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When Luciano Gaglio founded I, Voidhanger Records a decade ago, the music journalist—perhaps unwittingly—put forth his mission statement in the name of the label. If he had called it, say, Transilvanian Hunger Records, it would be pretty obvious what kind of music he hoped to put out. But Gaglio instead name-checked “I, Voidhanger,” an obscure track from Darkthrone’s Plaguewielder, a mid-career oddity that’s maligned when it’s listened to at all. Gaglio throws down that gauntlet of oddity and obscurity with every release on the label.
“It’s a matter of fact that none of our bands sound the same,” Gaglio says of his Italy-based boutique label. While a common thread runs between the dozens of acts who have released albums on I, Voidhanger, it’s one of exploratory creative spirit, not necessarily of sound. Gaglio started the label in 2008, after years of writing for metal magazines and becoming numb to covering new albums by dinosaurs who had lost their creative spark. He wanted I, Voidhanger to be a home for unknown artists doing things in their own way, outside of the cycle of promotion and publicity that the bigger metal labels were able to afford. In the 10 years since the label’s founding, Gaglio’s peerless curatorial vision has made I, Voidhanger a destination for anyone interested in black, death, and doom metal’s bleeding edge. While his A&R work remains largely the same—scouring the internet and his artists’ brains for bold, forward-thinking metal—more and more people are noticing.
“What has really changed is probably the audience’s perception of I, Voidhanger Records,” Gaglio explains. “At first the label was probably seen like a curio, but by now it has been accepted as a tireless purveyor of bold and interesting metal music like few others. That makes me very proud.”
Here, Gaglio breaks down 10 of the most significant albums in I, Voidhanger’s impressive discography. They run from the harrowing, uncategorizable extreme metal of Todesstoss to marathon-length atmospheric black metal of Midnight Odyssey to oddities like Locust Leaves and Howls of Ebb that became relative crossover hits. They all show the various sides of Gaglio’s boundless curiosity and enthusiasm for the truly bizarre heavy music that lurks below the genre’s sterile surface.
De Masticatione Mortuorum In Tumulis
Before they were one of the most critically acclaimed acts of the post-Portal avant-garde black/death scene, Ævangelist was an unknown band in suburban Chicago, honing their ineffable sound without label representation. In 2012, Gaglio discovered them, and everything changed.
It was clear to me that Ævangelist were onto something right after I listened to “Death Illumination,” one of the longest tracks on the debut. I had found it on YouTube, accompanied by a manipulated and fascinating painting from [Polish surrealist Zdzisław] Beksiński that perfectly captured the pernicious atmosphere of the music. I got in touch with [Ævangelist multi-instrumentalist] Reuben Jordan, who I already appreciated for his works under the Benighted in Sodom moniker, and we started from there. It wasn’t easy. It took about a year and a half to release the album because Reuben was going through a turbulent time and facing many problems. But with patience and perseverance, we finally released the album and wrapped it up in a fabulous cover painting, definitely one of my favorites. Both Reuben Jordan and singer Val Dorr are special individuals and very talented musicians. We’re going to collaborate again in the very near future.
Gaglio is Italian, but I, Voidhanger thus far has not worked with many Italian artists. Violet Dreams is about as close as it gets—an American metalhead’s reverent take on classic Italian doom.
[John Gallow and I] share a love for Paul Chain, Death SS, and Italian doom, prog, dark sounds, and horror soundtracks, but he adds to those his eccentricity and twisted doom visions, making the music unpredictable and constantly inventive. I love his Bizarro project as well, but I’ve chosen Violet Dreams because in a way it’s his solo debut, and the songs are not filtered through the sensibility of other band members. This is 100% John Gallow’s art, an amazing release from an unsung hero of the metal underground. And one of the most humble, too.
Howls of Ebb
The Marrow Veil
San Francisco avant-garde black/death project Howls of Ebb became one of the label’s most iconic acts during its short but productive lifespan, releasing three albums with Gaglio before splitting up in 2017. The Marrow Veil helped promulgate I, Voidhanger’s twisted vision to a wider audience on its release in 2015.
I think that I, Voidhanger was already recognized as a source for weird and uncategorizable metal, but with the Howls of Ebb’s records, we gained the attention of that part of the metal audience which is less disposed toward avant-garde sounds and more interested in metal’s glorious sounds of the past. Howls of Ebb have the great merit and the rare ability to combine the true spirit of old extreme metal with a unique approach, and by doing so they put together different kind of metal audiences.
A Subtler Kind of Light
This Greek prog-metal duo didn’t release their debut album until 14 years into their career. In and of itself, that makes A Subtler Kind of Light a major release for I, Voidhanger. The album’s concentrated burst of creativity makes it an unqualified triumph.
It was Ayloss from Spectral Lore that introduced me to Locust Leaves a few years ago. He told me that in a way they influenced him, and I was skeptical, considering that Locust Leaves didn’t release a single record in about 15 years of existence, apart from a split CD with Spectral Lore themselves. Months later, Ayloss was still mentioning Locust Leaves. Their whole [previously unreleased] discography was available for download, and I decided to further explore their music. It was nothing short of a revelation. There was music from more than 10 years ago that sounded fresh and vital as if it was composed the day before. There were short songs, very long compositions, aggressive stuff, atmospheric tracks, all of them intense, dense and crafted in a masterful way. I felt like a child in a candy shop, eager to have a taste of everything. I asked them if I could release some of that old material, but in the end, we agreed to start with their new compositions. Talking with [multi-instrumentalist] Helm, I realized that Locust Leaves’ priority never was to release their music on a professional label. They were simply more interested in pleasing themselves first of all, and the underground success of A Subtler Kind of Light didn’t change that attitude.
The astronomy-obsessed atmospheric black metal project Mare Cognitum has become a cornerstone of I, Voidhanger’s roster. Phobos Monolith was the first full-length the project released on the label, and it remains one of its finest works.
I was expecting great things from [sole Mare Cognitum member Jacob Buczarski], but Phobos Monolith was a total surprise. Jacob seemed more self-confident than on his previous works. The songwriting was stellar and varied—the melodies more satisfying. I guess the album can be considered a landmark in Mare Cognitum’s career, as it gave Jacob the possibility to test his capabilities once and for all, not only as a musician but also as a sound engineer. He’s one of those artists that doesn’t stop moving forward, that doesn’t stop perfecting their art. His new material is more exciting and mature than in the past, as you are going to discover very soon.
Shards of Silver Fade
The first thing you’ll notice about Shards of Silver Fade is that it clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half hours—a provocation for the short-attention-span epoch we find ourselves in. Dis Pater, Midnight Odyssey’s sole member, deliberately tests the listener’s patience, but he also makes it clear that his career-defining epic needs every last second it uses.
To put it simply, there are albums that say a lot in less than half an hour, and albums that need much more time to unfold. Dis Pater’s songs explore cosmic landscapes of transcendental beauty. They magnify life and death as parts of an eternal cycle of renovation, they celebrate the majesty of the night sky and of nature in general. They search for answers to our existential questions. And they do all that by blending in different kinds of music: black metal, dark ambient, funeral doom, death-doom, darkwave, classical, krautrock, space rock, electronic music, folk metal, et cetera. The album is certainly long, but one doesn’t need to listen to it in just one sitting. Each song of Shards of Silver Fade is a world in itself, and you can take your time to explore it far and wide before visiting the next one. Of all the Midnight Odyssey releases, this is my favorite, because it works as a summary of Dis Pater’s art, with ideas and styles coming from his other projects, The Crevices Below and Tempestuous Fall, now defunct.
