10 Essential RVNG Intl. Albums
When RVNG Intl. got off the ground nearly 20 years ago, it started by distributing limited-run CD-Rs and a club-oriented 12-inch series called RVNG of the NRDS. Since then, the label’s become a reliably unpredictable outpost for experimental electronic music and avant-garde pop, comprising everything from the pulsing house music of Blondes to the ethereal art-pop of Julia Holter and the psychedelic folk of Satomimagae. Throughout their catalog there’s often an emphasis on collaboration, sometimes between like-minded creators and sometimes between innovators of different generations, but you’d be hard pressed to find much in their catalog that could be dismissed as “ordinary.” Additionally, a portion of many of the profits from its releases is donated to different charities, including support for immigrants and global trans/queer people.
Even more so than the previous two installments of Label of the Month, attempting to narrow down 10 of the best RVNG Intl. albums proved a bit more difficult, so this is more of a sampling of the best of the different directions that various artists on its roster, past and present, have taken. As with any list of the best releases on any given label, this is truly just a starting point, and there’s so much more to be explored after these first 10 albums.
Blondes – Blondes
One of the earlier standout acts on the RVNG roster, Blondes delivered a series of hypnotic house singles with yin-and-yang A- and B-sides (“Lover/Hater”, “Wine/Water,” “Business/Pleasure” etc.). Though the contrasts are essentially in name only—the four singles (eight songs overall, plus a bonus set of remixes) collected on Zach Steinman and Sam Haar’s full-length debut provide a seamless and consistently rich set of beat-laden pleasures, the likes of which are built from improvisations on live instruments. The difference is sometimes subtle but noticeable, with a bit more warmth and fatness in the back end as these intoxicating jams take shape, aesthetically akin to similar sounds coming from the likes of DFA or Italians Do It Better at the time but with smoother lines and contours. – Jeff Terich
Holly Herndon – Movement
Holly Herndon has spent much of her career humanizing electronic music, or perhaps more accurately tapping into the humanity already inherent within it. On 2019 she employed AI to moving effect on the conceptual yet accessible PROTO, yet seven years prior to that, she was manipulating her own voice with machines to craft a set of music frequently dynamic and at times emotionally affecting on debut album Movement. Though not quite as ambitious as some of the more conceptually heavy music she’d release in the coming years, Movement delivers what its title suggests via a mixture of ambient, avant garde and more corporeally urgent pieces. In a sense, it’s a redefinition of intelligent dance music. – Jeff Terich
The Body – I Shall Die Here
And now something a little different. Where RVNG’s bread and butter is experimental electronic music, within a few years they began to make their name on fascinating collaborations. Some of which made perfect sense (Suzanne Ciani and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith), some of which came out of left field (Sun Araw, The Congos and M. Geddes Gengras), and some of which feel tailor made for each other, like I Shall Die Here. Credited to The Body but given the haunted production aesthetic of The Haxan Cloak’s Bobby Krlic, the album adds an extra level of ethereal terror to an already heavy sound. Krlic doesn’t necessarily have a heavy hand here, nor would it be glaring if he did; that The Haxan Cloak and The Body have such similar aims in wrenching fear and menace from sound only proves the central idea behind the collab in the first place. Though the results are nothing less than hellish and excoriating. – Jeff Terich
Hieroglyphic Being & J.I.T.U. Ahn-Sahm-Buhl – We Are Not the First
Is it jazz? Hip-hop? Dub? Experimental electronic music? RIO prog? It turns out, like anything you can ask those questions of, the only answer that matters is that it’s great. The difficulty of classification is as much the point of this record and in fact this project as it is the selling point, the aspect that makes the record so enthralling. I find myself playing it perched on my chair like a hawk, gripping the arms in my talons, leaning forward as though peering at an opera performance down below on some distant stage. I want to imagine a world where this is the birthplace of a genre, where we get entire vistas of stuff just like this. That’s what great music should do; proliferate, inspire, explode. – Langdon Hickman
Greg Fox – The Gradual Progression
