Our Favorite Albums of 2015.5

Our Favorite Albums of 2015.5

This list appears in AdHoc #7. Purchase this issue or subscribe.

Container: Appliance (Spectrum Spools)

Spending nigh zero time fucking around, Ren Schofield starts Appliance with a squall of feedback to orient us and then unsettles us once again with a flamin' hot kick line. Last year's stellar Adhesive EP marked a major progression for the Container project, with Schofield's decisions to up the pace and blow out his timbres proving modest on paper alone. Furthering this maximally raw aesthetic, Appliance cements Schofield's status as a purveyor of some of the most visceral, psychedelic party music out there, thanks to grooving industrial rhythms that would hopefully make Esplendor Geometrico proud. The palette is economical, and during moments when Schofield works in some non-percussive element—such as the siren synth on the exemplary “Cushion”—it feels like emergency glass has been smashed so that he can flick the switch labeled “Jack All Bodies In The Vicinity.” But after a few listens to Appliance, when you've been desensitized to the gleeful romp of quantized ultraviolence, marvel at how much drama Schofield can build, how much variety he lends these tracks, using a palette of sounds that you can more or less count on one hand. -- Mike Sugarman



Dawn of Humans: Slurping At The Cosmos Spine (La Vida es un Musica Discos)

Dawn of Humans was ripe for a full-length record—or rather, rotting for one—and so here comes the 26-minute-long LP Slurping At The Cosmos Spine. After several tape demos and 7” records, the band has become more refined, at least as refined as a band with a perpetually naked frontman could be. It should be obvious that Dawn of Humans will never be a pretty face for the press or make catchy tunes to appease the airwaves. But in case we needed proof of this fact, the bouncy rhythm on “Horse Blind” is countered by a mutant vocal effect. The melodic experimentation on “Mangled Puzzle” and “Fog Sclope” is sandwiched between bursts of classic Dawn of Humans auditory ferocity. Even the most sprawling track on the album, “Secretion / Grapitudonce of Hinsenctor,” is pure ooze, no air sockets. They’ve dragged the torch this far for NYC punk; they might as well brandish that beat-up, blood-covered thing proudly, because they know by now how to do it without burning their hands. -- Maddie Rehayem 

Eartheater: Metalepsis (Hausu Mountain) 

Every so often I get a sense of dread stemming from the technology in my life. The moment I’m cognizant of the compulsion to pull out my phone for no real reason, I’m sent into a charade of digital asceticism—purging Twitter and Instagram from my phone, only to re-download them a couple of days later. Eartheater’s debut full-length release, Metalepsis, harnesses the tension that digital consciousness brings to our lives. As a guest on Sonic Pilgrim on Newtown Radio, Eartheater (a.k.a. Alexandra Drewchin) said, “I’m highlighting the lifeline between us and it. We understand how we work harmoniously or how we don’t—the crazy anxiety that comes from the internet. But ultimately a computer is sourced from the Earth just like anything else is, and I know that’s a broad way of looking at things, but I find a lot of solace in looking at it that way.” Just as the internet is ripe for trailblazing, Metalepsis cuts its own path sonically with the fullness of its artistic vision. Drewchin takes the listener from the grounded familiarity of vocal melodies and guitar seamlessly into moments of less familiar territory—soundscapes laden with samples and blurred loops that sound simultaneously human and alien. Possibility is Eartheater's prime aesthetic: where genres aren’t merely hopped between, but rather sewn together in a larger living fabric that doesn’t see the necessity to stop itself from ever growing. Drewchin further reminds us that “The Internet Is Handmade.” It’s an extension of ourselves if we choose to perceive it as such. However we choose to incorporate it into our lives is up to individual agency, and Metalepsis is a bold document of psychic wayfaring into the question of how much. -- Jeremy Purser

Foodman: COULDWORK (Orange Milk)

