NatesPirateRadio: June 2019

Here are the 2019 chart climbers for me so far from June, it was a big month so I'm still digesting everything! Here is the chart, in progress:

Folky stuff:

Bill Callahan - Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest (folk)
Bedouine - Bird Songs of a Killjoy (chamber folk)
Jake Xerxes Fussell - Out of Sight (Americana)
Ian Noe - Between The Country (Americana)

Indie stuff:

Thom Yorke - ANIMA (glitch pop)

Hatchie - Keepsake (dream pop)

Slowness - Berths (slowcore)

Loud stuff:

Mannequin Pussy - Patience (Indie, Punk)
Otoboke Beaver - Itekoma Hits (Japanese hardcore punk)

Pop stuff:

Kim Petras - Clarity (pop) de Casier - Essentials (R&B)

Electronic stuff:

CFCF - Liquid Colors (new age, drum n' bass) Request - Vortex (Breakbeat techno) Naples - Fog FM (house, ambient techno) Jurga - Hypnowald (ambient techno)

OK whoops that'll probably do for now. Let me know what you like!

Shows in July:
Bill Callahan 7/10 Sinclair

Carly Rae Jepsen 7/16 House of Blues

<3 Nate

Natespirateradio February 2019

February is short and kinda short on music. Some late month electronic discoveries made it a fun month for me, so maybe this is your month for getting into some electronic music! Who knows :)


Jessica Pratt - Quiet Signs - I included this in last month's roundup but it's still the most interesting release of the year so far for me

Ariana Grande - thank u, next - I'm still very pro Ariana. The first half of this in particular has some great moments for me, where the second half is a little hit or miss even though it ends with the big singles all in a row.

Health - VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR - I love how much some people hate this record. If you want indie pop with Rammstein palm muted industrial chords…maybe I'm not selling it right.


Efdemin - New Atlantis - This is a landmark post-techno techno album. It begins so hauntingly and takes you on such a journey. Easily his best.

Cosey Fanni Tutti - Tutti - I connect with this type of professional synth worship.

Ossia - Devil's Dance - A not so ordinary mix of darkness and jazz that works well

Skee Mask - 808BB - Skee Mask is still the best at doing this thing. 

Body San - Midnight - Body San is very consistently good at convincing me of the lo fi house thing. 

Loure - Avenues - Some big deep house sounds with pretty inspired vocal sampling.

Natespirateradio January 2019

January 2018

I found a lot of things to enjoy this month! See if you enjoy them, too! In a semi-order as of publishing, but I’m sure it will change a lot!

Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow - really strong vocal and synth melodies from SVE! 

Croatian Amor - Isa - bizarre (and addicting, for me) post-apocalyptic journey from Loke Rahbek

Gum Takes Tooth - Arrow - Powerful, psychedelic, noisy synth rock opus

James Blake - Assume Form - A return to form with cool collaborations and hip hop bent

Jessica Pratt - Quiet Signs - Quiet beauty from a one of a kind songwriter

Xosar - The Possessor Possesses Nothing - Pounding and satisfying industrial techno

Cherry Glazerr - Stuffed and Ready - High energy, personality-infused rock.

Dawn Richard - New Breed - Really catchy R&B that sticks with you.

Acronym & Kali Malone - The Torrid Eye - Acronyms beats with Kali Malone's ambiance.

Lee Gamble - In a Paraventral Scale - Puzzling and interesting electronic music.

2018 Top 10: Art Pop

2018 Top 10: Art Pop and Ambient Pop

  1. Low - Double Negative

  2. Julia Holter - Aviary

  3. LUMP - LUMP

  4. Tirzah - Devotion 

  5. Robyn - Honey

  6. Audiobooks - Now! (in a minute)

  7. Emma Louise - Lilac Everything

  8. Loma - Loma

  9. Yo La Tengo - There's a Riot Goin On

  10. St. Vincent - Masseducation

This is the last list and the best list. Low and Julia Holter are my top albums of the year, and the quality stays really high on this list as you go down. All 10 are must-listen albums that blur the lines between pop music and art in challenging ways. Whether it's in composition, voice modulation, genre twisting, or the very sound bed that the music lies in, these albums subvert expectations and challenge the listener. Note that there's often a wide separation here between songwriter and producer that makes this list feel like it has a lot to do with exemplary decisions that were made with, generally, good songs from good artists.

Double Negative is probably not the best Low album but it's the best album this year. It's the only album from this year that I'm pretty sure deserves five/five stars. It's probably a challenging place to start with Low unless you really like glitchy industrial music. If you like it though, it actually might serve as a bridge to some heavier, more difficult music. Though it's much more, it's at least a great way to illustrate how otherwise unpleasant sounds are beautiful in context. I'm always looking for ways to show people that, because I happen to love mechanical whirs and not eveyrone does.

Aviary is a lot more difficult, in my mind, and is my other possibility for five stars this year. Julia Holter is a singular artist in whatever her musical landscape is, and this album is probably a masterpiece, I'm still trying to figure it out. It came out a little too late in the year to properly digest, especially because of its 90 minute running time. There's also fairly large chunks of it, especially in the first third, that have to be observed rather than enjoyed. I'm okay with this experience, on the conditions that A) I believe it's in service to the work, B) there is contrast to it. And there's definitely contrast! There is so much beauty that it's a little overwhelming. 

 In comparison to these mammoth artist statements, LUMP is a cute little oddity. This might mostly be for Laura Marling superfans. It's six good to great Marling songs set against really interesting production from Mike Lindsay of Tunng. I'm hoping Marling continues working with challenging producers and gets out of her comfort zone that she's been stuck in for a record or two now. Speaking of collaborations, Tirzah's Devotion is a similarly successful collaboration between songwriter and producer with somewhat blurrier lines between the two. Tirzah is a great muse for Mica Levi and Mica's production really sets this apart this from other alternative R&B.

Honey is a satisfying comeback for Robyn, whose projects have been decent collaborations but not really Robyn albums since 2010. It doesn't really have any bangers but it's definitely consistently good. Audiobooks is a lot more hit or miss, but somehow has a consistent personality that permeates the different ideas. It's a wacky record that's equal parts artsy, goofy, and good. 

Emma Louise is new to me, so I'm not disappointed like other people at her vocal modulation on Lilac Everything. It's a beautiful record, but like all the artists on this list, if you don't like the vocals, it won't really work for you, since they are such a huge instrument in the mix (just like actual pop music).  Emily Cross is back with Loma, which is pretty consistent with Cross Record from the past with its psychedelic mix and big dynamic shifts. Yo La Tengo ages gracefully with their most relaxed record that sounds like them putting lyrics to their soundtracks. Also interesting is St. Vincent's elaboration on her previous material with the piano-only MassEducation.

2018 Top 10: Rock

2018 Top 10: Rock

  1. Flasher - Constant Image

  2. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - King of Cowards

  3. Oh Sees - Smote Reverser

  4. Kikagaku Moyo - Masana Temples

  5. Peach Kelli Pop - Gentle Leader

  6. Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch

  7. Death Grips - Year of the Snitch

  8. Daughters - You Won't Get What You Want

  9. Emma Ruth Rundle - On Dark Horses

  10. Ty Segall - Freedom's Goblin

This is my second favorite list this year, with a few really good and a lot of my favorite records from the year. And none of it is particularly fashionable or anything. I guess that's where rock is in 2018. But this list is actually where I think rock is in 2018, as opposed to the worst rock list of the year that I've seen (p4k). Adrienne Lenker is rock? Amen Dunes? Beach House? boygenius? That's right, I'm only at the Bs, and B is already for Bullshit. So these are the actual best rock albums of 2018:  

Flasher - Constant Image

What kinda rock? Indie rock, baby! 

Is it cool to like this? No! It hasn't been cool to like Indie Rock in a while. 

