Tone Glow 073: Our Favorite Songs, April-June 2021

Tone Glow's writers highlight 30 songs from the year's second quarter

Here we are: 30 songs we loved from the year’s second quarter, that we hope you love too. Pardon the tardiness—we’re two months late—but good music has no expiration date. Enjoy. —Joshua Minsoo Kim


WE ROB RAVE - “NOSTALGIA” (self-released)

Pzg & Dubsknit’s sixth installment of the WE ROB RAVE series is a euphoric buffet of dance music riches: hardcore, gabber, jungle, breakbeat. The most expertly crafted track is “FUNKY BOI,” which takes Chaah’s “Funkiness of You” and transforms it into a multi-part odyssey that culminates in a guns-blazing jungle spectacle. The other highlight, and the track that has the most emotional weight, is “NOSTALGIA.” It too samples a hardcore track (Tom Parr’s “Missing You”), and it only took a couple listens for me to realize how much its construction means to me.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely aware that Tone Glow hasn’t been updated in a month. The fact we’re publishing a Q2 issue at the end of August is preposterous for anyone who cares about timeliness. A past version of me would’ve stressed endlessly about this, but I don’t really mind anymore; I started teaching again a few weeks ago (in person!), and it was immediately clear that all my priorities should shift to ensuring my students are given the best possible experiences. That’s meant as many labs and demos and activities as possible—anything to get them on their feet, talking with each other, and learning in a way that helps them forget the hell that was Zoom schooling. It’s meant 100+ minutes of commuting each day, waking up at 4am, coming in on weekends to prep, and utter exhaustion when arriving home each day. It’s also meant seeing kids happy when entering class, and me being called their favorite teacher all before Labor Day.

When I listen to “NOSTALGIA,” I think about the juxtaposition of its two main passages. The song’s wistful lyrics speak of a past love, and the massive gabber-like thumping serves as a reprieve from pain and a sudden hurtling into the future. It’s a moment of clarity amid the storm, of recognizing that looking to the past can only ever be temporary. That it’s so relentless, almost mindlessly so, is inspiring. It’s how life has felt for me this past month: it’s already the end of August, and while the specifics are murky, I can assure you that I went all-out. And I think that’s all that really matters for me, that I did the best I could. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way on my deathbed, too. —Joshua Minsoo Kim

Listen to WE ROB RAVE 6 at Bandcamp.

長谷川白紙 (Hakushi Hasegawa) + 諭吉佳作/men - “巣食いのて” (Moment Scale Inc.)

There was this science museum I loved visiting as a kid; they had this one spinning ride out back where you were pinned to the wall of a huge gyrating cylinder by centrifugal force, where the laws of physics prevented you from falling and dying the way your senses told you you were going to. I haven’t gone on a ride like that in many years, but hearing “巣食いのて” for the first time was evocative of the experience—which is to say it blew my mind wide fucking open. I can’t overstate its immediate visceral impact: It carries a density of sonic information impossible to unpack in just a few hundred words, barreling past at a speed that defies attempts by description to arrest its movement. The most persistent motif—a frenetic pattern of alternating notes embedded in rhythmic barrages of noise—doesn’t rely on a tidy syncopated (or otherwise metered) logic; sheer forward momentum is the only thing holding it together. However, “巣食いのて” is still a pop song—one that takes full advantage of how open pop form is at its core. 諭吉佳作/men’s vocals are what most clearly demarcate verse/chorus, providing a structural throughline that allows all the rapid-fire mutations, modulations, and other tricks up 長谷川白紙’s sleeve to form a continuous stream of brain-melting novelty without devolving into pure chaos. Voice and accompaniment are thoroughly interwoven, the latter’s timing and timbres in tight sync with the former’s. “巣食いのて” does a remarkable job of making you think that, at any moment, everything could go off the rails. But once you’re aware of the illusion, that anxiety becomes a thrill, an edge-of-your-seat adrenaline rush; as soon as I’d gotten my first dose, I pressed replay—I had to ride again. —Jinhyung Kim

Yoshinori Hayashi - “Go With Us” (Smalltown Supersound)

Pulse of Defiance, Yoshinori Hayashi’s third release on Smalltown Supersound, is a sublime work of avant-dance that revels in clashing textures, jazzy, off-angle riffs, pillowy nuggets of sound that crinkle and fold like laugh-lines; the effect is both warmly nostalgic (I’m reminded of the quirkier turns of Polygon Window) and breathtakingly futuristic. “Go With Us” is one of the album’s more conventional tracks, but it’s still stuffed to the gills with delightful left-field details: frayed pads that loll back and forth like quiet shoreline waves: bubbling squawks, shimmering breaks and cymbals bathed in light: a swaying, puffy bass oscillation upon which the whole thing teeters like a house of cards. It’s music that feels lived-in, self-confident, uncompromised; something that can be played at any volume without sacrificing its essence. Dozens of listens later, it’s never lost its enchanting spark. —Maxie Younger

Listen to Pulse of Defiance at Bandcamp.

Ryabina - “Ellipse” (ФАКТУРА)

I came across this track in a recent tracklist-less mix. Thankfully, someone happened to know the ID. There is little information on the artist and label, both of which appear to be Russian. What I do know, however, is that Russian labels like Gost Zvuk have been putting out some of the most memorable weird and freeform lo-fi electronic music of the last few years. There’s often a wonderfully free and honest “first wave” bedroom energy to these kinds of records; people in sometimes quite remote regions of Russia just happily twiddling knobs to their own liking, with little concern for club functionality or ossified “scene” signifiers.

