Posts Tagged Bill Orcutt

The Most Basic American Consciousness: Bill Orcutt Twists Old Standards into Bewildering New Shapes

The Most Basic American Consciousness: Bill Orcutt Twists Old Standards into Bewildering New Shapes Illustration by Anna True

The music of Bill Orcutt is potent and sharp. With its oblong chords and erratic jumps across the fretboard, it’s a ravenous exploration of what guitar music can be, expelling notions of meter and structure to focus on feeling and timbre. Though it’s often lumped in with the American primitive tradition, it’s got a rawness and complexity all its own. After honing his chops in the ’90s noise unit Harry Pussy, Orcutt resurfaced in the late ’00s and began deconstructing nearly every style of old-timey American music. On his 2017 album, Bill Orcutt, which he released on his own Palilalia label, he takes on big band standards, hymns, jazz classics, and even Christmas tunes, warping and refracting them until they point toward the future instead of the past. We phoned Orcutt at his California home to discuss his recent switch to the electric guitar, how he settled on reworking classic American tunes, and tapping into the creative power of the unconscious.

Orcutt plays with Chuck Johnson and Samara Lubelski at Union Pool on April 12

AdHoc: I read you’ll be playing electric guitar on this tour, as you did on your self-titled release from last year. What made you decide to switch from acoustic guitar?

Bill Orcutt: I started on electric [guitar], so it feels good to go back and play it. It’s not completely different, but they are different instruments and require different technique.

All of my acoustic guitars are kind of beat up, so to switch to the electric was nice, because it’s a relatively new guitar that plays in tune without a whole lot of work. I was able to record at home and on my own schedule. I knew that I was going to rework the same material that I’d been playing for the last three or four years, with electric, so there was plenty of time to [set about expanding] that stuff.

Read More

Our Favorite Albums of 2013

Ahnnu: World Music [Leaving Records]

Since his re-emergence in 2011, sample alchemist Ahnnu has been constantly redefining himself across a string of breathing, sometimes chaotic releases. Records like last year’s couch and pro habitat put him justifiably on the map, but World Music, his finest, was the kind of “eureka” moment that illuminated everything that came before. It’s a tight yet seemingly endless 20 minutes, distinguished not just for its tone—focused, serene, expertly blending snippets of vox, tropicalia, and uh, world music—but by how infinitely likable it is. The ingredients for that are all in the details: the crashing synth waves that propel “gala,” the dueling trumpet solos and lounge jazz that balloon a timid asking of “what would I do,” and the way molasses-soaked trap dovetails into a palindromic string section on album closer “Monica/Swept.” Ahnnu’s best moments have always been when he combines sources both lucid and warm, and here he does it twelve times over, resulting in a voyage that feels way too damn short at first, only to lend itself to continued, repeat listening three months later. --Brad Stabler

Alberich: Machine Gun Nest: Cassette Works Volume 0 [Hospital Productions]

If Hospital Records has done nothing else this year, it's clearly pegged the union of American noise and techno to the historical European moment that was power electronics. The label used three vinyl anthologies of Alberich's cassette work to paint the New York artist as the most ardent-- if not faithful-- proponent of that movement. Note his infatuation with the machinations of state power, employing marching beats and dressing like a dystopian cop on stage. Kris Lapke has been deeply embedded in Dominick Fernow's label for a good while now, helping with Fernow's Prurient work and mastering Hospital material for vinyl. As evidenced by the more abstract work on Fortification, Lapke has a strong affinity for noise, yet his love for subtle grooves and stadium-sized tonality betrays a sonic lineage from rock. Machine Gun Nest encapsulates the Alberich project best, with Lapke translating Esplendor Geometrico and Grey Wolves into a more contemporary language, broadly encompassing whatever falls between techno and black metal. This is nightmare music, culled from both sleep and waking consciousness. The other best album on Hospital this year, a reissue of Lussuria's American Babylon, is the better abstract release, but Machine Gun Nest stands out for the possibilities it provides to listeners and musicians alike. --Mike Sugarman

Arca: &&&&& [Hippos In Tanks]

Since the release of Yeezus, it'd be hard to find an article about Arca that doesn't namedrop Kanye. While the 'Ye mention does provide context for the uninitiated, it also legitimizes Arca as a relevant artist that maybe people should pay attention to. But by the time his &&&&& mixtape dropped in July, it became increasingly evident that it was the creative work of Arca and other producers like Evian Christ that ultimately legitimized Yeezus as an album for people who are interested in forward-thinking production. Yeezus doesn't really sound like any other hip-hop album out there, but there really aren't any other producers that push the envelope like Arca does. &&&&& is the place where he truly shines.

