All of us at Perfect Circuit have lately been working from home—and we've found that our reduced commute time and embrace of social distancing have given us more time in the day than we typically have available. As such, we've been figuring out what to do with all the new hours in each day: playing with new software, figuring out fun patch tricks, taking time to make new music, and more.
And of course, we've been finding more time than usual for listening to music. While it's something that is obviously very important to us, finding time to explore new artists, to catch up on new releases, and to hunt down things you've never heard before can be difficult when you're caught in a routine—but luckily, given the recent change to our own routines, we've been able to spend way more time sitting down and enjoying the process of listening. A few of us put together a list of albums we've been enjoying recently—some well-known, and some from more obscure independent artists. So here are some thoughts and some sounds—hopefully you'll find something inspiring and new.
Pop-Infused Grindcore: Melt-Banana Fetch
Selected by Ryan G.: I have recently been peeking my head out of the world of electronic music, taking a nostalgic look back at some of my prior influences from the world of math rock, noise rock, and grindcore. By revisiting the music of groups like Tera Melos, Deerhoof, John Zorn, Mr. Bungle, the Flying Luttenbachers, the Locust, and others, I stumbled back across a band that I never quite got into: the noise rock duo Melt-Banana. And perhaps I never quite caught onto them because I lacked the perspective that they sort of combined aspects of all the other music that I loved at the time: a blistering energy, clever integration of sound manipulation, and an almost comedic, playful deployment of sound rather than just notes as a core part of their musical makeup.
Records like 1998's Charlie deeply explore frenetic, grindcore-style blasts and spastic song structures, with a distinct focus on aggressive, ear-bending sound manipulation: howls and screeches abound, with smatterings of almost indiscernible animated guitar textures sitting between blistering drums and relentlessly-delivered vocals. Later works like Bambi's Dilemma maintain Melt-Banana's patently high energy levels, but shift to a much more melodic approach not unlike high-energy punk, using less overt and intense effect processing in favor of more traditional (yet still entertaining) song structures.
Lately I've been poring over Melt-Banana's latest full-length album, 2013's Fetch. In many ways, this album synthesizes the somewhat disparate approaches of their last several albums: it maintains the relatively approachable angle explored in Bambi's Dilemma, only a bit tighter overall, and keeps peculiar processed guitar textures and glitches nearby all the way. Fetch is a bizarre collection of songs that range from almost radio-ready rock to by-the-seat-of-your-pants rhythms and short, sputtery guitar loops that should serve as an excellent introduction to this bizarre band's remarkable music.
Hyperactive Maximalist Pop: 1000 Gecs by 100 Gecs
Selected by Naomi M.: Composed of Dylan Brady and Laura Les, 1000 Gecs is the first full length album as 100 Gecs, a follow up to an EP released in 2016. With a liberal dose of auto-tune and everything from metalcore growls and dubstep breakdowns to energetic electronic ska, top 40's EDM, and pop punk, this hyperactive duo reinvents what pop music can be at the beginning of the 2020's. At only 23 minutes in length, this romp through a collage of popular music over the last 15 years offers a brief glimpse at the inner workings of Brady and Les' mind. Produced by sending Logic stems back and forth between Chicago and LA, it's a testament to what digital collaboration looks like in the 21st century.
The maximalist song structures touch on a variety of topics from horse racing to your crush's specialized ringtone. On the second track, Money Machine, Laura Les taunts an unnamed target "You talk a lot of big game for someone with such a small truck." That sense of absurd in-your-face confidence runs through the album but is also mixed with the awkward anxiety of being a product of the internet era. This ADHD pop is made for that generation, raised on p2p file sharing programs, AOL chat rooms, and sugary breakfast cereal, the hyperkinetic beats propel the listener to the musical equivalent of scrolling through an eclectic social media feed.
With a remix album whose name has been constantly changing, and the promise of a new album of the horizon, 2020 is shaping up to be a busy year for 100 Gecs.
Glitchy Future Folk Hymnal? Holly Herndon's PROTO
Selected by Ryan G: For years, Holly Herndon's work has visibly and outspokenly explored the relationship between humans and computers. Her earlier works and performance techniques have explicitly mined the highly personal interactions between a person and their own computer, leveraging a sense of all of the emotional extensions our computers allow us: easy and constant interaction with a world outside us, to a point that the machine becomes a direct extension of the way we present ourselves in the world. Our digital personae are, after all, not unlike cyborg-like appendages, enabling us to exist with an augmented sense of self removed from our direct state of being.
