Alright, so let’s get real: 2017 was grim stuff. But things are still okay on the whole. Every year is full of new opportunity and experience for all of us, and every year we all have so much to share. I got a new job and ended up checking out from maintaining this blog for most of the year. So, in a sense, I may have let my readers down. However, I remained an active listener for the entire year; hopefully this reflects in this post I have made to share my top 16 releases of the year as well as the rest of my listening log for new sounds in 2017. New Sakamoto and John Maus alone probably made my year as a music fan. But then, there are other releases that got under my skin (and stayed put) from lesser-known artists like Bus Gas, Aria Rostami, Neglect…anyway, without too much more rambling on, here they are:
- Micromelancolié- Anatomy of Modern Paintings [Audio.Visuals.Atmosphere.]
- Noveller- A Pink Sunset for No One [Fire Records]
- Bus Gas- Live On Leave Us [Spring Break Tapes]
- Janek Schaefer- Glitter in my Tears [Room 40]
- Federico Durand- La Niña Junco [12k]
- Ryuichi Sakamoto- async [Milan]
- Kate Carr- From a Wind Turbine to Vultures (And Back) [Flaming Pines]
- Neglect- Day of Purification I [Self-Released]
- William Basinski- A Shadow in Time [Temporary Residence Limited]
- John Maus- Screen Memories [Ribbon Music]
- Aria Rostami- Numb Years [Intimate Inanimate]
- murkok- So Little Music [Shimmering Moods]
- Evergreen Avenue- Sky Sailing [ACR]
- How to Cure Our Soul- Mare [Sequel]
- Jessop&co.- A Perfect Example of Dislodging [Czaszka Rec.]
- Canadensis- Chance [Anima Recordings]
And the rest…
My what now seems to be overly obsessive choice in previous years to make an arbitrary order out of 50+ other releases went out the window this year. I hope that one or more of these releases finds you well. I know I missed some stuff that I will catch up on in due time, particularly with regard to releases from well-known artists who are already spoken-for. Like any other year, 2017 gave me a lot to sort through, both from old standbys and emerging artists; just look at the crazy array of achingly gorgeous ambient/drone works including staples like Growing, The Fun Years, Will Long (Celer), and Golden Retriever as well as more obscure gems like Mark Tempelton’s textural Gentle Heart and Erik Kramer’s mysterious, American fingerstyle-influenced A House, Floating in the Middle of a Lake. Enjoy. And happy new year!
Valanx- Radiant Orbs of Abzu
Wasting Seasons- Things Go Away
My Top Five Films of 2017
Another list? People grumble about the saturation of lists in internet culture. I get that; scrolling through one too many and feeling overwhelmed can wig me out a little, too. Ultimately, though, I get pleasure out of seeing a whole of disparate information laid out in order. Knowing that someone cared enough to include something in a list of favorites is often reason enough to seek that thing out. And so I leave you with another, much shorter ordered list; here are my five favorite films of the year…the first one in particular I felt I had to name-check somewhere, as it is another great, compassionate character study by one of my favorite directors (technically from 2016, but given its widest release in the US in 2017). Give any one of these upwards of an hour and a half of your time when you can…they’re awesome!
- After the Storm dir. Hirokazu Kore-Eda
- Columbus dir. Kogonada
- Paterson dir. Jim Jarmusch
- Good Time dir. Benny & Josh Safdie
- Lady Bird dir. Greta Gerwig
Elrond are PDX underground veterans Vern Avola (EMS) and Ian Gorman Weiland (one-half of Antecessor) and All Of Them But Us is this volatile, hypnotic electronic music project’s debut full-length, courtesy of David Fylstra’s ANIMA Recordings. The release marks an important chapter in ANIMA’s eclectic development– a leftfield electronic ripper amid more rock-oriented projects and bands.
Often improvising unique live sets and pushing their analog synthesizers to the brink with a style that mixes elements of noise with Berlin school and techno, Elrond are a fair league away from anything resembling nostalgic revivalism. The tracks that comprise All Of Them But Us show that fusion of extremes in their whole gamut to jaw-dropping effect, from the pounding, acidic pulse of “Hard Start” to the evolving soundscape of “Ghost Ship”, named to eulogize the tragic Oakland house fire that claimed dozens of lives. A powerhouse like the opener “Pariah’s Guild” (as good a name as any for what an experimental music community truly is) is one part grit, two parts suspended animation. It’s a refreshing reminder of what electronic music can be, and makes me proud to call Portland a second home. Let them be your guides through this murky and perilous night.
For my Portland readers, you can get your hands on a copy of the All Of Them But Us tapetonight at 8 at The Know for the release party/show, which will feature Elrond, The Body, Magisterial, and System Dwarves (collaboration between System Lords and Subdwarf). Come on out!
Another great one from Amsterdam’s Shimmering Moods, who deserve major cred for putting out øjeRum’s Naar Vi Vaagner in April, this time from the Macedonian Post Global Trio (Dimitar Dodovski helming an array of electronics, Toni Dimitrov gathering field-recordings as well as taking the cover photo, Martin Georgievski on guitar and synth): the ethno-ambience of Minus Seven. Nothing too serious going on here, just four sprawling helpings of some fourth-world music cross-pollinating electronica with exotica and calming field-recordings– pure bliss, but with a lightness to it. Toni Dimitrov’s oblique recordings of nature and everyday hubbub give a relaxing backdrop to the story-travelogue. Playful stabs from synth and swirling dives and re-surfaces in the mix (check “Part II”, in particular) may remind you a bit of dub and the steady pulse of techno. But knowing these guys, this thing was inspired by piles upon piles of ambient and electronic obscurities spanning the globe to the point where there’s no origin that stands out but the heart. Good stuff; make good and dive right in.
Conjoining Currents: Ethno-Ambient, Electronica, Field-Recording, Ambient Techno,
Label: Shimmering Moods
nordBeck is sound artist and musician Martin Nordbeck; his latest tape, a collection of processed field-recordings, Blenterop 1491, is not just an intriguing release in and of itself, but an excellent first issue for Purlieu Recordings, a new imprint from Swedish musician Linus Schrab (one-half of Thet Liturgiske Owäsendet, an ambient project with Johan Fotmeijer that has great new material out on Low Point, Forwind, and Funeral Fog). Blenterop 1491 is accompanied by the digital self-release Blentarp 2017, both recorded in the Swedish countryside of Blentarp in April.
Martin Nordbeck divides his time between electronica and abstracted experimental-type sounds, and nordBeck is intended as the outlet for the latter. These Blentarp recordings are cold and reticent: a set of numbered tracks, nearly all of them suffused by an ominous atmosphere of heavily-treated aural crashing-around-in-the-dark– an unrelenting haze. For nordBeck, assembling the finished works meant to break sounds apart, twist them around, and put them back together into something he could use to comment on his memory and experience of different places. In this obscured, unsettled space, nordBeck’s vision, so obviously painstakingly-edited to create something tactile and layered, starts to appear as beautifully alien as Alan Lamb’s Night Passage.
Conjoining Currents: Sound Art, Field-Recording
Label: Purlieu Recordings
One of April’s finest ambient electronic releases was the latest from Pausal (Alex Smalley and Simon Bainton, a UK-based audio/visual duo): the epic, shimmering Avifaunal, off Moscow’s justly-celebrated Dronarivm. While Pausal have previously been known best for the ever-so-delicate, endlessly-planing pads of ambient drone releases like Lapses, Avifaunal is heavier and headier, often approaching the uneasy grandeur of dark ambient outfits like Troum, Zoviet France, and Yen Pox. The impetus for the release was an invitation to perform at a benefit for Macmillan Cancer Support held in Pembrokeshire, Wales by Touched Music in 2015; from there, this very-much exploratory album that plays with stronger volumes and a more dynamic overall feel than Pausal’s earlier collections was able to bloom. The three tenebrous, shifting “Murmuration” tracks from the opening make a fine centerpiece to this album of dramatic, airborne electronic soundscapes. Check, too, “Spiral”‘s austere, psychedelic sense of mystery. A solid release from a consistently engaging drone/ambient project; give it a quiet evening of your time and take to the skies.
