Dec 8, 2016

Spiral (2016)

Resists (masculine?) noise tropes of screaming out sweet catharsis, Puce Mary builds atmospheres which are always on the brink of collapsing but never really do. The human voice is relatively soft and spoken, concerned with the way it appears to the listener while it reflects on the burden of the female body, but it's subsumed into the machine which feeds it back out in processed agony. There is no release, only tension and unease. Live she stands in front of the machine as it breaks free from control and overwhelms her- her role is to bring it back. Over the course of an hour she comes to understand it and then redirects its anger in a direction where she can become one with it, leaving the audience cowering and fearful. The Spiral tells a similar story but in song fragments and mini-atmospheres which bleed into each other. Its secret lies in the fact that it approaches the chaos/harmony machine/human dichotomies from the side of understanding and reconciliation rather than transcendence or rejection- its appeal is the terror and beauty that comes through restraint rather than domination.

Mothers (2016)

Whether or not the listener believes in Fat White Family as Stooge-ian fools / harbingers of the end of times plus gross-out humour as much as the listener wants to whenever she reads about Fat White Family as Stooge-ian fools " ", Songs For Our Mothers is one of the year's best pop-rock records so there

Dec 7, 2016

Tide Ripples (2016)

The layering of what appears delicate to the point of being ephemeral- Asuna has 22 minutes each song to make something monumentally delicate before stripping unexpected layers away and leaving others, actively avoiding density and leaving the listener feeling elated

Ditties (2016)

Bitchin Bajas cutting up, arranging, sometimes disembowling Bonnie Prince Billy's donkey cries = best donkey cries of the year and at a time where we want our voices processed and ghostly, a stand-out processed ghost voice record too. Bitchin Bajas aren't focused like they might have been on swirling arpeggio symphonies because that'd be competition and not collaboration- instead they use the donkey cries like an instrument and the result is low-key bizarro melancholy. Which on the surface sounds like them, but put this way sounds like a new way of Bonnie Prince Billy doing Bonnie Prince Billy

Dec 6, 2016

Summer (2016)

Too (2016)

The trend in electronic music towards material sound and sound sources has influenced everyone from The Body to Andy Stott and Tim Hecker this year, and Lewis' response is less vapory (as e.g. Hecker) or OPNy (as e.g. Stott), as it is tangible beats supplied to effectively guide us through suites of dark/ambiguous textures. For the most part Lewis highlights the conflict in this relationship by allowing the atmospheres to float away, never to be dominated or controlled by the rhythms. The album's final third heralded by Beaming changes things however, and sees the 'physical' win out. Beats are replaced by decayed tapes on that one while Try almost finds 000s Burial, and the finale uses echoing drums in a way that is less discordant, more deserved, and even hopeful.

mego / -o-spotify / boomkat / norman

Dec 5, 2016

Buchla Ears (2016)

Digital rainforests, not just as a well composed static image (which would be compelling enough), but with flux & movement: birdcalls, lapping water, rain, and bursts of sunshine. At once a 21st c. terrarium and a fantasy world more expansive than ours

Only the Youngest Grave (2016)

Seems driven by the desire to uncover a human past in the landscape but rather than rekindling a relationship with the elemental (as in the Scandinavian tradition), finds a kind of abandoned occult sadness (as in the British tradition), which is to say that it's all bones and no spirit. A few things strike me every time (one good, one subjectively not good_)- I have no idea what makes good music much less good mixing but the sparseness of Only the Youngest Grave allows me to hear around the noise in a way that I'm not accustomed to (good!), and also I am all attention whenever the music wanders, but it every now and then builds instead (repeated motif, click distortion pedal) which is a thing I am most allergic to thanks to post-rock but which is quite moving if you are into that, and which I consciously overlook as the noise actually overrides the loud-quiet dynamic and maybe inadvertently distracts from it. So there's something for everyone there

The Waves (2016)

And Also The Trees do landscape music through songs (rather than strictly abstract evocations), so sonically it's all damp English countyside and lyrically it's characters trying to find meaning in said landscape. It's prose then. Born Into the Waves moves beyond this physical locale and its instrumentation constantly travels, but the landscape is psychological, and this revelation doesn't so much return us to England or even suggest that it's framing these journeys, but sits cold at the heart of everything instead

Dec 3, 2016

You're Welcome (2016)

A song-cycle which doesn't dictate a narrative, but which takes form around what the listener brings to it. You're Welcome Here has been the most devastatingly sad thing heard all year as well as the most life-affirming, the best background noise as well as the most 'present'. The fact that it comes full circle (as in a dream) jolts us in its absence when it is over, asking to be heard again and giving structure to the life of the listener whether she is achieving things or not (I never am!)

