Archive for January, 2010

Albums of the Week: 23- 30th Jan

January 28, 2010

This week, what I’ve listened to, helpfully listed in ascending order:


5. Jaga Jazzist – One-Armed Bandit


4. Kaito – Trust


3. Various Artists – Pop Ambient 2010


2. Four Tet – There Is Love In You


1. BJ Nilsen – The Invisible City

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have gone for a new Touch release this week as my personal favourite. BJ Nilsen’s work for me has been a bit hit and miss so far, with the occasional outstanding piece mixing up against some pretty standard ambient stuff, but The Invisible City is much more focused and consistent. The shorter tracks like Phase and Amplitude and Scientia combine an
effective blend of constructed ambient textures with field recordings from across the globe (Iceland, Sweden etc.) with the resulting sound a compelling one, belying the miniature duration. The standout track for me is the 15 minute Virtual Resistance, which begins life as a haze of reversing peaks that subside in to a chilling pulse of cello and synth, punctuated by a distorted guitar which oscillates across the stereo spectrum, with the crunch of pebbles underfoot. It’s wonderfully produced, with real attention to the details in each sound, particularly the field recordings that include a chair being dragged across a room and some kind of ship hitting a harbour wall, recorded under water (well…that’s how it sounds…it could be something else entirely). The only down side is the title track, which sadly falls back in to the aforementioned ambient trope of earlier work, but this is a small disappointment in comparison to the work as a whole.

Four Tet’s new album is more straightforward than the Everything Ecstatic, in that he’s pulled back the unnecessary layers and focused on making sure all the individual elements work as a whole. He has clearly benefited from his time spent with Steve Reid and Burial, as the tunes feature occasional percussive flourishes and distorted vocal samples, adding a new depth missing from earlier work where the intent was seemingly more in favour of cramming as much in as possible. The beats are pretty much 4/4 throughout, but this isn’t a problem because the synth lines and bass work so effectively to shape the songs. I think this is the sort of record that will work as a good introduction to Four Tet, before moving to more cluttered release.

Pop Ambient 2010 was a disappointment. BVDub’s tracks are the best thing here, as expected, and with the notable exception of Jurgen Paape’s 864M with its haunting brass line and distant percussion, the tracks are two or three samples worked together with a bit of delay/reverb. Perhaps this opinion has developed as a result of listening to this record after Nilsen’s (much like the mistake I made last week), but there seems little to delineate the contributions.

Jaga Jazzist’s album is all over the place. The production is an unpleasant fuzz, the arrangements are complicated for little more than the sake of doing so, and the tiny tricks and twists of previous albums have been left out in favour of making a record that sounds like Jaga, rather than one that is made by them. Kaito’s album is not much better. The production is pedestrian, the arrangements are streamlined and in doing so lack any real flair or imagination. All in all a mixed week. I’ll choose more
carefully next week.

RVR’s ‘Piano Tragic’

January 27, 2010


Just a quick one to say that Robin has completed a visual interpretation of a Creeping Jaw Society track I made a few years back called Piano Tragic. You can see the video here and read more about the how and why of the video here. The video should have an epilepsy warning, so consider yourself warned.

End

Albums of the Week : 16th – 22nd Jan

January 20, 2010

<My selection for the week is largely based on things I have been sent, or albums I missed at the arse end of last year (Evangelista). I was hoping to have something more insightful than simply selecting a favourite, but have annoyingly had my time eroded by various concerns. In the spirit of honesty, I thought it better to post than avoid. Next week, when my schedule is clearer I'm going to mention something about my formative musical experiences, how they have occupied specific mental and physical spaces, and how the memory of which obviously informs present choices and continuing bias.


Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise


Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra
Kollaps Tradixionales


Evangelista – Prince of Truth


Owen Pallett – Heartland


Beach House – Teen Dream

My choice of album of the week is going to be Owen Pallett’s Heartland. This choice is largely the product of it being an amazing undertaking, the sort of album where I struggle to understand how one person could not only have had this in his head but also worked with so many people to edit and produce it to near perfection (credits to Rusty Santos and the Czech National Orchestra). One review mentioned a crossover between Andrew Bird and Neil Hannon, which I can definitely see. The vocal has that flavour to it, and the subject matter (a violent fictional farmer) is pretty left-field. The arrangements are clever, and occasionally amusing in that way where you laugh but aren’t 100% sure why the sound combinations are funny. Overall, it’s just a very enjoyable record fully of impressive twists and informed orchestration as you’d expect; with violins gradually falling apart, the occasional burst of brass from the gloom. Having said that, it’s not that easy to get in to, but is certainly worth the effort. I expect to see it on top ten lists at the end of the year.

