Yes, I know, like the rest of it isn't self-promotion. Anyway, I've got a review of Hallock Hill's There He Unforeseen in this month's Wire magazine (Dec 2011). It's a great issue anyway (Grouper, Manuel Göttsching, Turkish psychedelia, Spinn and Rashad) but now you have even more incentive to go and buy it.
There we are then, a few hours of grotty 2010 to go and I've decided to publish a list of my favourite stuff from this year. Another list. Yes. Looking through my last.fm stats, it appears that in 2010 I have been something of a massive hippy, listening to lots of Incredible String Band, lots of Scott Tuma, and a fair amount of Popol Vuh, Horace Andy, Loren Connors and Arve Henriksen. I also listened a good deal to the 20 records listed below.
Looking for patterns in the list, it seems to me there is good deal of landscape involved in these records - landscapes explicitly referenced and projected such as in the work of Richard Skelton, Trembling Bells, Forest Swords and The Lowland Hundred, or landscapes evoked or used as a framing device such as in Barn Owl, Darkstar and Philip Jeck's resetting of Gerard Manley Hopkin's poem about the wrecking of the ship, The Deutschland. Even Demdike Stare, whose method is purely electronic and studio based, still grounded their sound in fistfuls of Lancashire soil.
The Top 10
1. Richard Skelton - Landings (feat. track 'Green Withins Brook')
Landings, an album and book release, is the culmination of a three year relationship Richard Skelton shared with the landscape of Anglezarke in the West Pennine moors. In a way it is the recording of a disappearance – of a person enveloped in grief, seeking to dissolve the boundaries between inside and outside, to escape by becoming part of the tides of the land. As part of this process Skelton used the landscape as both a kind of vast studio and an instrument, using the elements as a backdrop for the minutely pieced together nature of his compositions – which, like his spare writing style built from historical readings and impressionistic encounters with the land, are compositions built from very little: accordion drones, bowed strings, the hush of water on stone. Indeed sometimes Skelton’s method seems so inscrutable, yet so powerful and emotionally affecting that you wonder if you’re listening to a form of alchemy. Which in the end, it might just be. Full review.
2. Demdike Stare - Forest of Evil
With Forest of Evil Demdike Stare managed to reference minimal techno, dub, noir-ish soundscapes and the Radiophonic Workshop; yet with their ties to the Lancashire landscape, they also managed to make their sound ancient and telluric – there is age in this wax, age that reeks of the films of Michael Reeves, and the musty camp of Aleister Crowley. These three records were as much a work of psychic dredging and incantation as they were about sculpted beat science
3. The Lowland Hundred - Under Cambrian Sky (feat. track 'Picot')
Another vast and elemental record, Under Cambrian Sky was a quiescent open channel to the past, but always filtered through a sensitive appreciation of the present. It took the ancient myth of the flooding and destruction of a peninsula of west Wales and used it as a kind of faultline, a way of cutting through layers of history and mythology and spectrally re-inhabitabing the surrounding landscape. All this whilst summoning the likes of Richard Youngs, Robert Wyatt and Talk Talk. Quite an achievement. Full review.
4. Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me
The narrative might go that Joanna Newsom damaged her throat and in re-learning her voice found a new layer of sweetness she’d so far ignored. Or it might go that she hid herself away and found in the long shadows of the afternoon her California singer-songwriter self. Or it might go that maybe she just stopped trying, and in stopping trying she found this great well of untapped songs that she could simply draw and draw from. Whatever the reason, Have One On Me is a different kind of animal to the flighty intricacies of Ys. In its (long, winding) way it’s just as ambitious as that record, but, on the surface at least, it slips by an awful lot easier, and peversely doesn’t have the feel of an epic. Yet as the year rolls round and you still find yourself stumbling across new tracks, let alone new passages in the longer tracks, you wonder at the life in this thing. It’s difficult to know for certain just yet, but this may well be her masterpiece after all. Full review.
5. Evan Caminiti - West Winds (feat. track 'Glowing Sky')
Away from Barn Owl (more of which later) Caminiti indulged his love of epic guitar noise. This was a record that reeked of the elements, of deserts and wind blasted canyons. Nothing else sounded quite so immense all year.
6. Philip Jeck - An Ark For The Listener (feat. track 'The All of Water')
An Ark For The Listener is a sustained meditation on verse 33 of ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem about the drowning on December 7th 1875 of five Franciscan nuns exiled from Germany. Jeck uses his idiosyncratic and inscrutable technique of manipulating old records and doctored machinery to build what is essentially a work of spectral mourning. Two of the finest pieces I read anywhere this year explain this strange and beautiful record far better than I can: Scott at Mapsadaisical and Tom at The Line of Best Fit.
