Reviews of physical releases received here by Richard Johnson (RJ) and Steve Pescott (SP). As always, if interested in anything being reviewed please pay attention to where interests lay, plus note that we do not review links to downloads or streams. Links tend to get left behind amongst the many emails received daily. Physical releases at least sit on a shelf here awaiting attention. We also just prefer to look at the whole package. We’re ‘old school’ and like tangibility. It’s that simple. Sorry if it can sometimes take a while to get to any release, too. What with the Grim Humour books and Fourth Dimension Records, besides other activities, it just gets very busy here. We get there in the end, though. Thanks.

The address can be found elsewhere, but here it is once again:

Winnicka 57B, 32-020 Wieliczka, Poland

Christine Abdelnour/Magda Mayas The Setting Sun is Beautiful Because of All It Makes Us Lose CD (Sofa, Norway, 2020)

Spanning just over 35 minutes this collaborative piece between Abdelnour on alto sax and Mayas on piano, recorded live at Oslo’s Ultima Festival in September 2018, vacillates steadily between the contemplative and a series of mostly sedate clangs, plucks and rasps. It is an exercise in meditation where subtle sounds gyrate with each other in a setting that generally belies the instruments responsible for them. I always stress this with such improvised music, but finding a common language between the players is where it succeeds. These two players thankfully do exactly that, with a respect to muted and understated pockets of sound which wrap around each other like little else matters. Everything adds up to an engaging listen that absolutely breezes by. (RJ)

AKB Marianergraven CD (Lamour Records, Sweden, 2020)

Following a cassette released by the same label the previous year, Marianergraven is Swedish electronics artist Anna-Karin Berglund’s second album under the AKB guise. It gathers eight pieces of light and breezy washes of penumbral shimmer, carefully hewn digital gasps and deep sea hum that bring to mind some of Thomas Koner’s work. Mostly warm yet subtly shaded with contrasting hues, it makes for a snug enough addition to the ambient canon despite its more generic nature. (RJ)

Erland Apneseth Fragmentarium CD (Hubro, Norway, 2020)

Continuing Hubro’s commitment to documenting mostly domestic artists whose work orbits those points where contemporay jazz, folk, classical music and improvisation blur, Fragmentarium makes for yet another fairly bold statement on such matters. Featuring seven compositions driven by Apneseth’s own hardingfele (a traditional Norwegian instrument also called a Hardanger fiddle), the traditional music slant sits heavily in an ensemble setting given to pushing things far beyond. The title track itself proves perhaps the strongest in this respect, taking the array of electronics and string, percussion and wind instruments to an extraordinary level that assumes freneticism and truly outward-bound psychedelia along the way. As with both the remainder of the album and indeed most of the releases so far heard from Hubro, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer scope of this highly expressive music. Dramatic, tense and soft in equal measure, there’s much to enjoy here. (RJ)

Ben Bertrand Manes CD (Les Albums Claus, France, 2020)

The second album from a Belgian bass clarinetist prone to exploring the furthest reaches of his chosen instrument with, presumably, the help of some electronics or software used to help beat new shapes from the sounds generated. Accordingly, the pieces head towards the kaleidoscopic worlds of glimmering abstract timbres, moody melodies and gentle minimalism in a manner that’s effective but proffers no real surprises. The fact the very first piece has a title that name-checks Ligeti and Feldman possibly serving as the greatest pointer to where Bertrand’s aspirations lie. (RJ)

Blakelock Legitimate Targets II cassette (Misophonia, 2020)

Five tracks each side of crushing, guitar-saturated freeform noise, like Helios Creed doing power electronics in a dingy basement whilst attempting to conjure the spirit of The Dead C. Far better than most attempts at such music these days, but I prefer the tracks where there are rhythms popping and cracking away that sound like some mad techno thumping away in a distant room. Dialogue snippets also get thrown into the mix pretty effectively. Blakelock is another project from the guy who usually operates under the name Mahler Haze, which is given to a more psychedelic or kosmische-influenced strand of music I personally prefer. As this kinda music goes, however, you can do far, far worse than Blakelock. The amount of artists still producing mindless noise with absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever could fill a book if all listed. (RJ)


Vilhelm Bromander & Fredrik Rasten …For Some Reason That Escapes Us LP (Differ Records, Sweden, 2020)

Listening to the six pieces on this record you’d be forgiven for perhaps thinking there’s more behind them than just Bromander’s double bass, Rasten’s guitar and some soft vocalisation embellishments. Each piece arrives from the minimalism approach to drone music, grainy and earthy and thankfully somewhat removed from those more digital renderings so prevalent these days, yet goes beyond this by virtue of some rhythmic string plucking and a strong undertow at once suggestive of subtle psychedelia and modern classical music. The avant-garde sensibility is perfectly in check, but there’s likewise this sense of the players reaching beyond, with less emphasis on the ‘difficult’ and far more devotion to their creating something deeply listenable and engaging. Would like to hear more. (RJ)

John Chantler & Johannes Lund Andersabo CD (Johs & John, Sweden, 2020)