The other reason for picking it is because the other albums sort of corralled me in that direction. Black Noise is lush, in the non-slang meaning of that word, the production (which seems to be an obsession
for me with electronic musicians) is crisp and uncluttered. It sounds beautiful…but isn’t in the same league as This Bliss. Not that I expected much of a departure, but I still wanted a little more than refinement on its own. Teen Dream was equally pretty, but will perhaps be damaged by those suggesting Beach House are ‘doing an Animal Collective’ this year. I’m not certain if this is meant as a compliment. As I recall as many people hated Merriweather as liked it. Teen Dream just sounds a little inconsequential to me, coming after Heartland. Perhaps I should have listened in a different order?

Finally, ASMZ and Evangelista continue that trademark Constellation sound tradition. Prince of Truth is a good follow on from Hello Voyager (Crack Teeth being a particular highlight for me), but the nature of the production means it sounds a little too samey. Again, I think this is the Owen Pallett after-effect talking, as on any other day I’d probably have listed it in a different order, but there we go…I can but judge in the moment, as hypocritical and ill-informed as that makes me. ASMZ fall in to the same camp in this respect, as Efrim’s ordering, FX choices & instrumentation remains stoic, the songs failing to pull away from the presumptions I have developed about where-the-songs-are -going over the past 2 ASMZ records. Live performance is a different matter; having seen them a few years back at The Scala in London, I urge people to go out and have a listen during their brief European adventure. Tickets via ATP website I think. I’m guessing the songs on here will spring to life in a live setting, in much the same way that they did on This Is Our Punk Rock when I saw them…it seems odd that the new album acts as a sort of introduction to the performance and not the other way round, but there we go.

Weird Tales for Winter

January 16, 2010


Just some advance notice of a week of special programmes on Resonance FM at the end of January called ‘Weird Tales for Winter’. It’s a hauntological exploration featuring music, stories etc. and promises not only to be disconcerting, but also the perfect late night accompaniment to nocturnal worry and new year fear. If you’re in London, Resonance FM is on 104.4 FM, and if, like me, you’re not, it can be streamed live here.

It all starts on Jan 25th, and runs for 8 nights. The full schedule, as well as other curious can be found here.

Next week, Friday’s ‘5 Albums’ feature will return, as I’ve received some of Feb/March’s prereleases (the small bonus of having made a few contacts whilst working on the radio all those years ago) that I’ll be listening to/casting a semi-critical eye over. Didn’t have time to get around to it this week as I managed to both get a job as a librarian and complete my teacher training course so I can now bore/lie to undergraduates. Score.

New Year 8 – ‘Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle’

January 12, 2010


Liam Butler’s fashionably late review of last year’s Bill Callahan release. Danke schon.

