End of 2016: a list and a mix by net
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As usual this year, I’ve a hopelessly, ever more populous backlog of music I failed to consult in good time. Of what I actually managed to catch in 2016, here are some recommended, alphabetised highlights, limited to full-length albums. Find also below a mix of selected gems for Irregular Crates Podcast 023.
• Autechre – Elseq 1-5 (Warp)
It’s an Autechre release. It’s a five-part album. Onto the list it goes. They’re as inventive and fascinating as ever.
• Natalie Beridze – Guliagava (Monika Enterprise)
With Guliagava, Natalie Beridze returned to songwriting for the first time since 2011’s Forget’fulness. Next to the immaculate, elegant production of the latter, Guliagava is rougher and more muscular, more intense. Beridze’s songs continue to mix loose strucures with shuffling details and lurching rhythm. And as ever, she has a knack of delivering her vocals in quite a bewildering way; somehow coming across as guarded, honest, naïve and cunning all at once.
• Matt Christensen – Prowl (self-release & TVEI)
It’s a tad awkward of me to include on this list an album that I personally (re-)released on my own label. But I propositioned Christensen with a physical release precisely out of sheer excitement, on first listen, when he initially bunged it on his own Bandcamp as a digital album. He took his well-honed style in an unexpected direction of warbling, ambiguous electronics. It was a great surprise and an instant highlight of the year for me, whether TVEI would go on to re-release it or not. But I’m very glad it did.
• Izabela Dłużyk – Soundscapes of Summer (Lom)
A charming collection of field recordings, with the engrossing textures of birds, insects, rain and the timeless whispers of foliage. Snippets, clearly selected with great taste, of the endlessly rich tapestries of action that are forests and other wild landscapes. Lovely spaces.
• Roger Doyle – Scenes from HERESY (self-release)
An absolutely marvellous contemporary opera scored by Roger Doyle, dealing with the influential and controversial person of Giordano Bruno. Live performances of the work date back at least to 2013, but there’s no way I’m leaving it off this list; it’s the release year that counts. Though abridged, this version still lasts a hefty 95 minutes. It mainly consists of very slow and subdued, intimately-combined layers of minimalist voice, strings and electronics. It really, really masters balancing these elements, cultivating spectacular dialogues. Hats off to Doyle and all the performers.
• Dälek – Asphalt for Eden (Profound Lore)
MC Dälek’s embittered style of rap, sometimes muttered and sometimes spat, is as pertinent now as it ever was. Formerly, I missed the particularly furious and frantic production of Absence (2005) whenever new material surfaced, but I’ve come to love each release as its own distinct situation and set of personnel. Always powerful and a little different each time. Despite grittier production, there’s a bit more warmth on this one than I’d expected.
• Roel Funcken – Irridium Flare (self-release)
This might be the finest Roel Funcken’s production has sounded yet. He manages to continue conjuring what, to me, has always felt like an irresistible sonic backdrop to retrofuturistic sci-fi literature. Yet, this time, there’s a calmer and more delicate edge to things. As meticulous as ever, but more spacious, perhaps a touch sadder. Superb.
• Midori Hirano – Minor Planet (Sonic Pieces)
Somewhere between ambient piano music and the extremity of exquisite, complex ‘lowercase’ composition, Minor Planet embraces the underappreciated potential of quietness. Far more than merely a triumph for dynamic range, the album invites listening that is both highly attentive and conscious of its situated practice. It’s as wonderful as setting foot in a forest and trying to pick up as many of its uncountable scents and smells as possible. In some ways an electronic counterpart to Soundscapes of Summer (see above).
• K’an – Babel (Time Released Sound)
When it released, I wrote a review of this album here. K’an uses the violent dynamics of intense processing to evoke confusion, shame and ultimately, the beauty of reinterpretation and reformulation.Visceral and intricate.
• Bethan Kellough – Aven (Touch)
String sections windswept in an airy, live-performed marriage of Iceland field recordings and laptop processing. It seems like a composition always at risk of sounding trite; the track ‘Visions’ even reminds me of a cheesy motif from the Skyrim video game soundtrack. But I appreciate it all the more for it. All the elements are so well combined, and deeply satisfying.
