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.

Actress: Splazsh

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.

Denseland: Chunk

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’?

Senking: Pong

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.



  1. some heavy duty reading right there...

    even though you are from the first world and of the first world, i was still a bit surprised by how the perspective of your post was so first world centred...

    when the riots in greece happened (and ireland last week) my thoughts are not the failure to join the dots with goldman sachs and their ilk, but that much more radical economic reforms / commands are forced on developing economies and it is common practice, do it to a european country (or one of 'us') and suddenly it is an issue. fuck that.

    anyway, my year still has about another month left. i'll do my lists in a couple of weeks...

  2. Too true: this is basic WB/IMF policy since WWII. Initially it was Keynesian workfare projects 'build big dams', then explicit neoliberalization conditionalities attached to loans...

    ...and from what I understand Lula said to the US, then europe: 'he ha, now you know that it's like.' Then they caught a cold too.

    ...the question, for me is: when are 'we' gonna point the finger. The huge percentage of finance is way beyond general/social purpose banking now. It is just about making capital from capital for capital - and most of it gets socked away in offshore enclaves, one way or another. The City of London is legally offshore. That should tell you something.

    Big economies like the US and UK now wanna make welfare conditional, to force people back to work: but so many of the meaningful jobs, even if they weren't great - agriculture, manufacturing - they've been destroyed.

    You're right I chose OECD-centric examples... recent history is rife with so many others.

    2010, as I see it, is really about the nakedness of the interests and agendas of (a large percentage of) finance, the corporations and the media.

    There is no longer a meaningful battle between capital and labour in any given jurisdiction. Those with/of/for capital are, pretty much, plundering the nation-states they live in, hollowing them out, then delivering them over to a bleak future...

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  4. Dense stuff there. Actress has got to be the soundtrack to the gloom though.

    I'm Irish and have just witnessed my government sign away any chance Ireland has of working its way out of our problems, so I think I'll invest some time now working through the albums I don't have.

    The main question I'm hearing here is not whether we'll default on the loans but when we will. By 2014 over one-fifth of our national budget will be going to service the debt forced upon us by the IMF and EU. This almost brings us back to early-90s debt-repayment levels. This is a shocking state of affairs.

    Also painful is the fact that of our €85bn loan, €20bn is coming from our National Pension Reserve Fund. This is the cash stocks of the country, and it is now being used to pay for private developer and bank related debt.

    We have been forced by our European neighbours to accept a deal which sees us paying a higher interest rate than Greece. The euro as a currency is being artificially propped up here, and it is our membership of the euro which has added to our woes.

  5. The soundtrack of this post would be definitely the Loscil album. Discovered it on my birthday, bought it at that moment, still loving it. And this appreciation is not to be understood as something that means I do not agree with other parts of the selection, or the description that points to a latent weirdness (sad mixture of joy) of 2010.

    2010 was too densely mixed, I am still not sure I could categorize, rank, form a clear opinion. And this may go well beyond music. Anyways, great post, but nothing else is expected!


  6. @ Daniel:

    ...this is a really tough one...

    ...what is the feeling among the people you know, your friends and family? what actions are people taking?

    From this end of the world, it seems like, in Britain and in the US - I don't know about Ireland - though there have been protests, the 'majority' have more or less rolled over on this one, no? My understanding is in Britain that the final evisceration of all the 'caring' aspects of the public sector, and its delivery over to Serco and other similar companies...has been popular. Is this correct?

    ...this could definitely be a media-fed perception on my part though.

    I have to agree with Malcolm X here (though it's easy for me to say, sitting here in the relative comfort of Melbourne):

    'If something is yours by right, fight for it - or shut up.'

    If you need a soundtrack to this, may I also suggest going back to Carsten Jost's excellent album from 2001?


    ...not just the gloom, but the way it kinda steels you against it... ...I feel weird here, like I'm exploring a genre of 'crisis house' or something... well, it's gotta be better than witch house...

    but/and: it's seriously time to 'skill up for the fuck up', meet like minded people, organise, and work towards economies that are more resilient, less wasteful, and less unequal.

  7. '' but/and: it's seriously time to 'skill up for the fuck up', meet like minded people, organise, and work towards economies that are more resilient, less wasteful, and less unequal. ''

    agree 1000% on that.

    on this side of the world tho, (italy) i dont really see that happening anytime soon. today the daily telegraph pointed us as 'the next ones' after ireland, our public debt is out of control and taxes are higher for those meaningful jobs that PC mentioned (agriculture, manufacturing - etc) than for financial earnings.

    still, our prime minister, the same one that 2 years ago promised to create 1 million new jobs in term of occupation, to solve the trash issue in Naples (dunno if u guys know abt it), the same who cut public founding for our educaction system and culture is on tv claiming that he's doing everything's possible and its all abt the comunists who deliberatly damage our economy.

    students were protesting in Rome today, they where supposed to end their manifestation in front of the parliament, but the police closed the whole square earlier to avoid them to do so. they're even denying us our basic right to protest,
    while the other half of the population sit in front of the TV watching the 11th season of the big brother.


    On another note, i really want to thank u guys for this blog.
    one day i found a set from this 'uknown' Donato Dozzy (wich was, guess what, mindblowing) and while searching for more i came across ssgs...u guys deeply affected whatever i listen to right now, and in less than 48 hrs i'll get on a plane directed to london to be at the corsica studios for my first 'Dozzy experience'.

    u guys rock, keep the good work.