Conjoining Currents: Dark ambient, Drone, Kosmische
Roarke Menzies is a New York-based composer and sound artist whose works intermix the mechanics of the body and analog and digital technology in minimalist electro-acoustic soundscapes. I delved deep into 2016’s Corporeal, and so I was excited to take a gander at his new collection Breath’s Length, released on cassette for his own label Coup de Glotte. The genesis of Breath’s Length was from an idea posited by composer Steve Reich to make the length of a human breath the “shortest measure of musical duration”; for Breath’s Length, Menzies uses his own voice and breath as the main sources for his oneiric, textural sound treatments for the four pieces herein.
When you take the time to take in Menzies’ music, you hear how he melds hardware/software with the organic close enough to make a tenuous dance. To talk about music technology is to talk about how human ability limited by breath, flesh, and bone can be amplified and sculpted into fantastic forms with the help of machines. On Breath’s Length, Menzies situates planing loops alongside his unadorned voice to make that tension clear, and perhaps to do the capabilities of audio technology justice by limiting how much he relies on it. With one foot in that of audio-installation stasis and another in older realms that often sound like sacred music, he creates a sense of wonder for a numbed world. The truly imaginative way that Menzies intermixes old feelings with modern technologies comes across best in “Elegy”, for which he utilized an autotune pedal, applying his gliding vocal drones to an electronic signal. It’s a sound for quiet rooms with towering ceilings, reassuring and pregnant with longing all at once. A quietly excellent release from a master.
As I mentioned in my post for Samson, you can catch the final leg of Roarke’s tour with Samson tonight at Beacon Sound at 8 pm tonight, tomorrow in Seattle at Wayward Music’s Chapel Performance Space at 8 pm (with Norm Chambers, aka Panabrite), and on Saturday in Vancouver, BC at Quiet City at 8 pm.
Bleach for the Stars is a dark ambient project of UK artist Benjamin Powers and The Time for Silver Flowers is his first release for Arne Weinberg’s Cromlech Records. It’s a strange, brackish mixture of wildly-panning, endlessly echoing howls, tribal beats, and static from an alien world of the psychical. An oppressive sense of dread, a percussive, industrial harshness…in crafting this one Powers built something of an Eraserhead-esque ruined urban landscape cast in shadow from the ground up. Particularly haunting are the hideously-distorted vocals that rip through the mix on a track like “The Wild Vine”, sounding more like unreal beasts than anything human. Weinberg made a sharp curatorial choice here, for sure…give it a look.
Conjoining Currents: Dark ambient, Tribal Ambient, Industrial, Noise
Label: Cromlech Records
Samson Stilwell is a poet and sound artist based in Portland, OR whom you may have previously caught on Freeform Portland hosting the Soundspace radio series with Ben Glas. He used to be in an ambient/experimental group called Opals, and now, in 2017, he’s put out Signals, his vinyl/digital commercial debut for Sounds et al.
Like his quizzical, elliptical poems, rich in their evocation of memory, Samson’s pieces are defined by their strong sensory details, whether they be the whispering loops that send nervous shivers through “Raphael, Esther”‘s drone or the field-recording of a silent walk in “Autumn Sliver”. For Signals Samson delves through an eclectic slew of atmospheres, some glitchy and bordering on noise, some more in the vein of serene drone, assembling a familiar whole still without hinting at any particular focus or high-concept. As in Tessa Bolsover’s photography for the release, there is a sensitive, organic vibe to it all; there need not be any specific meaning to search for in any of these pieces, other than to see them as concise snapshots of the beauty of being alive. You take in the skillfully-layered composition of tactile electro-acoustic sound-manipulation/arrangement, and you end up hungry for more– the albums clocks in at just over twenty-minutes. One to take in carefully, and most certainly the first in more great stuff to come.
