Album Review

Death Blues – Ensemble (Rhythmplex, 2014)

death blues - ensemble album cover
Death BluesUnseen (Rhythmplex)

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Disclaimer: I was a bit heavy handed with the quotes in here because there’s just too much to not share. No apologies, just a heads up.

Jon Mueller has been working on his Death Blues project for a few years, addressing “the inevitability of death as impetus to become more present in each moment,” which is to say (and I’m paraphrasing a quote I can’t find the source of) Death Blues is as much about death as firemen are about fire. He’s put out a handful of releases as part of this project, including Mueller’s Death Blues debut on Taiga and the Here manifesto, all of which were variations of a visceral motorik transcendence founded on hammered guitar, propulsive percussion, and spiritual incantations, but this is different, a whole new beast.

Ensemble is the feather in the Death Blues hat, the fully formed masterpiece that seems as if Mueller had been planning this all along, because not only is there the record, a bright orchestral blossom aided by composer William Ryan Fritch and a bunch of other multi-talented musicians, but also a 16 page book of essays from seven of Mueller’s friends writing on loss, regret, and vulnerability, Mueller is hoping this “offers both a chance for people to escape within the work, and to then come out of it with a new perspective on their own situation. And ultimately, to consider what positive actions can be taken based on that new understanding.”

The music here is absolutely fucking incredible, it’s the score to the realization of the self, or more specifically, the self as finite, and every moment here is a triumph, an explosive but tender display of the world’s beauty, seeing past the pain & destruction into the positive, a hopeful potential way of life, these are rich, lush movements with cheering strings, majestic chords, yearning melodies, and bombastic climaxes, completely distinguished from the previous incarnations of Death Blues, the hammered guitars almost gone entirely, the wordless chants relinquished to the background of a few pieces, and now a much more dynamic song structure, this is downright pop in comparison, but this is the future Mueller intends, overwhelming & uplifting, take the bliss head on and proceed knowing fully your ultimate destiny.

As fantastic as the record is, I think I may even be more enamored with the essays, all of which speak to me on a fundamental level. There’s so much raw wisdom offered up, so many emotions & ideas that will take a long time to truly sink in.

Brent Gohde’s piece on suicide is the opener and he sets the mood for the remainder of the book when he proclaims “And there will come a day that I’ll sleep forever. But until then, I made a promise to wake up, if at all possible.”

David Ravel’s story of his father and wife dying, and watching them die, literally brought me to tears. His honesty is one that I feel will probably resonate with many: “We, all of us, die. This is not only true but also strikingly obvious. And yet, in spite of my experiences with death, I don’t think I’m smart enough or strong enough to practice the mindfulness that Jon encourages and us.”

Tom Lecky’s short abstract piece is a lipogram, which means he never uses the letter “i” and his explanation of why he chose this method is something I will always relate to: “The significance of that is quite obvious, and coincides with what I try to do with any creative act: kill the sense of self, destroy the idea of expression, make the act of making and the resulting thing the subject. I never want to be the subject. I, insofar as I am an individual, is not at all interesting to me artistically. The desire to obscure and see a self disappear is the goal.”

Stacy Blint writes a powerful multi-page stream of consciousness poem where she talks about being raped, having shitty parents, and the inherent difficulties of life.

Chris Koelle proved to me how similar people can be while having such starkly different belief systems. This is a man who seems deeply religious and believes lust to be an evil, a “slow motion suicide,” neither of which I identify with, but who also tries to find the fleeting moments of wonder in the world, which is something I also strive for, and I know this is a whole lotta stuff I’m about to quote but it’s just too fucking good. “I feel now as if the only heart I’ve ever had is a broken one, and healing don’t come easy. But somehow, there have been moments, and all the brokenness, of signs pointing toward Hope, of felt healing: through a friend’s gracious word, in a knowing smile, within a solid embrace and a mere, miraculous pat on the back. In split seconds of feeling the weight of the glory and beauty of this world press in, just for a moment, outweighing the crushing threat of despair from inside and out there.” And finally “This quiet shudder of being grateful is a gift I think I’ve experienced more and more frequently as I’ve gotten older. Which, when I stop and think about it, is really encouraging, considering the fact that the pains and problems of life become more acute the older we get. Perhaps that’s the very reason why this feeling of gratefulness wells up more and more as time goes on. Fire both consumes and refines.”

