As popular culture becomes necessarily strident, needing maximum celebrity fuselage to power through an increasing limited number of mass outlets, my choices for last year’s sonic transcendence tended toward the homemade and insular, cobbled together through either the powerful accumulation of incremental moments or an insistence through the conviction of repetition. Then again, it could just be that I don’t want to hear any sounds that force me from my bed.
Willis Earl Beal: Acousmatic Sorcery (XL)
His street musician schtick (and other aspects) whiffed of pretence, but he seems an honest autodidact who manages to come off arty without attempting hip. Most would coast on a voice that powerfully churchy; on record it’s minimalized in favour of freak-folk and avant turns. That’s one sort of take on the 1960s, but Adele is another and he shares her label, so it can’t possibly last.
Actress: R.I.P. (Honest Jon’s)
A huge leap from 2010’s Splazsch, the album’s title could be an admission of the blood on the dancefloor wrought by the fight over EDM buck$, a battle sidestepped entirely by an ambient pop catchiness even when the beats slip into stomp. If this is techno’s genuflecting toward dubstep’s increasing abstraction, let the bromance continue.
Leslie Winer: &c (The Tapeworm)
A semi-retrospective from a fashion model best known as one of the few women William S. Burroughs acted pleasant toward. But then, with her deadpan poetic utterances, she was beatnik through-and-through. What impresses is how the Massive Attack-steered the turn-of-the-1990s production genuflects toward the futurist feel of a decade previous, apt as the early 1990s were a cultural limbo. One whose influence dominates this list.
Mark van Hoen: The Revenant Diary (Mego)
Like the Winer album, another rework/remodel based on the old, though van Hoen’s on the make while Winer models, with the former and future Seefeel leader showing himself to be shoegaze even in the days before the poppies that would ruin My Bloody Valentine were planted. Not that this record has anything to do with either guitars or the cooperation needed for a band to function.
Cooly G: Playin’ Me (Hyperdub)
Another record featuring metaphoric overlap with Winer (emotional and sonic, as well). With “darkness” an aesthetic colour in electronic music as much as an emotional tincture, Cooly G.’s lo-fi simplicity manages to effect a pervasive humanistic melancholy that accumulates into the most optimistic pick on my list. Be thankful that this now-mainstay of garage and funky reflects neither.
Sensations’ Fix: Music is Painting in the Air (1974-1977) (RVNG)
Bridging the distance between Ash Ra Tempel and Lou Reed, Florence’s Franco Falsini wasn’t prog enough for the Italian Seventies or ambient enough for the early Virgin Records crowd. Actually, he was both at times (he clocked new wave, too) and that his music is just now getting an airing for the U.S./U.K. headz says less about its quality, more about an Americana/Anglophilia that permeates the music scene (in Germany, as well), Al Walser excepted.
Jonas Munk: Pan (Impetus/El Paraiso)
Another follower of the Manuel Göttsching echoplex complex, this time from the current generation, the Kosmiche drift of the Danish guitarist Munk would have fit in perfectly with the pre-E2 E4 Zodiak Free Arts Lab Berlin space scene. Making Pan a more authentic tribute than the Rolling Stones playing Muddy Waters. Or Cooly G covering Coldplay.
Sun Araw: The Inner Treaty (Drag City)
And then, sometimes the drugs take you. If one could work the inside of a mixer the way a pianist sometimes plucks the strings of his instrument, this is what dub would sound like.
Micachu + the Shapes: Never (Beggar’s Banquet)
As insistently sampledelic as it is nondescript about the process, she makes a steel guitar bite go a long way, and I wonder if this isn’t a secret classic rock album, what with the primacy of the singer’s anxiety and the inverted beach Boys-isms of “Job Interview”. Then again, the song is called “Job Interview”.
Tim Hecker + Daniel Lopatin: Instrumental Tourist (Cooperative)
Two nondescript titans of ambient beauty mixed with an almost pointless intellectual rigour team up; that it works is a credit to their ability to submerge the sort of egos that usually scuttles collaborations between political types. Political? Choose between your “Racist Drone” and your “Whole Earth Tascam”. I’ll assume that the latter, like the music industry itself, is long out of warranty.