Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top Albums of 2009: 16-20

Let's move forward.

Clark - Totems Flare
(July 21) (Warp) (Myspace)
RIYL: Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, music that doesn't exist yet

Around 2001, I wasn't quite yet "into" music. I had a few token indie releases, a lot of emo music, I still listened to nu-metal, but I mostly only cared about underground hip-hop. Somewhere in my foray into electronic music, one of the first few releases I really loved was Boards of Canada's Music Has The Right To Children, which remains my favorite pure electronic album. Asking a graphic-design based message board at the time for my music in that sort of vein, someone recommended Chris Clark's Clarence Park and for that year in high school, amidst my burned cds of DJ Clue mixtapes and a then-fledgling Anticon label, Clarence Park was something I told those close to me "they have to hear." Fast-forward 8 years and many more Clark releases and I can honestly say I haven't quite cared about the guy for awhile. Everything he releases gets a few plays from me, I say "oh hey, this is pretty good" and then I immediately forget about it. Body Riddle got a lot of press, but didn't cut it for me. I didn't particularly like Turning Dragon, so I didn't have high hopes for Totems Flare. Now, don't get me wrong. I still think Chris Clark is one of the most forward-thinking producers in electronic music and his ability to blend every conceivable style together is astounding, but Totems Flare is his best work to date. Melding the abstract, the insane, the beautiful, some vocals and everything else, the record demands your attention and you'd be stupid not to give it some. It's a headphone record, unless you have a nice system. All over the place and endlessly exciting. One of the most underrated records of the year, this certainly should have had a bigger audience.

Skyramps - Days of Thunder
(???) (Wagon) (Youtube)
RIYL: Vangelis, 80's movies, Tangerine Dream

Skyramps is the duo of previously mentioned Emeralds guitarist Mark McGuire and synth-playing extraordinaire Dan Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never, one of Tinymixtapes favorite artists of the year. I've only heard a couple of Oneohtrix Point Never tracks and they were decent, but I should delve deeper and I've already shared my opinions on Emeralds. Together these two have put together an awesome album of 80's soundtrack epic sleeze. First track "Flight Simulator" (linked above in the Youtube link) reminds me of Tangerine Dream's excellent soundtrack work to Michael Mann's 1981 film Thief. This is the music you listen to while driving along the strip in your Trans-Am at 3am wearing your sunglasses. You need this music. "Dripping Water Hollows Out a Stone" follows with a distinctly different sound. Lopatin's synth-work transitions from the stabs of earlier into serene ambient soundscapes, while McGuire plays the same echoed chords over and over, creating a sound as serene as the title makes it seem. The track slowly builds as feedback is brought amongst the serenity. McGuire then adds a another guitar track, that comes in above the mix, sounding like a fragment of a triumphant solo of a 70s rock n roll record. "Sky Ramping" veers back towards the Tangerine Dream territory, the synth and guitar in equal parts. Of the 4 tracks on the album, this is the one that could soundtrack a sci-fi film. The album closes with "The Last Time I Saw You", 10 minutes of droning bliss. Guitar and synth effects shimmer and bounce of each other. Distortion comes in and out and at a loud volume, this track rivals anything released by anyone put out all year. It's beautiful. I like this record than any Emeralds record and for that matter, better than just about any other synth and guitar based experimental/drone record of the decade. It gets better with more listens as well, something music from this genre almost never does.

DJ Quik & Kurupt - BlaQKout
(June 9) (Mad Science) (Myspace)
RIYL: Tha Dogg Pound, Snoop Dogg, West-Coast gangster rap

One of the first rap songs I knew all the words to was "Tonite" by DJ Quik. It was on some compilation called Old Skool Hip Hop Vol. 3 or something like that. It was probably put out my Lowrider even. I loved his voice and flow and listened to the song way more times than any song I've heard in the last 15 yeas probably. One of my other favorite songs I used to sing (not knowing what it meant) was "Let's Play House" by Tha Dogg Pound. Apparently I was 9 when that record came out. I can still do the whole song by heart. I tell you this because Kurupt and DJ Quik both had a huge effect on music I have listened to and loved through my life and though I don't really listen to them much anymore or value their music as the best of the hip hop genre, I still celebrate many of their releases (probably more than I should). Regardless of my own sentimentalities towards these two rappers, it was really bizarre to see this record get praise on Pitchfork this year (where it also just ended up #25 on their end of the year list). This doesn't seem like the kind of thing they would hype, though reviews of the album in general were terribly divisive. Excuse me, I'm rambling. Here's what you can expect: not understanding why you like this record which offers nothing new to hip hop. Here's why you like it: it's a fuckin riot. One of the most fun records of the year and one of my favorite car records of the year, this album sounds like two seasoned veterans just having fun, talking shit, talking about girls, doing what they can do and not trying to win anyone over. I doubt they expected positive press or any sort of impact with the album, it was probably just done because it could be. The laid-back feel is the reason why this album is the best thing that either rapper has been a part of since the beginning of the decade, if not longer.

Svarte Greiner - Kappe
(Mar. 3) (Type) (Myspace)
RIYL: Earth, David Lynch, Horror movies

I expected this record to be bigger than it was. Really. In January, I posted this record on my blog with a lengthy review about it's brilliance. I thought this would be one of the most talked about experimental releases of the year. I've hardly seen anything about it, and what I have seen was never all that positive. Just kind of "meh." At the time of that review, the album worked miracles soundtracking cold winter nights in Northern California. I listened to it probably every night for 2 weeks. Moving on and 11 months later, I can tell you that it's no longer the 2nd best album of the year, but the sounds within still captivate me for its duration. It is dark, you know it's dark, you can see the feelings it brings up in me in my old review. The point here is that it hasn't lost the effect it had back then. Greiner has created an album that maintains a thoroughly dark feeling throughout without resulting in a claustrophobic and dreadful sound. There is a faint beauty and familiarity in the tracks that tell you "hey, you need to be in the mood for this" but "that mood doesn't have to be THAT bad."

Junior Boys - Begone Dull Care
(April 7) (Domino) (Myspace)
RIYL: New Order, Pet Shop Boys except nothing like either

It is sad that history will refer to this album as a disappointment. Sure it got lots of positive press, but it will always be remembered as the album where Junior Boys weren't outstanding. That's absurd. Last Exit is a top 5 album of the decade most likely. So This is Goodbye is a classic of the decade in some other sense. Begone Dull Care might not be immediate as those releases, but it does hold it's own, fuck what others say. I called it a disappointment, I didn't and haven't listened to it nearly as many times as the other two records because of this, but towards the end of the year it really picked up steam. It still has the groove that you can move (sort of dance) to. Greenspan's vocals are just getting better and better. The production is still unlike anything else out there. There are only 8 songs and they are almost all a bit longer than people want slow electronic-pop songs to be, but have some goddamn patience. This one is going to keep growing. It's time to make it official and just called Junior Boys one of the best acts of the decade, because they are.

Heyo, Top 15 sometime soon. Probably after Christmas though, who cares. Also I'm not editing or spell checking any of my reviews, so I'm sure there are huge mistakes and sentences that don't make sense and that's fine. Feel free to point them out.


Searcher said...

these 5 i just have not listened to, really, well jr boys i gave a few tracks a try and similar story with svarte greiner, that one the album cover really got me and i had no idea, ok a small idea, of what i was getting into.

clark sounds awesome though, i need to check that out.