Fly That Freak Flag Loudly


This is a soundtrack to being on the right side of history: the Spring 2017 compilation from the excellent metal label Southern Lord. It’s available for name-your-own price, but I encourage you to toss them at least a fiver, because all proceeds go to the ACLU.


via ▶︎ Southern Lord Spring 2017 compilation. Proceeds to benefit the ACLU. Never give up the struggle. Never give up the fight. Name your own price. | Southern Lord Spring Sampler 2017


Recording of the Week: Bloodmist, Sheen

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Bloodmist: Sheen

In a way, I’ve been waiting for a record like this since I first heard the Last Exit debut album back in 1986. The record was notable for being free improvisation played in the style of metal and hardcore. It opened up a door that John Zorn, most prominently, went through, with bands like Painkiller. But it also promised a push toward abstraction that never really materialized, except in the general sense with Sunn O))).

Bloodmist has fulfilled this dream, and more, with their debut release. The band is clarinetist Jeremiah Cymerman, guitarist Mario Diaz De Leon (both of whom are developing promising careers as contemporary composers), and bassist Toby Driver. The band’s name and the record title implies dark metal, a sense of malevolence, and the music doesn’t disappoint in that regard, but the style is not at all what you are expecting. The atmosphere is indeed dark and heavy, but the actual music-making is full of space.

This is a particular kind of space—this is free improvisation, and each of the musicians concentrates more on listening to each other than on playing. The space, which is substantial, is fibrous, woven out of echoes and reverberations of previous sounds, stitched with the anticipation of what might come next. And what comes next is consistently surprising and satisfying. The playing is so full of care, so intelligent, so refined, that the music is extremely beautiful. This is not only one of the heaviest records I’ve heard in years, but one of the most beautiful ones.

The final track, “The Mad Road,” has the kind of pretentious, clichéd, obviously dark spoken narrative that I commonly find puerile and embarrassing. It’s a measure of how much I love this record that I gladly listen through the whole thing, and start it again.

Sheen is available on CD through 5049 Records, or digitally through Amazon or iTunes.

A Month of Listening: February 2016

A short month perhaps, but no concessions the number of days: in this year’s leap-month of February, I listened to 38 recordings, making a total of 94 for the year so far. My current pace will have me covering 564 records that are new/recent releases for this year, a little under what I heard last year.

That pace will change, of course. In February, I spent considerable time listening to Beethoven symphonies and string quartets in my collection, and also spent some time with Sibelius and Bruckner and Thelonious Monk. Of the new music, and along with the Recordings of the Week series, my favorites for the month were:

Here’s the February 2016 Listening I use for details, for the curious. I encourage you to check out any and all of the above releases, and happy listening.

Personal Best: 2015

I’ve done my official list of the best classical and jazz recordings of 2015, and now here’s my personal one—the records that as a non-critical listener I simply enjoyed the most. That’s out of 600 or so new recordings I listened to in 2015. 600. Actually more …

There’s an arbitrary, top-12 separation, one for each month of the year, and then forty more releases to follow, which all means that I’d be glad to listen to one of these, and nothing else, for an entire week.

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Personal Best—One for Every Month

  • Charenee Wade: Offering. I am mystified why this record got so little critical attention. This is Wade’s tribute to Gil Scott-Heron, which she realizes through elegant, musical arrangements of his songs. This is affecting music with a terrific band (some of the names are Lonnie Plaxico, Dave Stryker, and Stefon Harris), perhaps the trouble with it is that no one expects Scott-Heron’s songs to be so fine and so powerful without his inimitable delivery. Well, the songs are that good, and Wade’s singing clothes their substantial force in loveliness.
  • José James: Yesterday I Had the Blues. This record grew on me. What at first seemed to be polite, slightly rote renditions of songs Billie Holiday made famous revealed iteself gradually to be a record of depth and individuality. James voice is beautiful, and his expression is subtle and plangent. Then there are Jason Moran’s scintillainting voicings underneath. A mesmerizing record that both comforts and abrades.
  • Le Berger: Music for Guitar and Patience. A barely describable of long, quietly jangling pieces for guitar with sound processing. Free to some extent, but ordered around specific explorations of space and timbre. Completely transporting and effective.
  • Hieroglyphic Being & J.I.T.U. Ahn-Sahm-Buhl: We Are Not The First. The antidote to The Epic. The strange thing for me is that after the exuberant structural and formal freedom of To Pimp a Butterfly and You’re Dead, Kamasi Washington’s album would be so aesthetically and musically staid and conservative. This recording, with contributions from Marshall Allen to Shelley Hirsch, is wild, exploratory, leaping off a platform of funk into the uncharted future of African American music. Further confirmation that Sun Ra’s The Singles is the Rossetta Stone of American vernacular music.
  • Fossil Aerosol Mining Project: The Day 1982 Contaminated 1971. No one can say who will be left to hear the voices we leave behind, but Fossil Aerosol Mining Project has, for many years now, been exploring the possible sounds of the future’s past. Enveloping, both disturbing and comforting, it’s exciting that this mysterious ensemble has returned to making new music.
  • Pyramid: A Northern Meadow. My tastes in metal are admittedly specialized: I want a solid wall of deep sound and something other than thudding four-square drumming and cookie-monster style vocals. That’s surprisingly difficult to find, but this superb record checks all the boxes, and does so much more.

  • C. Duncan: Architect. One of the most sheerly beautiful pop records I have ever heard. Duncan’s song-craft and production are excellent, and his musical phrasing and vocal timbre are gorgeous. You can get the CD or LP soon from Amazon, or get the digital now at Bandcamp.
  • Kill West: Smoke Beach. Something like Pyramids, but different; psychadelic drone-rock from Brazil, with a darkly warm shoegazy sound, insinuating vocals, and a real groove on every track.
  • Jon Mueller: A Magnetic Center. Experimentation that is impossible to pigeon-hole and is exciting. Mueller’s record is made with nothing more than percussion and his own voice. He produces a multi-tracked glossolalia that, combined with the mesmerizing, repetitive beats, creates the feeling of an ancient ritual buried deep within the mind. Odd, abstract, and obsessive in the first few minutes, the experience becomes deep, stunning, and transformative.

  • Alessandro Cortini: Risveglio. The development of cheap, powerful CPUs has produced a parallel development of powerful music and sound production software. Cortini, one of the most interesting contemporary electronic musicians, instead used what are now vintage pieces of hardware—the Roland 202 monophonic synthesizer/sequencer, and TB303 bass synthesizer/sequencer, combined with a delay. As with all great music, what is seemingly a limitation turns out to be a vast resource of imagination.
  • Aine O’Dwyer: Music for Church Cleaners Vol. I and II. A series of serene and expressive organ improvisations, made after-hours in the presence of the women cleaning the churches. O’Dwyer’s playing seeks its own statement while she also accepts the requests of her accidental audiences to not, for example, “stay on one note for a long time.” The music is lovely on its own, and the atmosphere gives it a unique frisson of live performance.
  • Brian Harnetty: Rawhead & Bloodybones. Not the usual archival release from Dust-to-Digital, but new music from composer Harnetty. He combines samples of music and spoken audio from both the Berea College Appalachian Sound Archives and the Sun Ra/El Saturn Creative Audio Archive, and to the prerecorded music he adds original, acoustic touches. This is a dialogue between past and present, memory and action, grisly, strange, and compelling.

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Personal Best—Music for Every Week

  • Adoption Tapes: Walks on the Beach.
  • Aidan Baker: Ecpliptic Plane.
  • SONAR: Black Light.
  • High aura’d & Mike Shiflet: Awake.
  • Lucia Roberts: I’m Just Dreaming.
  • Chris Pitsiokos Trio: Gordian Twine.
  • Craw: 1993-1997.
  • Kristoffer Oustad: Filth Haven.
  • Kate Carr, I had myself a nuclear spring.
  • Makaya McCraven: In the Moment.
  • Stephan Mathieu: Before Nostromo.
  • David Torn: Only Sky.
  • Steve Roach: Skeleton Keys.
  • Anouar Brahem: Souvenance.
  • Patrick Higgins: Bachanalia.
  • Steve M. Miller: Between Noise and Silence.
  • Tim Coster: Where to Be – Vol. 1.
  • Various Artists: Excavated Shellac: Reeds.
  • Laddio Bolocko: Live and Unreleased 1997-2000.
  • Andrew Weathers Ensemble: Fuck Everybody, You Can Do Anything.
  • Premature Burial: The Conjuring.
  • William Ryan Fritch: Revisionist.
  • Maxfield Gast: Ogopogo.
  • Wume: Maintain.
  • Dommengang: Everybody’s Boogie.
  • Kreasi Gong Kebyar: ASTI-Denpassar-Bali.
  • pjs: Harvest.
  • Head Dress: Recordings for Ensoniq Fizmo Vol. 1.
  • Boduf Songs: Stench of Exist.
  • Bill Seaman: f (noir).
  • Rafael Anton Irissari: A Fragile Geography.
  • 300 Basses: Tria Atoma.
  • BOAN: Mentiras.
  • Kim Cass: Kim Cass.
  • Andrew Bernstein: Cult Appeal.
  • William Basinksi & Richard Chartier: Divertissement.
  • Josh Mason: Alone in the Kingdom.
  • Mogador: Overflow Pool.
  • Schnellertollermeier: X.
  • The Sebastians: Night Scenes from the Ospedale.


