5.1.11

Top Ten Albums of 2010

Another year behind us, another year end list. You'll notice that this year's list looks quite different from the multi-format grandeur of last year's compilings. Two reasons for this: This year I wanted to try a much more succinct list with a narrower focus–-hence sticking to just one-- and also, very simply, I really didn't accumulate as much. For me, 2010 was about trying to savour each and every album. With the amount of material that was pumped out it was difficult to stay on top of that filter. In retrospect I think I did a fair job of balancing curiosity, consumption, austerity and budget. I thank all the labels that where kind enough to do promo with me. Special thanks to Jim from Helen Scarsdale and 23five, Colin from Elevator Bath, Daniel from Mystery Sea and Unfathomless, Brandon from isounderscore, and Scott from Swill Radio for their contributions (Yes, I know I still have to get to reviewing a lot of those albums guys). Please get in touch with me if you'd like to set up promotion through the Scrapyard Forecast. I will entertain almost any (reasonable) offer.

I surprised even myself at how this year's list turned out. It felt like Ledesma's album kind of snuck into top position. I wasn't expecting it to make all that much of an impression. After a few listens though, it became ever-present in my life. For a while I was playing it every chance I got, its talons securely sunken into my subconscious. Eventually it dawned on me that this was the best thing I'd heard all year. Two Emeralds related albums made the list this year––and ya I know one of them is a reissue but come on, it counts. Some worth-while collaborations, a usual suspect or two and of course some brand new projects makes for what I think is a pretty well rounded list. So, on with it...

1. JEFRE CANTU-LEDESMA Love is a Stream
It's easy enough to call this a shoegaze record, or a noise record, or some kind of psych experiment. Truth is it's all of these as much as it is neither. Up to this point Ledesma's musical focus rarely veered from the soft-focus ambience of so many limited run tapes and cdrs. And then his Type records debut surfaces and everything we've come to know about the man's music is blown out of the water. Love is a Stream is a wonderful album, its ebb and flow mark extreme points on the sound spectrum, but always arrive at these points without the err of forcefulness. The album plods forth in a constant state of crumble, at times evoking such a state of unease on me that I start to imagine the music as long strands of collapsing wire, and it's my duty to run back and forth underneath the wire, providing momentary support for the sections that are about to cave.

The album is in a constant state of juggling consonance with dissonance. The tectonic movements of sound that often accompany the foreground are massive, and at times some might even say tumultuous. Underneath, a world of sonic activity exists, but proves to be more subtle. If Love is a stream than these ambient textures are its undercurrent. Distant guitar licks provide the shoegazing, while the overriding layers breathe a mangled psychedelia that's equal parts noise and bliss. I'm tempted to call this a post-hypnogogic record, but that would of course be jumping the gun. So instead, I'm happy in simply calling it: really fucking good.

2. PALE BLUE SKY Shades of Grey
Mike Pollard's various projections over the years were mere stepping stones on the path to Pale Blue Sky. Polard's new project feels less a tangental catharsis than it does a honed reconfiguration of ideas. Despite its modest length, this ep is completely realized, manifesting its presence deep inside the listener long after the needle has left the grooves. The floating synthdrift found within is the perfect soundtrack to any afternoon. Sure, Pollard stands in debt to the ambient pioneers here–reference points are hard to overlook. However, Shades of Grey is anything but a rehashing of what Schulze, Eno and Köner put on the table.

3. EMERALDS Does it Look Like I'm Here?
The driving force of Genetic, the B side's opener is proof that Emeralds have evolved well beyond their adolescent beginnings. Despite having countless releases
Does it Look Like I'm Here? really is their first full-length proper. Gone are the drone heavy washes of the Solar Bridge days. In it's place are the refracted arpeggiations of once impenetrable choruses. The tracks here are tight, and it's clear that these guys have been doing nothing but playing music every waking moment for the last three years. McGuire's showmanship in the live setting is significantly lessened on record, which works solely to the band's advantage as no one seems to be taking too much credit. However, the band deserves a lot for this remarkable album.

ps- give credit to where it's due, and that would most certainly go to John Elliott for his captivating full-body dance moves on stage during the Emeralds performance earlier this year. That was single-handedly the show of the year, as far as music is unconcerned.

4. MATT SHOEMAKER Soundtrack for Dislocation
Another exemplary year of releases from the man who never disappoints. The organic pulse that is fed through the center of all of Shoemaker's albums is especially evident on this particular release. It bubbles up from darkened depths and oozes a down-right devilish cynicism. The atypical sense of dread bestowed in all of Shoemaker's work reveals an admirable dedication to his craft, and that dread is ever-present on Soundtrack for Dislocation. Shoemaker shows no apparent signs of slowing down either. Another fantastic album of melded space tones and primordial psychedelia from the guy who does it best.

5. MARK MCGUIRE Off in the Distance
Mark McGuire has been on a maddened run as of late. This past year alone saw a slew of Emeralds and Emeralds related releases, including the debut Mego releases from both Emeralds and McGuire and many vinyl reissues of rare(r) solo material. Off in the Distance is a one of those rare albums that encapsulates everything I like about an artist. Originally released as a limited tape on Chondritic Sound, it's nice to see this work reach a (slightly) larger audience. Later albums see McGuire favouring his guitar but here he doles out equal parts guitar and synth tonage, the two often playing off of one another flawlessly in the form of paralleled sonic streams and bisecting textures. The interplay of instrumentation aligns this effort closer to early Emeralds work. Without a doubt one of Mark's best.

6. KEITH BERRY The Cartesian Plane
I've caught myself raving about the elevator bath picture discs on more than one occasion, and I'm about to gush once again. This is because they are all exquisite in both music and artistic aesthetic. Enter Keith Berry, a man whom over nearly a decade has released little more than a handful of physical albums. The Cartesian Plane is the latest of those albums, and it does not disappoint. Berry's compositions seem simple enough at first. As the tracks progress, however, a cinematic world is revealed to the listener; one of sub-bass overtones and sublime ambience. These elegies exist somewhere in-between melancholia and euphoria and make for an album that is as beautiful as it is impossible.

7. ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER Returnal
Lapotin strikes again, this time with his debut for Editions Mego. Given the success of his Rifts trilogy this new LP lugged some hype with it from the press. Unfortunately, it failed to breach as many year-end lists as I believe it deservedly should have. Not quite sure why, perhaps because its a bit of a genre hopper, with noise at one end of the spectrum and what OPN presents as the closest thing to a proper song on the other (the title track, Returnal). The rest is occupied with those terrestrial synthesizer tones that have come to define OPN's sound. Returnal slots a modest seventh place on this list, which is not say that it lacks a certain sense of growth. No, on the contrary. A fine album.

8. M. HOLTERBACH & JULIA ECKHARDT Do-undo (In g Maze)
The key of g never sounded so good...and so the story goes that Mr. Holterbach was presented with a fragment from a large archive of Julia Eckhardt's recorded string material to pick and process and recontextualize. The results are stunning, Holterbach weaving field recordings that were found naturally occurring in the key of g with Eckhardt's stoic drones. Two tracks found here, the opener a lush soundscape of found sound and droning strings while the second (a two parter) is a much more minimal affair of electronic buzz, viola and e-bowed banjo. One of two fantastic releases from Helen Scarsdale in 2010.

9. LUIGI TURRA & CHRISTOPHER MCFALL Tactile.Surface
Tactile.Surface is an album from two artists whose work I was previously unaware of. If any forthcoming releases of theirs' come even close to the calibre of work found here there's reason to pay attention. The artist's succeed in paying homage to a desolate midwest landscape, as described through McFall's recapping of a twelve hour drive from Kansas City to Colorado. The micro movements within are indeed "tactile" in nature, and seem to reveal a sense of space, as if the listener is being dragged through that space as the album unfolds. The movements rarely crescendo, relying more on the sustained use of both processed and unprocessed field recordings. Expertly blended and patiently realized. Nice work.

10. RV PAINTINGS Samoa Highway
If I were to have made a top ten list of favourite individual tracks of 2010, Millions, the first track on this RV Paintings album would be right at the top. The slow burn, field recordings and piano are the perfect combination to this epic opener. Samoa Highway pulses equal parts smoked-out psychedelia and twisted surrealism. Through the use of elegiac strings and a plethora of instrumentation the Pyle brothers manage to go from psychedelic to melancholic without skipping a beat (or drone for that matter). Another winner from the H. Scarsdale Agency.

Honorable Mention ::

PEDESTRIAN DEPOSIT East Fork North Fork

BARN OWL Ancestral Star

YUI ONODERA & CELER Generic City

ZOLA JESUS Stridulum / Valusia

GAMES That We Can Play

JASON KAHN & JON MUELLER Phase

MARSFIELD Three Sunsets / The Towering Sky


Favourite Record Labels of 2010 ::


THE HELEN SCARSDALE AGENCY

ELEVATOR BATH

ARBOR

MYSTERY SEA

EDITIONS MEGO

TYPE

ROOT STRATA

DIGITALIS RECORDINGS

INTRANSITIVE

OLDE ENGLISH SPELLING BEE

ROOM40

SACRED BONES

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