Posts filed under ‘MP3s’
“Unlike most modern pop, they offer not a palliative but an aural solution to contemporary problems. Both in their constitution – two women and two men – and their records – both noise and music – they suggest not only a fusion of apparent opposites but a way through the chaos that is today’s emotional and physical reality. Through their profound, almost environmental, acceptance of confusion they make a different future conceivable”
You may recall the enthusiasm this here blog expressed for Kelvox1′s Grazed Red when it emerged as a free download release last year. (You may also remember this here blog’s embarrassing inability to spell the band’s name correctly but we’ll just gloss over that.) That download disappeared from the Internet pretty quickly and a hard-copy release seemed to be on the cards. And just recently, Grazed Red re-emerged as an LP on New Jersey’s Aagoo Records.
Listening to this album as a free download, it was hard not to to be impressed by its sophistication – electronically-enhanced avant rock on a truly epic scale. Hearing Grazed Red again as a fancy-pants vinyl LP puts it into a different context; throwing into sharp relief the fact that it is, in many ways, a very primitive recording. Lo-fi murk abounds. The vocals, in particular, sound choked by the spores of practice-room mould and mildew. It’s the tension between Kelvox1′s clear artistic ambitions and the lo-fi insouciance of the way Grazed Red is delivered that makes it such a compelling, multi-dimensional listen.
This same tension is very much present on the latest album from Brooklyn’s Father Murphy, another recent Aagoo release (and while we’re at it, on the phenomenal new Woebot album too). Like the Kelvox1 album, Anyway, Your Children Will Deny It is a darkly enigmatic piece of work. There’s a slightly gothy, theatrical edge to this one, so comparisons with Swans, Virgin Prunes and Einsturzende Neubauten make sense.
However, this surprisingly normal-looking three-piece does a pretty good job of not sounding quite like anyone else. Even better, it’s occasionally hard to tell what instruments or electronics are being used to produce the sounds on Anyway… (although online evidence suggests a fairly simple guitar/keyboards/drums line-up).
Even, even betterer, this album is among the select breed of long-players that are actually short enough to play at 45RPM (Meat Puppets II and Sylvain Chauveau’s Singular Forms spring to mind as other great examples). The point is: these guys have artistic ambition to spare but they also know how to be concise.
Aagoo is a new name to the Bubblegum Cage III. But on this evidence, the label is doing extremely good work. Head over to its Web store immediately and buy these albums!
(Oh and Father Murphy is coming to Vancouver later this month but the show ‘s at the Biltmore, so fuck that.)
Two compilation CDs for your mother because you forgot to buy here flowers.
Umm… You might not want to show her that video, though.
1. Tim Hardin – “Reason to Believe”
2. Hank Williams – “The Angel of Death”
3. The Byrds – “Here Without You”
4. Mike Nesmith and The First National Band – “Joanne”
5. Joni Mitchell – “I Don’t Know Where I Stand”
6. Kenny Rogers and The First Edition – “Just Dropped In”
7. Tim Buckley – “Song to the Siren”
8. Emmylou Harris – “Boulder to Birmingham”
9. Richie Havens – “High Flyin’ Bird”
10. John Martyn – “May You Never”
11. Tom Waits – “Downtown Train”
12. The Rolling Stones – “Dead Flowers”
13. Fleetwood Mac – “Rhiannon”
14. Townes Van Zandt – “Pancho and Lefty”
15. Gram Parsons – “Return of the Grievous Angel”
16. Bruce Springsteen – “Born to Run”
17. Joanna Newsom – “Soft as Chalk”
18. John Fahey – “When the Catfish is in Bloom”
1. Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”
2. Palace Brothers – “I am a Cinematographer”
3, Tim Hardin – “If I Were a Carpenter”
4. Scott Walker – “Duchess”
5. The International Submarine Band – “Blue Eyes”
6. Bob Dylan – “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”
7. Leonard Cohen – “There is a War”
8. Loudon Wainwright III – “Be Careful There’s a Baby in the House”
9. Neil Young – “After the Gold Rush”
10. Meat Puppets – “Up on the Sun”
11. Bongwater – “The Drum”
12. Low – “Sunflower”
13. American Music Club – “Fearless”
14. Emmylou Harris – “Pancho & Lefty”
15. Townes Van Zandt – “Dead Flowers”
16. Buffy Sainte-Marie – “Adam”
17. Tim Buckley – “Dream Letter”
18. The Grateful Dead – “Box of Rain”
What more could you possibly need?
“Daniel Lopatin a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never has been of our favourite artists here at Twee Death for a few years, so we’re very pleased to announce that the Brooklyn-based Software/Mexican Summer and Editions Mego recording artist will be making his first ever appearance in Vancouver…”
“Oneohtrix Point Never’s A/V performance will be preceded by a set from UK electronic artist Connect_icut, who is currently residing in BC. DJ Pop Drones will be spinning records from his massive vinyl library while renowned video feedback artist Merlyn Chipman controls an immersive visual environment…”
“Wednesday 11 April 2012 at 9:00pm, W2 Media Cafe, 111 W Hastings St, Vancouver.”
The 80s revival is pretty much over, right? The hip and not-so-hip retro-mongers all seem to have their sights set squarely upon the early 90s, at this point. So what’s left? Mainly the impression that the 80s was an era of synthetic textures and vapid consumerism/body-image obsession (so unlike our own time – ha!) From electroclash to hypnagogic pop, 80s revivalism has painted a pretty one-dimensional picture of the era.
