A List Too Small – My Favorites of 2012
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)[vimeo http://vimeo.com/46499688]
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/
Machinefabriek & Celer: http://machinefabriek.bandcamp.com/ & http://www.thesingularwe.org/fs/
Flaming Pines: http://flamingpines.com/
Kane Ikin – Sublunar
12k1071 CD – Time: 53:33
Artist’s Website: http://www.kaneikin.com Record Label Website: http://www.12k.com
Tracks: 1) Europa; 2) Slow Waves; 3) In The Arc; 4) Ebbing; 5) Rhea; 6) Titan; 7) Sleep Spindle; 8) An Infinite Moment; 9) The Violent Silence; 10) Black Sands; 11) Lo; 12) Prometheus’ Tail; 13) Oberon; 14) Compression Waves; 15) In The Shadow Of The Vanishing Night; 16) Hyperion;
I don’t know exactly on what plane Kane Ikin exists, but I can tell you that I’d like to get there. There is a sense of deep mystery, the fleeting ethereal and a curious otherness in his musical travels. I’ll gladly get on his spaceship, anytime.
Kane Ikin is one half of Solo Andata (along with Paul Fiocco, both being from Australia), and he has also collaborated with other artists including David Wenngren (aka Library Tapes) on their February 2012 album Strangers (KESH017). I first encountered Solo Andata’s work in the 2009 self-titled 12k release.
Earlier this year, Ikin gave us a taster EP entitled Contrail (clear vinyl 7”, and a separate download of four tracks), and the title track alone was worth the price of the entire EP, not to mention the marvelous job that 12k did with the packaging. Also, of note, Sublunar is packaged in 12k’s new (no plastic, and I assume, recycled cardboard) sleeve design.
Ikin’s music is decidedly lo-fi in production (tape loops, altered field recordings, sampling, warped instrumental recordings), but the quality and care that he takes in combining tangible instrumentation with highly manipulated sounds gives the end result an indescribable yet comforting quality. His solo work also tends (so far) to focus on shorter format recordings (the longest track Oberon on Sublunar is 4:51). Also, while I consider his work to be highly original in form and sound; there are occasional (intentional?) references to works of others. At the risk of driving my readers bonkers, I’ll again reference Kraftwerk and their track Kling Klang from the 1972 album Kraftwerk 2, which came to mind when I first heard the gongs and bells in track (6) Titan.
Sublunar is a series of short journeys, just enough time to experience the sense of place Ikin is depicting, but not so long that one feels the urge to get to the next destination too quickly. I’m going to resist the temptation to describe each track (there’s a full single track sound file for Europa and an Experimedia sampler of excerpts from the entire album), because I think that might diminish a sense of self-exploration for the listener. Some tracks meander with little guidance from a recognizable beat, whereas others have highly treated percussion with extended decay. I especially like how Kane treats the sound of strings in the mix; he uses the entirety of an acoustic guitar’s resonance. Sublunar is a potent musical experience, and I hope Kane Ikin continues his voyages of experimentation, because I’m completely hooked.
Sublunar‘s Teaser Video
Experimedia’s Sampler of the Album
Library Tapes – Sun peeking through
CD Time: 29:11 #auecd006
Website and available from: http://librarytapes.com/
Julia Kent – Cello (3, 4, 8 & 9), Sarah Kemp – Violin (2 & 6), Danny Norbury – Cello (7), David Wenngren – Piano
Tracks: 1) Variation II, 2) Parlour (Variation I), 3) Found, 4) Parlour (Variation III), 5) We won’t need you anymore, 6) End of the summer, 7) Lost, 8) Sun peeking through, 9) Parlour (Variation II), 10) Variation I
Music takes me places, always has. Sometimes there is emotion, a memory or colors, but it is always spatial. Although a relative newcomer to some artists, it is not that I am unfamiliar with David Wenngren’s work, but as for Library Tapes I have some catching-up to do. A while back I reviewed his hypnotic album with Kane Ikin entitled Strangers, and I have both albums Our House Is On The Wall (as the moniker of Murralin Lane with Ylva Wiklund), and The Meridians of Longitude and Parallels of Latitude, his collaboration with Christopher Bissonnette. All are different explorations of sound and place, but Sun peeking through seems more personal. Wenngren’s piano is deftly blended with a spare ensemble of strings.
Something a bit different this time; I won’t attempt to describe where Wenngren is taking me, but I will show you where I have been. These are often places I don’t want to leave once I am there (even if melancholy is involved).
1) Variation II
2) Parlour (Variation I)
4) Parlour (Variation III)
5) We won’t need you anymore
6) End of the summer
8) Sun peeking through
9) Parlour (Variation II)
10) Variation I
The title track (to me) is beautiful, almost beyond words—a deeply reflective meditation. David Wenngren as Library Tapes has assembled a collection of poignant vignettes, and a treasured diary of sound memories.
And now, off to explore more of his previous recordings.
All photos (except album cover) are by wajobu.
unrecognizable now – two rooms
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.
Kane Ikin + David Wenngren – Strangers
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.
Kane Ikin – Contrail EP
Vinyl (7″ Clear) : A: Contrail B: Synthetic Setting Digital: C: Sailing D: Short Wave Fade (all 4 tracks MP3 d/l) Total time all 4 tracks: 21.5 minutes
This EP recording is a marvelous walking companion. Some pieces being better suited for the woods and the others for the exploration an old vacant factory. Kane Ikin is Melbourne, Australia-based and also one half of Solo Andata (this is KI’s first solo release outside of SA). The pieces are mysterious, hypnotic and transfer the listener to another realm. The recording is analog, tape-based and sounds vary from found, looped and sampled to plucked and percussive. There is an ethereal sense of a soft glare shimmering as sounds appear and dissolve. If one is fortunate enough to obtain a limited edition vinyl copy, it’s a real treat to see the care with which the 12K label takes in support of their artists.
When the EP arrived, I have to admit I was not sure at what speed to set my turntable. I inquired and the zen-like response from 12K made me laugh…but I had to ask, given a recent mistake I had made with another 12″ recording that I assumed was 33-1/3 RPM, but turned out to be a 45 RPM. THAT particular recording turned out to sound great either way, but it made better sense to my ears at the intended speed.
A promotional video for the EP: