2021 In Loose Ends

Mon Jan 03 2022

Happy New Year, everyone! Here are the surplus words I promised as an addendum to my AOTY list, which you can find by copying the following link and pasting it into your browser:


Please read on for some further musings on the music of 2021 and perhaps more incongruous symbols that until recently functioned as code on this website.


Trhä, endlhëtonëg

Gah! Hard to believe I could’ve completely spaced out what is probably my favorite straight-up black metal album of the year. When you first hit play, you will hear a belligerently lo-fi synth piece littered with what sounds like unintentional digi-noise crackling behind it from time to time, until after five minutes it explodes into an ungodly muddled roar that is distinctly black metal in every sense except…I couldn’t tell you if there is actually a guitar involved. This is the type of music I assume most of you will find completely unlistenable; I probably would’ve concurred five or ten years ago, and it’s kind of a miracle that I ever persisted past the first five minutes, because I do have an innate resistance to listening to music made by people who clearly don’t want me to listen to it. It was the drumming that initially hooked me, a truly messy and unhinged performance by Thét Älëf, the presumed sole proprietor of Trhä (note that as far as I can glean, the language of Trhä’s album and song titles and even the artist’s description on bandcamp are in some imaginary language, though it certainly seems to mimic Nordic constructions), whereas normally with this type of music the percussion is only there because something has to keep the tempo. The funny part is, after a while you’ll forget all about the drumming. You’ll be lost in the desolate, all-consuming wasteland of sound, lulled or deadened by the cold ambient stretches, violently revived by the barrages of noise. If you have any tolerance for extremely primitive production values and caustic music, you must check out this absolute masterpiece.


WebsterX, 1 of 1

If you want to know why I removed this particular album from my list, follow this link (TW: domestic violence):


I’m not here to pass judgment. I believe there is always a path to forgiveness and redemption. A good first step would be public acknowledgment and apology. Another positive step would be for witnesses of abuse to come forward and acknowledge it and apologize. It could be such an opportunity for healing. Just a thought. For my part, I’ve been a huge supporter of WebsterX for years and I am deeply sorry if that support has caused or exacerbated any harm to anyone. I hope there’s a positive long-term outcome ahead for everyone involved.


A new (possibly one-off!) feature of the you-phoria year-end extravaganze! I’m hereby declaring dungeon synth the official genre of covid-19. Not only did I first hear the term in late 2019, the community has exploded on bandcamp over the past couple of years, whether because the typically dour atmospherics mirror our collective mindset or because people had a lot of time on their hands in isolation and could probably make most of this music with little more than a computer. A little background for those who haven’t heard of the style: it was invented in 1987 by the occvlt wytch Enya, who took it all the way to number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts the following year with “Orinoco Flow”. Enya’s reign of terror lasted a few more years, after which dungeon synth (or “new age music” as it was known) went underground where it belonged and nobody even heard any for like 20 years, when black metal artists started dabbling in synth-based music. Much like aging punk dudes deflecting to country, metal dudes found a quieter solo outlet where they could still be dark and evil. (Also plenty of non-metal people of all genders are making dungeon synth of course; I just happened to come across it via the black metal community, with which there is a lot of crossover.)

I’m still a relative newcomer to this kind of music (er, not counting Enya, who was easily my favorite musician in the world in 1988) and it felt weird trying to put any of these albums into my normal list, so we’ll call this the by-n00bs, for-n00bs dungeon synth 2021 primer.