Listen to this instead of: Car Seat Headrest

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - King of Cowards

What kinda rock? Sludge rock, Stoner rock

Is it cool to like this? Absolutely not.

Listen to this instead of: Black Sabbath

Oh Sees - Smote Reverser

What kinda rock? Psychedelic Rock, Progressive Rock

Is it cool to like this? Has Progressive Rock ever been cool?

Listen to this instead of: King Gizzard, weak-ass garage

Kikagaku Moyo - Masana Temples

What kinda rock? Japanese Psychedelic Rock

Is it cool to like this? Maybe!

Listen to this instead of: Boris, but then go back to Boris.

Peach Kelli Pop - Gentle Leader

What kinda rock? Twee Garage Rock

Is it cool to like this? Kind of, but it makes sense if you're less old and less male

Listen to this instead of: Anything cute, it's the best cute thing.

Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch

What kinda rock? Industrial Rock

Is it cool to like this? Only marginally cooler than it's ever been to like NIN

Listen to this instead of: Old NIN, but if you're craving 90s music listen to old NIN

Death Grips - Year of the Snitch

What kinda rock? I dunno, Noise Rock? Rap Rock?

Is it cool to like this? Pretty sure no.

Listen to this instead of: JPEGMAFIA, Hip hop in general

Daughters - You Won't Get What You Want

What kinda rock? Noise Rock

Is it cool to like this? As far as noise rock goes, it seems like it!

Listen to this instead of: In between older noise rock on a noise rock binge

Emma Ruth Rundle - On Dark Horses

What kinda rock? Psychedelic Rock

Is it cool to like this? Ummm no, cooler than it has been with her though

Listen to this instead of: Tori Amos, Chelsea Wolfe

Ty Segall - Freedom's Goblin

What kinda rock? Psychedelic Garage Rock

Is it cool to like this? No definitely not he has jumped the shark

Listen to this instead of: Still most other garage rock, it wasn't a very good year for garage rock. Is Screaming Females a thing?

2018 Top 10: House

2018 Top 10 House

  1. Pool Boy - Pool Boy LP (Pacific Haze)

  2. Francis Harris - Trivial Occupations (Scissor and Thread)

  3. DJ Healer - Nothing 2 Loose (All Possible Worlds)

  4. Khotin - Beautiful You (Khotin Industies)

  5. Anthony Naples - Take me with you (Good Morning Tapes)

  6. Ross From Friends - Family Portrait / Aphelion EP (Brainfeeder)

  7. Leon Vynehall - Nothing is Still (Ninja Tune)

  8. Olsen - Dream Operator (100% Silk)

  9. Project Pablo - Come to Canada you will like it (Verdicchio)

  10. Jon Hopkins - Singularity (Domino)

Half of these are outsider house, half of these are tapes, and half of them are pretty ambient. Those are all non-exclusive halves, otherwise we've got ourselves into quite a pickle. This music still comprises my favorite corner overall of the electronic music universe, even though outsider feels like it's not a thing anymore and all the house producers I really like are barely even house music anymore. Still, these are the most talented producers with the most similar intention to all musicians of all time: trying to make people feel good. However, they rarely do it by making people want to dance, which is what makes this list so fun!

Pool Boy - Pool Boy LP (Pacific Haze)

Can you dance to it? Yes but only on the beach.

How good does it make you feel? It makes you feel like you dreamed up the cheesiest best kind of music and then someone went and made it for you. If you're me, or anything like me.

Francis Harris - Trivial Occupations (Scissor and Thread)

Can you dance to it? For some of it

How good does it make you feel? If you like jazz and ambient music and house, it's gonna make you feel really good all the way through. I don't even like jazz, but maybe I do now cause Harris is the best.

DJ Healer - Nothing 2 Loose (All Possible Worlds)

Can you dance to it? Sometimes, but pretty slowly. Don't move too much.

How good does it make you feel? So good. If you get into the vocal samples, so so good.

Khotin - Beautiful You (Khotin Industies)

Can you dance to it? Nope.

How good does it make you feel? A little whacked out but really quite good.

Anthony Naples - Take me with you (Good Morning Tapes)

Can you dance to it? On occasion but not for long

How good does it make you feel? Frenzied and chill and good.

Ross From Friends - Family Portrait / Aphelion EP (Brainfeeder)

Can you dance to it? Actually, yeah!

How good does it make you feel? Regardless of your interest in dancing, really good.

Leon Vynehall - Nothing is Still (Ninja Tune)

Can you dance to it? Maybe one song. Note that his last release had "Designed to Dance" right there in the name. It was like an omen!

How good does it make you feel? Like you're getting massaged by a great producer for 41 minutes.

Olsen - Dream Operator (100% Silk)

Can you dance to it? I don't know. 

How good does it make you feel? It will bring you back to the nostalgic glory days of outsider house. So, a couple years ago. Fond memories.

Project Pablo - Come to Canada you will like it (Verdicchio)

Can you dance to it? Nah but you can strut to it. 

How good does it make you feel? Almost as good as Mood Hut. 

Jon Hopkins - Singularity (Domino)

Can you dance to it? Yeah go for it!

How good does it make you feel? Just keep dancing!

2018 Top 10: Post-Punk, Art Punk, and Post-Hardcore

Top 10 Post-Punk, Art Punk, and Post-Hardcore

  1. Iceage - Beyondless

  2. Fucked Up - Dose Your Dreams

  3. Idles - Joy as an Act of Resistance

  4. Shame - Songs of Praise

  5. Tropical Fuck Storm - A Laughing Death in Meatspace

  6. Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!

  7. Gouge Away - Burnt Sugar

  8. No Age - Snares Like a Haircut

  9. Sink Ya Teeth - Sink Ya Teeth

  10. Shopping - The Official Body

These albums are all punk albums if you have a really limited vocabulary for music. Punk music has gotten really weird and all of these are great examples of ways to make it weirder, artsier, and more interesting, without losing the power that makes it a way of life in addition to a genre, at a high level. 

Iceage - Beyondless

How they make it weird: violins, horns, and less and less punk touchstones as time goes on. Real attention paid to both songwriting and sound, which is decidedly un-punk.

Fucked Up - Dose Your Dreams

How they make it weird: Umm lots of ways. There are songs that are exclusively devoted to ambient pop and synth pop, and then there's a bunch of crazy arrangements. It's also 18 songs and 83 minutes and sounds like it took a village to make happen, which is very anti-hardcore.

Idles - Joy as an Act of Resistance

How they make it weird: Idles blows out their songs and makes them into rock anthems, but they remain punk in their ideologies and lyrics. This is a great punk record and appropriate for the times.

Shame - Songs of Praise

How they make it weird: By seemingly by accident making a great record? It just seems like they're a bunch of young wankers from London but they mostly write really catchy and well formed songs.

Tropical Fuck Storm - A Laughing Death in Meatspace

How they make it weird: Gareth's way of mashing words together and howling them at you is pretty unique. He alos

Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!

How they make it weird: they play on Ellen now, so…

Gouge Away - Burnt Sugar

How they make it weird: they're making hardcore more relatable sounding, but not that much, but people still like it. I really like it, and it's been a while since I liked hardcore!

No Age - Snares Like a Haircut

How they make it weird: Same way they've been making it weird every night, Pinky: ambient guitar washes 

Sink Ya Teeth - Sink Ya Teeth

How they make it weird: Making it legit dance music

Shopping - The Official Body

How they make it weird: Making it legit dance music

2018 Top 10: Progressive Electronic

Top 10 Progressive Electronic

  1. OneOhTrix Point Never - Age Of (Warp)

  2. Remember - City is my Friend (Dream Catalogue)

  3. Jonas Reinhardt - Conclave Surge (Deep Distance)

  4. Caterina Barbieri - Born Again in the Voltage (Important)

  5. Ricardo Donoso - Calibrate (Denovali)

  6. Abul Mogard - Above All Dreams (Ecstatic)

  7. Vakula - Metaphors (Leleka)

  8. Forma - Semblance (Kranky)

  9. Byron Westbrook - Confluence Patterns (Umor)

  10. Croatian Amor & Varg - Body of Water (Posh Isolation)

This has to be the list with the greatest disparity between how much I care about it and how much everyone else cares about it. That's more true than ever this year, which finds me nerding out about releases on labels that people actually do care about, but not one seems to even really like these particular releases. This is exemplified by the OPN record best, but is basically true of all of the other artists, since they're all artists that I'd already been listening to and the internet seems to agree that these releases are not their best. For each, I'll tell you what people actually like and why this one is still interesting and maybe actually better or maybe: recency fallacy.

OneOhTrix Point Never - Age Of (Warp)

People actually like: literally everything else, especially 2010 and on. 

I like this because: I love the vocals and the weird structure. Lopatin's universe is expanding into pop music and it's scary and exciting. There are hooks and pleasant sounds! It's so weird. 

Remember - City is my Friend (Dream Catalogue)

People actually like: ルートバックホーム from 2015 

I like this because: It's way less vaporwave, and therefore less Dream Cat, but much better in terms of music! Kind of like Lopatin, this anonymous artist is paving the way for the future of music from the deep net.

Jonas Reinhardt - Conclave Surge (Deep Distance)

People actually like: most other things but only maybe a little more

I like this because: I get lost in it every time I listen. I still don't have a good mental map of it after a dozen listens, and each new movement is well-formed and fits into the whole well. Reinhardt is a proper band and sounds like they're operating as a tight one on this record

Caterina Barbieri - Born Again in the Voltage (Important)

People actually like: Patterns of Consciousness from 2017

I like this because: It's four well-scoped ideas that are executed very well. It's so much more manageable than her previous work and the sounds are all so thick and well chosen. It's a huge step forward for this young artist.

Ricardo Donoso - Calibrate (Denovali)

People actually like: Everything else

I like this because: It's the heaviest album on this list and one of the heaviest albums that I've listened to this year. It's sequenced to perfection and just hits in all the right places, moreso than his other work. It's somehow lighter and just as dark as Donoso's previous releases

Abul Mogard - Above All Dreams (Ecstatic)

People actually like: Actually people like this but Circular Forms from 2016 too

I like this because: I actually like this about the same as his other work. It's longer and more difficult than either of his previous LPs, but it's every bit as good. It has brief moments where I think he's straying from the ideas that make these drones so convincing, but they're few and far between on this epic release. 

Vakula - Metaphors (Leleka)

People actually like: Someone liked Cyclicality Between Procyon and Gomeisa, right?

I like this because: Vakula is an awesome artist who maybe bewilders himself as much as everyone with his stylistic shifts. He puts out music by himself and for himself, and apparently, for me.

Forma - Semblance (Kranky)

People actually like: Physicalist from 2016

I like this because: It sounds like a band operating together and all with the same affinity for old german synth music. I'd love to get the chance to see them perform these songs live.

Byron Westbrook - Confluence Patterns (Umor)

People actually like: Body Consonance, though not that much

I like this because: Confluence Patterns is just some little unheralded tape of well scoped abstract synth ideas, kind of like the Barbieri record. 

Croatian Amor & Varg - Body of Water (Posh Isolation)

People actually like: A lot of things Varg does

I like this because: It's slight but it's nicer than anything that either artist does.

2018 Top 10: Folk and Americana

Top 10 Folk and Americana albums

  1. Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour

  2. Damien Jurado - The Horizon Just Laughed

  3. Glenn Jones - The Giant Who Ate Himself and Other New Works For 6 & 12 String Guitar

  4. Haley Heynderickx - I need to start a Garden

  5. Laura Veirs - The Lookout

  6. Alela Diane - Cusp

  7. Jeff Tweedy - Warm

  8. Neko Case - Hell-On

  9. Anna St. Louis - If Only there was a river

  10. Ray LaMontagne - Part of the Light

This list is a little less significant to me this year than it usually is, but it still has two of my top 10 albums overall and some great music in general. This music is all directly connected to traditional American music and most if not all of the artists have or will play the Newport Folk Fesitval at some point (I'd love to go, I still haven't been). You'll notice that all 10 albums are the artists' birth names - not a necessary aspect of making the list, but an interesting note about the branding of these artists. There are a couple younger artists on the list, but mostly this list is comprised of veterans who have at least 6-7 albums under their belts. Of those though, a few are relatively new to me! Also, many of these artist shave strong 

Kacey Musgraves had to be at the top of some list of mine for being the dreamiest and making the dreamiest country album I've ever heard. It's my introduction to Kacey, and it feels like it was made just for me. I hope everyone feels this way, though. It's written well, performed well, and so many nice studio touches are applied. This may represent where I overlap with critical consensus most - enjoy it while it lasts, on this list! 

If you know me, you know I'm a big Damien Jurado fan and I've been following him more and more closely throughout this decade. This album represents a turning point for him, as it is self produced and often more-or-less about him leaving Washington and his family there, his long time home. It's therefore sad, as usual, but also hopeful of new things on the horizon. The second half feels more about finding his new home, not too far away in Northern California. The sad songs about missing Washington might be the best part, though.

Glenn Jones is relatively new to me, and this is the first time I've dug in to one of his works. I haven't heard a better guitar player in quite some time, which doesn't actually mean that much to me. Much more important is that this album tickles the ears like really good electronic music can - the melodies and specificity can stick with you and worm their way in slowly over time. Imagining him playing the songs is really fun too, though. 

Haley Heynderickx is new to me and everybody else, and I'm pretty excited to see where she goes next. I Need to Start a Garden feels slight and barely finished, but still great, so that's really exciting. Speaking of current Portlandians, I just got into Laura Veirs as she was my favorite part of Case/Lang/Veirs, and I was looking forward to hearing a full album of hers and this met my pretty high expectations. In the same vein of Portlandity is Alela Diane, and just like most things Oregon, it is equal parts ordinary, brilliant, and enchanting. Similar to the Veirs album, it is understated but consistently good.

Jeff Tweedy is the most prolific artist on his list, which is a word I try not to use as a value judgment and it certainly isn't with him. I've really liked his recent forays into dad rock, or in this case, (dad) folk. Because of his past, it can be hard to approach Warm with the right expectations, but it's lack of grandiosity really works for me. Speaking of a weird relationship with grandiosity, Neko Case's Hell-On might be something I return to a lot, or not at all. It's more great than grating, but it has moments or entire songs that I have a hard time with, stylistically and content-wise. This might be an expectations game for me, though, time will tell!

Each time I came back to Anna St. Louis's LP I'm pleasantly surprised with how much I like it. In between listens I seem to remember it as overly simplistic and lazy, and then I remember that these aren't really bad things. It's really quite enjoyable! Rounding out the list, I have to include Ray LaMontagne's Part of the Light - an album that both me and ABC news recognize as: pretty good! It's not nearly as good as Ouroboros from a couple years ago, but it's satisfying and shows his current range of interests and sounds.

2018 Top 10: Techno

Top 10 (Ambient) Techno Albums

  1. Varg - Nordic Series Part 5: Crush (Posh Isolation)

  2. Steve Hauschildt - Dissolvi (Ghostly)

  3. Skee Mask - Compro (Ilian Tape)

  4. Daniel Avery - Song for Alpha (Phantasy)

  5. Forest Drive West - Apparitions (Livity Sound)

  6. Space Afrika - Somewhere Decent to Live (Sferic)

  7. I-LP-ON - AANET (Mego)

  8. Fluxion - Ripple Effect (Vibrant Music)

  9. Korridor - End of Cycle (Northern Electronics)

  10. Alva Noto - Unieqav (NOTON)

The albums on this feature way more ambience and songwriting ability than 4/4 techno, but people don't really arrange 4/4 in album form anyways. So techno is a limiting term, but it's the common denominator of these albums. The best songwriting and sequencing rises to the top of the list for me, though all of these albums represent stellar sound design and execution, which does draw from the techno lineage. 