It’s been a solid year for Shokuhin Maturi, a.k.a. Foodman. The Japanese producer has dropped at least four lengthy albums by my count since this time in 2014, winding his way through the slur of hip-hop/footwork bravado, spazzed-out Japanese noise, and surreal soundscape designs that make his moniker so deliciously appropriate. Compiling these disparate threads within a single album could prove challenging. Then again, there’s COULDWORK. Boiling Foodman’s wide range of sonic stylings to bear on a single, cohesive cassette of both older tracks and new recordings, his recent release on Orange Milk combines classic noise-wonkery with what could perhaps best be described as “tangential juke,” an incorporation of the juke’s jittery rhythms and off-kilter syncopations into a broad spectrum of productions running from standard dance-floor exercises to rhythmic meanderings into Vaporwave and straight noisy crunch. The pieces are inevitably rhythmic in their repetitions and progressions, even when it’s a set of sludgy synths putting each other through the paces, or a few cheap drum samples tickling their way through a field of industrial sonics. Throughout, Foodman’s work remains well focused, with a track selection that maps out his project from the past several years in impressive concision. It’s this concentrated essence that puts COULDWORK above his previous works, and which paints a bright future for the artist moving forward, while showing the potentials for his work when he makes a point of stripping the fat. After COULDWORK, it would seem that Foodman is ready for the world, but is the world ready for Foodman? We’ll find out later this year, when Orange Milk releases his full-length LP. -- Daniel Creahan

Gel Set: Human Salad (Moniker)

For as minimal as the situation can get, Gel Set’s debut LP Human Salad reveals a surprising amount of emotional depth and dynamism. Throughout the album’s ten tracks, Laura Callier, Gel Set’s sole operator, swings from resolute solitude and instability to questionable confidence and companionship, all portrayed through a series of rhythmic entanglements and austere, mutant techno. But where Callier’s compatriots of the dark, lo-fi techno world shroud any trace of visible emotion underneath crippling heaps of distortion and gritty low-end, Callier leaves everything out in the open, vulnerable to any and all comers. From opener “Phantom Ring” to closer “Ether Or,” Callier balances intensely personal, emotionally transparent lyrics and bizarrely humorous, startlingly clever turns of phrase. Tracks like “Forest Floor” and “The Abyss” modernize the tenets of chilled dark wave into sublimely saccharine synth sounds, with the latter besting established bedroom curators of mutant funk like Maria Minerva. But Callier never shies away from reveling in aural oddities either, eschewing pretense for alluringly alien anthems on “Double Vision” (“You say you got six senses? That’s cool. I got ten.”) and “Hola Puta.” All in all, it’s a mesmerizing debut by an artist with a completely open future. -- Bobby Power

G.L.O.S.S.: Demo (Self-released)

Years of transphobia in punk, particularly d-beat and hardcore punk, has yielded heaps of pent-up rage, and G.L.O.S.S. (Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit) is taking no prisoners as they spark the trans-punk revolution. G.L.O.S.S. formed in late 2014, and by January of this year had a demo that rapidly sold out and is now getting re-pressed on tape and as a 7”. Although the band shares members with some of Olympia’s premier punk bands (like Vexx and Slouch) their widespread popularity amongst punks across the nation might better be explained by the social change they’ve brought about in just five brief songs. They gave a voice to the outcasts and made the phobes question themselves after giving the demo a listen (or two or three). They brought the women and trans people to the front of the pit. In an interview in the May issue of MRR, Corey, the drummer, mentioned reviews of the demo that say things like, “If this band was an all dude hardcore band this demo would be okay, but it’s amazing because it’s not.” I would consider that the quality G.L.O.S.S.’ demo might come from the purity of their aggression. No music seems better suited to express the shit trans people go through every day inside and outside of punk than blistering, heavy, d-beat influenced hardcore they’ve been left out of. Chaotic yet articulate, G.L.O.S.S. makes more justifiably furious music than any cis band ever could. -- Maddie Rehayem

Holly Herndon: Platform (RVNG Intl. and 4AD)

