Thursday, December 26, 2013

Year-End List, Backwards Gazing Edition

Over at the 50/40/30/20/10 Year Vintage Series of Blogs (see the right hand side links),I've been quietly documenting what I consider to be the "full" picture of each successive year.  Even after devoting the span of an entire year to documenting and discovering music from these time periods, I've still managed for fall short on the broader scope of music.  The lengthy list of releases I was not able to check out from each year is vast and likely filled with great stuff.  Though I do believe we are living in the age of the glut, it seems that this glut was always there, except meted away to the shadows. 

I'd be lying if I said that I had enough time to absorb all of the music I showcased on these sites. Each was a rough combination of things I've known inside & out for years and things I was listening to for the first time only moments before (as well as everything inbetween).  Therefore, the lists below are for fun, and in no way definitive.  I put together a list of what I consider to be the best albums of each successive year divisible by ten (I left out 1963, a time before the "album" as we know it came of age).  I declined to do the same for "tracks" or "singles" since such a list would be such a mess that it wouldn't even be mildly authoritative and it'd take every ounce of strength from calling bullshit on myself. 

Top 20 Albums of 1973

Kraftwerk- Ralf &; Florian
Led Zeppelin- Houses of the Holy
John Martyn- Solid Air
Can- Future Days
Bob Marley and the Wailers- Catch a Fire
Stevie Wonder- Innervisions
Vangelis- L'Apocalypse Des Animaux
Faust- IV/The Faust Tapes
Hawkwind- Space Ritual
Roxy Music- For Your Pleasure
Pierre Henry- Machine Danse
Lalo Schiffrin Enter the Dragon sdtrk
The Temptations- 1990/Masterpiece
Eno- Here Come the Warm Jets
Lou Reed- Berlin
Herbie Hancock- Headhunters
Roy Harper- Lifemask
David Bowie- Alladin Sane
Terry Callier- I Just Can't Help Myself
Brainticket- Celestial Ocean

Top 20 Albums of 1983

The Cocteau Twins- Head Over Heels

New Order- Power Corruption and Lies
Swans- Filth

Duet Emmo- Or So it Seems
Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark- Dazzle Ships
Cybotron- Enter

Mark Stewart and Maffia- Learning to Cope With Cowardice
Killing Joke-Fire Dances
Liquid Liquid- Optimo EP
Wild Style OST
The Art of Noise- Into Battle EP
Husker Du- Metal Circus EP
Sonic Youth- Confusion is Sex
Richard H Kirk- Time High Fiction/ Cabaret Voltaire- The Crackdown + Doublevision EP,
Whodini- Whodini
Colourbox- Colourbox
Einsturzende Neubaten- Drawings of Patient OT
Slayer- Show No Mercy
Malcolm Mclaren- Duck Rock/ D'YA Like Scratchin
Howard Shore- Videodrome OST

Top 20 Albums of 1993

Seefeel-Quique/More Like Space EP/Plainsong EP
Foul Play Vol III EP
Aphex Twin- On/ On Remixes EPs/ Caustic Window- Joyrex J9 EP
Smashing Pumpkins- Siamese Dream
Omni Trio- Mystic Steppers 1/2 EP, Renegade Snares
Wu Tang Clan- Enter the 36 Chambers
PJ Harvey- Rid of Me
Slowdive- Souvlaki/ 5 EP
4 Hero- Journey from the Light/Golden Age
Stereolab- Transient Random Noise With Announcements
Biochip C- C8 EP
Jeff Mills- Waveform Transmissions Vol. 1
Bjork- Debut
The Mover- Final Sickness/Mescalinum United-Symphonies of steel 1
Tool- Undertow
Leaders of the New School-TIME
Mercury Rev- Boces
Main- Dry Stone Feed
Orbital- 2 (Brown Album)
2Pac- Strictly 4 My Niggaz

Top 20 Albums of 2003
Broadcast- Haha Sound
Dizzee Rascal- Boy in Da Corner
Manitoba- Up in Flames
Kelis- Tasty
Polmo Polpo-Like Hearts Swelling 
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti- Worn Copy
The Bug- Pressure
Sweet Trip- Velocity:Design:Comfort
The Postal Service- Give Up
Various- Lost in Translation Soundtrack
William Basinski-Melancholia
M83- Dead Cities, Red Seas, and Lost Ghosts
Ellen Allien- Berlinette
Lawerence- The Absence of Blight
Britney Spears- In the Zone
Lightning bolt- Beautiful Rainbow
Jaylib- Champion Sound
Ricardo Villalobos- Alcachofa
Luke Vibert- Yoseph
The Neptunes Presents...Clones

Monday, December 9, 2013

2013 Endgame


I haven’t written a music review since February of this year.  That’s very much by design, for reasons discussed previously on this blog.  Like Chris Ott instructed, I long ago abandoned the concept of getting paid to make money on writing about music.  As a result of the complications that arise from this kind of self-imposed predicament, I’ve since spent the vast majority of 2013 not only not getting paid to write about music, but not really writing about music at all. 

I began writing professionally in 2004, straight out of college, where I landed a shitty newspaper gig in the heart of nowhere in suburban-cum-rural New York.  My job was as much about generating the news as it was about reporting it.  There were always stories, just not always enough content to fill the space demands generated by the marketing department.  I was the lead reporter for one newspaper and the secondary on a two others at a syndicate of local papers distributed throughout Dutchess County, NY.  It was a role that paid less than $20,000 a year and demanded roughly 50 to 60 hours a week, including face time in an office where I regularly had nothing to do.  I determined at one point that I was actually making less money than during my tenure as Sales Clerk at Blockbuster Video, which directly preceded the newspaper job.  However, like the many exploited laborers of the liberal media, I was reassured that I was only “paying my dues” and the “exposure” would help lead to bigger and better things.

It didn’t. The syndicate of local papers folded a few short years after I was fired as the local print industry plummeted.

By far my favorite part of the newspaper job was contributing to the weekend edition that got published in all local offshoots.  Here, I got to screen films and write advance reviews.  Unlike some of the other local interest puff stories (which I was admittedly a bit cavalier about), I took my role as film critic very seriously and tried to apply the theoretical framework and aesthetic vernacular I’d gleaned from my academic film studies coursework to the more accessible medium of a newspaper review.  I received great feedback from the community on reviews where I’d, say, antagonize the gender politics of “House of Flying Daggers” or wax philosophical on the proto-social media overshare of the trafic experimental DIY autobiography “Tarnation”.  It was a bit thrilling to see my byline and find out that somebody had not only read it, but engaged with it enough to go see a film or to think about a film in a deeper manner.

