The Knife's Tomorrow, In A Year as presented by Hotel Pro Forma in October 2010 as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival
2010 TOP 10s & 20s
Once again we offer up our annual 'year end' selections of what captivated our ears and stayed with us throughout the year. These particularly diverse lists were fashioned in accordance with a simple principle: only those releases that were submitted for review consideration to textura during 2010 were considered eligible. Put simply, these are the recordings that impressed us most of all and to which we found ourselves repeatedly returning.
01. The Knife: Tomorrow, In A Year (Mute)
Ambitious in the extreme, The Knife's Tomorrow, In A Year finds Swedish siblings Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson attempting a radical re-thinking of opera's possibilities in a two-disc collaboration with Planningtorock, Mt Sims, and the Danish performance group Hotel Pro Forma that's based on evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin and his 1859 text On the Origin of the Species. One thing Tomorrow, In A Year most definitely isn't: Silent Shout pt. 2. Anyone expecting a retread of that fine collection will instead confront a challenging experimental work that boldly integrates multiple music-making strategies in sometimes moving and always captivating manner.
02. Lickets: Song of the Clouds / Eidolons (International Corporation)
The San Francisco-based Lickets gave us not one but two incredible recordings this year, one a two-disc collection of diverse short sketches (Eidolons) and the other a magical, three-part live recording whose central epic is framed by two shorter pieces (Song of the Clouds). The latter album's forty-six-minute title track in particular shows the group at its kaleidoscopic best, while the double set's thirty-four selections extend The Lickets' instrumental palette considerably as members Mitch Greer and Rachel Smith add percussion, harmonium, sitar, mini-moog, and vocals to their customary flute, cello, and acoustic guitars.
03. Sarah Kirkland Snider: Penelope (New Amsterdam Records)
The debut album by NYC-based composer Sarah Kirkland Snider is a ravishing hour-long song cycle based on Homer's Odyssey that bridges modern classical and electronic genres and proves even more affecting when graced by the vocalizing of Shara Worden and supported by the chamber ensemble Signal. Some of the album's fourteen pieces are atmospheric and dirge-like, while others are poignant and even emotionally wrenching. This year or any year for that matter, one would be hard pressed to hear melodies that are more gorgeous and soul-stirring than those distinguishing “The Lotus Eaters.” Material so powerful places Penelope head and shoulders above much else that was released in 2010.
04. Slow Six: Tomorrow Becomes You (Western Vinyl)
If the latest album from violinist-composer Christopher Tignor and company does suggest ties to the prog genre, it's prog in the best and most literal sense of the word (in other words, progressive). On Tomorrow Becomes You, Slow Six continues to pave the way for a new generation of instrumental music-makers, regardless of whether the genre in question is called cross-over, electro-acoustic, experimental rock, prog 2.0, or just simply forward-thinking instrumental music.
05. Alexander Berne: Composed And Performed By Alexander Berne (Innova)
The intricately woven lamentations on Alexander Berne's ambitious three-disc opus (produced entirely free of synthesizers and samples) reveal him to be that rare artist who can integrate lyricism, spirituality, and prodigious technical command into a single package, and the collection constitutes a miraculous sound-world that's too seldom encountered.
06. Jon McMillion: Jon McMillion LP (Neuearth)
Jon McMillion inaugurates the boutique Nuearth Kitchen label with a fabulous collection of experimental dance-based music. If the recording's title seems a tad unimaginative, its musical contents are anything but, as McMillion masterfully weaves a plenitude of vocal samples, beats, and left-field sound design into fresh tracks that are tripped-out and head-spinning to say the least.
07. Rafael Anton Irisarri: The North Bend (Room 40)
American composer Rafael Anton Irisarri has received justifiable acclaim for the material he's issued under his The Sight Below alias. But the work he's produced under his real name is more than a match for it. Recorded in Seattle, Washington, his latest release is a superb recording featuring five, beat-free settings whose beauty lies in their quiet grandeur.
08. The Sight Below: It All Falls Apart (Ghostly International)
It All Falls Apart is undoubtedly the most fully-realized recording yet by Rafael Anton Irisarri under the moniker The Sight Below, and makes good on the promise shown by 2008's Glider full-length and subsequent EPs No Place For Us and Murmur. What gives It All Falls Apart added strength is that Irisarri extends the range associated with the project, such that while the new recording includes samplings of the signature The Sight Below sound—shoegaze guitars undergirded by insistent 4/4 kick drum patterns—it also features grandiose ambient guitar settings and even a vocal piece.
