Sunday, January 20, 2013

Music that I listened to last year that I liked the most a.k.a. Best of 2012 (sort of)
Everyone on this list deserves a shiny gold medal! High fives all around!
Disclaimer: This post is not exactly a "best of" for records released in 2012. A friend of mine once wisely commented "I don't get why people just do year-end lists for records released that year, they should include any awesome record they listened to a lot that year." I've got to say, the dude's right. If you discover an awesome jazz record from the 40s that you listened to more than anything else that year, it needs to be on yr list. A lot of people include reissues so they're already blurring the line anyway. Because of time constraints, the contents of the list don't go further back than a couple years (I think, I didn't look up release dates or anything)

A number of these I have reviewed on the site in which case I have a said a few words and linked to my original reviews. I also tried to provide links to a place to buy each release (if available.)
(Sorry there are no visual aids on this one, writing the words and dealing with all the links took enough time that I just wanted to get this posted)

Troller - Troller [Holodeck] (CS)
Have I gushed enough about this album yet? Oh my fuck, I just love it so much. The songs, the atmosphere, this is a special work; one I feel fortunate to have heard. I don't know what exactly I've listened to the most this past year but this is very possibly it. I break this brilliant album down in excruciating detail in my original review so I will refrain from rehashing previous thoughts. I will just say that if anything at all intrigues you about this then get it, I know I'm going to be listening to this for years to come. The tape's been long sold out but Holodeck is releasing this as a vinyl long player next Tuesday so expect to see this on my Best of 2013 list as well. BUY THIS

Golden Retriever - Light Cones [Root Strata] (LP)
Matt Carlson's solo LP on DRAFT was quite good but my favorite work by him is, unequivocally, here with Jonathan Sielaff as Golden Retriever. Light Cones is the finest work I've heard from the duo, really on another level. The two minds and their respective instruments, Carlson's modular synth and Sielaff's effected bass clarinet, blend so seamlessly that I almost forget this is being made by people. These sounds just seem to exist, organic forms that spontaneously sprung to life when the rest of the universe did. They soar, brimming with the joy of existence. That is not to say there isn't a strong compositional component at work, Carlson and Sielaff prove themselves to be masters pretty thoroughly with these two pieces. When the exhaustively wondrous title-piece ends, you're only halfway done; the best is yet to come with the yearning, majestic "Observer." This record has the timelessness of a great piece of classical music or film score, I hope future generations have the opportunity to be moved by this gloriously cosmic work. BUY THIS

Son of Salami - Deli Days [Night People] (CS)
A dude recording songs on a tape recorder with a broken erase head (i.e. overdubbing without hearing what's already been recorded) sounds like a gimmicky disaster, right? A person named Joey Pizza Slice who plays under the moniker Son of Salami doesn't necessarily inspire that much confidence either. As things turn out, Mr. Pizza Slice is exactly the right man for the job. He also happens to be a pop genius. The songs on Deli Days are brilliantly conceived, often funny and even touching. The ultra lo-fi production process turns out to be the perfect vehicle for illuminating the qualities of these pieces. I've jammed this so many times and the Salami is still exceedingly potent. Amazingly, this tape is still in print at Night People (is Shawn Reed doing larger editions now? if so THANK YOU!) If you haven't heard this guy yet then buy this immediately. These songs are way too good for you to live without.

Running - Running [Permanent] (LP)
Running/Loose Dudes - Split [Catholic Male] (7")
Running - Asshole Savant [Captcha] (one-sided LP + soundsheet)
I fucking love this Running band. If you don't have their self-titled LP grab it immediately. Same with their split with Loose Dudes if you can find it (though Loose Dudes even outdo Running on that release.) Their most recent release Asshole Savant is also pretty sweet too. The band just fucking rules, I think I've described them stupidly as The Jesus Lizard partying on amphetamines or something. Whatever, just get your hands on their music and crank it up. This is some cathartic, feel-great music. Yes! BUY THIS and BUY THIS

