2009 Review Part Three: The Year in the Compact Disc

Discs of the Year

Emeralds 'What Happened'
(No Fun Productions)

It's hard to say what will come of the blossoming underground synth movement. Will it continue to grow? in the next 5, 10, or 15 years will there still be kosmiche obsessed kids manufacturing homemade tapes in rented basement suites? Or is the whole thing just a fad that's going to lose steam and fizzle out in a year? I sincerely hope for the former scenario. Speculation aside, when the age of the post-hypnagog, or the (post-) post-new-age does fall upon us, Emeralds' What Happened will without a doubt be heralded as a landmark achievement, an album that set the bar to an unsurpassable height. That's about all I can say.

Past Emeralds post: Emeralds, A Kosmixtape

Jason Kahn 'Vanishing Point'
(23five Inc.)

Not one, but two releases from the 23five roster have found their way onto this list. Every release of this humble label, dedicated to the increased awareness of sound works in the public arena, is worthy of repeated listens. Kahn's contribution to 23five just might be my favourite one to date. Not one to brood on the release of a work, kahn's hyper-prolific backlog can be intimidating to the unfamiliar and although the bulk of it-as far as what I've heard-is quite extraordinary, Vanishing Point diverges itself as a truly groundbreaking album among the lot. Though he never outright states it, the album is in a way a dedication to the death of Kahn's daughter a few years back, who he was thinking of a lot while constructing the work, and in which the title refers too. The end product exercises a right in sustain, with many meandering streams of layered hiss flowing in tandem with hushed percussive agitations, resulting in an expertly constructed and highly enjoyable album.

Read my review of this album from August of '09 here.


Jim Haynes 'Sever'

What hasn't Jim had a hand in in '09? As an active member of Aquarius, 23five, and Helen Scarsdale, and a music writer for the Wire, visual artist and musician--both solo and collaborative, Jim seems an ever present pulse, a guru in the epicenter of West-coast musical fringe culture, while simultaneously remaining a ghostly, unknown figure. Not to worry though Jim, because for those of us who are paying attention, your clandestine nature will not hinder your talents and efforts. The one and only time I stepped foot into Aquarius Jim was behind the counter and I remember asking him if I could take some pictures of the store. His response was sure I could, as long as he wasn't in any of them. I may be way out on a limb here, but I felt as though there was a hidden message in that interaction, and in all off Haynes' work, like to be known as an unknown can be a noble thing, or something along those lines. Or maybe I'm just talking out of my ass. Hard to say.

Along with all of his accomplishments to date, Haynes can now pencil in Sever on his CV, as this is a work he should most certainly be proud of. I cannot provide a review even close to on par with what Haynes has already summarized of his album, nor am I going to try. But I will state that when a borderline clinical obsession can be broken down to the rudimentary ingredients of tactility, decay and drone, one truly has something to behold. And I'm sure that Jim could talk your face off about all three.

"One of the first reviews that had ever been authored about my sound work (this being in Coelacanth with Loren Chasse) referenced Small Cruel Party. At the time, I only had the Drone single from Small Cruel Party; and admittedly, that was a single that didn't ignite my imagination. Many years later, I had come realize that this reference should be read as a huge compliment, as the Small Cruel Party albumsIslands Of Sleep, Stain On Pure Glass, and In Thicket are all masterworks of tactile sound construction. Each displays a minimalist ethos at its heart, with compositions that proceed along taut linear arcs for little more than a set of bells, a crunching of sand, and a drone. Sever owes its inception to Small Cruel Party. Although if this were considered an homage, it's certainly a failure, as my persistent needling into the details of a parametric filter sweep or my insistence upon the conceit of a flickered melody prevents Sever from adopting the true strategies and thus the true success of Small Cruel Party. That said, there are bells, there is sand, and there are plenty of drones." -- Jim Haynes

Tarab 'Take all the Ships from the Harbour, and Sail then Straight into Hell'
(23five Inc.)

"Take all the Ships..." is a big leap forward in Eamon Sprod's musical career, and a drastic improvement from his previous efforts. Elaborating on a conscious decision he made before tackling his last release Wind Keeps Even Dust Away, Sprod decided to incorporate "...quicker shifts and abrupt sounds [...] rather than just beds of sound [into his music]." This album, the follow up to Wind Keeps... takes this notion of implementing dynamic elements to an even more focused realm, yielding a calculated blueprint for microscopic sound design.

