SNOWFLAKE ORCHESTRA “Snowflake Orchestra” C62 (Cosmic Winnetou)


They’re both at it this time. Our favorite Stuttgart ambient synth artists Joachim Henn and Günter Schlienz have teamed up as Snowflake Orchestra, the single greatest frozen-precipitation confab in the history of music. The front cover of the j-card says it all – and it doesn’t even say anything. It’s just white snowflakes against a black night sky, illuminated by a light source out of view; a streetlight perhaps? It’s a solid stab at selecting Stuttgart streetlights as the source streaming silvery illumination into stifling starless sky. But maybe that’s just me, and we’re supposed to focus on the stillness – each white speck is both a recipient of sonic accompaniment and a participant in the chilly nocturnal dance. You can let your mind drift on the updrafts along with our delicate frigid muses.
And that’s what Henn and Schlienz do here – they immerse themselves in the falling snow and become one with it. The Snowflake Orchestra pieces are light and delicate, yet carry a sense of mystery and wonder that begs close attention. Know how every single snowflake is a unique design? The Orchestra here leans into that, treating the natural variations with reverence while watching them blow around through the street. The sounds are what silence sounds like if it had sounds, like breathing and waiting and watching in song. That’s a neat little trick the Snowflake Orchestra is able to pull off – but if I trusted anybody doing that, it’d be Joachim Henn and Günter Schlienz.

VLK “Nur Darme Stu Turmiento” C36 (Strategic Tape Reserve)


VLK’s 2018 jawn Avril and Sean in Camden was my introduction to the New Jersey DJ (or at least VLK was once based in New Jersey), the tape chronicling a young VLK’s commute to and from work with a boss who listened to a lot of Sean Hannity and dumb stuff like Avril Levigne. (I think I’m remembering that correctly.) It is a weird concept, but it absolutely worked. Nur Darme Stu Turmiento is also a weird concept that totally works, and it also happens to chronicle another of VLK’s employment adventures. This time, instead of being stuck in a car, VLK is instead stuck in an Italian restaurant, forced to listen to late-1990s radio and being accosted by “Rat Pack–adjacent” personalities and “the odd operetta aria outsider.” I can only imagine one’s boss at such a 1990s restaurant as a paisano wannabe goodfella. I can already hear him speaking in an amazing accent in my head.
Nur Darme Stu Turmiento is a mixtape that aims to recreate the feeling of working in such a restaurant. In fact, the entire j-card is a recreation of a menu from that type of eatery, and it looks remarkably authentic. The music is not what you would expect to pipe in from the PA – that would be more along the line of Old Country crooners and opera singers wafting in the background. But VLK takes this concept and mashes it right together with electronic proclivities, weaving together an astounding mix that’s singularly current in its stylistic presentation yet retains a distinct Hoboken-Italian-restaurant flavor. The new and the old flow seamlessly together, a winsome meditation on a singular environment by someone who’s experienced both the front and the back of the house. Plus, it’s just a banger of a tape – no need to sugarcoat there.

MIDNIGHT WINDOW SCREEN “Orange Achievement” C38 (Personal Archives)


I am at a total loss when it comes to Midnight Window Screen. Online search engines take me to Lowe’s, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, and other companies specializing specifically in screens for your home. But that’s not what I’m looking for, Bing! That’s not what I’m asking about, Jeeves! I want to know more about these Midnight Window Screen folks who make music, the ones who’ve released Orange Achievement into this world. Why won’t you help me out, just a little?
I guess I’ll have to do all the heavy lifting myself, then. MWS is a “band,” ostensibly, in that it looks like there are three people in play here, although their photographic likeness is smeared with paint on the j-card. The trio (I’m just gonna lean into it) dons a meditative fedora for the most part, although “Infinities of Black” begs to be called noise, what with that piercing frequency. But in general, synth tones mix it up with soft drums, while vocalizations happen back there in the mix somewhere. Side B hits a few more noise notes again with low-pitched seismic rumblings, but these are simply grumbly textured passages rather than ear shredders. And while “Pure Tibet” wants to close this thing out with lovely ambience, it gives way to the 10-minute “Cobwebs and Memories,” which sort of wants that, but sort of doesn’t – the drums clatter like far-off thunderclaps that ride the vibe all the way to the end of the line.
So in the end, Midnight Window Screen seems like a singular, focused entity, and it plays like that too. MWS combines fascinating elements and emerges unique. Hard to do, people!