“Ellipse” is no exception, coming in with a fat, saturated 808-ish breakbeat rhythm accentuated by nicely crunched up, swinging hats. Far away in the mix, reverberant claves fill out of the sonic atmosphere. In the center, gorgeously filtered chords bloom with warm, damp reverb and are being dubbed into vivid tape delay feedback that, every now and then, pushes into gnarly, visceral self oscillation— a trick as old as it is irresistable. Ryabina know their dub fundamentals: Make a proper groove, color it, dub it and grow a little sonic world. —Vincent Jenewein

Listen to Dedicated to P at Bandcamp.

Gaba Cannal - “Shona Le” (feat. E_Clips Mzansi) (NTS)

To describe amapiano in a single phrase, one could simply say “house music from South Africa.” A more useful definition might be something like “house music drawing from the lineage of South-African pop and dance music.” This influence is felt strongly in the emphasis on intricate cross-rhythms played on a whole variety of shakers, handclaps, and log drums to provide the momentum for each track, rather than the 4/4 kick drum that is standard in the west. However it gets described, that the first release from NTS Records is a compilation of the genre should be evidence enough of both amapiano’s appeal to Western audiences and its status as a hot-ticket item in dance music right now. It’s important to note that it’s not just exotic fad-jumping that has brought amapiano to this level of popularity, though. The emphasis on Sub-Saharan cross-rhythms is a complete structural difference from traditional house music, and in my mind an important one.

“Shona Le,” the lead single from Amapiano Now, is one of the best amapiano tracks I’ve heard and a good highlight of what makes it stand out from Western house. The patient opening, common to the genre, spends almost a full minute with nothing but shakers, handclaps, and a bassline, outlining the asymmetrical loop that forms the core of the track. While short synth and vocal melodies dance on top, the clever arrangement lets the shakers stay constant while the counter-rhythm smoothly passes from one instrument to another, a relay race in the percussion section which irresistibly pushes the track forward. From this foundation a whole song eventually erupts, all booming vocals and jazzy chords played on smooth synths, before fading back away into the rhythm, as if it were eternal. —Samuel McLemore

Listen to Amapiano Now at NTS.

Dopolarians - “The Emergence” (Mahakala Music)

Dopolarians, the mutating collective of inscrutable history, has existed in some capacity for decades. On The Bond—only their second LP ever—that history is on full display in the form of a total ease between the core players. The whole album is strong, and if “The Emergence” is the best track, it may just be because there’s more of it. Here, there is no dominant style, but an endless series of lateral shifts. The ensemble pivots again and again, from free-jazz freakouts to spiritual-jazz crooning, with detours through blues, lounge, and minimalist grooves. There are lilting passages in which only one or two players are active, sometimes interrupted by a burst of saxophone, or thunderous clang of drums. Although William Parker is probably the most well-known name on the lineup, he keeps a relatively low profile here. Indeed, there are no star players. The sparser passages allow us to follow this or that instrument more closely, but they never feel like traditional solos. Even Kelley Hurt’s vocalisations play and leap around the other instruments, rather than straining to rise above them. “The Emergence” is a journey that runs as long as many classic jazz LPs, and even on its own, it might be as strong as them, too. —Mark Cutler

Listen to The Bond at Bandcamp.

Vijay Masharani & Flashlight O - “True” (Orb Tapes)

I might have to use this on my landlord finds its structure in its transitions between musical materials. There is the sense that these songs are always in movement: they break apart, cut, and careen into entirely distinct and unexpected sonic spaces in the span of a single song. 

Each track uses its form to deny the listener a stable and cohesive listening experience: we are left spiraling between materials, with the threadbare structure of each song seemingly on the edge of tearing. This formal quality is very much by design: Written during this year’s catastrophic eviction crisis, Masharani and Flashlight O sound the violence of landlord and state through the curation of each sample and the form it inhabits. 

“True” opens with Flashlight O’s searching and delicate vocals. This moment resembles some kind of solo performance of Pauline Oliveros’s Sonic Meditations X, transformed into an ensemble piece through the DAW. While Oliveros’s Sonic Meditations use sound to establish an attunement between performers, Flashlight O’s solo vocalizations seem to highlight the performer’s confinement and separateness—there is no one else to respond and no other performer to resemble. These vocalizations are drenched in a digital reverb that evokes some impossible space—the listener wonders where Flashlight O is, or where they wish to be. Masharani’s rugged, sample driven beats enter 50 seconds in, rupturing the track’s subtle vocal textures. There is a bleak quality to this moment that is clarified at 1:45 with a haunting sample of a landlord threatening their tenant. The violence suggested throughout this record is finally made explicit as the landlord calls up the joint powers of the state and police. The effect is absolutely devastating. —Dominic Coles

Listen to I might have to use this on my landlord at Bandcamp.

RXK Nephew - “Early Age Death” (Towhead)

“I don’t give a fuck what people think of me” is almost always a defensive stance and not a literal admission of one’s feelings. The people who genuinely “don’t give a fuck” about others’ feelings aren’t cool-loner types who make sure to pout and brood where they know people can see them, nor are they the attention-starved edgelords who flash “ain’t-I-a-stinker?” grins between “jokes” that read like Hate Speech Mad Libs. No, people who genuinely, truly do not give a fuck are terrifying enigmas, people with inscrutable motives who always seem two steps away from turning to cannibalism out of sheer boredom. They are people like RXK Nephew.

