Play Recent

$11 Bill: 2017’s best albums

If you are reading this, congratulations. Well done on arriving at the end of 2017 without dying in a flood, an earthquake, fire, famine, nuclear war, terrorist attack, murder by police, new plague, white supremacist mass shooting, poverty, poison, revenge, hate crime, accident, or just by tossing your own stupid remains on some moonlit night into the depths of a quarry like a victim of the mob hit that was the past twelve months. You know when you’re on a particularly turbulent flight and all the passengers erupt in applause as the pilot finally lands the plane safely? That’s right now. You made it. You’re alive. A standing O for us all.

Welcome to my annual list of the top eleven albums of the year. A few brief words on how this list was chosen and assembled: First off, this is my list. It doesn’t have to be your list. I don’t claim it to be a comprehensive catalogue or accurate cross-section of musical production in 2017. I don’t care if it’s cool, and I definitely don’t care if it’s correct. It is, rather simply, music that I loved. If loving this music is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. Some of it is problematic. Some of it is uncomfortable. Some of it is sad. Some of it is hilarious. But all of it is brilliant, I believe. I hope that there is one record on this list that you have heard before, and at least one that you have not. That was my aim.

If a theme did emerge this year, it was one of late-style, in Adorno’s logic—what Edward Said described as “surviving beyond what is acceptable and normal.” In this list is what can be characterized as late-career works from artists like Slowdive, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Jay-Z. None of the records I chose was a debut. “In addition,” Said continues, “lateness includes the idea that one cannot really go beyond lateness at all, cannot transcend or lift oneself out of lateness, but can only deepen the lateness. There is no transcendence or unity.” I no longer believe this to be true. The last album of his storied career, David Bowie’s Blackstar was among his best of works, and Gord Downie’s final record may have been his very finest.

Stubbornly, this is a list of albums—not tracks, EPs, 12”s, mix tapes, reissues, archival releases, and the like—because I still believe in the indelible format of the long-playing recording, regardless of its medium. There is good reason why we use the same word for collections of songs and of photographs: they are both recordings of events, inscriptions in sound and light, and as such, albums are compendia of our most glossed-over and unvarnished memories. This is why certain records can be so evocative of a particular place and time—invoking every single sense—and I think it’s why we tend to want to make wrap-up lists like this one each year.

Finally, this list is unranked. Instead, I chose one song from each album, and curated the songs into a playlist. Unfortunately, there is no single platform that contains every song I chose, so I arranged the playlist in the form of the blurbs and links below. I designed this playlist to be listened to in order, in its entirety, one song after another. (Revolutionary! I know.) If you like it, I also encourage you to buy the music on this list, either from an independent shop, or directly from the label or artist. The songs herein conveniently fit neatly onto a CD, which is the way I still like to compile and listen to playlists. It’s my version of making an album. I hope you enjoy it. I care because you do. So thank you for reading, thank you for listening, I love you, and see you in 2018.

 

“Ascent” – Kate Carr – From A Wind Turbine To Vultures (And Back) – Flaming Pines

Have you ever climbed a mountain? If not, I recommend it. There is nothing quite like being higher than anything else around you. A popular cliché says that it’s lonely at the top. The reason for that is because most people can’t be bothered. It’s a lot of work climbing a mountain. Sure, you can helicopter your way to the top, but there is an immense sense of accomplishment reaching a real summit on your own steam, and looking on at the vastness and relative emptiness of this still-beautiful world.

If you want to, you can skip over Kate Carr’s incredible augmented field recording, a strange document of rare quality and precision. It is twenty-seven minutes long, and you’d be forgiven for thinking, initially, that not much happens. But in doing so, you will have skipped over the literal and the figurative ascent, and will have ab initio missed the point of this excursion entirely.

Read my first impressions of From A Wind Turbine To Vultures (And Back).

 

“Ab Ovo” – Joep Beving – Prehension – Deutsche Grammophon

(From “Mad Skills: MIDI and Music Technology in the Twentieth Century,” forthcoming from Repeater Books.)

Like a lot of kids, I took parent-enforced piano lessons when I was young. My teacher was a stern Polish woman who had a reputation for smacking her pupils’ knuckles with a ruler whenever they played a wrong note. Music lessons began when I was three years old, with basic rhythm training. I remember walking in circles on the Afghan rug in my stern Polish piano teacher’s apartment, little drum in hand, counting and beating in time with a wooden mallet. In addition to that drum, my mother brought home shakers, bells, and a triangle with which to make percussive noise. At four, I graduated to the piano keyboard, taking Royal Conservatory lessons until high school. I went to several teachers: Mrs. Peedee from the neighborhood; Mrs. McNaughton at Alberta College; Yana Tubinshlak, a sturdy Russian Jewish woman with two massive, ornate, and ancient pianos sat side by side in her drawing room. She never smacked my knuckles. But she did say things like: “What orchestra are you playing with?” if I accidentally struck a discordant tone. Mrs. Tubinshlak was my favorite teacher.

