Dusted's Adam Strohm looks back at the year in music.
Johnny Five Alive! in 05 (Adam Strohm)
The second half of 2005 was an eventful one for me, with a five-hundred mile relocation and all of the endless to-do lists that go along with such a move. Consequently, there were stretches of time in which I wasn’t always able to keep up with the steady stream of quality releases. But there was more than enough good music in 2005 to keep me busy, and a list of my favorites follows. Ranking the albums instigates too much internal consternation, so I’ll dispense with any sort of numerical system and simply list ten (or maybe a few more) albums and live performances that made my year.
Matthew Welch - Dream Tigers (Tzadik)
Matthew Welch, with this disc, should rightfully gain attention as one of America’s best young composers. Commonly known as the man whose inclusion of the bagpipes into his modern classical forms, with Dream Tigers, Welch displays a broader spectrum that proves that he’s not simply a novelty relying on the cognitive dissonance created by the appearance of bagpipes within the realm of 20th century classical music. “Siubhal Turnlar” is an excellent string quartet, complex, but lyrical and beautiful. It’s the highlight of a disc that also includes “Enantiomorphs,” a drone duet for clarinets, and “The Self and the Other,” a piece which combines Welch’s two favorites, Scottish bagpipes and Balinese gamelan, with spectacular results.
Hair Police - Constantly Terrified (Troubleman)
Hair Police’s Obedience Cuts made my list for 2004, and, with Constantly Terrified, they’ve upped the ante again, making what could turn out to be their opus, a scary submergence into a world that’ll easily raise the hairs on the back of the listener’s neck. The trio make fear a palpable aural artifact, and have created an album that can truly be a psychologically invasive experience.
Zs - Karate Bump (Planaria)
This may technically be an ep, but to omit it from my list for that reason would be a disservice to a band that, in 2005, quickly became a favorite. Their symmetrical, minimalist prog-influenced compositions finds a new avenue in the hushed call and response of “Bump,” to date the best track of the band’s small oeuvre. Like Hair Police, Zs will make an appearance on both ends of this year-end list, having also played two shows in one night that were some of the best of the year.
Eyes and Arms of Smoke - A Religion of Broken Bones (Cenotaph)
Robert Beatty and Trevor Tremaine, who are also 2/3 of Hair Police, make up half of this band, though Eyes and Arms of Smoke’s chamber folk is a far cry from the clatter and din of Beatty and Tremaine’s more establishd outfit. This lp, their debut, follows a series of limited-releases cassettes, none of which truly showcased what the band has to offer like this lp. Folk music is the most obvious touchstone for the band, but even-tempered psychedelia, classical, and art rock influences also leave their imprint on the album, which, it’s rumored, will be offered in a larger cd pressing next year.
Burning Star Core - The Very Heart of the World (Thin Wrist)
Accompanied in 2005 by Let’s Play Wild Like Wildcats Do and the two disc retrospective/compilation Mes Soldats Stupides, The Very Heart of the World was the best in a year that featured three excellent releases by C. Spencer Yeh. 2005 was a culmination of sorts of years of limited edition, self-released cdrs and a scant amount of “official” releases into a true BXC gestalt that should finally turn the multitudes onto the talents of this Cincinnati native.
No Fun Fest 2005 - March 18-20 – The Hook, Brooklyn, NY
This three day behemoth of noise and experimental sound was my live experience of the year, with almost 24 hours of music packed into three days. Borbetomagus, Hair Police, Sightings w/ Tom Smith, and Giffoni’s Death Unit were only some of the best highlights in a weekend full of great performers. Seeing everything was nigh impossible, but leaving unimpressed was equally unlikely.
Phill Niblock - Sept 25 – The Empty Bottle, Chicago, IL
Since much of the bill for the Wire-sponsered Adventures in ModernM usic Festival didn’t overly excite me, it may seem odd that I was most anticipating seeing a man just turned 70 sit at a laptop, but Phill Niblock’s performance remains one of the year’s most transfixing to these ears. His drones were served well by the Bottle’s sound system, and Niblock expertly hypnotized even some of the crowd’s more ambivalent carriers-on by the set’s end.
Zs - March 12 – Garfield Artworks, Pittsburgh, PA
A spectacular set at Garfield Artworks went unappreciated by the hordes of punk/alterna-kids in from the suburbs to see the headliner. Seeing this six-headed monster lined up, mirror-image style, and doing their thing is amazing. Extra props for the the band being nice enough to lug their equipment upstairs to play a second set at a party later that night. Very awesome.
Ovo - May 29 – Garfield Artworks, Pittsburgh, PA
This duo has gained somewhat mythical status in the US due to their infrequent touring on this side of the ocean and the stories that result. This show was an eye-opener, certainly one the best rock(?) shows I saw all year. There’s no artifice here, just sweat and guts and energy from two extremely nice people.
The USA is a Monster, Coughs – Nov 7 – Mr City, Chicago, IL
Just when I was feeling as though every show I attended in Chicago was at a bar, this basement show appeared out of nowhere and was exactly what I needed. Other bands played, but these two stole the spotlight. Two different bands in most respects, but both great performers when they’re on, and capable of energizing an audience in ten seconds flat.
Konono No 1 - Nov 11 – Logan Square Auditorium, Chicago, IL
I needn’t say much to explain why this was such a great night. Audio problems did little to diminish the enthusiasm and energy that filled the room. No other show I saw this year brought out so many smiles, and so much unabashed joy in the audience. Wonderful.
I’d be remiss if I weren’t to mention Air Guitar Magazine in this discussion of live performances, as this band was the source of hours of concert enjoyment for me this year. The Pittsburgh bass/drums/trumpet troupe just released their debut album, and are a highly recommended favorite. Check them out.
By Adam Strohm