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Phil Phactor

Xu/Xu – “Alma” – [self]

Phil Phactor   8/1/2018   A Library, CD

Xu/Xu is apparently pronounced “FuckYouSlashingFuckerYou,” and is the alias of a certain Hidinori Noguchi from Japan (no relation to the coffee table, I presume). A palette of clattering, claustrophobic percussion, deeeeeeeeep rumbling bass, glitched-up white noise, and cavernous reverb undergirds these three very satisfying tracks of post-Basic Channel technoise experimentation. The middle track (Concha) is the funkiest of the three, bringing to mind an especially-deranged Vladislav Delay, but none of these are going to fill a dancefloor. A jagged edge of an EP, that stabs you at every opportunity, and is over far too soon. (Limited edition of 10 CD-Rs with hand-painted aluminum plate.)

Hennies, Sarah – “Embedded Environments” – [Blume]

Phil Phactor   7/24/2018   12-inch, A Library

Sarah Hennies is a composer and percussionist currently based in Ithaca, NY. She is a part of the long-running experimental percussion trio Meridian, alongside Tim Feeney and Greg Stuart. She writes:

“Percussionists are unique not because we lack ‘an instrument,’ but because we are the only instrumentalists with the freedom to define ourselves. In this malleable space lies a commonality between percussion and queer/trans identities in that they are most easily defined by what they are not. A queer person is not straight, a percussionist is not a cellist, a transgender person is not cisgender.”

Okay, but what does it sound like? This LP is made up of two sidelong pieces for four percussionists. Side A, “Foragers,” is the quiet side, beginning with a soft, low rumble that continues…and continues…and continues. Other sounds emerge, twinkling, outer space sounds that could be electronic, but they’re not. And then the whole thing fades away. Side B features the title track and is the loud side. Much more obviously drum-derived, this is crashing and cacophonous but somehow also calm and meditative. Both pieces were recorded in a large grain silo, which subsumes everything in a massive, cavernous wash of reverb. Fascinating stuff.

Duncan, George – “Mondegreen” – [Kinda Is Records]

Phil Phactor   7/11/2018   A Library, CD

Lo-fi bedroom shambles from the mysterious George Duncan and an array of fellow travelers. Lots of jingle-jangle guitar along with banjo and tambourine and a sort of studied sloppiness that brings to mind nineties slacker rock or maybe Sunburned Hand of the Man at their most subdued. Duncan’s voice is a bit of an acquired taste: nasal, often trembling, sometimes reaching for an intensity it can’t quite pull off. (So, par for the course.) The mood is mostly hushed and confessional, with some goth moments as well as the occasional acid flashback. Tracks 3, 10, and 14 feature some quite beautiful string playing. FCC on 2.

Applebaum, Mark – “Speed Dating” – [Innova Recordings]

Phil Phactor   6/13/2018   A Library, CD

Mark Applebaum teaches at Stanford and his compositions are said to pose “challenges to the conventional boundaries of musical ontology.” He has also given a TED talk on boredom. Both of these facts come to mind when listening to the first three tracks of this CD, which comprise the piece “Three Unlikely Coroporate Sponsorships.” The composer is credited with playing ‘rant,’ but it’s a strange sort of ranting. Each movement starts with a spoken brand name, repeated, slowly morphing into other words, related in sound but not in meaning, decorated with cookie cutter glitches and delivered at hyper-speed. It’s something like a manic version of Amirkhanian’s text-sound compositions. It’s certainly not boring, but is it enjoyable?

The other tracks are more conventional, at least on the surface. Clicktrack (T7) delivers an array of percussive sounds arranged in Cagean fashion. Skeletons In The Closet (T4) features eight analog synths squelching and belching away, and the title track (T5) is your source for classic dissonant string sounds.

Louise, Sarah – “VDSQ Solo Acoustic Vol.12” – [Thin Wrist]

Phil Phactor   5/23/2018   12-inch, A Library


There’s a gently flowing Appalachian stream and then there’s the vastness of the cosmos, and hovering somewhere in between is Sarah Louise. Something about the way her 12-string is tuned bathes all that rapid fingerpicking in a soft glow, so that you’re never quite sure if you’re listening to John Fahey or Tangerine Dream. This record is from 2016 and is part of VDSQ’s solo acoustic series. 2018 sees a Thrill Jockey release as well as an LP reissue of her 2015 cassette on Scissor Tail. All tracks are in the 4-6 minute range.

Usiende Ukalale: Omutibo From Rural Kenya [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

Phil Phactor   4/18/2018   12-inch, International

Omutibo is a style of Kenyan folk music that combines storytelling with intensely rhythmic fingerpicking guitar. It was developed by guitarist George Mukabi in the early 1950s, who took inspiration from the traditional nyatiti lyre and sukuti drum. The style proved to be wildly popular, and Mukabi sold hundreds of thousands of records throughout East and Central Africa. Over 50 years later, Cyrus Moussavi (Raw Music International) traveled to Kenya to visit many of the original musicians and record them in their homes. While George Mukabi himself is not featured here (he passed in 1963 at the age of 33), we do hear music from his son Johnstone. Joyous, life-affirming songs, and an essential document.

Parker, Evan / Lazro, Daunik / McPhee, Joe – “Seven Pieces Live At Willisau 1995” – [Clean Feed]

Phil Phactor   4/11/2018   CD, Jazz


Clean Feed brings the goods once again with this document of a 1995 meeting of three titans of the modern saxophone. From the opening long-held tones of “Echoes of Memory,” it’s clear that this is going to be a conversation, not a shouting match. These guys know how to play, but they also know how to listen. Moments reminiscent of a Bach fugue evolve effortlessly into moments of unbridled free play. This recording has been remastered from cassette, and the tape hiss and occasional cough really help in the feeling of being there. The track “Florid” (T4) is solo Evan Parker, and it is one of his classic circular-breathing ascending-to-heaven epics. Worth the price of admission all by itself. The last track ends with extended rhythmic clapping.

Cambien, Jonas Trio – “Zoology of The Future, a” – [Clean Feed]

Phil Phactor   3/14/2018   CD, Jazz

Modern, quirky, jazz miniatures from this trio of Europeans. It’s the very opposite of a skronk-fest, as all the tracks are composed (at least in part), and most clock at under five minutes. The compositions are highly rhythmic, with the melodic material hinting at all kinds of things from modern classical to lounge jazz. A polite, measured treat.

Kim, Roger – “Portrait Maker” – [Self Produced]

Phil Phactor   3/6/2018   A Library, CD

Achingly gorgeous work from local talent Roger Kim. Delicate melodies lushly arranged for an ensemble of strings, woodwinds, voice, guitar, and piano create a fairy-tale atmosphere. Drift off into a strange and wonderful new world…

Rich, Robert – “Biode, The” – [Soundscape Productions]

Phil Phactor   2/28/2018   A Library, CD

High priest of the chill-out room Robert Rich returns with this satisfying collection of slithering, shimmering, seething electronic ambience. The beats range from absent to gently propulsive, but you probably won’t be tempted out of your bean bag chair. Eastern-tinged melodies rise up out of the electronic murk and then fall again. On first listen, some of the tracks can sound rather simple, but there’s lots of hidden detail for the patient listener.

HMS – “Tetrad” – [Astral Spirits]

Phil Phactor   2/14/2018   A Library, Cassette


Yes, it’s another genre-defying release from the folks at Astral Spirits. Climb aboard the HMS Tetrad! You’ll find delicate drumwork, disembodied violin, and other things too, but mostly there is just the deep, dark vastness of the sea. These tense and drony soundscapes bring to mind a darker, fuzzed-out version of The Necks, and that’s high praise as far as I’m concerned. Retriever (T2) is the highlight.

Similar Fashion – “Portrait of” – [Self Produced]

Phil Phactor   2/14/2018   A Library, CD

Dancey, sunny, art-pop from this L.A.-based quartet led by Logan Hone, whose solo album recently sailed through Current. There’s a west African feel to a lot of these tracks, and an Arthur Russell feel as well. The pop song format gets turned upside down and inside out and spiked with ??some delicious bits of free improvisation, but the groove is never far away. Logan Hone’s earnestly weird lyrics evoke the joy of living in California and the joy of living in general. If this doesn’t put a smile on your face, there’s probably something wrong with you.

Computer – “Internet” – [Skrot Up]

Phil Phactor   1/31/2018   12-inch, A Library

This is an album called ‘Internet’ by an outfit calling themselves ‘Computer,’ and well it sounds exactly like you think it would. Which is to say, cliched synth squiggles, slapdash Youtube sampling, text-to-speech, wrong-speed experiments, gratuitous power chords, all chopped up and run through Ableton by a pair of millennials on an Adderall/weed bender. Another reviewer writes: “just a big dump of digital trash that cannot be avoided.”

Gerowitz, Joshua – “Solano Canyon” – [Pfmentum]

Phil Phactor   1/16/2018   CD, Jazz

This is the debut album from Socal-based guitarist Joshua Gerowitz, and it’s exceedingly hard to pin down. The lead-off track seems simple enough, with the horns blowing over a swinging, dad-jazz vamp, when all of a sudden Gerowitz launches a fuzzed-out attack and blows things wide open. The Hamburger Isand tracks (T2, T5, T7) are noisy, vocal-led drone improvisations and available in a variety of track lengths for your programming convenience. Morning Landscape Illusion (T4) is a bluesy dirge with lots of filigreed horn work that slowly builds in intensity. Last track is a lonely, looper-ed, Bill Frisell-style send off.

Pek, Jakob – “Acoustic Medicine” – [Self Produced]

Phil Phactor   12/13/2017   A Library, CD



Minimal, hippy-dippy, solo guitar explorations courtesy of local artist Jakob Pek, who makes up one-half of improv duo Dunkelpek (with percussionist Nava Dunkelman). While that group can get pretty far out at times, for this project Jakob keeps things simple and contemplative. Tracks 1 and 3 are fingerstyle jams, while tracks 2 and 4 make use of long held tones, made with a violin bow as well as perhaps an E-bow, a signal generator, and Tibetan singing bowls. Track opens with some prayer bells and ends up being a combination of the two approaches. Slow down and take it in.

Ensemble, Et Al. – “Slow Reveal, The” – [Imaginator Records]

Phil Phactor   11/29/2017   A Library, CD



Don’t mention the Tortoise in the room. Four academically-minded percussionists get together with John McEntire and record a p*st-rock album. Vibraphones, glockenspiels, dense interlocking rhythms, drums that crash in half way through, it’s all here. The first four minutes of??Minbalism (T8) sees the boys putting their chops to good use setting up an entrancing, polyrhythmic, overtone-laden drone. Once the drums come on, it gets a bit corny, but that’s just me (maybe?). Solid mallet vibes, if a little tame. Dive in!

Hearts & Minds – “Hearts and Minds” – [Astral Spirits]

Phil Phactor   11/7/2017   12-inch, Jazz


Man oh man, does free jazz get more fun than this? I don’t think so. Coming out of Chicago and released on Austin-based cassette label Astral Spirits (“new wave of heavy free jazz”), Hearts and Minds is a trio composed of bass clarinetist Jason Stein (fun fact: Amy Schumer’s brother), keyboardist Paul Giallorenzo, and drummer Frank Rosaly. Giallorenzo often sounds like two players in one, playing bass lines with his left hand while doubling the melody with the right. Other times he’s putting down smooth chords, getting noisy (a la the recent Thollem/Mazurek record), or spinning out tender melodies (check the solo on Irresolute). Jason Stein is the star of the show. A master on the bass clarinet, he can do all the free jazz tricks???clicking sounds, dissonant overtones, rapid-fire passages, circular breathing???but he’s also always melodic and always swinging. On Three for One, he lays down some klezmer-esque wailing over a slinky Sun Ra groove and then leads you down into a dark underworld that slowly fractures and expands before your eyes (ears?). Almost overshadowed in all of this is superstar drummer Frank Rosaly, never flashy, but pushing and pulling behind the scenes and always keeping it groovy. Great, great stuff that will appeal to fans of both traditional and free jazz, as well as prog, funk, noise, +++.

Shipp, Matthew Quartet – “Not Bound” – [Fortune Records]

Phil Phactor   11/1/2017   CD, Jazz

Matthew Shipp adds wind player Daniel Carter to his long-time trio composed of Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. The group works with an easy familiarity, favoring patient exploration over fast-paced fireworks. The opener soul secrets (T1) sets the tone for the album: a moody, modal composition which sees the bandmembers anticipating each others moves and effortlessly passing motifs around. If you associate Shipp with thundering left-hand chords, you’ll find a different side of him here. The track is (T2) opens with two minutes of drums over a walking bass line followed by spare, angular trumpet lines from Carter that recall middle-period Miles Davis. The group generates the most heat on totality (T4), which is also, to my mind, the most satisfying. A solid outing.

Converse, Bill – “Shape of Things to Come, The” – [Dark Entries]

Phil Phactor   10/11/2017   12-inch, A Library

Bill Converse loves Detroit techno and he doesn???t care who knows it. Seven tracks of analog bliss spread across four sides of vinyl, this album is a sonic tribute to the Midwest warehouse raves of his youth. Recorded with no overdubs using an array of mostly vintage hardware, this album pulsates with the urgency of the dancefloor. The full range of the 303 is on display here, from gently gurgling basslines to squelch freakouts to psychedelic comedowns. Each track reveals a hidden beauty as it evolves, no doubt the result of many hours of solitary knob twiddling. Timeless body music. PLAY LOUD.