SABRIEL’S ORB “Skin to Skin” C40 (Inner Islands)

Sometimes you get yourself so tightly wound up and nervous that you have to stretch – like a full-body stretch, the way a cat would do – and it sort of helps mid-stretch, but once you’re done the sensation of nerves is almost doubled, so that even though you’ve alleviated it a bit for a moment, you’ve actually kicked it into a much higher gear. Uneasy anticipation, fear and joy all worked and kneaded together within you, can exhilarate as well as enervate. When that feeling decides to hang around for any length of time, you have to try to do something about it, otherwise it can overwhelm you.

That’s where Willow Skye-Biggs, once Stag Hare, enters as Sabriel’s Orb, and it’s Skye-Biggs’s intention to explore similar feelings, “where the ends of joy meet the ends of grief, how ecstasy can also be melancholy, the way so many beautiful moments can contain so many emotions at once.” On Skin to Skin she draws out these complex emotions evenly, allowing them to flow like a “dark river of energy, saturated in longing, in sadness, in desire, in hopefulness.” That’s a great way to approach Skin to Skin, as a lengthy, drifting body, serene yet apprehensive, looking to the future/horizon yet rippling through difficult passages along the way. It’s an apt metaphor for actual human feeling.

And that’s how Skin to Skin goes as it makes its way toward the mouth of the energy river, toward whatever’s beyond that. But it never actually gets there, it just promises to record the passage. And that’s probably the more honest result – the continual motion and ever-changing, though barely perceptible, perspective as hues subtly shift along the bank. It does act as a mellow-outer, diffusing the tension and promoting a relative calm. Another winner from Inner Islands.


COP FUNERAL “Hot Lonely Singles” (Already Dead Tapes)

It was only a matter of time before Josh Tabbia dropped a b-side Cop Funeral collection, right? I mean, dude’s all over the place, releasing tape after tape, also curating Already Dead. Constantly in motion, a perpetual whirlwind. And so here we have it, the Tinder-group-from-hell-titled Hot Lonely Singles, a molten metallic lava trail drooled from the lip of a bubbling volcano. Released on Valentine’s Day 2020, it plays like the lead-up to our current coronavirus-dominated lives: a psychic venereal affliction that also serves to score unlucky façades till they’re devoid of features. Those metaphorical façades are our metaphorical faces.

And so we also grind our ears to dust with Tabbia’s textured noise treatments, pulled from the vaults of time stretching all the way back to 2012, yet some appearing fresh-faced as of the dawn of the new decade. Some are demos, some are cast-offs, some are b-sides. Some were intended for life in iterations other than the one they appear in. Some were never intended for life at all. But what they all have in common is that they were yanked from Tabbia’s hard drive and organized and released into the world, meaning that they were loved, just enough, to warrant public attention. They were even given a physical manifestation and a catalog number (AD327). They were real, they were alive, and they were glorious.

They can also be yours.


PRANA CRAFTER “3rd Ear Incantations” C30 (\\NULL|Z0NE//)

And with the release of 3rd Ear Incantations by Prana Crafter, \\NULL|Z0NE// becomes the North American hub of Hypnic Jerk Tapes. Well, maybe not really. But it is true that the stalwart Atlanta label has pillaged two of the acts appearing on the Aussie upstart’s initial tape run. To be clear, this isn’t a bad thing at all – all it means is that Michael Potter, \\NULL|Z0NE// honcho, knows winning tunes when he hears them, and he just wants to release some winning tunes. And with these winning tunes, in the end, everybody is a winner.

Prana Crafter is William Sol out of the great state of Washington in the Pacific Northwest. Using guitar and synthesizers, he crafts a far-out ambient adventure to the stars and beyond. It’s all awe and overwhelming size on side A, and the mysteries of the universe flit by in slow-mo, sometimes penetrating you and granting you the knowledge you desire. On side B, Sol bursts through a vortex and into one-man shred territory, a Floydian dystopian narrative that resolves in acoustic strums and more cosmic synth. With knowledge comes power, with power comes shredding, with shredding comes destruction, so rebuilding is a must. Trip back over to side A to return to that mindset. The shredding will come again, don’t worry. Circle of life.

See? We all win enlightenment.


“Inferno” C46
(Puro Fantasia Music)

From the City o’ Angels cometh the puzzlingly cohesive, lo-fi party-bringer, J Dendê, a fast & loose yacht-rocker gone 90’salterna-grunger/pop-punker, who just kinda…well…shreds it up over breakneck drum-machine overdrive and/or croons (like dude from Party of Helicopters, but more sober and bilingual) along with laid back vaporwave jamz. 

The album needs to be listened to, front to back, to really get the whole experience, and that experience is a pretty fuckin’ good time, if not a bit nostalgic. 

Party music! 

Remember parties? 



—Jacob An Kittenplan

VARIOUS ARTISTS “Vulpiano Records Ten-Year Anniversary” C45 (Vulpiano Records)

I got the Knight of Chalices, aka the Knight of Cups, right-side up, meaning, in a divinatory way, that I should be on the lookout for offers, opportunities, and invitations. The card was included in my copy of Vulpiano Records Ten-Year Anniversary, and every one of its 100-unit run (I got hand-numbered 33) contains a similar card. Which one did you get?

The UK label is home to an array of experimental artists, and the title of this release pretty much says it all. And why wouldn’t an artist or label want to celebrate ten years of existence, acknowledging the hard work and creativity and quality output the past decade had to offer? By the time this posts, my site, the Critical Masses, will also be turning ten (although the latter half of that time was spent maintaining a social media presence more than anything, as I wrote for other sites much more than my own), so I get it. It’s as good a time as any to take stock.

Vulpiano starts INCREDIBLY strongly with a track by the rightfully beloved Natural Snow Buildings, whose “Charles Thomas Tester” sets the mood with an ambient dream-gaze track enveloping hushed vocals. The duo is rightfully lauded for their restraint and subtle world-building abilities, and they succeed wildly here. From there we’re treated to varying degrees of minimal electronics and, gulp, chillwave, the melodies and textures intertwining among artists (Delicasession, Xqui, ish10 yow1r0, Enrico Falbo). There’s even some mildly orchestral chamber indie in Anton Rothschild’s track “Wednesday,” delightful instrumental folk from Zapa (“Ghosts”), straight-up synthwave from Taker 51 (“Marte”), and the gorgeous lullaby “Memories from a Dead Star” by Osiris Saline.

But my favorite discovery has to be the inclusion of Derek Piotr’s “Witness.” Long a Piotr fan, I always find the digital shapeshifter a joy to listen to, no matter what spectrum of electronic music he’s tackling at any given time. On “Witness” he channels some of the inspiration he had for Drono, his first truly “drone” album (hence the title), but instead of big, lengthy passages he keeps it under three minutes. Still, fragments of tone are sprinkled across the frequency, peppering the second half of the track with these microdisturbances. It’s like he’s allowing us to reframe what’s come before on the comp in a completely different way, offering us a new perspective on how to approach Vulpiano Records and its anniversary collection.

If that’s not an invitation to an opportunity, I don’t know what is.