I’ll put to one side my puzzle over why, in 2009, people remain fascinated with lists. That said, if you’re into them there is a phenomenal amount of best of music, best of a decade in music etc, lists spinning around out there. Simon Reynolds writes in the Guardian of “The musically fragmented decade” where “More and more good-to-excellent music is getting produced but that very fact is thwarting the emergence of the great, smothering it. The bigger the spread, the more “we” are spread. And the less impact any given record can have. Worse, as artists internalise reduced expectations, the cycle of diminution spirals ever inward.”
Let’s call it the Curse of Proliferation, and let’s not forget that the barrier to entry for musicians today is almost zero. Easily accessible Internet tools remove the control that large music companies had over the production and distribution of music. The downside to that though is musical mediocrity; where Reynolds’ “good-to-excellent music” whilst smothering the great, is itself being smothered. And yet, for any music seeker, the treasure trove of excellent musicians making timeless and valuable works is so easy to reach; the Internet very handily takes care of that too.
I had no problem filtering and sifting to find the diamonds in the rough. In fact the only purchase I made in 2009 that I regretted [because I didn't do my research,] was the Fanfarlo vinyl album ‘Reservoir.’ I fell for the marketing stunt where labels put a sticker on the cover of the album, using pull quotes from once trusted sources, all heralding the arrival of musical genius. Me, suckered. It’s not awful, but it’s not an “Album of The Year contender” as proclaimed by NPR either. No, it falls under what Reynolds said is “Worse, as artists internalise reduced expectations, the cycle of diminution spirals ever inward.” File under: ‘I wish I’d bought that Tom Waits vinyl box set…’
Here’s a list of artists that I spent the most time with in 2009. This is not meant to be a ranked list, if it were Dirty Projectors and Fever Ray would be joint winners for my #1 slot.
Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse
Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse teamed up with director David Lynch, to bring us the dark and haunting Dark Night of The Soul, which was only available online. The project kicks off Art Basel in December 2009.
Karin Dreijer Andersson who, along with her brother, plays in The Knife, delivered an amazing solo album under the moniker Fever Ray. I was pleased to note that Fever Ray was voted iTunes best electronic album of the year. It’s a stunning piece of work, highly recommended. I also suggest that you search for the series of fascinating videos that accompany the album.
Led by the phenomenally talented guitarist and singer, Lauren Larson, Ume deliver rock music that belies the notion that all rock music, as delivered by indie rock bands, is often pale, shallow and sexless. If you would like to add one real rock record to your collection then buy their Sunshower ep. Truly a band to watch. Don’t take my word for it – here’s a Chromewaves review of the band live at NXNE.
The Conductor by Ume.
I first discovered Tania Bowers aka Via Tania when I bought her vinyl album, Under A Different Sky in 2003. It was a startling collage of beats and samples curated by, among others, Scott Herren aka Prefuse 73 and John McEntire of Tortoise and Sonic Youth fame. I still consistently spin the album today. In 2009 she released Moon Sweet Moon which is more subdued than Under A Different Sky, but no less compelling. Buy Moon Sweet Moon
Lost In It from the album Moon Sweet Moon.
By now it must be apparent to all that Radiohead without Thom Yorke means no Radiohead. To paraphrase a movie title he can be considered The Constant Tinkerer, keeping Radiohead as fresh as a daisy with every release. In October of 2009 he formed a pick up band of well known musicians – Flea, Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco – to play a series of shows in Los Angeles where he performed new material. I don’t know if he was testing out solo material or new songs for Radiohead, either way it was a typical move for Yorke, as he constantly keeps moving the needle and surprising us with how a rock star is supposed to “act.” The song below is a live recording from the show, a rather rough one at that, but it captures the spirit of the night.