Three lengthy enough synth, pump organ and bass sax duets, with Chantler proffering grizzled drones on the former two instruments whilst Lund fleshes them out with an inexorable force that leaves you wondering how there are seemingly no breaks for a chug of air. Largely an exercise in tension and dissonance, only the second piece, ‘Open Field and Forest’, takes a step back into comparatively quieter terrain. On this track, the overall restraint serves the players better as their individual stamp is allowed to breathe. I love a lot of uncompromising and so-called ‘difficult’ music that just seems like a wash of noise to most, but improvisation works best when a common language is found rather than a jostling for attention. Should the two of them work together again, I hope there’ll be more like this. (RJ)

Tomek Choloniewski Music to Make Your Body Suffer 2CD/DVD  (Bolt/Bocian/Soros, 2021)

Anybody either even loosely connected to, or aware of, the improvised music circuit of Krakow in the past two decades would have been only too familiar with the late Tomek Cholonieski’s having been a central force in this. Often found in all manner of group permutations involving both local artists and many others travelling through the city from all over the world, his presence was compounded not only by a warm and sincere openness that exuded from his actual personality, but likewise his incredible playing. An extremely open player using a wide variety of found objects alongside a more regular drum kit also given to creating bowed sounds, his approach would range from Eddie Prevost-type means of generating all kinds of sonic forms from his kit to the kind of hypnotic trance-outs more expected from a kosmische or psychedelic mindwarp. Often, he’d combine the two or go elsewhere completely. Like all the best improvisers, he was intuitive and adept at working with other musicians in a pure, natural and alchemical way, bringing out the very best of any given environment regardless of the respective abilities of the other players or, indeed, their chosen instruments. 

I saw him perform live many times over the years and never once fell short of being impressed. I witnessed him playing live with all manner of group permutations formed from the local ragtag collection of sound artists, improvisers and general misfits, some of whom were academic and many who doubtlessly arrived at such music through their own keen interest in exploring music outside what’s generally accepted as the norm. He also played with my own group Theme several times, when we likewise had Faust’s Jean-herve Peron in the ranks alongside Zsolt Sores and Olga Drenda. I know from this experience alone, and my getting a chance to hang out with him on many other occasions, where his sensibilities lay, or at least a number of them. He was, like the best people, open-minded and humble and self-deprecating and buoyed by sharp humour. I feel such qualities were mainlined into his playing. Serious yet playful, understated or subtle yet firmly capable of working up a tidal wave of sweat to drown any mantra in.

He was a force who also like the best of them deserved far greater recognition. I feel he was quite content mostly playing more locally, however. There was no rampant ego to entertain. Tomek simply enjoyed playing and, although perfect at marshalling any of the players around him with his blend of rhythms, clangs, chimes and scrapes, loved being amongst his chosen close-knit community of friends. Working locally as a drum tutor, too, I always got the impression he enjoyed his capacity as both local player and mentor. As somebody likewise both academically trained yet enthusiastic about all kinds of comparatively more straightforward music it appeared everything became something of a wellspring for him. His lifeblood was music and, particularly, sitting behind his kit (with its vast array of additional objects to use percussively or otherwise).

In 2018, he became part of local group Stare Tasmy, a quartet in some ways more straightforward than many of the groups he could be found in before yet still positively open-ended and drawing from a diverse range of sources, including avant-jazz, punk, psychedelia and those less easy to pigeonhole worlds. They played live many times and recorded one album before, tragically, Tomek died of a heart attack in January 2021. The album, Kryzys Czytelnictwa, appeared in late 2020 and comprises six tracks that, if anything, follow Poland’s old tradition of punk-jazz. Infused with a deep wit and political slant, it’s a beefy and defiant sound contoured around some incredible musicianship (sax, bass, drums), deadpan narrative and found tape snatches that complement the proceedings perfectly. I enjoyed everything enough to co-release this on CD, anyway.

Prior to this album, Tomek had also recorded a live solo album, his second since one that appeared on Mathka in 2012, called Music to Make Your Body Suffer. Recorded using source material by sound artist Konrad Geca, the piece that forms its basis assumes a mostly more tempered approach gliding through a series of hypnotic hums, carefully bowed rasps, penumbral shimmer and heaving timbres that sometimes give way to passages of gentle clatter or higher-pitched tones countering any idea of comfort. Whilst listening to this I’m reminded somewhat of Harry Bertoia’s works utilising his metal sculptures, which is only a good thing. It’s also telling that Tomek, who could pummel his kit with the best of them, really wanted this recording released as it exudes a slightly dishevelled serenity in keeping with what I personally knew of his character. 

The 2-disc set also arrives with a DVD titled Water Metal Music, which this time catches Tomek deploying the sound of liquid hitting and splashing into various bowls, saucepans and so on. It’s further evidence that subtlety and detail were key to his approach, too. Stripping everything back to a quiet minimalism was just as important as taking the drums into the domain of an all-night shift at a foundry.

It’s all a fitting testament to his short life, and very much recommended to those who favour those deeper listening traverses into more personal spaces that thankfully translate beyond and have much else to communicate. 