But, like a lot of kids, I hated practicing. In the summertime, I would have rather been outside shooting hoops or riding bikes with friends. In the winter, I wanted to be playing hockey and throwing myself down snowy hills on a toboggan. Instead, I spent two hours a night, every night of the week, practicing piano.

Our piano was made in 1916 in Woodstock, Ontario, by the D.W. Karn Piano and Organ Company. It was an upright model—known as a “Cabinet Grand”—built of quarter-sawn oak in the Mission-Arts and Crafts style. My parents bought it for $350 when I was born, and made sure I made good use of it.

Each year, I took the Royal Conservatory exam at the Edmonton House, an apartment hotel on the edge of downtown. According to urban legend, the Edmonton House, with its upper balconies exposed to the river valley, was a popular place for people to commit suicide, although there was no clear correlation to piano exams.

Every Friday afternoon in our elementary school, we had assemblies in the gymnasium. Everyone from grades one to six would sit in neat rows on the floor. These were like a cross between pep rallies, recitals, and talent shows, at which students would dance, sing, or otherwise show off. One Friday, I was supposed to perform “Für Elise” on the piano. I had been practicing for months. I had it down. I knew it backwards. But somehow, when I got up on stage in front of six hundred other students, I froze. All that practice drained from my brain. I couldn’t seem to summon a single memory of how to play the song. Looking back, I imagine that the impetus behind musical automation, and the drive for digital perfection—for MIDI, and for instantaneous, permanent memory—was determined at least in part by the overwhelming embarrassment and trauma of experiences like mine. The sheer terror of performance now belongs to the machine.

 

“Sugar for the Pill” – Slowdive – Slowdive – Dead Oceans

The shower-masturbation sequence in Gregg Araki’s Nowhere, twenty years old this year, which Slowdive incidentally soundtracked, is among the sexiest, funniest, and most accurate sex scenes in all of cinema. From now on, I can’t fathom an encounter that won’t be masturbatory. Good thing I love me.

Read my first impressions of Slowdive, and listen to the playlist, entitled “Nowhere in Ten Songs.”

 

“The Pendulum” – Daniel O’Sullivan – Veld – O Genesis

The opening track to Grumbling Furrier O’Sullivan’s solo record sends Enya-worthy shivers southward, spineward. Note in particular the acoustic phenomenon of “beating,” where the superimposition of two similar frequencies creates within the interstice a third frequency, a modulation of amplitude, and one of infinite natural instances where 1 + 1 = 3. This album is alchemy.

Read my first impressions of Veld.

 

“B.H.S.” – Sleaford Mods – English Tapas – Rough Trade Records

When Sears Canada began liquidating its merchandise in advance of the company’s insolvency, it secretly started hiking its prices higher than an octogenarian’s socks. Sure, the competition bureau was called in to investigate, but what are they going to do? Penalize a company that no longer exists? The problem with capitalism is that it holds no one to account. CEOs waltz away from financial disasters with seemingly zero consequences. Rather, the best and brightest capitalists are rewarded for stripping off everything of value from a fire sale, like sharks in a Hemmingway novel. Nobody sees and says this more clearly than Sleaford Mods, the punk-as-fuck UK duo for whom 2017 was a goose with golden eggs for material.

 

“Grit” – Pessimist – Pessimist – Blackest Ever Black

There’s an old joke that goes: the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that the optimist believes that things could never be better, and the pessimist fears that the optimist is right.

 

“Carbon 7 (161)” – Jlin – Black Origami – Planet Mu

Gesture=“media”=message

Read my first impressions of Black Origami.

 

“The Story of O.J.” Jay-Z – 4:44 – Roc Nation / Universal Music Group

The powers that be managed to deracinate, fatten up, and otherwise silence Kanye West in a year when we needed nothing more than for a ballsy American to go on international television and say straight into the cameras that the president doesn’t care about black people. What we got instead was Jay-Z singing the blues, because Kanye tells it like it should be, and Jay-Z tells it like it is. One reason why 4:44 works so well as an album, rather than a mere collection of songs, is because of the uniformity of its vision at the hands of a single producer, No I.D.—the name alone ironically suggesting effacement and ubiquity at once. The result is a sharply focused record, an account of a true baller late in his game, grappling with the trappings of his own success, coming to maturation in Trump’s America.