You can catch the final leg of Samson’s west coast tour with Roarke Menzies in Portland at Beacon Sound at 8 pm tonight, tomorrow in Seattle at Wayward Music’s Chapel Performance Space at 8 pm (with Norm Chambers, aka Panabrite), and on Saturday in Vancouver, BC at Quiet City at 8 pm.
David Fyans is a sound artist from Scotland with a seriously underrated catalogue of experimental electronic music with a droney, textural slant. January’s Time in Bronze, a long-form generative piece made with a modular synth system ought to be among the must-listens of the year for ambient and experimental heads, but equally impressive and perhaps more worthy of attention in this moment is his first CD release for Amsterdam’s always reliable Moving Furniture Records, Trübhand.
“Trübhand”, a word that translates to mean “clouded/obscured hand” has, as the author notes, multiple connotations that relate to this collection in different ways. The saying “the one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing” comes to mind. One intuitive interpretation that arises from it is the obscured nature of the hands’ activity in the course of recording music and sound art such as this. Subtle modulations furrow an evolving soundscape out of a drone, and if the listener is not present for a live performance, it might not even occur to them that what they are listening to is not exactly an instrument being played per se. Two pieces comprise the album: “(Left Hand)”, “(Right Hand)”.
In any case, the album was inspired by a period of exile in Northern Germany; the depression of being away from home was worsened by the flatness and blandness of the landscape. Fyans would, at night, imagine mountains and valleys taking shape in it. These two pieces mirror Fyans’ nighttime flight of imagination– in both “(Left Hand)” and “(Right Hand)”, a steady drone is transformed through minute changes and sheer duration. “(Left Hand)” mines celestial calm, a slow flyby over rolling waves of grass, while “(Right Hand)” is a slow-burning dark ambient monster that scales jagged peaks.
Fantastic dronescaping from a master– can’t recommend it highly enough.
The name alone of The Way Home, the new full-length from Portland-based post-rock group Long Hallways contains multitudes. For Americans like myself, home has definitely been looking better. Even the city I call a second home is changing rapidly– easy-going old timers are getting edged out by hip new money, quality live music bills by dance nights and the hype-train mentality. Fingers are pointing, but at the end of the day the culprit is something at the core of our American ennui: if it’s different, it’s bad, the end. This struggle springs to mind intuitively when I listen to this surging, emotive, yet textural and thoughtfully-composed album from the Hallways (their first to be put out on vinyl), one of the most eclectic post-rock bands active these days. If you’re looking for an example of some evidence that Portland still puts out a fair amount of quality exploratory music, look no further…
The quiet-loud dynamic of third-wave post-rock can grip your heart with the best of them, provided the right musicians are at the helm. Daniel Staton’s scorching guitar tone and the thundering pulse of Nicholas Stott and Joseph Chamberlain’s rhythm section give “March of Knives” and “A Butterfly on the Battlefield” the epic feel of a race against time. But it’s Dayna Sanders’ slow-motion flourishes on keyboard and Elise Wong’s violin and cello that truly give it another dimension and hint at the unspoken story within– “Elegy Too Many” and “Crystal Forest” make that pretty clear. Josh Burd’s artwork, a misfit with bloodshot eyes rooted in place like a rickety house on a quiet street, fits the vibe perfectly.
For Portland readers: if you are curious to hear these songs live, you will want to be in attendance tonight at the Tonic Lounge at 8 pm for the 2017 NW Post-Rock Collective Showcase. Long Hallways will be joined by Volcanic Pinnacles, Human Ottoman, Seattle’s You May Die In The Desert, and A Collective Subconscious. It’s the album release party for The Way Home, too! Hope you can make it.