Monthly Archives: December 2009

Year End Review: Our Top 40 Records

Has the year gone by just like that? Time really flies when you’re having fun, especially this year when so much good music’s been produced and released. Although most year-end best-of lists have been published already, we’ve left it to the real end of the year to give you our scoop on what’s been hogging our stereos these 12 months. And while our posts through the year have been song-based, this list is decidedly record-based, with both full length and shorter ep’s included. With that, here’s 40 of our favorite records of 2009, presented in alphabetical order. From the way this year has turned out, we can’t wait already for what 2010 has to offer. Cheers, and as we always say, see you on the other side. - dan and brian. Continue reading

#230 amberhaze – 1994

1994 appears to be a milestone in the birth of post-rock, with the term coined by simon reynolds in his review of bark psychosis’ hex. that same year would see the release of tortoise’s debut self-titled album, arguably the launching pad for the band and its like-minded thrill jockey label mates in the development of that experimental post-rock sound. today, post-rock has become a term that’s become all too ubiquitous, and too often used as a convenient label for any instrumental rock music that employs that familiar loud-soft formula, whether guitar-effects based or electronically driven. singapore-based amberhaze, the solo project of giuliano gullotti, references these roots with little hesitation, yet creates music that’s surprisingly free from the expected confines of the genre. in the concisely titled “1994″, gullotti carves out a post-rock epic of sweeping atmospherics, explosive percussion and electronic suspense that engages both heart and mind, a resilient strategy that manages to stay fresh in 2009. - dan.

mp3: amberhaze – 1994

amberhaze’s latest album then we saw the stars again is out now on kittywu records. you may purchase the album directly from the band website, where gullotti writes an awesome feature series on the post-rock lover’s guide to classical music. highly recommended reading and listening!

#229 the airfields – home is always an imaginary place

you know it too, i think, that liminality of wakefulness. the questions that wash ashore the littoral zone and tumble away, their rhythm soothing you into another cycle of sleep. what time is it? where am i? KL? hougang? serangoon? the airfields are from canada, but they’d probably tell you it doesn’t really matter since home is always an imaginary place. over the drum machine’s detached nostalgia, lush’s wistful and world-weary voice sha la la las you back into that narrow in between consciousness. - b.

mp3: the airfields – home is always an imaginary place

the airfields released an album earlier this year titled up all night, available on humblebee records. get it!

#228 cat power & dirty delta blues – amazing grace

sometimes, the least religious interpretations of religion teach us the most about what faith means. the traditional christian hymn “amazing grace” has an amazing backstory of its own, written by the 18th century slave trader john newton whose life turned around after several near death experiences. newton’s expression of amazement, however, finds little resonance with the disenchanted world today that shrugs its shoulders at any form of institutionalized religion. it is in this regard that cat power‘s revision of the hymn does some work in restoring the meaning of amazing grace as not some abstract theological concept, but as a saving reality realized in all its fullness by “a wretch, just like me“. the thing about this version that brings me to tears is the way chan marshall inhabits the song and wrestles it in the first person, at times holding on so tightly to the freedom promised, and at others loosening her grip (“you know the rest“), but never ever losing sight of the respite for her own wretchedness, which she knows so well. have a grace-filled christmas, all ye wretches. - dan.

mp3: cat power & dirty delta blues – amazing grace

“amazing grace” is taken off the red hot compilation dark was the night released earlier this year. do support the organization’s efforts in raising awareness about AIDS by purchasing your own copy of the album.

#227 dirty projectors – stillness is the move

Dirty Projectors picks up where Talking Heads left off two decades ago in integrating the muscularity of rock with the liquidness of funk. It’s as if key Projector Dave Longstreth has taken to heart George Clinton’s advice, “Free your mind and your ass will follow”. The inquisitive spirit that pervades Bitte Orca is encapsulated in “Stillness is the Move”, where songcraft, arrangement, and production work together seamlessly. Electronic bass samples and acoustic drums join forces with double-tracked guitar, setting the scene for duelling diva vocals. Painting on the canvas of rock music, “Stillness is the Move” drips with African blues and RnB, recalling Ali Farka Touré’s guitar playing and Mariah Carey’s vocal acrobatics. Not since Radiohead’s Kid A has rock music been so consciously reconfigured. And it’s sooo motherfucking funky. - Song-Ming Ang.

