Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2009 Halfway Review [Part 4/5]

Albums 10-6 of my halfway review of 2009. Almost there at #1!

10. Hauschka - Snowflakes and Carwrecks (FatCat)

I can generally handle cold much better than heat, but that doesn’t mean I particularly care for East Coast winters. Still, even in the middle of a beautiful summer’s day, hearing Snowflakes and Carwrecks raises a pang of longing for nights in from the frost. German prepared pianist Volker Bertelmann’s early-2009 EP is a testament to the warmth of good friends and shelter during the harshest season. Bertelmann’s small-town origins are an acknowledged influence on his music, and hearing centerpiece “Tanz” (“Dance”) reach its final crescendo, it’s easy to get swept up in the feeling of a lively, glowing, social gathering in the middle of ice and snow.

My review at Cokemachineglow

9. Clark - Totems Flare (Warp)

With less than a year left, I’ll go ahead and declare Chris Clark to be the defining artist of the decade for Warp Records. His runaway acid, spiked with industrial grit and noir-like levels of reverb have made his albums intensely personal journeys through human emotion. Last year’s Turning Dragon was an angry explosion, leaving Totems Flare to pick up the pieces. It turns out that, for Clark, this involves vocals, more accessible melodies than ever before, and shuffled marching rhythms. Continuing to ride high from the career-peak Body Riddle (2006), this is his most varied record to date.

My review at Cokemachineglow

8. Telefon Tel Aviv - Immolate Yourself (BPitch Control)

It was only a few days before the release of Immolate Yourself, Telefon Tel Aviv’s third record, that member Charlie Cooper died suddenly and unexpectedly. Surviving member Josh Eustis has since picked up the pieces and toured to support the record, but, even if the name survives, Cooper’s death is the end of an era for TTA. The sadness of Cooper’s young death is only amplified by the triumphant sound of Immolate Yourself, which finds the duo more focused than ever in creating majestic songs, informed by techno, shoegaze, and ambient glitch styles. Still, it’s rare that any artist is heard on the level that TTA has. If nothing else, and even if incomplete, TTA told their stories.

My review at Cokemachineglow

7. Miss Kittin & The Hacker - Two (Nobody’s Bizzness)

“I am not / a silent woman!” declares Caroline Herve on “The Womb,” her second collaborative album with The Hacker. That she is not. Miss Kittin has never been silent, nor timid, having embraced techno, goth, punk, electro, and many other influences over the course of her impressive career. Her greatest marks were made in collaborations with Felix Da Housecat and The Hacker during that early-90s era was electroclash surged, which threatened to make Two a retread (…of what was kind of a retread to begin with). No such deal, as Kittin and The Hacker create a more sensual, full, inviting, yet also challenging record than they have in the past. Eschewing the monotone mistress figure she played on 2001’s First Album, Miss Kittin shows all her dimensions here, with The Hacker’s backing induced with more, welcome, lush tones than before.

My review at PopMatters

6. GusGus - 24/7 (Kompakt)

Technically, this is firmly from the second half of 2009, coming out in the Fall. But having heard the promo stream mix, I can’t help but pop it down here. Unfortunately, it looks like singer Earth has sat out this album, but in her stead in the return of Daniel Agust, the elfin-voiced androgyne whose inimitably playful and sensual vocals have marked the best GusGus tracks, from “Ladyshave” to “Desire.” Signing to Kompakt, GusGus return here with an album of fewer and longer tracks, going for synth-layered techno jams that play off all their strengths. Just wait - it’s gonna be epic.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

2009 Halfway Review [Part 3/5]

Here's part three of my top 25 albums of 2009, halfway through, numbers 15 through 11.

15. Voodeux - The Paranormal (Mothership)

I love horror movies and shows, and I love techno. Imagine the glee when my inbox chimed in with a promo for Voodeux, a new group on Claude Von Stroke’s Mothership label who also love those two things, and made them the impetus behind their work. That’s the great thing about The Paranormal--it’s a gimmick, certainly, but a fantastically entertaining one, that results in some truly spine-tingling minimal beats. With a penchant for empty, reverberated spacey, and wobbly organ and chime sounds, Voodeux have created a solid debut offering with tracks that work great on the dance floor and in the headphones. A recent interview I conducted with one of the duo, Tanner Ross (look for it in the next issue of Big Shot), suggests that Voodeux are looking to expand beyond simply being the “horror techno” group. Regardless, Paranormal delivers fully on the promise within its premise.

14. SND - Atavism (Raster-Noton)

I cannot stop listening to this record, which is not quite what I would have expected upon first hearing about it. SND, veterans of the glitch scene, return from a release hiatus with an album that redefines just how “minimal” minimal techno can get. Every one of the unnamed tracks on Atavism uses the same narrow palette of digital, inorganic sounds: a bouncy bass drum, something like a cymbal hit, another something like a snare hit, and an FM-sounding pad with an icy sheen and little timbral variation. This record is a love letter to the disinfected cleanliness of digital signal processing, using sequencers and computerized sound generation to thoroughly de-humanize the productions, and the product is nothing short of addictive. If the sanitized future-dwellers of THX 1138 made funky techno, you can bet it would have sounded like this.

