If you like any kind of ambient music, give Ulla Straus‘s Big Room a hoon. I passed it over on first listen as “nice enough”, but am glad I came back to it.
I bought and/or downloaded 105 releases in 2019 and 35 of them are from previous years going back to 2000. And predictably enough, some of the things I most enjoyed listening to in 2019 were from those earlier years, e.g. Etelin’s I-have-no-vocab-for-this Hui Terra, Barker’s Debiasing, and Chelsea Jade’s Personal Best.
Perhaps in part because I already overwhelm myself with so much new (to me) shizz, I always feel a bit overwhelmed by end of year lists. So I’m leaving this post at just one release I’d recommend. But if you so wished you could basically track my buying habits entirely via my Bandcamp collection or most of my listening via my ancient last.fm profile.
This came out in May and is a CD-only release. I loved this guy’s previous releases, and have no regrets on finally caving and buying a CD direct from him, even if it cost me a year’s rent. Almost. Very pared back mostly instrumental hip-hop, with a palette that reminds me of SND and other microsound and sometimes Chain Reaction artists like Porter Ricks (who he did sample once upon a time).
Baffling and intriguing: I seriously have no other album I can point to that sounds like it, except her release from earlier in the year. Reidy plays finger-picking 12-string guitar that reminds me most of acoustic blues, and her sparse vocals are sort of along those lines as well, but through Autotune. And the two tracks here stretch to about 20 minutes each, with a bed of quite uneasy-listening synth and organ parts under the guitars and vox. The end result is actually a bit more accessible than it might sound, at the least in comparison to her previous release, the aptly-named brace, brace. 😅
Lontalius – All I Have (PBWH)
Great second album from Lontalius, one of the better musicians to come out of New Zealand this century so far. Nice and concise; I think he said something about wanting it to fit in the palm of your hand, which works. 🙌
It’s in part produced by R&B producer Om’Mas Keith (Frank Ocean, et al) and separately by Jim Fairchild (Grandaddy, Modest Mouse). It certainly feels like an indie record through and through to me, but does contain a lot of tasty ear candy for folks like me.
Jonas Meyer – Konfusion (Serein)
A very tightly contained set of what I’d comfortably call an electronic record, but with a lot of use of acoustic material (instruments and otherwise). Only one of the six tracks clocks in at less than five minutes, but it’s one of those albums that feels like there’s absolutely no fat on it. And heaps of character. I couldn’t be sure of his influences at all, although the types of sounds and the way they’re used sometimes reminded me of Giuseppe Ielasi’s albums for 12k.
The cover art is on point: is that intricate pattern a digital creation or a photo of a delicate sculpture? Some combination?
Belly Full Of Stars – brokendatapool (Courier)
Apparently I can’t post one of these without a link to someone whose music I “met” via lines, and in this case she’s a Disquiet Junto contributor like me. 🎛
A great four track EP of short electronic instrumentals, where each track is based on some kind of glitch or used materials or software that’s somehow obsolete.
I enjoyed it for the critique of people saying mindfulness is somehow free of values or beliefs, because that never made sense to me, but I also liked that it’s not just a giant dismissal of a set of techniques that, personally, I’ve found pretty useful.
But, you know, everything has limits. This rings true:
[Mindfulness is] not much help in sifting through competing explanations for why you might be thinking or feeling a certain way. Nor can it clarify what these thoughts and feelings might reveal about your character. Mindfulness, grounded in anattā, can offer only the platitude: ‘I am not my feelings.’ Its conceptual toolbox doesn’t allow for more confronting statements, such as ‘I am feeling insecure,’ ‘These are my anxious feelings,’ or even ‘I might be a neurotic person.’ Without some ownership of one’s feelings and thoughts, it is difficult to take responsibility for them.
On and off for the past 7+ years I’ve taken inspiration from a weekly assignment called the Disquiet Junto. Marc Weidenbaum, who runs the thing, offers up some usually basic steps for creating some audio, challenging you to make something and get it online for feedback and comment within a few days.
