…A Not-So Comprehensive List
2013 has been a quirky year; for a time I found that inspiration had vanished and I wasn’t interested in listening to music or writing about it at all (a rare occurrence). I’m guilty of having purchased less music this year (an economic curtailment of necessity). Nonetheless, there has been some great music in 2013 (and my slice is a tiny piece of what’s out there). This year I read some music-related memoirs by artists whose work I’ve admired for decades (Burt Bacharach, Neil Young, Michael Feinstein–of his time spent with Ira Gershwin and other books), some histories of Jazz Standards, Blues, Rock and Roll, and records labels (including one of my favorite indie labels, Merge Records). I was also fortunate to attend a number of live shows, and I’ve posted photos of some of those throughout the year.
Is it me or have record labels and artists reduced their output somewhat? Is it a lull in a normal cycle or a sign of the economic times?
Some of the music on this list will be familiar if you have checked-in to read my reviews and some I have not reviewed. I also have some albums I’m still listening to and I haven’t decided if I’ll write reviews for them (an archival release by The Books, La Luz’s first LP, Mary Lattimore and others). One album in particular that I’ve enjoyed recently (although it was NOT released this year) is a live archive solo recording of Neil Young at the Canterbury House in 1968 entitled Sugar Mountain—the album is mostly material that Young wrote or co-wrote with Buffalo-Springfield, and it was recorded right after Buffalo-Springfield broke-up.
A double live CD has also just arrived of one of the last (very lively hot Jazz) gigs played by the house band at Eddie Condon’s in New York City before it closed in 1985—One Night at Eddie Condon’s (Red “The Commodore” Balaban’s Condon Band), with Ed Polcer, Dr Palu Squire, Jack Maheu, Tom Artin, Bobby Pratt, Dave Shapiro and Danny D’Imperio, recorded by Doug Pomeroy)–thanks to Tom Artin for sending this great piece of Jazz history!
The Lucky 13 (all albums purchased–not promos)
Yellowbirds – Songs From The Vanished Frontier – Royal Potato Family: This is my favorite album of the year—just love it–the vibe, the sounds. Please see my June review.
Harold Budd – Jane 1-11 – Darla: The music with companion videos release won’t be available until early 2014, but another beautiful album from HB. I reviewed this album in June, as well.
John Scofield – Überjam Deux – Emarcy: I reviewed this album in August—an excellent follow-up to the original Überjam, and a great vibe with Jazz, Blues and more!
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live At Hammersmith (CD/DVD) – InsideOut: As I noted in my review of last year’s studio release of Genesis Revisited II, I feel like Steve Hackett is the keeper of the spirit of the work of Genesis during the 1971 to 1977 era. So many of the earlier recordings (weak on the engineering and mix, except The Lamb) were greatly improved and enhanced, and this comprehensive 3 CD and 2 DVD set documents the fabulous and memorable Hammersmith show in May of 2013 before the band traveled to the US for their fall tour. The SH Band will tour further in support of this in the southeastern US and Europe and Russia is 2014 (bassist Lee Pomeroy will be replaced by Nick Beggs, a familiar face to Hackett Band fans…I really enjoyed Lee on this tour, he really brought out just how musical Mike Rutherford’s bass lines are in these earlier Genesis classics).
Wire – Change Becomes Us – Pink Flag: I was a big fan of Wire in the late 1970s and then I just plain lost touch with their work. The Words On Music label has a compilation of reinterpretations of their well-known single Outdoor Miner from their 1978 Chairs Missing album, and then I noticed a post earlier in the year by Marc Ostermeier (of the band Should ,and WOM and Tench labels) that a new album was forthcoming.
Juliette Commagere – Human – Aeronaut: Late in 2010 Commagere released her album The Procession on Manimal Records—a diverse combination of songs with dense and gorgeous vocals instrumentation—part art-rock, progressive and electronica. Commagere has returned with another beautifully recorded album of lush songs with her strong vocals and support from husband Joachim Cooder, Ben Messelbeck, Amir Yaghmai, Ry Cooder and recorded by Mark Rains and Martin Pradler. The sound is deep, full, inventive and often fantastical—she is doing her own thing, and I love it (catchy melodies and all). There are times when she channels Elizabeth Fraser as on Low.
Roger Eno – Ted Sheldrake – Backwater: Thirty Years after his first work Apollo with brother Brian and guitarist Dan Lanois, Roger Eno compiled this tribute to friend and neighbor, Ted Sheldrake. Although I reviewed this album in November of 2012, it wasn’t officially released until January of this year.
Cock & Swan – Secret Angles – HushHush: I am eagerly awaiting my blue vinyl (Kickstarter-funded) copy of this digital release that I reviewed in August.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – BMG: Back in March I did a brief comparative analysis of this album and Steven Wilson’s latest (see below). I think this is a really spirited and fun reinterpretation of earlier works by Roxy Music and BF. Being a lover of old acoustically recorded 78s of the pre-Jazz and Jazz ages, I get this.
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories) – kscope: A strong album (I think it’s Steve’s best to date), beautifully recorded and engineered by Alan Parsons. My favorite song is Drive Home.
William Tyler – Impossible Truth – Merge: A brilliant solo guitar album by Lambchop and Hands Off Cuba alum, and a great follow-up to his previous Tompkins Square release Behold The Spirit. I reviewed this album in March.
Celer – Viewpoint – Murmur: As I noted when I reviewed this album in April, I find this album absorbing and romantic—a great piece for getting lost.
Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavour – Cooking Vinyl: I love Ron’s work–started listening in 1997 with his third album Other Songs. Forever Endeavour is sparsely arranged, but strings, horn, percussion, pedal steel or electric bass are right there when they’re needed. Other than that, the songs are Ron’s voice, and his acoustic guitar. He has a gift for wordplay and expressing emotions with a deft efficiency that flow so naturally with his melodies. Some songs on Forever Endeavour are ironically upbeat, like Nowhere Is and Snake Road—in a sense, keeping the faith. The CD has two bonus tracks (songs written with Don Black and recorded by Don Kerr), Life After A Broken Heart and Autumn Light, and they are just plain gorgeous additions to this album. Here’s a live recording of Autumn Light.
Two of my favorite new discoveries in 2013
Meridian Brothers – Desesperanza – Soundway: I heard about Meridian Brothers in an NPR Alt Latino podcast and was instantly hooked by this band from Bogata, Colombia–buying as much of their back catalog as I could find in physical releases. Their music is surreal and playful—a combination of Joe Meek, Esquivel and Raymond Scott.
La Luz – Brainwash (7″) – Suicide Squeeze: This is a single (my version is on clear vinyl) that was released by La Luz just prior to their new album It’s Alive—It’s infectious and fun! I got to La Luz thanks to Johnny Goss (one half of Cock & Swan).
Murmur Records: MMR – 17 CD Time 78:31
I’m not sure where to begin with this, but it’s likely best that I write as little about it as possible. Some of what I write is speculation or perhaps flawed interpretation, but it doesn’t really matter since music listening and appreciation is often subjective.
Will Long’s (Celer’s) new album Viewpoint is simply gorgeous.
I have listened to Viewpoint while walking, reading, on the edge of sleep, awakening in rays of sunshine and listening as I am now on (what I consider to be) proper audio equipment, with sound filling my listening room. There’s a commentary within the CD cover, and it’s a narrative of (as I see it) the beginnings of a love story, moments in time and place, captured and held in the collective memory of the two who shared it–the connections in words and sound. It took me a few attempts to remain focused for the entirety of the album, but after re-reading the story and dreaming along with the music I was hooked, deeply. There are moments when Viewpoint weaves and peregrinates throughout its twenty-six nearly invisible sections, and at times there are some darker moments (life’s unexpected times) and pleasant daydreams, but eventually it all becomes clear and things interlock and harmony prevails, as tightly as the paving stones that decorate the inner sleeve of the bi-folding CD jacket.
Hold fast to the memories, don’t let them go…
Diving Into The Plasma Pool – Part 5 Black Vinyl Series
Side A: Resting On Intensity 20:33 Side B: Swelling That Saves Me From It 20:10
An Immensity Merely To Save Life – Part 4 Black Vinyl Series
Side A: Of My Complaisance 18:27 Side B: Gusts of Hysterical Petulance 19:05
Self-released Limited Edition of 100 copies on black vinyl with matte black paper sleeve with handwritten credits
Insert for Diving Into The Plasma Pool
I almost missed them entirely, but something appeared on my screen in late January, and within 5 minutes I was transported to a perfect sunny day, in the middle of a gently rolling sea, on a reach in a sailboat, and to a sonic warmth that dissolved the doldrums of my winter reality. It was Diving Into The Plasma Pool, the latest (and I think last) of the five part Black Vinyl Series by Celer (Will Long). For whatever reason, I missed parts 1 through 3, but as soon as I heard a sample from Resting On Intensity (Side A), I looked to see if there were other LPs still offered—and indeed, Part 4 was (and is) still available. Part 4, An Immensity Merely To Save Life starts a bit darker with Of My Complaisance (Side A) and then softens with Gusts of Hysterical Petulance (Side B).
Insert for An Immensity Merely To Save Life
The subtle enmeshed loops of Diving Into The Plasma Pool flow like Debussy’s Nuages and yearn (although more gently) like Nicholas Szczepanik’s Please Stop Loving Me—they are waves that crest, hold onto a pleasurable edge and then dissolve. The chords and sounds are right in my sweet-spot. But enough from me; just listen—better yet, buy one or both of them. They’re gorgeous, full and resonant—simply magical.
Part 5 (available here): http://celer.bandcamp.com/album/diving-into-the-plasma-pool
Part 4 (available here): http://celer.bandcamp.com/album/an-immensity-merely-to-save-life
Glacial Movements Records – GM015 (CD) Time: 52:13
Tracks: 1) Holdings of Electronic Lifts; 2) A Small Rush into Exile; 3) Dry and Disconsolate; 4) Variorum of Hierophany; 5) A Landscape Once Uniformly White; 6) Distance and Mortality; 7) With Some Effort, the Sunset;
Although not as indiscriminate as is denoted by the term, I am often a completist when it comes to collecting the works of selected authors and musicians. Yet, I would be hard-pressed, given his massive output of creative work, to even begin to collect all the music of Will Long in the guise of Celer. By now, I probably have a dozen or so of Celer’s recordings, but if I had to recommend one and only one recent work, it might just be this almost mystical and entrancing album. I’m also drawn to this release since it fulfills one of the most significant inspirations for why I listen to music—it takes me somewhere, and the images and sensations are vivid.
This is the third work in a trilogy based on water (to some, water symbolizes comfort and freedom). The two previous albums are Cursory Asperses (2008) and Escaping Lakes (2009)—the former alluding to the slow movements of small streams and the latter to the calmer depths. The music on this album being inspired in part by Will’s trip to southern Alberta in 2009 (documenting the wilderness in photographs for a local Park Service).
Without Retrospect, the Morning is different from the first two in the series in that it has distinct tracks (versus a continuous thread of sound) and it captures water (or the sense of it) in a different state—a chilled desolation, at times at the edge of an existence where the potential energy is stored and released ever so sparingly in a landscape yearning for Sun and warmth. It’s therefore appropriate that this album landed at the Glacial Movements record label, a self-proclaimed “glacial and isolationist ambient” label. I also appreciate that the recording has been mastered with a softness that retains the intricate clarity of the many layers of sound buried in the crystalline strata (to heck with the loudness wars!). There are also hidden sonic depths, and some passages might be felt before they are heard (as in Dry and Disconsolate).
A lateral effect of this CD is that it triggers (for me) some pleasant, albeit quirky, sonic memories from long ago. I’m a fan of the original 1960s Star Trek. There was some great incidental music and ambient sounds used in that series that, to my ears, are recalled in a track like Distance and Mortality (see if you hear the resonance of the wind from the pilot episode, The Menagerie or the sound of the transporter beam).
Distance and Mortality
So find a quiet room, bundle-up, get comfortable, and explore stunning breadth of this vast hyperborean landscape. Just remember to turn the volume back down on your amplifier before you change the sources on your preamp or pop-in another CD.
