2012: where’d you go?

welcome to another year-end pondyblog instalment. okay, i know, it’s late. again. let’s just say that crushing illness, biblical flooding, the late season meltdown of my belovedly frustrating steelers and other end-of-days omens contributed to my writerly malaise. it’s a bit of a condensed affair this time around - in any event, below are some of my faves and otherwise o’ the year that just passed. top 10 albums are in no particular order, aside from the first pick. thanks for reading – and here’s to a reinvigorated pondablog for 2013! um, i hope.

Albums

Swans – the seer

a tour de force, the seer channels a virulent heart of darkness vibe. m. gira, his superb band and a crew that includes the likes of ben frost, jarboe, karen o, members of low and akron/family are on a mission, heading up the river to face the glories and horrors of the human condition, ecstacy, agony, the pale devil and the holy ghost, the works. this album is a grand gesture (three of the 11 songs exceed 19 minutes, including the mesmerizing title track and stunning/stunned closer “apostate”) and it works magnificently – thanks no doubt to gira’s possessed, hypnotic vision. gira’s actually commented that the seer has been some three decades in the making – and you can hear the blood, sweat, tears and gristle of life in these grooves.

Andy stott – luxury problems

the narcoleptic house and disembodied vocals of “numb,” the opening track from mancunian andy stott’s luxury problems, hint at the delicious dread to come. but it’s what follows that really cements this album’s stentorian pedigree. “lost and found,” a terrifyingly awesome leviathan of sound and undertow, sounds like sunn o))) gone electro; “sleepless” recalls the magisterial ferocity of techno animal’s landmark re-entry; and “up the box,” with its gummed up breakbeats and snares, is jungle slowed down and rewound on purple drank.

Robert hood - motor: nighttime world three

nearly 20 years ago, detroit’s Robert Hood released Minimal Nation and helped set the template for a pared down and hugely influential strain of techno. thankfully, his penchant for innovation hasn’t slowed with age. now nearly 50 and living in alabama, hood – who also helped found the seminal underground resistance – has released an album of radiant electronic music with motor. it’s a lush, bittersweet offering, a love letter of sorts to the sounds of detroit. yet this is no simplistic colour-by-numbers homage: from the acidic squelches of “better life” (a play on inner city’s radiant “good life”?) to the glowing glockenspiel funk of “black technician,” from the unfurling sonic tsunami of “slow motion katrina” to the deep kick of “torque one,” hood leaves his indelible touch all over this magical album.

Windy and carl – we will always be

dearborn, michigan’s fave drone couple, windy and carl, once again bring the sweetest noise this side of the abyss. we will always be ebbs, flows and glows, perhaps most magnificently on the aptly titled “fainting in the presence of the lord” – an epic, stringed exploration of the transcendent that hovers for 18-plus glorious minutes.

Kasra – fabric mix

nearly a decade ago brooklyn’s dj clever released troubled waters, an awesome left-field offering on offshore recordings – and thereby rekindled my love of drum ‘n’ bass, which had waned in recent years due to scene orthodoxy and a techstep sound that had painted the genre into an aural corner. not much has has happened since then to massage my ears – at least, not until 2012 and kasra’s fab fabric mix. this is drum ‘n’ bass for the 21st-century, a roiling beast that incorporates the wobbles and wallop of prime dubstep with the tempo and space of techno. the mix opens with the stealthy version of rockwell’s “underpass” by Alix Perez, ends with the rampant artcore of stray’s “timbre (vip)” and enthralls throughout.

Peaking lights - lucifer

king tubby lands in wisconsin and channels himself via a husband-and-wife duo immersed in day glo bass and chugging rhythms. if that don’t satisfy yer low end lustings, you can check out the new dub version of the album, the quite excellently titled, er, lucifer in dub.

Lower dens – nootropics

on nootropics, lower dens – the baltimore outfit led by jana hunter (who’s also released some ace solo offerings that bring to mind a slightly more coherent grouper) – offer an addictive combo of dream pop, krautrock vibes and a keen sense of space. “brains” grabs you with its understated motorik groove;  “propagation” drifts into prime slowdive territory with a glistening guitar sheen; “lion in winter pt. 1″  may be beatless, but it throbs with a darkened, insistent pulse nonetheless.