Platform is pretty dense: thick with commentary and unplaceable sounds. On her second full-length, Bay Area-based composer Holly Herndon crafts ten distinct and detailed vignettes, riffing lyrically and sonically on internet fads, accelerationism, feudalism, the present, the future, and much more—all with a singular post-internet sheen. As technologically impenetrable as it might seem, however, Platform derives its power from its palpable humanity. Note the inclusive, multi-voice uplift of "Morning Sun" (Herndon's best-ever pop tune); the on-point sense of humor in "Locker Leak"; or the intimate, affirmative, slightly unsettling, ASMR-like "Lonely at the Top." Coated with uneasy and unclear mixtures of sincerity and irony, and organic and synthetic sounds, Herndon's hybridous music defies category. Herndon-as-artist becomes, in effect, a twenty-first century manifestation of Donny Haraway's cyborg: interested in cultural affinities (security, pop culture, Greek yogurt) over identities—which in 2015 are fluid, hybrid, perhaps separate, and permanently on display, both IRL and URL. Who and where is Herndon as she makes this music? Who and where are we when we listen? Natural, outside world sounds permeate "Unequal" and "Locker Leak," only to quarrel with the sounds coming from within Herndon's laptop. "Glass lasts," she mentions in "Locker Leak." But "Grass lasts," too. Really, though, who knows what'll last? The histories of the things we use are too short to project them into the future, or to describe with fluctuating human language ("glass" becomes "grass"). For now, Herndon is concerned not with the specifics of whatever future but with how to ensure its existence. -- Joe Bucciero

Jam City: Dream a Garden (Night Slugs)

Jam City’s follow up to 2012’s Classical Curves surprised a lot of his fans. Veering away from the glossy, industrial sheen that encapsulated much of his first album—from the motorcycle lying on its side on the cover to the precise, futuristic productions inside—Jack Latham’s sound has evolved in line with a desire to explore the affective potential of music. He has likened this progression to that of making an album that holds up a mirrored surface to consumerist capitalist society, then creating an album that “shouts something back.” One of my favorite things about Dream a Garden are the interviews he gave leading up to its release, a chance to properly contextualize an album that has been widely described as “political.” The rare man in electronic music to vocalize the “oppressive masculine energy” embedded within DJ culture, let alone any sort of feminist issue, he pointed to articles by music writers Steph Kretowicz and Lauren Martin, as well as the importance of continuing the dialogue about how people are unfairly expected to fulfill different roles in the world of electronic music, and society at large, solely based on their gender. Latham has been writing poems to grapple with his frustrations about the broken systems that govern our everyday lives. Some of these provided the lyrical content of Dream a Garden, his voice buried under textured layers of overdubs. Despite its contextual fuel, Dream a Garden is hopeful and imaginative, its compositions analogous to Latham’s strategies to combat oppressive forces. -- Bianca Giulione

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma: A Year with 13 Moons (Mexican Summer)

In our recent interview with Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Berlin-by-way-of-San Francisco-by-way-of-Dallas producer and co-head of Root Strata revealed that A Year with 13 Moons almost never came out. Apparently stuck “in limbo” for three years after the label that commissioned it faltered, the album eventually found a home with Mexican Summer. A Year with 13 Moons absolutely needed to come out, as it perfectly captures a prolific, prone-to-collaboration musician in his most focused solo state. Cantu-Ledesma’s time as part of Tarentel, Raum (with Liz Harris), the Holy See (with Jim Redd), the Alps (with Alexis Georgopoulos and Scott Hewicker) saw him working toward heady transcendence that pulses through drone, noise, kraut, and psych. Yet, on his own, Cantu-Ledesma retreats into more secluded beauty. Armed with a slew of tape machines looping sound snippets—both incidental and orchestrated—he processes influences like 4AD (largely Cocteau Twins and Robin Guthrie) and Factory (the Durutti Column and Vini Reilly) into nuanced sketches of beatific melancholy. While most tracks on A Year with 13 Moons stay under the three-minute mark—except for a couple extended ramblers—the collection drifts from scene to scene in a lethargic composite, rife with tape infidelity and worn bliss, naturally placing the missing piece into Cantu-Ledesma’s sprawling jigsaw puzzle. -- Bobby Power

Jessica Pratt: On Your Own Love Again (Drag City)

