Aosoth, IV: Arrow in Heart (Agonia)

French black-metal adepts Aosoth traffic in sinister gnosticism—they sound as though they’ve excavated the sort of secret knowledge that deranges saints. Taut sheets of nauseating dissonance are freighted with a clotted, tarry bass tone and distended by gusts of tortured howling, and the grinding guitars sometimes cycle past each other like the wheels of a huge combination lock that never opens. The long songs are methodical and patient, but there’s nothing soothingly organic about their metabolism—the straitjacketed hammering of the drums in particular tends to shift jarringly, like a ceremonial battalion executing parade-ground maneuvers. Even during the quiet stretches—more frequent than on previous Aosoth albums—the music vibrates with a deadly calm that makes the hair on your neck want to stand up. It’s as though you’ve sharpened the edges of a thunderstorm, then set it to marching in formation with other thunderstorms. Philip Montoro

Jace Clayton, The Julius Eastman Memory Depot (New Amsterdam)

With this album the man better known as DJ/Rupture pays tribute to the music of gay African-American minimalist composer and pianist Julius Eastman, who died penniless in 1990. Though he was an important part of the potent new-music community attached to SUNY Buffalo in the early 70s, it wasn’t until the monumental three-CD set Unjust Malaise in 2005 that any of Eastman’s work was released commercially. On The Julius Eastman Memory Depot pianists David Friend and Emily Manzo duet on two of Eastman’s strongest pieces, Evil Nigger and Gay Guerrilla, while Clayton uses software of his own devising to warp and transform their playing. “Reverence can be a form of forgetting,” he writes in his liner notes, and his aggressive digital mutations are anything but reverent—in fact they can be seen as honoring Eastman’s convention-challenging aesthetic. The way Clayton refracts, shatters, and smears the chiming, pounding piano complements the compositions and helps clarify the rigorous contrapuntal relationships among their elements. The album closes with “Callback From the American Society of Eastman Supporters,” a musical robocall rejecting an applicant for a coveted position with the fictional society—in the world of the song at least, Eastman is as popular as Clayton could ever wish. Peter Margasak

Ora Cogan, Ribbon Vine (Hairy Spider Legs)

British Columbian singer, guitarist, and songwriter Ora Cogan might never have released her fifth album at all if local label Hairy Spider Legs (also home to Spires That in the Sunset Rise) hadn’t offered to put it out more than two years after she recorded it. When she made this record she was traveling in Spain, and immediately afterward she took a two-year hiatus from music, devoting herself to environmental activism. Ribbon Vine is dreamy, mysterious alt-folk of rare beauty, with fingerpicked guitar that laps like water on pebbles and sweet drones like breezes in the pines, all of it caressing Cogan’s clear voice, which at times reminds me a bit of Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span. Cogan performs Thu 4/4 at the Empty Bottle, opening for Spires. Monica Kendrick

Ensemble Pearl, Ensemble Pearl (Drag City)

This powerhouse group consists of guitarist Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))), guitarist and Michio Kurihara of Ghost (and sometimes Boris), drummer Atsuo of Boris, and bassist William Herzog of Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter (who might seem like the odd man out but really isn’t). They first worked together to make music for a theater piece in Tokyo in 2009, and they’ve finally produced this beautiful, spacious, evocative record—it sails along in a glacial, stately way between ambient drone, space rock (more space than rock), and a sort of metal that’s light enough you could build a giant airship from it. Monica Kendrick

Boris Hegenbart and 19 Artists, Instrumentarium (Monotype)

German sound artist Boris Hegenbart processes the contributions of 19 experimental musicians to produce hissy, dublike digital meditations that often reduce the original sound source to a spectral presence. When working with percussionists (who include Jan Thoben and Stephan Mathieu), Hegenbart scatters their beats around like a narcotized Lee “Scratch” Perry, but more often his collaborators make relatively frictive sounds—the brittle tenor-banjo scrabbling of David Grubbs, for instance, or the screaming squiggles of guitarist Fred Frith. Most of the time Hegenbart imposes a muffled pulse on the material that makes even the most out-there sounds feel inviting—the end results recall the abstracted, amelodic sound-and-rhythm ethos that Martin Brandlmayr brings to Radian, a very good thing in my book. Also among the 19 are Michael Vorfeld, Oren Ambarchi, Felix Kubin, Bernhard Günter, Boris Hauf, and Ulrich Krieger. Peter Margasak

