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Juche - Juche [Drone Warfare; 2014]
In the span of a 60 Minutes feature, drones have transformed from frightening machines bent on privacy invasion and destruction of the Axis into getting our online shopping fix in 30 minutes or less. Considering the middle ground home to three-piece Juche. Where consumerism delight and chaotic espionage intersect is where the band’s Drone Warfare released self-titled exists. A place hacking contemporary melody for intelligence purposes, before reshaping it into popular culture spies to test the marketplace for interest beyond typical E! fodder. Juche embodies a style of attack tackling what is currently accepted and what could be accepted, if only delivered in a cute but potentially vengeful package. Juche is broken neon lights, wafts of nostalgic tinges from rolled down car windows and loud radios, and the beautifully wasted energy of youth. The only bombs dropped from this are revelatory: those “if I knew then what I know now” missives. But you’re never too old and Juche is never too beholden to ideas of the past. So order the tape, having it delivered unmanned via the current, and countdown as you press play for an explosion that will lead to a utopia of consumer delights rather than a dystopia of carnal devolution.

Juche - Juche [Drone Warfare; 2014]

In the span of a 60 Minutes feature, drones have transformed from frightening machines bent on privacy invasion and destruction of the Axis into getting our online shopping fix in 30 minutes or less. Considering the middle ground home to three-piece Juche. Where consumerism delight and chaotic espionage intersect is where the band’s Drone Warfare released self-titled exists. A place hacking contemporary melody for intelligence purposes, before reshaping it into popular culture spies to test the marketplace for interest beyond typical E! fodder. Juche embodies a style of attack tackling what is currently accepted and what could be accepted, if only delivered in a cute but potentially vengeful package. Juche is broken neon lights, wafts of nostalgic tinges from rolled down car windows and loud radios, and the beautifully wasted energy of youth. The only bombs dropped from this are revelatory: those “if I knew then what I know now” missives. But you’re never too old and Juche is never too beholden to ideas of the past. So order the tape, having it delivered unmanned via the current, and countdown as you press play for an explosion that will lead to a utopia of consumer delights rather than a dystopia of carnal devolution.

Chris Zabriskie - Cylinders [Self-Released; 2014]
The best music is that which is meant to be free. No barrier, no cost, and no strings. It has long been the principle of composer and experimentalist Chris Zabriskie, but only now in a world with a tumultuous media landscape can we truly appreciate the gift of art without a tax.
Zabriskie’s move toward the likes of Cage, Riley, and Glass grows with his latest free offering,Cylinders. Nine delicate pieces that build upon each other, frozen in time and space. This is not the first time this path has been traversed; 2012’s excellent Undercover Vampire Policeman an equally stunning, albeit more traditional compositional, flirted with his growing piano repertoire. But with Cylinders, Zabriskie enters the land of Sean McCann, Matthew Sullivan and recent contemporaries that have moved toward minimalism and neo-classicism rather than the rad, broad strokes of 60s and 70s futurism.
But Cylinders is not beholden to any place or time. In a time when breaking new musical ground is an obstacle all its own, Zabriskie manages to poke his head through the formidable ceiling. Though its inspiration is cherry picked from the many names dropped upon this page, there’s still a uniqueness to the glassy melodies of Cylinders. It expands like modern drone but isn’t concerned with elongated breaths; it gives from for silence but doesn’t not seek it as musical companion; it is Baroque but not at the cost of current listening habits. There’s always a bit of borrowing in music to achieve progress; where many outright copy, Zabriskie avoids it where he can and adapts where he must.
The only bad perpetuated by Cylinders is that it is truly free. Without money, art can’t be promoted. It’s why Zabriskie has continued to exist shrouded from his peers rather than recognized beside them. Maybe that’s his goal – to be separate rather than to be corrupted.Cylinders has no mark or pox by which it is scarred; free from the constraints of expectation. Free of money; free of sin; free with conscious.

Chris Zabriskie - Cylinders [Self-Released; 2014]

The best music is that which is meant to be free. No barrier, no cost, and no strings. It has long been the principle of composer and experimentalist Chris Zabriskie, but only now in a world with a tumultuous media landscape can we truly appreciate the gift of art without a tax.

Zabriskie’s move toward the likes of Cage, Riley, and Glass grows with his latest free offering,Cylinders. Nine delicate pieces that build upon each other, frozen in time and space. This is not the first time this path has been traversed; 2012’s excellent Undercover Vampire Policeman an equally stunning, albeit more traditional compositional, flirted with his growing piano repertoire. But with Cylinders, Zabriskie enters the land of Sean McCann, Matthew Sullivan and recent contemporaries that have moved toward minimalism and neo-classicism rather than the rad, broad strokes of 60s and 70s futurism.

But Cylinders is not beholden to any place or time. In a time when breaking new musical ground is an obstacle all its own, Zabriskie manages to poke his head through the formidable ceiling. Though its inspiration is cherry picked from the many names dropped upon this page, there’s still a uniqueness to the glassy melodies of Cylinders. It expands like modern drone but isn’t concerned with elongated breaths; it gives from for silence but doesn’t not seek it as musical companion; it is Baroque but not at the cost of current listening habits. There’s always a bit of borrowing in music to achieve progress; where many outright copy, Zabriskie avoids it where he can and adapts where he must.

The only bad perpetuated by Cylinders is that it is truly free. Without money, art can’t be promoted. It’s why Zabriskie has continued to exist shrouded from his peers rather than recognized beside them. Maybe that’s his goal – to be separate rather than to be corrupted.Cylinders has no mark or pox by which it is scarred; free from the constraints of expectation. Free of money; free of sin; free with conscious.

Enumclaw - Holographic Headdress [Sacred Phrases; 2013]
The fascination Sacred Phrases carries for projects-named-for-cities-you’ve-never-visited continues with the Riley-esque Enumclaw. It’s as strong a draw as my putting-unnecessary-hyphens-in-reviews. Perhaps we both need rehab, but not before smoking the last crack rock of Holographic Headdress. Unlike the inspiration behind the beautifully design minimalism of HH’s cover, there’s a bit more going on between the spaces. Even if it’s just the faint sound of falling water or the residual hum of a synthesizer note, there’s always a sound to catch your attention. Not that Enumclaw doesn’t allow these compositions time to relax, they just seem to shine brighter when there’s a continuation of point and counterpoint.
I want to make some elaborate joke about zonez or waves, but it’ll only diminish how elegant this tape is front-to-back. Artists adapting little known towns as their pseudonym > Artists using states and big cities as names.

Enumclaw - Holographic Headdress [Sacred Phrases; 2013]

The fascination Sacred Phrases carries for projects-named-for-cities-you’ve-never-visited continues with the Riley-esque Enumclaw. It’s as strong a draw as my putting-unnecessary-hyphens-in-reviews. Perhaps we both need rehab, but not before smoking the last crack rock of Holographic Headdress. Unlike the inspiration behind the beautifully design minimalism of HH’s cover, there’s a bit more going on between the spaces. Even if it’s just the faint sound of falling water or the residual hum of a synthesizer note, there’s always a sound to catch your attention. Not that Enumclaw doesn’t allow these compositions time to relax, they just seem to shine brighter when there’s a continuation of point and counterpoint.

I want to make some elaborate joke about zonez or waves, but it’ll only diminish how elegant this tape is front-to-back. Artists adapting little known towns as their pseudonym > Artists using states and big cities as names.

Raw McCartney - Introducing Raw McCartney [Tripp Tapes; 2013]
Like the tail of a turd caught at the rim of your asshole, the sushi sounds of the uncooked, but hardly vegan Raw McCartney hits your New Year’s punch bowl. You’ve culled your lists, you’ve checked them twice, but it’s likely you’ll the coal-into-diamonds scat that is Introducing… will make you rethink your selective numbering system. It was late to the party and already drunk. So what? Lists were made to be flimsy and the devolution of Indiana’s “garage” rock is now worth the crash. It was only frozen sherbet and orange juice; it needed this spike. The minds behind Raw McCartney, unlike those of other verbal name plays, have taken psychedelic rock back, further than the first prehistoric rumble of dinosaur-chasing-Biblical man. This is meat from the bone, working its way through your innards at a disruptive pace. No amount of antacids can quell this grumbling belly. It echos and sways with your every bloated waddle until you find yourself crashing the bash, anus firmly planted above the fruity drink platter. And it plops and fizzes with each sweet release. Your thought your Top 25 list was done but now you’re going to have to suffer through a revised edition. Raw McCartney may be the stumble bum you’d rather not deal with in the midst of your New Year’s resolution but we all have problems bubbling up. At least this one came as soon as it did, so you can be better prepared for the scatological disaster of 2015.

Raw McCartney - Introducing Raw McCartney [Tripp Tapes; 2013]

Like the tail of a turd caught at the rim of your asshole, the sushi sounds of the uncooked, but hardly vegan Raw McCartney hits your New Year’s punch bowl. You’ve culled your lists, you’ve checked them twice, but it’s likely you’ll the coal-into-diamonds scat that is Introducing… will make you rethink your selective numbering system. It was late to the party and already drunk. So what? Lists were made to be flimsy and the devolution of Indiana’s “garage” rock is now worth the crash. It was only frozen sherbet and orange juice; it needed this spike. The minds behind Raw McCartney, unlike those of other verbal name plays, have taken psychedelic rock back, further than the first prehistoric rumble of dinosaur-chasing-Biblical man. This is meat from the bone, working its way through your innards at a disruptive pace. No amount of antacids can quell this grumbling belly. It echos and sways with your every bloated waddle until you find yourself crashing the bash, anus firmly planted above the fruity drink platter. And it plops and fizzes with each sweet release. Your thought your Top 25 list was done but now you’re going to have to suffer through a revised edition. Raw McCartney may be the stumble bum you’d rather not deal with in the midst of your New Year’s resolution but we all have problems bubbling up. At least this one came as soon as it did, so you can be better prepared for the scatological disaster of 2015.

Heinz Riegler - SLEEP HEALTH [A Guide to Saints; 2013]
If you have yet to check out the blonde-headed stepchild to Room 40, meet A Guide to Saints and their cavalcade of cassettes. The beautiful plastic casings, forgoing J-cards for a simpler and more effective artistic imprint; equally eye-pleasing cassettes that harmonize or contrast their casings for powerful Gestalt idealism – it’s all very art school dropout and yet, highly functional use of materials and typography that is lost in a world of collages and dystopian drawings.
The same is true for Riegler’s SLEEP HEALTH, a careful curation of the duality of good spirits and bad distractions A-side “Health” is a twinkle of chimes and buzzards; plucks playing a clock that is ticking toward decay. Time begins a slow drip that becomes a cascade of years and failing memories. “Sleep” seems more apropos as a metaphor for death than as the act of rejuvenation. Twisted bows meet taught strings as Hades plays you across Styx. But yours is not an eternity of damnation but that of reward. We’ve all sinned, given up ourselves and our faculties to forces we choose not to control. As our health fades, our dream stasis begins. Sleep is not something to be feared, it’s something to long for over the course of decades of living to best of one’s abilities. Do not covet what your neighbor has, but cherish what you have earned. Which, for now, is this tape from Riegler that you should carry with you like your lucky charm and your I.D.

Heinz Riegler - SLEEP HEALTH [A Guide to Saints; 2013]

If you have yet to check out the blonde-headed stepchild to Room 40, meet A Guide to Saints and their cavalcade of cassettes. The beautiful plastic casings, forgoing J-cards for a simpler and more effective artistic imprint; equally eye-pleasing cassettes that harmonize or contrast their casings for powerful Gestalt idealism – it’s all very art school dropout and yet, highly functional use of materials and typography that is lost in a world of collages and dystopian drawings.

The same is true for Riegler’s SLEEP HEALTH, a careful curation of the duality of good spirits and bad distractions A-side “Health” is a twinkle of chimes and buzzards; plucks playing a clock that is ticking toward decay. Time begins a slow drip that becomes a cascade of years and failing memories. “Sleep” seems more apropos as a metaphor for death than as the act of rejuvenation. Twisted bows meet taught strings as Hades plays you across Styx. But yours is not an eternity of damnation but that of reward. We’ve all sinned, given up ourselves and our faculties to forces we choose not to control. As our health fades, our dream stasis begins. Sleep is not something to be feared, it’s something to long for over the course of decades of living to best of one’s abilities. Do not covet what your neighbor has, but cherish what you have earned. Which, for now, is this tape from Riegler that you should carry with you like your lucky charm and your I.D.

William Clay Martin - Sadler [Self-Released; 2013]
There’s an internal migration. The American Romes crumble in the face of changing economic and sociopolitical tides. We are dividing ourselves in the pursuit of cultural congeniality. We’d rather cover our faces and plug our ears to any dissenting opinion or false idol of morality. We are no longer one unified country but one gerrymandered by any characteristic deemed different than those we wish to pursue. Are liberal, free-thinking communities really as open-minded as they claim? Maybe back wood haunts and conservative strongholds are no longer the closed-off meccas of ignorance and hate many believe them to be? The deck is reshuffling and among the redistricted ruins is Sadler, capturing the dynamism of a country that is ripping itself apart just to sew its bare threads back together. Doomsdayers and eternal optimists out of syncopation and yet in total harmony. We’re all running from each other, back into each other’s embrace. We can keep building walls and stacking rules but yet we bring the sledgehammer to them all in the end. In division we find unity, a trait that is not lost on Sadler and its opposites-attract philosophy.

