Saturday, January 14, 2017

:::: ALBUMS OF 2016 ::::

Autechre  "elseq 1-5"  (Warp Records)
Popol Vuh  "Music to the Films of Werner Herzog" LP Reissues  (WahWah)

David Bowie  "Blackstar"   (ISO)
Bohren & Der Club of Gore  "Bohren for Beginners"  (PIAS)
Demdike Stare  "Wonderland" (Modern Love)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith  "Ears"  (Western Vinyl)

SWANS  "The Glowing Man"  (Young God)
Jóhann Jóhannsson & Max Richter  "Arrival" - Soundtrack  (Deutsche Grammophon)
Washington Phillips  "...and His Manzarene Dreams"  Reissue  (Dust to Digital)
Lamonte Young & Marian Zazeela  "Dream House 78'"  LP Reissue  (Shandar)
Paul Bowles  "Music of Morocco"  Expanded Boxset Reissue  (Dust to Digital)
V/A  "Senegal 70" & "Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde"  (Analog Africa)
Lino Capra Vaccina  "Antico Adagio" & "Frammenti da Antico Adagio"  Reissues  (Die Schachtel)
Angelo Badalamenti  "Twin Peaks" - Soundtrack Reissue  (Death Waltz)
Manuel Göttsching  "E2-E4" & "Inventions for Electric Guitar"  Reissues  (MG Art)
African Head Charge  "Environmental Holes & Drastic Tracks 1981-1986"  Reissues  (On-U Sound)
Suzanne Ciani  "Buchla Concerts 1975"  Reissue  (Finders Keepers)
GAS  "Gas"  LP Boxset Reissue  (Kompakt)
Wardruna  "Runaljod: Ragnarok"  (By Norse Music)
True Widow  "Avvolgere"  (Relapse)
Kikagaku Moyo  "House in the Tall Grass"  (Guruguru Brain)
The Caretaker  "Everywhere at the End of Time"  (HAFTW)
Matthew Collings  "A Requiem for Edward Snowden"  (Denovali)
Raime  "Tooth"  (Blackest Ever Black)
Valerio Tricoli  "Clonic Earth"  (PAN)

Katie Gately  "Color"  (Tri-Angle)
Oren Ambarchi  "Hubris"  (Mego)

This past year was marked by the inescapable reality of a election cycle in which both liberal and conservative media elevated a reality TV celebrity, media mogul and real estate magnate to one of the most influential positions of power in the world. All the while, the other aspect of the dominant two party system marginalized their more viable candidate. Less travel this year, both domestic and international translated as nothing in 2016 being comparable to attending the Okwui Enwezor curated “All the World’s Futures” and the Venice Biennale, of the year before. Grounded here in the United States, with the noise and confusion of the theatrical pantomime
that was this year's election cycle, it was a great relief to find memorable festivals and exhibitions domestically. Gallery-going and the cinema played an even more prominent role, with the 300 mark hit it was a year in which a new personal record was set in theater attendance. The most notable arts event witnessed this year was the second-annual Paul Allen funded Seattle Art Fair, which again proved itself to be decidedly more than a rich man's vanity project. Particularly so for the inclusion of Pivot Art + Culture hosting the return of the KaiKai KiKi collective and it's cultural figurehead, Takashi Murakami in collaboration with Juxtapoz magazine for, "Juxtapoz x SuperFlat". Taken with the collateral "Out of Sight" exhibition, returning to the King Street Station exhibition space for its second-annual survey of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest, the two produced an international caliber event. Reflecting the changing economic and cultural landscape of Seattle two regional festivals which had previously brought an international scope to the city had closing and transitional years in 2015. That year saw the final installments of the region's two dominant, global festivals of electronic, neoclassical and experimental music. The final Northwest edition of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival came and went, and in an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. In lieu of the more expansive international forums offered by these festival settings, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature, MOTOR and Wayward Music Series produced a string of memorable one-off events in 2016. Elevator's maturation this past year into exhibition curation with their first annual Corridor Festival was hailed as a unmitigated success in local press. It's day-long meeting of audio-visual media, installation art, music and performance may be the city's best new hope in filling the festival void. Corridor's second edition this month promising an equally engaged festival of light, sound, and movement from the media and performance underground.

