Cassettes of the Year
Sean McCann 'A Wind in Their Way'
I first stumbled upon the name Sean McCann a few months back, only to later discover a hyper-prolific backlog of 20+ releases starting sometime in early 2008. I can't vouch for his other releases but A Wind in Their Way is an absolute masterpiece. Monorail has released a ton of great stuff in '09-see some others listed below-but none remain as gripping as this.
The opener, Branch Chambers pt 1 is a muted cacophony of dulled ambience and distant vocals, the layers of branches overlapping and spilling into one another. The whole thing sounding so arid and cold, yet so delicate, as if it could all fall apart at any moment. B C pt 2 follows, treading a lighter path. A blur of lopping guitar notes sustain the piece, while melancholic strings are bowed and stretched out to eternity. This is the sound of a changing season, The sound of a time of transition. The flip side, Cathedral of Limbs is the highlight. McCann strips everything back for this side long affair, revealing a true minimalism. Each elongated note seems more perfect than the last, like a long lost track from The Ballasted Orchestra. Or, 12 minutes of Perfection closing out a cassette that I'll be playing for many seasons to come.
GrassLung 'In Bad Fields'
The first release on Black Horizons by Phaserprone label head Jonas Asher aka GrassLung, and it's easily the darkest and possibly the most baffling tape of the year. In Bad Fields is littered with ominous pools of hushed electro-static pulses and high end frequency waves. No use tearing your hair out over the origins of these sounds, because in the end, it's what Asher is able to do with the sounds that matters. The tracks here are heavily brooding works of darkly chiseled noise, peppered with electronic pops and crackles on par with the more palpable works of Small Cruel Party, Chop Shop, and Jim Haynes; and that's saying a lot. Short but oh so sweet.
Bryter Layter 'Imprinted Season' (Arbor)
No, this isn't a Nick Drake cover band. Bryter Layter is Mr. Treetops and Arbor head Mike Pollard in tandem with Raglani producing some nice ambient waves, ranging from heavily saturated guitar/synth tracks ala Oneohtrix Point Never, to more subdued new age drone-y drift. Plenty of material here to let burrow under your skin. Nice work guys.
Solars 'Shadow/Cave' (Pop Drones)
Vancouver's very own Solars. Yes, this tape is incredible, released by Mark Richardson of Thee Expressway. Shadow/Cave is another short but sweet affair, but perfectly exemplifies two very distinct sides to this multifaceted band. Shadow commences with jangling bells that gradually give way to a wall of gauzy guitar drift. Cave slows things down, cradling a hazily plucked guitar that's eventually dissected into a free flowing arch of trickling tones. Keep an eye out for these guys as they're about ready to explode onto the scene. And if you happen to see one of them, maybe on the street devouring a breakfast sandwich, make sure to say hello.
Terrors 'Inequipoise' (Monorail Trespassing)
Warbly and totally catchy, noise flecked, depressive bedroom pop from Terrors. An unexpected favourite of mine from '09 and another winner from the Monorail catalogue. Read my full review of this from a prior post I did here.
Emaciator 'Appease' (Monorail Trespassing)
Jon Borges 'ambient' side is a much welcomed one on The Scrapyard. There is always a time and a place to bring the noise but as far as I'm concerned, Appease is a tape for any occasion. Sustained tones and levitating pockets of meditative synth swells combine to form a unique brand of what Aquarius Records aptly calls a "deep cosmic dronemusik."
Stroma 's/t' (Razors and Medicine)
This is the only release that I am aware of from the enigmatic dronescapers known simply as Stroma. Mentioning the names Mirror and Thomas Koner should give you a good idea as to the foreboding nature of these sounds. Yes, this music is dark and glacial paced, but it unfolds with a particular isolationist quality that is not easily mastered. With three tracks per side, this could have easily been expanded into two, maybe even three cassettes. Here's to hoping for future releases.
Toby Aronson 'Tonal Music' (NNA Tapes)
Toby Aronson is another unknown in my musical world. He appears to be an up and comer, and if anything he produces in the future is as good as Tonal Music, then jot me down for one of each. The A side Gong and the B side Organ appear to be the instruments of choice here. Both tracks unfold at a La Monte Young pace, and both exhibit a sense of balance and an understanding of the broad capabilities of a single instrument. Nice work.
Jefre Sei Getsu Ledesma 'Namu Kie Butsu' (NNA Tapes)
Ordinary Machinery 'Accumulate and Acclimatize'
(Three Songs of Lenin)