SQRTSIGIL “Grayscale” (Antenna Non Grata)


Taking electronic minimalism to the next level, Polish artist Maciek Jaciuk drops Grayscale, the color equivalent of electronic minimalism. Sometimes, when the world’s against you (well, against everyone, really), you just need to sit back, strap on some headphones, and pop in a tape that’s simply going to sound like you’re listening to electronically translated functions of your own body within the confines of your own head. It’s surprisingly tranquil, like you’re in Fantastic Voyage but no white blood cells are trying to expel you through the anus of the person you’re zooming around in. That’s what Fantastic Voyage was about, right?
But seriously, headphones are a must for a SqrtSigil release, because you’re not living until you’ve experienced nuance. And nuance at this level. I’m a sucker for experimental electronic releases that beg you to follow them over all sorts of crazy terrain, and Grayscale is one that presents a fractured path that must be pieced together as you traverse it. It’s minimal but dense, intricate. Its color palette is deceiving – there’s actually some hidden picture action going on here. Figure it out for yourself!

GIOVANNI GRAMEGNA / AR.MA “Noise Study” / “Insect Hunter” C55 (Plaża Zachodnia)


Giovanni Gramegna suggests noise on “Noise Study,” the A-side of this here split. There’s just too much tone here, too much to grasp onto to really slide it into a “noise” category. Now, if Gramegna has been studying noise itself, and not presenting this side as a collection of “noise” for us to “study,” then he may have found something. Hidden in those sheets of feedback and power electronics are wisps of beauty, shimmering celestial illuminations serving as living groundwork for the onslaught of intensity. Or maybe this is just his idea of noise. If it is, I want to be inside his head, like all the time.
Artur Maciak, aka AR.MA, has a little bit of a different approach on “Insect Hunter” – mainly because side B doesn’t waste much time building itself up to sound like insects themselves. Well, just because “Noise Study” didn’t sound like actual insects doesn’t make it any less of a spiritual cousin. AR.MA gets out into nature at night, where there’s no light pollution, and records the experience. It’s all wispy clouds on the wind and starlight, silhouettes of trees, and rustling, indistinct movement. The insect hunter is always ready, and adventure is constant and meaningful.

ANARCHIST MOUNTAINS TRIO “La terre et la force” (Amek Collective)


When you think “anarchist mountains,” you’re thinking huge, am I right? Massive geographical formation, towering in the sky, and not beholden to anyone’s rules. Punk weight, right there on the face of the planet, in everyone’s line of sight. Well, Anarchist Mountains Trio, a trio (duh) consisting of brothers Jordan and Stefan Christoff and joined here by Joseph Sannicandro, are even more anarchist than you think: instead of vying for your attention with a sound as big as their name, something of the ear-splitting variety, they 180 that thought into the quiet spectrum, turning inward, not beholden to anyone’s rules, even their own. Or something like that.
And thus La terre et la force, or “Land and strength,” understands the limitations of how humans relate to things that are bigger, older, and relatively incomprehensible. Again, instead of tectonic sounds to shock the system, the trio approximates the movement and the scope and the energy of the growth of something like the mountain range of their moniker over millions of years and distills that vision, one clearly observed from beyond a terrestrial position, into a graceful reverie. Don’t get me wrong, this thing is filled with awe – how can it not be – and the synths, guitars, and field recordings intertwine as if they were stardust reconstituting on the surface of the planet. You’re breathing these sounds and reveling in silence, never once considering that the air particles in your lungs are the size of continents. There really is some relativistic chicanery going on here!
But this is perfect for Amek Collective, beloved Bulgarian label. La terre et la force redefines the rules even as they’re being redefined, keeping everyone on their toes at all times and causing incomprehensible discombobulation – all while being as chill as chill can be. This one requires a deep dive – take it, I beg you.

SQRTSIGIL “New Technologies Require Sacrifices” (Tone Burst)


Polish artist Maciek Jaciuk stirs a soup of minimal electronic burbles as Sqrtsigil, periodically lifting his ladle from the mix and tasting what’s cooking, letting it coat his palate, nodding in approval, and going back to stirring again. This process doesn’t require a lot of quick action, but much intentional, contemplative movement. Jaciuk has been doing this for a while too, and it’s nice to be able peek in on the master chef at work and see what he’s up to.
On New Technologies Require Sacrifices, Jaciuk guides his ingredients into the proper configurations, letting everything simmer until it’s perfectly prepared. The process of combination and experimentation yields surprising results, and is captivating to behold. Texture and flavor merge to initiate a spiritual experience, one that lifts the spirits while simultaneously turning one inward. New Technologies gets on in there, and is quite difficult to shake! Now, what kind of sacrifice are we talking about here?