The thing about a song like “Early Age Death” isn’t just that it’s hateful, nihilistic and amoral—it’s also that it’s extremely confusing. As on his already-infamous nine-minute rant “American Tterroristt,” RXK Nephew is free-associating at whiplash-inducing speed here, such as when, in the span of 20 seconds, a list of random acts of violence leads to a tangent about which brands of cars he hates, which then careens into the line “chain look like two monkeys fuckin’.” It’s not just his extreme volatility that makes him unpredictable, but also his talent for comedic misdirection, which is how you get absolutely bonkers verses like “I killed the n***a who made this beat / I killed my momma for having me / I killed my daddy for fuckin’ my momma / I killed my momma just for being my momma.” (Which is maybe the funniest non-rhyming, mom-killing punchline in rap since Ganksta N-I-P’s “Bitch, I can’t be beaten / My momma hit me yesterday, her funeral’s next week.”) It’s his level of conviction, though, that makes it borderline-scary—even if I don’t believe that he’s literally going to kill both his parents, the edge in his voice convinces me that he’s well on the way to doing something comparably awful eventually. With that in mind, let’s cherish this brief, comparatively uncomplicated cultural moment before critics like me have to start writing about him with disclaimers like “in spite of recent events,” or “ignoring the real-life context behind this song,” or “forgetting for a second that he once started a fistfight in a palliative care ward,” and so on.

Oh, and since I haven’t mentioned the beat yet: it sounds like someone punching a shopping cart at a rave. Under normal circumstances I would call it “stress-inducing,” but in context, I have to qualify it as “subtle.” “Pleasant,” even. —Vivi Hansen

Listen to Slitherman Activated at YouTube.

Caroline Shaw & Sō Percussion - “Other Song” (Nonesuch)

For people cooler than I who actually pay attention to the Pulitzer, Caroline Shaw is known as the youngest recipient of the coveted award, but it wasn’t until a few years later when I first discovered her—through her scrumptious vocal arrangements on Kanye West’s “Wolves” on The Life of Pablo. That was the moment for me where this artist crossed a threshold into this very rare territory of classical composers who could bridge the chasm into pop music, or vice versa, and I get a little chuckle at picturing classical listeners hearing “You left your fridge open, somebody just took a sandwich” or hip-hop listeners hearing Partita for 8 Voices. Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part is her latest album, backed by playful experimental percussion group Sō Percussion, and this is new territory for her since these are actual songs, with her vocals as lead, all dazzling hooks and a neat tangle of rhythm.

Shaw sounds so magnificent, as if she’d been singing lead all her life. Around a minute into album highlight “Other Song,” she sings “The melody…,” slowly adjusting her pitch lower as she finishes the word. Then she sings “…climbs…,” hitting a higher note and doing the same thing, pushing her pitch back down. And finally, she finishes: “Higher.” Again: She hits a higher note to start, brings her pitch down, but as this is the release, there’s an upswing on the “-er” where she sends it even further up. That’s boring barely-coherent techno-mumbo-jumbo (please just go listen to it), but what I am trying to convey is that this is a captivating piece of vocal precision wherein she accomplishes exactly what her lyrics state: “The melody climbs higher.”

Halfway through the song, Sō Percussion adds what sounds very much like guitar feedback that gets thrown into the rhythmic mass such that it sounds like Shaw is singing as a dark cloud manifests behind her. It’s at that precise moment where I realize that all boundaries are blurred now: Is this classical music simply because the composer is a renown classical artist, or is this pop music because it has pop song structure and melodies? Here’s the kicker: Does it matter? —Marshall Gu

Listen to Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part at Bandcamp.

Alpaca Fur Rug - “Simmer” (self-released)

I won’t bury the lede: Alpaca Fur Rug does more and aims higher in a minute and change than other artists muster over the course of whole albums. “Simmer” is a delirious espresso shot of freak-folk refracted through eight-dimensional, head-bursting sound design; it wastes no time and takes no prisoners. There’s no better bang for your buck that I’ve heard this quarter. —Maxie Younger

Listen to “Lounging in a Messi Jersey” b​/​w “Simmer” at Bandcamp.

Yes Junior 24 - “We Are Next Up!” (feat. Futuristic Swaver) (ATO)

Those following hyperpop strictly via English-language coverage and the Spotify playlist are likely to overlook how much of it is popping up around the world, from Spain to Russia to China to Japan. While it’s easy to see this as a wholly online phenomenon, it would be remiss to talk about, for example, the hyperpop scene in China or Taiwan without noting all the trance music that local producers churn out. For Korea, some of the most noteworthy hyperpop artists are part of the trollishly-named Flat Earth Society, and Yes Junior 24’s “We Are Next Up!” is one of the country’s best hyperpop tracks.