Ayloss, the founder and sole member of Spectral Lore, is something like a figurehead and mascot for I, Voidhanger. Not only does he regularly release new music with Gaglio, his work feels like the purest possible embodiment of the label’s ethos. III walks to the cliff’s edge of what atmospheric black metal can be and gazes into the abyss below. It should be required listening for anyone interested in boundary-pushing black metal.
It’s always been a pleasure to work with Ayloss. Ayloss is more than a metal musician, he is a thinker and a philosopher. Each detail of his music, each single nuance, each single passage is thought-out and perfectly crafted. Mind you, I’m not talking about writing great riffs or playing a nice guitar solo. That’s the easiest part of the job! I’m talking about textures, tones, colors, timing, the organization of melodies, and structures. I’m talking about the fact his music flows naturally even during the most complex moments, as he makes things look easier than they are. His compositions should be studied in music schools. The funniest part of running a label is that I have to attend the creative process: bands often send me sketches of songs, and it’s always interesting to see how they change over time. As you can imagine, the creative process of III was illuminating. I’ve seen the tracks going through infinite changes till their reached their final form and perfection, and in a way, it was like watching Caravaggio or Michelangelo while they were painting their masterpieces.
In 2012, French black metal trio Ysengrin recorded their masterpiece—a five-part opus presented as a single 40-minute song, which comprises the entirety of To Endotaton. Its form obscures its utilitarian function, which is to deliver the band’s updates on the ’80s extreme metal of Mercyful Fate and the ’90s Greek black metal of Rotting Christ and Varathron.
Ysengrin’s To Endotaton is a very special release. It has an old-school, ’80s aura, as well as a clear Greek black metal vibe, but Ysengrin’s main man Guido Saint Roch has boldly adopted a progressive structure, unifying the five chapters of the album into one single 40-minute song. And he did that so remarkably well in terms of dynamics and general flow that one doesn’t even notice. Add to that a sincere occult vibe and the amazing cover art by Turkka G. Rantanen (who did art for Adramelech, Demilich, and Demigod, among the others), and what you get is a modern classic.
Perhaps the most blatantly difficult album in I, Voidhanger history, the 2015 full-length by German collective Todesstoss is truly beyond any concept of genre or scene. If there’s one I, Voidhanger release you should listen to in order to hear the extent to which the label is pushing the boundaries of metal convention, it’s this one.
Todesstoss has always been one of my favorite bands. I’ve followed them since their debut, so you can imagine how happy I was when sole member Martin Lang got in touch proposing a collaboration. Once again, we’re talking about a one-of-a-kind artist, and Hirngemeer is even more special than its predecessors because of its complexity and the surreal quality of the black metal melodies. The tracks are very long and demand a lot of attention, but it’s a very rewarding listening experience once you familiarize with Todesstoss’ musical language. There’s nothing more satisfying of when you finally understand music that appeared impenetrable at first listen. In some way, that implies a process of growth for the listener, and as a listener, I’m always thankful to those artists whose music is a constant challenge.
Converge, Rivers of Hell
For this release, Dis Pater contributed songs from all three of his solo black metal projects—Midnight Odyssey, Tempestuous Fall, and The Crevices Below. The album explores the rivers of Hades as depicted in classical literature and mythology. It works brilliantly as a study of the subtle differences between Dis Pater’s projects, and a requiem for two of them.
When I started the label, I wanted to offer special thematic releases centered on the strong, osmotic relationship between metal, art, and literature. I’ve always wanted to do a concept inspired by the rivers of hell from the Greek and Latin myth. Those myths were a source of inspiration for Midnight Odyssey’s sole member, Dis Pater. Therefore, he decided to participate in his other projects, Tempestuous Fall, and The Crevices Below, which he put to rest right after this release to concentrate on Midnight Odyssey only. Converge, Rivers of Hell is a successful release also because of the amazing artwork by the Flemish visionary painter Erik Heyninck, a true master of surreal and fantastic art.
Photos by Chris Weiss.
Fear, we’re so often told, is something we have to first confront, then move beyond. Naturally, music can provide much-needed support when we rise to face that challenge. But what if that fear ultimately stops us in our tracks? On Renata Zeiguer’s full-length debut Old Ghost, the New York-based singer-songwriter/guitarist considers fear as both a paralyzing force and a traveling companion that one needs to learn to make room for.
“A cloud is hovering, standing permanently still / Old ghost that I can’t kill,” Zeiguer sings on “Gravity (Old Ghost).” That cloud, as Zeiguer explains, takes many forms—alienation, depression, trauma, family dysfunction, a sense of personal inadequacy. And yet, at least on first impression, the music on Old Ghost is anything but overcast. Though Zeiguer takes cues from the vulnerability of vocal-jazz giants like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, she also nods to the springy bossa nova-style guitar-work of João Gilberto and Seu Jorge, as well as the dreamlike, faraway ambiance of vintage exotica records.
Zeiguer draws from the upbeat qualities of these influences to craft a sparkling brand of indie rock. And even when she slashes the mood with shards of thick, grainy electric guitar fuzz—as she does on the second chorus of album opener “Wayside”—her vocal delivery never sounds less than enthusiastic. Her use of vocal harmonies and reverb-soaked jazz chords seem to bathe the songs inlight. All of which lends an unlikely brightness to a host of disturbing images hiding in plain sight.
“The house is falling down, we’re sinking underground,” Zeiguer sings over an innocuous pogo rhythm on the Kafka-inspired “Bug.” She continues: “You’re burrowing in dirty mounds / With insect eyes you crawl around / Please don’t go undertow to the basement.” As the song’s myriad production and lyrical details come into relief, the music’s tone becomes increasingly three-dimensional, light casting delicate shadows across the cracked surfaces of Zeiguer’s past.
Zeiguer was watching David Lynch’s Twin Peaks for the first time during the period in which Old Ghost was written (a two-year span that began in 2013), and was struck by the iconic TV show’s signature blend of menace and humor. “The thematic material of that show is really dark,” she explains, “but there’s a playfulness—and an overarching presence of something being there that isn’t overtly there, an abstract darkness and also an abstract beauty. A mystery and an illusion that things are not as they seem, a dream space where subconscious, hidden thoughts and intuitions sort of blend into reality and everything then becomes skewed and questionable.”
As it happens, during this time Zeiguer also found herself feeling depressed, ending up in a space where her own perspective became “skewed and questionable.” For Zeiguer, one of the difficulties in coping with depression is that, “even though your reality may be blatantly distorted, your thoughts and feelings are still real.” She adds that, “of course, everyone feels depressed sometimes, but this was a philosophy of self-deprecation, of insecurity, lack of self-worth, of paranoia over what other people think, of cyclical negative thinking. I was always seeings things in the worst possible interpretation.” Writing these songs, she says, was crucial in helping her emerge from that period with a newfound trust in her own intuition.
Classically trained on piano and violin at the Manhattan School of Music, Zeiguer didn’t have the typical formative adolescent experience, the kind where your teenage identity is defined by popular music. She didn’t, for example, attend rock shows in high school. When she attended NYU in 2008, she was a newcomer to indie rock. “I’d heard the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Radiohead, Bjork, and Weezer,” she says, “but beyond that I wasn’t well-versed.” That didn’t stop her from working with groups like Skaters, Quilt, Ava Luna, Landlady, and Paper Pyramid, though.
When Zeiguer picked up an electric guitar for the first time in 2012, she found the instrument both incomprehensible and freeing. “My brain wouldn’t accept that there were these two other strings,” she recalls. “It threw everything off, and I couldn’t figure out the grid of the fretboard.” To this day, Zeiguer isn’t aware of what notes she’s playing on guitar—the complete opposite of her hyper-awareness on piano and violin. “When you don’t know how to play the instrument,” she says, “it’s probably where you’ll get your best stuff.”
