To be honest, I always find myself resisting these end of year celebrations. For starters, the year ends on December 31, so if nothing else I need the time to even begin to reflect at all properly on the preceding 12 months. But I’m also reluctant to join in the collective commercial clusterfuck of the holiday season, and that includes the hype-generating function of blogs. Don’t get me wrong, I want you all to go out and support the artists and labels we feature (if you’ve got the extra cash), but I don’t intend to condone the consumerism that is so inextricably linked to the month of December, and indeed our way of life in general. I hope that our mission statement at ACL, and the ethic of the artists we cover, at least gesture toward something more meaningful than the vulgarities of the marketplace.
So here I am, in the second week of January, publishing my own reflections on 2013. I like the symbolic aspect of putting the last year to rest before focusing on the new. New mixes, new interviews, new music and book reviews.
It’s all too easy to be critical. Not to do good critique -like thinking itself, critique is hard work, an act that is sadly oft-absent from public discourse- but merely to draw attention to a thing’s faults. Constructive criticism means offering a corrective, being supportive, and that is certainly the aim of this blog, though even this emphasis can kinda miss the point.
Of course, self-criticism is often the most brutal of all, and I’ll return to my regular self-flagellation soon enough. For now I’m going to put critique aside (as much as that’s possible) and use this space to celebrate all the great work that has inspired me this year, maybe even pat myself on the back a bit, reflect on great times had, and appreciate all I was lucky enough to do.
I make no pretense towards comprehensiveness. To be considered complete already assumes a criteria by which to judge who gets excluded. I never understood those who think they can quantify and measure their way out of subjectivity. Whose metric is being used anyway, and how do we agree which outcomes were desirable?
I’m the judge, and by this point you probably have some notion of how much my taste resonates with your own. Of course, there were many amazing releases featured on our end of year lists, and many more I hope to showcase in my end of year mix, but for now I’d like to zone in on the following I think are deserving of special attention.
Thanks to All at A CLOSER LISTEN
First, let me say, I’m so happy to be working with Rich and Jeremy on this site, and to be joined by such a great group of writers. And heartfelt thank yous to each and every one of our readers.
In 2013, I published interviews with Leonardo Rosado, Steve Roden, Brian Shimkovitz (Awesome Tapes from Africa), Rhys Chatham, John Butcher, Stefan Christoff and Sam Shalabi, Esmerine, and Pete Swanson. It was really an honor to do so.
I was also very grateful to be asked to contribute an essay to the collection of Gianmarco del Re’s Postcards from Italy.
And though nothing as official as an interview came from my correspondence with William Bennett, those conversations got my gears working and you’ll see an essay published in the first quarter of this year. My interviews with Giuseppe Ielasi will be up next week, and hopefully my conversation with Enrico Coniglio and Giovanni Lami (Lemures) discussing the noWHere manifesto for live electronics won’t be far behind.
Our mix series has been a lot more frequent this year, if irregular. From the get-go I wanted the series to feature contributions from artists as well as our most engaged readers, and I’ve been very pleased to watch the series develop. Good news! All the mixes will shortly be available on our soundcloud page for download.
Mixes by Gianmarco del Re, Mario Gabola (A spirale, Aspect(t)), High Aura’d, Alrealon musique, le berger, Richard Allen, Francesco de Gallo, Sic Sic, The Floating World, The Ephemeral Man, Feral Media, Lcoma, Ross Baker, Jeremy Bye, Zach Corsa, Pie are squared, Bryan Ruhe, James Catchpole, Vektormusik, The Volume Settings Folder, M. Sage, Enrico Coniglio, and Sylvain ini.itu, so thanks to everyone who contributed and listened.
I’m sure a best of 2013 mix shall be forthcoming.
Zach Corsa and I finally released our compilation TODTNAUBERG to the world. ACL Vol 2 will be out this year. Download for pay what you want or order a tape/CD-R on demand with custom packaging.
WEB and PRINT
I’ve got to give a shout out to Secret Thirteen. Top notch mixes, curation, and design. Hats off, gents.
A good year for print magazines as well. I’ve been loving Jacobin magazine for the best political and cultural critique, still getting down with N+1 three times a year, and Harper’s has been my go-to for the best magazine journalism. Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers has rightly received heeps of praise (it’s about the NY art world and the Italian extra-parliamentary left of the 1970s, obviously I was bound to be a fan). I’ve only just begun Morrissey’s autobiography but so far it’s exceeded expectations. Lydia Davis was awarded a much deserved Booker, and Elena Ferrante has begun to gain an audience in English. Nothing shocking here, I know, but I suspect they will weather time well. I have mixed feelings about some Salinger stories leaking, but it was bound to happen. I also have a lot to say about Seth Kim-Cohen’s Against Ambience, but that will have to wait a few weeks more.