There are times when I can't help but feel like I've heard everything worth listening to. Over the years, I've grown to expect little from new music, succumbing to the post-modern suggestion that everything has been done before. But when I listen to something as wildly unpredictable as &&&&&, I can't help but feel like there could be something new around the corner. --Ric Leichtung

Bill Orcutt: A History of Every One [Editions Mego]

More than Orcutt’s other solo records-- all of which are caustically expressive-- A History of Every One is marked by its restraint and, in many cases, its whimsy. The cleaner guitar sound helps, but his playing is likewise cleaner, more deliberate, and a strange brand of tender. The album is comprised of twelve loose interpretations of ubiquitous American songs— enigmatically slotting tunes mythologizing the kitsch heroes of white American culture alongside sorrow songs, surveying and personalizing contradictory iterations of an ill-defined national identity.

Orcutt’s stark, non-linear pairing of guitar and voice makes for an experience that changes its emotional tune with every listen. On cowboy song “Spanish Is The Loving Tongue,” Orcutt leaves plenty of space for his plucks, allowing each demure note to fall in and out of tune with his joyous-yet-pained vocal hum. And then there’s the capitulary gravity and calm of the album’s final track, a cover of Stephen Foster’s “Massa’s In The Cold Cold Ground.” Pure, sparse, and devastatingly beautiful, it’s Orcutt’s idiosyncratic take on a minstrel song, thereby pointing to a major part of historical American culture we often choose to ignore but passively accept on a day-to-day basis. Though Orcutt’s music is obviously more in line with that of, say, Blind Lemon Jefferson than Bing Crosby, he’s worried, it seems, about authenticity-- and whether our listening and his playing are unwittingly informed by the racialized “traditional” music (i.e., “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”) ingrained in the American musical vernacular. What does it mean, then, that we lump all of these songs (“Black Snake Moan,” “White Christmas”) together as part of some grand American tradition? Can anyone play any of these songs? Should anyone? --Joe Bucciero

Body/Head: Coming Apart [Matador]

The specter of Sonic Youth’s disbanding and the marital rupture at its core looms heavily over Kim Gordon’s debut record with fellow Northampton noisnik Bill Nace-- not just because that album is called Coming Apart, which probably couldn’t be a more appropriate title for a breakup record, but also because it’s simply the first thing we’ve heard from her since the breakup. Thing is, every song on Coming Apart also sounds like something broken, like the shattered skeleton of a soul tune that would otherwise be quite comforting to the emotionally down-and-out listener. That’s literally the case with the “Aint” and “Black,” covers of Nina Simone classics “Aint Got No (I Got Life)” and “Black Is The Color (Of My True Love’s Hair)” respectively, but Body/Head’s originals sound equally blown open and distended, as though the sonic building blocks from which they arise (improvised noise guitar, minimal note patterns, aleatoric word salads) were still in the process of deciding whether to cohere into something hummable. Sometimes, things crystallize into something truly awe-inspiring-- such as at the beginning of “Actress,” when Nace’s tidal wave guitar drones seem to speak to something fathomless and pained beneath Gordon’s abstract phrasings (“desire”; “will you make me a star?”), even to fill in the gaps in what language cannot say. Mostly, though, Coming Apart is just a beautiful, beautiful mess, to the point that I feel stupid even asking whether this is a noise album or a rock album, because its warm-blooded, vulnerable humanity is the thing that stands out to me most. --Emilie Friedlander

David Kanaga: DYAD OGST [Software]

A lot albums go unnoticed. Even our readers, who probably listen to an obscene number of records every year, miss things. But it's not due to a lack of access. YouTube by itself probably has more than a lifetime of music to dig in to, not to mention file-sharing, which creates a situation where listeners are subconsciously coerced into a diplomatic decision-making process when they're trying to decide what to consume. Odds are that Kanaga's soundtrack for the game "DYAD" won't reach too many easily, purely because most listeners don't have the same easy access to the game the music was composed for. But the music of DYAD is more than just programme music-- you don't need the context of having played the game to hear that this is an excellent album, though it does enhance it and make you appreciate it way more. The record spans nearly 30 tracks but still stands on its own two legs and possesses the same attention to detail and painstaking production you'd find in the year's best releases. --Ric Leichtung

