Mukqs' New Album Is Concerned With the Weight of the Universe

The art that leaps from the covers of Hausu Mountain tapes immediately fills your eyes with burning neon colors, warped video game figures, and surreal hallucinations melted across cracked digital landscapes. This bracing juxtaposition comes from the mind of the artist Maxwell Allison, who co-runs the label with his roommate Doug Kaplan. Allison happens to be a musician himself, and his work under the name Mukqs shows a similar knack for smashing together unfamiliar modes. Over the course of eight releases (including splits with like-minded artists), Allison has touched on ambient noise, absurdist cut-and-paste, meditative electronics, and more. “The goal is to never repeat myself,” he says via Skype from his home in Chicago. “I want to do all kinds of styles.”

The newest Mukqs effort 11,666,666,666,666,666,666—out Friday, May 26—is Allison’s first full-length vinyl release, and finds him pointed in yet another new direction: accessible, beat-heavy techno. The album’s melodic arcs and insistent pulse are a perfect fit for Midwich, the Chicago label run by Allison’s friend James Marlon Magas, the former post-punk frontman (Couch, Lake of Dracula) who himself makes electronic music for the imprint.

Across four tracks that play like a continuous suite, Allison weaves forceful beats and winding synths into heavy webs. It’s music that’s easy to nod along to, but it also contains dark undercurrents gradually revealed with each listen—in the same way Allison’s visual art veils strange themes beneath bright, eye-stretching hues.

When Allison isn’t holed away in his apartment making Mukqs music, he’s busy playing with Good Willsmith, the Chicago trio he founded with Kaplan and TALsounds’ Natalie Chami, and keeping the Hausu Mountain factory running smoothly. We recently spoke to Allison about making 11,666,666,666,666,666,666 (which is streaming in full below), as well his own musical origins, and the collagist processes of his solo work.

THUMP: Do you think of Mukqs music as more of a personal expression than what you make in Good Willsmith?
Good Willsmith is pretty democratic in our approach, and at this point anything goes because we know our vocabularies so well. Our last LP had more spastic switches in between sections that were willfully different in style and sound. So cycling through different styles is present in all the music that we’re working on. The goal is to represent a wide, crazy menu. For my Mukqs stuff, it’s about expanding that palette. I’m just doing it alone because I have the time and the motivation, and I can make it happen really fast. I can just sit in my room and keep working at it as long as I want.

The idea of using different styles seems more common in underground music now, as opposed to when genres like noise and dance were more strictly defined.
Yeah, I think that as people have listened to these styles of music more they see the connections between, say, New Age and noise. To me, anyone that has ever catered to the idea that these things can’t mix is a square. Why on earth would people not want to listen to whatever they can? I find so much joy in so many kinds of music, so there’s no reason to pigeonhole anyone. Of course, I totally respect people who have a dedicated scene or style they love. That’s awesome. But for me things move in cycles, and I’m interested in whatever moves into my zone. I’m not trying to limit any kind of new interest.

I think a lot of that other mentality comes from people demanding that someone focus on a craft for a long time before they’re acknowledged as a member of that scene. Someone could be an interloper, like, “I’m a pop artist making a noise manifesto!” That could be seen as a red flag. But I also love when a deviation occurs and disrupts the idea of what is normal in a scene. Sometimes with lack of reverence for the history of something, you can carve out a new version of it that disrupts the older narrative.

How did you first get into music?
I was obsessed with metal and hip-hop from an early age. I would research those genres religiously online and download stuff from all kinds of weird sources. That process led to many truly amazing listening experiences through headphones at home in my suburban zone. So that transportive power of music, just listening and envisioning a whole other world, is what has led me to playing music.

And you knew early that you wanted to devote time to making music?
I think I always wanted to make music and art in various forms. There wasn’t a single point when I was like, “Oh, this is it, I’m going do this forever.” That was always the idea. It was more about milestones happening that brought that dream closer to reality. Mukqs could only start when I was confident that it wouldn’t be shitty or boring. I needed time to learn instruments and styles and listen to more music to get there.

Do you find any similarities in the processes of making music and making visual art?
Collaging and arranging and erasing in visual art do have connections to making music, in terms of programming and setting up a bunch of sounds that don’t tread on each other. The more loopy Mukqs stuff that has intersecting samples, that has a lot common with the visual art. When I’m making visual art, I’m thinking of texture and interactions with different media, like super-pixelated things versus smooth things. That definitely overlaps with thinking musically about triangle waves versus sine waves, and prickly sounds versus smooth sounds.

Where did the name Mukqs come from?
It’s just my name, Max, but spelled like the Aphex Twin album Drukqs. That’s a very deep record with so many different styles to it. I also picked the name because I love that bizarre combination of letters, with k and q right next to each other. It confuses people. People often spell it wrong, which is hilarious to me.

There are four tracks on 11,666,666,666,666,666,666 , but I get the sense the whole record is meant as one piece.
Yeah, for sure. The track divisions came after the fact. When I play this live, the durations of the individual tracks always change. The songs have the same sounds and patches going on, but there will be a different beat or underlying foundation to parts. A lot of that comes from deciding what gear to use – which synth or drum machine is at the heart of the sound, and what things are the embellishments, so to speak.

What drew you to working in this more beat-oriented style?
When I set out to make a record, I definitely have a style in mind from the beginning, because that will guide my decisions and set up an easier work low for my brain. In terms of why I was geared towards this style, I’ve been listening to tons of this kind of music, especially Detroit music like Drexciya and related projects. Their catalog is so immense and fun to dig through—it’s just an infinite trove of inspiration.

Do you think of 11,666,666,666,666,666,666 as dance music?
I definitely do, but I’m into lots of dance styles. I do envision it playing in a club where someone can dance. It’s a little more isolated, maybe, and outside that zone. But I love to play it live and try to make that into a danceable, fun situation.

You made the record “live” without overdubs. How does that work?
Well, the drum machine and synth I primarily used for this album are very capable of saving different patterns for long stretches. So the programming of that stuff is the composition phase, in a way. That sets up the condition for a live take with interaction between triggered samples and arrhythmic paths, where I’m turning things on and off, setting up different flowing beat structures. That’s the improvisation phase, which yields different decisions every time. I can play things quietly or blow them out into noise.

Is there a kind of circle between you playing the machines and them feeding you?
I think of it from the perspective of producing a track. So certain elements of the gear are playing an element that’s kind of the spine, and then there are decisions that are more randomized, with the turn of a knob or a filter. It’s also about listening to the final mix live and seeing what is missing, seeing how things could have a different tonal range or different spatialization. It’s like doing an improvised jam session with other people, but they’re robots that live in your drum machine, and you decide when they’re playing. It’s fun in that sense.

Where does the title 11,666,666,666,666,666,666 come from?
Most titles that I choose are from some found source that I’ve been reading or watching, where a phrase sticks in my mind for its origin and for its visual look. This number is in John Szwed’s Sun Ra biography Space is the Place. At one point he’s talking about the math that informs Sun Ra’s worldview. There’s a rundown of cosmic numbers that dictate the universe’s physics, and it says that the weight of the universe is 11,666,666,666,666,666,666 pounds. It’s also a nod to the common trope of naming compositions with an obscure number, like Autechre does sometimes.

The 25 Best Experimental Albums Of 2016

Free Radicals is THUMP’s column dedicated to experimental electronic music. Each month, we take a look at the trends emerging from the frayed fringes of the dancefloor and why they’re meaningful.

Electronic instrumentation offers near-endless possibilities to experimentalists. Over the course of this year, I’ve written in this column about hazy beatmakers who use geographical signifiers to interrogate rising tides of nationalism worldwide; about noise producers adopting classic rock tropes to create a newly warped Americana; and about a host of composers who are remapping everyday experiences through the use of musique concrte techniques. Existing at the vanguard of music technology, music like this offers opportunities for producers looking to push toward new sounds, forms and ideas. Below are 25 of the best albums that subverted conventions and rewired synapses.

25. Matt Carlson – The View from Nowhere

Matt Carlson, the synth-tweaking half of clarinet-and-electronics duo Golden Retriever, took some time on his latest solo effort to study the tenuous relationship between modular electronics and the human voice. The result is a stream of synthesizer-scarred syntactical experiments that can feel like gibberish, but under intense scrutiny reveals complex, overlapping structureslike the sound of Microsoft Sam slowly learning linguistics.

24. N.M.O. – Nordic Mediterranean Organization / Numerous Miscommunications Occur

That their debut LP features two nonsensical backronyms as its title is just the first sign that N.M.O.’s debut LP for Diagonal is a clever nest of club quips. The duo folds electro refuse and masonry-tough percussion scraps into abstract shapes that sound like the aural equivalent of an industrial origami or a pile of garbage, depending on your vantage point. The double-LP version is deliberately pockmarked with jarring locked grooves in the middle of the trackjust a few more slapstick pitfalls for unprepared listeners to get trapped in.

23. VHVL – EVN

The gentle EVN feels like a grab bag of meditative genresflickering drone, swooning new age, LA beat scene-ready boom-bapbut the pieces are united by their feeling of hopefulness and cautious ascension. After the treatment for a spinal injury left her bedridden for most of 2015, the Harlem producer and composer VHVL made a collection of ambient miniatures that feels like a sigh of relief.

22. Rashad Becker – Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. II

According to Discogs, Rashad Becker has been responsible for mastering nearly 1600 records since 1996, and it’s hard not to hear the effects of that intense listening on his intensely programmed solo work. Music for Notional Species, Vol. II picks up where the first installment left off in 2013, building synthesizer scrap heaps to the heavens with all the intricacy and technicolor beauty of a game of Tetris that you’re doomed to lose forever.

21. Lolina – Live in Paris

Live in Paris, Inga Copeland‘s debut LP under the Lolina moniker, was originally billed as a recording of 2015 audiovisual performance in the French capital. But the album’s credits suggest otherwise, saying that it was “written-by, produced, and mixed by Lolina in London.” As xenophobic rhetoric swelled in Britain and fueled the country’s vote to leave the European Union over the summer, the record’s complicated relation to place felt like a commentary on the rising tide of nationalism, both in England and abroad.

She interrogated our traditional understanding of the way that we understand thingslike records or peopleto be a product of the contexts in which they were created. With every foggy synth line and pinched pop structure, we wonder, would it even mean anything different if music this alien was made in Paris or London? How would that change the way it sounds? What does it mean to be from somewhere?

20. Wreck and Reference – Indifferent Rivers Romance End

Wreck and Reference have always been good at conjuring an empowered sort of depression, and Indifferent Rivers Romance End is the L.A. noise-metal merchants’ most confident statement yet. It’s a headlong dive into sickly synthesizers, black metal rot, and strangled post-punk vocals, with a lyric sheet that welcomes sickness, death, and the void with open arms. You’re left with the feeling that giving one’s self over to the darkness can constitute its own weird form of empowermentor, as “Languish” puts it, a path toward beauty, a path toward blindness.”

19. J.S. Aurelius – Goofin’ Drones

After accidentally picking up a book about drone warfarethinking it was a tome about drone musicDestruction Unit guitarist Jes Aurelius constructed Goofin’ Drones as as a way of connect the two. Sourcing audio from code used to hack, destroy, or otherwise disrupt the quadcopter crafts that the U.S. government uses for surveillance and combat abroad, Aurelius constructed this harrowing tape as a statement against “death by remote control.” As you might expect, its gestures are desolate, sudden, and unforgiving.

18. Chino Amobi – Airport Music for Black Folk

In a far cry from the placidity of the Eno album that gives this release its title, Chino Amobi’s brand of Airport Music blows nervous inner monologues to PA announcement volumes and creaks like mangled steel girders. The NON founder’s work often concerns the ways in which marginalized people interact with invisible power structures, and it’s hard not to read this release in the same way; its deeply anxious atmosphere is a compelling reminder of the reality that airports aren’t peacefulor even safeplaces for everyone.

17. Julianna Barwick – Will

The New York-based composer/vocalist‘s past records have favored weightlessness, exploring the emergent rhythms and harmonies inherent to her vocal looping process in zero-g. But Will feels heavy, dense, and full of conflicteach Moog sequence feels like a tractor beam, dragging her through space rather than drifting aimlessly.

16. Steve Hauschildt – Strands

Steve Hauschildt told me earlier this year that his work was in part a “quiet commentary” on the idea that “there’s actually no way to escape chaos, because we inhabit and experience an entropic universe.” You can feel Hauschildt grappling with that degeneration on Strands, a collection of quietly contemplative synths that are grounded by a puttering mechanized energy. There are things in this world that you can’t control, but Strands makes it feel like you can.

15. Puce Mary – The Spiral

Fredrikke Hoffmeier’s Puce Mary LPs all feel like deep descents into industrial underworlds, but the brief moments of beauty on her third full-length for Posh Isolationlike the airy background of “The Temptation to Exist,” or the tonic organ drones of “Masks Are Aids Too”make the trip all the more memorable. It’s a trip to hell, but via the scenic route.

14. Imaginary Softwoods – Annual Flowers in Color

Recorded in fits and starts in three different cities, John Elliott’s latest release as Imaginary Softwoods is a rarities collection of sortscompiling four years’ worth of ostensibly unconnected work into a tape-warmed tapestry of sequenced ambience. But you wouldn’t really get a sense of that piecemeal construction without that backstory on bandcamp. With its sagging, waterlogged analog synths lines and hushed spoken word, this one’s pretty unified in sound and spirit, shot through with the wistful discontent that breathes life into so much of the world’s best synth instrumentals.

13. TALsounds – Lifter + Lighter

Both with Good Willsmith and on her own as TALsounds, Natalie Chami’s well versed in making spur-of-the-moment gestures feel carefully plotted. Lifter/Lighter was recorded live with no overdubs, but you’d never guess it from whirlpool loop chaos of tracks like “Close My Eyes.” For music that has its roots in improvisation, it feels tight, as though Chami were composer forced to work in real-time. As her pieces have gotten more complex, they’ve become an increasingly precarious balancing act, which makes the tremendous beauty of Lifter/LIghter all the more moving.

12. Christian Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke – It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry

Two electronics revolutionaries collide on this subtle exploration of remorse. The album’s two side-long pieces are made up of slowly droning electronics and guitars, and each bears a evocative title that gestures at the lovelorn sorrow that digitalist ambient recordings like this sometimes soundtrack. It’s a wholly moving experience, even after you realize that those titles are just lyrics from the song by classic rock cheeseballs Chicago that gave this record it’s titlea small goof amidst the gloom.

11. Moor Mother – Fetish Bones

Impressionistically outlining the history of the governmental oppression of black bodieswhether via physical force or legislationMoor Mother‘s debut LP fetish bones vibrated with an urgency that few albums this year vibrated with the same urgency, Fetish Bones. Institutional violence is met with spoken-word molotovs, sandpapered found samples, and production that sounds like Black Dice remixing Pete Rock (or vice versa). It’s a chaotic collage that feels every bit as unsettling as its subject matter, the sort of record that makes you want to throw down your headphones and take to the streets.

10. Motion Sickness of Time Travel – Affinity

Rachel Evans’ prolific release schedule as Motion Sickness of Time Travel slowed down for a bit following the birth of her first son a few years ago, but in the second half of 2016, she was back opening up portals to outer space at her natural pace. Affinity was her first release as a mother, and it also stands as the most overwhelming release she’s recorded to date. The belt-sander drones of “New Moon” and the synthy despondency of the nearly 17-minute long “Interlude” find Evans exploring the gloom inherent in cosmic music. In the desolate stretches of her synthesizer hums, there’s a depressing reminder that most of what’s beyond the stratosphere is just empty space.

9. Dedekind Cut – $uccessor

One of the ways you could listen to Fred Warmsley’s latest album as Dedekind Cut was by buying a yoga mat that came with a digital download. The product description for the “high quality PRO” mat promises “extra cushioning and comfort,” “safety and performance,” “longevity and durability,” and “stability”all of which turns out to be a pretty solid illustration of the patient, new age-y inclinations of the record. Unlike the unsettled atmosphere of some of his other releases under the moniker, this is ambient music as self-care.

8. Sarah Davachi – Dominions

I don’t know that many people on this list would buy into the idea that the vintage synths Sarah Davachi uses are, as her Bandcamp puts it, “obsolete machines.” But there is something wonderfully antique about the way that Dominions employs this old tech to make wheezing, defeatist drones, stuttering back into action and stumbling through the record’s 38-minute runtime. Davachi acts as a spectral conductor, making pieces that sound empty and haunted, like computerized funeral ballads from beamed from another life.

7. Felicia Atkinson and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Comme Un Seul Narcisse

None of the track titles on this collaboration between composers Felicia Atkinson and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma are more than a couple letters long, but take all ten of them together, and they spell out a french phrase that translates to “melancholy objects.” The muffled murmurs and ASMR shuffling of Comme Un Seul Narcisse are personal and intimateminiatures to be picked up and pored over until they leave you with a deep longing for something just out of reach.

6. ine O’Dwyer – Locusts

The harpist-turned-cathedral-organ-wrangler ine O’Dwyer returned to the holiest of instruments this year for two tapes of sacred dissonance. Locusts is the better of the two, if only because it’s willing to indulge the darkness inherent to the church spaces in which she records this music. She evokes the Bible’s the funereal march of plague, death, and demise. And like the title suggests, atonal organ drones do sound more than a little like insectoid swarming.

5. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy

Sunergy is the full-borne fruit of incredible happenstance. Two of the world’s greatest Buchla synthesizer players met several years ago when they realized they were living in the same tiny Northern California town. After years of friendship and collaboration, they’ve emerged with a testament to the natural landscapes of the Pacific coast. The record’s shifts are subtle, but their effects colossal, like the movement of the water that’s enraptured Ciani over the last several decades.

4. Good Willsmith – Things Our Bodies Used to Have

The hydra-headed Chicago drone crew Good Willsmith have said that they approached Things Our Bodies Used to Have like a jazz record, staying united on themes but allowing each member the room to delve into outer zones, soloing wildly for minutes at a timeas much as that’s possible for a group that primarily makes electronic loops. As such, it’s a bit looser than their past releases, but that’s the realm they’ve always found richestpulling diamonds from sonic muck.

3. Oren Ambarchi – Hubris

In the past, Australian avant-guitarist Oren Ambarchi has done cranium-crushing noise and blistered ambience, but with help from psych-techno madman Ricardo Villalobos (among other experimentalist godheads) he dragged himself to the depths of the dancefloor on Hubris. Channeling his noise know-how through acid-warped, guitar-and-electronics zoning reminiscent of E2-E4, Ambarchi’s attacks the locomotive grid of techno with wiry, caustic melodiessomething like stumbling upon neon vomit in a club toilet as the rest of the night pulses ahead outside.

2. Autechre – elseq 1-5

The daring English duo‘s five-part, four-hour hard drive purge is a far cry from the humanoid beauty of their earliest work. It’s a pulsar-dense spiderweb of pitch-black Max/MSP outputs, held together by duct tape and saliva. There are few suggestions of life in it, but that’s part of the record’s powerits reminder that most machines hide no ghosts, just whirring bits of metal and untameable electrical impulses.

1. Huerco S – For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

Back in May, I mercilessly cut THUMP’s UK editor Josh Baines’ attempt to describe Huerco S‘ new one as “the finest ambient record of 2016 so far” from a piece we were working on together. The joys that For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) presented were muted; its reverb-drowned synths circling in locked beatless loops were pleasant, but where was the danger?

But I came to live with the record over the ensuing months, and I found myself returning to it for exactly that reason: as 2016 became harder to bear, it presented an alternative, an impossibly cozy, comforter-like shelter from the endless storm of shit that dominated my life (and probably yours too!) on both a personal and cosmic scale. I can’t think of a year in my life where I more frequently needed escape, but actually checking out from the world felt irresponsible. So I put the breaking waves of “Promises of Fertility” on repeat, and its cottonball synth lines reshaped the world around me. Everything was a little softer. For a few minutes things didn’t seem so bad, even if they still were.

The 25 Best Experimental Albums Of 2016

Free Radicals is THUMP’s column dedicated to experimental electronic music. Each month, we take a look at the trends emerging from the frayed fringes of the dancefloor and why they’re meaningful.

