Artists of any stripe would do well to gorge on humble pie — but just in case that isn’t one’s natural inclination when first getting started, a simple exposure to the life of Tom Phillips might easily do the trick. The English artist was born in London in 1937, and if you take a look at his biography, it’s hard not to be struck by both QUANTITIES and variation. He’s been producing works more or less since he was a teenager, and in the decades since that time, he’s not only painted voraciously, but he’s also dabbled in books (see his best known work A Humument), sculpture, and collage; and his lesser-known musical scores arguably follow from the very early days when he played in the school orchestra at grammar school. Phillips was an early influence on Brian Eno (musically and cover art-wise), and they’ve been sharing popcorn at the cinema ever since.
Musically, Phillips doesn’t have many formal releases under his belt, though an LP from 1975 called Words and Music certainly deserves a highlight. The first side contains four magical, and experimental, chamber music pieces that have the nostalgic feel of something that was recorded in 1970s Britain, while side B has Phillips reading passages from A Humument. The disjointed narrative kind of makes it seem like a pleasant man is reading Ulysses out loud!
All in all, another intriguing restoration from the Recital label. Pre-order the reissue of Words and Music ahead of its February 15 release here (there’s also a deluxe edition, if you’re into that), and check out the track “Selected Passages from Life of Toge” and an excerpt from “Literature for Four Pianos” below:
Words and Music tracklisting:
01. Excerpt from the Opera IRMA, Op XII
02. Literature for Four Pianos, Op XI, No 3
03. Lesbia Waltz, Op XV
04. Ornamentik, Op IX
05. Selected Passages from Life of Toge
06. Pages at Random
Sean McCann’s Recital label has had a banner year, dotted as it was with pillar releases from the likes of The Ivytree, Sarah Davachi, Cop Tears, and Karla Borecky — among a handful of others — alongside the stunning centerpiece that is the Simple Affections LP. But we’ve still got something like two months left in this ol’ beater of a year, which means Recital isn’t yet done working its magic. In fact, an entire trifecta of rare and unusual releases have worked out a spot in what remains of Recital’s 2018 McCanon, and as usual, you’ll want to catch ‘em all!
First up is a vinyl reissue of French sound artist François Dufrêne’s “impossible-to-find” album Cri-Rythmes, recorded between 1967–1972 and initially released in 1977 on cassette. Recital is issuing the record in an edition of 250 with a written tribute to Dufrêne by Bernard Heidsieck from 1983, the year after the artist’s death. Enjoy as “Dufrêne swallows the microphone, gargles the capsule, then vomits up the cables,” as any good neo-Dadaist would.
Next is a compilation of works from artist Jean Dupuy recorded from 1969–2017 called All of the Time. Recital’s LP will come in an edition of 220 and include a 20-page insert, but there’s also a special edition of 30 with an original signed drawing from Dupuy. If that’s not enough exclusive incentive for you, the record’s lead track, “Concert of Seconds,” was also recorded just for the LP! Hurry up and stake your claim on art!
Finally, Recital brings Reidemeister Move’s (Christopher Williams and Robin Hayward) sound novella Arcanum 17 to CD. Recorded in 2012 and based on André Breton’s 1945 novel, the composition brings “field recordings, whispered narration, and cloudy bass and tuba streams” together in an atmospheric mold. It’s available in an edition of 200 with a 20-page color pamphlet full of notes and photos.
All three releases arrive tomorrow, November 9. Pre-order one or all of Cri-Rythmes, All of the Time, and Arcanum 17 at the applicable (and a-click-able) links, and check out audio previews of all three alongside their full tracklistings below. Ah, 2018; you really were…something.
François Dufrêne – Cri-Rythmes tracklisting:
01. Pour La Montre, Et Contre
02. Crirythme Des Cocons Cocontractants
03. Stress Man
04. Paris–Stockholm II
05. Crirythme En Rut
Jean Dupuy – All of the Time tracklisting:
01. Concert of Seconds
02. Elle Aimait Bien Les Frites, Marguerite
04. 2 Sound Texts & 14 Songs
05. Telephone Anagrams
Wisconsin is experiencing a “heat wave,” twenty eight degrees
After weeks of double-digit below zero temperatures,
it’s finally warm enough that inside actually feels shut off from nature’s cruel expanse
Cars skid by my bedroom window, through slush and rusty metal ice;
heat vent drips acid techno;
roommate shifts a broken beat in a finicky recliner
(in counterpoint with pages of Atonement flipping in his fingers);
outside, sirens pierce through thawing air and dissipate in triplet
and death is finally melting…
and each expanding particle in my hearing threshold
is performing a part of a sublunary symphony
Each bedspring and lightbulb and door hinge: a harp string, a violin, a clarinet
A motet of mundanity unfolds at my feet and I am is its sole audience
Absent my attention, absent my affection, wind still crawls through cracks and cavities,
but for now I am here and I dictate its curtain call
From where I am (reposed), it’s a Simple Affection, like happy chance in a song without resolve
and just before I remember I have eyelids…
and I softly clap and nod into a room at peace (as long as I have felt it)
In all types of music, the breath is critical. Obviously, breathing is essential to the bodily relationship of singing or playing a wind instrument, but it goes further than that. In high school band, for example, our director would have even the percussionists breathe in time with the winds in anticipation of the first downbeat of a piece. It was a way of getting us all to enter together; simply breathing in sync was a quicker and more natural way of getting all the musicians in the room on the same mental wavelength than having us watch the baton or count in our heads.
