This is an area of music that looked, in the early months of the year, to be a weak showing and slow starter. Maybe the genre is fading? Maybe the genre’s division into countless micro-genres (does every fuckin’ album and artist get its own genre distinction?!) has depleted its strengths. Gone were some of the famously impactive experimental records of the last couple of years (see Hulk, Jacaszek, ad nauseum). But then my ear changed gears.
When I first got my hands on Four Tet’s There Is Love In You, I was far too concerned with what I deemed an over-reliance on the 4/4 House beat. In my years of musical seasoning, I’ve come to relinquish my hate for the House beat and even have grown to like, and love, it. But I was frightened it had taken hold of an artist so much more richly rhythmically talented. So wrong, so wrong. The 4/4 beat for Kieran Hebden just became a fulcrum point from which he could twist a torrent of beautiful noise. He had finally combined the heart-string aesthetic with a more dance-accessible oomph! You can’t say enough positive things about this album and I’m really glad I turned myself onto it after buying the vinyl.
Another gem of the genre that I wanted to hate from the get-go was Caribou’s Swim. Truth be told, I had never been too impressed with any of Daniel Snaith’s previous offerings, even as the now infamous Manitoba. I always felt that his music lacked the balls to occupy the space it was taking up. Kinda like that kid who rides the pine on the varsity high school basketball team happens to be the coach’s kid. And when I first heard Swim, I immediately scorned it for becoming a hipster Electronica record; thoughts of fighting MGMT in an alley soon became daydreams. But, yet again, I needed some time to grow with this record and really feel its direction and purpose. Melodically, it is one of the most complex, yet simply stated, Electronic albums I’d heard in a long time (save for Four Tet’s 2010 offering as well). Rhythmically, I became enamored with its 80’s Dance-Pop aesthetic; partially for nostalgia and partly for my maturing into realizing the merits of this style. Interesting to be admitting all this slow-to-appreciate stuff, but it’s true…and it makes me a truly human listener.
Not everyone hears what is good, or even great, about a piece of music from the first listen, but in our blogosphere, ultimately competitive culture, one is expected to. Well, I still hadn’t gotten the memo by the time I initially heard Lali Puna’s Our Inventions. Maybe my expectations for this group will always stem from their B-Side and Remix project I Thought I Was Over That. It was their first ‘album’ I’d heard that really turned me on. And you know what? Fuck the quotes around album, that was so masterfully organized and thought out that it is an album. At first, Our Inventions didn’t sound like it could supplant I Thought I Was…, but it may be a masterwork after about 247 listens. In 2010, Valerie Trebeljahr and friends have gifted us with another sublime work of aural art. Trebeljahr’s vocals continue to sooth me the way that Bjork never quite could and the band certainly rivals Radiohead in Experimental Pop structures and composition. For an album that originally sounded so sparse, this little platter is so very layered. Yet, the band’s critical ear and production style disallows any layer to careen into the lane of another and slop it all up. This record continues to sound crisp, but dreamy. I’d like to thank my buddy Randall for being the guy to constantly hammer at me to get into this band. Oh, and by the way, the title Our Inventions is perfect for the band’s sound on this record. I can completely envision the Rube Goldberg-esque SteamPunk machines that would speak the language of Lali Puna. Could this band defeat Broadcast for my favorite female vocal-fronted Experimental Pop & Electronic group?
Well, it’s hard to tell. They do some similar things and some vastly disparate. Broadcast was only able to manage a 7” single on the Ghostbox label this year, so measuring the two up side-by-side in contemporary works would be difficult. Pretty much, with this 7”, titled Familiar Shapes & Noises, you can expect some noisy, tripped out shit reminiscent of their work last year with the Focus Group. Basically cool stuff, but not blowing my doors off.
Initially touted as a successor to Boards of Canada, Balam Acab eventually made a sound their own. With the See Birds EP, we get some tasty Downtempo level rhythms mixed with some synth-bass tones that must be Dubstep refugees. The vocals are minimal and stay to the side of the warped and plodding beats. Way to go!
Speaking of EP’s, I think they might be my newest favorite format in length. They provide an artist with just enough space to express some full ideas, but also limit the time that can be wasted in meandering through the less expertly crafted elements of their sound. After many years of relying on Kosmischer Pitch to get me through those days when I’m jonesing for Jan Jelinek, I now have the Farben Farben EP to keep me company. Very cool cosmic loops and barely noticeable harmonies. I’d gobble a peyote button for this record and let it open slowly like a midnight flower.
Minamo & Lawrence English also dabbled in the nearly-boring-me-to-death, yet somehow engaging micro-electronics and Drone with A Path Less Travelled. Probably something you can pass up, but worth mentioning.
Ous Mal made a beautiful garbage heap’s worth of noise with Nuojova Halava. Just imagine putting Jan Jelinek, Hulk, Pavohaarju and Grouper into the Large Hadron Collider. Pray we don’t get black holes!!! Same goes for Maersk by Skjolbrot, but with a bit less success.
Justin K. Braodrick continues to put out a record every 5 minutes. Jesu: Pale Sketches Demixed is just simply gorgeous with a touch of cinematic drama. Not as heavy as most of us are used to with Justin K., but it certainly does the trick. Honestly? Never heard the original of Pale Sketcher, but feel that, like Love & Hate In Dub, this might be better than the original. Also a little nod back in time with this one as you feel the presence of a young Trent Reznor in some spots.
The coolest reissue of the year came out of England. An upstart label called Young Americans, presumable in tribute to David Bowie’s song, put out a beautifully packaged 4 LP career retrospective of Daphne Oram. Oram was a sound archivist and avid experimenter at the BBC. What she ended up doing was to, quite possibly, create Electronic music as we know it 40 or so years before it existed. Oram is truly one boomin’ granny if still alive. Some haunting sounds on here.
The Raster Noton label continues to put out quality Electronic music, as you all know how much I slobbered and drooled over Kangding Ray’s Pruitt Igoe EP, but also with Senking’s Pong. A very digital album of crushing low ends, that hopefully drive the nextdoor neighbor’s dog into epileptic fits, and dry, pasty, yet effective synthesizers. There are a host of other accoutrement noises: the off-gassing of some binary corpse, the marching, barking instructions of some Tron drill instructor and the splashing of hollow information against firewalls. My one major beef with this album is that it fails to take off at the moments of anticipation that it builds into so deftly. I understand this may be for effect, but I’d like to hear what Senking could do if finally off the runway. Well, here we are, at the precipice of greatness in Electronic music in 2010. With all apologies to Lali Puna for having to be second best, bridesmaid and runner-up, just for the unfortunate circumstance of being in the same category as…
Yes, that’s right folks. Kangding Ray would have almost completely, unanimously run away with this award if it hadn’t been for Lali Puna. Instead of going on and on again about how fabulous this record is, I’ll just kindly direct you to read my review of the Pruitt Igoe EP. (Special Note: The painting pictured above is one I did in response to Pruitt Igoe)