But how about what this here blog likes to call The Earnest 80s? There certainly was a major obsession with organic earthiness, spiritual soulfulness and workmanlike authenticity during that decade. Think how huge Springsteen and U2 got.
Well, one element of the Earnest 80s has certainly been revived, in the mainstream at least – the faux-sophisticated faux-soul of The Style Council, Simply Red etc. People will try to tell you that the success of Adele and Amy Winehouse has something to do with a 60s soul revival but it doesn’t. This kind of earnest-white-person take on 60s soul is definitively 80s. In the 80s, this sound was tied to what Simon Reynolds called “designer soul-cialism”. This was essentially a watered-down take on Scritti Politti’s mixture of leftist ideology and knowing soul revivalism. The 21st-century revival-of-a-revival version rather predictably drops the politics and intellectual pretensions in favour of pure nostalgia-for-nostalgia.
But what about the relatively hip indie sector? Well, the equivalent of the Adele phenomenon would be the mild interest among some committed retro rockers for the paisley underground. And there’s certainly a few bands out there with a distinct whiff of The Replacements (who were, perhaps, the indie E Street Band). It’s significant that Husker Du’s boozy Minneapolis neighbours seem to have the greater share of the cred with youngsters – it sort of mirrors the pop mainstream’s party-hard dogma . The Du…. well, that’s a thornier, more complex proposition altogether.
And so, Hukser Du languishes in relative obscurity. Relative, certainly, compared to the centrality to – one might even say hegemony over - the alt music scene this band enjoyed during its heyday. It’s hard to imagine now how massively critically acclaimed earnest-80s rockers like Husker Du and The Go Betweens used to be. Who listens to The Go Betweens these days? Make no mistake, though: In the mid 80s, Bob Mould (guitar/vocals), Grant Hart (drums/vocals) and Greg Norton (bass) were The Saviours of Rock, at least according to the British music press.
But ask a music connoisseur – even one who lived through and was intimately involved with that period – about Husker Du and you’ll probably be greeted with a blank stare. Flick through a book about the alt 80s and you’ll certainly find a few mentions of the Du (especially in Reynolds’ Blissed Out and Bring the Noise) but nothing even remotely in proportion to how important the band was considered to be at the time. The same might be said of The Cure but while Fat Bob Smith and co were always popular, they were never nearly as critically acclaimed as Fat Bob Mould and co. So, why has Husker Du fallen so far out of favour?
Perhaps because Mould, Hart and Norton esquires don’t fit in. They don’t fit in with our view of the 80s, they don’t fit in with our view of “interesting” music, they don’t really fit in anywhere. In their early days, they may have stuck out like a sore thumb – a distinctly non-funky hardcore trio who dug The Mamas & the Papas – but they did so in a way that was useful or interesting for music critics, precisely because they were a massive affront to designer soul-cialism etc. Mould and Hart were, in many ways, the ultimate 80s outsiders – chubby, scruffy, gay, Midwestern punks who declared a love of 60s folk-pop a few years before it came back into fashion.
In his book Husker Du: The Story of the Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock, Andrew Earles insists that their sexuality was irrelevant to their music. But this simply isn’t true – these were guys who were equally out-of-place in the gay and straight communities. In Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad’s indispensable book on US indie rock in the 80s, Hart is quoted as saying that being gay “just served to be even one more thing that we were bad-ass about”. In other words, they were forced to accept and channel their outsider status from the get-go – and sexuality was a not insignificant aspect of this. (Another was geography. As Azerrad notes, they weren’t even actually from Minneapolis. Norton again: “We were St. Paul people, which was like East Germans. So we even had to live that down”.)
So, for many 80s music critics, raised on the 70s underground (i.e. the hipper end of prog), punk and post-punk punk, Husker Du must have seemed like just the right kind of misfits. In his review of the band’s underrated swansong album Warehouse: Songs & Stories (1987, “Friend, You’ve Got to Fall” might be just be the #besthuskerdusong), Reynolds notoriously concluded: “My fantasy. A million heads wigging out, blissed out, in rock noise… The return of ROCK.” In other words, Husker Du’s wall of impassioned sound was the perfect antidote to second-generation/depoliticized new pop, white funk and designer soul-cialism.
But wasn’t it just the other side of the same coin; another example of why the Earnest 80s basically sucked? Maybe not. In the same review, Reynolds noted: “Husker Du don’t belong with the new authentics… there’s no intimacy, no sweat, nothing earthy. Husker Du are making a monument, a mountain, a glacier, out of rock again, rather than burrowing along at the grass roots.” With Husker Du, adolescent anomie and Regan-era despair were pushed as far as they would go; to the point of becoming psychedelic . As Reynolds said: “Noise as metaphor for inner turmoil and its transfiguration.” This is why the 60s/psych influence was crucial and it found it’s ultimate expression not only on the double concept album Zen Arcade (1984) but even more tellingly on the legendary cover of The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”.
The key was excess. Shrieking in the face of sub-Springsteen rootedness and white-funk tastefulness, Flip Your Wig (1985), in particular, rammed everything into the red. The only album with the production values really necessary to truly communicate Mould’s virtuosic shower-of-sparks guitar style (live videos suggest he could play hell-for-leather solos and ear-strafing power chords at the same time), Flip Your Wig is pretty overwhelming: almost every song is insanely catchy; just hearing the guitar is like staring directly at the sun; surplus reverb floods the vocals, clotting the frequency range for good and filling every void with life-affirming NOISE.
Even at their catchiest, Husker Du’s songs were astoundingly cathartic. Of the band’s two songwriters, Hart seemed like the hippy-dippy character – Mould came across a lot angrier and more hard-bitten. But boy could Grant Hart ever shriek when he wanted to. On one of the band’s best, most anthemic songs, “Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill” from New Day Rising (1985), Hart’s vocals get increasingly raw and crazed with each verse, ending up as an insane barrage of seemingly wordless vocalizing.
Basically, this music is fucking great. But next to nobody seems to care anymore. That is, in and of itself, a shame. But there’s more to it than that because the world actually needs Husker Du right now – or, at least, it needs a Husker Du. Contemporary electronic dance-pop has achieved complete mainstream global domination – a sound as sterile and vacuous as anything the 80s turned out. And the only alternative would appear to be Adele or whoever. Meanwhile, the smarter critics continue to confuse process with aesthetics, sticking rigidly to the dogmatic belief that electronics = future, guitars = equal past. In fact, most of the best and most innovative music of the past 20 years has been based on channeling rock ends through electronic (specifically, digital) means – My Bloody Valentine and Fennesz providing the obvious high points.
So, this here blog isn’t proposing another Return to Rock, particularly in the mainstream. Indeed, we should be glad that pop radio and video music stations have finally rid themselves of the blight that was corporate emo rock – a style of music that is fundamentally sub-Du. It’s worth pointing out at this stage, though, that while “emotional hardcore” is a decent-enough partial description of the band’s sound, Husker Du was not emocore per se. Emo was (quite self-consciously) started in Washington DC, around the time that HD was at its peak, by acts like Embrace and Rites of Spring – the bands that became Fugazi. The DC kids seemed to distrust the Du boys for being wannabe rock stars; decadent aesthetes with ideas above their station; fundamentally not earnest enough.
In any case, the Husker Du sound was more expansive (and druggy, frankly) than early emo and certainly more cerebral and experimental than corporate emo. Sure, 21st century emo/screamo was often quite extreme but it was (Is? Are labels still releasing that stuff?) essentially as rigid and airless as the dance-pop that replaced it on the airwaves. Husker Du’s sound, by contrast, was downright oceanic – a swelling, gushing torrent of rage, angst and empathy; majestically incoherent and occasionally pushed to the point of abstraction; a psychedelic head-rush compounded by a hardcore sucker punch. It’s this mixture of bliss and brutality, structure and expansiveness that the likes of MBV and Fennesz took to the next level in the subsequent two decades (something that the members of Husker Du proved unable to achieve in their own later careers.)
The fact remains: Husker Du’s music continues to deserve your attention because it’s an object lesson in the depth, focus and magic missing from music today – and because it’s quite simply bloody brilliant.
The new album from The Automatics Group is pretty upfront about its sample sources – each track is named according to the mainstream pop and house acts it borrows from (Swedish House Mafia, Deadmau5…) But anyone expecting a mash-up epic along the lines of Kid 606′s The Action Packed Mentallist Brings You the Fucking Jams is going to be severely disappointed.
Rather than cheekily re-contextualizing his source material The Automatics Group’s Theo Burt diffuses it into a Fourier-transformed mist of hiss and hum. The only recognizable element left over from contemporary dance-pop is the steady four-on-the-floor beat. But even this is reduced to a series of ornately minute clicks and pulses, which have more in common with late 90s glitch-techno. Indeed, the most obvious points of reference here are GAS and Basic Channel.
That doesn’t quite cover it, though. As the album title may suggest, this music avoids the deep-in-the-woods dankness of GAS or the skunky fug of Basic Channel, delivering a ravishing blue-skied clarity. This clarity is all the more remarkable given the claustrophobic, over-compressed sound of the music music Summer Mix samples. The whole album has a sense of presence unusual for a 2010s digital production and the dynamic range is startlingly wide by any standards.
All of which makes it easy to speculate about what The Automatics Group might be trying to say with this project. Perhaps this is an attempt to suggest a more open, unashamedly cerebral alternative to contemporary pop’s bullish insistence that you must party hard. But it would be frankly wrong to impose this here blog’s ideological agenda on such a simply, stunningly gorgeous record.
And in any case, the Group has provided a fairly detailed explanation of the rather extraordinary process used to create the album, which suggests that a formalistic focus on pure aesthetics is the goal here – certainly, no other agenda is stated or strongly implied. You can read it at the label’s website, where you can also purchase a copy of the CD, which comes vacuum-sealed within a beautifully-designed antistatic bag, as Entr’acte releases generally are.
Video Bar: Winter Social
@ VIVO Media Arts Centre, 1965 Main Street, Vancouver BC
Friday Feb 24, 8pm-midnight
A chance to drink and socialize accompanied by background music from…
connect_icut (9:05-9:50) | http://connect-icut.com/
Sparse improvisations on a virtual Fender Rhodes, sampled live and arranged using custom-built generative music software. Dreamy and disorientating, if all goes to plan.
Loscil (10-10:50) | www.loscil.ca
This incarnation of Scott Morgan’s loscil project features remixes of past works and premiers of new creations with live, improvised accompaniment by long time collaborator, Jason Zumpano on Rhodes piano. With a penchant for slow moving, low level, nearly static compositions, loscil carves out a soundtrack for hidden worlds and creates a listening space dually suited to deep listening or purely subconscious absorption.