Eli Keszler - Cold Pin [PAN] (LP)
2012 was the year I discovered Eli Keszler. I grabbed a bunch of his stuff over the past year including favorites such as his Oxtirn LP on ESP-Disk and the End Grove double cassette on his own Rel imprint. But of everything I heard, it all boils down to Cold Pin. Keszler is a percussionist (or more accurately a "musician") but he's also a composer and an installation/sound artist. The record seems to capture the many facets of Keszler in one piece of work. This LP finds Keszler leading a small ensemble in a performance with his Cold Pin installation, a complex series of strings mounted in a large round room that are struck by small motors. The installation provides the aural and physical framework in the which the ensemble performs. The recording is fantastically physical and fantastically alive. (By the way, this was a birthday present from my girlfriend; I am a lucky man...) BUY THIS

Purling Hiss - Hissteria [Richie] (LP)
Purling Hiss - Public Service Announcement [Woodsist] (LP)
I was late to the party on this guy, but I'm glad I showed up eventually. I picked up these two LPs at a record store's going-out-of-business sale and I had no idea what an incredibly wise purchase I was making. I've been waiting my whole life to hear a certain record only present in my head and think Hissteria just might be it. The hypnotic guitar-centric repetition of Spacemen 3 delivered with blown-out, boogie-fueled swagger. Awesome, just awesome. Public Service Announcement is also pretty great too and finds Mr. Hiss experimenting with various pop modes including a pleasing reggae-ish bounce on one. "Run from the City" should be retroactively added to all those compilations claiming they're the "definitive classic rock collection." BUY THIS

Evan Parker & John Wiese - C-Section [PAN] (LP)
Evan Parker improvises on saxophone while John Wiese samples and manipulates Parker's sounds in real time. The record sounds as great as that sentence does. Wiese and Parker are at the top of their respective games, having lots of fun I assume and pushing the boundaries of jazz while they're at it. I'm not sure if the LP is still available but the CD version on Second Layer may be. Enjoy this excerpt while you search.

Lab Coast - Pictures on the Wall [Eggy] (CS)
Lab Coast - Editioned Houses [Night People] (CS)
Who woulda thought that avant-percussionist Chris Dadge had been stashing so many great pop songs all these years? This isn't your typical person -making-weird-music-starts-making-normal-music, because if you heard Lab Coast with no knowledge of Dadge you wouldn't have the slightest inkling that one of the main minds behind the band is an avant-garde improviser who heads a label peddling wares by similarly abstract artists. Lab Coast sounds classic but fresh, mining somewhat similar territory as early GBV records, the band generates unassumingly brilliant songs. I dare you to listen to "Really Realize" or "On the Bus" and not fall in love. Lab Coast is a band that, no matter how you're feeling, will always put a smile on your face. Between these two, Pictures on the Wall is more essential because it's a full album while Editioned Houses is more of an EP with a live recording on the flip. Still, they're both must haves in my book. BUY THIS and BUY THIS

Alex Barnett - Push [DRAFT] (CS)
If you haven't heard any of Alex Barnett's music yet, you've been missing out. Dude's stuff hearkens back to the early days of John Carpenter, among others, and rumor is that Alex performs all this stuff live sans sequencers, loops etc.!!  Barnett really knows how to compose a track, there's nothing too fancy about his stuff; he introduces a theme, develops it, brings the track to fruition and moves on to a new idea. Push may be his best tape so definitely do what you can to snag it. I've listened to it countless times... BUY THIS

German Army - Papua Mass [Night People] (CS)
German Army has been one of my favorite discoveries of the past year and this tape is the one of theirs that's closest to my heart. The duo uses their powers of abstract, dubbed-out chillness to make some surprisingly persuasive (and trippy) pop songs (and do a bunch of other weird shit too.) I'm not sure if lethargy has ever been this catchy. Check this band out!

Caethua/Shep and Me - Split [Lighten Up Sounds] (LP)
Man, this record is so good. Lighten Up Sounds restored the release (which originally saw the light via poorly dubbed cassette a few years back) so you can now properly immerse yourself in the blanket of sounds via thick 180gram vinyl. On the first side, Clare Hubbard's genius songsmithery and compositional prowess is on display for all to enjoy , as we wade through a swamp with her, humming along to the nimble arrangements. Shep and Me fill the backside with warped, plaintive folk songs--including one which borrows lyrics from Jim Thompson. I feel like this record came out kind of a while ago now but I just keep listening and it still sounds as fresh and timeless as it ever did. BUY THIS