Faith Coloccia has an amazing piece on her “experience with exorcism, and sacrifice, having seen behind the veil of heaven in a nascent state” and how profoundly it has changed her outlook: “The blood is red, I cross the threshold into resurrection and the open eyes of life.”

Sally Haldorson concludes the book with a story of winning a poetry contest at a young age, the long lasting memory of her mother’s hand written book of poems, and what it’s like cleaning out your dead parents’ home.

The physical object that is Ensemble is a gorgeous piece of artwork, it’s a large hard covered book (different than an LP with bound pages inside) that’s adorned with artwork of masks made in the 1970s, and it has a slot in the back of the front cover for the vinyl. Absolutely amazing.

Death Blues’ Ensemble is something a written review can barely hope to explain. This is one of those rare times when the trope of “you need to experience it yourself to really understand” is 100% accurate. This is the whole package of concept & art perfectly realized, raising the bar for music, writing, and experimental projects of any kind. Ensemble might literally change your life, and will at the very least offer a totally unique experience, one that you’ll treasure for quite a while.

Album Review

Olan Mill – Hiraeth (Preservation, 2013)

olan mill - hiraeth album cover
Olan MillNeutrino (Preservation)

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This new Olan Mill is one gorgeous fucking record. Five smooth tracks of lush pastoral beauty, blooming with otherworldly sweetness and as tender as can be. The drone comes in all forms, from resonant angelic choirs and sweeping cinematic strings, to buried sustained tones and delicate piano keys, all layered in a harmonic perfection that wrings your heart dry, empties your tear ducts, and bathes you in a sunlight you never knew existed. There’s a deep sadness, so painful that the only shred of optimism to be found is in knowing that you’re still alive to feel it. Hiraeth is a record of such heavenly warmth and bittersweet bliss, I guarantee it alone will sustain you through the upcoming winter. Vinyl & CD available, with different artwork for each (fyi that’s the LP artwork up there).

Album Review

Andrew Weathers Ensemble – What Happens When We Stop (Full Spectrum, 2013)

Andrew Weathers Ensemble - What Happens When We Stop Cover album cover
Andrew Weathers EnsembleO/OU (Ensemble) (Full Spectrum)

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Another incredible album from my favoritest fucking guy. What Happens When We Stop is a cross country album, started in North Carolina with Weathers’ buds, elaborated on the road headed out west, and finished up with his pals in California. This one’s just as wonderful as the last, Guilford County Songs, but still not quite as masterful as the debut, We’re Not Cautious. There’s a notable lack of prominent banjo, and I fucking love the banjo, but a big focus on the guitar, more so than before, which is awesome because the guitar work just gets better with each release. Everything is just as warm and incomparably serene as ever, old American folk perfectly melded with contemporary drone & neo-classical, subtle electronics peaking through the twinkling piano, harmoniums humming beneath hypnotic acoustic strumming, but Weathers’ voice has changed a bit, a lower tone and letting his drawl shine through, a little disorienting at first, but it still works beautifully, and honestly, the guitar, just so fucking sweet with those drones, I could listen to Weathers pick away all day with the strings & brass & reeds & everything else droning in the backseat, it’s the most heavenly sound you can get. This dude is unstoppably awesome and I will devour everything he throws at us. You should probably join me in my devouring and pick this up, it comes with a sexy photo book with the work of Aaron Canipe, so you’re definitely getting your money’s worth.

Album Review

Mary Lattimore – The Withdrawing Room (Desire Path, 2013)

Mary Lattimore – Pluto The Planet (Desire Path)

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An exquisite debut from Mary Lattimore, working a wonderful magic on her harp, doing for the harp what Fahey & Basho did for the guitar, offering one of the most serene & lovely records, for drinking tea and watching the sun rise in your green room, subtly layered & picking so soft it’s barely audible, whispers silenced in the breeze, matched perfectly with exotic electronics conjuring peepers & nightowls, so peaceable that the necessary Bell Jar breakdown in the middle of the A side almost undoes everything that precedes it, but it recovers, restores a beautiful order, and nearly forgotten in sweet bliss by the end of the whole thing, drowned in a minimally lush majesty. Desire Path keeping their flawless batting average up with this one, such a stellar record, and all the more exciting since it’s her solo debut. Available on April 1 and only 300 pressed, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Album Review

