Monthly Spins: May

I want to thank Scot for bringing me onboard after having written for Audiostream for a year and a half. I have a simple set-up with a pair of AudioQuest Nightowl headphones and Schiiit DAC and preamp. When I’m out and about it’s Tidal driven iPhone run through an RHA DACamp L1 and a pair of RHA 20i but I’m not really a hardcore audiophile, although I would be if I could afford it. My thing is the music itself. Call me a musicphile and I have been one since I was about ten years old. The very best thing about discovering and searching for new music is being able to share it with others. I like just about anything and tend toward the ecstatic, the lysergic, the experimental and the dark. I tend to ignore reviewing Classical and Classical Jazz and avoid most modern country and stay away from all but the unique and experimental metal. For this month’s review there is a lot of variation, although only one selection that can be considered rockish. Enjoy!


Amen Dunes: Freedom

File Under: Americana, singer songwriter

Everything that Damon McMahon has recorded up to now speaks of a deep and dark Americana. He has a certain bespoke authenticity that comes from an upstate NY trailer park upbringing, addiction and a hard, hard road, but with Freedom he has not just dug deep but has also found a sort of catharsis. There has always been an exuberance at the heart of McMahon’s music, always close to the bone lyrically and rhythmically, here he has found a sense of release in the grief of his mother’s struggle and defeat by cancer.

Mind Over Mirrors: Bellowing Sun

File Under: one continuous, analog, transcendent plateau 

This is the sixth release for Jaime Fennelly under the MOM guise and he has put together quite a full session of players for this one including Volcano Choir drummer Jon Mueller, singer Janet Beveridge Bean, Califone violinist Jim Becker that plays like a single song at 73 minutes with songs seamlessly evolving into one another to create a vast landscape of often ecstatic music that goes from kraut to drone, to raga-folk to an occasional outbreak of noise.

Zavoloka: Syngonia

File Under: analog and digital electronica

Ukrainian electronic artist and graphic designer Kateryna Zavoloka put out two very good albums in 2017. She’s been making music for almost twelve years, has some stunning collaborations under her belt as well. Here, on Syngonia we find her in top form with a combination of digital and analog synthesizers carving out a relentlessly beautiful sonic space that never ceases to surprise. There are five or six albums and longer EPs up on Tidal and I’ve enjoyed all of them. Quite the electronic sensei and someone I’ll keep on my radar in the future.

Amir ElSaffar / Rivers of Sound: Not Two

File Under: new jazz/new classical

Amir ElSaffar is an Iraqi-American composer, trumpeter and santur player who has teamed up with Rivers of Sound Orchestra and it’s 17 musicians to create a heady mix using resonance and using elements of magam modal music of the Middle East and Jazz to create a microtonal sense of Tarab or “musical ecstasy” using oud, santur, buzuk, cello, violin, saxophones, English horn, trumpet, mridangam, dumbek, frame drum and double bass. 

In his own words: “After spending much of my life playing and composing in diverse musical worlds, I question the idea of culture. My interest is in finding sonic realms that can embrace the phenomena found in the myriad musical languages, drawing upon sensibilities and materials of various idioms, but without the limitations of a particular genre. The idea is about fluidity: sounds flow into one another, overtones interact, as we come closer to a universal human sound. Years ago, I had the good fortune to study with Kongo Langlois Roshi, a Zen Buddhist teacher in Chicago. One day, when I shared my inner state of confusion, he replied, “When the mind becomes muddled in dualistic thinking, think ‘not two,’ and all will become clear.”

The Final Age: The Final Age

File Under: jazz, psyche, post-everything, experimental

It’s basically a supergroup headed by drummer Jesse Webb, with guitarist Paul Allen, saxophonist Dave Mclean, trumpeter Pete Judge, violinist Agthe Max and vocalist Annette Berlin. A lot going on in this concoction, with avant-jazz blending with post-rock, psyche, and proto-punk. It’s all hands on deck extravaganza, that, although recorded a little dirty, comes across as improvisational as Webb no doubt intended. This needs to be tweaked a bit and played loud. I hear a lysergic version of The Fall if they went all Miles/fusion on us.

