Monday, July 5, 2010
My ears’ best albums of the past while. Working Title: My Lf n th Wsh f Synths
Over the past year or two I’ve tried to develop a semi-disciplined listening practice. Mostly it has involved a number of tactics, including: merciless mp3 player ‘gardening’ (pruning, weeding, fairtilizing, no snailbait); a refusal to listen to anything I don’t feel like listening to; a refusal to feel pressured to check out tipster/hyped releases (if it’s gone in 60 seconds, that doesn’t mean I must listen to it right this minute); and, most importantly, close, deep, sustained attention to the very best releases.
These tactics are part of an overall strategy intended to work with the infinity of the datasea and the all-too-human limits of my musical metabolism. Relatedly, it’s also a way of neutralising the pernicious effects of tipping/ripping/upping/dumping music, all of which seems to have become what passes for most people’s musical habitus. The vilest spectacle in this vain vein is the December ‘Carnival of Negation’, that mad, maddening, stupid scramble to listen to everything you didn’t bother with earlier that year, ‘cos it’s on the list of someone you respect, and/or, shit, you’ve got to put your own shitty list together. To me, these aren’t just bad habits, they’re self-inflicted needless sufferings and symptoms of a very dysfunctional musical ecology, one in which only ‘distribution’ (in its loosest sense) is thriving (and only just), to the detriment of producers and listeners. I’m sure rapidshares are doing quite nicely, thank you. And BitTorrent is coal fired. Just remember: the files are 'free', but this is not without costs. It's simply that you have avoided paying those costs.
To me, this drowning, gorging, unswimmable, indigestible situation is something to think our way out of. With all this in mind, I humbly submit what follows as one (doubtless insufficient) response. In anticipation of your criticisms, let me pre-empt by saying: socialise with your music, support your producers, respect your nerves and your ears. As brevity is the soul of t/wit, to wit: I’ve limited each description to three sentences per release – why do you need me to tell you what it sounds like? If you’ve heard it, if you can hear it… Anyway, anyway….
Loscil: Endless Falls
'Endless Falls' joins 'Midtown 120 Blues' and 'Music for Real Airports' as elegies for dead utopias (Paradise Garage, CDG/LAX, Trades Hall). At these depths, despite the darkness and the pressure, Loscil, singing praise of lost causes, makes sure you never feel like you’re drowning. Socialist melancholia never sounded quite so sublime.
Eleh: Location Momentum
The physicality of sound gets its full due here (with great interest). If I describe it as music that (vaguely) makes you want to puke, shit, and cry, and mean it as a compliment, will you know what I mean? Lovers of Kevin Drumm, Pansonic and Merzbow will face the bass (and turn it up).
Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek: Bird, Lake, Objects
There are secret spaces in our faithful instruments. They are leading meaningful existences of their own, in their own way, in and for themselves. Here are some very pretty ways to amplify, document and ornament audible evidence of the movement of their discreetly lodged moments.
This is ‘just genre work’, but then again, so’s Chandler (Kerri and/or Raymond). Efdemin pushes all the tropes – his own and his genre’s, the genres that he’s made his own, his own genres' and the way they own you – to somewhere at the edge of beyond. You’ll have to work a bit to find this one (it shows admirable restraint, an effect of good breeding and careful polish), but when you do, you’ll have found a finely wrought, perfectly balanced album.
There are many people who are trying to make music like Actress. Most of them are not as talented. ‘Funk is what you don’t play’.
Mapstation: The Africa Chamber
As well as an excellent example of why microphones and percussion make fine bed fellows, this is also one of the most ‘listenable’ recordings you’re 'likely to hear'. The last beat falls, I hit the play button again. Then the last beat falls, and I hit the play button again.
Roll the Dice: Roll the Dice
Geo/sonically, we’re a long way away from ‘A pen and a paper/a stereo a tape a/me and Eric B and a nice big plate of fish’, but: there’s a lot that could and should be said about the combination of a productive musical relationship, a studio, and minimal(ist) equipment. Rolling the Dice means the outcome is a matter of chance. So how come this collection of improvisations sounds just like what happens ‘when preparation meets opportunity’?
Kevin Drumm: Imperial Horizon
There are ebbs and flows. There are times when the dance kids teach the guitar kids how to use software suitely, and times when the guitar kids remind the dance kids about songs, music, and honey-voicing pretty girls with roving microphones and shake appeal. Meanwhile, Kevin Drumm is elsewhere intensely occupied – and neither production nor music (nor the instruments involved, who, I’ve been assured, did consent) will ever be quite the same.
Junior Boys: Last Exit
This one never sat quite right on first rotation. But time’s the revelator. And with the ease of hindsight, or just the acknowledgement of something slipping into phenomenon, there’s something really special going on here – still more now. Actually, this could be 2010 for all I know.
Ricardo Villalobos: Alcachofa
For too long this green beast oversignified its way into the ‘unlistenable’ category for me. Brain says it’s time to go back – consider doing so by way of a playlist sans 'Easy Lee' and 'Dexter'. You’ll feel less unbearably sad, and by the end you’ll either realise or remember why this album sounded so magnificent: because it is so magnificent.
Jimi Hendrix: Band of Gypsies
Frank Zappa’s advice – ‘shut up and play your guitar’ – has been heeded by too many fucking guitarists (please shut up, Frank). For once, Hendrix shows restraint, but without fading a single bar of his best ecstatic genius. Maybe this recording was too black, too strong to be as well known as the Experience albums, but this, for me, is both his best and, as electronic music listeners, a fundamental common root of our shared musical passions: ‘funk is what you don’t play’.