 

“America” – Scott Wollschleger – Soft Aberration – New Focus Recordings

Unlike Simon and Garfunkel’s whimsical Beatnik-era search for identity, or Neil Diamond’s bombastic nationalistic anthem, or Nas’s prophetic cautionary tale, Scott Wollschelger’s “America” is a more mournful invocation of what once was the land of the free and home of the brave. In this piece, rendered meticulously imperfect by the cellist John Popham of the outstanding trio Longleash, are echoes of Aaron Copland’s quintessentially American “Our Town,” as well as something as unexpected as James Horner’s Field of Dreams score. To be sure, there is little neither free nor brave about America now, its president and citizens hiding behind the glowing screens of mobile phones, betrothed to hands both more powerful and yet tinier. Let us be haters, we’ll marry our misfortunes together.

Read my first impressions of Soft Aberration.

 

“Fam_Famine” – Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers – Constellation Records

I wish that Godspeed would take themselves seriously already. I’m joking! God. Don’t take yourselves so seriously.

All kidding aside, Godspeed have never donned wigs and stockings, simpering with painted faces, attempting a masqueraded escape lowered to sea-level in lifeboats amongst women and children, as the captain and his crew have quite clearly done. I think that our hometown house band may have found a way to take themselves just seriously enough, doing the solemn duty of playing until the ship goes down.

Read my first impressions of Luciferian Towers.

 

“Bedtime” – Gord Downie – Introduce Yerself – Arts & Crafts

Following a diagnosis of glioblastoma, the aggressive brain cancer that ultimately ended Gord Downie’s life, he did not, like so many of us would have done, rest on his laurels, and sink quietly toward his own expiry. No. What Gord Downie did was to take his band mates and best friends of three decades The Tragically Hip on one last road trip across Canada, and then record not one but two exemplary solo albums: 2016’s The Secret Path, and this year’s heart-gnawing collaboration with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, Introduce Yerself. Each of the record’s twenty-three songs is written to a person. I assume that “Bedtime” is for one of Downie’s children, and if you’ve ever had a child—or been one—this song, which resides at the exact meeting place between “It’s A Good Life if you Don’t Weaken” and “Lover’s Spit,” will leave you in pieces. Downie’s inimitable talent was to take the everyday, the quotidian, the seemingly small, something as simple as a creaking floorboard, and like a master toy-maker, imbue it with an intricately moving sense of magic realism, yet without slipping into saccharine sentimentality. This album is not for everyone. It is for those of us who loved Gord Downie, and its weight and heft seem to reveal how much he loved us back.

There could be any number of valid readings of this song—that it’s a metaphor for Downie’s more frequent returns to the stage near his end of days; that death itself is not final—but what I take away is the profoundly valuable lesson that everything important in life must be done twice. Like a bad drive off the first tee, or a foul ball, this year was a do-over, in the Daniel Stern-in-City Slickers sense, only far darker.

We can do better. We must do better.

 

Advertisements
Standard
Play Recent

Laisse tomber les filles

 

“Army of Me (Instrumental)” – Björk – Post – One Little Indian

Two stories consumed my news feed last week: one was the near unanimous praise for Björk’s latest album; the other was about recent music-related experiments conducted by the Neuroscientist Dr. Robert Zatorre at McGill University. Published this month in Nature, Zatorre’s research concluded that listeners’ attitudes toward music could be successfully altered using magnetic stimulation of the frontostriatal circuitry. Effectively, our reward centers — the ones that register pleasure from our favourite songs — can be manipulated by positive or negative transcranial stimulation. Now, I’ve never really liked Björk. She’s had some good tunes, but her quirky, twee voice ruins them. “Army of Me” is a banger, but it should have remained an instrumental. I cannot stand her new record. This, I know, is an unpopular opinion, and makes me wonder how long it will be before they come for me with the Björk magnets. Just please, keep the Nickelback magnets far, far away.

 

“Borders feat. Jenny Hval (Klara Lewis Remix)” – Carmen Villain – Borders/Red Desert 12” – Smalltown Supersound

Another late addition to the alternate Twin Peaks playlist?

 

“Duelle” – Roger Tellier Craig – Soundcloud

Beginning with his excellent September release on Root Strata, and culminating in this experimental piece produced at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal, M. Tellier Craig’s music has grown exponentially this year, in both aesthetic and technical complexity. In less than a decade, he has gone from making lovely but anodyne Kosmische-inspired soundscapes with Le Révélateur, to his own brand of fully realized Musique concrète. I think that Roger Tellier Craig is one of the most exciting and yet criminally overlooked electronic musicians working today, and won’t be surprised to see him get his fair dues.