The original tweet I thought would be a fun musical cue:
It was nice to contribute to the Junto in a different way like this, as I haven’t been actually doing any of the assignments for ages. It got me thinking how I’ve been doing this kind of thing for decades. I think it was in 2000 I agreed to coordinate a remix chain where a bunch of us online in different parts of the world took it in turns to remix the previous contributor’s track. Someone in the project had to build a custom website to upload the files to, because there was no online file-sharing service I knew about. It took forever on dial-up to get the stems… I think I probably downloaded them from work. Back in the days, when work internet and devices would be 100x better than at home.
Here’s a playlist of Junto assignments I have done. It’s probably more fun to click through to tired ol’ Soundcloud and read about each assignment.
Here’s another five things I’ve listened to a lot in the last six months or so. All relatively short releases, which is probably an accurate reflection of this year’s listening.
Saariselka – Ceres (Longform Editions)
Slide guitar, electric piano, just under 18 minutes of niceness.
I really like Longform Editions‘ whole thing of trying to put out long and slowly evolving tracks as an alternative to jumping constantly between things. It’s nice synchronicity with the new Montano tracks Shanan and I have been writing over the last year, which tend to be no less than 15 minutes a piece.
I’m a fussy bugger, so have bought maybe only six of the Longform Editions releases so far. But I listen to everything at least once to see what’s going on.
Kate Carr – City of Bridges (Longform Editions)
At 36 minutes, this one is most definitely longform. Field recordings and enigmatic collage. I like releases where I don’t know how much is in the field recordings and how much is not.
Bonus points for keeping in moments of interference from mobile phones. 😅 Most “field recordists” (ugh) freak out when that kind of thing happens.
Barker – Debiasing (Ostgut Ton)
I’ve listened to this so much this year. It’s techno, but no beats. So kinda also like Berlin school chugging synth stuff (Klaus Schultze), but not as boring. 🔥 Four concise tracks that do their thing and then stop.
Released on the label of Berlin techno Mecca , Berghain.
Adrien75 – Snow Walking (self-released)
For the 20th anniversary of the Adrien75 e.p. (a seven song 12″ released on the long defunct American IDM boutique label Carpet Bomb in 1999) I’m happy to present this new seven song e.p.
And, yeah, it’s a great collection of melodic IDM, with a couple of pulsing four-to-the-floor numbers near the end. If Boards of Canada territory isn’t your thing, maybe check ‘Germany 1999’ at least. Happy reminders of old Farben / Jan Jelinek records.
Loidis – A Parade, In The Place I Sit, The Floating World (& All Its Pleasures) (Anno)
Unsurprised Four Tet is into this. Here’s what I already wrote on Bandcamp:
This is the most dancey alias of Huerco / Pendant I’ve heard – crack up that the 2nd track goes 5 minutes before a beat drops, tho 😀
Like his other aliases, this reminds me a lot of stuff from 15-20 years ago, but never like a total ripoff. And it’s a great sound.
Here’s five things new to me in the last six months or so. Leaning towards stuff you might not have heard. Switzerland, USA, Ghana, NZ.
Martina Lussi – Diffusion Is A Force (Latency)
A varied bag of electronic instrumentals that are fairly hard to pin down. I was vaguely reminded of Laurel Halo’s release on the same label, Raw Silk Uncut Wood, but no really useful points of comparison jump out. I already wrote on Bandcamp:
A great collection of tracks that often feel like their own little worlds, but work well together as well. Impressive when someone has their own voice across such a range of music, imo
Olivier Creurer – Bits (self-released)
Again, this is one I already wrote about on Bandcamp:
Living up to its name, this single track moves through a bunch of different bits, each one a curious little world.
Something intimate and inviting about a beatless album that’s not washed out in reverb too.
I apparently like describing things as little worlds. 🤔
It’s one of two in this list I discovered via the lines community, and Olivier’s comments about his approach there might be of interest to other music-makers.
GALTFaculty – E B O W (Human Pitch)
I keep coming back to this short and sketchy release. Me on Bandcamp again:
I’m not going to pretend I’m schooled up on Ghanaian beats, but the loops on here have the greatest feels. Sometimes loopy sample house hits just right. This is one of those. Favorite track: Owned It.