Damian Valles – Nonparallel (In Four Movements) (Experimedia, 2012)

Damian VallesMovement III (Experimedia)

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Oh man, this is the besssst. Damian Valles, the multi-talented Canadian curator of the Rural Route series on Standard Form, has done some incredible reappropriating on Nonparallel. He’s taken a hefty collection of old classical Nonesuch LPs from the 60s & 70s and Jeckified them. Ripping the crackle straight from the dusty grooves and bathing the vintage strings in a dark glow, he gives a whole new meaning to neo-classical. And the drones Valles spins are some of my favorite kind, lush as fuck, with pops & clicks turned into a dozen muted typewriters, warm tones with buried melodies, vaguely threatening in the most blissful way, earthy & rich, layers and sheets of suffocating ambience, classical pianos melted in a cauldron of dark drones, something wholly original born out of forgotten thrift store relics. A fucking winner if I’ve ever seen one. Available in your favorite format at Experimedia very soon, but lets face it, if you pick this up on anything other than vinyl, you’re doing it wrong.

Album Review

Kyle Bobby Dunn – Bring Me The Head Of… (Low Point, 2012)

Kyle Bobby DunnEnding Of All Odds (Low Point)

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Honestly, I thought Ways Of Meaning would be the last Kyle Bobby Dunn record I wrote about. It was his best yet and he’s gotten big enough that I’m hardly doing anybody any favors by plugging the same dude. But then Bring Me The Head Of Kyle Bobby Dunn comes out and it’s got the album title of the year and it’s a 2 hour long double disc on Low Point and it’s just as good if not better than his last one. So, fuck. I gotta. This is fucking outstanding. A slight progression from Ways Of Meaning, Dunn is further refining the passionate & delicate sounds of the ether. The power of this lies in its depth and breadth, it has both quantity & quality, a wide open sky, free of clouds, absolutely pure, and without boundaries. The tracks flow perfectly into each other, an endless supply of next-level bliss. Nothing stands out, everything fits, and the warmth has no limits, wholly encompassing your every fiber, a homogenous universe of total perfection, taking everything you love about Dunn, stretching it out, extracting the positive, and wrapping it in eye-opening brilliance. When this drops next month, make sure you take a couple days off work because listening to this is all you’re going to want to do.

Album Review

Book Of Sand – Mourning Star (Music Ruins Lives, 2012)

Book Of SandFits And Starts (Music Ruins Lives)

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It’s been at least a couple years since I’ve written about Book Of Sand (How Beautiful To Walk Free), or his previous doom project Light (A Million Dead Beneath The Ice and Life Is Meaningless & Goes On Forever, so I’ll forgive you if you don’t remember him. But only partially because this dude has always been the fucking best. Don’t forget it. His new one, Mourning Star, is packed up all sexy-like courtesy of MRL and might be his best one yet. Black metal doesn’t even begin to describe this beast. This dude is a master genre bender, using black metal as a melting pot to throw in everything from doom to neo-classical. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to get your brain situated, raw discordant riffs starting off mostly in synch until they devolve into a sloppy mess of noise, furiously relentless drums, tortured screams, drunken lurching doom, slow & massive, burnt & charred Americana guitars, caked in ancient dust and disintegrating before your eyes, atonal strings turning a blackened nightmare into a ghostly eulogy, xylophones plinking away in some distant room in the corner of a rotting mansion, at times atmospheric and ephemeral or in your face and undeniable, but always churning your stomach, brutal, tasteful, and wholly fucking original. Book Of Sand is at the top of his game, Mourning Star giving you everything you want from 21st century black metal. He’s fucking doing it and you fucking need it.

Album Review

Andrew Weathers Ensemble – Guilford County Songs (Full Spectrum, 2012)

Andrew Weathers EnsembleSkin Holding Atoms In (Full Spectrum)

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A new Andrew Weathers Ensemble album! For those that don’t recall, the record they put out last year, We’re Not Cautious, was number 2 on my Top 10 Drone Records, so a new one is obviously quite exciting. Here they’re stripped down to a quartet with just a banjo, and some harmonicas, strings, guitars, the occasional saxophone, and, of course, their wonderful voices. One of the best things about Cautious was how lush everything was, which is a little lost here, but not by necessity, rather by choice. There are some very thick and warm sounds, especially when all four players are going strong, but a lot of the times it’s just one or two of them, maybe just the two cellos, or a solo banjo (the best), or even just the harmonicas (also the best), and then it can get quite sparse, and I imagine the others setting their instruments down just to watch their pals do their thing, getting really into it, and watching with reverence & camaraderie, until they feel moved enough to pick up their musicmakers again and join in. There’s such a feeling of warmth and friendship on here, even when it gets dark and sounds like Constellation-style neo-chamber music, the intimacy still reigns, and you’re right there with them, part of the sound, and you want to sing out and join the chorus supporting Weathers’ richly dominant lead. Guilford County Songs doesn’t quite match the untouchable greatness of We’re Not Cautious, but what this Ensemble does is so captivating and life enriching, that anything they put out is a winner.

Album Review

Christina Vantzou – Nº. 1 DVD & Remixes (self released, 2012)

Everyone should remember Christina Vantzou’s gorgeous Nº. 1 on Kranky last year. And if for some reason you passed over it, let me be the last to tell you that it’s fantastic. She’s one half of The Dead Texan, the other half of whom is Adam Wiltzie, one of the dudes from Stars Of The Lid. Nº. 1 is the Kranky release that got overshadowed by A Winged Victory For The Sullen, another Wiltzie duo, this time with Dustin O’Halloran. But all of this is just precursor, and only for those of you who are unaware, which I hope is few and far between.

So in addition to but separate from the Nº. 1 release on Kranky, Vantzou put out on her own a film accompaniment to the album and a slew of remixes of tracks from Nº. 1. The contributors to the remix project are an insanely awesome bunch: Koen Holtkamp, Loscil, Ben Vida, Dustin O’Halloran, White Rainbow, Robert Lippok, Ernest Gibson III, Montgomery Knott, Isan, and there’s even a new Dead Texan track at the end. All of their takes on Vantzou’s subtleties are just as grand and wonderful as Nº. 1.

And the movie is stunning (trailer is below). It’s 47 minutes, running parallel to the record, although it’s broken up into chapters that don’t necessarily coincide with songs. There’s a golden beauty to it, with lots of found footage manipulated to meet Vantzou’s high standards of quality, taking everything from large crowds to intimate portraits, expansive mountain ranges to solitary swaying trees, and adding a layer of flickering patina to make it all shine. There’s an especially peaceful segment of planes flying through the clouds, as shot from another nearby plane. Truly stunning.

The movie is only available physically through Vantzou’s site and it comes with the remixes. Or you could just knab the remixes digitally and forgo the exceptional video experience. Your choice. But I will judge you if you ignore the movie.

Album Review

Myrmyr – Fire Star (Under The Spire, 2011)

MyrmyrFire Serpent’s Lull (Under The Spire)

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Two lovely ladies (Agnes Szelag from Evon & Dokuro and Marielle Jakobsons from Darwinsbitch & Date Palms) making exquisite electro-acoustic tunes (heavy on the acoustic). Lots of delicate syrupy strings, like liquid lace being stretched to its thinnest. Looped into charming beats with handclaps, plucked strings, bells, accordions, like Animal Hospital teaming with Eluvium, except with more pep in its step. Sadness & somber darkness abound, weaving seamlessly with moments of cheering reprieve. The electronics are an understatement, not a crutch, slightly bending the acoustics or adding an element of static otherwise unavailable. Culminates in a long heaving drone, blissful, a perfect closer. Recorded on Shasta Mountain during a snowstorm, Fire Star is a very warm record, one of solitude. A triumph if I’ve ever heard one.

Album Review

Lüüp – Cream Sky

LüüpCream Sky

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Lüüp make some charming folky weirdness in a way that the “new weird folk” or whatever the fuck it was called could never possibly come up with. Lead by Stelios Romaliadis, the new Meadow Rituals album on Experimedia is filled with almost 20 people bending genres in a way I’ve yet to hear. There’s no map for the place they’ve gone, somewhere off in the New Age classical folk drone land.

Not all of the tracks appeal to me, there’s lots of vocals & flutes giving off a fantasy vibe that just doesn’t rub me the right way, but “Cream Sky” is a perfect example of where they dance line, staggering ever so closely to the dreaded cheese zone but ending up with something totally fucking great. There’s plenty of classy instruments, making a warm and airy atmosphere, then tossing in some reversed sounds to spice things up. The deep resonant vocals eventually come in, flowing like silk through the forest, a wondrous & light hearted dream, and finishing with looped hand claps and mouth clicks. Super cool stuff, especially when heard in the context of the whole record.

Album Review

Kyle Bobby Dunn – Ways Of Meaning (Desire Path, 2011)

Kyle Bobby DunnCanyon Meadows

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Kyle Bobby Dunn is making his way up the charts, through the ranks of hundreds of new droners, getting press & praise everywhere he goes, and making me giddy every time a new album comes out. A full length is up next on Desire Path and it is certain, outlook is good, signs point to yes, without a doubt, Ways Of Meaning is my favorite KBD record yet.

This new album continues what Dunn does best, overwhelming beauty without relying on crescendos or building to grandeur, understated & impeccably paired tones, but it progresses beyond the straight-faced neo-classical sounds from before and works toward something warmer, more light hearted, attention grabbing, and overtly pleasing. Meaning is primarily guitar & organ based, giving it an exceptionally church-like vibe without any of the religious or epic connotations. It’s easy to imagine how incredible these drones would be resonating through a church, making me hate myself all the more for missing Dunn’s performance at the First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn last year.

The album works insanely well as a whole, one cohesive life-shroud of smothering brilliance, but each individual song is astonishing on its own. “Canyon Meadows” is one of the most gloriously uplifting drone pieces I’ve heard in a long time, it perfectly embodies an open field untouched by man, blues & greens saturated by golden hour, subtle shimmering & glistening sun on stillwater, the incomparable feeling of napping in a warm sunlight bath after days of dreary rain. Everything about the song glows hope and happiness.

This is the most delicate bliss I’ve ever experienced. 100% shining purity that doesn’t need to be cranked to 11 to get the job done. It swirls softly & effortlessly turns hearts into puddles of droney delight. To say this album is absolutely gorgeous is an understatement, and even though I always have high expectations for a new KBD record, this one still surprised me. I can’t stress enough how incredible it is. If your lazy ass is thinking “Ok, I’ll get around to it,” FORGET IT. Make this a priority and don’t sleep on it. You’ll be a sad sad person.

Ways Of Meaning officially comes out on May 3rd, with Desire Path giving it not only the usual LP & digital niceties, but also going full on “special art edition.” If you remember what they did for Solo Andata’s Ritual art edition (and minimally glamorous box set!) then you’re probably wetting your pants right about now.

Album Review

Aaron Martin – Worried About The Fire (Experimedia, 2010)

Aaron MartinBeaver Falls

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I feel like Aaron Martin may be a name everyone knows but maybe not too many people actually listen to? Or maybe just not write about? I don’t see his name popping up as often as it should, I guess because he’s not one to ever get a lot of hype. I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT. This Kansas dude is fucking knocking it out of the park with every album. His latest full length on Experimedia is no different.

Worried About The Fire is a dark & beautiful drone fest with dozens of sound makers: cellos, violins, saws, bowls, free reeds, and presumably anything else within arms reach. Martin dips into the processing world, too, manipulating the analog, bending it in ways that still fit the natural aesthetic that embodies The Fire. There are purely acoustic tracks like “Water Tongue” with its building string layers that are unbelievably beautiful, so elegiac and somber. And then there’s the highly fucked with “Marked In Dust” that buzzes like a generator, pulses like a swarm of cicadas, and flurries like spiraling snowflakes.

For what’s primarily a drone record, the songs are incredibly short. All but one are under four minutes long, making it feel more fast paced than is typical. This sounds like a Constellation release that’s a cross between Zomes’ self titled and Et Ret’s brief ambient violin loops on Gasworks. And seriously, Constellation, Zomes, and Et Ret are three of my favorite things ever, so that comparison is giving some high fuckin praise. My opinion with drone is make it as long as humanly possible, or take The Fire approach, take something that is usually static and make it dynamic enough that a three minute piece is still endlessly interesting.

I love this record because I’m never entirely sure what it is that I’m feeling. It’s not confusion, just a difficulty in pinpointing the emotions. It’s almost but not quite warm, cold, blissful, and unsettling. It walks a fine line of creation that results in something that’s inarguably gorgeous but open for interpretation in every other way. Just make sure your interpretation stems from the vinyl experience.