I became familiar with Herndon's work with the release of 2012's Movement, which like the rest of Herndon's work blends rhythmic dance music sensibilities with extensive sonic experimentation, turning her voice into splintered textures which flock and disperse into continuously shifting glitch rhythms and scattered gestures. Movement and the later Platform are masterful works in their own right, equally accessible to academic laptop musicians and club-going dance music enthusiasts alike.
2019's PROTO, though, is something a bit different. While it does obviously continue Herndon's exploration of the intimate and inescapably human relationship with the sound of voice, many its tracks take on a more textural, atmospheric quality than some of her earlier releases. Tracks like "Extreme Love" explore science fiction future narratives about the interconnectedness of humans and machines, while tracks like "Frontier" clearly evoke the style of traditional American shape-note singing. Despite its heavy reliance on electronic processing (and its co-composition with an AI which Herndon named Spawn), PROTO offers an almost folk-like perspective on humans' interactions with technology...as if it came from a simple, rustic future in which close relationships with communities of other humans and the digital world are both a given.
Electronic Folk Rock: Mid-Air Thief's Crumbling
Selected by Jacob J: In the early spring of 2019, I had just finished repairing a broken Tascam four-track and began incorporating it into my music-making and production processes. Not long after, I was having a discussion with a good friend of mine about the joys and struggles of working with tape, and they said there was an album I should check out, as it featured an assortment of synthesizers, clever guitar playing, and intimate production reminiscent of cassette-based production–all things I am quite fond of.
Korean artist Mid-Air Thief has been active since the early 2010s, beginning primarily as a singer-songwriter in a style blending elements of folk and rock. His first album released in 2015, released as a self-titled effort under his then-pseudonym Public Morality, was already quite the display of spectacular musicianship. Blending catchy melodies with linear songforms, this album also showcases delicate processing and layering of acoustic guitar and vocal parts, becoming something of a stylistic trait found in Mid-Air Thief's music.
With the release of Crumbling in 2018, Mid-Air Thief showed a full embrace of electronics as an expanded element of his sonic palette. Not just a stylistic continuation of his previous record, this album is an excellent example of both juggling and blending genres with masterful grace. This is proven just within the first two minutes of the opening track "Why?" as the introductory synth gives way to a soft, intimate verse of guitar and vocals, slowly building up into a bright interlude infused with Gameboy-esque synth arpeggios and electronic drums. The entire record is a showcase of this delicate dance between styles, with a track like "These Chains" retaining much of Mid-Air Thief's folk-rock roots, whereas the first third of "Curve and Light" is practically a certified synthpop track. As someone whose taste in music shifts around constantly, Crumbling is an album I keep coming back to over and over again, as it offers something for fans of any combination of folk, rock, and electronic music.
Otoacoustic Stormclouds: Thomas Ankersmit's Homage
Selected by Ryan G: I was lucky to participate in a week-long workshop with Thomas Ankersmit in early 2015—at which point I was first becoming acquainted with the Serge Modular ecosystem. Though I had been using modular synthesizers already for a couple of years (and synthesizers in general for far longer), the Serge system was, for the most part, a mystery. Despite having regular access to a Serge instrument, it at the time seemed to be hiding its many secrets behind unfamiliar labels: Slope Generators, Smooth/Stepped Function Generators, Active Processors, and Wave Multipliers did not immediately seem to imply any particular purpose, and as such, I mostly stuck with patching oscillators, filters, and VCAs as you might with any conventional modular synth. Ankersmit, though, quickly demystified the many ways the Serge's idiosyncratic modules can be used—and in the course of doing so, deeply challenged my own approach to music making altogether.
Ankersmit is a masterful synthesist, deeply committed to exploring the many crackles, fizzes, screeches, and textures that result from unfettered investigation of the many possible interconnections of patch points in his own Serge system. Diving deep into the realm of feedback, he produces everything from quasi-radio static to shimmering textural drones and calm, yet piercing combinations of high-frequency tones. His performances are astounding: by combining samples of his Serge with live patches utilizing a custom Hinton Switchmix, he is able to instantaneously access a wide array of textures, through everything from continuous transitions to jump cut-like changes in atmosphere.
