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Tone Glow 084: Our Favorite Music, January-March 2022
Tone Glow's writers highlight the music they enjoyed during the year's first quarter
In lieu of a traditional opening paragraph, I present you with the following text from Andrew F. Jones’s Circuit Listening: Chinese Popular Music in the Global 1960s, which has helped put into words very specific ideas I’ve had about the way people should approach all art. Consider the 31 albums and songs that follow (both from this year and not) to be opportunities for all of us (both our writers and you as readers) to think about music in such a way. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
All local musics—particularly in the modern era of commercial sound recording—are constituted by (and need to be historicized in terms of) the particular circuits of media and migration in which they are embedded. Circuit listening may help us to avoid falling into models of musical interpretation that rely on vague attributions of one-sided and seemingly inevitable influence, while at the same time opening our ears to the agency, irreducible dynamism, and complexity of any local mediation of “global” cultures. It is not so much that Grace Chang successfully mimicked an originary mambo in her 1957 blockbuster, Mambo Girl 曼波女郎, for instance, but rather that she and her collaborators participated in a circuit, routed by way of Havana, Mexico City, New York, Hollywood to Hong Kong, that reproduced “mambo” as a global vernacular.
We also need to be able to differentiate between different sorts of musical circuits. There are old, “slow,” and vastly consequential circuits, such as the enduring musical pathways linking the west coast of Africa with the islands of the Caribbean and with Brazil, connected in turn to metropoles such as New Orleans, New York, London, and Lisbon, tracing a “Black Atlantic” network that has left an indelible imprint on global popular musical practices. By the early 1900s, a maritime circuit linking the west coast of the United States with Hawai’i, Japan, and the colonial treaty ports of East and Southeast Asia had also taken shape in tandem with transpacific steamship lines, leaving its traces on modern musical genres throughout the region. There are also shorter and less consequential circuits, flashes in the pan like Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki,” novelty acts that cross over, blow up, but never come to constitute a real musical system. There are rural circuits in which musical performance and reception remain largely if not entirely local. This is perhaps the realm of what we think of as “indigenous music” or “folk music.” Most indigenous musics, however, tend to emerge from out of long historical circuits and migratory movements, and many had been brought into regional, national, and even global circuits by the twentieth century. The Mississippi Delta blues and huangmeidiao 黃梅調 or “yellow plum” opera of Anhui province in China are just two examples of local forms that entered into transnational circulation in the 1960s.
There are open circuits characterized by a high degree of circulation and turnover and closed circuits bound by topographical, ethnolinguistic, political, economic, infrastructural, and other sorts of constraints. It should go without saying that not all circuits are born equal, nor are they able to run on the same power sources. Their routes have been traced by histories of colonial domination and reflect unequal global, national, and regional divisions of labor. Indeed, we need to understand circuits not merely as routes that enable circulation but also (and often simultaneously) as containment structures put in place so as to segregate sociomusical space, protect markets, or prevent unsanctioned movement(s). Different musical locales, finally, may be mapped in terms of the multiple musical circuits in which they are simultaneously embedded, and those maps will inevitably give us a sense not only of their distinctive historical pathways but also of the ways in which any given historical moment is a palimpsest of overlapping but not always contiguous or contemporaneous circuits. The sort of “circuit listening” I am proposing, then, is inevitably also a kind of historical cartography, a reconstruction of the mediated spaces and sedimented temporalities out of which musical sounds emerge.
ASP Doze - ASP Doze (Biome Tapes, 2022)
ASP Doze is the collaborative alias of Brussels-based artists frere tuck and fioki, whose works sandwich pastoral noodling and radio plays between wafer-layers of unreality. This self-titled album merges their two sensibilities into a product whose form resists coagulation: a runny slick of waking dreams and ludic improvisation. Songs whisper secrets from spaces between, from distant corners, off-angles, dim alleyways: lush slurries of MIDI tones ring with trepidation, drenched in the grey musk of data rot. Closer “yaku” is a revelation unto itself, a whistling ode to the coming of dusk, stretching eerie, fragile synths and inert pads of bubbling water across its distorted gravitational pull.
From a personal dimension, when I listen to ASP Doze, I hear a depressive mirror of old Runescape music: I picture dead links and defunct chat rooms. I remember a period where I briefly, obsessively researched the Kickstarter-funded Jane Austen MMO, Ever, Jane, which recently shut down after over a half-decade of clunky beta builds due to low subscription counts and the developer’s inability to pay server costs. The game’s official forums were a ghost town of missed connections, limp roleplay, and broken promises: half-hearted threads full of members loudly apologizing over one another for their inactivity. This is the portrait ASP Doze draws: one of glories once or never held, now lost, fading. Its rusted landscapes lie unmistakably out of reach. — Maxie Younger
Purchase ASP Doze at Bandcamp.
Matchess - Sonescent (Drag City, 2022)
1. “I have always longed to be part of the outward life, to be out there at the edge of things, to let the human taint wash away in emptiness and silence as the fox sloughs his smell into the cold unworldliness of water; to return to town a stranger. Wandering flushes a glory that fades with arrival.” ―J.A. Baker, The Peregrine
2. Two weeks into the new year, hours after assembling a new bookshelf in our apartment, I woke up in the middle of the night to debilitating gastrointestinal pain. Having dealt with gluten intolerance since I was a teenager, I was alarmed to find the remedies I usually utilize insufficient. As the sun rose, I woke up my partner and told him to take the day off work. Within two hours, I received a CT scan at Mount Sinai and was diagnosed with appendicitis. I hardly remember lying on the operating table that evening. When I came to, I spent the three hours before my discharge playing Trilogie de la Mort at full volume in a horizontal haze of anesthesia, ruminating on aging, grateful that my body hadn’t failed me yet. For the first time, I felt every crossfade. Later that week, we both tested positive for Omicron. (Double the recovery, double the fun.)
