2009 ARTISTS' PICKS
As a complement to last month's 2009 Top 10s and 20s feature, textura asked artists whose works appear in that article to select a favourite 2009 recording (or pre-2009) and write a few words explaining what made it special. Here's what they said:
David Åhlén • Anduin • AREA C • Aspidistrafly • Balmorhea • bvdub / Brock Van Wey • Celer • d_rradio • Drivetrain • Jamie Drouin • FJORDNE • The Green Kingdom • Ian Hawgood • Intrusion • Isnaj Dui • Jasper TX • Rickard Jäverling • Leyland Kirby • orchestramaxfieldparrish presents ÆRA • Glen Porter • Simon Scott • Small Color • Talvihorros • Mark Templeton • Christopher Tignor • Alexander Turnquist • worriedaboutsatan • Kez YM
David Åhlén: Andreas Eklöf has established himself in Gothenburg, Sweden as a composer and electronica musician. After many years of composing, Andreas finally released his beautiful debut NOR in late 2008. This album has been my favourite during the year. Pianist Mats Persson, who since the 1970s has co-operated with artists such as John Cage and Stockhausen, played an important part in the creation of NOR and plays on four of the album's seven pieces. Mats describes Andreas music like this: “In Eklöf's music, one is first struck by its simplicity and maybe even its fragility, but this is deceptive and illusory. Under the surface there is stringency, awareness, and expressiveness.” There is a tasteful variation on the album; besides the pieces for piano, instrumentation include synthesizer, vibraphones, gongs and zithers. Eklöf's sensitivity in combining classic elements with modern sounds results in a little postmodern masterpiece. NOR is indeed unique.
Anduin (Jonathan Lee): Creative growth during economic meltdown. 2009. The first time I've ever enjoyed an Animal Collective record and the first time I've made a ‘year's end' list without a few metal records on it. Both Jim O'Rourke and Radian returned, but Lokai's Transition LP and Fever Ray's self-titled album ended up being my favourite releases of the year. Records from Black Math Horseman, Ben Frost, Mortiz Von Oswald Trio, Rameses III, Zelienople, Six Organs Of Admittance, Khate, Mountains, Jay Reatard, and Tim Hecker are also in my top 15 though many others made interesting albums as well. 2010, here we come... be kind...
AREA C (Erik Carlson): 2009 was more about finding some old, undiscovered albums or getting up to date on some more contemporary (but not brand new) CDs.
Aspidistrafly (April Lee): Favourite albums of 2009: THE YOUNG GROUP's 14 (RONDADE, 2008); THE YOUNG GROUP's Tjønnik (RONDADE 2006). While technology has enabled musicians to easily create complex and elaborate collages of sounds using multitudes of different instruments, Kinoshita Wataru (vocals, guitar) and Doshida Yuuhiro (guitar) of THE YOUNG GROUP appreciate the white of their canvas, without any unnecessary intent to fill up every blank space.
Balmorhea: Tiny Vipers' Life On Earth (Sub Pop). For us, this record was hands down the most affecting album we heard this year. There is a fragile yet visceral quality throughout her haunting songs, ones that somehow find their way inside of you even without an invitation. The songs' simplicity and emotional depth are their strongest qualities. This is a highly recommended record, but for the full scope of Tiny Vipers you MUST see her perform live.
bvdub / Brock Van Wey: Okay, well at first I thought I had better pick something actually from 2009. Makes sense, right? But though there were plenty of shining moments in 2009 that occupied a massive amount of my personal listening space, from Pan American's White Bird Release to Last Day's The Safety of the North to, quite honestly, a lot of my own stuff, to me if an album was one I listened to the most, and was the one I turned to for a friend more than any other, then that would be my “Best of 2009,” no matter when it was made. In this case, it was actually from 2003, and it's the second disc from B. Fleischmann's Welcome Tourist.
The second CD is comprised solely of one patience-mandating 45-minute track titled Take Your Time. Quite honestly, since it came out in 2003, this is been one of my most listened-to pieces of music period but, for some reason, this year it was that friend I turned to more than ever. This track just does something to me every time in the way it calms me, grounds me, and lets me know that somehow, in some way, things matter.