Tomek Choloniewski might not be more widely known, but he left a greater mark on those that knew him and his work than he might have ever realised.  (RJ)

Xavier Charles/Bertrand Gauguet Spectre CD (Akousis, France, 2020)

The first thing that strikes me about the improvised clarinet (Charles) and alto sax (Gauguet) duets gathered here is just how short most of them are. There’s one piece, ‘Etendue 2’, that spans 12-plus minutes, but the remaining five tracks swing between around the 3.30 and 7-plus minutes mark. As such, with a total duration of just over 40 minutes, Spectre proves itself an errant illumination of alchemic restraint by two players with respective significant contributions to the worlds of avant-garde composition and free music. Each piece rasps and rumbles its way through neatly hewn contours unrepentant in their taking the finely honed art-form of pure self-expression to a space steeped in slow motion atmospheric dissonance. Although heavily veiled by a sense of foreboding, this music (quite literally) breathes with a raw energy that sets it far outside. Fantastic album. (RJ)

Craven Faults Erratics and Unconformities CD (Leaf, 2020)

The second album by this acclaimed electronic artist operating under the moniker Craven Faults collects six pieces that work up a similar hypnotic spell to early Philip Glass, Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians or Harmonia. A slow and steady electronic beat submerged beneath cyclic loops that melt softly into each other pins everything into place not unlike the soft-focus rhythms deployed by Gas, but there’s a nice contemporary feel to the proceedings which still maintains a respectful nod to those key minimalist composers and electronic music pioneers who paved the way for such work. ‘Cupola Smelt Mill’, the third piece, truly brings matters into the 21st century, however, while the robotic gyrations of ‘Slack Sley & Temple’ bring to mind a sci-fi chug to a distant star. Only the final piece, ‘Signal Post’, lets everything down as it plods through a more maudlin setting devoid of the carefully rubbed sheen of the rest of the album. Altogether, however, it is a solid enough album that looks simultaneously to the future without destroying the bridges that brought it to this point. I hope there will be more work coming. (RJ)

Daspo Samenreis CDr (Setola Maiale, Italy, 2020)

Italian electronics duo Davide Palmentiero and Giuseppe Pisano named the five pieces that constitute what seems to be their only release together after ‘samen’ and ‘reis’, meaning to embark on a trip together. Along the way, and using the help of three violinists and a synth player, they distil fragments of sound and mostly muted spools of iridescent flotsam into presumably improvised ambient works that likewise draw heavily from musique concrete and other more abstract techniques that render this release worthy of something greater than a limited CDr. Sometimes deploying hypnotic loops and a more conventional sensibility, this is music that aims well beyond the domain of a microscopic circle of bearded chin-scratchers. A pleasant surprise. (RJ)

Dogon Floater CD (Double Moon Recordings, Germany, 2021)

Dunno if this Swiss trio realise that ‘floater’ refers to either a turd that refuses to flush and instead bobs about in its watery surroundings or a dead person found likewise bobbing along in the sea or lake or whatever? I think they intended the title to nod towards their vaguely spaceward-bound jazz-funk (more Buzz Lightyear than Sun Ra, unfortunately), though? To that end, there are ten tracks on what I believe is their second album here. The playing (of guitar, bass and drums) evident is proficient, but errs so close to the middle part of the road I can only imagine the music padding out a hotel bar or similar. I’m sure they all enjoy themselves doing this, throwing struts, shapes and cheesy grins as they go along, but it’s just too irritatingly clean for my ears. The funk here is not of the Parliament variety, either. Take that as a warning. (RJ)

The Dorf/Phill Niblock Baobab/Echoes 2CD (Umland, Germany, 2020)

Four lengthy pieces, one spanning over 46 minutes and presented on the first disc, by Germany’s The Dorf orchestra, who here work with Phill Niblock’s ‘Baobab’ composition before then using it as an axis with which to expand on over the other three, all recorded live. As one might imagine, the huge array of string, wind, electronic, acoustic and percussion instruments, perfectly utilised along with voices, are hammered into sounds wavering between a storm of locusts and a vast blanket of molten drones occasionally given to almost early Nyman or Branca-esque rhythms, jazz vocals from the Arkestra and folkish lilts. Ultimately, I’m reminded of Germany’s equally incredible Zeitkratzer as The Dorf (meaning ‘village’) pull one into a wholly immersive soundworld both pleasantly contoured enough to bypass expectation and as powerful as the heaviest machinery one could imagine. This is ravaged soul music, pure and simple. (RJ)

Earth Mother Fucker It’s Shit cassette (Irrational Arts, 2020)

Comprising two gigs, one per side, recorded at different venues in the UK mid-2019 and January 2020, Earth Mother Fucker’s first album release for almost 20 years will be of limited appeal not due to the music but rather for the fact there were only 50 copies of these cassettes made. The music itself is, as always with this group, Stooges-punk-charged raw guitar-based savagery. As expected from such recordings, it’s a little rough round the edges but this lends something to the music, which is low-slung and bursting with attitude. The vocalist is like early Rotten-meets-Richard Hell and is wont to goad the audience with slightly hackneyed requests to “get closer” or “do shit” rather than “buy shit”. The group do some garage-y covers or homages to The Psychedelic Furs and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, too, so that probably indicates aspects of their roots. Am sure ‘A Good Man’ is also a cover, but I can’t place it right now. Certainly better than yr average pub rock group, anyway. (RJ)


Markus Floats Third Album CD (Constellation, Canada, 2020)

The third album by Canadian artist Markus Lake under this guise witnesses him pursuing a measured atonal approach to composition equally enriched with an amorphous sheen that never settles for too long. As indicated in the titles of the six cuts being essentially based around the words ‘always’, ‘moving’, ‘forward’ and ‘again’, the music glides comfortably between a brooding sensitivity to one that is more kaleidoscopic and filled with images of strange lifeforms swimming far below the thermocline. Somewhere nearby a diving bell with Philip Glass manning it catches him nodding almost approvingly…  (RJ)