Guild Of Lore, The Spine Of Night

When I first started seeing dungeon synth recommendations pop up on social media, I hated every one I checked out. Still, I could glean potential in what these artists were utterly failing to achieve, and besides, it takes a lot for me to ignore recommendations from people whose tastes and opinions I tend to align with. So it was that eventually I came upon Guild Of Lore’s Storm Haven and thought ‘yessssss this is what all those other people were going for’. Like a lot of dungeon synth artists, Guild Of Lore is ridiculously prolific, and I get a lot of emails from bandcamp per day; consequently I haven’t explored Guild Master Ingsmith’s entire catalog but I also haven’t been disappointed yet. If you want to hear what is for me the gold standard for this most quintessential dungeon synth mode, I’d recommend The Spine Of Night and then start flipping back through previous releases if you like what you hear. The composition and musicianship are impeccable, the sound is majestic, and you will feel yourself drawn into whatever narrative this music conjures up inside you, especially if you are a gamer or Renaissance-Faire nerde or into fantasy/sci-fi literature.

Ghoëst, Demos I-IX

When we take the term “dungeon synth” at face value, I think most artists who labor under the umbrella make music far too delicate and tidy to evoke any kind of dungeon I’ve ever heard of. That’s what made discovering Ghoëst so exciting, because this is an artist (known at this point only by the initials A.V.) who seriously evokes filthy, dire, desolate imagery with their music. This is way far onto the doom/drone end of the spectrum and I absolutely can’t get enough. These demos (thus far only released individually but I hear there’s a compilation being assembled for some kind of album release next year) are the most oppressive music I’ve heard with this genre tag, and for me at least, they’re also meditative. I get a strong early Cure vibe, only no lyrics necessary to voice this type of profound alienation and sorrow. Some of these pieces are not entirely dissimilar to the unholy noise pieces Buckethead released leading up to Halloween back in 2015, remember those? Silver Shamrock? Underlair? “Dungeon guitar” we’ll call those from now on. I promise that will be the last Buckethead reference in my end-of-year coverage. Anyway if these songs had been an album they would easily be at least number n on the main list.

Lunar Cult, Into Unknown Darkness

Exhibit C gets to the core of the dungeon synthesist in that it derives directly from video game music, and all dungeon synth artists play lots of video games. (Please, just chuckle.) So, “dungeon” as in medieval fantasy/Zelda-esque RPG music; “synth” as in 8-bit tones and bare-minimum percussion and, y’know, some approximation of a flute now and then. Good breakfast music. Especially if your breakfast is nice big leg o’ mutton.

Lonely Asteroid, To Voyage Between The Vapours of Stellar Birth

Like metal acts, dungeon synth acts tend to give away their whole m.o. with their names and album titles. Thus this particular dungeon is floating somewhere in the vastness of space, and this release is an especially ethereal journey though not really psychedelic in case that’s what you were hoping for. Definitely spacy, but I still think in the end Enya would give her blessing.

Goryō, Goryō

This self-described “Japanese music project from France” courtesy of J. Lacroix is one I’m just going to have to hope does not constitute gross cultural appropriation. I really enjoy the music and don’t know enough about its antecedents nor about J. Lacroix to comment on its righteousness. The sounds of synthesized koto and pipes are generally soothing despite the dark undercurrent and occasional groans and shrieks, and the music as a whole is undeniably transportational. As a whole, significantly darker than your average DS endeavor, I can say that much, oddly enough.

Desolation Plains, Sword Of Hailstone

In case you thought dungeon synth couldn’t get more ‘80s-ish, Sword Of Hailstone is like a hybrid of John Carpenter-style synthy stuff with the more common vague digital facsimiles of trumpets and harpsichords and whatnot. Basic and definitely a little cheesy, yet if I were to point you towards some of the really cheesy DS stuff out there, I promise you’d let this one slide.

Lurk, Illimitable Dominion

Here we have something more along the lines of eclectic dark ambient in the vein of Darkside or Bardspec, one of my favorites in this section due to its irreverence for stylistic conventions (there’s even simulated airhorn I think). It’s fairly dark and dank so not really a stretch to get lumped into the DS field and with any luck, Lurk will continue to push the boundaries of what the term can mean.

Soulstess, IV and/or V

Of the four long-ish tracks across these two EPs, only the song “IXth: Conjure” strikes me as particularly dungeon-synthy in style; the rest is essentially ambient drone, and quite moving as such. This is where being part of a particular community helps, because there’s almost no chance I would’ve come across this artist in the endless stream of ambient/drone releases, but when relegated to a smaller subculture like DS…voilà!