It's a very slowly evolving track that requires time and commitment, with such heartfelt beauty and feeling that's revealed only carefully and eventually, only to those who stick with it—an unpretentious, honest, straight-forward, beautifully-formed piece of music, with no other intention than to just be. It's so rare in music these days (which is probably why it's not from “these days”), and I think that's why I turn to it so often, to be reminded of something true and honest, that for those 45 minutes can make the world fall away and let me feel like me. To me, that's what music is all about.
Celer (Will Long): Asuna's THIS (vector 11/HEADZ 123): The music of Asuna has always held a special mystery of discovery for me. THIS was released on vector 11/HEADZ 123 in October of 2008, but I only received it early in January, 2009. Immediately it is a fascinating work, composed over nine years, and it definitely shows from its grace, effortless cohesion, and uninhibited gentleness. In two discs, and only six tracks total, it feels new with each new listen. From field recordings, unprocessed organ, shattering blips of electronics, to processed soundscapes, it never loses its focus, and shifts seamlessly, without interruption, from completely processed, to totally acoustic and back again, with an ease many artists in the world wish they could harness. Asuna's 2009 release Flowers on New York's Music Related label isn't far behind, even containing a ‘hip-hop field recording,' but for now, THIS stands as my pick of the year.
d_rradio (Chris Tate): An album that we've really enjoyed this year is Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix. Really energetic, uplifting songs with great melodies, and the production on Phoenix's records is always brilliant. Also, the new field music stuff is awesome, as usual.
Drivetrain (Derrick Thompson): Though there were so many great albums to choose from in 2009, I would like to make special mention of Nicolay's City Lights Volume 2: Shibuya. This album touches me on so many different levels. I love the musicianship and artistic creativity. But even deeper, this album hits me emotionally. The music seems to speak to me in ways that few recordings do. The chord progressions, the instrumentation, the lyrics, and last but not least, the amazing vocalist, Carlitta Durand—this combination scales through the spectrum of my inner-being. I can sit back on a Sunday afternoon and chill-out to this album over and over again.
Jamie Drouin: Picking out a favourite release from a year of music buying is an impossible task. Depending on my receptiveness on a given day, or how it relates to what I am currently working on, the list of favourites is forever evolving. There is also the realization while sifting through 2009 purchases how many are actually releases from previous years, so forgive my rather indiscriminate timeline, but I am simply going to select a CD which has seen a lot of time on my CD deck this year: Fordlandia by Jóhann Jóhannson (2008, 4AD).
FJORDNE (Shunichiro Fujimoto): Marc Copland's New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 3: Night Whispers. It was hard to choose the best album for 2009. This album by Marc Copland's Trio is an album that I listened to a lot throughout this year. I love how his interpretation changes the standards into beautiful, mysterious songs.
The Green Kingdom (Michael Cottone): When mulling over the albums I've enjoyed this past year, I've noticed that at least a few felt really special in the way they combine acoustic instrumentation, processing, and field recordings, those being: Peter Broderick and Machinefabriek's Blank Grey Canvas Sky, Jónsi and Alex's Riceboy Sleeps, and Le Lendemain's Fires. These albums are just so interesting both in terms of melody and texture, they seem to just stop time, really taking you to another place altogether.
Ian Hawgood: Rara Speaks by Lucky Dragons (Moamoo/Art Union). I do a lot of my record shopping in Warszawa and Tower Records in Shibuya (Tokyo), quite often buying bunches of CDs within minutes of hearing them. This album, whilst it caught my attention with its unique sound, I didn't really feel like there was enough within the pieces to warrant buying it (CDs in Japan cost a heck of a lot of money too). I saw it again a couple of weeks later and basically bought it based on the artwork. Since then it's just grown and grown on me, and now I think it's just an incredible album. Whilst there are more fully developed records, this album has such a unique quality and beauty I have had it on daily rotation whenever I have time in my day. It's the first record I put on, no matter what mood I am in. Its instrumentation and recording quality just makes it such a unique release. It's just got its own unique, really awesome character, and those are the best kinds of works for me.
