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

reaching down: a 2011 mix

February 11, 2012

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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1:14:17 / ends

See also:

Concert date: December 1, 2010

Tim Hecker @ The Luminaire, December 1st 2010 (after Edward Hopper)

A rather belated gig review (life in the Unblog intervened) but no matter as this evening of beautiful noise at the Luminaire – sadly one of the last of this lifetime for the venue – is not yet forgotten.

Montrealer Tim Hecker specialises in coaxing shimmering grace from the clutches of otherwise clipped, pounded and flattened white, pink and brown noise. Tonight’s performance – trailing his forthcoming album release, Ravedeath, 1972, out February 2011 – was typically stunning.

Evoking if not borrowing from his most successful (and very highly recommended) record to date, 2006’s Harmony In Ultraviolet, the set – if you let it – transported you from the dark, confined room in north-west London to somewhere quite different; somewhere elemental but personal. Where precisely was up to you.

Bathed in gloom (hence the deliberately painterly photo above), Hecker manipulated the hissing, throbbing sheets of noise as though he were directing the weather, pushing through storm clouds to reveal glimpses of harmonic clarity only to see them overwhelmed again by renewed inclemency. Listen closely, though, and the beauty is still there inside the noise and is all the more affecting for it.

Support Bill Kouligas (a.k.a. Family Battle Snake) is a Berlin-based musician, sound artist and label-owner who has an ear for disembodied, unsettling ambience. His immersive performance this evening seemed to me to play out an alien abduction, starting with cold, piercing, generative bleeps – suggesting communication from a superior intelligence – heralding the gradual arrival of an overwhelming, subsonic noise like a city-sized alien craft. Finally, your mind is subjected to experimentation by a pulsating, static-filled waveform. Deep beneath the distortion, though, you discern something faintly familiar, allowing you to humbly accept your fate.

The evening was opened by Cam Deas, who bravely stepped in at short notice to replace the snowed-in Rameses III. Deas creates folk-drones using his (on this occasion) standard six-string acoustic guitar that are both captivating and liberating at the same time – you were fully in the moment, but your mind was able to free-associate across thought boundaries at will.

Deas’ hand-processed plucks, picks, strums, slides, detunes, slaps and knocks reveal new angles on our folk memory. Like his musical brethren – talents such as James Blackshaw, Richard Youngs and Scott Tuma as well as Rameses III – Deas’ performances write new chapters for ancient stories begun centuries ago. Their instruments vibrate with eternal truths and myths, but resonate here, today.