3. Each time I throw Automatic Writing on our turntable, my ears fixate on the remnants of Reverend Al Green, insulated and suppressed so that only the bassline is distinguishable, rumbling softly as if coming from a next-door neighbor’s hi-fi. It emerges hushly over the hiss of tape, a pop song phantom stitched under intervening whispers of a composer utilizing his own neuroses as a soloist. It suggests the room where his monologue might be taken were it not shrouded in negative space.
4. A month after recovery, on a shared day off, we wandered around the trails surrounding the Ridgewood Reservoir where I often go running and sometimes spend time with birdwatcher friends. I left my phone on ‘do not disturb’ and it never left my pocket the entire day. We split at the trailhead and I found myself drifting past an overlook before a field of reeds in flux. The border between Brooklyn and Queens had never felt more silent; it was quiet enough to break even the most robust writer’s block. I started to hum. Minutes later, fully-formed melodies began to materialize, similarly filtered as if from another room. I thought about the past few weeks spent shut up indoors, socially distanced, steeped in marathon reading and inconsequential online discourse, and realized this was the most decluttered I felt in months. “I’ve been a fool,” I laughed to myself. When I returned, I deactivated my Twitter and embarked on my first serious songwriting practice in years.
5. Whitney Johnson supposedly based the back-of-mix melodies on her Drag City debut, playfully performed by an ensemble composed of Chicago’s finest players, on fragments that surfaced during a stay at a Vipassanā silent meditation retreat in the Mojave Desert—a random act of mindfulness of a different color spawned by a cataclysmic corporeal confrontation of her own. When her earworms arise out of the ether underneath unstable sine waves, they encourage the listener to lean in past its insular foreground, projecting those ephemeral flickers of thought that can only be deciphered in the thick of tranquility. It is this shift in focus that earns Sonescent its title and sets it apart from other recent entries in the cut-and-dry canon of ambient music: to lift a track title from another abstractionist based in the Windy City, this is not simply a record that entices you to “just lay down and forget it”—it’s a sonic landscape suited for the edge of things; for non-linear reflection; for those of us simply stuck with our intrusive ideas, in search of an outlet as we return home. —Nick Zanca
Purchase Sonescent at Bandcamp.
Michael Speers - Green Spot Nectar of the Gods (TakuRoku, 2020)
My father and I had a running joke that started when I was a teenager—or at least he had a running joke. Depending on what I was listening to in my room, or what sounds I was composing with, he’d walk by my door and poke his head in. Mischievous grin and all he’d say, “You call that music?” All these years later he still somehow finds this joke funny and relishes making it whenever I’m visiting. As a teenager I found it funny, too. Then it started to bother me, but now I’m quite interested in what he actually thinks and means by this.
The shadows cast by our parents loom large in experimental music, but that doesn’t mean that there is any clarity regarding the shape of these shadows whether in the form of their relationship to the sounds we make as musicians, to the musical forms those sounds inhabit, or to us as practitioners generating and sculpting those sounds. What are we to them when not the object “child?”
The parent takes many shapes in our work and community. They are always present in our music if only as our sublimated desires and fantasies which make up some part of our work as artists. They continue to be largely silenced in our community when our focus turns towards the overlooked financial and material resources provided by them: the repressed common knowledge of our scene being that many of our most celebrated practitioners are able to be artists without working a job because of the financial support of their families. The parent—ever present but with lips locked. Finally, there is the fascinating tension that we as practitioners so often feel resigned to the fact that our music might not ever connect with our families; a music which claims to be fundamentally dedicated to expanding modes of listening, to creating more inclusive listening spaces, yet somehow it is a music which occludes those practices brought to the music by our parents. This is not to say that the blame lies solely with us, the child. There is work to be done on the part of the parents too.
Michael Speers’s humorous and intimate record, Green Spot Nectar Of The Gods, seeks to unlock the lips of his father, attempting to navigate more clearly the form of this relationship as it relates to his experimental music practice. Speers’s music oscillates between a kind of unbounded joy in the extremes of digital synthesis and his serious commitment to his father’s own ideas and connections to this work. The result is a charming and surprisingly touching record that stages the complexities of the paternal relationship both sonically and formally.
On the first track, “Voice,” we hear his father giving instructions on how to proceed with his newest piece: “Just actually make the sound yourself. Use instruments to make the music rather than what you normally do.” This voice, already passed through the logic of Speers’s digital synthesizer, has a sheen reminiscent of a dropped Zoom call or disrupted FaceTime. Of particular interest, however, is the way in which the father’s voice is mapped to a series of drum sounds, glitches, and other digital artifacts, seeming to activate a range of complex digital sound with each utterance. As the work progresses, however, it feels less like a mapping of voice to sound and more a translation: Speers’s abstract, synthetic language is fundamentally the language of his father. Over the course of the record, the father’s voice disappears leaving behind these abstract sounds. Though perhaps it is not so much that the voice disappears, but rather that it vanishes into the sound itself. Ever present, and no longer silent, the voice speaks through Speers’ synthetic enunciations. —Dominic Coles
Purchase Green Spot Nectar of the Gods at Bandcamp.
Ulver - Perdition City (Jester Records, 2000)
Born from the infamous Norwegian black metal scene in the 1990s, Ulver were always destined to rocket off into the musical stratosphere, committing themselves to an ethos of transformation and forward-thinking experimentation that few other artists can match. Like rock’s greatest re-inventor, David Bowie, Ulver made their leap from scene icons to experimental innovators by focusing on the most modern of all constructions: the city. Ulver’s 2000 album Perdition City, like Bowie’s Berlin trilogy two decades earlier, situates the listener in an alienated urban landscape, drawing us into a darkly intriguing fantasia of modernity.
By collaging musical styles associated with the archetypical metropolis throughout the last century—from the contemporary sounds of trip-hop and downtempo electronic music to haunting jazz—Ulver builds a sonic vision of a so-called “dead city” so real that if you close your eyes while listening to Perdition City, you can imagine that you’re there. Kristoffer Rygg’s sparse yet poetic lyrics pierce the layers of electronic haze, providing beautiful moments of connection to the human spirit throughout the album’s harsh loneliness.
Furthermore, Ulver’s long-standing relationship with the music of cinema first emerged on Perdition City, which is subtitled “Music to an Interior Film.” The emphasis on jazz influences and saxophones woven into the dense instrumentation throughout the album instantly recalls the atmosphere of a classic film noir. Ulver proposes that the looming, melodramatic metropolises of yesteryear’s cinema are one and the same with the modern, almost cyberpunk cityscapes suggested throughout Perdition City, and that the experience of urban alienation places us in a continuum with the lonesome heroes of classic crime films. In addition, the song “Catalept” is a reworking of a piece from the nightmarish soundtrack to Hitchcock’s Psycho, reminding listeners of that film’s masterful depiction of menace lurking below the surface of everyday life.
Sometimes, when the world seems cold and confusing, the only way to make sense of it is to lose yourself in a piece of artwork that emphasizes with your feelings. Perdition City may be a dark, melancholy record, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need. I consider it one of Ulver’s greatest albums, and certainly the most fascinating expression of their spirit of constant reinvention. —Chloe Liebenthal
Purchase Perdition City at Bandcamp.
Barn Sour - One Trick Pony (Staighre, 2022)
Despite Barn Sour’s consistent horse-themed branding, I have always understood the project to be chiefly about the involuntary exercise of the human voice. Laughing, crying, groaning, screaming, coughing, choking, drinking, gargling, burping—you might hear any or all of these on a Barn Sour record, often set against plaintive, delicately looping instrumentation. In contrast to last year’s somewhat diffuse Belgian Gelding, One Trick Pony might be the project’s most focused, accessible record to date. Each of the mini-album’s five tracks feels like a self-contained tableau, at turns beautiful, haunting, and (sometimes) viscerally distressing. In addition to the voices and instrumentation, we often hear heavy, wooden-sounding clatters and bangs, rusty creaks and whines, all suggesting something both mysterious and threatening is taking place nearby. Sure, sometimes the effect veers into B-movie territory, but this mix of schlocky humor and genuine menace is, in part, what’s always made Barn Sour so compelling. —Mark Cutler
Purchase One Trick Pony at the Staighre website.
Unknown Artists - Contact Meditation (Förfall, 2022)
While the beguiling private-press stylings of Sweden’s experimental music scene has been obvious for many years, it’s the obscure, confounding gems that get released on CD-R label Förfall that have been the real stars the past couple years. Here, without any artists credited, we hear an 18-minute exercise in spiritual ecstasy-turned-horror. The back of the album’s packaging relays some crucial info: this was recorded at the Tantra Festival in Helsinki, and what we hear in addition to the initial commands (“connect the hands,” “let’s start with the eyes closed,” “let’s going a little bit more faster and smaller”) is a slurry of breathing exercises, laughing, and planned hysteria.
In many ways, Contact Meditation channels the unsettling aura of a Barn Sour record, but more realistically, it taps into the sort of peculiar atmosphere that any ritual of this sort creates when one is an outsider looking in. Combine that with our inability to see any of the proceedings and there’s even more fascination about what’s actually happening—and what’s Che Guevera’s mug doing on the cover? There are occasional cuts in the audio that reveal how snippets are being played over and over, but this otherwise feels like a real-deal audio document of an event. Diegetic background music bolsters that feeling, as one senses that this conference is happening in an otherwise ordinary public setting. Eventually, the proceeding becomes increasingly sexual, the panting so rhythmic and the energy so charged that it has the hypnotizing histrionics of Luther Price’s avant-garde porno masterpiece SODOM. We don’t need new-age music whose “meditation” is breezy bullshit anymore, we need new-age music that feels like it’s capturing the outer edges of human experience. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
GGGOLDDD - This Shame Should Not Be Mine (Artoffact Records, 2022)
Rotterdam’s GGGOLDDD have always played with an odd confluence of post-metal, post-punk, hard rock, etc. Maybe you’d expect to hear some kind of corrugated King Gizzard/black midi behemoth out of that, but they’re a fastidiously minimal group, their songs more simmering than incandescent. This Shame Should Not Be Mine further pares down that minimalism; songs are mostly built around a cold, synth-toned skeleton before post-punk backing flares up, losing itself in metallic, splenetic wails on tracks like “Invisible” and “On You” in a sound that’s engendered to both gothic and psychedelic influences. There’s an especially inapposite resistance between frontwoman Milena Eva’s delivery and the gutted backing behind her— not always in a good way, especially on lumbering compositions like “Strawberry Surprise”—but for the most part, the simplicity works in her favor, as the cinematic flares of fury form a germane backdrop to her evocative poetry. In the wake of sexual assault, Eva calls attention to the disconnection of the body in her simple, serrated delivery of lines like "My mind is my body/it was given to me to use as a tool.” She claws onto the contrast of the revolving world around her as she remains internally lost, stagnant, her accusation wordlessly implied with broken-off fragments of imagistic poetry like "Outside, flowers claim it's spring.” —Zhenzhen Yu
Purchase This Shame Should Not Be Mine at Bandcamp.
Toshimaru Nakamura - No-Input Mixing Board (Zero Gravity, 2000)
Every television used to have static patterns: inscrutable collections of waves and bricks of black and white that confounded children everywhere. Some of us loved it—they were unknowable and unlimited, like the universe was unfolding for us. Maybe Nakamura had that in mind for No-Input Mixing Board. Maybe he was looking at old iSpy books and had a divine connection. A diorama fixed in time, never bending, never growing older or younger, fish swimming in the proverbial fishbowl, being gawked at under the microscope. All these sounds have been beamed at us from different, coalescent sources. It’s AIM pings and radiator steam seeping through like an auditory gas leak. —Eli Schoop
Staubitz and Waterhouse - Common Materials (Music Is The Worst, 2022)
Common Materials consists of four recordings by Mary Staubitz, lightly treated and edited (if at all) by Russ Waterhouse. Across its fifty minutes, we get few concrete indications as to what we’re hearing at any given point, but the overall mood is industrial: humming, clanking machinery, shrill, vibrating whines, the automated chime of a barcode scanner or computerized register, and the distant beeps of reversing trucks. For me, the highlight of the album is the massive closer, “Dishintigration.” As the title implies, its effect is that of climbing inside a restaurant-grade dishwasher which gradually opens up to another dimension. The humming motor, pulsating jets and sprays of water begin to form a rhythm, almost a melody—making this behemoth, 22-minute field recording an unlikely contender for the poppiest slice of experimental music I’ve heard in recent memory, and one of my favorite tracks of the year so far. —Mark Cutler
Purchase Common Materials at Bandcamp.
Milan Knížák - Aktual Univerzita (Sub Rosa, 2022)
Milan Knížák’s text for Aktual Univerzita is from 1967 and features ten lessons focused on different topics. Regarding love, he says: “Its only disadvantage is that we dream of it before we really experience it. And so there is always a little piece of it that remains unfulfilled.” Regarding dreams: “They are beautiful and dangerous. Not the dreams themselves, but the difference between them and reality... there is nothing else but to do everything we can [to] eliminate that widening gap.” We hear the Czech musician, sculptor, and performance artist recite these lessons as the Opening Performance Orchestra provide a slew of instrumentation. At first it’s a bunch of broken glass, but it soon settles into a queasy drone defined by alien synth blips and found sound. Its final third is little more than a riotous wall of harsh noise, as if the lessons he’s taught and the pessimism sometimes surrounding them (“Everything has already been discovered because everything is permitted,” he says of art) is being pushed back against for hope of breakthrough. “Broken Suite” is similarly dense, but is derived from an assemblage of previous works. At its best, it feels like an inescapable void: operatic vocals, semblances of melodic songs that feel like a fever dream, the hoards of voices underneath the thick fog of sound. Listen loudly, and it feels as maddening as it does meditative. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Purchase Aktual Univerzita at Bandcamp.
Kunsu Shim - LUFT.INNERES (another timbre, 2022)
Kunsu Shim is a bit of an artist’s artist. There aren’t a lot of albums to his name, and while he’s associated with Wandelweiser, he’s not a member. Here we encounter a very interesting program comprised of four pieces (one of these in three parts) for string quartet and six homages written for Shim by fellow composers. While these latter pieces are engaging and show high esteem for his music among fellow composers, the real treat lies in Shim’s own works. The bagatelles by Anton Webern are a suitable reference point, as these pieces have the same evanescent quality, but in Shim’s case any sort of discourse and drama is absent, replaced by an emphasis on sound instead. In terms of perception, the focus is on the breathing of the instruments; while string instruments by definition are known for their ability to draw long lines, here we have them sighing, stopping for air and then sighing again. It sounds simple on paper but the result is exquisitely beautiful and highly personal. Shim turns fragility into strength in an exemplary manner; the quality of the recording, something we have come to expect from Another Timbre, highlights this quietly powerful music and the skill of the performers in a clear, understated way. —Gil Sansón
Purchase LUFT.INNERES at Bandcamp.
Voivod - Synchro Anarchy (Century Media, 2022)
Stay in the game long enough and you will go from perennial underdog to elder statesman. For most of their career, Voivod have been a sui generis metal band: too arty for thrash and too thrash for art rock. Formed at the onset of the thrash movement, they shared a number of similarities with acts like Metallica, Exodus, and Slayer, but also showed influences from outside the metal genre—and quite leftfield ones to boot—like Magma and Van Der Graaf Generator. They’re a band that’s instantly recognizable with a musical language that’s uniquely their own, and they shouldn’t have survived the loss of their main writer, late guitarist Piggy, who had an idiosyncratic way of writing riffs and chord progressions. Their second lease of life came with a new guitarist who was basically a student of Piggy’s style, able to codify his language convincingly. Voivod enact a balancing act where song structures are full of dissonant chords and shapes, as well as traditional metal hooks, thus pleasing both the headbanger and the head scratcher. For Synchro Anarchy, they’ve found the perfect equilibrium, sporting all the elements that characterize their style while sounding fully contemporary. That’s no small feat for a band with a career spanning four long decades. —Gil Sansón
Purchase Synchro Anarchy at Voivod’s website.
Boris - W (Sacred Bones, 2022)
W, the latest album from the legendary avant-garde metal band Boris, is a shimmering web of ethereal vocals (unlike many Boris albums, guitarist Wata is the featured vocalist on most of this material), oddball ambient instrumentation like accordions and music boxes, and sludgy guitar drones. The band has explained that NO, their 2020 album focusing on hardcore punk, and W are intended to form “a continuous circle of harshness and healing” in response to the pandemic. For those of us who haven’t gotten our Boris fix over the last few years by hanging out with Wata on her Animal Crossing island, NO & W have been an oasis of wonderful, all-encompassing noise. W has been particularly intriguing for me because it recontextualizes some of my favorite aspects of Boris’ sound, such as their wall-of-sound dynamics and endless pursuit of the perfect drone, into a delicate, dreamlike reverie of static and noise.
I think that one of the most rewarding aspects of following a beloved band for years at a time is getting to enjoy how their sound mutates and evolves. The seeds of W can be found throughout their discography—the layered minimalism of Flood, the pop experiments of New Album and Attention Please—and it’s a thrill to hear them re-combined into a brand new alchemical creation. W’s gauzy songs are simultaneously soothing, unnerving, and inspiring, like the glittering facets of a gemstone that shine in different hues depending on how it catches the light. Like the uncomfortably slimy yet compositionally pleasing Kotao Tomozawa oil painting on the album cover, W’s competing elements of dissonance and invigorating melody work together to build an uneasy yet comforting tribute to the confusing state of the world. —Chloe Liebenthal
Purchase W at Bandcamp.
Y.a.M.A - “FRP3” (Omoide Label, 2022)
Y.a.M.A has quietly built a formidable discography in the rising Japanese gorge scene, a club-leaning, anything-goes style that operates under the three simple principles of the eponymous Gorge Public License—1. Use Toms, 2. Say It Gorge, and 3. Don’t Say It Art—and cites a dizzying array of inspirations from Neptunes beats to picopop to Cluster. Y.a.M.A’s work as a bootist (gorge-jargon for artist; remember, “Don’t Say It Art”) orients itself around the hypnotic: flushed, swirling avant-juke beats with no clear point of entry or exit, turning in on themselves like Möbius strips. “FRP3,” collected on the OMOIDE netlabel’s sprawling There will be OMOIDE everywhere in JUKE compilation, perfectly straddles minimalist composition and maximalist, expansive sound design, trading its wider-than-wide thrums of bass and lush tom drums between earphones with the forceful thrust of a riptide. There’s never been a more appropriate track to sport the gorge aesthetic: its every move suggests a precipice. —Maxie Younger
Purchase “FRP3” at Bandcamp.
Bengt Berger - Bitter Funeral Beer (ECM, 1981)
My ideal version of this record is that Bengt Berger recorded this by calling in Don Cherry and the European jazz players to Ghana when he was studying there with actual Ghanaian musicians instead of bringing these Ghanaian rhythms back to Stockholm and recording it there with no one from Ghana. There is cultural appropriation here, and not just of “the traditional funeral music of the people of Lo-Birifor, in the northern region of Ghana,” but they’re also fed through rhythmic cycles that are adopted from Indian Carnatic music (Berger is an ethnomusicologist that researched in Ghana and India). But it’s still a jazz album unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and dare I say one of the best records from ECM. The rhythms are rich and fertile, and the three short pieces in the middle are reminiscent of On the Corner’s dense city-funk except they march-dance around the block and back. Berger himself is on the ko-gyil, an African xylophone that has a cool texture whenever you can make it out, while Don Cherry, great lover of music from across the globe, is a natural here, whose pocket trumpet is incredibly melodic, punching through the swagger of all those saxophones and percussions with decisive ease. This is big band, but the very rare sort that’s big because of the amount of percussion, not the number of horns. —Marshall Gu
xaviersobased - who are you? (self-released, 2022)
Xaviersobased was bumping Yung Lean back in grade school—a fact that makes me feel old, depressed, and instantly a fan of the upstart rapper/producer. In the context of SoundCloud’s revitalized underground, though, it’s not that unusual to consider. The new crop of kids running the scene’s myriad collectives and Discord servers are as much historians as they are artists, rejecting the iconoclastic nihilism of their predecessors (XXXTentacion, Smokepurpp. etc.) in favor of all-consuming enthusiasm. The music Xavier and his fellow SO EVIL BOYZ labelmates create is mired in the counterculture of the past decade. Lil B’s “based” ethos is his earliest and most obvious touchstone, informing the group’s prolific output and meta-referential humor, but the group’s work also borrows ideas from the lineage of artists following in his footsteps.
Who Are You? is the best outing by a SO EVIL BOYZ member to date: a comprehensive study in transgressive internet rap that sounds like scrolling back through your old SoundCloud likes. It’s composed of short, rapid-fire vignettes that aren’t quite fully-formed songs. Instead, they’re more like musical neurons, creating new synaptic connections as they quickly lead into one another. On “Upper West,” his vocals echo and drone until they form an unbroken chain of muffled syllables, anchoring a skittering drill beat that abruptly concludes with a creepy sound effect that might have been plucked from Banjo Kazooie’s project files. “DD45” is one of the record’s more accessible tracks—Xavier’s verses cut through the mix clearly, delivered with a sing-song cadence reminiscent of Chief Keef’s early work, pairing nicely with pulsating saw waves. Time loses its meaning as the album progresses. Like a DJ, Xavier manipulates each master track in post-production, stretching, squashing and warping the mixes in a way that ensures unpredictability. We’re beyond the concept of AutoTune as an instrument; among the new vanguard, even songs themselves become mere tools in a grander scheme. —Jude Noel
Melchior Productions - Vulnerabilities (Perlon, 2022)
Thomas Melchior has been at it for a long time with his particular brand of idiosyncratic minimal house. Compared to some contemporary records, the drums on this album don’t exactly hit hard, but that isn’t the point here. It is the emotional honesty and unique knack for melody that have made Melchior’s records a fixture. For example, “Ascending Our Solitude” features drawn-out whale song vocal swells that border on new-age corniness at times. But slotted into the right early morning set, it could be just the right thing for a set of tired souls. Just as the title suggests, Vulnerability is all blissful afterglow, no peak, and that is a precious, rare thing in dance music. —Vincent Jenewein
Taku Sugimoto & Minami Saeki - Songs in Seseragi Park (self-released, 2022)
Taku Sugimoto’s YouTube channel has tethered me to this world during a time in my life when it’s been all too easy to get hopelessly lost in my head. He’s uploaded a lot lately—most of the videos are from the past three months alone; my favorite is this performance with Minami Saeki. While many of the recordings they’ve made together are set in parks, I appreciate the unfilteredness of the outdoor ambience on this one. It could be that the visual component simply gets me to pay more attention, but Songs in Seseragi Park sounds more tangible and full of detail (and less like an innocuous backdrop) than the stuff they’ve put out before. You always hear kids shouting and running around, and listening is as pleasant between takes as it is in the middle. I also just like watching these two play: Sugimoto as he looks back and forth between his fingerboard and the score in front of him; Saeki as she sways slowly to a hidden pulse while gazing off into the distance. Their errant smiles and muted banter never fail to charm. Perhaps if my ability to engage with the present tense weren’t so atrophied right now, I wouldn’t find this video as precious as I do. But so far, it’s been a reliable salve for many a dissociative lapse—a dose of sanity I keep tucked in my back pocket. —Jinhyung Kim
Quentin Tolimieri - Monochromes (Elsewhere, 2022)
Monochromes is my introduction to the music of Quentin Tolimieri, and having read a few somewhat hyperbolic words on social media, I was a tad suspicious of any hype regarding this album. My reservations were unfounded, as it turns out. Benefitting from the clear and sharp piano sound of the Elsewhere records standard, the music here is a bit of a revelation. It shows an individual voice exhibiting a high level of timbral investigation along with a focus on restricted areas of the piano, yielding sounds that couldn’t possibly be notated and come straight from the piano as a machine. There are references that could be employed to give an idea about the music: Charlemagne Palestine, Hans Otte, perhaps even Cecil Taylor. The means of production are fully at the service of the intended sound; it’s rich in harmonic spectra, which requires, among other things, equal and constant pulsation and use of the resonance pedal. A piano can become a cavern and an architectural space in itself by way of this resonant frame and Tolimieri exploits this characteristic in many ways, each “Monochrome” piece focusing on one aspect of the piano. Some pieces work with contrasting dynamics, as with “Monochrome 4,” which displays simultaneous dynamic interplay between loud notes in the uppermost register with soft notes in the middle register. Over the course of the album, numerous aspects and timbres of the piano are explored, and each piece is a concentrated presentation of a single aspect. This gives the music a bit of an obsessive, even ritualistic quality that adds another dimension to what could have been an otherwise normal catalog of sounds. Strangely, Monochromes will never let you forget that you’re listening to a piano, but it’ll make you realize the possibilities it’s still capable of at the hands of an artist who treats it both at the ontological and phenomenological level (even metaphysical). If the piano is a place, Monochromes provides a good and accurate map. —Gil Sansón
Purchase Monochromes at Bandcamp.