Intrusion (Stephen Hitchell): One album which really struck me in 2009 has been from Kevin Martin with his King Midas Sound project. The eerie feeling this album left on me was overwhelming; there is something about his use of texture that is almost supernatural. This album has stayed on repeat for a long while, and I am sure will find steady rotation in the years to come. Another favourite of mine has been from The Moritz Von Oswald Trio with their Vertical Ascent album. I will openly admit upon first listen it didn't have the same impact on me the way his previous work had; it was something that slowly developed and matured over time. Now at the hundredth or so listen it has become a new setting for my stereo, a fully developed spectrum of sonics I've not felt with any other material he's recorded. Another person who has had so much of his heart and soul on display this year is Brock Van Wey whose release To Live on Smallfish is nothing short of beautiful; it's an epic in every sense of the word; it gives birth and breaths life in every note until the last bittersweet breath; it's a composition I will personally treasure forever. Last but certainly not least is the work of Stephan Laubner. I was truly amazed when I first heard his release on Smallville, From A Distance, which has graced my turntables no less than fifty times in the past six months; it has that same magic vibration I felt with Rod Modell & Mike Schommer's early work as Deepchord.
There have been a lot of great albums, remixes, and releases from many artists this year: Brendon Moeller, ERP, Arc Of Doves, Anthony Shakir, Thomas Köner, Linkwood, Luke Hess & Brian Kage, XDB, STL, ZzzRa, Arne Weinberg, Sean Deason's Matrix imprint, Seldom Felt, DJ Bone's Subject Detroit catalog, Omar S, Jamal Moss, Traxx, Area, MLZ, Peter Van Hoesen, Vladislav Delay, Monolake & T++, Lawrence, Levon Vincent, Sandwell District, SND, Ben Frost, Black Jazz Consortium, Cio D'or, Planetary Assault Systems, Andrés, Kirk Degiorgio, Demdike Stare, Newworldaquarium, Quince, Martyn, Benga, Hyperdub's 5 compilation, The Smallfish three-inch contributions, Scuba's Hot Flush label has been killing it, Mike Huckaby's S Y N T H mixes, the re-releases on Pressure Sounds (above and beyond), even Mike Bank's Underground Resistance has come back with two massive twelves, Marcel Dettmann, Shed, Redshape, and Ben Klock have also had some excellent contributions. This list could go on forever; it's been a strong year for quality music, and I hope for the same in 2010.
Isnaj Dui (Katie English): There have been so many wonderful releases this year but two particular favourites spring to mind. I have been lucky enough to collaborate with both these artists this year, live and on record, and have learned something different about the way I work from both for which I am truly grateful. Secrets of Me by Andy Nice: The layered cello and range of sounds produced make this a beautiful collection of tracks; experimental and yet through Andy's use of melody are completely accessible. The layered cello builds up to almost orchestral proportions whilst still remaining intimate in its delivery. For a debut release I'm looking forward to what comes next! Degrees, Integers by Konntinent: The range of tracks on here is what keeps drawing me back. From found sound field recordings to more melodic-based work this album draws on many influences and yet holds its own identity throughout.
Jasper TX (Dag Rosenqvist): There have been loads of good releases during this year and I could probably write an essay here. So I figured I'd write something about two of my favourite albums of 2009:
Danny Saul: Harsh, Final (White Box). I first met Danny in Manchester in March 2008 when we shared the bill at The Tiger Lounge. The only thing I remember from his set is an early version of the track “Cannonball” which at that point sounded quite different from the version that eventually ended up on the album. But even back then it was a killer track, and when I eventually heard the album version I was totally blown away. To call it massive would be an understatement. The album is like an updated version of a singer-songwriter album, full of beautiful melodies and vocals, haunting drones and lush finger-picked acoustic guitar. I cannot recommend this album strongly enough.
Heather Woods Broderick: From the Ground (Preservation). This is just one of those timeless albums where the songs immediately feel like something you've always kind of known. You think that you've heard it before but that's just the nature of these tracks, and there's almost an archaic feeling to the album in a way. Everything from the vocals to the melodies to the arrangements and the production is perfect in every way—just listen to the track “Wounded Bird” and you'll know what I mean. I listened to this album a lot when I was away on tour in November and in a weird way it gave me a feeling of home and a sense of belonging.
