Mike Shiflet
The Choir, The Army

Under The Spire

I always admire the patience in Mike Shiflet’s records, the way principles of ambient music appear alongside the tones of early 21st century noise — lingering, slow motion movements, steadily evolving, and almost purely textural. In fact, it’s easiest to break down the sound of The Choir, The Army, Shiflet’s newest on Under the Spire records, in terms of basic texture. The album begins with soft rain and wet gravel, moves on to a smooth sonic goo, introduces a hint of sandpaper, and eventually morphs into an explosion of rock and metal (I’m talking raw materials… not musical genres!) Such sheer contrast of tones is, for me, the record’s most arresting quality, particularly when a nasty bit segues into an eerie, beautiful, languid chordal figure like at the end of Side A. Needless to say, this is recommended for fans of ambient music, harsh noise, ‘sound artists’ and beyond. - Keith Rankin, Experimedia 

Vladislav Delay
Kuopio

Raster-Noton

Kuopio, the latest full length from Sasu Ripatti’s Vladislav Delay moniker, doesn’t sustain the same ferocity that his Espoo EP from this summer did, but that is probably for the best. In lieu of an overbearing all-out assault, the extreme filtering techniques used on Espoo are reigned in and applied to a broader selection of looped pulses and textures, creating a fleshed-out and fully realized album. Where the EP was singularly focused, Kuopio is all encompassing, where it was carnal and sensual, Kuopio is slightly more ponderous. As with his previous long player Vantaa, the Finnish landscape is again the inspiration and that is apparent from the outset. It is a geographic survey in BPM, covering everything from the titular city to the northern hinterlands. Tracks range from cosmopolitan to industrial to arctic, sometimes hitting all three in a matter of moments. The concept remains solid and benefits soundly from Ripatti’s masterful touch. Progression is a key element of the Delay project, but the trajectory isn’t always straightforward. Kuopio’s advances may be subtler than its predecessor, but it is no less engaging. - Mike Shiflet, Experimedia 

Billy Roisz
Walking The Monkey

Editions Mego

Billy Roisz is an artist whose work I am far more accustomed to seeing than hearing. While her visual manipulations are stunning, (the AVVA collaborative DVD with Toshimaru Nakamura is a personal favorite) I don’t think I’ve ever heard Ms. Roisz in a purely audio context. Walking the Monkey doesn’t disappoint. It is every bit as compelling as her video work, but for entirely different reasons. What sets the album apart from its Viennese kin is how particularly lo-fi and, I’d dare to say, American it sounds. It is the first record I’ve heard from the Austrian Klingt crew that could be casually mistaken for a Hanson or American Tapes offering. Opener Spinning in Ecstasy comes across more Dead Machines than Dieb13 and the title track practically sounds like a one-woman Sixteen Bitch Pile-Up. There’s something in the way Roisz’s bass and electronics interplay, crudely and brashly combining for some sublime warped results. Beneath the gnarled surface, however, there are still plenty of nods to country and scene of origin. Even a few moments, like the opening of Feeding the Monsters, that could only be described as vintage Mego. For the better part of a decade, European electro-acoustic improv has been leaking into the American underground. Walking the Monkey’s surprise role reversal, intentional or not, is most welcome.- Mike Shiflet, Experimedia 

Cut Hands
Black Mamba

Very Friendly/Susan Lawly

Assembling a Cut Hands follow-up had to be a fairly daunting task for Mr. William Bennett, the self-applied Afro Noise descriptor hanging over his head the entire time no doubt. Adhering too strictly to his repertoire wouldn’t offer much upside. Nor would venturing too far outside of it. But Bennett found no shortage of angles from which to attack, maintaining the parameters that aesthetically and definitively shape Cut Hands while radically shifting them from one minute to the next. Not only do none of Black Mamba’s tracks sound rehashed, no two of them even sound alike. Given the narrow framework we’re talking about here, that is beyond impressive. After a brief and baffling intro, the album’s title track makes it obvious right away that the drum palette has been significantly expanded and the rhythmic complexity upgraded a level or two to boot. The tracks with more of a noise focus also sound sharper than their predecessors, the violent and shrill feedback replaced with a more collected and composed aural display. Every aspect of Black Mamba sounds more refined and precise. Credit where credit is due: Bennett is a tactician and a brilliant one at that. The man isn’t afraid to back himself into a corner or to lunge ferociously out of one. - Mike Shiflet, Experimedia