Dean Blunt: The Redeemer [Hippos In Tanks / World Music]

It’s hard to know why Dean Blunt chose the string prelude to K-Ci & JoJo’s “All My Life” as the opener to The Redeemer, but it clearly sets the album’s theme. Back then, the UK artist would seem to say, things used to be good: “And all my life I’ve prayed for someone like you / And I thank God that I, that I finally found you”. But ever since, they’ve gone downhill. So when the LP ends with wistful piano ballad “Brutal”, all that is left for Blunt to say is that “You have gone away / And I’m still here”. As many critics have pointed out, from start to finish, The Redeemer is an archetypical breakup album; but contrary to the assumptions of some, it does show Blunt at his most sincere and vulnerable yet. Midway into the title track, he even dares to employ Diddy’s famous last words from “Victory,” that most glaring instance of pre-millennial pop-cultural hubris: “It’s all fucked up now”. Apart from such occasional bursts of desperate outrage, however, the suppressed, apologetic aggression that permeated last year’s unsettling The Narcissist II has for the most part disappeared, leaving behind only alienating answering machine interventions and Blunt’s helpless sarcasm. Indeed, what ultimately makes The Redeemer his most powerful work to date is the implied knowledge that if he has any chance for of redemption in the aftermath of this lost relationship which keeps haunting him, he will first have to admit that he’s not yet ready to not give a fuck. So when Blunt croons “You bring out the best in me” on standout track “Papi,” it’s also the recognition that the best did not suffice. It hardly ever does. --Henning Lahmann

DJ Rashad: Double Cup [Hyperdub]

To any consistent Ad Hoc reader, this pick probably seems like a no-brainer. The friends, fam, and staff of AH enjoyed many things in 2012, but the one, truly unanimous joy throughout the year was DJ Rashad’s TEKLIFE VOL. 1: Welcome to the Chi. The Chicago-bred, NYC-trained footwork sound was, even then, far from some recent or regional thing-- but Welcome to the Chi really felt like the style’s coming-out party to the rest of the world. If that Lit City Trax release was the capstone of first-wave footwork, Rashad’s Hyperdub debut serves as the confirmation that there’s still so much more exploring to be done, even while everyone is busy boppin’.

Heavy on collaboration with the promising next class of Teklife (DJ Earl, DJ Phil, DJ Manny, many others), Double Cup seems to stretch out in all directions at once, acutely aware of the times while seemingly not giving a fuck about what time it is. The treated soul samples, the hyper-speed percussive interplay, and the turn-on-a-dime transitions that remind you that he always has the proverbial “real song” waiting up his sleeve are all still there; there’s even an homage to the past on “Feelin,” where he re-flips the same Roy Ayers sample that kicked off the epochal Welcome to the Chi. But things on Double Cup are higher off the ground. The change in tone is best exemplified by the album-closing Earl collab, “I’m Too Hiiiiii,” an unexpectedly bleak but scarily beautiful jungle ballad that feels all too much like the sick thrill of going too far down the rabbit hole. The mutated vocals swerve out of rhythmic control, echoing themselves in multiple registers over shuddering sub-frequencies and frantic drum breaks that, despite their speedy interplay, come off frail and distant by comparison. Though, in ways, it’s as tragic as losing your life to the lifestyle, as many good people did this year, it’s more a testament to how frighteningly talented Rashad is, and a fitting ending to the best electronic record of the year. --Matt Sullivan

Donato Dozzy: Plays Bee Mask [Spectrum Spools]

In hindsight, the miscegenation of electronic music's abstract and dance realms was inevitable. The cynic will point to noise “going disco” as the precise moment when this meld came to a head, but the two were never that far apart. From Scientist to Aphex Twin, from E2-E4 to Pop, the flirtation was always present. 2013, though, was the year that the beat/ambient binary finally collapsed into a beautiful music, one betraying a number of future potentials. While other albums on this list sprang out of this moment, Donato Dozzy's defined and refined this ideal. Across seven remixes of Bee Mask's “Vaporware,” Dozzy articulates questions that have been on the tip of our tongue for years now: when sampling, what separates a remix from a new original? What percussion transforms an ambient piece into an electronic song? If adding a metronomic kick drum makes anything a dance track, what happens when you just add sixteenth-note high hats? All this food for thought is offered, yet Dozzy never force feeds it. And what makes Donato Dozzy Plays Bee Mask exceptional is first and foremost the sound. Sure, the consistency of source material lends lends aesthetic cohesion, but the studiously well-tempered deviation from track to track is more so the work of Dozzy's hand and heart than his mind. This is an album best enjoyed while laying in bed or driving in a car or just drinking some coffee and reading the news. Oh sorry, it's basically good all of the time. --Mike Sugarman

