Free-Format Fiasco: Reflections on 2007
So I'm writing this year-end recap the best way I know how, huddled over a cluttered, coffee-stained desk with a handy can of Schlitz nearby. $4.99 for a 12-pack; probably the best thing I discovered all year. This is where I've spent the majority of 2007, pecking away at a sluggish MacBook, popping in countless CDs, downloading hundreds of gigabytes of files, and combing Google for information on artists from Slasher Risk to Mohammed "Jimmy" Mohammed. Being the music director at a college radio station (WXYC representin') put me up close and personal with a variety of musical styles, approaches and concepts that I hadn't entertained before, opened doors of sonic perception that were previously closed, and flooded the floor surrounding my bedroom desk with loosely organized piles of CDs and records. Many of these were accidentally cracked by missteps toward the door or easy chair, shattered with flying expletives and subsequently thrown in the garbage. But among all the required listening, mandatory reviews, and broken CDs, there were still many that were saved from the fate of backseat limbo and imported straight to iTunes, readily accessible and frequently revisited for much-needed relief from the overflowing mail bins. These releases helped make a year of post-graduate disillusionment that much more tolerable, the sea of scattered CD cases that much more manageable, and a relatively shitty year that much more legit. In no particular order:
Intoxicating, encompassing, kaleidoscopic. Watson's approach to the bagpipes is mesmerizing, immediately seeping into every crevice of the psyche and hovering in the room, occupying the air with sonic substance and shifting consciousness with each movement of the head. Fuck the over-saturated "folk-drone" arena – if you want music that takes it there, hanging like Zen in a backyard tent, then absorb these records like a sponge.
Even after I heard about the new album from this endearing group of Colombians, it took me forever to get it. I finally received Patio Bonito in early November, and it hasn't left my stereo since. Their simplistic ditties are perfectly charming, like they just turned on the recorder, delivered ambivalent heartbreak with one take and that was enough. Haphazard rhythms, missed synth notes and goofy drum machine romps all mix naturally, lingering between bed sheets and staying throughout the day.
Stefan Betke gave minimalism a kick in the ass on Steingarten, completely redeeming himself from his last full-length and breeching into new territories, thumping with a renewed vigor and intensity. The tracks wind through subtle electronic pulses and build grand digital castles with the results. The first record I reviewed for this fine rag too, and a great one to start with.
Easy, breezy, effortless, arrestingly casual. The sound of passing contentment, timeless, classic. After years of slinging speaker-exploding fuzz through a variety of garage punk outfits, San Francisco artist John Dwyer has developed quite the cozy sound with the Ohsees. Relaxed, but deranged … and that's how I like it.
The first two vinyl releases from the ever-fantastic Sublime Frequencies were truly captivating, exploding with a rough energy and artfully captured by label co-founder Hisham Mayet. The distorted burnouts of Group Doueh seared the speakers, and the hypnotic lull of snaking blues and sandy trance melted through to the group ecstasy of Group Inerane. Powerful stuff.
Thank you, Devin Copeland, for being so muthafuckin' cool. The living definition of keepin' it real. Waitin' To Inhale was crucial to my hip hop love affair this year, and I owe the Dude a great deal of gratitude for his casual inspiration. If all hip hop was this level-headed, the world would be a better place.
Stefan Geoffrey Neville's tape tunes were the soundtrack to my summer. Pebbles kept me smiling in a bath of 4-track crackle, punctuating dense drone puddles with straight-ahead NZ guitar pop. Beautifully disorienting, but utterly sincere. Shout out to Soft Abuse – the good folks released several quality releases this year that are worthy of mention, most notably Ov and Giant Skyflower Band. Keep it coming, folks – '08 needs you.
Cosmic acoustics rain through celestial plucks, plotted swells acquiesce into shushed passages interchangeably. The beauty lies in the dynamics, Sullender's banjo work tickling quietly among Davis' cello strectches – overwhelmed with lightning-quick picking one minute and shifting to a barely-audible landscape the next. Sit still and listen.
The sheer lack of press for this spectacular record astounds me. I can see the basis for a laughable reaction when you mention Jeffrey Townes' name and try to recommend his new record, but this isn't the Fresh Prince throwback that might immediately spring to mind. Return of the Magnificent is Jeff's attempt to pull himself out Will Smith's shadow, a testament to the MC/DJ relationship that still holds true in the new millennium. With an impressive roster of emcees delivering state-of-hip-hop perspectives over Jeff's amalgamation of old-school turntable antics and digital production, the record shines genuinely in a sea of commodified rap and mindless party music. His return is a welcome one indeed, even if no one was waiting.
Rick Tomlinson's first full-length transcended time and location with a sound that could have been straight from Turkey circa 1972. He pulls it off masterfully, weaving catchy acoustic riffs with several fuzz-funk freakouts. The breakdown in "The Fire in My Head" is worth the price of the record alone.
A concept hip hop album about a Gingerbread Man and his exploits in Candlyland? Could you be any cheesier? Percy Carey a.k.a. MF Grimm pulled it off with flying colors though, defying the abysmal potential of the concept with clever candy metaphors and sinister beats – a sophisticated gangster masterpiece reduced to child's play, engaging from start to finish.
This isn't just your ordinary collection of found sounds and captured snippets, but a cohesive, fantastical trip through auditory wonder, animating the most minuscule creaks, croaks, sniffs and radio transmissions into a compellingly abstract tale. Dielectric label-head Drew Webster has produced a truly bizarre but masterful take on the art of field recording, manipulating and weaving the works of ten artists with hallucinatory realism. I read from Aquarius that this is apparently the last Dielectric release, which is sad to hear, but what a way to go indeed.
Silly squeaks meet head-nodding beats for this lovable outing from Belgium artist Nicolas Baudoux. His odd turntable skills sound like Dr. Dre at age 5, or what would happen if a box of toys fell on E-40's latest hyphy jam. He creates broken beats from an assortment of hokey gizmos, constantly assembling and dismantling the constructions while provoking hips to shake. It embarrassed me more than a few times at awkward stop-light pauses, but damn is this fun.
From the moment I pressed play on Pride, it was apparent that Matthew Houck had tapped into something special with his third full-length. Heart-breakingly sincere and warm to the touch, Pride progresses like a restless night spent lonesome and longing, depressed but strangely content. Definitely one of the more convicted releases I heard this year.
Cold and stoned, desolate but oddly inviting. C Spencer Yeh and his Burning Star Core moniker delved even more successfully into mystical drone on this full-length, pinning me in place with grinding shimmer. Their release for No Fun, Blood Lightning 2007, was also great, but I listened to this one more, so it carried more personal weight.
These were also fantastic:
Panda Bear - Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)
1. Dust to Digital - This label had more great comps this year than anyone – don't make me choose a specific favorite. From I Belong To This Band's documentation of Sacred Harp Sining, to Art Rosenbaum's beautifully packaged Art of Field Recording Box Set, the Ledbetters just won't quit releasing quality, well-researched and beautifully-packaged material, and I do love them for it.
1. Prince Jammy - Prince Jammy Destroys the Invaders (Greensleeves)
1. The Bug feat. Killa P & Flow Dan - “Skeng/Skeng (Kode9 RMX)” 12” (Hyperdub) - Kode9's work this year was untouchable, both with his Hyperdub label and the massive singles/remixes he dropped.
By Cole Goins