Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 Year-End Post V : Prurient : Bermuda Drain

I had a strong feeling when I first heard the Many Jewels Surround The Crown single that the full length to follow would be my favorite album of the year. When the final product arrived some two months later, it was certainly not the album that I was anticipating, but that appealed to me in even more than if it had been.

In the promotional material for last year’s Llanos CD I wrote “The music and the noise have made peace” outlining the hybridization of these two sound worlds my primary goal. While Prurient’s musical taste is obviously quite different from my own, I still find myself in awe of the ease with which he merged those elements with his rich noise repertoire. The production is impeccable from track to track and the album as a whole sounds like the result of years of refinement, not the stylistic departure it is in actuality. (I’d like to take an aside here to recommend the demos on the cassette version of the album, which offer a little insight into the transition.)

I never approached noise from a darkened, bleak perspective. I found in it a cathartic joy I couldn’t find anywhere else. Over the years the sources of that joy have shifted, splintered and refined themselves repeatedly. This year no sound culled that raw emotion as emphatically as the feedback/crunch combo of Watch Silently. Hearing it now I still recall the first time I heard it. The stereo noise at the beginning of Myth of Sex has the same visceral burrowing effect. Prurient may be a much more musical project these days, but this noise is still of an unparalleled pedigree.

I won’t pretend to understand Dominick Fenrow. He is a uniquely warped individual in a uniquely warped world. The last time I saw him, he’d been on a tour bus for weeks and was desperate to talk to anyone about Masami Akita. (No exaggeration. He had purchased a small mountain of used Merzbow CDs on the trip and was looking to compare notes.) I can’t relate to a lot of what motivates him, but our lives and works have intersected repeatedly over the past decade and he is one of the people I’m most proud to know. The world is a better place because of Prurient and 2011 was a better year because of Bermuda Drain.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Year-End Post IV : Stephan Mathieu : A Static Place

On A Static Place, some of the earliest and the latest playback and recording devices combine to create an album a hundred years in the making, one that is static and spectral in both senses of both words. Any of the four interpretations will work: little changes, white noise abounds, it is constructed with the works of long-dead instrumentalists, and said construction dances around much of the audible spectrum.

When listening I can’t help but think of the album tracks as movie stills, single frames. It is obvious an entire world has been created and captured, but we are only given these small windows of opportunity to peer inside and try to make sense of it all. Nothing really moves or changes, but the scenery requires scanning. Surely there are clues to be found within, but the scope of the work renders any that might actually surface all but irrelevant.

The macbook-via-gramaphone processing technique Mathieu has developed gives the album an indecipherable omnipresence. While much of the 78-rpm source material is concentrated into a tonal haze, bits of the original material occasionally slip through undisturbed. The result is as classic as it is modern as it is neither.

While much of album’s appeal can be attributed to process and source material, there is obviously more than mere technique at work here. The evidence of Stephan’s skilled hands and patient ears are all over. The layering and depth are remarkable, maintaining an excellent density without becoming too overwrought. Process-intensive records like this make it easy to overlook the investment of the creator, but I find it hard to imagine this collection of artisanal monoliths coming from anyone else. Lesser hands simply could not have produced this.

Monday, December 19, 2011

2011 Year-End Post III : Simon Scott : Bunny

Bunny has me thinking about exchanges, particularly the awkward ones. It is not an awkward record, but it is a wholly unique one, an alternate history in which the time and space of the latter twentieth century are mangled into a spirographic paradox. It is the kind of insanity that makes perfect sense, the answer to the question no one was asking. A vision this articulately warped could only come from a single being and that is what got me thinking about exchanges.

The people who offer their radical insights so freely are often marginalized. They are met with rolled eyes at best and complete disdain at worst. The artistic community is somewhat more open, but undoubtedly has its own parameters of expectation. So as the first bass notes of “AC Waters” are strummed, I’m sitting here contemplating the route one man’s handcrafted parallel universe takes to manifest itself in our collective reality and the steps along the way required to facilitate such a thing. What was it like when Scott’s wispy concrete-jazz-shoegaze creation was presented in the studio? When it was handed off to the label, sent off to mastering and mailed out on promo CDs? When each listener first dropped the needle or pulled it up in iTunes?

