Colleen: Les Ondes Silencieuses (CD, The Leaf Label, March 2008)

There’s a beautiful simplicity to these pieces. Each features just one or two instruments, including viola da gamba (buffoon that I am, I thought this was a cello before I read the sleeve), acoustic guitar, spinet, and crystal glasses. They are sparsely constructed but unfussily melodic, and Colleen (aka Cécile Schott) clearly has an intimate understanding of her instruments and of the effects of small silences.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambience.

The Caretaker: Persistent Repetition Of Phrases (2010 Gatefold Digipak Edition) (CD, History Always Favours The Winners, April 2010)

When I wrote about Leyland Kirby’s Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was almost a year ago, I mentioned his work as The Caretaker inspired by the haunted ballroom scene in The Shining. This is that record. It has to be said it takes its brief fairly literally. Snatches of old records, I guess largely swing and big band and the like (though I’m far from an expert), already probably muffled and cracked with age, are looped, and fuzzied up further, to create something a little bit nostalgic and a lot eerie. It’s hard not to picture Jack Nicholson wandering brokenly around the corridors, looking at the faded photographs of folks having a good time — and seeing himself peering awkwardly out of one. When it first came out in 2008, this would have been a pretty important release. It’s still very enjoyable, although it does lack the subtlety of the best of the work that came after it (not least Kirby’s own later material).

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Dark Ambient / Drone / Metal, somewhat confusingly.

Byetone: Death Of A Typographer (CD, Raster-Noton, June 2008)

When it was released, this caused something of a stir, being a Raster-Noton record that featured tunes. I mean, it’s not exactly going to get hands in the air down at the Ministry of Sound, but there are definitely catchy moments in Olaf Bender’s bleeps and bloops. Nevertheless, it still has that Raster-Noton feel about it, with its nanometre-tolerance placement of its glitchy clicky beat. I suppose this is what people mean by “post-techno”. One of the label’s most accessible releases, and very enjoyable.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Clicks / Glitch.

Alva Noto: Unitxt (CD, Raster-Noton, June 2008)

When this came out, it seemed like the king of glitch was reclaiming his crown. I forget why I didn’t buy it right away: I do remember that it became hard to find quite soon. So I came to it over two years late… I am glad to say that it appears to have aged extremely well: I certainly haven’t heard anyone do this better before or since. I have argued that the defining feature of Raster-Noton is the pristine production, and this is a great example: every click, whirr, and bleep is precisely located and crisply rendered. It feels like I am eavesdropping on some hugely intricate alien production line. Hugely enjoyable stuff: All Hail Carsten Nicolai.

(I have written about the first 10 tracks, which feel like the proper album. Following a silent intermission, the rest of the album, called Unitxt Code (Data To AIFF) consists of data files — spreadsheets and the like — reinterpreted as audio files. I guess it’s the modern equivalent of the ’90s IDM types who would sample the sound of ZX Spectrum programs loading. These tracks seem like little more than curiosities to me, and I rarely listen to them.)

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Clicks / Glitch.

Claro Intelecto: Metanarrative (CD, Modern Love, March 2008)

40 minutes of warm, melodic, dubby, huggy techno. It’s not going to set any dancefloors on fire, and it’s not going to win any prizes for experimentation. But when I pop this on the headphones, it makes me happy for a while, and that ain’t too bad. It has the soft (I believe the term is ‘padded’) bass tones and effortless vibe of dub techno, but without the bleakness of Basic Channel, and with a more gently propulsive beat. Quietly cheering.

I bought this from Boomkat. They file it under Techno / House.

Peter Broderick: Home (CD, Bella Union, October 2008)

I previously knew Broderick mostly for his wonderful Float, a modern classical masterpiece. This is very different: gone are the lush strings, gone the cinematic beauty. In are vocals, layered choral harmonies, acoustic guitars, home-made clay whistles, and (whisper it) proper songs. That said, this is not a conventional folk album. The production is too knowing for that (and, coming from me, that’s a compliment). The songs are excellent, and it has a lovely intimate feeling. I can’t help feeling slightly underwhelmed after being blown away by his debut, but it will be fascinating to see where he goes next.

I bought this from Boomkat. They describe it as folk/americana.

Goldmund: The Malady Of Excellence (CD, Type, July 2008)

In which Keith Kenniff plays some pretty tunes on the piano, and charms this listener’s socks off.

Nobody could accuse this of being over-complicated. Goldmund is a solo piano project, and the tunes are quite simple and played without a great deal of flourish. At a casual listen, they could be mistaken for grade 3 piano exam assignments. In fact, I think there is a little more to the harmonies and rhythms than it first seems. But what really makes this record is the, er, recording. The piano seems to have been miked up very closely, so you can hear not just the notes but also the thud of the hammer hittings the strings, and the scrape of the fingers hitting the strings. It has a powerfully intimate effect. I really feel like I’m sitting next to, or possibly inside or underneath, the instrument. It’s not going to trouble the reputation of Sviatoslav Richter, but it’s very lovely.

I bought this from Boomkat. They describe it as Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.

Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald: Recomposed (Music by Maurice Ravel & Modest Mussorgsky) (CD, Deutsche Grammophon, October 2008)

In which the 2nd-generation Detroit deity and the more famous half of Basic Channel rip apart Ravel’s Bolero and Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition, chuck in some old-skool drum machines and synths, and create a 64 minute techno megamix.

It’s possibly too easy to call this symphonic techno. Also slightly misleading, as neither of the source works are symphonies. But if we take “symphonic” in the sense of “symphonic rock”, it’s rather apt. The six-minute introduction is a lush orchestral swell, the sort of warm hug of a production that says “welcome in, you are in good hands here”. As it moves into Movement 1, it picks up a beat… the famous ostinato snare drum of the Bolero. The link with techno is quite obvious, and the next couple of tracks are based around this idea. It’s really rather nice, but I did find myself wondering how it would last over an album. Luckily, Craig and von Oswald change tack for Movement 3. It becomes more obviously techno, pinned by beats which, though analogue, are undeniably electronic. The source material is incorporated more subtly — von Oswald spent a long time in pre-production with the master’s of DG’s recordings with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, picking out individual elements — but it is nearly always there, and not as a gimmicky add-on but as the backbone of the mix. The mood varies (as I would hope and expect). At times, it’s quite banging (though never exactly dancefloor friendly). At others, it has a warm ambience. The Interlude between Movements 4 and 5 is pretty much Basic Channel style dub. Movements 5 is big and driving. Movement 6 is delicate, almost ethereal, the drums reduced to a soft clicking and a lilting violin melody drifting in and out of the mix. It’s all rather epic, very different, and generally smashing.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Leftfield, whatever that means.