Rosenau & Sanborn – Bluebird (Psychic Hotline)
The second I heard about via lines. A duo play guitar and synths/samplers live and record the whole room, with the doors open. It’s really simple in the most enjoyable and direct way. Bonus points for the track where one asks “what did you think?” and the other complains about the ending. 👌
Paperghost – This is a Miracle Village (Sonorous Circle)
This album is my first fully instrumental release. Exploring West Coast synthesis combined with collage’d samples, field recordings and live instrumentation. Tape wear and degradation interplay the soundscapes to create an aged warped sound throughout the album. Created after watching too many hippie-cult documentaries the album acts as a kind of crypto soundtrack, a soundtrack for a film that does not exist.
Actually, there’s plenty in there that could make me wary – if he’d said “cinematic”, well, that’s a bit of a red flag for me – but I’ve been listening to this a lot and totally recommend it.
I’ve always listened to some out and out pop. Sure, it might all be a bit of a Serious Film Guy Defends The Quality Of Toy Story 2 scenario when just this week I was buzzing over the sounds of a faulty extractor fan in the takeaway joint I was in, but it’s true.
Over the past few years, when I’ve been making playlists for the car or whatever, I’ve been tending to put in really straight (heh) pop songs that are explicitly gay, even just through use of pronouns. I thought to post some of it, after this:
Eddie / Lontalius has been tweeting about his love of Phoenix and I get that kind of vibe from the instrumentation in this, though the vocal is doing its own thing. (I also still put tunes like Everything is Everything and of course If I Ever Feel Better on my playlists.)
Lontalius remixed Troye Sivan, which I think is where I first came across the latter. This vid had me thinking of Marc Almond and Pierre et Gilles, which did have me wondering if there was more mainstream gayness going on than I remembered back in the day, but.
Absolute killer chorus with that chugging guitar, and (spoiler!) when it comes back around the last time with just Troye singing and a much higher guitar line it gives me that perfect hanging-in-mid-air-when-are-we-going-to-land feeling I want in a pop song. The breakdown and the drop, I guess.
I reckon this Sivan / Jónsi collaboration is as beautiful a pop ballad as you get. Yes, that’s Jónsi who fronts the Icelandic band Sigur Rós and who would more commonly be called post-rock or ambient perhaps.
I don’t remember how I came across this next song. The first time I played it to my wife she said “Michael, years of gym classes has changed you” … which may well be true.
The ascending harmony in the “take him to the pier in Santa Monica” bit gets me every time. But also all the mad reverb games that mess with the perceived space of the track. Sparkly!
Then this came along:
This comment on the above:
When I read about a “boy version” of this song I was thinking “like a straight version? ew” I was a fool and I apologize.
I haven’t found that many Kiyoko songs I really like, but she did a big duet with Kehlani, who has a feature on this next tune.
Structure-wise it’s a totally no surprises feature verse, landing where you’d put the rap in a pop song. But lyrically it flips the song from something absolutely commonplace to something I’d never heard on the radio before – but which I really wish was commonplace.
This last one I came across via Melody from RNZ tweeting this:
We’re back full circle to a bit more of an indie vibe. King Princess! Amazing name!
In a recent conversation on the lines forum a couple of folks commented on the reflective qualities of writing a blog, regardless of whether you get any responses or evidence that anyone’s reading it. So here I go.
The post title seems fitting for a few reasons:
I finished a solo album last year, yet to be released, which is the quietest album I’ve written. I’m really happy with it. I might make music with big drums again some day, but right now I can’t imagine it.
I have a folder where I save unfinished tracks by year. It’s empty. I have finished maybe four tracks this year, but have been going multiple weeks at a time without writing at all. So in the sense of making music, this is the quietest I’ve been in yeeeeeeaaaaars.
Although I’m pretty active on lines still, and probably (relatively) active on “classic” social media, it’s really falling away and I’m finding that calming and enjoyable.
On the reflection front, I’ve been learning recently to let some of my nervous energy dissipate and let things go slow. (Like every other comfortable first-world jerk. Hm – ok still a way to go.)
If I’m being truthful point 2 might be about to change. It feels like two collaborations I was part of last year are (quietly, again) starting to spark up again. We’ll see.
In the meantime, I might put some more words right here and see how it goes. I still obsessively listen to new music, so I might take some time to write up thoughts on some of that.
My cat just walked across my kalimba. (And 10 other smash hits!)