2014 has been a year when I’ve been relatively quiet on reviews, but I have been listening to many things, and I was very fortunate to attend some fabulous concerts that I’ve documented here with brief write-ups and photos (no photos of King Crimson!). I’ve also been focused on other things, including making noise with some guitars. As in the past, my listening is concentrated on what’s available to me, which is relatively narrow in scope, but I do listen to a pretty wide array of music.
This is my list of 14 favorites for 2014 (in no particular order) and then a few special categories. Each title on the list links to the artist or record label website. Happy Listening and I hope you all have a nice Holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Thank you for reading in 2014!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Nick Magnus – n’monix
Tony Patterson & Brendan Eyre – Northwinds
Should – The Great Pretend
Gareth Dickson – Invisible String (a compilation of recent live recordings)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2CD/DVD (a fabulous live album & DVD with excellent sound quality!)
Stephen Vitiello + Taylor Deupree – Captiva (double 10” LP)
Medeski Scofield Martin Wood – Juice
Ben Watt – Hendra
Beck – Morning Phase
Levin Brothers – Levin Brothers (It’s only taken decades, but the Levin brothers got together and made a really marvelous jazz album)
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd – White Bird in a Blizzard
Anthony Phillips – Harvest of the Heart (Anthology Boxed Set): Unlike the recent R-kive Genesis box set, Cherry Red knows how to put together a proper anthology, complete with many tracks of never-before heard music from AP’s archives.
Jason Molina – Songs: Ohia – Journey On (7” 45 RPM Compilation Box Set, a really beautiful set, probably rarer than hen’s teeth by now.)
King Crimson – The Elements (Tour Box, archive, live and some new material as a companion to the 2014 US Tour)
East River Pipe – The Gasoline Age (vinyl reissue, my introduction to the brilliant songs of F. M. Cornog when it was first released on CD in the early 1990s)
Lambchop – Live at XX Merge (I’m so happy that Merge Records decided to release this in honor of their 25th Anniversary. Looks like the LP is out of print for the moment.)
William Tyler – Lost Colony
An Accidental Concert Photo
Sleeping Man Records SMR005 – CD Time: 70:16
1) This Is The Kiss 2) Once Upon* 3) Song, Woman & Wine 4) Agoa 5) Like A Clock 6) Jonah 7) Get Together 8) The Dance* 9) The Big Lie* 10) Fifth 11) Technology 12) Noon 13) Nunca Jamás 14) Harmonics 15) Two Trains 16) Climbing 17) Amber Sky*
* - Not previously available as a studio recording
These are live recordings from a 2012 tour in support of Dickson’s album Quite A Way Away (and includes songs from his Collected Recordings CD, resissued by 12k) with concerts in Reims, Istanbul, including an apartment lobby in Caen, France. I reviewed Quite A Way Away in early 2012.
From the moment this album begins, it’s magic.
The deeply resonant chords, the natural reverberation, the open tunings and Gareth Dickson’s hushed voice all combine to create a captivating and magnetic sonorous atmosphere. Whether it’s gentle incantations, trance inducing vocal meditations or arpeggios this album is exquisitely gentle, yet curiously riveting and at times hypnotic.
There isn’t much more that I can say except buy it, and see if you can find the source of the album’s title.
CD DR-21 Time: 56:34 – http://dronarivm.com/
Tracks: 1) Donitsk, 2) Daithn, 3) Skdiv, 4) Aoleeignal, 5) Rionzemef, 6) Vansunbarth, 7) Pleq Remix of Rionzemef
I’ve been a bit out of the loop with Dronarivm label releases for the last six months or so, but one of their new albums caught my ears—the collaboration with Pjusk and Sleep Orchestra.
Drowning In The Sky initially strikes close to home in its sound aura since we are just emerging from a VERY long winter here in the northeast USA. Pjusk’s (Rune Andre Sagevik and Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik) music is often rooted in their Norwegian locale being inspired by weather, landscape and nature and Sleep Orchestra’s work (as noted by Christopher Pegg) is often influenced by science fiction or imaginary soundtracks to “…movies in your head…”
From what I have heard of their prior respective works, I wouldn’t have necessarily thought that their musical styles would merge comfortably, but after listening to Drowning In The Sky the combination works quite well. The album does indeed seem very much like a soundtrack to a short film of an imagined journey that starts in a stark and harsh landscape of wind, snow and ice—not exactly a comforting place to be, but the solitude brings a focused awareness of the surroundings (Donitsk). Eventually the scenes change and there is a transformation from an outdoor landscape into more industrial and metallic-sounding scenes (Daithn) with sporadic rhythms. Taut and glitchy beats emerge and then there are layers of cavernous spaces, like giant shipyards or factories with remote gantry cranes (Skdiv), sharpened with a solo trumpet.