 

My Own Private River (2012) – James Franco and Gus Van Sant, Dirs.

Until this week, I had no idea that James Franco and Gus Van Sant made a film in 2012, called My Own Private River. Ostensibly, it’s classified as a documentary, but what it actually is is a Genettian paratext of the highest order. Essentially, the pair made a contrapuntal film out of pick-up shots, outtakes, and B-roll from Van Sant’s 1991 picture My Own Private Idaho. The result is something like the perfect mixture of Rashomon, Buffalo ‘66, Easy Rider, and River Phoenix fan fiction. It’s amazing. How far we have fallen when what was left on Van Sant’s cutting room floor in 1991 is better than anything the A-list film industry has to offer today.

 

“Chick Habit” – April March – From the credit sequence of Death Proof (2007) – Quentin Tarantino, dir.

Early this morning, I logged in to twitter, and saw this tweet from the NYU AI scholar Kate Crawford. It’s about the widespread and sexist use in digital imaging processing of a 1972 Playboy magazine centerfold model called Lena Söderberg. Apocryphally, the photo was chosen almost by accident when researchers at the University of Southern California Signal and Image Processing Institute were looking for a complex new image to digitize. A colleague came in with the November Playboy issue, and the rest is history. Lena has ever since been at the center of a simmering controversy over the continuing objectification of women in an already male-dominated field.

This reminded me of the story of the LAD girls: benchmark images developed by Kodak for the color printing of motion picture film. An acronym for Laboratory Aim Density, a method by which film-processing labs strive for uniform emulsion consistency, LAD girls essentially became the most photographed women in cinema, their headshots appearing on three or four frames at the head and tail of nearly every reel of color celluloid distributed globally over the second half of the twentieth century.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, many projectionists, lab technicians, and film nerds — who were almost exclusively male — began collecting the images, in the same way that men might collect Playboy magazines or pornographic playing cards. One of them was Quentin Tarantino. You might recall having seen his LAD girls in the credits for the 2007 female revenge film, Death Proof. That sequence also contains the song “Chick Habit” by April March, an English-language revision of France Gall’s Serge Gainsbourg-produced 1964 hit “Laisse tomber les filles” — a song warning men to “leave the girls alone” lest “you be the one who cries.” And who produced Death Proof? Harvey Weinstein.

Was Tarantino subconsciously using the LAD girls to send Weinstein a message? Perhaps. Looking back ten years on, it’s a delicious coincidence. Nonetheless, in Hollywood cinema, computer science, and beyond, we can no longer use chicks’ images simply out of habit.

 

Standard
Play Recent

A beginner’s guide to mass hysteria

Downpour – “A beginner’s guide to mass hysteria” – Destroy It Yourself – Bandcamp

Nobody knows exactly what happened to members of the American envoy in Cuba, and their spouses, who in the fall of 2016 started suffering from unexplained hearing loss, nausea, vertigo, and a variety of other vague physical symptoms. The Associated Press reported in August that they had been attacked by some sort of sophisticated sonic weapon: “an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound.” The new American administration retaliated by expelling the two sole official Cuban diplomats from the US. The Cuban government denied deploying or even possessing any such weapon, stating in its defence: “Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception.”

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, or for that matter any logical or definitive explanation, commentators have been forced to speculate on the cause of the Americans’ mysterious illnesses. “There may have been chemical exposure,” say Lisa Diedrich and Ben Tausig in The New York Times; “mass hysteria,” say Julian Borger and Philip Jaekl of The Guardian. “None of this makes sense until you consider the psychogenic explanation,” argues Robert Bartholomew, a medical sociologist familiar with the case.

Mass hysteria could be one explanation. In 1518, around four hundred residents of Strasbourg, Alsace, in modern-day northeastern France, took to dancing for days without rest in a bizarre case of “dancing mania,” many dying from heart attack, stroke, and exhaustion. The 1962 Tanganyika laughter epidemic, which affected ninety-five students in a mission-run boarding school for girls, was attributed to a mass psychogenic illness near the Ugandan border. On November 8th 2016, nearly sixty-three million Americans voted for Donald J. Trump to become their next president. Anything’s possible.

 

JK Flesh – “Exit Stance” – Exit Stance – Downwards

Last chance to evacuate planet Earth before it is recycled.

