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Less Bells

Mourning Jewelry

    The second offering by Julie Carpenter’s textural orchestral entity Less Bells takes its title from a storied strain of decorative objects worn in remembrance of lost loved ones: Mourning Jewelry.

    The album shares a similar mood of devotional pageantry, stirring ornamental laments born from a need to “create beauty out of grief.” Utilising an amalgam of strings, synthesisers, and choirs, the pieces ascend and descend in grand, glimmering arcs, ebbing from passages of “baroque complexity” to expanses of haunting emptiness. Certain songs also skew more overtly western than ever before, deeply reverbed plucks of banjo refracted against glowing horizons of sunrise drone: Americana gone ambient.

    Furthering the music’s mystic intentionality, the track titles comprise “the major arcana of a tarot deck from an alternate universe,” lorded over by the “Queen Of Crickets,” ruler of “The Gates,” “The Fault,” and “The Fang.” Even so, the record requires no psychic divination to glean its fragile majesty, its muted tumult of mirage and melody. The beauty it possesses is too blatant, and bountiful.


    Windy And Carl

    Allegiance And Conviction

      'Allegiance and Conviction' is the first album in 8 years from the legendary Dearborn duo . Windy and Carl have been crafting inner space electric guitar and bass vistas for nearly three decades now, but their latest feels as vital and vaporous as any peak opus in their vast catalog. Written and recorded across six years, the songs swirl between shoegaze minimalism and stargaze drift, over which Windy Weber whispers veiled poetic narratives of transformation, isolation, and escape. Allegiance and Conviction is their first album since 2012's We Will Always Be. The six compositions are something of outlier in their catalog, shorter in nature than most on their previous releases. All of the tracks are saturated with Hultgren's signature guitar work, intimate constructions of murmurs, drones and his trademark layered filigree, gently amassed into alternately lighter and heavier than air atmospheres. Despite being their first full-length in more than half a decade,the album fully belongs to the bewitching galaxy of sound Windy and Carl innovated and within which they remain the sole occupants: music of thresholds and peripheries and eternities. Allegiance and Conviction is the multifaceted, contemporary take on their sound.

      Pan American

      A Son

        Legacy Chicago craftsman Mark Nelson’s latest offering as Pan•American is less a distillation or divergence than it is a return to his musical and spiritual beginnings. Spare, subdued, and largely acoustic, A Son unfurls like late summer dusk on the edge of town, expansive but intimate.

        Motivated by notions of “moving backward” and tracing roots – as well as a couple years of hammered dulcimer lessons – the album’s nine songs were written and recorded in his home in Evanston, Illinois, and honed during a recent solo tour in Europe. The emphasis on uncluttered arrangements and the centrality of the guitar and vocals reveal these songs as the most direct and emotional statement of his career.

        Nelson cites everything from June Tabor, The Carter Family, Suicide and Jimmy Reed as oblique inspirations, though his truest muse was creative self-inquiry: “What does music do, Where does music start? How simple can it be? How honest can it be?”

        After decades of mining post-rock pathways and latticework electronics in Labradford and early Pan•American, A Son strips away ornament and distraction in favor of a direct gaze into the heart of what is.




        Earthen Sea

        Grass And Trees

          Jacob Long’s reductionist rhythmic ambient vessel, Earthen Sea, ebbs towards a more purely elemental state on his second excursion for Kranky, Grass and Trees.

          He describes the creative process as one of “simplifying things as much as possible,” designing uncluttered spaces traced in nothing but breath, field recordings, and “sounds that could be played by hand but weren’t.”
          The results feel decentralized but dynamic, low-lit evocations of ambiguous nocturnal environments – dub techno disassembled into stray pulses and spare parts. It’s a music both interior and infinite, languorous yet transformative, made in the outer boroughs of a metropolis but existing in its own liminal wilderness.

          Long’s vision is a grounding one, rooted in the physical body but attuned to larger currents: “In response to living in a fairly hectic city, and at a very hectic time for the world at large, creating something more drawn back and restrained felt appropriate.


          Anoyo ('the world over there') draws from the same sessions with members of Tokyo Gakuso which led to the 2018 work Konoyo, but rendered starker, solemn, and stripped back, with more of a naturalist tint. Hecker’s processing here moves in veiled ways, soft refractions and whispered shrouds woven within improvisational sessions of traditional gagaku interplay, evoking a sense of vaulted space, temples at dawn, shredded silk fluttering in the rafters.

          This is boldly barren music, skeletal and sculptural, shaped from wood, wind, strings, and mist. Modern yet ancient, delicate and desolate, Anoyo inverts its predecessor to compellingly conjure a parallel world of illusion, solitude, and eternal return. 


          Experiential composer Tim Hecker’s ninth official full-length, Konoyo (“the world over here”) was largely recorded during several trips to Japan where he collaborated with members of the gagaku ensemble Tokyo Gakuso, in a temple on the outskirts of Tokyo.

          Inspired by conversations with a recently deceased friend about negative space and a sense of music’s increasingly banal density, Hecker found himself drawn towards restraint and elegance, while making music both collectively and alone.

          As with the Icelandic choir he arranged on 2016’s Love Streams, the heights of Hecker’s talent emerge in his manipulation of source material, bending and burnishing it into fantastical new forms. Keening strings are stretched into surreal, pixelated mirages; woodwinds warble and dissipate as fractal whispers of spatial haze; sparse gestures of percussion are chopped, isolated, and eroded, like disembodied signals from the afterlife. Both in texture and intent, Konoyo conjures a somber, ceremonial mood, suffused with ritual and regret. Visions flutter and fade; dreams gleam and decay.
          Hecker will stage a series of special performances in tandem with the album's release, featuring members of the gagaku ensemble on shō, ryuteki and hichiriki, accompanied by Kara-Lis Coverdale. 


          Brooklyn trio Forma’s latest LP continues their mission to “broaden the idea of what an electronic music ensemble can sound like.” Semblance emerged from exploratory sessions at The Schoolhouse, the Bushwick loft where members Mark Dwinell and John Also Bennett live, then was tracked at Gary’s Electric studios, where their previous album Physicalist was also recorded.

          Inspired by polyrhythmic composition, the human voice, and conceptual improvisation strategies, the songs are striking in their textural detail and emotional nuance, alternately synthetic and sentient, futuristic and intuitive. Incorporating flute, piano, guitar, saxophone, acoustic drums and cymbals alongside an array of synthesizers, the record persuasively demonstrates the group’s unique playing abilities and fluid chemistry – attributes they credit to “techniques we’ve developed to trick our electronic machines into mimicking the spontaneous character of live instruments.”

          Members George and John Also Bennett also cite as an influence their recent stint in minimalist composer Jon Gibson’s ensemble, performing his 1973 proto-ambient masterwork Visitations. The long- form modal piece requires restraint and deep listening to execute, qualities especially apparent in the more muted moments of Semblance, such as “Rebreather” and “New City.”

          The group states the intent of the new album as “to be more direct and exacting”, which it is. Over half a decade spent writing and recording together has distilled Forma’s hybrid electro-acoustic interplay into an attuned and astounding language, capable of articulating impossible symmetries and reflective states.
          The stunning visuals of the artwork are by frequent collaborator of the group Peter Burr. 

          STAFF COMMENTS

          Barry says: I can't remember a week THIS good for instrumental synth music for a long time, and now to add to the excellence, we have a new one from forma. Finely structured cosmic melodies, perfectly produced to weave its way into your consciousness. Sit back and zone out.

          Not long after recording her 10th album, Ruins, Liz Harris traveled to Wyoming to work on art and record music. She found herself drawn towards the pairing of skeletal piano phrasing with spare, rich bursts of vocal harmony.

          A series of stark songs emerged, minimal and vulnerable, woven with emotive silences. Inspired by “the idea that something is missing or cold,” the pieces float and fade like vignettes, implying as much as they reveal. She describes them as “small texts hanging in space,” impressions of mortality, melody, and the unseen – fleeting beauty, interrupted. Grid Of Points stands as a concise and potently poetic addition to the Grouper catalog.

          From Liz Harris: Grid Of Points is a set of songs for piano and voice. I wrote these songs over a week and a half; they stopped abruptly when I was interrupted by a high fever. Though brief, it is complete. The intimacy and abbreviation of this music allude to an essence that the songs lyrics speak more directly of. The space left after matter has departed, a stage after the characters have gone, the hollow of some central column,
          missing. 


          STAFF COMMENTS

          Barry says: Simmering slow piano, beautiful layered vocals and cavernous reverb all form together to make this one of Harris' most enthralling outings to date. Perfectly tender but undeniably hard-hitting, these pieces are brimming with emotional heft and speckled with moments of spine-tingling beauty. Stunning.

          Stars Of The Lid

          Gravitational Pull Vs The Desire For An Aquatic Life - Reissue

            Vinyl edition of Stars of the Lid 2nd album in print for the first time in over 20 years.

            The release of Music for Nitrous Oxide, the 1995 debut album by Stars of the Lid, heralded a new strain of the american underground music scene, one borne of the heat and humidity, boredom, and the insular, constipated, rockist music scene of Austin, Texas, the home of the duo of Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie. It was a muffled lashing out against surrounding musical conventions, a small middle finger to the local dominant “americana” scene, but one that nobody could see outside the shack of a house in which they recorded or at their occasional sparsely populated live performances. It was as punk a move as anyone could make at that place and in that time. But in a surprise to the two members of SotL, people took notice, as related rumblings and grumblings were taking place simultaneously in other parts of the american landscape.

            Coming quickly on the heels of that release was our current subject, Gravitational Pull vs. the Desire for an Aquatic Life, released one year later. This is a transitional release that travels from the scruffiness of the debut’s ambiance to more extended and subtle undulating tides of assembled sound, yet still dominated by processed guitars as the primary sound source. It also serves as an omen to the mini-orchestral works to come beginning with the Avec Laudenum album a few years later. Gravitational Pull... is a small masterpiece.

