January 05, 2012
January 02, 2012
Writing for Foxy D. reminds me that the music world in 2011 is thriving. Music is (as it always has been) a teeming ecosystem now deep in the process of shedding major-label shenanigans, just like the food ecosystem is slowly beginning to reject factory farming. For 2012: continue to look closely and go deep…
Alvarius B., Baroque Primitiva LP (Poon Village)
Over and over, Alan Bishop’s (Sun City Girls) latest solo album was my favorite listening experience of the year. Even with the second side being made up almost entirely of wispy instrumental pieces. Even with about as much polish as an average 4-track demo. Even being made up of a compilation of tracks recorded over several years in just as many locations. Even with the goofy closing cover of “God Only Knows.” Made me wonder what everything else could be missing, or what Mr. B. possesses. Maybe it’s the same thing that convinced all those women to form that mandala…
I will have to admit here that I don’t really listen to individual songs, especially at any point during the last year. Any choices I make would be in the bad conscience of ignorance. I believe in albums! Aughhhh!!! I’ll have to get back to you on this one. 2012 will be the year of the song. I promise.
Black Swan, In 8 Movements LP/CD (Experimedia)
The anonymous Black Swan had me at hello with blurry classical music LP samples, heavy dark drone texture, and a devastating compositional arc. Hearing this you can hear the emotional potential of drone.
David Sylvian, Died In The Wool 2xCD (SamadhiSound)
Died In The Wool is technically not a reissue, but a reinterpretation of the songs constituting Sylvian’s excellent Manafon. But since they are actually the same pieces, and because I think most reissues are ridiculous—Rolling Stones’ Some Girls on CD, DVD, CD+DVD, BluRay, vinyl, or deluxe vinyl+CD+DVD+BluRay, anyone?—I’m going to take the liberty to once again champion the long-ago lead singer of Japan in my year-end thoughts. Both the concept and execution of Died confirm that he is one of the most innovative artists working today. Collaborating with composer Dai Fujikura, Sylvian reworks the stark electroacoustic minimalism of Manafon into arrangements for string quartet, improvisation by an ever-growing cast of European improvisers, samples, and other sound tools, resulting in a frequently amazing musical complement to Sylvian’s honeyed-with-gravitas voice. The working methods are both personal and cutting-edge, the music striking from start to finish. I venture to say that this is truly important work. Even more surprising, for those on the other side of the pond, is that Sylvian is actually undergoing a March concert tour.
Best Various Artists Compilation
V/A, Ibi Na Bo / Hotter the Battle / The Eyo Beats tapes (Domino Sound)
For these we have to thank Matt Knowles, New Orleans-based eponymous label and Record Shack owner and reggae DJ. This trio of tape compilations of fantastically lovely ‘60s and ‘70s African and Jamaican tunes has been dubbed directly to tape from 45s. Stacked up impressively by the front counter with their eye-catching, sun-faded printing, they invite exploration, discussion, and foster a sense of community, adding to the overall sweet and necessary vibe of the Shack. The store and the comps are a must for any visit to NOLA.
Merzbow, Merzbient 12xCD (SoleilMoon)
This is a good starting point: this massive output totaling twelve full CDs and a projected fifteen or more LPs—more than the entire discography of most influential bands—was rediscovered by Masami Akita simply laying in a box, as it had done since the early ‘90s. This is better: the pieces on the CDs are revelatory, offering a glimpse into the true depth of Merzbow’s sound-world. This is a person who, to produce “ambient” music, used cheap consumer and broken electronics, homemade sound generators, and even acoustic instruments, generated layered clatter and abstract action-oriented “playing,” stripped away all vestiges of tonality. The point: this sense of “ambient” is truly original, individual, and coherent, an essential side of Merzbow.
