Monthly Archives: January 2011

Albums I Missed: 2010, part 2

Here’s another set of essential 2010 albums unfortunately left by the wayside.  Witness their excellence.

  • Mark Van Hoen – Where Is The Truth

Beauty.  Just, pure fragile beauty.  Floating like a spiderweb made of static, hung with fragments of shattered dreampop.  Van Hoen, who started out in Seefeel and ferried the shoegaze & idm Locust through the next decade, knows a thing or two about prismatic blissouts.  Being unfamiliar with his past solo work, I won’t remark on how this is a more personal statement or not; I will simply say that, as a *huge* fan of Seefeel, a longtime admirer of Locust (especially Truth Is Born of Arguments – an essential document), and an eternal seeker of alluring disintegration, this album hits the spot.

  • Solar Bears – She Was Coloured In

Being taken in by the line that their name is inspired by a certain Tarkovsky film and the fact that they employed old school synths in a more pop-friendly framework than Oneohtrix Point Never or Emeralds, I nevertheless held this one at arm’s length upon first listen.  The tones grabbed me, the melodies held me, the sheer variety kept my attention from wandering, but I was stopping short of truly absorbing it.  Second go-round, I realized it’s not made to dissect the individual tracks or feel around for a signature invention, something groundbreaking to hang its hat on.  This album is one to sit back (or walk or ride or whatever) and take in all at once.  Much like Teebs’ utopian fever dream Ardour, this 50 minute excursion is built carefully out of vignettes highlighting different facets of the sound until a wholly rounded picture is formed by the end.  I can hear Blade Runner and The Neverending Story and even the Terminator at times, but I can also sense the instructive warmth of Boards of Canada, fellow Scots with a penchant for playfully distracted, unpretentious psych explorations.  Where else would we find songs titled Head SupernovaPrimary Colours at the Back of my Mind, and Neon Colony?

  • Girls – Broken Dreams Club EP

Well this one snuck up on me.  I was never a fan of the debut LP, which swam in a torrent of praise in 2009.  Some songs caught my ear but the band simply didn’t hit those pleasure centers I need to truly enjoy an album.  Playing this lengthy EP on a blizzard bound morning while making pancakes turned out to be a shining revelation, and an arresting listen.  Moving beyond their Velvet Underground, jangly garage sound into the realm of earnest, intelligent, well written pop infused with more than a little  grit and gravitas, the band has officially released one of a literal handful of rock albums which I can admire, adore, and really sink my teeth into.  Biggest highlights are the title track, a stoned lament for the fractured state of our world today, and Caroline – a tune which steps out of any boundaries the band previously ruled, into pure psychedelic wanderlust.  It reveals itself slowly (at first echoing The Smashing Pumpkins‘ deep album cut Porcelina of the Vast Oceans), unwinding like a scarf caught on a fence, until it’s stretched to the point of abstraction and hanging in the air around you.  A cloud of a hazy rock dream, tugging upward.  A great way to end an album and point to an even brighter future for this duo.

Lil B – The Age of Information

Here is the Based God with some truth.

Lil B started truly blowing up in 2010, releasing literally hundreds of youtube tracks and more than a handful of more-excellent-than-not mixtapes, each full of absolute gems which cannot be missed.  Unfortunately the deluge of material tends to intimdate the uninitiated, especially if they play a random track or two and find themselves baffled or recoiling at what they perceive.  I myself finally caved sometime in the summer and was taken in by the surreal wordplay and exquisite, twisted beats (or ambient soundscapes) his words are married to.  I was intrigued and drawn in, but always with more curiosity than love – until The Age of Information changed my mind.

This one combined some of his most prescient and observant lyrics with a laid back, psychedelic compression worthy of any spaced out Boards of Canada acolyte, orbiting a classic piano line dropping anchor for the heavily drifting wordplay.  Speaking of our generational disconnect with each other, with history, with the wider culture itself, he’s sharing thoughts imbued with far more earnest grace than originality; it’s the heartfelt truth of a young mind grappling with the very internet culture which has enabled his meteoric rise.

About that rise:  watch out for a lot more from this prolific and talented artist in the coming year – full length Angels Exodus just dropped at Amalgam Digital, and its (supposedly) massive follow up Glass Face is soon to follow.  I’m also putting together a mix, soon to appear on this very blog.  Keep your eyes peeled.  And check out Lil B at last.fm for the latest discussion and links and all that.

Albums I Missed: 2010

So we all tend to discover some of our favorites of a given year immediately or long after it has passed.  I decided to share mine.  Despite being the first week of January, I’ve already discovered, revisited, and heard enough albums in a better light (courtesy of my brand new Sennheiser 280‘s) to start a list going.  This is the first in a series to unfold for the next month or so.  All I know for sure is that this music is at least as worthy of a listen as anything listed in Best of the Rest 2010, or even Best of 2010.