Kristen Roos (11-11:45) | www.kristenroos.com
Kristen’s live performance will involve using his voice and small percussive instruments manipulated with looping, delay, pitch and filtering pedals, to create a kind of psychedelic wallpaper, as background music for conversation at the bar.
Fieldhead | www.fieldheadmusic.com
Fieldhead produces ambient/electronic music that delights in tape hiss, geography, bleak landscapes and decaying analogue loops.
Bubblegum Cage III favourite Fieldhead will be playing at Blim in Vancouver this Friday to kick off a short tour of western Canada. Later this month, he’ll also be organizing a free show at Vancouver’s VIVO Media Arts Center, which will feature music from Loscil and connect_icut. More details on that when we get them. In the meantime, here are the details of the Blim show…
Friday February 17th @ Blim, Vancouver, BC, Canada (www.blim.ca)
$8-10 | Doors 8pm
Last.FM : http://www.last.fm/event/3157027+Fieldhead+at+Blim%2C+115+East+Pender+on+17+February+2012
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/events/234293253312782/
“FIELDEAD | http://www.fieldheadmusic.com
Fieldhead (Gizeh Records) is P Elam (originally from Leeds, UK, currently a resident of Vancouver, BC). He produces ambient/electronic music that delights in tape hiss, geography, bleak landscapes and decaying analogue loops. Fieldhead’s live show combines the grainy textures and dusty loops married with brevity and melody to be found in their recorded work with a slow burning sense of purpose and beauty communicated through a mix of electronics and ‘live’ instruments.
CHRIS TENZ | http://mini50records.bandcamp.com/album/frozen-arms
Chris Tenz (Mini50 Records) is a resident of Calgary, AB. His debut album Frozen Arms was released in December 2011 and communicates themes of loss and regret through brutally honest lyricism and sweet, spider-like melodies crossing from the harsh light of reality into the blurred lines of fiction. Chris’s music tells tales in a whispering voice set against panoramic soundscapes: it’s the music of aimless late night neon wanderings that brings to mind Mt. Eerie/Microphones set in a more desolate place.
MONGST | http://www.myspace.com/mongst
Mongst is the solo output of JV Dub (also of Shearing Pinx and Aerosol Constellations), and has released a number of EPs on Isolated Now Waves. Mongst’s music is vast, minimal, hugely engaging and a touch unsettling: long drawn out samples blend effortlessly with guitar drones to stunning effect.”
Another year ends and along comes another Bubblegum Cage III end-of-year list. The usual caveats apply: this rather lengthy post was pecked out over a disjointed series of sittings. No critical rigour or close proofreading was applied at any stage. What is more, there was a major technical calamity at one point, which caused an entire evening’s worth of work to be lost forever. The upshot of all this is that the grammar may be marginal and the writing a little half-baked. But the music’s all that matters and the music is great.
So, what’s been happening? Well there’s this… and then…
Well… sometimes, it seems like every year is simultaneously a better year for music than the previous one and a worse year for music than ever. Let’s look on the dark side first, get that out of the way. It’s hard to remember a year when music per se was more marginal to western popular culture or when mainstream pop music was more shamelessly heinous. For most people, music has become little more than an optional feature of smartphones, designed to pump out shitty-sounding MP3s of hyper-compressed uber kitsch at the most antisocial of opportunities. And while the mainstream squanders the astonishing potential of digital audio technology in that manner, the greatest creative minds of the musical underground have turned into a bunch of look-back bores, intent upon steadfastly refusing to explore the full potential of the vintage synthesizers they just bought on eBay. Bah!
Then there’s digital maximalism, which just seems like a wearying, indiscriminate outpouring of collective incontinence. Still, there is a different type of torrential digital maximalism that can’t help but yield some positive results, if only by statistical probability. That is to say there continues to be an ever-gathering cascade of interesting-at-the-very-least new (and old) music raining down on us all on a daily basis – to the point that it’s utterly impossible to keep up, let alone appraise it all in a meaningful way. While this means that most of the truly great, potentially important albums end up getting overlooked… well, hasn’t that always been the case? The cream rises to the top, sure – but it usually takes a while.
It can sometimes seem like the greats are drowning in a sea of merely-goods. But let’s face it, there have only ever been about half a dozen truly classic albums released in any given 12-month period. That hasn’t changed in the last 50, 60 years. And even the most perceptive of critics will find it hard to figure out precisely which albums those are until said albums have been around for at least a couple of years. Of course, at the Bubblegum Cage III, we think the most perceptive of critics are losers. We know full well what the most important records of 2011 were and we know it right now. So what are we waiting for? Here they are…
Top 10 Albums of the Year
1. Seefeel – s/t (Warp) LP
Quite the comeback from the UK post-rock legends – this is exactly what Bubblegum Cage III wanted to be hearing in 2011. Which is to say it sounded like nothing else this year and flew recklessly in the face of fashion. No vintage synths, four-track fug or aimless eclecticism for this band.
Like all Seefeel albums, Seefeel explores variations on a very limited sound palette. In this case, the palette is anchored by ponderously hypnotic beats’n’basslines and topped off with Sarah Peacock’s cooing vocals. In the middle, you get Mark Clifford’s DSP-distressed guitar giving off all manner of bass wobbles, granular detonations and disorientatingly modulated delays.
