Thomas Strønen / Time Is A Blind Guide: Lucus (LP, ECM, January 2018)

This may be a foolish thing to say — I am far from an expert — but this strikes me as a very ECM-ish record. The line-up is strings, piano, and drums (Time Is A Blind Guide are the band; Thomas Strønen takes the writing and percussion credits). It is, for the most part, relentlessly sparse and brittle, triangulating a point somewhere between a highly abstracted strain of modern classical, what I’m choosing to call minimal jazz although I still don’t know whether that’s actually a thing, and the plangeant tones of early music. At times it even sounds like it’s already been through Villalobos & Loderbauer’s Re: ECM treatment. If that makes it sound terribly po-faced then I apologize, because this has a real lightness of touch and even a playfulness in places. I must admit that there a few of the more full-on moments which strain my jazz-tolerance, and one track (Wednesday) that exceeds it (this is my problem, not the records; but this is my blog, so I get to complain about it anyway). But it’s mostly a very pleasant listen, and there’s some real magic in the quieter moments.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Jazz / Fusion.

IVVVO: Prince Of Grunge (LP, Nyx Unchained, January 2018)

I’m not quite sure what genre this little 18-minute beauty from Portuguese producer  Ivo Pacheco is, except that it certainly isn’t grunge. A lot of the sounds are basically rave: rhodesy keyboards, synths so fuzzy you reckon he must have scraped them out from the back of the sofa, even those heavily-filtered pseudo-operatic vocals at a push. But the song structures sure aren’t rave. I’m not at all sure what the song structures are. I guess that, if I had to compare it to anything, it would be Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972, just for being a knight’s move away from the genre… but where Hecker gives maxed-out drone, this has a real stuttering aggression. Oh, and it has a great line in disturbing samples, starting with Born’s crying baby which quickly develops a worryingly Eraserhead-ish gurgle to a kind-of call-and-response of a seductive “what is your… ultimate fantasy” against a panicky desperate “I am lost” in I Don’t Know. Well, whatever genre it is (and frankly, for blogging purposes, I’m just going to make some shit up), this is certainly a very worthwhile addition to it.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Aclds: Fuadain Liesmas (CD, Entr’acte, January 2018)

I want you to imagine a giant robot, lost in a world it does not understand, holding a more aleatoric Morton Subotnick in one hand and a noisier Autechre in the other hand and trying to figure out how they work, while the mad scientist who built this poor creature plays fragments of The Caretaker and Stars Of The Lid to try to sooth it. That’s not what this record sounds like, but it’s the best I’ve got, so let’s go with it. There are walls of buzzing noises, torrents of blips and pops, and echoes of sad, droning melodies. There are also surprising moments of subtle beauty. Can a perfectly positioned and executed click be beautiful? I don’t know what weird mind tricks it’s playing, but this album makes me think the answer is yes.

I bought this from the label.

Pauline Anna Strom: Trans-Millenia Music (2LP, RVNG Intl, December 2017)

I normally steer clear of reissues and retrospectives and the like: I struggle enough finding time giving enough attention to all the new music I want to listen to. But this one kind of sucked me in. A compilation of material dating from ’82–’88, it’s floaty synth stuff that I guess you might call new age, except that hardly does it justice. There’s something about the noises she coaxes out of her machines and the way she puts them together that can only really be described as other-worldly. And although I guess the sound palette is pretty identifiably eighties, most of these tracks seem pretty timeless (the most obvious exception being the cod-Japanese Bonsai Terrace, which would smack a bit of cultural appropriation by today’s standards, besides being a bit cheesy). Rather beautifully packaged, too. I’ll even forgive the glaring typo in the album name.

I bought this from RVNG’s bandcamp page.

Hior Chronik: Out Of The Dust (LP, 7K!, December 2017)

Hior Chronik lists his influences as Max Richter, which I can absolutely see, and Arvo Pärt, which I confess I can’t (although I don’t know Pärt as well as I probably should). This is a dozen tracks of piano, strings (cello by Aaron Martin), and a gorgeous muted trumpet (Christian Grothe — the one who is Kryshe, I guess?), plus a bunch of ambient effects (rather more than Richter normally goes in for). The combination of drone and melody is basically spot-on as far as I’m concerned. If we’re playing the references game, I’d add that the scrapy (I’m sure that’s not the correct technical word) wilderness-evoking string sound reminds me a bit of Richard Skelton, the slightly celtic lilt of Claire M Singer, and the interplay between the brass and the synthy wash a little of Vangelis (a comparison which, I would guess, is probably pretty annoying to Greek composers, but I promise it occurred to me before I’d consciously made the link of nationality). It also figures that Chronik has collaborated with Dictaphone. But, more importantly, this stands on its own as a deep, emotional, and genuinely beautiful record. A late contender for classical album of the year, I reckon.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient.

