Notable Netlabel Releases of 2016 (part four)

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Hi, again, I’m C. Reider. I release most of my own music for free on the internet, and I listen to a lot of music by people who do the same. This is a list of free-to-download releases from 2016 that I liked a lot.
I’ve done lists like this for several years, here are previous years’ lists:
2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.

These lists have been getting really long, because I listen to a lot of music over the course of a year, so for my sanity and yours, I’m going to break up this end of year list into several smaller lists. This strategy will also allow me to consider albums released late in the year, while still being able to raise the profile of cool stuff from earlier in the year. This is part FOUR of the big list, I will post links just below this line of other parts as I publish them.


The ordering of these releases is completely arbitrary, no ranking is intended, and none should be inferred. I like everything I’m listing here to varying degrees, but ranking is a silly activity that helps exactly no one form their own opinion about music.

I should clarify that by saying these are netlabel releases, I don’t necessarily mean they were released on proper netlabels, many of these albums were self released. To me, netlabeling is a community activity, involving releasing music online for free (or pay what you want)…
preferably (though not necessarily) with a CC license…
and EVEN MORE preferably (though not necessarily) with a CC license that allows for remixability and sampling. So I use the word “netlabel” even though the word is admittedly problematic. You could just see this as links to a bunch of free music if you wanted to keep things simple.

You can be notified when the next part of this year-end list gets published by either following me on twitter @vuzhmusic or by subscribing to the RSS feed for this blog’s “Recommended Listening” category:

Pollux – &+
CC BY NC ND (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Self Released

A compilation / remix album that sounds like it started down the path toward being calming, sunlit, and ambient… but as things progressed, things blurred, got more fractured and granular and gained enough instability to give the album a bit of an unsettling feel. Not “dark” precisely, just slightly “off” – things feel a little skittish and tense-muscled. To be clear, this “off-ness” I’m describing is what gives the work a bit more character than similar things I don’t quite find as good.

36 – Indigo / Expanse
Copyright (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Self Released

A fluffy bit of undemanding ambient techno that gives the nod, musically to both the Orb as well as Jean Michel Jarre, while still maintaining its own sound. Not my favorite from this group, but 36 is always worth a listen. They know how to do their stuff very well.

Catalan Coast – Catalan Coast
Copyright (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Midnight Circles

A sort of stoic, minimalist art music that leans away from the ambient tag as much as it couldn’t be classified as much else. Reminds me a bit of the legendary Tear Ceremony, who did some of this kind of thing to some acclaim throughout the nineties & early 00s. The first track sets the pace with long, reedy tones in the upper-mid register, drones punctuated by short, crescendos of chords in the same voicing. Distant, soft pops could possibly be described as the percussion element of this piece. The second track is a shimmering tonal drone of ringing bells, looped. This is interrupted by some solemn, stringed chords. The final piece is a pretty, spare, melancholy repeating refrain that sounds like a duet between a concertina and a glass armonica in a big reverberant space. What it does, it does beautifully, and when it ends I would prefer it lingered a bit longer. I liked this so much that I had to get it on tape, and ended up getting a large batch from the label… and liked it all so much that I submitted my own music to the label for release. So I guess that you can infer my enthusiasm (or bias) from that.

Martin Hoogeboom – the Garden
CC BY NC ND (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Etched Traumas

Three brief tone poems made in tribute to Derek Jarman: e-bowed guitars, slowed-down laughing gas vocals, wet streets, backstreet clinics, steam vents. More interlude than destination.

Phil Maguire – Structuur
CC BY NC SA (Derivs allowed! Remix / sample away! πŸ™‚)
Self Released
Phil Maguire – This This
CC BY NC ND (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Linear Obsessional

A collection of what the composer calls “strangled sine waves”… Somone call the sine police! ‘Structuur’ is a dense knot of FM synthesis that churns constantly over high heat. On ‘This This’, the waves are more given to popping and bouncing off one another. There’s a lot more space here, sounding like circuit-bent crickets moving ever away from synchrony. Apparently all this stuff was made with Raspberry Pi, hm.

Project Mycelium – Pulse
CC BY NC SA (Derivs allowed! Remix / sample away! πŸ™‚)
Linear Obsessional
Project Mycelium – Pyramiden
CC BY NC ND (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Linear Obsessional

My ears go up when I hear associations of mycelia with music, as I’m a bit of a mycophile. Nothing too overtly mushroomy to be found here, however, so fungiphobes are safe enough. ‘Pulse’ is a twenty minute long, almost soundtrack-ish bit of ambient proto-jazz that noodles around and eventually coalesces around a little calliope groove. ‘Pyramiden’ is equally brief, equally atmospheric, but it evokes darker spaces and isn’t likely to fall into any comforting groove. It’s all skitter, dart for cover and linger a while in hiding, waiting for danger to pass. Says in the notes that all sounds on ‘Pyramiden’ were made with water and steel.

Ave Eva – Panamint
Copyright (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Midnight Circles

Minimal, pretty, synth music that leans toward the drone.

Reier – g(f(x))
CC BY NC SA (Derivs allowed! Remix / sample away! πŸ™‚)
Southern City’s Lab

I admit this first caught my attention due to the similarity with my name, but it’s stuck around because of its percolating noise synths and cold-filtered machine drones. The album by this Ukranian artist smartly oscillates between prettiness and technical difficulties.

Steve Hamann – Set and Subset
CC BY NC (Derivs allowed! Remix / sample away! πŸ™‚)
Self Released

A collection of new work from a composer I’ve been enthusiastic about for years. These synth-realized pieces are musical (i.e. tonal) constructions that call to mind the work of David Borden (of Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company) in that they’re serious pieces, but stripped back, uncomplex and repeating, conveying a kind of zen-like quality of “this is all this song needs to be”.

