This may be a foolish thing to say — I am far from an expert — but this strikes me as a very ECM-ish record. The line-up is strings, piano, and drums (Time Is A Blind Guide are the band; Thomas Strønen takes the writing and percussion credits). It is, for the most part, relentlessly sparse and brittle, triangulating a point somewhere between a highly abstracted strain of modern classical, what I’m choosing to call minimal jazz although I still don’t know whether that’s actually a thing, and the plangeant tones of early music. At times it even sounds like it’s already been through Villalobos & Loderbauer’s Re: ECM treatment. If that makes it sound terribly po-faced then I apologize, because this has a real lightness of touch and even a playfulness in places. I must admit that there a few of the more full-on moments which strain my jazz-tolerance, and one track (Wednesday) that exceeds it (this is my problem, not the records; but this is my blog, so I get to complain about it anyway). But it’s mostly a very pleasant listen, and there’s some real magic in the quieter moments.
I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Jazz / Fusion.
I’m not quite sure what genre this little 18-minute beauty from Portuguese producer Ivo Pacheco is, except that it certainly isn’t grunge. A lot of the sounds are basically rave: rhodesy keyboards, synths so fuzzy you reckon he must have scraped them out from the back of the sofa, even those heavily-filtered pseudo-operatic vocals at a push. But the song structures sure aren’t rave. I’m not at all sure what the song structures are. I guess that, if I had to compare it to anything, it would be Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972, just for being a knight’s move away from the genre… but where Hecker gives maxed-out drone, this has a real stuttering aggression. Oh, and it has a great line in disturbing samples, starting with Born’s crying baby which quickly develops a worryingly Eraserhead-ish gurgle to a kind-of call-and-response of a seductive “what is your… ultimate fantasy” against a panicky desperate “I am lost” in I Don’t Know. Well, whatever genre it is (and frankly, for blogging purposes, I’m just going to make some shit up), this is certainly a very worthwhile addition to it.
I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.
I want you to imagine a giant robot, lost in a world it does not understand, holding a more aleatoric Morton Subotnick in one hand and a noisier Autechre in the other hand and trying to figure out how they work, while the mad scientist who built this poor creature plays fragments of The Caretaker and Stars Of The Lid to try to sooth it. That’s not what this record sounds like, but it’s the best I’ve got, so let’s go with it. There are walls of buzzing noises, torrents of blips and pops, and echoes of sad, droning melodies. There are also surprising moments of subtle beauty. Can a perfectly positioned and executed click be beautiful? I don’t know what weird mind tricks it’s playing, but this album makes me think the answer is yes.
I bought this from the label.
I normally steer clear of reissues and retrospectives and the like: I struggle enough finding time giving enough attention to all the new music I want to listen to. But this one kind of sucked me in. A compilation of material dating from ’82–’88, it’s floaty synth stuff that I guess you might call new age, except that hardly does it justice. There’s something about the noises she coaxes out of her machines and the way she puts them together that can only really be described as other-worldly. And although I guess the sound palette is pretty identifiably eighties, most of these tracks seem pretty timeless (the most obvious exception being the cod-Japanese Bonsai Terrace, which would smack a bit of cultural appropriation by today’s standards, besides being a bit cheesy). Rather beautifully packaged, too. I’ll even forgive the glaring typo in the album name.
I bought this from RVNG’s bandcamp page.
Alright, then, popkids, time for my annual round-up…
I listened to lots of great records this year, thanks everyone! My longlist included records by Aiden Baker & Karen Willems, Colleen, Duran Duran Duran, Hior Chronik, Kelly Lee Owens, Marcus Fjellström, Still, and William Basinski, but none quite made the final cut. I spent a long time with a shortlist of six, and I really wanted them all to make it — but what’s the point in having self-imposed rules if you’re not going to keep them? If the whole of the Ellen Allien record had been as good as its best tracks then it would have been a shoo-in, but a couple of less-awesome tracks meant it had to go.
So, here are my five best albums of 2017.
- I described Caterina Barbieri’s Patterns Of Consciousness as “close to perfection” at the time, and I stand by that. I reckon it’s clearly the most genuinely innovative and genuinely beautiful thing the recent modular synth revival has produced.
- At the start of the year, I wouldn’t have expected to be including an electropop record here, but Kalieda’s Tear The Roots just blew me away.
- It’s hard to know what to say about Mike Cooper’s Reluctant Swimmer / Virtual Surfer except that, if you haven’t heard it, you really should, because it is strangely wonderful.
- If you have an albums-of-2017 list and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s async isn’t on it then I think we need to have a little talk, because surely this is just objectively a work of genius from start to finish.
- Rounding the list out (alphabetically speaking) is Spatial’s A Music Of Sound Systems, which I described as “a kind of deconstruction of a sound clash” and more importantly as “jaw-dropping”. (Incidentally, the remix record is worth checking out, too.)
