In our year-and-a-half on the information highway, we had the good fortune of witnessing what was at once a very prolific time, a very confusing time, and a very exciting time in underground music. Instead of quoting ourselves, we combed through the 100 features and profiles we've published to bring you some reflections from the folks who inspire us.
Underwater Peoples' Evan Brody
I cite this moment when Sawyer and I were sitting outside our sophomore dorm room at college. We said to each other, "Man, we’re bored. We want to do something more exciting." --Interview with Jenn Pelly, May 2011
I see politics and art as separate trajectories. There's a political dimension to music, to the extent that it would be a disruption of the regime of the sensible... but it certainly isn’t collective mobilization against the state in the name of radical equality. The protest lyric is a poor substitute for radical political thought or a new idea of politics.
AZ: Is that why you have protest lyrics in your music?
The idea there is that sums up the impetus, lyrically, of all genuine art. It's an explosion. It's a Molotov cocktail in the fuckin' police station. It's rights for that which can have no rights, to the extent that it anticipates a world to come-- not this world. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander & Ric Leichtung, July 2011
All of these things operating in synchronicity: like ringtones, flat-screens, theater, cuisine, fashion, sushi. I don’t want to call it “virtual reality,” so I call it Far Side Virtual. If you really want to understand Far Side, first off, listen to [Claude] Debussy, and secondly, go into a frozen yogurt shop. Afterwards, go into an Apple store and just fool around, hang out in there. Afterwards, go to Starbucks and get a gift card. They have a book there on the history of Starbucks-- buy this book and go home. If you do all these things you’ll understand what Far Side Virtual is-- because people kind of live in it already. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander, November 2011
I remember during the [Harald] Grosskopf panel at Unsound Festival, Laurel Halo said something interesting about grappling with a world that is completely and totally inundated with technology. There's something about dealing with period technology that makes us feel more human or more relatable. Something about getting the whole machine purring feels very cosmic and brings technology back in harmony with art. --Interview with Daniel Gottlieb, June 2011
AZ: It’s funny that there are indie bands coming up now that would kill to use the equipment that was frustrating to you back then.
I like the idea of it as well, but there are too many problems! --Interview with Blondes, Emilie Friedlander, & Ric Leichtung, May 2011
People like to ask me where I live, and sometimes I give different answers. There is a new 7” coming on Baselic records, and the label guy asked me what city I was from. I was with a friend, and we were talking, and he said I should say I was from Djakarta. So I did, and then it was on many websites. On the High Wolf MySpace, it says that I am based in Brazil. Many times people think I’m from Los Angeles. When you hide something from people, they really want to know it. --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, March 2011
Cleaners From Venus' Martin Newell
I’m very flattered that people like my old stuff so much but really, it was me and Lol [Elliott, from Cleaners] in the kitchen! We were broke but inspired and enjoyed listening to it. But I think the biggest pleasure we got out of it at the time was that I used to make homemade beer, and Lol used to make these candles, 'cause he didn’t have enough money to pay his electricity bill. So I used to swap some of the beer for some dope that someone else used to grow, and we would make our own music on cassettes that Lol stole. And I thought one night-- stoned, drunk, listening to music by candlelight--, "We’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves tonight, and it’s cost nothing!" That was sort of the epitome of anarchy for me: generating our own everything. It was fantastic. --Interview with Richard MacFarlane, June 2010
After getting a sense of his musical tastes, I finally asked [Speculator's Nick Ray] what kind of music he played (I hate to assume genres these days). "Pop," he replied, then let a beat pass before explaining. “But not in the popular music sense. ‘Pop’ is no longer defined by what’s actually popular; it’s defined by a structure. You know, melodies, guitars, catchy hooks.” --Marissa A. Ross, December 2010
AZ: Recently you’ve toured and collaborated with Ariel Pink. How has that been?
