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. Thanks.

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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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