Marta Forsberg TKAĆ LP (Thanatosis Produktion, Sweden, 2021)

If one is to include an album released on cassette last year, this is the second such release by this Swedish violinist and electronics artist. Using the word ‘tkać’, meaning ‘weave’, as the starting point, two lengthy excursions through entrancing drone are generated by Tony Conrad-esque minimalist violin textures, synth and electronics all drawn out in the same key and sometimes swelling into new states. I’m reminded of the work of Jliat here, which is all well and good but can’t say is being added to very much. This is always my problem with such music, whether of a more academic inclination such as presented here or from a completely opposite direction. A lot of the music is good while it lasts, but rarely does it compel one to return to it once finished. When in the mood for such music, I turn to my Conrad or La Monte Young records. Is Marta Forsberg simply adding to their story? If not, then it would be good to hear more of her own ‘voice’. (RJ)

Bertrand Gauguet/John Tilbury Contra-Courbes 2CD (Akousis Records, France, 2021)

Collecting two live sets in France from both 2016 and 2019, this pair of highly regarded improvisers deliver one per disc spanning around the 42/43 mins mark that sees them working their respective alto sax and piano into wide open spaces full of subtle detail. Both pieces are drizzled in an airiness which, through the attention to each fleck of sound carefully eased out, accords them the chance to snag the listener completely into the depths of these voyages. Although Tilbury especially exercises a little more dramatic playing at certain junctures, both pieces represent adventures in a fluidity that arcs, swerves and gently contorts as it caresses a quietness commanding attention. Gauguet’s playing reminds me at times of some of Martin Küchen’s work, whereby minimalist restraint, refinement and a deep distillation of the tiniest sounds make for grand gestures. Together with Tilbury’s own approach, which in the wrong hands could appear tentative, these two discs showcase two players at their absolute best. A rich and rewarding listening experience I’ll keep returning to. (RJ)

T. Gowdy Therapy With Colour CD (Constellation, Canada, 2020)

First album ‘proper’, following a limited run cassette release, by this Canadian electronics artist/producer here inspired by self-hypnosis activities. The result is a crepuscular dance music forged from mannered beats, digital shimmer and occasional bloops and bleeps somewhat reminiscent of Hallucinator’s work or some other classic Chain Reaction releases. Although this doesn’t add a great deal to such territory it’s a nice enough contemporary take on that’s it tacked into place by someone who clearly has a deft hand worth keeping an ear on. (RJ)

Patrick Graham / John Sellekaers Unnatural CD (Parentheses, Belgium, 2020)

Graham is a percussionist with, clearly, a background in improvisation, avant-garde music and sound art. His contributions to the eight tracks here are all clanking ’n’ clamour, with lots of metallic tones sounding out as fellow Canadian Sellekaers steadily marshals in eddies of subtle digital noise that’d be practically ambient if left of their own accord. The chemistry behind this combination is perfectly clear as both players remain locked towards the same focal point with neither domineering the proceedings or, indeed, throwing in detours to spaces that simply don’t work. The entire setting is one of naturalness and a refinement that belies the Unnatural title it has been given. (RJ)

Herself Rigel Playground LP (Dirter Promotions, 2020)

Herself is the name given to Italian musician Gioele Valenti’s forays into a mostly solo form of gentle yet slightly scuffed folk-rock. The seven songs presented on this vinyl reissue of 2018’s album, originally CD-only, ooze a subtle acidelic charm doubtlessly owing something to his dabbling with psychedelia in a group or two over the years, vaguely reminding me of early Radar Brothers or even some of Nick Drake’s work. The arrangements are generally slow to mid-tempo and evenly anchored to a melodic singer-songwriter approach whereby the guitar and vocals are often embellished by organ, electronics and other such sounds that add a depth often missing from such music. A couple of the songs are bolstered to a firmer setting that most would deem ‘indie’, but I’ve personally always had a slight problem with this term ever since it became increasingly thrown about towards, and beyond, the mid-’80s, when it generally suggested nerds in ‘xmas present from Gran’ knitwear and bowl haircuts or the kinda crap Postcard were prone to churning out. Thankfully, there are no jangly guitars here. The sound has far more flesh on its bones and is all the better for it.

The second side commences with one such cut, ‘The Beast of Love’, which also features Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue providing lead vocals, although he doesn’t actually sound far removed from Valenti himself. All the same, this barely matters next to just how solid these songs are. I’ve always been a sucker for music from artists such as Sophia, Arab Strap, Smog/Bill Callahan and even a dash of The Flaming Lips (who Donahue also used to play guitar for, no less), so Herself fits the bill perfectly when the mood takes. Like the work I have by all of those, I’ll be returning to this regularly. I only have Rigel Playground, but fully intend to pick up whatever else I can. This is a truly beautiful album that successfully forges a bridge between starry, night-skied melancholia and the sheer wonderment of a new day introduced perfectly by a dawn chorus. This is enough in and of itself to make me want more. (RJ)

Joke Lanz & Jonas Kocher Abstract Musette LP (Corvo Records, Germany, 2020)