Ryu Hankil - ⑥ (dingn\dents, 2022)
Computer music is abound with attempts to sonify pure velocity by accelerating fragmented timbral and rhythmic gestures to the point of blurring and disintegration. Most of these attempts are utter failures. Among the many interlocking pitfalls: flattened techno-optimism; flattened neo-Luddism; an endless distancing, wrapping, and entombing of the actual music in nonsensical and incoherent concepts, “worlds,” and unexamined art-speak; fetishism of code and the act of coding as inherently interesting, i.e. tech demo-itis; favoring the “sound exercise” snippet over the structured composition.
The good news is that Dotolim stalwart Ryu Hankil is very quietly—so far, 11 people, including myself, have purchased this release on Bandcamp—honing a (miraculously) unique, cutting electronic sound that is drilling closer and closer to the core, largely unfulfilled promise of computer music. (As a caveat, the music on here sounds like it’s being generated by analog synthesizer modules rather than software, but I guess I’ll never truly know.) These “catalysis” tracks—“catalysis” is “the acceleration of a chemical reaction by a catalyst”—roil and cascade with an explosive, zigzagging momentum, ratcheting and tumbling from the highest to the lowest frequencies in almost nauseating bursts of pure speed. The sound is unremarkable at low to medium volumes—an irritating tapping, whining, and buzzing—but cranked up on half-decent speakers, the music takes on a life and physicality of its own, sweeping the listening space into a veritable aural tornado.
The music’s sound and relationship to space reminded me of another strong recent computer music release, Structures for Wave Field Synthesis by Elías Merina & Daniel del Río. To further clarify what makes Ryu’s music remarkable: where Ryu takes the edge is in his commitment to unrelenting density of ideas and (relatively) extended duration. Each track single-mindedly pushes the listener to the point of exhaustion, impatience and overwhelm, presenting a legitimate challenge, especially to anyone not used to listening to synthesized fart sounds for hours at a time. What’s wonderful is that the challenge is immediate, direct, visceral; it’s not a chin-scratching, head-nodding, “you probably don’t get it” challenge, but rather a head-turning, disruptive one that will likely either push people to turn the volume knob to 0 or 11. Even if imperfect, this music is clearly—and refreshingly—part of an extended period of genuine experimentation—the previously released ③ is built from the exact same musical system as ⑥—and I eagerly anticipate the next iteration, even if it is an utter failure. —Sunik Kim
Purchase ⑥ at Bandcamp.
Serwed - III (Anwo Records, 2022)
Like many artists in the loosely connected “ambient underground” lately, Serwed are gesturing towards a move away from traditional “wallpaper ambient” towards more rhythmically driven, textural sculptures. You could perhaps call this “IDM,” although both form and sonics hardly resemble classic Warp. If anything, the classic Clicks & Cuts series seems like a closer analog. If this new sound has one defining sonic signature, it’s Ableton’s pitch-shifting algorithm. All kinds of sounds are repeatedly bent up and down until they take on a ghostly, stretched-out, rubbery texture. Clear and present sounds are eschewed in favor of murky, indeterminate textural collages. Despite this, Sewed get almost poppy at times—with its hints of AutoTuned vocals and 808-ish bass, “Scruff “ somewhat resembles a trap record, although one left submerged under water for a week. Due to its steadfast refusal to commit to any easily categorized rhythms or timbres, III is a genuinely odd sounding record. And that already feels like a small step forwards for contemporary ambient-not-ambient. —Vincent Jenewein
Cities Aviv - Man Plays the Horn (Total Works, 2022)
“This a Blackness, a Black Blackness / Before Black was a Blackness you sold on the map”
Jazz and rap’s relationship has undergone a fascinating transformation over the past decade. We have stalwarts like Kamasi Washington and Thundercat, but these genres, as always, have refused to stay stagnant; now in this realm are visionaries such as Earl Sweatshirt, MIKE, Moor Mother, and more who strain against any and all boundaries. Within this paradigm, Gavin Mays aka Cities Aviv continues to up the ante amongst the avant-garde rap cliques. He simply refuses to put out anything even slightly mediocre, devoting himself to his craft and refining it meticulously, eking out modular ideas to their most idealized versions.
This has brought us to Man Plays the Horn, Cities Aviv’s creative apex. That he’s constructed an 82-minute record that’s engaging from start-to-finish, that comes in an era when 40-minute records routinely come off as stale, is a testament to the type of level Mays is working at right now. His samples bustle with life and seem to morph on their own, akin to free improv. In Man Plays the Horn there exists a tacit appreciation for Black art, soul, techno, R&B, and most specifically jazz. That it does not devolve into navel-gazing and simple retromania speaks to the forward-thinking tenets ever-present in his music. —Eli Schoop
Purchase Man Plays the Horn at Bandcamp.
