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2019-01-18
Machinefabriek: With Voices

With Voices is the newest recording by Dutch composer Rutger Zuydervelt under the moniker Machinefabriek. True to its title, the album's eight pieces exhibit Zuydervelt's use of tone generators, radios, synths, and other hi-fi curio to construct bewildering aural architecture around vocal contributions from Marissa Nadler, Peter Broderick, Richard Youngs, and others.

The track "III" (the tracks are simply titled with Roman numerals) slowly winds like ivy through staccato phrases spoken by Peter Broderick, whose micro-incantations skip along mechanically only to telescope into monastic grandeur at the track’s midpoint. On "VIII" Marissa Nadler leads the suite to its lullabic endpoint with overlapping wisps of harmony devoid of accompaniment concluding the album on an angelic note.

Throughout much of With Voices, warm-blooded arteries seem to have grown around bits of well-designed artifice to form something warmly alien, soberly futuristic, and inherently satisfying. More than simply an album of collaborative features, With Voices is a mutating collage of modern minimalism that challenges as often as it comforts. There is an alchemical, metallurgical quality that arises from Zuydervelt's unique way of merging humanness with abstraction, harshness with beauty, and unintelligibility with familiarity on what may be the most affecting Machinefabriek release to date.

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2018-11-16
Joseph Shabason: Anne

Anne, the second album By Toronto saxophonist and composer Joseph Shabason, is a tonal essay on degenerative illness. Delicately and compassionately woven with interviews of Shabason’s mother from whom the album takes its name, Anne finds its creator navigating a labyrinth of subtle and tragic emotions arising from his mother's struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Across the nine vivid postcards of jazz-laden ambience that comprise the album, Shabason unwraps these difficult themes with great care and focus revealing the unseen aspects of degenerative diseases that force us to re-examine common notions of self, identity, and mortality.

Shabason's uncanny ability to manoeuvre through such microscopic feelings is mirrored by his capacity to execute a similar tightrope-walk through musical genres. His music occupies a specific space that is as palpable as it is difficult to pin labels to. On Anne's second track "Deep Dark Divide" rays of effected saxophone shine behind clouds of digital synthesizer that echoes the sound of jazz in the late 80s, but with a Jon Hassell-esque depth of sensibility that consciously subverts the stylistic inoffensiveness of that era. There is detail and idiosyncrasy beneath Shabason’s dawn-of-the-CD-era sheen that elevates the album far beyond a mere aesthetic exercise.

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2018-11-09
Stephen Steinbrink: Utopia Teased

Stunned with grief in the months following the Ghost Ship fire, Oakland-based Stephen Steinbrink ate LSD daily, bought a synthesizer, and locked himself in his shipping container studio, as he wrote and recorded what would become Utopia Teased, as a means of working through his overwhelming feelings of cynicism and loss. Recorded in between stints touring as a member of Dear Nora, and then as a touring member of Girlpool, Utopia Teased is Stephen Steinbrink's followup to his critically acclaimed 2016 album Anagrams. Unlike the pristine production of Anagrams, on Utopia Teased, Steinbrink embraces the rough edges, as he shifts his focus from the craft of production to the art of processing and capturing his experiences with honesty. He explains, "The songs just poured out of me, it hardly felt like work to make them up. It was like turing on a spigot…To me my craft is less about putting in the hours physically playing music - the real work is getting my soul right so that when the holy wave of pure creative energy moves over your house, it will recognize you as worthy enough. If it does, maybe it'll give you a song."

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2018-10-19
Farao: Pure-O

Pure-O, by Kari Jahnsen - aka Farao - is a prog-pop exposition on the curious dichotomy between beauty and destructiveness in sex and relationships. Farao creates the world of Pure-O with a neon pool of synthesizers, zither, drums, and soaring vocals, seamlessly referencing '90s R&B and the untapped goldmine of Soviet disco.

On Pure-O, we're hearing Jahnsen's early youth in Norway finding perfect equilibrium with her adulthood in Berlin. She says of the time she spent recording, "I was in the process of learning how to conduct myself while not getting sucked in to the whirlpool that is Berlin party culture," and of her childhood, "It wasn't a place I felt stimulated creatively, and felt quite lonely there growing up, which made me turn to music as a language for a set of emotions I didn't know how to release otherwise." It's precisely this relationship between quiet reflection and overstimulation that makes this album unlike anything of its genre. In an age when non-electronic pop seems like an outlier, Farao constructs a bridge of humanity from the organic to the inorganic, rounds out the hard edges and sharpens the soft ones, and altogether transplants a healthy, beating heart into modern synth-pop.