In time the scenes are darker (Aoleeignal), although still quite spatial with sounds dancing within the mix, and there is a strong visceral undercurrent and an increased sense of motion. There is a return to an outdoor environment: water and wind in Rionzemef and an auditory sense of being in a vehicle of some sort (a large truck, train or ship perhaps) while experiencing a storm and pulsing undercurrent from outside the vehicle. The environment, despite being a long way from the desolation of an Arctic plain continues to intrude into the soundscape and at a windshield or porthole…or in the mind. Vansunbarth appears to be the arrival at the imaginary destination, where furtive sounds move quickly, muffled announcements, signals ring and footfall moves in a foggy haze, disorienting as if being awakened suddenly from a traveling slumber.
The album is a journey of contrasts, from the far reaches of harsh yet pristine tundra to the gritty environs of an industrial zone, from desolation and isolation to population. Pleq’s remix of Rionzemef gently sways and is more hypnotic and comforting than the original track.
A historical comparison: Drowning starts off being quite similar to Envangelos Papathanassiou’s chilling soundtrack to the film Antarctica and ends up more in a post-apocalyptic and highly cinematic realm of Bladerunner. Also of note, (and I always prefer a physical release to digital) Dronarivm has changed their CD sleeve to a quite effective recyclable folded heavy cardstock slide-out package; my only comment would be to ask that the inner portion slides out another centimeter farther for easier access to the CD.
Eilean:  – Eilean Records: CD-R (an edition of 80) Time 48:16
Tracks: 1) Prelude in E Major, 2) Evenings Wait; The Morning’s Break, 3) Early Ferns, 4) The Sun Looks Quite Ghostly When There’s A Mist On The River And Everything’s Quiet, 5) Faint Whirs Of The Smallest Motor, 6) They Carried Teapots And Tiny Gas Canisters, 7) A Ship’s Bell (Sings), 8) The Weight Of The Frost On A Branch, 9) And The Guitar Plays War Hymns, 10) (Sings)
Long ago I found myself curiously attracted to an old celesta (celeste) in the back corner of my high school band room. I’d plug it in when I was sure that no one was around and adjust the controls and the small piano-like instrument made pleasantly sonorous yet mysterious sounds: belltones with alluring sustains and tremolos…
Eilean Records is a new French-based label run by Mathias Van Eecloo and twincities – variations for the celesta is the label’s first release (although ironically labeled ). Long Islander (New York) Fletcher McDermott creates music in his basement studio in the guise of twincities (funny, when I think of “Twin Cities” I think of Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota).
Eilean is Scottish Gaelic for Island and the label’s works will each relate to a point on an imaginary map with up to one hundred predetermined locations. Coincidentally, McDermott lives on an island (albeit a rather large island). Eilean releases will vary in quantities from 75 to 200 physical copies and there will be up to 100 releases with hand made covers and related artwork in this map series. Connections to the place where the music is created will be memorialized with an image of a small bottle containing the soil from the musician’s locale. On the reverse of the image with be the map quadrant assigned to the musician. Each release will be a part of the puzzle of the overall map…the music connected to the artist, a point on the map and a small vial of soil. In effect, an imaginary hybrid island with a small yet tangible existence. Islands of the imagination, islands of the mind, perhaps even islands of isolation. Have any of you ever read the short story The Man Who Loved Islands by D. H. Lawrence?