Greg Fox might be best known to some as the drummer on the first three releases by avant-garde black metal/noise rock/etc musicians Liturgy, the drummer of krautrock group Zs or post-metal(ish) band Ex Eye, but here he shows his chops as a bandleader. A quick perusal of his discography gives a pretty good sense of what is found here; deeply experimental, deeply progressive jazz music abounds, with pieces driven by a combination of Fox’s propulsive post-Bruford drumming tied to tonal drum triggers, seemingly summoning the music spontaneously from empty air. RVNG as a label seems ideally situated at the intersection of the artificial and organic, the way the human breaks through the veil of the grid-like arrangement of most electronic music. Fox’s playing here more than almost anywhere else in his discography shows his mastery of the brackish water and underscores why he is sought after by so many. – Langdon Hickman
Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Merchbar (vinyl)
Pauline Anna Strom – Trans-Millennia Music
We here at Treble are not quiet about our love of New Age music, that oft-maligned intersection of kosmische, progressive music and ambient. While you can go to nearly any windmill-and-crystals store run by someone named Raven and find ample examples while our love might be foolish, it’s records like this archival release by Pauline Anna Strom that are keen counter examples. Like all great records of its ilk, Trans-Millennia Music is image-driven, soaking you to the bone in vistas like its cover proposes, all floating orbs in the shimmer of a pre-vaporwave aesthetic, the stuff that later genre would later comment on given its corruption by capitalism. This is the pure thing, though, a utopian if failed vision brought to life in prismatic synthetic sound. – Langdon Hickman
Kate NV – для FOR
Kate NV’s second album для FOR is the least inviting of all her works. It’s not as striking as her debut Binasu, not as poppy as Room for the Moon, and not as bright as this year’s WOW. It is, however, her most transparent project, as she implores you to explore Moscow with her. NV characterizes her city with plucky synths and wordless vocals. It’s quaint and personalized, as if we’re seeing the city through her eyes. While the textures and rhythms are chilly, the manner in which NV represents Moscow—by building audio architecture and the remnants of human interactions—is abundantly warm. – Colin Dempsey
Oliver Coates/John Luther Adams – Canticles of the Sky/Three High Places
Showing breadth for a label is easy when you have nervy avant-garde electronic music on one hand and this, a new arrangement of modern orchestral music master John Luther Adams, on the other. Coates himself is known primarily for pushing the limits of the cello, using layering and effects to find the fusion point between post-metal, drone and shoegaze before sending rippling brightness through the mix with classical and electronic textures. Seeing this kind of attentiveness to lineage and the modern greats of ambient and minimalist forms doesn’t take away from originality. Far from it; works like this draw a fine line of continuity and make it only more clear where advancements are made. Its transcendent beauty isn’t a bad benefit either. – Langdon Hickman
Horse Lords – Comradely Objects
As per our recent reviews of their material, including this album, you could win an easy bet guessing these guys might show up on this list. RVNG feels like a natural home for Horse Lords and their combination of deeply Marxist politics and arch cerebral math rock, now skewing toward a funk post-Talking Heads kind of post-punk swagger. Previous releases from the group could, at times, be perhaps too arch for the common listener; on Comradely Objects, Horse Lords sees themselves reconfigured to a more keenly approachable melodic form without sacrificing much, if anything, in the way of dense rhythmic complexity. The fact that you can finally shake your ass to it, were you so inclined, is only a value add. – Langdon Hickman
Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Merchbar (vinyl)
Lucrecia Dalt – ¡Ay!
The earlier albums from Colombian artist Lucrecia Dalt could only be called pop under the loosest of circumstances; it’s telling that on her 2021 collaboration with noise artist Aaron Dilloway, there’s no obvious delineation between who did what. With her sci-fi concept piece ¡Ay!, however, Dalt embraced melody in a fascinating set of songs that recalled the music she grew up with, such as bolero and salsa. The album’s been likened to both Björk and Tom Waits, though there’s a kind of haunting surrealism at play that’s wholly her own—even if Dalt has stepped away from ambient composition in favor of acoustic instruments and songs you could actually dance to (slowly, anyway), those traces of drone and experimental electronics still linger in the backdrop, casting an eerie shadow just outside these brighter, captivating songs. – Jeff Terich
Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Merchbar (vinyl)
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