2011 was overflowing with amazing sounds. Here’s a snapshot of some things that entered into and stood out in my own little musical universe.
Lee Noble “Horrorism” (Bathetic)
I’ve been quite fond of everything I’ve heard from Lee Noble over the past few years. His previous releases tended to compartmentalize specific aspects of his overall sound, but that wasn’t the case with “Horrorism”. In the recent feature that ran in these pages, Noble stated that he was “interested in straddling a vague line between writing songs and using abstraction.” I’d say that Noble found just the right balance as the blurry half-songs of “Horrorism” made for the most entrancing album I heard all year.
Pimmon “The Oansome Orbit” (Room40)
Rene Hell “The Terminal Symphony” (Type)
Alvarius B. “Baroque Primitiva” (Abduction)
Matt Carlson “Particle Language” (Draft)
Ricardo Donoso “Progress Chance” (Digitalis)
Best Cassette Only
Super Minerals “The Hoax” (Stunned)
What can I really say about this release other than this is unclassifiable sound sculpting of the highest order from the duo of William Giacchi and Phil French. Their “Contacteer” tape could also have easily filled this spot as well.
Sparkling Wide Pressure / Rambutan split (Tape Drift)
Matt Carlson “Gecko Dream Levels” (Gift Tapes)
Remote Islands “Days of Heaven” (Stunned)
Belarisk “II” (Semata Productions)
John Zuma St. Pelvyn “Ampex, Stolanoff, Dogwood, Rain” (Lighten Up Sounds)
The entirety of “A Study in Eraser Headless Tape Recording” from Son of Salami (Feeding Tube)
OK, OK . . . there were plenty of great individual songs that I heard throughout the year that could make the cut here. I’d include in this list: “When Your Bridges Burn” from Jakob Olausson, “Hey Sparrow” from Peaking Lights, “Alien Observer” from Grouper, “Burn That Cat” from UV Race, “Guillotine (It Goes Yah)” from Death Grips, and countless others. But when it actually came down to wanting to listen to songs, I found myself returning to the oddball pop of Son of Salami’s A Study in Eraser Headless Tape Recording the most. Joey Pizza Slice was my John Maus for the year. My guess is that no one is going to mistake songs with titles like “My Penis Is A Fortune Teller” or “Pretty Girls Is A Motherfucker” as the work of a Ph. D. candidate by any means, but I found Mr. Pizza Slice’s battered, rewiring of keyboard pop to be far more memorable and, dare I say, original than anything I heard on We Must Become . . .
Best Individual Track (that’s not a song)
“Scorpion Immobilization Sleeve” from John Wiese, Seven of Wands (PAN)
I’ve always been a bit intimidated by the music of John Wiese. With so many collaborations, monikers, and releases always in the works, I could never really figure out where was even a good place to dive into his vast catalog. But “Seven of Wands” found its way to my ears and I’m so glad that it did. At the heart of this album lies is this 13+ minute beast of a track that is a headphone masterpiece in its own right. It features layers of darting and oozing sounds that take on new shapes and forms with each listen. It sounds meticulously composed, yet has the loose energy of a well-oiled electro improv unit building steam.
C. Yantis “Kerning” (Blackest Rainbow)
I purchased “Kerning” quite impulsively during one of Eclipse Records big sales during the year (thanks Ed!!). Looking back, I’m actually rather surprised I bought this as I thought I was completely through with hearing another “American Primitive” guitar record. I mean, at that stage, I would have rather just put on a John Fahey or a Jack Rose album and called it a day. But “Kerning” is such a unique and moving work of, yes, American Primitive minimalism, though acoustic guitar album it is not. Yantis’s guitar playing can rival Barn Owl’s in terms of sheer drone intensity and, at other turns, be as delicate and melodic as Loren Connors. But through his use of sculpted noise and feedback, along with subtle piano and banjo accompaniment, Yantis crafted something entirely his own on this debut. The world will not end in 2012, but it likely will be The Year of Yantis.
Harald Grosskopf “Synthesist” (RVNG Int’l)
This reissue of Harald Grosskopf’s 1980 debut solo release was done just right: an excellently remastered and repackaged LP edition with decent photos and extensive liner notes written by Grosskopf himself, not to mention an additional disc of re-interpretations of “Synthesist” tracks by such contemporary artists as Oneohtrix Point Never, Blondes, James Ferraro, Arp, and Stellar Om Source. It’s essential listening for anyone with even a passing interest in the current synth resurgence.
Best Various Artists Compilation
“Pacific Support” (Draft)
With all of the proceeds of this compilation going towards the disaster relief efforts in Japan and featuring a batch of top-notch unreleased tracks by some of the most forward-thinking experimental electronic artists operating today (Rene Hell, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Matt Carlson, Greg Davis, The North Sea, Panabrite, etc., etc.), this, for me, made for the most worthwhile compilation of the year.
Supreme Dicks “Breathing and Not Breathing” (Jagjaguwar)
I had bought a Supreme Dicks CD years ago for like $2 in a used bin on account of the fact that Low had covered one of their songs on their “Transmission” EP. I’ll have to say, I could never really figure out what they were up to or where the hell they were coming from. For that time period, their music seemed so cryptic and all over the place: were these guys peers of Slint? The Shadow Ring? Pavement? They were, however, quite capable of playing music that was so stripped down and heartfelt that it could just plain stop you in your tracks; I know I included “In The Whippoorwill’s Sad Orchard” on more than a few mixes over the years. In listening to their complete recorded works collected on “Breathing and Not Breathing”, I can’t say that I’ve yet to figure them out, but I’ve certainly enjoyed trying. Having done my fair share of listening to psych, noise, experimental, and acid folk music since my initial exposure to the Supreme Dicks, I feel like I’m at least better equipped for the challenge.
Best Cover Art
Alpha Strategy / Projekt STINKA “Muck” (Ownness)
I’ve always wanted one of Graham Lambkin’s whimsical, surrealist drawings and now I have one. The music from these two artists is equally as fetching.
Best Vinyl Only
Haino/O’Rourke/Ambarchi “In A Flash Everything Comes Together As One There Is No Need For A Subject” (Black Truffle)
This double LP release came in a beautiful heavy gatefold jacket with excellent photographs captured during the second live performance from these three experimental music heavyweights. I love how every side of this release has its own mood and dynamics, but the final side was hands down the most exhilarating slab of free rock explosiveness I heard all year.
Best CD-R Only
Panabrite “Omni Center” (Sturmundrugs)
I simply can’t get enough of the music that Norm Chambers is making as Panabrite; his music is just so transportive and life affirming. In my humble opinion, he’s one of the most innovative and unique voices in this whole synth renaissance that we’re witnessing.
Best Live Show
My opportunities to check out decent live music have taken a serious hit in recent years, so being able to attend this wonderfully curated festival was a real highlight of the year for me. I’ll defer to the article I wrote on this weekend of music for more specifics.
On A Personal Level
Having the opportunity to interact with some of my favorite artists/label curators and delve deeper into their work on Free Form Freakout was one of the true highlights of the year for me, especially when it came to assembling the Stunned Records tribute show. Also, continuing to be connected with this loose collective that is Foxy Digitalis has been an on-going source of joy and inspiration. The freedom, trust, and support that the editors of this site have provided throughout the year(s) has led me down new paths and to new experiences. For that, I am truly grateful.
On to new possibilities in the year ahead . . .