Much as I generally enjoy Lanz’’s work as Sudden Infant, the fifteen collaborative cuts here with sound artist and improvising accordionist Jonas Kocher fall short of expectations by appearing a little too sketched or half-formed. Lanz accompanies the free-falling accordion wheezes, rasps and jaunty melodies with turntablist antics that add a deft comedic lightness that can be appreciated for its avoiding the zone of scratched chins but add to something that together falls short of completely locking onto one’s attention. It might be more rewarding to see this duo conduct such interplaying live, but I often feel this way regarding such music. On record, you get the feeling that you’re not exactly going to miss out on much if you decide to, I dunno, make some lunch or take the rubbish out whilst the album unfolds. I look forward to the next Sudden Infant album, though. The last one was absolutely stunning. (RJ)

Richard B. Lewis Introspect CD (St.An.Da., Italy, 2020)

I know absolutely zilch about Richard B. Lewis, but a cursory trip to the label’s website reveals he’s a stalwart of the contemporary Italian punk/hardcore scene and has also dabbled in psychedelic rock music. The latter, at least, can be felt in most of the seven cuts that come together for this debut solo album, although the influence is understated and merges with a sometimes heavy, slo-mo, noise-rock take on the guitar work here. What with cavernous drones and the occasional detour to a somewhat burnt forest setting, I’m reminded of Aidan Baker’s music and, indeed, some of Nadja’s. Unlike the latter, it’s more or less stripped of any metal underpinning, though, so works fine for me. (RJ)

Eva Lindal/Anna Lindal Baver CD (Disorder, Sweden, 2020)

Named after the rodent known for building dams, this album gathers seven duets recorded live at the Hugo Theatre at the University College of Opera in Stockholm in mid-2019 by these sisters who, respectively, play the violin and viola and violin. Aiming to express a common language to uncover something previously unheard, the pieces undulate between the reflective and the celebratory as they bridge the avant-garde tendencies of contemporary composition with more traditional, or folk-ish, forms of music. It’s a premise itself much explored by many Scandinavian improvisers presently on the circuit, but engaging enough throughout its duration. No idea what the connection is with the album’s title, though. (RJ)

Maeror Tri (…) The Singles CD (EE Tapes, Belgium, 2020)

Because they never exceeded the “limited edition of 500” remit, the chances are that seven and ten inchers from one-time German ambient noise droners Maeror Tri (…) would’ve certainly evaded your ambient, noise drone-loving grasp. With well over a score of releases between 1988 and their dissolution/two-way split in 1996, this retrospective finds Messrs Knappe, Gitschel and Maune eschewing the usual mugshots and credits approach and, instead, wrapping themselves in sleeve art depicting shadowy landings and cracked plastering. Images of deep foreboding and common or garden entropy (c/o photographer Jan Kees Helms) that really is the marrow and backbone of the threesome’s compositional vocab.  A dynamic, take-no-prisoners production ensures that every last clang, judder and scream is dealt with in the most direct manner possible. As if you hadn’t guessed by now, any ambient tendencies that were prevalent in the trio’s earlier phases are mercifully given short shrift here. Instead, tracks such as the opener ‘Psysis’ (originally on the UK Fool’s Paradise imprint, circa ’95), comes forged from an archetypal industrial template and is certainly none the worse for it. Monstrous battle drum tattoos hammer out their inexorable advance against a lurching cacophony of Crash Worship and Paul Lemos-like atmospherics. Seven tracks down the pike, ‘Pleroma’ seems to revisit these very same rhythmic broadsides, but ratchets up the claustrophobic tension by sadistically doubling up the overall b.p.m. count. ‘Mystagogus’ (what is it with all these composite pseudo words?) is equally as volatile, with its ponderous shards of grey heavy metal chordage, reducing the combined heft of a Branca or Chatham guitarmy to a puddle of watery lift muzak. User friendly, The Singles most certainly ain’t. Quality industrial fare before the rot set in, or maybe that should be the rust….    I’d like to report that this collection firmly seals the lid and ties the bow on the entire Maeror oeuvre… but nope, for some reason or another, their debut e.p., ‘Saltatrix’ (Drone Records, 1993), has slipped under the radar. Its omission is as much a mystery as to quite why the trio chose to employ that extra typographical filligree after their name; open brackets, ellipsis, close brackets. (SP)

Maribor Cross CD (St.An.Da, Italy, 2020)

The rather prolific Italian musician Stefano Gentile has been operating under the Maribor moniker for over a decade now yet only seems to have about three releases to this particular name. With a background in deep house and other such music it’s easy enough to understand how he arrived at this more exploratory juncture, where wizened ambient swirls conjoin protean psychedelia and tempered distortion accorded by electronics and guitar in a manner that clambers onto the first rung of the ladder Kleistwahr is heading towards the very top of. On one hand, it is reminiscent of certain NZ artists who operated in a post-Dead C. fug on the Corpus Hermeticum label during the ’90s, while on the other it hints at the restraint often found amongst those ambient artists tethered to stricter digital worlds. When at its rawest, Cross delivers like it’s supposed to blast away the plumes of green smoke it feels it was made in, though. (RJ)

Ryan James Mawbey Slow Wave of Long Comfort CD (Woodford Halse, 2021)