Schemawound – Heart Removal Kit
CC BY NC SA (Derivs allowed! Remix / sample away! πŸ™‚)
Self Released

In a not entirely surprising move, Schemawound steers his project – already diverse with industrial beat music and lyrical ambient works – into the area of psychedelic techno dub championed by people like Cevin Key & Ryan Moore. That he does it well is also no huge surprise. The production is slick and tight, the grooves are decent, and while melodic development has never been J. Siemasko’s strong point, nothing gets monotonous.

Thistle Group – Thistle Group (2016)
Copyright (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Stabbies Etc.

Brief seventeen minutes of what I presume are two sides to a tape release. Spooky little tunes with lo-fi sound loops, some percussive bashings, disaffected, post-goth-punk vocals and thoroughly fuzzed out basement-guitar plonkings.

Rashida Prime – Damaged Interface
Copyright (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)

Serviceable, non-threatening, light, not especially intellectually stimulating ambient chill music. The kind of thing that apparently feels comfortable with having the word “cyberpunk” associated with it. I do rather like to listen to this kind of stuff early in the morning, when I’m traumatized by waking up and having to go to work. The album has been released by two different labels. The one I downloaded it from changed from a free download to charging a dollar, but the one I’m linking to now, in keeping with the theme of this end of year list, is pay what you want.

TVSky – What the Moon Brings
CC BY NC ND (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Cyan Music

Straight ahead, four on the floor minimal techno that sounds like it could easily have come out on the DeepChord label back in the early 00s. It’s really as good as any of that stuff was. I’m always surprised that new artists are still doing such on the nose stuff almost twenty years later, because it really seems like such a musical dead-end, but I must admit I still like listening to it. I have my reasons, so I reckon they have theirs too.

Vavabond – No-Brain Improv
CC BY NC ND (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Pan y Rosas Discos

The title brings to mind Alvin Lucier’s brain wave piece “Music for Solo Performer”. I don’t believe that this group followed a similar method, as the description only discusses aspects of improvisation with body impulse as opposed to mental consideration, but Lucier’s description of his experience of performing the piece does talk about getting out of the conscious frame of mind in order for it to work at all. At any rate, I am not certain what the three credited performers are doing to make this very, very nice set of electronic clicks and buzzes that are sparsely arranged. There is not a huge amount of textural variance throughout the album, but to me it is a strong and fascinating collection of sounds.

Prone – Grand Theft Honda Civic
Copyright (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)

Techno for alien milk bars. Perfect weird Eurorack grooves, for staring off with stoned fascination at your nearest lava lamp equivalent. This is actually one of my favorite releases overall from 2016, I really dig it.

WΓ«ska Project – TV Mirror
CC BY NC SA (Derivs allowed! Remix / sample away! πŸ™‚)

Tones flicker by like an old cathode ray tube TV set when the vertical hold is shot. Bursts of 60 cycle hum and crackle join in sporadically. Probably time to call the repairman.

Piod – Stage One 2013-2014
CC BY NC ND (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)

Decent electronic dance music done with tasteful sounds. Sometimes gets a little Ableton-y, but I’ve enjoyed it.

Matthieu Lemontagne / Emmanuel Toledo – Belle Chemise
CC BY NC ND (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Self Released

Not a lot I can say about this other than it’s really some pretty, very well made ambient music. If you like pretty, well made ambient music, then you can’t go wrong here.

Faastwalker – Geometrics
No License Listed (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Kahvi Collective

Decent enough, mellow IDM, definitely could’ve fit right in back in the 90s when this stuff was so big. There were some parts that kinda reminded me of Wendy Carlos’ soundtrack for Tron, and another part where it’s overtly a cringey hommage to Boards of Canada. Otherwise, yeah…

Kamera Obscura – Speleology: Kamera Obscura Live
CC BY NC ND (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Linear Obsessional

Pairing vocals with abstract electronic noise soundscapes is an approach that is fraught with perils and missteps. As a result, I can’t point to very many who do it well, but can point to a crowded field of power-electronic bands fronted by wannabe shock-jocks, and singer/songwriters who try to niche themselves with extemporaneous weird sounds and come off as gimmicky and aggrandizing. Coil was one group that successfully pulled it off, but they had built up a lot of goodwill and willingness to β€œgo there” on the part of their audience over the course of many years of their moving away from and stretching song structure (and never entirely abandoning it). It’s not entirely surprising, then, that Coil is explicitly referenced in Kamera Obscura’s music. There are similar song structures and vocal effects and an air of mystique. The vocals are sometimes melodic with words, and other times chatter in explorations aided by effect chains. Often the music has an on-the-fly feeling of being (at least partially) made up in real time, but I don’t know if that’s actually the case. Along with Coil, other influences, such as Blixa Bargeld, Diamanda Galas, and Magma are expressed in ways that are just slightly too close to the source to take fully seriously. I always have a certain level of admiration for someone who can go do some of this stuff in front of an audience using that must vulnerable of musical instruments, the human voice (especially a capella, as some sections are here), but ultimately I can’t say I’m entirely convinced yet. I think this is worth checking out, and I hope that in time there is potential for a fully realized, strong, unique voice to emerge.

Chemifaserwerk – Idatec
Copyright (No derivs! No sampling / remixing πŸ™)
Midnight Circles

Chemifaserwerk is a name I’ve seen around a bit, but this is the first thing I’ve listened to from them. If they’ve got a following, it seems deserved. This reminds me somewhat of the early, anything-goes ambient/industrial of Mark Spybey under his Dead Voices on Air moniker. Softly rattling drums, bike-spoke percussion, long-delay electronic buzzing, flitting fans, synth drones, field recordings and the like.

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