Album Review

Halfway Through 2013: Look At All These Killer Fucking Records I Missed

For a variety of terrible reasons, I have a hard time writing about records that didn’t get submitted to me for review. That means I come across tons of incredible shit that I don’t make time for on AGB. A lot of the records in this mid-year roundup fall into that category. Regardless of how I found out about them, all of these are 100% awesome and I’ve been playing the fuck out of each and every one of them.

Also, I have a totally bullshit & ever-shifting line that I try not to cross when writing about records that wobbles between how popular the album/band/label is and how much I love the record. This list is made up of stuff I probably would’ve reviewed if I had the time, but there’s a lot I’ve been jamming hard that was “too big” in my eyes for AGB, lots of high profile metal like Deafheaven, Altar Of Plagues, Inter Arma, The Body, etc, and then there’s stuff like William Tyler’s super bitchin Impossible Truth, which, if it didn’t come out on Merge, I most likely would’ve written it up, but then there’s some that regardless of how much press they get, I can’t help but praise the shit out of them. So those are my half-assed rules and what went through my head when making this list.

There’s a few records on here that might make it onto my year end drone list, so if you’re the gamblin type, start up a pool with your pals and maybe you can strike it rich.

Since this is a pretty big list (28 and unranked) I’ve put everything after the jump so it doesn’t clog up the front page. Here’s hoping you find some in here that you haven’t heard of yet.
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Forgotten Fifteen

This year has been like every other year, in which I don’t review a ton of shit that’s awesome because I’m busy reviewing a ton of other shit that’s awesome. That’s the name of the game. I don’t think I’ve done a mid-year roundup before, not a big fan of ‘em, but since that’s definitely the cool thing to do in 2012, and because I know some items on my year end list haven’t gotten any airtime over here, I thought it would be a grand idea to call out some records that I personally have been jamming like a motherfucker. So here’s 15 records I should have reviewed. They’re not ranked but feel free to speculate wildly if any of these might make the coveted number one spot on my Top 10 Drone list come the end of the year/life as we know it.
 

HorsebackHalf Blood (Relapse)
Probably the best record to come out this year (but best drone record? tough call). This has been my go to since it came out, blending black metal and drone with a dusty psych. Jenks Miller’s vocals are thick & gruff and tear right fucking through the lush guitars. Yeah, everyone & their little sister have been raving about this one but that should just tell you how fucking spectacular it is.
 


PortraitsPortraits (Important)
Portraits are a supergroup and a half, with Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Evan Caminiti, Jon Porras, Lisa McGee, Gregg Kowalsky, Marielle Jakobsons, Maxwell August Croy, Steven Dye, Tony Cross, and Michael Elrod, all making an impossibly minimal drone that’s almost too beautiful to handle. How they were able to corral themselves into making an album so singular and so seamless is beyond me. It’s a shame knowing their output can never keep up with my hopes because after hearing this I want at least another record every year. Something tells me that’s never gonna happen.
 


PanopticonKentucky (Handmade Birds / Pagan Flames)
This one might be making Euronymous twitch in his grave. Kentucky is some truly bizarre black metal that’s sandwiched with some old banjos n bluegrass. Panopticon’s always been one for weirdness but this is a whole other level, some tracks could be taken out of context and your gramp would think it was from one of his old 78s. Gives Half Blood a run for its money for black metal ROTY.
 


Wreck & ReferenceNo Youth (The Flenser)
These Californian devastators seriously don’t give a fuck about genres. This is one that really defies categorization and does a damn good job at evading description. Black metal, doom, noise, sure, all of that, then a decent dose of wtf and leaning heavy on the post-everything. They’re doing their own thing and they’re fucking obliterating everything that stood before them.
 


Mario Diaz De Leon / ONEIROGENHypnos (Denovali / Shinkoyo)
De Leon put out Hypnos under his own name earlier this year with Shinkoyo taking care of the CD version. Then he decided the sound was different enough from his normal modern classical style music to put it under a different name, ONEIROGEN. All further releases in this style will be using that name. Now, Denovali is reissuing Hypnos on vinyl next month (using the ONEIROGEN moniker). You definitely need to keep an eye out for it because this is fucking stellar and might get snatched up quickly. Crazy thick synths (and guitars?) doing something dark & blissful, noisy & droney, like an industrial/power electronics dude taking cues from OPN and Goblin and scoring a film based on a Poe story. Super fucking awesome. One of the best albums this year.
 


Pauline OliverosReverberations: Tape And Electronic Music 1961-1970 (Important)
A truly epic collection, 12 discs of Oliveros’ legendary tape & electronics work, early avant garde shit that has mostly never seen the light of day for us commoners. She’s a legit master in her field and having something this comprehensive with detailed liner notes in a sweetly packaged box set is more than I could ever hope for. A thousand thanks to Important and the many contributors for putting this together.
 


Mount EerieClear Moon (P.W. Elverum & Sun)
Clear Moon may not have the shredding black metal moments that Wind’s Poem had, but that just means this is a little more consistent, it’s no less bleak or dark, and it’s just as tender. It’s kinda hard not to fall head over heals for everything Elverum puts out but this may be my favorite thing he’s done, ever. Absolutely amazing.
 