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2018-09-28
Ava Luna: Moon 2

On Moon 2 Ava Luna's de facto band leader Carlos Hernandez steps back, leaving space for the rest of the band members to step up and step into roles they hadn't occupied on previous albums. Felicia Douglass (now a touring member of Dirty Projectors) worked with percussion and sampler, Julian Fader experimented with synths, nearly every band member ran the computer during recording sessions, and Becca Kauffman (aka performance artist Jennifer Vanilla) composed her first song for the group "On Its Side the Fallen Fire," a deeply layered orchestral piece of Kate Bush grandeur meets Julia Holter reverie. Compared with previous Ava Luna albums, Moon 2 has fewer sharp turns into dissonance, fewer celebratory guitar parts, none of Hernandez's signature screams. Nevertheless, the infectious buoyancy of "Deli Run" and "Walking With an Enemy," are warm and bright, and songs like "Centerline" and "Phoebe (Set it Off)" venture confidently into pop territory. The title track, painting the elation and tumult of a crush, is set against a swaggering reggae bassline and warbling Kraftwerk synths. "It's like, every sci-fi movie has a nightclub," says Kauffman. "These are the songs in that nightclub."

Brocker Way: Wild Wild Country (Original Music from the Netflix Documentary Series)

Brocker Way's original score for the Netflix docuseries Wild Wild Country is meant to reflect the outlook of each of the show's interviewees rather than simply emphasizing their outward idiosyncrasies. Working closely with engineers Joey Waronker (Atoms for Peace, David Byrne, Beck, R.E.M.) and Tom Biller (Kanye West, Jon Brion, Kate Nash), and percussionist Neal Morgan (Joanna Newsom, Bill Callahan), the music invites the listener to inhabit the myriad personalities and situations in the show from a virtual first-person perspective. In Way's words "This kind of music gives us an idea as to the motives of each talking head, without actually scoring the motives of the character, and hopefully entices us as the audience to take the journey with them. When the Rajneeshees are building their town, you get to feel that and be right there with them. When Dave Fronmeyer is building his case, you get to feel the nobility he saw in his cause, and we hope to put you right in the room with him when he's doing it. When a city inspector has to go onto the ranch you can feel the fear as you sit in the car with him. That's the goal anyway."

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2018-08-03
Elephant Micah: Genericana

Joe O'Connell on his new album: I guess the lodestone in the process of making this was the kind of global avant garde mood that's prevalent in a lot of 1980s albums I admire. Things like Joni Mitchell's Dog Eat Dog and Arthur Russell's Calling Out of Context. These records where singers were making really eclectic and outward looking productions - writing *through* the process of recording, and literally *playing* with technologies that were totally new to them.

All the gear that I gathered to make the album was basically discarded or devalued. I got a bunch of stuff from Craigslist that interested me: a cheap FM synth, some Hindustani electronics, and an old three-head tape deck to use as a "poor man's space echo." The icing on the cake is a one-of-a-kind homemade digital synthesizer called "The Mutant". The concept of the synth is parallel to the concept of the album itself. It's an electronic take on "folk" sounds (bends, drones, modal playing) and folk creative approaches (a cobbling together and reformatting of existing elements).

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2018-05-25
Aisha Burns: Argonauta

Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, and currently residing in Beverly, Massachusetts, violinist, vocalist and songwriter Aisha Burns began playing violin when she was 10 years old, and has been touring and recording since 2006. Soon after moving to Austin in 2005, she gained her start with folk-rock outfit Alex Dupree and the Trapdoor Band, and joined the instrumental ensemble Balmorhea on violin in 2007. After years of secret singing, she released her solo debut Life in the Midwater in 2013. Called "twisting, ethereal...arresting" by Dazed Magazine, and praised for its "delicate intimacy" by NPR, Life in the Midwater explored mortality and relationships with candor and wisdom. Her new album Argonauta, is a collection of songs about her struggle with the grief of losing her mother, while also navigating a new relationship, and ultimately trying to figure out what the new normal is for her life.

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2018-05-04
Jessica Risker: I See You Among The Stars

Comprised of eight aural vignettes, I See You Among the Stars is a wood-grained, amber-hued world respectfully orbiting influences like Nick Drake, Sibylle Baier, and the softest moments of Broadcast. Paisley fabrics fade beneath an uncovered window, while dust and smoke billow gently through the sunbeams that never fully reach the dark half of the room. I See You Among the Stars achieves what the best music in the genre does: pictures with tangible depth, color, and detail painted with only a few well-chosen pigments.

I See You Among the Stars is an exemplar of spaced out psych-folk that seeks to convey the intimacy and introspection of a woman going about her simple matters at home, while creating an atmosphere to provide melancholy accompaniment to these very tasks. But the final result is something much more: a polyhedral, exploratory, and mystifying peer into a detailed pop-up storybook that reflects the mind and heart of its luminous creator.

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2018-04-21
Balmorhea: Chime / Shone (RSD Exclusive)

In September of 2017 the Austin-based instrumental band Balmorhea released Clear Language, an album which prompted NPR's Bob Boilen to say "I'm madly in love with this album…it's one these ambient records and beautiful records that I've just listened to over and over again." To create Clear Language, the duo returned to their roots, working simply and with restraint, letting intuition guide them as they molded the 10 elegant, spacious gestures that comprise the album.

Now, just a few months later the duo returns with the CHIME / SHONE 7" vinyl for Record Store Day 2018. Recorded during the Clear Language sessions, the two tracks "Chime" and "Shone" flow gracefully with a clear-eyed sense of reflection, as these two old friends transmit unfettered meaning through simple sonic gestures that resonate with the cosmos as much as they echo the pulse of a human heart. In a culture dominated by the loudest, ostentatious voices, Lowe and Muller continue to prove the power and importance of restraint and minimalism.

