This week was a good week for things on my procurement list that weren’t house, or whatever it is I listen to when I’m not listening to Swans. Here are some of them:
Cross Record - Be Good
Every reverb-heavy solo woman with a guitar gets compared to Grouper so I’m not going to do that here. Cross Record reminds me of that act’s sometime-collaborator and labelmate Ilyas Ahmed more than anything else. It’s a lovely record, beautifully arranged, diverse (always a sticking point when it comes to solo guitar works). Mostly breathtaking but stomps when it needs to. It’s really good and you should buy it.
The Range - Nonfiction
Mrs Jynx - Diving Loop
Donky Pitch as a label started out oriented around slightly goofy blown-out club music ala Slugabed before transitioning into suitably gaudy versions of juke and “trap” in the fairly recent past. To my knowledge Nonfiction is their first LP, and it showcases one of the young label’s outliers. The Range’s production is less ostentatious than the label standard and leans more on intricate arrangements ala IDM. It reminds me of early Machinedrum stuff, on the cusp of his dalliance with footwork, before the inevitably sleep Ninja Tune victory lap. I like this record a lot.
By standards not including the original crop of AI-era Warp nerds, Mrs Jynx is an old IDM hand, having plied her trade with a couple of albums for Planet Mu. Her new EP for Central Processing Unit features more of her electro of a gentle nature. Very pretty, and sorely missed among so many glitch pretenders and would-be Brainfeeder types.
Secret Pyramids - Movements of Night
I’d never heard of Secret Pyramids before, though Students of Decay is a great label. Ambient music sometimes accumulates in my hard drive, because it requires a certain kind of context and effort for me to really focus on it even though I love it. I get albums with the intent of listening to them and then they languish until I need to read or write. Which is fine! But the ones I love the most are the ones that break out of those confines, and I think Movements of Night is one of them. It’s basically in the same wheelhouse as Loscil, or Leyland Kirby’s less weird outings, or the less jazzy Serein label albums, or a less saccharine Eluvium. I guess that’s a long way of saying this is “cinematic” and “transporting”, which it is. I long for ambient / modern comp albums that aren’t subtle but aren’t ham-fisted either. Those albums don’t come along often. Movements of Night is one of them.
I’ve decided to ever-so-slightly revamp this tumblr so that I can capably use it as an outlet for my ~brand~ as my writing slowly, slowly proliferates. My name’s on the header now. I’ll be posting published stuff here and interacting with the throngs of adoring fans I’m sure to accumulate.
Enjoy this new thing.
Beyond the top 10 I selected for my annual whatever, I listened to a lot of great full-lengths in 2012 that deserve recognition. I’ve listed a fair few of them here with lengths to buy them, if they sound up your alley. Give them a listen, they’re all excellent in their own little/big ways.
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Snow Palms came out of nowhere in late ‘12 and capably filled the space left by last year’s amazing Deaf Center album. Intervals aims for the same sort of “cinematic” composition as Deaf Center but without Otto Totland’s the turn-of-the-century stateliness and Erik K Skodvin’s thorny experimentalism. Resemblance to Glass is probably intentional, and the focus on strings and melodic percussion is a perennial winner. Its heart is always on its sleeve - this is good soundtrack music to a middlebrow movie that was never made, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Shed’s never made anything I haven’t enjoyed, but somehow I keep sleeping on him. This year saw him release a set of sweltering, muscular techno on 2012 MVL 50 Weapons. He’s there because he knows what he’s doing.
After some decent but restrained singles, Gerry Read let himself go a bit for his debut LP on Ramp. Loop-centric techno with just the right amount of psychedelic tinge.
Italian by way of New York by way of Scandinavia, Madteo’s debut album (a lot of good debuts this year, eh?) is subtly iconoclastic, revealing a fussy but vibrant personality in its shambling handmade techno. Gorgeous even with the seams showing.
(Apologies for the awful video) I’ve never really taken to punk / hardcore, but I’ve always appreciated venom in my music when it doesn’t feel like artifice (see: Swans). White Lung are pissed off and it certainly doesn’t seem like they’re fucking around. The music cashes the checks it writes, too. There were far worse albums to ball your fists to in 2012.
Synkro and Bering Strait teamed up to make an ambient album in 2012 as Kiyoko for the Auxiliary boutique imprint, seemingly attempting to plunge into a type of music they’d always edged along. Much of the time they succeeded at creating something interesting without obscuring the distinct personalities at play. Sometimes they sounded more or less indistinguishable from mid-’00s Helios. But it was always warm and always comforting. Perfect for long walks, too.
In my proper 10-1 album listings I claimed not to have followed up on the synth tape scene this year, and while that’s largely true I still found myself drawn to the faux-kosmische that was offered to me in more accessible formats. It’s the sinister quality of Earn’s A Following Shadow that draws me to it, from the unsettling cover art to the way the synths seem to slither as they swell and recede, hiding something unthinkable beneath their surfaces… The thing ought to come with a warning label.
