Some professional news: After two years producing it, I'm now the host of the Best Music of the Month podcast from NPR's All Songs Considered! Basically, I gab with NPR Music staff and contributors at the end of every month about the "best" — no, I don't like that word either, I'm working on different framing devices — albums and songs released within the past 28-31 days. It's not quite the long-dreamed-of Viking's Choice podcast, but I've been wanting to stretch myself for quite some time, so this is a significant foot in the door. You can listen to my debut as host on NPR-dot-org or wherever you do podcasts — some of y'all may have even heard the episode carried on your public radio station!
Some personal news: It's my birthday, and I planned to take the day off to catch a matinee in a theater and laze about, but my kid got me sick, so now I'm gonna watch a movie on my iPad and sleep. I'm also off social media (Twitter, in particular) for at least a week — need to regather my mental wellbeing after a rough few weeks from the world being as it is. Take care of yourself and others, y'all. —Lars Gotrich
Moonlight Sorcery, Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity (self-released): Finland's Moonlight Sorcery is going to be compared to Denver's Stormkeep for any number of reasons, but mostly that both revive a certain era of melodic, symphonic black metal with an ear towards — or at least an acknowledgment of — dungeon synth (itself an iteration of second-wave black metal, but I digress). Both bands are riveting in their own rite, but when Moonlight Sorcery revs up its already impressive musicianship — seriously, that guitar solo on "Wolven Hour" is already the most awe-inspiring of this young year — there's an anthemic power at play. Moonlight Sorcery isn't just storming ice castles; these Finns are remaking them in their epic image.
Aspidistrafly, Altar of Dreams (Kitchen. Label): Eleven years since Aspidistrafly's stunning ambient-folk record A Little Fable, singer-songwriter April Lee and producer Ricks Ang return to familiar fields, but darkened by clouds. The lush attention to detail remains — field recordings woven into spacious arrangements — but the framework recalls pop music of a sepia-toned age, when the orchestra would swell to meet the singer's melancholy. In a way, the avant/pop dichotomy recalls Scott Walker's Scott 3, as Lee favors a lower register to croon over sumptuous drones.
Keiko Higuchi, Vertical Language (Black Editions): Oceans turn stormy shades of black and blue in these transfixing piano improvisations and radical song interpretations. The Tokyo-based Keiko Higuchi has put out music on Utech, An'Archives and now Black Editions — not to mention the closing track on Akuphone's incredible Seitō (In The Beginning, Woman Was The Sun) compilation. Vertical Language can be harrowing in its apparent glossolalia — she howls, moans and wails with austere grace — but also beautiful in its chosen moments to sit in the silence, waiting.
Bam Bam, Villains (Also Wear White) EP (Bric-A-Brac): In recent years, you have likely seen Tina Bell called the Black Godmother of Grunge — it's an eye-grabbing moniker, for sure, and rightly corrects many assumptions about the Seattle music scene. (The renewed/rediscovered interest has generated much coverage — including a segment on CBS, of all places — but I particularly like Chicago Reader's angle.) This is Bam Bam's original 7" from 1984 reissued + some unreleased demos. Tina Bell is an absolute monster as she spits, yells and growls, but also sings with commanding vibrato. With thrashing speed and a punk snarl — and maybe a little bit of MC5's rock and roll abandon — this is the kind of release that maps an alternate history of Seattle.
GOATFACE!, Akhenaten Bazucas (Astral Spirits): Brazilian free-jazz quartet with a foot in its country's folkloric rhythms and another dangling in space. Guilherme Granado has been a member of various Rob Mazurek projects — including the electric/eclectic fusion group São Paulo Underground — but the other names are new to me. GOATFACE! ingests and understands a panoply of psychedelic experience — Sun Ra's synth-groove freakouts, Hermeto Pascoal's playfully lysergic drum dance, Lula Côrte's acid trips. Astral Spirits releases a lot of music, so just in case y'all can't keep up, this one's worth the dive.
Foam and Sand, Full Circle (Dauw): Maybe it's because I came up with dudes hunched over rickety tables of cassettes and effects pedals, but I always associate tape loops with noise and drone damage. I bristle at carefully curated Tape Loop Instagram artists with their stark white backgrounds and pristine equipment and even more pristine piano loops. That all said: Foam and Sand's tape loops are pretty, dammit, but instead of telling (and selling) you as such, these modular synth- and, yes, piano-made recordings shift with the many moods of meditation — they crest, recede, weep and grind.
Stream the new Viking's Choice playlist via BNDCMPR. Tracklist below:
Moonlight Sorcery, "Wolven Hour"
Aspidistrafly, "Companion to Owls"
Keiko Higuchi, "scenery two"
Bam Bam, "Villians (Also Wear White)"
Foam and Sand, "Circle 12"
Pharaons, "The Colonel's Assasination"
Point No Point, "Are You OK?"
Flashlights, "Sweet Night Sweet Heart"
Now, Now, "Wolf"
Turbo World, "20K"
Yuji Dogane & Mamoru Fujieda, "Evening"
Andrew Tuttle (feat. Chuck Johnson, Josh Kimbrough), "Correlation"
Roy Montgomery, "Audioramble"
Emma Ruth Rundle, "Pump Organ Song"
Wo Fat, "The Witching Chamber"
Interminable Corruptions, "Inaudible Screams of Suffering"
Crisis Man, "No Standing Ovation"
The Surfrajettes, "Warm Up"
Mobilen, "Giva och få"
Cauchemar, "La sorcière"
Petrol Girls (feat. Janey Starling), "Fight for Our Lives"
The Veldt, "Red Flagz"
Santiago Latorre & Colin Self, "I Want to Face Deception"
Sally Shapiro (feat. Highway Superstar), "Down This Road"
mssv (feat. Nels Cline), "Loose Stone, Fresh Oil"
Carl Stone, "Aspara"
Silver Godling, "Edge of Seventeen"