2009 TOP 10S AND 20S
Once again we find ourselves agonizing over the annual 'year end' list, not only because selecting a number one album is so difficult—on a different day, any one of the top three choices could have grabbed the number one slot—but because, with the veritable tsunami of music being issued in a given year, it's practically absurd to believe that any list could possibly account for the entirety of a year's output in any credible way, shape, or form. With that in mind, the lists were fashioned in accordance with a simple principle: only those releases that were reviewed in textura during the January-December 2009 period were considered eligible for consideration. Put simply, these are the recordings that impressed us the most and to which we found ourselves repeatedly returning.
01. Leyland Kirby: Sadly The Future Is No Longer What It Was (History Always Favours the Winners)
Any number of labels could be coined to describe Kirby's three-CD, near-240-minute release—viral Vangelis and cancerous New Age among them—but one thing it most certainly isn't is tentative. Kirby himself characterizes Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was as “the soundtrack to a world in decline, the heroism of modern life, a document of loss, an essay in gloom, delivered with a brutally honest appreciation of the pitiful truth.” We were drawn back repeatedly to Kirby's magnum opus and partook of its malignant charms over and over again. It's the kind of project that will likely invite equal amounts of rapture and disdain, with some embracing Kirby's end-of-the-world ambient with fervour and others dismissing it as a self-indulgent exercise in overkill.
02. Brock Van Wey: White Clouds Drift On and On (Echospace [Detroit])
Nearly 160 minutes of ultra-deep and time-suspending soundscaping, Brock Van Wey's contribution to the Echospace [Detroit] imprint—White Clouds Drift On And On—is a serenading and grandiose counterpart to the typical material issued by Rod Modell and Steve Hitchell on their label. What gives the release extra heft is its structure: disc one is a set of originals by the San Francisco-based Van Wey (aka Bvdub); disc two is a palindromic treatment of the first, with Hitchell himself treating Van Wey's tracks to “Intrusion Shape” makeovers in reverse running order.
03. orchestramaxfieldparrish presents ÆRA: To The Last Man / Index of Dreaming (Faith Strange)
In its complete, three-disc form, To The Last Man / Index Of Dreaming registers as a remarkable accomplishment by astral traveler Mike Fazio—aka ÆRA (pronounced “ash-ra”), orchestramaxfieldparrish, and Gods Of Electricity member—and one that can't help but seem like a definitive artistic statement. The recordings present heavily synthetic landscapes that more naturally reside in the upper spheres than on earth. Infinitely long trails of electrical tones—largely guitar-generated—stretch over immense expanses like shooting stars captured in slow-motion, and notes shift and bend as they arc across the heavens.
04. Intrusion: The Seduction of Silence (Echospace [Detroit])
This fabulous collection of oceanic dub-techno from Steven Hitchell under the Intrusion name is an even more personalized recording than usual as it's dedicated to his late father (who passed away in March 2008) and includes a song Hitchell composed (and that features lyrics by vocalist Paul St. Hilaire) around the time that his son was born (“Little Angel”). The Seduction Of Silence seduces all right, not with silence but with multi-dimensional atmospheric design.
05. James Blackshaw: The Glass Bead Game (Young God)
Blackshaw's follow-up to last year's Litany of Echoes transposes his spellbinding guitar playing style to expansive arrangements for piano (played by Blackshaw), strings, and vocals. Though he's undoubtedly a 12-string virtuoso, he eschews grandstanding in settings that alternate between guitar, piano, and expanded group arrangements. The album impresses as a whole, but it's the nineteen-minute “Arc” that stands out most, especially when it ascends to a higher plane where surging piano waves merge with strings to form a cloud-like mass of sonorous beauty.
What makes As the Twilight Crane Dreams in Color so special? In simplest terms, it's because the New York-based Turnquist fulfils the promise of his previous experimental guitar releases and goes beyond what he's done before. What recommends the album even more is that Turnquist shows himself to be not only a distinguished instrumentalist but most importantly a composer of distinction. One of the most interesting aspects of the compositional design is that Turnquist often extends his guitar's dense clusters throughout the recording's three long-form tracks so that they act as stabilizing anchors for the intermittent voicings of the tracks' themes.
