With Chris’ having covered some of his favourite shorter releases yesterday, I thought I’d focus on some of the amazing albums that I’ve been wearing out over the past few months. All of these releases have survived their novelty to become firm favourites round these parts. I’m kinda like the teenager I used to be this year in my listening habits: I listen to far fewer releases, but those I like I tend to listen to ‘heaps’ (as my teen self might have said).
Ricardo Donoso - Progress Chance
Well, I’ve already heard rumblings from two of my friends that suggest a big synth backlash. In a sense its understandable, given the deluge of releases, and the very mixed quality overall. A friend talked about ‘synth piffle’… Ricardo has done something different here: this album manages to channel several different sounds into something extremely fully found, well articulated. It’s just a beautifully well considered, extremely well-articulated, self contained record. I listen to it over and over and don’t get sick of it, and on different systems and headphones (even during different kinds of weather) it reveals many, many different facets. I really appreciate the work and care that's gone into it, and it totally works. Fascinating and excellent album.
Julia Holter - Tragedy
I checked this based on boomkat’s extremely gushing précis; in this case, almost all the wordjizz is, err, not wasted. Julia has really gone all out here, building a world of her own from samples, found sound, synths, drum machines, and vocals. I really like the way Holter has composed a series of complex suites with interacting movements, much more like classical than pop. And she's pulled it off, too - much respect to her audacity here. The comparisons with Laurie Anderson deserve to stick, but only because so few other people attempt music this quirky and ambitious – space and voice. I mean, it could all be a horrible, pretentious mess, but Julia ‘carries’ the whole thing through its many rooms, like a lone girl carrying a lantern through a cavernous temple on a moonless night (with only her songs and the Gods for company). This is totally one person's 'vision'. You have to do a bit of work and give it your undivided attention (this is too demanding and dynamic to work as BGM - but that’s a good thing, surely), but if you do, you’re almost sure to find one of this year’s real gems.
A friend said to me: ‘this isn’t ambient music, it’s Ambien music.’ ‘Enjoy the fade –without risking an MJ-esque dulled spiral into deathly cotton wool.’ There’s more to it than that, of course: this is beautifully composed, totally poised. At high volumes, it also shows a completely different side. But mostly I listen to it at low volumes, at which it sounds blue, but a lovely light blue, like the cover, under lavender blankets. Winged Victory maintains a carefully constructed ebb/fade/flow throughout – sustain pedal to the metal. I suppose its easy to float when you have wings, even if you’re sullen. There is meditation, and there is medication, and then there is music.
Chris and I have been following RtD carefully since we heard their first collection on Digitalis last year. In Dust really fulfils the promise of the first. Like Progress Chance, though ostensibly a synth album, this ain’t ‘synth piffle’ at all: these boys have got their own clear and good ideas about where they’re going and what they’re doing with all that equipment. There are lots of strong lines and industrial themes here; some of them are quite harrowing. Like OR, there are lots of oblique references to capitalism in here, but if OR canvasses the soaring, crashing everything/nothing instants of fibre-optic fed animal spirits, In Dust takes us back to the factory. Back to work, drone! ‘Moments are the elements of profit’, and you’re one the boss’ clock. This monster isn’t done with us yet.
Jonsson/Alter - Mod
There are lots of synths here, but this is a house album. Best of all here is the way it all comes together: I think the press release mentioned dynamic tension-in-balance. Well, for once the promo peepz are on-the-money. Lots of attention here has been given to tuning the percussion; this makes these many of these tracks total late night floor bombs. But then, if you were out on said floor and the system was really good and you were listening carefully, you’d also notice how ‘just so’ everything else was: the tones, the melodies, the way everything sits in the mix. There have been several earlier ‘attempts’ at 'this album', but for me, this is the iteration that has actually gathered everything, arranged it, then recorded it as it should have been done.
Nuel - Trance Mutation
Okay, at this point I have to totally 'violate' both myself and the title of the post. It's true I can barely count, but that's another story. There's a reason why I chose social theory, not mathematics. Nuel has really, really done something here. In fact, like all these albums (and almost everything I've loved this year) the hallmark of Trance Mutation is its inimitability. It is totally non generic. This is not a trance album - either that, or it re-defines what trance means. Hence the mutation. It's a percussion album, it's a hypnotic album, it's an 'all corners of the Mediterranean' album (that also riffs off both sides of the black Atlantic) - and it's all played by one guy: Nuel. I don't want to say too much more about it, just really, really, really check it out.