7. Deadbeat - Radio Rothko (feat. track 'Site312 by Marko Furstenberg)
This snuck up on me a bit to be honest - a mix CD compiled by Montrealer Deadbeat that worked the areas between (very) minimal and dub techno it did some simple things very well, combining some classic Basic Channel and Monolake and some newer artists like the more dubstep-leaning 2562 into what was an expertly crafted and paced collection. It was a constant nagging presence throughout the year.
8. Barn Owl - Ancestral Star (feat. track 'Light from the Mesa')
Freshly signed to Thrill Jockey, Barn Owl set about producing this huge desertscape of an album. Ancestral Star built on the huge doom-laden drones of the past and worked towards something other, something altogether more sculpted and ambitious.
9. Chris Abrahams - Play Scar (feat. song 'The Same Time')
This was Abrahams' 6th solo record away from the levitatingly good jazz trio The Necks for whom he plays piano and his first for some five years. That it enjoyed such a long gestation is evident in the care and sheer detail of the textures Abrahams explores. Whether he is playing warped electronics, a church organ, a fender rhodes or simple piano this has the feeling of long labour.
10. Forest Swords - Dagger Paths
A lonely yet oddly romantic melding of dubby soundscapes and evocations of the Wirral landscape, Dagger Paths managed to sound beamed in from another place entirely and and at the same time very English. Full review.
The next 10...
11. Julian Lynch - Mare
12. Supersilent - 10
13. Winterfylleth - The Mercian Sphere
14. Guanaco - Sky Burials
15. Nicholas Szczepanik - Dear Dad (Full review)
16. Trembling Bells - Abandoned Love (Full review)
17. Ufomammut - Eve (fullish review)
18. Red River Dialect - White Diamonds (Full review)
19. The Family Elan - Bow Low Bright Glow
20. Drudkh - Handful of Stars
And so many more besides: Clouwbeck (full review), Olan Mill, Pausal (full review), Ous Mal, Teeth of the Sea, Emeralds, Natural Snow Buildings (full review), Vex'd, Ulaan Kohl, Koen Holtkamp, James Blackshaw, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, The Ex, Chicago Underground (full review), Jack Rose (full review and RIP)...
So there we are. Aside from all the great artists, I salute a whole bunch of people and sites who made 2010 what it was: Mapsadaisical, MandrewB, Rich Hughes and Tom Lecky (hereafter to be conquering worlds as The Liminal); Dan at Fluid Radio/Fluid Audio who I swear does the work of ten men; Tim Noble (Lowland Hundred sound maker and Hundred Acre Recordings head honcho who also happens to have an unbelievably good solo album on the way); Rich Thane and the guys at The Line of Best Fit; Bruno at The Milk Factory; Ash Akhtar; Dave of Low Light Mixes who continues to put out outstandingly good mixes on a regular basis; Ben Howard and Dan Auty who do the Mondo Movie podcast and have kept me sane at various times this year. And well, anyone I've forgotten.
I was re-reading a copy of the Wire from earlier this year, and came across this ace grumpy review by David Toop of the recent Fenn O'Berg record In Stereo. Inspiring stuff, huh?
Aside from that, Toop has a new book on the way - Sinister Resonance - which sounds brilliant:
As if reading a map of hitherto unexplored territory, Sinister Resonance deciphers sounds and silences buried within the ghostly horrors of Arthur Machen, Shirley Jackson, Charles Dickens, M.R. James and Edgar Allen Poe, Dutch genre painting from Rembrandt to Vermeer, artists as diverse as Francis Bacon and Juan Munoz, and the writing of many modernist authors including Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, and James Joyce.
In his collection of decade long music writing for the Daily Telegraph, “All What Jazz”, Philip Larkin produced a type of criticism that could be used as a starting point for a lengthy engagement with the current of Blackness and radicalism that was testing the limits of musicality between 1961 and 1971. For the moment I will begin by mapping out some points in an imaginary exchange that occurs around the Black aesthetic between Larkin, Fred Moten and the primary target of Larkin’s ire, John Coltrane.
