When I purchased the 2lp edition of Destroyer‘s 2011 pop masterpiece Kaputt, I had no idea that the bonus track promised on side C would slowly become the languid circulatory system of the entire album. It swims in an embryonic well from which the other tracks drink, all held breath and deep plunge. It’s patient and fragile, and just may comprise twenty of my favorite minutes.
If you have only heard the standard tracklisting, press play now. It’s rare when something labelled “bonus” actually elevates the experience of listening to a great album. The Laziest River feels absolutely essential at this point, and while I sympathize with the probable intention of encouraging vinyl purchases, it seems unfair to leave everyone else with an unfinished story. So buy it if you can, but this song can be downloaded and amended to your playlist for a quick fix.
This will loop indefinitely over the Elysian fields of an afterlife of my design.
Actress (aka Darren Cunningham) redefined ambient beauty with this piece, lighting the spiritual wires from the organ works of Camille Saint-Saëns through Brian Eno’s Discreet Music while sparking fresh air to flame. Blooming the color of Arvo Pärt’s devotional tilt in an exploratory space odyssey from the dreams of Oneohtrix Point Never or Stanley Kubrick, N.E.W. is uplifting and warm, alien and awestruck. We’re inside a nebulous pipe organ riding the cusp of a singularity, dancing on the membrane between ascension and obliteration. Let it repeat.
I should mention the video: I have no clue where the footage is from, but it strangely works. This copy was chosen mainly, however, because it can be set to 720p, so the sound quality is superb.
I can’t stop this ringing in my head.
With new album Luxury Problems, Andy Stott effectively rendered his pair of groundbreaking 2011 EPs irrelevant. It takes all of ten seconds for this, the opening track, to signify a giant leap. Siren vocal shards and clouds, singing-bowl ring and a Mariana trench of low-end crunch writhe like a basket of snakes, twisting through every crack in every direction.
Hit play, make sure the quality is “HD” and turn this up louder than is normally comfortable. With any luck, it’ll start snowing.
It’s strange to think of the handful of album covers in 2012 featuring high contrast b&w photography of women as all representing their respective sounds in spectacular fashion. This one is my favorite.
I forgot to share this immediately after my first listen. I really should have.
Tim Hecker is widely acknowledged as a master of his own blend of melodic drone (whom I’ve shamefully never written in depth about) while Daniel Lopatin is better known as Oneohtrix Point Never, hands down one of my favorite artists working today. The fact that he’s collaborating with Hecker has, to put it mildly, assuaged my fears about Lopatin’s distinct lack of a new LP this year.
It’s late and I’m tired and I don’t know what to say. If you like either of these artists, you will certainly enjoy this song. Let’s hope the full album is just as good.
I was aimlessly browsing and came upon the Ghost In The Shell original score on cd. Loving the film, though having not seen it in years, I knew it would at least conjure some nostalgia for a time long gone. Nostalgia is achieved within 5 seconds of the opening track. Beyond that, it gets very interesting.
About that opener: anyone who’s seen the film will be instantly transported to the iconic fembot creation opening credits sequence. To a young teenage boy in 1996 this was both erotic and confusing, setting up my expectations for something which never appears. Instead what unfolds is an enigmatic film sprouting questions about consciousness, mortality, empathy, identity and where we’re headed as a culture. The film’s outlook is as dystopian as its ending is optimistic. The cinematography and art direction sit at the zenith of hand drawn animation (and yes I know primitive CGI was employed as well). The music sits at a crossroads between traditional Japanese, Hollywood classical, and minimalist synth pads echoing classics like Blade Runner and anything Tangerine Dream in the 80’s.
With my tastes light years removed from whatever I was into at age 14 (remember, this was before the internet made jaded cynics out of preteens bored with Boris and Nico) I find myself slipping into boldly embracing waters with the score by Kenji Kawai (川井憲次). I love the abstract synth sculptures of Oneohtrix Point Never, the warm tones of Brian Eno, the quickening thunder of Taiko and choral flights into pure ambient bliss. I love when an epic orchestral swell dissolves into liquid neon pools, spiking the hair on my neck. I love when an alien sound cloud whisks my conscious mind away, toward nothingness and enlightenment, and peace.
This is one of my favorite scenes of the film. There is no dialogue. Almost nothing happens, but it’s the moment when the initial rush of plot subsides and the viewer truly slips beneath the surface. It is pure hypnosis.
[You can attempt buying this at amazon for an exorbitant price. Or find it on the internet.]