The cover art for Mos Def‘s album The Ecstatic is a shot from Charles Burnett’s classic 1977 film Killer of Sheep that “examines the black Los Angeles ghetto of Watts in the mid-1970s through the eyes of Stan, a sensitive dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the psychic toll of working at a slaughterhouse.” It also includes this from Malcolm X during a 1964 appearance at Oxford: “I, for one, will join in with anyone, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.” Mos Def named the album after the book The Ecstatic by Victor LaValle.
As a musician and an actor, Mos Def is always delivering consistently thoughtful performances. The Ecstatic is no exception as Mos Def travels the musical globe to bring us Soul, Afrobeat, Jazz, Funk, Hip Hop and Latin music.
Stereogum calls Sleigh Bells a “band to watch”, and I agree. Here’s an excerpt from the Stereogum article – “They are just a duo — Derek Miller on beat production, guitars, and songwriting; Alexis Krauss on vocals — but their tracks ram together many sonic worlds. Their electronic beats thud with gut-rattling low end; guitars are distorted siren squalls (“A/B Machines”), or heavily gated and thoroughly crunched power chords (“Infinity Guitars”), or playful, beach bum strums (the Beta Band-y “Ring Ring”). Krauss flips easily from hip-hop hook sass (“Beach Girls”), to pop power to sunshined, coquettish coos.”
Shuttle is relatively new to me but I instantly fell for his music. I’m a huge fan of electronic music that stretches the boundaries and Shuttle’s dubstep tinged, experimental tunes fit the bill nicely.
Review from Contact Music – ‘Tunnel’ is dissodent affair with wonky, skittish beats, a slow swooping dubstep bassline and ambient and old school synth tones aplenty. The keys movements bring to mind mid-ninetys IDM, but that’s a sweeping idea ass the phased wobble bass sweeps the floor from beneath you and rushes your every pour. This is the kinda production depth and forward thinking that dubstep has been shy on for years now. [Edit] The High Rankin Remix of ‘Tunnel’ shows you just what it would have sounded like if Shuttle didn’t have the foresight other dubstep producers have. Almost unable to put more than never settling drums and pounding bass into the mix. Buy Tunnel/Rotten Guts
Canadian band Lightning Dust is a duo that consists of Amber Webber and Joshua Wells, both members of Black Mountain. Something about these guys makes me happy. Watch a video of their live performance on NPR. Buy Infinite Light
I Knew from Infinite Light
Thanks to the music blogosphere, clearly a wonderful replacement for commercial radio and backed up by Google music search, I discovered O+S [pron: O Plus S]. I’ll let them describe themselves and their music:
“O+S is a new project by Orenda Fink (Azure Ray, Art In Manila) and Scalpelist (aka Cedric LeMoyne of Remy Zero). Orenda and Scalpelist, long-time friends from their shared hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, have created a record that combines the haunting, ethereal music of a David Lynch soundtrack with the cinematic art-pop of 10cc.” I second that. Buy the self-titled album O+S
We Do What We Want To from the album O+S
Liz Phair, most famous for her album Exile In Guyville, did something special this year. She posted all of her early demo recordings and other hard-to-find gems recorded on cassette tape during her Girly Sound period, to her web site. It’s a valuable trove of historical treasures and I commend her for posting the material. Other musicians, please take note.
The most rewarding moments in the few years I’ve been running this music blog, are when I receive great music from musicians who are operating in amongst the vast wilderness of original, unsung artists. [Actually writing that made me think of the sinkhole known as MySpace.] I have had some great submissions from artists whose music I’ve enjoyed. For instance She Keeps Bees out of Brooklyn are very good – take a listen here.
There have been many but none as good as Italian beats master, Matteo Grilli or Grillo. He first contacted me in April of 2008, sending me his album Dirty Pretty Beats which I covered here. I got an email from Matteo again in November and it seems that things are looking up for him. He has another album, Fireworks, out on Homework Records where you can download the whole album for free. If you’re a fan of downtempo dubby hip hop, glitch hop and dubstep, you should keep an ear out for Grillo.
Richard From Seattle From Fireworks.
Winter Wake Up From Dirty Pretty Beats.