Welcome to the second instalment of our recently launched Inbox feature, in which we round up some of the sorely overlooked but wholly deserving releases in our various to-do heaps that just missed out on the full-length review treatment. This time around, Diego emerges from a roiling patch of whitewater to declassify his growing list of Unidentified Aural Phenomena before zipping off at speeds close to 20 miles per second. We hope you enjoy reading, listening and discovering. – SD
GLEN, “PULL!” (Anesthetize Productions/Sound Effect Records)
Nothing beats a heady throbbing Krautrock boogie. Throw in some thick stoner-rock guitar and dense, operatic soundscapes and you’ve got yourself a rollicking good time, an off-kilter yet focused balance between Klaus Kinski’s frothing madness and the brooding equanimity of Popol Vuh.
Kaschalot, “Zenith” (Stargazed Records)
Is it okay to feel joy again? Just in case you feel a tinge of guilt when you breathe in a gust of jasmine-scented evening air, Estonia’s emo-math rock nerds Kaschalot keep it strictly instrumental and emotionally ambiguous, keeping some overtly ecstatic Animals As Leaders-style headbanging riffs tempered by jagged, moody harmonies. You know damn well these guys were definitely the freaks and geeks toking up behind the school yard throwing up the horns to spooky stuff like Opeth or Katatonia and looping Dance Gavin Dance riffs over skateboarding videos, and it sounds like they’re still having a blast. It’s a good reminder that you’ll never grow too old or too seriously talented to still have fun.
YL Hooi, “Untitled” (Efficient Space)
A deeply private, cloistered affair, this hushed memoir of forgotten meditations and foreboding rituals floats aimlessly into the night like La Llorona, haunting yet human. The Australian chanteuse comes close to delivering a funky, late night ballad in “W/O Love” but her hushed chanting gets lost in an echoing hall of mirrors. Lost in an introspective maze of dub, lounge jazz, and ambient, one might imagine this is what it wound sound like for White Poppy and Mogwai to get together with some therapeutic ketamine on a pile of pillows and sink into the abyss.
Eiko Ishibashi, “EXIT” (Self Released)
A nightmare wrapped in a prophecy wrapped in a rapturous rhapsody. A symphony of whispers and wind chimes, wineglasses and witchcraft. Drink deep!
Tyler Holmes, “Nightmare in Paradise” (Ratskin Records)
“My ghost is laughing now,” Tyler Holmes intones over a cloying cello on the tear-jerker “Moss,” touching a pinched nerve at the core of their new album’s dual themes: trauma and triumph, hurt and healing, sickness and health. How can one be defined without the other? Nightmare in Paradise was composed at a deeply painful juncture in the Oakland singer’s life when they were stranded at a hospital in Puerto Rico following a shooting. PTSD haunted Holmes after returning, keeping them sheltered at home with intense stomach pain and anxiety. While the brilliant multi-instrumentalist has usually been a more upbeat diva drawing equally from the tutelage of Nine Inch Nails and Nina Simone, this album is a much more subdued affair, tracing the artist’s journey through grief and gruelling recovery. The listening experience is one of emotional suffocation and gradually learning to breathe again—by the time the haunting closer “Canvas” rolls around, Holmes says “I’m a disaster, so pull me through / so choke me later, tell me what’s a girl to do?” And by that point, it’s left as an open question that doesn’t feel so daunting. Maybe there’s more to be done after all.
Hali Palombo, “Cylinder Loops” (Astral Editions)
This is a stunning accomplishment in drawing sonic blood from a stone—that is, pathos from “found sound” archival material from old record cylinders. On “Loop 8” for example, Palombo samples what seems like no more than a brief snippet of laughter—laughter!—into a whole goddamn mini-opera that will knock you on your ass. While cobbled together from seemingly plain and whimsical samples hidden in the UC Santa Barbara Cylinder Archive, the sheer weight of these little ballads feels like a century’s worth of contemplation, at once eternal and gone in the blink of an eye.
Prolaps, “Ultra Cycle Pt. 1: Vernal Birth (Hausu Mountain)
This Game Boy-gabber rave bender is two fucking hours long? What the fuck? Holy fuck. The double-cassette edition is already sold out, but unless you were planning on snorting powdered amethyst from the jewel case to dilate your third eye, I doubt you’ll find the digital edition lacking. Everything from 8-bit breakcore to hardcore techno, dub, and ambient—I know I shouldn’t be surprised that Hausu Mountain could put out such debauched, delicious filth, but I’m grateful for the double-shot and demand another dose.
Alan Licht, “A Symphony Strikes the Moment You Arrive” (Room40)
Alan Licht is what Miles Davis might have called a “motherfucker”—someone who really knows what they’re doing with their instrument, an esoteric yet immediately relatable, approachable player blazes new trails of tonality and textural expression. Licht’s got spunk, spirit, “Duende,” yet his baffling guitar-scraping eschews virtually all melody or really any modesty. These live recordings are an explosive, unapologetic affair of blistering electronic drone—the titular “symphony,” recorded by Keith Fullerton Whitman, drawn entirely from distorted shortwave radio. The closing “Room For Storms,” meanwhile, features Licht’s signature alien transmissions via guitar, providing live accompaniment to a video performance about satellite images of hurricanes. Licht is a luminary whose fans are contemporary legends in their own right, including Oren Ambarchi, Loren Connors, and Lee Ranaldo. Few leave an Alan Licht listening experience wholly unchanged, and you likely won’t be among them.
Various Artists, “Anthology of Experimental Music From China” (Unexplained Sounds Group)
Adding to an already voluminous canon of Chinese avant-garde music primers, this anthology features some of the must cutting-edge, abstract, and bizarre music that will leave even cynical aesthetes like me gobsmacked with the bewildering new ideas explored over a single hour of noise. Perhaps due to its more deeply underground roots free of academic institutions and hierarchy, Chinese electronic music ranges the full gamut from elegant minimalism to abrasive noise, often within the same song. At one end of the spectrum, Hualun explores the loneliness of modern urban terrains on the mellow Vangelis-like “City Blues,” while at the other extreme, Aplx blasts a solid wall of turbine-drone into a cold and unforgiving galaxy of underwater seagull sutras. It’s a densely coherent mess of stuff you can’t afford to miss if you want to stay up to date on all the sounds that are physically possible to experience. I mean, do you really want to risk being caught off guard? Listen closely, expect surprises.