How to dress well – total loss

tom krell’s spectral r ‘n’ b showers the listener on total loss, a meditation of sorts on grieving and, er, loss. how to dress well adopts the mantle of ghostly funk that james blake championed last year; the result is a reverential listen, yet one  that also captivates thanks to its subtle, seductive grooves.

Dirty three - toward the low sun

everyone yakked last year about the return of the increasingly turgid godspeed, but the real kudos for instrumental sturm, drang and heart-tuggery belonged to australia’s dirty three. spearheaded by violinist warren ellis (who also happens to moonlight for nick cave and the bad seeds and grinderman), this power trio has been releasing absorbing albums for years, a mix of raw heft and surprising delicacy. toward the low sun continues this trajectory - it begins with the freakout session that is “furnace skies” and proceeds with its considerable charms, which range from the scattershot snare and stumbling piano of “sometimes i forget that you’ve gone” to the acid-drenched rawk of “that was was.” their sweat-soaked show at the biltmore was one of the live treats of the year, too.

Sun araw & m. Geddes gengras meet the congos - icon give thank

in which two L.A. freak rawkers abscond to jamaica, meet up with reggae icons the congos and bathe in rich, deep, dubbed-out psychedelia. all praise be to fractal jah.

10 more for 2012

Mount eerie – clear moon / ocean roar (i know, that’s actually two albums, but they were released back to back so i’m treating them as a single unit. don’t like it? whatevs!)

Daphni – jiaolong

various – Shangaan shake

Dirty projectors – swing lo Magellan (also worst cover of the year winner!)

Flying lotus – until the quiet comes

Spiritualized – sweet heart sweet light

Dead can dance – anastasis

frank ocean – channel orange

bell witch – longing

maya jane coles – dj kicks mix

Tunes


Reissues

Sleep – dopesmoker

Sunn o))) – øø void

My bloody valentine – everything

Mixes

Eats everything jungle mix – Louis Louis podcast

d/r/u/g/s – crack magazine mix

evol – fact mix

beneath – fact mix

scb + john Osborne – mnml ssgs mix

carsten jost and Lawrence – betalounge mix

joy orbison - resident advisor mix

nina Kravis – resident advisor mix

sei a – crack magazine mix

treat of the year

columnus metallicus, thequietus.com

scam of the year

ariel pink

“I really wanted to make the worst thing, the thing that even people who liked bad, terrible music wouldn’t like, the stuff that people would ignore, always. Something really, really stupid. Something that is destined for failure.”

- congrats ariel, you’re there!

RIP
ravi shankar, elliott carter, donna summer, david ware, adam yauch, dave brubeck, larry hagman.

quote of the week

“coming out as a Barbra Streisand fan was way more embarrassing than coming out as a lesbian”

- artist Deborah Kass confesses in the nytimes

happy valentines day?

More than two decades ago, My bloody valentine’s loveless came out. since then, its rawk-transforming template has blown minds (and blown out speakers), and left glide-guitar obsessives drooling for more. indeed, over the years, the rumour mill (for people who care about these things) has continued to churn out tempting nuggets about that elusive follow-up alb, set to appear…some golden, glorious day, when the stars align and the sonic buddhas smile.

Well, that day may now be tantalizingly close at hand. both pitchfork and fact posted items recently about the impending release of the hallowed third album – BY THE END OF 2012, NO LESS! Granted, we’ve heard this one before. So time will tell if this is actually the real deal, or just another cruel hoax on the part of the drone pop deities.

Either way, I’m a bit torn. given that loveless informed my sonic predelictions to the nth degree, I’d be falling over myself to get ahold of a new MBV slab. That said…there’s always been something sort of agonizingly sweet about the whole process, waiting for that mythic album that never arrives, the ultimate unrequited love, filling in the blanks for a follow-up that would somehow surpass Loveless. it just ain’t possible…(is it?). in any event, I’m mesmerized by Kevin Shields’s pitchfork quote: “Based on the very, very few people who’ve heard stuff – some engineers, the band, and that’s about it – some people think it’s stranger than Loveless. I don’t.”

so is the end in sight? we shall see. in the meantime, pondablog shall swoon at the possibilities. just don’t go folk, valentines.

concept worker

RIP David Ware.