Electronic instrumentation offers near-endless possibilities to experimentalists. Over the course of this year, I’ve written in this column about hazy beatmakers who use geographical signifiers to interrogate rising tides of nationalism worldwide; about noise producers adopting classic rock tropes to create a newly warped Americana; and about a host of composers who are remapping everyday experiences through the use of musique concrte techniques. Existing at the vanguard of music technology, music like this offers opportunities for producers looking to push toward new sounds, forms and ideas. Below are 25 of the best albums that subverted conventions and rewired synapses.

25. Matt Carlson – The View from Nowhere

Matt Carlson, the synth-tweaking half of clarinet-and-electronics duo Golden Retriever, took some time on his latest solo effort to study the tenuous relationship between modular electronics and the human voice. The result is a stream of synthesizer-scarred syntactical experiments that can feel like gibberish, but under intense scrutiny reveals complex, overlapping structureslike the sound of Microsoft Sam slowly learning linguistics.

24. N.M.O. – Nordic Mediterranean Organization / Numerous Miscommunications Occur

That their debut LP features two nonsensical backronyms as its title is just the first sign that N.M.O.’s debut LP for Diagonal is a clever nest of club quips. The duo folds electro refuse and masonry-tough percussion scraps into abstract shapes that sound like the aural equivalent of an industrial origami or a pile of garbage, depending on your vantage point. The double-LP version is deliberately pockmarked with jarring locked grooves in the middle of the trackjust a few more slapstick pitfalls for unprepared listeners to get trapped in.

23. VHVL – EVN

The gentle EVN feels like a grab bag of meditative genresflickering drone, swooning new age, LA beat scene-ready boom-bapbut the pieces are united by their feeling of hopefulness and cautious ascension. After the treatment for a spinal injury left her bedridden for most of 2015, the Harlem producer and composer VHVL made a collection of ambient miniatures that feels like a sigh of relief.

22. Rashad Becker – Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. II

According to Discogs, Rashad Becker has been responsible for mastering nearly 1600 records since 1996, and it’s hard not to hear the effects of that intense listening on his intensely programmed solo work. Music for Notional Species, Vol. II picks up where the first installment left off in 2013, building synthesizer scrap heaps to the heavens with all the intricacy and technicolor beauty of a game of Tetris that you’re doomed to lose forever.

21. Lolina – Live in Paris

Live in Paris, Inga Copeland‘s debut LP under the Lolina moniker, was originally billed as a recording of 2015 audiovisual performance in the French capital. But the album’s credits suggest otherwise, saying that it was “written-by, produced, and mixed by Lolina in London.” As xenophobic rhetoric swelled in Britain and fueled the country’s vote to leave the European Union over the summer, the record’s complicated relation to place felt like a commentary on the rising tide of nationalism, both in England and abroad.

She interrogated our traditional understanding of the way that we understand thingslike records or peopleto be a product of the contexts in which they were created. With every foggy synth line and pinched pop structure, we wonder, would it even mean anything different if music this alien was made in Paris or London? How would that change the way it sounds? What does it mean to be from somewhere?

20. Wreck and Reference – Indifferent Rivers Romance End

Wreck and Reference have always been good at conjuring an empowered sort of depression, and Indifferent Rivers Romance End is the L.A. noise-metal merchants’ most confident statement yet. It’s a headlong dive into sickly synthesizers, black metal rot, and strangled post-punk vocals, with a lyric sheet that welcomes sickness, death, and the void with open arms. You’re left with the feeling that giving one’s self over to the darkness can constitute its own weird form of empowermentor, as “Languish” puts it, a path toward beauty, a path toward blindness.”

19. J.S. Aurelius – Goofin’ Drones

After accidentally picking up a book about drone warfarethinking it was a tome about drone musicDestruction Unit guitarist Jes Aurelius constructed Goofin’ Drones as as a way of connect the two. Sourcing audio from code used to hack, destroy, or otherwise disrupt the quadcopter crafts that the U.S. government uses for surveillance and combat abroad, Aurelius constructed this harrowing tape as a statement against “death by remote control.” As you might expect, its gestures are desolate, sudden, and unforgiving.

18. Chino Amobi – Airport Music for Black Folk

In a far cry from the placidity of the Eno album that gives this release its title, Chino Amobi’s brand of Airport Music blows nervous inner monologues to PA announcement volumes and creaks like mangled steel girders. The NON founder’s work often concerns the ways in which marginalized people interact with invisible power structures, and it’s hard not to read this release in the same way; its deeply anxious atmosphere is a compelling reminder of the reality that airports aren’t peacefulor even safeplaces for everyone.

17. Julianna Barwick – Will

The New York-based composer/vocalist‘s past records have favored weightlessness, exploring the emergent rhythms and harmonies inherent to her vocal looping process in zero-g. But Will feels heavy, dense, and full of conflicteach Moog sequence feels like a tractor beam, dragging her through space rather than drifting aimlessly.

16. Steve Hauschildt – Strands

Steve Hauschildt told me earlier this year that his work was in part a “quiet commentary” on the idea that “there’s actually no way to escape chaos, because we inhabit and experience an entropic universe.” You can feel Hauschildt grappling with that degeneration on Strands, a collection of quietly contemplative synths that are grounded by a puttering mechanized energy. There are things in this world that you can’t control, but Strands makes it feel like you can.

15. Puce Mary – The Spiral

Fredrikke Hoffmeier’s Puce Mary LPs all feel like deep descents into industrial underworlds, but the brief moments of beauty on her third full-length for Posh Isolationlike the airy background of “The Temptation to Exist,” or the tonic organ drones of “Masks Are Aids Too”make the trip all the more memorable. It’s a trip to hell, but via the scenic route.

14. Imaginary Softwoods – Annual Flowers in Color

Recorded in fits and starts in three different cities, John Elliott’s latest release as Imaginary Softwoods is a rarities collection of sortscompiling four years’ worth of ostensibly unconnected work into a tape-warmed tapestry of sequenced ambience. But you wouldn’t really get a sense of that piecemeal construction without that backstory on bandcamp. With its sagging, waterlogged analog synths lines and hushed spoken word, this one’s pretty unified in sound and spirit, shot through with the wistful discontent that breathes life into so much of the world’s best synth instrumentals.

13. TALsounds – Lifter + Lighter

Both with Good Willsmith and on her own as TALsounds, Natalie Chami’s well versed in making spur-of-the-moment gestures feel carefully plotted. Lifter/Lighter was recorded live with no overdubs, but you’d never guess it from whirlpool loop chaos of tracks like “Close My Eyes.” For music that has its roots in improvisation, it feels tight, as though Chami were composer forced to work in real-time. As her pieces have gotten more complex, they’ve become an increasingly precarious balancing act, which makes the tremendous beauty of Lifter/LIghter all the more moving.

12. Christian Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke – It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry

Two electronics revolutionaries collide on this subtle exploration of remorse. The album’s two side-long pieces are made up of slowly droning electronics and guitars, and each bears a evocative title that gestures at the lovelorn sorrow that digitalist ambient recordings like this sometimes soundtrack. It’s a wholly moving experience, even after you realize that those titles are just lyrics from the song by classic rock cheeseballs Chicago that gave this record it’s titlea small goof amidst the gloom.

11. Moor Mother – Fetish Bones

Impressionistically outlining the history of the governmental oppression of black bodieswhether via physical force or legislationMoor Mother‘s debut LP fetish bones vibrated with an urgency that few albums this year vibrated with the same urgency, Fetish Bones. Institutional violence is met with spoken-word molotovs, sandpapered found samples, and production that sounds like Black Dice remixing Pete Rock (or vice versa). It’s a chaotic collage that feels every bit as unsettling as its subject matter, the sort of record that makes you want to throw down your headphones and take to the streets.

10. Motion Sickness of Time Travel – Affinity

Rachel Evans’ prolific release schedule as Motion Sickness of Time Travel slowed down for a bit following the birth of her first son a few years ago, but in the second half of 2016, she was back opening up portals to outer space at her natural pace. Affinity was her first release as a mother, and it also stands as the most overwhelming release she’s recorded to date. The belt-sander drones of “New Moon” and the synthy despondency of the nearly 17-minute long “Interlude” find Evans exploring the gloom inherent in cosmic music. In the desolate stretches of her synthesizer hums, there’s a depressing reminder that most of what’s beyond the stratosphere is just empty space.

9. Dedekind Cut – $uccessor

One of the ways you could listen to Fred Warmsley’s latest album as Dedekind Cut was by buying a yoga mat that came with a digital download. The product description for the “high quality PRO” mat promises “extra cushioning and comfort,” “safety and performance,” “longevity and durability,” and “stability”all of which turns out to be a pretty solid illustration of the patient, new age-y inclinations of the record. Unlike the unsettled atmosphere of some of his other releases under the moniker, this is ambient music as self-care.

8. Sarah Davachi – Dominions

I don’t know that many people on this list would buy into the idea that the vintage synths Sarah Davachi uses are, as her Bandcamp puts it, “obsolete machines.” But there is something wonderfully antique about the way that Dominions employs this old tech to make wheezing, defeatist drones, stuttering back into action and stumbling through the record’s 38-minute runtime. Davachi acts as a spectral conductor, making pieces that sound empty and haunted, like computerized funeral ballads from beamed from another life.

7. Felicia Atkinson and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Comme Un Seul Narcisse

None of the track titles on this collaboration between composers Felicia Atkinson and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma are more than a couple letters long, but take all ten of them together, and they spell out a french phrase that translates to “melancholy objects.” The muffled murmurs and ASMR shuffling of Comme Un Seul Narcisse are personal and intimateminiatures to be picked up and pored over until they leave you with a deep longing for something just out of reach.

6. ine O’Dwyer – Locusts

The harpist-turned-cathedral-organ-wrangler ine O’Dwyer returned to the holiest of instruments this year for two tapes of sacred dissonance. Locusts is the better of the two, if only because it’s willing to indulge the darkness inherent to the church spaces in which she records this music. She evokes the Bible’s the funereal march of plague, death, and demise. And like the title suggests, atonal organ drones do sound more than a little like insectoid swarming.

5. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy

Sunergy is the full-borne fruit of incredible happenstance. Two of the world’s greatest Buchla synthesizer players met several years ago when they realized they were living in the same tiny Northern California town. After years of friendship and collaboration, they’ve emerged with a testament to the natural landscapes of the Pacific coast. The record’s shifts are subtle, but their effects colossal, like the movement of the water that’s enraptured Ciani over the last several decades.