It’s been another busy year for the once and possibly future, maybe even current, members of Mr. Bungle. The first thing to say is get well Mike Patton! He cancelled basically his whole summer/fall itinerary as a mental health sabbatical and I wish more artists would take this to heart and prioritize themselves over their obligations or others’ expectations (and I also realize that Patton has the luxury to do so without becoming destitute, all the more power to him), and also a HUGE fuck-you to Riot Fest for not offering refunds to fans despite the fact that Riot Fest is THE shittiest festival I’ve ever been to and the only thing that would ever make me CONSIDER attending again would probably have to be something Bungle-related (or, God forbid, the Catherine Wheel reunion…).

By that time, Patton had already put out a long-awaited new album with Tomahawk, Tonic Immobility, their first since 2013’s Oddfellows, both of which also feature Trevor Dunn on bass. And it’s…not bad. A bit beefy and polished for my tastes, though; the album plays to Patton’s abilities as a spokesmodel more than as a singer or lyricist, although I suspect the bigger issue is that guitarist Duane Denison has run out of riffs and drummer John Stanier doesn’t feel very inspired by this collection of (mostly) rudimentary 4/4 nuggets. I seriously enjoy it just to hear these four guys do their things; I don’t know if there’s really a place in the modern subculture for this kind of safe, hook-driven, pop-sheen quasi-metal, though. They should leave that to the Melvins, of whom Dunn is also at least a part-time member. They released their 24th album this year, Working With God, and while I’m a fan of almost everything the Melvins do, the big draw of this record is the song “I Fuck Around” which opens it. If by chance you haven’t heard it yet, I’ll not spoil the fun. To paraphrase an old deodorant commercial, you only get one shot at hearing this for the first time; best to go in blind.

Dunn also put out an album as a duo with electronic artist Sannety called SpermChurch, and for my money, merdeka atau mati was the best thing Trevor put out this year, if only because it wasn’t remotely the same old shit these guys keep doing. Bungle in their heyday were masters of improvisation and I realize this is primarily the domain of live music but this album, described in its liner notes as “something new that included improvisation but [was] not ruled by it”, covers ground from jarring to hypnotic in a way that’s not completely unlike a Thom Yorke DJ set, disjointed and frequently undanceable, only when the elements arrive at the same wavelength together you can truly zone out.

There was no new Umlaut release this year; however, Bär McKinnon did put out what he calls his “monster composition”, entitled “Valisystem A”, with the High Castle Teleorkestra, and lemme tell you, Bär remains the ex-member of Bungle most committed to the classic Bungle aesthetic. Okay if we’re getting technical, the California-era aesthetic, which a lot of fans would justifiably object to being referred to as “classic”. Still it’s a valiant effort, and I also dig the flip side, a Tim Smolens composition called “KlawPeels: Mission Checkup”. These guys are simply in need of a real producer; their ambitions are underserved by DIY. I don’t know any behind-the-scenes dirt about the Bungle breakup or reformation so pretending none of it exists, if they do carry on and, like, make new music, I sincerely hope Bär gets invited.

Also performing with High Castle Teleorkestra: Danny Heifetz, who like Bär resides in Australia and who remains, amazingly, the busiest ex-member of the group, having lent his drumming (among other) talents to at least nine releases in 2021, meaning I can’t hope to keep you abreast of his every movement. However, I will draw your attention to an album called The Castration of Gods by a group called Eunuchs because if you’ve read this far you must be at least a passing fan of Mr. Bungle and this album is a pretty fascinating bit of kitchen-sink experimental musical theater. I may have to explore this group’s catalog further; this appears to be Eunuchs’ first full-length album and it has captured my imagination if not, thus far, my heart.