 

CMD – “Graviton Cloud” – Wavecraft – Low Noise Productions

Corina MacDonald, aka CMD, is a Montreal-based electronic music producer, who sometimes performs under the name Cyan, too. MacDonald also hosts “Modular Systems,” a bi-weekly show on CKUT community radio, every second Sunday. And she is a mainstay of local events and festivals like Mutek. CMD is what might be described as an “overproducer,” an active member of a creative scene generating far more material than is rationally possible to parse. But it’s fun to try.

 

Sabrina Ratté (with Roger Tellier-Craig) – “Créteil” – Machine for Living

“The ancient idea of pleasure still seems sacrilegious to modern architectural theory,” wrote the famous deconsructivist architect Bernard Tschumi in the early 1980s. And little has changed since then, says Anna Klingmann, in her 2007 book Brandscapes: “Most critical practices in architecture are still governed by the Calvinist credo of the ‘socially conscious,’ who condemn every sensual design as ‘spectacle’ without any understanding what that might mean.” What it means to me is that, in the future, built environments won’t need people to populate them. Paradoxically, they will be much more “socially conscious” in absence of the social altogether.

 

Kate Carr – “Ascent” – From A Wind Turbine To Vultures (And Back) – Flaming Pines

I have been re-reading Of Walking On Ice, a beautifully written travelogue penned by Werner Herzog in 1974, during the course of his three-week walk from Munich to Paris to visit his friend and fellow filmmaker Lotte Eisner, who had fallen gravely ill. “Flat countryside,” Herzog writes, “only the crows, shrieking all around me—I suddenly ask myself seriously whether I’ve lost my mind, as I hear so many crows but see so few. There is dead silence around me, as far as I can hear, and then there’s the shrieking of crows. Mistily the heights of the Vosges Mountains are penciled along the horizon.”

“There was mainly just wind, mud, and the odd wire fence or cryptic red sign post,” writes Kate Carr, of her equivalently Herzogian quest in Velez Blanco, southern Spain. “I didn’t know until towards the end of my stay at Joya, but the signs denoted that the mountain was hunting ground for local residents at various points of the year, and boar were quite common there, although I never saw any, and only very few birds, whose calls were often muffled by the wind. The only exception being the mighty black vultures which flew over the crest of the mountain, and could be identified by the whistling beat of their wings.”

I cannot think of a better soundtrack to accompany this book than Kate Carr’s From A Wind Turbine To Vultures (And Back)—the “sonic transect” of her harrowing ascent.

 

Standard
Play Recent

In Defence of Lost Causes

Daniel Lanois – “Not Fighting Anymore” – Here Is What Is – Red Floor Records

I hadn’t cried in a long while. It was like that Seinfeld episode when Jerry hadn’t barfed for a decade. The last time I cried was a frustrated, heavy sob on the day of Trump’s inauguration. I’m not American, but I cried anyway for the sorry lot.

Waking up on Wednesday morning was as unremarkable as waking up on any other morning. I arose with the sun and finished writing a cover letter for a job I’m applying for, made a cup of tea, opened twitter. Of course, I saw first thing that Gord Downie had died, and was immediately overwhelmed with profound sadness. Knowing along with the nation for the past eighteen months that this day was near was no consolation. I remembered all the campfires and tailgate parties and even the oddly sentimental moments that the Hip had soundtracked over the years. I remembered seeing them with loved ones who aren’t around anymore. I remembered the farewell concert they played last summer, and I remembered focusing intently on identifying Downie’s custom-made hat to keep myself from welling up.

Then, before I had even an instant to properly grasp my mourning, I read the news that Quebec had passed its disgraceful Bill 62, prohibiting all facial coverings while administering or receiving public services in the province. Ostensibly, the law was enacted as a “state neutrality” measure, but it is targeted almost exclusively against a small minority of Muslim women. My sorrow for Downie quickly made a sharp U-turn toward anger at Quebecers — for the institutionally discriminatory, xenophobic, and downright racist society that I have been living in for the past thirteen years; for the betrayal of a provincial government that only months ago apologized on behalf of all Quebecers for the worst terrorist attack on Canadian soil in our history, the slaying of six Muslims knelt in peaceful prayer in a Quebec City mosque on 29 January 2017; for the betrayal of the motherfuckers who continue to remain silent on the most heinous issues that are so urgently facing not just our city or province, but the entire planet. I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry for Gord, and I didn’t cry with the news of a massive social backslide in my own backyard. The thick teardrops saved themselves for later that evening, when, after a hard day applying for jobs and being simultaneously more angry and sadder than I had been since January 20th, Daniel Lanois’ “Not Fighting Anymore,” from his beautiful and apparently invisible 2008 album Here Is What Is, came on the iPod shuffle. The machine, in all its automated, algorithmic wisdom, chose that song. It was an honest mistake.