I’d written music reviews at my college newspaper, but they were written more from a fan’s perspective than a critic’s.  My style at that time was an attempt to ape the early Pitchforkmedia format, a Voltron-esque assemblage of references compiled into a diagnosis, a record nerd’s quantification of the locus of cool via a gordita-style layering of the proper touchpoints.   Then, in my senior year, I chanced upon a bargain hardcopy cover of Generation Ecstasy by Simon Reynolds (known in its British form by the much better title Energy Flash), which subjected electronic music to the same kind of multidisciplinary interrogation that all that literary and film criticism I’d been absorbing at University had been doing, though in a far more thrilling manner and absent the stuffy scientific etiquette of postmodernist/cultural studies semiotic word vomit.  Essentially a collection of scene temperatures and zeitgeist-chasing during one of the most innovative periods in music history, Reynolds’s collection made the context surrounding the records seem as vital as the sounds coming out of the speakers.  Finally, here was writing that was complimentary to the source material, rather than supplemental to it. 

It hadn’t even occurred to me to examine music in this way.  Music seemed a static series of artistic strokes, the only delineating factors were its shapes, timbres, and lyrical content (reinforced by teenage subscriptions to Spin and Rolling Stone).  By focusing on mostly wordless music, Reynolds’s analysis politicized abstraction and set flame to any essentialist notions of what a song or a scene or a sound was about, and furthermore, what it couldn’t be about.

Still, it took a while for Generation Ecstasy to germinate and kick in.   It wasn’t until I was working part-time as a Legal Assistant and seeking out freelance opportunities that I began to discover that the online community was not only regularly producing these frenetic arguments and theses in real-time, but also paving a path for a new kind of study/listenership/critical engagement that wouldn’t have been fit-to-print in the weekly and monthly rags.

 I remember entering on the sidelines when the internet was having its “Stephin Merritt doesn’t care about black people” moment and controversy was brewing over Carl Wilson then-unreleased Let’s Talk About Love.  This lead me to the blogs, where I discovered what I still find to be some of the most dynamic writing I’ve ever read.   Everything I’d read about blogs as a medium insinuated that they were mainly puff, bonus features to the feature presentation of print publications.  I’d even regularly maintained a blog myself, brimming with poorly edited/thought out political rants, personal recollections, and links to any riffraff that caught my interest.  However, the music blogs were producing actual content, sometimes at ridiculous length and being produced with the same speed and temerity of the scenius agents of Reynolds’s tome.

Most of the best ones splintered from the network surrounding Reynolds’s still-running blissblog. Some were only peripherally related to music, but often found it to be a key metric in assessing the late capitalist landscape, throwing in subjects I’d been interested in but only had a peripheral knowledge of.  I went back and read K-Punk’s blog “cover-to-cover” and witnessed the nascent theories of capitalist realism develop and discovered how ideas I’d long held about institutions being their own form of parasitic artificial intelligence were ones also described at length by both Spinoza and Burroughs.  For these writers, music was not remote; it was a fully integrated subset of the most vibrant parts of the active imagination.

I began to write from this vantage and found that I was able to articulate a much more lucid and defined style.  My first music writing stints offered small sums of cash in addition to the free loot, but eventually the money died out (my relationship with one publication died after my repeated attempts to invoice them for services rendered ended in them actively taking me off of their contact lists).   Eventually, it became clear that it was not in my financial interest to do anything other than accept some slag-off full-time job and make music writing my full-time hobby to squeeze in after and inbetween work hours.  This proved difficult since none of the pitiful admin jobs I took allowed me to don headphones or access secluded workspace, but I managed to pull it off from time to time.

The pay deteriorated into just the physical promos and eventually even the material goods were rescinded in favor of downloads.  Writing was now charity.  Concurrently, the online writing community became saturated with both new talent and hacks.  The former had too grown up on the blogs and were too applying their egghead research to their field studies (perhaps too liberally at times).   The latter were an assortment of press release mimes, pageview trolls, fickle contrarians, and superficial taste-chasers.   Music writing was mired by the abundance of petty feuds and logical fallacies, consumer reviews and digressive poses. All of which seemed to gravitate to the top of the click heap, making quality authorship simultaneously dire and futile.    

In addition, the channels for receiving, processing, and communicating about music were being widened.  Music, though not making a dime for musicians or writers alike, was available everywhere all at once.   As a result, it seemed like no one was even having the same conversation anymore.  One couldn’t engage with the latest review or thinkpiece since it’d be months before said album even came up in their heft queue.   By that point, we’d moved on. The refreshingly comprehensive long reads of the blogs and adventurous early online zines like Stylus were replaced by the instant gratification and concision of twitter, where the blogosphere relocated practically en masse.   

In 2013, like in previous years, I listened to a ton of music. This is unlikely to change in any future calendar year.  However, work commitments (which cascaded into lunch hours and even beyond the 9 to 5 on occasion) and family commitments (including the birth of my second child) inhibited my ability and willpower to do the kind of deep listening required to produce the kind of criticism that still flows out effortlessly from many of my peers.  At this stage, I don’t see this downward trend in productivity curtailing anytime soon.  I don’t know that I consider this an ending as much as a whimper, the reduction of a dream into smoke and vapor trails by an entrenched capitalist realism.  In addition, the best laid plans to channel the drive and compulsion to create/dissect/fabricate/distort into “other projects” has yielded very little so far.  I think part of this has to do with me being on an island out in the great American northeast.  I interact daily with people whose interests and values are at the polar extreme end of mine, those who appreciate the center and admire (even idolize) control, who have no value for a kink in the armor, and who wouldn’t know true radicalism if it came up and spit on them at a MOMA punk retrospective.