Best Cover Art
Rene Hell, The Terminal Symphony LP/CD (Type)
I wasn’t too excited about this category once I remembered that my beloved copy of Douglas Quin’s Fathom (Taiga) had been produced in 2010. But the iconic black violin on the cover of Symphony, besides being iconic, jives perfectly with the structurally and sonically innovative music on the disc. Type had a really fantastic year with releases in general, and they all look amazing, so there’s that too…
Best Vinyl Only
Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides, Low Fired Clay Escape LP (Carnivals)
A contemplative and very pleasing set of live pieces by the English duo of Kelly Jones and Pascal Nichols. These two seem to hit their stride regularly, although this was my first exposure to them. I don’t want to reduce any of their contribution to an ethnic fantasy, but portions of these improvisations made up of flute, feedback, and loping percussion, and field recordings remind me of a Japanese film that should have been made in black and white in the Fifties—a soundtrack to a film telling the most Zenlike, contemplative, and revealing story. That’s how vivid they are.
Best CD-R Only
“Field Recordings From Sichuan and Yunnan, China” CDr (Nada)
I got the disc from this whisper of a label with no information or even an identifiable artist, and these are just literally field recordings from China. But they’re very good, even in urban settings, and the anonymity I just like. There is a story behind this release that almost no one knows, perhaps a very personal or interesting one—certainly the best experience I had with a CD-R all year.
Best Cassette Only
SSPS, Highly Sensitive Safeguards Secure tape (Obsolete Units)
Excepter’s Jon Nicholson provides an encyclopedic synth reference without really providing one. That’s just to say that we should reference it. This cassette, thankfully quite long (C74), touches on vintage house, electro, and industrial and snakes all the way up through the present, reminding us of the underground dance roots of electronic music. All the pieces are lean and mean, and it sounds great on tape.
Best Live Show
Morton Subotnick @ Empty Bottle, Chicago, Neon Marshmallow Fest, 12 June 2011
A true master teaching all the boys how it’s done. An incredibly lively and interesting, well-paced set. And to hear the Buchla in the flesh—worth the price of admission alone.
Cave, Neverendless LP/CD (Drag City)
Living in Chicago from 2007 through 2011, I was fortunate enough to witness all but the very beginnings of Cave. Formed of expats from Columbia, MO, the band once possessed a chaotic, devil-may-care roughness. Early lineups included two drummers, multiple guitarists, three keyboard players. Backed by the excellent Chicago label/record store Permanent, Cave developed an enviable and deserved reputation as the tightest band in Chicagoland, a force capable of harnessing tremendous energy with its hypno-kraut-garage sound. But gradually that energy started to be shaped, and then to be obsessed over. The full extent of the damage is evident on Neverendless, which I was shocked to find is, well, boring. It didn’t rock and didn’t take chances. Don’t get me wrong; the band’s audience is growing through increasingly steady touring and promotion, and I still wish them all the best. And they’re damn good—better than ever. But, pulling themselves up out of the teeming Chicago psych ward, Cave has polished themselves thin and glided through into a dimension that, while more palatable, has lost its edge. Personally, I notice that this seems to parallel my own time in Chicago. Is it just nostalgia I’m feeling?
That I would trumpet the “classic rock” horn in these end-of-year pages. Hey—did you guys know that classic rock is totally amazing? Late-Sixties work of previously prehistoric figures like Zappa, the Stones, Soft Machine, and the Band blew my mind over and over this past year. Have a yearn for a zooming free-jazz groove in 7/8? Check out the second Soft Machine album. Want to hear the true godfather of punk? The proof is in the first Mothers of Invention record, Freak Out! Need to win a debate about the best lead singer of all time? Seriously, look no further than Jagger. Want a lesson in how a band should play together? Dig the Band on their first two albums. To complement the year-end remarks of my friend Nick Zettel, whose 2011 trajectory was a reverse image of mine: sometimes looking back yields just as much excitement as looking forward. The incessant mind demands more!
New York City prices!