Varg in particular has invented his own style of music (Instagram techno?) with the Nordic Flora series. Nordic Series Part 5: Crush is the proper sequel to last year's Part 3: Gore-Tex City, and it moves farther away from the austere techno that defined his early work. In fact, there are very few tracks that have the same sort of deep techno drum machines that made parts of Gore-Tex city so satisfying, but instead there's a range of colorful experimentation in songwriting and collaboration, from ambient pop to jazzy sound collage. It's a messy 72 minute work and that sits right in line with the theme of modern romance that runs through it, and it's every bit as fun as Gore-Tex to get lost in.

Steve Hauschildt also moved away from his progressive electronic drone wheelhouse with Dissolvi, which has a retro Amber-era Autechre ambient techno feel. It also has two tracks with beautiful breathy vocals that work really well in this style and suggest that it's something to be explored further. The beats themselves are very satisfying, and it's warm and pleasant listen despite the cold machinery that creates most of the sounds. Skee Mask also hits a high watermark with Compro, which is a consistently brilliant range of beats with tons of satisfying breakbeats but plenty of compositional elegance in between. Bryan Müller is probably the best techno producer in the world right now and this collection spans all of the things that he does best.

I had a chance to see Daniel Avery open a Nine Inch Nails show last year and it proved to me that A) you should sit down for techno, and B) techno needs smoke machines and a hi fi light show. It was the perfect opening set and a lot of it was because he drew exclusively from Song for Alpha, which floats and bangs in equal measure. Apparitions from Forest Drive West has some similarities with that record, favoring simplicity and hitting hard when it needs to. Space Afrika is the total curveball record on this list, released on a pretend label and an artist who I hadn't heard about before. It's also a weird little record, often having more space than sound and being all the better for it.

Ilpo Väisänen of Pan Sonic infamy has a slightly different moniker in I-LP-ON and his tribute album to Mika Vainio is a beautiful memorial of their work together. Fluxion came almost out of nowhere for me with Ripple Effect album, which is very cinematic in its ambient dubbiness. End of Cycle from Korridor is the sole Northern Electronics release that I enjoyed this year, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's more Kerridge than Varg in terms of the dark industrial spectrum. Rounding out my list is the great Carsten Nicolai's newest Alva Noto release, which is the technoiest glitch or the glitchiest techno that he's ever made. 

2018 Top 10: Neo-Psychedelia

  Top 10 Neo-Psychedelia releases 

  1. Spiritualized - And Nothing Hurt

  2. Beach House - 7

  3. Panda Bear - Day with the Homies

  4. Guerilla Toss - Twisted Crystal

  5. Yves Tumor - Safe in the Hands of Love

  6. MGMT - Little Dark Age

  7. Richard Swift - The Hex

  8. Insecure Men - Insecure Men

  9. HOLY - All of these worlds are yours

  10. The Voidz - Virtue

What ties all of these releases together is their non-specific relation to psychedelia of the past. They aren't psychedelic rock or pop but they use whacked out synth effects and sometimes dreamy guitars to create soundscapes for what more or less becomes pop music. So it's a catchall term, but I appreciate this umbrella because someone else made it and it's fun music to listen to. The multidimensional range on this list, if we're working from the 60s-70s origins of psychedelia, is VU to late Beatles to Pink Floyd toCaptain Beefheart.

On the Velvet Underground end of the spectrum is the new Jason Spaceman album And Nothing Hurt, which is chock full of references to the original era of psychedelia. It's a normally good Spiritualized album, which sort of automatically makes it one of the best albums of the year.  7 is a huge comeback for Beach House, who have never had such shoegaze overtimes in the forefront. The heavier this record is, the better it is, and it has a lot of big moments, especially in the first half. The second half drops off a bit and sounds more like a normal Beach House record, but at that point they've already done what they set out to do.

Panda Bear's long EP is a really nice one that reminds me a bit of the last good Animal Collective release, Fall Be Kind. He mixes together the Beatles and Beach Boys with some Spacemen 3 overtones, making me think that Sonic Boom must have been involved in this somehow, if only in spirit. 

Guerilla Toss is firmly on the Beefheart end of the spectrum and Twisted Crystal is another welcome addition to their crazy catalogue. It is a direct successor of GT Ultra, and like most sequels, it's less good, but only a little. Yves Tumor has a similarly strange range of interests, but engages directly with his own weird pop vision on Safe in the Hands of Love. It's a strange and satisfying listen that isn't quite right for anyone but sort of right for anyone. MGMT is also in the zany category with Little Dark Age, but they sometimes get more Floydian or even Ariel Pinkish on this one. It's a consistently good record without hit singles, which is going to disappoint everyone who knows them for their first couple singles. 

Insecure Men are more at a VU and Beefheart Intersection with their dark and fun self titled debut. This is the latest output from the Fat White Family family and it follows on the heels of the other spinoff Moonlandingz last year - both of which were better than the last FYF album, so keep spinning off, guys!  Richard Swift is also on that end of the spectrum with his posthumous, too soon The Hex, which picks up where he left off on the production of the recent Damien Jurado records and acts as his Blackstar, a comparison that works on many levels. 

HOLY brings us an insane Floydian acid trip of an album with All These Worlds Are Yours. It is a brilliant mess and has more vision than most. If Hannes Ferm can reign in his own proclivities a bit and scope a little more appropriately, he may put out an actual masterpiece before aliens take over earth or whatever. Finishing the list are the Voidz, which appropriately sees Julian Casablancas covering all of the territory of all of the other 9 albums on this list in one 15 song art rock opus. It's pretty fun when you're in the mood to pretend you're on shuffle but you're not. 

2018 Top 10: Ambient and Electroacoustic

Top 10 Ambient and Electroacoustic Releases

  1. Tim Hecker - Konoyo (Kranky)

  2. Brian Eno with Kevin Shields - Weight Of History (Opal)

  3. Daniel Bachman - The Morning Star (Three Lobed Recordings)

  4. Alessandro Cortini & Lawrence English - Immediate Horizon (Important)

  5. James Murray - Falling Backwards (Home Normal)

  6. Sarah Davachi - Gave in Rest (Ba Da Bing!)

  7. William Basinski / Lawrence English - Selva Obscura (Temorary Residence)

  8. Jon Hassell - Listening to Pictures (Ndeya)

  9. Witxes - Orients (ConSouling)

  10. Lucy Railton - Paradise 94 (Modern Love)

If you follow weird music, you'll see a lot of familiar names on this list. The top 7 are all artists whose work I've been familiar with for some time, and three of them are collaborations between two artists who I would definitely always put in the same room. People who enjoy sound over form should always work together and see what happens, since it's all a matter of finding interesting and unique combinations of gear and software, probably.

Tim Hecker's Konoyo is a major comeback for him and possibly his best since Ravedeath. He successfully combines his more recent loves of electroacoustic improvisation with his older sense of structure. As a result, it's very familiar and sort of new, using more complex instrumentation to wrangle sound than his previous loves of guitar and organ.  Brian Eno and Kevin Shields working together makes The Weight of History basically a music nerd's dream even though it's just a weird little single sided RSD release. Daniel Bachman made the jump to abstract improvisational music with Morning Star, which sounds kind of like John Fahey trying to play Christian Fennesz, or maybe the other way around. 

