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/
Taylor Deupree’s Discography: http://www.taylordeupree.com/music/
12k2025 (CD, Deluxe CD & Digital)
Tracks: CD1 57:17 1) Negative Snow; 2) Dreams of Stairs; 3) Thaw; 4) Shutter; 5) Sundown & CD2 38:38 1) Thaw (Reprise)
Whether it’s his music, photography, collaborations, and even the work from his record label 12k, Taylor Deupree is an Artist (emphasis on capital A). I’m a relative late-comer to his work, and I’m not even quite sure how that I came across his work or the 12k label, but I think that it had something to do with a 12k sampler CD, and then as I often do, I took a dive into his back catalog, focusing on physical releases (since those tend to be my preference—I’m old fashioned that way).
While Deupree has an extensive solo output, he also is an active collaborator with a wide range of artists (follow the discography link I noted above) in addition to many other musicians not listed for concerts and tours. He also actively experiments with new approaches and directions in his work—reinvention invigorates. Just as in his musical works, there is a peaceful desolation in his photography. I’m drawn to many of his photos, especially his landscapes (I’m fortunate to have a copy of his book of photos and CD Sea Last), but this is one of my favorites:
I also enjoy his Instagram photos posts, many of them are taken on outings in the woods, the fields and a reservoir nearby his home. It’s evident in his mastering of his own work and those of other musicians that the quality of the sound is important too (I often seek out music, not only for the artist, but the studio, sound engineer, producer and mastering engineer). Each release by 12k, whether CD, LP, standard or deluxe edition, receives special attention in the design, execution and promotion of the work. I admire this greatly—the time and attention is worth the money and the effort.
Faint is Taylor Deupree’s new album. It’s available in the latest 12k packaging as a standard release, as digital files or in a deluxe edition (pictured here) with a second CD of extended version of the track Thaw as well as twelve prints of photos taken by Deupree with a handmade camera. Faint overall is more restrained and pared-down to elemental sounds (though not at all stark) compared to his other recent work, yet it has a warmth that makes this album deeply comforting (hints of this are in the track titles). I’m not sure of the timeline in the recording of this album (beyond that it was recorded over a two year time span), but there are similarities in Negative Snow to the environment in Simon Scott’s expansive album Below Sea Level. It’s like taking a walk in a field that still has a foot in Winter, but the cold is subsiding in the sun and streams are returning to refill vernal pools.
Dream of Stairs is a gorgeous track with a lightly guiding keyboard thread (sounding like a Fender Rhodes piano) weaving through whispers of treatments, gentle guitars, remote looped voices, and ephemeral sounds of an almost intangible reality that might be captured on the edges of a dream.
Thaw (with a longer reprise on CD2 in the deluxe issue, akin to Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon) has a broader aura, like a fog lifting on an very early Spring morning where the air is warmer than the still-frozen ground. There is an ethereal suspension into which a distant organ-like sound appears and retracts back into the haze—like gentle waves on a flat sand beach. It has an ancient and mysterious sound like that in Creation du Monde, a very early post-Aphrodite’s Child soundtrack by Vangelis. Shutter has a hazy analog-reverberant foundation behind a placid and heavily treated electric guitar solo that is later joined by gentle reminders of Dream of… Sundown at first is a like a quiet seascape, watching distant ships passing and hearing far-off signals as a day draws to a close. Closer sounds enter to illuminate the scene, like fleeting afterglows that fill a sky once the sun disappears below the horizon—nature’s reverberation of what was, before entering darkness.
It’s a restful and warm journey.
CD Time: 33:14* #KESH018
*With forthcoming excerpt remixes by Simon Scott and Kane Ikin
Record Label: http://www.keshhhhhh.com/
Artist Website: http://unrecnow.com/blog/
Sound Samples & More Info: http://kesh.bandcamp.com/
More on Matt Jones: http://www.matthewjones76.com/Unrecognizable-Now-1
More on Marcus Fischer: http://mapmap.ch/index.php?/ongoing/unrecognizable-now/2/
Tracks: Track 01, Track 02, Track 03, Track 04 (mastered to have seamless transitions)
unrecognizable now is an occasional collaborative project of Matt Jones and Marcus Fischer. They consider their work to be “gradual layered music” based on live improvisation, found sounds, a range of instrumentation, and laptop computers. In 2004, Jones and Fischer scored various experimental films by Portland, Oregon filmmaker Rob Tyler. The relationship of sight and sound was further explored by Fischer, Jones and Tyler in the first of a series of events in 2006 entitled Vision+Hearing. Fischer and Jones released their debut CD in a cave or a coma in mid-2006 on the Pehr Label (with 10 tracks and a short film by Tyler). In 2008 a live performance of unrecnow was captured on self-released limited edition CD entitled for sleeping it off. Marcus Fischer is a well known solo and collaborative sound artist, to date releasing more than ten recordings on labels such as 12k, Tench and Flaming Pines. Matt Jones is a photographer, artist and sculptor. Both are based in Portland, Oregon.
While two rooms is a further exploration of the electro-acoustic improvisation realm, this project also seems to nod to earlier works like Brian Eno’s seminal Ambient 1 – Music For Airports (1978) and the somewhat darker Ambient 4 – On Land (1982). unrecognizable now including a diagram of how the music was recorded is not unlike diagrams included on the reverse of both of the noted albums by Eno. This release is not only the literal music recording, but an in-situ analysis of how and why it exists as it does. Not a “field recording” per se, rather an interior anti-studio recording, one where it is important to document not only the music, but the ambience of the setting as well as the process.
The microphone placement for two rooms (in the basement of a downtown Portland office building), with the varying distances from source material and varying sound decay rates gives a tangible sense of space. This treatment also counters a sense of claustrophobia that one might expect, being recorded in a concrete tomb, of sorts. It has a remarkably expansive sound (historical note: the vocals for the David Bowie song Heroes were recorded using a series of remotely placed mics similar to this). Since this is a live improvised recording, it includes all the sounds associated with movement and production of the work by the artists (walking, changing instruments, etc.); adding a sense of transparency and intimacy.
The progression of this work is similar to Fischer’s recent 16 minute live release EP At Frame. Non-representational yet (depending on the listener) it can evoke memories or visions. For me, parts are like being on a sailboat, anchored or just drifting in light wind, and at others like wandering through an old dark factory and wondering about the history of the place. two rooms has the pleasant effect of allowing the mind to wander while occasionally being nudged by recognition of a particular instrument in the soundstage.
unrecognizable now photo by barry hill
The feeling in Track 1 is largely one of comfort. This section is more guitar and string-based (with some bowing) with pedal effects. Track 2 transitions to more keyboards, and then strings blend and the sound is fuller and brighter. After a graceful lull, deep and gentle waves begin at about the midpoint. There is a slight recurrent low-register plucked-string theme and then one is cast adrift at about 9:00. Track 3 is more ethereal than the other parts, especially at the beginning. Guitars return again at 1:30 and are blended into the omnipresence. At about 3:00 the density increases and bowed strings return to then be consumed into a cavernous silence. Late in this track there are various percussive effects to announce the transition to Track 4. This section is plucked, strummed and somewhat simplified; in a sense returning to the beginning and later an overlay of a nearly hidden repetitive melody appears and vanishes as the piece closes.
two rooms will be released on July 16th and digital files will be available for download, but if you are so inclined for a physical release, there will soon be 300 CD copies available in numbered and letter-pressed recycled card sleeves and related artwork—reasonably-priced, for such a beautiful work of sound art. This is an intriguing exploration of sound and space (an interior “field recording” of sorts), evoking different images and experiences. Perhaps now, rather than incidental music to a short film, this piece could be the creative inspiration for a visual work of its own.
*Postscript on the forthcoming remixes – More information on these soon (to be released on July 28th), but the Simon Scott remix is taken from the second half of Track 2 (one of my favorite sections) and finishes with the sound of a vinyl runout groove. Given Simon Scott’s recent work on his Below Sea Level project, I can see why he would be attracted to what I think is the most marine-like section of this work. The Kane Ikin remix has mysterious origins (to be discovered by the listener) with added treatments and loops.
This is a solicited review, although I have the physical release on pre-order.
CD KESH017: 45:54 (Mastered by Taylor Deupree of 12k)
Record Label: http://www.keshhhhhh.com/
Available at: http://www.experimedia.net/
1) Swell; 2) Call; 3) Veil; 4) Chalk; 5) Drifter; 6) Strings + Interlude
*This posting has been updated upon further listening*
This is the first joint work created by Kane Ikin (one half of Solo Andata) and David Wenngren (Library Tapes). I have read that “Strangers” Ikin and Wenngren did not meet during the recording and that the structure and overall sonic feel of the album was not planned. This and other similar works mark a continuing re-emergence of instrumental music by a new generation of creative and technically inclined musicians that craft layered sound atmospheres (often referred to as “electro-acoustic minimalism”), yet the music is engaging and stimulating.
I have been an avid listener and collector of synthetic electronic music since the early 1970s, yet there is something to be admired about the production of fine instrumental music with an ambience and mystery of electronics, being created with cleverly disguised analog instruments (acoustic or amplified) as well as found, ambient, looped or processed sounds.
Historical context: While they abandoned their early legacy when they issued their boxed set “The Catalogue” in late 2009, Kraftwerk’s work started with a similar experimental spirit to “Strangers”, based on analog instrumental drones of guitars, flutes and rhythms of found percussion on pieces like “Kling Klang” from the 1972 album “Kraftwerk 2”.
Kling Klang Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50M7RLgipNc
Same with early works by Tangerine Dream and others, before they switched to early sequencers and then hefty modular synthesizers, like the Moog (or later more portable and somewhat less reliable EMS VCS3) as well as tape-based samplers like the Mellotron or Chamberlin. Early works by Evangelo Papathanasiou (Vangelis) were mostly created with organ, clavinet, woodwinds, piano and percussion processed with reverb, delay and other effects, as in “Creation du Monde” from the 1972 soundtrack to “L’Apocalypse des Animaux” by long time collaborator and filmmaker Frederic Rossif.
Creation du Monde: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0QQJfPi3ps
In “Strangers”, there is meandering warmth to the album, a peaceful sense of comfort and meditation with a tangible awareness of humanity and nature (an absence of the synthetic). Layers of guitar, bass, piano (deep soundboard), percussion (low register bells and gongs) and strings appear throughout. From the collaborators there is a joint sense of discovery and response as each layered track progresses. This method of joint remote authorship is risky, yet very intriguing and the results are quite successful.
The titles of each track do seem to symbolize the development of the sonic ideas. “Swell” is akin to Ikin’s gorgeous recent work “Contrail” with apparent glissando drifts of guitar and layered keyboard peregrinations. “Call” has the feel of time-shifted incantation with repeated musical phrases. The intensity of the “call” increases as it progresses. While there is a general feeling of the pastoral in this track, there are times where layered sounds mesh to a point of tension, later to be diffused to a calming resolution. “Veil” starts with a repeated tonal beacon and gradually it diffuses into a suspended wash of winds, harmonics and tonal percussives. “Chalk” is hypnotic and haunting with a sense of a distant faded memory returning. “Drifter” contains repeated sampled phrases that establish a building tension as the fabric of the piece intensifies. Washes of noise (almost like lashing waves in a storm) enter the piece until they subside (this piece, to me, does appear to be chopped a bit at the end). “Strings + Interlude” builds slowly, and pulses as layers and sounds are introduced. It has a feeling of darkness, yet it’s punctuated with sounds that introduce light and color into the soundscape. Then the strings disappear and the interlude is a peaceful and mysterious aftermath–this piece, along with “Chalk” and “Swell” are the most cinematic.
This video using “Chalk” will give a sense of what I mean…rather unusual historic footage:
Gone are the soulless interfaces of MIDI and sequenced boxes of beat, and with “Strangers” we are presented with a thoughtful, visual and distinctive journey into an ethereal realm of musical authenticity.