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Salvation is Yours If You Want It (Alexander Provan)

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Alexander Provan ruminates on the past year in music.

Salvation is Yours If You Want It (Alexander Provan)

I spent the better part of this year struggling to hear my computer speakers above the din of traffic in Buenos Aires and then struggling to sleep past 8 thanks to the daily procession of high-school marching bands outside my window in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Other than that: fried meat, potatoes, high plains bus rides, Casa Real (excellent with ginger ale) and liters of Taquiña downed on the buckets, planks of wood and straw mats that constituted my furniture. Besides a number of traditional music festivals (all of which ended with hundreds of people passed out in whichever public square was serving the beer and grilled cow’s heart) most new music I got to hear was a bequest from friends or came creeping over my office’s internet connection at a maximum speed of 10K per second. (Before being reminded by a post on the Dusted listserv a few weeks ago, I think I had actually forgotten that Pitchfork exists.)

So, this list is largely bereft of the sort of first-hand knowledge of musical happenings that might inform music journalists, but totally reliant on the scant online sources and file-trading that actually inform most music writers – the sophistry of the blog trade without the burden of paying attention to blogs.

If only I could remember my own name…
Brightblack Morning Light’s self-titled record is an embodiment of everything the bands of faux-naif forest freak currently terrorizing urban areas and music magazines aspire to, and a summation of all they might (but generally fail to) achieve. In other words, take David Crosby circa 1975, throw him in a tent on the coast of Northern California, trade the booze for ludes and weed and acid and mushrooms and Fender Twin amps, and see what happens. Or, for the skeptics among us, ignore the headbands and half-baked utopianism and heed of the opulent melodies. Neil Young’s Living With War provided a considerable footnote to the story of how leftist politics became a pitiful anachronism, and Brightback remade On the Beach, infusing alienation with a sense of stupid glee.

Arthur Russell’s Springfield, while not a monumental achievement in the context of his increasingly rich catalogue, is good enough as a reminder and an addendum. The record, which materialized when The DFA decided to ‘complete’ the last track recorded by the drone-disco cellist before his death, is a bit of a gambit. DFA patches together the previously unmixed song, remixes it, and throws in some rarities for good measure. The effect is more of an exhibit than an album, but wondrous nonetheless. First Thought Best Thought would be the exhibit’s antecedent, the beginning of Russell’s song cycle. These early demos and sketches contain the germinal sounds that birthed a heavenly garden. Between these two releases, we’re getting closer to a full-fledged cartography of Russell’s world, one that slips away upon further scrutiny, growing more and more complex with each magnification of the lens.

Japanese guitarist Hisato Higuchi’s Dialogue struck me as a similarly singular vision, a fog of plucked notes and hushed incantations floating off the end of the earth.

Behold the dark throne…
Doom sprouted facial hair this year, signed up for a 401K plan, started considering the advantages of buying rather than renting. Southern Lord went from the cottage industry to dominating the global marketplace, and the boys even took the stacks international – Sunn 0))) collaborated with Boris on Altar, Stephen O’Malley met halfway with British laptop noise guru Pita (Peter Rehberg) on the remarkably subdued (and mature) KTL. That record shows O’Malley pushing glacial medievalism toward the Renaissance, trading awesome waves of distortion for delicate (even dainty) sprinklings of gloomy chords and figurative atmospherics. La Mort Noir dans Esch Alzette, a limited live offering from Sunn 0))), is a worthy documentation of the group’s moving shows.

Boris, on the other hand, made a break for the international arena rock circuit with the superb Pink. The year was also crowded with the band’s typically frenzied output of wonderfully packaged and unfortunately limited heavy rocks and howling drones, with the second and third volumes of The Thing Which Solomon Overlooked and the reissue of Dronevil, among many others.

Circle, the self-proclaimed kings of the New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal (NWFHM), toned down the riffage long enough to release Miljard, a fantastical collection of hazy out-folk marked by somber piano melodies, rattling bass strings, and, apparently, sticks hitting large bowls in cliff-side caverns to mark another successful year of rape and pillage.

File under dronescape…
A number of records released this year punctuated the generally mundane, if pleasurable, crop of oceanic noise records that seem to be primarily influenced by the sound of dilapidated vinyl played through delay pedals. The British label Lampse led the way, unleashing two beautifully elegiac records of hissing, crackling and organs wailing: Dutch Machinefabriek’s Marjin and Swedish Jasper TX’s I'll Be Long Gone Before My Light Reaches You.

Stateside, Tim Hecker continued his string of stellar records with Harmony in Ultraviolet, a typically evocative chiseling of digital noise and old world ambience.

Welcome home…
Besides providing Shakira with Wyclef, America has made some decent contributions to the world of music, if not the world itself, in the last year. The three-disc anthology of Tom Waits rarities, Orphans, practically makes up for Guantanamo Bay. Throw in Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale and J Dilla’s Donuts and you get the sense the world should be apologizing to Americans for making us feel bad about ourselves.

(Read this interview with Robert Wyatt:

The members of Liars had to move to Berlin to make Drum’s Not Dead, a meticulously recorded paean to rhythm couched in the story of two competing elements, Drum and Mount Heart Attack.

The Chinese continued to push Tibet closer and closer to oblivion and no one seemed to care a whole lot – one of the nicer relics will certainly be Volume 2 of Sub Rosa’s Tibetan and Bhutanese Instrumental and Folk Music, which rephrases devotion as hallucination across two discs of daunting gongs, sonorous horns, and other sounds that might move mountains.

There were some wars, some elections, a few plagues, murmuring about an imminent environmental catastrophe, habeas corpus lost a little bit of its luster, and people generally got on with things. Also, Jackass 2 came out. Redemption is real.

By Alexander Provan

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