 

Scott Wollschleger – “Brontal Symmetry” – Soft Aberration – New Focus Recordings

I am fascinated and disturbed by cognitive dissonance: the apparent disparity between appearance and reality. Today, we are all too often glued to some form of screen, telling us that things are different from what our eyes are telling us — that everything is okay, when it quite clearly isn’t — the Žižekian “I know very well, but…” “Relations of domination function through their denial,” Žižek writes, in his 2008 book In Defence of Lost Causes. “We are not only obliged to obey our masters, we are also obliged to act as if we we’re free and equal.” What I like about Wollschleger’s “Brontal Symmetry” is that, at several points in its fourteen and a half minutes, the piece pulls the screen back so that the listener must face reality, face our own cognitive dissonance in all its horrible hilarity.

 

тпсб – “Are You Still Hurt” – Sekundenschlaf – Blackest Ever Black

In January, four men were discovered dehydrated and starving inside a shipping crate at the Cast Terminal in the Old Port. The Georgian nationals were rescued during a random inspection of the container. They had been confined for at least twelve days, on a transatlantic voyage that took them via Hong Kong to Quebec City and Trois-Rivières, before docking in Montreal. Remember them next time you whinge about getting the middle seat, or having to endure a crying baby on a flight.

 

buffalo MRI – Hushed sketchica – Power Puerto Rico Compilation – Bandcamp

In a 19 October interview with NPR, FEMA coordinator Michael Byrne said that, nearly one month after hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean island, the US emergency agency is still distributing 600,000 meals and millions of gallons of water per day to Puerto Ricans whose homes and lives were demolished by the storm. Even Royal Caribbean, the luxury cruise line long criticized for their Haitian private island walled off from the locals, used the Adventure of the Seas, a 3,800-passenger vessel to bring aid to San Juan, and to evacuate the stranded to Fort Lauderdale. While the president, with a personal net worth of $3.1 billion US, tosses out rolls of paper towel for television cameras, and concurrently trades barbs with the city’s mayor on twitter. Why is it always those who have the least who give the most?

 

Esmerine – “Mechanics Of Dominion” – Mechanics Of Dominion – Constellation Records

By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return

Genesis 3:19

 

 

Standard
Play Recent

We make her paint her face and dance

This week’s Play Recent is dedicated solely to women writing about women. Without further ado:

Frances Morgan on Pauline Oliveros

“I think these moments, which you could say are of reflection or indecision or humility, make these pieces uncomfortable, or just ephemeral, somehow incomplete for some listeners, but I also think that they are part of what I love about Reverberations. We – she and I and the machines – are discovering the sounds together. The sounds are discovering us.”

Follow Frances Morgan

 

Tara Joshi interviews Kalela

“The cover art shows the second-gen Ethiopian-American sitting cross-legged, staring almost challengingly at the beholder: poised, unapologetic, and naked, save for masses of long braids artfully wrapped around her. Such a cover is symbolic of many things, but the braids seem a reminder that – though the album never gets explicitly political or talks expressly about blackness – Kelela is a queer black woman who grew up in the States, and her art is inherently formed through the lens of that experience.”

Follow Tara Joshi

 

Emily Mackay on Björk

“From her days as the drummer in her teen punk band Spit and Snot, she’d always been drawn to strongly rhythmic music, including hip hop. ‘From 86 to 88, if I couldn’t get to hear Public Enemy every day, I’d go sick,’ she declared. ‘They’re so creative and brave and misunderstood … They take what they are living with every day and make a song out of it.'”

Follow Emily Mackay

 

Chal Ravens profiles Jlin

“Last year Patton quit the steel mill to dedicate her energies to her astonishing second album, Black Origami, which sees the 29-year-old pushing further into ‘dark spaces’ and further from her footwork roots. When she describes her music now, she simply calls it ‘naked.'”

Follow Chal Ravens

 

Fiona Sturges on AC/DC and feminism

“It might seem odd that, after 30 years of devotion, I should suddenly find myself pondering the changing values and generational shifts that have occurred since I first heard them. Odder still, perhaps, is that my love for this wilfully unreconstructed rock band has led me to think about my relationship with my daughter, specifically the influence that a parent can have over a child’s cultural life and the ideological quandaries that it can raise. And yet here I am.”

Follow Fiona Sturges

 

Geeta Dayal on Alice Coltrane

“Michelle Coltrane remembers that her mother generally shied away from technology; she even shunned using appliances like microwave ovens. ‘She was happy having a grand piano, a big Steinway grand, and she did love the organ – she had one at the ashram and one at her home,’ says Coltrane. ‘I said, Mom, you gotta check out Roland and Korg and all these products that are coming out, that have arpeggiators and all these things that she might find attractive, and that are easy to transport as well … the next thing you know, we’re on that Oberheim.'”