It features Futuristic Swaver, a rapper and producer who’s been prolific throughout the past half-decade, and has been instrumental in the country’s underground SoundCloud rap scene, which has taken influence from Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, emo rap, and more in recent years. Here, Yes Junior 24 employs stuttering vocals reminiscent of Yungster Jack and David Shawty’s work, and there’s breakbeats too (he’s a fan of dltzk). The confetti-like production doesn’t ever aim for ecstatic dramatics, though, and while it’s far more rambunctious than the country’s low-key AutoTune-drenched R&B and rap (typified by Yuzion), it’s hard not to see this all as part of the same Gen Z, internet-music milieu (one could look at Lil Kirby & yaon’s post-Bladee music as some sort of connective tissue).

Curiously, Q2 also saw K-pop group Seventeen become the first Korean idol group to make a hyperpop track with “GAM3 BO1.” As with much of K-pop, this riffing on a pop music trend is folded into more glossy production, and feels sanitized enough that it strips certain hallmarks (in this case, the same vocal stutters) of their original context. While it’s an excellent song, Yes Junior 24’s “We Are Next Up!” grants a look into a more honest cross-cultural exchange while remaining embedded in Korea’s underground rap scene. Given that K-pop has been responsible for most of the country’s best music for decades, it’s always a delight to be surprised by music outside of the industry, especially with stuff that could never be spotless enough for a major label to fully co-opt. —Joshua Minsoo Kim

Listen to Yes Junior 24’s music at SoundCloud.

Trippie Redd - “Miss the Rage” (feat. Playboi Carti) (1400 / 10K)

Goddamn that beat man. Loesoe’s a supernova, an enabler of invincibility, stoking vibes of stratospheric proportions. Carti and Trippie are just along for the ride, headbanging and basking in the glory. This is aspirational music, especially in the wake of the pandemic. These boys missed the rage and now they’re getting it back. Given the state of COVID it might be optimistic, irresponsible even to charge full force into raging, but the thought remains. It feels like I’ve been writing about how much I miss concerts and mosh pits and pit sweat for more than 2 years now and we’re in this liminal status quo that almost can’t be measured, so bangers like “Miss The Rage” are our way of making sense of everything. —Eli Schoop

Listen to Trip at Knight at YouTube.

Yves Tumor - “Jackie” (Warp)

There’s this quality to the best work of Yves Tumor that sounds unforced and second nature, even when it’s obvious that he’s trying hats outside of the type of music a Black artist is expected to make. With “Jackie,” the opening song of his new EP The Asymptotic World, he’s playing with the Coldplay formula and transcending it. Somehow the stadium rock thing that Coldplay does (and that I am allergic to) works great here, the song dissolving my cynicism and sucking me into the big rock utopia that once had some credibility and now sounds calculated and codified to death. At times I think Tumor is aiming for a sort of Black Beck target, at least the Beck of Midnight Vultures, but the beauty of it is that he sounds like he was always writing material like this; part of his charm is just that—the way he plays with rock tropes that seemed completely exhausted and are then revitalized for three minutes. I no longer have time for stadium rock but Tumor somehow manages to put the spell on me with a perfect summer song. When I analyze it I get a simple but effective riff, the big sound expected for the genre, and a vocal line that playfully mimics Chris Martin’s syrupy voice while at the same time saying “I can write a tune like this in my sleep,” thus demystifying the sound and grounding it to the earth. When the song is playing, though, all of this hindsight and critical distance disappears and for the duration of the song I become a believer. —Gil Sansón

Listen to The Asymptomatical World at Bandcamp.

Croatian Amor & Varg2TM - “Fluffy” (feat. LYZZA) (Posh Isolation)

Hearing the title “Fluffy” against the sleek, futuristic sheen of a club song is already dissonant enough in itself. And contrasted with Croatian Amor’s decade-long body of largely ambient work, the fluorescent glitch pop and epic collage of the Varg²™ collaboration Body of Content transforms this closing track into something truly titular, a sound paradoxical like the sprawling puffiness of a AI-generated image. But it’s 19-year-old Brazilian club diva LYZZA’s vocals that transmute “Fluffy” into something greater: While clear and passionate, she remains powerfully mechanical when she sings, blurring the fine line between the already strict musicality of her natural voice and the digital artifacts that Loke Rahbek diffuses her lines into. “I shoulda let you go, but even if I tried, tried, tried, far away from you,” she cries, “now I’m in it for the ride, got me up and close and personal.” She is meticulous in her inflection: the insistence on the last tried in the trifecta, the rapid, bladed dance between up and close and personal. Complemented with Rahbek’s unusually straightforward electropop, they create a track that rings chillingly modern. And after a long year of increasingly aestheticized and threadbare hyperpop— Femmedorm, Cake Pop 2, Apple, etc.— it’s refreshing to hear a maximalist, deconstructed pop song so firmly steeped in breathless sincerity. —Zhenzhen Yu

Listen to Body of Content at Bandcamp.

Nick Hoffman - “Stabat Mater (Pergolesi)” (Pilgrim Talk)

In the 1800s in Europe, it wasn’t unusual to play Bach with a Romantic sensibility—i.e. with rubato, virtuosic extensions, supplementary harmonies, and other lyric-expressive tools familiar to the era. With the rise of period performance in the 20th century, as well as increased attention to the conundra of translating Baroque practice for modern instrumental vocabularies, this became obsolete and gave way to approaches which, though diverse, have produced the stereotypes (regality, reserve, etc.) that the average person today associates with the Baroque. It’s easy to write off the Romantic Bach tradition as a historical footnote, an embarrassing (and perhaps sacrilegious) ignorance of the past in favor of contemporary trends and personal whims. But it’s too rich of a legacy to sweep under the rug, especially since Bach’s compositions contain a wealth of latent interpretive possibility that by no means is beholden to specific instrumentation or timbral parameters. The oscillator-and-Vocaloid gimmick behind Hoffman’s takes on select Early music hits on Parallel Bars seems made to offend any classical listener as much as an unashamedly Romantic approach to Bach would repel many a classical musician. Although the former might feel like a bigger stretch, both lie far outside the realm of anything a Renaissance or Baroque composer could have imagined, and both erase certain nuances in the original texts while drawing out others to create something artistically distinct—yet no less valid.

