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The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

This album is GOD.

I haven’t been back to Optimistic Underground in a while.  There has been a lot going on in life but as always I’m continuously immersed in music.  Lately, with a few notable exceptions, I’ve been listening to a lot of my personal favorite albums in an effort to tap into the exhilaration of something I know I love.  I think I’m also looking for inspiration, and answers.  What elevated these particular pieces of music to a realm of formative life experiences?  These are the albums I used to burrow into for months, knowing every nook and cranny, knowing the texture and contours like my own skin.. and yet they’re a revelation once again with the right mixture of time, decay, perspective, distance, environment and attitude.  It’s probably more than that.  My ears have changed, not to mention my tastes.  Yet the true greats will always have a place; it takes at least time to sort them from the intense but short love affairs with slightly lesser albums.

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One of the most striking moments in my listening life happened the night I heard The Flaming Lips‘ 1999 masterpiece The Soft Bulletin, driving though rural back roads with a friend who had just purchased the CD blindly.  He’d picked up Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and asked if the band was any good; I replied with some half thought that I’d heard “their older stuff was better” without any clue if I was even thinking of the right band.  In response, my friend bought the only other CD available and inadvertently changed my (musical) life forever.  The warbling tape orchestra, the out-of-nowhere bass thunder on the second track, and that melody on The Spark That Bled had me instantly.  I was distracted to the point that I remember images of my stereo, the booklet in my hands, the music and exclaiming about it, and not the drive itself.  The friend wanted a blank CD and I gave him one on the condition that I borrow this new Flaming Lips thing for the night.  I listened half a dozen times before bed.  I scoured the band’s website, where the entirety of Yoshimi and a handful of earlier album songs streamed free (this was extremely novel and rare at the time, about 2002).  I became a total diehard fan in a matter of weeks.

This is all to preface the fact that when I dug through my collection after moving – when the cds and vinyl are all out in the open like that, it’s easier to become excited about certain albums – I had a lurch in my heart toward this album.  I needed to hear it.  My soul was calling to it, or being called.  The next thing that happened was.. despite never having had much of an extended break from hearing it, I was getting the fresh, brightening outlook, rising sun, open chakra, wide eyed feeling all over again, a decade later.  The thing that meant most to me at the time, I believe, was this feeling of new possibilities and opportunities everywhere.  This adventurous, brave, open and attentive nature was overtaking me and my outlook on life literally widened in scope.  It was a confluence of events and life changes, but The Soft Bulletin crystallized that feeling in a single disc I could grasp forever.  It was exciting; all the rough, unnerving bits that hit me by surprise like sudden deer in the headlights became the very signposts for the change I was seeking.  This album is not only different from what the band was doing, what was accepted and loved in pop music, and what I’d been into until that moment, it actually embodies that jarring, eye-popping thunderclap of sudden and real change in life.  The songs each take off like a homemade rocket, reaching space against all odds in some miracle of ingenuity and love.  This is not something I take lightly.

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I came here today merely to share the following documentary but was overcome by my continent of feeling for this album.  I could drift for days on how this makes me feel.  I know it was released last year but I only came upon it during my recent binge and was blown away by the reverence and passion the band still have for this masterpiece.  It not only delves into the nuts-and-bolts creation of the music itself but also dissects a bit of what makes it such a personal touchstone for a certain set of folks.  If you’re already a fan, be prepared to have your nostalgia drive working overtime and keep the album handy for an inevitable post-viewing listen.  If you are unfamiliar, I kind of envy your position.  This is beautiful new territory, and in my view the documentary will make a perfect introduction.

I must note for the diehard fans that the audio used in most of this appears to be from the 5.1 and/or recent vinyl issue of the album.  If you’re as irredeemably familiar with this music as I am, it’ll be a nice experience to get hands on either of those releases and hear this music rendered in a slightly different (clearer?) light.

