I put this off long enough. I already did an extensive year-end round up at my day-blog, so if you’ve read that, you probably realize that I listened to an immense amount of music and that I loved a lot of it. You might also notice that this list might prove to me to be something of a hypocrite, certain things mentioned here but not there, there but not here, and on and on. But we all know that when anyone listens to this much music this often, things are always changing and shifting about in the brain. Records rise to dominance on a playlist, then later fall flat. Forgotten albums creep back into the consciousness, and of course those pesky missed albums you didn’t have a chance to get to during the 12-month gauntlet of e-mails, packages, LPs, tapes, CD-rs, batches, links, videos. Fuck, this hobby is a nightmare sometimes, amirite? Nah, trying to keep up is most of the fun of it any way, sometimes I just like to complain. Anyway, here’s a little look at my year in music. It was a time in my life highly influenced firstly by a ton of truly amazing musicians, labels, vets and newcomers alike. But also, my year was heavily shaped by a lot of other fantastic writers, and most of them scribe for this very site on a damned near daily basis. These are listeners/thinkers I am constantly humbled by and really proud to call colleagues and in many cases friends (even though I’ve met very few of them in person). I frequented this site as a reader more than any other website, and not just because I am a contributor. So many fantastic recommendations, inventive reviews, interesting interviews and the Secret Stash is just overflowing with great videos and tracks I haven’t seen anywhere else. I’ve found that this is the place to be if you want to know what’s what in the world of experimental music. So I feel that I owe many thanks to Brad and Eden for hosting such an amazing forum for forward thinking music and for having me on board again this year. I had a great time, and am very much looking forward to what 2012 has to offer.
Alright then, enough horn-tootin’. Let’s get on with it.
Chris Weisman “Transparency” (Autumn)
I listened to “Transparency” more than any other record this year, and by far. My Last.fm charts show empirical evidence of this truth. What’s most striking is Weisman’s delicate dialectic between complexity and simplicity. Though the album is full of some really intricate structures and truly “out” compositional techniques, it’s all disguised behind a veil of utterly approachable, listenable songs. Melodically/harmonically hyper-complex composition and tunings made something very effortless to enjoy an immense challenge, full of constant discoveries and curious wonder. It was also the only album I memorized the words to, which are consistently clever and beautiful throughout.”Transparency” introduced me to a true genius of our generation, one I think a lot of folks may be missing out on.
“Swim Team” from Mammal Airlines “Wounded Lions Crying Iron” (Papaiti)
This young troupe of New Zealanders stole my heart with this simple little tune and it’s explosive bursts of sheer joy. A guitar solo tripping all over itself in bashful excitement, drumsticks drowning in splashy cymbals and one of the catchiest melodies in recent memory added up to a choice, meaty chunk of pop punk glory that, with the recent surge in this style of music (see especially Cloud Nothings), I believe was sorely overlooked this year. Last word was that the band was on hiatus, but there may be a glimmer of hope in their future yet, so watch out for ‘em.
White Life “White Life” (Ehse)
Sometimes you just need a great pop record to make your year feel complete. I didn’t have a ton of time to keep up with popular pop music in general, so I turned to and stuck with this relatively unknown brother/sister duo known as White Life. This is apparently the millionth project for Jon Ehrens, and I’m not entirely sure what other projects Emily was a part of previously, but I believe this was their first together, so it is therefore eligible for inclusion within this here category. Bottom line, this record bangs. Oozing with 80s nostalgia (just enough, not too much mind you) and brimming with unbelievably confident and tightly knit performances. This is also the best collection of melodic catchiness in one place I heard all year.
Disco Inferno “The 5 EPs” (One Little Indian)
Re-issues… Time to be honest. I rarely have the money to buy them, and I don’t get a lot of them sent to me as promos, so I usually never go all in for the full box packages with the fancy booklets and photos and interviews and all that other priceless crap I just have to have. But I was able to pick Disco Inferno out of the bunch that I’d heard were released, mostly by virtue of the fact that I actually listened to it. A lot. I got excited about this re-issue because it was from a band I’d never heard of before, and so this was one of those essential things I’d missed in years past that I’m very glad I’m hip to in the present. I’ve been a brit pop fan for years, and I don’t know how this one slipped through the cracks, but this band was absolutely brilliant. Amazing pop tunes and some of the most forward-thinking production/experimentation in the style I’ve ever heard, especially considering the time frame these 5 EPs were released within. A breakthrough for rock and sampling, this re-issue also proved that Disco Inferno remains one of the best to work in this capacity of all time. If you knew, then you know. If you’re like me and didn’t, no better time than the present to get with it.