VARIOUS ARTISTS “Content Aware” (Jollies)

A ten-track comp to mark Jollies’s tenth release, Content Aware exists as a perfect reminder of where the wacko electronic label has been and points toward an equally wacko future. I’ve personally enjoyed every Jollies release I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on to a sublimely thorough extent, and Content Aware is no different. In fact, I’m only familiar with two (!) of the artists on it, Kritzkom and Asymmetrical Head, so that gives me an entire 80 percent of this thing to discover. And if that’s not a good reason to dive into a comp, I don’t know what is.


I mean, it’s really the best reason, especially if you trust the label putting the thing out. And I do. And it is. As usual, the lovely, dank, downtempo electro pulses with intense mood, and each artist makes themself at home on the tracklist. Francine Thirteen’s track is a nice vocal-led torch song, and Jap Kasai gets wildly playful on their quirky contribution. But the overarching aesthetic is fully in line with itself, making Content Aware the perfect tenth-release celebration for Jollies. There’s the uptempo crash of Sentry, the clicky pulse of Kritzkom, and the theatrical synth work of Private Grief, all Jollies tested, all Jollies approved. Why don’t you get in here and discover something for yourself, you savvy listener you?



NIGHT FOUNDATION “Let There Be Light” (Flophouse)


Miami’s Richard Vergez does the opposite of what you’d expect from Miami, where you’re normally accosted by all the Dolphins teal and … Vice pink and dusk clubbing and coeds and cheap cocktails – perpetual spring break, right? Well, you fools – strap in, because you’re in for the surprise of your lives! Or maybe not, depending on what you expect from something called “Night Foundation,” and also whether or not you even know about the Miami connection, which I did not until I looked it up. Let There Be Light is, in fact, a tour de force of ambient synthesizer explorations, kosmische introspections that illuminate what it means to be you and how you connect to the wider universe. It’s not, decidedly, a place where brain cells go to die.
According to Vergez’s Soundcloud page (no Bandcamp?!), what you’ll mostly hear in his work is Arp Odyssey, synth strings, and tape loops, and that’s what Let There Be Light mainly offers. Every motion, every movement is deliberate, languidly paced, hints of melody and rhythm peeking through the gloom. Because that’s what we’re doing here – we’re moving from darkness to light, from night to day, from inner to outer, but just barely. Night Foundation holds the noir atmosphere throughout, even when the final strains threaten dawn. There’s probably something there to latch on to, to feel good about, but not until those first tentative steps are taken out from behind the nocturnal curtain. Even if in the end we end up retreating back to the darkness, we’re at least trying something new here, right? And that’s always a good thing – no pink or teal or whatever to mess with the melancholy.

DERE MOANS AND HORSELOVER FLATS “Lax Myths / Essentially Negative” (Strategic Tape Reserve)


What better way to get back into the game than with two of my favorite electronic weirdos, Tony Lien, aka Dere Moans and purveyor of Bad Cake Records, and Tim Thornton, aka Horselover Flats (and Tiger Village, among others) and purveyor of Suite 309? I’ll tell you what better: a split album by these two nuts on the aggressively intellectual Cologne-based cassette label Strategic Tape Reserve! It should come as no surprise that the combination of these three things – artists x 2 and label – have resulted in a wildly inventive maelstrom of cacophony. At times harshly obliterative, at others fantastically mesmerizing, Lax Myths (the Dere Moans side) and Essentially Negative (the Horselover Flats side) dream of definite futures where androids definitely dream of electric shrimp.
Did I type shrimp? Weird.
Anyhoo, Dere Moans hits hard and quickly, with Tony repurposing some material he’s had laying around throughout Covid and mashing it into a chunky paste of noisy sample jams. Don’t call it plunderphonic: or, wait, it’s pretty plunderphonic, but then again, Dere Moans is the best at that, so let’s cut him some slack. Lax Myths is bracing, that’s for sure, and the pace and volume doesn’t let up regardless of what slides through the old sound-mulcher. It’s an action-packed blast of face-melting vibes – the Total Recall of this package.
Tim as Horselover Flats loves him some Philip K. Dick, and as such, we’re kindred spirits (I’m obsessed). Grabbing his moniker from VALIS, Tim last played a show, again before Covid, not as Tiger Village or CDX but as this Dick-inspired incarnation of himself. Armed with sine waves, kick drums, and voice, Tim crafts a paean to the literary master, a future-noise collage whose tracks are all titled after Dick-isms. Appropriately schizophrenic and disruptive in nature, Essentially Negative is his A Scanner Darkly, mind rending but not aware. A glorious, nightmarish trick.
But in the end, you get these two on a tape, you can’t go wrong. Strategic Tape Reserve does not go wrong either. Frankly, they never do.