Fever (2016)

Michael Morley doing disco tapes didn't surprise me, but it did worry me- with Fear of Music he aped rock riffs so as to belittle and destroy their 'power' and I hoped to god he was not going to try and give disco the same treatment. As it transpires I should stop being defensive and second-guessing people because there is nothing but affection for disco here and any way Morley at this stage in his career samples rather than mimics- it's soaring strings and repetitive grooves (the latter will not surprise, the former might) processed into 4 x ~10 minute songs where as is customary with Gate the sounds become a single oppressive texture, the songs deteriorate, the voice and guitars are exhausted from the start and either dissolve into the fabric of the song, or collapse along with it. What the uplifting/catchy structures do is reconfigure the guitars as an assault when that is necessary, which is exciting on its own, but I am more driven to the moments where the samples win out- the final stretch of Licker for example sends the heart soaring as the body disintegrates. as weary as it is hopeful

mie / -o-juno

Dec 2, 2016

マホロボシヤ (2016)

Live at Issue Project Room (2016)

Clonic Earth (2016)

boomkat / -o-spotify / pan

Hearing Music (2016)

Although new age music found an audience willing to overlook or even embrace its dorkiness via obscure tape rips in the music blog era, it was only recently that it became properly accepted and even declared fashionable. Far from cashing in on this via unearthed archival material Hearing Music offers nothing in the way of antique synths and dolphin noises for new age fetishists- rather it sits on the threshold of 'tasteful' minimalism and forays into the kind of sounds one would expect with that recently de-stigmatised genre tag, which is to say soulful repetition and rainy elegance

Dec 1, 2016

Dreamboat (2016)

mie / -o-

あいしゃ (2016)

Akio Suzuki moves a radio through public spaces, its hums and static drones echoing and reverberating in these 'found' environments, and making for a surprisingly musical instrument. The additional indeterminacy of people interacting in these spaces makes composers of them if that's what you get from it, but to me it grounds the music in 'the world' and brings it to life.

Nov 30, 2016

Buchla Concerts 1975 (2016)

Eden (2016)

It may be the outcome of a potentially one-off Danish noise 'supergroup' (Erik Enocksson, Frederikke Hoffmeier (Puce Mary), Vit Fana, Loke Rahbek, Varg), but A Body Turns to Eden is no less pressing a release than any from its players' prolific output. Personalities become at once identifiable and for the sake of the songs, seamless- Frederikke Hoffmeier sails above a sea of static clouds and rains wisened angst, while abstracted military percussion tracks the ground beneath it. It might be the most delicate thing that any of the group have released, though there is something fundamentally 'off' about this, and it brings pastoral sounds to the listener freakishly devoid of pastoral texture

Nov 28, 2016

Flutes (2016)

As pure sound (which is unfortunately all I can account for) without ritual context the sacred flute playing on display here is complex and very emotional, with the human voice made to pass through the flute rather than attempting to stay invisible through blowing just air, and the player adding percussions which draw attention to the physicality of the flute again. The voice brings the instrument into being, the instrument processes the voice, and the hands alter both.

You.Know.I.Got.It (2016)

The drums bang and rattle and the samples weave around all lush, while Koran Streets' voice is real high in the mix surrounded by compressed call-backs of his last line. His delivery is relentless high energy, high-register monotone regardless of the line, always precisely on the beat for maximum impact. Musical (Bay area) stylings similar to those in You.Know.I.Got.It have been used in the past for more melodic and nonchalant rappers, so hearing someone who sits between Big Krit and Waka on the mic allows the listener less time and space to navigate the music- it's familiar but with a destabilising sense of urgency

Allir vegir til glötunar (2016)

Nov 27, 2016

Patterns to Details (2016)

On From Patterns to Details the pieces left from Fis' process of making and then destroying dance music are put under such close observation that some listeners have complained that the album is clinical, but there is something emotional about sounds that have been separated trying to create new structures (evinced by 2015's The Blue Quicksand Is Going Now), and something haunting about those which remember and contain traces of the old ones. To me at least works about memory and decay are sort of the antithesis of 'clinical', and From Patterns to Details is one of the year's best because it's full of ghosts.

A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty (2016)

The Body announced that this would be their pop album and they absolutely were not kidding! Like a productive rapper, each of the band's output is to a large extent determined by whoever they've collaborated with in bringing it about, and whereas their (very good) collaboration with Full of Hell this year had The Body playing 'weird' as a foil, No One Deserves Happiness shifts the focus of their electronics from doomy atmospherics (e.g. handled by The Haxan Cloak) to dorky weird preset keys and sound effects, handled by I'm not sure who, maybe the band themselves. It's full of beats and jarring keyboards, and even reminds of The Ark Work in places for its glaring lack of interest in subsuming bedroom midi bits into a serious metal sound-world, but goes the extra step (forward or backward? I still can't tell) of still containing those serious metal sounds, and in The Body's case, arty excursions and weird collages to go with their very very (very) real fear of being human.

Thinking about Tim Hecker, Andy Stott, and Klara Lewis' 2016 albums there seems to be a trend in electronic music towards untreated sounds and textures (following from 2013's R Plus Seven and Yeezus), even within 'dark' electronics (where the sources have traditionally gone invisible). The Body noticed and consequently No One Deserves Happiness is as bizarre, 'contemporary', and bring the noise spontaneous as one could ever desire.

Nov 26, 2016

Those Winged Ones (2016)

Yoiking is an ancient Sami form of chanting which collapses human/'nature' dichotomies through mimesis- of animals, of fairies, of the landscape. The throat-shedding beauty of Somby's yoiking might catch the unfamiliar ear off-guard espec. in the underworld of Neahkkameahttun, and the epic Wolf where Somby repeats himself into the form of the animal, each cycle taking its toll on his vocal chords (which emerge stronger for it). Chris Watson records Somby's performance on-site and mixes it with field recordings made minus-Somby, such that the necessary echos and reverberations are there in the voice, but the sounds of birds and lakes are never drowned out by it.

ash / -o- / stream

Nov 24, 2016

Transportin (2016)

From a region/mindset where The Jack Artist was and is still the blueprint, Transportin is a tapestry of melodramatic lush pitch-shifted r&b songs and themes compressed and ripped from daytime television, with weary vocals reverbed into the fabric of the song. An early 3-song run displays the scope of TransportinCross Yo Mind pulls a familiar regional trick (see also Jacka & Ampichino's No Tears) of recontextualising a soul song which speaks of romantic love gone awry, within gangsta storytelling (Mike and his friends asking why they've been forgotten- the inference goes from loved ones or past acquaintances who sit separate from his lifestyle to a system which blames and ignores, both met with a humbling do I ever cross your mind?), Tomorrow Ain't Promised is broken up with its southern spiritual chorus of mournful voices, and the muddy abstracted sub sounds sitting separate from the drum track of I Kno Its Still Some Real Niggas speak to an experimentation which is commonsense here, and unique everywhere else.

Nettles (2016)

Don't be scared that it's an ode to person and place (even Neil Young made "I'm sorry. You don't know these people. This means nothing to you." a voyeuristic nightmare that the listener couldn't help but share in)- A Pot of Powdered Nettles is an open-invitation welcome to the farewell ritual which is, in spite of its players' links to unsettling and abrasive musical projects, peaceful and affectionate.

Have You Been Good to Yourself (2016)

Have You Been Good to Yourself threatens treatment as a curio artefact or gospel-in-crisis record (Wendy Rene's brother regretful and traumatised, his soul music career ended when he was drafted to Vietnam, his son is dead, so he lays down Have You Been Good to Yourself at home), but Frierson's simple faith transcends this (he hates drugs and loves god, but it's also more than that), and so does the record's surface- e.g. his slightly overdriven guitar (!) and voice, both simple and immediate