I can't imagine anyone who puts Bunny on for the first time saying to his or her self, “Oh yes, I was thinking the exact same thing.” It isn’t the perfect summation of anything. It is a collection of fragments that should not work together, but manage to regardless. They are lovingly constructed to resonate and illuminate each other in an undeniable manner as Scott himself plays the part of the superglue, tightly bonding the splintered shards. His personal investment provides the cohesion that makes the album so hard to resist and why it leaves most of these exchanges having thoroughly made its case.

Friday, December 16, 2011

2011 Year-End Post II : 15 Records

… that aren’t my three favorite records but very nicely round out my 2011. In alphabetical order:

Thomas Ankersmit & Valerio Tricoli : Forma II
This analog/digital/acoustic monster of a collaboration paired an old favorite with a relatively new name, one I’d seen in liner notes, but never heard in such a distinguished form. Prefer the crackling pulsing tracks to the harmonic material, but it’s all good.

Destroyer : Kaputt
My least favorite Destroyer record in some time, still better than just about everything else.

Lawrence English : The Peregrine
Lawrence’s most fully realized record to date. It has the potential to pass Kiri No Oto as my favorite.

Tim Hecker : Ravedeath, 1972
Another Hecker record better than the one before it. Will this guy ever hit his ceiling? Only the strength of the competition kept this out of my top three.

Jesu : Ascension
I don't really know what qualifies as post-metal, but I see the term used to describe Jesu a lot. If it all sounded like this, it might be my favorite genre.

Christina Kubisch : Magnetic Flights
Kubisch takes her electromagnetic recording devices to the airport. One weird frequency sweep irks me about 10 minutes in, snaps me out of my zone every time – a complaint often leveled against my Ichinomiya CD, so I’m sympathetic - otherwise this one’s near perfect.

Liturgy : Aesthetica
All the reasons people hate this record are all the reasons I love it. Guilty as charged.

Sean McCann : Sincere World
I hadn’t heard Sean before this year. Luckily I have friends who know my tastes and made the recommendation. Excellent LP.

The Mountain Goats : All Eternals Deck
Full-band version of TMG finally fires on all cylinders. The production is tight, the Darnielle is the Darnielle.

Toshimaru Nakamura : maruto
The album most likely to cause physical discomfort (or comfort depending on what you’re into) here. The pseudo-hanko design on the cover makes it clear: Nakamura’s primary goal is to leave a permanent mark on your psyche.

Noveller : Glacial Glow
Is it possible to be anthemic and hypnotic at the same time? Apparently, yes.

Bill Orcutt : How The Thing Sings
How, indeed. Words fail me on this one.

A proper studio album from this duo would have been preferred, but the live sets here are a pretty excellent consolation prize.

Jozef Van Wissem : The Joy That Never Ends
I apparently have a fondness for the lute that I did not know about until this year.

Kurt Vile : Smoke Ring For My Halo
A more polished effort than I was expecting from Mr. Vile, but one that I found nearly irresistible regardless.

Here's audio from all fifteen of those clips being played at once:

Next week I’ll be back with Mon-Weds-Fri posts on my top three of the year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011 Year-End Post I : Introduction-Advertorial

I’ve decided to once-again reformat my end-of-year summaries. This year I’ll be doing a series of five posts: This explanation, a list-format post with ten favorites, and three individual posts on my top three albums.

Now that that’s out of way, I’d like to start this off with a brief spiel about a release I have to exclude from my favorites due to minor conflicts of interest, Joe Panzner’s Clearing, Polluted.

This is one of the most adventurous offerings of 2011, but my exceptionally close ties to Joe (in a scene where close ties are fairly commonplace) make it hard for me to accurately hold it against other albums I enjoyed this year. To say it is one of my favorites would be a vast understatement, but that comes from an admittedly biased position.