Thank You, Music (Jesus Birthday Listening)

It will be Christmas in a few hours.  More importantly, it will be my first day off in over a month and I’m getting a head start on savoring the opportunity for a long stretch of music enhanced repose.  I realize many of you will not be reading blogs or spending time online – some of you must have families – but I feel that it’s as good a time as any in the year to express thanks and revel in the great works of sound art that enhance our lives.  Also I’d like to know what you’re spending your equivalent holiday vacation listening to, so reply if you’re interested.

What I’m into this weekend:

1. Rangers – Pan Am Stories

This one is pure six string love, through and through.  The atmosphere is warped tape and spacey reverb and psychedelic compression but the playing is hypnotic Durutti Column inspired tapestries of melodic progression.  Swinging, flowing, building and cresting and never stopping; this feels like tuning in mid-stream to some frequency of guitarist Joe Knight’s brain, no beginning or end.  It sparkles without ever feeling consciously virtuoso, yet remaining far too impolite for wallpaper listening.  Try out mid-album stunner Jane’s Well below.

2. Sepalcure – Sepalcure

The tangentially-dubstep-related duo containing Machinedrum‘s Travis Stewart and some other guy Praveen Sharma burst out of nowhere last year with a couple EPs that balanced any lack of holy shit! novelty with a more than generous dose of holy shit! punch, dynamics, and elastic rhythm and songwriting that made them instant standouts in an exponentially flattening market.  The fact that their debut LP is a blistering collection of tuneful cutting edge productions is as unsurprising as a sunrise but equally satisfying and essential.  Constant streams of ‘aha!’ sampling and percussion flourishes along with skyward bound synth pads and neck-tingling effects keep momentum with the insistent throb of bass that’s always one step ahead of tame; it’s the kind of sound that I can easily become addicted to, listening on every commute for a week.  The fact that it’s nonthreatening is only a detriment to its chances of appearing on Best of 2011 lists (I am working on one, coincidentally) because this is one of the most solid quasi-danceable electronic releases in a long while.

3. Teebs – Collections 01

My love for Teebs is a known quantity.  While his sound is an entire utopian environment unto itself, there is always room for growth and change, even for someone preternaturally adept at crafting beat-bliss pocket symphonies.  Enter his new ‘Collections’ series.  Presented as an odds and ends gathering of sorts, only hinting that it’s less of a mission statement than the debut LP in that the tracks lack consistent segues.  This half hour is more assured and ballsy than anything he’s dropped, loaded with muscular bass and distinct structures.  There’s a tangibility and sense of confidence here which the drifting vistas of Ardour couldn’t sustain over its length, and a wider palette at work.  Collaboration provides a couple standout moments:  Rebekah Raff’s sensual harp showers Verbena Tea with a transcendent light reminiscent of Alice Coltrane, while Brainfeeder newcomer Austin Peralta anchors the sub-bass throb of LSP with twinkling piano loops.  I can listen to this while cooking, cleaning, or paying the rent.  I can enjoy it day and night and often do.  I can share it with everyone with a working set of ears.

4. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica

So I’m still really into this.  Pornographic flights of radiance, as I said.  Something new each time I listen.  In the car, in my kitchen, in my headphones mostly.  How lucky to hear something so new and so addictive and so profoundly, unpredictably gorgeous.  Expect to hear more about this, from myself and everyone else who values adventurous leaps into the unmapped terrain of where our minds and machines can go when pushed beyond what’s known.

Listen to the whole damn album below if you haven’t, already.

I’m badly in need of rest so this post stops here.  I hope to find time tomorrow for more since this is hardly all I’ve been obsessive about.  Remember, I’d love to hear what you are into this weekend and beyond! 

ATTN: unintentional hiatus.

Or: I will not have much opportunity for internet-related anything for the next month, but would love if any of you friendly charitable readers / friends / good samaratins could help keep me up to date on great music still being released in the late hours of this year.