Man Made Hill - Intercourses [Orange Milk] (CS)
I remember being intrigued by this dude a couple years ago when he put out an LP. Heard some fascinating things about him but I never ended up pulling the trigger, can't remember why.  Fast forward some time and I'm jamming Free Form Freakout (I'm pretty sure that I don't actually have to say David is lightyears ahead of everyone else in the experimental music podcast realm, but he is) and I hear "Glass Trap." Holy shit! What a track! The jam dug its hooks in me immediately (they're still in there! gonna need surgery to get 'em out) and so I checked out Intercourses and, yep, this thing is great from start to finish. And while "Glass Trap" is certainly the pinnacle for me, everything else that surrounds it is stellar. (I don't know if there's anything that grooves harder than "Morbid Rhapsody") Intercourses is rife with experimentation--no question this was made by a demented musical mind--but it's not the way he deconstructs electronic music that makes this great, it's the fact that he can rebuild it so impeccably. Each track is bizarre but, more importantly, each is a brilliantly-designed pop music gem. Orange Milk reissued Sean McCann's classic Open Resolve album too so I need to be more tuned in to their workshop, they've got good taste it seems. BUY THIS

Sheer Agony - Sheer Agony [Fixture] (7")
It's not often that a straight pop record makes its way into the review pile but it's always an exciting proposition when it happens. Sheer Agony did not disappoint either. The Canadian trio has all the classic ingredients: well-written, tightly wound songs; a veritable buffet of hummable riffs and hooks; nods to the pioneers that came before while throwing plenty of curveballs to keep the listeners guessing. 4 songs in a handful of minutes packed with enough ideas for a 12 inch and orchestrated to perfection. BUY THIS
Original Review

Jason Crumer & Joseph Hammer - Show 'em the Door [Accidie] (CD)
This disc was a late entry in the year but man after hearing the opener "Banner Drop" the first time I was already thinking classic. I'm not particularly familiar with either Crumer's or Hammer's work but considering the magnitude of their collaboration here, I really must correct that. It's not completely clear what Hammer and Crumer have at their disposal here, tape loops and electronics seem to figure prominently though. The album witnesses the interplay of samples and possibly live instrumentation with processing. For instance, "Banner Drop" opens with a brass fanfare that is slowly obliterated over the course of the piece. On another, they work over a recording of someone tuning a guitar. The album is immensely tactile, unflappably intense and well-thought out by Crumer and Hammer who I think are entirely improvising here. The results of their collaboration are immediate, intricate and utterly symphonic. More please. I could see at some point in the future a label hailing this a rediscovered classic and reissuing it as some deluxe double-lp set that legions will snap up. Don't be caught on the wrong side of history. BUY THIS

Miami Angels in America - A Public Ranking [Night People] (CS)
Angels in America add the South Beach prefix and make their best album yet. I dig Allergic to Latex quite a bit ("Troy Bellamy" is a classic) but A Public Ranking is stellar from the first looming, massive note of "Go Limp" to the final throb of "On the Beach."  This has the beauty of a burnt out car. The tape is demoralizing in the most exhilarating way. One of coolest bands going right now.  BUY THIS

Matt Carlson/Jason E. Anderson - Synthesator Vol. Three: Dissociative Synthesis [UFO Mongo/Borft] (LP)
Two of the finest synthesizer minds in current operation face off for a 40 minute modular sparring session. This is, to the best of my knowledge, Jason Anderson's only recording of the modular variety. Anderson (who's put out ridiculously good stuff as Spare Death Icon, Harpoon Pole Vault and with Brother Raven) absolutely flips his wig here. My favorite modular workout I've heard in a long time. Carlson's side ain't too shabby either. Everyone's gotten pretty obsessed with synths the past few years which has made it a little more difficult to weed out the masters from the legions of apprentices, but make no mistake these guys fit firmly in the former category. BUY THIS

Dull Knife - Dull Knife [Debacle] (LP)
Dull Knife has been one of my favorite drone crews for years, morphing from a quartet, to trio, to duo and after patiently waiting through various false starts, DK finally found a reliable partner in Debacle to drop a debut LP. Dull Knife were definitely one of my favorite local bands to see play when I was in Seattle, and I think this record marks their finest recorded output. While dense and surprisingly severe at times, the duo never relinquish their trademarked hidden melodicism and mysterious atmosphere that they conjure up so well. The Dull Knife on this record is sharper (no pun intended) and out for blood. I don't mind playing the victim. BUY THIS

