albums of the year 2011

February 11, 2012

A final look back at 2011, with a countdown of my ten favourite albums of last year.

#10
Tim Hecker: Ravedeath, 1972

Tim Hecker: Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky)
Featured on the close to 94 mix reaching down

#09
Hauschka & Hildur Guðnadóttir: Pan Tone

Hauschka & Hildur Guðnadóttir: Pan Tone (Sonic Pieces)
Featured on the close to 94 mix reaching down

#08
Emika: Emika

Emika: Emika (Ninja Tune)
Featured on the close to 94 compilation good in 2011

#07
Kangding Ray: Or

Kangding Ray: Or (Raster-Noton)
Featured on the close to 94 mix reaching down

#06
Chris Watson: El Tren Fantasma

Chris Watson: El Tren Fantasma (Touch)
Featured on the close to 94 mix reaching down

#05
Kreng: Grimoire

Kreng: Grimoire (Miasmah)
Featured on the close to 94 mix reaching down

#04
Pinch & Shackleton: Pinch & Shackleton

Pinch & Shackleton: Pinch & Shackleton (Honest Jon’s)
Featured on the close to 94 mix reaching down

#03
Swod: Drei

Swod: Drei (City Centre Offices)
Featured on the close to 94 compilation good in 2011

#02
Nils Økland & Sigbjørn Apeland: Lysøen: Hommage À Ole Bull

Nils Økland & Sigbjørn Apeland: Lysøen: Hommage À Ole Bull (ECM)
Featured on the close to 94 mix reaching down

#01
Jacaszek: Glimmer

Jacaszek: Glimmer (Ghostly International)
Featured on the close to 94 mix reaching down

Advertisements

reaching down: a 2011 mix

February 11, 2012

_

0:00:00 / Kreng: “La Poule Noire”, from the album Grimoire
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Belgian sound collagist and theatre composer Pepijn Caudron’s book of magic casts a mesmerising spell over the listener, conjuring a Grimm world of shadowy threat and decaying beauty. Its dark universe becomes, at times, so oppressive it leaves you caught between seeking escape and welcoming surrender. Delicious. (Listen for yourself.)

_

0:03:41 / Hana: “Tate”, from the promo Wire Tapper 25

Low key, simmering techno from Greek duo Thanos Papadopoulos and Thanos Bantis, culled from the April 2011 edition of the Wire magazine’s promo CD/download series. To date, Hana have just one album of austere analogue electronics to their name. More please.

_

0:07:15 / Daphni: “Ahora”, from the single Ahora
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Daphni is none other than Dan Snaith (Caribou, formerly Manitoba), so you know what to expect: lush electronics, organic rhythms, skewed melodies, solid grooves.

_

0:12:41 / Hauschka & Hildur Guðnadóttir: “Cool Gray 1”, from the album Pan Tone
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

In Pan Tone, German pianist Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka) and Icelandic cellist Guðnadóttir collaborated to produce one of the year’s most satisfying additions to the modern classical canon. The two musicians seem to interact and play off each other like seasoned jazz partners, recalling in places the meditative improvisations of The Necks. A fine addition to the wonderful Sonic Pieces label’s catalogue. (Listen here.)

_

0:19:09 / Tim Hecker: “In The Fog II”, from the album Ravedeath, 1972
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

2011 saw not one but two outstanding releases from Canadian noise-whisperer Tim Hecker: centrepiece Ravedeath, 1972 and a curated selection of out-takes from those sessions, Dropped Pianos. Despite being recorded in Iceland (with Ben Frost contributing production duties), Hecker’s harmonic drones on Ravedeath evoke shimmering heat mirages, tantalising yet unreachable.

_

0:23:55 / Chris Watson: “El Divisadero (The Telegraph)”, from the single El Tren Fantasma (The Signal Man’s Mix)
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Sound recordist Chris Watson’s output has tended to focus on the natural world, revealing new dimensions to our environment  that can only be experienced once you close your eyes (see previous posts). El Tren Fantasma (“ghost train”), Watson’s 2011 album and accompanying single – based on recordings made for a BBC television programme – mark a departure (if you’ll  pardon the pun) as it reveals the industrial grind, strain and toil of Mexico’s railway system.

_

0:29:52 / Kangding Ray: “Or”, from the album Or
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Kangding Ray’s (David Letellier) latest album fuses minimal techno, bass and industrial to create a kind of, well, minimal industrial – the pistons, hydraulics and drills are still there but now they operate in sterile conditions, to nanometre precision, under the control of remote CPUs. Yet the machine has a heartbeat, as the title track (featuring the ubiquitous Ben Frost) amply demonstrates.

_

0:35:00 / Answer Code Request: “Escape Myself”, from the single Subway Into
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

It’s fortunate that this fairly obscure (apparently German) garage/electronica ditty found its way onto Marcel Dettmann‘s highly recommended minimalish techno mix, Conducted. Otherwise its pleasingly propulsive shuffle wouldn’t have slotted into this mix, right here.

_

0:39:15 / Pinch & Shackleton: “Rooms Within A Room”, from the album Pinch & Shackleton
[Boomkat] [iTunes]

I didn’t know dubstep could sound like this, bristling as Pinch & Shackleton is with exoticism, intellect, imagination and emotion. On their self-titled collaboration, Rob Ellis (Pinch) and Sam Shackleton brought renewed clarity to the normally submerged soundworld of the genre, in doing so moving its narrative away from the streets and into the mind.

_

0:44:32 / Regis: “Blood Witness”, from the EP In A Syrian Tongue
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Erstwhile member of the apparently-defunct (and, if so, sorely missed) Sandwell District label, Regis (Karl O’Connor) exemplifies that collective’s uncompromising, muscular take on the techno ethic.

_

0:50:00 / Jacaszek: “As Each Tucked String Tells”, from the album Glimmer
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Polish musician Michał Jacaszek’s seventh album sounds like it was assembled by a magical tinker or watchmaker – a multitude of tiny components that combine to become one living, mechanical organism. Blending baroque, ambient and jazz, Glimmer lives up to its name, a flickering lightbulb in the musty gloom. Captivating.

_

0:53:33 / Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: “Naono”, from the album Summvs
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Alva Noto‘s stark digital backdrops are the perfect foil for Sakamoto‘s melodramatic piano melodies; it’s no wonder they found each other. Summvs is their fifth collaboration in ten years, and retains its predecessors’ blend of fire and ice. The sonar motif of the beautiful “Naono” evokes an imaginary underwater journey beneath a frozen sea.

_

0:59:27 / Roly Porter: “Arrakis”, from the album Aftertime
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Bristolian Roly Porter’s visceral debut took analogue synthesisers, including an ondes martenot, and field recording sources and systematically mangled them with the kind of noise generators and filters beloved of the other drone connoisseur in this mix, Tim Hecker. And like Hecker, Porter’s distorted musicality is both unsettling and affecting.

_

1:02:48 / Petrels: “Winchester Croydon Winchester”, from the album Haeligewielle

Oliver Barrett (a.k.a Petrels) drew on somewhat obscure historical inspiration for his solo debut (he is also a member of Bleeding Heart Narrative): pagan water sources (“haeligewielle” is the Anglo-Saxon antecedent of “holy well”) and the life and work of William Walker, a renowned diver who shored up Winchester Cathedral in the early 20th century. The result is a surprisingly coherent blend of folk, field recording and post-rock, a deserving soundtrack for a biopic yet to be filmed.

_

1:05:37 / Nils Økland & Sigbjørn Apeland: “Belg Og Slag”, from the album Lysøen: Hommage À Ole Bull
[eMusic] [iTunes]

Sometimes I wonder if I should give my listening entirely to the output of the ECM label. Its studied simplicity and singular worldview brings harmony, even in dissonance, to the disequilibrium of modern life. This tribute to Ole Bull, the 19th century Norwegian violinist and composer, was recorded in his home on the island of Lysøen. The two musicians – voilinist Økland and organist Apeland – tread the line between recital, composition and improvisation so gracefully you almost feel the Nordic wind in your eyes.

