Thursday, January 1, 2015

:::: ALBUMS OF 2014 ::::

Ben Frost  "AURORA"  (Bedroom Community)
Jacaszek & Kwartludium  "Catalogue des Arbres"  (Touch)
Otto A. Tötland  "Pinô"  (Sonic Pieces)
Anjou  "Anjou"  (Kranky)
Hildur Guðnadóttir  "Saman"  (Touch)
Bohren & The Club of Gore  "Piano Nights"  (PIAS)
A Winged Victory for the Sullen  "Atomos"  (Kranky)
Kemper Norton  "Loor"  (Front & Follow)
Leyland Kirby  "Intrigue & Stuff Vol. 4"  (HAFTW)
Thomas Köner  "Tiento de las Nieves"  (Denovali)
Matthew Collings  "Silence is a Rhythm Too"  (Denovali)
Josef Van Wissem, Jim Jarmusch & Sqürl  "Only Lovers Left Alive - Soundtrack"  (ATPR)
Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza  "S/T"  (Superior Viaduct)
Lawrence English  "Wilderness of Mirrors"  (Room40)
Mica Levi  "Under The Skin - Soundtrack"  (Milan Recordings)
The Bug  "Angels & Devils"  (Ninja Tune)
Sunn O))) & Ulver  "Terrestrials"  (Southern Lord)
Nothing  "Guilty of Everything"  (Relapse)
Nisennenmondai  "N"  (Blast First)
Godflesh  "A World Lit Only By Fire" (Avalanche)
Bushman´s Revenge  "Thou Shalt Boogie!"  (Rune Grammofon)
Max Richter  "The Congress - Soundtrack"  (Milan Recordings)
Éliane Radigue  "Naldjorlak I II III"  (Shiiin)
Valerio Tricoli  "Miseri Lares
"  (PAN)
Kevin Drumm & Jason Lescalleet  "The Abyss"  (Erstwhile)

Much like every year in the past decade, the past 12 months yielded great discoveries outside the expected sources and return artists creating works from beyond their established territory. 2014 was that much more a quest than usual to find new record labels, imprints, publishers and film distributors. Seminal auteur television, the series that began it all, announced a return. Authors of choice producing some of their finest writing to-date, in fields as far-flung as cultural criticism, literature, theory and even science fiction. In science news, we've finally quantified the residual evidence of the Big Bang and it's establishing of the known universe, new revolutionary materials were discovered and one of the most audacious and far-reaching energy plans in human history was begun. Some of the defining visual art movements of German culture in the 20th Century had major exhibits in Los Angeles and New York, large-scale installation and sculptural work will be seeing new expansive representation in the United States, Brooklyn hosted an extensive exhibition of one of the 21st Century's more controversial figures as well as the defining voice of the Left Bank movement, in his first-ever comprehensive retrospective at BAMcinématek. And in political news, 2014 was another year of disclosures concerning the ongoing effects of the Patriot Act following the events of 2001, and the influence of that era's legacy on others and ourselves as a nation.

