Detritus pertaining to SF, Noise, ufology, metal, hip-hop, collapse, eldritch vistas, and so forth.
Here are some random records I listened to this year (no order) plus some general thoughts on various other music stuff what happened to me:
VCMG – SSSS (Mute)
This record is way, way better than it has any right to be. If you’d told me at the start of the year that one of the best techno records of 2012 was going to be made by some dude from Erasure and some dude from Depeche Mode, I would have punched you square in the jaw for trying to sass me (hah, as if – the last time I punched someone I was fourteen and they had scratched the word ‘GAY’ into my copy of Adore). Here it is though, terrible cover and all (sorry if it was drawn by one of your kids, iTunes doesn’t contain that kind of information!) ten tracks of silly, glorious techno. Kick drums go bang bang bang; synths go pew pew pew; snares go chk chk chk; and so on and so forth. The production is maybe a little too clean and tasteful, as you might expect from multi-millionaire popstars, but that is a minor complaint.
Oren Ambarchi – Audience of One (Touch)
Oren Ambarchi put out several good records this year after something of a solo hiatus (Raga Ooty and Sagittarian Domain are also both worth checking out). This one was my favourite though, perhaps because of the gorgeous opener ‘Salt’, with its haunting, multi-layered vocals. The centrepiece of the record is the 30 minute ‘Knots’, a delicate and intricate collaboration with Eyvind Kang featuring strings and drones oscillating round knife-edge tense percussion. The album is closed off with a completely unexpected and straight-up cover of an instrumental song, ‘Fractured Mirror’, which was originally performed by the guitarist from Kiss (and yes I had to Google that – my pop knowledge does not extend to Kiss back catalogue unfortunately). Deeply weird source material, but hey it works.
Recondite – On Acid (Absurd)
Atmospheric acid house in a similar vein to AFX’s Analord series from a few years back. A very gentle 303 burbles back and forth over a (mostly) glacial beat, although there are couple of more dance-oriented mixes on here as well. It isn’t particular radical, but I loved it nonetheless. Perfect headphone music that soundtracked cold meanderings through deserted London backstreets.
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music (Williams Street) / El-P – Cancer 4 Cure (Fat Possum)
This was El-P’s year without a doubt. It felt for a while like he was the forgotten man of hip-hop, a relic from the late 90’s/early 00’s underground rap Golden Age, but suddenly he was back making records with Killer Mike and Danny Brown and T.I., an unexpected influence on a previous decade of rappers. Of these two records, I could not pick a favourite. The production on R.A.P. Music, which El-P wholly handles himself, is maybe better, an impeccable fusion of El-P’s signature hard sci-fi style with Southern rap and Old School 80’s hip-hop tropes; on the other hand Cancer 4 Cure feels like a natural evolution from where Fantastic Damage and Cold Vein left off. Just get them both.
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love)
Woozy, crushing beats enveloped in sub-bass and layers of reverbed vocals. It is a little one-trick, but it is definitely my kind of trick. I will always be a sucker for manipulated vocals, they worm their way right into my skull. There is a sinister and off-kilter quality to this material that is migraine and nausea-inducing at full volume through headphones, even if it seems relatively straightforward on the surface.
Melvins Lite – Freak Puke (Ipecac)
Melvins put out their 100,000th record, this time under the Melvins Lite moniker (i.e. drop the Big Business rhythm section, bring Trevor Dunn in on double bass). Whisper it quietly: I was getting a little bored with the Big Business/double drums lineup. Great live, but wearying on record. This Lite manifestation is an ovedue return to their quirkier mid-90’s output with goofy noise interludes and skronky Meat Puppets-esque wigouts filtered inevitably through Kiss and ZZ Top. Sure you’ve heard it all before (probably on Stag), but they are doing it and you’re not and this should be on someone’s end of year list.
Municipal Waste – The Fatal Feast (Nuclear Blast)
I’m obligated to put this in just because I listened to it so much this year. I really don’t go in for Thrash Metal generally, but something about this record clicked with me. It is so dumb and I can’t get enough of it. In particular if I play ‘New Dead Masters’ once, I have to play it forty times. The lyrics are pure gonzo cheese: booze, zombies, sex, vomit, aliens etc. Basically if you ever had a sneaky soft spot for Suicidal Tendencies this could be for you. I’m sure this will not trouble any end of year lists, even the metal ones, but here it is anyway. Sometimes you just have to be honest.
Duane Pitre – Feel Free (Important)
I nearly forgot about this because I only cottoned on to it quite late. What I know about modern avant-garde composition probably begins and ends with the words “Steve” and “Reich”, but from my layman perspective, this new record from Duane Pitre was my unexpected find of the year. From what I understand, it is one of those John Cage-esque chance experiments, where parts of the composition have been randomized by a computer, on paper a potentially daunting proposition, promising something that is going to be “difficult” at best and unlistenable at worst. The result though is a transcendent soundtrack of shimmering drones, composed of minimal tones and beautiful swelling harmonics. I don’t mind confessing that any interest I have in minimal or avant-garde composition really stems from listening to a lot of those post-orchestral/shoegazey Kranky bands like Stars of the Lid or Windy & Carl (sidenote: Windy & Carl had a new record out this year that is worth checking out, even if it was more of the same), so for fans of those bands, this is a record that covers similar territory, but maybe is easy to overlook because it will get lumped in with the classical composition end of things.
There was a load of other stuff released this year, some of it probably better than the records listed above, but I’m sure you can read about it elsewhere I think my actual favourite record of the year was Swans’ The Seer. It is so intense and long though that I’ve only listened to it once all the way through and honestly had nothing to say about it, except that it is the perfect Swans record.
I thought there was some great electronic music released this year aside from what I’ve picked out above – Mark Fell, Claro Intelecto, John Talabot, Silent Servant, Bass Clef, Bee Mask, all put out good stuff. British Murder Boys made a comeback and there were reissues from Regis, Drexciya, and Porter Ricks. The only big releases I couldn’t get on with were Shackleton’s Music for the Quiet Hour/The Drawbar Organ EPs – I can never decide if his music is refreshingly minimal or just kind of dull – and Actress’ R.I.P., a record that was too fidgety for its own good.
On the industrial/noise/drone front Carter Tutti Void’s Transverse was one of the best things going, all the more remarkable because it was a live recording.I actually saw Helm live this year doing a crushing wall of noise set in a tiny venue. His record Impossible Symmetry was another highlight and actually much more subtle than I was expecting. Not subtle was Kevin Drumm’s Relief, a superlative slab of pure noise. Stephen O’Malley and Peter Rehberg aka PITA put out another collaboration of malevolent laptop drone and Black Metal atmospherics as KTL – this project keeps getting better and better in my opinion. I really would have liked that £200 9 LP, 6 CD, DVD etc reissue of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops, but I guess there are still a couple of days until Christmas.
I didn’t listen to so much Metal this year for whatever reason, but High On Fire and Black Breath both put out solid releases. I listened to precisely one jazz record, Charles Gayle Trio’s Streets and it was excellent, the kind of frenetic jazz where things stop and start and the drums clatter around in a deceptively intricate manner and I feel all sophisticated. This was the year I switched my listening almost exclusively over to MP3 for better or worse and amazingly I only bought one piece of vinyl, Sauna Youth’s Dreamlands, a glorious DIY garage punk racket, purchased on the strength of a great free show they played at an art gallery with Cold Pumas. Live show of the year? Either that or Lil B at XOYO in May. Or maybe Magnetic Fields at the Royal Festival Hall.
Mixtapes passed me by basically this year. The few I downloaded I couldn’t listen to all the way through. It didn’t help that I have had that stupid Chief Keef ‘I Don’t Like’ song stuck in my head on and off for the last month. Still Gucci Mane put out another tape so it couldn’t have been all bad.
That’s it really, When I wasn’t listening to new stuff, I was feeding a sudden bizarre infatuation for mid to late 90’s screamo or working my way steadily through this interesting and delightfully contrary FACT best of the 90’s rundown. Have a good Christmas and maybe if you are (un)lucky I will try and write about music more in the new year (I can probably up my two posts a year production rate at least).