07. Gareth Dickson: Collected Recordings (Drifting Falling)
Though Gareth Dickson cites Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, Bert Jansch, Robert Johnson, and Nick Drake as influences, it's clearly the latter that stands out from that diverse crowd in Dickson's music; in fact, there are a few songs on Collected Recordings that sound so uncannily like the long-dead legend, they could pass for newly-discovered Drake songs. Throughout Dickson's fifty-minute recording, the finger-picking of his steel-stringed acoustic guitar merges wonderfully with his fragile voice, and the peaceful ambiance created by the slow-motion tracks proves seductive too.
08. David Åhlén: We Sprout in Thy Soil (Compunctio)
Imagine a slightly less operatic Antony crossed with Maximilian Hecker and you might end up with David Åhlén. His heavenly, high-pitched voice is front and center on his debut album, We Sprout in Thy Soil, and that's exactly where it belongs. It's also elegantly supported by a small coterie of acoustic instruments (Stockholm Strings, acoustic guitar, double bass, grand piano, spinet, vibraphone) and elevated by some equally beautiful songwriting. The album's a mere twenty-seven minutes long, yet somehow doesn't feel incomplete as the ten songs of faith—“prayers” might be more like it—compensate for brevity with depth.
09. Bvdub: We Were the Sun (Quietus)
In his latest Bvdub collection, Brock Van Wey stretches six immersive settings across a seventy-eight-minute running time that allows the material to blossom gradually and as a consequence work its entrancing magic even more powerfully on the listener. Choral exhalations, flutes, strings, keyboards, acoustic guitars, harp strums, and soulful ululations swell into gauzy starbursts on a recording that's a natural complement to Van Wey's Echospace [Detroit] opus White Clouds Drift On and On.
10. The Lickets: Her Name Came On Arrows / They Turned Our Desert Into Fire (International Corporation / Gandhara)
Issued concurrently, The Lickets' Her Name Came on Arrows and They Turned our Desert into Fire make the strongest case possible for the San Francisco trio's enchanting brand of psychedelic folk music. As they did on their previous outing Journey in Caldecott, shamans Lena Buell, Mitch Greer and Rachel Smith deploy a mini-orchestra of acoustic instruments—cello, flute, acoustic guitar, organ, sitar, harmonium, hand percussion, et al.—to call into being undulating vistas of luminous mantras and soundscapes. The Lickets' raga-like settings suggest a strong Indian influence, and traces of visionary ‘60s jazz artists like John and Alice Coltrane, the time-transcending drones of La Monte Young and his Theatre of Eternal Music, and ‘60s psychedelic rock surface too as parts of the trio's trippy mix.
11. Balmorhea: All is Wild, All is Silent (Western Vinyl)
On All is Wild, All is Silent, the Austin-based sextet Balmorhea digs into its material with an emotive grandeur that's bold and powerful. Throughout the album, the acoustic group segues between tranquil quietude and dramatic aggression with ease, and produces an uplifting and timeless acoustic music that bursts with vitality. Acoustic guitars and banjo reinforce that timeless American feel while strings bring an oft-mournful and classical dimension to the album's pieces. On its third album, Balmorhea's heart is as wide open as the natural landscape gracing the album cover.
12. Aspidistrafly: I Hold a Wish For You (Kitchen.)
Aspidistrafly's first full-length album is a lovely collection on both sonic and visual grounds. Inspired in part by Banana Yoshimoto's story “Moonlight Shadow,” the Singapore-based duo of vocalist April Lee and multi-instrumentalist Ricks Ang create transporting electroacoustic serenades that glisten like sunlight passing through a spider web on a damp summer morning.
13. Rameses III: I Could Not Love You More (Type)
London-based trio Rameses III (keyboardist Daniel Freeman and guitarists Spencer Grady and Steve Lewis) delivers a set of pastoral dronescaping that takes the listener on a ravishing hour-long journey of generally peaceful and spacious character. The material's sultry sound often envelops the listener in a soothing bath of harmonious shimmer, and one surrenders to the music's intoxicating pull without reservation.
14. CYNE: Water From Mars (Hometapes)
Describing Water For Mars as CYNE's most satisfying collection to date risks implying that 2005's Evolution Fight and last year's double-shot Starship Utopia - Pretty Dark Things are deficient in some way. That's anything but the case—those superb collections hardly need defending—but Water For Mars is neverthless about as definitive a portrait of CYNE's progressive hip-hop artistry as has been released to date.
15. Celer: Engaged Touches (Home Normal)
Anything one now hears by Celer, including Engaged Touches, carries with it the sadness of Danielle Baquet-Long's untimely passing. Nevertheless, the “sound paintings” collected on their Home Normal recording are as ravishing as anything else the group has released. Engaged Touches proves once again that the Celer sound transcends a single descriptor—“ambient” is too limiting, “collagistic” suggests a patchwork quality the group's carefully-woven settings lack, “minimalism” understates the plenitude of materials a given piece presents—so one is best to think of it as a hybrid of all such tendencies.
16. AREA C: Planetarium Project (Sedimental)
The Planetarium Project features four sprawling, thirty-minute explorations by guitarist Erik Carlson in collaboration with other artists. In these live performances, Carlson and company create largely improvisational pieces based on visual scores corresponding to the Cormack Planetarium display. In material that often resembles a resplendent marriage of No Pussyfooting and kosmische musik, the musicians recorded the electroacoustic settings in almost total darkness, with Carlson utilizing guitar, sampler, electronics, tapes, and drum machine.
17. Rickard Jäverling: The Valleys (Kning Disk)
Rickard Jäverling's second full-length album offers an invigorating take on the folk tradition associated with figures such as Bert Jansch, John Fahey, and others. The Valleys includes its fair share of acoustic finger-picking but it's no indulgent exercise in guitar virtuosity. Instead, the concentration is on songs and arrangements, with the album sequenced so that vocal and instrumental pieces often alternate. Every track makes the strongest possible case for itself, with the end result a ten-song collection that draws the listener back again and again to re-sample its many charms.
18. Jasper TX: Singing Stones (Fang Bomb)
Singing Stones finds Dag Rosenqvist (aka Jasper TX) not so much radically advancing his style as refining it to a seeming state of perfection. Characteristic of his Jasper TX output, the hour-long collection features guitar-oriented set-pieces that include both naturalistic sounds, processing treatments, and field recordings. From its beautiful cover photograph of verdant greenery and rolling countryside to its exquisitely shaped musical content, Rosenqvist's fifth full-length impresses as an immensely satisfying encapsulation of his Jasper TX artistry.
19. Anduin: Abandoned in Sleep (SMTG)
It wasn't all that long ago that Jonathan Lee seemingly appeared out of nowhere to make a major impression with Forever Waiting, his debut outing under the Anduin name on his own SMTG label. Now the follow-up, Abandoned In Sleep, finds the promise of that debut realized in spades. Described by Lee as a product of “a year spent drifting on endless waves of sound in the moments before sleep,” the hour-long collection is very much in the dark ambient electronica style associated with Miasmah artists Svarte Greiner, Jasper TX, and Death Center. That Lee chose not to list the instruments involved in the material's production is fitting; the tracks should be broached as complete mini-universes of electroacoustic design, rather than as jigsaw puzzle pieces constructed additively through an accumulation of distinct acoustic and digitally-produced sounds.
20. Motohiro Nakamisha: We Hum on the Way Home (Schole)
Motohiro Nakashima's third album is as warm in spirit and as ravishing in melodic character as Schole's previous releases but differs from them in its expanded instrumental palette. In addition to Nakashima's guitar, piano, and voice, the eleven pieces are enriched by a chamber ensemble of cello, clarinet, glockenspiel, trombone, and violin players. But what most recommends We Hum On The Way Home are two things in particular: the purely natural sound of the playing (aside from a field recording of nature sounds, electronic-oriented enhancements are conspicuously absent, though they may be involved on the production end), and the beauty of the compositional writing. Nakashima has a clear gift for weaving multiple lines of melancholic character into soothing, five-minute set-pieces that are as peaceful as country streams and tonics for any troubled soul.
21. Tomas Bednarczyk: Let's Make Better Mistakes Tomorrow (12k)
01. VA: 5 (Hyperdub)
All other compilations automatically got shunted to other positions once Hyperdub's five-year overview appeared. The double-disc collection—the first half unreleased tracks and the second highlights from the label's first five years—compiles into a single set an incredible wealth of forward-thinking music. All the expected names are present—roster artists Burial, Kode 9, The Bug, Spaceape, Ikonika, Zomby, Rustie, Joker, Darkstar, Samiyam, King Midas Sound, and others—along with a smattering of guest shots from Mala, Martyn, and Flying Lotus. Much of the material transcends a single genre, though elements of jungle, grime, reggae, dancehall, hip-hop, electro, house, techno, and, yes, dubstep all surface at one time or another.
02. VA: The Lost Tribe Of Techno (Subject Detroit)
01. Trish Van Eynde: Belgium (Subject Detroit)
The strong impression made by Trish Van Eynde's contributions to Subject Detroit's The Lost Tribe of Techno is nothing if not enhanced by her own EP Belgium. Much like the imprint's other “auditory strikers,” this ambassador for DJ Bone's label favours a maximal style that manages to be both resolutely machine-based and emotionally-charged. A future-funk mix of polished surfaces and precision-tooled machine rhythms, Van Eynde's alluring “science fiction soul” oozes passion while keeping its sights firmly directed towards the future. Belgium is so satisfying, it makes other techno, minimal or otherwise, seem antiseptic by comparison.
02. Kez Ym: City Soul EP (Yore)
01. VA: Optofonica (Line)
Can we give some kind of award to Line overseer Richard Chartier for ensuring that material of this rarefied and elaborately presented kind finds it way into the marketplace? Though issued in a run of only 1000 copies, the deluxe release perpetuates Line's high standards by packaging a DVD case and fifty-two-page full-colour booklet within an embossed slipcase—an embarrassment of riches, visually speaking. Optofonica presents two-and-a-half hours of twenty-three video-sound projects (involving forty-two artists from thirteen different countries) of the synaesthetic kind you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
02. VA: Colorfield Variations (Line)
Sorely missed and not forgotten, the Telefon Tel Aviv and Celer members left us far too soon but not before enriching our lives with their artistry:
Charles Wesley Cooper III (1977-2009)
Many individuals generously supported textura during the past year in different ways and we would be remiss in not expressing our sincere appreciation for their contributions: Alan Abrahams, Ricks Ang, Ahnne Araza, Gamall Awad, Mike Cadoo, Erik Carlson, Duncan Ó Ceallaigh, Celer, Ben Chatwin, Cokiyu, CYNE, Taylor Deupree, Paul Dickow, Gareth Dickson, Lawrence English, Yair Etziony, Mike Fazio, Brian Foote, Lizzi Ford, Jim Fox, Shunichiro Fujimoto, Gareth Hardwick, Ian Hawgood, Erdem Helvacioglu, Stephen Hitchell, Joseph Holmes, Ezekiel Honig, Akira Kosemura, April Lee, Jonathan Lee, The Lickets, René E. Margraff, Kevin Martin, Craig McElhinney, Clayton McEvoy, Finn McNicholas, Cam Merton, Kevin Micka, Yushi Mori, Haruka Nakamura, Nicolay, David Newman, Mattias Nilsson, Yann Novak, Melvin Oliphant III, Rich Panciera, Ryan Parmer, Philippe Petit, Roger Robinson, Christian Roth, Serge Santiago, Simon Scott, Euseng Seto, Jeremy Shaw, Colin Andrew Sheffield, Evan Sornstein, Muneki Takasaka, Jonathan Thompson, Christopher Tignor, Kentaro Togawa, Alexander Turnquist, John Twells, Alessandro Vaccaro, Brock Van Wey, Andy Vaz, Ben Watt, Kacy Wiggins, and Kazuki Yamaguchi.