2015 Artists' Picks
Kevin Kastning
Andy Vaz's House Warming

17 Pygmies
Aaltonen & Haarla
Rodolphe Alexis
Marc Barreca
Le Berger
Book of Air
David Cordero
Council of Nine
Green Isac Orchestra
Anders Lønne Grønseth
Hatakeyama + Serries
Heinen & Borring
William Hooker Quartet
How To Cure Our Soul
Kevin Kastning
Kastning / Clements
Kastning / Szabó
Kastning / Wingfield
Library Tapes
Louis Minus XVI
Rhys Marsh
Palmbomen II
Smith & Lindberg
Robert Stillman
tholl / fogel / hoff
Julia Wolfe

Kosemura, Shinozaki, Nitta

Compilations / Mixes / Remixes / Reissues
Collection 100
Landscapes of Fear

EPs / Cassettes / Mini-Albums / Singles
Amonism + Revenant Sea
Matt Barbier
Hesperius Draco
Markus Oehlen
Greg Sawyer

En: City of Brides
Students of Decay

The genre designation that shows up at iTunes for En's third full-length album City of Brides is “Dream Drone," which, all things considered, isn't all that bad as far as labels go (Students of Decay itself refers to the recording as “American West Coast drone music”). Spreading eleven tracks across four vinyl sides, the release sees Bay Area-based multi-instrumentalists James Devane and Root Strata co-runner Maxwell August Croy resuming their explorative mission three years on from their last En outing, Already Gone.

With its placid demeanour spiked by aggressive noise flourishes, “Blades” acts as an effective entry point for the recording, signaling as it does that while En might identify as an ambient-drone outfit it's not afraid to push beyond the genre's conventions into transportive psychedelic realms. One thing that sets it apart from other ambient-drone outfits is its use of the koto, and its sonorities, Eastern by way of association, prominently figure into the meditative “Dead Ringer” and lulling “Mark of the Slav,” the latter an especially sultry melding of acoustic and synthetic textures. Elsewhere, “Awkward Paws,” suggestive of an En mini-tribute to Laraaji, envelops the listener within a cloud of lullaby-like swirl.

Something else that City of Brides has going for it is variety: each track's soundworld is dramatically different in character and design, though the contrasts are never so extreme the album begins to feel like a disjointed collection of pieces by different artists; mood shifts are commonplace, too, with the playfulness of one setting countered by the sober countenance of another. Consider, for example, the minimal clarity of “Dead Ringer” as opposed to “Blonde is Back,” where En interlaces fuzzy synthesizer textures with extended organ tones and high-velocity synth sputter; consider as well the plaintive mien of the two-part “Songs For Diminished Lovemaking” versus “Mendocino Nature Rave,” a controlled exercise in rapturous mind-bending that might well be the recording's high point.

January 2016