Hair Police: Mercurial Rites [Type]

Mercurial Rites didn’t make quite as big a splash as many of its fellow 2013 “comeback” albums-- a fact that, in my mind, can be partly attributed to it being not only a difficult record, but a noted sonic departure for the group. Though the sparser, more muted approach employed on Mercurial Rites isn’t completely uncharted territory for Hair Police, it’s new for them to stay so spread out over the course of an entire album. That’s not to say, however, that Mercurial Rites is in any way calm or inviting. There’s space between the sharp bursts of feedback, mechanic’s shop clangs, and vocalist Mike Connelly’s stifled cantations-- but that space is pregnant with dread, forcing you to listen closer, perhaps making you hear things that aren’t there. It’s an experience that feels akin to listening to the silence of an old house and hearing “ghosts,” comforted only when you suddenly hear a louder, more tangible sound with a source you can actually locate. Mercurial Rites thrives, though, on never giving you that last part: the comfortable cadence note. And that the atmosphere is more “abandoned factory” than “creaky old house” makes it that much more alienating. Mercurial Rites is, like many of 2013’s notable noise releases, “industrial,” but less in that it takes musical cues from Nitzer Ebb or Ministry and more in that it’s decidedly inhuman. --Joe Bucciero

Huerco S.: Colonial Patterns [Software]

Huerco S. speaks of architecture. He speaks of natural landscapes and organic forms. He speaks of arcology, the study of hypothetical, self-sufficient superstructures. He speaks of all this and more in order to shed some light on his stunning debut, Colonial Patterns-- to provide a point of access into an admittedly dark and fractured work of experimental electronic music. The truth, however, is that the music speaks for itself. From the industrial clatter and dense, synthesized fragmentation of “Quivira” to scorched, half-remembered house anthems like “Ragtime U.S.A. (Warning)” and “Prinzif,” the soundworld Brian Leeds constructs is a defiantly original one. Colonial Patterns is a record of deep, fascinating contradictions, at once esoteric and weirdly accessible, by turns utterly claustrophobic and astonishingly expansive. While it's somewhat restrictive to limit one's engagement with this album to the architectural connections that have been hammered into its surrounding discourse, few other albums in 2013 felt so thoughtfully and lovingly constructed. --Sean Delanty

Julia Holter: Loud City Song [Domino]

Julia Holter's third album was the first she recorded in a professional studio, a fact reflected in its meticulous attention to detail, from those soft, hissing cymbals at the opening of "Maxim's I" to the sound of seagulls on her beautiful cover of "Hello Stranger.” On Loud City Song, it’s the little moments that surprise and satisfy, creating the feeling that she’s guiding the listener through a single dynamic landscape rather than separate sonic moods. Certainly, it’s proof of the ways that pop music and more traditional composition can be successfully melded, with the coexistence of catchy melodies and classically elegant instrumentation mirroring the album’s conceptual tension between old and new forms. Holter has always demonstrated a fascination for the past, and here she focuses on a dated film to make a statement about the present. Based loosely around the 1958 French film Gigi, Loud City Song is an exploration of the disconnect and loneliness experienced in a big city. Paris, which has long served as a backdrop for artists to express their alienation, works as a metaphor for Holter's native LA, where living amongst a large population is more likely to lead to loneliness than to connection. It's a contradiction best explored in album standout "Maxim's I," where Holter invokes the gossipy thoughts of restaurant-goers (recreating a scene from Gigi ) to communicate that dreadful feeling of being both surrounded by a crowd and alone with your thoughts.  --Beth Tolmach

Joanna Gruesome: Weird Sister [Slumberland]

The opening riff of “Anti Parent Cowboy Killers” descends from above, launching us directly into the world of Weird Sister. With what follows, those initial two seconds seem like they might have been a mistake, a snippet of the band energetically warming-up before hitting the “record” button. Alanna McArdle’s voice is beautiful, but her emotional tone and curious words-- in combination with the layers of lo-fi guitars noodling behind her-- inform us that conjuring passive beauty is the last thing on Joanna Gruesome’s to-do list. And sure enough, after the verse, “Anti Parent Cowboy Killers” explodes into something irreverent to the possibility of delicate music, more informed by the tumbling rhythms of hardcore than the soft melodies of guitar pop.