• Sarathy Korwar – Day to Day (Ninja Tune)
Percussionist Sarathy Korwar helms a set of brilliant hybrid musics here; negotiations between contemporary jazz and the multifaceted folk music of the Sidi people of India. A very gentle lacing of electronics completes the modern, culturally-complex texture of these pieces. ‘Karam’, in particular, is a masterpiece to which I returned time after time.
• Sophia Loizou – Singulacra (Kathexis)
A sort of ghostly ambient study of 90s dance music, with wisps of vocal samples and synth flourishes. Suppose that Lorenzo Senni’s work is the film Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray starring as an isolated 90s dance hook forced to reexamine and deconstruct itself over and over again. This album is more like Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams and the rest of the cast portray choice ingredients of 90s dance music canon, the semblances of which – after a process of invasive extraction – are found in a strange, eerie new context. This is nothing but a poor 2 a.m.analogy, so ignore it and take away only this message: Singulacra is very good.
• Katrine Stochholm – Danser til Radio (Sound of Perpetual Astonishment)
Katrine Stochholm left the band Under Byen early on, and I must now admit how unjust it was only to turn to her work after the demise of the latter. Like Under Byen’s lead vocalist Henriette Sennenvaldt, Stochholm has a skill for delivering Danish beautifully, putting to good use its streamlined consonants and pinched vowels. It’s a language that sometimes needs a graceful boost such as this to sound really wonderful. This solo work is more in the vein of heartachin’ pop than the jazzier, emotionally restless style nurtured by Under Byen.
Bonus list! Honourable mentions:
• Anthéne – Black Carbon (Assembly Field)
• Baishui – Sound in Motion: Puzzle Suite (self-released)
• Convextion – 2845 (a.r.t.less)
• Carbinax – Snowglobe Citizen (self-released)
• Robert Curgenven – Climata (Dragon’s Eye)
• Floex – Samorost 3 (self-released)
• Furia – Księżyc milczy luty (Pagan)
• Gaëtan Gromer – Noise Level (Voxxov)
• Fiona Lee – Walking in a Daze (self-release)
• Legiac – The Voynich Manuscript (Dronarivm)
• Plaid – The Digging Remedy (Warp)
• Queen Kopetsky – Horsenames (Fort Evil Fruit)
• Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
• Richard Sanderson – A Thousand Concreted Perils (Linear Obsessional)
• Snufmumriko – Chimera (Lagerstätte)
• Severed Heads – Beautiful Arabic Surface / Cheerio Inner moon (Bughlt)
• Dino Spiluttini – I do Not Want what Heaven Gave Me (Phinery)
• Sōzuproject / Bartholomäus Traubeck – Dendrophonia (self-released)
• Tepe Gawra – A Rise in the Chalcolithic (Other Forms of Consecrated Life)
Irregular Crates Podcast 023
I was also invited to produce a mix for Irregular Crates Podcast 023. It’s largely selections from releases named on the above lists.
- K’an – Immure (Babel; Time Released Sound)
- Katrine Stochholm – Hver gang han blir ny (Danser til Radio; Sound of Perpetual Astonishment)
- Dino Spiluttini – Mass (I Do Not Want What Heaven Gave Me; Phinery)
- Floex – Constructing the Toadstool Rocket (Samorost 3 Soundtrack; s/r)
- Midori Hirano – She Was There (Minor Planet; Sonic Pieces)
- Autechre – freleaux (elseq 5; Warp)
- Legiac – Troven Briangular (The Voynich Manuscript; Dronarivm)
- Matt Christensen – Crasenim (Prowl; s/r & TVEI)
- Fiona Lee – delight (Walking in a Daze; s/r)
- Gaëtan Gromer – La Bibliothèqiue de Babel (Noise Level; Voxxov)
- Sōzuproject & Bartholomäus Traubeck – Fraxinus Excelsior (Dendrophonia; s/r)
- Sarathy Korwar – Karam (Day to Day; Ninja Tune)
- dälek – 6dB (Asphalt for Eden; Deadverse)
- Natalie Beridze – For Love (Guliagava; Monika Enterprise)
- Anthéne – black carbon (black carbon; Assembly Field)
- Anna von Hausswolff – Källan (Prototype) (Källan (Prototype) – Live in Lincoln Cathedral; Touch)
- Izabela Dłużyk – Young gold orioles (Soundscapes of Summer; Lom)