Thursday, December 03, 2009

2009: The Year of Lists - Telebastard

Zach Biri (AKA Telebastard) bugs me from time to time to go see his band Nonreturner and/or their label mates on local co-op Yards & Gods. He's right. I should go see these bands as nothing he has ever sent my way was not good. That said, I bugged him to give me a list of the year's best. I can't vouch for the musicians on this list, but I can vouch for Zach and his taste. So, I guess that means I can vouch for the list. Anyway, read it, memorize it, and go buy this music to confirm my faith in young Zach. Also, despite his denial, he blogs.

It should also be noted that the opinions expressed in these posts are not those of comoprozac (a pseudonym) or of the owner of this blog. The lists are entirely attributed to the author identified above.

Disclaimer: I (Zach) am neither a writer, nor a blogger, and often times have trouble shaking the feeling that I am completely full of shit, or at least sound that way.

1. God Is Saying This To You? by Kurt Vile

Every year, a handful of my friends and I meet up to go camping and floating on the Huzzah and Bass rivers near Leasburg, MO. This is always a special event because some of us are spread out and there aren't many opportunities to get the lot of us together. This year when I returned home, I decided to make two "mix tapes" (in quotations because I neither own a cassette deck nor cassettes) based on the whole experience. One mix was called BEER KONG. I took my favorite dance/electro/hip-hop/upbeat songs, put them in a pleasing order, dumped them into Traktor to adjust the BPMs on a few, and transposed a few so that the key changes between songs weren't so jarring. BEER KONG was a memento mix interpretation of when we all showed up at the camp site and joyful celebration commenced. This spastic euphoria lasts well into the nine hour float itself, at which point people begin to sober up and enter a zombified state. The final paddle back is always both physically and emotionally exhausting, but the completely blown-out calm of returning to a fireside so worn out and listening to nature go to sleep around you is totally worth it. In a completely different way, this is also euphoric – especially if you are smoking drugs. Such was the inspiration for the second of the two mixes. I filled it with the most ethereal and hauntology-informed music I had around with a special thematic emphasis on water and being under water. One track that worked it's way onto the mix was “Red Apples” by Kurt Vile. In the great churning of acquiring, listening, sorting, and archiving all of the music I go through in a year, "God Is Saying This To You?" was lost to a casual listen while I was probably busy doing something insane like dremelling something for no good reason. I chose “Red Apples” after just randomly clicking through a whole bunch of songs in Winamp, and it sounded like it fit so I included it. After listening to the mix a few times, the whole aesthetic of Kurt Vile just jumped out at me. It was like a folkier Ariel Pink, and something about it reminded me of a wind up mobile I must have had above my cradle when I was a baby. That’s still a mystery. I decided to listen to the song within the context of the album it came from and became instantly addicted. Addiction gave way to full on obsession, and there were weeks where I would listen to nothing but this album (specifically “Beach on the Moon” and “My Best Friends (Don't Even Pass This)”). Apparently I missed the KV hypetrain the first time when “Freeway” was what the blipsters were all going crazy about, but that's fine. I do enjoy “Constant Hitmaker” very much, especially the alternate version of “Freeway” shortly after “Classic Rock in Spring”. I thought about including “Constant Hitmaker” and “Childish Prodigy” on this list, but instead I decided to pick my favorite of the three so as not to over saturate this thing with Vile.

2. Choral by Mountains

The first time I gave this album a spin, I'm not entirely sure what happened but it was one of two things. Either the music put me into a trance, or I went into one on my own and the music just happened to be the perfect thing to be listening to during it. I've used this album to meditate, to calm down, to enhance my mood, to pick me up, to make me sleep, to alleviate panic attacks... These days I've learned to really appreciate ambient-drone music, but this is something else entirely and I wouldn't be slightly shocked to learn that there's some kind of binaural-beat trickery going on here that allows this album to play me and my fragile psychic state like an accordion.

3. Logos by Atlas Sound

These are the reasons this album is awesome to me: “Shelia”, Laetitia Sadier singing on the almost kraut-rock “Quick Canal”, “Kid Klimax” - the whole song but especially the ending ("oh my-god oh my-god") - and it's counterpart acoustic version on the Rough Trade EP, and the joyous bloop-bloop synth bass on “Washington School” that I think I could happily play on repeat for an entire day. The whole thing is fantastic, but these are the parts that are the most important to me. This album has been talked about to death and I think I'd rather just leave it at that.

4. Here We Go Magic by Here We Go Magic

Something about Here We Go Magic sounds divorced from time. Sometimes it sounds like time travelers kidnapped Paul Simon, force fed him a bunch of drugs and made him sing over beats I swear I heard on the last Books album. Another strange synapse is misfiring in my brain as I listen, and suddenly it's 2001 again and I'm in my dorm room listening to the first Circulatory System album. It speaks volumes about an album that I've heard described as "conceptual" (?!?) that I can put this on around pretty much anyone and heads begin to bob. This album is grounded in some kind of unashamed joy (except maybe tracks 7 and 8) that appears to be contagious. Standout tracks: ”Fangela”, and “I Just Want To See You Underwater”.