Colleen: A Flame My Love, A Frequency (LP, Thrill Jockey, October 2017)


If, like me, you know Colleen (aka Cecile Schott) from records like Les Ondes Silencieuses and The Weighing Of The Heart, you’d probably be quite surprised that this album ditches the viola da gamba and, seemingly, all other acoustic instruments entirely. Apparently she’d started out adding a Critter & Guitari pocket piano synth into the mix, couldn’t make things work, and ended up producing it entirely on the boxes-with-knobs. The result sounds quite a lot like Raymond Scott’s 1963 curio Soothing Sounds For Baby, only with more modern production and with Schott’s wonderful, restrained vocals (on 5 of the 8 tracks). This is a good thing, of course. Highlights include Another World, which indeed a genuinely otherworldly little ditty, the evocative Winter Dawn, and especially the entrancing title track with its plangent drone (listen out for the wonderfully melting noises in the higher harmonics that emerge mysteriously from the synth’s circuitry) in some barely-audible  and a vocal line that speaks volumes in barely two dozen words.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Luciferian Towers (LP, Constellation, September 2017)


Ah, good old Godspeed. After the epic metal excitement of 2012’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, this is rather more business as normal. Which isn’t to say that it’s restrained, of course…

There’s that perfectly poised counterpoint of resounding melody and screeching dissonance, of guitars and strings. There’s a nice dose of brass this time around. There’s a blend of rock, folk, classical, and drone. It’s emotional, edgy, and uplifting. It has track names like Bosses Hang and Anthem For No State. I imagine what I’m about to say is some kind of sacrilege — after all, this is undoubtedly angry, political, and important music — but twenty years after I first encountered them, this is a bit like comfort food to me. Which is to say, I listened to it on the streaming magic, I thought “very nice, but I don’t actually need to buy that, I have plenty like it”, and then a bit later I found myself listening to it again, and then again, and then I’d fallen for it and I ended up splurging on the beautiful gatefold vinyl because it turned out that, actually, this is stuff still means something special to me after all.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Indie / Alternative.

STILL: I (LP, PAN, September 2017)


This is one of those records that’s kind of hard to classify, but very easy to like. It’s kind of like a electronicified form of Jamaican dancehall and dub. From Italy. I suppose that track names like Haile Selassie Is The Micro-Chip should give you some idea of what’s going on. Simone Trabucchi lays down tracks that are based around bloops and bleeps from analogue synths and drum machines, with a distinctive loose and echoey production. MCing is from six African-Italians. It’s all decidedly wonky and rather delightful. Personal favourite is the rolling up-tempo Don’t Stop (Wondo Riddim) with duelling vocals from Germay and Devon Riles.

Bonus points for the cover art, which features something that looks a bit like a plastic sculpture of Lee “Scratch” Perry as executed by Raoul Hausmann.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic and Dub / Reggae.

Kaleida: Tear The Roots (LP, Lex Records, September 2017)


I wasn’t really expecting to like this. Kaleida are described as electropop, and most modern electropop seems to involve co-opting a dance music style that was hot in the underground a few years ago, watering it down, slapping an uninteresting vocal over it, and marketing it cleverly. Whatevs, right?

Well, it turns out that [cheesy voice] I don’t actually like this… I love it! For one thing, Christina Wood has a great voice, rich and versatile and emotional without being showy. For another, Cicely Goulder seems to really get minimal: every synth part is a masterclass in what you can achieve with a few clicks and bloops, and many of them are dead catchy too; and her production is ace. I can’t really put my finger on why, but somehow everything just gels perfectly for me. It’s, like, dance-pop music that I could actually see myself dancing to — fancy that, eh?

There are some gloriously infectious touches in some of the more upbeat songs, like pitch-bending synth harmony in All The Pretty Pieces and bassline in Division. The closing title track is a lovely ballad, swooshing strings and piano and a suitably epic vocal. Extra props, also, for the quietly ominous cover of Nena’s 1983 smash hit 99 Luftballons (and let’s all hope that its nuclear war protest message doesn’t become any more relevant than it is already…).

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Myrkur: Mareridt (LP, Relapse Records, September 2017)


This is a lot of fun from Amalie Bruun. It’s basically a cross between Scandinavian black metal and vaguely Celtic folk. She sings, mostly in her native Danish, with a style that ranges from a the more full-throated end of folk up to a melodramatic Kate Bush — and, just occasionally, a nice bit of shrieking for good measure. The music combines traditional metal guitars with some ferocious fiddle-work, the percussion goes from some equally high-octane metal drumming to something you could almost imagine was a bodhrán. Oh, and she apparently plays (among many other things) a nyckelharpa, which was new on me and I think might account for the almost medieval sound to some of it, and one track prominently features a jew’s harp. It has a nice line in spooky atmospherics, too, and some cracking tunes. Some tracks are more obviously folky, with just an underlying sinister growl to hint at its other side. Others are more straight metal. But it’s at its best, for my money, are the tracks where the two seem to be battling for dominance, coming on like The Devil Went Down if one of the duelists had turned up with a guitar and a stack of Marshalls instead of a fiddle. How could that not be brilliant?

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Dark Ambient / Drone / Metal.