  8. Thanks PC, insightful summary of a troubled year. Of interest:

    Good article on the woes of Ireland:

    ... and UK:

    ... and US Bank profits:

    Actress a suitably harsh and frenzied soundtrack to such anger and dread, but I'll take Toro Y Moi over Ariel Pink.

  9. @ Giovanni: thanks for the kind words...

    @ Josh: I couldn't dig the Toro Y Moi.

    In fact, it was one of those things, you know?

    Others I really tried with and didn't/couldn't get, despite repeated attempts (as dictated by my new listening practice):

    - Flying Lotus' new album

    - Emeralds' album

    - James Blake: fine, but not worthy of the kind of hype it got... he's not a genius, not yet, slow down!

    - Space Dimension Controller: again, very nice, sure, but not a genius just yet... calm down, people!

    ...in fact, notable exceptions aside, bleep.com's list seems to be a compendium of the over-rated


    others I've been struggling with (but that, I think, are worth struggling with):

    Akira Rabelais - Caduceus

    ...I just can't figure out if this one is brilliant, or a bit boring...

    Thelonius Harmonius' album - sounds amazing for a few minutes, but like so many of Schwanders' stuff, it's too 'dictated' by the theoretical approach after a while...

    Mark Fell - Multistability

    ...yeah, nah, yeah, nah, yeah.... this shit is hard work... I'm not sure... if it's worth it.

    Oval - O

    a few brilliant tracks, but really, why does this guy have to turn everything into a theoretical approach?

    I know why, but...

    ...and why was it two CDs worth? It could have been an incredible 40 minute album.

    I'm all for the re-imposition of LP lengths for releases...

    Others I'm ambivalent about:

    John Roberts - Glass Eights

    in every way 'the final word in Dial'. I love JR's EPs and his sound to pieces, but this one seemed over polished...

    ...I know he's capable of something extraordinary though...

    Christopher Rau - Asper Clouds

    ...unlike JR, Christopher didn't over egg his pudding. But is this 'floating', or just 'slight'? I tend to think the former, but...

  10. @PC

    People are angry. I'm only 21 so I didn't personally benefit from the boom, I did of course indirectly through the general rise in income etc. People are annoyed but its near impossible to use that anger. The politicians won't listen, its not in their personal interest to, and there is a feeling that the typical next in line, the unions, are almost as bad. Not AS bas, but pretty terrible. It's reported that the head of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, David Begg, earns around €120,000 p.a. Even if this is wildly overblown he earns a crazy amount when its considered that the average industrial worker earns about €35,000.

    Most have effectively rolled over. There was a march last Saturday but there was a feeling of too little too late. The aforementioned David Begg was booed by a lot of the crowd. A new political group has been started by some members of the left called the United Left Alliance. Maybe they will be able to bring about some change. And unfortunately I don't know too much about the state of the UK's public service or Serco's activities there.

    Also, if you're in Melbourne you must have encountered a few Irish down there. Seems every other person here knows somebody down in Australia

    Thanks for the tip on Carsten Jost's album. I'll definitely have a listen. Also kudos on the blog. Only found it the other day after seeing the Regis mix you just put up. Saw him and Function play together only last week. Serious stuff indeed...

  11. @ Daniel:

    many thanks for your kind words. Without everyone's contribution, there wouldn't be ssgs. Chris keeps it all held together, I stay grumpy to dampen his enthusiasm, and, somehow, we've been extremely privileged to bring together a bunch of fascinating and talented people.

    I think that, for all the hoopla about blogs, collabs, web two point NO (maybe: web oh two point nevah! = 2011 remix project?), this is a potentially very interesting way for people to interact. I learn a lot from it...

    @untions: ...same deal with many of the unions in Australia. Melbourne is actually the home of the eight hour day. But you wouldn't know it in 2010.


    ...in terms of Australia, well, I think the situation here is analogous, but the housing bubble hasn't burst. But now everyone's whingeing about the big four banks. Well then... why'd you borrow 1,000,000 bucks off 'em then, just 'cos they flattered you that you could afford it? (I know why, but...)

    ...I think the best advice my mother gave me from my great grandmother was: stay out of debt, grow your own vegetables, and don't put up with idiots and rubbish.

    In terms of the Irish: 'some of my best friends are Irish'. True. A Dunne and a Cahill and a Herlihy.

    ...most white Australians are some Irish. Of course, many prefer to over claim that, and under claim their English heritage... dunno why... ...why could that be?

  12. I'd have no idea why people would play down their English heritage, but there does seem to be a general feeling that its really good to be of Irish decent. I don't know why. Well the English packed Irish prisoners off to Australia when they were using it as a prison but I doubt that has much to do with anything anymore.

    I can't seem to find anything for Carsten Jost though. Nothing but a remix on a Michael Mayer album. Also a friend of mine was trying to organise our summer plans and the Labyrinth festival is the one we're looking at which it seems you guys are big fans of

  13. labyrinth is... worth flying long haul for...

  14. haha thats as good a description as i could have asked for.

  15. I feel the same way about Toro Y Moi and most of the other stuff in that neighborhood. How To Dress Well and Balam Acab sound the best to me, and I'll keep tabs on them, but it doesn't quite come together for me yet.

    Emeralds latest didn't stick with me like a few of their older ones did, but "Genetic" is still one of their best songs. In that synth vein, I really enjoyed Ensemble Economique's Psychical http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJDXQ6p8MxY

    My favorite though is the new one by The Books. This, for example, is such a well constructed song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgJpgj3lbQA


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