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. The issue of accepting poor royalties for the hypothetical benefit of expansive exposure aside, there are whole forms and centuries of music that are not being served by the predominant streaming platforms. Like the marginalization of global cinema on Netflix and Amazon, jazz and classical music are finding themselves particularly under-served on the platforms that define the digital field. For the those that rely on Apple Music and the iTunes player and library system, Robinson Meyer's "The Tragedy of iTunes and Classical Music" details the woes of the player and archiving particulars for the The Atlantic. With the architecture of streaming services like Pandora and Spotify even less attuned to the duration, composer and fidelity concerns that are significant for genres outside of pop music, jazz guitarist Mark Ribot writes, "If Streaming Is the Future, You Can Kiss Jazz and Other Genres Goodbye". Taking a more magnanimous tack, New Yorker's classical music writer, Alex Ross host of The Rest is Noise blog, puts forth benefits and drawbacks in his "The Classical Cloud: The Pleasures and Frustrations of Listening Online", yet expresses deep concern for Apple Music's de-prioritization of anything outside of pop culture canon and it's hierarchical values, "The Anxious Ease of Apple Music". Anastasia Tsioulcas, in a piece for NPR, "Why Can't Streaming Services Get Classical Music Right?", reports much more extensively on the headaches of classical streaming, not least the effects of poor sound quality. Like in the case of the 12 decades of cinema not being represented by the dominant commercial platforms, independent music has begun their own enterprises to better serve their own interests, "Independent Music Labels and Young Artists Offer Streaming, on Their Terms", like that of Drip.FM. 

Though it's role may be reduced in the age of streaming, the magazine, both print and digital can still be a defining tastemaker amid the multitude of channels in which to discover new music. Online institutions like The Quietus, Headphone Commute, Resident Advisor, FACT Magazine and Redbull Music Academy represent the kind of expertise you'll not find outside the framework of such vision and publishing legacy, compiling the life's work of people who make art their enterprise. In my case, no music magazine has been consistently with-it enough to continue readership from the early 90's to present with the exception of The Wire. Evolving right along with the times from a free improv, modern classical and jazz magazine in the 70's and 80's to include post-rock and electronic music in the 90's to the all-inclusive hip hop, dub/reggae, noise, punk, post-everything, jazz, black/doom metal, techno/house, free folk, psyche, kraut/nipponese rock, minimalism, sound-art, bass music and out-sounds. In addition to their 2016 Rewind feature covering the Top 50 Critic's Picks, the issue features sub-genre breakdowns and interviews, assessments, political commentary and cultural overviews from a spectrum of artists, curators, publishers, and journalists. If there is one print resource that will bring you a global view of the ever-expansive world of Adventures in Modern Music every month, The Wire is still very much it. The well-curated record label can still be one of the best paths toward discovering new sounds as well amid the multitudes of over-abundance online. In the way of cutting edge electronic and experimental sounds, Raster-Noton, Tri-Angle, Blackest Ever Black, PAN and Touch all delivered catalogs of quality, often groundbreaking work this year. Experimental, black and doom metal continued it's influential hybridization on labels like Southern Lord, Ipecac, Deathwish, Sargent House, Profound Lore and Relapse. Neoclassical and chamber music were served by institutions like Erased Tapes and Denovali and American indies like Sacred Bones and Temporary Residence continued to step up their game, with ever expanding diversification and discovery of new talent. Reissue imprints expanded their catalogs with titles spanning decades of overlooked, rare and seminal work. RVNG continues to release lost wonders from the fringes of psychedelia and early electronic music, as well as adventurous contemporary work, with a willful obliviousness to genre. The San Francisco Bay Area label, Superior Viaduct have continued their strong launch by reaching further into he discographies of post-punk, modern composition, out-rock and free jazz. 