That being said, there are plenty of moments that hit the mark precisely because they’re sacrilegious. Trills (some end-of-phrase ones show up on “Stabat Mater (Pergolesi)”) are rendered so mechanically that they’re never less than totally jarring; what’s supposed to be a unified gestural effect stands naked for what it literally is. It’s always ridiculous, and it always leaves me grinning. However, this process of automation is often sincerely rewarding: In the case of the first movement of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, it transforms an intensely contrapuntal duet into a bifurcated solo. Vocaloid imitates Vocaloid in the way only two mirrors facing each other can, ascending heavenward in intervallic motion. The voices don’t intertwine like threads so much as cycle between layers of superimposition, creating a shifting amalgam of silhouettes whose individual contours alternately jut out and meld together—the overall effect is deeply mesmerizing. The accompaniment’s synthetic harshness makes it more tonally conducive to overbearing severity than the brimming sorrow that tends to abound in renditions of Stabat Mater. But this is for the better: The synths’ stark immutability grounds the vocals as their digital performers stumble through phonetic transcriptions of Latin, the unavoidable awkwardness of which—while putting unmitigated pathos out of reach—doesn’t preclude a movingly earnest performance. —Jinhyung Kim

Listen to Parallel Bars at Bandcamp.

Anla Courtis & S. Glass - “Terrible Hill” (IKUISUUS)

This is the first track to really unsettle me in a long while—especially impressive, given its twoish minute runtime. Built around gently skittering electronics and someone sporadically, patiently slamming out dissonant chords on a zither, the only element which comes and goes is a woman’s quiet, recurring laughter. The clips are cleverly mixed so that they often sound just a bit trampled by the strummed chords, making me think of someone lurking behind a door, open just enough for them to see me. Creepy stuff. —Mark Cutler

Listen to Other Secretive Vehicles at Bandcamp.

Arsenije Jovanović - “Sound logbook of the s/s Galiola” (self-released)

One of the most exciting musical events of the year was seeing Arsenije Jovanović upload a large number of archival pieces onto Bandcamp. While the underground Chicago label Pentiments released a wonderful album from the composer last year, it’s most likely that people have heard the octagenerian’s works from when they soundtracked Terrence Malick’s films. Some of these pieces are uploaded (and there’s a collection of works dedicated to the director, too), but most exciting is Sound logbook of the s/s Galiola, which is split into four parts and features documentation of trips on the titular boat. There’s a quote found on Prophecy of the Village Kremna’s Bandcamp description that feels apt: “There is no doubt that in the imagination of attentive listeners, the author’s work is always reborn in a new way […] listeners are equal authors with the author who made the original version of artwork.” Also relevant: In the description for Ma Maison, he recounts wanting to create a piece utilizing real sounds from his home, but then scrapping the methodology to “record only dreams about the sounds of my home,” as that would potentially be “closer to some truth.”

Listening to Sound logbook is intriguing because it conjures up countless images—enough to make this 44-minute journey feel incredibly dense. But it also doesn’t have a real sense of narrative, as it often feels like a whirlwinding cloud of noise: snoring and waves, animals and drones, local music and festivities. It appears as a fever dream, but avoids sounding too much like typical soundtrack fare because it straddles the line between pure abstraction and the utterly familiar. I think about Jovanović’s thoughts on capturing his home, and how one can never capture a space authentically. Opting for a more liberal interpretation of any locale’s sonic properties can lead to a deeper consideration for how the space affects the listener. In hearing Sound logbook, I think about all the sounds that he may have encountered because of this sea vessel, and how it’s all accumulated and lodged into his psyche. I feel the loneliness of time spent on the sea, the weight of anonymity in these unknown voices, of how an itinerant lifestyle is thrilling and all-consuming but uneasy, too. There’s a spectral terror that looms over this recording, or at least some sort of seasickness. It’s music for when you want more out of life, and understand that no representational documentation of experience could ever sate such desire. That Jovanović doesn’t opt for a more naturalistic recording is invigorating because there’s an underlying message I’m hearing: Get out there in the world, because nothing can substitute the real thing. —Joshua Minsoo Kim

Listen to Sound logbook of the s/s Galiola at Bandcamp.

John Wall - “v02 [ II ]” (self-released)

John Wall casually lists himself as a sample source here—an act that could be read from multiple, contradictory perspectives. In one sense, especially given the overall trajectory of his work (ever-shorter, more condensed and taut), this could be seen as an even more extreme journey inwards, an act of reflexivity, indicating—from the pessimistic view—a hopeless desire to fix and tweak what has already been released, consumed, and forgotten, and/or a retreat to the ultimate familiar—one’s own work—after being overwhelmed by the delirious cavalcade of possible sample sources that one can freely pluck from the internet in 2021. On the other hand, the act of self-sampling could be read from a different perspective, one of openness, flexibility, even optimism: While the remix or dub certainly often pales in comparison to “the original,” there is a unique, undeniable rush to the successful “version” or “variation,” one that stems from the thrill of recontextualization. 