So I discovered that the entire groundbreaking, timeless, brilliant film is free on youtube.
Instructions for those who have not seen Koyaanisqatsi:
1. Stop what you are doing immediately.
2. Turn volume up high.
3. Watch Koyaanisqatsi.
4. Bask in silent astonishment.
5. Thank me.
Honestly, this is one of those life-changing works of art which you will simply and honestly never forget. I fondly recall my first viewing, laying prone in front of a laptop in a cabin on a mountain at night and feeling my astonishment overtaking all physical sensation. This truly begs for the big screen, or at least a reasonably large one, with a reasonable sound system accompanying the visuals. Yet its artistry thrives in any time, place, or size. Which is exactly why I am sharing the profound discovery that it is free to anyone willing to pay only time and curiosity. Hell, if you have firefox with adblock plus, you won’t even see the ads (and honestly, get it – I couldn’t imagine this seamless dream interrupted by commercials) and the only thing you’re missing is the absolute clarity of the original high fidelity print. You’ll undoubtedly recognize certain elements within this time travelling all-encompassing slice of Life Itself, both stylistically and culturally. From the frenzied time-lapse shots of nature and city life contrasting with assembly lines and traffic patterns to the impossibly slow motion glimpses of astonishment and banality, the style and content of this film has influenced more than a generation of visual art and storytelling.
The best part is that I haven’t even gotten to the music; the reason this stands 30 years on as the timeless accomplishment it is: Philip Glass‘ score is the 10 ton monolith blocking out the sun, the elephant in the room, the absolute gravitational pull of this work. If you are at all familiar with 20th century minimalism via Charlemagne Palestine, Steve Reich, Terry Riley or their contemporaries, or especially Glass’ emotive, often romantic take on the sound, you are likely already familiar with some or all of these sounds; if not you are in for a warm embrace of what will likely become a hermetic world you’ll find easily inhabited and unequivocally addicting. Call it lazy, but having the film here and ready to watch makes me reluctant to begin ascribing descriptors to the music. It must be experienced to be grasped. The marriage of sound and picture is essential for direct, uninhibited understanding, for knowing the intrinsic appeal of minimalism itself, for laying bare the nature of conceptual ourboros, the cyclical existence we’re evolved to respond to. This score is meant to evoke the cosmic design of life itself from violent beginning to violent end and all of the impossibly close and personal yet gigantic moments in between.
Note: Do not listen before viewing. Although entirely gorgeous, worthy, and entrancing on its own… divorced from the imagery at birth, Glass’ score will never reach the same affection and thus should be saved for after-film experience.
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.
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.]
Well, this brief cassette release is at least tied with the two LPs preceeding the possibly-album-of-the-year Returnal. Yes, like those psychotropic soundscapes, it is indescribably gorgeous. Pulsing with an alien life unique in Oneohtrix Point Never‘s oeuvre, these two live-sourced tracks foreshadow the drifting-cloud majesty of Returnal while rumbling with the some of the most concrete rhythms he (Daniel Lopatin) has yet recorded.
It begins with what sound like marimbas via a familiar-enough repeated melody, simply growing in intensity – never changing – throughout the 9 minutes of Melancholy Descriptions of Simple 3D Environments. The draw here is how Lopatin slowly cocoons this spine, draping layer upon layer of undulating synth washes, echoed laser effects, and eventually the swelling heart of warming drone takes everything right off the ground. Side B opens with what can only be described as The Caretaker (aka Leyland Kirby) riffing on something more triumphant than haunting: a hollowed out and dispatched-from-the-past orchestral section valiantly tries to break through the corrosion. Then we abruptly cut to a short murky collage which feels like bumping through a science lab in the dark before drifting directly into the triumphant heart of this piece: The Trouble With Being Born. An oscillating fuge of an (uncharacteristically) optimistic dystopian anthem, this largest cut of the side’s 9 minutes feels like the true contemplative center of the release, a space where all conscious thought lifts up and outward. In other words, it’s 5 minutes that will totally “expand your mind,” man. Then a proverbial sudden-record-scratch moment happens and we cut to an Ariel Pink damaged-AM-pop sound refracted in the same manner as the previous collage, fading toward silence.
It’s quite a ride. Short but intense. Listen.Tracklisting: A Melancholy Descriptions of Simple 3D Environments B Adagio In G Minor Screw/Piano Craft Guild Edit/The Trouble With Being Born/Let It Go