William Clay Martin - Sadler [Self-Released; 2013]

There’s an internal migration. The American Romes crumble in the face of changing economic and sociopolitical tides. We are dividing ourselves in the pursuit of cultural congeniality. We’d rather cover our faces and plug our ears to any dissenting opinion or false idol of morality. We are no longer one unified country but one gerrymandered by any characteristic deemed different than those we wish to pursue. Are liberal, free-thinking communities really as open-minded as they claim? Maybe back wood haunts and conservative strongholds are no longer the closed-off meccas of ignorance and hate many believe them to be? The deck is reshuffling and among the redistricted ruins is Sadler, capturing the dynamism of a country that is ripping itself apart just to sew its bare threads back together. Doomsdayers and eternal optimists out of syncopation and yet in total harmony. We’re all running from each other, back into each other’s embrace. We can keep building walls and stacking rules but yet we bring the sledgehammer to them all in the end. In division we find unity, a trait that is not lost on Sadler and its opposites-attract philosophy.

Vaadat Charigim - The World is Well Lost [Burger/Warm Ratio; 2013]
So rarely has the veil between now and the past been so thin. The wormhole has opened, funneling forgotten and neglected sounds into our future. I’m sure this was covered on Fringe or some alternate JJ Abrams timeline. For a sound refresher, look no further than The World is Well Lost, a sad, shoegazing look backward (or downward). Though slight rattles of Interpol circa 2002 are rattling throughout Vaadat Charigim’s breakthrough (and that’s what this is – a band a world away creating music a generation removed), there’s plenty of Ride, Catherine Wheel, and New Order touchstones to make it seem more than just a decade’s retelling of the a singular moment in the resurgence of New York City cool. This is NOT that and we should be thankful. And for all its familiar influences, it also is removed from being a carbon copy of a genre emerging from stasis. The Tel Aviv band may not be breaking new ground in melody but certainly are returning to an emotional state that seems appropriate for a world repeating prior mistakes of sour economics, heightened emotions, and tense histrionics. While those without the psychological capacity to invoke change and accept reality turn to trollop pop idols, Vaadat Charigim exist on the realm of the other movement: revisionism. We’ve visited the pop 80s, now we turn to its seedier side as well as the grungy underbelly of 90s grit. It’s not a PG world despite rating systems and parental controls to the contrary. The World is Well Lost but that doesn’t mean we can’t find it. Let’s begin here and see where we end up.

Vaadat Charigim - The World is Well Lost [Burger/Warm Ratio; 2013]

So rarely has the veil between now and the past been so thin. The wormhole has opened, funneling forgotten and neglected sounds into our future. I’m sure this was covered on Fringe or some alternate JJ Abrams timeline. For a sound refresher, look no further than The World is Well Lost, a sad, shoegazing look backward (or downward). Though slight rattles of Interpol circa 2002 are rattling throughout Vaadat Charigim’s breakthrough (and that’s what this is – a band a world away creating music a generation removed), there’s plenty of Ride, Catherine Wheel, and New Order touchstones to make it seem more than just a decade’s retelling of the a singular moment in the resurgence of New York City cool. This is NOT that and we should be thankful. And for all its familiar influences, it also is removed from being a carbon copy of a genre emerging from stasis. The Tel Aviv band may not be breaking new ground in melody but certainly are returning to an emotional state that seems appropriate for a world repeating prior mistakes of sour economics, heightened emotions, and tense histrionics. While those without the psychological capacity to invoke change and accept reality turn to trollop pop idols, Vaadat Charigim exist on the realm of the other movement: revisionism. We’ve visited the pop 80s, now we turn to its seedier side as well as the grungy underbelly of 90s grit. It’s not a PG world despite rating systems and parental controls to the contrary. The World is Well Lost but that doesn’t mean we can’t find it. Let’s begin here and see where we end up.

Agitated Atmosphere: Favorite Albums of 2013
It’s that time of year, as everyone begins to cart out their lists of album you MUST listen to. This is not so forceful. If you’re reading this, you’re likely an adventurous listener already so why apply a tone of such urgency?
As AA does every year, there will be a separate column pertaining to favorite cassettes of 2013, but for now let’s focus on favorite non-tape albums of 2013. Notice the use of the word “favorite” rather than “best,” since music’s a communal experience and better left to inclusion rather than force fed listens with Alex and the droogs.If you require a lengthier list, you can find it slowly unveiling itself via Twitter. For now, the top of my favorites in no particular order, broken into two simple categories:
Those Covered within Agitated Atmosphere
These albums are no secrets, having been discussed and dissected on these very pages. Released at the beginning of the year, very few albums had the visceral power and allure ofThee Open Sex’s self-titled full-length.
Bathetic was label of the year in AA land as both Earn and Lee Noble released stunners on the limitless imprint.
AA would be remised not to mention Haley Fohr. As Circuit Des Yeux, Fohr continues to brave new territory in musical truths; Overdue being her most splayed and earnest release yet.
Those Not Covered within Agitated Atmosphere
1990s refugees such as Mark Lanegan (with Duke Garwood), My Bloody Valentine, and Medicine, and Mazzy Star all created albums worth gushing about, let’s reserve most of our praise for some other strangeness.
Pan American’s Cloud Room, Glass Room was an aural delight; a meditation on embracing the hum of the city and recognizing it as a living, breathing form of music. Instruments replacing harried cars and commuters but the effect still as jarring and soothing. Can I Go Home Nowfrom Belgium’s Ignatz is his most rustic work. It’s oddly Americana with its rural back porch appropriation and yet, there’s a sense of worldly wise to its content that is missing in Western folk. Ex-Yellow Swan Gabriel Salomon dropped a late year surprise in Soldier’s Requiem, an album as militant and heart wrenching as its title implicates. But this is not mid-2000s hard rock grab at a USO tour but a brilliant soundtrack to the hardships and truths of the soldier’s life—wherever they may be and whatever war (real or imaginary) they must fight.
This year AA was introduced to Lucrecia Dalt via two slightly different but equally engaging albums: Commotus and Syzygy. Sarah Lipstate, AKA Noveller, further honed her droned-based compositions throughout No Dreams, which expands with each listen.
As always, when your friends, neighbors, or the local curmudgeon speaks about no good music in [fill in the year], kick them in the shin and direct them to the nearest non-chain record store. Tell them to read [fill in the blog] and listen without prejudice. 2013 was a great year and AA was challenged to narrow down a length list into a few artists and albums worth highlighting.

Agitated Atmosphere: Favorite Albums of 2013

It’s that time of year, as everyone begins to cart out their lists of album you MUST listen to. This is not so forceful. If you’re reading this, you’re likely an adventurous listener already so why apply a tone of such urgency?

As AA does every year, there will be a separate column pertaining to favorite cassettes of 2013, but for now let’s focus on favorite non-tape albums of 2013. Notice the use of the word “favorite” rather than “best,” since music’s a communal experience and better left to inclusion rather than force fed listens with Alex and the droogs.

If you require a lengthier list, you can find it slowly unveiling itself via Twitter. For now, the top of my favorites in no particular order, broken into two simple categories:

Those Covered within Agitated Atmosphere

These albums are no secrets, having been discussed and dissected on these very pages. Released at the beginning of the year, very few albums had the visceral power and allure ofThee Open Sex’s self-titled full-length.

Bathetic was label of the year in AA land as both Earn and Lee Noble released stunners on the limitless imprint.

AA would be remised not to mention Haley Fohr. As Circuit Des Yeux, Fohr continues to brave new territory in musical truths; Overdue being her most splayed and earnest release yet.

Those Not Covered within Agitated Atmosphere

1990s refugees such as Mark Lanegan (with Duke Garwood), My Bloody Valentine, and Medicine, and Mazzy Star all created albums worth gushing about, let’s reserve most of our praise for some other strangeness.

Pan American’s Cloud Room, Glass Room was an aural delight; a meditation on embracing the hum of the city and recognizing it as a living, breathing form of music. Instruments replacing harried cars and commuters but the effect still as jarring and soothing. Can I Go Home Nowfrom Belgium’s Ignatz is his most rustic work. It’s oddly Americana with its rural back porch appropriation and yet, there’s a sense of worldly wise to its content that is missing in Western folk. Ex-Yellow Swan Gabriel Salomon dropped a late year surprise in Soldier’s Requiem, an album as militant and heart wrenching as its title implicates. But this is not mid-2000s hard rock grab at a USO tour but a brilliant soundtrack to the hardships and truths of the soldier’s life—wherever they may be and whatever war (real or imaginary) they must fight.

This year AA was introduced to Lucrecia Dalt via two slightly different but equally engaging albums: Commotus and Syzygy. Sarah Lipstate, AKA Noveller, further honed her droned-based compositions throughout No Dreams, which expands with each listen.

As always, when your friends, neighbors, or the local curmudgeon speaks about no good music in [fill in the year], kick them in the shin and direct them to the nearest non-chain record store. Tell them to read [fill in the blog] and listen without prejudice. 2013 was a great year and AA was challenged to narrow down a length list into a few artists and albums worth highlighting.

ssleeperhold - Ruleth [Holodeck; 2013]
The driving drum and clatter introduction of Ruleth reminds me of the urban gothic subcultural, best brought to American audience through old John Carpenter films and the work of Xander Harris. It’s a genre littered with posed moments of horror and anxiety but somehow ssleeperhold make it a positive experience rather than a nightmarish chase in which we run slower and slower until the clock or a palpitation wakes us. The 70s and 80s are all over Ruleth–but not in the Big Bang Boom of tossed aside demographic catering. This rings of a lost childhood, one where Freddy Krueger is the hero, eliminating the youthful minds of treasonous, doubting children in a world that needs optimism. It’s a happy grim, where there is no moral or fleshy decay, just a horror figure (pick your favorite) doing what is right to correct the course of a planet tilting toward disaster. We could have eliminated big hair caused by chlorofluorocarbons in hair spray. We could have stifled the industrial military complex. We could have seen Weekend at Bernie’s as the early battle cry in support of reanimation. ssleeperhold is all of that wrapped up in a Sandman’s worth of crusty eye flakes. The world could have been better had we only picked up a machete of love and whacked away the weeds of [Andrew] McCarthyism 20 years ago.

ssleeperhold - Ruleth [Holodeck; 2013]

The driving drum and clatter introduction of Ruleth reminds me of the urban gothic subcultural, best brought to American audience through old John Carpenter films and the work of Xander Harris. It’s a genre littered with posed moments of horror and anxiety but somehow ssleeperhold make it a positive experience rather than a nightmarish chase in which we run slower and slower until the clock or a palpitation wakes us. The 70s and 80s are all over Ruleth–but not in the Big Bang Boom of tossed aside demographic catering. This rings of a lost childhood, one where Freddy Krueger is the hero, eliminating the youthful minds of treasonous, doubting children in a world that needs optimism. It’s a happy grim, where there is no moral or fleshy decay, just a horror figure (pick your favorite) doing what is right to correct the course of a planet tilting toward disaster. We could have eliminated big hair caused by chlorofluorocarbons in hair spray. We could have stifled the industrial military complex. We could have seen Weekend at Bernie’s as the early battle cry in support of reanimation. ssleeperhold is all of that wrapped up in a Sandman’s worth of crusty eye flakes. The world could have been better had we only picked up a machete of love and whacked away the weeds of [Andrew] McCarthyism 20 years ago.

Black Deer - Black Deer [Peak Oil; 2013]
From the label that released a slightly ignored Liz Harris & Lawrence English collaboration album comes another sure to be under the radar effort from William Burnett. As Black Deer (this better be a parody name of all the color/animal names cluttering up Spotify playlists), Burnett has created an energetic, spastic piece of electronic prog that obliterates the overcrowded space synth crowd from their luxury galactic cruiser. But I’m loathe to follow this space metaphor any longer; Black Deer may seem otherworldly but in fact it is quite grounded despite its alien appearance. Though it pulses with the energy of a thousand unseen suns, it is psychedelic sheen and grounded melodies keep it driving across the equator in search of earthly mystical sites of power rather than those of Hawking and Sagan. And that’s how I like it because I’m tired of the jet lag. I’m a road warrior and Burnett has given me the juice to hit the gas pedal and find my own fountain of youth. He’s delivered the diving gear to finally discover Atlantis. This is more than just an escape from reality, it’s the first in a hopeful serious of getting-back-in-touch with our world albums.

Black Deer - Black Deer [Peak Oil; 2013]

From the label that released a slightly ignored Liz Harris & Lawrence English collaboration album comes another sure to be under the radar effort from William Burnett. As Black Deer (this better be a parody name of all the color/animal names cluttering up Spotify playlists), Burnett has created an energetic, spastic piece of electronic prog that obliterates the overcrowded space synth crowd from their luxury galactic cruiser. But I’m loathe to follow this space metaphor any longer; Black Deer may seem otherworldly but in fact it is quite grounded despite its alien appearance. Though it pulses with the energy of a thousand unseen suns, it is psychedelic sheen and grounded melodies keep it driving across the equator in search of earthly mystical sites of power rather than those of Hawking and Sagan. And that’s how I like it because I’m tired of the jet lag. I’m a road warrior and Burnett has given me the juice to hit the gas pedal and find my own fountain of youth. He’s delivered the diving gear to finally discover Atlantis. This is more than just an escape from reality, it’s the first in a hopeful serious of getting-back-in-touch with our world albums.

Whales - Size and Scale [MIN; 2013]
The hyperbole of press clippings lead me to completely miss the point of Size and Scale upon the first few listens. They compared Whales to bands with little in common, dwarfing the band’s own prolific pop style. While not a band to wow on any given listen, over the course of time the band’s album warms to your own sensibilities. At times fluffy in its aims, others grimy and grungy –Size and Scale is ambitious as only a band without a label, without prospects, and without careers can be. All those high hopes and childish dreams wrapped up in a document well worth peddling. Don’t get lost in press clippings, just in the emotional highs and lows of a band–just like any other–working to breakthrough glass ceiling #1 on their way through the other 2,396 that await. There is no business behind Whales other than that of collecting their influences onto a circular obelisk for Victrola playback. It’s good and that’s what matters. Close your eyes to everything else.