Note: I shouldn’t have to warn you about this, but I will anyway: this is an extended review of Prometheus that contains serious spoilers of numerous, if not all, plot points, major and minor. If you care about such things, please do not read it. There is a shorter version of this review on my other blog Capes and Lasers here.
I’m going to get it out of the way at the start: Prometheus is not a classic film. It might not even be a great film. Certainly it is not Alien and anyone that went to see it after the trailers expecting a straightforward reboot of that film would have come away disappointed. Alien was a body-shock horror film with science fiction trappings; Prometheus is a science fiction film with some (perhaps extraneous) body-shock horror elements. Its real predecessors are 2001: A Space Odyssey – it doesn’t seem possible to make a Big Ideas SF film without referencing 2001 – and of course, Blade Runner, with which it seems to be in more of a dialogue than even Alien. The clue is really in their respective titles. Alien was about a literal confrontation with a cold, implacable, incomprehensible cosmos; Prometheus is about humanity’s (or its analogue’s) inevitable desire to impose meaning on that cosmos, even when it doesn’t want to offer up its secrets.
Last FM just reminded me that I’ve been listening to a lot of Vatican Shadow the last few days. It’s one of the many aliases of Dominick Fernow, better known for his work as Prurient. Now I don’t particularly buy into the idea of the guilty pleasure – this or that artifact of popular culture is either your thing or it isn’t – but if I did have one, a contender would certainly be Prurient’s cathartic (and dare I say a little emo) noise sculptures. Part of that is to do with the overblown lyrics (when they are actually discernible) and part of it is maybe to do with the fact that he occasionally seems to press some of the easy buttons, structurally anyway – I can imagine the true kvlt Noise guys seem him as a bit predictable - and part of it is certainly to do with the testosterone man-whiff that emanates from this type of power electronics, intentional or otherwise. But all that being said and perhaps because of some of those imperfections, Prurient is consistently my favourite Noise project, apart from Kevin Drumm (and if you’ve not got the Kevin Drumm/Prurient record All Are Guests in the House of the Lord, I urge you to go get it now, crank it up on your headphones as loud as it will go, and try not to shit yourself when the amazing bass tone drops on track two).
But I digress. Vatican Shadow. It is sort of the same thing but applied to droney Industrial Techno (what is with this noise trend of all these guys like Pete Swanson suddenly realising their machines can make beats as well? I like it at any rate). The result is kind of a sketchy, but intense, folk memory of Techno, filtered through Burzum, rather than Techno proper – you get the impression that, as with the tendency in Noise to document everything in exhaustive detail, the sheer volume of material means you are almost following the day-by-day development of Vatican Shadow as he teaches himself to do this stuff – and it comes swathed in slightly ropey political baggage, with the record covers emblazoned with pictures of Nidak Malik Hasan, Hilary Clinton, and various US war machines and track titles lifted straight from headlines and news articles like ‘Shooter in the Same Uniform as the Soldiers’ and ‘People in the Compound Kept to Themselves’. I find this stuff silly and unsophisticated (although maybe that is the only rational response left to the US military-industrial complex or maybe Vatican Shadow wants us to find this all a little bit pompous and overblown, I don’t know), but as an aesthetic it certainly chimes with the sinister qualities of the music. I know, I know, I’m probably supposed to reflect gravely on the current geopolitical situation whilst digesting these records, but what it evokes for me most, being an unashamed nerd, is this vision of post-apocalyptic rebels hiding out from Skynet, deep within their hidden bunkers, flooding the airwaves with brief snatches of gloomy industrial techno constructed on malfunctioning machines.
Of the two records I’ve got, Kneel Before Religious Icons is probably the keeper, as it fits the most with the above aesthetic. Washington Buries Al Qaeda Leader at Sea: Decks 1-3- see what I mean – is probably a step-up in terms of production, but is overly reminiscent of mid-90s Scorn for my liking. Unsurprisingly I’ve just read that he has a 12” coming out on Blackest Ever Black, which makes perfect sense.
Here is a bonus tasty Regis remix:
Page 1 of 6