When I first read what the title of Bill Callahan’s next release I took a deep breath. “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle” sounded at first both wistful and inane (perfectly suited to Callahan’s style). Ever since hearing Smog (Bill Callahan’s previous moniker) on some probably now defunct magazine compilation in my early adolescence I’ve been hooked on his dark introspection (Drinking At The Dam), bawdy humour (Dress Sexy at my Funeral) and intricate and complex character creations (The Prison Guard). Callahan often draws inspirations from unique personal revelation, growth and reminiscence (). Why is SIWWAE my album of the year? Well, he’s grown a beard which can only be a good thing. However, if lush arrangements and warm instrumentation combined with melancholic and often sombre tones is your thing, then this is the album for you or certainly me anyway. This album will not rock you, this album will not make you twist and shout. It might make you bob your head though and that will be more than enough because too much movement might render your listening to the album a waste. The opener ‘Jim Cain’ will endear fans of ‘A River Isn’t Too Much To Love’ with the simple chord progression and Callahan’s stream of consciousness “I started out in search of ordinary things, how much of a tree really bends in a wind?”. The second song ‘Eid Ma Clack Shaw’ stands out, like a key ingredient, perhaps like red currant jelly does on a venison steak. A song about the memory of one has been lost and the impossibility of shaking a memory, especially in dreams. “Love is the king of the beasts and a beast must kill to eat” the beautiful imagery of love’s destructive and animal instincts. I’m not entirely sure what ‘Rococo Zephyr’ is about but it works, a dainty little number. ‘All Thoughts Are Prey To Some Beast’ is a dark reflection of how falling prey to cynicism and negativity in the aftermath of destruction is a lonely and thankless path. ‘Faith/Void’ is an almost 10 minute mantra with Callahan singing not much more than “It’s time to put god away” drawing on his leanings toward atheism which he also does in a previous song ‘Mother of the World’ “god is a word and the argument ends there. Many of the reasons I love Smog/Bill Callahan and his ilk. This album is so fucking good I’m going to go upstairs right now and listen to it now and leave this summary somewhat conclusively….

And that is, I believe, the end of the New Year. Apart from Chinese New Year, which is at the end of the
week…

New Year 7 – Silk and Dog’s ‘Qinghai’

January 10, 2010


Provinces is essentially a year long project, the aim of which being to produce a new piece of music, once every calendar month, that focuses on a particular province of China, and highlights a story from that province. Thus far Xinjiang, Guangdong and Beijing have been covered. This month, Qinghai, the province bordering Gansu, Tibet etc. is the focus, or more specifically a man currently imprisoned in Xining, the state capital.

There is some crossover here with another Silk and Dogs project titled ‘Laogai’ that will start up again in the summer, focusing on the use of forced labour camps (Re-education through labour) in China. Visits the main Silk and Dogs site for more details and links.

As a precursor to Laogai, this 4 minute composition features a Tibetan singing bowl reverberating through numerous filters in a 10 x 10 room. The idea is that it reflects the confinement and inescapable decay of the physical and mental environment; it is a small, short piece, and in no way does justice to the thousands imprisoned on exaggerated charges in the People’s Republic. Rather it is designed to create a moment for reflection and consideration. It is also a tool for highlighting one particular case, that of Dhondup Wangchen, a Tibetan filmmaker who was sentenced to six years in prison for filming interviews with Tibetans about their hopes and frustrations of living under Chinese rule. He was sentenced on Dec 28th, in Xinjing, Qinghai, without the knowledge of his family and friends, and has until January 7th to appeal the conviction. Rather than my simplified ramblings, here are some links to the Reporters Without Borders site, where you can read the back story to the case, and Leaving Fear Behind, a site featuring some of Dhondup Wangchen’s work. Finally, I would urge people to sign the Writers Without Borders petition for his release.

Qinghai (Right Click to Download)

Links

Sign the Petition
Reporters Without Borders
Leaving Fear Behind
New Ghosts, Old Ghosts: Prisons and Labour Reform Camps
in China
The Laogai Research Foundation

New Year 6 – “This week, I are been mostly listening to David Bowie.” : The Death of The Album

January 9, 2010

Bowie
Today, Lee Broughall contributes his own uniquely ordered thoughts on The Death of The Album…

“This week, I are been mostly listening to David Bowie.”

Conclusion

Every time I return to the following collection of sentences, questions and notes on this topic, I find it less clear to understand what the aim is. To summarise, it seems that I have only listened to four albums this year – none of them for the first time. So I couldn’t fully participate in Spokes’ request to advocate an album first heard in 2009. As a result, I appear to be attempting to outline how the format of the album has changed and is changing. Firstly, I have asserted that albums are borne of technical restrictions such as the size of discs and lengths of tapes requiring a certain number of tracks to be heard in a certain order. Then, I go on to assert that some of these technical restrictions continue to apply to digital music production and distribution in the form of limited connection speeds and physical storage capacity. Whilst such limitations gradually recede, it is individual tracks that will ultimately flourish in the legal download distribution model.