Ian Willam Craig’s debut album A Turn of Breath exposes breath’s importance in compositions with a more abstract relation to the idea of performance: throughout the album, the breath-like rhythms of looping tape machines cycle alongside Craig’s classically-schooled singing. Juxtaposing human-produced sound alongside malfunctioning machine sounds — which bring out the “humanity” of human-created gadgets — has been a pretty rich vein of sonic exploration for years, and A Turn of Breath marked a significant contribution to the field.
Initially released way back in 2014, Craig’s now-landmark first album is getting a deluxe reissue on Recital on June 29. The reissue comes in the form of a double-vinyl set (in a limited edition of 1000) containing both the original album and the Short of Breath EP, which was originally released in the form of a limited-edition CD-R at the time of A Turn of Breath’s original release — as well as Fresh Breath, a collection of previously unreleased material recorded during the same period. The whole package will come in a gatefold sleeve featuring new artwork from Craig. Pre-order it here; then inhale, exhale, and check out the special promo video and the previously-unreleased “Heaviness Sketch in Winter” down below.
A Turn Of Breath deluxe tracklisting:
01. Before Meaning Comes
02. On the Reach Of Explanations
03. Red Gate with Starling
05. A Slight Grip, a Gentle Hold (Part 1)
06. Second Lens
07. The Edges
08. New Brighton Park, July 2013
09. TEAC Poem
10. Either Or
11. A Slight Grip, a Gentle Hold (Part 2)
12. A Forgetting Place
13. Reason Simmers Over
14. Red Gate Drifting
15. Erat Hora
16. A Slight Grip, A Gentle Hold, Pt 3
17. Either Or (Darkroom Version)
18. 6 Years, 33 Million (For Bo)
19. Heaviness Sketch in Winter
20. Genesis Device
22. Bon Voyage, Wesbrook 210
This album really deserves a full review. Maybe we’ll get there. A hope to do.
Recital, who is re-issuing Thirteen Harmonies (Cage, 1986), which was originally released by Cop Tears member Derek Baron’s Reading Group imprint back in 2016, who also just released what I found to be a really sad and stunningly affecting 3xLP set of cult figure David Wojnarowicz’s cassette tape journals, which also deserves its own blurb, or its own review—this is and isn’t just me, Thirteen Harmonies… encourages these kinds of diversions and distractions, thoughtful wanderings, quiet interjections, spaces for generous interrogation and poignant conversation. There’s community and trust, a certain romance and a kind of platonic lust for the late morning, the early evening, a folder full of sheet music stuffed full and spilling—describes the release “as regal as bored as humble as confused.” An album of loose drafts so perfectly and circumstantially complete.
I remember when you first sent me this album and I listened to it so much. Still reminds me of you. I remember when someone posted a picture of the original CD-r to their Instagram story and I was jealous that they had it but I can’t remember who. I remember when someone texted me about this album and I replied, “I wish I had this.” Now I do. Thank you.
Buy it here and read more about the release in the wonderful words of Baron below:
Thirteen Harmonies is a selection from John Cage’s 44 Harmonies From Apartment House 1776, written for the American bicentennial, which itself is a selection of pieces in the colonial and early American choral canon. Arranged for double bass, electric guitar, and flute, from the arrangement for keyboard and violin, from the original four-part chorale, Thirteen Harmonies is an arrangement of a reduction of an arrangement of a reduction. The choral composers whose works were the material for Cage’s Apartment House were considered the avant-garde of choral music of the 18th century, and their music became the seed of Sacred Harp music, a radical lay tradition of the rural American south. John Cage composed the harmonies by way of erasure of the Protestant chorales and set them in an “apartment house” among other American voices: Native American ritual music, slave spirituals, and Sephardic incantations. What binds the lay experimentalism of William Billings and his contemporaries (all white American men) to the ‘multiplicity of centers’ of the Apartment House of John Cage (a white American man) is the destruction of a privileged musical space, the making-permeable of the division between the music of the piece and the sound of the people coming together to make the music of the piece. A positive destabilizing from within. Thirteen Harmonies was recorded live on two consecutive mornings in 2016 to a faulty 4-track on bled-through tape in Cameron’s apartment house in Queens, New York.