Mona Evie - “Bí và Ngô” (self-released, 2022)
Think of Mona Evie as the forthrightly Zoomer outfit in Vietnam’s small but mighty experimental scene. Compared to other outré Vietnamese albums from the past few years, Chó Ngồi Đáy Giếng finds teenagers rapping alongside trap beats, though not without ensuring the album is entrenched in various traditions of experimental music. The 13-minute closing track “Bí và Ngô” finds the group at their peak, bridging their pop inclinations and swirling collage structures. Its larger-than-life ambition sells it: the excessive, chintzy, but ultimately endearing guitar solo; the audacity to have legitimate R&B songs amidst the chaos; the longform drones that elevate the piece into transformative psychedelia; and the cutesy Rhodes-featuring outro that telegraphs sincerity about the whole enterprise. While there’s a clear linearity to the structure, the abundance of ideas here feels like Mona Evie are both having an incredible amount of fun while able to maintain the chaos. You often hear that debut albums are host to the most ambitious of ideas, but few have a track as monumental and kaleidoscopic as “Bí và Ngô.” —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Purchase Chó Ngồi Đáy Giếng at Bandcamp.
Maaya Sakamoto - “Bike” (JVCKENWOOD, 2003)
“Bike” sees no intention to look back once Yoko Kanno’s arrangements sets in motion. While the rhythm section quietly winds its turbines, Maaya Sakamoto is captivated by the sights quickly receding out of view like a child looking out of an airplane window. Her chorus captures the eternal fascination of jet-speed travel: “We can go anywhere, to anywhere, from anywhere / far away, until we can no longer see the shape of ourselves,” she sings, eager to lose herself among the tremendous velocity. The world begins to feel insignificantly small from the passenger seat as the song soars, and so does Sakamoto and her problems as she holds on tight to her driver in charge of the titular motorbike. —Ryo Miyauchi
Ji Zaodao (早稻叽) - “热爱105°C的你” (self-released, 2021)
I love things that are “terminally online.” The more difficult it is to explain to the average person, the better. Ji Zaodao’s “热爱105°C的你” (translating roughly to “Love You in 105 Degrees”) is a song that sent me down a microcosm of rabbit holes as I peeled back the layers of its existence. The artist is a VTuber (or virtual YouTuber), which already filters out people that don’t have a stomach for weeby things. Despite the song being sung in Japanese, Zaodao is Chinese and streams on the Chinese streaming site Bilibili. Learning how popular streaming with VTuber avatars has become in China was an adventure all on its own, but the nesting doll goes deeper. The song, as it turns out, is a cover originally by popular Mandopop artist A Si, who originally wrote the tune for a bottled water advertisement. Apparently, the song became a viral meme in China after a handsome guy sang the song in a TikTok, leading to a bunch of edits that I can’t begin to comprehend why they’re supposed to be funny. Finding a streaming community to sift through, a new artist discography to work through, and an entire meme culture to try and make sense of led me to opening about 20 tabs that I still need to study more thoroughly. But all that notwithstanding, the song is also just extremely catchy. —Shy Thompson
tal egg - spontaneous laughter (Ukiuki Atama, 2022)
Japanese label Ukiuki Atama hosts dozens of albums of outré noise, madcap collage, and irreverent bleeps; its purview is summarized most succinctly on its Twitter page as a “playground for everyone.” spontaneous laughter, one of the label’s first releases of 2022, embodies this sentiment to its core, serving as a potent showcase for the utopic fifth-world scribbles of the mysterious tal egg.
tal egg’s body of work raids many of the same omnipresent outposts of nostalgia as the Weatherscan jazz fusion of Nonlocal Forecast: the kitsch—a gloopy, comforting synthesis of educational VHS soundtracks, puzzle game drum ‘n’ bass, and twee virtual-reality Muzak—is the point, and the music is infinitely better for acknowledging it. spontaneous laughter is the artist’s snappiest and most consistent release to date, zig-zagging from the cheeky, pitch-bent celebrations of “lucky contestant number 11” to the airy downtempo breeze of “yoiyo dusk bird” without getting lost in its own eclecticism. Indeed, the album’s most disarming quality might be its self-awareness: the sugar-sweet, sketch-like compositions have about as much structural integrity as wet tissue paper, but at a quick 22 minutes, the ride ends far before any of its trademarks have the chance to grow cloying or tiresome.
Though spontaneous laughter doesn’t necessarily invite direct comparison, it’s noteworthy that it feels out of step with its competitors on the nostalgic-revival circuit: there’s nothing self-serious or overly researched about its appeal. tal egg nods (winks, salutes, somersaults) firmly to their inspirations without lapsing into dour beat-for-beat recreation or jarring inauthenticity. Not a single chuckle—spontaneous, or otherwise—feels unearned. —Maxie Younger
Purchase spontaneous laughter at Bandcamp.
lobsterfight - Sun Soaking (self-released, 2022)
A decade since the band played their last show, the brief discography of The Brave Little Abacus has become something of a holy text to a subset of emo’s fifth wave. Like Joy Division and My Bloody Valentine before them, TBLA’s brand of songwriting—nasally, maximalist, linear—was so distinct that it unintentionally spawned an entire subgenre of disciples. Sun Soaking, the sophomore album by Colorado’s Lobster Fight, is one of the best works to emerge from this microscene of young adults shouting over makeshift symphonies. Compiling an all-star guest list of contemporaries, the record is stuffed to the gills with ramshackle instrumentation, jazzy technicality and exuberance. It’s the sort of self-indulgent, grandiose statement bedroom-pop kids dreamed of making since the early ’90s but haven’t had the toolkit to realize until now.