Having recently watched the fantastic The Velvet Underground documentary, I was excited to learn, just last week, that Eyvind Kang put a new album out in October! I say this because the Velvets and their contemporaries were such pioneers of drone, and Kang’s music has tended towards minimalism as the years have gone by. This is another style that I’m drawn to in a live setting but generally not in listening to records at home; I honestly didn’t feel very inspired by 2019’s Chirality nor 2020’s Ajaeng Ajaeng, and maybe this has a lot to do with how much I dearly love Kang’s first several solo albums and, to boil it down, his more eclectic side. Now I want to approach those recent albums with fresh ears, though, because Sonic Gnostic, his new live album, was a bit of a revelation to me. A lot of credit naturally must go to Bill Frisell on guitar, as well as the woodwind section (Louis Coy, Breana Gilcher). Then there are the two piano pieces (Tim Tsang, Adrienne Varner), which I found to exemplify the term ‘breathtaking’ in a most literal sense. I’d say it’s Kang’s most dynamic work in years, somewhat akin to his 2007 album Athlantis, particularly the final track. Easily the best of this year’s Bungle satellite albums.

Meanwhile, Trey Spruance was his usual lazy bastard self I’M JUST KIDDING GAWD. Although he did not release the Holy Vehm album he’s been promising us since before Chinese Democracy, did not keep up on his promised “Book M: Third Tuesday Monthly Post series” on social media, and did not give us any indications as to the status of the Book M 20th anniversary edition, said anniversary having been this past September, he did errrr remind us about the HORRORTHON mixtape he put up on bandcamp…last year. Also he did offer up the Musica Practica Geek Pack 3: “Book T: Exodus”, for uber Secret Chiefs 3 pencilnecks to remix that song. Oh and he probably did a lot of practicing for those Mr. Bungle shows that didn’t end up happening, sure sure.

Speaking of Mr. Bungle, they put out two releases in 2021, can you even wrap your head around this. First there was The Night They Came Home, a recording of the virtual Halloween show they played in 2020, which was amazing of course. And, they put out a got-dam NFT, that’s right folks, imaginary expensive items! “Disco Volante Era Improv at The Bomb Factory” it was called, the most alluring album title conceivable, and if I remember correctly, for five grand or something like that, you also got a lathe-cut record with one of the four segments of improv carved into it using a shard of Patton’s jawbone. Or maybe it was just a hypothetical vinyl record and it was 5,000 dogecoin, I don’t remember. The nice thing was, you could listen to the four different bits of improv on the website where they were taking bids, and they were interesting and funny. I hope whoever won those records doesn’t sell them to a pharma bro.


  1. Large Print, Summer/Fall 2020
  2. Fudgy, The Now End of the Universe
  3. R.A.P. Ferreira, bob’s son: R.A.P. Ferreira in the garden level cafe of the scallops hotel
  4. Ben LaMar Gay, Open Arms to Open Us
  5. Liz Phair, Soberish
  6. Xiu Xiu, OH NO
  7. Conclave, Conclave
  8. Olson, Van Cleef, Williams, Unleash The Hoof’s Revenge
  9. Hiatus, Distancer
  10. Large Print, Winter/Spring 2020
  11. Juçara Marçal, Delta Estácio Blues
  12. Kidi Band, So Good
  13. dolor, ’til next year
  14. Juana Molina, Halo
  15. Voices, Breaking the Trauma Bond
  16. Wednesday, Twin Plagues
  17. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & the London Symphony Orchestra, Promises
  18. Immersion (Colin Newman & Malka Spigel), Nanocluster Vol. 1
  19. Marc Ribot, Plays Solo Guitar Works of Frantz Casseus
  20. New Canyons, Heavy Water

Well that’s that. Thanks for reading, everyone.

Cal Roach

Cal Roach is a word whore currently being pimped sporadically by Milwaukee Record and the Journal Sentinel, and giving it away for nothing right here at you-phoria.com. He also co-hosts the Local/Live program on 91.7 WMSE FM every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and spouts nonsense on twitter as @roachcraft.

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