My review at themilkfactory

13. Jimi Tenor & Kabu Kabu - 4th Dimension (Puu)

“It’s imperative / to groove.” So goes the lyrical call-to-action at the start of “Aligned Planets,” the opener from 4th Dimension, the latest from versatile Finnish musician Jimi Tenor, in collaboration with afrobeat ensemble Kabu Kabu. This record sees Tenor disrupting the afrobeat formula with jazzy dissonances and a light synthesizer haze, for a result that sounds like a kind of dream group featuring Miles Davis and Fela Kuti, both at the height of their willingness to think outside the box. Admittedly, I know relatively little about afrobeat, and only chanced upon this album because of the involvement of Warp records alumnus Tenor. Good on him, for continuing to challenge the complacency of each segment of his wide audience.

12. Babe, Terror - Weekend (Perdizes Dream)

The phrase “tropical” has become comically overused in 2009, as bands as stale as Vampire Weekend get slapped with misnomer tags like “Balearic” (which, to remind readers, was a general categorization for electronic dance music popular in Ibiza in the late 80s). The Zeitgest record here is Panda Bear’s 2007 album Person Pitch, which has spawned a rash of half-hearted imitators. If there’s any justice, Babe, Terror, will rise above this fray and get proper recognition, a process that has already started, to some extent. Made entirely out of samples and recordings of his own voice through a relatively basic audio editor, Weekend is a dizzyingly psychedelic journey from São Paulo-based artist Claudio Szynkier. Like Bobby McFerrin on hallucinogens staring at a beautiful sky, Babe, Terror’s music is hyperreal, vocal communication on a non-verbal plane. That it’s available for free download means there no excuse for you not to go and get it now.

My review at Cokemachineglow

11. Ras G - Brotha From Another Planet (Brainfeeder / Alpha Pup)

There’s so many hot new beatmakers coming out of LA these days that I’m amazed I didn’t trip over an MPC when I was there in March. But few are as out-there and compelling as Ras G, whose Brotha From Anotha Planet is equal parts J Dilla and Sun Ra. The beats are grounded in the earth and humanity--note the lack of quantization, contributing to a chewy feel on the percussion--but the themes are out of this world by quite some distance. This is George Clinton’s funk in space as seen through, blunted, introspective, information-age glasses. Lose yourself in it.

My review at Cokemachineglow

Monday, August 3, 2009

2009 Halfway Review [Part 2/5]

Here we go with part two of my top albums of 2009 at the halfway mark. Before starting with the next five, here's a quick plug for pitches for a special features section on the 20th anniversary of Warp Records that I'm co-editing for PopMatters. The call for papers is public, so you (yes, you!) should get cracking on a pitch or two! Deadline for pitches is August 14.

Now, without further ado, here's 20-16:

20. Venetian Snares - Filth (Planet Mu)

This is far from the first time Aaron Funk has done something close to pornographic - his Nymphomatriarch collaboration with then-partner Rachel Kozak (aka Hecate) was built entirely out of sampled sounds from the duos “private debaucheries” recorded while on tour. But Filth is much more about the giggles than the (hypothetical) shits, with Funk relying on the syrupy snot of distorted acid to communicate the sounds of darkly absurdist fluid-swapping.

19. Ethan Rose - Oaks (Holocene)

Great year for ambient, part 2. Something serene from Portland-based composer Ethan Rose, who built Oaks out of samples of the ancient organ at the Oaks Park skating rink. Since I have childhood memories of birthday parties and rainy afternoon at the Oaks rink, this one definitely hits me in the nostalgia. It’s to Rose’s credit that Oaks avoids sounding sappy, instead relying on reverb and the digital artifacts of computer processing to invoke the hazy nature of memory.

My review at PopMatters

18. The Prodigy - Invaders Must Die (Take Me To The Hospital)

When I interviewed Liam Howlett about this one (to be published in full soon, really I swear), he mentioned that recording and touring for this album, The Prodigy has felt more like a solid band unit than ever before. Certainly, we have the opposite of 2004’s Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, which saw Howlett turning mostly towards guests vocalists, as MC Maxim Reality and singer Keith Flint have a heavy presence on Invaders Must Die. Where Outgunned lagged in parts, Invaders is an abrasive thrill-ride through rave sounds past and present. The trio are clearly more comfortable with their status as rave’s veterans, and as such, it’s nice to hear some call-and-response and hoover-esque stabs back in the mix.

17. Moby - Wait For Me (Mute)

After last year’s disco curveball, Last Night, I had no idea what to expect from Moby. Coming within a year of Last Night, Wait For Me sees Moby going back to his “Little Idiot” persona of the daydreamer with a synthesizer and a bunch of field recordings, only this time things are a bit different. Wait For Me is as soul-baringly naked as Moby’s ever been on record - he truly does sound like he’s about to burst into tears on the New Order-esque “Mistake.” It’s inspiring to see that Moby, two decades into his career, still wrestles so heavily with where to go next. Luckily, his avenue with this record is a rewarding one.

My review at Cokemachineglow

16. Alva Noto - Xerrox Vol. 2 (Raster-Noton)

The second album in a series conceptually exploring the link between the sounds of past and present, Xerrox Vol. 2, like its older brother, Xerrox Vol. 1 (2007), finds Alva Noto glitching out over aching strings. Vol. 2 is even more toward the accessible end of anything Carsten Nicolai’s done, with nary a harsh beat or burst of noise to be found. Instead, we get an entry with a foot in the door for Great Year for Ambient. It’s also, it should be mentioned, a fine jewel in what is shaping up to be an excellent year for Raster-Noton. Well worth seeking out.

My review at Cokemachineglow