Whales - Size and Scale [MIN; 2013]

The hyperbole of press clippings lead me to completely miss the point of Size and Scale upon the first few listens. They compared Whales to bands with little in common, dwarfing the band’s own prolific pop style. While not a band to wow on any given listen, over the course of time the band’s album warms to your own sensibilities. At times fluffy in its aims, others grimy and grungy –Size and Scale is ambitious as only a band without a label, without prospects, and without careers can be. All those high hopes and childish dreams wrapped up in a document well worth peddling. Don’t get lost in press clippings, just in the emotional highs and lows of a band–just like any other–working to breakthrough glass ceiling #1 on their way through the other 2,396 that await. There is no business behind Whales other than that of collecting their influences onto a circular obelisk for Victrola playback. It’s good and that’s what matters. Close your eyes to everything else.

Interview: Damon McMahon (Amen Dunes)
In interviewing Damon McMahon, I came to find that maybe we’re all taking him a little too seriously. Or perhaps not seriously enough?
Speaking with Tiny Mix Tapes shortly after returning from a European tour, McMahon talks about the influences informing his new album Spoiler (which you can purchase here), and how it was not only shaped by the writing and recording of his previous work but also how it seeped into the making of an upcoming record, which features members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Harvey Milk, and Iceage. Surprisingly, he’s also happy to speak about brotherly love and the sense of humor he hopes everyone realizes is hidden within each Amen Dunes release. You may have to dig for it, but it’s there…
How was the tour?
It was good. It was interesting all by myself in Europe, which is really nice. And the shows were really good. I played a bunch of new songs and the people were receptive. It was colorful, weird things happened. Undercover cops tried to arrest me for looking like a criminal in Rotterdam. That was interesting. I was jumped in Paris by a crack head. I got sent to the wrong city. The end of the tour was kind of crazy but overall being in Europe for a few days, you can’t beat it. The crowds were really nice and receptive.
Does touring reconfirm your commitment to writing and recording? Do you see it was part of a process?
I don’t see touring as part of the writing and recording but it does reaffirm my role in the world; a way of reaffirming my permanence. It’s the attitude I’m taking these days…
Was there anything before you decided to be a musician that makes you think, ‘I should have followed a different path’?
[Playing music] started really early for me, maybe 15 or 16. There wasn’t really too much before then. But if I had a parallel life I could have worked for the State Department.
Was it at 15 or 16 that you realized music was an outlet and something you wanted to explore further?
Yeah, it was beyond a hobby but I didn’t think of it professionally at that point. I kind of knew at the beginning that there was a deep well there and it would be a good resource down the road. It served a purpose.
Did you view music at that age as something personal? A way to get thoughts down?
I wasn’t really writing songs. I think I wrote my first song when I was 17, but even when I was just singing cover songs I remember it being almost inappropriately intimate and personal. If I was with a bunch of people they would be like, ‘Damon knows how to play these two songs,’ and I would bashfully pick up a guitar and play the song and [be] uncomfortably personal from the get-go.
How were you putting yourself in those songs?
I was playing for myself but I got such a great pleasure [from] singing song[s] and I wanted to share it. I was like, ‘Holy shit! Look what happens when I sing them.’ Then I quickly realized how personal it was and I started to become uncomfortable about it. When your 16 it’s easy to play a song for people, but as soon as I started writing my own songs I didn’t want to share them as much. From the beginning, even if they were shitty in the early days, they were so personal it was awkward, like being naked in front of people. If it was intimate in that way I’d rather not get naked.
Have those doubts been in your mind even as you’ve released albums?
No, because I feel like they’re sanctioned. The only time I feel comfortable being this revealing is when I’m acting as Amen Dunes. I feel comfortable performing because people are expecting that. And I feel comfortable recording because it’s the same deal. But if I’m hanging out with people in a friendly context and they say, ‘Play a song,’ I never want to do that. It’s uncomfortable, you know?
Why release Spoiler as an album? What’s the unifying thread?
I’ll tell you I was very happy that I decide[d] to release Spoiler as Amen Dunes. I have been listening to such a variety of music for so long. What I’ve been into is so weird and random, and it doesn’t ever really go together. There’s always been a musical part of me that’s never been able to get out, but every now and then I would let it out. The recordings were always more strange, and I didn’t think it was a rationale thing to include with Amen Dunes.
Spoiler includes stuff that was recorded as early as 2009. I was deliberating about it for a while. There’s a song called “The Night I Joined the Navy,” that was the earliest one. I recorded it during the Ethio Covers sessions. It was clear that that wasn’t going to fit so I put that aside. The next batch were done in the summer of 2010, which is when I was attempting to record Through Donkey Jaw. I went out to a house in Connecticut and brought my tape machine and it was just kind of fucked. The tape machine broke twice and it was a bummer of a summer. I was unable to get anything done, but several of the recordings are from those sessions — “Julius Eastman Under the Stairs,” “Last August,” “Da Law Did” — and then finally there were these random recordings from mixing through Through Donkey Jaw — “One White Eye, One Red Eye,” and “High Rise” — that were from the actual recording sessions.
Basically it was stuff that was too weird for me to include on Amen Dunes records. I was going to name a side project for these recordings because that was my cautious response, but I said fuck it. You know, Amen Dunes is just me and these recordings are as much a part of me as anything else, and who cares if people don’t like it? I’d rather, on my death bed, have done whatever is true to myself than to try and please people. I tried to get labels to put it out but everyone said this is too weird and no one’s going to buy this. So I decided to start my own label and put it out myself.
I don’t know if that answers your question and it’s sort of a long-winded response, but it was a side of me that I was never able to… I never had the courage to put it out there before.
You above-and-beyond answered the question.
One additional little thing: It’s a sharp left turn. Spoiler, after Through Donkey Jaw and Ethio Covers, when you hear the new record it’s totally different, sounds absolutely different. But I like that. I don’t want to be obvious and satisfy people easily. I don’t want to cater to that stuff. I wanted to do a record that would be risky; I was kind of hoping some people would hate this record. Not to be antagonistic but I wanted it to do whatever I wanted and to not pay too much attention to… you know… music press people.
You can insult me as much as you as want.
[Both laugh] No, no, no! I don’t mean you specifically but the broader umbrella organizations, you know?
What were the circumstances around some songs on Spoiler (such as “One White Eye, One Red Eye”) as problems mounted?
I was struggling. Through Donkey Jaw, as much as I love it, I couldn’t reconcile my pop self and my more experimental self. To be honest, it’s the one record I have some regrets about because I don’t feel like I committed to either. I love that record but I feel it was lost in between. Part of me wanted to do songs like “Baba Yaga,” “Lower Mind,” and “Bedroom Drum,” and other parts wanted to do songs like “Jill.” I was in that zone of let’s-just-experiment-now.
“One White Eye, One Red Eye” was inspired by Robert Ashley, and I was reading an Ionesco play. And I also wanted to be funny. Robert Ashley is so irreverent and so funny. I always wanted Amen Dunes to have a little bit of humor; it always has a little bit of humor and no one picks up on that. Every record has had a little bit of humor, at least to me. For this song I wanted to make a song that’s funny — wouldn’t it be fucked up to make a funny song? So that’s my funny song. Whether it comes across or not, I don’t know.
Is humor a part of your personality you’re going to carry on and display more?
No, I think it was a temporary detour. For the next album, not that it was insincere, but I don’t think I have time to do all that. I wanted to give it a chance to come out of the box. But the next record is way more serious. The next record is really fucking serious. Not serious in a dark, self-serious way but a sincere record and the heaviest one yet. There’s not a lot of humor on the new record.
Is there a particular reason you named a song after Julius Eastman? Is he a muse or someone whose work you relate to?
The only direct influences for that record were Julius Eastman and Robert Ashley, who in the last 4-5 years has been a real inspiration for me. He’s just really magical, powerful. What he does is truly incredible.
Eastman was an advance[d] American composer and I’m not. The reason I called it “Julius Eastman under the Stairs” is because it’s my bedroom version of a modern composition and I think that’s what all Amen Dunes stuff is; the honest, elemental version of anything that gets fed into my brain or my heart. Julius Eastman was an inspiration for that song. It was my backwards, kind of fucked-up version of Eastman.
Though he was an inspiration for that song, I wasn’t think of anything else for that record other than just being free. I had the privilege of talking to Neil Haggerty about this kind of thing a little while ago. His new record is inspired by Northern Mexican Norteño music. We were talking about influence and I totally agree: I don’t consciously try and incorporate ideas from influences. I think what happens is I get saturated by these things. I have been listening to the music that inspired Spoiler for years and it’s just in my bones and then it resonates something in me. Eastman is the only direct influence but I feel the record is just me after marinating in this other kind of music, if that makes sense.
I’ve been having a similar discussion about reconciling two or more parts of a personality, so I wonder how that effects the future of your new label, Perfect Lives, and Amen Dunes recordings that you feel are similar to the experimentation on Spoiler?
I think at this point I envision Perfect Lives as an outlet for my peers who haven’t gotten the recognition that I really admire.
Do you have anyone in mind?
Yeah, my brother, Xander Duell. He put a record out on Mexican Summer that, like Spoiler, was too weird and only sold like 10 copies. I actually dedicatedSpoiler to Xander. To me, he’s just the fucking master. He’s like the original, fucking authentic drug music with emotion and distortion kind of guy. I feel very similar to him. He’s the melodic, short-song version of me. So he did a bunch of experimental recordings over the course of a couple years and I have a vision of doing a box set.
Do you find your time in China still influences your music? Are you still pulling from personal experiences there and from the move back to America?
You know, I feel different environments are catalysts for me; whatever me is. China definitely brought out certain colors and feelings in me. I adore China, it’s a deep part of me. It was a tuning fork and certain environments resonated more strongly in me.
Is location impacting the new record?
I believe location… certain locations prompt more musical creation than others… and circumstances. For this record there’s a bunch of new songs I wrote at the end of a relationship. This record is not about that relationship specifically, but it’s prompted again by that circumstance. Most of the songs I wrote in New York — which for me is not the most stimulating place to write — but I think they were all stimulated because of the events of what I was going through.
How did Godspeed You! Black Emperor get involved with the new album?
They wrote us and asked us to tour with them last year. We went on tour and got to know them, got friendly with them, and then they just offered to record the record. They were really gracious and cool about it. We went up to Montreal and recorded at one studio called The Pines, and then we came back to Brooklyn and did some more, then went back up to Montreal for overdubs and recorded at Hotel2Tango.
Others who played on the record are just friends of mine. Stephen Tanner who plays in Harvey Milk and Elias [Bender Rønnenfelt], who is in Iceage, played on a couple of songs. And Xander [Duell] is also on the record.
Where Dia andThrough Donkey Jawfeel like the creation of one person, is the new album open to the ideas of the others?
Totally. This is the first time in my Amen Dunes life that I have ever really collaborated. I never needed to before, it was such a solitary practice. I don’t like to fuck around. I don’t like to play with people unless I really adore what they do, you know what I mean? I’ve been playing as a trio for a year-and-a-half to two years and decided, for the new record… I wondered what would happen if I let them in more. I write all the songs but there are a couple of songs that were re-written by the band.
Did you write with them in mind?
No, I would never do that. For me, it’s different if you’re some sort of improv, free-form thing. If you’re song- and guitar-based… my brother and I will sometimes call it the acoustic challenge. If you take all the crap away and just have the person play it on an acoustic it should feel good. I don’t actually apply that principle or test it to music but I think it’s inherent in the way I listen and the way I make people listen to music. The song’s got to be good at the core — melody and lyrics — for it to work for me. I really don’t want to write for other instruments because I would lose the song.
Is that how you work out a song, working first from an acoustic guitar, and adding as you go?
Spoiler was different because it was all improvisation. But for all the other Amen Dunes stuff, I have an acoustic that I write everything on. Then I bring it to the band and we’ll mess around with it. Rarely will it end up on a record as it started off.
Does the new record have a name?
It does but I can’t share it yet. Only one bandmate knows it. I’ll tell you what, I’m as excited by the album title as I am the music. Very excited by it.

Interview: Damon McMahon (Amen Dunes)

In interviewing Damon McMahon, I came to find that maybe we’re all taking him a little too seriously. Or perhaps not seriously enough?

Speaking with Tiny Mix Tapes shortly after returning from a European tour, McMahon talks about the influences informing his new album Spoiler (which you can purchase here), and how it was not only shaped by the writing and recording of his previous work but also how it seeped into the making of an upcoming record, which features members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Harvey Milk, and Iceage. Surprisingly, he’s also happy to speak about brotherly love and the sense of humor he hopes everyone realizes is hidden within each Amen Dunes release. You may have to dig for it, but it’s there…


How was the tour?

It was good. It was interesting all by myself in Europe, which is really nice. And the shows were really good. I played a bunch of new songs and the people were receptive. It was colorful, weird things happened. Undercover cops tried to arrest me for looking like a criminal in Rotterdam. That was interesting. I was jumped in Paris by a crack head. I got sent to the wrong city. The end of the tour was kind of crazy but overall being in Europe for a few days, you can’t beat it. The crowds were really nice and receptive.

Does touring reconfirm your commitment to writing and recording? Do you see it was part of a process?

I don’t see touring as part of the writing and recording but it does reaffirm my role in the world; a way of reaffirming my permanence. It’s the attitude I’m taking these days…

Was there anything before you decided to be a musician that makes you think, ‘I should have followed a different path’?

[Playing music] started really early for me, maybe 15 or 16. There wasn’t really too much before then. But if I had a parallel life I could have worked for the State Department.

Was it at 15 or 16 that you realized music was an outlet and something you wanted to explore further?

Yeah, it was beyond a hobby but I didn’t think of it professionally at that point. I kind of knew at the beginning that there was a deep well there and it would be a good resource down the road. It served a purpose.

Did you view music at that age as something personal? A way to get thoughts down?

I wasn’t really writing songs. I think I wrote my first song when I was 17, but even when I was just singing cover songs I remember it being almost inappropriately intimate and personal. If I was with a bunch of people they would be like, ‘Damon knows how to play these two songs,’ and I would bashfully pick up a guitar and play the song and [be] uncomfortably personal from the get-go.