BBJR / ARU “Europe 2172” C37 (Personal Archives)


I know what I’ll be doing in the year 2172: chilling in the literal afterlife. What about you guys? For Bob Bucko Jr. and ARU, they’ll be fresh of their sold-out, co-headlining European tour, each decompressing in a separate mansion while already germinating the ideas of their next collaboration. Bodies full of legal, mind-altering substances. Evolved craniums pulsing with creative energy.
Imagine that, Europe still existing in 2172! So rich.
BBJr. and ARU – aka long-running Dubuque project of Randy Carter – predict the future here on Europe 2172, an imagined artifact of that glorious triumph of live performance. Bucko tinkers with his gadgets and guitars, his pedals gleaming in the setting sun, melding generous ragas with future meditative jams, all but forecasting what we’ll all be listening to 150 years from now. (Well, those of us who haven’t been raptured, that is.) ARU dares to turn the tables on BBJr., entering with some milky dub that curdles and spills all over the gears and circuits, clouding everything purply, shimmying and shuffling in dizzying chaos. But this is what the 2172 kids are clamoring for – or their clones are anyway, who’s to say which is which, especially from a legal standpoint. ARU delivers. BBJr. delivers.
Our future is once again less bleak. Our past selves from 2021 are grateful that either Bucko and Carter are clairvoyant or time travelers. Either way, we benefit.

DOGS VERSUS SHADOWS “Oscilloghost” (Third Kind)


You’re warned from the start: Oscilloghost isn’t for the weak-willed, it’s for the truly hearty, those whose constitutions can withstand a fright or two. And Dogs Versus Shadows, aka Lee Pylon, lays it on thick, the suspense I mean, letting the spirits occupy his synthesizer rigs and just get all gooey in there with the ectoplasm and the wisps of whatever ether they’re made out of. Maybe they’re just figments of ESP, but they sure sound real. They sure sound like they’re hovering just on the other side of the physical plane, waiting for the right moment to bend reality to their will and manifest.
Lee Pylon allows them to manifest.
Yeah, he’s like a medium or something, channeling otherworldly entities, sometimes like an actual witch or whatever, sometimes like Steven Spielberg when he mixes childhood wonder and horror in equal measure. At any rate, the tones and tales are real, the experiments in sonic parapsychology teasing out the creepily visceral and wondrously ethereal simultaneously. It’s easy to get lost in the inky blackness of a winter woodland, wandering restlessly as you search for meaning. Dogs Versus Shadows provides the soundtrack for that, and maybe it turns out that – spoiler alert, Jack! – you’re the one who’s the Oscilloghost after all. Wouldn’t that be a scrumptious twist!

COPS “Energy Trap” C46 (Cosmic Winnetou)


I feel like we’re hearing a lot about cops these days, but not in a good way, you know? Well, I’m here to remind you that there are, believe it or not, good cops out there, ones who wield their badges with courtesy and respect. Is it any surprise that these Cops (yes, cap “C” now) are from Brandenburg (in Germany) and not, I dunno, Minneapolis? I’d venture a guess that there aren’t many Cops fans in Minneapolis. It’s too soon there … and everywhere really.
But these good Cops don’t wield any weapons, unless you consider synthesizers a weapon! I know a few people who might feel threatened by synthesizers, but you shouldn’t be threatened by Niklas Dommaschk or Oliver Koch, the partners on the electrodub “beat.” Far from the hardened police who face dangerous criminals on a daily basis, Dommaschk and Koch ride the cosmic wave into blacklit swirls, pulling scramble suits over their heads and going deep undercover. The intake is the outtake, and the result is the sea of vibe.
I’d like to see somebody get busted with a kilo of Energy Trap. Intent to sell? Heck yes.
Slow tasered electricity pulses through the haze. Clouds at night. City streets and on patrol. Cops has your back, my back, everybody’s back. It’s hard to believe, but this rehabilitated image is ripe for catching on. These Cops only serve and protect.