As someone who made up her own scat melodies, loved drawing, and was encouraged to improvise during some of her earliest music lessons as a child, Zeiguer has always had an inner confidence when it came to her own creativity. It just took some patience to reconnect with it. And if you read between the lines, Old Ghost retraces that process. “In the Western mindset,” she offers, “we think we need to control our thoughts. But if you just become aware of them and talk about them, they won’t become this big unknown that you have to be afraid of.”
“Ultimately,” she adds, “I think the album can be summed up with one overarching theme: learning to be yourself in spite of yourself.”
Photo by Lissa Gotwals.
Perhaps more than any band of their generation, Superchunk have best exemplified DIY indie rock at its purest. From the outset, the Chapel Hill, North Carolina quartet were one of the scene’s flag-bearers, owing both to their burning, melodic anthems and their passion to build a community via Merge Records, the label founded by members Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan.
In their first decade, the band released eight full-lengths, not to mention a handful of compilations and singles, all of remarkable consistency. In 2001, they went on hiatus and helped guide Merge acts like Spoon and Arcade Fire to global stardom. When they came out of a nine-year hibernation for 2010’s Majesty Shredding, they were firing on all cylinders as if no time had passed.
Their third LP since their reactivation, titled What A Time To Be Alive, harks back to their earliest recordings by playing faster and louder—the only way to channel the outrage they felt over the nation’s political climate.
We asked each member of Superchunk to recommend an album on Bandcamp that they love. (In the interest of playing fair, we excluded any Merge Records release from qualifying for the list.)
I discovered the Tills because I follow Missy Thangs on Instagram. She works at [recording studio] Fidelitorium in Winston-Salem, and recorded, mixed, and co-produced this album. She is rad. I love the Tills, because they make fun music that reminds me of several of my favorite bands, those being the Saints, the Dickies, the Fluid, and some others that I can’t think of. They make me want to dance around and sing along—and who doesn’t need that these days? They are also a fantastic live band.
One of my favorite records of last year, which I listened to on Bandcamp until my copy arrived from across the sea. Golden Teacher are from Glasgow, and their anarchic mash-up attitude, homemade feel, and the fact that they live outside traditional channels of indie music made me think of another group of Scottish outsiders: the Dog Faced Hermans. But Golden Teacher are way more interested in a groove, and in expressing themselves around it, sometimes in extended disco-length, dubby workouts. On New Year’s Eve, I played the propulsive song “Spiritron” between Womack & Womack’s “Baby I’m Scared of You” and Big Baby DRAM’s “Broccoli” and everyone kept dancing.
One of Australia’s best-kept musical secrets? Maybe! Gersey are a band from Melbourne who have been making consistently great and always compelling music since the late 1990s. Their discography—four full-lengths and a smattering of singles—is small, but in my opinion, essential. What You Kill, their most recent record, is another collection of gem-like songs that shimmer with near ambient beauty and subtle tension.
I’ve yet to actually listen to this 99-song Sandinista!-on-performance-enhancing-drugs, but any album with song titles like “Some Crap Off My Hardrive,” “Oh Gosh,” and “Recording People On Drugs And Then Using Them In Tunes Is Better Than Taking Them” has to be a winner, right?
The release of 2017’s Providence was important for Norfolk, England electronic music artist Nathan Fake. Though he’d been making music for 11 years, Providence was his first album for visionary London label Ninja Tune, and was also the first one to feature collaborations with other artists. (Prurient’s Dominick Fernow supplies distorted vocals to the abrasive track “Degreelessness,” and Braids’ Raphaelle Standell-Preston sings on “RVK.”) It was also his first release after five years of relative silence, a period that, according to an interview with FACT, was marked by a constant touring to mask Fake’s dissatisfaction with the work he was creating at the time. That sense of frustration was all over Providence; a year later, it stands as Fake’s and most uneasy and abrasive record, an album that moved him away from bucolic, pastoral techno and into decidedly grayer territory.
Sunder, a new five-song EP that arrives around 11 months after Providence, combines Fake’s penchant for cinematic vistas and lush melodies with the urgency and punch of Providence; its first three tracks skew dark: “Arcaibh” has a kind of inherent roughness, every kick drum, snare, and handclap working parallel to one another but never quite melting together. At several points, the percussion is overpowered by a beautifully melancholic synth line, but this too fades away. The song eventually dissolves into a finale full of sharp clicks and tape fuzz, all sound eventually drowning in a sea of echo. For Sunder, Fake abandoned his previous production methods, which were purely computer-based, opting here to employ old Marantz tape decks, a Roland Jupiter-6 vintage synth, and a broken Akai drum machine, giving the songs an aged, slightly rickety feel.
But if the EP opens in darkness, it ends on an emotional high. “Cloudswept” has a driving dance beat and a dense, twisty, high-end synth line; it sounds destined for afterparty sets, with rippling, joyous notes bound to hit all the brain’s pleasure centers. “Lea” ends the EP with a journey into sci-fi minimalism, bubbling major-key monosynth lines floating up like the oil in a lava lamp. And while there are moments on Sunder that feel like a radical departure from Fake’s previous work, it also signals a deeper understanding of the ways to convey complex feeling into instrumental music. Sunder is an album of controlled chaos; perfectly disjointed, raw songs that demonstrate Fake’s growth and newfound confidence. Sunder is Fake in fearless mode, with minimal post-production and a youthful energy few of his contemporaries can match.
For the last nine years, and over the course of more than 200 releases, Copenhagen’s Posh Isolation—heeaded up by Christian Stadsgaard and Loke Rahbek—has been dedicated to supporting the underground, worldwide. “[Posh Isolation] was always global, since it began as a noise label,” says Stadsgaard. “It was an international community. We looked at people who did the same things that we were doing, in different countries. There were maybe a hundred people the label was oriented toward at first.” Though Stadsgaard uses the tag “noise” to shorthand their history, Posh Isolation has never sat entirely comfortably within that genre: its history is varied, and defies easy categorization.
Over the years, the label has moved from a focus on aggression and abrasion to something more graceful. It may be hard to believe that the same label that released black metal punks Sexdrome (for whom Rahbek was the singer) in 2009 could release the beautiful, autotuned electronic ballads of Khalil’s The Water We Drink eight years later. But Posh Isolation insists on progressing, chasing down music that’s profound and resonant, and not being afraid to take risks.
Like many labels, Posh Isolation was born out of necessity. Stadsgaard and Rahbek had recorded their first collaboration as Damien Dubrovnik, and needed some way to release it. And since they made music together, why not release it together? “It wasn’t like 10 years ago we shook hands and said ‘Okay, let’s conquer the world,’” explains Rahbek. “That’s not how it works. But I think there was—and maybe it was never said out loud—but there was an understanding of trying to push.”
Around the time the pair met, Stadsgaard had been setting up shows with underground luminaries like Merzbow and Pain Jerk, which he describes as the “loudest gigs ever.” Rahbek was himself inspired by a visit to a monthly experimental series at a venue called Klub Argot: “There was an American guy playing called Crank Sturgeon. He was on stage wearing a gas mask with a long wire—I think it had a microphone in it—and he was swinging it around while naked, playing the violin. I was like—‘Whoa, okay. I’ll stick around here.’ I think I still owe a lot to Crank Sturgeon—Posh Isolation wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for that experience.”