I’ve noted before that I’ve listened to shortwave and ham radio operators for decades and in some respects this album is like roaming the radio dial late into the night on an old analog shortwave set using the fine-tuning knob. The music is like traveling and it takes the listener to different places. The feeling of being taken on a tour through a shortwave realm isn’t literal like in Kraftwerk’s song Radioland (from their 1975 album Radioactivity), rather it’s more subtle in the background and doesn’t distract from the aura created by the music and other sounds. The album at times also evokes Godley and Creme’s song Get Well Soon from the 1979 album Freeze Frame (waxing rhapsodically about Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline late into the night), although that song is more melodic. The celesta isn’t the dominant sound generator in this album, but each piece has a strong thread weaving throughout along with other well-disguised instrumentation, found or ambient sounds and faint voices. Rather than repeat the track names, I’ll just reference the track number in my overview:
1) variations opens with rapid-fire automated Morse code, soothed with slow comforting celesta responses. 2) The celesta is transformed into restful wind chimes with long passages of deep resonant tones and distant faint melodies. There are some comparisons to the recent works of Kane Ikin’s otherworldly explorations (seek out his recent 12k label releases). 3) Is like hanging on the edge of a dream while awakening in the misty early morning light—the calm and the quietude. The celesta treatment is like it could be from portions of the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet—rather mysterious, almost ominous.
4-7) This collection of tracks seems like a suite, at first sonorous, gentle and deep tones and mysterious atmospheres (in time, a slower Morse code reappears), transitioning into an edgier realm (6) and finishing in a gritty drift across the radio dial, sharper sounds with kalimba-like percussives. 8) Sways gently and is the most peaceful track on the album. It evokes some of the feeling of Robert Rich’s recent album Nest. 9) This piece is a broad soundscape (in some respects like those created by the band Lambchop as links between songs…William Tyler’s moody electric guitar drones). The celesta is treated like chimes sounding like church bells, in memoriam. 10) A gritty close, like the beginning, and the distant music returns one last time from a far away island.
Eilean Records is off to a fine start with twincities variation for the celesta. Visit their website soon for the next planned destination which will be released on 5/5/14 and monthly thereafter.
Photo of twincities by TJ Boegle
This is a solicited review.
Label: http://www.12k.com/index.php/site/releases/akari/ CD 12K1080 Time: 58:54
Artist Website: http://illuha.com/
1) Diagrams Of The Physical Interpretation of Resonance 2) Vertical Staves Of Line Drawings And Pointillism 3) The Relationship Of Gravity To The Persistence Of Sound 4) Structures Based On The Plasticity Of Sphere Surface Tension 5) Requiem For Relative Hyperbolas Of Amplified And Decaying Waveforms
ILLUHA’s new album is a more introspective progression from their previous works, some of which have been recorded in large spaces with vast natural reverberation (like their last studio album Shizuku – 12K1067). Akari is like the successively magnified views in Charles and Ray Eames’s film The Power of Ten, while still being in the dome of the sky, the experience of the sound moves inward, and despite being ever closer to the point of focus a vastness of even more detail is revealed. The album has a comforting intimacy, and from the first quite unexpected (to me!) muted acoustic guitar harmonics there is also a deeply tactile quality. The instrumentation on the album is diverse, but it never distracts; each sound or ensemble has the space it requires and it tangibly enhances the experience.
The recording is profoundly crystalline and as one meanders through the scenes there are moments of illumination to be discovered…finding light in the darkness where color and detail are exposed. The broader ambient sounds that open many of the tracks are subtle (like The Relationship of Gravity…) forming a backdrop for the journeys that Corey Fuller and Tomoyoshi Date lead us through.
I think the quality of sound-light in some of the passages of Akari is like the photo below that I took on a walk, early in the Fall of 2012.
Find a comfortable place to rest and get lost in this.
One of my favorite ILLUHA pieces is a live recording from their CD Interstices (see the excerpt of Interstices III below, CD also available from 12k).
12k Label – 12k1074 – CD Time: 47:00
When I was younger and had a completely untrained eye for seeing, as in art of any form, I didn’t realize how many colors went into what I saw, whether in a landscape or an object (same in the musical parallels). It was later, seeing artwork at a museum (paintings up-close), dramatically enlarged photos, and a friend’s work in college (artist, Allen Hirsch) that I started to understand the density and complexity of color–as well as in sound and music, the overtones, harmonics and phasing in addition to the pure waves.
The Endless Change Of Colour affects me in two ways, creating a state of peaceful timelessness (wondering where that nearly-an-hour went) as well as producing a state of nearly motionless cascades of blending sounds that transmute into a sense of relaxing in a stream bed of flowing water on a warm summer’s day–when all else falls away and what remains is that moment. All of this from a generative piece of music built from a single phrase on an old jazz record split into three audio stems. The sounds (and side-effects) that without closer examination and contemplation, we wouldn’t normally sense except for the benefit of the time that this work seems to warp and retrograde during its existence.