  • Forest Swords – Dagger Paths

This album I heard once, the moment it dropped.  Despite intriguing me somewhat, it managed to slip to the back of my must list and languished for the rest of the year.  Spotting its placement on several highly respectable year-end lists, I felt compelled to give it another chance.  So thank you, fellow list makers.  Especially my friend at Bubblegum Cage III.  What sets this material apart from the beat scene or the solo-psych-project folks – or anyone else for that matter – is the serpentine guitar work and murky, lived-in feel of every moment.  Lurching beats dangled around thunderous, bassy guitar melodies and an almost tribal, foot stomping ethos, this (frankly) astounding debut sounds like the work of an accomplished veteran, confidently going out on a limb, then rising, rising, rising.  The only direct reference point I have is Gang Gang Dance, live, lately.  Don’t look to their records for anything like this;  you had to be there.  Thankfully that ecstatic experience seems to be just what Forest Swords aims for and achieves on this album.

  • How To Dress Well – Love Remains

Honestly, I kept away from this one out of sheer knee-jerk hipster/pitchfork/etc rejection.  I shouldn’t have.  It’s so much more (and less, in a good way) than what it’s been sold as.  Far more psychedelic than any description employing “r&b” infers, it’s a syrupy miasma of primal notions and half-thoughts, the bits and bytes of heartache and longing twisted up in a melting dream logic David Lynch would be proud of.  This is drone music for the dance party comedown, dance music for the somnambulist, love songs for the fucked up.

  • Shackleton – Fabric 55

So I had the impression that Fabric mixes were simply a series in which an artist makes a DJ mix of other artists work.  Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re just alright.. but they’re never essential or brilliant like the artist’s own work.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Shackleton mines his own discography, past present and future, using elements of his Three EPs release as thematic glue to bind a striking set of 22 tracks that, to me, is possibly the final word on dubstep as we know it.  One listen through and I’m already confident that I’ll be spinning this more than his prior album – and I absolutely LOVE that album.  This one is simply more vibrant, active, playful.  It shuffles off on an oceanic dub odyssey, seamlessly whirling through almost 80 minutes of depth charge awe.  The fact that I ignored this profoundly satisfying set, from a personal favorite artist, makes my head spin.

If you’ve got suggestions for something I may fall in love with, please leave a comment.  We all benefit from hindsight.  MORE to come…

James Blake

My first album of 2011.  So infectious, I’m giddy with the prospect of holding its vinyl in my hands on release day – still a month off.  James Blake set the blog frontier ablaze last year with two progressive leaps beyond the dubstep fray – the CMYK and Klavierwork EPs – but never gripped my attention, making my ears perk up, my spine tingle, quite like this.  This self titled debut is easily this year’s (first) benchmark.

 

Holy hot shit.

Sorry.  I just had to get that out.

This is a crystalline monstrosity, a tsunami flash frozen in place, looming overhead like a malignant glacier as we zoom in ever closer.  To listen is to move across its surface, close enough to observe the essence of each facet like a diamond under microscope.  Stripping his ‘post-dubstep’ production to its core and reflecting and amplifying each empty space against its sonic counterpart, the elemental touch only serves to enhance his latest evolution of vocal manipulation.

Leaving behind the extracted shards and melodic strings of vocal samples of prior releases, Blake’s voice runs the center of every track in a hall-of-mirrors chase with its own distorted reflection.  Alternately disintegrating and exploding, submissive and dominating, his new showcase instrument even rises above digital manipulation entirely in rare moments of acoustic grace.  On my first listen, this was akin to the moment your plane breaks through cloud cover, uncorking the brightness of the blazing sun on a rainy day.  The final track in particular reaches an ascetic ideal, almost wholly a capella in execution.  This isn’t what normally sates a beat-fiend looking for the newest fix, but it’s an exquisite rush all the same.

Speaking of a rush:  second track The Wilhelm Scream is probably the key to my instant affection for this album.  Opening with a plaintive synth line and echoed-at-God-level darkly winsome vocals, the song gradually fills in like final details on a vast canvas, a blueprint in miniature of Blake’s signature austerity.  From an embryo of muted drum stabs and compressed guitar lines, Blake inflates a billowing dirigible, ascending past the atmosphere at its peak before swinging low with his most resonant phrase:  I’m falling, falling, falling.. This shredded my perception of the artist and sent me hurtling towards the explosion that is Never Learnt To Share.  When it hits for the first time, you’ll know what I mean.

If I had to place this album in a given context it would look like this:  The detail oriented tactile feel of Mount Kimbie‘s exquisite production, taken to the spare extreme of The xx‘s striking debut last year.  Multiplied by 50 on each side.  Each click and hum, synth flutter, bass surge, and twisted vocal hook is used as if it were the last Blake would ever grasp.  The soaring gospel towers this man constructs with so few pieces will take your breath away, and keep it.  Nothing has sounded this meticulously airtight in a long while, and for good reason.  It takes a  rarefied amount of control to keep the plates spinning this way, and James Blake stands coolly alone for now.

Watch this and stay on the lookout by February 7th.

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