Tuesday, November 30, 2010
My years’ best albums. Final Title: My Wsh fr a lf of Synths
2010 has been a very strange year for me. Its major events – at least, the ones considered major by those with influence to name and frame them as such – have provoked massive alienation, much of which affected what I was listening to and how I was listening to it. Shackleton was the most apt soundtrack for any time I had the TV on. (In fact, do yourself a favour, chuck on a Shackleton recording while you read the following, if you wish to read the following... ) The US squandered their hegemonic decade (perhaps their last one, but who knows really?) on two ruinous military misadventures and the succession of bubbles that burst like boils full of empty numbers and empty wallets and houses and blossomed into a fullblown chronic crisis (can crises be chronic?), and now, still, in spite of or because of that or who knows really, millions of Americans prefer to tune in to Fox News to hear some shrill nutjob scream about how Obama ought to restore America’s pride. Governments around Europe have saved the banks and socked it to the people, and Goldman Sachs are paying bigger bonuses than ever. And I never heard anyone on the news mention Greece and Goldman Sachs in the same phrase all year. And that was very telling about the year it was.
Meanwhile, the economic prosperity of dozens of countries is drawn into China’s becoming a bulimic consumerist behemoth a la the US (this, apparently is our saving future). Australia, as one country tied into this scenario, flogs off its polluting, energy-rich dirt in order to continue bankrolling its domestic economy, now, more than ever, utterly dependent on the profligate consumption of fossil fuels, the overconsumption of disposable non degradable luxury goods on credit, and the defensive purchase of overpriced real estate to ward of second class citizenship. Three weeks ago was hard rubbish, and I was haunted by the roadside spectre of 1001+ dead CRT TVs, all abandoned to piles by the side of the road.
Twice this year, all my friends voted ‘against’ people - seems nobody votes ‘for’ anyone, anymore. Then yesterday my friend said: ‘I think we have about another 20 years in the rich world before things turn very, very nasty, and I see very few levers at hand that might help us steer away from any of half a dozen precipices. We should just have fun and enjoy it while it lasts.’ Which seemed both a plausible scenario, an excuse for a party, and a symptom of our shared sickness. In an important way, I suggested to him, it seems like, starting with the boomers, we’ve broken the intergenerational contract. So don’t be surprised, I said, when your kids come for you like a generation of Anton Cigurhs. The future will be no country for old men. No sir. If you spend their future, they earn the right to come for you. Read Underworld (and Cosmopolis, and, shit, almost all DeLillo), read Zeitoun, read Glister: they’re not science fiction. Oh yes, but/and don’t forget to dream. Weirdly, that might make the biggest difference of all.
Yet in spite of all of the above, I remain cautiously optimistic (turn down the Shackleton if you're starting to bug out). If 20C history is anything to go by, we have to go right to the brink each time (so let’s go – I’ll race you!). And in people’s response to events like Eyjafjallajökull and even the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, I heard the stirrings of a new consciousness. In fact, if you talk to most people – well, the large, important minority of people who aren’t barking mad or just plain ol’ fashioned fuckwits – they recognise: the nature of the problems, the threats and the enemies to our future viable existence. More than that, they recognise – and this is new – the deep relatedness of many of these things. Key among which may be rapidshare and BitTorrent. The point is, you are involved, you are implicated, you can make better decisions. Yes, they won’t make much difference, but: they will make a difference. An infinitesimal difference is yours to make. It is your nanogift to an as yet undetermined posterity. The decisions we make with our music is a microscopic part of the enormous, still growing junkspace of memories, venues, events and relationships making up ‘social life’. The rest is a great swirling chaos, any part of which might kill us, kiss us, or save us - who knows?
Somehow all the music I loved this year was a reflection of being among all of these thoughts, at a fairly alienated distance. For all that, it was full of ghosts, full of unexpected colour, full of vague fear, and, against the odds, full of hope. What follows is a list of my ten favourite albums, in loose alphabetical order, arrived at through the listening practice I’ve developed, that I discussed here.
From July: 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’.
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Ariel Pink Before Today
The weirdest effect of the datasea has been to render all periods of recorded music ‘simultaneously available’ (even if initially only recorded to limited-edition cassette). In most people’s hands, this sound/effect would be like a terrible trip through a hipster’s iPod. But these songs, and all the eras they evoke (sometimes all of them all at once!) are marvelous.
The worst thing about acid is the comedown, even if all the voices in your head are just your own and don’t tell you anything more than the dribbling chain of your own thoughts. The best thing about Chunk is that it’s not a comedown, it’s a recording, which means you can hit stop and get some soothing sleep. But that doesn’t mean you want to.
Eleh: Location Momentum
from July: 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).
Loscil: Endless Falls
from July: '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.
Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal
People take civil aviation for granted. Being above a storm in the clouds on a plane drinking a cup of tea on the way to something and someone you’ve missed for years reminds you that not all the promises of modern technology are broken. Many returns are happy, and most of these are they.
Owen Pallett: Heartland
Most music is layers of bland facsimiles arranged to make up the semblance of something novel. Then there are artists who paint in their own colours. Owen’s colours are mixed with finely tuned strings.
Roll the Dice: Roll the Dice
from July: 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’?
From here: Senking dials the 90s with a depth charge, and new ghosts howl back from the jungle.
Sistol: On the Bright Side
Some artists spend 20 years developing one style. Sasu moves frictionlessly through at least that many in one album, of which he makes four or more a year. And this is one of his most beautiful in a long while.