Though I’ve been a part of many compilations in the past personally, I have trouble getting into them on a regular basis. As if I needed a barrage of bands I’ve never heard of all at once, a giant splooge to the face as to what the fuck I’m missing out on. But I did check this one out on a link recommendation from Awaken!’s Jesse Rakusin, and it is quite impeccable. I’d never heard of any of the groups featured on it, nor had I heard of the label, but all are now (perhaps begrudgingly) high up on my list of to-dos for next year. So, Homotownrecord$$$, you managed to successfully accomplish what comps are supposed to do, and for that, “Moon” gets some major props.
Quiet Evenings / Seziki Tetrashaef “Split LP” (Hooker Vision / Rotifer)
For my list on Foxy Digitalis last year, I got one and only one comment, and (of course) it was negative. Someone deriding my pick in this category which was Milton Melvin Croissant III’s genius artwork for Tjutjuna’s debut vinyl for Fire Talk. I’ll defend those gorgeous 12 inches of sweet sweet beauty until the day I die, but I’d also be lying if I said that this year I wasn’t a little nervous about my pick. I think this one’s safe, though. A great concept, executed perfectly to match the exceedingly weird/beautiful music contained within the record’s grooves. I want this to be my living room so very, very badly.
Rale “Some Kissed Charms That Would Not Protect Them” (Isounderscore)
I’ve sung praises to this album a number of times already, so maybe this one should come as no surprise. I really don’t know what else I can say. William Hutson’s unsettling acoustic-electronic music and remarkable use of space and constraint, complete with the amazing presentation work from label Isounderscore… everything just fit together so perfectly, I couldn’t help but give it the nod one more time. Looking forward to more great vinyl releases from this label in the coming months, including a tasty looking Nicholas Sczcepanik LP on the horizon featuring a similar looking sleeve.
Best CD-R Only
David Kanaga “Amor Fati” (Self-Released)
David Kanaga is one of those rare, multi-faceted talents, extremely gifted in a number of different artistic/technological mediums. His music is always a delightful surprise, and this CD-r was one of the best releases I’ve heard from him yet. A truly unique take on the sample-based style, Kanaga found a way to take familiar snippets of music and cut, mix and mash them all together into brief stutters of accessible (though totally weird) music, unmistakably all his own. I was especially impressed with how these experiments often came together to form more than just chunks of collage pastiche: Kanaga took his dreams and recorded them into real songs, whether he meant to or not, complete with lyrics and vocals and the whole deal. Another sadly overlooked artist of our generation who’s just bound for great success in years to come.
Nova Scotian Arms “Winds Over Silmäterä” (Hooker Vision)
Totally essential double-cassette massiveness from the Hooker Vision co-honcho, one of our time’s best in the drone genre. When released, this was easily the best work I’d heard Grant Evans produce yet. Moving, cascading, crumbling, catastrophic, humbling, brooding, building, bold, understated, beautiful. These are just a few of the words you can use to describe this masterpiece, four side-long works and NSA hits it all. The icing on the cake is that it came in the form of my favorite tape presentation all year, a truly awesome b/w cut’n'paste piece of art wrapped cozily around some really cool packaging.
Tie: William Basinski, Mark McGuire @ Communikey Electronic Arts Festival, Boulder, CO ||| Quiet Evenings, Caddywhompus, CVLTS, Kevin Costner Suicide Pact, Happy New Year, Tjutjuna, Silver Antlers, Seven Feathers Rainwater and more @ GOLDRUSH Music Festival, Denver, CO
The first one should need little explanation. A flat-out brilliant solo guitar performance featuring at least a dozen pedals and a rocking-out, hair-flying McGuire, capped off by a 45-minute exploration of the soul via vintage tape machines set to a stunning video projection of a slowly rippling reflection of trees in a river. I felt like I died, one of those once-in-a-lifetime shows I feel very fortunate to have seen. The second one… ok, more horn-tootin’, sorry. I helped set up the lineup for this festival my blog co-curated with other local websites Speaker Snacks and Magic Teepee, and some of the performances were among my favorites all year. Especially Quiet Evenings and their mind-numbingly captivating waves of blissfully ebbing drones, complimented by some beautiful projections from band-member Rachel Evans. Then there was Caddywhompus’ ridiculous floor-setup set that gave my neck a cramp that lasted for what felt like weeks. Also, just the act of hosting a festival, that all those artists traveled so far and wide to perform for my home town and that I got to meet and hang out with all of them, trade ideas, introduce them to some of Denver’s brightest, etc. made the event an extra special, extra gratifying experience. This was one of the hardest, most time-intensive projects I’ve ever put my name on, but ultimately it was very successful and fun, totally worth it, and I hope to be a part of something like it again in the future. Let’s see if we can pull it off again next fall, ay? Consider this an invitation.
Sam Melancon released an intense amount of music this year, all of it on CD. I got the chance to hit up Debacle Fest in Seattle this summer, which was a blast, and I scored (I think) all of them. I’m still wading through the pile, but I’ve yet to hit a dud in the entire batch. Amazing amount of good music coming from this label, and he shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
This is really a disappointment in myself, though… literally no excuse for not going to this show. What was I thinking? Why? How?