Other good releases during 2009: Zelienople's Give It Up (Type), Pillowdiver's Sleeping Pills (12K), Peter Broderick & Machinefabriek's Blank Grey Canvas Sky (Fangbomb), Motorpsycho's Child of the Future (Rune Grammofon), Mastodon's Crack The Skye (Relapse), Wolves In The Throne Room's Black Cascade (Southern Lord), Simon Scott's Navigare (Miasmah), Nils Frahm's The Bells (Kning Disk), Good Stuff House's Endless Bummer (Root Strata).
Rickard Jäverling: The two albums I spent the most time with this year were Musette's Datum and Ok Star Orchestra's Cobra Sessions.
Musette is a little combo centered around pianist Joel Danell. I came across his work when paired with him for gigs and reviews, and we do make a good pair! Datum is Swedish for dates, and the album's presented as a musical diary. Sweet little instrumentals, each entitled by the date it was written, that appear to be the soundtracks of Joel's daydreams. And what nice daydreams he has! Halfway through the first track you're off on your bicycle, crossing meadows, heading for Paris and back. Then you realize you're through the whole record and have fallen asleep with a big smile on your face, so you put on the kettle and press play again. Off you go, again and again!
Ok Star Orchestra is a trio that I came to know through guitar player Tommy Galento, who is a good friend and an always exiting underdog in the Swedish underground scene. Galento's mostly done weird music for documentary films before, and I was very surprised to hear Ok Star Orchestra for the first time. Cobra Sessions is primitive afro-blues for two guitars and a drum kit. For a couple of tracks, Tommy invites a friend who plays the tuba, and sometimes he samples his cat. Strangely it works! It's not every day you come across contemporary blues that's all you want blues to be—in fact it's never happened to me before! But Cobra Sessions is truly fantastic. It's playful and melodic yet with a held-back, sparse stomp. No solos, only ... music! Seeing them perform live is even better, of course. Tommy's wearing his best suit, beating his oldest guitar, nodding his poker face.
Leyland Kirby: Simon Scott's Navigare (Miasmah). I didn't have a favourite album of the year and don't have one of any year. These days it's all one big audio mess, be it downloaded audio, purchased audio or audio given to me by fellow musicians. Latterly this was one such album I was given; Simon had been speaking to me earlier this year via e-mail and it turned out he was heading to Berlin. To be honest I'm not really one for going to see live music; in an era when we are told live is the way to go I would rather listen to music in a more personal way without the temptation of girls and drink at shows (That excess is saved exclusively for the late-night 24-hour dirt bars of Berlin and Continental Europa). Simon was lucky as his show was about five minutes from my front door, so on a windy and dank Berlin night I went down there with six girls to a converted church, sinking whisky whilst feeling part of this non-religious congregation.
The show was very atmospheric, audio and venue working together creating a bigger whole and the perfect tone. The girls all enjoyed it; I sank more whisky and before and after I spoke briefly with Simon and we exchanged albums and then we went our separate ways, to separate bars and experiences in the dark Berlin night, myself firstly sinking the ship with the girls I went to the show with, and latterly with some Spanish girls hitting the Scotch Malt whisky like a bowling ball; I don't remember arriving home but the fresh bread when I awoke suggests I came via the bakery.
I have had the pleasure of listening to Simon's album many times since, and was lucky to play with him in England and to see him in Berlin again just before the bad weather hit. My friend Ivan who designed my record sleeves was telling me about his involvement in Slowdive, a group I admit to knowing nothing about even as I write this little text; maybe I will check it out, maybe not, hopefully it will happen by accident.
As for Navigare itself here I have only described how I came across it; it's not for me to describe it per-se; we live in a day and age now where if you are interested enough you can find it for free online, download it, check it out, maybe you won't like it, maybe you'll fall in love with it. If we are super lucky then maybe you will buy it to help fund ongoing and new works as we all live in what Kenny Loggins once described as “the danger zone” and as an ex-girlfriend often said to me, “It's fucked up but you are always one pound away from bankruptcy but keep surviving.” With that sheer will power we walk the tightrope but love the thrill of it.
orchestramaxfieldparrish presents ÆRA (Mike Fazio): David Sylvian's Manafon, one of the few releases of 2009 which has affected me on a deeper level than most others have this year. As I listen to this recording, a journey plays out into the more unfortunate side of events; living with them and learning from them and the natural human reaction of rebelling against and overcoming them. Most people do not expect to be moved by music today but when it happens, it must be embraced or the experience of growing from that moment is lost forever and wasted. Manafon is one of those recordings that I'm very glad was made and released into the world. From the first gut-wrenching strains of “Small Metal Gods” which absolutely stops time for me and grabs hold, the mood is established and sustained. I WANT to be challenged by an artist and that's all I'm going to say about the naysayers swirling around this release. This is a brave, beautiful and uncompromising artistic statement.