Julia Kent, Character (Leaf Label)

On her third solo album, cellist Julia Kent loops her instrument with the deliberate eloquence of a classical composer and the chilling menace of a noise artist playing with tape—sometimes her arrangements are stark and almost empty, but elsewhere she seals the creaking ache of her strings into a wall of sound. Formerly of Rasputina, Kent currently plays cello with Antony & the Johnsons, where she demonstrates the same flair for the experimental and theatrical that also comes forward on Character. Throughout the album she incorporates mostly gentle found sounds—”Salute,” for example, uses rustling washes like the quiet tearing of fabric—that add peculiar ripples beneath her long, melancholy bow strokes. Kevin Warwick

DJ Koze, Amygdala (Pampa)

Amygdala, by German producer Stefan Kozalla, is technically a follow-up to his 2005 microhouse touchstone, the Kompakt release Kosi Comes Around, but it feels more like a sequel to 2009’s Reincarnations, on which he remixed everyone from Battles to famed German chanteuse Hildegard Knef. Like that album, Amygdala reimagines microhouse as a psychedelic trip: horns splash, cowbells clang, Caribou provides guest vocals (on a cut cheekily called “Track ID Anyone?”), and on the downtempo “Das Wort” (a German translation of a Beatles title), a rendition of “Let’s Get It On” breaks out. (Get it? The word is “love.”) Even though it’s renovating a shopworn sound, Amygdala recalls Kompakt’s glory days in its reliance on elegant glitch and airy, blissful surfaces—like Purple Rain, it’s as much a nostalgia trip as a vision for the future. Tal Rosenberg

Lapalux, Nostalchic (Brainfeeder)

Producer Stuart Howard (aka Lapalux) lives in Essex in the UK, but his debut album has its heart in southern California. He works in a “post-hip-hop” style closely associated with the Los Angeles beat scene whose most prominent member, Flying Lotus, is his label boss, and Nostalchic draws on a broad range of quintessentially LA influences—including but not limited to G-funk, Roger Troutman, the Pharcyde, Arabian Prince, Paul’s Boutique, and the city’s generations of funk-loving crate diggers. Howard combines them into a collage that’s substantial but airy, with a sunshiny mellowness that seems custom engineered to harmonize with LA’s ample supply of high-­potency weed. Miles Raymer

Pedrito Martinez, Rumba de la Isla (Calle 54/Sony Masterworks)

Conguero and singer Pedrito Martinez, a Cuban expat based in New York, tackles songs from the repertoire of Spanish flamenco master Camaron de la Isla, in the process nailing a surprising combination of Afro-Cuban rumba and flamenco rumba—styles that share little beyond their names. The ensemble Martinez has assembled to deliver this rhythmic hybrid features adventurous Spanish flamenco guitarist Niño Josele (whose 2006 album Paz transforms the music of jazz pianist Bill Evans) alongside a top-flight crew of New York Latin-jazz and salsa musicians, but the focal point is the bandleader’s forceful, soulful vocals. (Martinez makes no attempt to imitate de la Isla, instead singing in the Cuban son tradition.) For me, the proof of the album’s success is that I can listen through it without ever being reminded of its stylistic mashup. Peter Margasak

Milk Music, Cruise Your Illusion (Fat Possum)

Milk Music leads a new crop of Olympia bands pushing a revivalist take on early-90s “alternative.” These dudes love slacker rock in all its fuzzed-out glory—they definitely plant a big sloppy wet one on Dinosaur Jr.—but on their first album for a big-time indie, they cut it with enough country-fried bar rock to establish an identity of their own. Milk Music’s off-key wailing and reckless aggression are certainly reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr., but when the band relaxes (“Illegal and Free,” “The Final Scene”), the riffs get so languid they make J. Mascis sound like Dragonforce. On the surface Cruise Your Illusion feels pretty bleak and fucked-up, but Milk Music keep the album from tipping over into the depressive with their snappy bravado and sophisticated pop palette. Leor Galil

Mudhoney, Vanishing Point (Sub Pop)

You know that early-90s Sub Pop grunge sound that’s rebecoming all the rage? Well, Mudhoney are 25 years old, and they never stopped doing it—so its rebirth transforms the music they’ve been playing all along into some kind of confounding metagenre or something. Mudhoney never found the kind of fame that ruined other DIY bands of the era, but nine LPs in, Mark Arm and the boys remain undaunted, mixing sometimes bluesy rock ‘n’ roll with well-seasoned anti-­everything punk cantankerousness (the snotty “Chardonnay,” for example, riffs on really shitty wine and the soccer moms who drink it). Mudhoney can still churn out sleazy, angsty rock songs (“The Final Course”) and catchy singles with anthemic gang choruses (“I Like It Small“), demonstrating that the best way to age gracefully is to do it as a bunch of dignified curmudgeons. Kevin Warwick

Pink & Brown, Every Shade of Pink & Brown (Castle Face)

Noise-punk duo Pink & Brown, from San Francisco by way of Providence, broke up ten years ago, and to mark that anniversary Castle Face Records has reissued the band’s two full-length records, Final Foods and Shame Fantasy II, in a handy double-­LP package. The material on Every Shade of Pink & Brown is almost entirely unlike what front man John “Pink” Dwyer currently plays with psychedelic garage rave-up masters Thee Oh Sees, relying instead on a format and sound exemplified by their weirdo pals in Lightning Bolt: frantic drumming, top-­volume guitar dissonance, and incomprehensibly muffled vocals delivered via a mask-­mounted microphone. These albums originally came out in 2001 and 2003, an era that produced a lot of bands best described as “angular”—and because most of them haven’t aged too gracefully, it’s great to hear that Pink & Brown have held up. Luca Cimarusti

Planningtorock, Misogyny Drop Dead EP (Human Level)

Though it has an explicitly confrontational, no-frills title worthy of a riot-grrrl anthem, the title track of the latest release from British producer Janine Rostrom has its roots in a different brand of protest music, specifically the agit-funk played by postpunk groups who made a point of aiming their manifestos at the dance floor, such as the Slits and Gang of Four. “Misogyny Drop Dead” is a straightforward call for liberation, but it’s far from strident—Rostrom half-talks, half-sings over its seductively slippery bass line and efficiently minimalist drum programming like a thoroughly art-damaged dancehall reggae singer who’s got a bone to pick with the patriarchy. Miles Raymer

Sax G, Tu Me Manques (Cloud Nice)

Seattle rapper-producer Sax G navigates the interstellar funk of his hometown’s hip-hop scene from an intimate, black-lit cabin of a velour-upholstered starcraft. His recent Tu Me Manques is restrained in a way that highlights the tenderness in his sultry and sometimes slightly shambolic production, whose minimalism lets subtle details occupy the foreground; on “Sax’s Heartbeat,” for instance, a subdued, funky synth melody teases a shuddering guitar riff. Sax G’s rapping is sparse too—he hardly ever out-and-out spits, and more often than not uses just wordless, whispered gasps or vocodered melodies that melt into tidal synths. When he does step up to the mike, his favorite subject is the raptures of love—to borrow his words, it’s like he’s drowning in an “ocean of bed covers.” Leor Galil

Sheriffs of Nothingness, A Winter’s Night at the Crooked Forest (Sofa)

The Norwegian duo of violist Kari Ronnekleiv and violist and composer Ole-Henrik Moe make some of the most evocative string music I’ve ever heard. Recorded in a remote cabin in the woods (at times you can hear the crackling of a fire), their textural music binds together stormy, dissonant harmonies, rhythms that stutter, lurch, and glide, and lines that seethe and creep in microtonal gradations. The harrowing, visceral sound masses that Sheriffs of Nothingness create fly in the face of a cliche about Norwegian jazz and improvised music—that it’s wide-open and serene, like the country’s landscape of fjords and mountains. These duets are coarse and rustic on the surface, but the techniques and tonal palette are sophisticated and totally modern. Peter Margasak

Wire, Change Becomes Us (Pink Flag)

Thirty-­five years ago Wire sang, “I am the fly in the ointment.” Now they’re more like bees in honey, swarming through music that’s often gooey and sweet; on “Re-Invent Your Second Wheel” they basically go full-on Cocteau Twins. While the band reaches for the ethereal, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis’s lyrics remain a series of conceptual-art exercises—”Keep Exhaling,” for instance, is somehow the prettiest and the most nerve-racking song about anxiety ever made, like a real-time film about a heart attack. On album opener “Doubles & Trebles” they disguise an espionage novel as a Nirvana song, and on “Love Bends” they refract a critical-theory essay on love through the lens of mid-80s Simple Minds. Thirty-five years ago Wire asked if it were too late to change up their minds. The answer? It never is. Tal Rosenberg

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.