“The Theme for This Evening’s Warm Dinner Salad,” which is nearly 10 minutes long, is a tour de force in 5th-wave whimsy. Its opening minutes sound like Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz re-created in a high school band room, manic drum fills approximating rhythm while singer/songwriter Anguel Sanchez layers a small orchestra’s worth of harmony until the mix reaches its saturation point. Each sound on its own may be cozy and inviting, but the gestalt is all-consuming: even when Sanchez’s voice wriggles through the chaos, the intensity never wanes. Even a more subdued track like “My Grasshopper I See the Sun Soaking through Your Teeth” is teeming with small details, its bossa-nova pastiche harkening back to John Zorn’s avant-exotica project The Dreamers. Sun Soaking sets the bar just a bit higher for a genre still finding its footing. —Jude Noel
Purchase Sun Soaking at Bandcamp.
Mioko Yamaguchi - FLOMA (pinewaves, 2019)
Recently, I was commissioned to write a retrospective on the ’80s output of self-proclaimed synth diva Mioko Yamaguchi. I’m not sure when that’s going up, but it’s always really fulfilling to take a deep dive into an artist’s entire body of work. Yamaguchi—best known for her work with YMO synth programmer Hideki Matsutake on a trio of city pop classics—recently came out of retirement after 35 years. In the time between what was once her career-defining swan song Tsukihime and her surprise return with Tokisakashima, she receded into a less visible role as a songwriter. I find her newer material fascinating, and not only because it’s surprisingly good. Yamaguchi has a genuine appetite for exploring new frontiers, and her recent output is worthy of standing alongside the rest. In order to feel confidently prepared to write that piece, I thought it would be a good idea to listen to her newer albums too, just in case they carried some interesting context—what I didn’t expect was to like one of them most of anything in her discography.
2019’s FLOMA feels like Yamaguchi’s moment of self-reflection as a legacy act in a massively different pop music landscape than the one where she carved out her path. The sound and production techniques are distinctly modern, but the songs are all re-interpretations of pieces she wrote in years that have long passed her by. Having become intimately familiar with her music over the course of weeks prior, it was surprising to hear stripped back versions of songs once packed with skilled session players like “Nirvana” or her signature synth-pop odyssey “Moon-Light Princess.” There are also covers of some of the tracks she penned for other artists during her hiatus, like the gorgeous “Cry Like Jane Birkin”—an homage to the late Miwa Kawagoe, who originally performed the track before passing away at the age of 35. Far removed from a young artist’s hunger for fame and no need to prove herself, FLOMA feels like a self-serving note of thanks to Yamaguchi’s past, before setting off for whatever awaits her future. —Shy Thompson
Chaos In the CBD - Brainstorm (In Dust We Trust, 2021)
Chaos In The CBD are the proper heirs to the classic NY deep house sound of the seminal Prescription label. “Echolocation” comes in slightly more uptempo, with a hefty, dimmed kick and a satisfying, earthy bassline. On top, a snappy clap, glistening filtered chords and an occasional dub siren round out the mix. “Mind Massage” is more of a slow burner, with lazy lo-fi percussion, a dark, thwacky snare, smoked out synth swells and a slightly dragging toned bassline. This is as classy as contemporary house gets. —Vincent Jenewein
Malin Genie - Midnight Zero (Empam, 2021)
Malin Genie is a producer that emerged from the new school of hardware-oriented French house about a decade ago. Over time, his sound has gotten increasingly idiosyncratic and moved away from classic Chicago/NY blueprints, a tendency he continues for the first release on his new label Empam. “Midnight Zero” is at its core a tracky Basic Channel number, with grainy chords all submerged in delayed waves of hiss and reverb, driven by wonderfully saturated textures and skippy, resonant drums. A bizarre intro and outro transform it into something just slightly off-kilter. On “Amon Hen” we get beautiful, wide, swelling pads and fast, watery hats over a kick that hits only once a bar, leading to an irregular, de-centered rhythm. Despite the overall vintage-orientated sonics, these slight odd details lend Malin Genie’s tracks a refreshing improvised, hot-off-the-machines feel. Old gear still has new tricks. —Vincent Jenewein
Enji, Popp - 031921 5.24 5.53 (Squama, 2022)
A good friend and someone I consider a mentor in music once tweeted a piece of her philosophy about interviewing artists, which stuck with me forever: “To have a great conversation with a musician, you have to fall in love with them a little.” I might be misremembering slightly because the tweet has long since been deleted, but the sentiment struck me deep to my core. For the hour or two that I’ve sat with artists for chats over the last couple of years, they become like my best friend until the time we decide to part ways. I hang on their every word, wanting to hear even the most irrelevant personalizing details; I prioritize their comfort, letting them guide the conversation into the directions that excite them most; and most importantly, I try to make my appreciation known to them—it’s not easy to talk about something as personal as your art with such candor, and I want to be a person they can trust with a piece of their heart.
So far, I’ve not had a conversation where I didn’t feel this way to some degree, but I felt it the strongest while talking to Enji. I touched on it a bit in a blurb I wrote for her previous album last year, but it meant a lot to me how I felt that our brains worked in similar ways. Our mutual understanding of modes of expression was validating, as someone that has an exceptionally hard time turning the mirror on myself. Most of the time, I try my hardest to leave an imperceptible emotional footprint; in that moment, it was a relief to finally feel seen.
When I happened to hear her voice again while tuning into an episode of Bandcamp’s weekly radio show, a bunch of warm feelings came rushing back. I felt proud that her art was reaching more people, and happy that she had the opportunity to share her story with more people. I was floored by the gorgeous sample they played from her newest collaboration with Simon Popp, which I was hearing for the first time. I also felt a little pang of jealousy; I wanted to be the one talking with her, so I immediately sent an email of congratulations on her appearance. I was going to ask for another interview, but I got nervous. Honestly, I’ll feel a little embarrassed if she reads this. lmao. The experience, I think, is a valuable reflection on why art can mean so much to us. We want to see the things we’ve let into our hearts succeed, because it vindicates those feelings that drew us to it in the first place. —Shy Thompson
Thank you for reading the eighty-fourth issue of Tone Glow. Happy listening.
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