December 2020 Roundup

This horrible year can’t end soon enough, but there’s still so much great music to cover! To make matters worse, I had to take most of last week off to tend to some urgent matters, so the stack of music in my inbox just keeps growing and growing. So here’s a final roundup for 2020!

Prana Crafter, Erik Davis & Aubrey Nehring – Sounds from the Bardo Vol. I

If Mort Garson’s Plantasia album can have a second life, then so should the concept of Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience record. That’s where Prana Crafter and Psychedelic Sangha’s Sounds From The Bardo Vol. 1 comes in.

Firstly, Prana Crafter and Psychedelic Sangha, a collective in New York City that presents “spiritual-arts programming and peer-to-peer support for integrating and exploring non-ordinary states of consciousness,” is a match made in heaven. So this is of course worth checking out just based on that. However, in this twisted world of ours where there seems to be a new existential threat every ten minutes, we seriously need a piece of media that can be both soothing and provide instructions to meditate and explore the bardo.

This, the first of what I hope will be many volumes in this series, features fifty-one minutes of totally original Prana Crafter soundscapes and meditation guidance spoken by Erik Davis. Yet what makes this experience all the more engaging, is a full length video of hypnotic animations provided by Aubrey Nehring. Check it out below:

After putting on extended improv musical gatherings with the likes of Garcia Peoples and shows in salt cave spas with Elkhorn and Matt LaJoie during the last couple of years, this is the perhaps the most logical step forward for Psychedelic Sangha in the age of COVID. We are eternally grateful for it.

You can check out more about this release and buy it today right here.

SUSS – Promise

Pedal steel guitar has had a major renaissance lately, especially with artists that are determined to unveil the instrument’s more cosmic side. One of the most creative bands to have utilized the pedal steel at the unlikely crossroads of ambient and country music is SUSS, and their new Promise album might be the best example of them doing just that.?

Comprised of Jonathan Gregg, Bob Holmes, Gary Leib, and Pat Irwin, SUSS paints here wide-open vacant landscapes with instruments like synths, baritone guitars and harmoniums. The songs on this album act like soundtrack queues from some astral cowboy film. Think Dead Man meets The Assassination of Jesse James.

Every track is a deep soundscape that aches with a spaced-out loneliness, but there are occasional hints of hope as some of the songs take on a more spiritual tone, like the later half of the frigid “No Man’s Land.”

Sounding melancholic, beautiful and at times even dangerous, this is the kind of record you could really get lost in. I suggest that you do.

Get it here.

Jordan Reyes – Sand Like Stardust

Speaking of ambient country, Jordan Reyes is another master of the subgenre, and his new Sand Like Stardust record takes the niche style into an entirely new direction.

Reyes, who also plays in the band ONO and runs the American Dreams label, leans further into the ambient side of the genre’s spectrum, utilizing keyboards to create glacial drones and ethereal atmospheres. However, his use of vocals, from choruses of wordless vocalizations to almost chant-like singing, is what really sets this album apart from most other ambient-country hybrid records.

Reyes uses the human voice on this album as another instrument, often allowing it to create brief earthy drones, which helps to tether the album to the organic and human world, as opposed to the distant cosmos. This is perhaps most evident on the closing track, “Centaurus,’ which features stacked demure vocals dryly singing the “Mockingbird” lullaby. This little touch gives the song and the album as a whole, a particularly warm and personable quality, which tends to be rare in ambient music.

Elsewhere on the album, you can find pulsing dronescapes (“A Hard Ride”), surreal slide guitar meditations (“High Noon”) and tracks that sound like something from the Stranger Things soundtrack (“An Unkindness”). There’s so much variety to be found on this album, as well as a daringness to create something that has never been heard before. This should be enough to let you know that you need to check out this record. Click here to listen to more and buy it on vinyl.

Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger – Force Majeure

Throughout the shelter-in-place portion of the pandemic, harpist Brandee Younger and bassist Dezron Douglas lifted spirits around the world with a weekly series of live-streamed performances from the comfort of their NYC apartment. This record collects eleven tracks from those performances, forever preserving some of the cathartic magic that the pair conjured up out of necessity during those stir-crazy months.