Pierre Gerard and Andy Graydon - Untitled, (Magnetisms) (Winds Measure)
My mind has flexed itself trying to wrap around this release's many convolutions and multi-tiered, pock-marked constructs. Moreover, the music stretches across a great deal of musical territory—not just the mental territory I've created from its sounds. Side B has sections which recall Basic Channel's extremely sparse dub-inflected moments, and much of the tape recalls early-'50s electronic and tape pieces, but there is something that separates it from that period entirely. I can't figure it out. I find this release to be extremely original.
アンドリュー チョーク (Andrew Chalk) - 夜のバイオリン (Violin By Night) (Faraway Press)
By far my favorite Andrew Chalk release. I'm having a hard time explaining why this album is so wonderful to me. Its distant and recurrent radio-like sounds, its fractured and interwoven textures give it a peculiar domestic foundation. At times, the sounds are released into the air with just enough time to take on forms in multiple ways and give different stories. Then they come back down. Andrew Chalk creates amorphous and oddly exaggerated emotions, yet they thrive on a separate plane than that of most mental concerns.
Haptic - Scilens (Entr'acte)
Anne Guthrie - Perhaps A Favorable Organic Moment (Copy For Your Records)
Anne Guthrie - Baronfelix (Soundcloud page)
Seth Cluett - Objects Of Memory (Line)
I went out and saw the branches, delicate as telephone wires, each half-golden with the contour created by streetlight. Angles swept down to the center of the night from the rooftops, placed firmly within the blue-black sky. Maybe one star shone, but I did not see it. I have so many things from the past hanging on my walls and sitting on my shelves. As things sit on shelves, their lives are extended. A strange cold emerged in the night and moved a wet leaf across concrete and into a small corner. I can hear a bird singing. I am travelling now. Turtles climb toward a plant. I see a forest, and patches of light spot the floor.
Steve Roden / Various - ... I Listen To The Wind That Obliterates My Traces - Music In Vernacular Photographs, 1880-1955 (Dust-To-Digital)
Jean-Luc Guionnet / Seijiro Murayama - Window Dressing (Potlatch)
Scott Smallwood/Sawako/Seth Cluett/Ben Owen/Civylu Kkliu - Phonography Meeting 070823 (Winds Measure)
Grouper - A I A : Dream Loss (Yellow Electric)
Grouper - A I A : Alien Observer (Yellow Electric)
Or maybe rocks on the edge of a river. Or maybe one large rock with pits and falls and curves and sections of lakewater collected in pools. The sky was dark grey, and the horizon was an ending. We were climbing over the rocks late on a Saturday afternoon, as we often did. He climbed up a portion of the rocks and into a hollowed out area with golden light inside. To do this, he had to climb over a tall stack of old glass bottles and glass rocks—also illuminated by the light—which were situated at a kind of entrance to this place. Once he got in, he was crouched down and doing something. I tried to follow, but I was afraid I'd topple over the bottles and glass rocks. I couldn't step around and over them like he did. So I decided to take the wall apart in order to get through. Each bottle and glass rock was illuminated by the light of this place. Some were green, clear, blue and a few were red.
Jason Kahn, 류한길 (Ryu Hankil), 진상태 (Jin Sangtae), 홍철기 (Hong Chulki), 최준용 (Choi Joonyong), 박승준 (Park Seungjun) - Dotolim (Balloon & Needle)
Angharad Davies, Julia Eckhardt, Dominic Lash, Stefan Thut - Four Quartets And Four Soli (Compost and Height)
Matt Earle, Jason Kahn & Adam Sussmann - Concerts Melbourne+Sydney (Avant Whatever)
Sandro Perri - Impossible Spaces (Constellation)
Prurient - Bermuda Drain (Hydra Head Records)
Excess, excess, guilty pleasure. Nights containing razor-sharp shifting mental spaces, their translucencies overlapping to create a foundation of clouds.