Living up to his name, 1991 makes pad-heavy, Artificial Intelligence-caliber electronica (true-blue Electronica) for the oddball Canadian label Astro:Dynamics, home of a number of releases from the strangely brief Skweee scene in Scandinavia. I suppose some might call this stuff “chillwave” but its nostalgic qualities are acquired secondhand in a different way - 1991's most obvious antecedent is Boards of Canada, particularly Geogaddi-era Boards of Canada (okay, so maybe the Boomkat summary accurately points out an OPN influence. Maybe.) It nails the warmth but also the melancholy of that particular sound.
A release I would’ve completely missed were it not for a random XLR8R article someone linked on Facebook, Blythe Field’s Two Hearted is an album of homespun, unerringly low-key, often gorgeous bedroom (as in -produced, not as in sexy) electronica. It sounds like it was made in a small town living room. It feels like it was made in a small town waiting room. It’s a record of deep and welcoming warmth.
Through 2012 we received another clutch of untitled (and impeccably packaged) compositions from a seasoned composer self-releasing his/her/zer music anonymously. I still don’t know who the hell this person is (I think it’s Leyland Kirby, lots of people probably have it narrowed down) but all of the UNTITLED series is excellent, eerie and mysterious, just as intended. These packages are hard to come by not long after they’re released, so track them down if you’ve got time and scratch, or wait til the next few come Boomkat way, because they’ll be worth it.
Amsterdam’s inimitable Rush Hour label specializes in modern-but-not-faddish strains of house, and among the great singles and LPs released through them this year was Policy’s long-forthcoming debut LP, 12 tracks of slightly skewed, swinging but hard-hitting house music. From strange shufflers like “Lights Over Fort Lee” and “Lifted (which sound for the world like prime FaltyDL singles) to enveloping mood pieces like “Look At Them” and the closing “Feared Machines”, Everything Hits delivers an iconoclastic, unparalleled experience.
To be entirely honest I tend to cast suspicion toward Tri Angle, as I do toward most all blog-to-label operations - I feel like they contribute to needlessly confusing and tiring microgenre proliferation, for one - but once in awhile they pull out a solid album amidst the usual Burial imitators and unremarkable would-be-Moon-Musick atmospherics they usually dole out. In 2012, however, they poached Vessel (nee Seb Gainsborough), a UK producer associated with Zhou, Kahn and a few other producers via the Bristolian Young Echo collective, into their roster. The shadowy palette of An Order of Noise is, admittedly, a perfect fit for Tri Angle, and he does good work for them here, dialing back the Garage influences somewhat to emphasize the textures and bass abstractions he’s so adept at orchestrating. But when he does bring his attention back to the (gothy) dancefloor, as he does in “Lache” and “Aries”, he does his roots justice and satisfies the requirements of his new bosses both.
Usually a clearinghouse for more abstracted avant-garde composition or “drone” (be it synth or guitar) music, Immune Recordings kicked off their year with an album of intimate, raw folk from Ilyas Ahmed, erstwhile collaborator with sullen folk wunderkind Liz Harris (aka Grouper). Like Harris, Ahmed’s songs convey an essential weariness and sorrow, but in contrast to the measured, transporting guitar wash of Grouper, Ahmed’s playing is more forceful and immediate. Remarkably consistent, affecting and rewarding.
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That’s all I can manage to hammer out in my time tonight (everyone’s got to sleep at some point in the night), but here’s a short list of other excellent things you should also seek out and enjoy on your own time:
Greeen Linez - Things That Fade (Diskotopia) ;;
(Surprisingly diverse and strange disco / jazz / electronica / whatever hybrids from members of Hong Kong in the 60’s and A Taut Line)
Loscil - Sketches From New Brighton (Kranky) ;;
(The sometime drummer for Destroyer returns to his Loscil guise for more of his haunting and deliberate string and synth composition. Essential as always.)
Robot Koch - Cosmic Waves (Project Mooncircle) ;;
(A consistently underrated hip hop producer releases his second album of top-shelf instrumental beats. Masterfully produced and ear-bending in the best way.)
Le1f - Dark York (Fool’s Gold) ;;
(A deserved cult sensation, and one of many heartening examples (alongside Danny Brown, Azalea Banks, et al) that American underground MCs are paying attention to (and willing to collaborate with) great dance music producers outside top-dollar rap beatmaking and nu-trance EDM. The lyricism is consistently sharp, funny, boastful and lascivious and the tone is triumphant. The most fun to be had this year.)
Jon Convex - Idoru (Convex Industries) ;;
(Seems like most people were all wrapped up in former Instra:Mental partner Boddika’s dull-as-dishwater electro revivalism this year, but in quieter corners Jon Convex was purifying the best parts of Instra:Mental’s sound beyond the obvious DnB connections - its debts to the better Warp Records headphone music and classic technopop. “Idoru” was criminally slept on, and “Fade” alone should have secured Convex’s place as some sort of new Gary Numan. Sleek, robotic, and energetic.)