And as a bonus, this year I’m naming my five best-of-the-rest tracks from the longlist. They are the title track from Colleen’s A Flame My Love, A Frequency, Pryor Acid from Duran Duran Duran’s Duran, Physical from Ellen Allien’s Nost, CBM from Kelly Lee Owen’s (ahem) eponymous debut album, and Don’t Stop (Wondo Riddim) from Still’s I.
I totally loved Spatial’s epic deconstructed sound clash A Music Of Sound Systems back in March. I just stumbled across this remixes record, and it’s pretty tasty too. Actually, only three of the four tracks appear to be remixes: the final track, 111020, appears to be a new Spatial track, still pretty sparse but with a more recognizable beat than anything on the main album, leaning a little more towards the nineties Sheffield end of things. Prior to that, KABLAM’s take on 291 Anu takes the original in a more sort of thumping technoid direction; Meat Beat Manifesto’s version of System I is a sort of bouncing post-industrial growler — it’s the most straightforwardly ravey thing here, and probably my least favourite, although that might just be because original is probably my favourite track on the source album… but, anyway, it’s good ravey fun; and Yilan mutate the epic title track into something with more than a hint of dubstep that works out quite different but equally epic. An unusually worthwhile addition.
I bought this from Google Play Music.
Hior Chronik lists his influences as Max Richter, which I can absolutely see, and Arvo Pärt, which I confess I can’t (although I don’t know Pärt as well as I probably should). This is a dozen tracks of piano, strings (cello by Aaron Martin), and a gorgeous muted trumpet (Christian Grothe — the one who is Kryshe, I guess?), plus a bunch of ambient effects (rather more than Richter normally goes in for). The combination of drone and melody is basically spot-on as far as I’m concerned. If we’re playing the references game, I’d add that the scrapy (I’m sure that’s not the correct technical word) wilderness-evoking string sound reminds me a bit of Richard Skelton, the slightly celtic lilt of Claire M Singer, and the interplay between the brass and the synthy wash a little of Vangelis (a comparison which, I would guess, is probably pretty annoying to Greek composers, but I promise it occurred to me before I’d consciously made the link of nationality). It also figures that Chronik has collaborated with Dictaphone. But, more importantly, this stands on its own as a deep, emotional, and genuinely beautiful record. A late contender for classical album of the year, I reckon.
I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient.
If, like me, you know Colleen (aka Cecile Schott) from records like Les Ondes Silencieuses and The Weighing Of The Heart, you’d probably be quite surprised that this album ditches the viola da gamba and, seemingly, all other acoustic instruments entirely. Apparently she’d started out adding a Critter & Guitari pocket piano synth into the mix, couldn’t make things work, and ended up producing it entirely on the boxes-with-knobs. The result sounds quite a lot like Raymond Scott’s 1963 curio Soothing Sounds For Baby, only with more modern production and with Schott’s wonderful, restrained vocals (on 5 of the 8 tracks). This is a good thing, of course. Highlights include Another World, which indeed a genuinely otherworldly little ditty, the evocative Winter Dawn, and especially the entrancing title track with its plangent drone (listen out for the wonderfully melting noises in the higher harmonics that emerge mysteriously from the synth’s circuitry) in some barely-audible and a vocal line that speaks volumes in barely two dozen words.
I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.
Ah, good old Godspeed. After the epic metal excitement of 2012’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, this is rather more business as normal. Which isn’t to say that it’s restrained, of course…
There’s that perfectly poised counterpoint of resounding melody and screeching dissonance, of guitars and strings. There’s a nice dose of brass this time around. There’s a blend of rock, folk, classical, and drone. It’s emotional, edgy, and uplifting. It has track names like Bosses Hang and Anthem For No State. I imagine what I’m about to say is some kind of sacrilege — after all, this is undoubtedly angry, political, and important music — but twenty years after I first encountered them, this is a bit like comfort food to me. Which is to say, I listened to it on the streaming magic, I thought “very nice, but I don’t actually need to buy that, I have plenty like it”, and then a bit later I found myself listening to it again, and then again, and then I’d fallen for it and I ended up splurging on the beautiful gatefold vinyl because it turned out that, actually, this is stuff still means something special to me after all.
I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Indie / Alternative.
This is one of those records that’s kind of hard to classify, but very easy to like. It’s kind of like a electronicified form of Jamaican dancehall and dub. From Italy. I suppose that track names like Haile Selassie Is The Micro-Chip should give you some idea of what’s going on. Simone Trabucchi lays down tracks that are based around bloops and bleeps from analogue synths and drum machines, with a distinctive loose and echoey production. MCing is from six African-Italians. It’s all decidedly wonky and rather delightful. Personal favourite is the rolling up-tempo Don’t Stop (Wondo Riddim) with duelling vocals from Germay and Devon Riles.
Bonus points for the cover art, which features something that looks a bit like a plastic sculpture of Lee “Scratch” Perry as executed by Raoul Hausmann.
I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic and Dub / Reggae.