Cooly G - Landscapes / It's Serious (Hyerdub)
Rustie - Glass Swords (Warp Records)
Machinedrum - Room(s) (Planet Mu)
Lone - Echolocations (R & S Records)
James Blake - James Blake (Atlas Recordings / A&M Records)
Kuedo - Severant (Planet Mu)
This is an album that mind-bogglingly succeeds at integrating the skittering rhythms and energy of Chicago Juke/Footwork into classic early-'80s electronic and ambient music, stabilizing the entire package with cinematic elements that are not, surprisingly, cheesy at all. During 2011 and 2010, I've found it very interesting how dance producers are approaching the Juke/Footwork aesthetic currently gaining amazing amounts of international critique, and either recontextualising the style into a more popular one or, like the label Planet Mu, taking it on almost as their child savant, giving it space to grow and show off its raw and unadulterated talent. Planet Mu also gives the hi-fi vinyl treatment to straight-up Chicago Juke and Footwork which popularized itself by cellphone and Youtube videos—what a riot, that is. From what I can gather, this style has taken a saturation of pop and hip hop music inevitably found throughout the South Side of Chicago (and, like, everywhere else) and set it out to dry—no, wrung it tight in strong hands, forced dry in seconds—letting any remaining dampness bake and sizzle in the sun. The crustiness of the scorched pop and hip hop rag begins to disintegrate, and each particle is used to decorate urban monuments of fractured, perpetually crumbling mainstream relics. To this decorating, Kuedo contributes using long, wide brushstrokes of syrupy, oil-based paint.
Holy Other - With U (Tri Angle)
Hieroglyphic Being - Primitif Nous Sommes (Music From Mathematics)
Hype Williams - One Nation (Hippos In Tanks)
Andy Stott - Passed Me By (Modern Love)
Mark Fell - Manitutshu (Editions Mego)
Mark Fell and Peter Rehberg - Kubu / Zikir (Editions Mego)
Luc Ferrari (perf. Musiques Nouvelles / Scottish Flute Trio / Li Ping Ting) - Madame De Shanghai/Après Presque Rien/Visage 2 (Mode)
Morton Feldman (perf. Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin) - Orchestra (Mode)
John Cage (perf. Percussion Group Cincinnati) - The Works for Percussion 1 (Mode)
Miloš Karadaglic - Mediterráneo (Deutsche Grammophon)
Aside from the dumb title, uninspired cover art, generic design (another fine example of a mainstream classical label's visual aesthetic disintegrating sometime after the early to mid-'90s), this collection of classical guitar pieces was immensely enjoyable and, from what I can tell, supremely played. Just divine, as some folks would say. I could be wrong ! But I don't care. My lack of knowledge regarding classical guitar, its history, or any of these compositions except for Albéniz's "Asturias" gives me the liberty of enjoying this album based exclusively on personal reasons and its aesthetically pleasing aural contours. "Asturias" is a nocturnal piece for me, as it became a regular midnight companion on many Winter nights of 2011—an emotionally tumultuous time—during which I found myself listening to classical music and Chicago's WFMT FM constantly (on which "Asturias" is played every midnight); and through the candle-lit reflections of my plants and picture frames in the blackness of my bedroom window its sound became diffuse.
So many releases from labels like Another Timbre, Consumer Waste, Entr'acte, Erstwhile, Edition Wandelweiser, Engraved Glass and many more, that I did not get a chance to explore. Also Eliane Radigue's Transamorem - Transmortem. I would love to hear that at some stage.
Still amazed at how much innovative, "brand new", challenging, entertaining, and even "accessible" music exists in so many areas of the musical spectrum, yet the everyday person still does not know any of it exists. Somehow they're content thinking that the mainstream music industry is still capable of producing quality products for consumption, or they're too apathetic/indifferent to seek out anything better. With a few glistening exceptions—if everything was as chromatic and visceral as some of the Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj singles, there wouldn't be as much of a problem—I can't see how the mainstream music industry is satisfying anyone's needs.