            Context:
            The Stars of the Lid’s second full length album was originally published on vinyl by the Sedimental label in 1996, and then issued on compact disc by kranky the following year. It has now been out of print on the vinyl format for more than 20 years and that matter is now rectified with this release. The original album mix has been remastered by Pieter De Wagter, lacquers cut by Chicago Mastering Service and vinyl pressed at Quality Record Pressing in Salina, Kansas. 


            Benoit Pioulard

            The Benoit Pioulard Listening Matter

            The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter is the sixth kranky album from Thomas Meluch under the nom de plume Benoît Pioulard. It arrives on the 10th anniversary of his first LP Précis, and offers a rekindled focus on self-examination, as well as a return to vocal-based pop structures following the mostly instrumental Sonnet (2015).

            Recording for the Listening Matter began during a period of grief, turmoil and self-medication, and continued throughout two years of growth and healing. Reflections on vice (“Layette”, “Anchor as the muse”), virtue (“Narcologue”) and death (“A mantle for Charon”) feature equally in this concise treatise aimed at the flawed-but-resilient core in us all.

            By coincidence this album was completed on the very day Meluch’s only brother died; accordingly, it’s dedicated to him and anyone seeking paths away from their demons.


            Guitarist Ken Camden returns for his third solo album, continuing his explorations to seek out new techniques and sounds from the electric guitar. By utilizing both a steel slide and e-bow technique, Camden has moved into micro-tonal territory to bridge the textural gap between guitar and synthesizer while examining their inherent differences.

            The palette is further broadened by introducing an organic vocal sampling machine described as a Vocaltron. Much like a Mellotron, vocal samples (contributed by Emily Elhaj and Angel Olsen) are chromatically organized in half steps from the lowest note to the highest possible. Each set is specific to the contributor's range and each note is unedited to keep all original characteristics of that particular individual's voice. This organized organic information adds a contrast to the electric guitar and synthesizer arrangements on the album.

            The development of all of these systems gives Dream Memory a diversity throughout its tracks while maintaining an atmospheric bond that weaves the ideas into a thematic whole. 

            Disappears

            Irreal

              Irreal, the fifth long player from Chicago's Disappears, is another trip down the rabbit hole. The album plays out as a dream sequence - hazed dub landscapes give way to the groupʼs most experimental and open music yet.

              If their last album Era confirmed the fact that Disappears are on their own trip, then Irreal is where it kicks in. Eternalism, roboethics, identity - it's a Ballardian mix of imperfect melodies, half thoughts and good ol' dystopian modernity. Itʼs a master class in texture, pace and control.

              Produced by John Congleton at famed Chicago recording institution Electrical Audio, Irreal sits in the negative space where art rock and post punk collapse onto each other. It's the sound of Disappears reporting back from The Void.

              Jessica Bailiff

              At The Down-Turned Jagged Rim Of The Sky

              Kranky was a bit surprised earlier this year when Jessica Bailiff contacted them and asked they wanted to preview her new album for possible release. They had no idea she had even been working on an album, let alone had completed one, and they were rewarded with a listen to her most compelling album to date.

              After being in Europe for 5 weeks as a touring member of Boduf Songs, Jessica Bailiff spent much of 2011, writing and recording At the Down-Turned Jagged Rim of the Sky in her spartan home studio. Sequestering herself through the hot summer months until finished, she then passed the tracks on to her friend Odd Nosdam for final mixing.
              *Down-tuned, distorted bass guitar adds a new color to her palette, but familiar ones also come into play: fuzzed and delayed electric guitar, organ, piano, cello, and drums. Noisy pop-tinged love songs nestle slyly in a bed of off-kilter lullabies and dark, metallic waltzes.

              No need to recycle descriptives like “lo-fi” or “hushed vocals” - these are spurious words. This is another intimate collection of songs recorded entirely by Jessica at home, in a room next to where she sleeps. If you listen carefully, you might hear her dreaming.


              Greg Kowalsky

              Through The Cardial Window

              "Through The Cardial Window" is the first album Gregg Kowalsky has recorded under his own name, however his previous efforts under the name Osso Bucco from last year have been released world-wide to much acclaim. The music he creates is situated betwixt and between textural ambience, psychedelia and pure noise.

              Fontanelle

              F

              Fontanelle's second release for Kranky. The Album bridges the gap between Chicago post rock and alternative rock, like Low meets Tortoise.

              Aix Em Klemm

              Aix Em Klemm

              A collaboration between Bobby Donne from LaBradford, and Adam Wiltzie from Stars Of The Lid. Immediately identifiable by the tradmark guitar of Stars Of The Lid, and Bobby's bass clanks, augmented with a mixture of samples and keyboards. And Adam sings.......Occasionally.


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