David Ware. Image source: exclaim.ca

new forms rising

DJ Stingray. Image source: xlr8r.com

just in time for the next instalment of vancouver’s fab new forms fest comes this tasty morsel of an xlr8r mix from dj stingray. stingray, a luminary of the enigmatic underground resistance and aqueous beatmakers drexciya, is just one of the highlights at this year’s shindig, which also features names such as actress, kode9, kevin mcphee, kangding ray and a whack o’ others. looking forward to it – it’s great to see momentum building for electronic music gatherings in the pacific northwest (also check out seattle’s awesome-looking decibel festival, which takes place in the emerald burg at the end of september). now go and support yer local electrobots.

quote of the week

Image source: culturalsnow.blogspot.com

 

“i remember my father listening to joy division. it’s still a big influence.”- christian löffler, teshno.com

interview/mix

artistic differences

Sonic Youth, Dirty. Cover art by Mike Kelley. Image source: kunstschau.netsamurai.de.

Mike Kelley is dead. that’s a sad and indisputable fact, and you can read more about it here.

the interpretations of Kelley’s death and his impact will be ongoing for some time – not too surprising, given that the gray lady refers to kelley as “one of the most influential American artists of the past quarter century….”

most of the commentary that i’ve read thus far has been, understandably, tribute-like in nature. but there are exceptions. one particularly scathing review of kelley’s work and influence is tackled by Tony Herrington in the Mire – the online blog of The Wire, an often insightful and sometimes abstruse mag that chronicles the goings on of outre music.

as you’ll see, herrington doesn’t mince words. at first, i was a bit taken aback by his tirade against kelley and his legacy, not because it wasn’t warranted (everyone has opinions, after all), but because it followed so quickly after his death, an apparent suicide. that said, fair enough – as herrington notes, “as far as I can ascertain, Kelley himself never bothered much with matters of ‘good’ taste, let alone observed petty bourgeois notions of proper etiquette or knowing when to hold his tongue, so for what it’s worth, I post it in a similar spirit.”

so here we are. to be honest, i’m not sure what’s more entertaining about the episode – Herrington’s screed, or the voluminous back-and-forth comments that follow. at the very least, it’s all worth a read if you’ve got a few secs (alright, hours) to spare. there are, oh, about a zillion points that that the piece brings up…some of which I’ll attempt to negotiate here.

first, let me just say that I’m no Mike Kelley expert. i’m aware of the man and his legacy, i’m aware of his art-rawk outfit destroy all monsters, and i’m aware of bits ‘n’ pieces of his art – which strikes me as sometimes entertaining and somewhat adolescent in its desire to shock and repel.

that said, i can’t say i ever entertained the thought “…that Kelley’s art has had the most ruinous effect on rock ‘n’ roll since Colonel Tom Parker first dressed Elvis up in a monkey suit,” as Herrington asserts. personally, i’d posit that rock ‘n’ roll has had the most ruinous effect on rock ‘n’ roll, as a once vital force has all too often devolved into an ossified, self-referential, self-satisfied genre that has collapsed under the sagging weight of its own retro-fetishism. rock, today and for many moons past, has been largely content to gnaw on its own fetid corpse.

it’s Herrington’s assertions about art and music, though, that raise a lot of thorny questions. no doubt, the art world can suck the lifeforce out of music. and i’d be the first to agree that there are few spheres that can defang rock’s transgressive nature as thoroughly as the gallery space.

yet Herrington’s critique of the art/rock nexus strikes me as odd in all sorts of ways. for one, he’s the editor in chief of the wire, a mag that he’s also contributed to for ages. and while the wire has consistently turned me on to all sorts of sounds over the years, it’s also no slouch when it comes to spewing elitist, art-ridden wordage (along with endless quotes from interview subjects that scream for an editor’s red pen, but that’s another beef).

curiously, Herrington also singles out Sonic Youth in his Mire blast – another band that’s been lauded in the wire and featured on its cover at least twice, if i recall correctly. to a degree, i get Herrington’s point – the Youth’s detached oeuvre is doubly detached, thanks to the band’s embrace of conceptual art moves (which, btw, includes a a Mike Kelley artwork on the cover of 1992′s Dirty). agency is out, irony is in and Herrington is pissed.

smug ennui doesn’t exactly the top my list of aesthetic proclivities. but to write off the artistic ambitions of SY doesn’t really sit all that well either. after all, the band gestated in the art-damaged environs of ’80s new york – i’m not sure it would have come into existence otherwise. and is that such a bad thing? when Daydream Nation came out more than two decades ago,  i was a considerably younger lad, living in a rather smallish canadian city, and i certainly had no familiarity with Gerhard Richter – whose luminous Kerze paintings grace the front and back covers of said double album. decades later, i’m grateful that Daydream Nation turned me on to Richter, a modern master.

Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation. Cover art – “Kerze” 1983 – by Gerhard Richter. Image source: needforthings.blogspot.com.

i’m also grateful for the artistic licence that the Youth adopted way back when. during my teens i began listening to all sorts of stuff – and a lot of it included the sonic furnace otherwise known as hardcore. hardcore’s volume and speed was liberating, but after engrossing myself in its noise/sound/fury, i rapidly became aware of the law of diminishing returns. Sonic Youth’s atonal and angular strategies were a welcome release from hardcore’s sonic and ideological straitjacket.

that’s why Herrington’s proposition that “SY only made a decent record after they signed to a major” strikes me as ridiculous. and it has nothing to do with the assertion that the Youth were suddenly “sell outs” – i didn’t buy the indie/major dialectical divide then, and i don’t buy it now. lord knows that acres of substandard output classified as ‘indie” or “alternative” has been unleashed over the years. but i’ll take the sprawling heft and splendored/panicked psychedelia of pre-geffen Sonic Youth – especially the magisterial triumvirate of Evol, Sister and Daydream Nation – any day over Herrington’s preferred “direct and urgent” approach that personify Goo and Dirty, the first two Geffen releases for SY.

granted, everyone has different tastes. but this strikes me not so much a sonic argument as an ideological one (indeed, in the ensuing comments, Herrington notes that his agenda is, er, “class war” – aka “that hoary British chestnut”). indeed, Herrington’s piece reminds me in ways of the writings of Greil Marcus, another long-established crit whose insight and impact are doubtless, but whose listening habits often come across as frustratingly pedantic. like Herrington, Marcus tends to revere the direct, the polemical, THE MESSAGE WRIT LARGE (which in this case, seems to be along the soggy lines of “sticking it to the man” a la Iggy and the Stooges), to the detriment of  the undetermined and the aesthetic.

it’s the proletariat against the bourgeoisie – and Herrington obviously prefers his culture collars blue. so no surprise, then, that both he and Marcus also rail on about the liberating force of punk. punk, after all, represents the romanticized year zero for aging crits, the muso rut by which all subsequent genres and movements are judged. of course, there’s a powerful argument to be made that punk rock, for the most part, never lived up to the rhetorical hype - rather, it ossified into orthodoxy quicker than the time it takes your average punter to learn three chords.

to me, the art-damaged post-punk scene that emerged from the wreckage - typified by perennial Herrington faves The Fall and various others, including, yes, Sonic Youth - made things a whole lot more seductive compared to the limp sounds and overbearing righteousness that typified so much of the punk oeuvre.

and really, where would we be if art and music didn’t commingle, at least some of the time? what would have happened to the sex pistols and punk, which became so much more alluring thanks to the Situationist oeuvre that bled into its identity? what about the velvet underground? roxy music? Brian Eno? talking heads? Sunn O)))? the dirty projectors? and so many other bands and artists, including herrington’s beloved Fall? they probably wouldn’t be around. “the man” would still be harshing our mellows. and music would be a heckuva lot duller.

the going really gets weird at the end, where herrington suddenly inserts some end-of-rant niceties about Kelley (“No one should doubt Mike Kelley’s sincerity” – uh, okay) and credits rock’s symbolic demise as “pav[ing] the way for the emergence of other, less clubbable modes of opposition, hiphop, Jungle, Grime, to provide the context for vernacular culture’s most dynamic future moments of resistance to elitist hierarchies.” not only is that one unfortunate spout of excess verbiage, it’s also insulting in the way that it credits rock as the ur-text for other musics that followed in its wake. are rock, hip hop, jungle and grime all part of some neat ‘n’ tidy continuum of resistance? personally, i’d posit that hip hop, jungle, grime and other electronic offshoots function much more potently as inner forces - in terms of re-arranging and dismantling one’s aesthetic expectations and listening habits - as opposed to serving as rebellion-approved manifestos for the masses.

Mike Kelley is dead. so is rock. long live both. and long live the spirit of invention that infuses them – may it continue to confound, confuse and delight our senses with new forms in an age that coasts all too comfortably on faded glories.

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