His most recent full-length album, 2018's Homage to Dick Raaijmakers, uses the Serge, contact mics, and tape to decontextualize the types of sounds created by Dutch composer Dick Raaijmakers, an early explorer of electronic music. Like Raiijmakers's work, Homage explores the use of "holophonic" sound, in which the composer uses the phenomenon of otoacoustic emissions to create sounds within the ears of the listener that, strictly speaking, are absent within the recorded material itself. Play this album in an open space and slowly shift your head or your position within the room: you'll discover a world of peculiar, interactive sound that seems to emanate from all around you—an intense and surprising technique that turns recorded sound into something far more magical than might seem possible. From mechanical, inhuman rhythms to satisfying crackling textures and psychoacoustic Easter eggs, this album is a sonic delight throughout.
Abstract Turntablism: Maria Chavez Plays (Stefan Goldman's Ghost Hemiola)
Selected by Eldar T: Maria Chavez is a sound artist and abstract turntablist, known for her unique approach to creating intricate sound collages and compositions out of layers of broken records. During her live improvisation performances, Maria stacks pieces of records on top of each other, carefully guiding the needle to extract rhythms, textures, melodies—and occasionally, gently bumping the turntable to introduce yet more accidents into the compositional process.
As much of Chavez's work revolves around the notion of chance, the story behind Plays starts with Maria receiving Stephan Goldmann’s Ghost Hemiola double LP as a birthday present. Now, Ghost Hemiola itself contains no recorded music or sounds, only the textured noise of the surface of the vinyl dispersed across a set of empty locked grooves. Goldmann’s intent was to allow the listeners to create their own rhythms by making cuts on the record with a knife. As such, this single record could be listened to in thousands and thousands of different variations.
Taking on the challenge of working with no sound, Chavez created an hour-long remix album unlike anything you’ve ever heard. On Plays, Chavez employs a variety of digital signal processing techniques atop physical manipulations of the record itself. Every click and cut gets a generous amount of attention from the artist, magnified, stretched, compressed, and further processed—ultimately forming a highly visceral microsound fairy tale (thanks, Stephan Mathieu) of the inner life of a vinyl record. As a record, Plays can comfortably sit on a shelf along Rashad Becker’s >Traditional Music Of Notional Species and Florian Hecker’s Acid In The Style Of David Tudor.
Akira OST by Geinoh Yamashirogumi
Selected by Naomi M.: Akira is arguably the pinnacle of 1980's Japanese animated movies. Adapted from Katushiro Otomo's manga series of the same name, this cyberpunk story of disenfranchised youths and psychic powers still stands the test of time. The stunning visuals of Neo-Tokyo, the iconic use of movement and light, and the cinematic storytelling all combine to create one of the most beautiful and captivating films of all time, animated or not. Accompanying the movie's visuals is a soundtrack orchestrated by Geinoh Yamashirogumi, a musical collective that counts hundreds of members from all walks of life.
Geinoh Yamashirogumi combines traditional Indonesian Gamelan with progressive rock and Noh, the music of classical Japanese dance/drama, and the result is a cinematic and driving soundtrack. Pounding tuned percussion mixed with 1980's synthesizer sounds results in the characteristic and captivating sound. In the early 1980's, most MIDI instruments couldn't be tuned to the Slendro and Pelog scales used with Indonesian Gamelan, so the members of Geinoh Yamashirogumi taught themselves to program and modified their MIDI instruments. By the end of the 1980's, instruments such as the DX7-II and Roland D-50 did have the capabilities to be used in these non-western scales, and their presence on the album is distinctive.
The soundtrack consists of recurring themes or modules that signify specific characters or feelings. The track listing is reflective of this, with tracks named Tetsuo, Doll's Polyphony, or Winds Over Neo-Tokyo. The soundtrack of this classic animated movie is a perfect accompaniment that captures the spirit of both youthful nihilism and hope in a world gone mad.
Experimental Post-Folk: Foresteppe's Karaul
Selected by Eldar T: Foresteppe is a project of the prolific Siberian artist Egor Klochikhin, whose work always features a variety of acoustic instruments, found sounds, and manipulations of magnetic tape. Active since 2012, Egor has released multiple solo records, a few collaborative ones, created several compilations, and ran a temporary label Shalash (ШАЛАШ), releasing albums from various artists on a finite amount of recycled reel-to-reel tapes inherited by the artist from his father and uncle.
Up until the release of Karaul, Egor’s music could perhaps be categorized as ambient folk, always invoking a sense of comfort, homeliness, and maybe a little bit of nostalgia. This, in many ways, was a reflection of the artist’s life back then, passing quietly in a small city of Bredsk near Novosibirsk, in a cozy room, surrounded by a collection of favorite instruments, and friends with a "no time to hurry" motto. The inspiration for the last album, though, came from Egor’s mandatory military service, a rather distressing experience in the lives of many young men. This is clearly heard from the first seconds of the record.