If you're still willing to take my word after all that, I definitely suggest you head over to Copy for Your Records and grab a copy. If you are interested in my work, the Scenic Railroads project Joe and I have together, or harsh computer works in the style of Haswell, Drumm, and Ottavi, please check this album out.

Monday, December 12, 2011

(Monday Night Noise)

Tried to record some sparse noise tonight, but the beast wasn't in a mood to be tamed. This won't work for the project in mind, but I felt like sharing it nonetheless.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ten Songs

A certain blog asked me to throw a list of ten songs together this summer. I was happy to oblige, but it was never published and all attempts at communication since submitting have gone unanswered. I guess they weren't very into my selections. But I am happy to share them with you.

John Coltrane : My Favorite Things
I am by no means a jazz fanatic, but there are a select few artists I hold in the highest esteem. The way Coltrane flips this showtune on its head floored me from the first time I heard it and sent me on a mad hunt for as many versions as I could find during the early days of online file-sharing.

Harry Pussy : I Started A Band
I bought “Ride A Dove” sometime in the late 90’s with a vague idea of what this band was all about, but was unprepared for the life-altering catharsis that is “I Started A Band” to come kicking and screaming out of my speakers. Harry Pussy redefined everything I considered noise rock at the time and continues to be the stick against which all others are measured. [Sorry I couldn't find any audio online.]

MT. Forever by Party Of Helicopters on Grooveshark
Party of Helicopters : Mt. Forever
I was lucky to have Kent, OH, a college town with it’s own internationally-known scene and sound close by when I was teenager. Harriet the Spy and POH defined an era for me and Mt. Forever, with its soaring guitar and chorus of “Handsome is a tall boy … like way”, was a personal (if misguided) anthem for a few years.

Autistic Daughters : Uneasy Flower
Autistic Daughters opened doors I didn’t know existed. Using their backgrounds in minimalist improvisation as a starting point for their spectacularly produced songs, they bridged a gap between two very specific and different genres that I loved and made me reconsider ways of structuring diverse and seemingly conflicting sounds.

Some Glad Day by Brian Harnetty & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy on Grooveshark
Brian Harnetty & Bonnie “Prince” Billy : One Glad Day
Brian is a fellow Columbus musician who’s made a name for himself by cherry picking some of the finest archival Appalachian recordings and layering them with his own unique compositions. His collaboration with Will Oldham is a thing of beauty and if it had come out on Palace or Drag City would likely have gotten more of the attention it truly deserves.

Sonic Youth : Diamond Sea
If it weren’t for Sonic Youth, I would probably be playing generic rock and making top ten lists of Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer songs. Their controlled chaos steered me into the inferno of the noise scene, guided me through a decade in its murky depths and walked me out a changed man.

Beth Orton : Conceived
I sought out “Comfort of Strangers” primarily to hear how Jim O’Rourke and Tim Barnes complimented Ms. Orton. I didn’t have high expectations, but the album blew me away and quickly became a favorite. It was released while I was living in rural Japan and became such a fixture that even now I can picture the mountain ranges and rice fields I would walk by while listening to this. Once, early after returning to the States, I even broke down because it made me miss Japan so much.

Oren Ambarchi : Remidios The Beauty
The only people who play guitar like Oren Ambarchi are people blatantly ripping off Oren Ambarchi. The five-minute intro to “Remidios”, with its looping clicks and glitchy riff, is unique in his mostly tonal and abstract discography and I often find myself craving its distinct blend of melodic abstraction.

David Sylvian : Snow White in Appalachia
I first encountered Sylvian on Fennesz’s “Venice” and was not into his vocal style at all. But I didn’t stop listening and little by little it slowly grew on me to the point that I eventually bought some of his solo work in the last year have become completely, unabashedly obsessed.

Eddie Marcon : Sayonara
I figured the bulk of my time in Japan would be spent hanging out with the members of the noise and improvisation communities. That did happen to a certain some, but the artists who became my best friends and took my wife and I in like family were the members of the avant folk band Eddie Marcon and the psych rock trio LSD March. Eddie (actually a female, who was also in the band Coa) has one of the most amazing voices I’ve ever heard and the rest of the band knows how to perfectly accompany her.