He’s one of my best friends, and it was totally effortless. I think artistically we are the same. It’s like "skillful non-skill." The greatest advice that he’s given me was, “Whatever it is that you’re doing, don’t figure it out.” --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, January 2011
The core concept of now age is we're living in “ghost-modernism.” It's not really like post-modernism; it's beyond that now. It's gotten to a point where the past is just recapitulating itself through kitsch and nostalgia. Every new gesture is just an imprint of an old gesture. We're haunted by so many other past styles and tastes in so many ways. I'm interested in the creation of a new relationship to time, where it's not being recapitulated, but instead looking into the present moment and really seeking out music, materials, structures, people, fashion, and whatever is within this lens of the present. --Interview with Ric Leichtung, November 2011
I've always had a powerful sense of the space-- physiological, emotional, spiritual-- invoked by music. I've always used music that way in my life, using it to create, augment, and enrich experiences. I don't think of myself as a songwriter at all, because what I'm after is some distillation of that effect, creating environments with certain properties and relationships. So often those moments in music that have powerful effects on me are fleeting-- like an outro, or a couple bars right before the second chorus. I'm interested in evoking those spaces so that I can stay a while. --Interview with Michael C. Powell, September 2011
NNA Tapes' Matt Mayer & Toby Aronson
Matt: With harsh noise in general we both noticed a shift in the mid '00s. Like Toby mentioned, a lot of the dudes doing the harder noise started doing ambient, which seems like a total 180 shift. It created a lot of interesting results, where the noise influence would rub off on the ambient and vice versa, creating this cool hybrid. And now where we are in 2011, it's all become smeared together.
I feel like the pendulum has to swing back at some point. I’ve always really liked lyrics, and I’ve always really liked vocal stuff, and playing a lot and going to noise shows, I’ve felt in some ways unwelcome. There’s this unwritten rule saying, "You can’t use lyrics that people will understand." I thought there were supposed to be no rules. [Noise] turns into the most codified, regimented form of music, which is not what it should be at all. When Gowns first started off, some people didn’t know how to take us. They were like, "This band might be cool if they didn’t sing." I wonder if it's something about the idea of masculine, abstract sound experiments, and not allowing a range of emotions to come through. For a lot of people who are doing experimental music, at some point it becomes like, "I built this Max patch that does this." It's about the experiment, and the set of parameters. You’re supposed to be tuning out everything but your ears. --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, June 2011
Emeralds' Mark McGuire
We have always somewhat embodied our surroundings and our heritage in our sound. In Ohio, there’s a huge middle class, and a lot of people work their whole lives... there’s always a feeling of struggling, and the feeling that Cleveland's like the joke of the world... We're not a cultural mecca; it's not where all the big stuff's happening. There’s definitely a lot of people out of work, and there’s poverty: it makes people, it's a tough city. But people from Cleveland are proud that they’re from there... It's this kind of tense, dark, and industrial place that has a lot of hidden beauty and a lot to offer, and that comes across in our music. --Interview with Ric Leichtung, February 2011
I got an e-mail once after I was like, "Holy shit, I'm going on my first tour!" I put it on Facebook or something, and Dominick Fernow wrote to me saying, "Congratulations." He had just joined Cold Cave, things were happening for him, and he was like, "Best of luck to you, thank you for having the courage to succeed." It occurred to me that for so many people, it's very hard to feel okay with success, because success is not cool. It supposedly tarnishes your thing; it ruins little pockets of scenes and the self-importance that comes from thinking you're the only people in your town that are doing something. That's what stops a lot of really talented people from sharing their music and turning it into a career. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander, November 2011
That phosphorescent groove bubbling below "Multiply" comes from Sun Araw's Cameron Stallones and Los Angeles bretheren M. Geddes Gengras, collectively known as deep-roots dancehall curators Duppy Gun Productions. The pair traversed Jamaica during their tropical collaboration with The Congos, and found time to record with a number of local singers and artists. "Multiply" comes from Dayone, a singer and fisherman from the Forum village outside Portmore, Jamaica. Video credits come from Astral Project's Lily X. Wahrman and Tony Lowe, who manage deep psychedelia through mundanity rather than the imaginary sublime, and seem bent here on disorienting viewers and playing with their technology-conditioned expectations: FULL SCREEN IS A MUST. --Dale W. Eisinger, Altered Zones
"Multiply" is B/W on a 12" with "Earth," by Early One. It'll be available November 29, here
Big ups to the new Sun Araw TwitterZone for pointing us in the direction of this 11-minute burner of a jam session with France's High Wolf. "Shrine Time" finds the two holistic heads on some real contempo-casual mindspace, with Wolf on bongopad and strings while Araw cruises the keys, slowly grooving toward a frenzied, blown-out third eye opening. Here's to hoping for an eventual full-length collaborative ego war from these guys sometime. --Ian Pearson, Altered Zones
[Sun Araw's Cameron Stallones at Woodsist Festival Big Sur 2011; photo by Robert Khoury]
Sun Araw, the "sacred retreat" of Cameron Stallones, rides fleeting moments of spiritual clarity out to the end of the astral plane on his recently Zoned In 2xLP, Ancient Romans. Guns blazing, the Los Angeles artist returns with his most sonically acrobatic and, depending on your taste, accessible material yet. It's the type of work that has the potential to broadcast Sun Araw's Technicolor pastiche of cosmic riddim, sacramental chants, scorched dub, and aquatic ambience far outside the niche catacombs where these sorts of abstract meditations like to dwell.
Ancient Romans is not just a particularly adventurous effort-- it's rife with misdirection. The 80-minute offering keeps the ingredients for a concept album on retainer, but Stallones intimates both directly and cryptically that it's really more of an introspective affair. On a casual listen, it might sound like DMT-riddled, improvisational treatment of psychedelic Laurel Canyon lore. In actuality, Stallones reveals an unusual, tremendously detailed-oriented approach to sound sculpting. To wit, any assumptions about Ancient Romans are probably patently false, or at least inaccurate. Cameron took some time away from his myriad projects to get mystical with me over email about his new label, Sonic Boom, compositional repetition, and the "porch of the mind."
Los Angeles-based sound architect Cameron Stallones, better known as Sun Araw, makes the kind of music that appeals equally to people on a spiritual quest and kids in need of a really wicked soundtrack for ripping that homemade gravity bong. Since 2007, he has ruled over his psychedelic sound kingdom with a sharp spear, and released a steady torrent of EPs, LPs, remixes, and singles unto the world. Stallones' forthcoming Ancient Romans, his fifth album and first for Drag City (via his Sun Ark imprint), feels palpably cinematic compared to his previous work. With nearly 80 minutes of high impact cosmic riddim from the outer reaches of the observable universe, Stallones makes his grandiose intentions clear.
Adopting Latin and referencing archeological sites, Stallones offers a loose concept album that traverses time and space. Antiquated mysticism wrestles with foggy electronic futurism across the LP's eight long tracks, yielding an eclectic cauldron of scorched ambient dub and psychotropic transmissions. Stallones dives headfirst into hypnosis on album opener "Lucretius," evoking space age environs while knodding to Roman times via a synthesized harp. As Ancient Romans progresses, its M.O. is revealed: masterful repetition, tension, and release, split evenly between minimal ambience and dense synth grooves. "At Delphi" blends ritualistic drones with pulsing signals for over 11 minutes, and would make for a perfect accompaniment to a "birth of the universe" sequence in the upcoming Cosmos remake.
Stallones knows when to employ murky, aquatic tones when he needs to-- and when a song's movement demands colorful, crystalline rhythms and sharply focused bliss treatments. His growth as a producer is hard to deny, especially when paired with the dynamic mastering skills of Sonic Boom. "Crown Shell" and "Crete" offer up a more expansive exploration of the dub-revisionist Scratch Perry-meets-Ummagumma space voyages that Sun Araw hinted at in the past-- but this time in crystal clear stereo. Likewise, the playful, carnivalesque joyride of "Lute and Lyre" lets Sun Araw's resplendent sonic palette shine though, rather than bury it under static-laden washes.
Toward Ancient Romans' conclusion, Stallones brings Djmbes, trumpets, saxophones, and live drums into his aresenal, building to a grand culmination on closer "Impluvium," a quarter-hour of tectonic bass and broken worldbeat rhythms that could soundtrack a subterranean Morlock rave. While Ancient Romans preserves the grainy and galactic analog dub sound of Sun Araw's own brief history, the concept and expanded instrumentation demonstrates exciting new directions, maturity, and ambition.
Ancient Romans is out August 23rd, and is available for pre-order from Drag City
As the first drums creep up in Owiny Sigoma Band's "Hera," its Kenyan-folk background seems no surprise. Endless rounds of percussion play through while a chorus is continually chanted throughout. Today, we have a remix from Sun Araw, which takes the tropical vibes of the original and moves them to a distant planet where palm leaves are red and dusty, and graffiti covers every building. As Sun Araw seeks to explore every area of this new world, we are pushed on through the buildings, eventually sitting at a jungle's edge where the sounds of various foreign wildlife keep us rooted. With its original vocals and most of the original percussion still in tact, Sun Araw breathes new life from the original while allowing his unique vision to blend with Owiny Sigoma Band's rather than reforming it. --Jheri Evans, Get Off The Coast
Two heavyweight champions of nocturnal psychedelia, Sun Araw and Eternal Tapestry, are poised to drop one of the heaviest and most exciting collaborative projects of the year. Night Gallery, named after Rod Sterling's campy early '70s NBC show, is the result of one, cohesive, 45-minute jam, recorded in-studio for UT-Austin's KVRX during last year's South By Southwest. Don't let the improvisational nature of the performance startle you, however; the two never noodle or bore. Instead, they play off the other's strengths in a focused show of dusty, monolithic, mystical desert drone. Put some peyote in your pipe and dig on the ominous and cinematic "III" below. Night Gallery is out July 19 courtesy of the mighty Thrill Jockey. --Kenny Bloggins, The Decibel Tolls
Night Gallery drops on Thrill Jockey July 19th
Join Visitation Rites and International Tapes for a night of debauchery at Coco 66. The LA DJ sensation Where's Yr Child featuring Cameron Stallones of Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras is gonna set the dancefloor on fire after live performances from Sex Worker (Daniel Marin-McCormick of Mi Ami) and Psychic Reality, who recently put out a split together on Not Not Fun called Bored Fortress. Get your dancin' shoes and bring the parents. Dad's been under a lot of stress lately and really needs to unwind. --Ric Leichtung, International Tapes
Tickets are available at door, continue reading for tour dates and sweet video flier.
It seems that the cold may finally be over. It's only appropriate, then, that we also have a new track from tropical-psych guru Sun Araw to herald the long-overdue heat (and humidity). Streaming now over at The Wire, "Crete" is taken from Cameron Stallones' forthcoming album, Ancient Romans, due for release on his own Sun Ark Records. "Crete" is lathered with Cameron's trademark, soporific swirl of guitars and rumbling bass lines, punctuated by the sparse use of a drum machine. With its airy vocal interjections and warm, spidery keyboards, the track will inspire you to make the piligrimage to warmer climates, however you choose to do so. --Daniel Gottlieb, Altered Zones via The Wire Magazine
Ancient Romans is out August 23rd via Sun Ark Records
In addition to the variously named Sun Ark improv zoners that surfaced last week (from both Sun Araw/Cameron Stallones himself and pal Barret Avner), this new 7" sees Sun Araw "radiating love for the homeland" in a typically heady mode. This one's especially celebratory, channeling his now-familiar dub, soul, and blues voyages into some sort of gritty West Coast canyon worship. The B-side gives Teenage Fanclub's "December" a similarly ecstatic bump. Also, heads up: it's all still in the works, but Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras (who has a couple of new synth tapes out) will be bringing their WHERE'S YR CHILD club night to NYC in early June.
Grab the Houston Abstros 7" before the 300 run out from Monofonus Press
After the February 22 earthquake laid waste to Christchurch, New Zealand, those of us who call it home were at a loss as to how we could help. Skills like posting on blogs and recording in our rooms seem ridiculous next to the magnitude of what it's going to take to repair our city. The venues and spaces we played in are either gone or totally fucked. Houses in which we've lived in or recorded in, gone or inhabitable. It's certainly minor compared with the recent destruction in Japan but the loss of lives, homes and much of the central city is a huge blow to Christchurch.
This digital fundraiser compilation features contributions from both local Christchurch artists and international artists who've recently toured there, playing shows predominately at the now very damaged (and "red-stickered") HSP art space. This space was one of just a handful of (now broken/closed) venues and bars that were host to an inspired range of shows, and for a town of that size, the quality, and international-level boundary-pushing creations.
All proceeds go to the Red Cross. They provide aid to citizens who have lost their homes or businesses and help with the huge task of recovering a devastated city. If you are unfamiliar with the extent of the damage caused, this Civil Defense video is a pretty accurate and tasteful example.
Rose Quartz and the artists involved encourage you to donate generously to the Red Cross. Please download this compilation and give generously.
See the tracklist from the free comp with unheard tracks from Thurston Moore, Grouper, Sun Araw, Dolphins Into The Future, Monopoly Child Star Searchers, and Vivian Girls side project Coasting at Rose Quartz. Donate to the Red Cross now.
WHERE'S YR CHILD aka M. Geddes Gengras and Cameron Stallones of Sun Araw are throwing a party and you're invited! Get those buns pumpin' in LA this Friday, the 25th, with a live performance by the The Urxed (Rob Barber of High Places), DJ MMG, DJ Sun Araw, and more. To make the honey taste even sweeter, MMG made a house mix to give all you funkers out there a taste of what's to come. WHERE'S YR CHILD says:
ITS ABOUT FAITH, ITS ABOUT TRUST. FAITH IN THE KICK, TRUST IN THE CLAPS. ANOTHER INSTALLMENT TO GET YOU SWEATIN' ON A FRIDAY NIGHT. LAST TIME THE POLICE ALMOST HAD TO STOP THE GROOVE, THIS TIME NOTHING WILL COME BETWEEN US. THE URXED (HIGH PLACES) WILL PROVIDE REASONS TO BOOGIE, ALONG WITH DJ SETS FROM SUN ARAW, M. GEDDES GENGRAS, INTERESTING DRUGS, EGROEG: TWISTING AND FILTERING THE GOOD BITS FROM ALL MANNER OF ITALO, HOUSE, SUNRISE MIXES, AND 3AM ETERNITIES.
Director Matthew Lessner's The Woods, which will premiere at Sundance this year, is the story of a group of young revelers seeking to disconnect from modern society and sojourn in a new sylvan homestead. The interplay between bourgeois values and technology, along with the consequences of trying to subvert them, forms one of the film's central themes. Fitting then that Los Angeleno and dark dub warrior Sun Araw contributed this cyborg-morphic cover of Neil Young's "Thrasher". Originally, Sun Araw was supposed to score the entire film, but the soundtrack ended up featuring tunes by Dirty Projectors, Lucky Dragons, and more. Dense grooves from the West coast. Peep the trailer below. (via Chocolate Bobka)
As 2010 draws to an close, Altered Zones brings you its collective year-end recap. Today, we list our favorite albums of the year. Check our list of tracks here, our list of videos there, and don't forget to stay tuned through the holiday break for daily year-end mixtapes from our favorite artists.
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today [4AD]
When attempting to blurb Ariel Pink's ambitious masterpiece Before Today for my own year-end list, it occurred to me that literally every dialogue about this record and its brilliant, transcendent pop songs had been exhausted elsewhere: Ariel emerges from his bedroom, abandons lo-fi, records in a real studio with real musicians for a real label, drops his breakout record, some irrelevant shit about chillwave, etc. So I enlisted the opinion of chillwave inventor Carles of popular weblog Hipster Runoff fame, a longtime Ariel Pink fan himself, who summed it up like this: “It seems as if perhaps the world has finally caught up with Ariel Rosenberg, and our ears are finally ready for his textures. Before Today is history, while the future is a mystery but today is a gift which belongs to Ariel Pink." --Chris Cantalini
Autre Ne Veut: Autre Ne Veut [Olde English Spelling Bee/Upstairs CDR]
Of the many R&B-nodding white guys making conceptual pop music this year, Autre Ne Veut's debut on Olde English Spelling Bee/Upstairs was one of few that had a completely unique spin. While HTDW had a darker, more pained take, ANV was minimal, clubby, filled with strange effects and unusual instrumentation. And, unlike HTDW, his live show was amazing, with him squirming on the floor and flailing his limbs like a wounded lamb. What that lamb proved was that Toni Braxton-loving white guys can have their cake and eat it too, and not in some W'burg 2006-era ironic way. This is the pop music everyone makes in their shower or in front of the mirror, only it's real. --Michael P. McGregor
Big Troubles: Worry [Olde English Spelling Bee]
Big Troubles' LP dreams finally came to fruition in the third quarter of 2010, when Olde English Spelling Bee released their debut full-length, Worry. The 14-track record bristles with buzzing grit and downright catchy vocal parts, penned by Big Troubles co-masterminds/songwriters Alex Craig and Ian Drennan. Their sound is often touted as a perfect marriage of searing shoe-gaze distortion and early '90s radio rock, but the sum of the descriptors proves greater than its parts. Big Troubles truly champion an exciting and relentlessly loud form of rock and roll. --Ian Nelson
Clive Tanaka y su orquesta: Jet Set Siempre 1° [Tall Corn]
Clive Tanaka is a mysterious figure. Signs point to him being from Japan, Chicago, Brazil, and other far-flung locales, but no one's been able to pin him down yet. It's almost as if he's attemping to throw you off his path by giving false clues. But the international hook works: His Jet Set Siempre 1° tape melts down sounds from all over the globe into vintage synth bangers. How many people can make a robotic voice sound so damn passionate? In futuristic utopias, Clive Tanaka definitely owns the night. --Jheri Evans