Though Posh Isolation is less interested in carefully chronicling their local scene than other DIY labels tend to be, they’re certainly located on fertile experimental soil. Part of the reason Copenhagen’s underground is so vital is due to a government-supported studio complex and venue called Mayhem, which began in its current form in 2009. Many of the artists associated with Posh Isolation have practice spaces at Mayhem, and the label’s own studio is located in the building as well. “In many ways, it’s a DIY space that the city has provided for a given time to people working in more-or-less experimental music. We’ve been there for maybe five years in total,” says Stadsgaard. The space is artist-centric, and though it features a limited number of studios, having so many individuals on the same level working shoulder to shoulder is a boon to the experimental music community.
The scene that began to cohere around Mayhem was documented on Posh Isolation’s 100th release, the 2xLP Dokument #1. Released in 2013, the compilation showcased post-punk bands Hand of Dust, Lower, Iceage, Vår, and Communions alongside black metal-esque artists Sejr, Redflesh, and Garrotte, and noise artists like Puce Mary. The compilation generated a significant amount of buzz, both for the artists it featured and for the city it profiled, and many of the artists featured on Dokument started touring the globe with frequency. Lust for Youth and Vår have gone on to release records on the Brooklyn label Sacred Bones, Iceage and Lower have been picked up by indie behemoth Matador and, in 2014, A Posh Isolation festival called 13 Torches For A Burn, was held in Los Angeles.
“I don’t think there was ever a day we woke up and thought ‘Oh, we have an international enterprise,’” Rahbek says. “I’m still surprised and happy when someone says, ‘Oh, Posh Isolation—I’ve heard of that.’ There’s never a feeling that it’s very different than what it was seven years ago. Some things take longer, and some things are easier, but essentially, it’s about getting up every day and working with music and artists you care about, and that hasn’t really changed at all. I think the outcome is stronger than it was eight or nine years ago. We’ve become better at our roles as musicians and curators and label managers, but there’s still so much to learn. As long as there’s something to figure out, it’ll be fun.”
In the intervening years, Posh Isolation has only refined and expanded its aesthetics. The duo has begun to focus more heavily on electronic-based music, releasing records by Swedish experimental techno artist Varg, Denmark’s lush, moody Internazionale, and any number of projects from Hannes Norrvide of Lust for Youth—Norin, KYO, Border Force, and so forth. Damien Dubrovnik’s newest LP, the label’s 200th release, is less fixed in the duo’s noise roots than any of their previous releases, blending string and wind instruments with electronic textures.
And while it’s hard to do anything for nine years and still find it fun, Posh Isolation rolls on, maintaining its playful and adventurous spirit. In January, the label released their first fully digital compilation, I Could Go Anywhere But Again I Go With You. “You always have to aim for the new release to be the best one yet,” Rahbek says of the release, ”and I think for this one—if it’s not the best release, it is definitely up there. And it’s the first ever release we’ve done one-hundred percent digital.” Clocking in at 24 tracks, and as many artists, I Could Go Anywhere But Again I Go With You is a showcase of Posh Isolation in 2018—still seeking out adventurous, experimental musicians, still straddling the border where beauty meets chaos, where melody meets noise. Only this time, as Stadsgaard puts it, there’s “no endless sea of tape covers to be folded!”
Photo by Delaney Teichler.
Black Milk says three albums influenced his own forthcoming LP, FEVER: Little Simz’s kaleidoscopic Stillness in Wonderland, the Internet’s breakout Ego Death, and Tame Impala’s psychedelic opus Currents. The rapper-producer hesitates to namedrop that last act, though. “I said I wasn’t going to mention them in any of the interviews,” he says over the phone, “because they’ve become so trendy now and I was kind of a fan of those guys way back on their first album years ago. But they’re a thing now.”
His claim that he’s an A1 day one isn’t too much of a surprise—defending that artistic singularity he’s fought for since rising out of Detroit is on-brand. Black Milk has spent his decade-and-a-half career carving a lane that’s musically distinct from his competitors. Conceptually, FEVER appears to forsake that purpose to join the choir. The LP, his seventh, focuses on a racial climate that’s become even more fraught than when he released his last solo effort in 2014.
But FEVER isn’t quite the sound of a 34-year-old veteran simply leaning into the times. Black Milk’s laconic writing and workmanlike worldview usually complements his experimentalist approach to production. That aesthetic hasn’t changed. Over the polyrhythms on “Laugh Now Cry Later,” he looks sarcastically at social pains through the lens of social media (“All fun and games, screaming out gang gang / Until lil homie pull up, put a bullet through a brain”). “Drown” sees him bitterly running through internal rhymes to examine the police’s apparent anti-black agenda.
Black Milk didn’t intend for FEVER to get this blunt when he started recording in December 2016 with the help of his fellow Detroit natives—keyboardist Ian Finkstein and guitarist Sacha Kashperko. “I originally went into this one with more feel-good type of vibes,” Black Milk says. Then reality of Trump’s election started to sink in: “I think the world had changed and it put me in the place of where I gradually talked about what was going on—and there’s nothing feel-good about that shit.”
Part of the reason Black Milk aimed for more optimism was because of the darkness that threaded his prior two solo efforts, 2013’s No Poison No Paradise and 2014’s If There’s a Hell Below—which themselves sound like rejoinders to 2010’s triumphant Album of the Year. If There’s a Hell Below highlight “Story and Her” is a disarmingly soulful number that details a drug overdose. No Poison’s centerpiece “Sunday’s Best / Monday’s Worst” narrates the life of a church boy who grows up to be a stick-up kid. Its closer, “Money Bags,” has a synth beat that sounds like a get-money anthem, but it’s actually about the foothold capitalism has on the impoverished.
Photo by Jabari Jacobs.
Perhaps the difference between FEVER and Black Milk’s prior work is how he’s more explicit with his social themes. However it’s delivered, Black Milk is focused on getting the message to the listener: “You’re always trying to find new ways to articulate something to people who just don’t fucking get it. With me personally, I’m expressing from the way I know how to express it: Trying to simplify but still be witty with it.”
Black Milk’s perspective is also informed by the notoriously rough inner city of Detroit. There’s a sense of instilled grit that swings through his earlier albums Sound of the City: Vol. 1 and Popular Demand, two projects that were traditionalist almost to a fault. Black Milk also inherited the city’s history of musical innovation, notably through his menteeship under legends Slum Village and J Dilla, who gave him an affirming co-sign early in his career.
Much to his annoyance, critics kept comparing Black Milk to Dilla after his untimely death in 2006. But as hip-hop’s mainstream went about its own serpentine changes—from bruising Lex Luger anthems, to Drake-led nocturnal jams, to melodic pop—Black Milk went on his own sonic extraditions. Album of the Year (which came after a difficult year: Slum Village founder Baatin and his aunt passed the year before, and Detroit legend Hex Murda suffered a nearly fatal stroke) saw him expanding his sound into a fully realized mix of procession brass and soul. No Poison took a left turn into an hallucinatory sound, like a jazz quartet rapidly aging mid-performance. If There’s a Hell Below juked between psychedelic soul and electro-funk Whodini would be proud of.
FEVER pulls back on the experimentation to legibly wove multiple strands of black music into its fabric. The new direction makes for some of Black Milk’s most instantly likeable songs, like the LP’s penultimate “Will Remain,” which features a dance floor-ready bassline that manages to pull some cautious optimism from him (“Say shoot for the stars, watch where you’re aiming”). It’s yet another step within his distinct lane as mainstream hip-hop progresses in ways that sometime mirror Black Milk’s old work. To Black Milk, evolution, wherever it leads, is part of the genre’s DNA even as the social issues it address remain constant.
“Every year, hip-hop music in general keeps sonically turning into something else,” Black Milk says. “I wouldn’t say this surprises me because, at this point, I think we all realized years ago that this thing is going to keep changing into something new.”