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/
Artist website: http://www.machinefabriek.nu
Artist website: http://www.thesingularwe.org/celer/
Videos by Marco Douma: http://www.marcodouma.com/
“Having a great time, wish you were here…”
While some on holiday are sucked into over-crowded commercial tourist traps, and others are off in their resorts or private villas, some of the most memorable places and experiences are the somewhat unusual, even off the beaten-path locales. Picture postcards often contain brief accounts or memories of travels to these places, being descriptive, cryptic or comical anecdotes of a given day’s events, compressed into a few short phrases—a substitute for longhand letters. They also serve to freeze a moment in time in a more permanent and retrospective fashion than the immediacy of a quick e-mail or photo sent via the internet. These moments in time are what the trilogy of releases by Celer (Will Long) and Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuydervelt) are like.
It started when they performed together in November, 2010 in Tokyo, Japan and then decided to collaborate remotely on a series of short releases beginning in October, 2011 between Tokyo and Rotterdam. The pieces started as larger works and eventually were edited into musical postcards, or drone poems* of sorts, evoking a place, event or state of mind. Artwork found by Long in Tokyo has been used for the covers of the 7 inch vinyl releases with design and graphic layout by Zuydervelt. As much as I appreciate the convenience of digital-format music, there is something quite special about the 7 inch record, packaged in artful sleeves of re-purposed postcard and souvenir images. Even better, each piece is accompanied (via download) by a beautiful and timeless video interpretation by multimedia artist Marco Douma.
The soon-to-be-released Hei/Sou is the last in this trilogy. Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake and Numa/Penarie were the first two releases. Digital files are also available and the vinyl pressings are limited to 250 copies each (Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake vinyl is now sold out).
Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake are readily identifiable places. Maastunnel is a tunnel in Rotterdam and this track has some mystery. The piece opens on the outside approach to the tunnel (with the ambient sounds of water). There is an apparent twist in the plot where voices can be heard, “I didn’t see his face…he might have been just anybody…just anybody.” Suddenly, a break to the interior where vehicles are passing over expansion joints creating pulses that resonate throughout the underground structure before a quick return to the roadway above-ground. Mt. Mitake is a contrast to the underworld. It starts with a sense of floating in the clouds. The second section creates a sense of tension with the calming effects of the first section in the background; kind of a panoramic view with scenes changing. The peaceful opening section returns to close the track.
Numa/Penarie are more obscure experiences. Numa is almost like a collection of sounds experienced throughout the day; clusters of lights buzzing, bell-like sounds, subways braking, jets taking off in the distance. The second section is more intense (again, a feeling of being underground), expansive and layered with lower frequencies underneath. The close brings a return of lighter and higher frequencies, returning somewhat to the opening themes. Penarie is perplexing; it’s dense, electric and unrestrained. It expands and contracts with clusters of tones. Then there is a pleasant interlude of Mellotron-like waves before mixing with the original themes and sounds, while being accompanied by a clock and then fading quickly, almost like a fleeting dream.
The forthcoming Hei/Sou is the more contemplative of the three releases, and the most abstract. Hei starts with a cymbal-like percussive and then drifts into a gentle sustained keyboard mantra with a wandering background of gentle buzzing and contrasting deep bell-like tones. The cymbals return and are combined with a placid cluster of sound. Sou opens with a Morse-code-like pulse and omnipresent warping tones that gradually combine with a fabric of lightly sequenced rhythms, and there they hang in suspension as the pulsing grows stronger and then fades. Gradually an undertow of deep liquid sound emerges to the foreground and the rhythms are overtaken and then disappear.
These self-released sound postcards are beautifully presented visions of places and experiences. Where will Celer and Machinefabriek be traveling to next?
Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake Preview
*Drone Poem: Like Tone Poems, a shorter format single musical work, within the drone or electro-acoustic genre, based on or evoking the content of a poem, story, place or event. The term initially inspired by some of the recent shorter-form works by Nicholas Szczepanik on his album We Make Life Sad.
A solicited review, but I have purchased the first two releases and now preordered the latest.