Laughter

the human race has one really effective weapon


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Year in Review, Pt. 2 (Brainwashed)

The Brainwashed.com “best of” list is a reader’s poll now in its 17th year. Rather than have the writers pick their favorites of 2014, Brainwashed asked that they comment on what the readers select in the polls. Records are broken up into album, single, reissue, various artist, and boxed set categories (and a worst album of the year category too). Artist, new artist, and label of the year awards are then calculated by how reader’s vote in the other categories. The Lifetime Achievement Award is determined by the staff alone.

I’ve posted some of the records I commented on below, but not all of them. Click through the link to see the entire list. Writers usually comment on what their favorites were and Brainwashed readers have a great way of remembering excellent albums that other publications forget.

5. Sunn O))) & Ulver, “Terrestrials” (Southern Lord)

Out of the two Sunn O))) collaborative albums (more on the other one should you cast your eyes downwards), this was my favourite. Short and sweet, this covered all the bases (and basses) that I would hope for from Sunn O))) and Ulver. About 10 years ago, Ulver remixed a track for Sunn O)))’s White1 which always hinted at possible greatness and Terrestrials has more than been worth the wait. – John Kealy

This was a great year for Sunn O))) though they passed through it quietly. LA Reh 012 isn’t something I’ve given much attention yet, but both of their collaborative records were very good. Odd to think of them playing the backing band, but I think that is the case on both Terrestrials and Soused. Sunn O))) are extremely flexible and I continue to enjoy listening to everything they touch, whether they’re in the spotlight or not. – Lucas Schleicher

7. Aphex Twin, “Syro” (Warp)

There is a lot that could be said about Syro but everyone has already said it ad nauseum. It’s fine, it’s nothing amazing but it’s listenable. The hype didn’t kill it but it did try my patience. You would think electronic music didn’t exist before (or after) Richard James. – John Kealy

The actual album was totally overshadowed by its announcement by blimp for me.  I still liked it though.  Of course, I expected to LOVE it, but James cannot really be faulted for failing to blow my mind at this late stage in his career.  – Anthony D’Amico

I was surprised at how much I liked Syro. It’s a pleasant reminder at how good RDJ is at riffs, however it’s a reminder at how terrible he is at “experimental” fluff. Some of the album’s dead weight could have been easily been relocated to single B-sides to form a far stronger record. – Jon Whitney

Syro is the first Aphex Twin record on which Richard D. James sounds as if he is following someone else’s lead. It’s a fine record that doesn’t even come close to cracking my favorite records list for 2015. – Lucas Schleicher

23. Klara Lewis, “Ett” (Editions Mego)

For a first statement, it’s an exceptionally remarkable fully formed concept. Klara has an undeniable talent for composition and construction as well as an intuitive ear for depth and space. I look forward to her artistic trajectory as it almost feels like she’s holding back a little still. – Jon Whitney

I suspected that Lewis had backed herself into an impossibly constrained stylistic corner with her first EP, but she managed to find a way to expand and improve upon her unusual collages with Ett.  This was a delightfully strange, inventive, and unpredictable debut.  – Anthony D’Amico

Klara Lewis’s music is very subtle and imaginative and this is probably the most underrated album in the top 25. – Lucas Schleicher

38. Valerio Tricoli, “Miseri Lares” (Pan)

Here’s another candidate for one of the best, most over-looked records of 2015. Valerio Tricoli has produced and recorded with numerous people in the past ten-plus years, including 3/4HadBeenEliminated, Thomas Ankersmit, and Autistic Daughters. He has also contributed to recordings on Die Schachtel, Room40, and Tochnit Aleph. Miseri Lares isn’t Tricoli’s first solo full-length, but it’s a great introduction to his dark, looping, pseudo-concrète work. – Lucas Schleicher

(Read More)

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2014 Year in Review, Pt. 1 (Dusted in Exile)

Normally I’d post a lengthy year in review here, but this time around I’m just going to link to the Dusted and Brainwashed year-end lists I was a part of, then maybe cap it off with a list of last minute records I heard or ordered that I think deserve some attention.

So, here’s a snippet from my Dusted writeup. Much more after the link. And take some time to look at what the other writers had to say about their 2014 favorites. There is lots of good stuff from everyone involved:

This year was filled with great music from start to finish. There wasn’t a single month that didn’t see the release of something exciting. As winter approached, the continuous flood of exceptional recordings became increasingly hard to follow. By June, keeping up had become little more than a laughable daydream, never mind everything that came out between October and December. Lots of people probably feel this way every December, but 2014 was the year I was swept away. 

