Friday, December 30, 2011
Stream of thoughts on 2011 - pt 1 (maybe)
I have been wanting to write some kind of end of year wrap up post, but have not really known what to say. Putting together lists didn't feel appropriate, certainly not in 2011. I have some clear favourite releases and labels, but for the most part, the common thread of 2011 was exploration, education and digging, digging, digging. Much of this has taken me outside the bounds of what has been released this year, and much of what I did like this year (notably the creme of the synth scene owes a heavy debt to its kosmische forefathers). Also I am still finding amazing music - in the last week I have encountered two albums I have totally fallen for. The first is Prurient's 'Bermuda Drain'. If you can get past a bit of screaming (it took a few listens and being in the right headspace for me to do this), what you have is an incredibly powerful, arresting album, one that really takes a hold of your psyche. On the day I connected with, I listened to it 6 or 7 times. I think Kuedo's album is the only other one I had a similar response to. And care of Regis' EoY chart for Boomkat I have just picked up HTRK's seductive 'Work Work Work'. I am expecting this will be getting plenty of listens in the future. And there are quite a few other artists and releases I am still working my way through. So when it comes to thinking about the end of the year, I kind of feel like this time the ever arbitrary distinction between 31 December and 1 January feels particularly irrelevant. Then again, even if this break is abitrary it does not mean it is without meaning or significance. And EoY lists certainly do have their place. I am not sure the aggregated ones really add much value. When looking at RA's lists about all I could work out is they must have plenty of reviewers with shitty taste writing for them (not to mention quite a few with poor writing skills). But hell, given the quality of most of the reviews on that website, I cannot say I was particularly shocked. Where people have put serious time and thought into the EoY selections - such as with many of the Boomkat contributors - then you do have a treasure trove of potential winners. I have already made some exciting purchases and I am sure there will be more... Saying that, more often that not I kind of feel like the EoY lists can betray how superficially we listen to our music and how quickly we consume it. How many albums have stayed on your mp3 player for months? How many have you gone back to time and time again? I know my list would be pretty short. Kangding Ray, Tim Hecker, Kuedo, Nuel and Vatican Shadow are the ones that most easily come to my mind. There are some others, especially if I think about vinyls (primarily the LP from Imaginary Softwoods), but these tend to get played less, in part because most of my music listening is done at work, and also because they get put somewhere and after a few days my restless music brain forgets about them and moves onto something else. I could go back through my music library, flick through the vinyl, to work out which where the other releases that I really loved this year, but I guess I couldn't have loved them that much if I can't remember without checking. So no specific EoY lists from me, but I am going to go stream of consciousness style and see how successful that is. I'll focus on labels and this should also hopefully allow me cover most of my favourite releases too.
Rush Hour might have had a fantastic year, I got no idea, I didn't buy one of their records. What they have been doing is of no interest to me. Delsin put out some cool stuff (Morphosis), but I also got the nagging sense of it being a bit overly conservative - albums like Conforce and Dehnert might be fine on their own terms, but I barely even got through listening to them. They left my cold. I want some more daring in my music, well at least this year I did. 100% Silk? Perhaps 80% over-rated would be more appropriate. A couple of good EPs / tracks does not make a stand out label, unless if you want to ride the cool wave, which as always, many people do. Nothing new about this, but what did frustrate me about the excessive attention on 100% Silk is that its parent label - Not Not Fun - was largely forgotten about, despite having a far more interesting and worthwhile year, at least in my books. They ended in fine form with a lovely record from a new Japanese artist, Sapphire Slows (who happens to be playing at our next chill out party on 15 January). And reflecting the way my tastes veered for much of this year, some of my other favourite labels were coming out of / related to the synth scene. Aguirre put out some very cool stuff, the J.D. Emmanuel re-release had some special moments, and the new split from MSOTT and Nova Scotian Arms is pretty cool, as is the one from Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier. The big find on this label, though, is Innercity. This dude is seriously fucked in the head, but that is fine when the results are so weird and wonderful. His releases on Aguirre were tops, as was his 7" on NNA tapes. That one was perfectly demented.
