Ahoy, readers! Like darn near ev’ryone else, I like to end a music-filled year by reflecting on the sounds that came my way in previous the twelve months. But I can’t come up with a “best of” or a “top ten” list, because frankly those things are impossible. No way I can recall every album/label/artist whose work took temporary residence in my headphones, much less rank them in any sort of sensible order. So I’m not gonna do that. Instead, here are just a few albums that I enjoyed… not necessarily the best, certainly not in any order, far from complete, and they aren’t even all from 2018. Just things I’ve listened to that have stuck with me. Take this as a quick snapshot… or a friendly guide to some audio art that you might have missed.
Laurie Spiegel The Expanding Universe – Stone-cold brilliant computer music made in the 1970s, but which sounds futuristic even today. You can, if you like, pore over the detailed liner notes explaining exactly how onerous the process of composing this stuff (at Bell Labs, using punch cards and computers that took up entire temperature-controlled rooms) was… or, you can simply bathe in its buoyant, deleriously human minimalist mantras and feel grateful that this even exists.
Bob Bellerue Music of Liberation –Take that title seriously. Slabs of heaven-bound yowl that reach levels of such ecstatic stasis that it ought to include a warning to not listen while operating a vehicle. A varied, detailed, impeccably produced album of epic scale and black-hole-level gravitational oomph.
Nakayama Munetoshi Floating to Kill Time – I’m just going to quote how the artist describes this stuff: “I make background music for my hair salon using five synthesizers I’ve got set in the wall behind the cash register.” Huh?
Rudolf Eb.er Om Kult: Ritual Practice of Conscious Dying Vol. 1 – Anyone wanna look straight into the eye of their own mortality? Anyone think that sounds like a good time? In a way, that’s what Eb.er (aka Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock) has been doing all along; psychic training to overcome corporeal horror and intellectual roadblocks on a path toward… freedom? Enlightenment? Peace? I won’t pretend to fully understand this, but I don’t think I need to. I will say for damn sure that nothing else matches the experience of entering Eb.er’s personal sound world for an hour or so, and that his work gets better and better all the time.
Cardiacs Songs for Ships and Irons – Simply one of my favorite bands. This is a collection of early EPs and is as good an introduction to them as anything. The first two tunes, “Big Ship” and “Tarred and Feathered”, will either make you fall in love or else press the stop button as fast as you can. You’ll know pretty quickly which side you fall on.
Z’ev Solo Percussion, BOX @ Fastidious – Before his tragic and much-too-early death, legendary percussionist Z’ev was in the process of uploading previously unreleased live concert recordings from his archive, some dating all the way back to 1979.
Mike Shiflet Tetracosa – Unfathomably herculean album that lasts 24 hours, released in eight installments over the course of 2018. Not a single 24-hour piece (lazier artists have done that with an easy time-stretch, which is emphatically not what Shiflet has done here), but a series of compositions that together last for a full day. I know what you’re thinking, and no I haven’t listened to the entire damn thing. But I’ve dipped in for extended stays and at every location I’ve found compelling and lovely music.
Systematics What We Did In the Afternoons – Terrific collection of synth-post-punk strangeness from early 1980s Sydney, Australia. Demos and alternate takes of music you probably never got to hear the first time ’round.
Ikuro Takahashi Music of Them – Electronic tape noise and percussion by Takashashi, who was a member of Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Kousokuya, Fushitsusha, CHE-Shizu and lots more heavy bands from Tokyo’s PSF-orbit psych rock underground.
Fergus Kelly Trembling Embers – Tabletop strings and amplified doo-dads blend and blur with electric whatsis of unknown/unknowable origin. Pretty darn engaging audio drama.
va – Science Fiction Park Bundesrepublik – I’m a big fan of Germany’s early 80’s DIY synth-post-punk scene… but Felix Knoth (aka Felix Kubin) is an expert on an entirely different level. For this compilation, Knoth chose songs by the best of the ultra-obscure underground… bands like CH-BB, ZSKA, Plastiktanz, X2, Neros Tanzende Elektropapste, and others you’ve never heard of.
Gallery Six Pastoral Green – The title is kinda on the nose for this one, but it could be applied to any album by Hidekazu Imashige/Gallery Six. Sober, shimmering sleeping pills that ooze along in ambient fog. Lovely stuff to play in the background as you doze off on a weekend afternoon. Not dissimilar to Hakobune or Hirotaka Shirotsubaki.