GRIMÉNY “Die Große Aufgabe” (Already Dead)


It is “a big task” to rumble into first place on the all-time great math-rock band list, but Grimény is up to the challenge! Well, I don’t know that there’s really a list of that sort, or if anyone’s really keeping some kind of analytical score, or if the objective and the subjective should intermingle in such a way, or even if the whole enterprise is a good idea, but none of that even matters once Grimény starts blasting away. The Berlin trio punks up whatever early-1990s Chicago trio happens to be on repeat that day and shoots like a rocket into a rhythmic stratosphere of their own devising. It often sounds like Don Cab mistakenly put a quarterstick of dynamite in their mouth instead of a cigar and lit it with a Trans Am match.
Kaboom. Face obliterated by math-rocket-y goodness.
Die Große Aufgabe means “a big task” or “the big task” (I’m fuzzy on my German articles, but I’ll be happy to be corrected), and let’s now call Die Große Aufgabe a completed task – Grimény are ready to bust through to this side of the Atlantic. The groundwork is laid, the fuses are lit, let’s let these firecrackers (again, uh, quartersticks) pop off in tape decks everywhere. The band interplay is spectacular – this isn’t their first go-round after all – and the inventive songwriting keeps Die Große Aufgabe from getting stuck in a guitar/bass/drums rut. That’s because it’s a synthesizer/guitars/bass/drums setup, so you can imagine the echoes of I Am Spoonbender throughout this thing. Gosh, that’s something I’ve missed.

PATH OF THE SUN “Path of the Sun” C40 (Inner Islands)


It’s sort of not fair, is it? Daniel Guillén (Lunaria) and Steve Targo (Inner Travels) uniting under one moniker for forty minutes of cosmic drift? And yet they do, as Path of the Sun, perhaps the most aptly named collaboration in existence. What do you think, in your mind, the sun sounds like as it hurtles through space, part of the Milky Way galaxy, ever pressed outward as a result of the Big Bang? I’ll give you a hint: press play on this baby.
It’s not fair because you’re powerless against it, much like anything in the sun’s way on its celestial path is powerless against it, plowed through or over, or sucked into orbit, or simply obliterated, matter and molecules blasted this way and that by the energy of an actual bloody star. Sounds daunting! But wait, take a step back a minute – remember that everything’s relative? OK, with that in mind, observe the sun from a great distance. Doesn’t look like it’s moving very much, does it? Planets don’t seem to be either. More like hovering. Peaceful. Intense. Soundtracked by synthesizers.
That’s the Path of the Sun experience. That’s how it makes you feel. That’s how Daniel Guillén and Steve Targo work their magic, their alchemy, their science. It’s weight and release all at once, gravity and freedom. The push and pull is incredibly gratifying.

ASHAN “Sacred Springs” (Inner Islands)


Not that long ago I was feeling down, so I did what any sane person feeling down is apt to do: pull out every Inner Islands release on the shelf and systematically listen to each one of them, one by one, until I attain enlightenment. Or something. The point, of course, is to heal thyself. And, as listener of said recordings, I did heal thyself. Myself. Whatever.
Sean Conrad curates his label with this in mind, and as Ashan he contributes his own work to the corpus. He’s done this before – thirteen times as Ashan alone – and the results are never less than stunning. But for Conrad, “stunning” doesn’t refer to “in your face,” or indeed an overwhelming sensation in any way. “Stunning” here is the sense of cosmic peacefulness one attains while listening to an Ashan (or, broadly, Inner Islands) release. “Stunning” refers to how “stunningly” peaceful I feel while I’m awash in Ashan sounds.
Sacred Spring is the third in Conrad’s Drifters Series, following Far Drift Afield and Transfigurations – incidentally two of the releases that helped calm and center me in my time of distress. It too promises and utterly delivers a majestic quiet, a solitude where thoughts merge with the rest of the body, where deep peace is achieved among the flow of the infinite. The concept of forever contained in a hidden mountain spring is too tempting to not reach for it whenever possible. I think Sacred Spring is going to make a welcome addition to my emergency Inner Islands stash.

KRITZKOM “Fuzziness” (Jollies)

“That synth crawled outta that hole and had a little peek around before it ran off toward yonder hills.” So says my ancient interlocutor at the gas station off whatever this rural exit this is as he points to Appalachian wilderness behind the dilapidated structure that served these parts as far back as when Eisenhower was president. Truman maybe. That this gray, wizened, coverall-wearing, grease-covered remnant of bygone days even knew what a synthesizer was a mystery to me, but I would save that question for later, maybe. Kritzkom was out here, I knew it.

This is how I ended up here: Fuzziness, a transmission from tape label Jollies, landed in my mailbox, and I immediately knew it originated from somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, even though it was a lo-fi electronic number crafted by Berlin-based French artist Marine Drouan. There was a vibe here that simply stretched across space, way outside of an urban context, calling for free roaming under nothing but trees and sky. And so I devoured Fuzziness, letting it cloud my head, my intentions, like a fog bank, like a scrambled signal from a bunker that held secrets only I was going to be let in on.

I got in the car and drove a few hours, guided simply by the subliminal pulses and minimal techno of Fuzziness, stopping where I did on a hunch. It was the right one, and as I left the man and walked to the back of the building, eyes scanning the scrub brush and tree copses and outcroppings of hills harshly protruding from the ground. A synth emerged from a hole and absconded to a field. What does that even mean? I began to walk, twenty yards, thirty, forty, finding nothing but the land. Then I heard it – it might have been in my head, it might have been in the sky, it might have been coming from directly in front of me: Fuzziness, in its natural habitat. Kritzkom was close. But as I began to step further out into that all-encompassing sound on the wind, my head rang with reverberating tone, and my vision became purple. I blacked out.

I came to next to my car, hands on the hood, breathing heavily, sweating. I could see the old gas station owner through the window of the building, eyeing me with a suspicious look. I nodded, but I was shaken – my legs tingled and my fingers sparked. I tasted metal. Whatever happened to me out there beyond the gas station, where no other human being had ever ventured, stuck with me, overcame me. It was Fuzziness, distilled, uncompromised, in the wild. It was exhilarating.

I chalked it up to unanswerable mystery. Fuzziness, indeed, in its pure form, conjured by Kritzkom, spends its days frolicking in the wilderness behind that old gas station. And while I never actually encountered the entity Kritzkom itself while I was out here, I didn’t really think I was going to in the first place. I just wanted to see what I could see, and the spirit of Kritzkom is enough for me to call this expedition a success.




DERE MOANS “A Dereliction” (Already Dead)


“This isn’t long enough, Tony!” I scream at absolutely friggin’ nobody, and it’s just as well – nobody would understand what I’m talking about, let alone me in general. I’ll give you a little background: Tony Lien, purveyor of Bad Cake Records, is Dere Moans, and every release he blesses us with is a plunderphonic masterpiece. No, he’s not taking whole Blink-182 songs or whole Spice Girls songs and repurposing them for our referential pleasure. Whatever the heck he’s sampling, it ain’t something that I recognize, and that’s all the better – that means I can enjoy A Dereliction without the intrusion of outside influence.
But it’s too short.
Fine, so it’s technically an EP or whatever, big deal. And I say these things to completely praise Tony’s abilities, because I haven’t met a Dere Moans release I haven’t immensely liked. There’s really nobody that can rip through source material and come up with wildly inventive concoctions quite like Tony Lien, and here he straddles the line between complete cut-up sonic terrorism and a static-y sound puzzle that’s missing only a few pieces of frequency before it blooms into weird euphony. Listening to A Dereliction makes me wonder how in the living crap there hasn’t been a Dere Moans release on Orange Milk yet. It’s like someone’s taken a literal scissors to music here and reassembled it. That’s sort of the Orange Milk way.
But this is on Already Dead. Already Dead is so friggin’ awesome.
Look, there’s no way I’m not going to bombard your Twitter feed with “#BuyDereMoans” posts, because I’m halfway in the nuthouse here and A Dereliction is making more sense than most of what I encounter on a daily basis. And that’s fine – it’s a cracked mirror of abstract sound manipulation that has to be heard to be believed, and believed to be understood, and understood to be embraced, and embraced to be beloved, and beloved to be uploaded to Soulseek or whatever is on the internet now. Just kidding, buy a tape – #BuyDereMoans.

UNCANNY DANDELIONS “Gravel Scavenger” (Orb Tapes)


I am a victim of mesmerism. Uncanny Dandelions (naturally) invade my senses; sometimes I inhale their seed pods by accident when I’m gearing up to blow them. Sometimes I absorb the sounds from their cassette tape into my ears. It’s a situation; in this one or any other, I’m fully zoned.
Uncanny Dandelions is K. Trujillo, who fits broken pieces together and glues or tapes them (or whatever) and plays them back to see what happens. Gravel Scavengers is an SOS on the wind, a false-color negative masquerading as a mixtape. Trujillo bends emotional response to their whims, luring in the unsuspecting, catching them in their uncanny, dandelion-y trap. Squirm all you want, it’s in your bloodstream.
Uncanny is right, nothing eases itself, mostly lemon-sour tendrils. You can eat dandelion salad with lemon poppyseed dressing anyway, so do the right thing. Take a big honkin’ bite and shiver with the overwhelming tang before it curdles into something tangier. Get low, all the way low, feel the pulse as it shudders. You can feel it pounding in your ears, your ear’s to the ground, you can feel it pounding from miles away.
Whatever you do, don’t break this spell.

SERRATER / BUTOH SONICS “Split” C80 (Orb Tapes)


Hearing Michael Potter do the next obvious thing in his repertoire – a noise/no wave sludge-coction under his “Serrater” guise – is music to my ears. No wait, actually, it’s more like damaging waves of tone and feedback to my ears, which causes the eardrums within them to vibrate uncontrollably and cause blood to leak and seep out and get everywhere. Two tracks he does on this split, TWO! “America the Grave” and “Shed Dead Flesh” are noise in intent and execution, but this isn’t a dude who’s just creating hellish feedback loops. He’s obviously got guitars and even drums in here, but sure, I guess he is also feeding everything back like crazy. He’s awesome at somehow corralling this craziness, sculpting these vicious frequencies, whether low or high, into sonic weapons. No, not music to my ears – more like missiles to them. I’m probably hearing the aftermath of that inside my head.
The Butoh Sonics collective recorded “Spinning Fiend Who Feeds Off Vertigo” live two years ago at Operation Noise Toaster 17 in Phoenix. It’s an electroacoustic/electronic nightmare, layered with traditional instruments and nontraditional, like guitar, but also propane tanks. Also someone is doing Butoh, the form of Japanese dance theater from which the quartet takes its name. “Spinning Fiend” sounds like antigravity crinkling space-time, causing tension in the proto-building blocks of existence. They do this for forty mesmerizing minutes, every one of them filled with feedback and icky loops, plucks and synth pings, desperate for equilibrium but never quite managing it. It’s dense and off kilter, and riveting when it gets itself under your skin. Which it does quickly.

GOOD WILLSMITH “HausLive 2: Good Willsmith at Sleeping Village 4/25/2019” (Hausu Mountain)


First things first: 4/25/2019, the date that this live show was recorded, was before the pandemic, so we don’t have to freak out about having 3,000 people packed into a crowded indoor venue – the only germs they spread that night are ones of peace and love, not COVID. Also, I’m not sure about that number. But what I do know is that Good Willsmith was on that night, maybe sensing that the end of immediate live music was near, maybe realizing that what the world is really going to need within a year and a half is a ripping live set to proffer hope to the hopeless in these dark times. Well, Good Willsmith, mission accomplished.
The trio of Max Allison, Natalie Chami, and Doug Kaplan has done the lysergic improvised groove thing for a while, and Max and Doug even live together and run Hausu Mountain together (not to mention make music as BBSitters Club and Pepper Mill Rondo), so I’m surprised they’re just not sick of each other. But they’re not, honest, and you can tell! The interplay is Grateful Dead-y, in that they’re just a family who gets it and each other, but the music is not Grateful Dead-y at all (leave that to BBSitters Club) – it’s got a sick psychedelic electronic element pulsing through the laid-back astro-drone, so by the time the awesomely titled “The Burning Orphanage Sidequest” melts itself down to the rivets, you should be off on some sort of cosmic trip.
And now you also have a souvenir of that trip. Maybe you were there at the original event, maybe you’re just coming to it now, but HausLive 2 is the perfect release to continue on this long, strange … ride the GW cats are on (following volume 1 by the magnificent Sunwatchers). So dub it and trade it like it’s hot, but don’t tell the band I told you to. I think they want you to buy it from them. It’s not like were getting stimulus checks every month or anything.