This list has a lot of improvised, live-feeling moments, but the only live album on the list is Alessandro Cortini & Lawrence English's Immediate Horizon, which is a beautiful performance from the Berlin Atonal festival series. James Murray and Sarah Davachi are regular contributors to my drone life and both came through with strong releases this year, the latter actually having another album that nearly made the list as well. She also put on a great live performance that I got to take in that helped me appreciate her recorded work even more, which is not always the result of EAI performances in my experience. Rounding out the very familiar to me part of the list is another Lawrence English collab, this time with the great William Basinski. This is the only 20 min A, 20 min B style record on the list, a format that I often have trouble digesting. These are actually broken up into smaller movements in this case and are engaging in their own subtle way.

The bottom of the list, which is still amazing, happens to feature newcomers to my life. Jon Hassell is a trumpet player who worked with Brian Eno right around the time that Eno "invited ambient", and he may be thought of as the progenitor of "tribal ambient," a genre and genre name that I usually dislike. Here, though, it feels really good - like, in addition to garage rock, this is what brass instruments are for. Witxes is Maxime Vavasseur, a contemporary of mine who is busy impersonating early Tim Hecker to great success. Similarly young, European, and promising is Lucy Railton, whose first major release is one of the only interesting releases this year on Modern Love.

2018 Top 10: Hip-Hop and R&B

Top 10 Hip Hop and R&B

  1. Ariana Grande - Sweetener 

  2. Drake - Scorpion

  3. Mariah Carey- Caution

  4. J.I.D - Dicaprio 2

  5. Tierra Whack - Whack World

  6. Pusha T - Daytona

  7. Black Milk - Fever

  8. Kali Uchis - Isolation

  9. Noname - Room 25

  10. Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs

A list that proves that I can sort of keep up with the times! I had an easier relationship this year with this kind of music in terms of what the criticosphere likes. There was a world where a certain 23 minute album was pretty high on the list and maybe even a different 23 album was somewhere on there too, though. But just like the CEO of America, I am trying to drop names as little as possible with people who do horrible things seemingly just so people will drop their names. It could be argued that I've already fed into it now. Anyways, I was even pretty sure I wouldn't put Daytona on the list at one point, but actually the main beef it concerns itself with is actually with Drake, who is, well, another questionable presence. Really, I might be on the wrong side of history by listening to and enjoying the content from a lot of these artists, but only time will really tell what the public decides or what I decide is a step too far to morally enjoy art.

The number one slot is not too controversial here, unless you're a Janelle Monae or Cardi B fan like…most of the internet. I don't like either enough to listen repeatedly, but I sure put on Sweetener a lot! Ariana represents innocent escapism combined with the average-measure harrowing life of being the biggest pop star in the world and she somehow seems to cope with it all pretty damn well. Maybe she's a normal person who is 25 and worth 50 million dollars, or maybe it's that she's just been a professional entertainer for 10 years now. I'm off topic again - Sweetener is full of effortlessly amazing vocal performances, musings on love, loss, and stress, and somehow doesn't get pulled too far off track by the huge hit singles.

Number 2 is where I'm going to lose most people, but Scorpion is Drake's best album and a huge achievement. The biggest problem is clearly the running time, and it reminds me of how people wouldn't give Have One on Me a fair shake (this is a questionable comparison). Drake has been the center of controversy this year and I don't really think he's a good guy or a nice guy, but he's still basically the best at music, which is what I fancy myself a critic of. When he does things musically, the world takes years to catch up, but if you ape him well enough, you might get rich, too. It really comes down to the songs though: there are a lot of hits here - a handful on the first disc, and even more on the second. The key to liking this is appreciating the excess that is on display while appreciating that it is actually a fairly lean set of songs if viewed through Drake's canon and hip hop in general. Set aside 90 minutes and see how it goes for you.

Mariah Carey is someone who Ariana is indebted to vocally, and now it feels like Mariah is indebted to Ariana in production. This ends up being a good thing for Caution, which is a very consistent and modern release for the OG diva. Also new in my life is J.I.D., a hugely talented wordsmith and songwriter who mashes syllables together in a way that feels very fresh if not completely new to the world. Dicaprio 2 is a normal hip hop album in many ways (skits and all!), except it's really good. 

Tierra Whack's Whack World is anything but normal and comes with a huge asterisk - it should be watched before listened to. I've found it easy (really easy) to appreciate it in pure aural form after watching, but it's a multimedia experience. I decided to include Pusha T on the list as I mentioned above as it is the best of the Montana releases and really very good. Black Milk's Fever is really an uncontroversial inclusion, as it is just solid, smooth, jazzy hip hop. 

Rounding out the list, Kali Uchis Isolation is fun and infectous, Noname's Room 25 is slightly disappointing but only if you've listened to Telefone, and Earl Sweatshirt's weirdo Some Rap Songs is well worth your time. 

2018 Top 10: Deconstructed Club, Weightless, Bass, and Footwork

Top 10 Deconstructed Club, Weightless, Bass, and Footwork

  1. Chevel - In a rush and Mercurial (Enklav)

  2. Jlin - Autobiography (Planet Mu)

  3. Objekt - Cocoon Crush (PAN)

  4. Demdike Stare - Passion (Modern Love)

  5. Djrum - Portrait with Firewood (R&S)

  6. Aphex Twin - Collapse (Warp)

  7. Lotic - Power (Tri Angle)

  8. Raime - Am I using content or is content using me? (Different Circles)

  9. Sophia Loizou - Irregular Territories (Cosmo Rhythmatic)

  10. SOS Gunver Ryberg - SOLFALD (Noise Manifesto)

This is a list of challenging beat music that has represents the furthest and most modern evolution of sound in electronic music in several different directions. It all sort of stems from the experimentation of Richard D James in my mind, who helped codify a thing that got called IDM, but in modern nomenclature is closer to a combination of Deconstructed Club, Footwork, and Bass music. More evolutional nerdery: Deconstructed Club was originally used to describe heavy, experimental club music that Lotic, Arca, and M.E.S.H helped popularize, but is rapidly becoming a broader term to capture the idea of artsy music made from (generally) analog gear that would otherwise make music for dancing in clubs. So, really, Aphex Twin all along. It's really nice to have Collapse as such a strong release from him that is influenced by the development that he started and most of the genre evolution discussion that follows. The world isn't quite ready for DC to be the umbrella genre for all of these things, but I'm ready it to be used more broadly. Speaking of Lotic, their evolution of identity and music comes to a fascinating peak with Power, which is my favorite LGBTQ club non-club album this year (Sophie's is worth a listen, though). 

In contrast, Bass music and Grime are sort of the club equivalents of Deconstructed Club with a parallel evolution path that's always been club-centric. UKG evolved out of the house scene in Britain in the 1990s, and Grime evolved out of that as hip-hop grew in popularity worldwide in the 00s. Dubstep unfortunately happened as the sort of logical extreme of Grime and UKG in the late 00's, and (UK) Bass sort of rolls all of that evolution together but is experimental and decidedly not club ready. And then Grime has seen a recent more ambient and heady evolution with Weightless, which Chevel and Raime's releases this year are good examples of. In a Rush and Mercurial is particularly good and is my favorite extension of this type of Grime in general. In my mind, Weightless doesn't have to be tied down (ha) by Grime, it has compositional and a lot of sound/source freedom that can be used for maximal ear candy. 

Bass and Grime evolution is tangentially related to the Chicago club music scene, which saw Juke and Footwork evolve from Ghetto House in the 90s while UKG was happening in the UK. Like UKG, Ghetto House was a combination of hip-hop influences in House, but was faster, rawer, and more confined to the poorer parts of Chicago. Juke was the sped up, more extreme form of Ghetto house, and then Footwork took influences from trap and made the whole thing insane and heavily sample based. Footwork has still been largely in the Chicago club scene, but is now being used for more art-focused things, which is where the new Jlin album comes in. Autobiography is officially the weirdest ballet score ever, and sees Footwork going Weightless, in a way. I hope that this influences others, because it's beautiful and extreme in equal parts.