So please, leave a comment here and let me know what you’re into, the triumphs and sure shots and surprise masterpieces I’m missing out on.  I promise to get myself caught up in due time and come roaring back with a vengeance.  This is a time of patience and focus for me, and the words are building up.

For now, I leave you with one of the greatest pieces of music ever recorded: After The Flood, by Talk Talk.

I once said “This song is a sentient being,” and I still stand by that statement.

Found A Job

First: sorry I’ve been sort of quiet for a few weeks.

Second:  this.

It’s true.  This one pays far more than my prior occupation so it’s worth the being-busy-all-the-time aspect.  However I have not – cannot – neglect music and thus always have something worth sharing with the world.  Every commute, every bicycle ride, every nighttime book devouring session is accompanied by something new, expansive, exciting…  punctuated by old favorites I find myself doubled over with joy upon re-hearing.  So I’ve got something to say.

Unfortunately I worked my brains out today and must save the in-depth breathless praise and wild exhortations to purchase vinyl for the remainder of the weekend.  I will simply state that there are a few albums I’m quite taken with, continually listen to, and wish that more people would get familiar with.  These are a few of them:

United WatersYour First Ever River

Sensations’ FixFragments of Light

Robert FrippLet The Power Fall

Fleetwood MacTusk

Drive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

ThundercatGolden Age of the Apocalypse

and finally, with apologies to the artist herself:

Matana RobertsCoin Coin Chapter One: Gens De Colour Libres

Because this is, by some distance, one of the most powerful and heartfelt albums of 2011 and I really should have shared all about it when I got it months ago.  I promise – I swear – I will soon.  Keep an eye on this page, and stay ready for the deluge.

The Durutti Column – “Otis”

Another sleepless night for me…

My favorite guitarist of all time, Vini Reilly, was also a pioneer with regards to sampling in an ostensibly rock context.  His Factory label boss, mentor, and best friend Tony Wilson famously discouraged Vini’s use of vocals in Durutti Column recordings, feeling he was far better at literally every aspect of music creation than singing.  This obviously contributed to his daring and invigorating use of sampling (and later, frequent female guest vocalists), highlighted by this brilliant piece from the center of his eponymous Vini Reilly LP, released in 1989.  A rising arpeggio gives way to a typically gorgeous guitar ramble before the song slides into perfection with recontextualized phrases from Otis Redding‘s (also typically gorgeous) Pain In My Heart and Tracy Chapman‘s heartbreaking Behind The Wall (listen, seriousl) and cements its place in any hypothetical Top 10 Durutti Column countdown.

I must note that, indeed, a far more famous and recent use of a classic Redding sample exists, but Jay-Z and Kanye West‘s same-named Otis borrows far more liberally (and literally) from Try A Little Tenderness…  which I’ve always found quite affecting in a certain other context:

[you basically owe it to yourself and the perennially under-acknowledged Durutti Column to get the album at theDuruttiColumn.com.  Really, get any of his nearly 2 dozen albums.  Anywhere.]

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…

Best of the Rest of 2010

My Best of 2010 was basically an attempt to carve my musical experience of the past year down to its most essential, most ingrained elements.  An attempt to sum up the music I feel had the largest impact on my listening, on my life.

I left out a lot of great albums.  Thankfully, they were drawn from a text file kept on my desktop throughout the year, chronicling each album I decide, at a given moment, is awesome.  Yes, it’s that simple.  As time passes I remove the fleeting infatuations, anything not holding up.  So I’m left with a solid list I can refer to in search of everything I really, truly enjoyed this year.  This is it, in order I heard them.

  • Bullion – Say Goodbye To What EP

  • Four Tet – There Is Love In You

  • Arrington De Dionyso – Malaikat Dan Singa

  • Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Kollaps Tradixionales

  • Autechre – Oversteps

  • Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

  • Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh

  • Ikonika – Contact Want Love Have

  • Take – Only Mountain

  • LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

  • Boris – Heavy Rock Hits Vol. 3

  • Connect_icut – Fourier’s Algorithm

  • Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

  • Rollo – 3

  • Yellow Swans – Going Places

  • Sightings – City of Straw

  • Guido – Anidea

  • Lorn – Nothing Else

  • Teebs & Jackhigh – Tropics EP

  • Infinite Body – Carve Out The Face Of My God

  • The-Dream – Love King

  • The Sight Below – It All Falls Apart

  • Deepchord Presents Echospace – Liumin

  • TOKiMONSTA – Midnight Menu

  • Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal 7″

  • Scuba – Triangulation

  • Sepalcure – Love Pressure EP

  • Imbogodom – The Metallic Year

  • Singing Statues – Outtakes EP

  • Flying Lotus – Patter + Grid World EP

  • Seefeel – Faults EP

  • Mark McGuire – Living With Yourself

  • Efdemin – Chicago

  • T++ – Wireless

  • Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner

  • Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

  • Balam Acab – See Birds EP

  • Gonjasufi – The Caliph’s Tea Party

  • VHS Head – Trademark Ribbons of Gold

  • Marcus Fjellström – Schattenspieler

  • Zach Hill – Face Tat

  • Games – That We Can Play

  • Zs – New Slaves

  • Fenn O’Berg – In Stereo

  • Richard Skelton – Landings

  • James Blake – Klavierwerke EP

  • Fursaxa – Mycorrhizae Realm

  • Dimlite – My Human Wears Acedia Shreds EP

  • Kurt Weisman – Orange

  • Clubroot – II MMX

So there it is.  Something to remember is that any one of these albums may end up defining the year as much as the ‘true’ list – and that something I haven’t even heard yet may best them all.  It’s happened before.  This is why Optimistic Underground will soon post its first Music From Before 2010 But Discovered This Year list.  This will cover the much wider range of music I was into this year, since there is already much more music out there than is being released at any given time.

[This post is subject to change.  Like I'll probably add one or two more by January.]

BEST OF 2010

These two defined the year.

The most explosive, mind expanding and game changing pieces of music I heard all year.  These two have gravity, reeling me back over and over, no matter my infatuation with other frontiers.  They are albums that I was excited to get up and listen to first thing in the morning.  Again and again.  Each took my impression of the artist to another level – and my appreciation for new realms of sound with it.  No matter what I may pick up down the road, these two albums are going to be powerful beacons of what music was to me in 2010.

Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

Having written extensively on this one the day it released, I’ll refer you there for the long story.  Short story:  this one is a true thriller, a total banger, and a far flung odyssey.  Nothing invigorated me, buzzing up and down my spine with every percussive shuffle and harp glissando, more than Cosmogramma.  This left the entire “beat” genre collective below as it blasted off towards uncharted jazz nirvana.  If you haven’t been immersed yet, you’re missing out on one of the most significant albums of an era.

[buy it at Bleep]

Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal

Returnal not only blows minds and melts cogent thought, blurring time and physical sensation; it’s an otherworldly gorgeous journey lasting far beyond its 42 minute span.  I spent the summer bug-eye intrigued, cycling with this; an autumn listening on the floor in sheer awe; and a burgeoning winter nestled warm inside the beating heart of its graceful heft.  It takes experience to truly grasp the center of what makes Returnal so boldly transcendent.  Not simply a perfect example of a ‘grower,’ the album refracts perspective so fully that repeat listening is necessary to get a grip on how exactly this behemoth is so devastating.  The beatific grin creeping across your lips when centerpiece combo Pelham Island Road and Where Does Time Go? takes over is a clear sign of arrival.

[buy it at Boomkat, preferably on vinyl]

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NEXT: The Absolute Stunners

These inhabited my mind for a significant amount of the year and with it, my memory of the time.  Each album here would be at the top spot notwithstanding each other and my twin favories.  Each one is an incredible, substantial release deserving of a place on everyone’s playlist, and will undoubtedly stand strong as we look back at 2010.

Dimlite – Prismic Tops

With enough hype covering the beat world from Los Angeles to London to go around twice, it’s a sad omission that Dimlite rarely earns much discussion, much less the wild acclaim he deserves.  Being far left of field  and even less beholden to strict beats than the vast sum of his peers, the Swiss producer stands somewhat understandably apart.  Another is the pure depth and range of his recordings.  The spectrum of color and detail isn’t merely for show.  Dmitri Grimm exudes a fundamental understanding of the interplay of sound, snapping unlikely pieces together in an elastic environment where every microbial aspect has been warped and fine tuned.  Beamed from outer space on the epic scale of a prime Sun Ra transmission, it’s understandable that heads don’t flock to him.  It’s a crime that the wider world hasn’t picked up on Dimlite yet.

[buy this from Stones Throw Records]

Actress – SPLAZSH

This was and still is one of the most surprising albums of the year.  More than 6 months after hearing it, I’m still left with questions and curiosities.  I’m still scratching around certain edges of Splazsh, trying to divine its purpose.  Some things I know for certain:  it is resolutely not dubstep.  More interested in exploring nearly every other tangent of current and legacy electronic music than the prevailing winds, there aren’t many other single releases covering so much ground this year or any. Built with hypnotic dub pulsing through electro and house and funk like they were Lego pieces, every single track brings something new to the game.  Preternaturally adept at every style he flaunts, the tracks (certainly not “songs”) take full advantage of their separate nature, firing in myriad directions at once.  At first, trying to get a handle on the work as an album, this is a challenge.  And then it sinks in:  Actress is actually creating a work of singular power through sheer force of will.  What seems an arbitrary track listing and progression at first, slowly turns into an environment to live in.  There’s enough sustenance here to thrive on indefinitely.

[buy it straight from Honest Jon's Records]

Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers

This one tried so hard to sneak by my radar.  From its understated complexity and tidy elegance to the short running time and  (almost) workaday visual artwork, Crooks & Lovers goes out of its way to not promise a revelatory experience.  Then it delivers hard on any and all potential earlier releases hinted at.  I shared about this in August and stand by those words, so heed them before any overbaked praise I may lay out here.  I’ll quote myself to sum this up:  Imagine the deaf hearing for the first time, the immense clarity of glass breaking or water droplets; how even a handshake cracks like thunder. Mount Kimbie renders each moment in a high definition embrace.  Close listening is naturally rewarded with exponential returns. This thing comes in with a delicate demeanor, sliding into tactile bliss while going straight for the emotional jugular.

[buy it at Boomkat]

Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky

Swans were dead.  This year Swans rose anew.  They kept rising.  Is this really an instance of a re-formed band making a progressive and artistically satisfying work in their second iteration?  Yes, it is.  In fact, this is one  of the best albums Michael Gira and Co. have released.  Opening with tubular bells chiming to announce a slow motion lightning bolt’s unfurling over the next 9 minutes, the album is relentless in making every second count.  This monster knows how close to apocalyptic our modern day feels.  It breathes in the ashes of our present’s future and blasts out paeans for humanity.  This stuff is as warm and lived in as a Cormac McCarthy novel, matched and reflected in an edge sharp as anything Swans have brandished in their harshest moments.  The opening cacophony slides into a martial stomp before giving way to something more starkly direct, akin to White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity’s heavy folk.  The album basically vacillates between every end of the band’s stylistic oeuvre with a hot-shit vigor nobody would have expected.  It’s aggressive, urgent, earnest, fierce, and deeply affecting.  There’s also a bonus CD if you get the special edition from Young God – a largely instrumental collage of album elements mutated into a giant single piece which heaves and pulls with a tidal force – like the album proper, but thoroughly unhinged.  Some fans have even cited its preference.  I’m certainly thankful to own it.  If you’re adventurous enough (or want to be even more blown away), check that edition out.  Plus, Mr. Gira himself signs every copy!