Cloudland Canyon: Fin Eaves [Holy Mountain]
Kip Ulhorn's euphoric plunge into synth-driven psych hides an underlying swell of sadness beneath its gauzy pop structures. With the addition of his wife Kelly to the fray, Ulhorn steers Cloudland Canyon away from its Krautrock roots and into a gloriously lush shoegaze present. The result is some of Cloudland Canyon’s catchiest songwriting yet, ensconced in shimmery pop foam and radiant noise, spiraling ever closer to bliss. --Andy French
Earl Sweatshirt: EARL [OFWFKTA]
OFWGKTA: soon to become a household acronym striking fear into the hearts of parents nationwide. These adolescent Los Angeles natives don't just produce their own warped beats; they spit rhymes that even Ted Bundy would find kinda fucked up. Their now missing member, Earl Sweatshirt, isn't any less twisted than the rest of his crew; he's just able to make some of the most vile verses sound eloquent. On "Assmilk", a track from OFWG founder Tyler's Bastard LP, Earl calls himself the "reincarnation of '98 Eminem", a pronouncement that rings true in both content and delivery. His eponymous LP was self-released earlier this year, and the kid leaves no rock unturned. With themes ranging to threesomes with Pam Anderson and Miley Cyrus to stabbing cops and cannibalism, he's definitely not tackling your everyday high school problems. Unfortunately, his parents failed to see anything creative about this and shipped him off to boot camp (or so we think). Hopefully, he'll take this as a learning experience and come back even more ferocious than before. #freeEARL --Nathan Smith
Games: That We Can Play [Hippos In Tanks]
It's interesting to watch our perception of the '80s evolve from a kitschy, "what was I thinking?" decade into an endearing, "those were the days" one. Once upon a time, the era was the butt of as many jokes as Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Chuck Norris combined. Despite flashbacks of gaudy clothing, nowadays the '80s would seem to have some lasting value after all. With their That We Can Play EP, the Brooklyn electronic duo of Joel Ford and OPN's Daniel Lopatin sums it up in a phantasmagoria of lithe synths, robotic melodies, and stiff drum-machine beats. Their songs bring back childhood memories of lying on the living room floor watching Airwolf and MacGyver, or wishing you had more Atari games to play. It's precisely this sort of nostalgia that makes for GAMES' best instrument. That We Can Play soundtracks our memories with sounds as familiar as they are fresh. --Will Abramson
Gatekeeper: Giza [Merok]
Gatekeeper’s Giza EP is an immaculate sound wave designed to paralyse unexplored areas of the human psyche with fear and delight. "Look in the mirror", say Gatekeeper three times. The only valid boarding pass for this voyage is your soul, so please have it open and ready. Upon launch, "Serpent" burrows its way down to the spinal column, where it takes control of your body with an injection of Front 242 serum straight to the nervous system. The rest is a feverish hallucination of wild contortions and glimpses from horror films that were never made. This EP is literally a killer. --J
How To Dress Well: Love Remains [Lefse/Tri Angle]
How To Dress Well has had an amazing year, and much of that centers around Love Remains. The songs are inspired by R&B from the late '80s and '90s , but they have a distinct bedroom sound that elevates their emotional resonance. The entire album holds together seamlessly, but each track stands just as strong on its own. Love Remains grabs you by the heartstrings and allows you to experience How To Dress Well's most impassioned emotions, and that's no small feat. --Jheri Evans
James Blake: CMYK [R&S]
On this his third EP, released through legendary label R&S, London's unspeakably prolific James Blake came into the collective consciousness and established himself as one of the most forward-thinking, genre-defying, and exciting producer/songwriters of the year. Whilst all four songs on the release continue to hold their own, its status as landmark of the last 12 months is won by the title track's chopped, haunting R&B sample, and its seamless transition from a sparse and subtle, atmospheric arrangement to a heart exploding, sub-bass tour de force. --Sahil Varma
Julian Lynch: Mare [Olde English Spelling Bee]
Sound-shaper Julian Lynch composed the low-key, non-traditional psychedelia of Mare in his home states of New Jersey and Wisconsin. With its eclectic instrumental palette, ranging from Eastern to Western and Native American spiritual, the LP boasts more influences than the ear can absorb in one sitting. Like lots of '60s and '70s psych-folk songs, Lynch's have a carefree and endearing yogic leisure about them. --Ryan Ellis
Mark McGuire: Living With Yourself [Editions Mego]
Guitarist Mark McGuire is perhaps best known as one-third of Cleveland Kosmiche revivalists Emeralds, but he has released no less than 30 solo albums in his 23 years on Earth. His Living With Yourself LP on Editions Mego is not only one his most accessible works to date (read: physically available), but also his most technically accomplished. Across eight loop-based sound collages, McGuire whisks through a psychic landscape as vast and minutely textured as America seen from 10,000 feet above. But Living With Yourself is less an exploration of space than an excavation of time, setting McGuire’s processed guitar reveries alongside sound-fragments from the musician’s own childhood. Hard not to feel a little bit like a voyeur when we hear a five-year-old McGuire introducing himself as “Mark”, but who are we to say that pop music hasn’t always been the highest form of autobiography? --Emilie Friedlander
oOoOO: oOoOO EP [Tri Angle]
"NoSummer4u", the track that put San Francisco-based bedroom recorder oOoOO on the map, is an enchanting, gothic-tinged synth-pop ballad, underpinned by foreboding atmospherics and a clinical, hip-hop-inflected beat. His debut self-titled EP presents a darker, more confused vision; oOoOO's skewed take on commercial electro-pop celebrates its decadent glamour while going out if its way to expose its rotten core. From the stuttering, fractured R&B wasteland of "Mumbai" to the barren faux-funk of "Hearts", oOoOO is a beautiful still of urban yearning and mindlessness captured through the stained glasses of a romantic outsider, a guttural fairy tale orchestrated by delayed vamps and diseased synth tones. --Noam Klar
Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal [Editions Mego]
Returnal sees psychedelic-drone linchpin Daniel Lopatin's amorphous, ambient landscapes mapped with more definition than ever before. Attached to OPN's ever-so-slightly rigid structures, the sad, far-out sprawl and bottomless celestial drip of "Drifts" render a consistently beautiful, frequently devastating effect. OPN draws sadness and redemption out of distinctly alien textures with the deftest of touches. --Jack Shankly
Rangers: Suburban Tours [Olde English Spelling Bee]
Every time I put on the debut full-length from fellow former-DFW-suburb-dweller Rangers, I find myself moved by all the woozy, warped filmstrip vibes, inextricably tied to murky memories of a time and place in my youth. I think this is the kind of (possibly manufactured) nostalgia Nick Sylvester was talking about in his piece about Ariel Pink and hypnagogic pop, where he jokingly describes "half-sung melodies refracted through the quarter-remembered chopper blades of the opening sequence of Airwolf as I fell asleep in my basement." Okay, good point; but Suburban Tours emanates an affectingly real, often melancholic warmth that transcends any of these increasingly derogatory, of-the-moment genre tags.--Chris Cantalini
The Samps: The Samps [Mexican Summer]
On their self-titled debut EP, Haunted Graffiti member/new Nite Jewel full-timer Cole MGN and his side-project the Samps take deconstructed, sample-based pop to a whole new level. Their chopped-and-flipped retro-futuristic electro-funk is never anything less than exhilarating, elevated as much by the crew's obvious affinity for pioneers like the Bomb Squad and Dilla as their desire to create "glorious compressed FM gold." The whole thing's a blast; more than anything else, this shit gets us psyched to see where the Samps and like-minded dudes like Games are going to take this steez next. --Chris Cantalini
Sun Araw: On Patrol [Not Not Fun]
On his fourth LP, Sun Araw, aka Cameron Stallones, delves deeper into the heavy-psych he's been maneuvering in for a few years. On Patrol was not only a manifesto, but a coming out party for this deepest of zoners. His work with Magic Lantern and releases on Not Not Fun and Woodsist have been extremely influential on kids tempering in mystic psych explosions. On Patrol, a 2xLP featuring some of the most vibe-encompassing album art I've seen in a long while (also by Stallones), is the culmination of the exotic psych-dub sound he has been chipping away at for ages-- one that is uniquely Sun Araw, while harking where the diesel rumblings are headed. --Michael P. McGregor
Ty Segall: Melted [Goner]
Whether you pump Dead Moon full of steroids or blast The Stooges through a megaphone, you'll probably get something equally as robust as Ty Segall's third album Melted. It's a throwback album, treading retro ground as far back as The Sonics, and taking a flame to the oil stains that dripped on the floors of garage rock for so many years. Simultaneously, Ty manages to ignite the same fire in the current, gaseous cloud of seemingly omnipotent, hazy, nostalgic rock. Melted is a step forward from the snarky days of his debut Lemons, with Ty letting go of the defiant angst he once harbored. He still keeps that punk rock sword in hand, but rather than flail around wildly, he dishes out calculated thrusts and slices. --Will Abramson