Online distribution methods such as iTunes naturally compete with more physical forms of music. Most of my music listening is now accomplished via Spotify, to expose me to unfamiliar albums – primarily mainstream offerings that I have not wished to purchase. At some distant future point, CDs will likely be replaced. By physically smaller, higher storage capacity USB Flash drives, or by 10TB memory cards, or by an all-encompassing Internet. Without the comforting restriction of 74 minutes on a shiny silver disc, will albums evolve?

The whole topic is too vastly multifaceted for a complete argument to be addressed. It needs discussion and a comprehensible train of thought.

Introduction

For a (former) musician, my listening habits have become stagnant. I stopped purchasing CDs around the time Napster, Soulseek and Bit Torrent started gaining momentum, though that’s not to say my downloading habits have been particularly virulent. The concept of the ‘album’, as a curated collection of music, has become less essential.

2009 avoided furnishing my ears with new music. Four albums rotated consistently:
Elbow’s ‘Seldom Seen Kid’
Kings of Leon’s ‘Because of the Times’
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals’ ‘Jacksonville City Nights’
David Bowie’s ‘Hunky Dory’

Rather than engaging with a new album, this article converses on the death of ‘the album’. I am neither inclined nor willing to advocate either side of a potential argument. It’s the possible death of ‘the album’, rather than The Death of The Album, in categories of popularity and quality.


The Rambling Saggy Middle Nonsense

The distribution of music is hierarchical. A variety of materials are brought together in varying configurations to create instruments. Instruments are played in varying configurations with varying structures to create songs, tracks and tunes. Tracks are structured in varying configurations to form albums. Albums themselves are established conventions.

Rules do not exist to qualify the content of an ‘album’ beyond a collection of tracks. Rather, technical restrictions have shaped its accepted face. The physical format of vinyl discs, tapes and CDs indicates a particular order for the tracks and defines a finite length. Similarly, the process of music digitisation and Internet distribution relies on physical storage and connection speeds. The connection speeds in 1999 restricted music downloads from the Internet to individual tracks and singles. Whilst infrastructure improves to enable album downloads, increasing regulation of the download market to defeat an acceptance of the ability to download for free may suggest that the digital download/purchase of individual tracks (the best tracks on an album) will prevail.

Albums epitomise a battle for power and control between producers and consumers. The production of a music collection with inherent technical restrictions gives the artist the ability to control how the consumer listens to the contents. The continuing development of consumer technology and affordable equipment, from reel-to-reel and cassette tapes to recordable CDs and mp3 players, enables the listener to carve up and curate their own collections. The same technology that has restricted, and therefore created, the album could be employed by artists to retain specific features whilst space, quality and speed issues become less of a burden. Technology could be developed in order to force a collection of individual tracks to play in a certain order without a Playlist.

Supposing albums are becoming less relevant as a format, what are the alternatives?

Is the issue of sound quality relevant when considering if albums will continue to be popular?

Are mix tapes and CDs classed as albums?

Does it really matter?


Largely Ignored Outline

1. Intro.
Have only listened to three albums
‘death’ in certain senses: popularity, quality, sales, listening to as wholes
2. What is an album? What is its appeal?
a. Curated collection of music, designed to be heard in a specific order.
b. Physical collection of music, accompanied by other artforms/artwork
c. Defined by technological constraints, eg. Size of CD/Vinyl/Tape
3. What are the threats to the future of albums?
a. Dilution as a result of availability of music via the Internet
b. Internet radio and ‘shuffle’ function and Apple’s ‘Genius’ shuffle mode
c. Balancing control of the album between listener/artist/record company
d. Mix tapes/CDs
4. Why will the album continue to be popular?
a. Mix tapes/CDs – self curation
b. Question of the audio quality of mp3 compared with CD or vinyl
c. Internet provides new approaches to the album concept – curated collections of music not subject to physical and technological limitations. Future technology could force certain tracks to play in order.
d. Longer individual tracks could create mini-albums or EPs
5. Summary
a. Why have I only listened to three albums in 2009?
b. How are / Which of the above points relevant?

Other Notes

– Dilution of the concept of ‘the album’ via mix tapes, mix CDs, mp3 players, and downloads
– Does dilution = death?
– Other forms of dilution – Polaroid film… Now no longer in production.
– Photo film generally being phased out in favour of the convenience of digital technologies.
– Quality of film still far greater than that of similarly priced digital devices…
– Does the quality question affect the debate on audio generally? An acceptable trade off in quality/price?