Whereas most guitar/DSP combinations in the post-Fennesz era have aimed to humanize or naturalize experimental electronic music, Clifford’s work here essentially makes rock sound more alien and uncanny than one might reasonably think it could in this day and age. This is a brave, brilliantly realised and multi-dimensional album; genuinely dreamlike in its smeared clarity and as alienating as it is beautiful. (The Moritz von Oswald Trio has been pulling off a similar trick over the last few years.)
Fennesz is extra-relevant here, by the way. The great man’s combination of classic-rock guitar stylings and cutting-edge DSP deconstruction has been responsible for some of the most thoughtful, innovative music of the last 15 years. But his style is perhaps too fractured and abstract to have a direct impact on the broader culture of popular music. Seefeel represents an attempt to apply Fennesz-esque techniques to the “traditional” rhythms and structures of pop/rock. As such, it sounds like a proposal for a more reflective, less destructive – but not unrealistically utopian – future.
In the past, many people sought out music that sounded like the future. Nowadays, some of us are just searching for music that makes us feel like there’s going to be a future. Seefeel shoots the beast of inevitable entropy down with a single enigmatic glance. Seriously.
Near perfect and damn well necessary, Seefeel is this here blog’s album of the year. The fact that nobody else seems to regard it so highly is distressing on any number of levels.
2. Stephan Mathieu – A Static Place (12k) CD [& To Describe George Washington Bridge (Dekorder) 10" & Remain (Line) CD]
An absolutely glorious excursion into pure ambient bliss-out from one of the tried-and-tested masters of digital electronica. The methodology here is probably pretty simple, as anyone who’s spent time playing with SoundHack will tell you. But while digital technology might make it easy to create sounds a bit like this, it’s something else to weave those sounds into an gigantic, undulating eiderdown of heavenly cumulus.
A Static Place consists of five pieces, four of which are exactly 10 minutes long. Like the Seefeel album, it’s based around a very limited selection of signature textures - the repeated deployment of spectral twisting and twinkling in the high end being the key to precisely why A Static Place is so seductive.
Most of the audio samples at the root of these twinkly textures were apparently sourced from Mathieu’s collection of vintage 78 RPM records – hence the “static” in the title. But any surface noise here is rendered as an unbroken, oceanic pink noise bliss-hiss, with no pops or irruptions to disrupt the flow. So seamless is the sound, in fact, that it seems faintly ridiculous to keep referring to Mathieu as a “glitch” artist, just because he’s a German guy with a laptop.
In spite of its restricted sonic parameters and its seamless flow, A Static Place is anything but one-dimensional. You could lose your mind in the heady heights of this album – this goddamn heroic inner space voyage.
3. Tape – Revelationes (Immune) LP
Perhaps the loveliest album yet from Sweden’s digitally-enhanced pastoral post-rock trio. There’s nothing unexpected here – beautiful guitar and keyboard melodies buoyed upon lightly-brushed rhythms, topped off with some unobtrusive granular audio manipulations. Tape’s music has always been just edgy enough to prevent it becoming blandly decorative but – in this case – the more-than-usually-beautiful melodies really kick things up a notch. Revelationes is absolutely bloody gorgeous; ravishing!
There’s a truly utopian sensibility to this music, albeit an unassuming, decidedly non-didactic sensibility (all of which is compounded by the lovely cover art). Compared to this, most 2011 releases sound unattractively decadent, bloated and pointless. Like the Seefeel album, this record hints at a better future that can only be glimpsed through the abstract medium of experimental music (in these blighted, dogmatically politicized times, a least). That may be reading too much into what is basically just a very pretty instrumental post-rock record but an album quite this pretty can really give you ideas.
4. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (Software) LP
If the already-classic Returnal felt like the culmination of something, Replica feels like the start of something – something good and something less tied to recognizable analogue tropes – but just the start of something, nevertheless. Whatever it is, Daniel Lopatin hasn’t quite perfected it yet, which is the only reason Oneohtrix Point Never hasn’t been awarded Bubblegum Cage III Album of the Year two years in a row.
Sampling has cropped up in Lopatin’s work before (on Memory Vague, for instance) but it has never been pushed quite so far to the fore. Oneohtrix is associated with the whole synth drone thing but Lopatin is clearly making an effort to prioritize digital methods. He’s even – sacrelige! – worked a laptop into his live set-up.
Apparently, most of the samples come from vintage TV adds, so Lopatin is still exploring the intersections of memory and popular culture. But he’s doing so in a more vivid, critical way than most of his hypnagogic peers. The sound here is spacious, raw and glitchy. The deployment of sound is both achingly beautiful and disarmingly witty. The most obvious comparison might be to 94 Diskont-era Oval, which is interesting because the last Oval album was a close runner up to Returnal in last year’s to 10.
Oh and c’mon guys, it’s a pun on 106.7FM (Boston’s soft rock station), so it’s pronounced “one oh tricks point never”. Is that really so hard?
5. Woebot – Chunks (Hollow Earth) LP
More sample-collage fun, this time concentrating on re-situating slices of 70s hard rock heaviosity. Part of the fun comes from hearing these big beer farts of sound hermetically sliced’n’diced and arranged with neat (but unfussy) precision. The real fun, though, comes from the fact that this approach doesn’t drain the idiot joy from the source material. If anything, the mighty Woebot’s attention to detail and ear for a hook only make things sillier and more energizing.