If you can recall a time before the fresh and oh-so-clean hell of the 2010s, you might remember Jewelled Antler Collective-founder Glenn Donaldson’s project(s) The Ivytree and The Birdtree (circa 2001–2005). If so, you’ll be happy to hear that the project is being revived for an archival LP of unreleased songs recorded between 2001 and 2004 called Unburdened Light, and it’ll be put out on Sean McCann’s Recital label. Together, we can all take solace in an era when Twitter didn’t exist.
The idea for the LP germinated in 2017 when McCann reached out to Donaldson about putting together a potential compilation of The Ivytree’s greatest hits (so to speak). This transformed into an archival project featuring 12 unreleased tracks of Donaldson’s gentle folk bliss (or, to use the adjective in the press release, “tragically honeyed”).
Unburdened Light is out May 4, and you can pre-order it here. The first edition is limited to 300 LPs on black vinyl, and it includes an eight-page art booklet featuring collages by Donaldson himself. If you’re uncertain that your broken, cynical, internet-ified brain can handle such pastoral whimsy (it probably still can), you can check out an embed of album cut “All the White Plumes” below, alongside the full tracklisting. Now go plant a tree or something (perhaps one of the ivy variety?), and let it be a balm for all the garbage-fire evils of the modern world!
Unburdened Light tracklisting:
01. Thistle Beds
02. All the White Plumes
03. In Unison
04. All Your Lights
05. Unburdened Light
06. Evil is Circular
07. She is the Swallow (pt.2)
08. Quartered Sky
10. Weak Hands Can’t Hold the Picture
11. Oh White Heron (Coastal Version)
12. In the Black Air
In Maya Deren’s silent short At Land, a woman — thrown from the waves into a world in which she is thoroughly out of place — reaches above herself with an open grasp of yearning and draws herself upward, traversing disparate dream-shores.
The same gesture is repeated, an open grasp of yearning, in Paul Clipson’s visual accompaniment to Sarah Davachi’s “At Hand,” yet here with closed eyes, submerged behind the same sea out of which Deren emerged bright-eyed and dreaming.
Ensnared behind prisons of light, she wanders, she whirls, entrapped behind all manners of glass darkly, veils, and frames fringed with night. Clipson and Davachi transport us to a realm of shattered selves where glances though plaintive are never returned, where what is at hand is only the faraway, a realm that embraces dissolution and might absolve us our seams and sutures were only the faraway to come near with night.
Something murmurs in the night, but is it music? What is the music in the night, if music could be music in the night? Yet, here I hesitate, for I can even less write “in” the night than “of” or “about” the night, since belonging to night’s darkness is an impossible notion. Music in the night can’t be of the night, if at last music in the night can be music at all. Night is nothing if not the inextinguishable consummation of all that enters it, until there is no belonging, nothing which could belong, and at last no all for which a desire to belong might thunder its extinction. No evocation of the night, no expression, and finally no light with which to see the score. Finally no song, finally no strength with which to sing. Yet, something murmurs in the night.
All night music was written during the day, we might offer. But this nothing of the night is not silence, we must insist. For instance, one could say, “Be silent with me, as all bells are silent.” For instance, there are bells. Not only are there bells, but also there are those bells that ring night’s demarcation from the day, even though night bleeds into day without sharp margins, as my shadow might overtake me when I turn the corner. A gradual enshrouding, then suddenly, then all at once. The silence of the bells in which I entreat you to be with me is the sudden clearing of sound that opens in the dying reverberations of day’s metallic clamor. Something murmurs in the night if only because there remains something of the light. After imagining all beings reverting to nothingness, darkness invades us like a presence. While the simple presence of absence in a night in which we are already enshrouded haunts us like a tremor of nausea or the horror of being, to pray for night to come, to let night come through the passivity of prayer, is a gesture of healing perhaps, for in the day we are already absent, so let night come to cloak our shattered selves.
That Davachi abjured her previous output of patient drones and surveys of sonic continuity with her 2017 release All My Circles Run in favor of finding fragile beginnings for specific sounds (“For Organ,” “For Piano”), evident of a reinvention of her work. The trajectory of drone music in the manner of Éliane Radigue and Tony Conrad, a seam which Davachi continues to sew, is a perfect representation of the murmuring that lingers in the night — an impersonal, anonymous continuity of sound, the deep listening to which unravels one at one’s seams, a confrontation with the deep well of being to which one is irrevocably involved, being without subject or substance. This is the third impersonal singular of “There is something that remains in this darkness…,” “It is dark outside…,” “It is dark…”
Now Davachi finds herself in the mood of the subjunctive and the sublime, of the “Let night come…,” of the “Let there be Night.” This is the sound of the waning of the day, wavering before the silence it announces in its wake. Let me disappear into the night so that the music flowing through me may become perfect in its beauty from the very fact that I’m no longer there to inhibit its flow. A wavering, as on “Mordents,” between the impossible dream of music in the night and the music of performing this impossible dream, as the quivering theme passes slowly into its dormant shadow. A wavering, as in “Buhrstone,” between a music swooning into sleep and the sounds already dissolved therein. A piano iteration out of a Chopin nocturne stripped of ornamentation, bared against a night that is too much to contain, while, as if conjured from the other side of twilight, flute phrases gracefully hover and glide as in the dreams of a sleeping Satie.