Does this mean that the band can’t make up their mind on a sound? Not a chance. It’s an indication that Joanna Gruesome are unafraid to follow their impulses. The blend of harmony and dissonance on Weird Sister embraces the notion that if you want to make something beautiful, you should, and at the same time you can be loud, harsh, threatening. And if you don’t want to have to decide between male or female vocals, then you can have both (guitarist and songwriter Owen Williams joins McArdle here on a good number of the tracks), even have them sound out unison. And that if you want to explore your aggressive side in a song like “Secret Surprise,” that aggression doesn’t have to be limited to the song’s noisier moments-- “I dream of pulling out your teeth”-- but can carry over into passages of sonic sweetness, too: “I’ve been waiting to crush your fucking skull.” If early-to-mid-2000s indie pop is stuff of the past, along with ‘90s grrrl punk and the hardcore of the ‘80s, the current rise of an act like Joanna Gruesome helps illuminate our present musical moment. This young band is working to show that nostalgia can be a catalyst for something new and that musical trends never have to limit what you can express, or how you should express it. --Madeline Steinberg

Kelela: CUT 4 ME [Fade To Mind]

In a recent interview with Complex, when asked about engaging with underground audiences versus mass-market appeal, L.A. singer Kelela Mizanekristos replied that  “ambiguity is the most comfortable thing, the space between is where I want to live.” Lyrically, CUT 4 ME reveals a similar affinity for contradiction, engaging the grey areas of love and intimacy in the evolution of a relationship, shuttling between heartache, desire, and disappointment. On the production end of the project, one of the more striking things discussed about this release was Kelela’s marriage of confessional R&B with avant-garde beatwork from the Fade to Mind/Night Slugs contingent, and her determination in taking the lead in the composition of each track, in effect changing the power dynamics between DJ and chanteuse. While that’s a topic to consider in determining this mixtape’s significance, I’m honestly more interested in her willingness to inhabit an in-between state within musical genres and to voice conflicting and disparate desires often within the same song, recognizing that they are often so absolutely intertwined, respectively, in being a contemporary artist and in articulating feelings. --Luis Polanco

KMFH: The Boat Party [Wild Oats]

Kyle Hall’s latest, his debut LP and first solo release in two years, is a fucking badass: a chest-beating, fiery sucker that throws Detroit's various traditions into a splicer and extracts only the hardest remains of what’s left. The young musician has subverted his city’s expectations at every turn, preferring to work from the outside in, dotting potential anthemic trots with M60-loaded drums and phasing, distorting, and overblowing his samples. His penchant for relentless assault is by no means a repellant one, and The Boat Party remains one of 2013’s most essential dance records, while doubling up as a statement of intent.

Prior to the Party, Hall often excavated the more melancholic aspects of Detroit techno, taking some of the best work of Theo Parrish and Omar-S and reflecting it onto a funhouse mirror of UK bass and broken dub. While that’s still there on this LP (such as on “Crushed”), Hall’s main mission is to drive a rhythm until it breaks. “Dr. Crunch” dirties a synth line and repeats it infinitely, subtly distorting it while bringing a pounding kick drum deafeningly to the forefront. “Finnapop” flips ghetto tech on its ass, replacing the spoken filth with an equally spiteful and profane musical vocabulary. Either way, Kyle Hall throws himself into each tune with concentrated abandon, letting a no-nonsense mindset push his sounds into the outer limits of what we thought Detroit was capable, all the while giving no quarter for anyone who doubts it. --Brad Stabler

Laurel Halo: Chance of Rain [Hyperdub]

Laurel Halo’s 2012 album Quarantine coolly skidded across an anxious digital plane, one riddled with the detritus of information technology and the fraught nature of connectivity. Halo’s uneasy vocals spoke to that dystopian sci-fi reality, charging it with the perils of dehumanization. On “Tumor” a distant background vocal proclaims, “The signal keeps cutting out but one thing is clear / Nothing grows in my heart, there is no one here.” But Halo is quick to note the contingency of her lyricism, it too being threatened by disconnection. Quarantine closed with a disquieting sentiment: “Words are just words / that you soon forget.”