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Best Recordings 2013

This is a special list, the most personal and subjective: the recordings that give me the deepest, most immediate, most enduring and most intuitive pleasure this year. Intuitive is the key — my response to them was unthinking and powerful. Consider it the best of the best, and if you trust Dave Mandl’s remark that I have “flawless taste in music,” then [check them out](

* The Knells, *The Knells*

* Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd, *Holding it Down*
* Omar, *The Man*

* Claire Chase, *Density*
* Mary Halvorson, *Illusionary Sea*
* Boduf Songs, *Burnt Up on Re-Entry*
* Atoms for Peace, *Amok*
* Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, *Push The Sky Away* and *Live from KCRW*

* Painkiller, *Prophecy*
* Ben Monder, *Hydra*
* Black Host, *Life in the Sugar Candle Mines*

* Ensemble Pearl, *Ensemble Pearl*
* Colin Stetson, *New History Warfare Volume 3*
* Dysnomia, *Dawn of MIDI*

* Micheal Gielen, Berlin Philharmonic, *Mahler: Symphony No. 7*
* Anne-Marie McDermott, *Calder String Quartet: Mozart Piano Concertos Nos, 12, 13 & 14*
* Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: *Moment & the Message*
* Ghost Train Orchestra, *Book of Rhapsodies*

Playlist, The Good Stuff

Records in heavy rotation the past week, simply because they are awfully good and highly recommended:

    Noah Preminger: Haymaker – this has been out since the spring, and the impression on first listen is that it’s a solid but not particularly notable jazz group session. After catching a rousing live set from Preminger and band at the Rochester International Jazz Festival, I began to spin it more and more, and each listen reveals compelling depth. This is a quintessential and excellent example of contemporary jazz: harmonically involving vehicles for improvisation, a rhythmic identity that ranges from post-Elvin Jones modern swing to rock, and a dip into the contemporary popular songbook with “Tomorrow” and Dave Matthews’ “Don’t’ Drink the Water.” Preminger is a quietly intense, expressive player, with a physical solidity supporting an appreciable tenderness. The only thing missing is the disc can’t capture his charming wise-assery onstage. I can’t stop listening to it.
  • Rose Hips ‘n’ Ships: The Seafarer – the debut album for local musician Katherine Perkins and band. A winning and satisfyingly mature set of songs that express some of the beauty and romance of the America that mostly exists in our imagination. The music is a unique blend of modern roots and sea shanties, with a touch of jazz, and Perkins sings with a sweet, throaty lilt.
  • Painkiller: The Prophecy – what a find! Live playing from 2004-2005 from one of John Zorn’s finest bands, this time a trio configuration with Zorn, Bill Laswell on bass and Yoshida Tatsuya on drums. Short “Prelude” and “Postlude” bookend the title track, sixty-four minutes of driving, vital improvisation. It is completely gripping. Zorn plays with remarkable power and playful ease, Tatsuya is supportive, propulsive and keeps the textures open, and this is by far the finest playing I’ve ever heard from Laswell; he’s inventive, self-effacing and never sacrifices ideas and clarity for effect. This is at the top rank of Zorn’s entire discography, amazing and essential.
  • Hush Point – another winning band led by trumpeter John McNeil, with Jeremy Udden on sax, Aryhe Kobrinsky on bass and Vinnie Sperazza on drums. McNeil is the foremost proponent of the West Coast school of jazz. This has long been disparaged as overly-cool and overly-white (how then to explain Lester Young, Miles Davis, Art Pepper and Charlie Mariano?), but that’s an excuse not to listen. The standard model of jazz is extroverted, songs as launching points for egocentric improvisation, with the rhythm section comping. This style is introverted in the sense that the musicians are in a constant close musical dialogue with each other, it’s call and response with a lyrical basis, not bound by roles, and is a precursor to Ornette Coleman’s revolution. Listen, and you’ll hear brilliant musicians talking to you, they’re just not shouting.