Where does Objekt fit into all of this, then? TJ Hertz is the coolest producer on the coolest label (PAN) in the coolest city in the world (Berlin). PAN has been a driver of experimentation and has helped firm up the need for new musical terms, but this evolution is from and in parallel with Autechre instead of Aphex Twin. Objekt is maybe the most Autechre-like producer in the world today (sometimes even moreso than Autechre), which is a really good thing. Similarly to Aphex Twin, Autechre is called IDM, but a better term has simply never come along to try to describe what they accomplish. In general, it's largely the more digital equivalent of what Richard D started, and it's therefore excessively complex at times. Cocoon Crush is wildly complex, to be sure, but makes a lot more sense than anything Autechre has done this decade (I actually do like the NTS sessions a lot though).

And what about Demdike Stare, Andy Stott, and Modern Love in general? They're on the techno end of this lineage and intersect with Bass music because it combines techno, jungle, dub, and ambient. Demdike continue their brand of this combination with Passion, which marries their experiments from the Testpressing series with their more recent love of riddims and consistent industrial lore. Also on the industrial techno and jungle end of the spectrum is Sophia Loizou, who is in a similar camp in terms of reckless, boundaryless rhythmic experimentation. SOS Gunver Ryberg is also an unheralded luminary in this field and I hope she continues to evolve and release music. 

NPR December 2018

This December was actually pretty good for me because I dug through a bunch of year end lists and came up with an odd assortment of new favorites. The things included here are all going to find their way into my year end lists, which are coming soon! 


Audiobooks - Now! (in a minute) - Absurdist arty synth pop that gets pretty far out. There's a strange sense of humor that runs throughout it that somehow keeps the aesthetic consistent. 

Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs - Sadvilliainy (I didn't come up with that)

Gabe Gurnsey - Physical - Probably the most bangers in one place this year that comes to mind. Really enjoyable headphone listen for the rubbery synthiness and overall catchiness.

J.I.D - Dicaprio 2 - Really good hip hop. Dense, good wordplay, good beats, and very memorable sections. A few weak sketches and moments, but overall very strong.

Jeff Tweedy - Warm - I like that this is what Jeff Tweedy is doing now. It's just a normal songwriter album and it's nice.

Pigs - King of Cowards - I love this album and wish I could find more heavy music that is half as satisfying. 

Sink Ya Teeth - Sink Ya Teeth - really fun and catchy anthemic dance punk that's consistently smart.

Glenn Jones - The Giant Who Ate Himself and Other New Works for 6 & 12 String Guitar - This is maybe the first time I've had an American Primitivism album in my rotation in and out. I never really stopped listening to it; its melodies are resonant and the skill level is insane.

Electronic and Abstract

Daniel Bachman - Morning Star - This is somewhere between an American Primitive album and a drone album. It's a massive work and it's one that I really appreciate.

Ricardo Donoso - Calibrate - Combining post-industrial vibes with progressive electronic synth worship, Donoso takes a step forward with kinetic synth structure

Space Afrika - Somewhere decent to live - One of those late night oddities that is so fractured and oblique that it doesn't really sound like anything else. Really fun to listen to if you're in a minimal mood.

Alessandro Cortini and Lawrence English - Immediate Horizon - An incredible performance from the Berlin Atonal festival from two amazing sound sculptors. I hope Lawrence English keeps finding awesome collaborators.

Chevel - In a Rush and Mercurial - The most I've enjoyed the weightless grime sound, which would probably make this the most I've ever enjoyed grime.

Lucy Railton - Paradise 94 - Unsettling Modern Love material. Basically a soundtrack to a yet unmade horror film.

Russell E.L. Butler - The house I'd build for myself and all my friends - bouncy and sad electro techno vibes in memoriam of the Ghost Ship fire.

NPR: Nov 2018

Songy LPs

Mariah Carey - Caution - Classic R&B diva action! Modern production - not Kelela modern, but they've graduated even if the songs recall the 90's R&B heyday pretty often. 

Ned Collette - Old Chestnut - Obvious but great influences: Dylan, Cohen, Pink Floyd, all handled by a very skillful writer and player. The sequencing, pacing, and breadth all raise the songwriting to the next level as he earns the 70+ minute runtime.

Electronic LPs

Francis Harris - Trivial Occupations - Finally, the follow up to the brilliant Minutes of Sleep arrives, and its the most interesting combination of jazz and house since then. 

Objekt - Cocoon Crush - Hertz is possibly the most creative abstract club producer in the world. Unpredictable moments are contextualized in his own framework in an easier-to-follow Autechre kind of manner. He's still young though, he may also get completely inscrutable someday. 

James Murray - Falling Backwards - Gorgeous ambient from a master. Every song sounds like the last song of something.

I-LP-ON - AANET - Ilpo Väisänen of Pan Sonic's memorial to his bandmate Mika Vainio. It contains samples of Pan Sonic performances but manages to not feel burdened by nostalgia or sadness. Maybe that's because of the bleak mechanical sound! 

House Tapes: 

Anthony Naples - Take me with you - Really wish I hadn't missed out on the cassette version! This is his best thing and the best thing to happen to tape house all year.

Olsen - Dream Operator - Smooth, retro, fuzzy house that recalls the 1080p days as much as the 100% Silk days, which are these days because this is a Silk Sound release.

Dearly Departure - Genesis - On the squelchy 303 end of the lo-fi spectrum, but more instant classic Silk.


boygenius - boygenius - Reminds me of Case/Lang/Veirs for all the right reasons.

Emra Grid - From a band of thoughts that ended my year - Professional grade dark ambient that never fully gives into darkness or ambience.

Konrad Wehrmeister - 5050 - If you like both abstract techno and Ilian Tape techno, this is a great release for you.

Raime - Am I using content or is content using me? / We can't be that far from the beginning - I know that these are two different EPs but they have a lot in common and are more similar to each other than anything else Raime has done. Both are good and introduced me to Weightless as a genre.

NPR: October 2018

So many great things this month! And I'm so lazy to write! Or maybe I just like one sentence reviews now! Only time will tell.

Songy songs

Julia Holter - Aviary - Her most expansive work, one of the most expansive works of its kind, and probably one of the best albums of the decade.

Robyn - Honey - I'm now imagining each song being written at a different all-night dance party and it works perfectly.

St. Vincent - MassEducation - Really just as necessary as the first one. 

Kero Kero Bonito - Time 'n Place - Frustratingly good weird pop music.

Kikagaku Moyo - Masana Temples - My favorite foreign language rock record since Boris's Pink

Anna St. Louis - If Only There Was a River - A bunch of nice, simple songs that might convince you that simple is the way to be.

Heavy Songs

Daughters - You Won't Get What You Want - Heavy and noisy work that reveals more melody and songwriting on each listen.

Fucked Up - Dose Your Dreams - Hardcore's The Wall. 

Gouge Away - Burnt Sugar - Raw, intense, somewhat traditional female-led hardcore that's done really well.

Exploded View - Obey - Obey is more improvisational and meanders more than its predecessor but is still very satisfying when it comes together.

GØGGS - Pre Strike Sweep - Ty Segall's best album of the year only because of Ex-Cult's Chris Shaw's amazing punk delivery.

Electronic Songs

Jlin - Autobiography - This ballet soundtrack is the best thing that Jlin, and the entire footwork scene, has ever done.

Demdike Stare - Passion - The masters are back with deconstructed riddims and bangers like only they can do.

William Basinski / Lawrence English - Selva Obscura - Two ambient luminaries team up and make a luminous ambient work.

Korridor - End of Cycle - This really captures the uncompromising glory of Northern Electronics. 

Klara Lewis & Simon Fisher Turner - Care - I'm still digesting this but I hope to be able to say something interesting about it by the end of the year.

Forest Drive West - Apparitions - This is techno broken down to its essentials, which turns out to make essential techno. 

