I always simultaneously get excited and dread writing this year-end wrap-ups, though I’m leaning more toward the latter this time. But fuck, I’ve done so many lists this year (Top 25, random tape list, vinyl reissues, another list… I think that’s all) that it’s been hard to try and figure out what kind of angle to take with this article that will separate it from the other lists. I know, first world problems right? But I don’t want to write the same friggin article over and over again. Bottom line about 2010, though, is that it was a great year for music, despite what anyone says. It’s not the first time I’ve said it and it won’t be the last, but if you can’t find any new music you like these days it’s your own fault or you’re just lazy.
The biggest thing for me in 2010 was how much I got into hip-hop and electronic music (the two of which go hand-in-hand if you ask me). I probably listened to more hip-hop and techno than anything else this year and its certainly had a creeping influence on my own music. I’m totally in love with the Big Boi record and it was really the gateway drug that led me down whatever fucken road I’m on now. I’m really into the Black Milk album too, but it was an amazing year in general for hip-hop in 2010. Embarrassingly I only heard “808s & Heartbreak” for the first time this year but at this point it’s probably worked itself into my list of all-time top five.
There’s a lot (an absolute shit ton) of music I loved in 2010. My top 25 list for Boomkat gets the obvious choices out of the way (well, maybe not so obvious but whatever), but there’s still a ton of stuff I listened to quite a bit. Like I did last year, though, instead of talking about specific releases in-depth, I’m gonna focus on a few bands and labels that really tickled my ears this year. These were hard enough to narrow down, honestly, since there were a bunch of great ones this year, but whatever – here goes.
Label of the Year
Now, I’d obviously choose Digitalis in a heartbeat if I could but I’m not gonna be that guy who chooses all the stuff he put out as his favorite. I figure that’s assumed. And I’m not gonna choose Type either since he put out two of my records this year. And Stones Throw could win every year by default (hello Madlib), so I won’t go there either. Nope – favorite label of 2010? Motherfucken Hobo Cult. My love affair with all things hobo started at a mere simmer earlier in the year, but Frank Ouellette (Mr. Hobo Cubes himself) just kept upping the ante and upping the ante with each batch. It’s a label that is impossible to pigeonhole and for me that’s what makes a label great. I want releases that come out of absolutely nowhere (see JLK). All over the map? Yes, please. Add in the fact that he has one of the best visual aesthetics around and his Moduli TV video house is cranking out the best videos in the world right now (that’s no hyperbole, it’s fucken true). I have discovered so many great new projects because of Hobo Cult that it’s a bit ridiculous. The talisman of it all is Ouellette’s Hobo Cubes project and most of the other stuff he has a hand in (special mention of his collaboration with Sundrips, Video Diaries – one of the year’s best tapes) including the split Hobo tape with Panabrite (one of the year’s best tapes period); Bernardino Femminielli’s tape was one of the best pieces of drone I heard all year. Major props.
Honorable mentions: Gift Tapes killed it again and even upped his game a notch with the introduction of the sublabel, Draft. The Frak tape he put out is one of my favorite releases of 2010, hands down, and that Merzbow tape on Gift singlehandedly reignited my interest in Merzbow. Oh, and their micro-cassette “gifts” with each batch are one of the best things out there.
Looking through a recent stack of records I received from Weird Forest, it would be impossible not to mention their stellar year. The real centerpiece has to be the Love Cry Want 2LP reissue which is as essential a reissue in 2010 as there has been (and had I remembered it came out in 2010 and not 2009, I’d have included it on my OMGV list. But I digress…). Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting and Lil B are the two exclamation marks on an absolutely awesome year. They do great pressings as well (WF being one of those labels I’ve always wanted to do a release on because of said quality! Ha!) and I hope they do some more cassette editions a la the Derek Monypeny release.
I’m really intrigued by the Field Hymns label (speaking of impossible to pigeonhole), especially the Boron cassette and upcoming releases by Adderall Canyonly (best band name of 2010, hands down). They have a great visual aesthetic as well and a website that just makes you want to hear what the fuck they’re up to.
Stunned is as consistent as ever. Overland Shark is the one to watch in 2011, having already given us two of the best tapes in 2010 in the form of Polymer Slug and Discoverer (who, subsequently, are two of my favorite new discoveries this past year along with Panabrite). REL quietly killed it, too and Laser Palace out of Denver is poised for greatness. Kim Dawn is doing cool stuff with the 3” format. Housecraft gets on here for the “Good Wheel Tea Carpentry” set alone.