On Your Own Love Again does not slip easily off the tongue. The odd title of Jessica Pratt’s stunning sophomore LP is a decidedly original turn of phrase, even if it sounds like a cliché you could cross-stitch onto your grandmother’s cushion—an apt juxtaposition for an artist who so seamlessly blends tradition with idiosyncrasies. To that end, the record features Pratt’s voice, acoustic guitar, and little else, recorded on a 4-track in her Silver Lake bedroom to lend the sound a warm, intimate feel that keeps it squarely in the wheelhouse of back-to-basics folk. Hervoice, however—which recalls the airiness of Vashti Bunyan and the childlike whimsy of Joanna Newsom—is still wholly her own. Helium-high yet possessing depths of wisdom, it’s both an instrument and a storytelling device, evoking heartbreak and loss with the ease of an improviser and confidence of a control-freak.Throughout the record’s nine tracks, Pratt cycles between succinct melodies and contemplative murmurs. “People’s faces blend together/Like a watercolor you can’t remember in time,” she sings with conviction on “Game That I Play,” before meandering off into “la la las” and “oh ohs” like she made up the earlier line on the fly. Tracks like “Back Baby” offer tighter conclusions, as Pratt makes peace with a love that didn’t work out, offering a reminder that she “can’t go back, baby,” even if, sometimes, she prays for the rain. It’s a sad, sweet sentiment from a songwriter who has clearly always worked alone, but it’s a pleasure to experience an album that relies so thoroughly on the weight of a singular artist. The billowing songs would run adrift without her. -- Arielle Sallai

Jim O'Rourke: Simple Songs (Drag City)

In January, Stereogum asked, "Will 2015 Be The Year Of The '70s Singer-Songwriter?" At the time of publishing, they seemed to be onto something. Their list of '70s-indebted artists included several worthy inheritors of a particular Nilssonian or Mitchellian tradition, only really excluding (to my mind, at least) Ryley Walker's update of early '70s jazz-folk. But, for better or for worse, they actually ended up being more right than they could've known. Two-and-a-half months later came the announcement of Jim O'Rourke's Simple Songs, his first solo album since 2009's The Visitor—and Simple Songs out-'70s-es Natalie Prass, Jessica Pratt, and Tobias Jesso Jr. in its first thirty seconds. The melodic, James Taylor-esque stomp that introduces album opener "Friends With Benefits" puts O'Rourke's myriad gifts immediately on display: his precise guitar work, his simple-but-lavish string arrangements, his unconventional-but-accessible harmonies, and above all, his voice, barrel-aged and warmer than ever. Throughout Simple Songs he establishes high highs and low lows, moving through influences from Cat Stevens to Todd Rundgren to Harry Nilsson to his beloved Burt Bacharach, and taking unexpected musical twists and turns along the way, like the climactic howls of "Hotel Blue" or the country bounce in the middle of "Last Year." O'Rourke's bombastic pop chops have never been so present, hitherto hidden within eight-minute pastiches or masked by a clever smirk. Indeed, O'Rourke does the '70s with more gloss than his 2015 contemporaries. But, as one might expect, he never quite gives it to us totally straight. -- Joe Bucciero

Jlin: Dark Energy (Planet Mu)

Jlin’s take on footwork is refreshing—one that diverges from the typical Chicago model of samples upon samples in favor of a more minimal approach. Hypnotizing yet threatening, her work is a dangerous combination that somehow manages to be surprisingly symphonic, statically charged by the sort of ominous tension akin to being struck by lightning and subsequently swept away. From the menacing burble that signals the beginning of “Erotic Heat” to the choral vocal loops of “Expand,” a collaborative track made with Holly Herndon, Dark Energy presents 40 minutes of some of the most dramatic, left-of-center dance to emerge from the Chicagoland area since DJ Rashad’s own. Fueling everything is something dark and so incredibly raw that it has to lurk in the shadows. However, as she told AdHoc earlier this year, there’s nothing negative about this simmering narrative of blackness; to her, the complexities related to the concepts of dark and chaos can give rise to something truly beautiful. -- Sandra Song

Kara-Lis Coverdale: Aftertouches (Sacred Phrases)

Kara-Lis Coverdale is a blossoming presence in the ambient community. Between last year’s A 480 on Constellation Tatsu and her collaborative efforts with Tim Hecker, the Montreal-based artist has found herself as the ghost-in-the-machine with Aftertouches. Shapeshifting, Coverdale weaves effortlessly past both physical and technological realms and, in the process, creates a series of celestial modern classical miniatures. The sweeping moments of beauty are balanced with stabs of electronic grit: an acrylic portrait of a Cronenberg-esque organism, morphing, half human, half machine. The ebb and flow of "Icon /c" is a prime example of her key ability to blur the line between tradition and fantasy. The song begins struggling to perform as a western choral hymn, deconstructed voices lightly emerging from some far off, suffocated location, only to be stifled again by a punctuating synth line. Don't get me wrong, Aftertouches is not chanting "Long live the new flesh" as diligently as this may make it seem. It's an album existing purely in its own duality, and is equally as playful as it is menacing (song titles like "Touch Me & Die" and "Ad Renaline" serve purely to elevate the listener’s awareness of this). The album's weighted sincerity is countered by the notion it is entirely possible to have a sense of humor in the afterlife. -- Neil Lord

Krill: A Distant Fist Unclenching (Exploding in Sound and Double Double Whammy)

I remember driving around in the tour van of an indie rock band I was in a few years ago listening to Krill’s first album, Alam No Hris, covetously thinking about how well they zig-zagged back and forth between basement-show-ready catharsis and the more sophisticated compositional concerns of rock arrangement. Now three albums further down the pike it seems this latter element seems to have reached a point where it’s gained at least as much driving force as Jonah Furman’s charismatic accounts of neurosis. In this sense, Distant Fist Unclenching is the culmination of the traditionalist indie rock belief system that if you bust your ass living out of a van and touring through the year, it will manifest itself in elevating your music. Here it clearly pays off. As drummer Ian Becker’s skittery, mixed time signatures fold into themselves at satisfyingly funny angles, Furman and guitarist Aaron Ratoff spryly keep in sync, taking as many cues from the avant-chops of Deerhoof as from minimalist janglers Unrest. You’d be hard-pressed to find overdubs or hints of studio magic on this record; for the most part, it’s pure uncut indie-trio crack rock chemistry. On top of it all, Furman’s vocal delivery remains true to itself here, a tight-rope walking between distant self-awareness and bristling emotional urgency beamed straight from his psyche. He does refine his narrative frame on Unclenching though, most notably with “Tiger,” a freshly simple folk parable, which in the context of Krill’s minimalist palette makes a stark impression. -- Max Parrott 

Lotic: Heterocetera (Tri Angle)

J’Kieran Morgan, who produces and DJs as Lotic, often describes himself as an outsider. Alongside like-minded communities and artists—GHE20G0TH1K, Janus (which released his stunning Damsel In Distress mix last year), Rabit, WHY BE, TOTAL FREEDOM, Arca—theHouston-born, Berlin-based musician affirms his marginal status by directly exploring and expanding the queer person of color origins of dance and club music. While many of the “corny straight white dudes” of his adopted city are comfortable ignoring the history of appropriation foundational to places like Berghain, Morgan makes this history—as well as his personal history—central to his music. Morgan’s most recent EP for Tri Angle, Heterocetera, takes its name from a term the black feminist, scholar, activist, and poet Audre Lorde uses to denote and dismiss the set of shared experiences that form the boundaries of heterosexual life. With a simple “cetera,” Lorde and Morgan waive the concerns of straight life and the social bonds formed around them into oblivion. It’s a paradigmatic displacement that opens the club space to a different social orientation, one that inverts (or re-inverts) the hierarchy between the margins and the center. The music that follows from this shift—abrasive, fragmented, fluid—seeks a breaking point after which the familiar becomes unfamiliar and vice versa. The “Ha Dance” sample that opens the title track pours forth like mercury, swirling, writhing, and circling back on itself as a dembow loop drives the song forward. On “Phlegm,” a delicate melody twinkles and turns as it gets pummeled by rapid-fire kick patterns. Restrained closer “Underneath” builds to a sneakily breathtaking climax as a dip in the steady procession of kicks gives way to rhythmic palpitations. Each song is swarming with sounds at once mechanical and liquid, pleasurable and discomforting, clinical in their precision and deeply emotional. -- Joseph Ocón

Palmbomen II: Palmbomen II (RVNG Intl.)