Younger and Douglas absolutely shine on this record. The performances captured here glow with a deep compassion and oftentimes ache with a deeply rooted pain that cannot be verbalized. This is most evident on their cover of John Coltrane’s “Wise One,” which as Douglas declares at the beginning of the track, is dedicated to the memory of and played in response to the villainous murder of Ahmaud Arbery. It’s hard not to get choked up when hearing this song.

The amount of beauty contained on this album is staggering. It moves you, soothes your heart and comforts your soul. From the duo’s original piece, “Toilet Paper Romance,” to their gorgeous interpretation of Pharaoh Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” this might just be the most needed record of 2020.

Get your copy from International Anthem today.

The Rowan Amber Mill – Harrowed by the Stones

It wouldn’t be a proper roundup post without some music by The Rowan Amber Mill, would it? Our favorite folk horror-inspired group has unearthed a trove of previously unreleased and new recordings and collected them here on Harrowed by the Stones.

Filled with mostly darkly bucolic instrumentals, this compilation features some of TRAM’s most haunting work to date. Just check out the “woodcut” version of “Mandrake, Hemlock and Rye,” with its clacking percussion, stoic drones and rustic vocals. You feel as though you’ve stumbled upon some sort of primeval harvest time ritual.

Another fine example is the hallucinatory storm that is “The Ghosts Coalesce.” This track builds with an ever tightening tension, as waves of keyboards and jagged guitar lines back an unearthly chorus, which swirls faster and faster like a vortex of the damned until it rises to a maddening crescendo. This tune is purely phantasmagoric in every way.

If you purchase the deluxe edition of the album, you’ll also receive artwork, some of which relating to Pendra’s Fen and The Wicker Man (two major influences on TRAM’s music). You know you need that!

Grab it here right now.

Qoa – Achiyaku and John Thayer & Craig Schenker – Mountain Rumors

Aural Canyon has released so many great albums this year, it’s only fitting to catch up with them and feature two of their most recent releases to help close out 2020.

Qoa’s Achiyaku is a glitchy sound collage record that has a vast sonic world of its own.

Hailing from Buenos Aires, Qoa (AKA Nina Corti), assembled here a multitude of highly textural samples and processed the hell out of them, often twisting them into completely unrecognizable sounds. Then, she placed these tiny fragments of sculpted noise all over the stereo spectrum, often making them hop from one channel extreme to another in under a second.

These sounds are usually high in the mix, so with the proper headphones, you can really feel every single sample as it darts past. In this way, the tape takes on an almost ASMR-like effect. It’s like Stockhausen, but deeply soothing and inviting (especially on “Ququinco“). Get this cassette here today.

John Thayer and Craig Schenkerker’s Mountain Rumors, on the other hand, is a total bath of sound.

From rumbling drone pieces that completely sweep over you to tranquil soundscapes that ripple with gentle saxophone and flute passages, this is an album that you can meditate to for hours on end.

When you hear peacefully meandering tracks like “Moss,” with its soaring wooden flute and kaleidoscopic wall of synthesizer tones, it’s easy to be reminded of mountain ranges looming over the horizon, or the impenetrable darkness of a deep, thick forest. According to the liner notes, this impression was in fact intentional, as the artists dedicated the album to “Mother Earth, who remains such a gracious host despite our own failing,”

If the recently passed on Harold Budd (RIP), Bill Laswell or Tangerine Dream frequents your stereo, then this is a tape that you need in your life as soon as you can.

Click here to buy your copy right now.


If you like what you’re reading, please help keep RCU thriving. You can show your support by becoming a Patron at our Patreon account or you can make a donation to our PayPal account below.

As always, please also consider donating to any of these sites to help fight racial injustice.


Published by Record Crates United

Keith Hadad, the creator and manager of RCU, has been a contributing writer to Elmore Magazine and and maintains a regular column, “Keith Hadad’s Choice,” in Blicker magazine. His writing has also appeared in the Smithsonian Folkways' Guest Blog and the Optical Sounds Fanzine. Also, please check out the blog's super-active Instagram account, @recordcratesunited for daily blurb-styled music reviews.

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