NPR: September 2018

I have more realistic expectations than ever and I like music about as much as I ever have before. This month I required a lot of alone listening time to really relate to many of these records. Only the Spiritualized, Emma Louise, and Richard Swift records really could find a way into my personal life for hosting and home listening. Otherwise, I was confined to headphones, as they vied for braintime with my newfound obsession with another highly nerdy cult idea, a podcast called Hollywood Handbook.

I bring that up simply because I'm obsessed, not because it had anything to do with this month's music listening, as far as I can tell. I hope October keeps it going for the year cause I know it's about to drop off in November and December!

Spiritualized - And Nothing Hurt - This is a substantially different album from a man who has pretty specific and intense interests musically and thematically. Spaceman is a big music fan, andI love listening to music from big fans. Songs are shamelessly named after famous songs by artists who surely have brought him to this point ("I'm Your Man" - Cohen, "Let's Dance" - Bowie, "Damaged" - Primal Scream) and "The Morning After" feels like Jason's personal love letter to "European Son" by Velvet Underground, using the bass line, running time, and scope but making a better, less grating song out of it. I've been a fan for four new album releases (not very good for 16 years of fandom), and this is the one I've been most excited for when it's come out. 

Richard Swift - The Hex - What a record to go out on! At times reminding me of Blackstar, mostly in timing but sometimes timbre (see "Nancy"), this sounds like the real conclusion of Damien Jurado's cycle of albums from the 2010s, which were produced by Swift. "Selfishmath" and "Babylon" in particular continue to build on the sound that they were exploring together. Otherwise, "Dirty Jim" ends up sounding like a ragtime Grizzly Bear, and "Broken Finger Blues" is bluesy blue eyed soul with plenty of echo. The end drops off a little bit with the instrumental "HZLWD" and the dark "Kensington!", but it ends in a sweet and lovely way with what ends up being his coda, "Sept20." The lyrics address his fate because of his illness in a direct and earnest way: "When I go, I'll go out alone" - "Death do us part / Sickness and Health." It's a sad and beautiful moment.   

IDLES - Joy as an Act of Resistance - This is as good as I can imagine a punk record being right now. It's a step forward from Brutalism in songwriting, with many of the other elements staying similar. Joe Talbot takes a lot of changes with vocal tone, lyrics, topics to cover, and delivery, and most of them work out really well. It was really exciting to see them launch into Colossus 1+2 into "Never Fight a Man with a Perm" in their live show, showing that this 1 (2) 3 punch is one of the best things to happen in a long time. If a band is going to have a political bent, they have to really sell it, and IDLES does so perfectly. 

Yves Tumor - Safe in the Hands of Love - I somehow had "Yves Tumor," Sean Bowie from Miami, confused with "Yves De Mey," a birth name of a techno producer from Brussels. I was hoping for some hard hitting post-industrial wastescapes, and actually, the beginning of the album had me convinced that I had the other Yves! It wasn't until the vocals came in halfway through "Economy of Freedom", the second track, that I realized I was listening to something I'd never heard before at all. From there, the next four songs are all heavy, weird pop music. "Noid" in particular is a successful marriage of hooks and cacophony, and together with “Lifetime” seems to encapsulate the relatable sounds of this project. From there though, the record takes a murky turn and then doesn’t really come back from it.

Emma Ruth Rundle - On Dark Horses - This is for sure ERR's best work, especially if you like big dreamy guitars underpinning female singer/songwriters. It’s way more Emma Ruth than Helen is Liz Harris, but I think the analogy is a decent one. The full band sound here really changes things for the better and the more intense, calling to mind True Widow’s heavy slowcore at times. “Fever Dreams” and “Darkhorse” are particularly good, and by and large it’s less depressing than her last album - check out the epic “Dead Set Eyes” and the equally great “Light Song” for a bit of hopeful Emma musing. Also, it’s hard to leave the coda feeling unsatisfied if you make it that far.

Guerilla Toss - Twisted Crystal - The Toss continues to fulfill their record a year for their DFA contract with another suite of songs that could hook a new listener and satisfy long time fans. This is a little less consistent and exciting than last year's career peak "GT Ultra", but it's actually pretty close. The first half of the record is kind of mid-tempo GT weirdness that they've just been getting better at all along; it's gotten hookier and it's still chock full of ideas and sounds. The exception in that run is "Meteorological," which is the logical progression from the GT Ultra bangers. Then there's the back side (I still need the vinyl rip for the vinyl-only track) that has a lot of new wave and classic rock influence and is all the better for it. From the ebullient "Come Up With Me" to "Green Apple" there are a lot of ideas that feel like they're from far flung places in the music landscape of the last 40 years, repurposed into GT territory to great effect. 

Emma Louise - Lilac Everything - What is this strange pitched down emotional songwriting? As I'm new to Emma Louise, it ends up sounding more like Perfume Genius or…actually I can't think of anyone else that it sounds kind of like, even. There's a lot of piano balladry that falls in a modern pop radio vein, as opposed to Susanne Sundfør, whose take ends up being a lot artsier and weirder. The balladry is triumphant though, especially in the bombastic chorus of "Falling Apart" and the definitive(ly sad) refrain of "Never Making Plans Again." "Gentleman" is the only time the tempo picks up at all, but it does serve as a contrasting centerpiece that is somewhat reprised in the climax of "Mexico."  

Noname - Room 25 - Getting this out of the way: this is better than 99% of hip hop and maybe 99% of music. I do have beef with it, though, because it ends up feeling like a weird compromise for someone with this much talent and perspective. By that I just mean the stylistic choices are strange: it's really poppy, jazzy R&B for a a majority of the record, and it's best when it's not. Noname sounds best when she and her guests are going hard, like on "Self" and "Ace", or when she's most pensive, on "Don't Forget About Me" and "Regal". Then there's a bunch of stuff in between that's not nearly as good that just ends up feeling like it's lost in R&B purgatory with way too many guest vocalists that no one cares about nearly as much as the reason they came to this in the first place. 

Electronic curiosities

Djrum - Portrait with Firewood - This is the kind of casual cinematic masterpiece that you can only make if you're a master of classical composition, performance and modern UK bass music. Felix Manuel is very talented and captures varying emotions in an even larger variety of landscapes. Sometimes it sounds like house music, sometimes Second Storey / Objekt level electro-bassy mayhem, sometimes classical with a distant deep bass rumble, and oftentimes somewhere in between. If you happen to like the breadth of things going on here, this could be a classic for you, too. 

Tim Hecker - Konoyo - I forget if Tim Hecker albums have always been something to get used to, but his recent output feels especially this way. I rounded the corner on Virgins at some point and never made it there with Love Streams, but it seems like I'm in the minority when it comes to having trouble with this one. I saw someone cite that there isn't much for "emotional purpose" or "logical song progression", and I think those are my main problems. But this nowhere near a bad album so let me say some good things: "This Life" is pretty enjoyable all the way through, and "In Mother Earth Phase" builds nicely through the first half, maybe doesn't arrive anywhere, but has a beautiful cello conclusion. It's also hard not to love the percussive thud at the beginning of the final track, which ends up leaving a good impression after its 15 minute runtime.

Sarah Davachi - Gave In Rest - To contrast with the Hecker, this is a "lower stakes" release by many measures, but it ends up being more satisfying for me, at least so far. It's quieter, easier, shorter, and I'm already warmed up because she's released three albums in the past two years. This is a great companion to "Let Night Come on Bells End the Day", as it delves deeper into space and sparseness that Davachi has been exploring for several years now. The drones and space on "Auster" are unsettling and intriguing, and "Evensong" is a haunting piece with piano and voice, two of my favorite sound sources when it comes to Davachi. "Matins" is a highlight for me, as the bowed string drone gives way to the warm organ and piano. 