That’s my sob story, but don’t pity me oh loyal reader.  I’m the white middle class male, the kidney stone of culture.  My main hindrance is that I’m looking out for me and mine.  I represent a generation that has already eagerly enlisted themselves to the dark side.  I’ve got every luxury and every advantage at my fingertips. And now after nearly a year of silence, I’m coming to jam my opinions down your throat:

The 2013 in Review

I don’t fancy myself much of a prognosticator. I have enough trouble tracking the present to have a good grasp of what the future holds.  However, last year, cruising around town blasting Death Grips’s The Money Store non-stop, I was sure that it was going be a kind of hip-hop (Post)punk, and that 2013 would be flooded with a bunch of weirdoes taking hip-hop to even stranger, more avant-garde extremes.  The end of the year saw inklings of this, with the queer rap scene producing minimalist-as-fuck pulses from Zebra Katz, freak flag conceptualist post-industrial from Mykki Blanco, and the indescribably offbeat banjeecore gayngsta rap of Le1f’s Dark York.  Odd Future’s splinter projects finally sounded interesting.  If there was some new wave brewing though, I wasn’t privy to it.

If anything, I was expecting a reinvestment in anger, a reverberation of MC Ride’s shrill shriek of cold brutality and primal ache pitched to gabber-like levels of intensity.   In a year where George Zimmerman walked free though, one that should have elicit black fury perhaps more than any other in recent memory, the closest we got was Yeezus, Kanye West’s unexpected, brilliantly sloppy and somewhat rushed curveball of an album.   Yeezus was often mentioned in the same breath as Death Grips, but I’ve yet to see any direct evidence from interviews or first hand sources that it was an influence (West cites industrial, acid house, and drill as touchpoints).  Still, the aggression and vitriol is present. In fact, it’s inescapable.

Yeezus is a bold and unapologetically ugly album.  After the deterritorializing of the MOMA exhibit hammered the last nail in the coffin of punk, Yeezy did a zombie punk gesture in using his starpower to deliver a giant gadfly middle finger to the propriety of those who reluctantly accepted him in, declaring that he could marry a Kardashian and trounce around Fashion Week, but he’d always be an outsider.  In “New Slaves”, he declared that celebrity can’t erase skin tone and the collective connection one has to others who share it, an important and easily forgotten sentiment in an age when more and more of the right seem to be shedding  any pretense to PC to openly embrace their inner hate.  As the media-crit left continued to nitpick minor structural arguments to boast its intersectional wares, Kanye, as witnessed in an insightful interview on Jimmy Kimmel (branded a rant by those headline-churning forces who give us meaning), was one of the only ones who seemed to grasp that the common denominator bonding the intersectional minority groups and their differing (often competing) demands was classism, something he wasn’t immune to even as the one of the richest rich-bastard moguls alive. 

Production-wise, Yeezus is even more spot-on.  While some of the collaborators and co-writers seemed to be from a recurring ensemble cast (Daft Punk, Lupe Fiasco, Bon Iver), the inclusion of some WTF electronic producers (Gesaffelstein, Arca, Brodinski, Evian Christ) showed that West’s ear was definitely to the ground, perhaps even a few feet under it.  From the opening atonal squelch of “On Sight”, his intentions are clear.  This is confrontational music.  For all the chatter and controversy, I’ve yet to hear any of these songs on the radio yet (the closest is the bizarre application of “Black Skinhead”, a song which features the line “stop all that coon shit/early morning cartoon shit” on an Apple commercial) and there’s a reason for that.  The sheet metal air horn wails on “Send It Up” are raw as fuck, the distorted bass drum and crunchy synth stabs on “I Am God” grate when rubbed up adjacent to any Timberlake joint, the relentless pitch-bent vocals speak more to the fatalistic endgame of depressive hedonism than any of West’s many previous rhymes on the subject.

It’d be easy to pick Yeezus to top one’s year end list on its symbolic value alone, in attempt to hyperbolize its impact upon delivery.  I want pop to be unafraid to do what West did or else I want to boot the current crown royalty and make famous those who are already pushing those kind of boundaries.  I want culture at large to desire this mad abrasion, the angry wails at a fucking awful system.  I want hip-hop producers to look to forward-thinking electronic acts as much as those producers have historically cited and built-upon hip-hop’s future-now aesthetic.  I want to hear 20 acts I’d previously written off come out with better albums than Yeezus next year and have it spur the spirit of competition that arose after Sgt. Pepper, Metal Box, and ’93 Jungle (and which I was sure would happen post-Death Grips).   Many have lamented the album’s pasted-together approach, but I’d far prefer something that’s not a fully-formed thought to the wrapped-in-a-bow pop insularity that soars and drops in 4 minutes of timed-to-a-stopwatch predictability and brand control.

The Year Against the Woman

But of course, there’s the 3 million pound elephant in the room.  For if Yeezus works as music, it fails as politics since its rampant and frankly unforgivable misogyny sabotages its arguments.  An end of year ranking is just a numerical quantification, which deliberately undercuts the critical praxis that may arise around a complex artifact.  Yet, it’s hard to argue that a high ranking for Yeezus would in some ways excuse its worst qualities and denote, to some degree, an endorsement of its shittiest sentiments.  It’s hard at times to tell on Yeezus if Kanye feels more hostile towards the corporate slave state or what he perceives as predatory females.  It’d be hard to believe that Ye was unaware how polarizing a song like “Blood on the Leaves” would be and at least part of him has to understand how conceptually feckless equating sentiments from a song about black lynching to an argument against alimony payments is.   Yet, here it is, rapturously produced, epically bitter, and leaving a rancid taste in the back of one’s throat.

Kanye’s relationship to women folk has always been problematic and well-documented.  From “Gold Digger” to “pussy in a sarcophagus” (and the atrocious accompanying video), Kanye’s best work has always been difficult to defend.  Women are regularly measured mainly for their use value, particularly their sexuality (“pussy and religion are all I need”).  In Yeezus’s only song that is not depressive and not angry, West declares backhandedly that “one good girl is worth a thousand bitches”, while the video features the man’s own wife and mother of his child as little more than eye candy- wordless and naked, merely a passenger to Kanye’s lone ranger.