Steve Moore and Daniel O’Sullivan have only released a handful of Miracle records over the past seven years, and while they were solid renditions of pale synth-pop—like Depeche Mode scoring The Lost Boys, or a Goth-ier version of O’Sullivan’s Grumbling Fur group—the duo’s new album blows them both away.
“The Parsifal Gate” sets a sinister tone straight out the gate, dropping the New Romantic nods of their last LP for a fang-baring blend of speaker-panned beats (provided by Zombi drummer A.E. Paterra), hi-def hooks, and muscular synthwave melodies. O’Sullivan sounds especially transformed, his voice deep, booming and ominous. And Moore? Maybe it’s because he’s been composing a lot of film scores lately, but he’s become a beastly producer.
Take “Light Mind,” for instance. Slipping out of the shadows, dry ice, and fog machines of Miracle’s old work, it’s slick and self-assured, a lead single that would land near the top of the New Wave charts if we all took a time machine back to the ’80s. It’s kind of a red herring, though, because nothing else on The Strife of Love in a Dream goes down that easy. From the operatic séance overtones of “Sulfur” to the dagger-drawing one-two punch of “Dreamours” and “Mind Environment”—ballads with blood on their lips—Moore and O’Sullivan are essentially writing anthems for the End Days. And yet, they, and us, emerge from the embers feeling mighty fine.
Sammi Niss by P Tenney
There are, in a sense, several Hudson Valleys: the geographic fault which guides the river from Albany down to New York City, home to about 850,000 people; the weekender’s paradise of AirBnbs, farmer’s markets, and penned-in, post-rural nature; and the dream one projected in films like Dirty Dancing or the enduring cultural memory of Woodstock, a place created exclusively for self-discovery and -release. As a flier for Hudson’s Basilica Soundscape festival recently put it: ESCAPE EXISTENCE. VISIT HUDSON.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this, one of the country’s quietest but most exciting music scenes has been cresting and dipping, cresting and dipping, for the better part of twenty years. A mix of crusty locals and artsy transplants stretching the 60-odd miles from Beacon up to Hudson have turned the area’s basements, living rooms, and bars into a place where ‘90s pop-rock and grainy lo-fi can meet and catch up. Going out to a show means standing beside punk lifers and college kids, mall goths and hippies. People dig in here, whether putting down roots or insisting that they will keep wearing their keys on a carabiner five years after it went out of style. It’s more than a bit absurd, and it’s just how it is.
Sammi Niss is in a unique position to judge it all. Back in 2004, she co-founded the legendary local band Frankie and His Fingers with scene mainstay Frank McGinnis, dropping out of college to make a go of it. Originally from Connecticut, Niss has been living in the region for over a decade, with an outsider’s eye and a local’s verve. By sticking around and keeping at it, she has become one of the cornerstones of the current scene, drumming with the Woodstock-based Battle Ave and McGinnis’s new band American Film History, as well as transplants like Laura Stevenson and Matt Pond PA.
Niss recently took her role a step further, launching SubFamily, a DIY, artist-owned label, with her friends. “We all have completely finished records,” she said to me, “so why don’t we put them out ourselves and try to help each other out?” Each member of the label, from Niss and McGinnis to Battle Ave’s Jesse Alexander and John Burdick of the Sweet Clementines, pitches in as best they can, meeting up several times a month to plan out release schedules, work on press, and float ideas for the future. Theirs is not the region’s first local label: for the last decade or so, the Conor Oberst-associated Team Love has operated out of New Paltz, breaking artists like the Felice Brothers nationally, while others, like Fat Cat and Woodsist, have moved up the valley as NYC rents grew increasingly intolerable. But it is probably the first to focus exclusively on the region, planned and owned by “people from around here,” focusing on musicians who might, like too many before them, slip through the cracks.
In the years before Niss and McGinnis decamped back to the Hudson Valley, there was an active metalcore and emo scene that thrived at dive bars and house shows, serving as a launching pad for Coheed and Cambria before fading away without a trace. As Frankie and His Fingers began to sell out off-hours venues like Kingston’s Muddy Cup and attract major label attention, the scene got heavier and weirder, with more Christian hardcore but also a lot of straight pop-punk, playing in high school gymnasiums, Elks Lodges, and the few pay-to-pay clubs that figured they could rip kids off if they couldn’t sell them any beer. But that, too, had to pass, and around the time of the first Obama administration, the options started to decline, with micro-scenes at the local liberal arts colleges but not much in the way of community.
Over the past decade some things have ebbed while others continue to flow. Some bars that used to host shows don’t anymore; others, like BSP in Kingston, pull in national artists and local crowds every week. The Chance, a pay-to-play monstrosity and Poughkeepsie landmark, still remains in business by catering to the region’s angriest teenagers. Helsinki Hudson caters to the older crowd, favoring folk and jazz. The world-class Bearsville Theater seems intent on booking exclusively for that crossover jam band /EDM crowd, while Woodstock’s Colony, a former hotel and way-station, has been booking shows with Mike Campbell, also known as Laura Stevenson’s bassist. Even historic theaters like Kingston’s UPAC and the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie have recently undergone extensive renovations to appeal to a new generation of fans.
Meanwhile, emo-leaning bands like Quarterbacks and Diet Cig pack house shows, build hype and cycle out every four years, a dynamic that will be familiar to anyone who has stuck around too long in any college town. Whatever the hype, however, they’re really more the exception than the rule.
If you’ve known one another for a decade and will keep colliding for a decade more, it’s hard to cut people out or leave them adrift. People help one another out, record each other’s records, put on shows for their friends and anyone else who will listen, even if it seems like no one is. “Who’s going to sign an unknown artist that has never played live?” Niss asks. “But I have a pool of friends and people I know who will help me spread the word. That’s pretty much what it’s about.”
Photo by Adam Patane
Frank McGinnis is the sort of scene legend who you might not know, but who probably knows you. Starting in the early ‘00s with Frankie and His Fingers, McGinnis has brought his tireless tunes to just about every venue, bar, village green and high school gymnasium in the area. On this spring’s Be content with your light, child. he indulges in his biggest rock moves yet, an album of anthems and ballads that combine midcult touchstones like the Gin Blossoms with bittersweet ruminations on frustration and failure. Expect at least five melodies (per song) that you’ll find yourself humming for weeks on end.
Photo by Anjali Bermain
Jesse Alexander is a true scene lifer – he and Frank McGinnis attended Poughkeepsie’s Oakwood Friends School together around the turn of the Millennium. Alexander seems to be waiting for popular trends to catch up with him. His compositions of wobbly synthesizers, garbled vocals, and clear-eyed melody recall outré acts like Frog Eyes as much as they do music that will catch on in five years. Battle Ave often feels like a hub, a place where things that feel familiar are captured and distorted until you no longer know what to make of them.
Sammi Niss began recording her own music as a child, overdubbing music from boombox to boombox to make “really crazy-sounding songs.” Barring the release of any of those recordings, Niss will release her first full-length solo album, Words Escape, this spring. It is a wonderful, luminous record, reminiscent of early Owen in its juxtaposition of languorous acoustics and pounding drums. Written and recorded around her diagnosis with and treatment for stage IV non-Hopkins lymphoma, Words Escape is years in the making, the sound of a musician more used to crouching at the back of the stage then standing alone before a crowd.
With their mix of Uncle Tupelo-style alt-country and Midwest punk, Nightmares for a Week have been one of the best local live bands for close to a decade. If many of the bands here strike you as a tad weird, take refuge in Bill Manley’s heartland punk, with its emphasis on beery choruses and pounding drums. 2013’s Civilian War found the band tackling a life where music is, at best, a sideline on songs like “Red Eyes,” full of call-and-response vocals and twangy bridges. Though lately sidelined by personal and professional obligations, NFAW survives in hibernation, with new music planned for 2018.