The fact that “Argos” has not yet topped the UK pop charts is proof positive that the world has gone mad.
6. Alva Noto – Univrs 2LP [& Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto - Summvs CD & Cyclo - Id 12"] (all Raster-Noton)
An astonishing year for Carsten Nicolai. Three releases so consistently compelling that it’s extremely hard to pick a favourite. His latest piano-versus-laptop duel with Ryuichi Sakamoto is perhaps the duo’s most satisfying face-off yet. But Univrs is just so stridently rocking and robotically funky that it seems like the real award winner here. And it truly is a winner – there are numerous moments on this album where you’ll simply want to stand up and applaud. Explosive stuff!
7. Kellarissa – Moon of Neptune (Mint) LP
Exceptionally lunar tunes from the pride of Vancouver. There was a fair bit of hype about solo, female avant-synthpop artists this year. The fact that Kellarissa got left out of the mix was a grave injustice. Maybe we can put it down to her duties as keyboard player in Destroyer taking up the time that would otherwise have been spent promoting this album. In any case, take a listen to “Undock” and then try to say that shit ain’t world-class.
8. Hype Williams – One Nation (Hippos in Tanks) LP
Smirky, lo-fi retro pastiche that should be annoying but is actually weirdly affecting. This London duo’s “we’re so mysterious” self-mythologizing is unnecessary – the real mystery is how so much beauty results from such an unpromising approach. One Nation is almost Ween-esque in its ability to confuse, irritate and beguile.
9. Charalambides – Exile (Kranky) 2LP
The wholly other avant rock duo’s best album yet? The words “peerless” and “singular” are doubtless used repeatedly elsewhere in this post but… what the hell: PEERLESS AND SINGULAR!
This is an unusually rugged and upfront Charalambides release, with Tom Carter spooling off endless desert psych/blues guitar lines while his ex, the divine Christine, croons diary entries close up into the mic. The results are at once stark and hypnotic. A tough trick to pull off but a damn effective one.
Five years in the making. A major release.
10. BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa – Big Shadow Montana (Helen Scarsdale Agency) LP
A truly epic and brilliantly structured ambient excursion from Scandinavia. A Static Place is lovelier and Cindytalk’s Hold Everything Dear (see below) is perhaps more ambitious but Big Shadow Montana has an impact all its own, perhaps because it manages to pull off the difficult balancing act between expansiveness and concision.
Sounds like a David Lynch movie. Let’s get this clear, though: it doesn’t sound like the soundtrack to a David Lynch movie, it sounds like the film itself. Does that sense? No? Well, neither does the record. This is that ol’ space shit!
Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky) 2LP [& Dropped Pianos (Kranky) 12"/LP]
Ravedeath is basically a consolidation of the more-droney-less-glitchy work Tim Hecker has been doing since Harmony in Ultraviolet but that’s not to damn it with faint praise – this is a brilliant concentration of everything that has made his recent work so irresistible. Add strangely melancholy, faux-rave gated synths and you’ve got a very strong contender for a top 10 spot.
The Dropped Pianos mini LP provides some insight into the raw material behind Ravedeath and is an unusually “live”-sounding release for Hecker.
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Horizontal Structures (Honest Jon’s) 2LP [& Vladislav Delay Quartet - s/t (Honest Jon's) 2LP & Vladislav Delay - Vantaa (Raster-Noton) CD]
The Basic Channel man takes his trio on its most recognizably musical excursion yet. Horizontal Structures lacks the alien weirdness of previous releases but it’s irresistible and singular nonetheless.
The quartet led by MVOT percussionist Vladislav Delay is a much darker proposition, perhaps because of the the jet-black electronic madness unleashed by Mika Vainio (ex of Pan Sonic) throughout.
Vlad’s solo album on Raster-Noton seems a bit like a step back into his electronic comfort zone, after the more “live” sound of Tummaa. Maybe the Trio and Quartet are satiating his need to jam with “proper” musicians.
Belong – Common Era (Kranky) LP
Fans of Belong’s de facto Fennesz tribute album October Language looked askance at the New Orleans duo’s move into lo-fi pop territory but Common Era is actually the sound of a band coming into its own. Dreamy.
Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact (4AD) 2LP
Gang Gang has been threatening to go pop for some time now and Eye Contact is pretty much that threat made a promise – parts of it sound like a dangerously out-of-control Black Eyed Peas! Somehow, though, this band has never quite delivered on its promise and it still seems like the best is yet to come.
Secret Pyramid – The Silent March (Nice Up International) cassette
Incredibly beautiful and accomplished space rock from here in Vancouver. Essential for all you fans of Flying Saucer Attack and lovesliescrushing, assuming you can track down this (as yet) tape-only release. Vinyl releases in 2012?
Fennesz + Sakamoto – Flumina (Touch) 2CD
Christian Fennesz’s collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto have never been as satisfying as Carsten Nicolai’s and this is really just more of the same, only three times as long and with rather darker, more probing piano work from Sakamoto. Nice though.
Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow 2LP [& Director's Cut 2LP] (both Fish People)
The “real” new album, 50 Words for Snow, is like a more stripped-down version of the previous “proper” album, Aerial. It’s not up there with her best but it’s solid and often deeply evocative, other than the truly abysmal Elton John cameo. Director’s Cut is a reasonably successful attempt to redeem some of Kate’s lesser works – essential for committed fans but not for the rest of you.
- King Midas Sound – Without You (Hyperdub) 2LP
An album of remixes and “revoices”. Doesn’t sound too promising, does it? But listen, it’s a Kevin Martin album with Green Gartside from Scritti Politti singing on one song – it’s obviously going to be awesome. “Come and Behold” is SONG OF THE YEAR. The Hype Williams and Gang Gang Dance remixes are just gravy.
Cindytalk – Hold Everything Dear (Editions Mego) 2LP
It was a good year for epic, highly structured ambient albums. This effort from art-goth veterans Cindytalk was up there with the best of ‘em.
The Field – Looping State of Mind (Kompakt) 2LP+CD
A slight step back artistically but a reliably vivifying collection of blissed out tech-house, all the same.
Oren Ambarchi & Jim O’Rourke – Indeed (Editions Mego) 2LP
Reliably excellent and abstract duo album from two avant rock/electronica A-listers.
James Blake – s/t (Universal) 2LP
Probably the most divisive album of the year – you either loved it or hated it. This here blog loved about 75% of it but the emo element and nagging repetition of lyrical phrases does grate after a while. Basically, “I Never Learned to Share” sucks.
Hauschka – Salon des Amateurs (130701) LP
Prepared piano, electronics, live drums and a whole bunch of lovely.
Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Miners’ Hymns (130701) 2LP
An oddly ominous-sounding anthem to the glory days of the union movement. It’s a movie soundtrack, so maybe it makes more sense with the visuals. In any case, a real kick in the arse for those who think this kind of post-minimalist eclecticism (see also Sylvain Chauveau, Max Richter etc.) is just so much apolitical pleasantness.
In Sepents & Seas – Notes from the Quiet Household (no label) download
More spooky soundscapes from the ever-reliable Charlie Martineau aka Esperik Glare. Name-your-price download from here.
Kelvox1 – Grazed Red (no label) download
Large scale contemporary UK post-rock. Not currently available, as the band is planning a hard-copy release for 2012. It’ll be worth the wait.
Loscil – coast/range/arc (Glacial Movements) CD
Another great ambient record from 2011. Vancouver’s Scott Morgan abandons the glitch beats and live instruments for some serious electronic flotation tank music. Glacial in its pace, crystalline in its clarity.
Half Man Half Biscuit – 90 Bisodol (Crimond) (Probe Plus) LP+CD
It’s hard to imagine anything more different from the Loscil album than this latest effort from England’s greatest comedy rock (sorry Taylor) institution. “L’Enfer c’est les Autres”, in particular, is absolutely pant-pissingly funny.
Xela – Exorcism (no label) download
Instead of releasing his final album as Xela as a nice vinyl edition on his own Type label, John Twells has chosen to go the free download route. This is slightly perplexing as, to these here ears, Exorcism sounds like the best Xela album evar! Dark but not as doomy as the title might suggest. More bliss, less horror and all the better for it.
Byetone – Symeta (Raster-Noton) LP
Another great year for Raster-Noton. Actually, it’s incredible how first-generation glitch labels like Raster and Mego have managed to stay relevant (Mille Plateaux, not so much). This is like a more organic, dubby version of the Alva Noto album. Other Raster artists (Frank Bretschneider, Senking…) have been exploring similar ground over the last couple of years, with mixed results. This immediately jumps out as a more successful expedition than most.
Lawrence English – The Peregrine (Experimedia) LP
English seems like someone who is yet to make his definitive musical statement. Reports that The Peregrine is his masterwork have been greatly exaggerated. Basically, it’s a more expansive take on the recent Tim Hecker sound. It’s not unsatisfying but you’re left with the feeling that he can and will do better.
Singles, EPs etc.
Burial – Street Halo (Hyperdub) 12″
Bloody hell, he just gets better! Albeit gradually. The post-dubstep pioneer is progressing at his own sweet pace. A tiny step for him is a giant thrill ride for the rest of us. This may be his most purely beautiful release so far.
Fennesz – Seven Stars (Touch) 10″
Very, very solid four-track release from the governor. The introduction of a steady, live drum beat on the title track is a nice touch but the rest is business as usual. Nothing wrong with that, in this case.
Shackleton – “Fireworks” 2×12″ & Actress – “Harrier ATTK”/”Gershwin” 12″ (both Honest Jon’s)
It was a stellar year for Honest Jon’s. “Fireworks” saw a return to form for ethno-dubstep lurker Shackleton, after his rather underwhelming Fabric mix CD, while Actress gave us more of his trademark hyper-compressed avant techno.
The Automatics Group – Auto 17 (Or) 12″
Generic analogue synthesizer drone continued to be big news this year but genuinely otherworldly synth weirdness was thin on the ground. Thank goodness, then, for this impeccably odd release from York’s Automatics Group.
Spell – Hex (Panospria) download
Thankfully, this is not the Spell which features (gag!) Boyd Rice. And sadly, it’s not a song-by-song reinterpretation of Hex by Bark Psychosis. Instead it’s a Vancouver duo purveying a hard-to-classify mix of effects-pedal haze, laptop beats and incantory vocals. Free download from here.
Andy Stott – Passed Me by (Modern Love) 12″/LP
It almost did! Andy Stott seems to be operating in the same hyper-compressed, sample-based, post-techno space as actress. Seductive stuff but – as with Actress – the deliberately excessive use of side-chaining compression can lead to ear fatigue pretty quickly. Perhaps that’s why both artists are concentrating on short-form releases, rather than full-length albums. Stott released another mini LP in 2011 (We Stay Together – haven’t heard it yet) and the two releases are now available together on a double CD.
Disco Inferno – The 5 EPs (One Little Indian) CD
Probably the most important re-issue of all time, so why the fuck isn’t it available on vinyl?!? WHY???????????
Now, RELEASE THIS FUCKING THING ON VINYL, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!!!
My Bloody Valentine – Lost Tracks & Rare Cuts (Alti Philosophi) LP
A bootleg – obviously – but a very welcome one. True MBV fans will definitely need those recently-discovered demos on wax, after all.
***BEGIN EDIT – MAJOR OVERSIGHT***
The Fall – This Nation’s Saving Grace (Beggars Banquet) 3CD
Something important always gets left out but the fact that this lavish box-set was absent from the original version of the list… well, that ain’t okay. Put it down to this being the year that the Bubblegum Cage III finally got sick of The Fall. Still, this is essential. While it doesn’t quite scale the heights of 2010′s essential Wonderful & Frightening World of… 4CD set, this should still stand as a stern corrective to those who believe that The Fall ran out of steam after finally leaving Rough Trade for good or that Ersatz GB is the best Mark E. Smith can do. More, please!
***END EDIT – SORRY ABOUT THAT***
Arthur Russell – Let’s Go Swimming (Audika) 12″
A classic slab of electro-pop wildness, again and again and again. How can you resist?
Talk Talk – Laughing Stock (Ba-Da-Bing) LP
Over the last few years, original vinyl copies of Talk Talk’s extraordinary swansong have been going for about $100. Earlier this year, an apparently rather dodgy bootleg seemed to be doing the rounds. Now, finally, we have this legit re-issue. Essential to own for all serious avant/post-rock fans. The hair-raising feedback solo on “After the Flood” would be worth the price of admission alone.
Slowdive – Pygmalion (“Creation”) 2LP
The label name is in quotes because this kinda has to be a bootleg. Ah well, it’s still nice to have the marvelously abstract final album from this legendary shoegaze band available on wax.
Hecker – Sun Pandamonium (Pan) LP
Seriously mind-bending EXTREME COMPUTER MUSIC from Florian Hecker, in seriously luxurious packaging. Very classy.
Lawrence English – Kiri No Oto (Digitalis) LP
A very welcome vinyl edition. Just as good as the actual new album.
Releases by connect_icut & on CSAF RecordsObviously, it would be a massive conflict of interests to include any connect_icut/CSAF-related stuff in any of the actual lists. But it would be remiss not to encourage you all to grip these free downloads…
connect_icut – Let’s Hear it for the Vague Blur (Panospria) download
The fifth album by connect_icut, gloriously remastered by Joshua “Magneticring” Stevenson. Imagine a mid point between those Heckers, Tim and Florian. Now, get it here.
Not Me – 2011 12s Vols. 1-5 (CSAF) downloads
Deep, dark Chain Reaction-style beats plus whatever the remixers felt like doing. Said remixers included Loscil, Fieldhead, Kuma and Vincent Parker. That’s right: Loscil! Get them all here.
Not Me – “lss (Lim’s Verges of Tears)” from Vol. 2
connect_icut – They Showed Me the Secret Beaches (CSAF) download
The fourth and best connect_icut album, originally (and still) available as a vinyl LP, now available as a high-quality, full-album download FOR A DOLLAR! How can you resist? Get it here.
The Fall – Ersatz GB (Cherry Red) LP
Look, every Fall album has its moments but it’s hard to make a case for this rather half-hearted exercise. Down there with Are You are Missing Winner and Reformation Post-TLC.
Mountains – Air Museum (Thrill Jockey) LP
Okay, so it’s not that bad but it is a dispiriting exercise in unimaginative analogue synth drone. This Brooklyn duo has spent years sticking to its guns, gradually building an audience for its consitently-unfashionable-but-equally-consistently-affecting mix of field recordings, acoustic guitar picking and electronic sound manipulation. Why jump on someone else’s bandwagon at this stage? And why do it so clumsily?
What Didn’t Get Heard Yet?
Oh, all sorts of “exotic” music from other cultures, that footwork business, various synthpop ladies, countless releases on Dekorder, Editions Mego, Kranky, Raster-Noton, Touch and Type plus stuff by Actress, Anarchist Republic of Bzzz, Beequeen, The Caretaker, Destroyer, Hype Williams, Giuseppe Ielasi, Mount Kimbie, Nochexxx, No UFOs, Oval, Pinch & Shackleton, Andy Stott, SunnO))) meets Nurse with Wound and goodness knows what else.
The Oval is obviously this year’s big missing piece. As previously mentioned, O was number two in last year’s top 10. OvalDNA, a 2CD collection of rarities, unreleased tracks, samples and software seems to have been released in Europe at the end of last month but there doesn’t appear to be any North American release planned, let alone a vinyl release (which would be technically impossible, to a certain extent). Anyone out there heard it?
Hard to recall. Fennesz and Philip Jeck in London stands out as a memorable highlight, as does Oval and Mountains in Vancouver. Going to see Prince this week!
Bert Jansch 1943-2011
Trish Keenan 1968-2011
Other Lists You Should Take a Look at
(Updated regularly – more coming soon)
Blissblog (Simon Reynolds)
Everything’s Exploding (members only)
Largehearted Boy (list of lists)
Metacritic (chart of charts)