5. When We Parted My Heart Wanted to Die by Leyland Kirby

What a misleading title, eh? It sounds like instead of Leyland Kirby, the musician's name should be "My Tear Stained Diary”. Then you hear the music. It sounds aquatic. There are minimal piano compositions played to no tempo or meter at all and drowned in reverb. There are whirling atmospherics that start off coma-warm like a blanket, and then burn white hot. Comparisons have been made to Brian Eno, and I can certainly hear that. I've seen a video posted on Youtube of a shorter edit of the title track, and the footage is several POV shots of a person walking the streets of Berlin layered on top of each other so the viewer seems to be seeing some awful drunken march through a cold black and white city. Where Mountains Choral was drone-ambient of an almost medicinal nature, this is instead something terrible in it's capacity to take you to a place you may not want to go emotionally, and beautiful and tearily nostalgic without ever uttering a letter from the horrible but somehow appropriate album title. Apparently this is the first album of a trilogy that was simultaneously released. I've still only heard the first one...

6. From the Ground by Heather Woods Broderick

Somewhere along the line, I became obsessed with Type Records. It probably had something to do with “Dragging a Dead Deer Up A Hill” by Grouper and spread from there. Type seems to include a lot of people that might fall under the banner of contemporary classical a la Max Richter or something. Some of this kind of music sounds like dreadful wankery to me, but not the artists on Type. Among them, Peter Broderick stands head and shoulders above the rest in my eyes. Between classical compositions, glints of pastoral and almost folk sounds peek through. Last year, Broderick released what was, in my opinion, his most folksy album, "Home". I'm not referring to folk in the alt-folk-fuck-whatever sense. Alt-country and this new folk thing is spreading mitotically towards crisis, and I'm pretty sure most universities now require you to join at least one folk rock band before they will consider giving you a degree of any kind. Broderick’s music is something detached from Americana somehow. There are violins (not fiddles) and cellos. There is an acoustic guitar, but it's not clumsily strummed by a meat-fisted hand. Broderick's folk is just as well orchestrated and composed as his classical pieces, and when he begins to sing my heart just breaks apart. I spent a lot of time on the youtubes looking for live videos of these newer songs because it seemed to me that they would be much easier to pull off live with this particular sound. Most of the videos I found were of Peter in a quartet that included his sister Heather Woods Broderick. Several months later, I found out she had an album out, and Pete was all over it, so I had to give it a listen. Much of the music could have just as easily been on a Peter Broderick album (I'm guessing now Heather has just as much of a hand in his sessions as he does in hers). Here, her apparent familial talent for classical and folk composition sits comfortably beside each other. On the few songs she sings on, I hear Chan Marshall or Hope Sandoval in her voice. Last year, one of the most emotionally affecting songs I listened to all year was Maps by Peter Broderick (absolutely no relationship to Maps by YYY's). This year's Maps might be The Colours by his very own sister.

7. Fever Ray by Fever Ray

This is another album that's had probably too much said about it already. To me, this could have been a Knife album and I would never have known the difference. They both scare the shit out of me, and I can't wring either of them loose from looping in my head. I also read Black Hole this year by Charles Burns who did most of the cover art, and it was the perfect soundtrack. This must have leaked sometime late last year, because I feel like I have had it a lot longer than 2009. For a while, I was fairly obsessed.

8. All the Pleasures of the World by Crayon Fields

You know what? I generally hate twee. It's a dissertation for another time, but I'll put it this way: not only can I not bring myself to subscribe to such a precious and kinda childish worldview, but I think that this shit was the back door to our house that Starbucks and Mac commercials snuck in through. I'm only setting the scene here, and I'd be happy to go round and round with you on the topic, but this is neither the time nor the place. The point is, I think whoever described Crayon Fields to me in order to get me to check it out misled the shit out of me. Nobody ever said I’d have to confront my twee-mons. The singer's voice is so soft and Stuart Murdoch-ey, and the subject matter of the songs... *shudder*. I'm not sure why I didn't turn it off as soon as he started singing, but then something changed. The title track kicked in with a Spoon-esque bass line, and suddenly the voice seemed sexy instead of like that of an NPR correspondent. Somehow lines like "I mess up my collar / just to feel you correct it" didn't elicit the gagging response they should have. Some kind of soft faux-funk tickling guitar was moving around behind the words, and the so-sincere-it-hurts stigma that this song should have had if another band had written it and put it over french horns was totally absent. This is a microcosm of the entire album - twee singing over the gamut of styles. And believe me, the lyrics are twee-as-fuck, but the sentiments of some of the things he says are somehow beautiful to me. The biggest and best example of this is during the second to last track “Lucky Again”. "I've been so happy / I'm almost ashamed". The song seems to be about apprehension with being happy and satisfied, and feeling sort of undeserving. It struck a chord with me as I was listening to this album the first time. I was weaning off of the SSRI Zoloft after over a decade of numbness, or muted emotions with pinhole episodes of total insanity interspersed. For the first time in half of my life, I could feel joy for more than a couple of moments at a time. I could also feel lower than I remembered possible, but it was so much easier to counter it with honest-to-jesus lasting happiness. It was an almost alien feeling to me when my reaction to sadness wasn’t to drink myself retarded, but to find something I enjoyed and have it actually bring me authentic joy instead of a gross approximation. Maybe this red letter moment in my life is the beginning of me being able to appreciate this kind of music, and maybe this album just had pertinent subject matter to what I was going through at the time. Whichever the case, these songs are now imprinted on me, and permanently symbolic of an enormous positive change in my life. Phew...