[buy this or the incredible 2cd edition from Young God]

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TOTAL STANDOUTS:

These hold a specific, bright and loud place in the year, each a significant landmark in its own way.

Daedelus – Righteous Fists of Harmony

The Los Angeles based beatmaker’s best album.  At only 26 minutes, it covers more ground than nearly anyone in the game, in their whole career, including the mutton chop festooned Daedelus himself.  Structured as a meta narrative ostensibly about the boxer rebellion, it’s got this rollercoaster feeling that few albums this year (much less EP length ones) even approach.  Its centerpiece is wife Laura Darlington’s best vocal turn ever, on spiritual lament Order of the Golden Dawn.  Like some ornate puzzle, this brief release is flush with delicately unfolding pleasures.

[vinyl or mp3 only. you know which to get at Boomkat]

Rhys Chatham – The Bern Project

Holy hot pot of coffee.  This is a tidal wave of an album.  Swimming into a wall of kraut momentum, a school of blaring brass, abused drum sets and stretched guitar strings spill over the top of anyone hitting ‘play’ on one of the most explosive albums this year.  Despite Chatham’s decades of experience this release feels – if anything – more fresh than most of the artists young enough to be his offspring.  It’s a frantic blast of energy, of feeling.  Conjuring righteous anger and exuberance side by side, it’s an anthem and a celebration in one.  Hitting a high drone stride with percussive Boredoms underpinning, this one blows back everyone exposed to its massive minimal structure.

[buy this at Cargo Records or even at Boomkat]

The Durutti Column – A Paeon To Wilson

This is the best and most ambitious thing Vini Reilly and co. have released in years.  Moving about the usual fields of post-punk, shoegaze, dub and more which this virtuoso guitarist finds himself in, he manages to string everything together in an inviting, intriguing post-modern blend reminiscent of an accomplished DJ set or classic Underworld album, flowing spotlessly between set pieces.  The CD version comes with a bonus Heaven Sent disc of stunning acoustic performances.

[buy this from Norman Records or even Amazon]

Gonjasufi – A Sufi and a Killer

For someone holding equal affection for ragged 60′s psych rock a la The United States Of America or Amon Düül II and the modern beat-centric world of post-hiphop electronic music, the idea of this album is more than immediately apparent.  Coiled tight with swaggering beats and scratchy atmosphere, all the instruments available at Woodstock pounding out a laconic rhythm for Gonjasufi to unspool his loose flow over, it’s a strangely appealing galactic intersection.

[get it from Bleep now]

Caribou – Swim

Caribou defied my expectations to release his most vital work since (as Manitoba) 2002′s Up In Flames, which was a psychedelic electro-acoustic pop masterpiece.   Since weaving through kraut-inflected electro and Stereolab-esque 60′s pop experiments, the man didn’t appear poised to make me gasp.  But this one did.  Primitive, cyclical, relentless and rejoicing, this one felt like a lighter-than-air dance pop vision of the effect Boredoms’ Vision Creation Newsun has on listeners.

[found at Merge Records or Amazon]

Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here?

What can be said about the most directly appealing member of the synth-drone community?   This stuff will hit home immediately for anyone born in the 80′s and/or in possession of an affinity for the tones and tropes of the time.  It starts off like the best Zelda adventure ever, gets lost in a Korg hurricane, wades through a Michael Mann thriller’s ‘downer’ scene and exalts through breathless fantasy stirrings by its finale.  That cover art is truly evocative of its sound for once.

[like I did, get this on superb 2LP from Forced Exposure]

Eleven Tigers – Clouds Are Mountains

Eleven Tigers has to be the biggest out-of-nowhere triumph in a long time.  A kid from Lithuania hears Burial and gets excited about music, moving to London to study and make beats.  Then he drops this gorgeous bombshell several steps beyond his influences.  Since I was gushing about this months ago,  I’ll quote myself again: From taffy-stretched drone tunnels bridging propulsive house and dub techno beats to the clipped channels of unknown conversation forming a preamble to fractured fairy tale dream pop vocals, every lush moment drips with a heart of wanderlust and a propulsive kick in its step. This album is almost a doppelgänger for Actress’ fractured post-everything take on electronic music.  Instead of laying out every separate piece in his arsenal, Eleven Tigers fuses the wide range of sounds and styles into a fluid unrelenting slide.  If Actress is for thinking, this is for daydreaming.  Hear it streaming free here.

[purchase at his Bandcamp page or at Boomkat]

Bvdub – The Art Of Dying Alone

Speaking of evocative cover art…  Bvdub came to my attention after his ‘solo’ release last year as Brock Van Wey – shared on optimistic underground and returned to his ambient dub persona with not just a few new tricks.  Mountains of wordless vocals rise from the depths of pulsing dub seas, entire flocks of harp and violin soar aloft, barely tied down by minor piano chords echoing through the canyons of empty space he leaves this music to grow in.  It’s all done so imperceptibly huge that a full 80 minute listen can wash clean the conscious mind.  It’s hard to remember details when not playing the album, and it’s hard to pick them out at low volume.  So play often, and play loud.  Or on some decent headphones, alone.  The art may evoke some depressing concepts – catch the title yet? – but the gorgeous power of its creation is more than life affirming.  This is comedown enlightenment.

[order from Glacial Movements or at Norman Records]

Teebs – Ardour

In September I called this album utopian.  I stand by that proclamation, even more so after living with it for some time.  This is a set of pure bliss from beginning to end.  Nestled in a twinkling, gently strummed world of airy strings, primitive island bells & percussion, it set the tone for a celestial set of heaven-bound melodies intertwining, realizing an album in an entirely new realm of understanding.  Before Ardour, I was unaware debut albums had any right to be this arresting.

[buy this via Brainfeeder]

A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Autumn, Again

Since dropping one of the best dream pop albums in… ever, last year, A Sunny Day In Glasgow weren’t expected to gift us with another gorgeous set of thoughtful tunes.  But they did. And gift is the operative word:  this thing was released completely free of charge.  Normally that would scream “outtakes!” but nearly the opposite is true.  Autumn Again is filled to bursting with earworm melodies and the same syrupy atmosphere conjured on their last masterpiece (see Best of 2009), in less sprawling, more digestible fashion.

[FREE at Autumn Again or get the vinyl for only $14]

Darkstar – North

So everyone went ape shit over Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer a while back, and the hype for Darkstar’s debut went through the roof.  Apparently the weight was too much for this duo as they purportedly scrapped a whole album and started over.  For those of us with open minds and ears, nothing could have been better.  Mostly eschewing the Hyperdub template they helped create, North wanders back in time, returning like a dark mystic cousin of The Human League in their prime.  Vocals fight through, work in harmony with, and rarely rise above a glitched out synthscape – everything is chopped and reprocessed almost to the point of abstraction, but the band holds back just enough to keep this an open-arms invitation for anyone interested.  Check out that single and then leave expectations behind.  This is not dubstep.

[check it at Boomkat]

Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

I wasn’t prepared to like this album so much.  Having been a fair weather fan of Ms. Newsom before her defining epic Ys, I was put off by the effort required to truly enjoy that dense journey.  Imagine my surprise when her follow up, a 3-album extravaganza, wound up as something I’d have stuck in my head all day, humming and waiting until I could play it again.  Having stripped back some of the instrumental-pileup of Ys, the generous length here allows Newsom to plant every idea and watch them grow into fully realized songs and suites, with thematic unity and literary sprawl unlikely yet beautifully bound.  From simple voice-and-harp odes to her home state to the kind of compact Canturbury Tales narrative stunts birthed on Ys (here given more room to breathe), this one is truly an adventure well worth taking, again and again, until it feels like an old friend.

[pick it up right from Drag City on cd or vinyl]

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Yeah, this album is here.  Know why?  Because it really is good.  It’s great.  Because nothing in either the Top 40 realm or the indie/blog/whatever universe jumped straight out of my speakers and demanded repeat plays – right now! – with friends, co-workers, family, anybody with a set of working ears.  The production is immaculate, the pace unrelenting, and the cast of collaborators elevates every moment.  Kanye has never been known to be a solid vocalist and several cringeworthy moments pop up on his verses, but he’s smart enough to know this and positions his voice as only one of many populating each densely packed track.  Some of the best moments are a confluence of artistry, like the pass-the-mic attack of Monster and the Wu-echoing (and RZA co-produced) So Appalled, while others are simply this bat shit crazy man at the top of his game, putting everything he is on the line with manic abandon.  It’s a rush and an experience, and an album you’ve surely already judged whether you’ve heard it or not.  Take it from me, as someone who was never a fan of West’s work:  this is the real deal.  It’s not perfect (ahem, every magazine/website) but that’s what makes it work.  This is a wonderful, liberating mess.

[buy it, like, anywhere.  Best Buy or something]

Demdike Stare – Liberation Through Hearing

Demdike Stare managed to pass almost all of 2010 without my notice so I must thank friends at Everything’s Exploding for turning me onto one of the most intriguingly dark and darkly psychedelic artists I’ve heard in months.  Standing at a weird crossroads between the hypnotic bleak dub of Shackleton (I love him) and the creaking, hypnagogic drone of Black To Comm (love him too), this music tends to blur the lines between something to chill out and nod one’s head to, and a full out dread-infused Lynchian dreamscape of smoky nighttime treks through the woods.  The best part is that it’s only one of three full length releases this year.  After getting a handle on this, the best and most accessible LP, seek out Forest of Evil and Voices of Dust, and witness an emerging artist in full bloom.

[grab at Boomkat or wait for a comp of all 3 albums, coming soon]

————————————————————-

To sum it up, here is the list in simpler form:
Defining Albums:
  • Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
  • Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal
Absolute Stunners:
  • Dimlite – Prismic Tops
  • Actress – Splazsh
  • Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers
  • Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
Rest of the Best:
  • Daedelus – Righteous Fists of Harmony
  • Rhys Chatham – The Bern Project
  • The Durutti Column – A Paean To Wilson
  • Gonjasufi – A Sufi and a Killer
  • Caribou – Swim
  • Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here?
  • Eleven Tigers – Clouds Are Mountains
  • Bvdub – The Art of Dying Alone
  • Teebs – Ardour
  • A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Autumn, Again
  • Darstar – North
  • Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
  • Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
  • Demdike Stare – Liberation Through Hearing

That’s all, folks.

Heaven and Earth Magic – Flying Lotus + Dr. Strangeloop

In my prior post sharing about Flying Lotus‘ recent appearance in Ann Arbor I mentioned the film Heaven and Earth Magic and shared a single image.  Now I’ve come to find, there are not only two video segments from the event shared online, but a good portion of the insightful and honestly funny interview with the guys afterward.  Basically the film is impossible to fully describe to the uninitiated.  So just catch a bit yourself.  This doesn’t convey the complete impact of the hourlong film and black-hole score in a dark theater, but it at least gives a glimpse to those who couldn’t make the show.  Here’s hoping, as Flylo himself hinted at, they release this piece in some form, so everyone can share in the magic.

Watching this now, I’m brought instantly back to the warm realization that Mr. Ellison is as personable, endearing and humble as imaginable in person.  That he has not only the chops but the charisma to be a star.  It’s exciting to witness this artist’s skyward trajectory.

Not only that, but Dr. Strangeloop proved a worthy foil and equally appealing force.  The man is quickly scaling my to-watch-for list.  The best part is that the show aftwards blew everything about this event to dust.  At least for a while.  It was a unique experience to take in two entirely different sides of an artist in one day.

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