Pop music generally has more female leads than Hollywood, but when they’re cast in roles by men, they’re frequently tertiary, spoken about rather than speaking for themselves and thus reduced to types or tropes.  Even in songs sung by women, the female singer is often just a character in someone else’s story.  The rise of pop feminism sites like Jezebel, Feministing, and Feminist Frequency has helped to start conversations and evolve attitudes about the debasement of women in music, but in many ways 2013 was a more regressive year than even.  High profile cases against Rick Ross and Robin Thicke for being a little too “rapey” (not my term) were met by evasive maneuvers and insincere apologies.  Elsewhere and out of the spotlight, I must have heard half a dozen or so references to dropping molly or other such substances in a male vocalist’s female partner’s drink.  Even underground faves like Run the Jewels, Ty Dolla Sign, and Danny Brown felt the strange need to celebrate a basic denial of female autonomy.   

One could cite any number of other examples of female disempowerment by chauvinistic d-holes.  Jay-Z’s dredged up moan on a Justin Timberlake tune about how Yoko Ono’s “Chocha ruined pop culture” seems particularly egregious not only because of how it belittles a 70 year old peace activist who has been creating challenging art for longer than Shawn Carter has been alive and reduces her to a single body part, but also by how stale the insinuation is.  Perhaps the next time he’s trolling a Marina Abramovic performance, swooping in with all the guile of an equity firm, he can ask anyone who knows a fucking thing about art if Abramovic would even be there without Ono’s “Cut Piece”.

Hip-hop is easy to single out for criticism because it’s so lyric-heavy, and in general pretty literal. I often think that the bulk of hip-hop’s troubles stem from its persistent need to never shut the fuck up.  However, it’s important to remember that the hip-hop genre does not hold a monopoly on misogyny.   It can turn up unexpectedly, even in places where lyrics don’t factor in so prominently, such as in electronic music.  I’m talking not only about hacky brostep garbage like Borgore, but generally icky-feeling tracks like Disclosure’s “Grab Her”, Salva’s “Drop that B”, or Slava’s “Girl on Dick” (I can’t speak much to indie rock, because who wants to listen to indie rock in 2013?).

As far as I can tell, there’s been very little musical retort to all this noise.  There’s been plenty of rhetoric tossed around about finding feminist challenges within Katy Perry’s selfie(m)powering chants and the like.  I’ve even heard it argued that Angel Haze’s wardrobe choices prove she’s truly a feminist.  But, surely pop music doesn’t think that these kind of gestural moves are even remotely on par with something like “Can’t Hold Us Down” or “Independent Women”, hits from over ten years ago?

The only major notable album that took feminism (and anti-capitalism, income inequality, et al.) as its subject was The Knife’s highly ambitious Shaking the Habitual.  Where Yeezus’s politics were confounding and its messaging direct, The Knife’s politics are clear (spelled out in manifesto form in the liner notes and with open references to Focault, Butler, Atwood) but its communication of them rather abstruse, a cryptographic work of coded lyrical phrases and tactile abstract sonics.  It’s perhaps the first feminist album I know of that’s primarily a percussive (2X)LP and it’s certainly the most celebrated one in recent memory that dissolves into seemingly endless, inert formlessness at the apex of its histrionics.  The instruments on the album sound bruised and mistreated, but not defeated.  In fact, the tribal lurch that sutures the disparate tracks molds them into some kind of frankenforce to be reckoned with.  

The centerpiece of the album is a blistering nomadic 9 minute cut called “Full of Fire”, which is my choice for cut of the year.  It’s driving, pounding, challenging, fearless, confrontational music, which is as unafraid to provoke topically as it is to grate sonically.  It’s full of noisy passages and ventures into dubby asides that make the whirlwind of perusing gender gaps a disorienting and terrifying state.  Karin Dreijer-Andersson’s vocals evoke exactly that sense of women being characters in someone else’s story: “Of all the guys/ And the signori/ Who will write/ My Story?/ Get the picture/ They get glory/ Who looks after/My Story?”.   If they had kept this vibrancy up through both LPs (and it volleys back up there on occasion), this album would be an inescapable tour de force, but as it stands there’s a bit too much glut and shoe-staring to make it the year’s most essential release.

An Annual Glut

Of course, every year it becomes harder to keep up with the enormous outpouring of sounds coming out.  I tend to think that the longer one’s personal year-end list gets, the less reliable it is.  As such, my pending to-listen-to list is far longer than my superlative list and contains material by many I’ve included in several past lists but am awaiting hearing now, such as Grouper, Oneohtrix Point Never, Emptyset, John Foxx and the Belbury Circle,  James Blake, Four Tet, Donato Dozzy, Drake, Dean Blunt, Vatican Shadow and others.  Others like Factory Floor and Darkstar, I listened to once, liked, and didn’t get around to spinning again.

I truly believe Bandcamp to be a hugely positive force for music, but I’ve also found that if I don’t instantly download an album I hear in that forum and throw it on a CD for my car, I’ll soon forget about it.  I’m sure much of the best stuff of the year disappeared down this memory-sized hole.  Still, it’s been fun keeping on top of labels like VCO, Pleasure Boat,  B.Yrself, Prologue, Perc  Trax, Deathbomb Arc, Senseless, Digitalis, Public Information, Astro Nautico, and Exotic Pylon, as well as myriad individual artists.  I mime Adam Harper’s sentiment that checking back regularly on thinks that peak one’s interest gives one a chance to hear an artist develop in real-time.   

Prizes should definitely be awarded though for Opal Tapes and Donkey Pitch, two labels that put out nothing but top quality music all year and made their entire catalogue available at Bandcamp (much of it for free, in the case of Donkey Pitch).  The two couldn’t be more different.  Donkey Pitch put out a host of eclectic post-purple, Neon, grimestrumentals and other permutations of UK Bass music that was far more fun and ecstatic than the myriad other labels doing the same this year.  Opal Tapes , by far my top label of the year, hosts a wide range of experimental electronics, rhythmic noise, propulsive drones, and various other scuzzy post-industrial skronks, all packed in a semi-mystical aura of murk bridging the divide between the raw imprecision of early Cabs and the calculated cacophony and hypnogogia of early to mid Aphex.    The best of these is an eerie and impenetrably detailed little horrorshow EP of precarious dread by Sandwell District veteran Yves De Mey called Metrics, but the rest of the catalogue demands attention too.  Without having a specific style, the label definitely still has a “sound” and if I could wrap it all in a single release, it would shoot to #1 on the year-end list in a heartbeat.