Follow Geeta Dayal

 

Robin James on Beyoncé

“Sounds on this album don’t operate independently of black femininity, black women’s performance traditions, or individual artists’ black feminist politics. On the one hand, thinking with Daphne Brooks and Regina Bradley, it’s more accurate to say that Beyoncé’s sound game has generally led the way and been more politically cutting-edge than her visual game. On the other hand, sound can also be what does the heavy lifting for patriarchy and other systems of domination…”

Follow Robin James

 

Maya Kalev on Jenny Hval (paywall)

“Hval was too young to appreciate black metal back in the late 1980s and early 90s, when the scene exploded in Norway, but she can see affinities between what she calls its droney qualities and that of her own music, even as she despises the misogynistic and racist political leanings of some corners of the scene.”

Follow Maya Kalev

 

Tara Rodgers on gender and synthesizer history

“Critical readings of audio-technical discourse, and of the periodization of synthesizer histories, reveal that women are always already rendered out of place as subjects and agents of electronic music history and culture.”

Follow Tara Rodgers

 

Sophie Heawood on falling in and out of love with music

“Not liking music makes you feel like the worst kind of person, but it wasn’t always like this. I was 14 the first time a song made me cry. Sitting on the swings in the park with Lisa and her cassette player, whiling away the hours until the end of our childhoods.”

Follow Sophie Heawood

 

 

Standard
Play Recent

I want it. What is it?

April Larson – “It Flies” – The Human Heart – Tobago Tracks

In his Nobel Prize-winning book Thinking Fast And Slow, the psychologist Daniel Kahneman outlines two cognitive systems that our brains use to make sense of the world.

The first “operates automatically and quickly,” he writes, “with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.” Looking toward the source of a sudden sound, or answering two plus two, for instance, fall under System One’s purview. System Two is more considered, on the other hand, allocating “attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it,” says Kahneman. These include things like doing your taxes, or writing this column, for example.

We might think that System Two is the one that governs our choices and beliefs, and bestows upon us a sense of individual identity. But System One actually plays a bigger part in routing the impressions and feelings that System Two has to deliberate on, as if System One preconditions and to a certain extent predetermines System Two. And another thing: System One can’t be turned off. It’s constantly working, like background script that’s always running. Is it possible that our ostensibly cultivated cultural tastes actually belong more to System One? I think that we know immediately whether or not we like what we do. The rest is vanity.

 

Autechre – “JNSN CODE GL16” – JNSN CODE GL16 / spl47 – Touched Music

It’s nice that Autechre have returned to making enchanting music of manageable proportions. And for good cause: the Macmillan Cancer Support Community. Shame that the residual value of this record will fall largely into aftermarket prospectors’ hands.

 

Michael Terren – “Vessel” – Thru – Fallow Media

One of my guilty pleasures is the TV show Pawn Stars. I especially enjoy the episodes where the Las Vegan Gold & Silver Pawn Shop owner Rick Harrison has to call in local expert Mark Hall-Patton, otherwise referred to as the “Beard of Knowledge,” to identify and authenticate some curio that he’s never seen before — a centrifugal governor, or a meteorite that could possibly be millions of years old.

Mr. Hall-Patton, administrator of the Nevada Clark County Museum, presumably a place to encounter the most priceless and worthless of ephemera, indeed has a beard and some knowledge. No matter what the thing is, he invariably takes a long look over the merchandise, and says, “Oh, this is very interesting.” This is like that. I want it. What is it? What does it do? What is it worth?

 

Henning Christiansen – “Op.192 GRUNDBAND Umwälzung (excerpt)” – Op.192 UMWÄLZUNG – fluxorum organum 1990 EURASIENSTAB ist immernoch ANGELPUNKT – Penultimate Press

So much time and ingenuity and money have been spent over the past 140 years on technically concealing or erasing or eradicating all trace of the medium from recorded sound. We even have a standard ratio for quantifying it: signal to noise. Now, we’re finally enjoying a time when that medium-ness — tape hiss, room buzz, grounding hum, feedback — is celebrated for what it exposes, not what it undermines.

 

Polyorchard – “Montana” – Red October – Out & Gone Music

“Within seconds of listening to Red October,” writes scholar Emily Leon, “I felt as though I was the steel ball in a pinball game… like the steel ball, this album propels you into the playfield: targets, holes and saucers, spinners and rollovers, gates.”