John Carpenter's re-ascent into the spotlight with his "Lost Themes" for Sacred Bones and tour of this past year wherein he performed from both those new albums and selections from his now classic filmscores, saw him riding a recent trend of cinema-soundtrack revivalism. On the subject of his unexpected new profile in the music world, and continued following in horror and cult cinema cultures, Carpenter spoke with The Quietus, on how "The Horror In Music Comes from The Silence" and again in advance of the recent string of performances, "No Longer Lost: John Carpenter on Playing Live". Another of these saw the Frizzi 2 Fulci tour initiated last year with the second annual MondoCon in Austin Texas as a showcase for Fabio Frizzi's scores to the Giallo cinema maestro Lucio Fulci. The locus of which was the the expanded and unreleased music for "The Beyond: Composer's Cut Live" hitting select North American cities, including Beyond Fest in Los Angeles and Seattle's date at Neumos. The landscape these artists have re-emerged into has been unquestionably shaped by the burgeoning reissue revival mining decades of subterranean soundtracks, musique concrete, neofolk, jazz and experimental work that have adorned much of the 20th Century's cult cinema. These rich veins continue to be mined by reissue institutions like, Death Waltz, Mondo and WaxWork in new editions often corresponding with restorations and re-release of quality archival imprints for genre film like Arrow Films and Scream Factory. There are seeming whole new genres being born of the thematic beds of atmosphere and constructed worlds of Italian Giallo, French Fantastique and British Psychedelic, Pagan and Folk Horror of the late 1960s and 70s. As well as the following  American horror explosion of the late 1970s and 80s and the lines of kinship shared with the composers of early electronic music and concrete psychedelia who produced many of the soundtracks of the time. No better resource covers the source material that inspired this strange little burgeoning corner of the music world than the veritable home of horror studies, The Miskatonic Institute. In last year's interview with The Quietus founding member Virginie Sélavy with Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor Press and Coil's Stephen Thrower author of "Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents" and the recent plumbing of the depths of "Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco" spoke on the cross pollination of the postmodern situation. Where the genre definitions break down, and in their fertile collision producing contemporary works inspired by, and expounding upon the fringe cult film and music of decades past.

Jazz and improvisation had a strong year in the Northwest, with thanks almost exclusively to be given to the Earshot Jazz organization and their year-round, international programming. This past summer, Earshot insightfully culled from Vancouver International Jazz Festival's expansive global program of all things jazz, including a set of trios from the cutting edge of the Scandinavian scene. Most notably a night of blistering sets by Mats Gustafsson alongside The Thing's central duo of Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love in a lineup with Thomas Johansson's Cortex. A sound in a more timorous, searching vein than the sonic incursion of Gustafsson and company, the following week saw a night of engrossing melodic modal pieces from ECM's Eilertsen Ensemble. Their trio performance was a night showcasing bassist Mats Eilertsen's eloquence and sensitivity matched by pianist Harmen Fraanje and the soaring moodscapes of Food's percussion and electronics wing, Thomas Strønen. These were artists who's work is informed as much by the fifty years of European Free Jazz and neoclassical modernism, as the kinetic influences of post-punk, noise music culture and by degrees the more tempered, "Explorations of Krautrock and it's Kosmische Fringe". Johannes Rød's recent, "Free Jazz and Improvisation on Vinyl 1965-1985", published by Norwegian vanguard imprint Rune Grammofon, traces independent free jazz and improv labels between 1965 and 1985, from the beginning of ESP-Disk through to the ascendant digital formats. With some 60 labels are covered in the volume, and forewords by Mats Gustafsson and label founder, Rune Kristoffersen, there are few better single introductions to this particular brand of what The Guardian's Richard Williams calls, "Norwegian Blues". The significance of the ECM label to the extended Scandinavian scene and it's embracing of classical, jazz, improvisation and experimentation, can't be overstated. Dana Jennings "ECM: Albums Know that Ears Have Eyes" for the New York Times mines the ensuing four decades following those detailed in Rød's chronicle. Another significant marker of in "The Sound of Young Norway" came in the form of ECM sister label's 150th release, The Quietus hailing the farseeing benchmark of graphic and sonic synergia that was, "Rune Grammofon: Sailing To Byzantium". At the epicenter of it's players, Nordic Council Music Prize recipient Mats Gustafsson has carved out a space central to connecting the Scandinavian scene with the larger global improv and out-rock cultures. Playing and collaborating in and out of the studio he's done more than hold his own in duo and large ensemble lineups with luminaries like guitar legend Derek Bailey, saxophone colossus Peter Brötzmann and extended technique and electro-acoustic pioneer, Evan Parker. Gustafsson has also found contemporaries at the bleeding edge of their respective genre zones outside of the jazz world. Japanese polymath Otomo Yoshihide, songwriter and musique concrete composer Jim O'Rourke, and the foremost American underground rockers of the 1990s, Sonic Youth, are among their number. 