Looking back at the time line, it’s easy to see why. Tara Jane O’Neil and Damien Jurado released their records in January, Anne Guthrie’s Codiaeum Variegatum bowled me over in February, and the Toshiya Tsunoda/Manfred Werder collaboration landed in March. Politiken der Frequenz rolled out in April and Carl Hultgren’s first solo album won me over at the end of May. I married my wife in June and shortly thereafter started new work, where listening to new music every day wasn’t part of the job. Erstwhile had already put out the Jürg Frey and Radu Malfatti 2CD by that time, in July. Kevin Drumm and Jason Lescalleet’s The Abyss came out with it and a month later the new FKA Twigs was on the shelves. That one was less impressive than I had hoped, but it still spent a lot of time inside my head. 

And these are just the first albums that come to mind. Coppice, Florian Hecker, LCC, Machinefabriek, Poemss, Protomartyr, Sun Kil Moon, SunnO)))/Ulver, and Nicholas Szczepanik all issued new music in that same period, all worth hearing.

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Review: Jürg Frey/Radu Malfatti, “II” (Erstwhile)

One way to approach Jürg Frey and Radu Malfatti’s II is to concentrate on how they shape their music. The numerous small silences that dot the first disc are conspicuous. So is the album’s low volume and the sharp, maybe surprising, beauty with which Frey plays his clarinet and Malfatti his trombone, but form takes precedence over these. Form and the way sounds are formed. Much of what happens on these two discs is the product of the tension between silence and sound, the difference between expression and phenomenon, and the manner in which sounds beget forms all on their own. By subduing material and structure, Frey and Malfatti knock down the walls that sometimes bind music to a fixed path. What lies outside is a sparse and weightless field where music seemingly organizes—and destroys—itself.

II, as the title implies, splits the work of Jürg Frey and Radu Malfatti over two discs. The first, a Malfatti-credited piece titled “shoguu,” cuts a strong impression. Long, vibrating tones, stark harmonics, and frequent silences comprise nearly all of its material, though certain tones are so smooth and consistent they sometimes sound computer-generated. The likelihood that computers were used is probably pretty low, but the semblance of that analog hum adds a mysterious and blurry component to the performance.

The noise of a depressed valve, a few unexpected squeaks, and the odd bodily clank of brass or hardwood turns up as well, but for the better part of the five sections of  “shoguu,” a subdued, balloon-like spaciousness holds court. The combination of clarinet and trombone produces delicate music, as restrained as it is gorgeous. Without a discernible structure—and without the usual musical tools, like rhythms, chord changes, and other sonic continuities—the duo’s wavering tones come off as autonomous little events, cobweb-like and fleeting. Some of the melodies are so tenuous they seem almost illusory, like particles of dust that might disappear should the sunlight hit them a different way. Malfatti even hollows his trombone’s lower register out, making it feather-like and buoyant, it’s swelling whole tones like vents of warm rising air.

(Read More… at Brainwashed.com – includes samples)


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Video: Dälek, “Police State is Nervous”

New music by Dälek, from the soundtrack to 6 Angry Women. Don’t just put it on in the background. Make sure you watch the video.


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Review: Songs: Ohia, “Didn’t It Rain (Deluxe Edition)” (Secretly Canadian)

Didn’t It Rain is the sixth and final Songs: Ohia studio album, the enigmatic zenith of a seven-year run that saw Jason Molina record with no fewer than seven different bands. But Molina never stuck with one group for very long, on the road or in the studio, and he wouldn’t until after 2004’s Magnolia Electric Co. was completed. So it’s no surprise that, for Didn’t It Rain, he traveled to Soundgun Studio in Philadelphia to play with eight musicians he barely knew. That was how he had always worked.

The only two people at Soundgun who had recorded with Jason before were producer Edan Cohen, who, in 2001, manned the boards for Jason’s cover of Boz Scaggs’s “Sweet Release” and Jennie Benford, who that same year sang backup on the Cohen-produced 7” version of “Lioness.”  Everyone else came to the game a rookie. Surrounded by posters of blues musicians from Chicago that Molina had brought with him, they were all asked to play in the same room together and to invent their parts as they went along. Mistakes would be made and overdubs were not an option, so the idea was to keep playing and to capture the performance raw. It’s a strategy Molina had used for past records, but it had never yielded anything as cogent and heavy as Didn’t It Rain.