This fuzz-pop trio put out an EP last August on Team Love, four songs in a little under 9 minutes. With more than a little lo-fi verve, Kate Larson and Co. apply Slumberland aesthetics to the kind of music you might have heard rumbling through the floor during a house show, all forthright expression and a cymbal-heavy mix.
Channeling the kind of dissonant slowcore you used to hear on college radio, Great Plains sound more than a little like Slint if David Pajo occasionally picked up the banjo. Floating doomy vocals above deliberate guitar strums, it’s the sort of music where you can practically hear feet hovering expectantly above distortion pedals. While most other local bands maintain at least a patina of accessibility, GP seem like the kind of thing you might stumble across after taking a wrong turn onto a strange road. In which case: turn around.
Another one from Team Love, this dreampop act prefers a chopped-and-screwed treatment of more straightforward tropes. Passing Falana’s voice through samplers and employing guitars for their towering drone, the result is something like a bedroom musician given the keys to a cathedral. Recommended if you ever wished Siouxsie Sioux did vocals for a Coil album.
Daniel and Elizabeth have been Woodstock residents for years now, forming close connections to both the old guard – they were often present at Levon Helm’s legendary Midnight Rambles – and the new. They’re up to other things now, raising their kids and working – Daniel as the guitarist in Levon’s daughter Amy’s band, Elizabeth as an elementary school teacher and acclaimed children’s musician for Smithsonian Folkways. But with music this good, you have to hope.
Though long identified as a Long Island punk, Stevenson and her band have been mid-Hudson residents since touring wrapped up in 2014. She wrote her last album, Cocksure, in the attic of a house in the Rondout-straddling town of Rosendale, one of the only places in the area with both a restored historic train trestle and a Tibetan clothing store. Being a local around here has always been something of a fraught concept but with Niss as a drummer, a stake in booking the reopened Colony, and a down-payment on a house, the title is hers if she’s interested.
This feels like a strange choice, given that as of 2018 Matt Pond has officially dropped the PA, and has been unsure of what comes next. But it’s appropriate: Pond runs a label out of his house, played his ‘farewell’ tour with a band of local musicians, and even has a devoted ‘Kingstonian’ page on his website. And besides, what artist on this list hasn’t broken up, or at least taken a break, at one time or another? If nothing else, know that commitment, not consistency or even success, is what defines a Hudson Valley band, local or no.
Much like parents who refuse to play favorites, Finders Keepers’ Andy Votel and Doug Shipton aren’t about to narrow their deep catalogue of more than 100 audacious reissue-heavy releases down to 10 essential records. In attempting to do so, we opened up a dialogue about everything from the modular synth madness of Suzanne Ciani to the long-forgotten acid folk of Susan Christie. There is the one Finders Keepers full-length everyone can agree on: the loopy solo LP Jean-Claude Vannier dropped soon after he arranged the hell out of Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson album.
“[L’Enfant Assassin Des Mouches] set a benchmark for the label,” explains Votel, “akin to what The Fall represented to John Peel. It achieves in just 35 minutes what most established artists fail to achieve in their entire career.”
“The best aspect of running a label like Finders Keepers is getting to work with your heroes,” adds Shipton, “to fill in the blanks in your knowledge, to open up whole new breadcrumb trails, and unravel the stories behind this amazing music. What better place is there than the source!”
With that in mind, here’s what the longtime friends/business partners had to say about some of the albums that have shaped the beloved British avant-garde crate-digging label over the past 13 years…
L’Enfant Assassin Des Mouches
Andy Votel: As the mythical, spiritual follow-up to Histoire de Melody Nelson, Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘first man’ combines a mixtape aesthetic—pretty radical for that era—with an early attempt at symphonic rock, invoking inspiration and awe in the same masterstroke. If I had five desert island discs to choose from, I’d take a copy of this album on vinyl, CD, cassette, 8-track, and MiniDisc…. It ticks ALL boxes and invents 100 new ones in the process. And to think JCV virtually swept it under the carpet after its release. It’s by no coincidence that our first, 50th, and 100th releases on the label are all JCV records; he takes the king spots.
Doug Shipton: This record is still my favorite on the label. It best represents our statement of intent when we launched Finders Keepers nearly 13 years ago and had only a few releases up our sleeve. Our only real objective was to share our favorite artists with the world. While reissue labels like Cherry Red and Ace painstakingly uncovered hidden gems and thrived for years, this kind of record was relatively risky at the time. It struck an instant chord, though; to this day, people tell me it was their stepping stone into the label, and rightly so! I’m very proud that Jean-Claude made Finders Keepers his home and the fact that (like all of our artists) we’ve been able to introduce his music to a whole new generation of listeners the world over.
Votel: If JCV is the king of Finders Keepers, then Suzanne has risen through the monarchical ranks to be our queen and leader. She’s a true revolutionary who broke huge boundaries in art, advertising, film, and the very invention of electronic music. Most of this was achieved in a distinct non-patriarchal landscape at the height of a cutthroat industry. You could describe her as a ‘game changer,’ but Ciani was certainly not playing games. This classically trained teenage piano polymath literally cut off her own air supply by boycotting keyboard music of any kind in a bid to revolutionize the future of music alongside modular synth designer Don Buchla.
In the subsequent years, she took electronic music to European art galleries, electrified the sound of America’s advertising industry, became the first solo female artist to ever score a Hollywood film, and wrote dozens of uncredited synth parts for a generation of zillion-selling pop records. Her biggest challenge, however, was to be recognized as a solo artist in an era where electronic pop had yet to break the mainstream, leading to her first solo album being released in Japan before eventually reaching Grammy status in America.
Rechristened ‘The Delia Derbyshire of the Atari Generation,’ Finders Keepers have become guardians of Suzanne’s sacred vault and continue to retrace her history, backtracking through a time that wasn’t ready for this visionary’s immaculate proton-portfolio.
Shipton: Never meet your heroes? People who espouse that tired old adage have obviously never had the good fortune of meeting Suzanne Ciani. A multi-Grammy-nominated artist who needed little introduction from us, this compilation—the fruits of which represent our first dive into her ear-watering archive—brings together a modest selection of commercial commissions from the late ’70s and early ’80s for companies such as Atari, PBS, and Coca-Cola, as well as snapshots of her more personal artistic endeavors, including her pioneering work with Don Buchla. She not only rode the wave of the burgeoning synthesizer age, but was a huge driving force behind it. I guess we didn’t do such a bad job, as Suzanne has since entrusted us with some of her most treasured musical milestones, and further releases have helped us to cement her place as one of the most important female artists in the history of electronic music.
Paint a Lady
Votel: This album is testimony to the fact that ‘failed pop star’ is in many ways a compliment, and in the Finders Keepers universe, a key factor in our modus operandi. Finders Keepers prides itself on working with artists that were ahead of the curve, underexposed, misunderstood, or literally too good to sit alongside the pop parade that our like-minded friends have spent their lives rebelling against.
Susan Christie was the label’s first flirtation with the underbelly of lost American pop music. Thanks to our friend Keith D’arcy—an Olympic gold medalist when it comes to collecting unreleased acetates and private press American pop—we were lucky enough to release this prime slice of forgotten folk-funk after it had been left on the shelf for over 35 years; make that 45 by today’s calendar.