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2018-04-13
Goldmund: Occasus

Pennsylvania native Keith Kenniff's output as Goldmund has established him as one of the preeminent composers of minimal piano-based ambient music alongside peers like Hauschka, Dustin O'Halloran, and even Ryuichi Sakamoto, who himself once described Kenniff's work as "so, so, so beautiful". Hyperbolic as it may sound, Goldmund's newest collection Occasus may be his most exquisite yet. Where his previous recordings trod faithfully and sincerely on paths of dimly lit, polaroid-esque nostalgia, Occasus deepens the undeniable aesthetic that was hard-won over eight previous Goldmund albums, while expanding the palette to include desultory clouds of synthesizer and a tastefully distressed analog sheen.

The word Occasus means downfall, end, or the rising and falling of heavenly bodies. The title is apt in more ways than one: while the emotional tone of the album denotes bittersweet feelings of conclusiveness, it also perfectly soundtracks the quiet moments when we look up to the sky, and humbly relearn the smallness of our lives as cosmic objects churn slowly overhead with bewitching indifference. Occasus feels deeply personal, private, and hushed yet simultaneously grand, colossal, and profound. Remarkably Kenniff is able to capture micro and macro with equal fidelity.

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2018-04-06
Air Waves: Warrior

Like many queer women, Nicole Schneit is a warrior by necessity, fighting for basic rights, dignity, and acceptance. Such determination in the face of hardship and injustice runs in Schneit's family; her new album was inspired in part by her mom who was diagnosed with fallopian cancer last year. As she explains, "The doctor told her she had a fifteen to twenty percent chance, and her response was 'I'm going to get this mother fucker.' So the title Warrior and the song are about her. After chemotherapy, surgery, and then more chemotherapy, all the cancer in her body has left and she's currently in remission. I feel like most of the people in my life, including myself, are warriors and have overcome obstacles that seemed impossible to defeat." Understated, subtly sophisticated, and equally empowering and comforting, Warrior launches Air Waves above the apolitical complacency of too many of the group's contemporaries. Schneit proudly declares her mission statement: "I want these songs to be heard by people in my queer community, but also by anyone that wants to feels strong, powerful, and included."

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2018-03-16
Caroline Says: No Fool Like An Old Fool

No Fool Like An Old Fool is the sophomore LP from Austin via Alabama musician, Caroline Sallee, aka Caroline Says. Moving beyond the surf-folk foundations of her debut, on No Fool... Sallee loosens her earthly tether, allowing her songs to float to ever higher altitudes on clouds of loops, immaculate melodies, and hypnotic harmonies, as she sings about aging, the daily grind, and hometown stymie. Moving to Austin in 2013 gave her a new perspective on her hometown of Huntsville, Alabama, which informed the overall vibe of the album. "I think leaving my fairly small hometown and then going back to visit it inspired the feeling I went for on this album. I observed that so many people I knew were content doing basically nothing. Or that they were scared to try to do anything or leave town, like they felt stuck there."

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2018-03-09
The Skull Eclipses: The Skull Eclipses

Known respectively for their independent work as Botany and Lushlife, Spencer Stephenson and Raj Haldar selected their collaborative mantle, The Skull Eclipses, when the album became more than just a one-plus-one combination of their individual sounds.

Broadly, The Skull Eclipses is a post-hip hop album that harmonizes tropes of mid 90's electronic genres-- ambient, downtempo, jungle, & trip-hop-- under a hauntological umbrella. It is the first offering from a project that's as much indebted to Broadcast & The Focus Group as it is to Pete Rock & CL Smooth, but obligated to neither. Up close however, the album is a peer into the shadows by two figures uncontent with blending into the tapestry of modern music, wholly committed to creating experiences over mere content, which is pouring in from all corners of a frustrated and distracted world.

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2018-03-02
In Tall Buildings: Akinetic

Akinetic, the new album from Chicago songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Erik Hall's one-man polymathic project In Tall Buildings sees its creator plunge headlong into allegories of communication, loss, impulse, vice, and mass-denialism. With the addition of producer and engineer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine) Hall crashes through the aforementioned subject matter with brightness and lucidity, yielding his most intelligent and focused songwriting yet. Working out of his house with Deck in Pilsen, Chicago, Hall's efforts yield ten tracks of spacious and textured handmade pop, comprising one of the most sharply written and deftly recorded home-studio albums in memory.

Where his previous titles were natural documents of his musicianship and songcraft, Akinetic arose from deliberate intent to write in concrete pop forms, lyrically informed by what he observed of modern culture, namely its fixation on technology-driven pseudo-progress at the cost of direct communication. "Rather than merely dwell in an inviting musical bed," Hall states, "I wanted to write songs with intentionality that would more directly declare themselves to a listener instead of just passively inviting them in."

That this was all achieved by one person playing every instrument, gently guided by a kindred and veteran co-producer, denotes Akinetic as the greatest height yet reached for In Tall Buildings.