The Orchestra Of Mirrored Reflections – Far Drifters

File Under: dark jazz

I’m reminded of Broadway Project and a lot of similar things from the early oughts, but TOOMR never fail to deviate from the darkness and foreboding, even while improvising their way through meandering storylines, this group from Nipropetrovsk, Ukraine go to that noirish place that some might call comforting, given it mimics the spirit of the times, probably and especially if you are from Ukraine. Splendid grooves.

Olden Yolk: S/T

File Under: avant-folk

There is now a system to the nostalgia of a certain kind of 60’s/French/Psyche-folk modality that has become a force onto itself, what with Broadcast and such bands bringing a full range and notable enhancements. Olden Yolk is a project of Quilt co-founder Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer as well as joined by drummer Dan Drohan and guitarist Jesses DeFranco. With resplendent vocal harmonies and avant-folk accompaniment its an over all pleasant addition to the cannon.

Conforce: Autonomous

File Under: deep, dub, electro

Dutch producer Boris Bunnik is anything if not prolific and under the guise of Conforce has left a trail of dense and memorable albums. With Autonomous he pays homage to his home city of Rotterdam with a dub rich conflation of techno and electro pulses with shimmering counter point and echoing beats. The over all sustained vibe is intense, and yet tactile, and a record that could be right at home on a label like Stroboscopic Artifacts.


File Under: resplendent singer/songwriter

Kaiya  Cade Smith Blakburn’s first effort is pretty stunning. She’s getting her MA in musicology at McGill University and is a native of Canada. She would probably hate this but she could be considered the female Jose Gonzales. She has a similar ear and sense of melody.

Laura Veirs: The Lookout

File Under: beautifc songwriting

New to me but Portland’s Laura Veirs has been making and recording music for over 20 year, first in a punk outfit, although that seems bizarre given her vocal and song smithing talents. She has lent her voice to Sufjan Stevens and The Decemberists, also collaborating with K.D. Lang and Neko Case. The Lookout is a soothing balm of an album, it’s lightness in  stark contrast to the overall tenor of the times and one that’s gotten heavy rotation around these parts as the rest of the world seems hellbent on spinning out of control.

Machweo: Primitive Music

File Under: transcendental jazz and electronic “glimpses of lysergic fury”

The Giovan Battista Martini Conservatory in Bologna has produced quite a few amazing players recently who have gone on to record on international labels. Here Giorgio Spedicato follows another electronic wizard, Brit James Holden, who brought us the amazing The Animal Spirits late last year, by working with a full band. And he goes down the rabbit hole of composing, trying and succeeding in pulling off a 45 minute improvisational piece that he has chosen to break up into smaller pieces, even though he claims that the first take is really the one he decided was best. With Dario Martorana on guitar, Antonio Rapa on drums and Marco Vecchio on the saxophone.

vidnaObmana: Crossing The Trail (20th Aniversary Reissue)

File Under: classic fourth world ambient

Belgian producer Dirk Serries has a huge amount of recordings to his credit and this is the 20th anniversary of his 1998 release Crossing The Trail, remastered and available on Tidal and Bandcamp with a 26 minute live bonus track. These are deep ambient grooves that use acoustic as well as electronic means to create his signature fourth world vibe.

Notable Singles/Videos

Adya & Geisha: Cherubino Aria

File Under: I like to start with something funny. The fact that this is Mozart only amplifies the crass, banal, clueless, reality TVish, obviousness and it’s also sort of terrifying, like a certain American Administration wherein its so awful that it’s impossible not to keep watching.

Savages: City’s Full (Live on KEXP)

File Under: Okay, back to something serious and kick ass

Lucy Dacus:Addictions

File Under: a sweet song and a sweet video

Mike Reed: the World That I’m In | Jazz Night in America

File Under: the darkness is spreading

Casual Nun: Sleet/Knife

File Under: UK sludge-psyche: (note to self: never go full tard.)