While I’ve previously identified these two pessimistic/optimistic strains in Wall’s work, on “v02 [ II ]” I’m more tangibly sensing the optimistic strand. If his most whittled-down sound was, in Brian Olewnick’s words, that of “a thin plate of copper or zinc, with various bumps, scratches and other ‘imperfections’ arrayed across its softly gleaming surface,” his sound on “v02 [ II ]” is heftier, more brash in its absorption of recognizable club sounds, a steel plate pockmarked with deep gashes and gouges which by no means guarantee safe, replicable passage. In this new sound-world, the chaotic feedbacking and interference of the abstract “synthesizer” adds a disruptive, unpredictable element to Wall’s still meticulously constructed narrative arc; with each compositional shift there is a feeling of risk and the distinct possibility of failure, a system-crashing bug. This push-pull drives the music: We are along for the ride, understanding that this is a discrete, safe, unchanging block of digital audio, while still feeling a bit like everything could crap out on us at any moment. 

Here, Wall is advancing his most recent broad-level experiment: He is attempting to inject the rigid, tightly structured and sequenced composition with a paradoxical and technically fictive element of unpredictability and improvisation, striving for a piece that is imbued with the explosive, shocking potential of the best improvisatory modes minus the usual cutting room floor fluff. In the process, the music raises questions about what exactly the boundary even is between composition and improvisation; does the mere act of committing something permanently to tape automatically wrest it from the realm of freedom and chance? This is where the club idiom bears the most fruit, and why I suspect Wall is so drawn to it lately: it constantly asks these questions in its very act of being, blurring those boundaries, at once rendering a casual filter tweak into an irreversible compositional choice and destabilizing and dispersing that choice in an endless sea of remixes, revisions, versions. The music itself reflects the slow and steady progression of this experiment:“v02 [ II ]” moves with a sustained, almost flattened energy that cautiously but confidently ascends, patiently enduring and absorbing failure—until the clouds disperse and the “sunbeams” peek through. —Sunik Kim

Listen to v02 Variations [ I-IV ] at Bandcamp.

Cari Lekebusch - “Endorse” (OOM)

Once upon a time, “Swedish techno” didn’t suggest big-business dance music, but rather quick and rough studies in compression and drum programming (hence, “Drumcode”). This vintage (presumably dated mid-late ’90s) Cari Lekebusch track does just that: Its pressurized, blooming and stomping low-end is as funkless as it is funky, ruthlessly marching forwards with enough swinging force to almost trip over itself.

The track’s lead sequence is a bizarre revolving clockwork made up of resonant, bandpassed chords filtered in a hectic zig-zag motion and inharmonic “Rompler”' strings that move as a counterpoint. The result is a bit of a timbral clusterfuck that, in tandem with the drums, is also being pushed into a red-hot wall of gritty analog saturation—the characteristic sound of cheap electronics at their breaking point. The resulting energy is grungy, nervous and forceful, the kind of vibe that contemporary producers often try to imitate but rarely manage to live up to.

At times, another hallmark of ’90s production appears: Out of nowhere, a loud, spontaneous resonant flanging line, loosely dancing over the beat. Its the kind of loose and playful element that I would like to hear more of on contemporary records. There still remain things to learn, even from old tracks as workmanlike as this. —Vincent Jenewein

Listen to Endorse at Bandcamp.

Dino - “#1” (Karma Detonation Tapes)

A staple figure in the Taipei noise scene since the 1990s, Dino remains an opaque figure in the rest of the world due to his near-total lack of released material or published information. This tape constitutes, to the best of my knowledge, only his second release ever, and it collects four of the live performances for which he is legendary at home. Dino conducted these numbered “guerrilla gigs” in various underground tunnels in Taipai, bombarding the walls with screeches of feedback and pure electronic whines until they began to reverberate and modulate the music itself.

Opener “#1” is the debut performance of the series, and luckily also serves as the best introduction to the album’s distinctive method. Running a lean seven minutes, it has a persistent underlying structure—a sort of lazy lope up-and-down a half-octave stretch. The track, like the remainder of the album, shows off Dino’s impressive mastery of his own electronics, and responsiveness to his relatively uncontrolled environment. This release should bring this highly-accomplished musician to a much, much wider audience. —Mark Cutler

Listen to Pulsations at Bandcamp.

T.D. - “Melk Extracts” (More Mars)

With “Melk Extracts,” which features heavyweights Jim Strong, Allen Mozek, and Stewart Skinner (RIP Vitrine), it’s all about how beautiful noise can be in all its shades of grey. Is that someone scraping their microphone? Or is that ice swirling around in a cup? And now it sounds like random strings being plucked? And there’s some loud banging too? It doesn’t really matter, because this isn’t music that invites you to care about the particulars. Everything’s just noise, and this track reminds you that anything can be reduced to simple textures if you calibrate your mind accordingly. By the time the track concludes with its most raucous passage, I’m too used to how comfortably banal these sounds are to feel the weight of its dramatics; it all just washes over me. Music like this has always felt most appropriate for the boring dystopia we live in, and the final seconds, which reveal a group of people cheering for the live set they’ve just witnessed, indicate the only comfort we can find in all this bleary dreck: community, or at least some vague semblance of one. —Joshua Minsoo Kim

Listen to Standing Water at Bandcamp.

