2011 Year Ending
I was impressed by so much music in '11 that I decided to have two lists of favorites: one for what I'm loosely calling noise (experimental composition, free/improv, etc.) and one for pop (pretty much everything else). In rock terms this was the year of Sacred Bones. If you didn't hear the new Religious Knives, Amen Dunes, The Men or The Human Eye albums you missed out on some prime underground psych dishes. It was also the year of John Fahey, thanks to the release of a boxset chronicling his Fontana years, Your Past Comes Back To Haunt You on Dust-To-Digital.
For me personally more out there records took center stage. Bill Kouligas's Pan label out of Berlin continued to push aural envelopes and defy expectations with an astounding series of beautifully presented abstract noise releases. And Jon Abbey's Erstwhile label continued to mine its own unique niche in the harder to classify regions of the electronic subsphere.
In pop terms it's nice to see an official version of the original Smile finally hitting the shelves, though I don't know if I can see myself spending the big bucks for the boxset. The 2CD expanded version on the other hand... Also totallydigging the 2CD reissue of Some Girls. Nice to know some things don't need to change. You can have your Black Keys. I'm stickin' with my 'Stones. First up:
Top Noise of 2011
25. Jürgen Müller Science of the Sea (Digitalis) LP - The mysterious album, with an in depth back story that may or may not be true, invokes memories of classic electronic library records, New Age synth concept albums and the wonder of childhood (for some of us). Tom Ewing's excellent article for his Poptimist column goes into greater detail and explores the creative possibilities of imaginary musical personas.
24. Angus Maclise / Tony Conrad Dreamweapon III (Boo-Hooray) LP - Clattering proto No Wave and scorched earth minimalism released concurrently with the Angus Maclise's Dreamweapon exhibition in New York City, features some incendiary spoken word from Jack Smith on top of Maclise and Conrad's screeching psychedelic sprawl. Your Death Cab For Cutie loving bestie will hate it.
23. Sir Richard Bishop Graviton Polarity Generator (Social Music Records) LP - Though a late 2010 release, I didn't hear this till well into '11. Bishop explores electronic compositions outside his typical instrumental sphere with entrancing results.
22. Aaron Dilloway Lip Syncing To Verme (Hundibuss) LP - See here.
21. High Wolf Atlas Nation (Holy Mountain) CD - The most satisfying collision of electronics and Indian raga trances from this French composer to date.
20. Ricardo Donoso Progress Chance (Digitalis) LP - Sparse minimal compositions that come off like a cross between early techno and the soundtrack for a PBS science documentary circa 1980.
19. Rick Reed The Way Things Go (Elevator Bath) 2LP - Six stunning extended electronic pieces from one of Austin's finest.
18. Valerio Tricoli / Thomas Ankersmit Forma II (Pan) CD - See here.
17. John Wiese Seven Of Wounds (Pan) CD - Hypnotic meld of power electronics and modern composition from one of the best weird noise guys making a racket today.
16. Bill Orcutt The Way The Thing Songs (Editions Mego) CD - More spastic guitar blurts, blasts and moans from Master Orcutt. Tormented string meditations that sound like nothing you've ever heard before (except maybe his last record).
15. Ben Vida / Keith Fullerton Whitman - AGGREGATEPULSERIPPER (DAMAGED III) / 0808114 (Amish) LP - Two live performances by each artist on synth, computers and effects, both delivering fierce, rhythmic electronic workouts that sputter and grind their way through sequencer oblivion right into the frontal lobe.
15. Volcano The Bear Hotbites Live At The Nightlight (Blastocoel Sound) LP - See here.
14. Chris Forsyth Paranoid Cat (Family Vineyard) LP - See here.
13. Jim O'Rourke Old News No. 6 (Mego Editions) 2LP - My pick for the most interesting release bearing O'Rourke's name this year (and given there was roughly 6 such albums, that's saying something), incorporating guitars, electronics and tape manipulations into four sides of absorbing Music Concrète.
12. Jérôme Noetinger / Will Guthrie Face Off (Erstwhile) CD - Twelve workouts combining Noetinger's electronics with Guthrie's everything (and the kitchen sink) homemade percussion to create living sound worlds of jarring juxtapositions, found sounds and a wide array of electro-percussive strangeness. It's all meticulously assembled in such a way that belies its compositonal origins. Then again maybe they edited it down from extended improvisations the way Can used to do it. Whichever, consider my mind blown.
11. Loren Connors Red Mars (Family Vineyard) CD - Stark, droning guitar-scapes somewhere between classic early minimalism and lost in the haze ghost blues.
9. Greg Kelley / Olivia Block Resolution (Erstwhile) CD - Another brilliant duo chance meeting from the always dependable Erstwhile finds Block's Electroacoustic compositions merging with Kelley's minimal trumpet to conjure a sustained sense of dramatic tension and release. These pieces build from collages of rumbling ambient textures to full on jazz eruptions and well beyond.
8. Tim Hecker Ravedeath 1972 (Kranky) CD - See here.
7. Jason Lescalleet This Is What I Do: Volume 1 (Glistening Examples) CD-R - Fantastic collection of material that showcases Lescalleet's reel-to-reel and early electronics performances in the live setting.
6. Ashtray Navigations Deadicated to the Sensory Armada (Memoirs of an Aesthete) LP - Most recent missive from Phil Todd's free psych whats-it unit sees his combo bringing in more synths and sequencers into their hallucinatory feedback sprawl.
5. Joe Panzner Clearing, Polluted (Copy For Your Records) CD - Abrasive noise compositions from one half of Scenic Railroads covering a wide range of volumes and emotions as Panzner goes from screaming white noise to the most transportive minimal trances and back again. Not for the faint of heart, but well worth the trip for those up to it.
4. BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa Big Shadow Montana (Helen Scarsdale) LP - See here.
3. Mind Over Mirrors The Voice Rolling (Digitalis) LP - See here.
2. Michael Pisaro / Greg Stuart Hearing Metal 3 (Gravity Wave) CD - Another masterful minimal excursion from Pisaro and Stuart marrying electronics and percussion into one sublime composition that's as transcendent and accessible as anything I heard in 2011.
1. Graham Lambkin Amateur Doubles (Kye) LP - An engaging slab of syrupy sound art recorded in Lambkin's car, which isn't hard to believe when you wrap your ears around its busy ambient life-scapes -- voices in everyday conversation, wind blowing, traffic sounds, highway noise and more. Lambkin combines this with two different extended tracks of source material, his own odd tonal textures and instruments to conjure a dramatic sound journey that combines the mundane and the transcendent into compositions that deliver every second of its 38 minutes.