Alright, where to start..
If it wasn’t enough that he heads up one of the most important and influential mailorder sites in the world, the inimitable KFW had a banner year musically. A lot of artists did some great stuff but I don’t think anybody ran the table like he did, starting with the LP on PAN and self-released 7”. The thing is if that was all he’d released in 2010, he’d still be in this list. But then there’s the “Generator” cassette on Root Strata and the awesome KFW/Hrvatski split tape on Bennifer. Still not enough? Try on his collaborations with Geoff Mullen, particularly the Any Given Sunday on Agents of Chaos. Ridiculous. Hopefully 2011 promises more deliciousness and the return of Hallicrafters.
Brother Raven Empire
I’m a little biased here since I put out their first vinyl effort, “VSS-30,” but even removing that consideration (even though it is fucken great) it was still an incredible year for Jason Anderson and Jamie Potter. The “ITCZ” tape that started the year off is one of my favorite recordings the duo have done. Incredibly, though, it was their solo work that really gets them on this list. Anderson’s two Harpoon Pole Vault releases on Gift and Jugular Forest are fantastic, the former being a split with Potter’s Father Sound project. And yet my favorite solo release he did in 2010 has to be the 2 Hands on Knobs split with Studio SS. The “home office” theme to the whole thing was a fantastic concept and pulled off expertly. Maybe the most underrated of the duo’s releases is Potter’s Father Sound micro-cassette, “Witch Doctor.” I loved that thing and hope there’s a full-length FS release coming down the road somewhere. In 2011 we can expect the return of their main solo projects, Spare Death Icon and Million Mists and for that I think we can all be thankful.
Yo-Yo Dieting/Indignant Senility/Diamond Catalog
What can you say about Pat Maherr other than “fucken genius”? His album under the DJ Yo-Yo Dieting moniker, “Bubblethug,” was one of my five favorite 2010 releases. It’s an absolute epic masterpiece that somehow managed to stay under most people’s radars. For shame! But his double suite of Indignant Senility on Type was excellent as well. Diamond Catalog probably wasn’t heard by a lot of folks, but just wait cuz his brand of alien techno is going to be shaking asses well into 2011.
This is another one that’s a bit hard since one of my favorite things Donoso was involved in was a tape I put out. But really, Perispirit would be on here alone for their trifecta of awesomeness in the form of a split LP w/ Brendan Murray, split tape w/ Virile Games (both on Razors & Medicine/Semata Productions… btw, whoever Virile Games is – please put out some more tunes!) and “Abysmal Penetrations” tape (Hospital). Nobody is dragging the depths of grime-infested drone like Donoso & Luke Moldof. They create such rich sonic landscapes that its impossible not to be impressed. Donoso’s solo tape on Razors & Medicine is pretty killer, too. Along with KFW they are the cream of Boston’s crop.
Emuul is as underrated as they come but all three tapes he released in 2010 have their merits. He’s constantly flirting with the line of absolute beauty and heartbreaking desolation that gets me every time. Rene Hell went to the next level with “Porcelain Opera.” Lately I’ve been obsessed with the most recent Moon Wiring Club record. I don’t know how many people heard it but C Section 8′s “Urban Music” LP (Trd W/d) is incredible. If there’s one project I’m dying to hear more from, CS8 is #1 on that list. I adored the Mi or And the Pedestals tape on Gift, too. It’s especially exciting for me, too, since Ceci Moss & I used to chat on AOL back when we were like 14. Full-circle-awesome. Ashley Paul emerged as one of my favorite artists in the world as well. “To Much Togethers” is exquisite and one of the few CDs I actually bought. I just got her tape “The Circus” as well and it is right up there. She should be huge.
I already mentioned a few of these, but let’s go…
I’m going to include the entire Evans-Axis here: Motion Sickness of Time Travel, Nova Scotian Arms, Quiet Evenings, Moss Swarm, etc. My first introduction was when, out of nowhere, the Seeping Through the Veil of the Unconscious tape showed up in the Digitalis PO Box as a demo back in June. From that point on, I was floored. Eden can attest to this but I don’t think any demo we’ve received has made quite an impression (I was literally listening to it yelling “holy shit! Where the fuck did this come from?!” multiple times) and my relationship with Grant & Rachel Evans has just grown from there. I feel a particular kinship with them these days based on their situation and location but the bottom line is that they are producing some beautiful and essential music and art. I know 2011 is going to rule because I get to work with people like this all year.