Sometimes you don’t want to know where music comes from. Maybe the great synth revival of the late aughts burned itself out on gear fetishism, disappearing up its own inputs via an endless, recurring tangle of patch cords. Sure, you can peruse the Palmbonen II press notes for trigger words like Arp and Oberheim, and yes, the record comes courtesy of an impeccable Beats in Space/RVNG pedigree. But when I share the haunting music of Kai Hugo with a new potential convert I usually just say, “Listen to this, you’ll like it.” As we reach peak internet and every trace of forgotten and obscure culture becomes repackaged, reissued and thoroughly documented, those precious moments when something fully formed drops right into your lap and you don’t even have to think about it must be savored. The notion of musicians tapping into a higher source of creativity to create something timeless and eternal is as old as it is wrong-headed. There is no question that the music of Palmbomen II is meticulously constructed, deliberate, and precise. The real trick is setting aside that technical mastery and allowing the music to exist on a plane of abiding eloquence on its own terms. -- Max Burke

Pile: You’re Better Than This (Exploding in Sound)

Years ago I learned that Dischord’s perennial #1 bestseller is Minor Threat’s Discography. Someone turns 16 every day, and despite annual obituaries for the perpetually embattled genre, the allure of punk in all its guises has never waned. I like Pile because I can listen to them in a vacuum and they make me feel young again. The band embodies the qualities—sincerity, passion, and assiduousness—that seemed most imperiled by the aughts explosion of passive, inward-looking, ultra-prolific knob twiddlers. Pile gazes defiantly outward, and the directness of their approach is a key to their appeal, with Rick Maguire reciting deadpan narratives over expertly orchestrated loud-soft guitars. The buildup and release of your average Pile song somehow manages to trigger a recollection of every great guitar rock moment in the audience’s collective memory—a cloud-based solution that invariably conjures the twin demons of liberation and despair that so potently characterize the adolescent experience. You might not like how every Pile song makes you feel, but you’ll never second guess how it’s meant to affect you. -- Max Burke

Prurient: Frozen Niagara Falls (Profound Lore)

Dominick Fernow is likely the most well-known purveyor of noise and power electronics in the   world, thanks to his projects Prurient and Vatican Shadow, his label Hospital Productions, and his association with Gothic-leaning post-punkers Cold Cave. His name recognition and stylistic flexibility meant that news of him signing with Canada’s Profound Lore, a label almost entirely devoted to the various shades of metal and heavy rock, actually didn’t come as a huge shock. Nor does the fact that his first release for the label, the double-CD/triple-LP Frozen Niagara Falls, recorded under his most-used moniker, Prurient, is as uncompromisingly dark and ugly and furious and amazing as ever. For 90 minutes, Fernow explores the many sides of his musical universe. He takes a creepy, grumbling dig through sonic rubble (“Lives Torn Apart (NYC)”); lets broken synth loops provide a backdrop for death metal roaring (“Every Relationship Earthrise”); twists the knife in the base of your spine using some particularly nasty noise (“Poinsettia Pills”); and uses two of the longest tracks (“Greenpoint” and album closer “Christ Among The Broken Glass”) to showcase some delicate acoustic guitar playing and breezy atmospherics. Frozen Niagara Falls is a bewildering spin—almost impossible to take in one long sitting, if   only because it demands so much of your attention. It runs counter to any instinct we may have to treat music like background noise or a lifestyle accessory. -- Robert Ham

Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe and Ariel Kalma: FRKWYS Vol. 12: We Know Each Other Somehow (RVNG Intl.)

Okay, so it's hard to make statements like “this is the best FRKWYS yet” when RVNG Intl.'s series of collaborations between youngins and elders seems to consistently birth the definitive statement of whatever paradigm the musicians at hand are working in, be it new age revisionism (Vol. 8, featuring Blues Control and Laraaji), 21st century dub (Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras's collaboration with The Congos, on Vol. 9), or “American primitive” (via Steve Gunn's and Mike Cooper's dueling acoustic guitars on Vol. 11). But We Know Each Other Somehow is a little bit harder to categorize. Call it ambient or drone or contemporary classical or (here's my suggestion) spiritual jazz, or just don't bother calling it anything, and just tell whomever you're going to spin it for that she is about to feel bliss in a big way. The meeting of home-recording, vagabond minimalist and former GRM employee Ariel Kalma with popular ambient musician, Robert A.A. Lowe (aka Lichens), has resulted in an album that is meditative without ever skirting stasis, abstract without ever threatening alienation, heavy while remaining subdued. On it, a paradox plays out. The music is fully electronic—the sounds of nature are mixed to be artificial, the products of human breath (voice and saxophone) are digitally treated—yet the electronic elements always bear that distinctly human quality of two people sitting down, listening to one another, and playing only when playing is right. Not since that moment when new age and minimalism initially intermingled—leading to the finest works by Laurie Spiegel, Steve Roach, and J.D. Emmanuel—have the roles of the electronic machine and the human using it been so incestuously entangled. -- Mike Sugarman