AAVD TRIO “Anti Glow” (Orb Tapes)


We exist in the deadening smog. AAVD Trio – Alexander Adams (drums & cymbals), Danny Andrade (tenor saxophone), and Daniel Van Duerm (electric piano, organ, and electronics), for those of you who like your acronyms defined – exists in the deadening smog, at times burdened by its claustrophobia, at others maddeningly trying to escape. See the j-card cover? The light is either trying to peek through or the sun is sucking the light back into itself because it doesn’t see the point anymore. AAVD Trio needs you to let them reach you, and they also have a tendency to allow their personal gravitation to suck the notes they play back into themselves. They do this simultaneously: ennui-cracking and point-not-seeing.
None of this dimestore philosophizing has any impact or bearing on the music itself. The instruments communicate with one another as if they’ve always been meant to. Van Duerm lays remarkable sonic foundations for Andrade to skip through and play around with, but it’s not until he’s bending circuits and effing with synths that you realize you’re not just listening to fusion-era-Miles Chick Corea aping. The meeting of jazz and experimental electronics can often be exhilarating, and Van Duerm, Adams, and Andrade prove as adept at breaking new ground as a dude with a shovel at a groundbreaking ceremony. Anti Glow is a rush regardless of whether it’s hurtling full throttle or pinging around on the inside of itself. Even when it’s lurching like a hungry Frankenstein’s monster, it’s got that edge of cuttingness, that wobbly connection like barely failing and then unfailing magnets are holding everything together. It’s unusual, and it’s vital. It hits a lot of pleasure centers.



Rush Falknor manhandles a sax (I think) on his side of this devilish split on Orb Tapes. Stretching out the drone of the instrument, distorting it, manipulating it, and rendering it completely unrecognizable in the process, Falknor shows a gawking roomful of noiseniks how it’s done. Yes, this was recorded live in 2019. Yes, you can hear banter before the horn blows. Yes, it sounds like an intentional electroacoustic addition. The path Rush’s side takes to get to its windswept droning final act is a remarkable one filled with left turns and incredible secrets. “One more!” “Encore!” the crowd shouts at the end of the second performance. Encore indeed.
Encore we get, but it’s a Moth Bucket encore! The duo of Kevin Sims and James Searfoss knocked this one out live too, but back in 2018, at something called Ballroom Sonics 1. Moth Bucket slink through a mist of restrained feedback and warped inputs, weird amplified objects resonating with electrical impulse. Voices appear and stutter and warp, promoting a sense of unreality. The ’Bucket maintain their performance at a crouch, peering from behind their setup to see if anyone’s paying attention, but trying really hard not to be seen. Don’t worry, guys, everyone’s paying attention. Everyone’s rapt and focused on the details. You do not disappoint.

SPOOKY TAVI “Tetragrammaton” (Doom Trip Records)


HOTT MT’s Spooky Tavi has a new tape coming out in 2021 on Doom Trip Records, but before that happens, DTR has somehow managed to wrangle 2016’s Tetragrammaton from Tavi’s hard drive and dub it to cassette tape, thereby releasing into the world a chunk of chillaxed electro pop so contagious that I wish it was Tetragrammaton that everyone was infected getting instead of the Covid. Not only would the world be in a much happier state, it would also be less sick in general. Maybe we could remedy that with a little Tetragrammaton, using it as a substitute for most medications in a general way, applying it liberally to the ear canals, and sitting back and watching in satisfaction as all our ills are cured. I say this as a hypothetical of course – don’t do anything without consulting your doctor or the CDC first, because the chances are that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
What I do know about is music. HOTT MT are a deliriously psych-drenched dream pop duo, and their name is actually an initialism that stands for Hour of the Time Majesty Twelve, as lysergic a concept as you’re likely to find among their Los Angeles contemporaries. Spooky Tavi branches off in a direction to showcase his pop chops and production skills, warping earworm after earworm through heavily reverbed programs. But he’s still working the leftfield angle, dripping trippiness as his melodies sweeten into syrup. Think Washed Out or Panda Bear or Beach House or my friend Josh’s Freak Owls project. (I like me some Freak Owls.) And to top it all off, Tetragrammaton, which is the four-letter transliteration of the Hebrew name for God (YHWH, JHVH), has a spiritual dimension – you just gotta hear it to feel it, let it tingle all up in your spinal column, get those chemicals bubbling in the supernatural part of your brain. Spooky Tavi is easy to love, and I easily succumb to catchy weirdos. This one’s a keeper.