Nicely surprised by this and have turned to it often in the few weeks since receiving it, so this has ‘keeper’ stamped all over it. Ryan James Mawbey is a drummer from the UK whose debut album appeared on tape this very same year on Bloxham Tapes (the label that brought Alison Cotton’s excellent Only Darkness Now album to our attention). This, I understand, is the follow up album and collects five songs aided by Jonny Hill on guitar, plus Matthew Redfern on synths and tapes. Each piece adopts a measured approach whereby inventive yet hypnotic percussion holds court while subtle inflections and embellishments help buoy everything along. There’s a subtle psychedelic hue to this that borders on the best of post-rock territory but thankfully evades cliche for a willingness to explore beyond. I’m reminded somewhat of Charles Hayward’s approach to percussion-bound music or Andy Pyne of MAP 71’s work due to this intuitive approach, yet the music itself is comparatively more refined or restrained, akin to a more avant-garde Seefeel or some such. This is all good as far as I’m concerned, though. I just hope there will be more of these trio recordings as these guys are clearly locked into something pretty juicy here. Apparently, a third album is on the way soon. It’s already on my never-ending wants list. (RJ)

Minoy In Search of Tarkovsky CD (Cold Spring, 2020)

The late Stanley Keith Bowsza, who died around ten years ago, was a prolific artist on the cassette scene of the ‘80s/’90s, wholly dedicated to the worlds of home taping and mail art plus producing many self-released works besides appearing on labels equally devoted to this microcosm such as Harsh Reality and Sound of Pig. In Search of Tarkovsky itself is a reissue of one such self-released tape from 1986 and gathers two near-30 minutes pieces of mesmerising electronic dream-state music of the type so wonderful to listen to they immediately both put so much other similarly-inclined works to shame and force you to wonder why Minoy was not more recognised. And I write this as someone familiar with many such homespun artists who’d equally not heard the name until Cold Spring elevated it several rungs with this CD release. Both pieces pay homage to the late great Russian film director, suitably evoking the same feelings of subtle unease or disquiet as his greatest works in sonic form whilst simultaneously not detracting from Edward Artemiev’s own fantastic scores to several of them. Quite an accomplishment. (RJ)

Møster! Dust Breathing CD (Hubro, Norway, 2020)

Norwegian saxophonist Kjetil Møster has been working in a band capacity under the name Møster! for quite a number of years now. Comprising musicians also connected to Motorpsycho, Needlepoint and Supersilent, amongst others, their music takes much from both the different worlds of jazz and rock. I do not know how Dust Breathing compares to Møster!’s previous few albums, but the six tracks that constitute it display an alchemical approach perfect for the melding of hypnotic psychedelic breaks and tumbling, tumultuous and forever tantalising jazz explosions. Everything is tautly locked into place by the rhythm section of Nikolai Hængsle (bass) and Kenneth Kapstad (drums), the latter of whom has a background of metal and hard rock music which might go some way to also explaining the strong drive at work here. This is all rich and powerful stuff, though, with a tendency towards low-hanging prog-isms or even, at times, a more punkish bluster that together with all else make Møster! sound like an incredible live proposition. If this is one of the places where jazz is at right now, I’m all for it. (RJ)

Are Mundal Nocturnal Perambulation LP (Telesterion Records, Norway, 2020)

An appropriate enough title for the third album by this Norwegian artist as we are treated from the opening snatch of phone dialogue on side one onwards to a molten percolation of late night murmur, rumbles from seismic crevices, mournful strings, swaying groans, more dialogue snippets and glimpses of indiscernible sound perfect for a chilly, or even chilling, setting. This is well-crafted mood music that is a little more nuanced and deeper than your average so-called ‘dark ambient’ record. Although the packaging, adorned with quasi-mystical motifs befitting of a metal outfit, does little to belie such trappings, the two side-long pieces are laden with a richer sensibility somewhat more labyrinthine in its scope. Sombre in tone overall, this is a record clearly made with purpose and meaning. I’d only criticise, if anything, the way the music is presented (the paintings of Are’s also reproduced are suitably moody and rather fine, though) and the inclusion of the statement on the back cover making it clear Are stands against all organised religion. Not that I’m religious myself (far from it) or believe, indeed, any artist can’t put whatever the hell they want on their own work, but once any artist starts applying such grand gestures to their work it can become something of an albatross. Otherwise, a fantastic record. Hand-numbered edition of 100, too. Well worth hunting down. (RJ)

Are Mundal Interloper LP (Telesterion Records, Norway, 2021)

This is the fourth album from this Norwegian artist since 1996, I believe. Following both a CDr and a CD release and a gap of 13 years since the latter, Are Mundal has started to become more prolific, having self-issued two limited edition (100 only) LPs during the past two years. Neatly presented in a gatefold sleeve housing also an insert and printed inner cover, Interloper follows Mundal’s penchant for kinda elaborate and mystical, post-metal, artwork that appears perfectly appropriate for the music ensnared within. Comprising two side-long pieces, the album delves deep into cavernous terrain where vacillating swells of an obsidian leaning form a vast undertow to ghostly voices, empty space station signals resounding to the point of no response, baby screams, garbled passages, rasped strings and hammer-beaten howl all jostling into focus before drifting away again. Submerged rhythms, whispers, brooding flutters and the groans and creaks of a very old man waking to another day of pain do their utmost to compete. Everything sounds measured and purposeful, with enough going on to evade the usual trappings of such music. Both compositions are actually quite busy; the attention to detail being quite remarkable. Outside the work of Hiroshimabend, this might well even be amongst the cream of the more crepuscular and atmospheric end of the spectrum right now. It will be interesting to see where this Norwegian next takes us. (RJ)

Kim Myhr & Australian Art Orchestra Vesper CD (Norway, 2020)
    …sees Norwegian guitar experimentalist/composer Kim Myhr reunited with master drummer/percussionist Tony Buck of The Necks, Peril, etc. They initially teamed up on the highly rated You/Me album, which also came out on Hubro. Vesper was recorded live at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival in June 2018 to a frighteningly quiet audience and finds Kim’s six-string/electronics helming a seven-piece set up without any big band dynamics on show. Comparisons with UK-based avant contempo units like Orchestra Entropy or Article X fall down at the first hurdle as those two’s instrumentation is pretty much on a default setting for this genre; guitar, bass, drums plus brass section. The A.A.O., though, on this particular occasion, are outside of this norm. Alongside a three-deep string section, tapes/’tronix and of course Mr. Buck on drums, the only wind instruments on show are the understated trumpet of Peter Knight and Aviva Endean’s family of clarinets – not to mention her deployment of the umtshingo; a harmonic flute from S. Africa. All this heads inexorably towards a set of impressionistic mood pieces bolstered by enigmatic titling resembling some kind of Scandi haiku… “I Caught a Glimpse of the Sea through the Leafy Boughs of the Pines”… “We Seemed to Grow More and More Pensive, but in Fact we Were Less and Less”… and “No Walls, No Ceiling, No Windows”… call to mind an early seventies Miles Davis gig in which our hero, desperately in need of some half-time refreshment, exits stage left and leaves the exotic percussion section of Airto Moreira, Charles Don Alias and Mtume to cook up that ole rainforest ambience that will inevitably ratchet up the humidity factor. A rather nicely realised album, all told. And, as mentioned ad infinauseum (new word! alert the O.E.D.!), Hubro can on occasion, be their own worst enemy with the release of a number of wispy, folk/jazz hybrids that simply disperse like the finest mist after that initial lasering. The more exotic/obtuse elements of Vesper, however, take the label out of the debit column and well into the credit. More of this please. (SP)

Mads Emil Nielsen + Various ‘Framework 2’ 2 x 10″ (Arbitrary, Denmark, 2020)

Collecting four pieces, one per side, by this Danish electroacoustic artist in solo form and collaborating with renowned pianist Andrea Neumann, besides one each by Jan Jelinek and Hideki Umezawa. As often the way with such music, I wouldn’t be able to distinguish one artist from the next if I’m brutally honest, but this melding of microscopic digital scrunches, loops, iridescent patterns of sound, wheezes and whirrs carefully forged from a keen attention to detail by each of them points to an interesting release on Nielsen’s own imprint. There’s the vague whiff of something conceptual hanging throughout I’m sure makes sense to those concerned as well, but this set of four pieces is mercifully immersive enough to drag any willing listener on the journey they present. (RJ)

Andrew Nolan Museum Etiquette cassette (Absurd Exposition, Canada, 2020)

Two side-long pieces by this sound artist given to using all kinds of means to generate the kinda textural mulch easy to lose oneself in. Snippets of dialogue and found sound merge with a gentle enough tide of dissonance not far removed from some of The Hafler Trio’s work. It’s effective enough, although there’s little here that seems to correspond with the title. Well, it’s not apparent to me, at least. Perhaps some of the sourced sounds are from a museum? Who knows? ‘Limited’ to 126. (RJ)

Ruisch Subterranean Campfires CD (Eroto Tox Decodings, USA, 2020)

This appears to be another one-off album by the prolific Frans de Waard, who must be amongst the finalists for the award to artists with the most projects to their name. Featuring eight tracks, Subterranean Campfires takes us to the same enclave inhabited by Scorn or Techno Animal. There’s a distinct air of what used to be known as ‘illbient’ hanging over these rhythmic and sometimes dub-influenced spacious electronic pieces, but everything holds together well and adds up to an album that’s infectious enough to command repeat listens. (RJ)

Schrottersburg ד LP (Zoharum/Bat Cave/Kolo Records, Poland, 2021)

The fifth album ‘proper’ by this Polish trio who’ve been furrowing the grey ‘n’ blackened clouds generated by certain early post-punk sounds for several years now presents their strongest work yet. Whilst the sources of inspiration have always been pronounced, the contemporary production and some other such nods have elevated them beyond a mere exercise in nostalgia. On ד , seven cuts ram home an urgent approach mostly driven by solid yet sprightly rhythms the guitar lines and occasional subtle electronic embellishments positively sear through. Certain songs work better than others for their being adorned with touches that take the group outside the basic trio sound they clearly enjoy working in, though. I say this every time I review one of the group’s records but more in the way of this nuanced take on proceedings would lend so much to a sound bursting to sit even deeper in the bright glow of the here and now. In the meantime, the group proffer some of the best homegrown post-punk angled music since the mighty Siekiera. On that count alone this is well worth diving into. (RJ)

Jan Martin Smordal Choosing To Sing CD (Sofa, Norway, 2020)

Using his own Ensemble neoN to help realise the compositions that form this debut, Norwegian Jan Martin Smordal brings together a variety of string instruments (guitar, violin, cello), piano, trumpet, flutes and suchlike to forge a soundworld of stark tones, rasps and alien howling at once apparently possessed and iridescent. Mostly, each track moves along a bed of uneasy yet richly contoured timbres that belie a minimalist sensibility with the very same raw intensity Zeitkratzer have built their reputation on. Tense and dramatic, Jan Martin Smordal’s work rarely strays from its premise of disquieting nervousness, channelling much the same energy one would expect from a more regular noise record. (RJ)