What do I keep going back to throughout 2013? Aside from my classics (hip hop, jazz, funk, and soul) that I have kept in regular rotation, these are the producers who released records this year I spent the most time with.
Alex Gray keeps evolving as a producer, often in many directions at once. His third full-length as Deep Magic, Reflections of Most Forgotten Love (Preservation) is one of my favorites of the year. Check out the Extended Days mix. His DJ Purple Image persona has drifted into d/p/i, and his sampler based manipulations have gone deeper into the rap and R&B, even offering a free mixtape based on nothing but Drake samples. His recent Jeanette mixtape, cutting up Gucci Mane vocals, is my favorite, but his many other mixtapes released this year are worth your attention as well. check it out
We didn’t hear anything new from Vladislav Delay this year (except for some beatless version of old tracks, and some excellent live sets,… ) but Sasu Ripatti did inaugurate Ripatti, a new boutique label cum studio diary, and Ripatti, a new dance floor oriented project replacing the now put to rest micro-house of Luomo. Ripatti draws on the faster rhythms of juke and footwork, applying the dub treatment to 808 claps and cutting up vocal samples beyond recognition. It took a while to grow on me, but it’s rich material for further exploration. This studio mix showcases some of the most interesting rhythmic work I’ve heard all year. Heisenberg, his duo with Max Loderbauer, exceeded already high expectations. Expect more Ripatti this year, as well as the latest LP from Vladislav Delay and RyJ, his new collaboration with wife Antye Greier. Follow him on Facebook to get a daily look into his studio and creative process. Normally, big deal right? but if you didn’t already know, Ripatti has a studio worth sharing.
Giuseppe Ielasi churned out a string of solid releases all year. Holiday for Sampler with Andrew Pekler stands among my favorites from the year. The single sided split with Adam Asnan is also a standout, in which Ielasi plays only tinfoil and contact mics. Earlier in the year he collaborated on two-sides with Kassel Jaeger, one side mostly analogue and the other laptop-based. Out on Editions Mego, you can’t go wrong. Plus, Rhetorical Islands, a new full-length exploring some of the samples from 15 CDs for a GRM commissioned piece, as well as two releases for small motors on his new private press series. Strong work all around.
Also representing Italy is Lemures, a live electronic project featuring Enrico Coniglio and Giovanni Lami. Both released noteworth work of their own this year, but I was especially drawn into the soundworld of their collaboration, reworking fragments of field-recordings into dense, rhythmic compositions.
Nils Frahm‘s performances at Mutek this year stand out as extraordinary, and his new album Spaces might give some small intimation of why. I also loved the work he and Peter Broderick did on Lubomyr Melnyk‘s Corrolarries.
Jar Moff’s collage compositions coming straight from Athens, Greece really resonated with me this year for their controlled chaos, mirroring the turmoil of his home nation, fighting off ascendant Fascists of Golden Dawn, government intervention from Goldman Sachs’ leveraging the crisis to privatize what’s left of his nation’s public services. The relationship to Berlin (and PAN records home) is much more complicated in light of this, and so the twin bookends of 2013 for me are Moff’s Commercial Mouth and Financial Glam. He hasn’t released much prior to 2013 save a digital release on Leaving Records. You’d do well do scope out the other artists on Leaving Records (Dem Hunger, Mathewdavid, Dakim, Ahhnu, etc). I hope we can snag him to do a mix for us sometime soon.
But of course Jar Moff is only one of many superb artists showcased by Bill Kouligas’ ascendent PAN records this year. Known in some circles as the wizard of Dubplates & Mastering, Rashad Becker has mastered most of your favorite experimental and dance floororiented vinyl in the last decade. 2013 saw the releases of his first LP of his own, Traditional Music Of Notional Species Vol I. If you missed this one, just go get it.
Tim Hecker solidified his style as a composer years ago. An instantly recognizable sound is no easy feat for clouds of mostly beatless noise. Granted this can be a double edged sword, but Hecker isn’t one to let himself be boxed in. Following the critically-acclaimed Harmony in Ultraviolet with An Imaginary Country, one could hear the beginnings of an attempt to mine the influence of minimalist composer Steve Reich. The phases were awash in reverb and delay, and though an impressive record it wasn’t quite Reichean. After a detour to the slick bombast of Ravedeath, the palette of Virgins sees the minimalist influence finally reach maturity, in these laterally moving, rhythmic and immersive compositions. The piano sketches from Dropped Pianos gives the closest hint of the sonorities and style of this album, but nothing really could have intimated what a masterpiece Virgins would be. It’s gotten a ton of attention from all corners of the music-listening sphere, and for good reason.