Ekkehard Ehlers
Adikia

Staubgold

There is a lot to digest in Ekkehard Ehlers’ Adikia and I mean a lot. First off the glitch ambience of his early works is entirely absent. Outside of the one running ProTools, there isn’t a computer present at all, everything is performed on fairly traditional string and wind instruments along with voice and percussion. The tonal palette has more in common with Polweschsel (whose Werner Dafeldecker contributes) or the recent David Sylvian output. In addition to the instrumental shift, the compositional approach is also fairly radical for Ehlers as Adikia presents itself in the form of a single 27-minute piece with subtle, reflective movements. It’s a concentration of elements that have peaked through in his work before, but are here reformed in a way that I can’t imagine many saw coming. Even for a man with a rich history of pushing his audience out of their comfort zone and refusing to rest on his laurels, this is a very bold statement. Fans of electro-acoustic improvisation and modern composition will definitely take more away from it than those looking for a return of Plays-era Elhers, but anyone up for the challenge is sure to find some rewards within Adikia. - Mike Shiflet, Experimedia 

Eli Keszler
Catching Net

Pan

Installations - Compositions. That hyphen is important. Eli Keszler’s pieces represented here aren’t one or the other, but chimera blends of the seemingly disparate experimental music practices. The first disc features both of sides of Cold Pin (the previously released PAN LP) complimented by an unreleased live recording featuring the same unit as the vinyl tracks. Altering between sections of extended resonance and chaotic precision, the three variations on this piece highlight Keszler’s extensive range at its schizophrenic finest. The second disc begins with Catching Net, the first few minutes of which could easily be mistaken for some vintage Nonesuch rarity. Backed by a string quartet this time, the piece is a bit more reigned in at first, but eventually unfolds and reveals the Keszler-isms lurking beneath the surface. From there, the collection is rounded out by two unaccompanied installation pieces, Cold Pin playing itself and Collecting Basin, a long string construction in Louisiana. If you are new to Keszler’s work, this is a great introduction. And if you already happen to have the Cold Pin LP, there is still more than enough new and unique material here to satisfy. - Mike Shiflet, Experimedia

Vladislav Delay
Espoo

Raster-Noton

Vladislav Delay returns to Raster Norton with a new EP of stereoscopic insanity. Espoo is as carnal as it is geometric. The beats, swells, and pulses could be described dancing around or devouring each other. Either seems completely appropriate. It could be M.C. Escher. It could be Hermann Nitsch. The foreground and background show each other no respect, constantly fighting for attention, volleying elements back and forth as they compete for the listener’s attention. Each track is built around a simple loop, but the processing and filtering are borderline Caligularian in their excess. From the resonant undercurrent, a blistering shimmer will arise, have its brief moment in the spotlight and find itself swallowed up by a subharmonic pulse just as quickly as it appeared. This process is repeated throughout the 12-inch’s sixteen odd minutes, while the original loops hold everything down and attempt to feign some semblance of normality. As heavy as it is light, as immense as it is simple, this one is a real mind-melter. - Mike Shiflet, Experimedia 

Stephan Mathieu
Code (For WK)

12k

 Previously available only on the deluxe and pricy vinyl version of A Static Place, 12K are now making Stephan Mathieu’s Coda (For W.K) more widely available. While the artist and label consider the work a coda to last year’s acclaimed full length, it actually comes across as more of a counterpoint. While the process used for the new piece is the same as that for the album tracks, the output is quite different beyond a superficial surface-level likeness. For starters, there is much more happening in the upper frequency than anything on the previous record. (Perhaps the 78’s used as source material were in slightly worse condition?) The detailed hiss and granularity are mesmerizing. Beyond that, there is simply more dissonance, more internal conflict on Coda. Elements seem at odds with one another more frequently as the material sampled and the media of choice seem to clash more often than they converge. And somehow the work is actually stronger as a result. Coda envelops the listener every bit as much as A Static Place, but in a completely different way. The instantly enjoyable laid-back haze has been replaced with a baffling fog of contradictions. It’s a beautiful evolution of Mathieu’s grammaphone technique. I’m already curious where it will go next. - Mike Shiflet, Experimedia