4. Good Willsmith – Things Our Bodies Used to Have

The hydra-headed Chicago drone crew Good Willsmith have said that they approached Things Our Bodies Used to Have like a jazz record, staying united on themes but allowing each member the room to delve into outer zones, soloing wildly for minutes at a timeas much as that’s possible for a group that primarily makes electronic loops. As such, it’s a bit looser than their past releases, but that’s the realm they’ve always found richestpulling diamonds from sonic muck.

3. Oren Ambarchi – Hubris

In the past, Australian avant-guitarist Oren Ambarchi has done cranium-crushing noise and blistered ambience, but with help from psych-techno madman Ricardo Villalobos (among other experimentalist godheads) he dragged himself to the depths of the dancefloor on Hubris. Channeling his noise know-how through acid-warped, guitar-and-electronics zoning reminiscent of E2-E4, Ambarchi’s attacks the locomotive grid of techno with wiry, caustic melodiessomething like stumbling upon neon vomit in a club toilet as the rest of the night pulses ahead outside.

2. Autechre – elseq 1-5

The daring English duo‘s five-part, four-hour hard drive purge is a far cry from the humanoid beauty of their earliest work. It’s a pulsar-dense spiderweb of pitch-black Max/MSP outputs, held together by duct tape and saliva. There are few suggestions of life in it, but that’s part of the record’s powerits reminder that most machines hide no ghosts, just whirring bits of metal and untameable electrical impulses.

1. Huerco S – For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

Back in May, I mercilessly cut THUMP’s UK editor Josh Baines’ attempt to describe Huerco S‘ new one as “the finest ambient record of 2016 so far” from a piece we were working on together. The joys that For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) presented were muted; its reverb-drowned synths circling in locked beatless loops were pleasant, but where was the danger?

But I came to live with the record over the ensuing months, and I found myself returning to it for exactly that reason: as 2016 became harder to bear, it presented an alternative, an impossibly cozy, comforter-like shelter from the endless storm of shit that dominated my life (and probably yours too!) on both a personal and cosmic scale. I can’t think of a year in my life where I more frequently needed escape, but actually checking out from the world felt irresponsible. So I put the breaking waves of “Promises of Fertility” on repeat, and its cottonball synth lines reshaped the world around me. Everything was a little softer. For a few minutes things didn’t seem so bad, even if they still were.

The 33 Best Albums Of 2016

Illustration by Dana Kim

Never question the efficacy of a great album. Dance singles offer concentrated dopamine hits and lengthy mixes offer IV drips of all sorts of pleasant neurotransmitters, but 2016’s vast slate of electronic full-lengths, while sometimes more gradual in their effects, are no less life-altering. Afforded the opportunity to take up a little more space, producers made a number of complex statements, offering up electro-protest anthems, rose-tinted remembrances of childhood, and collections of club tracks as harrowing as War of the Worlds. Below are 33 albums that went beyond a single track’s impact to offer expansive discourse and complicated feelingsin a year that demanded both.

33. Baauer – Aa

Though Aa didn’t come out until March, Baauer heralded his debut studio album’s arrival back in January, when the producer debuted “Days Ones,” a collaboration with Novelist and Leikeli47, on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Leikeli47 was wearing her signature balaclava; the Brooklyn-based producer, whose real name is Harry Rodrigues, was seated casually on a couch to the side of the stage, wearing headphones and staring at a laptop. Even for someone who has lived, at various times, in Philly, Germany, London, and Connecticut, the ruse positioned Rodrigues first and foremost as a child of the internet.

And Aa cements that interpretation, leveraging bass music, grime, hip-hop, and twinkling ambience less as ends in themselves than as shifting emotional terrains in an LED-lit journey into the end of the night. The stacked lineup of guests on the albumamong them, Future, Pusha T, MIA, and South Korean rapper G-Dragonmake for some of the highest highs, but to Baauer’s credit, in his first big look since the “Harlem Shake,” the moments of wide-eyed lyricism leave as much of an impression as the drops.Emilie Friedlander

32. DJ Tiga – The Sound Vol. 1

DJ TiGa describes his craft in surprisingly functional terms. Discussing the philosophy that informed The Sound Vol. 1, his debut mixtape for J-Cush’s influential Brooklyn label Lit City Trax, the Newark-based producer put it simply: “Club music isn’t beautiful. It’s supposed to make you sweat, you’re supposed to jump, you’re supposed to be able to scream to the top of your lungs.”

Caffeine-pill flips of Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O” and Biggie’s “Dead Wrong” (presented in filleted form here as “Take Note (Who the Man),” fulfill that mandate of dancefloor destruction. But the real triumph of The Sound Vol. 1, contrary to TiGa’s own claims, is the paradoxical beauty of the thing; he has a knack for presenting simple melodies that roil colorfully against the TV static of the drum programming. It’s often an austere sort of allure, but the kaleidoscopic sweetness underpinning songs like the Tink and Aaliyah-sampling “Your Love” is part of what makes The Sound so addictive outside of dancefloor contextsa little saccharine to accompany the sweat.Colin Joyce

31. Ana Caprix – M6 Ultra

Since I started working a 9-5 last year, my listening sessions during my daily bus commute have acquired a level of personal sanctity similar in emotional intensity to Helga’s shrine to Arnold in her closet. This is my time, and whatever I put on better fucking jam. So it’s not faint praise to say that the album I’ve played most often after wrenching myself out of bed and crumpling into a blue plastic bus seat is this under-the-radar stunner from British producer Ana Caprix. It’s hard to quantify exactly what’s going with it musically: there are elements of trance, sure, but there’s also hip-hop percussion, dreamy ambient pads, and a nasty Dido sample or two. It doesn’t matter, ultimately; just throw it on and melt away.Ezra Marcus

30. Mock the Zuma – Gauss

Mexican producer born Kevin Santana is known for making bold statements; his alias of Mock the Zuma is a parody of the notorious ninth governor of Tenochtitlan, Moctezuma II. Released on influential Mexican label and collective NAAFI, Gauss is plagued with sounds extracted from video games and internet clips and is about the realities of living and making music in Mexico. The record’s seven tracks aren’t intended to shine on the dancefloor, but rather to provoke introspection from its dark production. Santana’s hometown of Ciudad Jurez is one of the most violent cities in Mexico, and his EP is a reminder of what it’s like to create music in a city at war with drug trafficking, where the hours after curfew are passed with friends and video games. Ultimately, Gauss is a reflection of the border reality that is lived in Mexico.Valeria Anzaldo

29. Tommy Awards – Sessions II

Even if my listening has been colored by the repeated occasions I’ve imagined that this Swedish Balearic duo’s name is some sort of porn award, Sessions II is a strangely sexy recordif your idea of a perfect fuck involves lapping waves, silk sheets, and the prurient bliss of Ash Ra Tempel records. Even if all that isn’t your bag, this tantric two-trackerwhich plods along gently on puttering drums, then recedes as gentle mystical Environments recording soundalikes and lackadaisical guitars swell around itis a perfect accompaniment to any activity that involves two consenting adults and a pair of speakers. Highly recommended for those of you out there into rainforests, Steve Roach, post-coital glows.Josh Baines

28. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy

Since their inception in 2009, RVNG Intl.’s FRKWYS series has become a kind of fantasy football for people who read The Wire and despise actual football. Previous installments have seen Blues Control jamming with zither-maestro Laraaji, Sun Araw hanging out with reggae legends the Congos, and the formation of what is possibly the world’s greatest modular synth supergroup to date, Borden, Ferraro, Godin, Halo, and Lopatin.

This time around, the label has paired the celestial and perennially soothing Suzanne Ciani with fellow Buchla player Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith for a languorous waltz down the Pacific Coast Highway. Sunergy is an unhurried minor masterpiecea burbling and barely-there set of synth-jams that breathe themselves into the most subtle of beings. This is intricate and understandably ornate music that demandsand rewardsdeep listening.Josh Baines

27. Foodman – Ez Minzoku

Critics have largely described the sonic riddles that Takahide Higuchi issues as Foodman as if he were still in the throes of an early fascination with the caffeinated kick drum programming of footwork. But in the years since he debuted back in 2012, he’s taken real glee in frustrating those expectations, channelling the twitchy programming he learned from that genre into a barrage of harebrained samples.

His full-length return to the absurdo-futurist imprint Orange Milk, Ez Minzoku, is his most hilarious effort yetand perhaps his record least linked to footwork, or the dance floor at all for that matter. Within the space of just a few tracks, there’s jaw-dropping samples of metal riffs, referee whistles, dial-tone drops, pinched “ow”s, Japanese rapping, and treacly synth lines that sound kind of like Dntel’s cotton candy programming for the Postal Serviceand sometimes more. It’s a joyous cacophony of sounds that shouldn’t be able to coexist, let alone produce moments as sublime as the new age-y bliss of “Ure Pill.” Mostly, though, it’s the sound of cartoon neurons juking at the same speed as his bass drums once did.Colin Joyce

26. Umfang – Riffs

Emma Burgess-Olson’s productions as Umfang tend to be even more multifarious than her DJ sets. On a split earlier this year for the Danish experimental label Phinery, she demonstrated a taste for the totally fucked, tossing up acidic screwballs that lifted her sound away from the dancefloor entirely. Her August release for 1080p, Riffs, is perhaps even more skyward-sounding. Over five tracks, she flits through spacious synth sequences and sparse kick drums; there’s an overbearing anxiousness in the air, a sick awareness of the rapidly decreasing oxygen as she drags you closer to the stratosphere. Riffs is the rare record that baffles me every time I play it, both because of its own harrowing internal logic and because of what its triumphs suggest for an artist who hits stranger heights on every release. What earthly realms are left to conquer once you’ve broken orbit?Colin Joyce

25. Powell – Sport

In the short time that he’s been signed to XL Recordings, Oscar Powell has developed a reputation as one of dance music’s merry pranksters. Last year, Powell took out a billboard featuring the full text of a sample clearance letter from legendary punk grump Steve Albini that allowed Powell to sample one of his recordings but stated that he “detest own agency.”