One label that had a really fantastic year (or two) but has been almost totally overlooked is M=minimal. Don't be put off by the name. This is updated krautrock, done so in a very caring and interesting way. They re-released some special stuff from Conrad Schnitzler, and Borngräber & Strüver's work has been brilliant. I asked them for a mix. They never replied. Shame, I would love to feature their sounds on ssgs. Kranky is another label that had an excellent 2011. Steve Hauschildt put out a pretty cool album of soothing synths, A Winged Victory For The Sullen was not really my thing but a lot of people - including PC - rated it very highly. 'Black Earth' by Implodes was a strong release on the dark wave tip, and then you had Tim Hecker making most of his peers sound a bit crap in comparison. On a side note, I found it rather odd seeing some of the EoY lists 'Ravedeath' turned up on. How did it make the RA list? If Nicholas Jaar was number 1 it suggests they like Jaaring music, not Hecker's jarring style (what a clever pun). I mean Hecker demands serious listening. But if you also listen seriously to Jaar, you should be able to work out it is a bit shit, no? Well there is the weighting system they use for the RA charts, but still... I guess once you get down to the 9th or 10th album you need to list (or the 19th or 20th), you just go with the flow.
Other labels? Spectrum Spools was a very welcome addition to the music landscape in 2011. To be honest, I have not been able to keep up with their releases - I think they pumped out 10 this year, which is too many for my liking, especially when these are weighty pieces of music, you need time with them. Of their releases, I liked 'Elegy for Beach Friday' from Bee Mask the most, with the Fabric, Mist and the first Bee Mask all having some great moments. Mordant Music continued to be one of the most interesting and worthwhile labels out there. While it was Ekoplekz who got the attention (which I don't really understand to be honest, he does little for me), the standout release from Mordant slipped past most people - the killer "Receiving Calls" by Thanet (who is supposedly Mr Maxted, even though I don't think we actually know who that is either). The Thanet album is ambient and downbeat with echoes of the 90s, amidst the roughly 3 hours of music there is at least 1 - 1.5 hours of top quality music. Definitely worth getting. Continuing along, Digitalis is another label strangely missing from most EoY lists. They put out some great stuff from MSOTT, Ricardo Donoso, Emuul, along with my favourite releease of theirs being 'Science of the Sea' by Jürgen Müller. It reminds me of that underwater movie with Bill Murray in it, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, that one. Another one is Amethyst Sunset. Ok, they didn't release much. But they deserve to be here simply for "The Path Of Spectrolite" by Imaginary Softwoods (which is John Elliott and maybe someone else). This is quite easily one of the best records of 2011. Stunningly beautiful record. I really hope John Elliott does some more work in this vein, he definitely has a talent for it. I also recently got the 1958-2009 LP and love the A1 on that.
Last, but certainly not least, is Hospital Productions, run by Prurient. As I have mentioned before, much of the stuff on it is too harsh for me, but this is probably one of the reasons I like the Vatican Shadow releases so much - it maintains some of that aesthetic but is a bit restrained and refined in its presentation, which makes it much more palatable for a soft listener like myself. I have talked about Vatican Shadow here before, so I won't repeat myself, suffice to say this is easily some of my favourite music from 2011. Another very promising example of an artist moving from power electronics into more techno territory is William Bennett with his Cut Hands project. 'Afro Noise 1' is a stand out release for 2011, as was his live version of it. I was lucky enough to see him play twice this year, and both times he delivered very impressive performances. If you have a chance, see Cut Hands, trust me. On a vaguely similar tip, there was a lot of praise for Haxan Cloak's album. On initial listen I liked it, but it didn't really stick with me, I am not completely sold. But his 'Observatory' EP is an absolute killer. Totally shits all over the album. I had the same feeling to Roly Porter's album as I did to Haxan Cloak's. Don't quite understand all the love for it. I'd rather just listen to Ben Frost, of which it sounds more than a little bit reminiscent.
You may notice the lack of deep house and techno labels I have mentioned. Well I don't really see much point. The discussion online about these is so saturated, there are plenty of other charts that can show the way to any releases you may have missed. I don't see the value in repeating the same things. Beyond that, the other main reason for not really talking about techno and house is that I have simply not been particularly interested in it this year. Sure there were plenty of good releases in these genres, I am not denying that. But I just wasn't so interested in 2011. My head was elsewhere. Perhaps I have reached saturation point. Or perhaps some of the sounds have, especially what Hardwax has begun to aptly call 'droning blue techno' (like with so many of their one line descriptions, somehow this makes perfect sense to me). Anyway, there is more I want to say on this, but I shall leave this for another post.
Ok, there were other things I wanted to talk about, the content monster, podcasts, techno, and some other things I cannnot think of now. But I have run out of juice. So this stream of thought post shall come to an end. Perhaps time and energy permitting there will be a part 2.