Filed under: album reviews | Tags: actress, Andrew Pekler, andy stott, bellows, biblo, biosphere, boring machines, earth, ezekiel honig, fennesz, heroin in tahiti, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck, jana winderen, mannheim rocket, mirroring, oren ambarchi, raime, sun araw, the caretaker, the congos, vatican shadow, zoyd
Istanbul-based artist Biblo kept me excited all the year round. Since her more experimental self released albums (like Out/Land) dating back to a couple of years ago, she’s been regularly using her whispering/singing voice, now she’s got a thing for subtle beats and gorgeous yet mysterious dubby effects (have a listen to ‘Slave to Love’, her latest album). In Istanbul she often plays as a reggae DJ; she put a few gems in a very nice Jamaican-inspired mix for RBMA.
Ezekiel Honig has been another great (and late) discovery. ‘Folding In On Itself’ (Type Recordings, 2011) is the ultimate warm bath of field recordings and womby sounds; so well made that when you hear it at night you wish it never stops. Actually you might fall asleep in the middle of it but let me warn you, the dreams you’ll make are worth it.
In 2011 I listened a lot to Jan Jelinek. In 2012 I focused on another member of Groupshow: Andrew Pekler. ‘Sentimental Favourites’, released on Dekorder, is a weird album that won’t make you freak out. Fresh and mellow, it’s not showing off, it’s just very good but it’s hard to explain. ‘Entanglements In The Orthopedic Sensorium’ is another very good record of his; when I’m sick, I usually play the ‘Bacterial Dance’, it cheers me up.
I endured massive listening of Vatican Shadow in 2012. From the launch of Fernow’s new imprint ‘Bed of Nails’ with ‘September Cell’ to ‘Jordanian Descent’ and ‘Atta’s Apartment Slated For Demolition’, VS is always rewarding despite the fact that 1) you don’t even have the time to wait for the next release and 2) it’s always pretty much the same music. It must be that whole atmospheric identity, how it captures the moment.
It seems like everyone loved Actress‘ last album ‘R.I.P.’. Indeed this is a masterpiece and yet it does not want to hold that title. From the Burial-like atmosphere in ‘Caves of Paradise’ to the carefree absent-minded reverie of ‘Jardin’ there’s nothing unworthy of your ears but nothing will probably blow your mind either. Over repeated listening this batch of egoless tunes becomes one of the year’s key albums.
While ignoring what Earth did before (except what I heard on some Jarmusch movies), I decided to get ‘Demons of Light, Angels of Darkness II’ after having attended an intimate and impressive performance of the band. To me, Dylan Carlson has clearly seen the other side of the mirror: it’s a desert where all illusions fall flat. What remains in the music is the silence from which all things were born and that peculiar tenderness Carlson wraps his stretched melodies with. A reporter from beyond our planet’s horizon.
This is probably not the first thing you would make a friend listen to. I found Italian duo Bellows‘ last album ‘Reelin’ quite boring the first couple of times I heard it. Later I got hooked by the undersea feeling on some tracks, providing my imagination with an alternate and more minimal soundtrack for Zissou’s submarine rides. Then of course, the groove on this untitled track gets me every time. Reelin’ is actually quite amazing when your mind is cleared. Also, I listened to Giuseppe Ielasi’s 2009 album ‘Aix’ quite a lot, and for good reasons.
After the Milan-based duo come this Rome-based trio with a great name Heroin in Tahiti. Fuzzy guitars and psychedelic reverb in a spaghetti western, a dark and epic cocktail to remember; try this track for instance. I got to see another trio, Turin-based this time, play live in Berlin. It’s called, er, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? The name is a joke but the music isn’t funny. The singer declaims in a deep haunting voice, there’s a quiet yet obsessive guitar and sometimes female back vocals, drones and weird windy noises. Pretty dark and minimal, occasionally frightening. Both records released on the Italian label Boring Machines.
The body’s back in 2012. Andy Stott (‘Luxury Problems’, Modern Love) and Raime‘s (‘Quarter Turns Over A Living Line’, Blackest Black Ever) went for similar cover artworks, both showing a body in movement, muscles in action. Stott, talented as few are, mixed a female voice into his bass-driven techno, thus aiming at something different (yet not quite), more couch dancefloor than ever. Your favourite tracks might be vocal-less though: Sleepless and Expecting are amazing. A slower and instrumental version of Andy Stott’s stuff would bring you close to Raime’s world. Superbly produced beats (when there are some) drag you deep down in those decayed industrial landscapes the music conjures. Body awareness is the first quiet step towards any practice and you don’t need any beat for that. Then if your body wants to learn something new, repeating is the next step.
Jeff Gburek‘s The Watermark is something different. And yet it sounds obvious. What’s striking is how personal and timeless the music is; no school no chapel whatsoever. The Watermark is like an endless expansive ballad: basically a guitar talks to the universe, composed of a million things. You can feel the space, the immensity, the depth, the million things in between. Strangeness is sometimes around the corner, along with electronic and sitar sounds, whistles, etc. but it’s all part of the plan, or the game. I’m so happy I got one of those gorgeous limited hand painted CDs. Yeah, he paints and draws beautiful stuff too—and doesn’t even brag about it.
Sun Araw teaming up with legendary reggae band The Congos the time of an album (‘Icon Give Thank’), this sounds awesome doesn’t it? Well, it does. Spaced out guitars, dub rhythms, primal chants, synth chords and cosmic bleeps, it could have been a mess but in fact it’s an uplifting collection of pleases and thank-yous to Mother Nature.
Touch: 30 Years and Counting is a fantastic collection of sounds from artists who made the now 30 year old British label the way it is today. It’s not an album per se but you should enjoy it as if it were one. Amazing sounds (from field recordings to drones) are here beautifully mixed and packed together. Featuring works by Fennesz, Eleh, Rosy Parlane, Philip Jeck, Mika Vainio, Oren Ambarchi, BJ Nilsen and others, it’s as much a collection item for Touch’s die hard fans as a perfect introduction to sound art or whatever you want to call this kind of music.
Fennesz‘s 2011 album ‘Seven Stars’ (Touch, 2011) left me cold first. In 2012 I kind of rediscovered it. Repeated listening recommended.
Oren Ambarchi‘s album ‘Audience of One’ contains two gems and two other tracks which, to me, sound like bad old Air tunes from the 90s. One gem is limpid, it’s a song called ‘Salt’, one the most beautiful I have ever heard. The other one, ‘Knots’, is opaque and black as hell; take a deep breath.
I finally listened to Jana Winderen‘s albums (even seen her live in Madeira). Not much to say… impressive sounds. Please, Jana, keep going where no man has gone before. Let’s put an end to the Touch chapter.
Biosphere‘s take on an opera by Monteverdi, ‘L’incoronazion di Poppea’, uses only one kind of filter, so it seems, but it’s calm and beautiful. This commissionned work stays in the family but no, it’s not released by Touch.
Mirroring is Tiny Vipers and Grouper making music together; ‘Foreign Body’ is their first album. Gorgeous and dreamy.
‘Extra Patience (After Sebald)’ by The Caretaker is another album in touch with classical stuff (in fact the source material is Schubert’s Winterreise). Expect moonlight and sad retrospecting, vinyl crackles and age artifacts.
Mannheim Rocket makes techno in a fashion quite close to Andy Stott. He often recycles material from composers like Bartok and Schumann and combines it skillfully with bass-heavy loops. The album called ‘Eora’ (free download) is quite an achievement and you might want to check the live recording of his set in Berlin (I managed to miss it).
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