Yellow Swans: Going Places [Type]
The Portland drone duo of Peter Swanson and Gabriel Saloman recorded the majority of Going Places after deciding to part ways in 2008. With a backstory like that, it’s hard not to feel touched by these six wooly excursions into the void. Relying more on tape loops and field recordings than their previous efforts, Going Places piles fuzz, hiss, bells, and aborted melodic lines into mile-long vistas of undulating, overtone-speckled squall. It's as dense as a brillo-pad, as tender as a beating heart, and as devastating as the sound of a distant werewolf howling past the point of exhaustion. --Emilie Friedlander
Zola Jesus: Stridulum [Sacred Bones]
Between Stridulum and Valusia and collaborations with LA Vampires and Former Ghosts, 2010 has been a busy year for Zola Jesus. She cast her biggest stride early in the year with Stridulum, a departure from '09's considerably lower-fidelity, "diamond in the rough" album, The Spoils. Stridulum paved the way for a clearer, more sonically refined and diverse Zola, exchanging 15 crunchy, overly saturated noise pop tracks for 6 fully developed, silky smooth synth pad and drum-machine driven songs. Zola's voice is undeniably among the most unique and arresting around. But it would fall flat if the atmosphere that fostered it weren't as lush and subtly nuanced as its counterpart. Swelling crescendos, doom, and gloom in all the right places. --Ric Leichtung
As 2010 draws to an close, Altered Zones brings you its collective year-end re-cap of its favorite albums, songs, and music videos. Stay tuned for our top tracks on Monday, top albums on Tuesday, and daily mix-tapes from a handful of surprise guests.
El Guincho: "Bombay"
Marc Gomez del Moral's video for El Guincho's "Bombay" is a self-sourced film collage, stitching together dozens of weird happenings into a deftly edited stream. There doesn't seem to be any method behind the director's choice of images, though they all seem to fall into one of two categories, or both: "sexy" and "uncomfortable". There's the nude women, the licking, the toe-sucking, the statue-seducing, the woman cutting off her underwear with scissors. And then there's the woman smashing eggs on her face, smoking a cigarette with laundry piled on one shoulder, the urgency lurking behind everything we see. With its hazy, archival-footage-projected-in-a-classroom feel, this schizophrenic sexploitation throwback makes for a stellar accompaniment to a fantastic song. --Ian Nelson
Gil Scott-Heron: "New York Is Killing Me"
Successful collaborations in any endeavor are a rare thing, let alone in music videos. And it's even more special when a director truly immerses himself in a piece of music, internalizes it, and returns with a new work of art that functions as a sincere companion piece to its source. English video artist Chris Cunningham, known for his work with Aphex Twin and Björk, puts a disturbing spin on the 61-year old proto-rap prophet Gil Scott-Heron's "New York Is Killing Me", transforming the original from a bizarro electro-schoolyard clap-jam to a hauntingly poignant portrait of urban decay. --Ric Leichtung
Outer Limits Recordings: "$20 Bill"
When visual artist Christian Megazord Oldham takes to Final Cut Pro, he unravels years of commercial abuse, dental ads, fragrances, and other idiosyncratic graphics and images in a concentrated mess of visual revelry. His work on Stellar Om Source's "Island's Best" does just this, while also channeling Christelle Gualdi's Argento-influenced aesthetic. The first time I saw this video, I wondered how he could have possibly concocted so many magnetic graphics. Then I realized that Megazord is the ultimate child of the digital era. Like the web, he sees all, absorbs all, and spits it out in whatever manner seems most fitting. --Michael McGregor
Sun Araw: "Deep Cover"
Summing up Sun Araw’s midnight dub séance “Deep Cover” is no easy task, but who could be more ripe for the challenge than Cameron Stallones himself? Shot by Brian Davila, Cameron's highly Lynchian interpretation of Track Five from psycho stakeout soundtrack On Patrol comes as close as anyone could hope. A 4 AM dance when you think no one is watching, a desperate intruder in the shadows, the skeletal remains of a party-- and, at the helm, Cameron Stallones, driving the farfisa like a bus through your consciousness. --Andy French