In music it was another unusually convoluted path to the year's more memorable sounds released. Digital distribution has certainly freed up some of he channels of access and stages of separation between producer and audience, conversely it's also made what was in the past the locus of curatorial vision; the record label, less a reliable go-to. No question, the well curated label is still the best bet at finding more of related sounds when you're attuned to their frequency, it's just not quite the end-all that it once was. That said, in the way of cutting edge electronic music Tri-Angle, Blackest Ever Black, PAN, Touch and Front & Follow all delivered catalogs of quality, often groundbreaking work this year, proving the record label can still be a defining tastemaker amidst the multitude of channels in which to discover new music. Archivel releases played a notable role in defining the year in sound. The rather astounding catalog of titles that the San Francisco Bay Area label, Superior Viaduct has managed to assemble included yet more of Edward Artemiev's striking scores for the mid-period masterpieces of Andrei Tarkovsky. The second edition of soundtracks from the label being for the allegorical science fiction of "Stalker" and autobiographical, "The Mirror". The label was also home to the official reissue of Alice Coltrane's virtuoso improv album, "Monastic Trio" and the criminally rare first LP by 1960's avant-garde Italian ensemble Gruppo di Improvvisazione di Nuova Consonanza then led by Franco Evangelisti and composer Ennio Morricone. The reissue bounty continues for France's sound sculptor of the sublime and austere, Eliane Radigue with unreleased gems from the era of her feedback and modular synthesizer compositions on the Alga Marghen label. And early Buchla pioneer Morton Subotnick's catalog of groundbreaking extended compositions for synthesizer have seen high quality vinyl editions thanks to Karl Records reissue campaign. On the subject of Modular Synthesizers, the most comprehensive documentary to date on their creation and the genres of music the instruments of Don Buchla and Robert Moog inspired were mapped in Robert Fantinatto and Jason Amm's "I Dream of Wires".

Of course it was a year of contemporary of-the-now sounds as well. Significant among them, Ben Frost has taken a substantial leap into electroacoustic chamber music of the most brutally visceral nature. "AURORA" marks a ramping up of his use of distortion and pure noise in array with effects and software manipulation of acoustic and electric sounds, with the driving force of live drumming and orchestral bells rooting this gale force sonic tornado to the Earth. Reports of it's realization live with dual drummers give credence to the kind of power behind Frost's vision. A sound I've been attuned to for a couple decades now, this 'Power Ambient' has gained a body of distinct voices in the field to warrant it being quantified as a genre unto itself. Pieces like FACT Magazine's "Power Ambient: The Sound of 2014 (If You Were Listening Closely)" leading the charge with albums by Lawrence English, Killing Sound, SUNN O)))'s Stephen O'Malley with Oren Ambarchi & Randal Dunn and of course the above-mentioned Ben Frost. Cinema inspired some of the most richly sustained atmospheres heard all year. The perfect Alchemical Marriage of experimental lutist Josef Van Wissem with director and guitarist Jim Jarmusch and their Doom-Folk ensemble, Sqürl produced molten meditations as accompaniment to the director's observation on the greatness of human imagination through the aeons as told by Vampires. Topping year-end charts across the globe this year, British composer Mica Levi's riveting, stark score to to Jonathan Glazer's suspenseful study on the beauty of the natural world, what it is to be human, and the terror of genuine 'otherness'. And then there was that omnipresent figure of underground cinema scoring, Max Richter, who teamed once again with Israeli director Ari Folman to express an even more surreal, elegiac and distant vision of a possible future.

In the way of power, and visceral, physical sonic experiences, I feel that even those who witnessed them in the heyday of the 1980's and 90's, particularly the "final" tour of 1997, Swans Are Dead, could never conceive that Michael Gira and his expanded near-orchestra of electric amplification and percussion would not only return in force, but expounded upon what has come before. His three post-reform albums "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope in the Sky", "The Seer" and this year's "To Be Kind" have not only marked out new territory, but in a Oroborous-like path back to itself, Gira's music has ingested it's own past, birthing a supreme amalgam from it's own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their trajectory from the 1980's to present. And like the albums of their previous iteration, their live realizations this decade have far, far exceeded these recorded works. The Quietus hosted a lengthy interview on the new album and the explicitly spiritual, transcendental, rapturous nature of their live incarnation. Equally unlikely in the way of the heaviest of sounds from decades past, Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green's Godflesh reformed with a new album "A World Lit Only By Fire" and a nationwide live tour to play some of the most punishing, loud, assaulting music ever created by man and machine alongside compatriots Pharmakon and William Bennett's Cut Hands. Of the extended family of artists revolving around Broadrick and his post-Godflesh projects of the early 2000's, it has been Kevin Martin and his matchless "Political Ragga Stomp" of The Bug that has had the greatest longevity. Fusing Hip-Hop, Dub, Reggae and a brutalist noise Metal grind, his music is a powerful, impassioned, venomous, inspired, soulful tale of unity in the face of what Martin describes as "global markets dividing the urban experience between dilapidation and the curse of luxury apartments that has infested everywhere". This premise of the opposing forces of violent refusal and enveloping embrace of community are at the heart of Martin's current work, The Bug a vehicle for his personal sonic warfare of cerebral assassination and physical hits.

Other sounds from the heavier end of the spectrum heard in the year, the 21st Century offshoots from Black Metal continue to grow as a genre, encompassing melodicism and atmospheres lifted from Shoegaze and Spacerock punctuated by blistering eruptions of Metal drumming, riffs and noise. What may be the epitome of this sound and where it's currently headed can be heard in the dynamic solar magma of guitar riffs and rhythm-play of Deafheaven. Oathbreaker, the fuzzed-out blast of Nothing and their fusion of metal drumming and Spacerock blur as heard on the "Guilty of Everything" album of last year, and in the more Mathrock angularity of their related offshoot, Whirr are other prime examples. On the fringe of the genre, taking the sound down more melancholy paths, there's the crushing Shoegaze blues of True Widow. With labels like Hydrahead, Ipecac, Deathwish, Sargent House, Profound Lore and Relapse playing host as purveyors of all things heavy. And here we are, cycling all the way back around to Spacerock and Shoegaze. This past year we were not only witness to the return of LOOP after decades of it's founder Robert Hampson claiming if you weren't there to witness their staggering volume and endurance-testing live performances in the 1990's, then you'll never quite know what the band was about. But easily topping LOOP's revival in way of the improbable, after 20 years of silence, the announcement that Slowdive would be performing a one-off at the Primavera Sound Festival thrilled all those who missed them in their initial incarnation. Even more inconceivable, in the wake of the massively received event, the band recognized the ongoing dedication of their fanbase in interview with The Quietus, and what followed in rapid succession was a North American tour.

The festival context often not only being the highest concentration of sounds heard in the course of the year, but often supplying opportunity for the most memorable as well. This year's fourth iteration of Substrata Festival in the acoustically primed environs of the Chapel at the Good Shepherd Center offered a small intimate festival setting in which to hear international names like Pan Sonic's Mika Vainio deliver a powerful, motoric set of rhythm and cascading noise. Koen Holtkamp 's modular synthesizer solo set outside of his usual context as one half of the ambient pastoral duo Mountains, was sonically rich and the festival's knock-out dead surprise came from another hardware based synthesis performance. Evan Caminiti of the duo Barn Owl explored a body of new work that exceeds all of his recorded output to date. Ryoji Ikeda's return to the west coast after a many year absence was as memorable as his groundbreaking work a decade before. Still otherworldly in their visceral all-sensory engagement, his live multimedia performances still feel more akin to a phenomenological event, than a performance wrought by human hands and minds. The annual Decibel Festival, in it's 11th year obviously recognizing the unmissable status of their own 2012 Modern Love label showcase, by again pairing the dream-team of Andy Stott and Demdike Stare who are on a couple year roll of delivering some of the strongest, deepest and darkest post-techno being made on the planet. It's no hyperbole to say these guys are at the vanguard. The body-impacting nature of their beats have met a perfect equilibrium with some of the densest subterranean atmospheres being created in contemporary electronic music. These qualities they share with Altar Of Plagues frontman James Kelly and his take on doom-electronica as Wife. The "Human & Inhuman" albums by Max Cooper were realized as bold multimedia and dance performances, and one of the rising star producers of contemporary pop, Arca brought his own vision of liquefied sound and form to the stage and screen. But it was Michal Jacaszek's haunting neoclassical chamber compositions with piano and bass oboe accompaniment that stole the festival, and possibly the whole year in live music heard.