How were you putting yourself in those songs?

I was playing for myself but I got such a great pleasure [from] singing song[s] and I wanted to share it. I was like, ‘Holy shit! Look what happens when I sing them.’ Then I quickly realized how personal it was and I started to become uncomfortable about it. When your 16 it’s easy to play a song for people, but as soon as I started writing my own songs I didn’t want to share them as much. From the beginning, even if they were shitty in the early days, they were so personal it was awkward, like being naked in front of people. If it was intimate in that way I’d rather not get naked.

Have those doubts been in your mind even as you’ve released albums?

No, because I feel like they’re sanctioned. The only time I feel comfortable being this revealing is when I’m acting as Amen Dunes. I feel comfortable performing because people are expecting that. And I feel comfortable recording because it’s the same deal. But if I’m hanging out with people in a friendly context and they say, ‘Play a song,’ I never want to do that. It’s uncomfortable, you know?

Why release Spoiler as an album? What’s the unifying thread?

I’ll tell you I was very happy that I decide[d] to release Spoiler as Amen Dunes. I have been listening to such a variety of music for so long. What I’ve been into is so weird and random, and it doesn’t ever really go together. There’s always been a musical part of me that’s never been able to get out, but every now and then I would let it out. The recordings were always more strange, and I didn’t think it was a rationale thing to include with Amen Dunes.

Spoiler includes stuff that was recorded as early as 2009. I was deliberating about it for a while. There’s a song called “The Night I Joined the Navy,” that was the earliest one. I recorded it during the Ethio Covers sessions. It was clear that that wasn’t going to fit so I put that aside. The next batch were done in the summer of 2010, which is when I was attempting to record Through Donkey Jaw. I went out to a house in Connecticut and brought my tape machine and it was just kind of fucked. The tape machine broke twice and it was a bummer of a summer. I was unable to get anything done, but several of the recordings are from those sessions — “Julius Eastman Under the Stairs,” “Last August,” “Da Law Did” — and then finally there were these random recordings from mixing through Through Donkey Jaw — “One White Eye, One Red Eye,” and “High Rise” — that were from the actual recording sessions.

Basically it was stuff that was too weird for me to include on Amen Dunes records. I was going to name a side project for these recordings because that was my cautious response, but I said fuck it. You know, Amen Dunes is just me and these recordings are as much a part of me as anything else, and who cares if people don’t like it? I’d rather, on my death bed, have done whatever is true to myself than to try and please people. I tried to get labels to put it out but everyone said this is too weird and no one’s going to buy this. So I decided to start my own label and put it out myself.

I don’t know if that answers your question and it’s sort of a long-winded response, but it was a side of me that I was never able to… I never had the courage to put it out there before.

You above-and-beyond answered the question.

One additional little thing: It’s a sharp left turn. Spoiler, after Through Donkey Jaw and Ethio Covers, when you hear the new record it’s totally different, sounds absolutely different. But I like that. I don’t want to be obvious and satisfy people easily. I don’t want to cater to that stuff. I wanted to do a record that would be risky; I was kind of hoping some people would hate this record. Not to be antagonistic but I wanted it to do whatever I wanted and to not pay too much attention to… you know… music press people.

You can insult me as much as you as want.

[Both laugh] No, no, no! I don’t mean you specifically but the broader umbrella organizations, you know?

What were the circumstances around some songs on Spoiler (such as “One White Eye, One Red Eye”) as problems mounted?

I was struggling. Through Donkey Jaw, as much as I love it, I couldn’t reconcile my pop self and my more experimental self. To be honest, it’s the one record I have some regrets about because I don’t feel like I committed to either. I love that record but I feel it was lost in between. Part of me wanted to do songs like “Baba Yaga,” “Lower Mind,” and “Bedroom Drum,” and other parts wanted to do songs like “Jill.” I was in that zone of let’s-just-experiment-now.

“One White Eye, One Red Eye” was inspired by Robert Ashley, and I was reading an Ionesco play. And I also wanted to be funny. Robert Ashley is so irreverent and so funny. I always wanted Amen Dunes to have a little bit of humor; it always has a little bit of humor and no one picks up on that. Every record has had a little bit of humor, at least to me. For this song I wanted to make a song that’s funny — wouldn’t it be fucked up to make a funny song? So that’s my funny song. Whether it comes across or not, I don’t know.

Is humor a part of your personality you’re going to carry on and display more?

No, I think it was a temporary detour. For the next album, not that it was insincere, but I don’t think I have time to do all that. I wanted to give it a chance to come out of the box. But the next record is way more serious. The next record is really fucking serious. Not serious in a dark, self-serious way but a sincere record and the heaviest one yet. There’s not a lot of humor on the new record.

Is there a particular reason you named a song after Julius Eastman? Is he a muse or someone whose work you relate to?

The only direct influences for that record were Julius Eastman and Robert Ashley, who in the last 4-5 years has been a real inspiration for me. He’s just really magical, powerful. What he does is truly incredible.

Eastman was an advance[d] American composer and I’m not. The reason I called it “Julius Eastman under the Stairs” is because it’s my bedroom version of a modern composition and I think that’s what all Amen Dunes stuff is; the honest, elemental version of anything that gets fed into my brain or my heart. Julius Eastman was an inspiration for that song. It was my backwards, kind of fucked-up version of Eastman.

Though he was an inspiration for that song, I wasn’t think of anything else for that record other than just being free. I had the privilege of talking to Neil Haggerty about this kind of thing a little while ago. His new record is inspired by Northern Mexican Norteño music. We were talking about influence and I totally agree: I don’t consciously try and incorporate ideas from influences. I think what happens is I get saturated by these things. I have been listening to the music that inspired Spoiler for years and it’s just in my bones and then it resonates something in me. Eastman is the only direct influence but I feel the record is just me after marinating in this other kind of music, if that makes sense.

I’ve been having a similar discussion about reconciling two or more parts of a personality, so I wonder how that effects the future of your new label, Perfect Lives, and Amen Dunes recordings that you feel are similar to the experimentation on Spoiler?

I think at this point I envision Perfect Lives as an outlet for my peers who haven’t gotten the recognition that I really admire.

Do you have anyone in mind?

Yeah, my brother, Xander Duell. He put a record out on Mexican Summer that, like Spoiler, was too weird and only sold like 10 copies. I actually dedicatedSpoiler to Xander. To me, he’s just the fucking master. He’s like the original, fucking authentic drug music with emotion and distortion kind of guy. I feel very similar to him. He’s the melodic, short-song version of me. So he did a bunch of experimental recordings over the course of a couple years and I have a vision of doing a box set.

Do you find your time in China still influences your music? Are you still pulling from personal experiences there and from the move back to America?

You know, I feel different environments are catalysts for me; whatever me is. China definitely brought out certain colors and feelings in me. I adore China, it’s a deep part of me. It was a tuning fork and certain environments resonated more strongly in me.

Is location impacting the new record?

I believe location… certain locations prompt more musical creation than others… and circumstances. For this record there’s a bunch of new songs I wrote at the end of a relationship. This record is not about that relationship specifically, but it’s prompted again by that circumstance. Most of the songs I wrote in New York — which for me is not the most stimulating place to write — but I think they were all stimulated because of the events of what I was going through.

How did Godspeed You! Black Emperor get involved with the new album?

They wrote us and asked us to tour with them last year. We went on tour and got to know them, got friendly with them, and then they just offered to record the record. They were really gracious and cool about it. We went up to Montreal and recorded at one studio called The Pines, and then we came back to Brooklyn and did some more, then went back up to Montreal for overdubs and recorded at Hotel2Tango.

Others who played on the record are just friends of mine. Stephen Tanner who plays in Harvey Milk and Elias [Bender Rønnenfelt], who is in Iceage, played on a couple of songs. And Xander [Duell] is also on the record.

Where Dia andThrough Donkey Jawfeel like the creation of one person, is the new album open to the ideas of the others?

Totally. This is the first time in my Amen Dunes life that I have ever really collaborated. I never needed to before, it was such a solitary practice. I don’t like to fuck around. I don’t like to play with people unless I really adore what they do, you know what I mean? I’ve been playing as a trio for a year-and-a-half to two years and decided, for the new record… I wondered what would happen if I let them in more. I write all the songs but there are a couple of songs that were re-written by the band.

Did you write with them in mind?

No, I would never do that. For me, it’s different if you’re some sort of improv, free-form thing. If you’re song- and guitar-based… my brother and I will sometimes call it the acoustic challenge. If you take all the crap away and just have the person play it on an acoustic it should feel good. I don’t actually apply that principle or test it to music but I think it’s inherent in the way I listen and the way I make people listen to music. The song’s got to be good at the core — melody and lyrics — for it to work for me. I really don’t want to write for other instruments because I would lose the song.

Is that how you work out a song, working first from an acoustic guitar, and adding as you go?

Spoiler was different because it was all improvisation. But for all the other Amen Dunes stuff, I have an acoustic that I write everything on. Then I bring it to the band and we’ll mess around with it. Rarely will it end up on a record as it started off.

Does the new record have a name?

It does but I can’t share it yet. Only one bandmate knows it. I’ll tell you what, I’m as excited by the album title as I am the music. Very excited by it.

Snacs - Swim Tape [Self-Released; 2013]
Elevator hell ride down the gaping mouth of pop. From a warped Minnie Riperton sample to magnetic field recordings in moments of odd tranquility, Josh Abramovici takes on the avant persona of Teddy Riley. Swim Tape is a soothing (but not TOO soothing) challenge of the mind and body. Abramovici provides the soul, heaping Afrocentric helpings of it. I find myself pressing all the buttons on the long trip, making sure to stop at each floor to browse before jumping back on the lift just as the doors threaten to trap me on the 7 1/2 floor. It’s my head, Abramovici, but I rarely travel inside it. I’d rather live the moment. So as I take one last deep breath to meet the devil, turns out that’s it’s just Tim Curry in a bitching outfit as Mia Sara seduces us both to the docile re-imaginings of 80s neo-soul. Is it Sade or Snacs – who gives a damn? The weather’s warm, the view is splendid, and I have an eternal mixtape to remember what it was like to have a soul before Abramovici stole it and used it as music.

Snacs - Swim Tape [Self-Released; 2013]

Elevator hell ride down the gaping mouth of pop. From a warped Minnie Riperton sample to magnetic field recordings in moments of odd tranquility, Josh Abramovici takes on the avant persona of Teddy Riley. Swim Tape is a soothing (but not TOO soothing) challenge of the mind and body. Abramovici provides the soul, heaping Afrocentric helpings of it. I find myself pressing all the buttons on the long trip, making sure to stop at each floor to browse before jumping back on the lift just as the doors threaten to trap me on the 7 1/2 floor. It’s my head, Abramovici, but I rarely travel inside it. I’d rather live the moment. So as I take one last deep breath to meet the devil, turns out that’s it’s just Tim Curry in a bitching outfit as Mia Sara seduces us both to the docile re-imaginings of 80s neo-soul. Is it Sade or Snacs – who gives a damn? The weather’s warm, the view is splendid, and I have an eternal mixtape to remember what it was like to have a soul before Abramovici stole it and used it as music.

Circuit Des Yeux - Overdue [Self-Released; 2013]
For a woman mature well ahead of her age, Haley Fohr has long dwelled in the muck of emotion and come out better for it. It’s served her well in previous iterations, but with Overdue, Fohr sheds the pretense of youthful angst for hard boiled redemption.
The sorrowful sparkle of the first few notes of “Nova 88” does more to prove Fohr’s evolution from teenage prodigy into a woman unafraid of fight or flight. “Nova 88” is both confident and fragile—that need to run from hurt but embracing it as a growing pain. Plainly speaking, the song serves as a mantra to Fohr’s post-collegiate experience of leaving a small college town for Chicago. The downer turned flower.
Overdue, an album Fohr has unabashedly labeled “the story of my life aka the story of your life,” is indeed a familiar path. The idyllic build of “Bud and Gin,” before the angels turn into demons; the somber reality “Some Day” ruthlessly etches; the isolated pacing of “Acarina” – it’s all too close to the cut. A pile of salt in the wounds. But when you are older, you know that pain to be life. You can’t avoid it because it becomes a part of pleasurable experiences—cooking, eating, creating—and this is the lesson Fohr has captured throughout Overdue. It’s something only learned as age advances but once again, we’re left astonished to be remembered of this simple fact by someone so young.

Circuit Des Yeux - Overdue [Self-Released; 2013]

For a woman mature well ahead of her age, Haley Fohr has long dwelled in the muck of emotion and come out better for it. It’s served her well in previous iterations, but with Overdue, Fohr sheds the pretense of youthful angst for hard boiled redemption.

The sorrowful sparkle of the first few notes of “Nova 88” does more to prove Fohr’s evolution from teenage prodigy into a woman unafraid of fight or flight. “Nova 88” is both confident and fragile—that need to run from hurt but embracing it as a growing pain. Plainly speaking, the song serves as a mantra to Fohr’s post-collegiate experience of leaving a small college town for Chicago. The downer turned flower.

Overdue, an album Fohr has unabashedly labeled “the story of my life aka the story of your life,” is indeed a familiar path. The idyllic build of “Bud and Gin,” before the angels turn into demons; the somber reality “Some Day” ruthlessly etches; the isolated pacing of “Acarina” – it’s all too close to the cut. A pile of salt in the wounds. But when you are older, you know that pain to be life. You can’t avoid it because it becomes a part of pleasurable experiences—cooking, eating, creating—and this is the lesson Fohr has captured throughout Overdue. It’s something only learned as age advances but once again, we’re left astonished to be remembered of this simple fact by someone so young.

Juche - Juche [Drone Warfare; 2014]
In the span of a 60 Minutes feature, drones have transformed from frightening machines bent on privacy invasion and destruction of the Axis into getting our online shopping fix in 30 minutes or less. Considering the middle ground home to three-piece Juche. Where consumerism delight and chaotic espionage intersect is where the band’s Drone Warfare released self-titled exists. A place hacking contemporary melody for intelligence purposes, before reshaping it into popular culture spies to test the marketplace for interest beyond typical E! fodder. Juche embodies a style of attack tackling what is currently accepted and what could be accepted, if only delivered in a cute but potentially vengeful package. Juche is broken neon lights, wafts of nostalgic tinges from rolled down car windows and loud radios, and the beautifully wasted energy of youth. The only bombs dropped from this are revelatory: those “if I knew then what I know now” missives. But you’re never too old and Juche is never too beholden to ideas of the past. So order the tape, having it delivered unmanned via the current, and countdown as you press play for an explosion that will lead to a utopia of consumer delights rather than a dystopia of carnal devolution.

Juche - Juche [Drone Warfare; 2014]

In the span of a 60 Minutes feature, drones have transformed from frightening machines bent on privacy invasion and destruction of the Axis into getting our online shopping fix in 30 minutes or less. Considering the middle ground home to three-piece Juche. Where consumerism delight and chaotic espionage intersect is where the band’s Drone Warfare released self-titled exists. A place hacking contemporary melody for intelligence purposes, before reshaping it into popular culture spies to test the marketplace for interest beyond typical E! fodder. Juche embodies a style of attack tackling what is currently accepted and what could be accepted, if only delivered in a cute but potentially vengeful package. Juche is broken neon lights, wafts of nostalgic tinges from rolled down car windows and loud radios, and the beautifully wasted energy of youth. The only bombs dropped from this are revelatory: those “if I knew then what I know now” missives. But you’re never too old and Juche is never too beholden to ideas of the past. So order the tape, having it delivered unmanned via the current, and countdown as you press play for an explosion that will lead to a utopia of consumer delights rather than a dystopia of carnal devolution.

Chris Zabriskie - Cylinders [Self-Released; 2014]
The best music is that which is meant to be free. No barrier, no cost, and no strings. It has long been the principle of composer and experimentalist Chris Zabriskie, but only now in a world with a tumultuous media landscape can we truly appreciate the gift of art without a tax.
Zabriskie’s move toward the likes of Cage, Riley, and Glass grows with his latest free offering,Cylinders. Nine delicate pieces that build upon each other, frozen in time and space. This is not the first time this path has been traversed; 2012’s excellent Undercover Vampire Policeman an equally stunning, albeit more traditional compositional, flirted with his growing piano repertoire. But with Cylinders, Zabriskie enters the land of Sean McCann, Matthew Sullivan and recent contemporaries that have moved toward minimalism and neo-classicism rather than the rad, broad strokes of 60s and 70s futurism.
But Cylinders is not beholden to any place or time. In a time when breaking new musical ground is an obstacle all its own, Zabriskie manages to poke his head through the formidable ceiling. Though its inspiration is cherry picked from the many names dropped upon this page, there’s still a uniqueness to the glassy melodies of Cylinders. It expands like modern drone but isn’t concerned with elongated breaths; it gives from for silence but doesn’t not seek it as musical companion; it is Baroque but not at the cost of current listening habits. There’s always a bit of borrowing in music to achieve progress; where many outright copy, Zabriskie avoids it where he can and adapts where he must.
The only bad perpetuated by Cylinders is that it is truly free. Without money, art can’t be promoted. It’s why Zabriskie has continued to exist shrouded from his peers rather than recognized beside them. Maybe that’s his goal – to be separate rather than to be corrupted.Cylinders has no mark or pox by which it is scarred; free from the constraints of expectation. Free of money; free of sin; free with conscious.

Chris Zabriskie - Cylinders [Self-Released; 2014]

The best music is that which is meant to be free. No barrier, no cost, and no strings. It has long been the principle of composer and experimentalist Chris Zabriskie, but only now in a world with a tumultuous media landscape can we truly appreciate the gift of art without a tax.

Zabriskie’s move toward the likes of Cage, Riley, and Glass grows with his latest free offering,Cylinders. Nine delicate pieces that build upon each other, frozen in time and space. This is not the first time this path has been traversed; 2012’s excellent Undercover Vampire Policeman an equally stunning, albeit more traditional compositional, flirted with his growing piano repertoire. But with Cylinders, Zabriskie enters the land of Sean McCann, Matthew Sullivan and recent contemporaries that have moved toward minimalism and neo-classicism rather than the rad, broad strokes of 60s and 70s futurism.

But Cylinders is not beholden to any place or time. In a time when breaking new musical ground is an obstacle all its own, Zabriskie manages to poke his head through the formidable ceiling. Though its inspiration is cherry picked from the many names dropped upon this page, there’s still a uniqueness to the glassy melodies of Cylinders. It expands like modern drone but isn’t concerned with elongated breaths; it gives from for silence but doesn’t not seek it as musical companion; it is Baroque but not at the cost of current listening habits. There’s always a bit of borrowing in music to achieve progress; where many outright copy, Zabriskie avoids it where he can and adapts where he must.

The only bad perpetuated by Cylinders is that it is truly free. Without money, art can’t be promoted. It’s why Zabriskie has continued to exist shrouded from his peers rather than recognized beside them. Maybe that’s his goal – to be separate rather than to be corrupted.Cylinders has no mark or pox by which it is scarred; free from the constraints of expectation. Free of money; free of sin; free with conscious.

Enumclaw - Holographic Headdress [Sacred Phrases; 2013]
The fascination Sacred Phrases carries for projects-named-for-cities-you’ve-never-visited continues with the Riley-esque Enumclaw. It’s as strong a draw as my putting-unnecessary-hyphens-in-reviews. Perhaps we both need rehab, but not before smoking the last crack rock of Holographic Headdress. Unlike the inspiration behind the beautifully design minimalism of HH’s cover, there’s a bit more going on between the spaces. Even if it’s just the faint sound of falling water or the residual hum of a synthesizer note, there’s always a sound to catch your attention. Not that Enumclaw doesn’t allow these compositions time to relax, they just seem to shine brighter when there’s a continuation of point and counterpoint.
I want to make some elaborate joke about zonez or waves, but it’ll only diminish how elegant this tape is front-to-back. Artists adapting little known towns as their pseudonym > Artists using states and big cities as names.

Enumclaw - Holographic Headdress [Sacred Phrases; 2013]

The fascination Sacred Phrases carries for projects-named-for-cities-you’ve-never-visited continues with the Riley-esque Enumclaw. It’s as strong a draw as my putting-unnecessary-hyphens-in-reviews. Perhaps we both need rehab, but not before smoking the last crack rock of Holographic Headdress. Unlike the inspiration behind the beautifully design minimalism of HH’s cover, there’s a bit more going on between the spaces. Even if it’s just the faint sound of falling water or the residual hum of a synthesizer note, there’s always a sound to catch your attention. Not that Enumclaw doesn’t allow these compositions time to relax, they just seem to shine brighter when there’s a continuation of point and counterpoint.

I want to make some elaborate joke about zonez or waves, but it’ll only diminish how elegant this tape is front-to-back. Artists adapting little known towns as their pseudonym > Artists using states and big cities as names.

Raw McCartney - Introducing Raw McCartney [Tripp Tapes; 2013]
Like the tail of a turd caught at the rim of your asshole, the sushi sounds of the uncooked, but hardly vegan Raw McCartney hits your New Year’s punch bowl. You’ve culled your lists, you’ve checked them twice, but it’s likely you’ll the coal-into-diamonds scat that is Introducing… will make you rethink your selective numbering system. It was late to the party and already drunk. So what? Lists were made to be flimsy and the devolution of Indiana’s “garage” rock is now worth the crash. It was only frozen sherbet and orange juice; it needed this spike. The minds behind Raw McCartney, unlike those of other verbal name plays, have taken psychedelic rock back, further than the first prehistoric rumble of dinosaur-chasing-Biblical man. This is meat from the bone, working its way through your innards at a disruptive pace. No amount of antacids can quell this grumbling belly. It echos and sways with your every bloated waddle until you find yourself crashing the bash, anus firmly planted above the fruity drink platter. And it plops and fizzes with each sweet release. Your thought your Top 25 list was done but now you’re going to have to suffer through a revised edition. Raw McCartney may be the stumble bum you’d rather not deal with in the midst of your New Year’s resolution but we all have problems bubbling up. At least this one came as soon as it did, so you can be better prepared for the scatological disaster of 2015.

Raw McCartney - Introducing Raw McCartney [Tripp Tapes; 2013]

Like the tail of a turd caught at the rim of your asshole, the sushi sounds of the uncooked, but hardly vegan Raw McCartney hits your New Year’s punch bowl. You’ve culled your lists, you’ve checked them twice, but it’s likely you’ll the coal-into-diamonds scat that is Introducing… will make you rethink your selective numbering system. It was late to the party and already drunk. So what? Lists were made to be flimsy and the devolution of Indiana’s “garage” rock is now worth the crash. It was only frozen sherbet and orange juice; it needed this spike. The minds behind Raw McCartney, unlike those of other verbal name plays, have taken psychedelic rock back, further than the first prehistoric rumble of dinosaur-chasing-Biblical man. This is meat from the bone, working its way through your innards at a disruptive pace. No amount of antacids can quell this grumbling belly. It echos and sways with your every bloated waddle until you find yourself crashing the bash, anus firmly planted above the fruity drink platter. And it plops and fizzes with each sweet release. Your thought your Top 25 list was done but now you’re going to have to suffer through a revised edition. Raw McCartney may be the stumble bum you’d rather not deal with in the midst of your New Year’s resolution but we all have problems bubbling up. At least this one came as soon as it did, so you can be better prepared for the scatological disaster of 2015.

Heinz Riegler - SLEEP HEALTH [A Guide to Saints; 2013]
If you have yet to check out the blonde-headed stepchild to Room 40, meet A Guide to Saints and their cavalcade of cassettes. The beautiful plastic casings, forgoing J-cards for a simpler and more effective artistic imprint; equally eye-pleasing cassettes that harmonize or contrast their casings for powerful Gestalt idealism – it’s all very art school dropout and yet, highly functional use of materials and typography that is lost in a world of collages and dystopian drawings.
The same is true for Riegler’s SLEEP HEALTH, a careful curation of the duality of good spirits and bad distractions A-side “Health” is a twinkle of chimes and buzzards; plucks playing a clock that is ticking toward decay. Time begins a slow drip that becomes a cascade of years and failing memories. “Sleep” seems more apropos as a metaphor for death than as the act of rejuvenation. Twisted bows meet taught strings as Hades plays you across Styx. But yours is not an eternity of damnation but that of reward. We’ve all sinned, given up ourselves and our faculties to forces we choose not to control. As our health fades, our dream stasis begins. Sleep is not something to be feared, it’s something to long for over the course of decades of living to best of one’s abilities. Do not covet what your neighbor has, but cherish what you have earned. Which, for now, is this tape from Riegler that you should carry with you like your lucky charm and your I.D.

Heinz Riegler - SLEEP HEALTH [A Guide to Saints; 2013]

If you have yet to check out the blonde-headed stepchild to Room 40, meet A Guide to Saints and their cavalcade of cassettes. The beautiful plastic casings, forgoing J-cards for a simpler and more effective artistic imprint; equally eye-pleasing cassettes that harmonize or contrast their casings for powerful Gestalt idealism – it’s all very art school dropout and yet, highly functional use of materials and typography that is lost in a world of collages and dystopian drawings.

The same is true for Riegler’s SLEEP HEALTH, a careful curation of the duality of good spirits and bad distractions A-side “Health” is a twinkle of chimes and buzzards; plucks playing a clock that is ticking toward decay. Time begins a slow drip that becomes a cascade of years and failing memories. “Sleep” seems more apropos as a metaphor for death than as the act of rejuvenation. Twisted bows meet taught strings as Hades plays you across Styx. But yours is not an eternity of damnation but that of reward. We’ve all sinned, given up ourselves and our faculties to forces we choose not to control. As our health fades, our dream stasis begins. Sleep is not something to be feared, it’s something to long for over the course of decades of living to best of one’s abilities. Do not covet what your neighbor has, but cherish what you have earned. Which, for now, is this tape from Riegler that you should carry with you like your lucky charm and your I.D.

William Clay Martin - Sadler [Self-Released; 2013]
There’s an internal migration. The American Romes crumble in the face of changing economic and sociopolitical tides. We are dividing ourselves in the pursuit of cultural congeniality. We’d rather cover our faces and plug our ears to any dissenting opinion or false idol of morality. We are no longer one unified country but one gerrymandered by any characteristic deemed different than those we wish to pursue. Are liberal, free-thinking communities really as open-minded as they claim? Maybe back wood haunts and conservative strongholds are no longer the closed-off meccas of ignorance and hate many believe them to be? The deck is reshuffling and among the redistricted ruins is Sadler, capturing the dynamism of a country that is ripping itself apart just to sew its bare threads back together. Doomsdayers and eternal optimists out of syncopation and yet in total harmony. We’re all running from each other, back into each other’s embrace. We can keep building walls and stacking rules but yet we bring the sledgehammer to them all in the end. In division we find unity, a trait that is not lost on Sadler and its opposites-attract philosophy.

William Clay Martin - Sadler [Self-Released; 2013]

There’s an internal migration. The American Romes crumble in the face of changing economic and sociopolitical tides. We are dividing ourselves in the pursuit of cultural congeniality. We’d rather cover our faces and plug our ears to any dissenting opinion or false idol of morality. We are no longer one unified country but one gerrymandered by any characteristic deemed different than those we wish to pursue. Are liberal, free-thinking communities really as open-minded as they claim? Maybe back wood haunts and conservative strongholds are no longer the closed-off meccas of ignorance and hate many believe them to be? The deck is reshuffling and among the redistricted ruins is Sadler, capturing the dynamism of a country that is ripping itself apart just to sew its bare threads back together. Doomsdayers and eternal optimists out of syncopation and yet in total harmony. We’re all running from each other, back into each other’s embrace. We can keep building walls and stacking rules but yet we bring the sledgehammer to them all in the end. In division we find unity, a trait that is not lost on Sadler and its opposites-attract philosophy.

Vaadat Charigim - The World is Well Lost [Burger/Warm Ratio; 2013]
So rarely has the veil between now and the past been so thin. The wormhole has opened, funneling forgotten and neglected sounds into our future. I’m sure this was covered on Fringe or some alternate JJ Abrams timeline. For a sound refresher, look no further than The World is Well Lost, a sad, shoegazing look backward (or downward). Though slight rattles of Interpol circa 2002 are rattling throughout Vaadat Charigim’s breakthrough (and that’s what this is – a band a world away creating music a generation removed), there’s plenty of Ride, Catherine Wheel, and New Order touchstones to make it seem more than just a decade’s retelling of the a singular moment in the resurgence of New York City cool. This is NOT that and we should be thankful. And for all its familiar influences, it also is removed from being a carbon copy of a genre emerging from stasis. The Tel Aviv band may not be breaking new ground in melody but certainly are returning to an emotional state that seems appropriate for a world repeating prior mistakes of sour economics, heightened emotions, and tense histrionics. While those without the psychological capacity to invoke change and accept reality turn to trollop pop idols, Vaadat Charigim exist on the realm of the other movement: revisionism. We’ve visited the pop 80s, now we turn to its seedier side as well as the grungy underbelly of 90s grit. It’s not a PG world despite rating systems and parental controls to the contrary. The World is Well Lost but that doesn’t mean we can’t find it. Let’s begin here and see where we end up.

Vaadat Charigim - The World is Well Lost [Burger/Warm Ratio; 2013]

So rarely has the veil between now and the past been so thin. The wormhole has opened, funneling forgotten and neglected sounds into our future. I’m sure this was covered on Fringe or some alternate JJ Abrams timeline. For a sound refresher, look no further than The World is Well Lost, a sad, shoegazing look backward (or downward). Though slight rattles of Interpol circa 2002 are rattling throughout Vaadat Charigim’s breakthrough (and that’s what this is – a band a world away creating music a generation removed), there’s plenty of Ride, Catherine Wheel, and New Order touchstones to make it seem more than just a decade’s retelling of the a singular moment in the resurgence of New York City cool. This is NOT that and we should be thankful. And for all its familiar influences, it also is removed from being a carbon copy of a genre emerging from stasis. The Tel Aviv band may not be breaking new ground in melody but certainly are returning to an emotional state that seems appropriate for a world repeating prior mistakes of sour economics, heightened emotions, and tense histrionics. While those without the psychological capacity to invoke change and accept reality turn to trollop pop idols, Vaadat Charigim exist on the realm of the other movement: revisionism. We’ve visited the pop 80s, now we turn to its seedier side as well as the grungy underbelly of 90s grit. It’s not a PG world despite rating systems and parental controls to the contrary. The World is Well Lost but that doesn’t mean we can’t find it. Let’s begin here and see where we end up.

Agitated Atmosphere: Favorite Albums of 2013
It’s that time of year, as everyone begins to cart out their lists of album you MUST listen to. This is not so forceful. If you’re reading this, you’re likely an adventurous listener already so why apply a tone of such urgency?
As AA does every year, there will be a separate column pertaining to favorite cassettes of 2013, but for now let’s focus on favorite non-tape albums of 2013. Notice the use of the word “favorite” rather than “best,” since music’s a communal experience and better left to inclusion rather than force fed listens with Alex and the droogs.If you require a lengthier list, you can find it slowly unveiling itself via Twitter. For now, the top of my favorites in no particular order, broken into two simple categories:
Those Covered within Agitated Atmosphere
These albums are no secrets, having been discussed and dissected on these very pages. Released at the beginning of the year, very few albums had the visceral power and allure ofThee Open Sex’s self-titled full-length.
Bathetic was label of the year in AA land as both Earn and Lee Noble released stunners on the limitless imprint.
AA would be remised not to mention Haley Fohr. As Circuit Des Yeux, Fohr continues to brave new territory in musical truths; Overdue being her most splayed and earnest release yet.
Those Not Covered within Agitated Atmosphere
1990s refugees such as Mark Lanegan (with Duke Garwood), My Bloody Valentine, and Medicine, and Mazzy Star all created albums worth gushing about, let’s reserve most of our praise for some other strangeness.
Pan American’s Cloud Room, Glass Room was an aural delight; a meditation on embracing the hum of the city and recognizing it as a living, breathing form of music. Instruments replacing harried cars and commuters but the effect still as jarring and soothing. Can I Go Home Nowfrom Belgium’s Ignatz is his most rustic work. It’s oddly Americana with its rural back porch appropriation and yet, there’s a sense of worldly wise to its content that is missing in Western folk. Ex-Yellow Swan Gabriel Salomon dropped a late year surprise in Soldier’s Requiem, an album as militant and heart wrenching as its title implicates. But this is not mid-2000s hard rock grab at a USO tour but a brilliant soundtrack to the hardships and truths of the soldier’s life—wherever they may be and whatever war (real or imaginary) they must fight.
This year AA was introduced to Lucrecia Dalt via two slightly different but equally engaging albums: Commotus and Syzygy. Sarah Lipstate, AKA Noveller, further honed her droned-based compositions throughout No Dreams, which expands with each listen.
As always, when your friends, neighbors, or the local curmudgeon speaks about no good music in [fill in the year], kick them in the shin and direct them to the nearest non-chain record store. Tell them to read [fill in the blog] and listen without prejudice. 2013 was a great year and AA was challenged to narrow down a length list into a few artists and albums worth highlighting.

Agitated Atmosphere: Favorite Albums of 2013

It’s that time of year, as everyone begins to cart out their lists of album you MUST listen to. This is not so forceful. If you’re reading this, you’re likely an adventurous listener already so why apply a tone of such urgency?

As AA does every year, there will be a separate column pertaining to favorite cassettes of 2013, but for now let’s focus on favorite non-tape albums of 2013. Notice the use of the word “favorite” rather than “best,” since music’s a communal experience and better left to inclusion rather than force fed listens with Alex and the droogs.

If you require a lengthier list, you can find it slowly unveiling itself via Twitter. For now, the top of my favorites in no particular order, broken into two simple categories:

Those Covered within Agitated Atmosphere

These albums are no secrets, having been discussed and dissected on these very pages. Released at the beginning of the year, very few albums had the visceral power and allure ofThee Open Sex’s self-titled full-length.

Bathetic was label of the year in AA land as both Earn and Lee Noble released stunners on the limitless imprint.

AA would be remised not to mention Haley Fohr. As Circuit Des Yeux, Fohr continues to brave new territory in musical truths; Overdue being her most splayed and earnest release yet.

Those Not Covered within Agitated Atmosphere

1990s refugees such as Mark Lanegan (with Duke Garwood), My Bloody Valentine, and Medicine, and Mazzy Star all created albums worth gushing about, let’s reserve most of our praise for some other strangeness.

Pan American’s Cloud Room, Glass Room was an aural delight; a meditation on embracing the hum of the city and recognizing it as a living, breathing form of music. Instruments replacing harried cars and commuters but the effect still as jarring and soothing. Can I Go Home Nowfrom Belgium’s Ignatz is his most rustic work. It’s oddly Americana with its rural back porch appropriation and yet, there’s a sense of worldly wise to its content that is missing in Western folk. Ex-Yellow Swan Gabriel Salomon dropped a late year surprise in Soldier’s Requiem, an album as militant and heart wrenching as its title implicates. But this is not mid-2000s hard rock grab at a USO tour but a brilliant soundtrack to the hardships and truths of the soldier’s life—wherever they may be and whatever war (real or imaginary) they must fight.

This year AA was introduced to Lucrecia Dalt via two slightly different but equally engaging albums: Commotus and Syzygy. Sarah Lipstate, AKA Noveller, further honed her droned-based compositions throughout No Dreams, which expands with each listen.

As always, when your friends, neighbors, or the local curmudgeon speaks about no good music in [fill in the year], kick them in the shin and direct them to the nearest non-chain record store. Tell them to read [fill in the blog] and listen without prejudice. 2013 was a great year and AA was challenged to narrow down a length list into a few artists and albums worth highlighting.

ssleeperhold - Ruleth [Holodeck; 2013]
The driving drum and clatter introduction of Ruleth reminds me of the urban gothic subcultural, best brought to American audience through old John Carpenter films and the work of Xander Harris. It’s a genre littered with posed moments of horror and anxiety but somehow ssleeperhold make it a positive experience rather than a nightmarish chase in which we run slower and slower until the clock or a palpitation wakes us. The 70s and 80s are all over Ruleth–but not in the Big Bang Boom of tossed aside demographic catering. This rings of a lost childhood, one where Freddy Krueger is the hero, eliminating the youthful minds of treasonous, doubting children in a world that needs optimism. It’s a happy grim, where there is no moral or fleshy decay, just a horror figure (pick your favorite) doing what is right to correct the course of a planet tilting toward disaster. We could have eliminated big hair caused by chlorofluorocarbons in hair spray. We could have stifled the industrial military complex. We could have seen Weekend at Bernie’s as the early battle cry in support of reanimation. ssleeperhold is all of that wrapped up in a Sandman’s worth of crusty eye flakes. The world could have been better had we only picked up a machete of love and whacked away the weeds of [Andrew] McCarthyism 20 years ago.

ssleeperhold - Ruleth [Holodeck; 2013]

The driving drum and clatter introduction of Ruleth reminds me of the urban gothic subcultural, best brought to American audience through old John Carpenter films and the work of Xander Harris. It’s a genre littered with posed moments of horror and anxiety but somehow ssleeperhold make it a positive experience rather than a nightmarish chase in which we run slower and slower until the clock or a palpitation wakes us. The 70s and 80s are all over Ruleth–but not in the Big Bang Boom of tossed aside demographic catering. This rings of a lost childhood, one where Freddy Krueger is the hero, eliminating the youthful minds of treasonous, doubting children in a world that needs optimism. It’s a happy grim, where there is no moral or fleshy decay, just a horror figure (pick your favorite) doing what is right to correct the course of a planet tilting toward disaster. We could have eliminated big hair caused by chlorofluorocarbons in hair spray. We could have stifled the industrial military complex. We could have seen Weekend at Bernie’s as the early battle cry in support of reanimation. ssleeperhold is all of that wrapped up in a Sandman’s worth of crusty eye flakes. The world could have been better had we only picked up a machete of love and whacked away the weeds of [Andrew] McCarthyism 20 years ago.

Black Deer - Black Deer [Peak Oil; 2013]
From the label that released a slightly ignored Liz Harris & Lawrence English collaboration album comes another sure to be under the radar effort from William Burnett. As Black Deer (this better be a parody name of all the color/animal names cluttering up Spotify playlists), Burnett has created an energetic, spastic piece of electronic prog that obliterates the overcrowded space synth crowd from their luxury galactic cruiser. But I’m loathe to follow this space metaphor any longer; Black Deer may seem otherworldly but in fact it is quite grounded despite its alien appearance. Though it pulses with the energy of a thousand unseen suns, it is psychedelic sheen and grounded melodies keep it driving across the equator in search of earthly mystical sites of power rather than those of Hawking and Sagan. And that’s how I like it because I’m tired of the jet lag. I’m a road warrior and Burnett has given me the juice to hit the gas pedal and find my own fountain of youth. He’s delivered the diving gear to finally discover Atlantis. This is more than just an escape from reality, it’s the first in a hopeful serious of getting-back-in-touch with our world albums.

Black Deer - Black Deer [Peak Oil; 2013]

From the label that released a slightly ignored Liz Harris & Lawrence English collaboration album comes another sure to be under the radar effort from William Burnett. As Black Deer (this better be a parody name of all the color/animal names cluttering up Spotify playlists), Burnett has created an energetic, spastic piece of electronic prog that obliterates the overcrowded space synth crowd from their luxury galactic cruiser. But I’m loathe to follow this space metaphor any longer; Black Deer may seem otherworldly but in fact it is quite grounded despite its alien appearance. Though it pulses with the energy of a thousand unseen suns, it is psychedelic sheen and grounded melodies keep it driving across the equator in search of earthly mystical sites of power rather than those of Hawking and Sagan. And that’s how I like it because I’m tired of the jet lag. I’m a road warrior and Burnett has given me the juice to hit the gas pedal and find my own fountain of youth. He’s delivered the diving gear to finally discover Atlantis. This is more than just an escape from reality, it’s the first in a hopeful serious of getting-back-in-touch with our world albums.

Whales - Size and Scale [MIN; 2013]
The hyperbole of press clippings lead me to completely miss the point of Size and Scale upon the first few listens. They compared Whales to bands with little in common, dwarfing the band’s own prolific pop style. While not a band to wow on any given listen, over the course of time the band’s album warms to your own sensibilities. At times fluffy in its aims, others grimy and grungy –Size and Scale is ambitious as only a band without a label, without prospects, and without careers can be. All those high hopes and childish dreams wrapped up in a document well worth peddling. Don’t get lost in press clippings, just in the emotional highs and lows of a band–just like any other–working to breakthrough glass ceiling #1 on their way through the other 2,396 that await. There is no business behind Whales other than that of collecting their influences onto a circular obelisk for Victrola playback. It’s good and that’s what matters. Close your eyes to everything else.

Whales - Size and Scale [MIN; 2013]

The hyperbole of press clippings lead me to completely miss the point of Size and Scale upon the first few listens. They compared Whales to bands with little in common, dwarfing the band’s own prolific pop style. While not a band to wow on any given listen, over the course of time the band’s album warms to your own sensibilities. At times fluffy in its aims, others grimy and grungy –Size and Scale is ambitious as only a band without a label, without prospects, and without careers can be. All those high hopes and childish dreams wrapped up in a document well worth peddling. Don’t get lost in press clippings, just in the emotional highs and lows of a band–just like any other–working to breakthrough glass ceiling #1 on their way through the other 2,396 that await. There is no business behind Whales other than that of collecting their influences onto a circular obelisk for Victrola playback. It’s good and that’s what matters. Close your eyes to everything else.