Ithi - Within [Land of Decay] (CS)
Number None - Strategies Against Agriculture [Land of Decay] (CS)
This Ithi tape really caught me off guard back in the first half of the year. At once melodic, mesmerizing, prickly and bludgeoning, the cassette is deeply absorbing. Perhaps greatest of all is a nearly unrecognizable re-imagining of Nico's "Roses in the Snow."  Ithi really take you to another world on this one.  Also,"Ithi" is within "within" (mind blown)
Land of Decay rescued this monolith by Number None from unreleased limbo (I think the rumor is that defunct label American Grizzly (remember them?) was supposed to have released this 4 years ago or something) I'm beginning to wonder if this thing was kept under wraps for the purposes of public safety cause it's absolutely CRUSHING. Sure, it'll cave in your skull but what are you, chicken?
The Ithi tape flew off the shelves so to speak and is long sold out, however, there is one copy(!) left of the Number None tape -> BUY THIS
Original Review

Ali Helnwein - Strange Creations [Spring Break Tapes]
How cool is this tape? Lovely chamber vignettes seemingly composed for a film yet to be written. Helnwein covers a lot of territory while maintaining a seamless thru-line over the course of the cassette. Strange Creations reminds me sometimes of Carter Burwell's work, which is a hell of a complement if I do say so. This is a talented guy and an inspired release by Spring Break Tapes, kudos to both!! BUY THIS

Tough Fuzz - Tough Fuzz [Ewe of Now]
Totally sick beats from Portland, OR! I didn't know what to expect from an artist called "Tough Fuzz" but this tape surpassed my wildest expectations/dreams. Despite the name, the tape grooves easy. There's a substantial amount of peculiarity to the sample-laden affair but when it comes down to it, these are just infectious beats pure and simple. People into Dilla or Primo got to check this out. My only regret is I got this later in the year and didn't have it for summertime. Summer 2013 here we come! BUY THIS

Hit Singles
That title is really a misnomer as these are all really good records but each has one specific song that makes me go hogwild. Every release is worth owning if only for the one song and, as far as I'm concerned, the fact they all come from great albums is just a fucking bonus.

Running/Loose Dudes - Split [Catholic Male] (7")
This one's so good it gets mentioned twice. Running's side "Left-Lane Leaning" is great but the true star of the single is Loose Dudes' "Black Preacher." This is what rock & roll is supposed to be. Catchy as all hell, a definite must have. Sold out as far as I can tell, so steal someone else's copy if you have to! What's a little jail time if you get to hear one of the greatest anthems ever? BUY THIS HERE!!

David Kenneth Nance - Let's Argue [Unread Records] (CS)
Oh man, the first time "Leather in the Box" rained terror down on my speakers I was in heaven. Some sort of unholy Lou Reed/Ben Wallers amalgam that Nance imbues with own signature vibes. A tour-de-fucking-force. Best S&M song since "Venus in Furs," for sure. BUY THIS

April in the Orange - Mirror Under the Moon [Cae-sur-a] (CS)
Psych folk is a difficult genre to pull off in my opinion and April in the Orange do a hell of a job over the course of this tape. They don't scale greater heights than "Same Old Mystery." A simple, lovely tune that gets under your skin. What a gorgeous piece of work. BUY THIS
Original Review

The Keggs - To Find Out/Girl [Priority Male](7")
Priority Male reissued this unsung classic from 1967 and I, for one, am thankful that they did. I don't have much to say other than just listen. "To Find Out" has to be one of the best songs of the 60s, a brilliant, frenetic classic. A must own. BUY THIS

Horaflora/Bromp Treb - Split [Yeay!] (7")
This split single was a match made in heaven. Abstract weirdo dance party. Horaflora plays lead off hitter and Bromp Treb smacks the fucker out the park with "Readinessmax." Must own for the Bromp Treb track alone. BUY THIS

Arklight - The Beginners [Teflon Beast] (CS)
"Abandoned Mansions," what a great track! Just fucking solid. Could listen to it over and over, and have. NY weirdos Arklight flip the script and turn into a bonafide rock band.  These guys are good at pretty much whatever they try. Don't let that title fool you either, dudes are old pros. BUY THIS

Favorite Labels Over the Past Year
I think the title says it all, no need for an intro...