Olafur Arnalds - Re:member - Arnalds takes a step towards Nils Frahm territory, which isn't surprising considering their recent collaborations. There's also his work in Kiasmos that brings in a rich ambient house angle that is helping influence this album. But maybe most importantly, there's the triggered player piano technology at the center of this work that gives it a distinct sound that is different from his oeuvre and collaborations so far.  The more traditionally Arnalds sound of piano and string work is consistently good also in keeping in line with his previous work, but the electronic touches bring it all up a notch. 

Aphex Twin - Collapse EP - This feels like the first proper Richard D release since Syro to me, even though it's just an EP. The title track is analogue nonsense in a great way and reminds me of the first time I put on 4 as a teenager. "1st 44" takes a more restrained approach to mayhem, converging on the shifting acid electro sound that the ALSO project found in the post-IDM landscape. "MT1 t29r2" ups the BPM and ends up sounding a little jungly, but it's cleverly anchored by fat synth lines and chiming piano. The final track covers a lot of ground and proves James's willingness to expand further, which is great after all these years. 

Sophia Loizou - Irregular Territories - bouncing between Jungle and ambient with ease and tact is no easy task, but this is an exciting iteration of fitting drones and breakbeats together on the same record. I'm excited to see where Loizou goes with this sound next, since it feels like she has the ambition and the chops to make strange things happen in the same general vein as Lee Gamble and Special Request. 

NPR: August 2018

Hi all!


It was a slower month but I got there eventually! I continued my trend of listening to less and liking it more. I hope you do too! 

Oh Sees - Smote Reverser - The kings of psych garage are back with a record that straddles the new and the old. It has the feel of really early OCS at times in melody and timbre, but it also has some of the heaviest moments on any Oh Sees record. It's yet another very satisfying listen, in line with their last three major releases, which were all with this lineup.

Mitski - Be the Cowboy - I have never been into Mitski, but now I am, I guess?! I still think this is an exercise in demonstrating potential rather than a realization of potential, but Mitski has everything necessary to be an indie star and then some. 

Ariana Grande - Sweetener - A huge collection of pop confection that reminds me of many of my favorite pop artists of the past (and future, heh). Sometimes it dips too far into trap beats, but you could say that for literally any modern pop artist. So really, it suffers from the state of modern pop music, but transcends it more often than not.  

Tirzah - Devotion - This is a sweet and weird little number, produced by Mica Levi, which is the first time that I've truly enjoyed one of her projects. Tirzah's vocals and delivery have an intimacy to them that many attempt and few succeed at. It's a great record to put on and zone out to.

Tony Molina - Kill the Lights - If you have fifteen minutes, I've got some sunny, Beatles and Beach Boys tinged power pop for you!



Domiziano Maselli - Ashes - intricate and often intense dark ambient that sounds very labored over, but as a result, very complete. The compositions are large in scope and makes great use of strings and drums in addition to electronics. My favorite parts are definitely the synth blasts and textures that make up the more intense moments.

Byron Westbrook - Confluence Patterns - This tape is a nice step forward for Westbrook, the synthesist, not the Football linebacker. It’s more focused and more challenging than Body Consonance, with influences ranging from Elaine Radigue to Autechre to Emeralds.

Steve Hauschildt - Dissolvi - The more time that passes, and the more I listen to Emeralds and Hauschildt’s post-Emeralds output, the clearer it becomes that he is at the center of the progressive electronic boom that has happened since Allegory of Allergies. He is still shifting and figuring out what he sounds like, which now incorporates a lot more early Aphex Twin and New Age vocals. The retro sounds work well on Dissolvi, mostly because he’s a master of composition and sound design.

Forma - Semblance - I’m going on about Emeralds a lot this month but these guys might be the second coming of the Ohio trio. What they lack in vision they make up for in taste and musicianship, which sets them on a par with the Germans who made these sounds popular in the first place.

Caterina Barbieri - Born Again in the Voltage - A brilliant suite that is infinitely more digestible and no less outstanding than her work from last year. Cello and synth are a great match, apparently.

N1L - 山卂ㄒ乇尺 爪乇爪ㄖ尺ㄚ - the typesetting trend of using characters of other languages that look like english characters is ridiculous, just about as ridiculous as this type of music. This is deconstructed club, Opal Tapes style: dark, menacing, sometimes groovy, and inscrutable. In other words, it's right up my alley.

NPR: July 2018

It feels like there's a bit of a lull with music right now, but somehow I still found 14 things that I like enough to write a couple sentences about. I think the lower volume overall helped me look into things a bit differently and appreciate them more. Hopefully you have a similar experience! 

For July, though, it's kinda dark. Of my favorites, only Kimbra has more levity than heaviness. The Low is beautiful, but almost sits in the same industrial landscape as the NIN and Death Grips at times. For electronic music, Jon Hassell won't bum you out, and Ross from Friends is peppy. Khotin and Eleventeen Eston are chill, and the others are impenetrably dark for most.

Also! I made a Top 20 of 2018 so far, with my usual system, but combined all in one list. If you're looking to catch up on the year so far, I recommend this.


But here's July Songs:

Low - Double Negative - This album feels like a step forward for Low in a way that I’ve been hoping for since C’mon. The textures and minimalism are perfectly suited for their voices, subject matter, and raison d’etre.

Kimbra - Primal Heart - Lovely synthy art pop that takes on a lot of different production and vocal stylings from track to track. There are moments of huge major key choruses, but then there's a lot of headphone ear candy, too. I keep catching myself singing tracks in my daily life, and I've now been humming about six different ones in the past couple weeks.

Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch - This makes me wish I was a big enough fan to go catch them at the Wang in October. I might actually try to become a big enough fan, we'll see.

Death Grips - Year of the Snitch - Year of Nate liking Death Grips! I'm finally on board with this weird blend of hip-hop, insane percussion, and industrial beats. This is a well sequenced album whose standouts don't detract from the overall energy.

Drake - Scorpion - It is a mixed bag and deserving of mixed reviews, but there’s a lot to like on Scorpion. Songs are shorter and pithier than before, and there are more hits than misses. It does play straight through pretty well too, if you have 90 min to spare.

Tierra Whack - Whack World - The mp3s are nice to have, but watch this:
The Internet - Hive Mind - Funky full band alt-R&B with consistently good hooks. They're no The Roots, but they use enough notes from them to make a convincing record.


And Electronic: 

Jon Hassell - Listening to Pictures - I don’t feel like I have enough context to fully appreciate this record from Brian Eno peer Jon Hassell, but this record stands on its own very well. It is melodic and complex in a way that abstract music usually cannot be. Or perhaps it is weird and textured in a way that jazz usually cannot be.

Ross From Friends - Family Portrait - Full bodied house that somehow is still getting labeled as Outsider. I don't really mind, cause it's on Brainfeeder, so that means the whole Outsider movement is gaining traction on larger labels. Hopefully everyone will be not dancing to house music in a house near you soon! Definitely worth some listens!

Khotin - Beautiful You - A whimsical, self-released ambient tape that shimmers and glides along, improving upon last year's New Tab with even weirder bits of found vocals. With so many of the good tape labels slowing down, it's nice to see Khotin carrying the torch of the Outsider genre himself.=

Abul Mogard - Above All Dreams - I haven't gotten through to the other side with this one, but I've been enjoying it so far. I think it’s a lot about being ready to take in something massive and beautiful.

Eleventeen Eston - At the Water - A day at the new age ambient house beach. Background music for cool events.

Lotic - Power - J'Kerian Morgan is experiencing a somewhat similar trajectory to Daniel Lopatin. Where Lopatin set trends in vaporwave and progressive electronic, Morgan peddles in Deconstructed Club. Morgan tries to package these crazy sounds as songs this time around in a more intentional way, grounding them with their own vocals to imbue some humanity.

SØS Gunver Ryberg - SOLFALD - Heavy and intense techno and dark ambient experiments. The length leaves you wanting more, especially if you miss Demdike Stare like I do.