What tenderness (or is it patience? detachment? disintegration?) is required to simply let music be, even if that risks trespassing the silence after the last bell has rung. “Hours in the Evening,” the last track and the last hour to be rung, drones on like the sky perishing into pink. A beauty that demands no observer, the sound is that of a dream of unceasing breath, for no one sits at the organ, but the music that shivers before the pipe’s immensity is not simply the wind. The weary hesitance of the other two delicate drones, “Garlands,” and “At Hand,” find at last a cool and a calm in which to resolve.
At the end of the film, we ponder a void in the brush that lures us with night’s invitation of immensity. But the night we can neither see nor even inhabit. Night can only be announced: Let night come, on bells, end the day.
Hey, TMT reader. Say, are you familiar with Canadian avant-garde composer Sarah Davachi and/or Sean McCann’s illustrious Recital imprint?
And…do you happen like…beautiful, thought-provoking DRONES?
Do you happen to like…”slow jets of lapping harmonics”??
Do you happen to like…music composed mainly for “mellotrons and electronic organs,” “compositional architecture” that “re-contextualizes the essence” of artists’ previous outputs, and “careful and shadowed hymns” that serve as “anchors of emotion”???
In other words: ARE YOU A TMT READER?
Hey, great! Then I’ll have no trouble at all selling you on the exciting news that Davachi is getting set to release a new LP — chock FULL of all kinds of sounds like the ones I just described up above — through Recital.
The album is entitled Let Night Come On Bells End The Day, and, in McCann’s words, “is a lovely album to fill an evening living room with. A blanket, a cup of wine, a dim bulb, a wide window.”
What’s more, its five finely considered and carefully crafted constituent tracks will be available to Y-O-U, the TMT reader, on April 13. Pre-orders for the first edition (we’re talkin’ 600 black wax LPs accompanied by “three 9″x 9″ art prints of photographs by the artist” and a “complementary CD-edition” of the album) will be available right here starting March 26.
For now, though, check out a video clip for the mesmerizing track “At Hand” — fleshed out with heartrendingly melancholic visuals by late filmmaker Paul Clipson — down below, followed by the cover art and full tracklisting. And as always: THANKS FOR READING TMT, TMT reader. <3
Let Night Come On Bells End The Day tracklisting:
03. At Hand
05. Hours in the Evening
Lest we forget the existence of talented musicians who don’t regularly spearhead the credits of formal music releases, American composer and conceptual sound artist Charlie Morrow has managed to stay under the radar despite his artistic exposure to borderline uncomfortable numbers of human beings.
Primer time: Born in Newark, NJ, Morrow had formal composition education at Mannes College of Music, and his early career was plagued by arguably traditional ventures of composition that forced his focus on the interiors of various austere concert halls. The precise schematics of those concert halls eventually proved too limiting for the admirer of shamanic traditions, however, which compelled the beginning of Morrow’s ventures outside and with beings regardless of demographic or even species. The convening of massive outdoor “wave” concerts and the international broadcast of radio Solstice celebrations have been two hallmarks of a looong and innovative career.
At this point, you basically have to go back decades to find an album bearing Morrow’s name. Luckily, Sean McCann (a.k.a. “The Morrow Whisperer”) recently established a rapport with the 76-year-old, and that kinship has coincided with a brand new vinyl LP called Toot! Too (presumably after an now-obscure prior Toot! compilation, released on XL back in 2011).
The new effort out March 23 on McCann’s Recital imprint, and those of us seeking a primer on Morrow’s career really couldn’t ask for much more than this new release, as it’s said to be a compilation of performance recordings that took place between 1970 and 2014. The “Wave Music series,” which revolves around the voluminous playing of “like-instruments,” comprises the bulk of Toot! Too. Have a listen to “Wave Music II” down below and pre-order the record from Recital here. Such volume!
Toot! Too tracklisting:
01. Wave Music V – Conch Chorus and Bagpipe (1981)
02. Wave Music II – 100 Musicians with Lights (1978)
03. Wave Music IV – Drums and Bugles (1980)
04. Wave Music X – Trumpets for Dick Higgins (2014)
05. Requiem for the Victims of Kent State (1970)
06. Wave Music III – 60 Clarinets and a Boat (1979)
When I was a shithead high school kid playing in my first punk rock band, I’m pretty positive that my cohorts and I dedicated much more time to hanging out in a Denny’s booth sketching logos and fine-tuning our astoundingly under-researched shortlists of the record labels that would ideally release our first earthshaking longplayer than we ever dedicated to, ya know, “writing” and “practicing” songs. But strangely, I don’t think this sort of thing happened because we were “lazy.” I think it’s because, a lot of times, the brand name counts even more than the music does. And I guess we all kinda understood that, even back then.