09. Francesco Tristano: Idiosynkrasia (InFiné)
Is Francesco Tristano a piano virtuoso or sophisticated electronic producer? He's both, of course, a fact that Idiosynkrasia demonstrates in spades. On this recording the two sides of his music converge seamlessly and satisfyingly. Adding to that accomplishment is the fact that Tristano also severs the piano's ties to any one genre; obviously the music of classical and jazz informs his style but his playing on Idiosynkrasia, his third solo album for inFiné, transcends a single style.
10. Ikonika: Contact, Love, Want, Have (Hyperdub)
The Ikonika debut album from Sara Abdel-Hamid serves up fourteen radiant kaleidoscopes teeming with synthetic melodies, dub-inflected bass pulses, and funky two-step rhythms where hand-claps punctuate cross-currents of fiery synth patterns like buckshot.
11. Deepchord Presents Echospace: Liumin (Modern Love)
Vestigial traces of the earlier The Coldest Season Part II remain but the Deepchord Presents Echospace follow-up from Chicago and Detroit producers Rod Modell and Steven Hitchell is a radically different animal. Every one of Liumin's nine pieces was made with a specific location or show in mind (the duo used sounds collected while visiting Japan as source material), so the material is quite literally a reflection of the duo's travels.
12. Kyle Bobby Dunn: The Young Person's Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn (Low Point)
Headphones are truly needed to appreciate the beauty of the work NY-based minimalist composer Kyle Bobby Dunn spreads across two CDs on this exceptional release from Low Point. Listened to at low volume sans headphones, the material reads like long-tone works of minimal character produced by instruments of unidentifiable character; listened to up close and with all its detail clearly heard, the listener is caught up in the music's ebb and flow and catches glimpses of the guitar, strings and brass instruments that Dunn reworked using computer processing into the recording's final form.
13. Liam Singer: Dislocatia (Hidden Shoal)
Of all of the figures working in the electronic music field today, none sounds more destined for a side-career in operatic theatre composing than Liam Singer. Some enterprising Broadway producer should commission the man before others secure his considerable talents. By spreading the songs' vocal duties around, with Boxharp's Wendy Allen adding her singing to Singer's, he even fashions Dislocatia to be a resplendent song cycle, just as would a theatre composer. The myriad influences that were audible on Singer's previous album, 2006's Our Secret Lies Beneath the Creek, are no longer prominent, and Dislocatia impresses as a bold and sumptuous fusion of classical and popular musics with theatrical flavour.
14. thisquietarmy: Aftermath (Basses Frequences)
Eric Quach's fourth thisquietarmy recording, Aftermath, finds the Montreal-based experimentalist stripping his sound back to its guitar-oriented essence. On this outing the thisquietarmy sound is captured in its purest and most elemental form, with nothing but Quach's raw guitar attack in play. He shows himself to be a masterful manipulator of guitar-related treatments who's capable of creating from minimal means a sonic universe that's immense and wide-ranging.
15. Talvihorros: Music in Four Movements (Hibernate)
Occasionally one hears electronic producers' work being described in literally artistic terms, with reference made to washes and brushstrokes in characterizing the musical material under discussion. Certainly one of the most painterly recordings I've heard is Ben Chatwin's latest Talvihorros recording Music in Four Movements. The London, UK-based producer uses guitars, organ, synthesizer, shortwave radio, chimes, music box, and field recordings in such a way that their individuating sounds are often smudged into collective blocks of inscrutable character.
16. Bvdub: The Art of Dying Alone (Glacial Movements)
Devotees of Brock Van Wey's output under his own name and his Bvdub alias—the double-disc opus White Clouds Drift On and On and We Were The Sun—will find themselves swooning once again while listening to The Art of Dying Alone. The label name Glacial Movements might suggest icy chill and isolationism, but The Art of Dying Alone exudes an alluring warmth that's anything but alienating. It's another beautiful addition to Van Wey's stellar discography.
17. Morgan Packard: Moment Again Elsewhere (Anticipate)
Morgan Packard's sophomore full-length, Moment Again Elsewhere, represents a somewhat surprising shift in direction for the New York-based producer. Rather than taking the extroverted character of his 2007 debut, Airships Fill the Sky, to a more intense level, he's done somewhat of the opposite in fashioning a collection that invites the term ‘microsound'—not, however, in the familiar sense of music that flirts with inaudibility; in Moment Again Elsewhere's case, ‘microsound' refers to an ultra-focused concentration on sonic texture where melodic cells of acoustic sound are woven into pristine tapestries that are best experienced via headphones or on a high-end system.
18. Celer/Yui Onodera: Generic City (Two Acorns)
Though every Celer release is notable in its own right, Generic City is special, not only because it's the debut release on Will Long's Two Acorns label, but because its sound-world is opened up dramatically due to the collaborative involvement of Japanese artist Yui Onodera. What enhances the material even more is the wealth of field recordings that Celer and Onodera compiled from Los Angeles and Japan, respectively, and integrated into the recording's four pieces. With Celer's customary drone shimmer threading pathways through the field recordings, the resultant sound-scapes inhabit geographical spaces that collectively transcend their Western-Eastern origins and become, therefore, quite literally a Generic City.
19. Dustin O'Halloran: Vorleben (Sonic Pieces)
Lest anyone think Nils Frahm's got the market cornered with respect to Sonic Pieces' piano output, along comes Dustin O'Halloran to add his own fantastic voice to the conversation. O'Halloran's Vorleben reveals him to be an unabashedly romantic composer, someone who fervently embraces melody and melancholy in equal measure in his introspective and ruminative compositions. Put simply, Schoenberg-styled atonalism is galaxies removed from the ten pieces collected on the live recording.
20. Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma (Warp)
In which Steven Ellison, cousin to jazz sax player Ravi Coltrane and grand-nephew to pianist-harpist Alice Coltrane, follows his 2008 full-length Warp debut, Los Angeles, with a self-described “space opera” called Cosmogramma, a dazzling kaleidoscope where every track veritably bursts with ideas and sounds. In fact, where a given track begins and ends is often challenged when an already short piece morphs into a seemingly new song before its running time's over, making the album feel even more like a non-stop, forty-six-minute travelogue that touches down innumerable times in multiple locales.
21. Part-Timer: Real to Reel (Lost Tribe)
01. VA: XX (Ninja Tune)
Put simply, the Ninja Tune XX box set is essential listening for converts and initiates alike. Anyone wanting a recording that crystallizes in a single package the state of beats-based electronic music circa 2010 would be hard pressed to find a better document than this collection. Consider: it includes six CDs, six seven-inch singles, posters, and a hardback edition of the book Ninja Tune - 20 Years Of Beats & Pieces, and features artists long associated with the label. Dubstep, electro, funk, and trip-hop rub shoulders in a set boasting more than 100 tracks, many of them previously unreleased.
02. Deadbeat: Radio Rothko (The Agriculture)
01. Simon Scott: Depart, Repeat (Sonic Pieces)
Though sonic details such as ambient guitar textures and electronic treatments on the songs reveal ties to his debut album Navigare, Depart, Repeat presents a very different side of Simon Scott's musical persona. Apparently some serious health-related scares inspired him to write the release's songs, both of which deal with issues of hope and loss. He recorded the material at Durton Studio in Berlin, where his acoustic guitar, xylophone, and vocals were ably complemented by Nils Frahm's piano playing. The two songs are, in a word, haunting and beautiful, and one also is struck by how effective Scott is as a singer.
02. Morning Factory: New Memories (Yore)
We wish to thank the many individuals who generously supported textura during 2010: Ricks Ang, Trym Asserson, Gamall Awad, Alexander Berne, Charles Beterams, Philip Blackburn, Mike Cadoo, Chris Campbell, Richard Chartier, Daniel Crossley, Shanti and Buck Curran, Taylor Deupree, Christopher Edwards, Lawrence English, Mike Fazio, Tobias Fischer, Brian Foote, Paul Geissinger, Gordon Gieseking, Bruno Lasnier, Jonathan Lees, Leo 123, Eliot Lipp, Émilie Livernois-Desroches, Will Long, Finn McNicholas, Joshua Meggitt, Cam Merton, Bruno Miguel, Scott Monteith, Yann Novak, Mark O'Leary, Morgan Packard, Erich Quach, Robert Raths, Monique Recknagel, Simon Scott, Liam Singer, András Szolnoki, Mark Templeton, Christopher Tignor, Andy Vaz, and Wei.