Pauline Anna Strom Angel Tears in Sunlight LP (RVNG Intl., USA, 2021)

Posthumous release by this electronics artist from San Francisco who put out an album in 1982, Trans Millenia Consort, before leaving music behind for over two decades only to return with some similarly attired synth-based ‘scapes for a number of (mostly online) releases before she died in December 2020. The music here is on the lighter side of ambience, but is embedded with some rich contours many might well deem are still deserving of the ‘new age’ tag Strom’s work has had thrown at it in spite of her predisposition for ideas also common amongst the early ’70s pioneers. ‘The Eighteen Beautiful Memories’ evokes Popol Vuh’s excellent soundtrack for the equally wonderful Aguirre, the Wrath of God, even. No bad thing, of course. The entire album may well reside amongst the gentler end of things, but it’s bursting with movement and full of such acuity it is hard to undermine any intentions on Strom’s part to use this music as part of some kinda spiritual quest. (RJ)

T.U. Rite CD (False Industries, Germany, 2020)

A string of whirrs, clicks, chime-like sounds permeate this collection of seven tracks forming the debut by Italian artist Luca Favaro. Each piece is intended for the listener to “hear things differently” but, although they’re all kinda pleasant enough in a fairly vacuous way that wafts in and out of the background, they ultimately sound akin to countless other similarly-inclined artists given to such sonic architecture. The problem with such music is it all sounds rather faceless and devoid of any qualities that render it recognisable amongst the quagmire from whence it sprang. Luca has apparently also done sound design work for theatre and ballet. Maybe best he just keep to that. (RJ)

Mike Vernusky Aatma LP (Ferns Recordings, France, 2021)

After a few CD albums, this is Vernusky’s first venture onto vinyl, courtesy of France’s eclectic and always interesting Ferns Recordings. Over the two sides it collects what could loosely be described as three ‘suites’. Two of these are broken down into, respectively, four and two parts, whilst the last is represented by one, ‘I Am the Swift Uplifting’, but even this has the subtitle ‘Feather to Eternity and Back’. Given the fact there seems to be little relationship between everything proffered in terms of the titles, I am not sure what the rationale is here but, sonically at least, everything makes comparative sense. Melding patchworked field recordings together with a digital setting whereby tiny fragments of electronic sound, subtle gestures and ambiguous loops are percolated together to considerable effect, Aatma is an absorbing listen rich in atmosphere and rife with nooks and crannies that only reveal themselves on repeat listens. A name to look out for. (RJ)

Anders Vestergaard & Finn Loxbo Saint Erme CD (Gikt Records, Sweden, 2019)

Just snagged this from the very back of the review pile, where it had unfortunately been snagged for a considerable while. Comprised of one lengthy piece by percussionist Vestergaard and guitarist Loxbo this begins with a succession of airy and gentle plucks and thumps before meandering through the kinda sonic gauze distractions were made for. At some point, this itself devolves into minimal pulses that go on so long they were still making their presence felt after a trip to a shop. Music to knit imaginary patterns to. (RJ)

Christian Wallumrod Ensemble Many CD (Hubro, Norway, 2020)

This Norwegian pianist/harmonium and keyboard player has been a prolific name on the contemporary classical and jazz circuit for over two decades now, working as a solo artist, collaborating with a number of similarly inclined musicians or producing work with his ensemble. As can be seen in his discography, recordings have appeared on ECM besides Hubro and elsewhere. This in itself points to a rich seam that says much about Wallumrod’s credentials. The seven arrangements brought together for the seventh Ensemble album, however, subtly waver between the breezy and light and something altogether more jaunty. The combination of electronics, cello, piano, trumpet and saxophone display a largely restrained approach given to the deft teasing of soft timbres and an autumnal setting that only occasionally gives way to prominent piano playing or altogether more obtuse touches. It’s all pleasant enough, but doesn’t take me much beyond my comfort zone with such music for the most part. Only penultimate piece, ‘El Johnton’, dives deeper into the forest Stockhausen might’ve claimed his own, with its neat array of agitated alien chattering, deep space rumbles and malfunctioning robot gasps. More of that, please. (RJ)

Controlled Death/Rudolf Death Ceremonies LP (Cold Spring, 2020)

Comprising eight tracks both sides, Death Ceremonies is the result of another meeting between Schimpfluch’s Rudolf and Japanese noise maestro Masonna in Osaka in 2019. Anybody familiar with Masonna’s work won’t be too surprised by his Controlled Death project’s own forays into electronic storm territory perhaps only different from his general approach for its comparative brevity and somewhat grizzled trimmings. Rudolf, meantime, catches him mutilating vocalisations and threads of abstract mulch at once like a black metal vocalist groaning due to a serious injury or taking time out to evoke the sound of somebody possessed in a cheesy horror flick. It’s all far more effective and moody than this might suggest, of course, once more illustrating these two artists are still very much at the height of their powers. Only 400 of these were pressed and I believe they are now completely sold out at source. If you enjoy diving in to such sonic disturbances, the same as myself, during a late evening, then this album comes very much recommended. (RJ)

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