So, the album at the top of my list winds up being a bit of a cheat.  It’s technically a compilation of older tracks, but since they’ve never been released before, RP Boo’s Legacy will technically qualify as a new album (have you heard it? It’s nuts!).  Year-to-year, Footwerk continues to retain credibility, but never seems to rise in the way it is hyped to. Given the conservative tastes of our times and how angular and fragmentary the music is, this is somewhat unsurprising.  One has to wonder if part of this is shielding by a reluctant core who knows what happened when American metallurgists chewed up and shit out dubstep a number of years back.  But perhaps this is also partly because its recorded output is still so limited.  Dubplates flood Youtube, but where are the rival compilations to Bang and Works that effortlessly put all the pieces together? For a moment in history when the word “curate” holds more enchanting power than it ought, why is no one but Mike Paradinas rushing to compile footwork in a way that makes sense to all of us dummies out there in listenerland?

For stray observers not inundated in the footwerk scene, it’s hard to know which loose pieces to grip onto.  What rises to the fore are a couple of superstar MCs putting out high profile albums and some other bass/’nuum graduates looking to expand their sound Chi-town style.  The two major superstar producer LPs of 2013 juxtapose rather sharply.  RP Boo’s Legacy, though full of “hits”, is surreal and jagged, pacing with such stroboscopic vigor that it create the audial illusion of being immobile.  Words are both the elastic and the arrow, creating tensions, amplifying them, and then catching the reverberation of its aftershocks.  DJ Rashad’s Double Cup is sensual and vivid, skittery but strangely accessible for a footwork album, a sellout album that proves that the integrity and intensity of a scene can crossover too, not just the marquee name touting a watered down version of the aesthetic that made him.  If 2010’s Bang & Works was ’92 Jungle, then 2013 is 1995 and footwerk is at a crossroads and it’ll be interesting to see what the next (forgive me) steps are.

That’s about all I have to say, so I’ll get to the lists.  All items not mentioned above are briefly described below.  Happy 2014, all.  

Top 20 Albums of 2013 (roughly in order)

RP Boo- Legacy
Various- Donkey Pitch: We Didn't Think We'd Make It This Far
Forest Swords- Engravings
                Less Morricone jangle, more spatial dub innovation and moving setpieces.  Still 16mm not hi-def. 
Dj Rashad- Double Cup
Boards of Canada- Tomorrow's Harvest
Along with MBV, one of my favorite bands of all time.  Yet, I entered both comeback albums skeptical.  My initital reaction to both was that they were enjoyable yet underwhelming, but allowing them to “open up” after several listens revealed them to be on par with both groups’s best work.
Run the Jewels- Run the Jewels
An intensity machine and sublimating force, far better than anything I’ve previously heard from either El-P or Killer Mike, each well into their careers at this point.
Fuck Buttons- Slow Focus
                 It’s kind of Tarot Sport part 2, but Tarot Sport was my top album of 2009 (proof)
My Bloody Valentine- M B V
Violetshaped- Violetshaped
Mnml deep industrial that’s greater than the sum those parts seem to indicate.Welcome to the terrordrome
The Knife- Shaking the Habitual
Kanye West- Yeezus
Soft Metals- Lenses
                Icy timeless coldwave
Hacker Farm- UHF
Kek-W’s group makes music so physical, they have a previous release that came out on floppy disk. More revolutionary short-wave signal scrabbling about oppressive architecture and poisoned food
Death Grips- Government Plates
“I’d really like to whittle my fanbase down to about 12- you can call them disciples if you like” – Daniel Kitson
Various- This is How We Roll
Hard for me to sign off on Blackdown’s Keysound label being the sound of now, but there’s certainly no one else now rounding up the same roster of talent. A bit more expressionist shadows on loan from early dubstep than the Night Slugs/ Numbers/ Donkey Pitch crowd
Slava- Raw Solutions
                Highly emotive epileptic attacks
Misty Conditions- D'ZZZZ
                Lo-fi scuzzy post-UK Bass
Rejections- Resin in the Filter
                Opal Tapes’ foray into epic squallid noisescapes
Day-glo luminescence into screwed dementia without sounding like being jolted between heaven and hell
Abul Mogard- Drifted Heaven
Deep, immersive drones are perhaps the thing I’m least interested in hearing more of at this stage in my listening habits, but this really is a stunner.

I also enjoyed these releases this year: DJ Clap- Best Night Ever, Le1f- Fly Zone/Tree House, John Wizards- John Wizards, James Ferraro- NYC Hell 3AM, Ñaka Ñaka - Juan Pestañas, Julia Holter- Loud City Song, Kurt Vile- Walkin on a Pretty Daze, OOBE- SFTCR, Steve Moore- Positronic Neural Pathways, Locust- You’ll Be Safe Forever

Top 10 EPs of 2013
Yves De Mey- Metrics
FKA Twigs- EP2
With Kanye too,  but perhaps even more with FKA Twigs, Arca proves himself particularly adept at producing what futuristic pop in 2013 should sound like.  No less impressive or challenging are the utterly gorgeous vocals, which keep pace with Arca’s curveballs.
DJ Rashad- I Don't Give a Fuck/Rollin'
Modkopf- The Nicest Way
                No Dragons with no Imagination, this is it, the apocalypse
Sage the Gemini- Gas Pedal
Stoopid pop minimalism that achieves far more with less and schools the soars and roars on the dial. Wiggle like you’re trying to make your ass fall off. 
Karen Gwyer- Kiki the Wormhole
Mutant motorik, jaundiced atmospherics, others things that rubbed off on the way into the wormhole.
Trade- Sheworks 005
Exactly what you’d expect from the union of Surgeon and Blawan, but given the company that’s saying quite a bit.
Lockah- Only Built 4 Neon Lights EP
                Super Cheese. Everyone needs a theme tune, but some also need rims.
Lee Bannon- Never/Mind/the/darkness/of/it
                Pro Era crew member proves to be the biggest advocate for the undeath of witch house

Top 20 Singles not from any of the Lists Above
Sophie- Bipp
Rustie- Slasherr
Fatima Al-Qadiri- Post War Dub
Dent May- Born Too Late
Justin Timberlake- Blue Ocean Floor
Lorde- Royals
Chance the Rapper- Cocoa Butter Kisses
Mykki Blanco- Initiation
Zebra Katz- Y I Do
Azealia Banks- Yung Rapuxnel
Sky Ferreira- You’re Not the One
Danny Brown- ODB
Kittie- Barbie Jeep
L-Vis 1990 & Sinjin Hawke- Flash Alert
D-Bridge & Skeptical- Move Way
Tricky- Valentine (Andy Stott Mix)
Dornik- Something About You
Earl Sweatshirt ft Tyler the Creator- Whoa
Deafheaven- Dream House
Nine Inch Nails- Find My Way (Oneohtrix Point Never mix)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Several puzzling aspects of the race remain. One is the presence of the President's wife in the car, an unusual practice for racing drivers. Kennedy, however, may have maintained that as he was in control of the ship of state he was therefore entitled to captain's privileges. 