Tomorrow’s largely unrelated final contribution, will not be a review or discussion, but Silk and Dog’s January Provinces contribution, this time focusing on Tibet

New Year 5 – Kevin Drumm’s ‘Imperial Horizon’

January 8, 2010


Today I’m offering a diminutive review of Kevin Drumm’s Imperial Horizon:

‘This album, which is a 64 minute track named Just Lay Down and Forget It, could be viewed as a follow up to 2008’s excellent Imperial Distortion, or rather an elongated post script that develops ID‘s later tracks to their logical conclusion. It is not my ‘Album of the Year’, but one that I think people should take some time to get acquainted with. The single track here, along with We All Get It In The End from the aforementioned previous album, has a distinct filmic quality to it, which is obviously a challenge to sustain over such length. I was reminded of an unpicked and extended Badalamenti piece from Mulholland Drive, or perhaps the Philip Jeck track Wholesome, though this sort of simplistic comparison does a disservice to a piece of work that clearly took a long time to develop and produce. The problem with much ambient music is the attention it requires (the term suggests the opposite of what it needs); this piece needs an hour plus to morph, merge, expand, but many people I suspect will drift off, or skip ahead to hear how the track changes. I would urge listeners not to do this. It defeats the point. Put aside the time for it.

To condense the sound in to a few descriptive phrases seems somewhat redundant but nevertheless: perambulating bass sweeps, crackling synth tones, shimmering spaces, coalescing textural shifts. IH is unlike the noisier Drumm works people may be familiar with, and is an impressive display of control, tonal progression and development. It is simultaneously grounded by the lower notes, and ethereal, wandering, drifting in upper registers. This album is best experienced on good quality headphones, so as to pick up the subtle tonal shifts and warping distended oscillations of the track.

My initial listening experience was unsettling, owing to the presence of a tune I could not place, evolving slowly over the first five minutes. Oddly, I’ve identified that nagging spectre as my own ‘York Is Burning‘ composition from 2004. The similarities aren’t that massive, but it was enough to remind me. I played the two simultaneously to reinforce the differences…it’s probably best not to waste the time. Essentially I’m saying ‘give it a go’, but put some effort in to it. There are rich audio rewards to be had.

As a postscript of my own, it’s worth doing a search on the story of Christine Chubbuck, who features heavily on Imperial Distortion (both on the record and in the liner notes), and lurks beneath the surface of this release. Just don’t try and look for the video.’

Tomorrow, Broughall discusses The Death of The Album…

New Year 4 – Immolate Yourself by Telefon Tel Aviv

January 7, 2010


Today’s contribution comes from D.Lippard…

‘Nostalgia is a common trope amongst purveyors of electronic music. From celebrated veterans Boards of Canada, through Tricky’s ‘Maxinquaye’ to the less canonised (but more recent) Ghost Box roster or Mordant Music, there is a clear aesthetic that has developed in the synth-led spectrum for wistful, forlorn melodies and/or a cut & paste style bricolage approach to directly referencing the past via the use of sampling technologies. Even some of the earliest users of synthesizers from the progressive rock of the 70’s often laced their lyrical content (admittedly mixed in their success and reception) with a longing for lost innocence and a return to childlike wonder. Despite this long history, nothing prepared me for a record as intimately distant or alienatingly personal as the latest record by Telefon Tel Aviv, entitled ‘Immolate Yourself’.

To immolate is to offer the self up as a sacrifice, most often associated with suicide by setting oneself on fire. This is an achingly poignant title, since on previous records Telefon Tel Aviv were a two piece. ‘Immolate Yourself’ is the result of a grief-stricken Joshua Eustis, who has lost his writing partner Charles Cooper in mysterious circumstances, with reports ranging from suicide to accidental overdose.

