Tuesday, January 31, 2012

fennesz & sakamoto: flumina (touch)

Flumina is the third collaboration between Christian Fennesz and Ryuichi Sakomoto. And it’s much more in the vein of 2007’s Cendre than their live outing from a few years before that, Sala Santa Cecilia. Where Sala Santa Cecilia was a lush and noisy record, constantly shifting between dense electronic clatter and distorted quiet, Flumina is overtly ambient: a subtle dialogue between Sakomoto’s artful piano meanderings and Fennesz’s atmospheric fuzz.

In fact, Flumina is a ‘concept’ or ‘process’ record in two senses. First, because each of the 24 tracks is in a different key, the intention being to represent each hue and shade of the quarter-tone scale. Second, because each was arrived at by the same dialectical method. Sakomoto would record the piano parts while on tour in Japan, send Fennesz the tracks via email, and he would add a bit of drone on his guitar and laptop at home in Austria before, finally, they got together in person in New York to mix the whole record down.

Unfortunately, the concept’s pretty much the most interesting thing about it. Flumina does nothing for me, and although I’m struggling to work out why, my hunch is that it has something to do with ambience...

For my musings on Ambience, Adorno and my ambivalence towards this record, check out the full review on TMT.

Monday, January 23, 2012

thomas william: deccan technicolour (this thing)

I’ve written here before about some of the great experimental electronic music that’s coming out of Australia at the minute. There’s a scene brewing, folks, and at the start of 2012, you could do a hell of a lot worse than casting your ears in this direction.

Once upon a time, Sydneysider Tom Smith went by the name Cleptoclectics, under which moniker he released one EP, a full-length, and a bunch of remixes, all of which showed definite promise but were not in themselves particularly special. Deccan Technicolour is of a different caliber entirely. Smith’s first release since changing his handle to Thomas William, it slipped through virtually unnoticed right at the end of 2011, a fact that is particularly criminal when you consider that he’s been giving it away for free. It is, however, a top quality record: immersive; at once genuinely eclectic and totally coherent; full of far-out, lopsided beats, glitchy grooves, ingeniously butchered samples, and woozy, psychedelic soundscapes. If you’re a fan of Flying Lotus, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here, even if Deccan Technicolour is in general a more contemplative, less dancefloor-oriented affair...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

best of 2011

Tiny Mix Tapes put together an amazing package of essays and lists for the end of 2011. My own meager contribution was a blurb on Colin Stetson's fantabulous New History Warfare and an attempt at my top 25 records of the year. A paradox: coming up with my own list felt strange, difficult and, at times, totally antithetical to the way I think about music generally: it's not a competition, after all! But by contributing the following necessarily unfinished and provisional effort I played my part in producing a totally amazing resource for anyone interested in some top-class recommendations. Many of the records on the list I'd never heard before. All of them are fantastic.

So here's my own contribution to the collective-list-as-recommendation-making-process. 25 to 1 in roughly ascending order of awesomeness. Audio from a parallel feature on my radio show here.

25 Woebot – Chunks
24 Wild Beasts – Smother
23 Laurel Halo – Hour Logic EP
22 Epic45 – Weathering
21 Grouper – Alien Observer / Dream Loss
20 John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
19 Roommate – Guilty Rainbow
18 Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
17 James Ferraro – Far Side Virtual
16 Rustie – Glass Swords
15 The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond the World
14 Giant Claw – Midnight Murder
13 Seekae – +Dome
12 Jim O’Rourke – Old News #5/6
11 Ford & Lopatin – Channel Pressure
10 Advisory Circle – As The Crow Flies
9 Demdike Stare – Tryptych
8 Various Artists – Bangs & Works Vol 2.
7 Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape / Rainforest EP
6 tUnE yArDs – W H O K I L L
5 Bon Iver – Bon Iver
4 Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
3 Tim Hecker – Ravedeath 1972 / Dropped Pianos
2 James Blake – James Blake
1 Colin Stetson – New History of Warfare Vol 2: Judges

And here's my blurb on my number one album of 2011:

Colin Stetson
New History Warfare Vol 2: Judges
New History Warfare was the most muscular record released this year, no doubt about it. In terms of sheer sonic brawn, nothing else came close. It’s a masterpiece of exertion: an enormous, pulsing, swirling tempest of sound generated for the most part by just one man and his beast of a saxophone: no loops, no electronics, and mostly in a single take. Not that this sounded like any sax playing you’ve heard before. Stetson pushed both his instrument and his own body right to the limit. And because of the way the microphones had been placed, we heard everything: the clattering of keys, the heaving and sucking of breath, Stetson’s moans and melodic wails. This is what the ‘grain’ sounds like when it’s mic’d up and amplified. The effect may have been bluesless, but it was totally soulful. And, in fact, it was often when Stetson reined himself in most, in the relative calm between storms, that the effect was at its most profound: the wrenching anguish of “Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes” with its superb vocal from My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden, the mounting drone of album closer “In Love and In Justice.” New History Warfare sounded like nothing else this year. It was totally peerless: powerful, moving, original, an eruption of sheer life-force that quickened our pulses and stirred our souls.