Here’s a quick review of the year so far. We’ve each chosen our two favourite songs of the first half of 2013, and they’re presented here in no particular order.
The Knife – A Tooth For An Eye
A wordly musical knowledge, and a lifetime of anger, pleasure and rhythmic principles condensed into an exciting, lean, and elegant 4:35. – Bernholz
Colin Stetson – To See More Light
Like Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’, it starts off with a sinister, patient patter of gradual, psycholgically affecting horror, and becomes something grander and more sublime. A slow reveal, the raw, arpeggiating sax seeps into the subconsious unravelling a deep, hypnotising complexity. – Bernholz
Anna Meredith – Orlok
Anna Meredith’s last EP, Black Prince Fury, was one of my favourite releases of 2012. Anna is a self-deprecating but fiercely talented composer, with a brilliant sense of humour. ‘Orlok’, from her new (forthcoming) EP Jet Black Raider (Moshi Moshi) continues her series of playful, 8-bit cinemascapes. – Gazelle Twin
Sharaya J – Banji
I caught wind of Sharaya’s debut via Kode9 who shared it on twitter saying ‘so good’… which it is. Surprised it’s not been such a hit. – Gazelle Twin
His Electro Blue Voice – Kidult
Italy’s His Electro Blue Voice open the recent Sub Pop 1000 compilation with a glorious wave of guitar panic. I can’t wait for their debut album coming soon on the same label. – Great Pagans
Mykki Blanco – Wavvy
Only amplified by the incredible video, Mykki Blanco’s gender-straddling hip hop hooked me with it’s oppressive atmosphere and jumpy rhythms. – Great Pagans
Joey Anderson – Press Play
Joey’s already released a lot of interesting, abstract club music this year. This is a good example of his unsettling and weirdly compelling style, and it also has the most beautiful piano line that I’ve heard so far this year. – Acquaintance
Dark Sky – In Brackets
I just love everything about this. The musicality of it, the warm enveloping chords, the rattling percussion, the unshowy production, and the effortless transitions between rhythms. Definitely a keeper. – Acquaintance
‘Masculinity is a wonderful thing’ is a dense, sculptural clutter of gauze-thin cut up samples, loops and embellished found sounds. It’s an intense, and incredibly direct listen. Louis Johnstone seems resolutely artless and at the same time all the more an artist for it. He would no doubt hate a sentence like that. I just can’t think of a better way to describe the incredible way his collages make all formal music ideas seem worthless whilst you become lost in his world.
Sometimes it’s too easy to get stuck in a rut, talking about things which reference the past. In those moments of retromania, it’s simple to forget how quickly ideas and tastes accelerate today when compared with say, 100, or even 50 years ago. I mean this culturally and sociologically. When sounds that were of a very particular taste from 20 or maybe 30 years ago, then disappear into silicone heaven following an untimely cultural death, become appropriated into a new context today, does it matter if we can’t remember what those sounds and feelings were the first time around? In this way, is it right to assume people of a certain age have no right to declare their disdain for recently deceased political figures, regardless of their own current gross economic situation?
Nostalgia is not an accurate reason for a love or hate relationship with particular sounds and aesthetics. What it says about today, and tomorrow is important. What it said yesterday may go some way in telling us where it came from, but not why that matters now. By developing a new language of their own for the future, these precognitive dreamers are shaping a musical landscape that owes nothing to the past but its own optimistic design of the future.
Justin Walter is a scientist of sorts. His new album ‘Lullabies and nightmares’ stretches the sound of this instrument, to the most beautiful conclusions. Experiments in sound that have been dissected into ambient fragments and soldered back together again.
I’m listening to the longest album ever made. Well, that’s how it’s described by Terre Thaemlitz, the artist who pieced together 32 hours’ worth of music and released it under the name Soulnessless earlier this year. However, I doubt that it’s the longest anything ever made, considering the current obsession with breaking boundaries in art. And In fact, it’s not really an album at all, but rather a quite extraordinary multimedia artwork… but before we get into that, I’ll briefly explain the simple facts.
Soulnessless consists of five tracks, called ‘cantos’ by Thaemlitz. The first four last about an hour and 20 minutes in total. The fifth canto is the biggie: it will happily consume 30 hours of your aural life without blinking. What does it sound like? Cantos 1-4 are electro-acoustic ambient pieces with piano and field recordings, while Canto 5 is a minimalist solo piano piece: nothing but long sustained chords, over and over again. For 30 hours.
The scale of this thing raises a lot of technical questions. How was it made? Apparently Thaemlitz just sat in front of a piano for 4-6 hour sessions and played the chords, then edited the recordings together. How is it distributed and listened to? It comes on a 16GB SD card, which you plug into your computer. You’re advised to copy all the files onto your hard drive before attempting to hit play, and you’re warned that Thaemlitz will not send you another SD card if you accidentally wipe it, so be careful! And it’s not just audio files that you have deal with: there are lots of video files and PDFs on there too.
I imagine this will be quite off-putting for a lot of people. As listeners we’re more concerned than ever with the presentation of music as a cultural artefact; consider the on-going fetishization of vinyl, for example. We want music to be a finely-crafted aesthetic experience. In contrast with this, preparing to listen to Soulnessless feels a bit like installing a new operating system.
But make it past the set-up stage and you’ll be rewarded with something quite remarkable. It turns out that what Thaemlitz has really made is a kind of video art. Cantos 1-4 appear in full on the soundtrack, the essays in those PDFs form the narrative, and the visual content was all produced by Terre as well. These are not music videos in any normal sense, they’re highly personal, thematically-related mini documentaries/film essays about religion, gender, technology and power.
That might sound dry, and it’s true that Thaemlitz is not afraid to be academic, but there is a conviction behind all this that is quite compelling. ‘I hate religion. I hate all religions. Without exception. Yours too… I have never encountered a form of spirituality that did not involve the reification of ignorance.’ That’s a fairly unequivocal way to start, but it’s not all straight up God-bashing. It quickly becomes apparent that Thaemlitz has thought very carefully about the topics he discusses, and some of them have been affecting him since childhood.
I think it’s fair to say that the music and imagery are secondary to the ideas being presented explicitly in the text, but they are certainly evocative and unusual, propelling Soulnessless beyond video essay into a form of multimedia art. I’m not going to attempt a critical analysis of Thaemlitz’s work, but I imagine that lots of other people will want to: it will be useful for anyone studying radical ideas of (trans)gender within Catholicism; illegal immigration of Filipina(o)s in Japan; modern ghost stories; the electronic audio equipment used in convents; the ‘militarization of U.S. Catholic Schools as Army and Navy training grounds’.
In part two of this article I’ll discuss Canto 5: Meditation on Wage Labor and the Death of the Album, aka The Thirty-Hour Piano Solo that Crashed Your iTunes.