_

1:08:20 / Khyam Allami: “Individuation”, from the album Resonance/Dissonance
[eMusic] [iTunes]

Syria-born Londoner Khyam Allami arrived at the oud as his instrument of choice only in 2004, after playing violin, drums and bass guitar in various settings since childhood (he’s now the ripe ‘old’ age of 30). His debut album betrays the startling proficiency and intuition in both composition and performance he has accumulated in less than eight years.

_

1:14:17 / ends

See also:

good in 2011

January 25, 2012

2011 was another vintage year for new music – though it must be said a less-than-stellar year for this blog. Time to make a change.

Still, I just about managed to find time to curate my annual CD-sized selection of favourite tracks (not a definitive countdown, please note) from the past 12 months. I’m grateful for my own small mercies.

Click on the Mixcloud embed above to listen. Or, if you’re a VIP, wait patiently for a physical copy to wing its way to you.

_

0:00:00 / Swod: “Sans Peau”, from the album Drei
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Swod is the acronymic name of German duo of Stephan Wöhrmann and Oliver Doerell. Together they crafted one of the most intelligent yet accessible instrumental albums (their third) of the year. “Sans Peau” illustrates its lightly-worn intricacies perfectly.

_

0:04:52 / Mina Tindle: “To Carry Many Small Things”, from the EP Mina Tindle
[eMusic] [iTunes]

Nom de plume for Parisian singer-songwriter Pauline De Lassus, Mina Tindle captured critics’ and listeners’ (including this one’s) hearts with her warm, playful chamber pop.

_

0:08:32 / Joan As Police Woman: “The Magic”, from the album The Deep Field
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Another slice of grown-up, contemporary pop from the consistent, generous but sadly not prolific Joan Wasser. This cut, with shades of “Cry Me A River” (a good thing, by the way), adds a touch of soul to her indie sensibility.

_

0:12:40 / Metronomy: “She Wants”, from the album The English Riviera
[eMusic] [iTunes]

“She Wants” out-New Waves the New Wave – it sounds so authentic it could have inspired Japan, The Cure and the others over thirty years ago. But it was released in 2011, and sounds fresh too. How do Metronomy do that? Maybe it’s something in the Devon water.

_

0:17:33 / Blouse: “Into Black”, from the album Blouse
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

More New Wave reminiscence, this time from elegantly morose Portlanders Blouse. My early enthusiasm for their self-titled debut album has perhaps waned just a touch, but “Into Black” still pulls me into a gratifyingly melancholy dream state.

_

0:20:58 / Emika: “Come Catch Me”, from the album Emika
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Ema Jolly – Berlin-based, Czech-descended, England-born Emika – created possibly most accomplished electronic pop record of 2011. Her debut showcases her already coherent vision: meticulously-programmed techno and dubstep sounds wrapped in immaculate song structures. A real treat.

_

0:25:02 / Astrid Williamson: “Pour (Raffertie Remix)”, original from the album Pulse
[eMusic] [iTunes]

I haven’t heard Ms. Williamson’s Brian Eno-inspired album Pulse, but this blend of her breathy, passionate vocals with Raffertie‘s techno theatrics hits the spot.

_

0:30:01 / Hecq: “With Angels (Trifonic Remix)”, from the album Avenger
[eMusic]

Shamefully, the only other album from German sound designer Ben Lukas Boysen I’m familiar (intimate, more truthfully) with is 2008’s Night Falls – a cinematic, ambient, exquisitely dark symphony-of-sorts. Avenger, on the other hand, is a satisfying collection of mostly pummelling dubstep. Trifonic’s take on “With Angels” (click for an insight into the production process) is in fact one of its lighter moments.

_

0:34:01 / Martyn: “Viper”, from the album Ghost People
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

This track from Dutch producer/DJ Martyn (Deykers) makes the cut simply as a result of its tip-of-the-hat to my 107th favourite track of the last four decades: Front 242’s “Headhunter“. That it’s also a pleasing little techno interlude is just gravy.

_

0:36:39 / Rone: “So So So”, from the EP So So So
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

I can’t think of a single way in which this house/techno hybrid could be improved. “So So So” asks little of you but rewards you in spades – a selfless track that only knows how to give. The video is a hand-drawn treasure, and the other two tracks on the EP maintain the quality. Erwan Castex deserved all the plaudits he got in 2011.

_

0:43:45 / Gui Boratto: “Soledad”, from the album III
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Gui Boratto’s 2007 debut Chromophobia remains one of the best dance albums ever released in this blog’s humble opinion. While his third full-length – called, aptly enough, III – doesn’t quite match up, it does have more than a few moments when Boratto’s intuition shines. “Soledad” is one of them.

_

0:48:50 / Apparat: “The Soft Voices Die”, from the album The Devil’s Walk
[Boomkat] [iTunes]

Sascha Ring (a.k.a. Apparat) toured with a live band for the first time (photo here, video here) to support The Devil’s Walk, his fourth album blending analogue and digital, club and home, headphones and heart. While he may not appreciate the comparison, Apparat brings to mind Radiohead at their very peak.

_

0:53:12 / M83: “Midnight City”, from the album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

“Midnight City” was pretty inescapable in the second half of 2011, particularly if you came across E4’s Made In Chelsea or the BBC’s endless Olympic coverage trailers while channel-flipping. I didn’t rate the album as highly as everyone else, but once you hear “Midnight City” its hook remains in your head thereafter. The very definition of catchy.

_

0:57:15 / Julia Holter: “Goddess Eyes”, from the album Tragedy
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

The most conventional song on Tragedy, a meditation on the Greek play Hippolytus, “Goddess Eyes” nevertheless belies Holter’s beguiling otherworldliness. The album is captivating, bewitching even – we are Phaedra to Holter’s Hippolytus.

_

1:00:39 / Lana Del Rey: “Video Games”, from the album Born To Die
[iTunes]

Possibly the breakthrough act of 2011, “Video Games” single-handedly propelled Lizzy Grant – Lana Del Rey to her audience – from online backwaters to the global chat show circuit almost overnight. A torch song for meaning and happiness, it brings majesty to the mundane. “Hollywood sadcore”, as the woman herself puts it, is the perfect label.

_

1:05:19 / I Break Horses: “No Way Outro”, from the album Hearts
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Swedish neo-shoegaze band I Break Horses’ debut Hearts created a shimmering, beautiful soundworld, though perhaps it lacked just a little light and shade across its 40 minutes. That said, “No Way Outro” does evoke a kind of end-of-innocence feeling that takes a long time to fade after the song does.

_

1:09:41 / Deaf Center: “Time Spent”, from the album Owl Splinters
[eMusic] [Boomkat] [iTunes]

Norwegian duo Deaf Center crafted a beautifully haunted album of cello, piano and field recordings in Owl Splinters. I’ve covered the solo work of one member, Erik Skodvin, before. “Time Spent”, however, foregrounds the touch and poise his co-conspirator, pianist Otto Totland.

_

1:11:51 / ends

See also:

Concert date: Friday, May 20, 2011

Old Apparatus video projection at St. Pancras Parish Church, May 20, 2011

I’ve fallen badly out of the blogging habit over the last few months – and, more regrettably, the listening habit too if I’m honest. I could blame starting a new job, but in any case it’s time to get back on the wagon.

One thing I managed to do was go along to a Miles Of Smiles event at St. Pancras Parish Church last Friday that brought together a trio of ‘beautiful noise’ practitioners, established and new: Christian Fennesz, Philip Jeck and Old Apparatus. I’ve since lost the notes I scribbled during the performance, so this review will be a little more impressionistic than usual.

Fennesz’s set, which closed the evening by a civilised 10pm, saw him push his use of reverb as an active instrument to near total saturation – the originating sounds became almost entirely forgotten beneath layer upon layer of self-sustaining, infinite echo. Yet he maintained a harmonious quality throughout even the most intense, piercing sections of the set.

It was a shame, therefore, that the points of departure for this sonic drenching were Knopfler-esque melodic guitar phrases, albeit with the distortion cranked up a notch or six. They seemed unimaginative, twee even, in comparison to what they became as a result of Fennesz’s deft processing, undermining some of the music’s power as a result.

