Lead Belly – “Black Betty”
Negro Sinful Songs

After hearing the 1977 Ram Jam version of this song, I was curious about its origins. Turns out it dates back to at least 1933 (almost certainly decades before), but was first commercially recorded by Lead Belly in 1939. Betty herself seems to be everything but a trouble-ridden woman; “Black Betty” is said to refer to a whip used in prisons, or the black wagon used to transport prisoners, or (as early as 1736, noted by Benjamin Franklin) a bottle of whiskey.


Tanakh – “5 AM”
Ardent Fevers

While this album never approaches the mystical prominence of Villa Claustrophobia, it does have some moments of beauty and lucidity. Here is one of them. (insound)


World’s End Girlfriend – “We are the massacre”
The Lie Lay Land

A beautiful but sometimes grating and even terrifying album, The Lie Lay Land is inarguably also very creative. The way this Japanese electronic-classical composer combines soothing strains with noise and samples is atmospheric and powerful, though certainly not for everyone. This track is probably the most accessible, though their collaboration with Mono is more likely to attract the average listener’s ears.


Various – “The World Is Gone”
The World Is Gone

An unaccountable and varied album, touching on dub and noise as frequently as it does on folk melodies. It’s not always successful, but there’s a kind of grooving, dirty honesty pervading it that makes it impossible to truly dislike. This is the only instrumental track, but the vocals elsewhere range from Espers-esque harmony to jarring spoken word. It can be a bit hammy, but certainly worth a listen. (insound)


The Microphones – “I’ll Be in the Air”
Don’t Wake Me Up

Early Phil Elvrum is occasionally hard to tell apart form late-era Phil Elvrum. In this case the pensive vocals and roiling guitars could have come from practically any of his projects and albums. It is in fact from 1999’s Don’t Wake Me Up, part of a very fertile period in his songwriting career. I can’t tell if that’s Mirah singing backup, but it’s possible.


Lowcloudcover – “Skeleton Key”
Separation Anxiety

Confident, competent, and well-produced, this Lowcloudcover album sounds great but not particularly original. But reliably good, slightly-extended (all but two of the songs clock in between five and six minutes) psych-rock is surprisingly difficult to find and this is a fertile source. They must also be given extra credit for actually using the bass rather than letting it slog along deep in the low end.

Jonsi & Alex – “Stokkseyri”
Riceboy Sleeps

A rich, contemplative soundscape that manages to faultlessly merge digital and organic tones. Perhaps closest to Sigur Ros’s ( ), but more subdued and blue-grey. (insound)


Olivia Tremor Control – “Holiday Surprise”
Dusk At Cubist Castle

Despite their sound being more ether-soaked psychedelia on this record than the sharp, more abstract Black Foliage, OTC were plenty ambitious with this album. With multiple multiple-part tracks and an entire optional “background” track on a separate CD, this was straight up concept work. But with solid songwriting and an sound that changes so often you can’t help but pay attention, you can take the concept or leave it and it’s still a great record.

Autechre – “krYlon”

At first, I thought claims Autechre had gone melodic on this album were overstated. Then this and the final track cashed that check but good. It’s their most beautiful and accessible work since LP5’s “Rae,” combining some of that album’s glitch-outs with harmonies as much Frost as they are Tri Repetae. And the 10-minute closer, “Yuop,” channels (if you can believe it) Stars of the Lid more than anything, all zen bowls, strings, and eerie majesty. Oversteps does have the usual Autechre weirdness, but parts are powerful and the last two tracks are simply stunning.


Loscil – “Zephyr”

This hypnotizing album is Loscil’s third, far more rich than the muted Submers or the barely-there Triple Point. It’s full of tracks like this, repetitive but enveloping, and deceptively full of detail at every tone level. Beauty, but hovering on the border of threatening depths. (insound)