Otomo Yoshihide's own story begins as far back as the urban Jazz Kissa scene of the 1970s, a culture that is still very much alive in modern-day Japan, with "Tokyo's Jazz Kissa Survive" and "Kissaten Culture Still on the Boil". Yoshihide's introduction to this setting and culture chronicled in his "Leaving the Jazz Cafe: A Personal View of Japanese Improvised Music in the 1970s". In it, he documents the formative experience of witnessing nights of music in this setting from the then-cutting edge of Japanese improvisation, names like Kaoru Abe and Masayuki Takayanagi's New Direction Unit. These seminal experiences, including a notable night of Abe on electric guitar at a Jazz Kissa in Fukushima as a teenager, launched Otomo's own decades-long investigations into improvisation and the very nature of sound, detailed in interview with Revue & Corrigée. A short period of solo, improvisational work followed in the late 1980s which lead to the formation of his own ensemble for genre-less exploration, Ground Zero, in the 1990s. Wider international recognition soon followed with his soundtrack to 5th Generation Chinese filmmaker, Tian Zhuangzhuang's "The Blue Kite". By the time of that decade's end, the Onkyokei movement had become a coalescence of like-minded experimentation and new approaches to improv around venues like Shinjuku Pit Inn and Bar Aoyama. The latter becoming the locale for the first of their monthly improvisational gathering spaces. This loose-knit collective of artists and affiliated Tokyo underground cultures, detailed in Clive Bell's "Off Site" article for The Wire found their center with Atsuhiro Ito and his wife Yukari's conversion of a house near Yoyogi station in Tokyo into a spartan gallery and performing space. Bell revisited this location and the genesis of what came to be known as the Onkyo sound for Red Bull Music Academy, "Off Site: Improvised Music From Japan". Returning to Seattle for the first time in over a decade, Otomo presented two nights at Northwest Film Forum and Chapel Performance Space focused on the largest of his ongoing communal endeavors, Festival Fukushima! His involvement with the larger Project Fukushima had its genesis in a series of essays and collected interviews on the 2011 Earthquake, Tsunami and ensuing Nuclear crisis. His own work documenting the personal cost to the region's residents, local culture and industry and the damage done to the lives and livelihood of those who reside there, "After Fukushima: Faces from Japan's Tsunami Tragedy, Five Years On". Yoshihide's childhood and adolescent years spent in Fukushima, and his personal investment in the region's welfare are reflected in the dedication to the documenting of the personal, cultural and political effects of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in the publication of his "Chronicle Fukushima".

Notable curatorial work by Steve Peter's Wayward Music Series brought representative from one of the UK's longest running, and most adventurous record labels with the Touch Conference. From it's auspicious beginnings in a meeting with New Order some 35 years ago, and a following cassette compilation and audio magazine series, John Wozencroft's Touch was inaugurated. Co-produced and curated with the label's other shepherds, Halfer Trio's Andrew McKenzie and Mike Harding, these first volumes with music, graphics and stories from Psychic TV, Neville Brody, Robert Wyatt, The Residents, New Order, Simple Minds, Tuxedomoon, AC Marias, Graham Lewis, John Foxx, Simon F. Turner, Current 93, Test Department, A Certain Ratio, Nocturnal Emissions and experimental filmmaker Derek Jarman, were a who's who showcase for British post-punk, ambient, concrete and industrial music culture. Remaining ahead of the curve for more than three decades, the imprint introduced the world to much of the most groundbreaking electronic, minimalist and post-concrete music of the ensuing years. One of the last of the unbroken lines of progressive experimental music issuing from the British underground in the 1980s, interviews with Wozencroft spanning the following decades of 1992, Surface Magazine in 2000, and FACT in 2008 detail an explicit channel of thought on media, perception and experience, which continues into the new century. Celebrating their 30th Anniversary in 2012 with events around the globe, including New York's Issue Project Room and Seattle's Decibel Festival, Harding and Wozencroft spoke with The Quietus on their ongoing endeavor combining the output of an independent record label with documenting and challenging the flow from analogue to digital work through a context for critique of the wider cultural age. A gallery exhibit of Wozencroft's photographic work "An Ambivalence Towards Trends" at Aeterna Gallery, Los Angeles, initiating a four city venture beginning with a showcase hosted by Volume Projects. Followed by a night at San Francisco's new premier experimental media venue, Gray Area Art & Technology, Portland's Holocene and concluding under the vaulted ceilings of the Chapel Performance Space. A cross-section representation of the label's aesthetic, conceptual and sonic concerns was heard in the pure concrete of Philip Jeck's phonography manipulations, the video synthesis collage of Seefeel's Mark Van Hoen, and the dichotomy of finesse and assault in the noise sculpting of Portland's Daniel Menche. The Los Angeles shows also benefited from the inclusion of the ambisonic field recording mixes of Bethan Parkes, and Simon Scott's explorations of guitar and electronics outside of his groundbreaking shoegaze pop with Slowdive.

Outside of the festival or showcase setting, a set of disparate one-off performances throughout the year reaffirmed the region's credibility as a cultural stopover on the west coast. Returning for a series of concerts across the globe before once again disbanding, quintessential 4AD band Lush resurfaced after a decades-long hiatus. As one of the first acts ascribed with the shoegaze and dream pop labels by the British press for their profusion of bright melodic distortion and vibrantly overdriven live guitar sound, their pedigree confirmed with their 1989 signing to the label and production work from Robin Guthrie. In the span of seven years Lush released a succession of mini-albums, EPs and full length releases that can be heard as a direct continuation of earlier pathways forged by Cocteau Twins and concurrent British bands following in the druggy astronomical haze of Spacemen 3. Their compatriots in this sound fast became a who's who of the best of UK underground rock of the early 1990's. Their numbers include Ride, Slowdive, LOOP and the earth-quaking, cloud-splitting immensity of My Bloody Valentine's legendary live shows of that decade. Curiously, in rapid succession all of the above bands have reformed in recent years, with Lush joining their ranks in late 2015. Their first live shows in 20 years since the unexpected death of friend and drummer, Chris Acland, Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson and Phil King spoke with The Quietus on the subject of their "Mad Love: An Interview With Lush". Closure of a more temporal kind came with the final tour for the current iteration of Michael Gira's SWANS. After the physical endurance-testing rock olympics of 2011 in which the rock gargantuan reformed after a 15 year hiatus, we were blessed with a fourth and final album of this current phase of reinvention and metempsychosis. The post-reform "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope in the Sky", the more variegated and nuanced "The Seer", the rapturous "To Be Kind" and this year's "The Glowing Man" scaled both familiar and new heights of dynamic power and sheer immensity of sound heard in decades past. Mapping their musical trajectory's Oroborous-like path back to itself, "Michael Gira on ‘Dangling Off the Edge of a Cliff’ for SWANS Epic Final Album" for The Observer, details this newest iteration as a supreme amalgam birthed from it's own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their 35 year trajectory from brutalist no wave minimalism to musique concrete and extended tonal and drone compositions to electric rock, psychedelia, blues, folk and americana. The Guardian's John Doran postulates how it has come to pass that SWANS have produce the best work of their career in doing so. Where so many other bands of a similar vintage have retread familiar ground, revisiting the formula of past successes, Gira and company chose to instead stake everything on a new approach. In talking a genuine gamble on creating new art rather than trying to recapture past glories, they conjured an, "Enduring Love: Why SWANS are More Vital Now than Ever".

Of a more intimate nature, the Northwest Film Forum and Elevator played host to two nights, in different arrangements, of experimental filmwork by Paul Clipson with sonic accompaniment from Portland's Liz Harris. Harris' most recent sequence of albums spanning the last decade as Grouper embrace early folk traditions as much as contemporary electronic and sound sculpting sequences involving controlled feedback, reverb and delay. One can see a line of progression and intermingling of themes and process through, "The Man Who Died in His Boat" a mirroring companion album to 2008's "Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill" and 2015's more explicitly folkish "Ruins". The Quietus enlisted Harris as our guide through her musical life, "Listening & Playing Alone: The Strange World Of Grouper", from the (literal) ghosts of her early years, being a party vagrant in Los Angeles, to years of relative isolation in the rural coastal expanses of the Pacific Northwest, finding music via the echoing of former industrial spaces, to risk-taking and sleep deprivation. Their "Through The Looking Glass: An Interview With Grouper" also explores the concurrent string of collaborations with experimental filmmaker, Paul Clipson. The duo's multimedia weave of Harris' music and Super 8 and 16mm projection assemblies, produced a richly entrancing chiaroscuro of image, pattern, sound, color and light. As a document, this is maybe best represented in their "Mesmerizing feature-length Work Exploring Themes of the American Landscape", by the title of Hypnosis Display, which they discussed for NPR. Even devoid of the influential forces of Substrata or Decibel Festival, notable electronic music from the UK and Europe found its way to Seattle. Representing for the Modern Love imprint, Andy Stott returned to the city for his fourth performance in almost as many years. The first of his visits was on the heels of his deep techno breakthrough "We Stay Together" of 2011, Stott appearanced in Decibel Festival alongside label-mates Demdike Stare's own manifestation of all things Italian Giallo and French Fantastique for their live score to Jean Rollin's surrealist erotic-horror classic "La Vampire Neu". Returning again, some 16 months later in a second label showcase with the duo, this visit to North America revealed a more varied side to Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker's brobdingnagian body of work. What The Quietus called "An Unholy Matrimony: In Interview with Demdike Stare", that comprised the collected "Elemental" series. A trajectory refined and precision-honed in their equally brooding, but more dancefloor focused "Wonderland" of this year. "Tearing Up the Rulebook: Making Mistakes is the Most Exciting Thing You Can Do" and "Andy Stott: Lost and Found" for FACT Mag and Resident Advisor respectively, detail their compatriot Andy Stott's working modus operandi. His "Luxury Problems" even making The Wire's 2012 Rewind, with the essential British magazine hosting a significant interview with him that same year. His newest, "Too Many Voices" continues the work heard first on 2014's "Faith in Strangers" in it's merging of dissonant and atonal slabs of sound jostling against fragmented song music and female voice, with nods equally to the ethereal female pop of early 4AD, as the austerity of German Kosmische and the characteristic negative space that defines much Detroit techno of the 1980s. The shared night with Demdike Stare at the Crocodile this past summer, delivering some of the most assured, abstract, darkly rich post-techno heard this side of the Atlantic.