Sure, we may all walk around our lives most of the time pretending like our choices and justifications are all pure and internally driven… but — as the introductory statements to threesolidyears’ worth of these Favorite Labels lists all ably point out — that shit is a straight-up hallucination. What we all really need at the end of the day is to feel assured that we’re part of a bigger story. We want those choices backed up by some weird, impossibly infallible guarantee.
On a grand scale, this whole project represents nothing less than the most utterly serious of metaphysical business: nothing and no one stands on their own. Individuals are forgotten. Lines have endpoints. Organisms wither and die. We see this. We know this. We hate this. Brands, on the other hand, endure. Those glorious abstractions known as “classifications,” “families,” “institutions,” and so on can’t be killed. In other words, we’re not just talking comfort here; we’re talking Immortality.
But even on the level of our day-to-day exploitation and/or enjoyment of culture, it holds true. For example, even now, as I try to reconstitute the narrative, some of my favorite records of 2017 didn’t just “come out.” They “came out as editions on Sean McCann’s Recital program.” As a writer, I found it downright difficult to parse and explain the evolution of certain monikers without using Hospital Productions as a scaffolding or to discuss this-or-that artist without shouting-out Posh Isolation. And I’ve got to fess up to the fact that, as a fan, I attended several shows and bought several records based on their Don Giovanni tag alone.
Is any of this compulsive brand-association particularly justified or fair? Objectively, no, I guess not. But that’s exactly the point: categorizing frail, transient little things into grand structures that transcend the worth of each of those little peons when tallied individually not only provides a nice distraction, but it also helps cocoon us — however temporarily and delusionally — in a cozy and structured-yet-flexible hammock rather than leaving us all sailing naked through the silent, freezing, soulless, limitless, and immeasurable depths of deep space at a million miles an hour.
So, um, if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll just go head and keep clinging like grim death to all the delusional institutions I can get my mammalian hands on. In fact, here’s 14 or so that you might find handy too. Take ’em or leave ’em. –Dan Smart
Since 2013, Noumenal Loom, run by Garrett Crosby, a.k.a. Holly Waxwing, out of Birmingham, Alabama, has been pogoing around the globe to gather together all sounds exciting and excitable. So far, the label has pepped us way up with seminal releases by aggregative electronic wizards Foodman, Giant Claw, and Seth Graham, while concurrently winding down with gentle albums from the lovably chill likes of Tuluum Shimmering and Angel Dust Dealers. Their 2017 roster opened with an addictively danceable cassette from DJ Voilà, and whether the label has been exploring techno, funk, smooth jazz, or muzak, it’s been an idea of bodily movement that has unified all of this year’s tapes and albums. We’ve window-shopped with Haha Mart and loosened into a swaying groove with Jasper Lee and Earthly. Bouncy releases from Pascale Project and $3.33 scrubbed the dance floor clean, and, to round out the year, the label just dropped two back-to-back bath bombs by $ega & The Rainbow Streets, a new project from Kenji Yamamoto, and some mind-boggling impishness from Toiret Status. Amidst all kinds of paralyzing madness outside, spaces and sounds that invite such movement feel distinctly joyful and freeing. –Cookcook
Hands in the Dark
Even French label Hands In the Dark’s name dallies with the corporeal, alluding to a sense beyond the visible, a prickle or a tickle when the lights are off. Label founder Morgan Cuinet has compiled a walloping roster of experimental artists whose work mines the occult affect of sub-bass, the pilomotor reflex to binaural wizardry, and the pineal proprioception to the encounter between ambie(/a)nce and the human ear. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that the artists represented — among them Matt Jencik, Brian Case, and Byron Westbrook — positively bodied the electronic music scene in 2017. Even from the pirouetting opening seconds of Westbrook’s “Dance and Free Fall,” the opening track off Body Consonance, tendrils of sound coagulate and consummate with the ear, consonate with the flesh, palpitate along with the temple’s pulse. Mastered by Helmut Erler and TMT favorite Rashad Becker at Berlin’s Dubplates & Mastering, these delicately fashioned transmissions massage and clench, stimulating the viscera and churning the gut. Hands in the Dark has quietly built a catalog of ambient music with gumption, a dance music for the synapses and for the goosebumps. The future is now: forget your antidepressants and anhedonia. With hands and feet and neck and back — in the dark or in the light — we’re getting sensual. –Benjamin Eckman Bieser
Nyege Nyege Tapes
