On a recent trip to rural Virginia, we brought along a cheap kite that'd been buried deep in the recesses of a closet. Having not flown since childhood, I was immediately struck by the kite's similarities to improvisation — that you respond to the changes in dynamic, pace and power the same way a musician acts and reacts within a group setting. You don't need to know all the mechanics to find the feeling in the push and pull (though that knowledge would certainly help), but the feeling finds you in the gusting shifts of wind and sudden dead air. I now find kiting immensely satisfying, though my skills (to continue the improv theme here) are basically noise kid who discovers Anthony Braxton for the first time. Here's to more windy days to make visual music. —Lars Gotrich
Véhémence, Ordalies (Antiq): Véhémence is a medieval black metal band the same way that Cauldron Black Ram is a pirate metal band — no hokey accents or gimmicks, just historical investment through raging riffs. However, Véhémence does incorporate folk melodies, flutes, cello and hurdy-gurdy into the mix — the probability of going from serious to silly is always so high in folk metal. But Ordalies takes a page from Agalloch in this regard: the music lilts with an anthemic fire. Most songs clock in at 10 minutes, but the epic black-metal energy constantly veers like the fields of battle the band shouts and sings en français.
Emmanuelle Parrenin, Targala, la maison qui n'en est pas une (Johnkôôl): 1970s French folkie Emmanuelle Parrenin made one of my favorite albums of 2021: Jours de Grève is a mystic dance record rooted in wobbly electronics, free-jazz saxophone and trance music. Perhaps age has spurred a burst of creativity because here we are just a year later. Targala is an album that could've come out five decades ago, in the midst of the 2000s freak-folk phase or now — it's something of a return to her roots as a spectral folk artist, but the psychedelic arrangements are contoured to shifting desert sands.
Rhodri Davies, DWA DNI (self-released): A Gordian knot of improvised harp music. Rhodri Davies tangles hypnotic patterns that will make you dizzy, but once you cut into the center, the methods become clear. The frenzy of plucked strings and sweeps has a calming, entrancing effect, one that I never want to leave.
Return to Earth, Oblivion (Bald Freak Music): Full disclosure: Ron Scalzo is a colleague (and asked for some advice about how to release Oblivion), but I can't help but share this proper wallop of a record with y'all. To call this metal is a stretch, but Return to Earth's corkscrew ballast is definitely metal-friendly. Think: The Mars Volta before it went off the prog deep-end, hook-forward Mike Patton projects, Nine Inch Nails' sonically-dense-yet-accessible electronics and latter-era Dillinger Escape Plan's WTF experiments, which tracks because Return to Earth's drummer/syntheist is none other than former DEP member Chris Pennie. Scalzo's impressive voice lands somewhere between James Hetfield and Mike Patton, melding the weirder inclinations of the latter into arena-ready gruff of the former. Kitchen-sinky stuff like this can be a lot to take in, but Oblivion never forgets to be outrageously fun.
Seven Rivers of Fire, Star Rise (self-released): There aren't too many strummy fingerstyle guitar records out there — meaning, acoustic instrumentals based on big chords with understated melodies. (Alan Licht's Currents comes to mind, and is worth a listen.) Seven Rivers of Fire, the moniker of South Africa-based William Graham Randles, wrote Star Rise for his partner — that starry-eyed sweetness sweeps through every song, the simplicity which sometimes is just as potent as a freshly picked flower.
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, This is a Mindfulness Drill (Jagjaguwar): Jagjaguwar sent me its full vinyl suite of 25th anniversary releases, which I’m excited to dive into, but my eyes, ears and heart immediately went to this full-album tribute to Richard Youngs’ Sapphie. The original, from 1998, is the kind of record that’ll illuminate and wreck your evening — you stare into the emotional abyss of Youngs’ meditation on changing seasons, then spend hours on the floor afterwards, rearranged. The arrangements here are thick with atmosphere, but never busy — the horns, in particular, are not as present as I thought (perhaps feared) they might be, and instead hover warmly around the edges, turning Youngs' nylon-string guitar melodies into echoes. Moses Sumney, Mike Hadreas and Sharon Van Etten are all their distinctive selves, but their voices drift with the late-night fog, which gives the overall experience a distance — not without emotion, just a pang felt at arm's length. The original Sapphie is startlingly direct in its existential wandering — and apparently NOT about Youngs’ dead dog, an oft-repeated mythos — but I’m coming around to this version that sits with an unknowing. In an accompanying zine, Youngs responds to the whole project with a perfect quip: "Reimagining anything is, well, unimaginable."
Stream the new Viking's Choice playlist via BNDCMPR. Tracklist below:
Véhémence, "Au Blason Brûlé"
Emmanuelle Parrenin, "N'attends Pas"
Rhodri Davies, "Dźwięk i następstwo"
Return to Earth, "In Pieces"
Seven Rivers of Fire, "Thank You"
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (feat. Sharon Van Etten), "The Graze of Days"
AJ Suede & Televangel (feat. Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire), "Respect the Architect"
Possessor, "Draw Blood"
Blood Command, "I Just Want That Movie Ending"
MUNA, "Anything But Me"
MF DOOM & Dangermouse (feat. Ghostface Killah), "The Mask"
Yao Bobby & Simon Grab, "Lekeo"
Lula Côrtes e Zé Ramalho, "Bailado Das Muscarias"
Sonic Youth, "Machine"
Brandon Seabrook, "In the Swarm"
Field Works, "Station 10 Review (Alva Noto Remodel)"
William Basinski & Janek Schaefer, "... on reflection (one)"
Tiny Vipers, "cm"
Silent Thunder, "Countess in the Fog"
Nechochwen, "Kanawha Black"
Mary Halvorson, "Night Shift"
Mister Goblin, "Holiday World"
Jess Scott, "I'm So Forgetful"
CHILDHOOD, "Deep down"
Oneness of Juju, "Breezin'"
Daniel Villarreal, "Uncanny"
700 BLISS (feat. Lafawndah), "Totally Spies"
Girls in Synthesis, "Enveloped"
Secret People, "peephole"
Chisel, "It's Alright, You're OK"