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.

Efdemin: Chicago

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.

Actress: Splazsh

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’.


  1. Great post from the quiet guy! Especially the part where he describes his music listening tactics. Lately I try that too and it totally works

  2. This is a lovely post. Nice mix of old and new. Reminded me about the Loscil record, I forgot that was even coming out -- 2010 record listening habits I suppose. I have a perpetual love affair of rediscovery with Alcachofa so it's neat to hear someone re-approaching it; it's such an amazing, labyrinthine record that I feel like I'll never understand, but it just keeps pulling me back.

  3. I remember picking up Alcachofa from Synaethesia in Melbourne when it came out. I had very little idea of what I was in for but it has remained essential listening ever since.

    Nice post PC. I just put a Loscil mix up for Symbiosis if anyone wants to check it out..



  4. Welcome thoughts on controlling the deluge. I'm curious as to how, where, when people listen to music nowadays. For me, all too often it's the ipod, on the move. Sitting down to give things the time and place they deserve is all too rare. Can't be beat.

    Chicago is subtle and great, as is the Dial 2010 comp (less subtle, and very easy to enjoy). Actress too is wonderful, and mysterious, yet to grasp it after numerous excited listens, and the Jelinek too is odd and charming. The Black Dog have never reached me though, and Airports is no exception. Give me Eno any day.

    Hyped he may be but Oneohtrix is fascinating. And I'm loving the recent Virgo reissue.

    Right on with Band of Gypsys, always been my favourite Hendrix, my Dad got me into it way back.

  5. @simon: thanks for the link to the loscil!

    just to echo PC, kevin drumm's 'imperial horizon' is mindblowingly good. probably the best album i've heard in the last 2-3 years. i've been meaning to post about it for ages. go get it!

    and please, i'd be very interested in what other ssgs would put on their list, so please comment!

  6. E-Man - E-Man [The Tapeworm]
    Biosphere does 1980's electro pop. really fucking well. in norweigan.

    Neil Young - Dead Man OST [Vapor Records]
    Amazing minimal guitar drifts, drones & riffs.

    Ceephax Acid Crew - Ceeland [Waltzer]
    Side A is hilarious. Side B is gorgeous.

    Peter Green - Little Dreamer [Sail Records]
    Stunning songs sung & played by a stone cold genius/lunatic.

    The Clash - Sandinista [CBS]
    The greatest triple LP ever released. Every bad song just makes the good songs better.

    The Upsetters - Super Ape [Island]

    Watch How The People Dancing - Unity Sounds From The London Dancehall, 1986 - 1989 [Honest Jons]
    Casio to the face!!

    Rene Hell - Porcelain Opera [Type]
    nothing coherant to say here yet. interesting record.

  7. we at lwe actually just posted our top 5 of the year so far (actress, aybee, flylo, pvh, scuba) but I would also add that shangaan electro comp on honest jons. major revelation that. new deepchord on modern love is really nice. I've been bored with dub techno recently, but this is really great stuff. drexciya reissue, 'gesamtkunstwerk', virgo reissue, new donnacha (though I know chris' thoughts on that one). loads of good stuff coming out now, and loads of older stuff to discover.

  8. Good post. I suspect anyone with a rabid curiousity and an ipod with sizeable harddrive can attest to the woes you describe. Recognized a few of my faves in there. Junior Boys, Villalobos - Drexciya! That LP is brilliant, surprised to see it listed. Do others like this?
    Space Dimension Controller haven't checked this yet but loved his 'Love Quadrant'
    Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek is great. Pretty much anything Jan touches is good. Actress' Lp is great too.
    Can I suggest Black Devil Disco's 'The Strange New World Of Bernard Fevre' - genius new wave electro minimalism.
    I've gone off Black Dog though, much preferred their earlier middle eastern tinged works. New stuff leaves me cold.

  9. never heard of actress before reading this. and I think Im in love again <3 - purple splazsh. damn fine track, cant stop playing it. Also much thanx for revealing your listening tactics ;-]

  10. Love that Roll the Dice album! Best thing I've heard in awhile. The Ethiopiques and Sublime Frequencies series have been dominating my listening sessions lately. Also Tinariwen - Imidiwan: Companions.
    as for mixes, The Needle Exchange series on the Self-Titled website has had some great ones lately. The Matmos mix is particularly nice. Seriously, has anyone else heard this? They've made an all tape mix and made it really personal and full of humor and filled it with a broad range of unique musics.

  11. Hey, thanks for the Needle Exchange tip, downloading some now!

  12. i think you guys would dig the new EP by this group Blondes from NYC called "Touched". it's about 40 minutes long, in my typical listening style i have listened to it at least 20 times since getting it last week.

  13. thanks for the tips people.

    @ pipecock: the BIS mix from the blondes you suggested was excellent. will definitely track this down.

  14. Many thanks for your kinds words, ssgs, and for the many tips.

    I should add in One oh Trix' Returnal and Akira Rabelais' Caduceus, but as part of my listening strategy, it has to be records which have 'proven' themselves, and those to are still standing on the verge.

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  16. Ditto re. resisting the compulsion to hoover up everything that sounds (potentially) half interesting. It detracts from genuine appreciation of the few things one can realistically give time of day to. And after all, an individual life will always be an arbitrary, circumscribed and fundamentally incomplete exercise. Trying to negate this in one's listening habits is pointless.


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