Naoki Ishida - “Lineage” (Associazione Culturale Ikigai Room)

Any combination of field recordings and melodic piano risks being overly saccharine, but there’s a transparent sincerity in “Lineage” that renders the juxtaposition endearing. All the turbulent water sounds feel incredibly forced, like Ishida is trying his best to wring out something graceful from every splash and slosh. There’s little desire for naturalism, and the piano’s contrasting presence—unwavering in tempo and mood and recording quality—only heightens the sensation. It feels like I’m witnessing an artist at work, or more accurately, a person simply living in this world, trying to find beauty in anything around him. “Lineage” succeeds in presenting something very pretty, but that’s beside the point; I’m drawn to the determination felt in the process, simple as it may be. My favorite thing about it is that it tries really, really hard. —Joshua Minsoo Kim

Listen to Lineage at Bandcamp.

The Buildings - “Flesh and Code” (Call and Response)

If you didn’t look up any information about The Buildings and just listened to their new album Heaven is a Long Exhale, you would probably think it was recorded 15-20 years ago. The guitar tone, the production, the conversational lyrics and their casually self-assured delivery: it’s a pitch perfect recreation of late ’90s indie rock. Since recreations of late ’90s indie rock could reasonably be called catnip for a (large) segment of the music press, the general silence in Western media around The Buildings is a real indictment on what bands get press coverage and where. Ignore all that though, if you can, and just listen again. The hard-panned guitars dropping in and out of sync, the effortless hooks, Mariah Recodica’s soft voice and gently bitter lyrics. It’s just a damn good pop song.

“There’s pre-
And there’s post-
Is that all?”

—Samuel McLemore

Listen to Heaven is a Long Exhale at Bandcamp.

YTK - “Let It Off” (Montebello Lake)

Given the state of the internet in 2021, virality can be a double-edged sword. While your music can ascend at an unparalleled rate, its memetic nature can immediately render art hollow and passé. It’s a dagger to the subconscious of pop culture, one-hit wonders being absorbed so swiftly they almost have instant backlash. Miraculously, “Let It Off” avoids all of these pitfalls. YTK’s interpretation of Mariah Carey’s “Shake It Off” sublimates itself so vividly that it comes off as divine inspiration. The AutoTunedcrooning is immaculate, perfectly fitting within the context of advocating gratuitous violence. How can something so ignorant be so beautiful? So captivating was “Let It Off”’s release that Mariah Carey joked she was contacting her lawyers.

The trend of flipping pop hits into something distinctly ghetto isn’t new, with RMR’s “Rascal” sampling Rascal Flatts’ “Bless the Broken Road”, and O.T. Genasis giving his own spins on “A Thousand Miles” and “Never Knew,” but 2021 has been the most explosive year for this yet. “Who I Smoke” by Spinabenz, Whoppa Wit Da Choppa, Yungeen Ace, & FastMoney Goon once again flipped “A Thousand Miles,” this time in an insanely macabre way, with the four rappers on the track bragging about killing rival gang members over the bright instrumental. In response, Foolio clapped back, remixing Fantasia’s “When I See U” and using news clips to illustrate his glee at the retaliation by murder. Somehow, “Let It Off” is the most wholesome track of the bunch, proving that the familiarity of pop morphed into a menacing number can make for uncanny experiences the likes of which Baudrillard could have never dreamed of. —Eli Schoop

Listen to Blachunny at YouTube.

STUTS & Takako Matsu with 3exes - “Presence I” (feat. Kid Fresino) (Sony)

The bridge of “Presence I” finds Takako Matsu reaching a comfort more afforded to folks with years—if not decades—of experience in the field of relationships. “The city, people, even memories / everything begins to change,” she sighs as matter of fact. “You meet someone / and separate / and then walk on again.” The 44-year-old actress and sometimes pop singer reduces life to a bare, banal essence, but perhaps she has earned a place to talk about love in such a way being a three-time divorcee — or if that’s the character she plays in My Dear Exes, the TV drama series that features “Presence I” as its theme song.

The revolving-door attitude gets further reinforced as “Presence” spans five versions, each inviting a different rapper alongside Matsu to restlessly muse about a bygone relationship. The song’s star engages in conversation with Kid Fresino, her ad libs serving as direct replies to his stream of consciousness. Whoever shows up for support, she offers the same words of consolation for her young guests. Producer STUTS lets in the morning light to his dusky boom-bap as the song approaches the bridge, and then Matsu reaches a delightful moment of clarity: “Toward a new morning / that starts right here right now / I woke up from this dream,” she sings. She sounds ready for whatever despite being overcome by separation, knowing it’s not anything she hasn’t faced before. —Ryo Miyauchi

Listen to Presence at YouTube.