Fennesz (pictured below, right) announced a new solo EP earlier this week, his first major release since 2008’s Black SeaSeven Stars (Touch), due for release in July. Based on this performance, I’m tempering my expectations.

The evening opened with a video-augmented laptop set from experimental dub-steppers Old Apparatus, who built a pulsing electronic accompaniment to their audiovisual projections of anatomically-themed scans, scopes and symbols (see main picture, top).

Old Apparatus’ music suits headphone listening better than ‘live’. It is in the detail – much of which was lost (to me) in the perfect atmospheric but imperfect acoustic environment of the church – rather than the vision that they excel.

Nonetheless Old Apparatus – whose identity, typically for the genre, is something of a mystery – provided an absorbing and aptly dark introduction to the evening.

Philip Jeck and Christian Fennesz at St. Pancras Parish Church, May 20, 2011

In between Old Apparatus and new Fennesz came the unassuming figure that is Philip Jeck (pictured above, left), “multimedia composer, magician, choreographer and taxidermist” (Wikipedia).

Jeck’s simply wonderful An Ark For The Listener (Touch, 2010), his mediation on Gerald Manley Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutchsland”, is but the latest addition to an outstanding oeuvre of sonic collage-sculptures. His performance here was perhaps slightly freer in its shifting timbres and dynamics but no less coherent than Ark.

One phrase I recall from my now-lost notes from the evening I wrote in relation to Jeck’s set: “meta-drone”. This now seems like pretentious frippery, of course, but at the time felt like useful shorthand for how Jeck (deliberately or otherwise) uses the drone form both within and across his works.

No matter how much variation in sound, tone, rhythm (as distinct from percussion) or atmosphere he injects – which is plenty, by the way – the spell is never broken. Stretched or mutated yes, but never broken.

Magnificent.

Album cover for Grower by Gareth Davis & Machinefabriek

Gareth Davis & Machinefabriek: Grower (Sonic Pieces, 2011)
£0.84 from [eMusic] (requires membership) – £2.50 from [Boomkat]

Grower is not the first collaboration between Dutch sound artist Rutger Zuyderveldt – a.k.a. Machinefabriek – and British-born, Netherlands-based clarinettist Gareth Davis. The two created two 3-inch CD-R releases in 2009 – Soundlines and Ghost Lanes – before their first long-player release, last year’s Drape (Home Normal).

It is the Ghost Lanes sessions that have defined their partnership to date, as they also spawned the recordings for both Drape – which sounds like a scratchy, parched meditation on hunger and thirst – and the more cavernous atmosphere of Grower (released as a beautifully packaged CD by Sonic Pieces).

“Part 1” feels almost serpentine in character, with Davis’ bass clarinet motifs charming the reptile from its lair, the ebbs and flows of Zuyderveldt’s seductive drones suggesting its undulating motion as the creature slowly and ominously feels its way into and around your imagination. That it feels a little slight is in part a testament to the lightness of the musicians’ touch.

“Part 2”, meanwhile, ploughs a deeper furrow. Davis coaxes from his instrument a more dynamic range of timbres – rasps, breaths, clicks – across a more atonal palette of notes while Zuyderveldt gradually tightens the screws, intensifying the atmosphere by degress across its 17 minutes. It is simultaneously freer and more coiled than “Part 1” and is the stronger of the two pieces.

Like Drape before it, Grower showcases the balance of intelligence and intuition, of knowing and sensing, required for electronic/acoustic improvisation to work. It may not break new ground, but it adds a richness and a little mystery to territory you thought you already knew.

To continue to tread this rewarding path, I recommend exploring the copious solo work of Machinefabriek (start with 2008’s excellent Dauw), German kindred spirit Jan Jelinek (a.k.a. Farben) and much of the output of Rune Grammafon (Arve Henriksen, Supersilent).

Sonic Pieces has kindly put Grower onto Soundcloud, so you can explore for yourself:

close to 94 rating: ★★★★★★★

This review is part of close to 94‘s [emusic club], which reviews releases from the eMusic catalogue.