Self-determination is a difficult topic to untangle on a record full of collaborations, especially given that it ends on the white-hot sunrise of “Red Eyez,” a track made by the London-based Lexxi alone. But the answer to her question proves relatively intuitive here, both because all of her collaborators are longtime pals, and because nearly overstuffed and nauseous pieces like “Dummy Track” demonstrate she’s a natural for the director’s chairknowing just how much detail to creep in before cutting it off. Like most of her work, an atmosphere of optimistic longing underpins the proceedings, but with the help of her friends, her work feels more impactful than it’s ever beena testament to the power of pushing ahead, with friends on your side.Colin Joyce

4. Kornel Kovacs – The Bells

The Bells begins with a half-remembered melody, a shadowy prelude-that-never-was to a 2014 track about getting fucked up. It sets a precedent for an album that revels in its weightlessness, and a producer who seems to defy standard conventions of time. Kornel Kovacs plays with this temporal slipperiness over the course his debut double LPthe first two sides are a sparkling FM tribute to 80s synth-pop and funky disco-house, while the second slab is a glittering journey through disco atmospherics. Meanwhile, the album title refers to another decade, and specifically to Jeff Mills’s seminal 1997 techno track “The Bells,” a hypnotic roller which shares little in common with Kovacs’ record, other than its layered and organic approach. All of this makes for an album which confidently knows it can’t be easily bracketed by epoch or genre. So don’t think about it too hard, throw this one on at home while the album art cheekily smiles back, and do as one of its timeless tracks implores you: “Dance… While The Record Spins.”Jesse Weiss

3. Kaytranada – 99.9%

Overflowing with four-on-the-floor rhythms, washed-out bass lines, and crate-plucked samples, Kaytranada‘s music sits somewhere between the booty-bouncing beats of house and the funk of 90s R&B. It takes cues from the artists he grew up listening to as the child of immigrant parents in Montreal, but it also sounds fresher than anything you’ll find on the radio today.

His long-awaited debut album, 99.9%, pushes that outside-of-time logic even further, setting rising talents like rapper Vic Mensa and jazz experimentalists BadBadNotGood alongside unsung veterans like Craig David and Phonte of Little Brother. Whereas lesser producers would be overshadowed by such a cabal of guests, here, they only serve to accentuate the producer’s kaleidoscopic, percussion-first instrumentals. “You’re the One,” a collaboration with vocalist Syd tha Kyd, is a frontrunner for the best distillation of the Kaytranada sound. From the hand claps, to the Internet co-founder’s feather-light coos, to its reverberating synth bass, the track flows through you in an instant, infectious, loving rush of music.Britt Julious


2. Huerco S – For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

Brian Eno famously first conceived of the idea of ambient music while bedridden after he was hit by a car. Unable to get across the room to turn up the stereoso the story goeshe found himself annoyed by, then enamored of music that blended into the room’s preexisting sonic environment. The genre he proposed was to beas he wrote in the liner notes for Music for Airportsas “ignorable as it is interesting.” But the beauty of For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)the producer Brian Leeds‘ first album-length foray into ambient musicis in its apparent rejection of this idea.

Leeds has said that he too uses this music to relax and recover while on his intercontinental travels between DJ sets. But this album is nestled more in the lineage of Hiroshi Yoshimura’s new age-adjacent tone pieces than the delicate drones of the Eno strain of ambience. There’s just a whole lot more movement on For Those of You than you might expect from an ambient record, from spectrally swelling synthesizers and gently sequenced electronics, to pieces that sound like sleepwalking club tracks with the drums skillfully excised. Instead of augmenting the spaces you inhabit, this gauzy latticework breathes and coalesces into something darker, wispier, more cocoon-like. The album’s not a way of coping with the world around you; it’s another world entirely.Colin Joyce

1. ANOHNI – Hopelessness

Earlier this year, sitting in the lobby of the Roxy Hotel in Lower Manhattan, ANOHNI informed me that she was going on an “eyes-wide-open” campaign.

“How wide can I hold my eyes, how much can I try to see, knowing that I’ll never see it all?” she mused. The former Antony and the Johnsons mastermind was referring, of course, not to the physical faculty of sight, but to a kind of psychic equivalent of ita willingness to hold open a space in her heart and her mind for the alarming headlines about American foreign policy and corporate surveillance and climate change she’d been reading in the news for the past 15 years, to allow the terror and sadness they elicited in her to sink in, to refuse to look away. Later on, I realized that she’d offered me a pretty perfect summation of what it means to be an artistnot to report the news, but to channel what it feels like to live it, to articulate what it feels like to be human in the midst of, or in spite of, the political, social, and economic realities of one’s time.

Hopelessness, her sixth album, embraces this definition of art more literally than most, using palatial, club-inspired production from Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never as a launch pad for some of the most disarmingly direct social commentary our generation has heard from an artist. She sings a song about Obama that calls the president by name. She sings a song from the perspective of a young girl whose family has been killed by an American drone bomb, and another about how incremental temperature changes may be slowly killing off species of flora and fauna.

Were it not for the motherly cradle of her voice and the ecstatic bombast of the synthetic horns and strings, it would all probably be too much to take inand to many listeners, it probably was. But after the election, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that while many of us spent that past few years hermetically sealed inside our hyper-liberal Facebook bubbles, blissfully ignorant of the things we didn’t want to see, ANOHNI was already looking. That didn’t make Hopelessness any less quixotic, any less crazy of an undertaking; it just reminded us that it was only as crazy as the world that ANOHNI is singing about.Emilie Friedlander

The 33 Best Albums Of 2016

Illustration by Dana Kim

Never question the efficacy of a great album. Dance singles offer concentrated dopamine hits and lengthy mixes offer IV drips of all sorts of pleasant neurotransmitters, but 2016’s vast slate of electronic full-lengths, while sometimes more gradual in their effects, are no less life-altering. Afforded the opportunity to take up a little more space, producers made a number of complex statements, offering up electro-protest anthems, rose-tinted remembrances of childhood, and collections of club tracks as harrowing as War of the Worlds. Below are 33 albums that went beyond a single track’s impact to offer expansive discourse and complicated feelingsin a year that demanded both.

33. Baauer – Aa

Though Aa didn’t come out until March, Baauer heralded his debut studio album’s arrival back in January, when the producer debuted “Days Ones,” a collaboration with Novelist and Leikeli47, on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Leikeli47 was wearing her signature balaclava; the Brooklyn-based producer, whose real name is Harry Rodrigues, was seated casually on a couch to the side of the stage, wearing headphones and staring at a laptop. Even for someone who has lived, at various times, in Philly, Germany, London, and Connecticut, the ruse positioned Rodrigues first and foremost as a child of the internet.

And Aa cements that interpretation, leveraging bass music, grime, hip-hop, and twinkling ambience less as ends in themselves than as shifting emotional terrains in an LED-lit journey into the end of the night. The stacked lineup of guests on the albumamong them, Future, Pusha T, MIA, and South Korean rapper G-Dragonmake for some of the highest highs, but to Baauer’s credit, in his first big look since the “Harlem Shake,” the moments of wide-eyed lyricism leave as much of an impression as the drops.Emilie Friedlander

32. DJ Tiga – The Sound Vol. 1

DJ TiGa describes his craft in surprisingly functional terms. Discussing the philosophy that informed The Sound Vol. 1, his debut mixtape for J-Cush’s influential Brooklyn label Lit City Trax, the Newark-based producer put it simply: “Club music isn’t beautiful. It’s supposed to make you sweat, you’re supposed to jump, you’re supposed to be able to scream to the top of your lungs.”

Caffeine-pill flips of Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O” and Biggie’s “Dead Wrong” (presented in filleted form here as “Take Note (Who the Man),” fulfill that mandate of dancefloor destruction. But the real triumph of The Sound Vol. 1, contrary to TiGa’s own claims, is the paradoxical beauty of the thing; he has a knack for presenting simple melodies that roil colorfully against the TV static of the drum programming. It’s often an austere sort of allure, but the kaleidoscopic sweetness underpinning songs like the Tink and Aaliyah-sampling “Your Love” is part of what makes The Sound so addictive outside of dancefloor contextsa little saccharine to accompany the sweat.Colin Joyce

31. Ana Caprix – M6 Ultra

Since I started working a 9-5 last year, my listening sessions during my daily bus commute have acquired a level of personal sanctity similar in emotional intensity to Helga’s shrine to Arnold in her closet. This is my time, and whatever I put on better fucking jam. So it’s not faint praise to say that the album I’ve played most often after wrenching myself out of bed and crumpling into a blue plastic bus seat is this under-the-radar stunner from British producer Ana Caprix. It’s hard to quantify exactly what’s going with it musically: there are elements of trance, sure, but there’s also hip-hop percussion, dreamy ambient pads, and a nasty Dido sample or two. It doesn’t matter, ultimately; just throw it on and melt away.Ezra Marcus

30. Mock the Zuma – Gauss

Mexican producer born Kevin Santana is known for making bold statements; his alias of Mock the Zuma is a parody of the notorious ninth governor of Tenochtitlan, Moctezuma II. Released on influential Mexican label and collective NAAFI, Gauss is plagued with sounds extracted from video games and internet clips and is about the realities of living and making music in Mexico. The record’s seven tracks aren’t intended to shine on the dancefloor, but rather to provoke introspection from its dark production. Santana’s hometown of Ciudad Jurez is one of the most violent cities in Mexico, and his EP is a reminder of what it’s like to create music in a city at war with drug trafficking, where the hours after curfew are passed with friends and video games. Ultimately, Gauss is a reflection of the border reality that is lived in Mexico.Valeria Anzaldo

29. Tommy Awards – Sessions II

Even if my listening has been colored by the repeated occasions I’ve imagined that this Swedish Balearic duo’s name is some sort of porn award, Sessions II is a strangely sexy recordif your idea of a perfect fuck involves lapping waves, silk sheets, and the prurient bliss of Ash Ra Tempel records. Even if all that isn’t your bag, this tantric two-trackerwhich plods along gently on puttering drums, then recedes as gentle mystical Environments recording soundalikes and lackadaisical guitars swell around itis a perfect accompaniment to any activity that involves two consenting adults and a pair of speakers. Highly recommended for those of you out there into rainforests, Steve Roach, post-coital glows.Josh Baines

28. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy

Since their inception in 2009, RVNG Intl.’s FRKWYS series has become a kind of fantasy football for people who read The Wire and despise actual football. Previous installments have seen Blues Control jamming with zither-maestro Laraaji, Sun Araw hanging out with reggae legends the Congos, and the formation of what is possibly the world’s greatest modular synth supergroup to date, Borden, Ferraro, Godin, Halo, and Lopatin.