Thanks to Jason Anderson (of Gift Tapes/Brother Raven) I began a love affair with this Swedish contingent headed up by the one-and-only Jan Svensson. Nobody (and I mean nobody) traversing in the realms of minimal techno :: experimentalism are doing things as great and interesting as Svensson. Frak is the cream of the crop, particularly his tape on the Gift sub-print, Draft, but he had two stellar releases as Studio SS this year, too (also on Gift). What is most daunting (but exciting if you ask me) is the insane back catalog of Börft and its sublabels UFO Mongo and Djuring Phonogram. But the best part? It’s literally impossible to go wrong. Go to the Börft website and just buy a few things on any of those three labels and you’re good to go. Be careful, though, as I’m sure you’ll find yourself as addicted as I am.
Polymer Slug is the brainchild of Chicago resident Adam Tramposh (if you live in Chicago you need to start booking him for shows!) and his debut tape, “Warm Forms” (Overland Shark), just bowled me over. There’s a quiet complexity to Polymer Slug. Cursory listens will grip your ears, but it won’t be until you really get in there and do some heavy listening that you hear a lot of the subtleties that Tramposh works into his music. It’s really beautiful stuff. There’s a lot of “synth projects” these days but Tramposh has his own thing going entirely and when synth is done right it is fucken bliss. Which leads me to…
Seattle is ripe ground for the synth re-revolution. Flying under the radar completely until 2010 is Norm Chambers AKA Panabrite and holy shit. My first taste was his split tape with Hobo Cubes on Hobo Cult and from the first moment I was 100% hooked. As I dug deeper and got to know Norm a bit, though, I realized where the real strength in his abilities lie. Now, I think he’s only scratched the surface here and that this is most apparent in some of his earlier work (but coming out again lately) – but where Chambers really shines is when he incorporates guitars and acoustic elements into his synthesizer compositions. He does an incredible job of adding unexpected aural textures to his work that give it a warmth that is often lacking in this type of music. His tunes also have random hooks which is a huge bonus. I seriously can’t get enough of Panabrite and hope to be totally inundated in 2011.
No UFOs released one of the year’s best tapes with “Soft Coast.” John Elliot’s Colored Mushroom & the Medicine Rocks project was my favorite thing he did all year (including Emeralds). Thundercade’s two free download albums are fantastic, especially “Free Radicalz!” Shloggfather’s “Intergalactic Furgle-Fest” was another favorite freebie.
There’s really only two in particular that I’m gonna post, but fuck do I love both of these:
Robyn “Dancing On My Own”
Some Vinyl Please
This is a little weird to talk about since I run a label and could probably reissue some of these myself (and maybe I will! Hopefully I will!).
Pospulenn “Sun People Sleepwalker” (Housecraft)
So many people love this tape. So few people actually own a copy.
Caged Soprano “The Newspaper” (Jugular Forest)
This project from JF-head Alex Twomey blows all his other work out of the water. More.. please?
Carl Calm “The Sag” (DNT)
As good as the Dekorder reissue LP this year was, “The Sag” is the best biz Carl has to offer. I’m dying for more of this.
Reuben Son “Sensual Square” (Private Chronology)
I’m pretty sure there’s some vinyl from Son coming this year, but “Sensual Square” is essential listening.
Drake “Thank Me Later” (Young Money)
Goddamnit why wasn’t this on vinyl?
Geoff Mullen “A Dust Futures” (Digitalis) / Ricardo Donoso “Deterrence” (Digitalis)
See what I did there…?
I’m not gonna ramble on about the most disappointing/overrated/ridiculous when Brandon Soderberg has already done it better than anyone else.
You know, its funny seeing articles talking about album sales being down and whatever based on Nielsen Soundscan shit. But you know what? Fuck that. Right now is one of (if not the) best times for music. The accessibility of recording and releasing things is simply awesome. There is so much good, interesting and original music being created right now (mainstream and underground alike) that it is impossible for any one person to hear it all. And you know what? That is a very good thing. I have such a listening backlog right now its ridiculous, but that’s how I want it to be. I want there to be an endless steam of music being created that is worthwhile in some way or another. Look, not everything is going to be (or needs to be) a masterpiece, but that doesn’t mean there are albums and sounds being written and recorded these days that won’t be considered as such in 20 years. These are salad days my friends – enjoy it. Not only is there a bevy of great stuff being made, it is cheap (or free) and easy to get your ears on. Sure, the economy is shit and this country is going the way of the Romans but I couldn’t be more excited about what is coming down the pipeline from a music and art standpoint if I tried. Get fucking excited.