Flame 1: Fog/Shine

File Under: Burial + The Bug combine forces, and sweet Jesus we need more of this.

Notable Books

Lost City of the Monkey Gods: A True Story: Douglas Preston

File Under: pristine rainforest, ancient, highly advanced and undiscovered civilization

It doesn’t get much more exciting than the fact that an intact non-Mayan civilization was, in the last ten years, discovered in the jungles of Honduras. The White City or The Lost City of the Monkey God was only discovered by the scientific community deep between high mountains and impenetrable, snake-infested jungle, where it is believed that the last human to visit was 500 years ago. Financed by a wealthy billionaire and National Geographic, the 2014 exhibition started out with a radical new technology only available to the military called LADAR or ground penetrating radar, which allowed the scientists to exactly pinpoint the lost city where they discovered a giant, ancient city, an entire civilization completely distinct from the Mayan one that surrounded it on all sides. A huge cache of artifacts was left in place that are slowly being recovered and speculation is that like 95% of the population was wiped out by smallpox, which the Spaniards brought with them. An amazing read and quite astounding that there are still places on earth that remain pristine, and entire civilizations that remain undiscovered. See also The Lost City of Z.

From The Archives

Gun Club: Fire of Love (1981)

File Under: classic LA swamp-thing music

The Gun Club are considered a seminal part of the early LA punk scene, good friends with X, although they stand apart. This is Americana, from the voodoo, gooba-dust inspired cover, to the drive-in blues growl of the guitars. Almost all good guitar players have this record in their collections (or should). The guitarist is Jeffery Lee Pierce, who plays slide and creates a sound best described as Texas gothic.

Pierce was an alcoholic Texan who learned to play the slide from other alcoholic Texans. His solo career after the band broke up was often brilliant but as uneven as his sobriety. How can a guitar have a distinct intonation as specific as a Texas drawl? It is the difference between listening to an original 1967 Triumph 750 winding through the gears and a “new” Kawasaki. One has an authentic twang, a growling power to its voice, and the
other has been highly engineered to sound like it has one.

There have been many reissues and compilations but none are better than the original Fire of Love, and the very rare vinyl-only album, Miami. The Gun Club have recently gone back on the road to mixed success. It’s hard to reconstruct the energy and excess of an original punk epoch and make it believable when sixty-year-olds are behind the instruments. “Sex Beat”, “Fire Spirit” and “She’s like Heroin to Me,” are the sort of songs you play late at night. Texas voodoo never sounded so good, and thirty-seven years after its original release, this recording is still deliriously timeless and original.


  1. Good to see Joe Surdna writing here. “Monthly Spins” stood-out among Audiostream’s attempts to promote “1%-er” equipment.

  2. This is great, now when can we see Michael’s Download of the Week and Stephen’s Weird New Pop?

  3. Joe’s column was hands-down the best thing on “Audiostream”. I am glad he has a new home here so that we can continue to share his musical discoveries.

  4. Loving this new addition. Guess I know what I’ll be firing up on Tidal this week.

  5. Scot, well done bring on this young lad! I must say, that after a few years (and we’ve talked back an forth about building systems), I’be begun to question if I have wavered “from the music” in search of my modestly invested (for me anyway) dive into audiophiledom! I’ve begun to spend more time listening to music…and worry LESS about my system. My latest forays have been Sampra, St. Vincent, and other more contemporary artists. I’ll spend time reading this article later…but, nice to have this added to the mix…

  6. “Forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

    Thankfully, Scot does.


    • Michael, Any chance we see your recommended music anytime soon, and if so, then where? Regards

  7. Joe,

    Alleliajah!! I (and I hear lots of other folks) started having withdrawal symptoms when your monthly column did not appear on May 1 st on the audiostream… Welcome back !!!

    • Good Heavens…please let me edit my comment…LOL. “bringing”, “worrying”…

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