While I’ve been a fan of Thrill Jockey for a while, I only recently discovered Mountains by way of the Radio War Nerd podcast. After a few episodes of really good ambient music between segments they finally revealed their producer Brendon as the source, who works at Telescope Audio. Brendon is one half of Mountains along with Koen Holtkamp. They began releasing material as Mountains through their collective/label Apestaartje in 2005, which focused on “gradual development and extremely detailed listening.” In 2009 they released Choral, their first record on Thrill Jockey, and have released four more albums since then. After a few listens, this album in particular calls to mind another Thrill Jockey release by Town and Country, which I picked up on a whim because it was on sale and I have loved it ever since. Looking into Mountains for this post I found that Apestaartje also re-issued Town and Country’s self-titled debut from 1998, proving conclusively that all of the coolest people are friends with each other. You can pick up copies of this and other Mountains records over at the Thrill Jockey site.
At the beginning of February Justin Wright, the brains and brawn behind Expo ’70, sustained a serious injury to his hand. Given that he lives in America and this country’s healthcare is essentially bloodsport, someone has set up a fundraiser to support him while he recovers and to pay off his future medical bills. To that end, I wanted to share one of my favorite tracks off of a tape I brought from the man himself that makes me long for my old Toyota with the tape deck every time I hear it. I’ve written about Expo ’70 on a previous post so I won’t repeat it here, but suffice to say that he is a good guy who works his ass off making great music and if you can support him with a donation or by buying some of his music I’m sure he’d appreciate it. The Expo ’70 bandcamp page is here but this and many other tapes can be found at Sonic Meditations. If you can join me in donating please do or at the very least pick up some of his music. I have yet to hear anything I don’t like, but this tape is definitely among my favorites.
Ages is the latest in the Echomancy II series from Gnome Life Records. The term echomancy is defined as “divination through music,” and even if I can’t be sure what spell Harris is conjuring here I certainly know that it has worked on me. As far as I can tell this is the first release from Harris, hopefully the first of many to come. This track was constructed using a multi-synth setup and field recordings fed through a series of delays and tape loops, though the sparse technical set up really belies the magic in this release. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact it combines was recordings done during both the vernal and autumnal equinox. Even though I had not tracked Gnome Life before coming across this release, I shouldn’t be surprised that they put out a top notch release like this considering they’ve re-issued a number of Robbie Basho records in the last couple years. As they mention in the write-up for this record, New Age can be thought of as a form of American folk music, even if it doesn’t sound anything like Pete Seeger or Leadbelly or even Robbie Basho. It’s hard for me to put my finger on how, but this type of music seems to amplify an American tradition of transcendental thought in a world consumed by cold electricity and Big Data detachment. Using complicated technical setups to achieve a sound that is so warm and inviting is no small task, and when executed this well it is difficult not to be caught dreaming of an electric City on a Hill.
Rest Stop Birds comes off what appears to be the debut cassette for Opossum Sun Trail, American Chemtrails which they appear to be self-releasing through Bandcamp. This is the type of thing that makes me bemoan my new car’s lack of a cassette deck. The group’s only other online presence as far as I can tell is a video for The Long Valley, a track off American Chemtrails. There wasn’t a ton of information online about these guys, but I did find a Facebook event for a show that that they played with Daniel Bachman. I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled for another repeat of that lineup because that would be one helluva time. This whole release exudes the sparse desert vibes that I really love in artists like William Fowler Collins, though in this case Opossum Sun Trail is channeling a bit of Ennio Morricone. And that’s just fine by me.
This track is one half of Schulze’s 1975 release Timewind and while it’s certainly a wonderful example of Berlin School electronic experimentation, one look at Schulze’s discography highlights the difficulty of picking just one release. He performed on Tangerine Dream’s debut album Electronic Meditation as well as on the Lord Krishna Von Goloka release that I’ve also written about here in addition to releasing over 40 albums of his own beginning with Irrlicht.
Part of that extensive discography includes releases under another name, Richard Wahnfried which he described in the notes for Time Actor as a blending of avant garde music and hypercommercial muzak. This appropriation of commercial ambient music in service of avant garde forms influences many experimental musicians today, from manipulating cassette tapes originally designed for corporate outreach by groups like Good Willsmith to the long-form future mall music of Virtual Dream Plaza. Schulze and the artists in his milieu helped to expand the vocabulary of electronics in experimental music and, eventually, music more generally and in my opinion it’s hard to overstate their influence. Since it is getting more and more affordable for people to obtain synths thanks to software-based synth engines, those interested would do well to immerse themselves in the music of this period if they have not already, both because it is good to understand the history and because it’s a sonic treat.
You may not have heard Jessica Moss’ name before, but you’ve probably heard her violin. She appears on Godspeed You Black Emperor!’s album F♯ A♯ ∞, Arcade Fire’s Funerals, and one of my favorite albums of all time, Broken Social Scene’s debut Feel Good Lost, among others.
Under Plastic Island is her first solo release, though she’s also part of At Silver Mt. Zion and Black Ox Orkestar with other members of Godspeed You Black Emperor!. Despite her connections to so many well-known groups, she clearly has a highly developed aesthetic all her own, blending electronic drones, violins, and beautifully manipulated vocals. For more information about Moss, check out her site. Though Under Plastic Island was released on cassette, it is only available at performances. Her touring schedule will be updated here in the future.
This is a couple months old but I’m just getting around to sharing it. Please be gentle, I’ve only been playing guitar for a few months. I’d surely occupy the lowest caste in Dinotopia.