2011: Brandon Bussolini
I don’t have much to say on the topic of 2011 as a whole; like a lot of other writers and music lovers, I don’t have much use for that kind of periodicity. I grasp at whatever’s in front of me, keep a list, but it’s necessarily fugitive and that panic is kind of what makes it fun. They year went by fast, and was personally rich. I went to Club der Visionäre and Watergate, turned 27, started going to shows again. In addition to the albums listed below, the year’s high point has probably been Momo Araki’s brilliant mix for Little White Earbuds and the subsequent rolling out of his and (Dusted contributor) Brad LaBonte’s Scones Radio on WFMU. I also dug that Youth Lagoon record, Year of Hibernation, the first two and the last song on the new Antlers record, Burst Apart, and Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972. Beyoncé’s 4 is very good; I wish I had more time with Kate Bush’s new album.
I end up finding a way of writing about this guy at least once a year. For someone so press-averse, he’s endless fun to examine — not biographically, but functionally. His imagery at times owes a serious debt to the Rider-Waite tarot deck, particularly the heartbreak allegory of “Robin Egg Blue”; but most times, he knots plainspoken phrases into strange circuits that evoke feeling at the same time they trouble expectations of song narrative. His most romantic songs, “You Saved My Life” and this year’s “County Line,” are filled with bitterness and appreciation in equal measure; McCombs straddles opposing forces simply and without explanation, and that’s what raises him above the fray.
I love Plastic World, too, but the less sonically aggressive Black Square is what opened my eyes to why BNJMN is so unique right now. Deemphasizing the dancefloor lets all the really strange production details come to the fore. There’s, for example, the way he uses voices on “Keep the Power Out,” taking an undulating, denatured sample and looping it just short of the point of discomfort. And then on the next track, “Black Square,” rewarding you with generous and comforting whirlpool of grainy synth and what sounds like a Buddha Machine loop. Lovely and so smart — the sort of thing by which one is taken aback.
Techno without a template, “Ital’s Theme” sounds like a manifesto: reckless and utterly detailed. Each of these three tracks’ grooves are built brick by brick from the ground up, using what sounds like gear time forgot. Not analog fetish objects, but the dusty grey boxes with a slightly muddy quality to them, sounds that are ragged around the edges; you can imagine the heavy plastic groaning as the boxes thump along. This really validates the idea of a punk–techno transition for me, locking on to the deepest and most liberating qualities inherent in both. And it’s not just the sweltering A-side: the melody line in “Queens,” nudged up and down and choked off and extended at will, has such an otherworldly feel.
There’s an undeniable domestic comfort to Tape’s music. With every release, the pealing keyboards have receded further into the background, giving pride of place to limpid, wandering melodies and gradual illuminations like a break in the clouds that sends beams of light through the windows. Revelationes is their most polished, sweetest release to date — the floating vibraphone work on the layered and stately “Dust and Light” seems to embody the don’t-wake-the-baby carefulness of their songs. While it can’t recapture the shock I felt upon hearing “Beams” — the first song on their previous album, Luminarium — for the first time, that’s no standard worth holding them to. Familiarity, in Tape’s world, is a virtue.
As much as I’d like to contrast this to the latest Caretaker album, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, Leyland Kirby’s less conceptual outing under his given name presents an equally constrained sound-world. The sounds he’s working with here belong to the ambient genre itself; instead of recontextualizing old ballroom 78s by warping them into harrowing meditations on Alzheimer’s, he’s laying his signature hiss and resolute melancholy over Harold Budd-esque piano figures. And while the sodden pacing at times suggests parody, it’s the kind of self-consciousness most ambient fans are well accustomed to.
In comparison to the Demdike Stare collection above, Feed Forward slots into a more familiar sound — gritty Basic Channel dub techno with echoes evaporating in the wings, drifting ambient synths, a hypnotic insistence on circular rhythms. The sense of mystery moves from inside the music to the lateral details, of which there aren’t so many. Self-contained techno purity — almost inadvisably deep stuff, but these three emerge on the other side with every try.
