springtime.


Riddlore

Afromutation

[Nyege Nyege Tapes]


The modest genius of Riddlore’s Afromutations, the January offering from Ugandan cassette label Nyege Nyege Tapes, stems from a certain perspectival grace. A longstanding figure of the Los Angeles hip-hop underground, Riddlore is known first as an emcee and second as a beatmaker. Afromutations sees the artist sketching a playful, iterative bass style drawn from samples of African field recordings, a hauntological gesture that in less subtle hands might fall into a self-serious wormhole. The tape’s beauty is in how the timbral mood of the samples gesture at and usher into place the recombinant scaffolding of the relatively untreated percussion, like how the choral tension that opens “Bakka Pygmies Riddim” blossoms into an eerie kuduro strut. Elsewhere, on “Afroed” and “The Crush,” drums and overlapping harmonies flange into natural psychedelias. Riddlore’s agenda-absent play allows the samples to mutate freely, and Nyege Nyege serves an adept platform for the project.


The Necks

Unfold

[Ideologic Organ]


To unfold, usually, is to grow, to expand; to sprawl. On their 19th release, The Necks have instead tightened their improvisational nous to four standalone pieces, invoking the mysticism of Cusanus: “unfolding is enfolding.” These anti-compositions unfold insofar as they protrude into space-time and become of-the-world, cosmological chaos and all; they enfold into the broader scheme of the album, all unified through the articulate chops of Messrs Abrahams, Swanton, and Buck. Between balance and imbalance, serenity and turbulence, the respective instrumental forces of the players here circumnavigate these side-long miniatures with microscopic focus and reticence, in characteristically Necks-ian fashion. And, even when compared with classics past, there’s no compromise on ambition, not a single wasted moment. Such is the dynamism of Unfold; what initially struck as blissful stasis, best suited for gazing into the pale blue yonder, gently opens up — and, yeah, unfolds — to yield four of the most self-contained, wholly busy musics that 2017 has had to offer thus far.

Cybervision Simulcast

Sewer City

[H.V.R.F. CENTRAL COMMAND]


Sewer City kicks up all the residual funk of an urban galley. Where oil encrusted kebab meat sweats on rotation, busted street lights stutter into the night, and ripple-rich puddles highlight the only natural quality to animate the scene, as thick droplets of rain are spat down from the stubborn grey heavens above. Cybervision Simulcast drape this grizzly vision through the innards of a pitch-black bypass drenched in alarms, sirens, and ricochet. Everything points to a breakdown or dysfunction, as this bleak snapshot of municipal decay melts to nothingness through our slime-smeared fingers. But those signals of distress are incorporated within the process, and they are not to be heeded for what they might otherwise signify; they orchestrate the bass-inverted crank that punctuates the residue of samples, synths, and storyline. To suggest that this grizzled and failing image results in a perfect album would be distasteful — obscene, even. And yet, that’s precisely what’s happened every time I’ve taken the plunge so far. There is no light at the end of this tunnel. Let’s keep it that way.


Charli XCX

Number 1 Angel

[Asylum]


Out of the cold dark dust, the Number 1 Angel spreads her wings for Utopia, so emotional and so sugary sweet it’ll rot your teeth. After one of the strangest ascensions (“I! Don’t! Care!”) in the pop industry, Charli XCX is thriving. VROOM VROOM’s EUREKA! production was Charli at a 100% synchronization rate, and now she’s spun a 40-minute pop slipstream, an outside World of babygirls and babyboys. The PC Music crew sheds some of the hyperreal, sourcing Charli’s charisma and songwriting prowess to shoot for real stars: color-coded bangers, sweatsoaked and tearstained, a clarity of vision that at once opens avataric and musical possibilities in the channel of Rihanna and Kesha. The party’s enfolding. Number 1 Angel is Charli’s every intuition refined in hi-fi, the best-yet gateway for anyone not already along for the ride. Ten songs for one night. Glitter in your underwear, left on red. Let’s ride! The closing trilogy of features (Uffie, ABRA, cupcakKe) is fucked-up perfect. Each outrunning the last, headfirst till the 90s bubblegum pops. The synths kick up cinnamon for a minute-long Secret Mix outro. Inextinguishable, enlightening. It’s Charli, baby.


Various Artists

Club Chai Vol. 1

[Club Chai]


When you’re in the right club, with the right music, with the right crowd, you can feel your body. You’re present in it, in its creases and protrusions, in its decorations and accoutrements, in its movements and vibrations in space, in its careful caressings and navigations around and through other bodies. You can feel it as something fluid, the cells and lipstick and lungs and heels and bass and drugs and genders and hi-hats and drifting and splitting melodies and languages morphing the movement of your limbs into a movement of potentials. You think, “I am in this body and I am feeling these other bodies and I know that this body can be something else, it can be what it wants to be, it can be what it doesn’t want to be, this shell is the end and the beginning and I am going to be fucking gorgeous.” Club Chai is a loose collective of queer and trans club DJs and producers out of Oakland pushing that continuum into the right-now-right-now-right-now of sonic uncertainty, gender uncertainty, national uncertainty. And it feels right.


