Solemnland - Backlit Memory: Exit
Released: January 2
This recent release from Canadian experimental pianist Solemnland breaks away a bit from his neoclassical influence and takes us into much more experimental terrain. Opening up with a gentle and lovely yet very broken piano melody, Backlit Memory: Exit quickly establishes itself as a minimalist foray into quiet yet expansive soundscapes. For many of these tracks, the smallest bits of silence punctuate the quick rises and seemingly errant sounds. A personal favorite example of this dynamic can be heard in "Past Failing Structures" as thick oscillating synths give way to a silence that is broken by the softest of notes from a piano that slowly becomes louder, then disappearing completely only to return as quiet as ever.
The shining feature of this album (and much of Solemnland's work) is the freedom in which he plays with the dynamics. Nothing is ever too loud, as in you will never be crushed under an insane wave of noise. However, the swift alternation between the softness of a bright piano and the bite of a harsh oscillating synth creates a multi-dimensional experience that utilizes the proper amount of unpredictability. This album is mostly quiet, but brings things up and to the forefront when it wants you to know that it is saying something and you are paying attention. Use headphones for the best experience.
Descatharsis - Descatharsis
Released: January 10
Formerly a member of another group that focused on rather depressing-sounding pieces of music, this debut EP from Descatharsis is an interesting work as it puts the focus on being a more peaceful sound. However, there is a strange air of mystery in every single track and even bits of tension spread throughout. On the opening track, for instance, things start out peaceful yet peculiar, then seemingly develop into a bit of tension as the track passes the halfway point with the addition of a pulsing synth that seems to drive the track in a different direction until disappearing into a once again seemingly peaceful background.
Much of this EP follows this theme with a unique balance of serenity and tension that trades of throughout. Sometimes this dynamic plays out in each track, albeit much different for each track. With the third track, things begin mysteriously but then suddenly transform into absolute equanimity by the final couple of minutes. I found myself listening to this EP several times and it is level in the way that it is able to fade in and out of the background as I listened. It never seems to demand your attention, just gently request it.
Uli Federwisch & Chip Perkins - Visiting Places (Learning by Listening Vol. 5)
Released: January 7
Do you like going places? Enjoy seeing new sights and meeting interesting people? Me neither, I just stay in my house. All jokes aside though, the latest release in the Strategic Tape Reserve's Learning by Listening series is a weird little trip that both encourages you to get out and see the world while simultaneously confusing the listener in multiple ways. The album is a bit minimalist in its approach with Uli Federwisch being simply credited for playing the synthesizer and Chip Perkins credited simply as the voice.
And what, pray tell, does this voice tell you about? Well, places to visit and sights to see of course. But I quickly began to suspect that some of these sights and locations were a little too fantastic to be real, including a vivid description of an extremely odd tricycle and a village that offers visitors a non-existent pea soup. But I'm sure Chip wouldn't lie to us... Meanwhile, Uli provides us with the eclectic musical backdrop for this strange journey. A wonderful melange of slightly blippy percussion, modulated pads, and general sonic oddities. I feel as though I have seen it all without going anywhere.
Taforalt Cave/Rancid Crypt - split
Released: January 7
This recent split released on Bent Window Records is a harsh and varied four tracks that drag you through a painful landscape of what can only be called "dungeon noise." Imagine a Dungeons and Dragons campaign nearing its end in some dark dungeon filled with hellish creatures. Now imagine that those hellish creatures drag you down into actual hell to do battle. This EP is about what that would sound like.
The split has a unique symmetry in its two parts with the first half being Rancid Crypt and the second half Taforalt Cave. The opening track starts out a bit more subdued and becomes more intense at the second track "A Bilious Elixir for the Cursed." The intensity keeps up with "All Who Enter Die or Leave Cursed" (maybe even a bit more intense) and then becomes a bit more subdued with the final track. "Tethered to Stalagmites" makes for an interesting closer as, alongside the crushing static, there's the sound of harsh and raspy screaming. Who knows what they are saying, but it sounds f*cking painful.
Phirnis vs HXDK - Superfood
Released: January 10
It's rare that you can get everything you need from one track, but Phirnis & HXDK manage to cram it all magnificently into one sweeping single coming in at nearly nineteen minutes, brought to us courtesy of Wormhole World. The track takes several decisive turns, starting out as soft, serene, and gentle ambient that is at times just barely perceptible. Then it slowly builds us into an intense drone that overruns the previous gentle ambiance that was there before. This drone warps and twists for some time until it abruptly stops. Afterwards, we are left with some bizarre combination of the two along with buried percussive sounds and shifting low-ends. Definitely a sonically nutritious treat.
Dans Le Monde Des Variants - I
Released: December 29
With a peculiar backstory and a wealth of interesting sonics, I is a bit of an enigmatic album. Listening through, there are a variety of influences but something that stood out as I listened was that it seems to be heavily influenced by sci-fi films of the late 80s to early 90s. The synths soar, warble, undulate, and modulate in semi-unpredictable ways, creating an atmosphere of of uncertainty.
A personal favorite of mine on this album is the third entry "Church." A shorter soundscape that is filled with airy synths that rise and fall along with a strange and almost alarm-like sound that slowly fades into the mix, delivering an uncomfortable sense of urgency that pushes an otherwise nearly ambient track in an odd direction. Much of the rest of the album does not rely on this tense atmosphere, rather opting to have us bask in mysterious tones and floating soundscapes. "1974" takes this later approach to a great degree with swelling pads and a low bass drone that has just the most proper amount of rumble to it for texture. All in all, this album is postively ethereal in quality.