Sutekh HexenBehind The Throne (Magic Bullet)
These dudes are set to take over today’s black metal scene and tear it to shreds. They’ve put out a handful of releases in the past year or two, but Behind The Throne is their latest and it’s the best fucking thing ever. Torrents of noise and vocal static, blistering atmospherics and destructive guitars, this is so insanely good it’s hard to wrap your brain around due to it being melted, etc. So much more than your usual black metal noise.
 


Man ForeverPansophical Cataract (Thrill Jockey)
Our generation’s Buddy Rich, Kid Millions is out to make sure people fully understand what it means to be a drummer. Man Forever is his drum project that sounds like a Niagara of octopuses playing a Niblockian cacophony. Smooth long form drumming that’s blissful and engaging with a thousand layers of drone to rub you all the right ways.
 


InfinitasJourney To Infinity (Self-Mutilation Services / Razed Soul)
Solo German black metal project with a debut to make you want to jump out of a plane without a parachute. This is some killer post rock stuff mashed with devastating DSBM, crazy soaring guitars and crushing crescendos with torturous wailing screeches that would be like nails on a chalkboard if if wasn’t so harmoniously complemented by the cloud surfing bleakness.
 


AufgehobenFragments Of The Marble Plan (Holy Mountain)
When are these guys gonna get theirs? They already have a doting cult of noiseheads that snag everything possible. Maybe we’re just stingy? Whatever, Aufgehoben’s newest slab of concrete chaos is in a sexy gatefold courtesy of Holy Mountain and is absolutely flooring. Honestly, this is some special speaker melting noise, astonishing even to the noise naysayers in its ability to knock the wind out of you. There’s nothing quite like an Aufgehoben record and this is some of their best work to date.
 


Fenn O’BergIn Hell (Editions MEGO)
You’re pretty much guaranteed something fantastic when Fennesz, Jim O’Rourke, and Peter Rehberg get together, but In Hell takes their killer collabs to another dimension. Namely, a dark and disturbing dimension. All of it was recorded at performances during their 2010 tour of Japan and while it’s generally just an amazing drone/dark ambient record, it takes some unexpected turns with strange samples and furious anger. It gets absolutely bombastic, thick & blissful, melodic static paving the way for sharp shimmer & delicate lullabies. It goes in a hundred different directions all at once, impossible to predict but infinitely awesome.
 


Duane PitreFeel Free (Important)
Duane’s a dude who’s been doing his minimal thing for years, under the radar and somehow missing his deserved notoriety, until Feel Free came out this year and everyone’s like “whoa this guy is fuckin rad.” Right you are, everyone. This is a group performance of his “Feel Free” composition, an electro-acoustic wonder bringing a much needed elegance to the table. Processed strings & guitars weave their drones through organic plucks & bows, softness & kindness found in every breath. A truly superb album that craves a wide-eyed audience.
 


Jon Mueller & James PlotkinTerminal Velocity (Taiga)
A match made in heaven, Mueller & Plotkin have taken their respective talents and bestowed upon us a grand work of art. Both enormous & subtle, it’s an album for deep focus, it stretches time like a meditation guru, taking a lifetime to dwell in one space and slowly crawling to a mass of heavy static drones and hypnotic drums. Listening to this will fundamentally change you.
 


Jute GyteIsolation (Jeshimoth Entertainment)
What the fucked up black metal for the twisted and depraved. One Missouri soul with a ridiculous amount of releases (10+ in less than 2 years), although not all of them hitting the black metal mark, Isolation is certainly a bizarre beast of hardened blackness. Screechy vocals, lurching rhythms coupled with machine gun blast beats, atonal & wonky guitars, tossing in a droning euphoric track in the middle to make sure you don’t go insane before the hour of demoralized noise is up. “Unique” doesn’t even come close.

Interviews

Life & Death Blues: Interview With Jon Mueller

Photographer: Kat Schleicher

 
Jon Mueller is as awesome as it gets. Bio, line one: “My aim is to help people listen and communicate.” One of the most worthy goals I can think of. Plus, the dude plays drums like nobody’s business, founded the continually overlooked Pele, Collections Of Colonies Of Bees, and Volcano Choir, has worked with an insane amount of respectables like Lionel Marchetti, Swans, Bhob Rainey, Rhys Chatham, Marcus Schmickler, and James Plotkin, and has put out killer albums on labels like Type, Important, and the sorely missed Table Of The Elements.

Death Blues is a project of Mueller’s that’s been long in the works. If the project’s name is what caught me first, the statement was a close second. It talks about death, how we live our lives when we grasp that death is inevitable, how to live in the present, and the importance of connecting with others when we all have mortality as common ground. Mueller’s concepts are being embodied in every format imaginable (“writing, recording, images, movement, video, taste, performance, and more”), but the main idea isn’t the media, rather using the media as a means to spark communication.