On Chance of Rain, Halo distances herself from the frailty of language altogether. She has, in fact, voiced her discomfort with singing, instead exhibiting an unabashed preference for crafting dynamic instrumentals and primal beats. In that regard, Chance of Rain is a logical successor to Behind the Green Door, an EP she released earlier this year. Where Quarantine was a hazy, multimedia experiment in post-pop, Chance of Rain is more meat-and-potatoes techno, deeply indebted to the thumping rhythms of Detroit. But to limit Chance of Rain to the techno label would be to disregard the multifaceted grooves and textures that Halo is playing with, from lilting piano (“Dr. Echt”) and ambient choruses of synth (“Melt”) to hard-edged and industrial bangers like “Still/Dromos.” Chance of Rain isn’t an album to snuggle up with, nor does it want to be; it can be a challenging listen, skeletal and unnerving. But as the title suggests, Chance of Rain is an album of contingency. Whether Halo’s tracks are playful or hard-nosed, distant or inviting, we may never know, but embracing those uncertainties and contradictions makes our listening experience all the more rewarding. --Julia Selinger

Migrations In Rust: Two Shadows [NNA Tapes]

Funny year it's been for the Red Light District. The collective of musicians and friends went silent for a few months after Sandy hit their Far Rockaway venue in October 2012. Yet 2013 was the year that Pharmakon released her debut on Sacred Bones, Yellow Tears played for the first time since 2011, John Mannion bought a theremin, and Alberich enjoyed a comprehensive reissue campaign on his friend Dominick Fernow's Hospital Productions label. DJ Dog Dick even got the old venue off the ground again. Jesse Allen-- part of Cathode Terrer Secretion alongside Mannion-- also released his most high profile work yet as Migrations In Rust, enjoying the visibility of releasing vinyl alongside Nate Young on the tautologically cassette-centric NNA Tapes. At first taste, Two Shadows rang as some sort of distended hip-hop project, like the sounds DJ Screw heard as he robotripped over death's curb. But upon closer listen, the album revealed itself to be the definitive, capital-“D” Drone statement of the year, blending the hi-fi ambience of orchestral samples with vocal-crooned climaxes. For all the moments that nod toward hip-hop, there are also those steeped in a bizarre insinuation of a jazz band, such as on “Cradle Under Fern.” As Allen noted in our interview with him, the album took him years to make, which is probably why it sounds like it will take years to reveal its multitudes. Jesse Allen-- effectively a noise musician in all of his other projects-- reveals that noise is not 100% over, just that it was never 100% the point. --Mike Sugarman

My Bloody Valentine: m b v [Self-Released]

Upon m b v’s release, review after review emphasized the utter improbability of the album’s existence. For many of My Blood Valentine’s fans, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that whenever-- if ever at all-- the Loveless follow-up emerged, it would disappoint. But it didn’t. Aesthetically, most of m b v engages in direct conversation with its predecessor, employing that trademark Valentinian musical language of swirling, smeared guitars and hypnotic, breathy vocals. But-- as one might expect from an album over 22 years in the making, I suppose-- most of these songs feel joyously unhurried, reveling in their unique, understated majesty. There are so many moments on this album-- melodies, chord progressions, tiny little musical gestures-- that I feel like I could listen to on loop forever without ever growing bored: the main guitar lead on “only tomorrow,” which seems to be in a perpetual state of simultaneous disintegration and regeneration; the way that Shields' gorgeously simple melody on “who sees you” feels like it could circle around on itself endlessly; or the sublime interplay between the rising synth melody and Shields' relaxed, at times even behind-the-beat “doo doo”'s on “new you.”

And we musn't forget the visceral and intense, tonally distinct final third of the record. There were very few more genuinely thrilling musical WTFs this year than “wonder 2,” which closes the album with an overwhelming onslaught of guitar screeches, airplane engine noises, and drum & bass-inflected rhythms unlike anything the band has put to tape before. I'm too young to have heard Loveless when it was first released. Instead, like many others, I found the album through best-of-the-90s lists and years-old blog posts, and then built a relationship with the record on my own, deeply personal terms. As 2013 draws to a close, then, I feel so lucky to have been able to share in the communal celebration of yet another magnificent My Bloody Valentine album. --Sean Delanty

Oneohtrix Point Never: R Plus Seven [Warp]

Oneohtrix Point Never’s now-infamous video for “Still Life (Betamale)”-- one of the more arresting things I’ve seen this year-- begins with a distant, anonymous female voice that isn’t featured on the album. In a cold, husky tone, she says, “As you look at the screen it is possible to believe you are gazing into eternity […] You can see every detail clearly, but cannot grasp the meaning.” Such are the sobering thoughts that R Plus Seven provokes. Through the album’s bricolage of unsettling loops and swelling synthesizers, Lopatin brings to the forefront any and all fears about the simultaneously inviting and terrifying glow of cyberspace. To a certain degree, these are the same aural building blocks with which Lopatin created 2011’s Replica, but the intent this time is different. While Replica’s layered sounds created some semblance of, dare I say, grooviness, R Plus Seven is a far more jarring affair, its sounds more abruptly juxtaposed.