Kassel Jaeger
Deltas

Editions Mego

I’ve long been a fan of work that rides the fine line between noise and electro-acoustic improvisation/composition. Though the hybridization seems less popular the further we move away from the early-to-mid-2000’s glory days of the EAI scene, recent albums that have explored this unique terrain have been almost uniformly well-received. I’m thinking specifically of Jason Lescalleet’s latest offerings and the acclaimed Ankersmit/Tricoli duo’s Forma II from last year. Well, there might be another addition to that list shortly. With the ferocity of the former and the palette of the latter, Kassel Jaeger’s Deltas is every bit as worthy of a unanimous heralding. The LP is comprised of three tracks, each of which has a strong conceptual base is delivered with a deceptively frantic focus. The planetarium-commissioned, meteoric manipulations of the A-side Campo Del Cielo are a far cry from the laser light shows we get here in the Midwest and the title track draws inspiration from the stalemate created when two bodies of water collide. It’s definitely a work on the high-minded side of things, but the tracks never get too caught up in themselves and are executed with a gritty approachability that’s just as remarkable as the conceptualization throughout. - Mike Shiflet, Experimedia 

Natural Snow Buildings
Live Sheffield London 2012

Blackest Rainbow

Natural Snow Buildings get the official bootleg treatment, somewhat ironically in an edition  larger than  the bulk of their catalog. I don’t know if these two sets were culled from an entire tour’s worth of shows, but they certainly capture the band in prime form.  The terrain charted in each performance is similar - cinematic atmospherics that settle into song form after 10 minutes or so, 20 minutes of droning and tinkering, and a hypnotic, pulsating finale that  slowly erases itself - a solid set list, for sure. That doesn’t actually diminish the listening experience however.  Like a good trail hiked repeatedly, the subtle differences along the path are actually heightened by their familiar surroundings. - Mike Shiflet

Central Living
Dune Church

Blackest Rainbow

A new duo featuring Steve Gunn, a new record to pluck and strum and gnaw away at your nervous system. This man plays it like a mantra, his fingers constantly asking why, refuting each response with yet another. Why? His cohort in Central Living, one Manuel Padding, is just as relentless with his electronic accompaniment. The two side-long offerings these two have sculpted won’t wash over, they will burrow into you. Let the Dune Church in. - Mike Shiflet

Vestals
Forever Falling

Root Strata

Putting on Forever Falling Toward the Sky is like opening the door to an astonishing and breath-taking alternate reality, one in which the Edith Frosts and Beth Ortons of the world find themselves at Liz Harris’s doorstep instead of Jim O’Rourke’s. Vestals is the one-woman project of Bay Area haze maiden Lisa McGee and the line she treads between folk-leaning alt-pop and oversaturated, reverb-laced psychadelia here is so thin that it seems utterly improbable that she will make it to the album’s end without wavering and leaning too heavily to one side or the other. Then the final feedback swell of In Waking Dreams cuts out and she’s done it. The balancing act is stellar and truly something to behold. The LP’s five tracks seem boundless, able to hold infinite guitar and vocal layers without ever turning into a convoluted mess, a noteworthy technical feat in and of itself. That the magnificently sculpted results of that craftsmanship manage to sustain McGee’s extraordinarily singular vision over the course of the album makes the entire affair that much more impressive. - Mike Shiflet

Mike Shiflet / Joe Panzner
Recollect / Reconstruct

(RCN Recordings)

Mike Shiflet and Joe Panzner are no strangers to each other’s work, having collaborated for years under the Scenic Railroads moniker (if you haven’t heard their self-released split with Raglani from several years back you’d do well to seek it out). Indeed, Panzner and Shiflet share a similar creative ethos (Panzner has guested on and mastered a few of Shiflet’s solo releases), favoring coruscating drones and extreme digital detritus as compositional tropes. For their RCN split, Shiflet fires first - offering up a longform drone likely sourced from guitar and recalling very much his recent outings for Type. Monochromatic, overdriven guitar drones surge and accumulate more high-end detail over the course of the piece, finally cresting and blooming into shards of white-hot sonic shrapnel. Panzner’s piece functions in precisely the inverse manner, beginning with flailing, downright ugly wails of noise which grow sparser, more subdued and, ultimately, fade away. A well suited split indeed. - Alex Cobb, Experimedia