The Warren Commission. The rake-off on the book of the race. In their report, prompted by widespread complaints of foul play and other irregularities, the syndicate lay full blame on the starter, Oswald.

Without doubt, Oswald badly misfired. But one question still remains unanswered: Who loaded the starting gun?

--"The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered As a Downhill Motor Race", J.G. Ballard

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Long Con

"There were two ‘Reigns of Terror’ if we would remember it and consider it; the one wrought in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood… our shudders are all for the ‘horrors’ of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak, whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heartbreak? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror, that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror, which none of us have been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves"

-Mark Twain

See also

Saturday, July 20, 2013


The baby boomers were the hope for the future, but it turned out someone didn’t want the future they were demanding, so we got wise and cynical towards the young and claimed that the future had already been written, that history was now in its end stages.  The millenials may be lazy and apathetic and solipsistic and entitled and everything we’ve conditioned them to be.  They may also just be in despair about a world that does not want them except for their blood, the IV drip directly suckling their student loans, healthcare bills, credit debt, grocery costs,  HVAC, designer clothes, and, most of all, smartphones, which allow them to plugin to the control apparatus everywhere at all times, not even stopping for highway traffic.  But one day, and it may not be for a couple generations, the kids will have achieved total entertainment enlightenment and will then begin to be bored by the apps. They will yearn for something more visceral, something else.  Or perhaps they’ll seek mystery and ambiguity, challenge all received wisdom.  On that day, they will lunge towards my generation and pull us screaming from the rafters onto the field, where our shitty old ideas will be eviscerated, becoming refuse in the pyre of the glorious new, something we haven’t even thought of yet.   The joyous carnage of our ego death will make beautiful music whose echoes will escape into the night down channels no one thought to broadcast.   

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

It's a Rainy Life, Sunshine World

It's been raining miserable buckets around here lately, just endless relentless wetness. Meanwhile, my basement flooded for completely unrelated reasons and the repair folks tore the life out of it, leaving big gaping holes in the walls, no carpets, stripped walls, ceiling tiles fallen, loose nails, tossed sink with exposed pipes, and bare insulation. Garage is now storage for the uprooted records, basement studio, media center, toys, et al. instead of being a shelter from the chronic rain.  This house that so easily felt like home when we moved in just over a year ago is now half a house, the bottom floor a shell.  On top of that, there have been assholes to deal with, things sporadically breaking, mounting medical deductible bills, and a torrent as sizable as the rain of impenetrable work that I can't seem to surmount.  So at night, I've been busy making mixes of what Jesse Eisenberg in Adventureland affectionately referred to as "bummer songs".  Not all are bummers per se, but most are somewhat downcast, at least gauzy, some recalling other bummer periods like the ones on those cassette mixes now displaced into the garage, others relatively new.  Thought I'd share since I don't have much else to say these days.  On top of it all, I haven't even had a chance to purchase the new Boards of Canada album. (Warning: lots of Joy Division)

Friday, May 31, 2013

No Time for New Years

Fact Mag over here composes a long list that is oddly poised against rhetorical question "Has there ever been a year Quite like 2013?"

It's perhaps rhetorical because a simple antipodal response would not suffice. "No" is almost certainly incorrect because the article being linked is nothing more than a litany of comebacks and reunions, the past regurgitating itself, a perverse ouroboros wherein death is staged, sometimes only for a few years, only to facilitate the cycle of rebirth. "Yes", however, would also be wrong, because what we're witnessing is not the singular revival of a style (garage/postpunk/synthpop/Balearic/Italo/house...). Rather, 2013 seems to be the year of the zombie vanity project. A ouroboros that doesn't engender recreation, just reaffirmation. Everybody on that list (with a few others that have resurfaced to boot) are brands, name acts whose sudden re-materialization is accompanied by a successful flood of hype. The reaction to the music itself is almost secondary. Simply returning in and of itself reestablishes the brand, and thus pushes the act into the contemporary.

(David Prince- Ouroboros)

There used to be a healthy amount of cynicism towards the reunion tour and the accompanying "comeback" album (some of it earned/some of it not), but these acts have almost unanimously been greeted with open arms. The result is a 2013 in which a flood of old names have become the zeitgiest. As someone who came of age at the tale end of the music biz siege on the popular imagination, it's almost heartening to see a collective nostalgia for the "event" album resurfacing, particularly for folks I'm keen on like Bowie, MBV, or Boards of Canada (and we can expect a great deal more think pieces on music's marketing in 2013 than its music- some Philip Sherburne has articulated well over at Spin). But thus far, there hasn't been a whole lot that has popped up from the margins to demand attention like Death Grips did last year. The closest to the mark that I've heard is the stuff glowing from the loose assemblages of the American queer rap scene, which is still rising but which poses the danger of shaving its edges for more widespread acceptance.  And its press, while kind, seems to somewhat treat it is a novelty, an addendum to a perpetually progressive scene (which hip-hop is not) rather than a legitimate attempt to branch off from the dying root of hip-hop, which sure has good singles, but you know there's trouble in genreville when your single of the year is the one where Rick Ross drugs a rapes someone.  Yes, there's also a good deal of quality footwerk out there that, luckily, still sounds alien, but we're now talking about a scene almost a decade old.

Maybe this lack of surprise is on me, as I've admittedly been tuning in less (focusing myself somewhat on the past). Even as I scan the blogs and the zines though, it still seems like music at the current moment is being swept up in investment into (diminishing) returns rather than the shock of the new.

That said, here's what I've been digging this year:

Welcome In

RP Boo's Legacy

Jagged, disorienting, abstract masterpiece ten years in the making.  I can't put this on and do anything else.  I mowed the lawn and went off in zags. I tried it at work and got the slight sensation of vertigo.  I tried jogging and nearly got lost. Proving that footwerk is still pretty much the most viable and dynamic artform currently out there, it's music that hijacks your senses and not only in a club.  Everywhere you go.  Tarzan howls.  Aaliyah samples that underline tension and uncertainty rather than confidence and assurance.  Use with extreme caution when operating a vehicle.  One word tossed around frequently when describing Legacy is "surreal" and there's parts of it that remind me of Negativland's Escape from Noise LP, the way stoic newspeak phrases were turned from something lucid and calculated into something mysterious and indistinct.  RP Boo is doing that same thing with music-taking sounds we know and unlearning them for us, meaning it's not only introduces the new but deprograms the old at the same time.

Also, DJ Rashad's Rollin' EP on Hyperdub is pretty dope, but I've only listened to it through once so far.

Le1f- Fly Zone 
Mykki Blanco- Betty Rubble: The Initiation 
Zebra Katz- DRKLNG 

In essence, these three form a three-way split between the now-ism of the past few years of techno, crafted in new forms to create vertical pop poetry out of these more horizontal forms.  Le1f is the  post-everything  eclectronica of contorted and wabbly synths a la Night Slugs, LIES, Numbers, et al.  Mykki's a bit more industrial, not quite at the level of desperation as the Perc Trax and Sandwell District folks, but definitely way more scorched early than his peers. Zebra Katz is austere minimalism, with cold detached lyrics that betray the neutrality of such tones, presenting them instead as something perverse and somewhat frightening.  What makes this core so unique in special is their willingness to get dirty, to go to dark corners, and to ignore anyone's perception of what a hip-hop track should be or how a hip-hop artist should act.  Perhaps most importantly, they've all elected at points to tell the backbeat to fuck off, choosing producers (including themselves- all are very talented and would do well to weird up a Yeezy or Miguel track) that understand how stale beats are killing hip-hop.

DJ Clap- Best Night Ever

Though there are parts of this release that are Footwerk-y, I think this album has  been branded as such because it's mostly composed of rapid-fire CD skips that occasionally bust off into abstruse tom-heavy beats, but there's also a lot more lock-step here than most Footwerk include many sequences that play like straight-up accelerated house/techno.  DJ Clap pilfers the gabber pace and its spotlight on the meth end of molly and its endless micro-repetitions, but also adds the euphoria of (happy) hardcore in the lush timbre of its sounds.  Last time I listened, I kept thinking equations like M83 gabber or Traxman Drill N Bass, which seem cheap, but cheap may be the key here. Like the leading title, Best Night Ever is music that assembles the tiniest slivers of bliss it can find and violently shakes them at you until you're nauseous.  Moderation is best, but impressive stuff nonetheless.

Various- This is How We Roll

When I last checked in on Blackdown's Keysound Recordings label, they were doing some quality and competent, though not particularly groundbreaking bass music.  With this latest compilation, it appears they've upped their game a bit. I'll have to dig a little further into the catalogue to see what I missed.

Sarantis- Electric City

A number of good things coming out of the Senseless Records Bandcamp page for a while now.  Like DJ Clap and RP Boo, this one might also not be great for those prone to migraines, but for the rest...

Welcome Back

My Bloody Valentine- M B V

Everybody seemed to have made up their mind about this by the time most of us were finally getting the download page to load.  My initial thought was, like many's final determination, that yep, This is yr Bloody Valentine.  And particularly when I got to "Who Sees You", I was A-OK with that. But the weird twist that the second half of the album took some getting used to.  I've decided that it is indeed pretty great, though I do feel now like I want more, something I ironically never felt with Loveless. There's a tension in thewhirlwind event horizon of "Wonder 2" that makes the record feel incomplete. Hopefully, we'll find out what's on the other side of that black hole sometime in our lifetime.

Locust- You'll Be Safe Forever

Locust is principally the project Mark Van Hoen.  So in this sense, You'll Be Safe Forever is not really a comeback.  Van Hoen's been active for a while.  In fact, last year's Revenant Diary was a career highlight.  This is the first time he's gone by Locust though in 12 years.  The music on the album does not necessarily veer into far-off directions like contemporaries Seefeel did with its digitally pixelated return album a few back, but the swelling hazes, vocal manipulations, and radiophonic allusions are more contemporary than ever now as underground electronic music has finally caught up with Van Hoen.

The Knife- Shaking the Ritual

I've actually only heard this one once too, but it was impressive and I really like the above.  I was never interested when their early naughts albums came out, but I've it on my calendar to dig in further.

Various- Interpretations of F.C. Judd

A bunch of today's most compelling acts taking a stab at Judd's 60's electronic experiments, but not in the usual way wherein artists remix to make the original sound like their own signature style.  On this album, the productions truly compliment each other and the artists involved have done a good job at pushing themselves out of their comfort zone.

Well Come Around
5 to listen a little further:

Stellar Om Source- Joy One Mile
Mu-Ziq- Chewed Corners
Broadcast- Berberian Sound Studio sdtrk
Various- Night Slugs Vol 2
Kurt Vile- Walkin on a Pretty Daze

Top of the Pops
5 for the charts

Timberlake/Timbaland- "Blue Ocean Floor"
Timberlake/Timbaland- "Tunnel Vision"
Disclosure- "When a Fire Starts to Burn"
Kanye- "New Slaves"
Iggy Azaelia- "Work"

Further Down the Well
5 lower underground

Boards of Canada- "Reach for the Dead"
Low- "Just Make it Stop"
Tropic of Cancer- "Fall Apart"
Stanislav Tolkachev- "Heartbeat"
Ducktails- "The Flower Lane"

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Past is a Regional Dialect

Another dead blog post. This blog refuses to die. Should I just cut off life support? Should I let it all go? Who the fuck is even listening at this point?

Most of my online activity as of late has been at the “Vintage series” of blogs I’ve set up, which aim to commemorate the anniversaries (in increments of 10) of all that happened in music 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 (maybe more?) years ago.

The original idea behind all this was that theoretical proposition that I think any music nerd pontificates on at one point or another; what would it be like to spend a week/month/year in (insert “golden age” era here)? I’ve heard of a few people trying this out, restricting themselves just to music that came out during a specific year for a month  or so to try to encapsulate what was unique or important about that era. But these kind of thought experiments always miss the mark because it’s too difficult to denote the gaps that broader culture gave context to (see the nostalgic 80s film trope that paints the bubbly music, bright fashions, and aspirational wealth as some kind of benign utopia whilst ignoring the misery and darkness of that era).

So, instead I decided to just give a broad scope overview of the sonics of the years in question (2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, 1963). With the potential though unlikely exception of 2003, it’s unlikely that any living individual from any of the aforementioned eras would have ever been in contact with all, or even most, of this music. Therefore, it’s more of an internet-age assessment than a cultural thermometer. If blogs had been around at the time, the vintage series would be what those online portals graphed out of the full scope of the landscape that was worth retrieving.

Music mags from these eras are peculiarly biased by their audiences.  Though there were certainly exceptions in which rock mags started embracing hip-hop, dance, et al., the limitations of the culture industry failed to recognize many things that the internet's long, long, neverending tail has been retrieving ever since.  

For the two eras that I was somewhat musically cognizant in (1993 and 2003), I’ve also included a few things that worked for me at the time, but which maybe are not so great in retrospect. Nostalgia's a powerful force when wrapped around a memory.

Some of the posts are just a Youtube link, while others contain a brief paragraph or two about the song, album, or artist in question. For the most part, I’ve tried to stick to one track per album/single/release, but I have and will cheat on occasion.  Rules are loose here and this is obviously a taste factory that I've conceived, not one purposed with any specific historical thesis or theoretical objective.

Why put forth so much effort? What’s the point of all this?

  • It’s not that much effort. For the most part, this is just music I’m listening to at work and posting when I come across something relevant.It’s a timefiller satisfying a retromantic impulse to gaze backwards, illustrating how impossible it is to capture it all
  • It’s a cumulative education. At the end of the year, I plan on posting year-end lists, just as you would in any current year. I also figure that this project can go on as long as I need or want it to. If I make it through 10 years, I will have pretty much documented the whole of post-rock-n’-roll history.

Outside of this (loose term here, people) "work", I’ve also submitted a few pieces of fiction to some publications, though I’m open to ideas though of what some good places that publish are.  Please send suggestions as I'm not too familiar with mags, zines, anthologies, that do short fiction, plays, or speculative non-fiction (do any places do this in a respectable capacity anymore?  Not to even remotely compare myself, but where would a Ballard go now? ).

I also have a cassette release that is the second release on Good Behavior Records, run by my former neighbor in Philly, Donnie Felton of Grubby Little Hands (whose very good psych/chillwave-ish album The Grass Grew Around Our Feet was the label’s first release- I did a couple remixes of the lead track here). The album, Harvest Monsanto, is being offered in special deluxe packaging as a limited edition “Investors Only” 100-run cassette that is jewel-encased in ugly chemical plastic and complete with nutrition label, rubber glove, and a short pitch for a cutting edge corporate product.

Stream the album or purchase the cassette here (If you’d like to review the album and want a free copy, e-mail me)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Head in the Clouds

Some interesting thing on here, notably:

1.  Robb Banks's idea that "The age of TV is almost, like, done" and that TV is being usurped by the internet. This shouldn't be a difficult concept to grasp to anyone who's actually keeping up, but it's a wild concept to think of in terms of music consumption since I'd venture that much music consumption still comes from archaic forms like TV and radio. I'm unaware of any moment in history previously when the main broadcast mediums for music were in such direct competition with each other, particularly as regarding youth culture.  There was definitely overlapping hierarchies of influence between, say, MTV and radio, but the former caused an enormous rupture and was so successful in asserting its taste as an authority for all.  As much weight as we internet folk pretend Pitchfork has, it's pretty limited compared to the license MTV had on the imagination in its heyday.

Teens are undeniably all over Facebook and iTunes, but there's definitely a bifurcation between those rushing to those stations as method of reinforcing or resisting the external cultural influence of TV, Radio, Apple commercials, et al.  How and why does this split happen?  It seems in previous generations, this disconnect was enunciated in very specific cultural clashes- stoners v. jocks, goths v. preps, riot grrls v. valley girls, et al. Are teenagers today actually putting aside their musical difference to clash on purely social terms?

2.  The idea of hip-hop being "old" and growing up into Cloud Rap.  There's a part of me that wants to believe this, because despite what Lily Mercer claims is a scene full of youthful energy, I don't really hear that intensity that has most defined other scenes marked by "youthful energy". In fact Cloud Rap, between its gigantic puffs of weed smoke, seems to be more about de-intensifying as much as anything, the chillout room to more hardcore styles. Yet, it's not a fully mature and grown-up hip-hop either, at least not in the stuffy terms of "sophistication", humility, and concession that defined rock's descent into middle age (not to mention the fact that cloud rap's stars are all youngsters too).  Instead, cloud rap seems to exist on a kind of flattened plane of time, much like the cloud or the internet itself.  It's neither about youthful vitality or the impending impotence of status post those years/inching towards death.  Cloud rap, like its closest rock parallaxes in shoegaze and ambient, is about being weightless, floating in an e-world untied to the engagements of either passivity or activity.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

RIP Reg Presley

I always thought this one would have sounded awesome under a title sequence for a trashy film.

The Troggs and Presley occasionally had hints of Bolan in them.

Who hasn't wanted to sample that "Aw No!" at the beginning of this song? Nothing could be closer to Lester Bangs's debased ideal of rock as adolescent primitivism than band called The Troggs (short for The Troglodytes). At times, they lived up to that, settling for the simplest, most stripped down riffs and rhythms.

Those who had flipped over the "Wild Thing" single were treated to this seedy little devilish incantation. Of course, "Wild Thing" was a pretty dirty little number too, but I'll have to abstain from posting that one since it's responsible for launching both Sam Kinison and Charlie Sheen's comedy careers, and thus must be cursed by some kind of culture-crippling black magick.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Please Stand By

Had a tiny blurb on Laurie Spiegel's The Expanding Universe in PM's 20 Best Reissues list

 Also logged these reviews, all of which wound up on my Best of 2012:

Andy Stott- Luxury Problems
Jurgen Muller- Science of the Sea
Nick Edwards- Plekzationz

Also have started a blog on all things 1993 here