Manafon just naturally expanded my own thoughts onto how and where an artist can travel inwardly without being motivated at all by outside influences or commercial gain. Comprised of brilliantly executed and highly restrained improv between musicians revealing a common chemistry between them and all wonderfully captured in the recording process. Most musicians simply do not ever get the chance to create and record in this fashion. Sylvian's skill of later constructing these improvisations into a pristinely engineered, mixed, and flawlessly mastered recording in superior fidelity is total genius. Of course, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, and a few others have worked in this idea before of merging disparate performances into cohesive final statements but the end result here is quite different and pushes the envelope into other landscapes. But Sylvian is no stranger to experimental improv, dating as far back as 1985 with Alchemy - An Index Of Possibilities and Words With The Shaman, the two collaborations with Holger Czukay Plight & Premonition (1988) and Flux & Mutability (1989) as well as the Miles Davis-inspired and regrettably only collaboration of all of the former Japan members within the context of Rain Tree Crow (1991). I can also hear a common thread with 1989's Pop Song where John Taylor's beautiful piano playing is uncannily acting as a ghostly template for John Tilbury's added sketches here and Sylvian's pointillistic abstract synth playing on the Pop Song EP sets the scene for the whole landscape going on here. I'm sure this is absolutely unintentional but it nevertheless shows Sylvian's long-time view about thinking in these outer musical terms, and Manafon is a logical progression of these ideas. I quite love the fact that this recording has absolutely no harsh digital artifacts at all to distract my ears and turn my attention away from the depths of its dark, introspective beauty. At the center is Sylvian's voice and his storytelling, anchoring like a point of light. A voice with a story to tell. Now maturer, experienced, sadder and wiser, and moved on, for example as he emphatically states in the lines:
...Small metal gods
The deluxe version that was released with the DVD Amplified Gesture, signed art print and duo of hard-bound books encased in a simple but elegant custom made retro slipcase, is the definitive version of this release and is a testament to how beautiful recordings taken as a total package can indeed be in this age of insanity of force-fed inferior mp3s for mass consumption as a way artists as well as the listening public have been connived into thinking audio has to sound and must be released for sale. A boldly reactionary work of art. I have truly been touched, inspired, and motivated by this astonishing work, and I can never look at new music in the same light ever again.
Glen Porter (Ryan Stephenson): My favourite album of '09 is Clutchy Hopkins' Music is My Medicine. It is a great album that you can listen to from beginning to end on repeat. The album has a magical vibe and sparks the imagination to take you to strange and new places. Each track somehow sucks you in and spits you out with finesse. The album reminds me of a cocktail lounge in a place and a time I can only dream of being part of.
Simon Scott: 2009 Album of the Year: Nils Frahm's Wintermusik (Sonic Pieces). When this album was released, the lucky few that grabbed the 333 copies asked who this guy was and suddenly were obsessing over these three majestic musical gems. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the amazing Dunton studio, owned and set up by Nils in Berlin, to find an analogue studio full of tape machines, vintage synthesizers, and delightfully restored pre-war microphones. It had me begging Nils to record two tracks I had written which we did over two afternoons (out on Sonic Pieces on 7” vinyl in 2010). In here he wrote, recorded, and mastered this album with almost no one knowing in 2007 just how talented a songwriter, producer, and engineer he is. His piano playing skills are obviously remarkable but the main reason I have played this album to death is the depth of the compositions and the magical musical universe it transports you to. “Ambre” starts the album with a bittersweet tone that sends me back to the 1970s when I was a boy running through fields, swimming in streams, and generally loving the discovery of the world as a child. There is a wintry chill in there too that leaves your adult self pondering how cruel everything gets as you become aware of just how much sadness there is in this world.