(Read More… at Dusted in Exile)


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Forthcoming Jason Molina Book: Riding with the Ghost

The 2CD deluxe edition of Song: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain was released yesterday, and to celebrate SPIN Magazine published an excerpt from a forthcoming book about Jason Molina written by Erin Osmon. You can read that here.

And below is a performance of “Blue Factory Flame” from Didn’t It Rain, recorded in Bloomington, IN two years before that album was released. There’s a demo version of it on the deluxe release, but the version here is substantially different. It’s one of the most intense solo recordings of his that I’ve heard.


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Killer Mike, Ferguson MO, Michael Brown

Killer Mike in USA Today:

As recent research has revealed, rap lyrics have been introduced as evidence of a defendant’s criminal behavior in hundreds of cases nationwide, frequently leading to convictions that are based on prosecutors’ blatant mischaracterizations of the genre. Ignoring many of the elements that signal rap as form of artistic expression, such as rappers’ use of stage names or their frequent use of metaphor and hyperbole, prosecutors will present rap as literal autobiography. In effect, they ask jurors to suspend the distinction between author and narrator, reality and fiction, to secure guilty verdicts.

And on CNN:

Michael Pisaro, “July Mountain” live at Roundchapel Auditorium, 2013

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[vimeo http://vimeo.com/83495677 w=820&h=461]

Michael Pisaro, “July Mountain” live, Roundchapel Auditorium. London, October 19th, 2013. A SARU/Cafe Oto/Compost and Height event.

Performed by Dan Bennett, Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga, Seth Cooke, Stephen Cornford, Angharad Davies, Jane Dickson, Lawrence Dunn, Patrick Farmer, Bruno Guastalla, Jack Harris, Sarah Hughes, Kostis Kilymis, Dominic Lash, Will Montgomery, Samuel Rodgers, David Stent, Greg Stuart, and Paul Whitty.

Filmed by Stella Kun and Kostis Kilymis.


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Three Concerts: Michael Pisaro, Kevin Drumm + Jason Lescalleet, Joe Panzner + Greg Stuart

Photos from three shows in Boston, Massachusetts: November 6th, 7th, and 11th (2014). Music by Michael Pisaro, Antoine Beuger, Eugene A. Kim, Teodora Stepančić, Assaf Gidron, Adi Snir, Kevin Drumm, Jason Lescalleet, Joe Panzner, and Greg Stuart. Photos include program details. Click for larger versions.


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Review: Scott Walker + SunnO))), “Soused” (4AD)

Bish Bosch is an exhausting record that takes off at an exhausting pace. Its first four songs occupy more than half of its total running time, and Scott Walker stuffs every minute of that opening half hour with awkward transitions, asymmetric structures and lyrics that, at their best, speak to the intuitive and subconscious mind. At their worst they necessitate an annotated guide and draw the listener away from the already messy music, pulling them through the twisted and endless avenues of Walker’s varied interests. They’re a diversion that leads to confusion as often as poignancy. Walker casually drops references to Frank Sinatra and communism in Romania, then leaps to astronomy and Roman history, and in the middle he skips through something about the spread of diseases among animals, a topic he laces with images of Hawaii, Pope Julius and dead men in zoot suits.

Connecting unlikely — or invisible — dots can be its own reward, even if the picture it forms is ostentatious. It can also be a distraction, with all of the disparate elements sitting side by side as naturally as a bright red paisley patch on a torn white wedding dress. With Bish Bosch the novelty of Walker’s combinations often swallowed the content, transforming his poetry, music and ambition into a muddy and overwhelming wave. Fortunately, Soused avoids this fate.

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Today’s Reads 003

More collected articles, posted here for sharing and easy reference.

  • The ALEC Problem Is Even Worse Than John Oliver Thinks (Media Matters)
    In August, ALEC launched an initiative to take its model legislation beyond statehouses and into city councils and county commissions. This new spinoff, the American City County Exchange, “will push policies such as contracting with companies to provide services such as garbage pick-up and eliminating collective bargaining, a municipal echo of the parent group’s state strategies.” The corporate influence of the initiative is poignantly illustrated by the group’s membership fee disparity: Local council members and county commissioners are required to pay a nominal $100 for a two-year membership. Meanwhile, prospective private industry members must choose between a $10,000 and $25,000 membership fee.
  • The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare (Rolling Stone)
    But the idea that Holder had cracked down on Chase was a carefully contrived fiction, one that has survived to this day. For starters, $4 billion of the settlement was largely an accounting falsehood, a chunk of bogus “consumer relief” added to make the payoff look bigger. What the public never grasped about these consumer–relief deals is that the “relief” is often not paid by the bank, which mostly just services the loans, but by the bank’s other victims, i.e., the investors in their bad mortgage securities.
  • Triumph of the Wrong (New York Times, Paul Krugman)
    In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.
  • Obstruction And How The Press Helped Punch The GOP’s Midterm Ticket (Media Matters)
    Why would the president, who’s had virtually his entire agenda categorically obstructed, be blamed and not the politicians who purposefully plot the gridlock? Because the press has given Republicans a pass. For more than five years, too many Beltway pundits and reporters have treated the spectacular stalemate as if it were everyday politics; just more “partisan combat.” It’s not. It’s extraordinary. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
  • Are you reflected in the new Congress? (The Guardian)
    Despite the record number of women and the first black senator elected in the south since Reconstruction, the new US Congress will still be largely male and largely white. A person’s gender, race, sexual orientation, or age doesn’t necessarily mean they represent the views of a whole demographic, but lack of diversity could result in certain concerns not being heard – or not heard loudly enough. Click the categories below to find yourself in the new Congress. This graphic will be updated as more seats are called.
  • Michael Pisaro blurs edges of performance, perception (Boston Globe)
    “The idea of affect and of emotion, I really think that’s why we write music, or one of the main reasons why we write music, and I’m always conscious of that,” Pisaro said. He paraphrased a former teacher, Ben Johnston: “You have to be clear about what you want to hear, but that doesn’t automatically mean that everybody else will want to hear it.
  • The Best Baby Picture Ever of a Planetary System (WIRED)
    Astronomers have taken the best picture yet of a planetary system being born. The image, taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the high-altitude desert in Chile, reveals a planet-forming disk of gas around a young, sun-like star, in great detail.


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Review: Joseph Clayton Mills, “The Patient” (Entr’acte)

Franz Kafka died of starvation on June 3rd, 1924, his throat cinched by laryngeal tuberculosis. The intravenous delivery of food to sick patients wouldn’t be invented for another 35 years and the swelling in Kafka’s throat caused by the infection made swallowing even water difficult. Forbidden from speaking by his doctor at the sanatorium in Kierling, Austria, Kafka would often communicate with his friends and visitors by writing small notes on scraps of paper. Some such scraps were less notes and more fragments or disconnected ideas, phrases impossible to understand without context. It’s something Max Brod, Kafka’s friend and literary executor, recalls in the opening pages of the booklet that accompanies Joseph Clayton Mills’s The Patient. “Usually these notes were mere hints; his friends guessed the rest,” he writes. Mills, accompanied by Olivia Block, Noé Cuéllar (Coppice), Steven Hess (Pan•American, Haptic, Innode), and Jason Stein take a shot at interpreting those fragments on this record, using Mills’s textual score to trace a line around Kafka’s final abraded thoughts.

“The goal of this document is to suggest a vocabulary of actions,” Mills writes. “It should in no way be seen as prescriptive or comprehensive, and the sequence of elements in this document should not be construed as implying a particular linear arrangement.”

The 52-page score for The Patient bears only a passing resemblance to traditional musical scores. It contains a couple of references to particular notes in the Western 12-tone system, a few bar lines (one set displays both a treble and bass clef, but is otherwise blank), a few more very precise frequencies for sine wave generator, and even a reference to Wagner’s “Tristan chord,” but the majority of it is filled with suggested actions of the sort written by George Brecht, La Monte Young, and Pauline Oliveros. They read, “play for longer than you think you should” and “image of water/droplets/dew” and “hushed breath/for unvoiced bellows/vocalist/friction on drumhead.”

Together they are enough to constitute a composition, only the number of performers is unspecified and there are no instructions for how to string individual performances together. Participants have only Kafka’s quotes and Mills’s accompanying directions to guide them, along with a handful of photographs, drawings, medical diagrams, story excerpts, and historical summaries. None of it is prescriptive, but all of it sets a very particular tone, which is why, despite the score’s innate openness, this performance of The Patient sounds so compact, controlled, and potent.

(Read More… with samples)


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Review: I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, “Dust” (Secretly Canadian)

The last time I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness released a record, George W. Bush was president, Twitter was the latest social networking innovation, Burial was a new buzz word on everyone’s lips, and James Brown was still alive and touring. The Knife were riding high on the success of Silent Shout and Brainwashed readers were placing records by bands like Wolf Eyes, Comets on Fire, and Xiu Xiu high atop the annual reader’s poll. I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness won some recognition that year too. According to Plan nabbed a spot in the top five singles of the year and “The Owl” nearly beat out Boards of Canada’s “Dayvan Cowboy” for Brainwashed’s best loved music video of 2006. Then a seemingly terminal eight-year silence ensued. Now the band has returned with Dust, as if nothing happened. Their lineup is unchanged, Ministry’s Paul Baker is still behind the mixing board, and the artwork is as austere as before. And though much in the music is also familiar, the group’s focus has changed. They cast a wider net on Dust. There’s more variety and the songs are denser this time around, layered thick with circular melodies and crisscrossing guitars.

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness open Dust with “Faust,” a song they beat out with surgical exactitude. It’s fast paced, built on a thumping rhythm section, and driven by a simple guitar riff that winds in and out of the lead guitar’s meandering accents. The song twitches with energy, as if the band were just itching to play together again, but the performance is controlled, channeled into a concise, coolly played four minutes. “Come Undone,” and, to some extent, “Stay Awake,” feed on that same energy. A quick moving, tightly wound melody skips through the heart of all three songs, and on each the bass and drums add variety to the already rhythm heavy core. The lead guitarist extracts little hidden melodies from inside that wave of sound and spins them through the air, completing the illusion that these songs are all unspooling as they fall through space.

These are songs the band could have written in 2007 or ’08, after wrapping up their tour for Fear Is on Our Side. They’re white knuckle rockers that burn with the same fire as “According to Plan,” but they are far more insistent, far less translucent, and far from the norm.

(Read More… with sound samples)


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Jason Lescalleet and Kevin Drumm on the Road

As reported by Tiny Mix Tapes:

11.07.14 – Somerville, MA ­ – Hassle Fest VI (156 Highland Ave.) *
11.08.14 – Montréal, QC ­ – La Vitrola ­(4602 Boulevard Saint­Laurent) *
11.09.14 – Toronto, ON ­ – Double Double Land ­ (209 Augusta Ave.) *
11.10.14 – Detroit, MI ­ – Trinosophes ­(1464 Gratiot Ave.) *
11.11.14 – Lafayette, IN ­ – The Spot ­(409 S 4th St. Wednesday)
11.12.14 – Cleveland OH ­ – Now That’s Class ­ (11213 Detroit Ave.)
11.13.14 – Albany, NY ­ – Upstate Artist’s Guild ­ (247 Lark Street)
11.28.14 – Mexico City, Mexico – Festival del Bosque Germinal *

* Kevin Drumm & Jason Lescalleet

This Is What I Do Volume Two is currently available from Lescalleet’s Bandcamp site. It will be deleted upon completion of Volume Three, so get it while you can.


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Shelley Parker, Live at Flussi Festival

http://entracte.co.uk/project/shelley-parker-e154/

From the Entr’acte website:

Sleeper Line is a five-track EP constructed from the original components of a live set performed in December 2012. These components — manipulated found sounds — were recorded at various times and in various environments: Dungeness Power Station (2012), street recordings post-Notting Hill Carnival (2007), a prior live performance at the White Building in London (2012), and a cassette recording made in the cloakroom of the Metalheadz Sunday Sessions club night (1997). The cyclical process of merging analogue and digital media, elements of dance music and varying locations and timescales, sits at the core of the compositional and sonic structures of the EP.

Shelley Parker is an artist based in London. Her practice explores the experiential potential of sound and image through the manipulation of technology and the study of structure and material. Live audio feeds, bass frequencies and found sounds are recurring themes within her performance, installation and music production.


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Wandelweiser and Michael Pisaro in Boston

Serbian pianist and composer Teodora Stepančić, along with members of the Wandelweiser collective, will be joining Michael Pisaro at the Goethe Institut in Boston on Thursday, November 6th for a set of composed and improvised music. Details can be found here.

On Tuesday, November 11th, Michael Pisaro will be joined by Joe Panzner and Greg Stuart at the New England Conservatory. They will perform Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds and White Metal. An untitled work from John Mallia and Katarina Miljkovic is also on the bill. Further details here.

Last but not least, Michael Pisaro, Jason Brogan, and Joe Panzner will perform Pisaro’s Concentric Rings in Magnetic Levitation at the John Knowles Paine Concert Hall at Harvard University on Thursday, November 13th. Details here.

All performances are free and open to the public, and all of them start at 8:00 PM.