9. Seek Magic by Memory Tapes

Weird Tapes and Memory Cassette are the same person. All year long either alias has been dropping short EPs that were delightful in different ways. Weird Tapes found it's way onto a lot of party/driving mixes, while Memory Cassette was the chilled out Ween-vocals counterpart I'd listen to while I myself was cold chillin'. While both projects are distinguishable by the moods they elicit, both owe a lot to a four to the floor disco beat, and both can weave in and out of the other's territory without totally ruining either mood. Enter: Memory Tapes, which is not simply a consolidation of both styles under one name, but more akin to mixing red and blue paint to make purple - something with hints of both but entirely unique. The softer songs are softer - like a strange Boards of Canada. The dancier songs are dark and also weirder than Weird Tapes. There's something markedly more psychedelic going on here. Every time I listen to Seek Magic, I like it more and more. If this year were six months longer, it would likely meander up this list.

10. You Will Never Know Why by Sweet Trip

When I first heard Sweet Trip, I forgot I wasn't listening to Stereolab. Yep.

Honorable, non LP mentions:

A. Warp20 Box Set

If you are a fan of Warp Records, this is a must have. If you are new to Warp Records, this is a fantastic introduction. Warp20(Chosen) is a two disc compilation of some of the finest singles and single tracks from the past 20 years of the label's existence. From the looks of the Warp20 website, these were voted in and ranked by fans. All of your favorites are there – “Windowlicker” and “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball” by Aphex Twin, “Red Hot Car” by Squarepusher, “ROYGBIV” and “Amo Bishop Roden” by Boards of Canada, “Drane” and “Gantz Graf” by Autechre. Newer Warp musicians like Flying Lotus and Battles are also present. Warp20(Recreated) is a two disc compilation of Warp artists covering other Warp artists. Your imagination should be going wild right now. Warp20(Unheard) is a collection of unreleased tracks, which can be understandably dodgy at times but is totally worth it for the Boards of Canada track. Warp20(Elemental) is an hour long nonstop mix by Osymyso. I haven't listened to it yet because I've been too busy with the other three - yes I am sort of ashamed of myself. The strangest part of the box set is Warp20(Infinite) which is a collection of locked-groove loops. If you aren't sure what a locked-groove loop is, I'll tell you. On a record, when a needle falls into a locked-groove, it can't get out and repeats along the same circumference of the vinyl forever. Most records are pressed with locked-groove loops of silence at the end so that the arm doesn't go flying off the side and damaging the needle when the songs are over. Occasionally someone will experiment with putting a locked-groove loop with actual music on it, and this can be pretty cool and hypnotic. This double record is fifty 1.8 second locked-groove loops from just about everyone on Warp. Idea for use: set it up to play the Polygon Window “Quoth” 1.8 second loop, turn the volume up all the way and leave the house. Your cohabitants will hate you forever.

B. Bay of Pigs by Destroyer

This was my number 1 favorite album of 2009, but I didn't include it on this list because I'm playing by the goddamned rules okay? It's an EP, and it's two tracks long, so that disqualifies it from any orthodox end of year list. Truth be told, I think I probably listened to this EP over 400 times this year, and that's probably a conservative estimate. It's not a secret to those close to me that I love Dan Bejar. His detractors have their list of reasons why he's not the greatest thing ever, but with me it's like arguing with a Grateful Dead fan - something about him hits me in a way that is impervious to matters of taste, career missteps, alleged formula, etc, and nothing anyone says can change that. Though it is a given that I am heavily biased towards his music, if this EP is any indication of the direction he plans to go in (and I have read that it is), his best work may be ahead of him. That's a pretty significant prediction when it is made about the man who wrote “This Night” and “Destroyer's Rubies”, but decidedly less so when it is coming out of my Dan Bejar loving mouth. This EP has all of the things Destroyer fans already love about him: cryptic and wordy lyrics with strange phrasings, his unmistakable voice that makes him endearing to some and unlistenable to others, a collapsing-world sentiment prevalent in so many of his songs... But there are electronics here, and synthesizers, and a club beat. From the description, it could either be the best or worst thing he could possibly do, and somehow it ends up being the former. I can't get these two songs out of my head, and I doubt I ever will.

No comments: