2010 ARTISTS' PICKS
As a complement to last month's 2010 Top 10s and 20s feature, textura asked artists whose works appear in that article to select a favourite 2010 recording (or pre-2010) and write a few words explaining what made it special. Here's what they said:
Balmorhea • Alexander Berne • Bvdub • Celer • Dday One • Kyle Bobby Dunn • Greg Haines • Rafael Anton Irisarri / The Sight Below • jozif • Akira Kosemura • K.Leimer • Lerosa • Lickets • Jon McMillion • Dustin O'Halloran • Yui Onodera • Morgan Packard • Part-Timer • Quiroga • Simon Scott • Signaldrift • Liam Singer • Slow Six • Sarah Kirkland Snider • Talvihorros • thisquietarmy • Francesco Tristano
Balmorhea (Rob Lowe): I can only speak about my own favourite records from 2010. Everyone in Balmorhea has his/her own taste, and I imagine that were someone else in the band to pick his/her top picks of the year none of these would be on there. That being said, for me, in no particular order:
Alexander Berne: Ten recordings I found myself returning to repeatedly this year:
Brian Ferneyhough's “Mnemosyne” for Bass Flute and Pre-recorded tape (from the record Brian Ferneyhough, Music for Flute, Bridge, and featuring Kolbeinn Bjarnason, flutes)
Elliott Carter's Symphonia: sum fluxae pretium spei (the second movement, Adagio tenebroso) (BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Oliver Knussen, Deutsche Grammophon).
Steven Wilson's Twilight Coda (Insurgentes)
Ben Monder's Mistral (Excavation)
The Cannonball Adderley Quintet's “Somewhere” (In Person, Capitol)
Andrew Mead's Scena for Oboe Solo performed by Timothy McAllister, alto saxophone (Scena, Equilibrium 32)
Bvdub: Once again my favourite album of 2010 is not from 2010, but anyone who knows me would tell you that's the least surprising thing they've ever heard. To be honest I've probably listened to less music this year than any other I can remember— partly because of my inability to get at a lot of it after my relocation back to China, partly because so much of what I did hear this year wasn't all that exciting, and partly because, just as with most years, when I did spend time with other people's music, it was mostly en route to revisiting the past.
For 2010, no album had more impact on me than Rafael Anton Irisarri's Daydreaming (Miasmah, 2007). In fact, it broke a personal record as the only album I've ever listened to for literally forty-eight hours straight. Though I already loved it in 2007, it randomly resurfaced in my listening selection one day while on a two-day trip to a village in rural China, and from the first note to the last, hit me in a way and with an impact that is hard to put into words. I put it on when I went to sleep the first night I arrived, and it played all night, was the first thing I heard when I opened my eyes, and continued to be nearly the only thing I heard for the next two days. It not only became the soundtrack to an already intrinsically quiet and surreal experience, but as I sat out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but reflect, I found the tracks within not only reminding me about so much I had forgotten but teaching me new things about myself as well.
Though the entire album is beauty personified from start to finish, “Lumberton” was and forever will be the track that says it all. It really is one of the most beautiful, perfect pieces of music ever made. Not only did it break my heart and put it back together a million different times, but even more importantly, it reminded me of the pure power and beauty of music—two things that, quite sadly, I had forgotten existed in the modern, empty ego-factory that is electronic music. I later wrote Rafael an e-mail to thank him for relighting the way—and here I say thanks again. If you haven't heard this album yet, a piece of your life is missing.
Celer (Will Long): Miko's Chandelier (Someone Good). Having been introduced to Miko's music from her exceptional debut, Parade on PLOP in 2008, her new album Chandelier on the Australian imprint Someone Good possibly even surpasses her debut, with its own natural evolution of sound. Even through its relatively short duration, Chandelier is nothing less than heartfelt and beautiful, all while seeming effortless. Possibly the most remarkable thing is knowing that it all came from one person, a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and visual artist. With its tender, amiable nature, Chandelier is a captivating and honest portrait of how sometimes simplicity and restraint can be the strongest and most beautiful.
Dday One: My favourite album of 2010 is an advance copy of Tokyo-based producer Inner Science's Elegant Confections, due out early next year. Listening to the album you forget about categories and get lost in the sea of metallic breaks, glitch drones, and contemplative melodies. Definitely a project that inspires the listener to create.
Kyle Bobby Dunn: 2010 was a difficult year indeed—mentally and musically. I had the feeling of dragging (in sort of a bad way) and also going way too fast for anything to get done properly. I heard a lot of old music this year and of course rediscovered a lot of old classics.
1. Valentin Silvestrov: Symphony No. 6: Something I'd discovered a few years back during a summer of complete uncertainty; this year it pulled everything together in a sort of good-and-bad realization kind of way.
2. Winks: Winks: Kind of downtempo, shoegaze-driven, burn-out pop music... Yeah, there's too much of that these days but this stuff is groovier that the rest.
3. Morton Feldman: Trio: Mode reissued this out-of-print classic early in the year. Strangely, I listened to it more before the end of last year...
4. Infinite Body: Carve out the face of my god: Played a show in Los Angeles with Kyle Parker last Christmas... shit was a bit too loud for the space we had to play in but after hearing the well-decided miniatures on this album it makes sense. Some lovely suites on this one.
5. Jerry Fielding: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia: Not a 2010 release, but I've always loved Fielding's work a head above the rest. There are moments on this heady soundtrack that just floor me. He really has this haunting power of nuance and emotional heft, almost like Stravinsky... especially the hotel room movement...
6. Ry Cooder: Paris, Texas: I don't know why I put off seeing this movie until this year but am almost glad I did so. It was gorgeous and reminded me that good things are still out there, even in this year of crap. Cooder's steel-bottle blues are as heavy as the tears you get from watching and listening to this.
7. Ennio Morricone: Days of Heaven: I revisited this a lot this year, especially over the spring and summer months... truly one of his best.
8. Arvo Pärt: Triodion: I revisited this Pärt more than any of his other works this year for some reason. It has some very distant, somber pieces on it but all packed in at the right time. I can't think of another artist or composer who has been more inspiring or interesting in the last twelve years for me.
9. Loscil: Endless Falls: I remember hearing Loscil back in high school. Triple Point was a great, catchy bit of mood music, and it's perfect music for too much time spent in front of the computer, but this new Endless Falls release is very human and scary in that it shows how close our relationship with computers has become. Or maybe how similar we are to computers...
10. Embryo: Glockenspiel: There's probably too much more I could have added to the list and I don't know if even these simple ten releases are too much but this year was just all over the place and way too scattered. This is a nice feel-good record. I got into a lot of these guys' releases this year.
Greg Haines: In 2010 I bought a lot of records, but stuck more to older vinyl instead of newer releases. Despite being really impressed with the few new albums I did buy this year, I have to choose an older recording for my number one position. While bored and away from home one night I started to search the internet for vinyl from the ECM New Series. While scrolling around I came across a record that looked alluringly ambiguous. The record was called Viola by Walter Fähndrich, with a beautiful, minimal cover that was impressive even within the ECM catalogue. Without researching it or listening to samples anywhere, I thought I would give it a try—any solo viola record on ECM was at least worth a listen! It took a while to arrive, and when it did I was in the process of moving apartments, so it was a while until I finally put it on and sat down to listen to it. When I did, from the first note until the last, I was completely blown away. As usual with my favourite records, I am speechless when trying to describe it, but let's just say that it shows more patience, skill, beauty, and sheer physical strength than any other record I've heard this year. I know nothing about the guy, and haven't tried to find anything out—I'm happy to just have this one record in my collection, ready to spring on any visitor who has the time to listen!
Rafael Anton Irisarri / The Sight Below: Ten in 2010 (in no particular order):
jozif: Warpaint's The Fool. I think it's important to say before I go on that I have absolutely no knowledge about Warpaint whatsoever. All I do know is this album has totally and utterly infected me! It's not often that an album just constantly stays on repeat on my iPod—the last one was Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, so you get the idea—but right from the off this emotional, vibey (and in some places haunting) piece sets the tone with “Set Your Arms Down,” a lonely, two-part, Nirvana-esque twisted bubbler. Personal album highlights include “Undertow,” “Shadows,” “Baby,” and “Majesty.”
Akira Kosemura: Published in 2010, my favourite record is UTAU by Taeko Onuki & Ryuichi Sakamoto. Onuki and Sakamoto are very famous Japanese musicians who have rendered remarkable services to the Japanese music scene and overseas for a long time. Anyway, their duo album UTAU (it means “sing” in English; UTAU is a Japanese word, and I really like this choice) features only the voice of Onuki and the piano of Sakamoto. I don't want to say too much about the music, because I know that I cannot explain how wonderful their songs are, so I will just say that I feel many kinds of things from this record and that there is a tranquil elegance about it.
K.Leimer: Clogs' The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton. Shifting from a cappella through varied combinations of guitar, mandola, percussion, bassoon, violin, viola and celeste, winds, quartets and voices provided by a variety of guests Clogs creates a generally formal setting, exhibiting the practice, control, fluidity, complexity and depth of madrigal, renaissance and modern forms reshaped by decidedly post-modern perspectives. Considering its chamber-like intimacy (a poor but ready comparison might be made with Kronos Quartet) Clogs' aesthetic proves freer, more innovative, and often more concerned with nudging the contemporary ear along untrod paths. Most of the pieces exhibit complex signatures: a difficulty that makes one reflexively smile during multiple changes, exchanges, gaps, fragments, statements, restatements, juxtapositions, and layering that persistently evade prediction, even over quite a few plays. The near-perfect density and balance of these pieces and their relationships to one another derives from detailed interplay and the startled beauty of an unbiased and highly informed sense of curiosity.
Lerosa: This year it has been the first time in a good while where I got into listening again to LPs. That's mostly down to new friends with far more current knowledge of good pop and whereabouts. I have been listening to Twin Shadow's Forget a lot. I love the romantic themes, the catchy ‘80s feel, and George Lewis's vocals. It's a great album, full of personality and romance. Another album I have listened to a lot this year is Joy Division's Pleasures Unknown. The cold and tight production style and those incredible lyrics are truly something timeless. Both albums reflect very distinct characters and experiences, and I have felt close to both artists through them. Long live albums that make you feel such strong emotions.
Lickets: There's no best album for us in yet another year in which we couldn't have predicted anything we heard. If we made a compilation of sounds, it would span at least 2000 years and, after the last few months, would include a lot of P.I.L. and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. There is no single track we can recommend, but his perspective on music is beautiful and music sublime; he will never be forgotten.
There should have been a recording made of the 19th-century gas heating system in Elisa Da Prato's apartment, which produced a mesmerizing hiss that transformed the environment into a strange surrealist landscape once every two-and-a-half hours.
There would definitely be music from artists we played with. Later in the year, Arrington de Dionyso's Malaikat Dan Singa played transportative hypnotic trance punk with lyrics invented by sampling William Blake and the Zohar translated into Indonesian.
We recently played with Kristina Esfandiari and Jocelyn Jade Noir who goes by ALAK, in all caps like many amazing Northern California groups.
The band we saw was with drummer, Jon Coontz, and multi-instrumentalist, Jeannie Masterflash, which is her real name, and they sounded like Silver Apples plays Future Pop Haitian Voodou Party Music.
And several times at Urban Ore in Berkeley, CA, a huge, amazing warehouse of recycled items, music came on that seemed to hard-wire a connection between early ambient music, abandonment, reclamation, and discovery. Beep.
Jon McMillion: A record I've been spending quite a bit of time listening to this year is Splazsh by Actress. More than any other record this year, this one kept me thinking the most. I really enjoy the abstract sound design and the distorted rhythmic hooks many of the tracks employ. There is this air of mystery with Splazsh that kept me coming back for more. I look forward to hearing what Actress is up to in 2011 and beyond.
Dustin O'Halloran: Hauschka's Foreign Landscapes. Being that this year I was busy working on finishing two records, I didn't get a chance to listen to much music other than what my friends gave me. But this can be a really wonderful thing when your friends give you records that inspire and fascinate. I have known Volker (aka Hauschka) for a few years and as we had the chance to tour together while he was finishing his new record, I got to hear these songs performed early on and hear how it all came together. The process is sometimes just as interesting as the final results, for sure (check out his ‘making of' videos!). I think this is an important record because he takes a lot of risks here…and it's a record that really demands a few listens to understand and get into all the complexity. His clockwork arrangements can only be fully appreciated after you really get a chance to get deep into it, and this is something rare these days, I think. His honest sense of joy is really one of the most difficult lines to balance in music, and that's why I love this record, for its honesty.
Yui Onodera: My favourite album in 2010 was Spectra of Air by Taishi Kamiya. I came to like his music very much when I saw his performance before the album was released; he creates graceful soundscapes by harmonizing saxophone and electronics in a very wonderful but peculiar way. Though it is his first album, the quality has already reached a high level of skill, and I have high expectations for his second album.
Morgan Packard: Multistability by Mark Fell (Raster Noton). This music is trying to tell me something, but I don't speak the language. I can pick out only a few fleeting familiar words here and there. But every time I listen I learn to recognize a few more. Or maybe this music is a river of translucent red slices, sweeping my downstream, sliding over me, piercing through me, somehow never injuring me. Occasionally I find one I can stand on for a moment, and then I fall off. Or maybe it's the moment the pachinko parlor realizes that 21st-century networking has permitted it to bootstrap itself into sentience.
Part-Timer: For me two albums stand out from 2010 as very clear favourites. Laura Gibson and Ethan Rose's beautiful and fragile Bridge Carols was absolutely divine. I've been a fan of Ethan's material for some time, but on this release his astounding electronic production talent was married with the beguiling vocals of Laura Gibson to make something gentle, affectingly otherworldly, and sweetly human.
Quiroga: Shafiq Husayn's Shafiq En'A-Free-Ka (Plug Research). I've been a fanatic of Shafiq's musical vision since the Jurassic Five's “Contribution.” Shafiq En'A-Free-Ka reflects the complete translation of a modern funk artist who integrates both the Stax/Motown aspects as well as Boogie Down; the album also mirrors the way a community of people in LA conceive hip-hop, funk and soul. This is, for me, one of the major forces in music—not the business, but the ideas!!!
Simon Scott: My 2010 album of the year comes from Marcus Fischer, which was released on 12k and is called Monocoastal. The songs, the pinhole Polaroid artwork, the combination of found sound objects, and subtle digital signal processing make this one very special release. The music sounds like a child waking up with the early morning sun in his eyes who realizes that it is the first day of the school holidays. I first heard it driving through the early autumn sunshine in Cambridge as the songs slowly unfolded with my car stereo cranked up. I was very tempted to continue travelling until I reached the sea. Monocoastal is the freshest album I have heard in 2010 and continues to reveal itself after several months of continual listening. It aches with reflection of half-forgotten memories from childhood but also magnifies the microscopic observations of the present. This is perfect music for gazing at the wind oscillating the surface of an expanse of water. It is a tantalising juxtaposition of analog and digital that includes tape hiss, subtle guitar manipulations, and a delicate and restrained compositional progression throughout.
Other highlights: Frank Bretschneider's Exp (Raster-Noton), Richard Skelton's Landings (Type) and Tu M''s Monochrome Vol.1 (Line). 2010 live highlight was Ryoji Ikeda performing Test Pattern at Node festival in Modena on 05.06.10.
Signaldrift: The two of us (Franz Buchholtz, John Goelzer) have listened together and separately to a bunch of records both new and old this year, but we nevertheless found it easy to agree on a mutual 2010 favorite: Thomas Fehlmann's Gute Luft on Kompakt Records.
Liam Singer: My favourite album released in 2010 was Clogs' The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton. I particularly love the instrumentation on this record. I also have really enjoyed listening to Pillars and Tongues' Lay of Pilgrim Park, Swans' My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky, Mice Parade's What it Means to be Left-Handed, and Max Richter's Infra. As for (slightly) older albums, I heard PJ Harvey's White Chalk for the first time his year, as well as Ida's entire discography. I've also enjoyed putting birsongradio.com on when I'm around the house.
Slow Six (Christopher Tignor): Lots of cool records but my fave was probably The Way Out courtesy of the Books (Temporary Residence). This album has so many addictive qualities for me. From the hilarious and dark children's monologue cut-ups of “Cold Freezin' Night” (you NEED to see this with the video if in any way possible) to the left-brain-meets-right-brain, melting embrace of those absolutely gorgeous reversed-then-forwarded harmonies on “Beautiful People.” Just to name a few. So well-conceived; so well-produced. Filled with a sort of sad love tempered by some zany, zany humour that reminds me at times of Tim and Eric (again, check the video when they come through live). Nick and Paul've got some chops.
Sarah Kirkland Snider: Between making Penelope, new motherhood, and co-directing New Amsterdam Records, 2010 was the busiest year of my life, and I didn't get to listen to nearly enough new music; there are dozens of albums I'm curious about but still haven't had a chance to listen to. Beyond the eight albums we released on New Amsterdam this year, the 2010 release I returned to the most was probably Clogs' The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton. Some songs had an earthy simplicity, while others mesmerized me with their unexpected excursions and idiosyncracies—like the brass entrance, odd harmonies, and slightly demonic bouncing hemiolas halfway through “Red Seas,” or those thrilling leaps into Shara Worden's high register in “On the Edge”—but all of them take good, old-fashioned musical values like melody, harmonic motion, and narrative pacing and make them sound fresh and otherworldly. And I really love the way all of the influences behind this music – folk, classical, minimalism, indie rock, even courtly Renaissance—fuse and disappear into an expressive language completely their own. Their instrumentation (bassoon, viola, guitar, and percussion) could easily be disastrous in the wrong hands, but here it sounds like the most natural combination in the world. Every song is gorgeously scored and performed, and the recording is immaculate. I like albums that cast a spell, that immerse you in another world. The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton does this by transporting you to a place where everything feels familiar and strange, old and new, like some kind of dreamy post-apocalyptic reflection on a much older version of our world that could only be written now.
Talvihorros: Looking back over the year there were two albums that immediately jump out as being my most listened to albums; the one from 2010 was Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me. As a triple album there is a lot to get into here—and it's more immediate than her previous record Ys although not as impressive overall. It's still a wonderful example of great folk music and interesting instrumentation (much of it courtesy of Ryan Francesconi's exquisite playing). It's a fun record and has more of a band vibe than any of her previous records. All in all an absolute highlight and musical treat.
thisquietarmy: In no particular order, here are my top five records of 2010 (and an honourable mention):
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra's Kollaps Tradixionales (Constellation): The loss of a guitar and the cello brought out this raw anger and melancholy, unlike any record I've heard this year. It is as much of a face-melter as you feel it might rip your heart out. Best SMZ album since Horses in the Sky.
Emeralds' Does it look like I'm here? (Edition Mego): I liked their previous lo-fi outputs alright, but the sounds and the production on this album were totally unexpected. It definitely captivated me for a long time after I heard it for the first time—very enjoyable 70's electronic krautrock synth-based psychedelia.
Beach House's Teen Dream (Sub Pop): Summer is usually a pretty depressing period for me; I guess it's because everyone is high on the sun and parties after being holed up for the winter, and I'm just a year-long fall-&-winter-mood kind of person and not really identifying with anyone. But listening and discovering this album helped me get through it; the infectious melodies and arrangements of this record grabbed me and I was obsessed with every details of it for weeks. I wish I could forget it completely and rediscover it again.
Monarch's Sabbat Noir (Heathen Skulls): I played a few shows with this funeral/doom band France last summer, and they won me over quickly. This is one is from the other extreme of the ambient spectrum, from the dark and angry pits influenced by sludge bands such as Earth/Melvins/SunnO))), creeping up a legion of noise/black/doom metal bands. Monarch is definitely at the top end of the game with these new slabs of drones.
Swans' My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope In The Sky (Young God): I wasn't sure about the “Swans” label for this album at first, as it still sounded like M. Gira's previous Angels of Light output to me. The difference is that you'll want to crank it LOUD after witnessing the intensity of their live comeback. It's one of those albums that is missing half of the equation at first, and then mutates into a beast afterward.
lovesliescrushing's girl. echo. suns. veils. (Limited 2CD Box Set, Projekt Records)
Francesco Tristano: Brandt Brauer Frick's You Make Me Real (!K7, 2010) struck me as one of the most original projects in the past year. It's techno at its finest and most minimal, yet with a strangely organic feel to it (a lot of it is played live), and with a very particular sound. I am lucky to have met the guys; they are absolutely great and insane, and we are hoping to collaborate sometime in the near future.