Karaul is much darker and grittier than anything Foresteppe has produced before. Tape loops and acoustic instrumentation are still there, yet they convey completely different messages, drifting amongst a mixed bag of anger, loneliness, disparity, acceptance, sadness, and hope. There are a few different meanings of the word ‘karaul’ in Russian. In Russian military jargon, the word stands for prosaic guarding duty that forms much of the experience of being in the army, and yet it is also a somewhat outdated exclamation of a call for help. Foresteppe’s record captures both of those meanings flawlessly.
Dark Pulses: Untitled - Circa 2014 by Vladislav Delay
Selected by Jacob J: A few years back, as I was still beginning to develop my voice as a budding electronic musician, I found myself at a crossroads of genres. As a listener, I was both astonished and slightly overwhelmed by the breadth of genres under the electronic music umbrella, and found myself listening to albums distinctly in their respective camps of genre. As an artist, I couldn't bring myself to limit myself to one style, because there were so many elements of vastly different genres I wanted to pull together, but without a sense of perspective, my compositions felt disjointed and jarring. In contrast with my prior history as a guitarist, I was no stranger to artists that could seamlessly meld genres, particularly in the progressive rock and fusion worlds. Being so new to electronic music, I had not yet found that one artist to make things click for me in the same way, until I stumbled upon Vladislav Delay.
Among several aliases used by Finnish musician Sasu Ripatti, the music heard across the Vladislav Delay catalog resonated with me and shifted my perspective as an electronic musician, offering the insight I was craving to push my music to new places. My introduction began with 2005's MP3 Collection, which serves as an excellent benchmark for what to expect listening to Vladislav Delay's discography. Light pulsing bass and a background of ambient pads lay the foundation, with synthetic textures and sample manipulation smeared by echo and reverb sitting in the forefront. Subdued arhythmic percussion and abrupt synth hits find meaning with background loops providing a subtle sense of timing, which often build and give way to minimal grooves, before dissolving back into textural movements teetering on the edge of instability while maintaining intentional placement.
Among my personal favorites is the 2018 release, Untitled - Circa 2014, a collection of tracks recorded around the same time as 2014's Visa. Much like Kendrick Lamar's untitled umastered. Released after To Pimp A Butterfly, the tracks on Ripatti's Untitled are closer to demos mastered for wide release, and as such are more raw, a bit more minimal, and venture in a different direction than those heard on its counterpart. Untitled leans less in the direction of ambient and drone, but expands on rhythmic variation of textural loops, and at times brings the listener into more aggressive territories. In fact, the listener may be hard pressed to identify any true percussion instruments on tracks like "One" or "Five" and yet, the clever manipulation of loops and samples acts as a conscious rhythmic thread, guiding the listener to the next place. On the other hand, minimal but pulsing tracks such as "Two" and "Three" feel much more hypnotic, and I find myself closing my eyes and getting lost in the dense textural loops. All in all, what seems on paper like a collection of B-side cuts from the sessions of a previously released work, this album is in actuality an artistic statement of its own accord, and will continue to be as rewarding with repeated listening as any other release from Vladislav Delay.
Music for Dance: Lovezero's Descend
Selected by Eldar T: Anastasia Tolchneva, aka Lovezero, is a Moscow-based artist whose output spans magnetic sound installations, work with contemporary dance, and a beautiful collaboration with Moa Pillar called Tikhie Kamni. Her music tends to settle somewhere between lush synth textures, heavy bass, digital processing, and serene vocals shaped by Northern Russian folk tradition.
Descend is Lovezero’s second full length LP. Originally written as a soundtrack for contemporary dance, the album casts away song form almost entirely in favor of arranged raw industrial textures, digital artefacts, and direct sonic impacts set to trigger performers’ movements.
There are no dreamy vocals here, which were ever present on Tolchneva’s debut Moroka; instead, they are replaced by a severely processed choir which sounds as if it comes from alien life forms rather than Anastasiya herself. Dark and cold, yet hauntingly beautiful, Descend presents a different side of Lovezero, and serves as a perfect gateway into Moscow's underground art and music scene.
Of course, there's no shortage of awesome music out there—this is just a sampling of the sounds that have been playing in our own homes lately. From the swirling, chattering textures of Ankersmit to the out-there pop of 100 Gecs, we're trying to learn more about all sides of electronic music-making. And luckily, we've been especially invigorated to keep exploring...so far, with quite fruitful results. Until next time, keep listening and keep creating!