The album works in many different listening environments, with one track “Tristana” lasting over seventeen haunting minutes, but the piano, celeste, and reed organ fits my world perfectly come rain or shine. Nils also released The Bells this year and that is indeed another mighty album, but I love Wintermusik , home-made sleeve included, just a bit more as it has captured a raw talent at the point just before everyone wants a slice of Nils and his talent. Second place: Mark Templeton & aA. Munson: Acre Loss (Anticipate); in joint third place: Leyland Kirby: Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was (History Always Favours The Winners); Peter Broderick: 4 Track Songs (Type).
Small Color: Our favorite album in 2009 is Snowflakes and Carwrecks (Fat Cat) by Hauschka, an artist who plays prepared piano in Germany. We've been listening to his works and found that this album greatly enlarges the possibility of prepared piano. The sound of the piano is like a bright landscape filled with countless raindrops where we forget that they are piano sounds. Very original, experimental, and so beautiful.
Talvihorros (Ben Chatwin): In 2009 I found myself going back over records of my past more than ever. It became apparent to me that it is almost impossible to keep up with the constant stream of releases that vie for my attention so I stopped trying and with a large record collection sitting in various boxes around my place it was pretty good fun going back and listening to old favourites and albums that had slipped past my radar first time round. Film soundtracks became a bit of an obsession, Twin Peaks by Angelo Badalamenti probably being my favourite and something I put on far more than any other record in 2009. There are many reasons why it works so well as a soundtrack to a television series but it also stands up separately from Lynch's visuals and much like Twin Peaks itself the music is a surreal and mystical world that you can lose yourself in and one I like to frequently visit. I really appreciate great packaging so would also like to mention Richard Skelton's self-released work at Sustain Release, which is musically stunning and his attention to detail in the overall aesthetic is beautiful.
Mark Templeton: I saw Giuseppe Ielasi perform in Ferrara, Italy in late 2008. After the performance he mentioned that most of the material was from his upcoming Stunt and Another Stunt EPs to be released on his Schoolmap Records in early 2009. As a result, Stunt was the first album I purchased in 2009 and one that I seem to keep coming back to again and again. It's one of my favourite albums of the year because I feel challenged and drawn in every time I listen to it. After each subsequent listen, new details reveal themselves. I like how the album is continually moving. I don't tend to get bored. The wobbly rhythms and crackle effect lure me in. There is a melodic variation that develops throughout a number of the tracks. I like how the album not only shows off Giuseppe's editing skills, but also displays melody in a very rich and textured format in and amongst the splices of oddities.
Christopher Tignor: 2009 has been mostly filled with so much of my own record-making and playing on other people's records that it can be hard to get your ears on other folk's stuff. But my drummer Theo occasionally brings me CDs that moved him while on his drive into the city for rehearsals and one of the albums that really impressed us was Pattern Is Movement's 2008 All Together (Hometapes). Such keen, focused constructions. The brass parts, timpani hits, strings, glock runs, and all the other instrumental "accessories" are so insightfuly interwoven, not to mention the razor beats, synth riffs, and that captivating singing voice which comprise the bands' core. Just a really clear realization of a really focused aesthetic, immaculately produced by Mr. Scott Solter.
Alexander Turnquist: My list of 2009 favourites is a collection of albums that have been in constant rotation from the time I heard them first this year until present.
worriedaboutsatan (Tom Ragsdale): Hmm, this is a tough one, so many amazing albums this year! I think I'd have to pick Glider by The Sight Below. I first came across this artist when I was at a music festival in Barcelona this year. It was around 5pm and the sun was blazing down. Jeff Mills' project known as The Wizard had just finished and everyone was completely exhausted from his amazing selection of old skool breaks and funk. The Sight Below took the stage and completely hypnotized me for around forty minutes. Just breathtaking, especially in that climate. No one really knew what was happening. I bought Glider when he played in our home town Leeds a few months after the festival and it kind of gave me my “sound for summer and autumn.” Highly addictive!
Kez YM: My favourite album of 2009 is Andres II by Andres, from Mahogani Music Detroit. It's full of raw vibrations in various BPMs in one 12-inch so you can listen to it again and again like an album from the ‘70s. Of course it also works on the dance floor when you play it.