This year I've decided to separate the best-of list into three format categories: 12"s, compact discs, and cassette tapes, as there are many highlights from each. So this, the month of January, is dedicated to 2009, a great year in music.
Records of the Year
Charlemagne Palestine and Christoph Heemann
'Saiten In Flammen' (Streamline)
Charlemagne's hammering of the Bosendorfer piano mixed and smeared by Heemann is the perfect blending of musical aesthetics. 'Saiten In Flammern' is a work of pure form that breaks all ephemeral boundaries and reminds us that in the right hands, even a train wreck can be beautiful thing to listen to.
Infinity Window ' Artificial Midnight' (Arbor)
Infinity Window is probably the least prolific project of any of the noteworthy up-and-comers of the experimental synth movement. Artificial Midnight, however, is not be overlooked. Each of the three tracks on this debut long player unfold in perfect sonic clarity, guided by a focused light, and executed with utmost definitiveness. Listen to this ten times in a row and you'll know what I mean. Perfect.
Emeralds 'Emeralds' (Wagon, Gneiss Things)
This band can do no wrong. With close to ten releases in '09, Emeralds had quite the busy year. Their self-titled LP finds the band at their most adventurous, refining the photon squawks of the bands jovial beginnings with a fluidity and sureness of a group well into their golden years. All the sides of Emeralds you've come to love are here.
D.A. 'Odeon' (Olde English Spelling Bee)
As the story goes, D.A. were completely oblivious to the ever growing North American synth movement, content with having their music heard merely through roof top performances and in flotation tanks at new age centers. Odeon plays out like the post-apocalyptic answer to the movement in question. Or, an answer to a question that was never asked. Meandering guitar and crystalline synths are forever present, stripped back to their terrestrial beginnings and left to ring out in perfect harmony with the now hell-scorn Earth. "The Eighth Planet" is worth the price of admission alone.
Dimmer 'Remissions' (isounderscore)
On Remissions, Dimuzio and Hammer blend their skills flawlessly, Hammer handling the analog tape manipulations while Dimuzio utilizes feedback, loops and archaic processing. The outcome is a dimensional rift, a bending of time through the trans-formative arrangement of sonic minutiae. Looped hushed drone fragments are sped up and slowed down and at times they are completely taken apart and stacked atop a dissolving bed of multi-coloured noise. A lo-fi drone masterpiece.
Barn Owl 'The Conjurer" (Root Strata)
Easily the best material I've heard from this San Fran duo. The Conjurer plays out like any Barn Owl album-slow burning western scores ala Ennio Morricone meets Earth 2 meets space and time-but feels more like an Elm album than anything else. This record oozes a molasses pace, filled with twinkling guitars and distant voices crying out from a giant canyon. Just watch out so as you don't get sun burned, ya hear?
Andrew Chalk & Daisuke Suzuki
'In Faxfleet Clouds Uplifted Autumn Gave Passage to Kind Nature'
By now some of you may know of my obsession with the work of Andrew Chalk. Any record on his Faraway Press outfit is a mainstay in my everyday listening routine. Senshu, a past collaborative effort of Chalk and Suzuki's continues to be one of my favourite FP releases. In Faxfleet... is another fine display of their particular blend of delicate ambient music and rustic field recordings.
Mountains 'Choral' (Thrill Jockey)
Koen Holtkamp came to my attention when I came across his excellent Make Haste release on the A Room Forever label in '08. As good as that was, I wasn't expecting anything of his to top it in the near future, until I discovered Mountains and finally heard Choral and my preconceptions simply blew out the window with the breeze. This album has almost every conceivable instrument played on it, though never all at once, thankfully.
Svarte Greiner 'Kappe' (Type)
Another impeccable effort from Erik K. Skodvin aka Svarte Greiner. This is definitely his best and possibly his darkest album to date. Skodvin excels in creating dense looping atmospheres from little more than a guitar, a voice, and maybe a bell. Not much not to like on this offering of ambient doom from the mysterious Svarte Greiner.
'Solo Acoustic Volume Two' (Vin Du Select Qualitite)
Solo effort from Emeralds guitarist Mark McGuire. Another surprising release from '09 and a release that I didn't expect to like as much as I do. In fact, I love this album. It's a perfect blend of Fahey twang, and ambient layering and repetition. McGuire is a skilled guitarist and it just goes to show why the best bands, like Emeralds, don't have a weakest link, because all the members can shine on their own.
Oneohtrix Point Never 'Zones Without People' (Arbor)
'Russian Mind' (No Fun Productions)
The second and third part of the Rifts trilogy by Oneohtrix Point Never, aka Dan Lapotin. I really had to warm up to how 80's OPN's music feels, but once I was able to embrace it I found a lot to love. Lapotin's arpeggiating synth lines are hard to describe, there are elements of New Age, Kosmiche, a glint of video game soundtrack, all wrapped around a cloak of minimalism. Hard to describe maybe, but not hard to enjoy. I really look forward to what Dan will produce in the future.
Rale 'Whispering Gallery' (Arbor)
Mountains 'Etching' (Thrill jockey)
Emeralds 'Allegory of Allergies'
Reissue (Weird Forest)