Mueller stopped by Boston recently on his short tour with James Plotkin in celebration of their new collab 2xLP Terminal Velocity on Taiga and, knowing a little about Death Blues, I was excited to talk to him about it in person. We chatted for a bit, but after I left, all I could think about was Death Blues, what it meant to him, how it came to be, all that good stuff. I’ve been a bit obsessed with death lately, so I also saw this as a great opportunity to talk with someone other than my wife about it.

I got in touch with Jon via email, asking about Death and blues, and got answers about Life and positivity. Not quite what I was expecting but certainly a pleasant surprise. I rambled on about every question that came to mind, from the metaphysical to the musical, and although I didn’t anticipate a response to all of it, he was kind enough to humor my excess & gloom. I’ve left my brainstormy overkill questions intact because why not.
 
AGB: Was there an epiphanic moment that you can trace the Death Blues project to? Did you encounter a lot of death before realizing the importance of being present in every moment? What kind of important moments do you remember as laying the foundation for the project? How long were you living life as hyper-aware before the project was conceived?

JM: There was a moment. I was walking around New Orleans for hours one morning, having just come out of an intense flu and antibiotics phase. I had never been to the city before, and wanted to see the most I could on foot before my plane left. During this walk, I thought a lot about what was next for me. I had some ideas about what I wanted to do musically, but I was hoping for some kind of context to put those ideas into. That hope led me toward questioning ‘why’ I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I dug as deep as I could dig into those answers, and with New Orleans as the backdrop, it started to reflect the fact that so many people lived in that city, understanding that another Katrina could, and likely would, happen again. This really struck me – identify what’s important to you and pursue understanding why those things are important to you.

So, the project has less to do about death, and more to do with life. The thing about death is that it’s coming for all of us. What are we doing right now to make the best experience we can have in this moment, even if the situation sucks, various problems exist, etc? We have the ability to enhance any situation.

And I wouldn’t say I’m “hyper-aware.” I’m just trying to understand things, as I assume everyone else is.
 

 
AGB: Death Blues’ mantra seems to focus more on the empowering “Seize the day” rather than the bleak “I might die right now,” but the name is still pretty dark. Did you intentionally lean towards the positive? Why did you chose that name? Also, you say in the Death Blues video (above), “No one likes to think about death, yet how often do we really think about living?” How have you balanced the light/dark conceptually with this project and in your own life?

JM: The positivity is completely intentional. It’s what I would prefer to experience.

I had a good conversation about the name with some people yesterday. Yes, it does sound dark and some have even told me I should change it. But this was part of the New Orleans experience I had. The fact that we have a limited time implies a potential negative, and blues has historically been a way to not only address, but also cope, with negative situations. ‘Celebrate life’ might be a perfect translation for the name, but it lacks the urgency and heaviness of the situation I wanted to be more apparent.

AGB: How did you go from “I’m going to die” to “Life is beautiful?” How has being present impacted your life?

JM: Every moment is a chance to consider positive or negative elements. This project is a reminder for me to make more thoughtful considerations.

AGB: The site calls Death Blues a multidisciplinary project, incorporating performance, video, writing, etc, but it’s certainly seen as your project. How much of a hand do you have in each aspect? How have you chosen people to participate?

JM: I’m involved in most aspects of it, yet other people have taken an interest and simply wanted to be involved. Initially, there were a few people I had to make requests to contribute, and explain the scope of the project. Most of them got it and have continued to be involved. But as time goes on, the idea is resonating with people I hadn’t even talked to about it, and they’ve contributed in ways they might not even have intended.
 

June 23, Lilypad

 
AGB: How would you say the music relates to the theme of Death Blues? You mentioned in our conversation before that this is harder music than you normally play. Did you initially set out to make it heavier? Why have you chosen this sound to embody Death Blues? I appreciate you making death themed music without relying on the usual death or black metal sound, but was venturing into that style ever a consideration?

JM: The musical portion of the project will focus on acoustic instrumentation and voice in a variety of contexts. Some of it is very hard. Powerful sound can create a positive feeling, and that’s what I’ve always been drawn to. There will be a variety of recordings that will approach this in different ways.

AGB: What sort of physical releases will be involved? Records, obviously, but what about DVDs/books/etc? When will we be able to hear/see something?

JM: I don’t have specifics on this right now, but the goal is to communicate the idea through a variety of forms.

AGB: How long do you foresee Death Blues lasting? Is there something like an end goal for the project or for yourself to be reached? Do you think there’s potential for the project to expand in medium & participation or more honed in on a particular medium as time goes on?

JM: It will potentially last for many years. I am in advanced stages of a grant selection that would certainly help determine this if it comes through. If so, there are a lot of elements that will take place over that time – performances, group discussions, talks, film, books, and more. If not, I will do as much as I can with the project through my own means, for as long as I can.
 
Death Blues has a few performances in the works right now as “band only,” including a set at Hopscotch (see you there!?), and the full multidisciplinary experience takes over Milwaukee in November. Also, consider this an open invitation to talk death. I’m all for it.

Concert Review

Pete Swanson, Jon Mueller & James Plotkin, Susan Alcorn, Rene Hell at Lilypad

Presented by Spectral Rehab

 
Rene Hell


 
Susan Alcorn


 
James Plotkin


 
Jon Mueller


 
Pete Swanson