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Music that (allegedly) happened in 2007

December 27, 2007

I’m reluctant to do end-of-year round-ups because I’m not really interested in sorting things chronologically — for example, some of the items listed below really belong in 1593, some of them in 2050 or thereabouts. But to give at least the appearance of contemporary relevance, here are some of the musics that I enjoyed in 2007:

As I was busy trying to make my own analogue electronics misbehave in an increasingly digital set-up, Ethan Rose’s Spinning Pieces plundered the pre-history of electronic music, feeding George Antheil-like player pianos and music boxes into computers, amounting to another type of retro. While we’re in the mood for vintage electronics, Pamelia Kurstin’s Thinking Out Loud turns the theremin into a kind of performing stage singer. Again, the sound is more like the past than the future.

If all of these electronics were sounding so old, what hope for an instrument like the guitar? Actually, there’s plenty of hope. My favourite guitar records of the year Susan Alcorn’s And I Await the Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar, and Paolo Angeli’s Tessuti — the latter rearranges music by Fred Frith and Bjork on his customised guitar (full of bits and pieces for bowed, plucked and percussive sounds all at once) — the guitar has died in order to be revived as a suprisingly adaptable grotesque.

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Then, there’s always Stars of the Lid, And Their Refinement of the Decline.

What about pop? Pop music (especially in America and places like that) got reconnected with its upstart ambitious ancient past, on a couple of occasions. Take the twin giants that are Panda Bear’s Person Pitch and Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam, which were planted in the middle of pop soil with all the generosity and high-mindedness of Brian Wilson worrying about getting silly in another time and another place. This kind of unshowy song-restructuring should have happened about twenty-five years ago, but better late than never.

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For something to be truly pop, you see, it really has to get the clever/stupid balance exactly right. So whilst I’m on the subject of highly-aclaimed pitchfork-pop records, here are a couple of near-misses. I failed to see the funny or clever side of LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver, and Of Montreal’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer, with all those bloody awful song titles, could have been great but was just annoying. An instructive lapse: here we have a band who are so pleased with themselves for name-dropping Georges Bataille that they’ve forgotten to make the line actually scan. Try harder. Actually, don’t.

The Dirty Projectors’ Rise Above was, apparently, a collection of songs by the hardcore punk band Black Flag, “reimagined from memory”. I like the idea. It asks questions about the difference between “hearing” a song that’s actually playing and “hearing” with your inner ear — what you could call imagined hearing, if “imagine” wasn’t such a visual-centric word (like most of our impoverished vocabulary for discussing sound). “Covering” songs from memory is also a way of refusing the over-simplified notions of “authorship” that are still current in music.

The funnest thing I heard from Japan this year was Oorutaichi’s Drifting My Folklore, a completely sensible mix of improvised global Marc Bolan dancehall space pop.

A couple of industrial institutions made records this year, too: Einsturzende Neubauten’s Alles Wieder Offen underwhelmed , Throbbing Gristle’s Part Two: The Endless Not delighted.

Some outstanding examples of very different ways to reimagine dub: Steingarten by Pole, and Untrue by Burial — disciplined and detached, and tired and emotional, respectively.

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If I were to make room for one album of traditional-ish folk songs, it would be Marissa Nadler’s Song 3: Bird on the Water, a collection of haunted whispy songs which, in the most admirable way, had nothing whatsoever to do with anything else happening in music this year. Folk songs played less straight, more child-monster-adultlike, featured in CocoRosie’s The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn, and (better) Joanna Newsom’s Ys Street Band EP.

Elsewhere, Mark E Smith and Mouse on Mars combined to make Germancunian electro in Von Sudenfed’s Tromatic Reflexxions; there were remakings of left-of-centre hip-hop from Busdriver (RoadKillOvercoat) and Why? (the Hollows EP); Bat For Lashes made a charming pop record, Fur and Gold; and Bjork orchestrated an ace rich and cold brass-electro hybrid sound on Volta.

My final tip of the hat goes to Robert Wyatt’s Comicopera, which contains an awful lot in its three acts: a frail voice set against a lush backing, tranlations of Garcia Lorca and re-workings of Anja Garbarek, reflections of the current political climate, and of course an enotron (Eno’s digitally dithered-with voice).

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 28, 2007 7:42 am

    Obviously this essay gets an A for mentioning Stars of the Lid; and in general, thank you for this, it will keep my ears warm all winter. An excellent point about the poverty of sound vocabulary, but aren’t all words essentially visual? Think “lip-reading”

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