mp3: dirty projectors – stillness is the move

Song-Ming Ang makes art about music: www.circadiansongs.com

#226 zee avi – first of the gang to die

i woke up this morning with my heart stolen away by zee avi‘s voice, with her acoustic rendition of “first of the gang to die”. while morrissey’s original wins you over instantly with its charm and his operatic delivery, zee’s version coaxes you affectionately but persuasively to love it by smoothening the song’s rough edges and rounding up its melody in a most endearing way. quite lovely indeed. - dan.

mp3: zee avi – first of the gang to die

zee avi’s self titled debut album is out now on monotone/brushfire.

music alliance pact – december 2009 issue

there’s always a sense of pride when we showcase the best of singapore music to the rest of the world through MAP, and all the more so when the spotlight is on a young new talent. this month, we’re really excited to feature our youngest selection yet: 16 year old weiwen seah, who goes by the name for this cycle. thanks as always to our local music ambassador brian koh! Continue reading

#225 felix – death to everyone but us

the last kranky release of the year, felix‘s you are the one i pick, sounds totally at home with the growing corpus of minimal ambient records the label has become so well known for. yet, the duo from nottingham offers something different, mainly in the recurring form of lucinda chua’s semi-autobiographical streams of consciousness. “knock down the walls, i’m coming home“, chua singspeaks in the first line of “death to everyone but us”, offering us immediate access to her thoughts, musings, rants and polemics, and providing the song with its many fragments of loose narratives. her piano flourishes occasionally but demands less attention, especially compared to the strings and guitars of chris summerlin which really takes control in the second half of the song before tapering off. as the opening track of the album, “death to everyone but us” is bold and almost brutal in its execution, and as the title suggests, serves as a rather direct statement of intent for something the label itself terms “delicate and spare chamber pop”. - dan.

mp3: felix – death to everyone but us

you are the one i pick is now out on kranky.

#224 ólafur arnalds – raein

classical music may be considered difficult, or even stifling because of how much you apparently need to know before understanding, save appreciating it. in light of this, icelandic musician ólafur arnalds (if his name sounds familiar, see our post last week on his cousin ólöf) sees his role as bringing classical music to those who ordinarily wouldn’t listen to it, choosing to do so through a project he simply titled found songs, consisting of songs derived from several lost and found musical ideas and sketches. earlier this year, over the course of a week, he released a song every day for download, and invited listeners to send in their own artistic responses to it, thus furthering the democratization of his work as a collaborative effort. the music itself, when presented in bite-sized portions, is wonderfully light, encouraging the listener to freely interpret what has clearly been written and recorded in the freest way, proving that sometimes its the empty signifiers that may be the fullest ones as well. - dan.

mp3: ólafur arnalds – raein

you can check out found songs on the erased tapes website. the label has also just released ólafur’s latest album, dyad 1909, so do be sure to take a look at that too!

#223 javelin – radio

at their shows, javelin employ the use of boombaatas – large colorful boombox totems – and broadcast their signal through an f.m. channel that’s played out through their audience’s self-brought boomboxes. in this simplified update of the flaming lips’ boombox (and earlier parking lot) experiments, the duo have nicely recontextualized the role of radio in today’s postmodern world. their music, too, involves quite a fair bit of recontextualization as well, with a cut-and-paste ethic that’s not far off from the avalanches, piecing together found sounds and very danceable beats, shuffling frantically from one idea to the next. while their music is best heard as a whole, it’s also extremely rewarding to see them focus their attention on creating great sounding pop tracks like “vibrationz” from their earlier released jamz n jemz mixtape, as well as my choice for today’s post: taken from their debut 12″ on thrill jockey, the very aptly named “radio” is a dated celebration of radio cheekily packaged in the synth-pop grooves and beats of its own milieu, a move that stunningly frees it to be absolutely anything it wants to be. - dan.

mp3: javelin – radio

the javelin 12″ is now sold out, but you can still buy a digital copy from the thrill jockey store. look out for another 12″ earlier next year followed by a debut lp on luaka bop.