This time around, the label has paired the celestial and perennially soothing Suzanne Ciani with fellow Buchla player Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith for a languorous waltz down the Pacific Coast Highway. Sunergy is an unhurried minor masterpiecea burbling and barely-there set of synth-jams that breathe themselves into the most subtle of beings. This is intricate and understandably ornate music that demandsand rewardsdeep listening.Josh Baines

27. Foodman – Ez Minzoku

Critics have largely described the sonic riddles that Takahide Higuchi issues as Foodman as if he were still in the throes of an early fascination with the caffeinated kick drum programming of footwork. But in the years since he debuted back in 2012, he’s taken real glee in frustrating those expectations, channelling the twitchy programming he learned from that genre into a barrage of harebrained samples.

His full-length return to the absurdo-futurist imprint Orange Milk, Ez Minzoku, is his most hilarious effort yetand perhaps his record least linked to footwork, or the dance floor at all for that matter. Within the space of just a few tracks, there’s jaw-dropping samples of metal riffs, referee whistles, dial-tone drops, pinched “ow”s, Japanese rapping, and treacly synth lines that sound kind of like Dntel’s cotton candy programming for the Postal Serviceand sometimes more. It’s a joyous cacophony of sounds that shouldn’t be able to coexist, let alone produce moments as sublime as the new age-y bliss of “Ure Pill.” Mostly, though, it’s the sound of cartoon neurons juking at the same speed as his bass drums once did.Colin Joyce

26. Umfang – Riffs

Emma Burgess-Olson’s productions as Umfang tend to be even more multifarious than her DJ sets. On a split earlier this year for the Danish experimental label Phinery, she demonstrated a taste for the totally fucked, tossing up acidic screwballs that lifted her sound away from the dancefloor entirely. Her August release for 1080p, Riffs, is perhaps even more skyward-sounding. Over five tracks, she flits through spacious synth sequences and sparse kick drums; there’s an overbearing anxiousness in the air, a sick awareness of the rapidly decreasing oxygen as she drags you closer to the stratosphere. Riffs is the rare record that baffles me every time I play it, both because of its own harrowing internal logic and because of what its triumphs suggest for an artist who hits stranger heights on every release. What earthly realms are left to conquer once you’ve broken orbit?Colin Joyce

25. Powell – Sport

In the short time that he’s been signed to XL Recordings, Oscar Powell has developed a reputation as one of dance music’s merry pranksters. Last year, Powell took out a billboard featuring the full text of a sample clearance letter from legendary punk grump Steve Albini that allowed Powell to sample one of his recordings but stated that he “detest own agency.”

Self-determination is a difficult topic to untangle on a record full of collaborations, especially given that it ends on the white-hot sunrise of “Red Eyez,” a track made by the London-based Lexxi alone. But the answer to her question proves relatively intuitive here, both because all of her collaborators are longtime pals, and because nearly overstuffed and nauseous pieces like “Dummy Track” demonstrate she’s a natural for the director’s chairknowing just how much detail to creep in before cutting it off. Like most of her work, an atmosphere of optimistic longing underpins the proceedings, but with the help of her friends, her work feels more impactful than it’s ever beena testament to the power of pushing ahead, with friends on your side.Colin Joyce

4. Kornel Kovacs – The Bells

The Bells begins with a half-remembered melody, a shadowy prelude-that-never-was to a 2014 track about getting fucked up. It sets a precedent for an album that revels in its weightlessness, and a producer who seems to defy standard conventions of time. Kornel Kovacs plays with this temporal slipperiness over the course his debut double LPthe first two sides are a sparkling FM tribute to 80s synth-pop and funky disco-house, while the second slab is a glittering journey through disco atmospherics. Meanwhile, the album title refers to another decade, and specifically to Jeff Mills’s seminal 1997 techno track “The Bells,” a hypnotic roller which shares little in common with Kovacs’ record, other than its layered and organic approach. All of this makes for an album which confidently knows it can’t be easily bracketed by epoch or genre. So don’t think about it too hard, throw this one on at home while the album art cheekily smiles back, and do as one of its timeless tracks implores you: “Dance… While The Record Spins.”Jesse Weiss

3. Kaytranada – 99.9%

Overflowing with four-on-the-floor rhythms, washed-out bass lines, and crate-plucked samples, Kaytranada‘s music sits somewhere between the booty-bouncing beats of house and the funk of 90s R&B. It takes cues from the artists he grew up listening to as the child of immigrant parents in Montreal, but it also sounds fresher than anything you’ll find on the radio today.

His long-awaited debut album, 99.9%, pushes that outside-of-time logic even further, setting rising talents like rapper Vic Mensa and jazz experimentalists BadBadNotGood alongside unsung veterans like Craig David and Phonte of Little Brother. Whereas lesser producers would be overshadowed by such a cabal of guests, here, they only serve to accentuate the producer’s kaleidoscopic, percussion-first instrumentals. “You’re the One,” a collaboration with vocalist Syd tha Kyd, is a frontrunner for the best distillation of the Kaytranada sound. From the hand claps, to the Internet co-founder’s feather-light coos, to its reverberating synth bass, the track flows through you in an instant, infectious, loving rush of music.Britt Julious


2. Huerco S – For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

Brian Eno famously first conceived of the idea of ambient music while bedridden after he was hit by a car. Unable to get across the room to turn up the stereoso the story goeshe found himself annoyed by, then enamored of music that blended into the room’s preexisting sonic environment. The genre he proposed was to beas he wrote in the liner notes for Music for Airportsas “ignorable as it is interesting.” But the beauty of For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)the producer Brian Leeds‘ first album-length foray into ambient musicis in its apparent rejection of this idea.

Leeds has said that he too uses this music to relax and recover while on his intercontinental travels between DJ sets. But this album is nestled more in the lineage of Hiroshi Yoshimura’s new age-adjacent tone pieces than the delicate drones of the Eno strain of ambience. There’s just a whole lot more movement on For Those of You than you might expect from an ambient record, from spectrally swelling synthesizers and gently sequenced electronics, to pieces that sound like sleepwalking club tracks with the drums skillfully excised. Instead of augmenting the spaces you inhabit, this gauzy latticework breathes and coalesces into something darker, wispier, more cocoon-like. The album’s not a way of coping with the world around you; it’s another world entirely.Colin Joyce

1. ANOHNI – Hopelessness

Earlier this year, sitting in the lobby of the Roxy Hotel in Lower Manhattan, ANOHNI informed me that she was going on an “eyes-wide-open” campaign.

“How wide can I hold my eyes, how much can I try to see, knowing that I’ll never see it all?” she mused. The former Antony and the Johnsons mastermind was referring, of course, not to the physical faculty of sight, but to a kind of psychic equivalent of ita willingness to hold open a space in her heart and her mind for the alarming headlines about American foreign policy and corporate surveillance and climate change she’d been reading in the news for the past 15 years, to allow the terror and sadness they elicited in her to sink in, to refuse to look away. Later on, I realized that she’d offered me a pretty perfect summation of what it means to be an artistnot to report the news, but to channel what it feels like to live it, to articulate what it feels like to be human in the midst of, or in spite of, the political, social, and economic realities of one’s time.

Hopelessness, her sixth album, embraces this definition of art more literally than most, using palatial, club-inspired production from Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never as a launch pad for some of the most disarmingly direct social commentary our generation has heard from an artist. She sings a song about Obama that calls the president by name. She sings a song from the perspective of a young girl whose family has been killed by an American drone bomb, and another about how incremental temperature changes may be slowly killing off species of flora and fauna.

Were it not for the motherly cradle of her voice and the ecstatic bombast of the synthetic horns and strings, it would all probably be too much to take inand to many listeners, it probably was. But after the election, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that while many of us spent that past few years hermetically sealed inside our hyper-liberal Facebook bubbles, blissfully ignorant of the things we didn’t want to see, ANOHNI was already looking. That didn’t make Hopelessness any less quixotic, any less crazy of an undertaking; it just reminded us that it was only as crazy as the world that ANOHNI is singing about.Emilie Friedlander

The Chaotic Patriotism Of MrDougDoug's Election Day Album Will Make You Want To Vote

These Magical Numbers album cover

It all ends today. After an interminable bout of partisan brawling, international intrigue, accusations of fraud, outright racism, and allegations of sexual assault, the long run to the United States’ 2016 general election is finally over. It feels weird, like this chaos that’s been brewing over the course over the last couple of years has finally liftedas I cast my ballot this morning I felt something like relief, at least before taking out my phone and diving back into Twitter’s endless scroll of election info overload.

If you too have felt overwhelmed, well, MrDougDoug is here to help. Doug Kaplan, one third of the Chicago experimental trio Good Willsmith and co-founder of the label Hausu Mountain, is back under his solo moniker with a tape recorded just for election day, titled These Magical Numbers. Composed of a 33-minute piece called “69 Starspangled 420” and a shorter second track called “182 In Reptiles We Trust 666,” it’s a dizzy, slap-happy, sensory overload, equal parts terrifying and absurdsorta like this election has been all along.

In a document Kaplan sent via email that he described as “essential album info to get woke,” a fictional Fox News employee named Jimmy teases out the info that the A-side is composed of samples of 69 different renditions of the US national anthem, juggled by Kaplan live through multiple different tabs of YouTube. There’s also some babble in the pseudo-interview about reptilian overlords and as such the second track features a sample of the Republican presidential nominee professing to be a snake, but looped and repeated until its unrecognizable, surreal, and sickening. But hey, that’s the state of the country right? Just when you start feeling unsettled, crank the A-side again and put your hand over your heart as the world burns.

One of his bandmates summed it up best a few weeks back. “If D****d T***p becomes president,” the Good Willsmith Twitter account wrote. “Doug is going to end up in jail for this.”

MrDougDoug is self-releasing These Magical Numbers today digitally and on cassette. You can snag a copy over at his Bandcamp for the all-too-appropriate price of $4.20.

The Chaotic Patriotism Of MrDougDoug's Election Day Album Will Make You Want To Vote

These Magical Numbers album cover

It all ends today. After an interminable bout of partisan brawling, international intrigue, accusations of fraud, outright racism, and allegations of sexual assault, the long run to the United States’ 2016 general election is finally over. It feels weird, like this chaos that’s been brewing over the course over the last couple of years has finally liftedas I cast my ballot this morning I felt something like relief, at least before taking out my phone and diving back into Twitter’s endless scroll of election info overload.