Written in August 1967, ‘Looking Back At Coltrane’ marked the news of the tenor’s death. I want to repeat the almost satirical rage for order that dominates Larkin’s assessment of Coltrane’s recording career. The selected passages of Larkin’s piece though will be interrupted at vital moments not only by Fred Moten’s turn to the refusal of logic and aesthetics that animates Black art and politics in his “Gestural Critique of Judgment”, but of course the de-instrumental freedom of Coltrane’s playing: a melodramatic excess that was at once both an appeal for rights and simultaneously a refusal of rights.
The intention is to set up the junctures where Larkin’s ability to hear but refusal to follow not only directly faces the sonic specificity of Coltrane’s artistry, but also to indicate how Moten offers a way of thinking about the politico-philosophical implications at work in Larkin’s writing on the arrival of the New Black Thing.
“Well, I still can’t imagine how anyone can listen to a Coltrane record for pleasure. That reedy, catarrhal tone, sawing backwards and forwards for ten minutes between a couple of chords and producing ‘violent barrages of notes not mathematically related to the underlying rhythmic pulse, and not swinging in the traditional sense of the term’ (Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Sixties); that insolent egotism, leading to forty-five minute versions of ‘My Favourite Things’ until, at any rate in Britain, the audience walked out, no doubt wondering why they had ever walked in; that latter day religiosity, exemplified in turgid suites such as ‘A Love Supreme’ and ‘Ascension’ that set up pretension as a way of life; that wilful, hideous distortion of tone that offered squeals, squeaks, Bronx cheers and throttled slate-pencil noises for serious consideration.” (Philip Larkin, ‘Looking Back At Coltrane’ in “All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1960-1971")
“Much of this was doubtless due to the fact that Coltrane was an American Negro. He did not want to entertain his audience: he wanted to lecture them, even to annoy them. His ten minute solos, in which he lashes himself up to dervish like heights of hysteria, are the musical equivalent of Mr Stokley Carmichael.” (Larkin)
“Is there a relation between the ‘logic of white supremacy’ and pragmatism as the movement towards a neutral submission to the status quo that attends the disavowal of a kind of fervour that is aligned with (feminised, sentimental) blackness and the critiques (of property, of the proper, of judgment) that it embodies as cause and as a cause?” (Fred Moten, “Gestural Critique of Judgment” in “The Power and Politics of the Aesthetic in American Culture”)
“Virtually the only complement one can pay Coltrane is one of stature. If he was boring, he was enormously boring. If he was ugly, he was massively ugly. To squeal and gibber for sixteen bars is nothing; Coltrane could do it for sixteen minutes, stunning the listener into a kind of hypnotic state in which he read and re-read the sleeve notes and believed, not of course that he was enjoying himself, but that he was hearing something significant. Perhaps he was. Time will tell. I regret Coltrane’s death, as I regret the death of any man, but I can’t conceal the fact that it leaves in jazz a vast, blessed silence.” (Larkin)
“The lawless freedom of melodramatic imagination, its constant irruptive and disruptive escape from the system it engenders, is structurally correspondent to the gestures that conjure it and which it conjures. Therefore, I’m interested in the incalculable gulf – the incalculable relation, the incalculable rhythm – between the beauty of a gesture that conventional aesthetic judgment finds unbeautiful and the morality of a verdict that conventional moral reason finds unreasonable.” (Moten)
UEL (image by JDVC)
Devised as an offshoot of Simon Reynolds’ talk at FACT in Liverpool earlier this year, “The Hardcore Continuum? A discussion” event at UEL sought to test the relevance of Reynolds’ framework for both the histories of 90s British dance music and the output of the current scene. The debate was at times heated, with the particular points of contention appearing to be the status of the nuum itself and whether the sounds being produced now were a sign of it lack of productivity. Whilst I would shy away from attempting to make any qualified comment on these strands of thought, some of the speakers raise pertinent points. Mark Fisher (known to us as Kpunk) mapped out the key features of the nuum. For him it is not only a dynamic feedback system, but an intelligent entity it its own right and sufficiently open to produce mutations. Alex Williams (Splintering Bone Ashes) fixated upon the ‘what you call it’ moment, moving back and forth between the event of genre-naming. Jeremy Gilbert’s mourning for the inability of patently dangerous musics such as Drum n Bass and Jungle to harness their radical energies whilst the nuum was at its heights drew the debate into the wider realm of Britain’s recent political history.
Despite the intellectual energies being emitted, the stand out paper of the afternoon was Steve Goodman’s (Kode9) and Kodwo Eshun’s attempt to call for pause and suspend the cacophony of the event. I want to briefly regurgitate the trajectories of their paper because of the combination of creativity and rigour that was on display as they tuned into a set of sonic actualities.