Lawrence English

Cruel Optimism

[Room40]


I consider myself an optimist, but I haven’t always been positive. My sense of trust in goodness has grown as I’ve unpacked how cynicism has poisoned many of my relationships (with partners, with friends, with art). Then again, being an optimist, as Louis CK once asserted, means being stupid. There’s a delicate balance between being confident in humanity’s potential for good and accepting humanity’s cruelty as simply the cost of business. Lawrence English’s latest release is music for contemplating what’s writhing around deep in humanity’s psyche. Its requiem is solemn, because nobody’s sense of “goodness” has won yet, its negative drones promising because they still have matter to vibrate through. Cruel Optimism is nominally a meditation on how human desire often breeds cruelty at humanity’s own expense, but as a sound work, it is also a reminder that optimism, shed of its colonizing skin, can overcome cruelty.


Quelle Chris

Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often

[Mello Music Group]


In college, a friend of mine had a line that went something like, “Your shit is wacker than the ‘you’ that every rapper writes about.” Although I can’t remember exactly how it went, or if it was ever even put to record, I always thought that was so dope: taking aim at the proverbial second person by acknowledging its ubiquitous metanarrative; uplifting recorded battle rap by breaking its third wall. Doper still, the idea that an omnipresent, sucker MC named “You” might actually exist. Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often complicates the above concept by incorporating hip-hop’s superego, the proverbial I, and framing that id character as both a role model for personal success and a self-destructive nemesis. Like “Who Am I” as a slapstick comedy about the creative process.


Sun Araw

The Saddle of the Increate

[Sun Ark/Drag City]


The Saddle of the Increate shuffles the few short steps across from Belomancie’s chambers of internal refraction to twitch and twinge its way through into the shining territory of the lonesome whippoorwill — outdoors, that is. Well, at least there’s a pedal steel or two, a cactus, and a 10-gallon hat — it’s a [“psychedelic”] philosophic horse opera, tough as an actor, distracted but gruffly tender, especially in its latter sections. There’s a space and a half between every point; we can give names to/for every constellation, a classical reference or two even, but it’s still… complex — and how is the soul (your soul) distinct from its powers anyway? Spatially disorienting, temporally atomistic, concrete in image, plastic in execution: seven lampstands have become seven horses (and four hats, a head of cattle, one bowl, etc. etc.). Like pulling a wishbone with yourself, be 100% ready to spit in the skillet.


Graham Lambkin

Community

[ErstSolo/Kye]


As Jackson Scott so rightly put, Graham Lambkin’s Community is “a document of what a community can create without dictating what a community should entail; it is evidence without the arrogance of conclusion.” Not community, but the evidence of community. In fact, the trace audible evidences of sound becoming located in new environments is exactly what establishes Lambkin’s practice and medium — a medium that so mysteriously auditions sonic evidence into richly communicative listening spaces. In Community, we are bathed by this evidence, in communion with it; it is threaded inside of the spaces we inhabit, our daily lives and interactions — those already in articulation. Voiced as such, the album is a masterclass in Lambkin’s quotidian character, flattened into a natural, weathered state close to the void — close to how impossible and brilliant our communities are. It reminds us that our communities exist often without us, within and without our human attempts to locate them.


Camedor

En Ut / Alba

[Debacle]


The scoff that is heard ‘round the world at any mention of “world” music may not be the constructive criticism the catch-all term deserves, but it is the noise necessary to make a greater point. But may we suggest replacing that negativity with a positive denotation? Enter Camedor’s debut 12-inch, which is the sound of the world sucked into a wormhole wherein time, space, and location matter little. In a nutshell, it represents the “new” idea of world music, where we no longer place such a limiting genre marker on what is music now easily accessible to all. Both songs borrow from mid-century composers (including a “cover” of Terry Riley’s “In C”), but also pull everything out of the grab bag of motorik, drone, and pop. José Orozco Mora has layered it all into a wondrous noise that may heavily borrow from Western tropes and styles, but is music from parts (un)known. You may not catch much Berber or Aboriginal influence, but what matters is how Mora’s Camedor speaks to building bridges between cultures through music. It’s a shared form of expression, and the joyous, raucous nature of En Ut / Alba is a celebration of worlds colliding into symphonic harmony.


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.


LAMPGOD

GOD SHIT EP

[Self-Released]


Hey: what’s happening?” is the sound, and it’s me looking for the voice source. “How y’all doing?” (really though how am I doing?) and I can’t put my finger on it (can’t touch a sound, Frank, duh.) What’s means? Someone put some solid white lines between lanes (as if you could keep things separate, as if we all moved in one direction at a time), someone ripped up all the pavement (“‘cause I’m negative”), killed all the streetlamps (“and I’m dark”) some LAMPGOD blows up the means and throws up me. Cause when you wrap all the pavement ‘round your waste, you get GOD SHIT, the influence of ecstasy of ecstasy. Can’t touch a sound, and in this dark, I don’t want to not resolve: “We gotta help each other out, man, renourish the soil.” It’s soil or soul, this driving both ways. It’s GOD SHIT, the garbage divine, the that that’s happening.


Dale Cornish

Cut Sleeve

[Halcyon Veil]


Room to think is never enough space as you’ve imagined. And Cut Sleeve is just extra for “t-shirt.” So breathe. So much area to cover. So here we have Dale Cornish satirizing modern house music. Beyond that, the Winnipeggian is using Cut Sleeve to comment on a variety of “scene” motifs that continue with the club-politics of Halcyon Veil (i.e., queer culture, auteur vanity, architectural ouroboros, etc.). Only this time, Dale Cornish provides a brooding outsider mentality, blending dark alley grime and abstract dancefloor narration, settling Cut Sleeve in light of summer nights partying in the park, in a ditch or pond, and never quite coming back into reality as before. Ever.


HIRS

YØU CAN’T KILL US

[Get Better]


The pink and purple hue line-blocking the resistant and persisting declaration in bold white-as-day fuck-you lettering YØU CAN’T KILL US. Through the five-track, five-minute EP and 100+ shows through LGBTQIA spaces and hundreds of tracks, HIRS have made further ground down the chaff of their enemies and turned the opposition into dust under their boot. And though they’ve already released a split with LIFES in dedication to all their lost friends, TRANS GIRL TAKE OVER 2K17, and an underheard release called MAGICal/WANDerful (from which all money made goes directly to Morris Home), we keep dedicating our five minute breaks at work to it. It’s raw and fervent, tearing the stitches out from the seams of their oppressor and dividing it among the trans community, leaving a powerful, anxious, angry, passionate residue that we will never wash off.


Dedekind Cut

The Expanding Domain

[Self-Released]


$uccessor’s scion in every way, The Expanding Domain is simply the planar enlargement of Dedekind Cut’s starkly heterogeneous sound. Chimerizing practically every experimental electronic form one can imagine, each track blooms from chill aestivation into confounding calyces of spiraling noise and hyaline synths. Likewise in ontogeny, The Expanding Domain maintains a perennial coiling and uncoiling, as the final cut, “Das Expanded, Untitled Riff,” gives way to the EP’s opening in “Cold Bloom.” His strength is in grafting his raging and rimose rhythms to the divaricate New Age and ambient sounds his newest project has embraced. Simultaneously serrate and undulate, his sonic palette (complemented by the likes of Elysia Crampton, Dominick Fernow, and Mica Levi) unnerves and calms. The static-wreathed stabs of “LiL Puffy Coat” float atop a ponderous plod and the crushing-crushed breaks of the title cut find balance from a languishing wash and a hint of melody. It feels complete and self-sustaining yet always groping outward toward more. A sonic inflorescence, The Expanding Domain is the further coil of the tendril, the greater spread of the rhizome, the deeper growth of the genet.


Pinkcourtesyphone

Talk The Pleasure Out of It

[Champion Version]


Minimalist and ambient music are the aural equivalent of abstract art. Maligned by the uninitiated for their perceived simplicity (read: boring, easy to cobble together) when in actual fact anyone who has ever tried to paint an abstract on canvas finds quite quickly how difficult it is to decide what to put where — or more specifically, what not to put almost everywhere. And therein lies the art. Pinkcourtesyphone is fast establishing a reputation as the Mondrian of music minimalism. With so few concepts and sounds throughout Talk the Pleasure Out of It, it’s breathtaking how much emotion and mood is packed into this all-too-brief EP from the opening bars.


Demdike Stare

Wonderland

[Modern Love]


Demdike Stare’s first album since 2012, Wonderland produces prismatic color from a grayscale jungle, crosshatching inert beat blocks and blunt chords into tight, combative spaces in order to glimpse a few seconds of beautiful moiré. Between stark silences and loud silver smacks, loose atoms offer subtle signs of life, suggesting endless, complex revisions — small but seminal shifts into new structures, trickled off from the eroding monolith of “industrial” and fully escaped from the aesthetic trappings of “hauntology.” Fans of past records will recognize the esoteric sampling and tough breaks (especially if they’re fans of the Testpressing series), but the level of abstraction on display is newly inspired, with new rhythms and juxtapositions hinting at new modes of expression at every turn. At its core is a pure love of creation, boundless energy picking up inertia amid extreme restraint, transforming all the techno it touches. The humanity is there, but it’s hidden, in corners and in shadows, as still as can be, confident someone will eventually find it anyway. Stay active.

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