It’s February already, so get on with it, you say? Not before a second take …
I don’t know where to start, really. I tried writing my year-end reflection some time back, but was never quite satisfied with how it just failed to capture everything I wanted to say. On this second take, I’ve decided to abandon that ambition and opt for something a little bit more realistic, and hopefully, meaningful – releases last year that have, in some way or another, compelled me to relook their back catalogue or the discographies of others. For me, that sums up what good music should be about, that which leads you to revisit your past loves and to discover new ones.
One of the first albums to grab my attention last year was Colin Stetson’s New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, released on my favorite Constellation Records. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and no wonder since Stetson has through the years been more (un)known as a sessionist for Tom Waits, David Byrne, Arcade Fire, and most recently, Bon Iver. On Judges, he demonstrates his strength as a solo musician in his own right, with spontaneity and vocal expressiveness driving his already-signature deep baritone sound which you’ll find in generous doses (see “Minnesota, WI” for example) in Bon Iver‘s self-titled album, also released last year. In a way it was nothing I had heard before, but now I can’t help but keep my ears open to how he makes his mark in so much of the music I love.
Listening to Liturgy‘s Aesthetica was quite a different experience. I’m not usually into the genre, but this is surely an album that sounds everything and nothing like metal, and that perverse paradox has kept me fixated. Its brutal intensity, in particular, prompted me to relisten my copy of Mean Man’s Dream by the similarly metal-not-metal band Gore. That 1987 album, re-released a few years ago by FSS (Kranky founder Bruce Adam’s new label), is an enthralling treatise into pure rock aggression, one that burns deep. I’ve also dug up my old 80s Swans records, perhaps subconsciously shaped by the uncanny semblances of their cover art, but perhaps more significantly for their industrial post-punk sound, that majestic swamp that remains not just influential but just as awkwardly confrontational as it must have been in its day.
More than any other genre, I’ve really been into the dub/techno/psychadelia revival that’s made quite a distinctive mark on the shape of music last year, something that’s breathed an organic soul into electronica. Beneath the breakout success of James Blake has been a strong undercurrent of releases ranging from the summertime hedonism of Peaking Lights‘ 936 to the evocative rave of Zomby‘s Dedication, the “blue-wave” electronica of Nicolas Jaar‘s Space is Only Noise, and the haunting Tri-Angle albums by Holy Other and Balam Acab. The standout release for me must be Andy Stott‘s double release on Modern Love, Passed Me By/We Stay Together, which I’ve found the most stunningly impressive of the lot in the degrees of emotional depth, nuance and texture weaved onto the techno template, which Stott has deftly slowed down and stretched out most elegantly. But it’s also made me look up his earlier work, especially the minimal genius of 2006′s Merciless and the experimental breadth captured in Unknown Exceptions, a compilation of his singles output since 2005. Seeing Stott’s development had made me appreciate even greater where he’s at now, since he really takes his time (like us here).
On a more literary note, I’ve enjoyed the songwriting in Destroyer‘s Kaputt and Fleet Foxes‘ Helplessness Blues, but more so, Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat‘s Everything’s Getting Older, a collision of the romantic and the sleazy in the form of Wells’ sweet, understated compositions and Moffat’s sordid narratives and wry, idiosyncratic delivery. Apart from getting me back on the early Arab Strap albums I had only recently discovered anyway, the album’s title (and cover) remind me I’m not as young as I used to be. Sometimes that means not keeping up with the latest trends (which is perfectly fine, really), but sometimes it also means a reluctance to change and a stubborn sentimentality with the music I love, looking back more than looking forward. On these second takes, I’ve found myself viewing the present through shades of my past, but hopefully, without too much resistance to appreciating the new things that’ll be shaping up this year. Cheers. - Dan.
Dan still can’t decide on his favorite albums of last year. Maybe it’s time to just move on.