We’re still in the process of shifting gears over here (including some pretty serious distractions): dumping the head space used for “The Heart of the Rail,” which did manage to get out the door in time (and a nod to Eric Griffith for the title, thank you sir!); finding the last good copy of “Blackmail boxes,” the editing of which I do need to stop putting off; finishing off the last code push for the not-so-secret Secret Project; and deciding if I really want to write INSTRUMENT or RABBIT FOOT.
Not to mention settling on which order those last two occur in.
So, while I thrash about, clearing things up, I offer you this. My favorite records from last year (as reported to Igloo):
Ulver :: Shadow of the Sun (Jester Records): Calling this “ambient metal” is somewhat of a disservice to both ambient and metal, but I’m at a loss to how else to quantify this record. It is a thousand miles away from their black metal beginnings, but in the wake of recent releases like Perdition City and Silencing the Singing, it’s a natural evolution. A haze of melancholy and fading heat energy, Shadow of the Sun is rife with glitch, classical atmospherics, and stanzas of banal lyrics that Garm’s delivery transforms into emotionally loaded introspection. It shouldn’t touch me as deeply as it does, but somehow I can’t stop listening to it.
Detritus :: Fractured (Ad Noiseam): Another record from Ad Noiseam, who on the whole always produces a consistently excellent catalog. Fractured leaps out of this already excellent release list with a stellar piece of cinematic soundtracking. The sort of record that should make David Arnold very nervous about the producers of the next James Bond swapping his tired orchestrations for David Dando-Moore’s phenomenal Strings ‘n’ Beats. God, wouldn’t that just blow the doors off the whole genre of movie soundtracks?
Nine Inch Nails :: Year Zero & Y34rz3r0r3m1x3d (Nothing): After With Teeth, I had given up on Trent Reznor, but he managed to ditch all the things I hated about that record, rediscover the energy that made The Downward Spiral a blast of ferocious energy, and damage the whole thing with a layer of digital glitch and effects that is just amazing (the arrival of the “Great Destroyer” nearly makes up for With Teeth all by itself). Y34rz3r0r3m1x3d is one of those extremely rare remix records that manages to be a completely different experience, yet isn’t filled with a bunch of tracks that make you miss the originals (Saul Williams’ remix of “Hyperpower!,” for example, should have sucked for burying the great drum track beneath vocals, but Williams’ caustic and inflammatory delivery transforms the track into a revolutionary call to arms).
Tonikom :: Epcoh (Hymen Records): A number of my favorite labels held their ground this year, putting out records that, while they certainly weren’t embarrassing, weren’t interesting enough for me to hold my attention. However, Tonikom’s debut on Hymen, Epoch, caught my ear every time a track from it surfaced on my daily play list. Marrying the best parts of Contagious Organism’s soundscape work with the rhythmic noise aesthetic the label is known for, Tonikom managed to make the whole sound seem fresh again.
Tetsu Inoue :: Inland (FAX): The best release from FAX last year. Once upon a time, FAX was all a growing boy needed as far as electronic music (and the hefty release schedule helped). Now, it seems like a boutique label for Namlook’s noodling, which makes Inland all that more of a surprise and a treat.
Amon Tobin :: Foley Room (Ninja Tune): Tobin’s complex programming combined with a dramatic sense of cinematic overdub. As a headphone record, it turns whatever mundane task you are doing into a high-stakes thriller. Nothing better for cleaning out the sock drawer, or re-arranging the kitchen utensils, or waiting for a terminally late bus.
Kiln :: Dusker (Ghostly International): For some reason, I’ve been confusing Kiln with Aeroc in my head (I know, these days it’s hard to not confuse a couple of artists once a week or so), and had put off listening to Kiln (again, not sure why? I like Aeroc’s Viscous Solid well enough). So, eventually, I get around to Dusker and have been thoroughly enjoying their glitchy shoegazing pop music.
Young Gods :: Super Ready/Fragmente ( ): The Young Gods wandered off my radar for a few years and burned their way back onto my regular playlist with the blistering Super Ready/Fragmente. Not as “funky” as Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero, but noisy with that same sense of industrialized energy (think an Italian roadster compared to the jacked-up NIN pimp wagon). More guitar too, which is never a bad thing.
Omnimotion :: “Embrace” (from Midnight Soul Dive) (Aleph-Zero): Omnimotion’s full-length was good, but six months later, I can’t recall many of the individual tracks. But “Embrace,” his contribution to the latest compilation from Israel’s downtempo/world fusion label, still transports me to a different headspace every time I hear it. Aleph-Zero has embraced the digital distribution models, so you should buy one less overpriced cup of coffee today, and go get this track instead.
And five records I still need to track down.
DeepChord :: Presents EchoSpace: The Coldest Season (Modern Love): I’ve been more of a reader than a producer of content at Igloo this past year, and reviews like Robbie Geoghegan’s on DeepChord :: Presents EchoSpace get me very excited about listening to music again. Why does my local record store not have a single copy of this? Bastards.
Rapoon :: Time Frost (Glacial Movements): Storey’s work in the last few years has seemed to be in a repeating pattern, but conceptually he’s gone into the wilderness with this record, and I’m intrigued. It helps that I have a weakness for soundtracks of glacial terrain. I don’t know why; I just accept it.
Ontayso :: 24-hours (U-Cover). Even if I could afford each hour (19 euros each!), I’ve missed my chance for this one. Twenty-four discs, each one an hour long, that detail a day in the life of Ontayso, from soundscapes to ambient textures to god-knows what (though Paul Lloyd does a nice job covering enough of them that I’m even more sick that I missed out). Maybe the rest of us will get lucky and U-Cover will do a digital version of these records. Please?
David Sylvian :: Naoshima (Samadhisound): A piece of environmental music that, as the press release states, isn’t really complete until it is heard in situ at the town of Honmura. As it is more and more impossible (without really good headphones) to listen to ambient music without having to consider where and when you are listening to a record, this sort of spacial requirement for the full “aural” effect of a record is fascinating to me. Naturally, I’ll be listening to it while riding a train on a different continent entirely, but well, that’s what the transportive magic of music is all about, isn’t it?
Stars of the Lid :: And Their Refienment of the Decline (Kranky): Which I have somewhere, but God knows where it is in the stacks and piles and random chaos that is my office. 2007 was that sort of year, and it probably wouldn’t hurt me to find this record, put it on, and do nothing for its entire playing time. At least once.