Read my review of this album from August of '09 here.

irr. app. (ext.) 'Kreiselwelle'
(Helen Scarsdale)

The third installment of a trilogy of albums dedicated to Wilhelm Reich. Limiting himself to only objects with spiraling origins, M.S. Waldron succeeds in his explorations of richly spewed transforming sound scapes rife with sonic activity: fluttering phrases giving way to organic tones, subdued chimes and distant dronings, rusting saw blades clanging into each other underwater while a barrel of detritus awaits it's turn to get thrown in the mix. Everything sounding so alive, always churning, but never sticking around long enough to be unmasked.

Read my full review of the Orgonosis Trilogy here.

Matt Shoemaker 'Erosion of the Analogous Eye'
(Helen Scarsdale)

2009 saw three releases by the ever evocative Matt Shoemaker, an album on the Mystery Sea cdr label, an effort for his own Human Faculties imprint, and this, his second on Helen Scarsdale. Shoemaker has a very definitive style, an organic pulse runs through the center of all of his work, often accompanied by some distant metallic clang, a bell that emits the most ominous of tolls. Shoemaker is at the top of his game here, Erosion of the Analogous Eye sits nicely alongside his best work including Spots in the Sun and Mutable Depths.

Kevin Drumm 'Imperial Horizon'
(Hospital Productions)

Unanimously declared as a masterpiece, less one Wire Magazine author who described the work as "numbing, faceless, and texturally empty drones," Drumm's 2008 Imperial Distortion was, in my point of view, a remarkably patient example of eroded minimalism, an ever-morphing body of cold ocean current drones, decrepit gongs, and sparse keys. The 2009 follow up, Imperial Horizon treads a slightly different path. Gone are the cold currents, replaced by a single hour-long flickering beam of light, the kind that reflects off the surface of a glacier, playing tricks on your eyes and dancing around as you walk towards it. Overall, Imperial Horizon is a far more terse, but equally impressive counterpart to Drumm's '08 offering. The distortion is lifted and in its place lies an unobscured horizon; ephemeral, cognizant and oh so pretty.

Velvet Cacoon 'Atropine'
(Full Moon Productions)

Not your typical black metal release, Velvet Cacoon's Atropine is two discs of absolutely dark, murky, and dissonant drone. Most of the material was recorded to DAT and buried underground for two years before being revived for the album. According to the Full Moon Productions website "[t]his album was carefully created over a four year period under the closely supervised influence of mandrake, hemlock, datura stramonium, henbane, belladonna and jesaconitine isolate." The result is an hypnotizing spell; a desolate and looped dark ambient record that after repeated listens induces psychological affects similar to the above mentioned, Imperial Distortion.

Richard Garet 'Four Malleable'

Richard Garet is a name that I'm not all too familiar with. He's a visual artist from New York who creates scores of wonderful drone music as accompaniment to his films. His collaboration with Brendan Murray released in March entitled Of Distance is a big year end favourite amongst critics. That albums in the mail, but I can assure you that if its even remotely as good as Four Malleable, its would have probably ended up on this list too. Four Malleable is another album that turns its focus on the tactile drone, a sub genre that has recently ignited every flammable part of my psyche. Garet focuses a microscope on his compositions, the fading in and out of gritty minimalist fragments is only interrupted by pockets of mini-typhoon swells and extraterrestrial frequencies. Almost two hours of material here, and its all worth while.

Fergus Kelly 'Fugitive Pitch' , 'Swarf'
(Room Temperature)

Kelly's music and Room Temperature label were a major discovery in '09, and these two releases are still getting more than regular turns in the player. The processed remnants of sonic detritus emitting from dungeonous cellars grace our ears on Fugitive Pitch, unwinding like the inner-workings of a grandfather clock, while Swarf displays the muscularity of a group like The New Blockaders fused with the sensibility of Coelacanth, and all, as seen through the lens of David Jackman. Great stuff.

View my original post about Fergus kelly and these releases here

Honorable Mention

Robert Haigh 'Notes and Crossings'

Sunn O))) 'Monoliths and Dimensions'
(Southern Lord)

William Basinski '92982'

It was a long and somewhat arduous task, but thus concludes the year end album review. Let's hope 2010 has many more gems to uncover.

No comments: