Horse Lords Credit: Audrey Gatewood

A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.

Philip Montoro, Reader music editor

Horse Lords, The Common Task This instrumental Baltimore four-piece combine explosive joy with ferocious rhythmic discipline. The baffling metrical ambiguity in their swarms of morphing and overlapping ostinatos means that when this stuff is danceable—and it often is—you can choose any one of three or four different beats. The songs on their new album, The Common Task, can sound like overcaffeinated Tuareg “desert blues,” like 17 robots all trying to get into the same elevator, or like a reggaeton beat in a clothes dryer. And despite the avant-garde and academic influences that inform Horse Lords’ music, their live show isn’t a chin-stroking music-appreciation exercise—it boils over with the rowdy energy they get back from the crowd.

Sugar Shack, “You’re a Freak” Houston garage band Sugar Shack released this corny stomper in 1992, during their ersatz grunge phase, and my smartass college buddies adopted it as a theme song: “You’re a freak and you don’t even know it / We’re all freaks and we’re not afraid to show it.” RIP to guitarist Austin Thomerson, killed in November while trying to foil a pawnshop robbery.

Hot Snakes, “Suicide Invoice” The Greatest Living Posthardcore Band played this cold knife of an earworm at Music Frozen Dancing. The next day, I learned that Jeff VanderMeer (of Annihilation fame) had used its lyrics as an epigram for his new novel, Dead Astronauts: “And when I dream / I keep my promises to you / I really do.” Both the book and the song are improved by the association.

Philip is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .

Charmaine Lee
Charmaine LeeCredit: Peter Gannushkin

Jason Soliday, electronic musician and noise maker

Ohne If forced to claim a favorite band, I’d probably pick Ohne, the short-lived quartet of Daniel Löwenbrück, Reto Mäder, Dave Phillips, and Tom Smith. The absurd actionist musique concrète on their album Ohne 1 has everything I love about noise: it jump-cuts from crisp electric sizzle to surreal tape collage to jarring squall to piano-and-accordion skronk, and it’s all somehow both adept and ham-fisted. Between tense silences, it splices in vocal barks, belches, laughs, and amplified apple chewing—and over the top floats Smith’s disconcerting yet compelling croon. It’s chaos, but it flows incredibly well due to tight editing and deft improvisational skills.

Co-dependent A few times per month, Co-dependent releases an album with a color-gradient circle for a cover, titled with CODE plus a three-digit number. Each contains contemporary electronic and computer music, covering a wide spectrum: rhythmic dance-floor pulses, deep drones, knots of generative noise. It’s the musical equivalent of a gumball-machine egg: you never know what you’re going to get, and if you don’t like it, there’s another surprise coming. Current favorites include RM Francis’s squiggling pulsar synthesis on CODE889 and 333’s enigmatic sine-wave transmissions on CODE333.

Charmaine Lee at the Kitchen, 11/20/2018 I wasn’t familiar with vocal improviser Charmaine Lee before stumbling across this YouTube video, but that’s something I’ll need to rectify—I was floored by the variety of sounds Lee can coax from a voice and a microphone. It’s a humbling reminder for this electronics obsessive: you don’t need a pile of knobs and wires to create a compelling sound world.

YouTube video

Jason is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .

Eartheater, aka Alexandra Drewchin
Eartheater, aka Alexandra DrewchinCredit: Samantha West

Jeff Kolar, sound artist, composer, founder and director of Radius

Jen Kutler, Disembodied The most intriguing release of 2019 was Jen Kutler’s Disembodied, an album generated by vibrations and movements captured with an electronic ring worn on the finger by a series of feminine-spectrum people bringing themselves to orgasm. In what Kutler calls a “de-sexualization experiment,” data transmitted from the ring is transformed into MIDI files that activate pure tones, field recordings, and granular synthesis; these voices are then edited into lush drones, complex harmonies, and engrossing textures.

Eartheater, Trinity Raw power. Trinity is the third studio album from multi-instrumentalist, composer, and vocalist Eartheater, aka Alexandra Drewchin. It’s slippery with electronic-oriented dance swells and multi-octave vocal crashes. The track “High Tide,” produced by AceMo, absolutely crushes. Drewchin’s set last year at the Hideout’s beloved Resonance Series proved her total mastery of the craft.

Beyond/Below mix series Drop out and tune in to Beyond/Below, an ambient mix series run by Chicago’s Hi-Vis (who curates the Dreamtone label and organizes Neon Falls events with Sold). It features new international artists with a focus on deep listening. The mixes include psychedelic electronics, hallucinatory dream states, and voyages of warped time. And every one has a track list.  v

Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.