January 12, 2016

Favorite new music of 2015

Somehow I made a top ten of favorite music released in 2015 and added some comments which grew out of hand so I might as well post this. (Though I guess some of the comments make sense (if at all) only once you’ve heard the record in question.) Anyway, this list is completely objective as I do not rank perceived artistic values but the exact amount of pleasure each release gave me.

1 Debt of Nature: Salt Meadows + Small Silver Car (Lal Lal Lal)

i bought a serious number of cassettes over the year. here’s the best reason why: two members of 90s post-mvb band medicine forget their questionable musical legacy to collect found sounds, scramble up jams, fuse atmospheres, whatever comes to hand. and it’s exactly not the kind of music that should be cut in marble/vinyl, it's fully in the now and thus my favorite music of the year. if concrete is often about the classification of sounds (huge topic, another time), this music is joyously open to the world.

2 Devin DiSanto and Nick Hoffman: Three Exercises (Erstwhile)

i said upstream that i have never heard so many different attitudes toward sounds, or sounds meant so differently on a record ... i’d now add it’s like one of those youtube videos where you watch the score scroll by while you listen, except here it’s all audio and you can’t read music anyway ... also: it puts the prose back in process music ... the blurbs just keep coming ...

3 Keith Rowe: Live in Oberlin (Idiopathic)

i own and happily play the 4-cd rowe/tilbury release also from 2015, which very much behaves like a proper work of art, while this here tape documents what was probably not a very special gig—at least the first side doesn’t go anywhere at all, sounds very statically too much, as if the off-switch of rowe’s radio got stuck. and yet, this is what i love, i am not that precious. then side b begins with my favorite moment of rowe as a dj of classical music and from there on out it’s bliss.

4 Dean Blunt: UK2UK (self-released)

2013’s redeemer was a wonderfully weaselly record, but since then doing things like a real recording artist hasn’t worked as well again for blunt i thought. the year’s earlier babyfather release, while dropped as it should be on some russian message board, still contained way too much production. luckily uk2uk has some of his best lazy loops, readings of rap lyrics, sketchy oversaturated pocket epics—and i am the proud owner of one of the original limited soundcloud downloads!

5 Graham Lambkin and Michael Pisaro: Schwarze Riesenfalter (Erstwhile)

the piano as bourgeois fetish: pedal to the floor, we wallow in the boom of its tingling strings (to quote the title of a jon lord piano concerto). i would be against it (and feel like there’s been too much wide-eyed piano on recent releases?), but there’s no ignoring the powerful references (starting with track titles that point to trakl and schönberg), the old-fashioned poetry, and the visions of doom approaching straight-faced like a foggy metal intro to the untergang des abendlandes ...

6 Jin Sangtae’s SoundCloud page

one-minute audio instagrams recorded on a mobile phone, grainy, out of focus, sort of random, though the exact time limit and their daily appearance lend them stricter form than most composed music. the amount of acoustic action the man faces every day for these miniatures must be daunting. and yet there seems to be a curious lack of an other, of a field to record in. which makes these recordings so strange and personal, an unadulterated artist’s vision.

7 Alasdair Roberts: Alasdair Roberts (Drag City)

i have a handful of lukewarm records by roberts, bought expecting him to surpass earlier promise (mostly the wyrd meme ep) before discovering he had already done some of that (e.g. with the atrociously named appendix out) and was on a gentle downward slope (in relation to my tastes). which is decisively interrupted by this record: sparse and gorgeous, wonderful arrangements with clarinet and flute and stuff, and by far his most focused album as a songwriter. we need more songs in dispraise of hunger.

8 R. Schwarz: The Scale of Things (Gruenrekorder)

should i get new speakers or do all processed field recordings sound like they were made in a tunnel for testing phaser effects? this happens here too, but the shell is permeated by particles from the outside, in detail or moving in flocks of harmonic formations. it’s the “harmony of overwhelming and collective uncertainty, because this nature is chaos,” the press release informs us. actually what makes the sounds so great is that they’re fiercely structured. the blurb says in closing that the music is “expulsed from nature, as our brain is expulsed from nature.” which i can’t argue with and keep my brains intact.

9 Loren Connors: Live in New York (Family Vineyard)

there’s not much lyricism here, this is a tough and gnarly record. connors coaxes feedback through the chain of pedals, more in a succession of tones and actions than a distinct overall form. lots of side noises, the first track seems recorded in a roomful of creaking doors with a dj on the next floor. the veritĂ© approach does not really add a sense of atmosphere or dialog, but speak to the artist’s unbreakable singleness of purpose.

10 Joseph Clayton Mills et al.: SIFR (Suppedaneum)

this release realizes its full potential only when left unheard.

(because the artist gave a recording to 7 composers who then wrote a score in hindsight. these are included, the packaging is great with little envelopes and stuff, there’s a postcard and a wallpaper sample and little jeopardy-style answer cards that pose as questions. the prospective listener’s time is well spent in first pondering what wondrous music could have created these different points of fictitious origin ... when i finally succumb and put on the cd, the music is nice, surprisingly percussive with sound fields drifting across. yet it seems of a kind that once set in motion would not require a score to determine its outcome ... which might be one of the questions asked, and some legs are kindly being pulled as to the artiness of open scores, and still it is in the very nature of the thing that with knowledge of the music many of the reverse composition’s possibilities have become unrealizable ...)

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