Interview: Damon McMahon (Amen Dunes)
In interviewing Damon McMahon, I came to find that maybe we’re all taking him a little too seriously. Or perhaps not seriously enough?
Speaking with Tiny Mix Tapes shortly after returning from a European tour, McMahon talks about the influences informing his new album Spoiler (which you can purchase here), and how it was not only shaped by the writing and recording of his previous work but also how it seeped into the making of an upcoming record, which features members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Harvey Milk, and Iceage. Surprisingly, he’s also happy to speak about brotherly love and the sense of humor he hopes everyone realizes is hidden within each Amen Dunes release. You may have to dig for it, but it’s there…
How was the tour?
It was good. It was interesting all by myself in Europe, which is really nice. And the shows were really good. I played a bunch of new songs and the people were receptive. It was colorful, weird things happened. Undercover cops tried to arrest me for looking like a criminal in Rotterdam. That was interesting. I was jumped in Paris by a crack head. I got sent to the wrong city. The end of the tour was kind of crazy but overall being in Europe for a few days, you can’t beat it. The crowds were really nice and receptive.
Does touring reconfirm your commitment to writing and recording? Do you see it was part of a process?
I don’t see touring as part of the writing and recording but it does reaffirm my role in the world; a way of reaffirming my permanence. It’s the attitude I’m taking these days…
Was there anything before you decided to be a musician that makes you think, ‘I should have followed a different path’?
[Playing music] started really early for me, maybe 15 or 16. There wasn’t really too much before then. But if I had a parallel life I could have worked for the State Department.
Was it at 15 or 16 that you realized music was an outlet and something you wanted to explore further?
Yeah, it was beyond a hobby but I didn’t think of it professionally at that point. I kind of knew at the beginning that there was a deep well there and it would be a good resource down the road. It served a purpose.
Did you view music at that age as something personal? A way to get thoughts down?
I wasn’t really writing songs. I think I wrote my first song when I was 17, but even when I was just singing cover songs I remember it being almost inappropriately intimate and personal. If I was with a bunch of people they would be like, ‘Damon knows how to play these two songs,’ and I would bashfully pick up a guitar and play the song and [be] uncomfortably personal from the get-go.
How were you putting yourself in those songs?
I was playing for myself but I got such a great pleasure [from] singing song[s] and I wanted to share it. I was like, ‘Holy shit! Look what happens when I sing them.’ Then I quickly realized how personal it was and I started to become uncomfortable about it. When your 16 it’s easy to play a song for people, but as soon as I started writing my own songs I didn’t want to share them as much. From the beginning, even if they were shitty in the early days, they were so personal it was awkward, like being naked in front of people. If it was intimate in that way I’d rather not get naked.
Have those doubts been in your mind even as you’ve released albums?
No, because I feel like they’re sanctioned. The only time I feel comfortable being this revealing is when I’m acting as Amen Dunes. I feel comfortable performing because people are expecting that. And I feel comfortable recording because it’s the same deal. But if I’m hanging out with people in a friendly context and they say, ‘Play a song,’ I never want to do that. It’s uncomfortable, you know?
Why release Spoiler as an album? What’s the unifying thread?
I’ll tell you I was very happy that I decide[d] to release Spoiler as Amen Dunes. I have been listening to such a variety of music for so long. What I’ve been into is so weird and random, and it doesn’t ever really go together. There’s always been a musical part of me that’s never been able to get out, but every now and then I would let it out. The recordings were always more strange, and I didn’t think it was a rationale thing to include with Amen Dunes.
Spoiler includes stuff that was recorded as early as 2009. I was deliberating about it for a while. There’s a song called “The Night I Joined the Navy,” that was the earliest one. I recorded it during the Ethio Covers sessions. It was clear that that wasn’t going to fit so I put that aside. The next batch were done in the summer of 2010, which is when I was attempting to record Through Donkey Jaw. I went out to a house in Connecticut and brought my tape machine and it was just kind of fucked. The tape machine broke twice and it was a bummer of a summer. I was unable to get anything done, but several of the recordings are from those sessions — “Julius Eastman Under the Stairs,” “Last August,” “Da Law Did” — and then finally there were these random recordings from mixing through Through Donkey Jaw — “One White Eye, One Red Eye,” and “High Rise” — that were from the actual recording sessions.
Basically it was stuff that was too weird for me to include on Amen Dunes records. I was going to name a side project for these recordings because that was my cautious response, but I said fuck it. You know, Amen Dunes is just me and these recordings are as much a part of me as anything else, and who cares if people don’t like it? I’d rather, on my death bed, have done whatever is true to myself than to try and please people. I tried to get labels to put it out but everyone said this is too weird and no one’s going to buy this. So I decided to start my own label and put it out myself.
I don’t know if that answers your question and it’s sort of a long-winded response, but it was a side of me that I was never able to… I never had the courage to put it out there before.
You above-and-beyond answered the question.
One additional little thing: It’s a sharp left turn. Spoiler, after Through Donkey Jaw and Ethio Covers, when you hear the new record it’s totally different, sounds absolutely different. But I like that. I don’t want to be obvious and satisfy people easily. I don’t want to cater to that stuff. I wanted to do a record that would be risky; I was kind of hoping some people would hate this record. Not to be antagonistic but I wanted it to do whatever I wanted and to not pay too much attention to… you know… music press people.
You can insult me as much as you as want.
[Both laugh] No, no, no! I don’t mean you specifically but the broader umbrella organizations, you know?
What were the circumstances around some songs on Spoiler (such as “One White Eye, One Red Eye”) as problems mounted?
I was struggling. Through Donkey Jaw, as much as I love it, I couldn’t reconcile my pop self and my more experimental self. To be honest, it’s the one record I have some regrets about because I don’t feel like I committed to either. I love that record but I feel it was lost in between. Part of me wanted to do songs like “Baba Yaga,” “Lower Mind,” and “Bedroom Drum,” and other parts wanted to do songs like “Jill.” I was in that zone of let’s-just-experiment-now.
“One White Eye, One Red Eye” was inspired by Robert Ashley, and I was reading an Ionesco play. And I also wanted to be funny. Robert Ashley is so irreverent and so funny. I always wanted Amen Dunes to have a little bit of humor; it always has a little bit of humor and no one picks up on that. Every record has had a little bit of humor, at least to me. For this song I wanted to make a song that’s funny — wouldn’t it be fucked up to make a funny song? So that’s my funny song. Whether it comes across or not, I don’t know.
Is humor a part of your personality you’re going to carry on and display more?
No, I think it was a temporary detour. For the next album, not that it was insincere, but I don’t think I have time to do all that. I wanted to give it a chance to come out of the box. But the next record is way more serious. The next record is really fucking serious. Not serious in a dark, self-serious way but a sincere record and the heaviest one yet. There’s not a lot of humor on the new record.
Is there a particular reason you named a song after Julius Eastman? Is he a muse or someone whose work you relate to?
The only direct influences for that record were Julius Eastman and Robert Ashley, who in the last 4-5 years has been a real inspiration for me. He’s just really magical, powerful. What he does is truly incredible.
Eastman was an advance[d] American composer and I’m not. The reason I called it “Julius Eastman under the Stairs” is because it’s my bedroom version of a modern composition and I think that’s what all Amen Dunes stuff is; the honest, elemental version of anything that gets fed into my brain or my heart. Julius Eastman was an inspiration for that song. It was my backwards, kind of fucked-up version of Eastman.
Though he was an inspiration for that song, I wasn’t think of anything else for that record other than just being free. I had the privilege of talking to Neil Haggerty about this kind of thing a little while ago. His new record is inspired by Northern Mexican Norteño music. We were talking about influence and I totally agree: I don’t consciously try and incorporate ideas from influences. I think what happens is I get saturated by these things. I have been listening to the music that inspired Spoiler for years and it’s just in my bones and then it resonates something in me. Eastman is the only direct influence but I feel the record is just me after marinating in this other kind of music, if that makes sense.
I’ve been having a similar discussion about reconciling two or more parts of a personality, so I wonder how that effects the future of your new label, Perfect Lives, and Amen Dunes recordings that you feel are similar to the experimentation on Spoiler?
I think at this point I envision Perfect Lives as an outlet for my peers who haven’t gotten the recognition that I really admire.
Do you have anyone in mind?
Yeah, my brother, Xander Duell. He put a record out on Mexican Summer that, like Spoiler, was too weird and only sold like 10 copies. I actually dedicatedSpoiler to Xander. To me, he’s just the fucking master. He’s like the original, fucking authentic drug music with emotion and distortion kind of guy. I feel very similar to him. He’s the melodic, short-song version of me. So he did a bunch of experimental recordings over the course of a couple years and I have a vision of doing a box set.
Do you find your time in China still influences your music? Are you still pulling from personal experiences there and from the move back to America?
You know, I feel different environments are catalysts for me; whatever me is. China definitely brought out certain colors and feelings in me. I adore China, it’s a deep part of me. It was a tuning fork and certain environments resonated more strongly in me.
Is location impacting the new record?
I believe location… certain locations prompt more musical creation than others… and circumstances. For this record there’s a bunch of new songs I wrote at the end of a relationship. This record is not about that relationship specifically, but it’s prompted again by that circumstance. Most of the songs I wrote in New York — which for me is not the most stimulating place to write — but I think they were all stimulated because of the events of what I was going through.
How did Godspeed You! Black Emperor get involved with the new album?
They wrote us and asked us to tour with them last year. We went on tour and got to know them, got friendly with them, and then they just offered to record the record. They were really gracious and cool about it. We went up to Montreal and recorded at one studio called The Pines, and then we came back to Brooklyn and did some more, then went back up to Montreal for overdubs and recorded at Hotel2Tango.
Others who played on the record are just friends of mine. Stephen Tanner who plays in Harvey Milk and Elias [Bender Rønnenfelt], who is in Iceage, played on a couple of songs. And Xander [Duell] is also on the record.
Where Dia andThrough Donkey Jawfeel like the creation of one person, is the new album open to the ideas of the others?
Totally. This is the first time in my Amen Dunes life that I have ever really collaborated. I never needed to before, it was such a solitary practice. I don’t like to fuck around. I don’t like to play with people unless I really adore what they do, you know what I mean? I’ve been playing as a trio for a year-and-a-half to two years and decided, for the new record… I wondered what would happen if I let them in more. I write all the songs but there are a couple of songs that were re-written by the band.
Did you write with them in mind?
No, I would never do that. For me, it’s different if you’re some sort of improv, free-form thing. If you’re song- and guitar-based… my brother and I will sometimes call it the acoustic challenge. If you take all the crap away and just have the person play it on an acoustic it should feel good. I don’t actually apply that principle or test it to music but I think it’s inherent in the way I listen and the way I make people listen to music. The song’s got to be good at the core — melody and lyrics — for it to work for me. I really don’t want to write for other instruments because I would lose the song.
Is that how you work out a song, working first from an acoustic guitar, and adding as you go?
Spoiler was different because it was all improvisation. But for all the other Amen Dunes stuff, I have an acoustic that I write everything on. Then I bring it to the band and we’ll mess around with it. Rarely will it end up on a record as it started off.
Does the new record have a name?
It does but I can’t share it yet. Only one bandmate knows it. I’ll tell you what, I’m as excited by the album title as I am the music. Very excited by it.

Interview: Damon McMahon (Amen Dunes)

In interviewing Damon McMahon, I came to find that maybe we’re all taking him a little too seriously. Or perhaps not seriously enough?

Speaking with Tiny Mix Tapes shortly after returning from a European tour, McMahon talks about the influences informing his new album Spoiler (which you can purchase here), and how it was not only shaped by the writing and recording of his previous work but also how it seeped into the making of an upcoming record, which features members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Harvey Milk, and Iceage. Surprisingly, he’s also happy to speak about brotherly love and the sense of humor he hopes everyone realizes is hidden within each Amen Dunes release. You may have to dig for it, but it’s there…


How was the tour?

It was good. It was interesting all by myself in Europe, which is really nice. And the shows were really good. I played a bunch of new songs and the people were receptive. It was colorful, weird things happened. Undercover cops tried to arrest me for looking like a criminal in Rotterdam. That was interesting. I was jumped in Paris by a crack head. I got sent to the wrong city. The end of the tour was kind of crazy but overall being in Europe for a few days, you can’t beat it. The crowds were really nice and receptive.

Does touring reconfirm your commitment to writing and recording? Do you see it was part of a process?

I don’t see touring as part of the writing and recording but it does reaffirm my role in the world; a way of reaffirming my permanence. It’s the attitude I’m taking these days…

Was there anything before you decided to be a musician that makes you think, ‘I should have followed a different path’?

[Playing music] started really early for me, maybe 15 or 16. There wasn’t really too much before then. But if I had a parallel life I could have worked for the State Department.

Was it at 15 or 16 that you realized music was an outlet and something you wanted to explore further?

Yeah, it was beyond a hobby but I didn’t think of it professionally at that point. I kind of knew at the beginning that there was a deep well there and it would be a good resource down the road. It served a purpose.

Did you view music at that age as something personal? A way to get thoughts down?

I wasn’t really writing songs. I think I wrote my first song when I was 17, but even when I was just singing cover songs I remember it being almost inappropriately intimate and personal. If I was with a bunch of people they would be like, ‘Damon knows how to play these two songs,’ and I would bashfully pick up a guitar and play the song and [be] uncomfortably personal from the get-go.

How were you putting yourself in those songs?

I was playing for myself but I got such a great pleasure [from] singing song[s] and I wanted to share it. I was like, ‘Holy shit! Look what happens when I sing them.’ Then I quickly realized how personal it was and I started to become uncomfortable about it. When your 16 it’s easy to play a song for people, but as soon as I started writing my own songs I didn’t want to share them as much. From the beginning, even if they were shitty in the early days, they were so personal it was awkward, like being naked in front of people. If it was intimate in that way I’d rather not get naked.

Have those doubts been in your mind even as you’ve released albums?

No, because I feel like they’re sanctioned. The only time I feel comfortable being this revealing is when I’m acting as Amen Dunes. I feel comfortable performing because people are expecting that. And I feel comfortable recording because it’s the same deal. But if I’m hanging out with people in a friendly context and they say, ‘Play a song,’ I never want to do that. It’s uncomfortable, you know?

Why release Spoiler as an album? What’s the unifying thread?

I’ll tell you I was very happy that I decide[d] to release Spoiler as Amen Dunes. I have been listening to such a variety of music for so long. What I’ve been into is so weird and random, and it doesn’t ever really go together. There’s always been a musical part of me that’s never been able to get out, but every now and then I would let it out. The recordings were always more strange, and I didn’t think it was a rationale thing to include with Amen Dunes.

Spoiler includes stuff that was recorded as early as 2009. I was deliberating about it for a while. There’s a song called “The Night I Joined the Navy,” that was the earliest one. I recorded it during the Ethio Covers sessions. It was clear that that wasn’t going to fit so I put that aside. The next batch were done in the summer of 2010, which is when I was attempting to record Through Donkey Jaw. I went out to a house in Connecticut and brought my tape machine and it was just kind of fucked. The tape machine broke twice and it was a bummer of a summer. I was unable to get anything done, but several of the recordings are from those sessions — “Julius Eastman Under the Stairs,” “Last August,” “Da Law Did” — and then finally there were these random recordings from mixing through Through Donkey Jaw — “One White Eye, One Red Eye,” and “High Rise” — that were from the actual recording sessions.

Basically it was stuff that was too weird for me to include on Amen Dunes records. I was going to name a side project for these recordings because that was my cautious response, but I said fuck it. You know, Amen Dunes is just me and these recordings are as much a part of me as anything else, and who cares if people don’t like it? I’d rather, on my death bed, have done whatever is true to myself than to try and please people. I tried to get labels to put it out but everyone said this is too weird and no one’s going to buy this. So I decided to start my own label and put it out myself.

I don’t know if that answers your question and it’s sort of a long-winded response, but it was a side of me that I was never able to… I never had the courage to put it out there before.

You above-and-beyond answered the question.

One additional little thing: It’s a sharp left turn. Spoiler, after Through Donkey Jaw and Ethio Covers, when you hear the new record it’s totally different, sounds absolutely different. But I like that. I don’t want to be obvious and satisfy people easily. I don’t want to cater to that stuff. I wanted to do a record that would be risky; I was kind of hoping some people would hate this record. Not to be antagonistic but I wanted it to do whatever I wanted and to not pay too much attention to… you know… music press people.

You can insult me as much as you as want.

[Both laugh] No, no, no! I don’t mean you specifically but the broader umbrella organizations, you know?

What were the circumstances around some songs on Spoiler (such as “One White Eye, One Red Eye”) as problems mounted?

I was struggling. Through Donkey Jaw, as much as I love it, I couldn’t reconcile my pop self and my more experimental self. To be honest, it’s the one record I have some regrets about because I don’t feel like I committed to either. I love that record but I feel it was lost in between. Part of me wanted to do songs like “Baba Yaga,” “Lower Mind,” and “Bedroom Drum,” and other parts wanted to do songs like “Jill.” I was in that zone of let’s-just-experiment-now.

“One White Eye, One Red Eye” was inspired by Robert Ashley, and I was reading an Ionesco play. And I also wanted to be funny. Robert Ashley is so irreverent and so funny. I always wanted Amen Dunes to have a little bit of humor; it always has a little bit of humor and no one picks up on that. Every record has had a little bit of humor, at least to me. For this song I wanted to make a song that’s funny — wouldn’t it be fucked up to make a funny song? So that’s my funny song. Whether it comes across or not, I don’t know.

Is humor a part of your personality you’re going to carry on and display more?

No, I think it was a temporary detour. For the next album, not that it was insincere, but I don’t think I have time to do all that. I wanted to give it a chance to come out of the box. But the next record is way more serious. The next record is really fucking serious. Not serious in a dark, self-serious way but a sincere record and the heaviest one yet. There’s not a lot of humor on the new record.

Is there a particular reason you named a song after Julius Eastman? Is he a muse or someone whose work you relate to?

The only direct influences for that record were Julius Eastman and Robert Ashley, who in the last 4-5 years has been a real inspiration for me. He’s just really magical, powerful. What he does is truly incredible.

Eastman was an advance[d] American composer and I’m not. The reason I called it “Julius Eastman under the Stairs” is because it’s my bedroom version of a modern composition and I think that’s what all Amen Dunes stuff is; the honest, elemental version of anything that gets fed into my brain or my heart. Julius Eastman was an inspiration for that song. It was my backwards, kind of fucked-up version of Eastman.

Though he was an inspiration for that song, I wasn’t think of anything else for that record other than just being free. I had the privilege of talking to Neil Haggerty about this kind of thing a little while ago. His new record is inspired by Northern Mexican Norteño music. We were talking about influence and I totally agree: I don’t consciously try and incorporate ideas from influences. I think what happens is I get saturated by these things. I have been listening to the music that inspired Spoiler for years and it’s just in my bones and then it resonates something in me. Eastman is the only direct influence but I feel the record is just me after marinating in this other kind of music, if that makes sense.

I’ve been having a similar discussion about reconciling two or more parts of a personality, so I wonder how that effects the future of your new label, Perfect Lives, and Amen Dunes recordings that you feel are similar to the experimentation on Spoiler?

I think at this point I envision Perfect Lives as an outlet for my peers who haven’t gotten the recognition that I really admire.

Do you have anyone in mind?

Yeah, my brother, Xander Duell. He put a record out on Mexican Summer that, like Spoiler, was too weird and only sold like 10 copies. I actually dedicatedSpoiler to Xander. To me, he’s just the fucking master. He’s like the original, fucking authentic drug music with emotion and distortion kind of guy. I feel very similar to him. He’s the melodic, short-song version of me. So he did a bunch of experimental recordings over the course of a couple years and I have a vision of doing a box set.

Do you find your time in China still influences your music? Are you still pulling from personal experiences there and from the move back to America?

You know, I feel different environments are catalysts for me; whatever me is. China definitely brought out certain colors and feelings in me. I adore China, it’s a deep part of me. It was a tuning fork and certain environments resonated more strongly in me.

Is location impacting the new record?

I believe location… certain locations prompt more musical creation than others… and circumstances. For this record there’s a bunch of new songs I wrote at the end of a relationship. This record is not about that relationship specifically, but it’s prompted again by that circumstance. Most of the songs I wrote in New York — which for me is not the most stimulating place to write — but I think they were all stimulated because of the events of what I was going through.

How did Godspeed You! Black Emperor get involved with the new album?

They wrote us and asked us to tour with them last year. We went on tour and got to know them, got friendly with them, and then they just offered to record the record. They were really gracious and cool about it. We went up to Montreal and recorded at one studio called The Pines, and then we came back to Brooklyn and did some more, then went back up to Montreal for overdubs and recorded at Hotel2Tango.

Others who played on the record are just friends of mine. Stephen Tanner who plays in Harvey Milk and Elias [Bender Rønnenfelt], who is in Iceage, played on a couple of songs. And Xander [Duell] is also on the record.

Where Dia andThrough Donkey Jawfeel like the creation of one person, is the new album open to the ideas of the others?

Totally. This is the first time in my Amen Dunes life that I have ever really collaborated. I never needed to before, it was such a solitary practice. I don’t like to fuck around. I don’t like to play with people unless I really adore what they do, you know what I mean? I’ve been playing as a trio for a year-and-a-half to two years and decided, for the new record… I wondered what would happen if I let them in more. I write all the songs but there are a couple of songs that were re-written by the band.

Did you write with them in mind?

No, I would never do that. For me, it’s different if you’re some sort of improv, free-form thing. If you’re song- and guitar-based… my brother and I will sometimes call it the acoustic challenge. If you take all the crap away and just have the person play it on an acoustic it should feel good. I don’t actually apply that principle or test it to music but I think it’s inherent in the way I listen and the way I make people listen to music. The song’s got to be good at the core — melody and lyrics — for it to work for me. I really don’t want to write for other instruments because I would lose the song.

Is that how you work out a song, working first from an acoustic guitar, and adding as you go?

Spoiler was different because it was all improvisation. But for all the other Amen Dunes stuff, I have an acoustic that I write everything on. Then I bring it to the band and we’ll mess around with it. Rarely will it end up on a record as it started off.

Does the new record have a name?

It does but I can’t share it yet. Only one bandmate knows it. I’ll tell you what, I’m as excited by the album title as I am the music. Very excited by it.

Snacs - Swim Tape [Self-Released; 2013]
Elevator hell ride down the gaping mouth of pop. From a warped Minnie Riperton sample to magnetic field recordings in moments of odd tranquility, Josh Abramovici takes on the avant persona of Teddy Riley. Swim Tape is a soothing (but not TOO soothing) challenge of the mind and body. Abramovici provides the soul, heaping Afrocentric helpings of it. I find myself pressing all the buttons on the long trip, making sure to stop at each floor to browse before jumping back on the lift just as the doors threaten to trap me on the 7 1/2 floor. It’s my head, Abramovici, but I rarely travel inside it. I’d rather live the moment. So as I take one last deep breath to meet the devil, turns out that’s it’s just Tim Curry in a bitching outfit as Mia Sara seduces us both to the docile re-imaginings of 80s neo-soul. Is it Sade or Snacs – who gives a damn? The weather’s warm, the view is splendid, and I have an eternal mixtape to remember what it was like to have a soul before Abramovici stole it and used it as music.

Snacs - Swim Tape [Self-Released; 2013]

Elevator hell ride down the gaping mouth of pop. From a warped Minnie Riperton sample to magnetic field recordings in moments of odd tranquility, Josh Abramovici takes on the avant persona of Teddy Riley. Swim Tape is a soothing (but not TOO soothing) challenge of the mind and body. Abramovici provides the soul, heaping Afrocentric helpings of it. I find myself pressing all the buttons on the long trip, making sure to stop at each floor to browse before jumping back on the lift just as the doors threaten to trap me on the 7 1/2 floor. It’s my head, Abramovici, but I rarely travel inside it. I’d rather live the moment. So as I take one last deep breath to meet the devil, turns out that’s it’s just Tim Curry in a bitching outfit as Mia Sara seduces us both to the docile re-imaginings of 80s neo-soul. Is it Sade or Snacs – who gives a damn? The weather’s warm, the view is splendid, and I have an eternal mixtape to remember what it was like to have a soul before Abramovici stole it and used it as music.

Circuit Des Yeux - Overdue [Self-Released; 2013]
For a woman mature well ahead of her age, Haley Fohr has long dwelled in the muck of emotion and come out better for it. It’s served her well in previous iterations, but with Overdue, Fohr sheds the pretense of youthful angst for hard boiled redemption.
The sorrowful sparkle of the first few notes of “Nova 88” does more to prove Fohr’s evolution from teenage prodigy into a woman unafraid of fight or flight. “Nova 88” is both confident and fragile—that need to run from hurt but embracing it as a growing pain. Plainly speaking, the song serves as a mantra to Fohr’s post-collegiate experience of leaving a small college town for Chicago. The downer turned flower.
Overdue, an album Fohr has unabashedly labeled “the story of my life aka the story of your life,” is indeed a familiar path. The idyllic build of “Bud and Gin,” before the angels turn into demons; the somber reality “Some Day” ruthlessly etches; the isolated pacing of “Acarina” – it’s all too close to the cut. A pile of salt in the wounds. But when you are older, you know that pain to be life. You can’t avoid it because it becomes a part of pleasurable experiences—cooking, eating, creating—and this is the lesson Fohr has captured throughout Overdue. It’s something only learned as age advances but once again, we’re left astonished to be remembered of this simple fact by someone so young.

Circuit Des Yeux - Overdue [Self-Released; 2013]

For a woman mature well ahead of her age, Haley Fohr has long dwelled in the muck of emotion and come out better for it. It’s served her well in previous iterations, but with Overdue, Fohr sheds the pretense of youthful angst for hard boiled redemption.

The sorrowful sparkle of the first few notes of “Nova 88” does more to prove Fohr’s evolution from teenage prodigy into a woman unafraid of fight or flight. “Nova 88” is both confident and fragile—that need to run from hurt but embracing it as a growing pain. Plainly speaking, the song serves as a mantra to Fohr’s post-collegiate experience of leaving a small college town for Chicago. The downer turned flower.

Overdue, an album Fohr has unabashedly labeled “the story of my life aka the story of your life,” is indeed a familiar path. The idyllic build of “Bud and Gin,” before the angels turn into demons; the somber reality “Some Day” ruthlessly etches; the isolated pacing of “Acarina” – it’s all too close to the cut. A pile of salt in the wounds. But when you are older, you know that pain to be life. You can’t avoid it because it becomes a part of pleasurable experiences—cooking, eating, creating—and this is the lesson Fohr has captured throughout Overdue. It’s something only learned as age advances but once again, we’re left astonished to be remembered of this simple fact by someone so young.

About:

Justin Spicer is a pop culture critic, writer and editor. He manages Tiny Mix Tapes' Cerberus section. He has written columns for KEXP, Ad Hoc, Impose, and SSG Music. His work has been published by The Village Voice, Brainwashed, and extinct websites and print publications across the globe. This website is a collection of many of Justin's articles, reviews, and features. You can contact him via the links in the side menu or ignore all of this completely.

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