There are brief moments when almost familiar sounds enter, only to be absorbed back into the metamorphosing blend. I hear some parallels to the effects created by Nicholas Szczepanik’s brilliant album Please Stop Loving Me, although the feeling in Endless borders on that of a gentle voice on the edge of a dream–a peaceful sense of belonging.
Thank you to all the artists and record labels for such wonderful and diverse music.
This is one list of many, it’s my list, and it leaves off many other favorites that I have enjoyed over the year in addition to the thousands of other albums and single tracks that make up music throughout the World. What has helped me arrive at this list is what I have always loved about music: Does it move me? In addition, is it creative, well recorded and produced with a degree of care that makes me pay attention to it? There was a time when I was obsessed with highly produced and tightly engineered works, then I learned about artists such as East River Pipe and Sparklehorse, and many other genres of music were opened to me.
If you don’t see your favorite album on this list (or even your own album), it doesn’t mean a thing. If an album has been reviewed on my website this year, it’s meaningful to many others and me, but this is only a very, very small slice of the music world. Often people ask me about new music, and what I recommend. When I started this website in late January, 2012 it was first a means to write about music that I enjoyed, but also to get to know other artists and learn about new music that they create, so I could pass it on. Often, the best new music is that referred by a friend. Please feel free to send me your comments and recommendations.
Special note: There are still three or four late 2012 releases that are either enroute to me, have yet to be released or have just arrived. I need to spend proper time listening to and absorbing these albums. Rather than delaying this list further, and if after listening to those last 2012 releases I feel that they hit a sweet spot, I’ll review those albums in early 2013. I know of at least two 2012 releases that I’ll likely not receive until 2013.
I have three categories: Albums (12), Individual Tracks (6), and Special Releases (3) that don’t necessarily fit into a category.
Albums (Artist – Album Title – Record Label)
1) Twigs & Yarn – The Language of Flowers – Flau
2) Lambchop – Mr. M – Merge Records
3) Zammuto – Zammuto – Temporary Residence
4) Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II – Inside Out Music
5) Taylor Deupree – Faint – 12k
6) Billow Observatory – Billow Observatory – Felte
7) Gareth Dickson – Quite A Way Away – 12k
8) Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kitchen. Label
9) Brambles – Charcoal – Serein
10) Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday – Words On Music
11) Cody ChesnuTT – Landing On A Hundred – One Little Indian
12) Stick Men – Deep – Stick Men Records
Individual Tracks (from other albums)
1) Library Tapes – Sun peeking through (from the album Sun peeking through) – Self Released
2) Cock & Swan – Orange & Pink (from the album Stash) – Lost Tribe Sound
3) Alex Tiuniaev – Daylight (from the album Blurred) – Heat Death Records
4) Kyle Bobby Dunn – In Praise of Tears (from the album In Miserum Stercus) – Komino
5) Kane Ikin & David Wenngren – Chalk (from the album Strangers) – Keshhhhhh
6) Olan Mill – Bleu Polar (from the album Paths) – Fac-ture
1) Celer & Machinefabriek: Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake, Numa/Penarie, Hei/Sou – Self Released
2) Birds Of A Feather: Michael Frommer – The Great Northern Loon, Porya Hatami – The Black Woodpecker, Darren McClure – The Black Kite, The Green Kingdom – The Great Blue Heron – Flaming Pines
3) Simon Scott, Corey Fuller, Marcus Fischer, Tomoyoshi Date and Taylor Deupree (Recorded live in Japan October, 8, 2012) – Between (…The Branches) – 12k
Record Labels Noted Above
Merge Records: http://www.mergerecords.com/
Temporary Residence LTD: http://temporaryresidence.com/
Inside Out: http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
Kitchen. Label: http://www.kitchen-label.com/
Words On Music: http://www.words-on-music.com/
One Little Indian: http://indian.co.uk/shop/landing-on-a-hundred-1.html
Stick Men Records: http://stick-men.net
Library Tapes: http://librarytapes.com/
Lost Tribe Sound: http://www.cockandswan.com/ Note: I have not listed the weblink to the record label as Google has noted that the website MAY be compromised.
Heat Death Records: http://www.heatdeathrecords.co.uk/
Kesh (Simon Scott’s label): http://www.keshhhhhh.com/
Flaming Pines: http://flamingpines.com/