Oneohtrix Point Never has received an awful lot of press for his Warp debut, but I can’t leave it out. R Plus Seven is on par with Replica and Returnal. The early phases of promotion for the album also show that Lopatain has his finger on the pulse of new media art, collaborationg with Cory Arcangel (the Real Player stream of the album single), and others contemporary via retro artists like Jon Rafman, Jacob Ciocci, Nate Boyce, and Takeshi Murata.
Jason Lescalleet played at the Suoni per il Popolo festival in Montreal this year, prompting a re-examination of his work. Last year he released a split on PAN, as well as Songs about Nothing, both of which I really enjoy. But I’ve yet to hear Photographs (2013), his split with Graham Lambkin completing their trilogy. 2013 was really a year for trilogies.
Slow Machete… This one came out of nowhere for me, just a submission for review, but it clicked for some reason. These two albums, Evening Dust Choir and Mango Tree, are something unique.
SEC_’s latest LP OUTFLOW dropped in the fall, and is worth your time. Subtle manipulations of feedback and reel-to-reel with a sophisticated sense of composition. Perhaps his most refined work to date. Highly recommended.
Luminance Ratio‘s Reverie finally saw the light of day thanks to Bocian Records. Gianmaria Aprile, Andrea ICS Ferraris, and Luca Mauri are joined by Luca Sigurta for a power-drone quartet, a much more psychedelic iteration than their previous LP.
Wndfrm‘s C60 /tmkutetk gets the prize for best quiet release. Field-recordings from within Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome left over from Montreal’s Expo 67 on Ian Hawgood’s Home Normal is a subtle masterpiece.
Dadub‘s debut LP impressed me as one of the most interesting records coming from club producers. An Italian duo based in Berlin and gaining prominence for their mastering work, Dadub offer the best of ambient interludes and dance floor bangers.
Jace Clayton‘s Julius Eastman Memory Depot is doubly cool, reigniting interest in a radical but forgotten NY minimalist while also transforming that material into something that can speak Clayton as well. Jace Clayton aka DJ/Rupture has also become one of m favorite writers and bloggers this year, follow his work at Mudd Up.
Colin Stetson completed his trilogy New History Warfare with To See More Light, and traveled around telling a very sad story about a solitary whale. If you were wondering if Stetson could drop the compositions and blow in a freer context, he collaborated with Swedish free jazz baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson (of The Thing) on Stones, and alongside C. Spencer Yeh, Nate Wooley, and Ryan Sawyer for a live set as Oso Blanco.
The third LP from Death Grips, one of California’s most experimental hip hop groups, dropped unsuspectingly on the internet with no advanced warning. No videos, but we all can’t have Beyonce’s budget. The mostly instrumental Government Files is a strange affair, but it’s free and interesting so go google it. And maybe keep an eye out for an instrumental hip hop mix soon.
Other electronic records standing out, the classic hardware-driven Detroit techno on Kyle Hall’s the Boat Party, Laurel Halo’s latest records sans-vocals showcasing her live sets, and Autechre’s Exai was just huge, I think we’ll all be processing that for a while.
Along with Pan, Senufo, Preservation Records, Entra-acte, and Constellation Records, all of which have continued their high quality well-designed offerings, I’d like to draw attention to Holidays Records who released some astonishing music this year. Hartmut Geerken’s free-jazz extravaganza Live in Kabul 1976 is testament to what Afghanistan was like before the global revolutions of 1979. Plus amazing records from No-Neck Blues Band, Adam Asnan /Giuseppe Ielasi, Ranto Rinaldi, Okkyung Lee/Jon Wesseltoft, and a 3×7” appendix to Ielasi’s classic Stunt series.
In the art world, some things I enjoyed this year: Thomas Demand at DHC, Jayson Musson (aka Hennessey Youngman), Laurent Grasso’s Uraniborg at MAC Montreal, Sight and Sound at Eastern Bloc (especially the two microwaves, and Paulo Cirio’s Street Ghosts), Verano Locale in Mexico City with Sun Araw and DPI, Iván Abreu at Laboratorio Arte Alameda, and Janet Cardiff’s 40-part Motet in the Cloisters. Gambletron and Jen Reimer & Matt Stein’s interventions during Suoni were incredibly memorable and perfectly executed.
Any comic nerds out there? I have to say, IMAGE comics had an impressive year. What began as an escape from the Big Two comics publishers for arrogant and overrated superhero comics creators has become, over the course of the last twenty years, the publisher of some of the most innovative and consistently excellent creator-owned comics storytelling anywhere. Brian K Vaughan’s Saga, Ales Kot’s Change and Zero, Jonathan Hickman’s East of West and The Manhattan Projects, Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Pretty Deadly, Ed Brubaker’s Fatale, Rick Remender’s Black Science, Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals, and the list goes on.
And I suppose it should be noted that 2013 was the first time m favorite comic of the year was only made available digitally. Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s The Private Eye, go download it for pay-what-you-want now.
Onward to 2014!