Understandably, then, nostalgia plays a huge part in deciphering the subtext of this album. In a similar way to how Robert Wyatt’s masterpiece magnum opus ‘Rock Bottom’ (another album about loss and the struggle to find oneself again following a traumatic experience) begins with a swooning and hazy evaporation of traditional song form, the opening track on ‘Immolate Yourself’ (entitled ‘The Birds’) is the stand-out track and sets the tone for the emotions evoked throughout the procession of songs which follow. Trilling layered keyboards repeat a five-chord sequence throughout, all pitch-bent and woozy, complementing the breathy looped vocal line – “the Birds remind me of what we made/missed”. Instantly, both the lyrics and arrangement evoke the nostalgic element which anyone familiar with the group before this album and anticipated its release would be aware of. The song is highly reminiscent of the club hit this year by Deadmau5, a single called ‘I Remember’. However the pithy lyrics in ‘The Birds’ are far more restrained than the verse-bridge-chorus structure of it’s twin sister record, and serve as an excellent counterpoint to Deadmau5’s euphoric sense of interdependence between two close parties since the prevalent image is one of isolation and introspection.

This isolated introspection is a theme which then continues. The chords become sharper, more Gothic, and the rhythms alternate between jittery and pounding, which both serve to call a smacked-out 90’s-era Depeche Mode to mind. Vocal lines are either sparse or indecipherable/incoherent, but delivered in cantillating waves, saturated in reverb and echo. The sense of distance garnered by these production techniques magnifies the undeniable loneliness at the heart of Eustis.

Interestingly, Eustis decided to ditch the digital laptop-based production style which had formed the basis of his collaborative work with Cooper in favour of analogue equipment to make ‘Immolate Yourself’. This is probably why the album feels like a rock record, whereas they were very much in the electronica lineage as a duo.

It is certainly structured like a rock record, and this fact in itself is a clear move towards the home listening ‘album’ as self-contained artefact rather than a compilation of songs, but the sonics of the record also indicate that this may be a commentary on the state of electronic music today. The heavy reliance on shimmering keyboard textures throughout read like an homage to the golden electro-house sound of 2004-05, when the Get Physical and Bpitch Control labels from Berlin (Booka Shade, DJ T, Modeselektor and Ellen Allien in particular) progressed in their status as zeitgeist trend-setters. Clubs and parties in those years seemed to be populated by truly open and joyful revellers, at once mesmerised and exhilarated by the fresh blood that the Berlin scene had transfused into a previous sterile techno climate. Since that sound has been appropriated into the more mainstream ‘electro’ moniker which still lingers now, and diluted copycat records began to appear in the charts (examples being ‘Put Your Hands Up for Detroit’, Sam Sparro’s ‘Black & Gold’, David Guetta’s butchering of a classic Tocadisco remix with a sentimental Hed Kandi-crowd-pleasing full vocal) and the ‘Indie’ crowd decided to start taking ecstasy at the behest of Kele from Bloc Party, those same haunts now seem to be less a place of wonder and adventure than frazzled cattle-markets smelling of stale beer and amyl nitrate, where clubbers congregate just to make lazy passes at members of the opposite sex. ‘Immolate Yourself’ appears to pay homage to the golden Berlin sound by faithfully replicating it’s complex emotional depth, while also pointing a finger in the direction which the sound must inevitably take now in order to retain it’s magnetism.

It is this impression – that things that seemed fresh and full of life one minute can decay the next – that ties Eustis’ personal trauma with the ear candy of the production values to hand. It is like a template in hollowing out the form of dance music, so often energetically pulsating and openly about debauchery, physical contact and libidinal desire (a great example being John Tejada’s ‘Sweat on the Walls’). Those misty-eyed keyboards in particular dissipate through the speakers like tendrils emanating from a blind, crouching, lonely child as if trying just to reach something external to himself, to at least prove that there exists something beyond his alienated being. Yet all they end up actually touching is empty space, receptors for the dry ice of the dancefloor rather than the writhing bodies which populate it. ‘Immolate Yourself’ evokes perfectly the sense of alienation that occurs when the lonely mourner wanders from dancefloor to dancefloor seeking salvation, but only to find distance and isolation from others who seem so close physically but are in a different emotional galaxy. ‘

In tomorrow’s piece I’ll be reviewing Kevin Drumm’s Imperial Horizon. On Saturday, Broughall deconstructs the task, reforming it as ‘The Death of The Album?’. The week will conclude on Sunday by deviating completely; Silk and Dogs January ‘Provinces’ contribution.

New Year 3 – Bon Iver’s ‘To Emma, Forever Ago’

January 6, 2010


Rory’s contribution:

‘As I pretty much live off of iTunes now, much to the annoyance of my more traditional acquaintances, my first (and pretty much only) stage of research was to arrange my collection into those songs and albums added or first played within the last 12 months.

What remained was to sort that list into order of album/artist, scroll through and pick out a favourite. I was pretty surprised how few new full albums I’d added in the past year. Quite a few were albums I was revisiting, perhaps I had it on cassette once and now I’d added in digital format, many were simply old CDs I’d added to my mp3 library. The vast majority were albums I’d been checking out and just not liked or one-off downloads of singles and individual songs. Very few fell into the category of ‘albums that I’d heard for the first time this year and liked’. Only 3 albums stood out for me. They were:

For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver

Holy Fuck by Holy Fuck

The Con by Tegan and Sarah.

These three pretty different albums by pretty different artists caught my ears for pretty different reasons. I had a think and decided I wanted to write about For Emma, Forever Ago.

Having first downloaded the album early in the year but not really giving it much thought, I then saw Bon Iver live and thought the performance pretty good. A couple of days later I began giving the album a listen and was instantly drawn in. There was something about the way it was recorded that really set it apart and created a very intimate atmosphere. These days, I rarely read up on the albums I listen to, but in this case I did.

It seemed Bon Iver, (Justin Vernon), recorded the entire album in a shack in the middle of nowhere while recovering from a liver disease. Or something like that. Using his own multitracker and a limited range of instruments and found objects he created the entire album as a demo of sorts, but later decided it was good enough quality to release.

Knowing this, things made a little more sense, and I could understand what has given this album such a feeling of solitude and contemplation. It’s almost as if by listening to this collection of songs, we’ve stumbled upon a portal into Vernon’s head where we can feel and hear his memories and the emotions tied to them.

To Emma, Forever Ago has a very nostalgic, introspective feel to it, set largely by the title itself, which suggests the album might be a list of thoughts which should have been conveyed long ago but which, almost regrettably, never were. Despite this, the album succeeds in never becoming sorrowful or self-pitying, but instead leans toward the beautifully downbeat.

Lyrically, TEFA reads much like a collection of poems, somewhat obscure in their meaning, but fascinating to listen to nonetheless. Themes that can be derived often cover love, ambiguous relations and the flesh.
But it seems to me that the lyrics of the album are entirely secondary to the music itself, serving only to reinforce the atmosphere created by the tone of Vernon’s voice and instruments.

That’s not to say that Vernon’s instrumental capabilities are anything revolutionary. The guitars might be uniquely tuned to Vernon’s preference but the majority of songs are fundamentally conventional in their structure. It is in fact the nuances of each song’s performance that give TEFA its strength and distinct beauty. This was an album written and recorded at the artist’s leisure and in complete isolation, and it shows.

Songs are never rushed but instead flow along at an exquisitely slow and purposeful pace. But most important to its success is the album’s production style. Given Vernon had the time, the space and the freedom to create the album however he wished, you could imagine he was tempted to record and rerecord until the perfect, slick, studio sound had been achieved, but it seems the opposite is true.

The layered vocals of Wolves stray remarkably off beat, guitars slip in and out of sync with each other, songs end like unfinished thoughts, drums scramble in uncontrolled bouts of energy without any coordination or care for rhythm, silences are filled with (un)intentional twangs and bumps of strings and floorboards. There is no doubt that there is something ‘messy’ about TEFA, but for me this is what truly lies at the heart of the album and gives it its accessibility.

To me it is symbolic of the artist’s thought processes, reflective of the nature of the album’s recording process and fundamental in drawing the listener into the mood and ambience. I can almost feel myself in the room with him, despite the fact it would mean he has a dozen voices.

To Emma, Forever Ago is my album recommendation for the year, for its soulful, beautifully performed musings and poetic atmosphere and acoustics. It’s one album worth turning your shuffle function off for, and is definitely going to be a favourite of mine for a long time to come.’

D.Lippard tomorrow…


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