If you too have felt overwhelmed, well, MrDougDoug is here to help. Doug Kaplan, one third of the Chicago experimental trio Good Willsmith and co-founder of the label Hausu Mountain, is back under his solo moniker with a tape recorded just for election day, titled These Magical Numbers. Composed of a 33-minute piece called “69 Starspangled 420” and a shorter second track called “182 In Reptiles We Trust 666,” it’s a dizzy, slap-happy, sensory overload, equal parts terrifying and absurdsorta like this election has been all along.

In a document Kaplan sent via email that he described as “essential album info to get woke,” a fictional Fox News employee named Jimmy teases out the info that the A-side is composed of samples of 69 different renditions of the US national anthem, juggled by Kaplan live through multiple different tabs of YouTube. There’s also some babble in the pseudo-interview about reptilian overlords and as such the second track features a sample of the Republican presidential nominee professing to be a snake, but looped and repeated until its unrecognizable, surreal, and sickening. But hey, that’s the state of the country right? Just when you start feeling unsettled, crank the A-side again and put your hand over your heart as the world burns.

One of his bandmates summed it up best a few weeks back. “If D****d T***p becomes president,” the Good Willsmith Twitter account wrote. “Doug is going to end up in jail for this.”

MrDougDoug is self-releasing These Magical Numbers today digitally and on cassette. You can snag a copy over at his Bandcamp for the all-too-appropriate price of $4.20.

Good Willsmith Members' New Solo Tapes Are A Testament To The Joyous Complexity Of Friendship

Photo by Ashley Ayarza

The zoned-in works of the Chicago experimental trio Good Willsmith have always been most compelling for the tension between the creative voices of its three members. Since 2012, longtime pals Max Allison, Natalie Chami, and Doug Kaplan have come together Cerberus-like to wrangle blissful noise clouds, disconcerting static, and jazz-inspired compositional contortions out of a beautiful mess of loop pedals, synthesizers, guitars, and assorted other electronics. But for all the seamless blending between their component parts, there’s always a sense that there’s multiple voices fighting to the forefront of each piece, a playful sort of one-upmanship that drives their ascendant pieces toward the heavens.

Not coincidentally, each of the bands members has also issued a torrent of solo works in the time that they’ve been a band, following those distinct voices into their weirdest and wooliest corners. Allison makes disorienting electronic miniatures under the name Mukqs, Chami makes cannibinoid ambient music as TALsounds, and Kaplan aims for absurdism as MrDougDoug, and today all three members are releasing new solo tapes as part of a so-called “family batch” on Hausu Mountain, the label that Kaplan and Allison run together.

The releases are as wonderfully diverse as their projects have been traditionally. MukqsWalkthrough is a collection of fuzzy pieces that play like psychedelic memories of video game soundtracks. TALsoundsLifter + Lighter is a vibrant collection of ambient compositions that veer closer toward pop songs than ever before, but still remain wonderfully dazed. MrDougDoug SOS Forks AI REM is a hallucinogenic technicolor barrage of rapid-fire electronics that were composed of manipulated MIDI files found littered throughout the internet’s digital wastelands. There’s very little connective tissue between the three, save for a general affinity for the outer zones of electronic music, but that’s the beauty of this batch of tapes when you take them as a whole. It’s a demonstration of the joyous complexity of creative friendships, that each of them could dive wholeheartedly into such distinctive sounds and still raise their voices in unison whenever Good Willsmith convenes.

The tapes are all out now on Hausu Mountain, but THUMP caught up with Chami, Allison, and Kaplan earlier this week so that they could each pick their favorite songs off of each others new releases and talk about them in detail, an exercise, in part, of highlighting what draws such disparate creators to one another. Listen to Mukqs “Fisherman’s Edit,” TALsounds “I Am Why,” and MrDougDoug’s three-part suite of “Potcan St. 342 > Oppositioner 666 > Tetra-Cobalt Keg 502,” below, alongside their commentary.

Mukqs, “Fisherman’s Edit”

Natalie Chami: Pulsating full spectrum overtone drone, the spacey, minimal kind, not the overbearing body blasting drone, is what introduces Mukqs’ final track “Fisherman’s Edit.” The interlude quickly transforms into sparkly ambient noise. The glittery tape background parts fade in and out. It’s shiny, geometrically fluttering everywhere, floating through space in the background, fading in and out, making room for what I imagine as Max’s slowed-down Bach-prelude lullaby. background accompaniment counterpoint then finally the tenor line enters with sharp attacks and full roundedness to its voice. Long releases allow the line to float off into the dreamy waiting room of our 8-bit/HD globe. Max’s choice of crisp and warm bubbly voices composed on the Electribe allow the melodic lines to sit perfectly together; they each hold enough tonal contrast to exist independently, yet allow the listener to choose to hear the compound counterpoint as a whole and just let the five lines exist harmoniously.

I’m kind of obsessed with this image of Max playing these peaceful melodies to himself, layering one precisely over the next, thinking of music both horizontally (melodically) and vertically (harmonically) as we would when writing out counterpoint compositions on staff paper. Though I know it comes from a place without any deep classical music theory haunting his mind. Bringing such Bach-like ideas into the experimental world unconsciously rules and I’m fascinated by it. “Fisherman’s Edit” is Max’s 2016 version of baroque, while holding on to our current idea of retro timbres of the 1990’s. We’re hitting full cycle music hereit’s all connected, we’re still living the same music lives. Split image of Max and Bach hovered over a table making their compositional lives our momentary realities.

MrDougDoug, “Potcan St. 342 > Oppositioner 666 > Tetra-Cobalt Keg 502”

Max Allison: Doug plucked the original files that he edited into the songs on SOS Forks AI Rem from a huge archive of old karaoke-style MIDI tunes, but his versions have an insane internal logic and a palette of hellish tones that are all his own. I was around when he was re-tracking and programming a lot of these jams in Logic, so I have a good grip on what the source material for each song is, but I imagine it’s tough to figure it out just from the way they sound (though the track names are clues).

With the tempos often above 300 BPM, each track blasts into your face with the compressed mania of a ringtone, and the structure of the original composition speeds by with the intensity of a knotty prog song, turning on a dime through verses and choruses and little bridges that blur into each other seconds apart. His warped programmed voices play out as the shell of a band, more or less, with bass bursts and lead melodies intact, albeit at warp speed, and with drums cranked fast enough to resemble black-metal blastbeats. It is pure Doug music, in that it’s cobbled together from so many influences and sources, from different decades and through the filters of different musical processes, yet it is made so more complex and entertaining after he spends some time with it in the bizarro fun-time laboratory of his mind.

I’ve listened to this album so many times, but for some reason I often come back to “Potcan St. 342” on its own for a single serving. Maybe it’s just a thrill to hear RHCP at 342 BPM – Doug’s version transforms the generic Peps harmonies into something more interesting and chaotic, with the MIDI Flea bass rocketing all over the place more like a Tony Levin Chapman Stick jam, and each chord progression resolving pleasantly in like 5 seconds. “Oppositioner 666” takes “Stairway to Heaven” and reduces it to a bit-crushed miniature cloud of noise that sounds like it’s playing from busted iPhone speaker holes, but you can still follow the original track’s structure, kindathe chromatic intro line, the guitar solo blasted into a quivering noise lead, and the huge drum fills at the end that melt into one like gross mush riff. 666 BPM is twisted. “Tetra-Cobalt Keg 502” anagrams out to “Get Back, Loretta” and the track changes Paul McCartney’s lead vocals into some kind of evil babbling noise formant, while the organ line slams on and on. So much for your brain to snack on. WTF, Doug?

TALsounds, “I Am Why”

Doug Kaplan: TALsounds’ live process allows listeners to hear her looped constructions unfold in real time. TAL consistently adds more layers to the mix, building her pieces from the ground up. I chose to focus on “I Am Why” because its non-linear nature provides a new innovation in her practice.

When I consider TAL’s closest contemporaries, Dustin Wong is the first artist that comes to mind. In the vast majority of Natalie and Dustin’s work, we clearly hear the live fabrication of a piece as each element is recorded, repeated, and added upon. The pieces start with relatively few voices and end with many more. Each new voice both compliments and subverts the previous one.

The fundamental static component in “I Am Why” is a highly detailed, glitched-out vocal loopmade using the looper’s unpredictable “punch-in” mode. A simple 4/4 pulse is quickly introduced, giving the track the feeling of walking around a future city. One thing that separates this track from her other pieces is that there are no synthesizers. Other than the beat, “I Am Why” is all vocals, making it an outlier in Natalie’s catalog.

“I Am Why” eschews Natalie’s tendency to present her songs in the (for lack of a better word) Wong-ian, long-exposure style. TAL treats the looper like a mixer more than ever before. New voices are introduced and recorded, but instead of allowing them to sit in the mix repeating permanently, Natalie fades them in and out as she continually adds more vocals into the shifting voice-scape.

The total effect is a track that feels even more ambient than her past work. You might think, “No way bro, this glitchy, beat-y world is so not ambient,” but please hear me out. The majority of Natalie’s pieces are perpetually moving forward as layers stack upon each other and repeata which brings attention to the structure of the piece. Removing the measured, stacking element, “I Am Why” remains in a static zone as elements perpetually enter and leave the mix at unpredictable times and in an unpredictable manner. The listener can no longer reliably anticipate when a new element will be added to the mix, rather latching onto the repetition of the glitched vocals and beatthe focus is re-directed from “what is changing” to “what is the same.”

Good Willsmith Members' New Solo Tapes Are A Testament To The Joyous Complexity Of Friendship

Photo by Ashley Ayarza

The zoned-in works of the Chicago experimental trio Good Willsmith have always been most compelling for the tension between the creative voices of its three members. Since 2012, longtime pals Max Allison, Natalie Chami, and Doug Kaplan have come together Cerberus-like to wrangle blissful noise clouds, disconcerting static, and jazz-inspired compositional contortions out of a beautiful mess of loop pedals, synthesizers, guitars, and assorted other electronics. But for all the seamless blending between their component parts, there’s always a sense that there’s multiple voices fighting to the forefront of each piece, a playful sort of one-upmanship that drives their ascendant pieces toward the heavens.