As a self-sufficient label, we rarely work with co-compilers, but I first heard the track ‘Paint a Lady’ on a mixtape by Keith and it blew me away. I still think it’s one of the best examples of this strain of drum-heavy, cosmic folk music. When Keith told me there was a full unreleased album, Doug and I had to know more. Prolific producer John Hill had worked with similar bands like Wool and Margo Guryan, so it made perfect sense, and on learning that Susan Christie was in fact his wife of over 30 years meant that everyone was mutually enthusiastic about the project. It felt like kismet and the birth of a wider Finders Keepers family.
A couple of years later, Jarvis Cocker helped us bring Susan over to the U.K. for some shows, which were developed with Sean O’Hagan from the High Llamas. By that time, it felt like Finders Keepers [was] starting to do something right.
The Silver Globe & the Amber Light
Votel: Bird Records was a female artists-only label Jane Weaver set up to celebrate her freedom after her manager, Rob Gretton of Factory/New Order fame, passed away and she bought herself out of a record deal. At the time, I was running Twisted Nerve and we distributed the records for her. Back then, a lot of people joked that the title meant Jane was my ‘Bird’—she’s now my wife—but it really was about Jane spreading her wings for the first time.
When Finders Keepers established itself, we decided to branch out into various contemporary labels and took Twisted Nerve, Doug’s Battered Ornaments label, and Bird under our wing. Having come from an indie background, I think Jane’s involvement with the Finders Keepers family has had a huge effect on the way she approaches her music and the unison of the two labels has made a lot of sense aesthetically. But aside from this, Jane has always been an amazing songwriter, which distances her from a lot of progressive and experimental acts in the wider ‘psychedelic’ community.
Jane self-funded her early recordings while working day jobs as we raised our young family, resulting in The Fallen By Watch Bird album. This saw her master a rawer, first-take approach to stitching together an LP. Silver Globe took this to a whole new level, in which she truly took command of the project, almost entering a full-time futuristic fantasy land. I think this helped her tap into a new source of confidence.
The influence of Hawkwind and a wider understanding of electronic music are plain to hear on this album, but it’s the songwriting which proved Jane’s ability was a lot bigger than being just a referential music producer with a nice record collection, which is probably why she’s now exploring a much wider musical vista.
Votel: This previously unreleased Andrzej Zulawski soundtrack is a beast that works on many levels. Possession was the Polish director’s first film to benefit from the freedom of movie production outside of the paranoid confides of Communism. His first three films—all cinematic masterpieces—were all banned by censors for quasi-political reasons.
Ironically, this film also got banned for equally fickle reasons—the BBFC’s ‘video nasty’ clampdown during the early ’80s, a setback which would have been enough for any less robust filmmaker to hang up their scripts and walk into the sea. Alternatively, Zulawski’s unobtainable films eventually gained mythical status and continued to confuse viewers who’d been sold a bunch of eccentric, flamboyant, hallucinogenic, psychedelic, allegorical high art in an a slasher movie-shaped box.
The soundtrack tells a different tale. Composed by long-running collaborator, schoolmate, fellow Pole, and confiscated-passport victim Andrzej Korzynski, it not only accentuates the film’s blood-splattered plot, which is about divorce, but also guesstimates the future advancements of dance music. Understandably, Zulawski scrapped half of the score, leaving the final cut musically sparse.
Having known Korzynski from his work with the band Arplife, Poland’s very own pioneering disco-synth orchestra, and being huge fans of his psych-rock soundtrack The Devil, we were lucky enough to gain access to unreleased masters that combine slow industrial-disco with previously unheard piano experiments. Complete with amazing sleeve art by Zulawski’s first wife—enigmatic poster designer Barbara ‘Basha’ Baranowska—it’s a blood-red cherry on the cake of a perfect Finders Keepers release.
Votel: During a family trip to Australia in 1999, I was recognized in the street by some very nice Twisted Nerve fans. They booked me for an impromptu DJ slot, which relied on me buying a bag’s worth of vinyl from a shop outside of Sydney called Hornsby. This was my baptism in the waters of Aussie-psych and prog, and a crash course into artists like Steve Maxwell Von Braund, The Prickly Pear, and most memorably, the Stone soundtrack.
I watched the film years later and drew some parallels with maligned horror/biker movies like Werewolves on Wheels and Psychomania; this instantly appealed to everyone at Finders Keepers. The film’s director, Sandy Harbutt, was an auteur (control freak) of the highest order. This may have castrated his career, but the soundtrack ticks boxes in ways only a truly independent production can. The mixture of jazz, rock, mid-tempo psychedelia, acoustic folk, concrete tape experiments, psychotic country rock, and ring-modulated funk manages to combine more influences than an entire video library. With a backstory that exposes the true origins of the Mad Max franchise—of which I’m a diehard fan—Stone presented itself as another tailor-made FK release. Stone also opened me up to a vibrant palette of Ozploitation movies we vowed to dedicate vinyl space to in the future.
Shipton: It’s no secret that Finders Keepers exists at a crossroads between the worlds of music, cinema, and design; nowhere is that more evident than in our soundtracks. Since releasing Stanley Myers’s score for the Oliver Reed vehicle Sitting Target, we’ve been able to fill some pretty notable holes in our collections and right a few wrongs with our favorite films, including Czech New Wave classics (Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders, Daisies, Morgiana), an ‘obscene’ Polish art house picture (Possession) and the genre-defining Australian bikie romp Stone. With direct input from the leader of the Gravediggers himself—writer and director Sandy ‘Undertaker’ Harbutt—we were able to present this amazing score on vinyl to B-movie junkies and cock diesel devotees some 35 years after its original Australia-only release and tell the story of a pivotal piece of Australian cinematic history.
The Stargate Tapes
Shipton: Featuring a wide dossier of what many would call New Age or yoga music, this duo’s self-funded brand of electronic evolutions might actually be the most ‘punk rock’ branch of the Finders Keepers family tree without even knowing it. Self-manufactured during the first wave of independent private press tape duplication, and distributed in health food shops, Buddhist cafes, and garden centers, the exploits of Kat and Bob Epple, collectively known as Emerald Web, managed to totally evade the music industry in every capacity. Under the guise of perceived relaxation music, [they] ushered [in] a unique blend of brooding John Carpenter synthesis, mystical fantasy soundtracks, Tangerine-colored krautrock, and downtempo electro into the hands of crystal collectors and meditation schools. Intertwining the deep, dark, and mystical into the otherwise happy-clappy vegan sector while teetering on the edge of the Silicon Valley revolution, this music made an oblique interjection into the New Age scene via a prolific series of cassettes, released regularly up until Bob’s tragic death by drowning at the height of their productivity. The Stargate Tapes is a testimony to the duo’s work and a welcome alternative angle on a musical phenomenon which laid maligned on the outskirts of contemporary music for too long.
Shipton: The Googoosh compilation was produced in conjunction with our L.A.-based label manager, Mahssa Taghinia, who first explored her Iranian heritage through the amazing Pomegranates LP of lost—and insanely rare—Persian pop 45s. Googoosh showcases one of Pomegranates‘s key artists via a handful of cassettes and 45s, showcasing a varied selection of her oeuvre as Iran’s first lady of progressive pop music. Banned from singing in her own country since the Iranian revolution, her voice evokes a nostalgic euphoria amongst Iranian communities. It’s easy to see why she remains one of the most emotive and powerful talents in Eastern music, rivaling the likes of Selda from Turkey, Fairuz from Lebanon, and Noor Jehan from Pakistan. The album’s standout track, ‘Ma Beham Nemiresim,’ was recorded for Iranian radio and only ever appeared on cassette, making this the first vinyl outing for one of my favorite orchestral funk-pop records.