As a result, OPN’s confrontation with digitalism is all the more confusing. It is something that comforts and engulfs us (“You see the things that were inside you”), sometimes to the point of anxiety (“You cannot find your way out of the maze”). It is simultaneously transient and perennial, disconcerting and pleasant. Ultimately, R Plus Seven is anything we want it to be, be it a commentary on disconnection, a work of heightened emotionalism, or a surreal mélange of syncopations. It’s this dual effect of guided authorship and personal experience that makes R Plus Seven such an enduring listen. In the words of the “Still Life (Betamale)” video itself, “You are convinced it has been created solely for you.” --Julia Selinger

Pure X: Crawling Up The Stairs [Acephale]

It has been repeatedly noted how Pure X's second album differs from the first in its mode of production, its carefully constructed songs recorded over multiple months rather than executed in a single, flawless take. The most significant consequence of this evolution is a more complex emotional palette; Crawling Up The Stairs offers a confusing, beautiful journey through a psychic breakdown and its subsequent, meditative resolve. That this is a record of dualities is immediately evident from the album artwork, which pictures a black snake and white snake intertwined. That unity of dark and light-- and the rejection of false polarities between good and bad, future and past, ignorance and wisdom, is central to the Pure X aesthetic, as is the manipulation of formal elements that are rather ordinary in themselves-- swirling guitar lines, distant-sounding feedback-- but that, combined, speak to a certain, transcendent truth. It’s a truth full of painful yet potentially transformative contrasts, one we can hear coming through on tracks like "I Come From Nowhere," where individual ego balks against the rigid markers of identity. The speaker in "Thousand Year Old Child," meanwhile, knows what is is to grow up while still being stuck in the helpless mindset of a kid.  In "Someone Else," Nate Grace sings, "Come on, break me / Like you've been done yourself / Come on, take me down / Deep into your hell." In Pure X's music, that hellish realm is a necessary stop before surfacing on the other side. --Beth Tolmach


Tony Molina: Dissed and Dismissed [Melters]

Dissed and Dismissed seems, at first glance, to be very much a product of its time, a record heavily immersed in the ‘90s guitar rock references that have experienced a revival in the past few years. But Tony Molina, a veteran of the San Francisco hardcore scene, doesn’t limit his musical vocabulary to the melodic sensibilities of Guided by Voices, Weezer or Teenage Fanclub. Instead, he reaches back further, playing with our reverence for ‘90s alt-rock and the perceived kitsch of their antecedents. After all, Molina probably loves the life-affirming guitar heroics of Thin Lizzy just as much as Rivers Cuomo does. At the same time, Dissed and Dismissed’s taut and infectious, minute-long songs can also feel like an exercise in Ramones-ian pop deconstruction, occupied as much by Molina’s meticulous, baroque guitar arrangements as they are by his vocal hooks. And yet somehow, for all their brevity and structural simplicity, Molina manages to make these songs sound decadent. It’s these juxtapositions-- of minimalism and excess, and of camp and cool-- and the apparent effortlessness with which Molina executes them, that make this an album worth returning to. --Miguel Gallego

Bill Orcutt & Chris Corsano: "10"

Bill Orcutt & Chris Corsano:

Bill Orcutt records a lot of music and Chris Corsano records with a lot of people. Orcutt-- Harry Pussy founder-- has performed with Corsano in the past, which accounts for the improvisational acuity of the two as a unit. The Raw and the Cooked-- sharing a title with the famous Lévi-Strauss' tome-- was in fact recorded during the duo's summer 2012 tour. Being the consummate collaborator that Corsano is, he has by necessity become very good at listening to his co-improvisors. But what's remarkable about this duo is just how in-step they are. To put it simply, Orcutt and Corsano know just when to rock it out and then just how to pull it in.

The Raw and the Cooked is out June 1 on Palilalia Records.