Luck’s acute attribute is having enough faith in letting go of the good and/or bad; a bird shits your in hair: half-think you won the lottery, but you keep thinking, a bird shit in my hair. Communication will forever be sharpened through adverse arts. Nyege Nyege Tapes bugged on 2017 with some excellent cultural deep-dive for listeners to gnash. What hit first was the jux-flow of “Ukuti” by Disco Vumbi. Immediately after, Riddlore’s Afromutations banged so hard, listeners lost direction of “Why?” and pursed immediate: “What timeline does Nyege Nyege Tapes abide by?” The third release defined another unique MC’s entry, Gulu City Anthems by Otim Alpha, baring a certain soul that comes more with the certainty of songwriting than production. Mysterians’s Joyride on Judgment Day was a gem that power-washed nodes on a level of intellect we won’t find until all the pieces of blasted-ambience have fit. But most importantly, Sounds of Sisso vibes on such a level of reappropriative, cultural instinct, one forgets to even find the magnitude of hype, purely grappling at the textures of rhythm. Nyege Nyege Tapes defines the stripped-down airfare to where prestige and lister-expansion take the next step. –C Monster
Whatever happened to the classics? Did we just get over them? Or rather, did they get over us? Is it still possible to remain just a little bit old-fashioned in a world that’s progressing at an exponential rate, when what happened even yesterday is archaic, forgotten, meaningless? For one, maybe study up on Sean McCann’s Recital Program, which spent yet another year shattering the glass walls between “high” and “low” art, proving again that everything is fascinating if we just look a little closer. Between exploring the lost lineage of the Mazzacane/Connors family, exposing the ever-tumbling wordplay of Dick Higgins, and issuing regal, flowing piano works from the likes of Michael Vincent Waller and Roger Eno, Recital kept its cool amidst a musical landscape that continues to self-implode. In reclaiming the opulent world of the classical for the underground of today, McCann’s label creates its own sort of beautiful order out of chaos, a theater in which the mundane and the ornate can freely converse and even trade places for a while if they so choose, unshackled from the class boundaries that so often keep the two camps railing against one another. Whatever happened to the classics? They’re living among us now. –Sam Goldner
Music from Memory
“Music from Memory” is a misnomer and double entendre both. The records released by the Amsterdam label can’t be from memory in its most common meaning, simply because they have almost never been heard by “the masses” before. The music does, however, come from what could be called a place of memory. It has the ability to instill nostalgia for mysteries, to create attachments to unlived experiences. What started with the phenomenal Vito Ricci full-length in 2015 and was constituted with the Dip In The Pool reissue in 2016 has, this year, become a stalwart of archival transcendence. Although it’s often titled a “reissue label,” every 2017 release out of Music from Memory feels incredibly new. Psychedelic Brazilian music comps feel dime-a-dozen these days, but 2017’s Outro Tempo pillars over them all. The clunky disco of Dutch DJ Richenel feels a step ahead of contemporary house nostalgics. What the label provides is a sort of one-way mirror, looking at a past that was dreaming of its future. The attention to detail and arduous curation that goes into every record from Music from Memory highlights not where we went wrong, but what was done right. –E. Fosl
The Worst couldn’t be more misnamed. Since January, the Tennessean netlabel has birthed a baker’s dozen of the squelchiest/geekiest/sugar-sludgiest breakcore the bowels of SoundCloud have to offer. Spearheaded by visual-artist-cum-producer Minogame, the imprint functions as the post-internet era’s answer to the Smithsonian Folkways, cataloguing cyberpunk transmissions from the web’s uncharted territories: aside from surface-level nods to Warp’s cheeky humor and penchant for cluttered drum-breaks, much of the label’s output represents the hyper-individualism within a late-capitalist state that has driven us deep into our own curated aesthetics for solace. The aforementioned Minogame’s a tribe of one, signified by their Lascaux-like scribblings and math-rock source material. The prolific Ancient Origin is also a culture unto itself, one informed as much by Animal Crossing’s pastoral tradition as it is by mid-aughts crunk mixtapes. Visit The Worst’s Bandcamp, click a record cover, and assimilate: this is an expansive charting a miniature world. –Jude Noel
I’ll be real: last year, I hadn’t heard of Profound Lore Records. Sure, I knew a ton of their past releases, like those of Krallice, Altar of Plagues, and Nadja, but I wasn’t fully conscious of the brilliant and gnarled web that tied them all together. The fateful moment that changed all that was the December release of Ash Borer’s superb The Irrepassable Gate, which was one of the most truly badass black metal records I’d heard in years. I became obsessed, and I started paying attention to Profound Lore (run by the great Chris Bruni). Enter 2017. I came into this year ready to chomp on anything Profound Lore released, and what a fucking year they’ve had. Pallbearer’s Heartless was a thrilling, prog-tinged doom journey that was as compelling as anything the band has done. Full Of Hell’s Trumpeting Ecstasy was an impeccably produced and excellently paced grindcore album, one of the year’s best in the genre. And then there was Loss’ magical doom odyssey Horizonless, whose grizzly howls brought an appropriate sense of melancholic yearning for listeners in 2017. And let’s not forget Sannhet’s aggressive and relentless So Numb, a refreshingly powerful exercise in instrumental metal. But, in my opinion, Profound Lore’s crowning achievement for the year was Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper, a breathtaking, bass-laden drive through the great beyond via glacial doom metal. The label capped the year off with this month’s epically unsettling 7xLP Rainbow Mirror by Prurient, a release that delivered a whole new set of mysteries and moods for us to relish as we slide gracefully into 2018. I raise my glass to you now, Profound Lore, as I have many times in my life, whether knowingly or unknowingly. You have brought a significant amount of beautiful music into the world this year. Thank you. –Adam Rothbarth
End of the Alphabet
I have often wondered the existential meaning behind Noel Meek’s End of the Alphabet label. I can conjure many shortsighted missives about the location of New Zealand, the idea of the letters X, Y, and Z being largely ignored and underused, or perhaps the notion that those same letters are quite weird and therefore loosely lumped together. So I’ll stick to a combination of all three, which is why EotA is such an ear-opening experience. Whether it’s via Meek’s own releases and collaborations, or those spotlighting both his New Zealand and its surrounding — and equally ignored — regional sounds. Considering how stuck Western culture seems to be, I’d rather delve into the XYZs of our globe than the ABCs. –Jspicer
Tucked away in the fogs of the Pacific Northwest, this year the gang at MOTOR Collective did not “break through” so much as further refine their version of dance music — moody, spacious, and deep, yet grounded enough that you can actually move to it. MOTOR releases (as well as their excellent parties and podcasts) feel less like music for the club as we know it and more like the jump-off point for some head-trip gathering in the forest; the sense of a group yearning for this vision carries across records as varied as R Gamble’s Realistic Spaces and Heidi Sabertooth’s The Hear Of Now (both highlights for the year). That you can still hear the tape hiss on many digital versions of MOTOR tracks (as opposed to the hyperreal, LOL-perfect rendering of so much modern electronic music) speaks to what the label is going for. Like mighty ponderosa left in the rain, it’s imperfect and gently warped, still sturdy, and full of personality. –Dylan Pasture
The Parisian label PERMALNK has been offering what it calls an “empathetic image of the world” since 2014, but it wasn’t until this year, with three strong releases, that it brought that image into clearer focus. The empathy of DETENTE’s Basic Dwell is reserved for the world’s smoldering and static-charged bits, where its energy is locked up, and from whence it manifests in stuttering impact and action-movie fidelity, accompanied by the grungy tremolo of guitar. Léo Hoffsaes and Loto Retina collaborated on Early Contact, the intimate story of a woman’s day out with her son and husband as her second child squirms in her belly, with uterine gurgling joining airy string melodies in a duet of nervous anticipation that spreads, as if contagiously, from narrator to listener. Far from both the incidental onslaught of Basic Dwell and the human intimacy of Early Contact, Benoit B’s Ethereal Drops addressed itself to the world as if to a fantastic, New Age-adjacent vision of nature. Its tracks, like the standouts “Sparkling Stream” and “Diamonds Rain,” combined a high, animalistic chirp with pads colored in shades of balearic and trance, constructing an image that, like artist Tavi Lee’s album cover, carries about it a worldly air, even in its bold color palette and surreal bending of the edges of its “natural” forms about one another. In 2017, PERMALNK has accomplished something rare in releasing three albums with little in common aside from an adherence to the label’s noble mission statement and, more importantly, an uncanny coherence as individual works of art. –Will Neibergall
In some secret file on Loke Rahbek’s hard drive, one can find my full frontal nudes along with a genetalia garden of many other bodies, desecrated and devalued, for they all were exchanged, vulnerability for vulnerability, with a cassette tape of Croatian Amor’s 2014 album The Wild Palms. In the commodification of the world, all things are abstractly identified with an exchange value, where even vulnerability has a value, for the body is as expendable as every other image. Yet, here we give one’s inability to give as a gift — one’s vulnerability. The self-interest of commodity economy is abdicated in preference of a gift exchange. Here, Rahbek creates an artificial space to find other people. Posh Isolation’s forays beyond noise and industrial to lyrical ambient and minimal techno belie industrial music’s foundation in the incommunicable dissonance of the world of industrial capitalism, where seeking to be heard above the din is a project worthy of art. By fetishizing the empty object in the artificial space of performance, this bubblegum industrial forges impossible connections that, though artificial, become pleasurable and therefore real. Through pain directed inward, as if pierced by a greatmanyarrows, we confirm that one’s self is irreducible to the abstract identification of the commodity, as Saint Sebastian his beauty. The ultimate need to make contact snaps one out of artificiality. In 2017, the cold has become a little bit warmer and a sort of sincerity is resuscitated. –Evan Coral
What’s opera, doc? Opera is text by tune splitting story, Italian for “work.” Opera is Don Giovanni, some Austrian seraph’s diminishing sevenths flicking humans into shouting until the sound shakes our hearts. Hearts and mouths shout, so listen: Joe Steinhardt and Zach Gajewski played in a bad band at Boston College, made their own 7-inch, and voila: opera via Don Giovanni. It’s music label as New Brunswick new alternative, nixing commercial interruption so artist and audience are fleet free as a Mozart minuet to trade roles and help each other. “Anyone can do anything and not just that, everyone can do everything. No one’s fucking special,” Steinhardt reminds us. In an ashen historical moment, those words are totem for remembering the good work of “nobody lives unless everybody lives.” Don Giovanni is Aye Nako’s rim shot disrupt-punk and the geography-atomizing Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires. It’s Irreversible Entanglements, unmetered jazz outfit as union collective and A Piece of Water, the Buenos Aires tidal pool dream of Agua Viva, a body’s buoyancy over oppression. It’s La Neve’s American Sounds, a non-binary bodying the electric song as new national anthem sans strict script and the breaking “Glass House,” Screaming Female’s yowl of a collective body’s mission to re-member shards of 2017’s ill-reality into something better for every body. The music label model is the original resisting force, the libretto punk show, a two-fold work of labor output and piece created. Don Giovanni refuses repenting like the title character and screams high C’s into hell, a Looney Tunes promise that everything is movable except good work. Don Giovanni is the good work, opera for us by us. No one’s fucking special. Everyone’s fucking special. –Frank Falisi
OK, you caught me; Piratón Records isn’t as prolific as some of these other labels. As far as I can tell, it currently only exists as a Bandcamp page, and since its founding in 2015 by Mexico City musician and music journalist Carlos Huerta (a.k.a. Josué Josué), there are only four releases, all available for free streaming with a “name your price” option for download. One of them, Ruido’s 2015 FUN LP, is a totally bonkers instrumental hip-hop/chip-tune/synth punk thing. Two of them are compilations in a series called No hay más fruta que las nuestra, which means, “There is no fruit other than ours,” a play on a quote by Mexican social realist painter David Siqueiros: “No hay mas ruta que la nuestra” (“There is no other route but ours”). This year’s No hay más fruta que la nuestra 2 is why I’m writing this blurb. Like its 2016 predecessor, it features all kinds of music by female artists from Latin America and Spain. TMT favorite (Upgrayedd) Smurphy is on it, along with 11 other incredible ladies whose work spans pop, punk, rap, techno, and folk. It’s basically all I’ve listened to this year (besides, like, DAMN. and A Crow Looked At Me, so you know it’s good but ultimately responsible for way fewer tears). Snarkiness aside, I hope that somebody finds this at least half as empowering as I did this year. Life fairs a little better when your music’s this good. –Jazz Scott
2017 was the 20th year in the business for Dominic Fernow’s Hospital Productions. The label celebrated with tastefully grim releases that fit nicely under the three categories of Fernow’s own projects, Vatican Shadow, Prurient, and Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement. Like Demdike Stare’s DDS and Oneohtrix Point Never’s Software imprints, Hospital Productions never strays far from Fernow’s infernal circle of influence. The label eschews the convenience of modern platforms, preferring physical record stores and distributors like Boomkat and Bleep to platforms like Bandcamp and SoundCloud. Aesthetically, the labels seems to occupy a razor-thin void that exists between the chic, palatable throb of ambient techno — the sort of jilted, swooning sound that intellectual architecture students in horn-rimmed glasses and ket-heads in crop tops can bond over — and the always unpalatable, unpredictable underground noise scene. The latter is the spawning pool of Hospital Productions, a realm of cut-and-paste cassette art and “noise tables,” which basically kept the National Audio Company in business until avant-garde electronica and Urban Outfitters found tapes to be a fashionable medium again. It’s a dangerous game Fernow plays: with every high-bias, 180g limited-edition release at the luxury price point, he runs the risk of playing to the “market,” whether ironically or for personal gain.
Industry politics aside, the music is of scrupulous quality and gluttonous proportions. Hospital Productions is committed to releases of staggering, atmospheric scale: the monolithic physical LPs and cassette boxes are like dense artifacts, adding to the imprint’s quasi-archaeological mystique. Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement put out a few large cuts, coming over two hours on a reissue of Green Graves. The project also put out an eight-cassette compilation titled Water Witches, one of many such bricks of tape that the label would drop. Another eight-hour box set of 8xCS was released for Dust Belt’s brooding, dark ambient on Ecocannibalism, and then of course there was the 6xLP release of Prurient’s massive Rainbow Mirror, which was co-released with Profound Lore. The club side of Hospital Productions is equally grim: Ninos du Brasil released their second full-length, Vida Eterna, a bludgeoning set of trance-inducing Latin rhythms, as well as another 12-inch. Natural Assembly put out The Fantasy of Love, a mix of post punk and deep house. Shifted drew a converging plane between metal grooves (the rhythmic kind) that sound like they’ve been rubbed out of literal metal grooves and outsider techno beats on Appropriation Stories. As much as I hate the “outsider” term, there’s still not much of a vocabulary for the sort of undanceable, fringes-of-the-club-basement beats that Hospital represents so well. –Ross Devlin