Shipton: One of Italy’s best kept secrets, Daniela Casa started her career working with the father of Goblin, Claudio Simonetti—translating English songs by people like Dusty Springfield and Nat King Cole—then disappeared further behind the scenes and made production music for library music labels. The dawn of synthesizer technology allowed this lesser-known luminary to balance her career as a full-time mum and guitar teacher with making intimate, uninhabited music in a solo capacity for independent labels owned by Romano Di Bari in Rome. This was the era of great recordings by Fabio Frizzi, AR Luciani, and Alessandro Alessandroni, but it also marked a great period for female composers such as Casa, Giulia De Mutiis, Vittoria Corona and Fiorella Fratini—composers who’d been pushed to the sidelines during the ‘pop group’ era. In the late ’70s, these female artists delivered fully-formed concepts straight into the hands of newly launched labels, evading the scrutiny of critics or public opinion. Arte Moderna was a concept album influenced by paintings in an Italian art gallery. It’s a direct product of the country’s new wave period and remains one of the most unique, focused pieces of Italian library music committed to vinyl.
Shipton: One of the latest members to join our ever-growing family and the fourth release in the Anatolian Invasion series we started back in 2007 with releases by Selda Bağcan and Mustafa Ozkent, I think this record perfectly encapsulates the heart of the label. Compiled with fellow B-Music enthusiast and Belgian digger DJ Sofa, we were granted unparalleled access to Gökcen‘s private studio vault—the majority of which has never been heard—and his expansive archive of photos and press clippings. This helped us plug a pretty substantial hole in the history of Turkish popular culture over the past 50+ years for those of us still trying to catch up.
In 2011 Car Seat Headrest, who were at the time essentially just Will Toledo, released an album called Twin Fantasy—one of dozens he’d uploaded to Bandcamp over the course of a year. It was a sprawling meditation on failed romance that hinted at artistic ambition beyond its maker’s years and budget. In 2018 Car Seat Headrest, now a bona fide band, are also releasing an album called Twin Fantasy, a re-recording of that 2011 LP that fleshes out the crude sketchings of the original into something ornate, enveloping, exhilarating, and dizzyingly complex. It is not only the best album in Toledo’s catalog, it is one of the young year’s best rock albums, period.
Toledo recently went to great pains on Twitter to stress the fact that Car Seat Headrest consists of four people, not one, and he was right to do so; Twin Fantasy wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does without the contributions of all its players. The 13-minute rollercoaster of “Beach Life-In-Death” is a master class in the slow build: Toledo’s voice and guitar enter first, operating at 100 miles an hour, then the whole song slams on the brakes; Seth Dalby’s bass bobs and weaves, Ethan Ives’ guitar claws away in the background, and Andrew Katz’s drums bash and clatter; then the whole band joins forces to push the song deeper into the red. Constructing rock songs with multiple melodic sections tends to feel like an intellectual exercise, but the way the band members play off one another in “Beach Life” makes each segment feel like a natural progression rather than a patched-together assemblage of mismatched parts. They also know when to pull back: In the song’s second section, the instruments recede so Toldeo can wonder aloud, “It’s been a year since we first met/ I don’t know if we’re boyfriends yet.”
That line serves as an early entrypoint into the record’s primary concerns. Twin Fantasy is an album about romantic relationships—and there are enough textual clues to suggest it’s mostly about one very specific romantic relationship. But it’s also about the ways that artists create fictional worlds and characters as a way to get in touch with real-life emotions, or to exert control over situations that, in their own lives, are uncontrollable. In the 2011 version of “Nervous Young Inhumans,” there was a spoken-word passage that’s excised on the re-recording, in which Toledo cites Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as an inspiration, saying, “I used the term ‘galvanistic’ to allude to that book as a symbol of how I created you as a character. I’m pretending that I know a lot more about you than I actually do.” Even the language Toledo uses there is slippery, the two versions of ‘you’—the real and the fictional—used interchangeably, blurring the distance between them. (In the new version, he uses a more potent metaphor to accomplish the same ends: “Do you know about Jesus? Do you really know? All you know is what you’ve been told.”) And while Twin Fantasy is, on some level, about a doomed romantic relationship, it’s also about the ways we take those heartbreaks and build stories around them. That it’s about both, simultaneously, is one of the things that make Twin Fantasy such a head-spinning triumph. In the exuberant “Bodys,” just as the song is gaining momentum, Toledo pauses to explicitly acknowledge the song as a construct, asking, “Is it the chorus yet? No. It’s just the building of the verse, so when the chorus does come, it will be more rewarding.” That kind of metatextual, commenting-on-the-form-while-the-form-is-in-progress has been attempted in film—think of Imamura’s A Man Vanishes or the end of Taste of Cherry—and while there’s no shortage of satirical rock albums poking fun at the industry, what Toledo is attempting here is something more philosophical, a deep-dive textual examination that borders on semiotics.
All of this doesn’t make Twin Fantasy sound like very much fun, so let me stop here to say: it is a hell of a lot of fun, a big, rocketing collection of rock songs that balances Kinks-like vocal harmonies with knotty, virtuosic guitar work and choruses as vast and clear as a summer sky. And while much of Fantasy’s existential detective work is around Toledo the narrator, musically Twin Fantasy is very much about Car Seat Headrest, the band. “Nervous Young Inhumans” is a dazzling rush of adrenaline, Ives’s upward-spiraling guitar line giving the song a sense of jubilance and weightlessness. (If you want to truly appreciate the difference the band makes, compare this to the 2011 version, which felt blurry and unmoored.) “Famous Prophets”—which clocks in at 16 minutes—earns its triumphant crescendo, the band gently stoking the tension until the whole song explodes.
But even in the album’s rapturous moments, its underlying preoccupations seep through. On “Beach Life,” Toldeo writes and rewrites his own biography: “I pretended I was drunk when I came out to my friends,” he sings, then immediately contradicts that narrative: “I never came out to my friends.” At the end of the bruising, hooky-as-hell, bash-and-pop anthem “Cute Thing,” he sings, “I accidentally spoke his first name aloud/ trying to make it fit in with the lyrics of ‘Ana Ng,’/ worked like a charm,” and then launches into a modified version of that They Might Be Giants song (Hopefully, Johns Flansburgh and Linnell are less litigious than Ric Ocasek.) And so we’re back to where we started: a real person inserted into pop song about a fake person to further mask their identity.
If there’s a final takeaway for Twin Fantasy it comes in the closing moments of the title track, when Toledo breaks the fourth wall one last time to speak to the object of his affections in a moment that recalls the introduction to Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear. “This is the end of the song,” he says, then adds, “And it is just a song. This is a version of me and you that can exist outside everything else. And if it is just a fantasy, then anything can happen from here. The names have been changed. So pour one out, whoever you are. These are only lyrics now.” That final phrase is a provocative one: when we embellish lived experience for the purposes of art—or, hell, even our own memories—which version becomes the real one? And does the “real” one even matter anymore? Or are reality and art just parallel versions—twin fantasies—of the same narrative we keep telling ourselves?
In “Beach Life-In-Death,” Toledo despairs, “I spent a week in Ocean City/ and came back to find you were gone/ I spent a week in Illinois/ and came back to find you were still gone.” In “Twin Fantasy,” he revisits those verses, but this time, the outcome is different: “When I come back, you’ll still be here/ When I come back, you’ll still be here.” It scans like Toledo going back into his own story, fixing the parts he didn’t like. He’s doing the same thing with Twin Fantasy on a macro level, revisiting a collection of songs that deserved more than he was able to give it at the time. The result is a blistering rock record of tremendous scope and heft, richly detailed and overflowing with memorable melodies. It is Car Seat Headrest’s first masterpiece.