Their desire to pause and step back from the energy that was being discharged was premised on the feeling that the debate over the critical status (maybe even the politics) of the nuum may actually prevent us from listening to the continual evolution of the sounds which are its fixations. More importantly, the general levels of contestation appeared to rush past the sonic giants of free jazz, reggae, funk, dancehall and electro which overshadow and nourish the nuum.
Goodman’s and Eshun’s starting point was Afro-Futurism, an intellectual project that appeared to have lost its impetus towards the end of the 1990s, but which they sought reinvigorate by way of the nuum’s current output. The stalling of Afro-Futurism took place because of the ways in which it was temporalised, with a normative commitment to linear time and the inability to think beyond desires for progress. Goodman and Eshun stepped away from that procedural framing of Afro-Futurism and resuggested the work of its temporalities. Afro-Futurism for them, in a flourish perhaps borrowed from Paul Gilroy, is an issue of roots/routes and futures. Rather than a preoccupation with causality, they seem to be more in favour of the diagonal diagrammatics of Afro-Futurisitic activity.
In this space sonic legacies become less deterministic and take on a Janus head quality. For example whereas Dub reggae is commonly figured as the progenitor of Jungle, that formation can be reversed, multiplied and refracted to the extent where they are heard as backgrounds to each other, flipsides of the same track. Theses are sonic signifiers which forge pathways within and, significantly in the case of the nuum, beyond the horizons of Afro-Futures. In essence what Goodman and Eshun illustrated was that Joker, Zomby, Prince and P-Funk can be endlessly enfolded into each other to the degree that finite sonic roots/routes appear to melt away.
The alternative diagrammatics they drew centred on a set of 5 synaesthetic signatures which can be heard cutting back and across the sonic activities of Afro-Futurism. The 1st is Day-Glo tone colour where sounds are heard in visibly toxic tones. Secondly there is Metric Drift which is marked by rhythmic patterns stumbling, and knocking into each other, like people negotiating their way through a busy street. But mysteriously these contrapuntally opposed beats always return to the “The One”. The Animatic Apparatus and Machinecorality that make up the 3rd and 4th signatures work, I would argue, in tandem. Sound machines come to life, the audio life form begins to pulse, breath. Conversely the voice responds by allowing itself to be subsumed by the machinic elements surround it. One thinks here of not only Stevie Wonders adventures on the Vocoder but the preminent squeal of the synth in much music of Afro-Futurism. That squeal at times strikes up rememories of Marshall Allen’s playing for the Sun Ra Arkestra, and in particular his attempt to get that thing to speak on “When Angels Speak of Love.” Finally, the sound more often than not becomes drenched in the synaestehtic signature of Cosmic Sleaze. The solar heights of the squeal meets the libido, cosmic dust becomes cosmic lust. The obvious reference points for this signature are the likes of Prince, P-funk and even Rick James, who take Funk out beyond the auditory and into its olfactory and sensuous terrains. Yet we can hear cosmic sleaze being reprogrammed by the likes of Jodeci and R Kelly into what our own poacher calls a simulacrum of lust. Taking this sleaziness out even further, there is the rabid (one could even say rapid) hypersexuality which dominates Charles Mingus’ extended self analysis in his “Beneath the Underdog”. Mingus’ grandiose libido speaks to the “huh” that fills the ensembles pause on “Old Blue’s For Walt’s Torin”. And finally we even have Miles Davis’ tales of nightly cocaine and sex binges during his self imposed exile from playing. Possibly a necessary rerouting of the machinic throbs and moans that can be heard throughout “On the Corner”.
The energies of Goodman’s and Eshun’s paper were then the result of a unique investment in types of sonic oscillation. Their redrawing of Afro-Futurism in light of the nuum emerged from and generated further dislocation. To reorganise a phrase which I tend to quasi-obsessively return to from Nathaniel Mackey, they appeared to be working on the crux of multiple yet broken claims to connection.
Some reading for the evening - Christopher Ricks, renowned academic and Dylan obsessive is interviewed by Eurozine
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them.
To some extent, Dylan thinks – as Tolstoy did – that you should value the art of the calypso singer more than the art of the high priest of learning and sophistication and high culture. But it is clear to him that Eliot is a genius and The Waste Land keeps coming into things that he writes. It is clear that he knows Eliot very well.
(via 3 Quarks Daily)