Whatever, call me out for this being the typical rock-crit token rap record, but Take Care was, for me, the moment when the Drake persona started delivering as much as it promised. From strange gambles like the mournful “Back That Azz Up” cover that is “Practice,” to the more radio-ready moments like “Make Me Proud” or the Just Blaze head-pleaser “Lord Knows,” bases get covered.
Philip Sherburne’s take: “Feel like that dude in the ‘80s Maxell commercial.” There’s a lot to unpack there, but Glass Swords‘ agenda is pretty clear from the get-go: outrageous pump-up jams that include everything from the requisite twisted R&B vocals (“Surph”) and the unlikely successful slap-bass riff (“Hover Traps”). You could look at all this fun askance, seeing it as yet more uprooted rave nostalgia, but even if Rustie taps into a well-trafficked vein, he does it while stepping his production game up and without pandering.
I’m not convinced I could make an airtight argument in favor of this band; then again, that’s partly why I find this kind of hysterical stuff appealing. When Two Dancers came out, I’d already loved Limbo, Panto, but it didn’t make enough of an impression to justify bringing it into the critical realm. Smother is that record, and even if I offer it to others sheepishly, I feel a fierce devotion to its caterwauling and the soft-rock cleanliness of its production. And if hip hop is being saved by the drama kids, why can’t indie find the same redemption? “Oh, Ophelia,” pants the Elijah Wood–looking guy on the chorus of “Bed of Nails”; elsewhere, the word “chemise” plays an pivotal role on “Plaything.” Couched in a ripe English springtime atmosphere (shades of Talk Talk), Wild Beasts have figured out how to make a record about sex and relationships that is as perceptive and grown as it is lusty. Also, pro tip: “Invisible” carried me through the really sad part of A Storm of Swords .
Collecting three LPs released on a 2010 tear, Tryptych feels so major you might need to ease into it. Redolent of everything from, like, Porter Ricks’ queasy techno to formal Ghost Box hauntology experiments, it’s also entirely its own beast. I think it took me like five listens before I got my bearings at all — the shock of the new paired with expert mnemonic alchemy. Even at its most scrutable, like the Eastern slither of “Bardo Thodol,” the tracks that make up Tryptych have a palpable mystery, the impossibility of getting close enough to a Gerhard Richter painting to make out the brushstrokes. All of which makes the occult details Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty cloak their music in seem more like appropriate packaging than posturing.
I read a description of Kangding Ray that went something like “Raster-Noton for people who don’t like Raster-Noton.” Props for pithiness, and it’s true that prior to hearing OR I had no idea that Raster-Noton had this kind of banger in them. Still, calling something out as accessible always seems like a backhanded compliment, particularly when a label is known for data-crushing clouds of ambience, pierced occasionally by a fax-machine beep. Not to slight R-N in the least, but OR is a veritable humanist feast in comparison to the usual fare: completely immersive, mobile sound sculpture with so much structure to sink yr teeth into. Not dry in the least, and outrageously successful at playing different frequencies against each other to give a sense of space and motion.
This record was my first encounter with King Creosote, but I knew of Jon Hopkins because of his work on Brian Eno’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea, of which I was not the biggest fan. I cringe to reread my attempted megaburn of Hopkins (“middlebrow electronica producer”) in light of Diamond Mine because his contributions — the field recordings and nudges of super-deep bass — are crucial to pushing King Creosote’s songs far beyond what they’d do on their own. Narratively, of course, it’s Creosote’s show, but atmosphere counts for a lot of this album’s emotional impact, whether it’s snippets of cafe conversation on “First Watch” or the misty voices that bring “John Taylor’s Month Away” to a close. I admit a weakness for a certain strain of well-orchestrated Scottish singer-songwriter business, and Diamond Mine tugs at the same strings that James Yorkston’s When the Haar Rolls In did back in 2008. I find maudlin understatement deeply affecting, as when Creosote intones “and no doubt it’s white flour in my diet / that’s going to be the death of me,” a strangely charged fragment in the break-up snapshot of the album’s finest moment, “Bats in the Attic.”
By Brandon Bussolini