Holodeck (Austin, TX)
Holodeck is the only rookie that received this obviously distinguished achievement which is saying something. It's hard to start a label and it's even harder to start a label that puts out consistently great shit. I'm sure you've noticed me gushing incessantly about the Troller tape they put out and well, that's not the only keeper they dropped. Survive, Amasa Gana, Lumens and M. Geddes Gengras all dropped exceedingly great tapes. What I love the most? I had never heard of 4 of the 5 artists I mentioned in this paragraph. This Austin, TX imprint seems to be cultivating from a private talent pipeline, which I won't question as long they keep the black gold pumping.

Field Hymns (Portland, OR)
Field Hymns has been pretty much consistently great since its inception. Field Hymns' bread and butter seems to be peppy, electronically fueled grooves (with suitably goofy word play) from house bands Adderall Canyonly and Oxykitten, among a slew of other likeminders. Among the steady current of good time jams, every so often Field Hymns will drop unusual little treasures like Foton's interplanetary, radiophonic adventure Omega, or Susurrus's self-titled drone batholith, or Mattress's grimy and gutsy synth soul on Lonely Souls, or even the hilarious, sardonic acoustic tales of White Glove. If you take the time to dig deeper you will discover that the Field Hymns realm stretches far wider than you thought. Plus the tapes are always dressed to the nines via Dylan McConnell's graphic design work. I've really enjoyed getting to know the label even better this past year. Keep an eye out as Field Hymns always has something fresh brewing.

Peira (Chicago, IL)
I certainly have an analog bias, I freely admit it. Which makes CD label Peira's inclusion pretty meaningful (I've chatted with Peira CEO Brian Labycz, and dude's got legit reasons for going digital FYI) The label's mission seems to be pretty simple: provide well-curated, high quality improvised music editions. Whether acoustic, electric or combo Peira peddles top-notch improv. Every disc I've heard from them is cool as hell and stands apart from other stuff in the same realm. I wrote about Aaron Zarzutzki's and Fred Lonberg-Holm's no-output turntable and cello duels earlier in the year but there's a small stack of other amazing stuff in my possession that I haven't even touched on: the sensational Mythic Birds disc (a band comprised of 3 bass clarinets and a modular synth!) as well as phenomenal discs by the Gregorio, Roebke, Labycz Trio (clarinet/contrabass/modular synth) and The Green Pasture Happiness (a brilliant dual turntable plus electronics trio.) One of the things I most love about Peira's output is the interaction between musicians present in every release. Each release feels like more than a one-off, whether it's true or not, the group of musicians on any given disc feel like they've been playing for years. The last stack of discs I went through, I was flabbergasted how each disc one-upped the one before. I feel Peira is like one of those rock polisher machines, mining the raw, potent improvisatory talent Chicago seems to be teeming with and finishing them into crisp, gleaming gems. I don't know how Labycz does it, but when it comes to esoteric, improvised music there are few sources more substantial or reliable than Peira.

Night People (Iowa City, IA)
Night People landed more releases on the list above than anyone else so it goes without saying that they get a mention here. Everyone knows and loves the label already having put out fantastic stuff through the years (Chris Cooper & Bill Nace, Baronic Wall, Terror Bird LP, FNU Ronnies, the list goes on...) This may have been the most consistently top notch year yet. Keep it rolling Shawn!

Miscellaneous Bonus Section
Here's some other music-related stuff I've enjoyed during the past year.

Chris Riggs's Website
Finally getting a chance to see Chris Riggs play guitar was fucking awesome. Dude's a stone-cold killer. One of my great and actually quite recent discoveries of last year was The guy's got like a million hours of material up there for free download (yet I still complain privately that he doesn't put up collaborations or the occasional release from another label) Basically the website's a treasure trove for people into non-idiomatic guitar iterations (me) and plus, Chris gives you insight into his process using actual words (nice!) Hit up the link above and explore for yourself one of the finest guitarists currently in operation.

Despite its origins as a place for jackasses to share videos of themselves, Youtube has actually turned into a pretty cool thing that is allowing me to conveniently share a couple of songs that I must have jammed hundreds of times this year. I don't think any of these are that new but they logged tons of minutes on the old listen-o-meter this year so I offer them up for (perhaps) your own listening pleasure:
Akon "Somebody I Used to Know" (crank this in the big headphones!)