From the pinball’s perspective, life seems pretty chaotic. It’s constantly on the move, incapable of rest, circulating, rebounding, ricocheting off of various obstacles, with no logical sense of direction. But step up from the playing field and out of the machine, above the glass surface, and that steel pinball has a very definite trajectory, from initial launch to its inevitable end through those final pearly paddles. The game is to make the most of the fall.

 

Daphni – “Tin” – Joli Mai – Jiaolong

There’s an adage that applies to carpenters and producers of Techno alike: measure twice, cut once.

 

Standard
Play Recent

We Were The Arm

The Arm – “Zorn Relift” – Unreleased

This week, my long-lost friend Matt emailed me out of the blue. Although we were inseparable as teenagers—many people thought we were brothers; we shared an apartment; we had a band called “The Arm”—we hadn’t spoken for seventeen years. That’s a lifetime, for a seventeen year old. Immediately, my mind started wandering back to the days when we were making music, which were really the happiest days.

In 1995, when we were living together, I bought an Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler. Matt had an encyclopedic knowledge of music, so we started going through his collection, selecting bits and pieces, and putting them back together in the sampler. One night, we came across a particularly cool section from John Zorn. I stitched it into a loop, and Matt started noodling overtop on his burgundy Gibson SG. I began sampling his guitar on the fly, and before we knew it, we had something resembling a song.

We feverishly continued making music that summer, but unfortunately, I have none of it. In those days, we recorded onto VHS tape—tapes that have since been recorded over or irreparably damaged. But I still have a clean recording of the Zorn thing we made. And after hearing from my old pal Matt, I dug it out and dusted it off. We were The Arm, and we sounded like this.

 

Roger Tellier-Craig – “Soleil et chaleur dans le parc (Edit)” – Instantanés – Root Strata

I have it on good authority that the Montreal-based composer Roger Tellier-Craig doesn’t like it when people describe him as “formerly of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.” Come to think of it, Tellier-Craig has had to endure a lot of “formerlys”: Le Fly Pan Am; Set Fire To Flames; Pas Chic Chic—all good projects, but none that particularly let his singular talents run wild. However, on this new recording for Root Strata, conspicuously released under his own name, Tellier-Craig has effectively shed all his former associations, and made a bold artistic statement of selfhood. It stands alone.

 

H. Takahashi – “Fragment” – Raum – Where To Now? Records

When the iPhone was released ten years ago, it was constantly referred to in Apple’s hyperbolic marketing rhetoric as “magical.” The iPhone is a “revolutionary and magical product,” Steve Jobs enthused at its launch on January 7th 2007. But in the subsequent decade, is has gradually become one of the more ubiquitous, quotidian, almost boring pieces of mobile technology. iPhones are everywhere. Save for the fact that none of us actually knows how it functions, we more often spend time swearing at the damn thing for not working right, or for its various incompatibilities: with Google; with YouTube; with its own proprietary cables and headphones. So it’s nice when something comes along and reinstates some of that old iPhone magic. Make it live up to its impossible promises, I say.

 

Jamie Drouin – “Palindrome I” – Palindrome – Infrequency Editions

In my forthcoming book, Mad Skills, I outline a history of what I’ve come to call “claviocentrism”: the centuries-old centrality of the clavier keyboard to Western musical traditions. As electronic instruments proliferated in the twentieth century, the easiest way to get average musicians interested was to slap keyboard interfaces on them and make them look, feel, and sound like other, previously existing keyboard devices. The Hammond looked a lot like a piano; the Moog looked a lot like a Hammond; and so on. The synthesizer engineer Don Buchla, on the other hand, imagined electronic music-making beyond the black and white keyboard, and designed many of his earliest synths without one. This, I imagine, is what music might have sounded like if, in the 1960s and ’70s in particular, claviocentrism hadn’t been such a deep-seated and enduring cultural logic.

 

Rebel Threads: Clothing of the Bad, Beautiful, and Misunderstood – Roger K. Burton – The Horse Hospital in association with Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

In one of the vignettes on the cover of Nirvana’s posthumous live album From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, Kurt Cobain wears a striped black and red sweater that is reminiscent of Freddy Krueger’s in the Nightmare on Elm Street film franchise. This same sweater was the centerpiece of my Kurt Cobain Halloween costume, until I realized a few years ago that I was already ten years older—and several pounds heavier—than Cobain was when he died. So of course it caught my eye on the cover of this gorgeous new tome put out in part by the outstanding arts venue The Horse Hospital. I cannot think of a book released in recent memory that I want more.

IMG_0361.PNG

Standard