Ryley Walker: Primrose Green (Dead Oceans)

There are two kinds of revivalists of moments from musical past: those who wish they were there and those who wish the moment never ended. The first type is prone to making music that might perfectly snapshot the spirit of an era, but brings just as much food for thought and soul as an episode of That '70s Show. The second strives to start a post factum dialogue with its influences—treat them as a starting point and contribute to their development, wherever their intuitive art-making might take them in the end. This seems to be the MO of Chicago singer-songwriter Ryley Walker, a noise scene kid-turned-acoustic guitar prodigy. On his second LP Primrose Green, Walker’s trad-folk/raga-guitar fingerpicking and psychedelic, avant-jazz labyrinths are undeniably rooted in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, at various times recalling anyone from Tim Buckley to Davy Graham to Nick Drake; however, Walker’s unparalleled skill at his instrument and level of dedication (he goes as far as to lacquer his fingertips for added punch) make him sound like a contemporary to all those greats and not merely a mimic. This impression is underscored by the intricacy of Primrose Green’s lush, tidal arrangements. For the album, Walker invited over half a dozen of Chicago’s most creative instrumentalists from both the jazz and post-rock worlds, who together add a sense of improvisational camaraderie and freedom that are hard to come by on most records so deeply anchored in styles past their prime. Primrose Green is old-timey, precious and immaculately practiced, which make for a surprisingly fresh combination. -- Patryk Mrozek

Sheer Mag: II (Katorga Works)

The second 7” from everyone’s new favorite rock group out of Philly, Sheer Mag, this time sourced by Brooklyn punk label Katorga Works (who also recently put out records from Pure Disgust and Vanity, among others). At first listen, it did seem a little bizarre how beloved Sheer Mag had become in predominantly punk and hardcore-focused communities. The old audiences that seemed more focused on d-beat and noisecore were suddenly moshing more to riff rock, and in some sense they are emblematic of a greater shift in taste and interest, a greater stray going in two directions: further into scraggly anarcho-esque political rage or classic rock riffing more akin to protopunk like Cheena, Nancy, Freak Vibe, among others. On their first, self-titled EP, Sheer Mag nailed the blueprint for the latter in just one song (the infectious sock-hop-crasher on speed, “What You Want”), with three equally high-quality singles flying by right after with an effortless sort of swagger. On their second EP, the tone is slower, icier, its throbbing four-on-the-floor step more akin to Black & Blue-era Stones than the Exploding Hearts. Though the tone feels perhaps more restrained, it’s an equally gritty listen and the mood remains stubborn and sneering. The tales of personal abuse and corrupt human behavior reveal themselves in scenarios broader than private interpersonal relationships—crooked landlords trading favors, local aristocracies manipulating neighborhoods, individualism being censored, and lead singer Christina Halliday’s hurricane voice calling them all out. -- Matt Sullivan

Sicko Mobb: Super Saiyan Vol. 2 (Self-released)

I’ve been trying this new thing where I try to be more positive about things, and to be honest, Sicko Mobb’s Super Saiyan Vol. 2 is probably the main thing that’s made this task somewhat feasible. Face-numbingly cheery, Sicko Mobb’s Lil Trav and Ceno have managed to achieve something great—one-upping their critically acclaimed debut with an even more unbelievably hyped, can’t-stop-won’t-stop, sugar-rush of a sophomore album. Between the galloping Auto-Tune effects, the Nelly shouts, and the “two-tone dread” tangential skits that will cause you to crack up mid-commute, Trav and Ceno somehow manage to outshine an almost-overwhelming amount of euphoric synth swoops, technicolor hooks, and skittering percussion. Just try not to get too buzzed off all that “Kool-Aid.” -- Sandra Song

Six Organs of Admittance: Hexadic (Drag City)

For most of his career as Six Organs of Admittance, Ben Chasny has honed a very meditative brand of acid folk, combining Indian ragas, Arabic maqamat, and Buddhist ceremony and philosophy. So meditative that if you never saw him play live and weren’t familiar with his psychedelic jam band Comets On Fire, you’d think he didn’t have a threatening bone in his body. And unless you’ve had the chance to listen to his 1996 recording debut—The Wicker Image, from his short-lived project Plague Lounge—the Fushitsusha and Dead C influence on Hexadic might come as a total shock. Chasny is, however, a noted fan of Keiji Haino, whose influence is palpable with nearly every lick of guitar on his new record, Hexadic. Curiously, it seems to have happened almost by accident, as Chasny created every song on the album using a method he created involving playing cards, recalling prominent 20th century composition systems from the likes of Cage, Stockhausen, Boulez, Braxton, Eno, and Zorn. The compositional method—which randomly determines which note the band will play, and for how long—elevates the record from pure Haino Land to Boris/Earth-tinged doom rock and the aggressive noise-rock of Sightings and Wolf Eyes at times, such as on tracks like “Wax Change” and “Sphere Path Code C.” Playing with longtime bandmates Noel Von Harmonson (Comets On Fire) and Rob Fisk (Badgerlore), Ben Chasny is probably not finished with completely acoustic music, but Hexadic is an amazing expansion of the Six Organs sound world, the project’s hardest-hitting record, and possibly the strongest artistic statement of Chasny’s career thus far. -- Isaiah David 

Sparkling Wide Pressure: Clouds and Stairs (No Kings)

Frank Baugh has been recording and performing as Sparkling Wide Pressure for almost a decade now, churning out some 50 albums, splits, EPs, and collaborations on micro-labels from all over the planet. Clouds and Stairs might be the definitive SWP release, though, distilling Baugh's wide-ranging musical meanderings into a single cohesive collection. All of Baugh's touchstones are here: fireside folk guitar, lush drone-scapes, and psych-rock flourishes, all filtered through a lo-fi, bedroom-pop haze. And after a decade of honing his home-recording chops, he's no longer a jack of all trades. He's damn near mastered them all. Balance has always been what's defined Sparkling Wide Pressure—the methodical vs. the improvisational, restraint vs. excess, noise vs. calm—and Clouds and Stairs is certainly no exception. It's littered with field recordings and incidental sonic artifacts, but the layers have been meticulously arranged; nothing is out of place, and nothing happens without a reason. Distant melodies haunt the background, while harmonies decay in the foreground. And the influences are still far-flung, with southern twang and cosmic drones often sitting side by side on the same track. The result is a gorgeous record of meditative washes that you could swim in for hours on repeat—very much recalling Baugh's work as a painter, where abstract layers leave forms more implied than explicitly expressed. -- Matthew W. Sullivan

Young Thug: Barter 6 (Cash Money)

One, how often is radically fresh music the most fun music and, two, how often does it blare from cars driving around your city? Both Giant Claw's Dark Web last year and Arca's &&&&& satisfied criterion one but not two. But the past couple of weeks, I've been able to stand at the corner and hear the sparse bass thud of “Constantly Hating” whizz past the crosswalk, or coast on my bike alongside a car blasting “Just Might Be” and sing along to Thug making an analogy between his girl's heart and an old diaper. The car stereos confirm what the social media-driven success of past hits “Stoner” and “Lifestyle” suggested, which is that Young Thug really is a people's champion. And given the album’s supposed anti-commercial stance—the lack of party anthems, Young Thug's disregard for lyrical legibility—you've really got to give it up to the people for their high thresholds for weird. Many critics kvetch that the lyrics have no message and are rife with clichés, but with repeated listens, a dream logic unfolds, its narratives strewn across stray lines as opposed to delivered directly, through cogent verses. But poetry always frustrates those hungry for immediate meaning, yeah? Take “OD,” with its couplet encapsulating how oppression engenders violence, juxtaposing that infuriating murder in Ferguson with the death of the Atlanta rapper’s brother to gang violence at just seven years old: “RIP Mike Brown, fuck the cops/Screaming RIP Bennie, shoot up the block.” With a reality like that, no wonder Young Thug is always rapping about dreams. -- Mike Sugarman

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