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Special head-trip edition, plus a bonus Singles Mixer

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Twig Harper and Daniel Higgs

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The Convocation

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Rye Rye

Lesser/Matmos/Wobbly Simultaneous Quodlibet (Important) First, the cast: Matmos is the ensemble based around the Baltimore duo of M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel making free-form, transgressive electronic “pop.” Wobbly, aka Jon Leidecker, is a San Francisco electronic musician who, among other very free-form things, does amazing sample alchemy. Lesser is Californian Jason Doerck, another not-very-reducible musician with roots in IDM, who toured as part of Matmos opening for Björk. It’s a dream team of sorts for a particular kind of music. Specifically, music that delights in not being a “kind” of music at all: tight improv-minded stuff that manages to transcend the noise and improv-weird worlds for simply being, well, fun and easy to listen to, a bit goofy but also more than a bit rooted in punk’s monkey-wrench mindset and absurdity.

The roots of the record are indeed improv sessions, recorded during a recent-ish tour between the three contributors. The results, however, are rather more scripted. The improv recordings went back into the studio, in a sense—stacked, looped, chopped, and so forth, with some additional live instrumentation recorded in a “proper” studio setting. The final product is really satisfying ADD stuff that feels bottomlessly deep/dense without feeling congested and, as we’d expect, that certain kind of transcendent weirdness that these particular artists have all but cornered the market on. Imagine a game of trying to fit as many musical ideas—from fleeting synth melody or electronic burble to the common-thread rhythms that keep all this business moving forward—into a composition and still make populist sense.

And so the title: Simultaneous Quodlibet. A quodlibet is basically the OG mash-up, a piece of music that combines several melodies from popular songs in “a light-hearted, humorous manner,” as Wikipedia puts it. In any case, that’s the idea: Stack and layer unrelated things—the raw-material improv sessions in this case—until it feels “right,” at least according to the Matmos web site. It’s hard to really narrow down or pick apart the different songs on here just because it’s so damn busy, but just imagine this hectic confluence of plundered samples, interstellar synth, crazy rhythms, lost-to-effects vocals, and even some guitar, all forming melodies that don’t so much trip and fall over each other but come together like a game of Twister. In other words, a success, one of those opportunities in the avant-world for the listener to feel that same sort of transgressive play the artists do.

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Twig Harper and Daniel Higgs Clairaudience Fellowship (Thrill Jockey) Daniel Higgs and Twig Harper are about as classic as it gets in Baltimore’s everything-weird underground. Higgs, of course, is the erstwhile frontman of Lungfish and a drone-spiritual soloist, while Harper’s one of the principles of show space/spiritualist library Tarantula Hill and a source of a constant stream of deep sound collage/noise head-trip, under his own name and with foundational west side racket outfit Nautical Almanac.

The thing is that, classic or not, the two still sit at relative opposite ends of the (anti-)musical spectrum. At one pole, you have the ecstatic and abstract soundforms of Harper, and at the other you have Higgs, who’s historically been almost unnervingly grounded—in sound if not spirit—making forceful, heavy, and repetitive songs throughout his three-decade career that feel about as ecstatic as the Earth’s orbit around the sun or the force of Earth’s gravity. So the combination is obvious if only as territory that demands exploring, less so as natural aesthetic partners.

The give is almost all on Harper’s side here, it feels anyway. Rather than creative friction, you have him almost delicately carving away spaces within frequently muted and restrained soundscapes for Higgs’ spoken-word mantras. The result sounds remarkably complementary and even natural, without either party really ceding anything—neither freedom nor levity—and, you get the impression, having a really good time going way off the nondenominational spiritual deep end. (Higgs’ first words on the record: “Love with be love beyond love.”) But, doing so and not being especially cheesy, either.

And these seven songs, named only by their numbers, are all pretty listenable too. Less noise and more dronescape. A fizzy organ line here, a wisp of tripindicular guitar there. An effects-reversed ringing of chimes; a hissing tape-loop texture; a thrumming fog of Higgs’ vocal specters. So fear not, you’re not being tested on this record; you’re maybe even welcomed. And, strangely enough, this wouldn’t be a terrible place to start with the latter-day careers of either collaborator.

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Singles Mixer

The Convocation “Dark Stone” This is solid, plain stoner-rock fun, like you’d dig it mightily if it came up on a mix or set list, but it’s not vital. And the Convocation, after over a decade of on-again off-again existence, is kinda in the position of needing something vital. It did so really briefly with last year’s 7-inch return-to-the-scene—two tracks that added up to a stoner-rock bear trap—but “Dark Stone,” off a recent split 12-inch with Georgia’s Chrissakes, doesn’t quite hit that surprising high-water mark. Why? Seems like this is shooting straight for that exact same mark: big, gravelly guitar riffs twisting in on themselves, that slow bleary bass chug, and Tonie Joy shout-singing way back in the mix—with a coupla breakdowns that feel like slow-burning tar. It’s good—as are the other two Convocation songs on the split—and you’d do well to have it in your collection, but the rub is that the Convocation is at the point of (re)emerging as a great band.

Rye Rye “Sunshine” Hey, remember Rye Rye’s alleged full-length record that was supposedly coming out ‘bout a year and a half ago? Well, turns out it didn’t just get lost in the major label swamp of deals-gone-bad. Word is that now Go! Pop! Bang! will be out in the spring. Neat. “Sunshine” is the first single of the record’s new wave of pre-release publicity—it was “Bang” back in 2008—and, safe to say, “Sunshine” might just hit the hype mark a bit better. First, yes, that’s MIA on the choruses, and it’s not really for naught or a must-sell-records cameo. That is, MIA’s voice is at least two parts schoolyard chant just naturally, and it jives quite well with Rye Rye’s sharp, high-pitched rapping (which moves at the speed of sound here, as we should expect). The production (by MIA) is a barely there pattern of snare and hand-clap, almost a marching band sort of thing. Super minimal. Which is what rap production’s moving toward now as it is, but knowing what to do with it—like these two clearly do here—is a whole different thing. ■

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