Surf Gang - “6am” (self-released)

One of the major highlights of Surf Gang’s debut album SGV1 is “6am,” a two-minute track whose title feels apt given the sleepy atmosphere. It’s a perfect pairing of artists from the New York rap crew: Polo Perks has a voice that’s both insistent and weary, while Babyxsosa chirps with a near-cutesy tone. They’re in perfect balance, and one can look to the song’s Perks-only version (Babyxsosa is presumably no longer with the group) or to other Evilgiane-produced Babyxsosa tracks to see how one-dimensional the vibes can be on solo ventures. It makes sense: the beat has two main components, the lurch-and-bounce beat and the twinkling synths, so you need two voices to mirror the pas de deux. It’s as shimmery and sedated as the best cloud rap and plugg, and filled with the hazy feel of early mornings you’ve stayed up to experience. There’s talk of sex and shootings, but everyone sounds too sleep-deprived to act on anything. It’s music for the come down, for when you’ve dicked around all night and are ready to crash on the couch. —Joshua Minsoo Kim

Listen to SGV1 at SoundCloud.

Kaap - “Dead On Arrival” (De Lichting)

Kaap is part of a new generation of producers dedicated to keeping the long Dutch lineage of deep and melodic “neo-Detroit” techno going. “Dead On Arrival” opens with a heavy, staggered 808 bassline and airy, textural swirls of noise. Soon, accented hi-hats form a syncopated counterpart to the wonky, slumping bottom end. Over this sparse rhythmic backbone, a diffuse, misty pad envelopes the mix in its weaving motions. Occasional slow moving strings give the stripped down arrangement a subtle emotional core.

In the larger context of the mix, the kick takes a relative backseat, handing other rhythmic prominence to the bassline. This results in an unusually “steppy'“ feel for a track with a straight 4/4 kick. Its an interesting take on rhythm that incorporates elements of more swinging broken-beat programming, while still channeling the sleek, precise patterns of techno functionalism. The results feel organic and free-form, yet also precise and energetic—a subtle but skillful iteration of classic forms. —Vincent Jenewein

Listen to Omen at Bandcamp.

Zaumne - “Fantôme” (Mondoj)

I am loathe to talk about ASMR given that experimental works employing such techniques are far less interesting or successful than the ASMRtists who made it such a hit in the first place (shout out to Pigsbum53 and MassageASMR, the channels I watched most back in college), but I am certainly interested in something like Zaumne’s “Fantômne,” which was originally made for WET (Weird Erotic Tension). ASMR slots alongside so many other internet-era phenomena that involve personal attention—from Twitch streamers to JOI pornography—and is successful for how attractive the connections these parasocial and ephemeral relationships create can be. “Fantômne” works where so many other experimental-musician whisperers fail because it doesn’t feel like 1) a generic implementation, 2) a feeble attempt at capturing intimacy, or 3) a heady rumination on something extremely boring and obvious.

Zaumne’s voice sits somewhere between muttered prayer and quiet secret-telling, and the repeating synth melody that sits aside it casts an ominous aura over everything. The sounds of lapping water, as if he were in a bathtub, don’t suggest eroticism as much as vulnerability. It’s sad in a way that I’ve rarely heard from music or videos of this sort, and if anything, it proposes a question: What happens when the one providing the comfort is in need of it themselves? I think about the ASMRtists I’ve heard say how making their videos, and knowing they provide solace to others, grants the same to them. I also recall a YouTuber who stopped making videos because they felt ASMR was making people feel too content with this minimal level of human intimacy. When “Fantômne” ends with nothing but the sound of birds and the recording device’s noise-floor hiss, it leaves my brain all mushed from this lonely reality we live in. —Joshua Minsoo Kim

Listen to Élévation at Bandcamp.

Fusiller - “Holographies - Part 1” (Tanzprocesz)

Okay, this one might be a cheat, since both parts of Fusiller’s Holographies contain several distinct vignettes. However you slice it, though, this is a potent work from tanzprocesz founder Fusiller. The work is roughly structured like a dungeon synth album—or, rather, several dungeon synth albums playing at the same time. Fusiller’s trademark electronic chirps and scribbles never distract from the underlying musical progressions, which have a stately, vaguely gothic tone to them. The synths often hover in the vicinity of baroque instrumentation—pipe organ, harpsichord, and what sounds like a possessed choir—giving the whole work an aesthetic cohesion that also dovetails with its supernatural, even mystical aura. —Mark Cutler

Listen to Holographies at Bandcamp.

Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel - “Vesta” (self-released)

I confess, despite the overlap here with my interests in lap steel guitars and improvised music, I was somehow not aware of the existence of Duet for Lap Steel and Theremin until just last month despite their 15-year-long history of performing and recording together. Frank Schultz and Scott Burland are the names of the musicians, and the plainly descriptive name of their duet together feels like a wry joke, an acknowledgement of how detached and alien their music can actually sound (or at least that’s the case on their latest album, ‘Oumuamua, the only album of theirs I’ve listened through so far).

They play through layers of effects and post-processing, closely matching each other not just timbrally, but in movement and form as well, to the point where it can sound like a complex generative patch in a synthesizer rather than two disparate instruments being played by live human beings. A live video reveals why they don’t try to skip the middleman and go full Autechre with a copy of Max/MSP: the instruments they have chosen allow them to improvise with graceful, gestural movements, allowing them to embody and control their music in stunningly subtle ways. On record this relationship between instrument and performer, which seems so key to their entire artistic project, is almost completely illegible. Instead we are left with sound so pure and uninflected it can appear empty at first glance. It’s really excellent ambient music that sounds like it could have come out anytime in the last few decades—no mean feat for a genre that's so closely bound up with advances in musical technology. —Samuel McLemore

Listen to 'Oumuamua at Bandcamp.

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