Not coincidentally, each of the bands members has also issued a torrent of solo works in the time that they’ve been a band, following those distinct voices into their weirdest and wooliest corners. Allison makes disorienting electronic miniatures under the name Mukqs, Chami makes cannibinoid ambient music as TALsounds, and Kaplan aims for absurdism as MrDougDoug, and today all three members are releasing new solo tapes as part of a so-called “family batch” on Hausu Mountain, the label that Kaplan and Allison run together.

The releases are as wonderfully diverse as their projects have been traditionally. MukqsWalkthrough is a collection of fuzzy pieces that play like psychedelic memories of video game soundtracks. TALsoundsLifter + Lighter is a vibrant collection of ambient compositions that veer closer toward pop songs than ever before, but still remain wonderfully dazed. MrDougDoug SOS Forks AI REM is a psychedelic technicolor barrage of rapid-fire electronics that were composed of manipulated MIDI files found littered throughout the internet’s digital wastelands. There’s very little connective tissue between the three, save for a general affinity for the outer zones of electronic music, but that’s the beauty of this batch of tapes when you take them as a whole. It’s a demonstration of the joyous complexity of creative friendships, that each of them could dive wholeheartedly into such distinctive sounds and still raise their voices in unison whenever Good Willsmith convenes.

The tapes are all out now on Hausu Mountain, but THUMP caught up with Chami, Allison, and Kaplan earlier this week so that they could each pick their favorite songs off of each others new releases and talk about them in detail, an exercise, in part, of highlighting what draws such disparate creators to one another. Listen to Mukqs “Fisherman’s Edit,” TALsounds “I Am Why,” and MrDougDoug’s three-part suite of “Potcan St. 342 > Oppositioner 666 > Tetra-Cobalt Keg 502,” below, alongside their commentary.

Mukqs, “Fisherman’s Edit”

Natalie Chami: Pulsating full spectrum overtone drone, the spacey, minimal kind, not the overbearing body blasting drone, is what introduces Mukqs’ final track “Fisherman’s Edit.” The interlude quickly transforms into sparkly ambient noise. The glittery tape background parts fade in and out. It’s shiny, geometrically fluttering everywhere, floating through space in the background, fading in and out, making room for what I imagine as Max’s slowed-down Bach-prelude lullaby. background accompaniment counterpoint then finally the tenor line enters with sharp attacks and full roundedness to its voice. Long releases allow the line to float off into the dreamy waiting room of our 8-bit/HD globe. Max’s choice of crisp and warm bubbly voices composed on the Electribe allow the melodic lines to sit perfectly together; they each hold enough tonal contrast to exist independently, yet allow the listener to choose to hear the compound counterpoint as a whole and just let the five lines exist harmoniously.

I’m kind of obsessed with this image of Max playing these peaceful melodies to himself, layering one precisely over the next, thinking of music both horizontally (melodically) and vertically (harmonically) as we would when writing out counterpoint compositions on staff paper. Though I know it comes from a place without any deep classical music theory haunting his mind. Bringing such Bach-like ideas into the experimental world unconsciously rules and I’m fascinated by it. “Fisherman’s Edit” is Max’s 2016 version of baroque, while holding on to our current idea of retro timbres of the 1990’s. We’re hitting full cycle music hereit’s all connected, we’re still living the same music lives. Split image of Max and Bach hovered over a table making their compositional lives our momentary realities.

MrDougDoug, “Potcan St. 342 > Oppositioner 666 > Tetra-Cobalt Keg 502”

Max Allison: Doug plucked the original files that he edited into the songs on SOS Forks AI Rem from a huge archive of old karaoke-style MIDI tunes, but his versions have an insane internal logic and a palette of hellish tones that are all his own. I was around when he was re-tracking and programming a lot of these jams in Logic, so I have a good grip on what the source material for each song is, but I imagine it’s tough to figure it out just from the way they sound (though the track names are clues).

With the tempos often above 300 BPM, each track blasts into your face with the compressed mania of a ringtone, and the structure of the original composition speeds by with the intensity of a knotty prog song, turning on a dime through verses and choruses and little bridges that blur into each other seconds apart. His warped programmed voices play out as the shell of a band, more or less, with bass bursts and lead melodies intact, albeit at warp speed, and with drums cranked fast enough to resemble black-metal blastbeats. It is pure Doug music, in that it’s cobbled together from so many influences and sources, from different decades and through the filters of different musical processes, yet it is made so more complex and entertaining after he spends some time with it in the bizarro fun-time laboratory of his mind.

I’ve listened to this album so many times, but for some reason I often come back to “Potcan St. 342” on its own for a single serving. Maybe it’s just a thrill to hear RHCP at 342 BPM – Doug’s version transforms the generic Peps harmonies into something more interesting and chaotic, with the MIDI Flea bass rocketing all over the place more like a Tony Levin Chapman Stick jam, and each chord progression resolving pleasantly in like 5 seconds. “Oppositioner 666” takes “Stairway to Heaven” and reduces it to a bit-crushed miniature cloud of noise that sounds like it’s playing from busted iPhone speaker holes, but you can still follow the original track’s structure, kindathe chromatic intro line, the guitar solo blasted into a quivering noise lead, and the huge drum fills at the end that melt into one like gross mush riff. 666 BPM is twisted. “Tetra-Cobalt Keg 502” anagrams out to “Get Back, Loretta” and the track changes Paul McCartney’s lead vocals into some kind of evil babbling noise formant, while the organ line slams on and on. So much for your brain to snack on. WTF, Doug?

TALsounds, “I Am Why”

Doug Kaplan: TALsounds’ live process allows listeners to hear her looped constructions unfold in real time. TAL consistently adds more layers to the mix, building her pieces from the ground up. I chose to focus on “I Am Why” because its non-linear nature provides a new innovation in her practice.

When I consider TAL’s closest contemporaries, Dustin Wong is the first artist that comes to mind. In the vast majority of Natalie and Dustin’s work, we clearly hear the live fabrication of a piece as each element is recorded, repeated, and added upon. The pieces start with relatively few voices and end with many more. Each new voice both compliments and subverts the previous one.

The fundamental static component in “I Am Why” is a highly detailed, glitched-out vocal loopmade using the looper’s unpredictable “punch-in” mode. A simple 4/4 pulse is quickly introduced, giving the track the feeling of walking around a future city. One thing that separates this track from her other pieces is that there are no synthesizers. Other than the beat, “I Am Why” is all vocals, making it an outlier in Natalie’s catalog.

“I Am Why” eschews Natalie’s tendency to present her songs in the (for lack of a better word) Wong-ian, long-exposure style. TAL treats the looper like a mixer more than ever before. New voices are introduced and recorded, but instead of allowing them to sit in the mix repeating permanently, Natalie fades them in and out as she continually adds more vocals into the shifting voice-scape.

The total effect is a track that feels even more ambient than her past work. You might think, “No way bro, this glitchy, beat-y world is so not ambient,” but please hear me out. The majority of Natalie’s pieces are perpetually moving forward as layers stack upon each other and repeata which brings attention to the structure of the piece. Removing the measured, stacking element, “I Am Why” remains in a static zone as elements perpetually enter and leave the mix at unpredictable times and in an unpredictable manner. The listener can no longer reliably anticipate when a new element will be added to the mix, rather latching onto the repetition of the glitched vocals and beatthe focus is re-directed from “what is changing” to “what is the same.”

“Surrender” To The Unearthly Vocals On TALsounds’ Latest Ambient Track

Album art courtesy of the label

Chicago-based artist and Good Willsmith member Natalie Chami, a.k.a. TALsounds, has shared a new track in anticipation of her forthcoming tape release, Lifter + Lighter. An improvisational analog synth wiz, Chami constructs aerial soundscapes through layering unearthly vocals and mesmerizing loops, sometimes through a “stream of consciousness,” as described on her website. “Surrender,” is an entrancingly chasmal track that seamlessly composites forceful industrial inflections and billowing elements of ambience. Listen below.

Lifter + Lighter is out on October 14 via Hausu Mountain.

“Surrender” To The Unearthly Vocals On TALsounds’ Latest Ambient Track

Album art courtesy of the label

Chicago-based artist and Good Willsmith member Natalie Chami, a.k.a. TALsounds, has shared a new track in anticipation of her forthcoming tape release, Lifter + Lighter. An improvisational analog synth wiz, Chami constructs aerial soundscapes through layering unearthly vocals and mesmerizing loops, sometimes through a “stream of consciousness,” as described on her website. “Surrender,” is an entrancingly chasmal track that seamlessly composites forceful industrial inflections and billowing elements of ambience. Listen below.

Lifter + Lighter is out on October 14 via Hausu Mountain.

Good Willsmith's Mukqs And DJWWWW Dive Into The Soupy And Surreal On A New Split

Photos courtesy of the artists.

Even aside from his work as half of the experimental label Hausu Mountain and as one of the three explorers in the cosmos-probing Chicago act Good Willsmith (who made one of the 25 Best Albums of 2015 So Far), Maxwell Allison still has a few more tricks up his sleeve. Over the last few years, he’s also been recording blistered, kaleidoscopic electronic compositions as Mukqs, probing similarly surreal realms to his other projects while keeping his sounds clear, his eyes open.

Earlier this year he released a collaborative collagist tape with Constellation Botsu called Miracle Hentai, but he’s already back with more material for the Danish label Phinerythis time in the form of a split with the absurdist Japanese producer DJWWWW. Allison told THUMP in an email that in the early stages of this tape, they established one guiding principle “no rules, be yourself.”

Allison says that his side of the tape was made with a tape deck and loop pedals, and no overdubsa performance format that underscores the openhearted playfulness at the heart of his Mukqs work. Whether juggling beautiful chiming bell sounds (on “”) or letting all the samples collapse in on themselves into waves of noise (pretty much every other track), you can sense the joy of their construction.

That carries over to DJWWWW’s side too, which meshes together sounds in a buoyant, head-spinning collage of pinging beats, comic-book onomatopoetics and Mortal Kombat samples. He wrote in an email to THUMP that his Audacity-constructed compositions were meant to “destroy pop music,” despite his affinity for it and all that push-and-pull is on display as it swerves wildly between samples and styles. Few love letters have ever felt so gleefully calamitous.

Take both sides of the tape in one go and you’re in for a disorienting affair unlike much else you’ll hear this year. Listen belowalongside the awesome art by Allisonin advance of its August 1 release on Phinery.