Before sharing a list of my favorite albums in 2012, I’d like to spread my love for the select tracks feeding my addiction throughout the year. These are the tunes flying above and beyond their albums, the ones which dug in and nested in my brain for weeks or even months. The first is easily my favorite track on Death Grips‘ breakthrough album The Money Store. It’s called Hacker.
This frantic burst of nakedly violent energy feels like it’s on the verge of exploding from the get-go, yet impossibly doubles down on its momentum, throttling away like a madman in absolute command of his vehicle. The spliced-digital-ADD edit of Ghost in the Shell footage is a stroke of genius pairing, as far as I’m concerned. Work like this is what the youtube age is all about. And why copyright laws are outdated.
While the album was loved and acclaimed by many of my friends, it was this track alone I felt completely enthralled by. Hell, this thing punches first time listeners in the face. I feel like a rocket every time I hear it.
So here we go.
I was lost in a youtube hole with Yo La Tengo tonight when the notion occured to me that I have never fairly represented my deep seated love for the band on this blog. I can’t possibly hope to convey it in one or a dozen posts so I’m starting off with this fantastic take on a very recent track. It speaks for itself. This band is fucking phenomenal and always has been.
The title says it all: Miles Davis Live Electric and Brutal.
Just hit play, turn your volume up to an uncomfortable level, and let this thing blast the top of your head off. You will feel like a new person after watching this, and go forth into your day with fresh energy and a skyward gaze. Your life will be that much closer to completion. Seriously!
Colin Stetson has created most physically thrilling music in years. The sheer power and intricacy of his saxophone work sets my mind racing with awe and excitement, and leaves me to rue the day I laid my own instrument to rest in its case for years. It’s taken me nearly a year to come to terms with what he’s unleashed and finally share my thoughts in written form.
Not only is this man setting the vanguard for new music and expanding perception of what an instrument can sound like, he’s unspooling aggressive hair-raising songcraft in an unprecedented, instantly recognizable timbre and taking everyone along for the ride. As intimidating as the notion of groundbreaking forms of woodwind communication seems, the music itself is open and inviting, something which can and will stop your mother in her tracks as she asks, just what is that? And then: how does he do it?
I’ll begin by going back to what I started writing about Stetson when his second full length released last spring:
As an incorrigible music junky, I’m always trying to peek over the horizon, searching for those incandescent bursts heralding a surprise. The elated rush of discovering and absorbing the truly new has no sensory equal. Looking over my musical history, it seems most of my favorite albums were of this stripe: works not only deserving my love, but challenging or entirely sidestepping my perception of interesting music – making an impact in the very nature of what I find pleasurable about listening. This blog was born of my desire to share that feeling as much as I could, and this post is as true to that aim as any I’ve ever written.
Stetson records in a tactile environment throbbing with tidal bass with details crackling like dry leaves against skin – I can feel its physical impact on my body. Two major factors drive this sensation: the performance itself and the unique recording process. Constellation MVP and newly christened engineer Efrim Menuck (of Godspeed You! Black Emperor) documented his sound in a fairly unorthodox manner. One listen through and anyone would feel suspicious about the claim that the entire album was captured via single takes with no overdubs; it’s an intricate, dense layer cake of ideas and epiphanies, and it’s always moving. The truth is this: using over 20 microphones positioned throughout the room, including contact mics on his throat and the instrument itself, every song was recorded in such a way that the multitude of angles could be folded and mixed together by engineer Ben Frost into the crystalline vision it is.
Stream the full thing. Now.
So that answers the question of how he does it and finally casts light on my few organized thoughts on the groundbreaking album. In the meantime he released the Those Who Didn’t Run EP and laid bare the sheer tidal force of his recording process with two 10 minute cuts demanding attention and awe in visceral fashion. Side A presents a rhythmic onslaught courtesy of his bass saxophone and Side B weaves an astounding counterpoint with an Alto, twin of the very horn resting less than a dozen feet from where I sit.
Each of these pieces sets me loose in an undulating labrynth of sound, bouncing off the walls riding a burst floodgate of energy straight toward the exit; the first full of low frequency mirth and massage, the second a stone hummingbird skipping across rapids and over waterfalls. They’re each an imaginary car chase down a pair of rabbit holes nobody knew existed a year ago and they set the stage for understanding the monumental accomplishment of the album they follow.
Stream this now, ok?
No amount of description or anecdote can prepare you for hearing this magic yourself. I could remark at the way it can bellow and sway like giant redwood trees in a hurricane, or blast images through my subconscious: ancient armadas cast into space, airborn mountains crashing to the surface, or pews and pipe organs and church spires crumbling in earthquakes. I could mention the explorations of Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp, Don Cherry and Marion Brown and, hell, Pharoah Sanders and how – only cumulatively – they could prepare you for this adventure. I could mention that no prior knowlege is required in the least to enjoy this untethered journey into the heights of creativity and musicianship. To hear this is to witness the vision of a man exerting himself with superhuman effort and poise to craft intensely visionary music with tectonic force.
The Flaming Lips recorded this song for their 1987 (breakthrough? probably not.) full length Oh My Gawd!!!… The Flaming Lips, and to my ears it is one of the most perfect album intros in the history of history. This fan-made video I find to be inconceivably appropriate.
Just look at that trippy, phallic, jeuvenile fucking cover art! If you don’t love it well that’s just too damn bad.
First: sorry I’ve been sort of quiet for a few weeks.
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 Waters – Your First Ever River
Sensations’ Fix – Fragments of Light
Robert Fripp – Let The Power Fall
Fleetwood Mac – Tusk
Drive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Thundercat – Golden Age of the Apocalypse
and finally, with apologies to the artist herself:
Matana Roberts – Coin 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.
So I know I’ve been sluggish this year with Optimistic Underground. I relish being able to share the music enriching my life with you. I hope to rectify this laziness starting now, with The Psychic Paramount and their (hopeful) breakthrough album II.
I had this whole through-line about jet engines and surgical instruments and LSD and This Heat and Les Rallizes Dénudés and Miles Davis and cathartic volume levels… but I got caught up, slack-jawed and blasting this album again. It’s almost like a psychedelic brillo pad, carving clear my thought channels and surrendering my body to oblivion. A therapeutic breakdown of cogent narrative, this thing blasts away the outside world and disconnects me, sets me free in a way only the most blissed out Lovesliescrushing or hard droning Boris album can. It strikes an unknown sweet spot, defying gravity while splaying my brain with crushing heft. Crucial to this power is the flawless production, zooming in on every microscopic detail yet capturing the panoramic magnitude these songs inhabit. A dizzying high wire act of wide-eyed clarity, this album satisfied me in places only a fellow Swans or John Coltrane or Fennesz fan would recognize.
Second track DDB, opening with one of the more gentle passages on II, grows like marshmallows in the microwave, devouring 9 minutes in a wild-fire.
While I’m dropping names, I should mention that if you like Boredoms, Eternal Tapestry, Lightning Bolt, Fushitsusha, or anything within orbit of those bands, you will find yourself punch drunk and melting to this album.
[Released by No Quarter, the album is available at the label's page for only $11 on cd or vinyl. So get it there. Listen to the free stream while you wait.]
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…
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.]