2008: Matthew Wuethrich
The event of the year had nothing to do with music. By electing Barack Hussein Obama President, the citizens of the United States said that history doesn’t matter. Or, depending on your perspective, that it matters deeply, and that we should be wise enough to know it, learn from it, and go forward.
None of the music below matters when compared to the significance of Obama’s election. But we don’t listen to music for societal change; we listen for personal change. The 12 releases below, in one way or another, engaged me enough that they lodged in my memory, and once there, performed what Vladimir Nabokov called “the supreme achievement of memory”: “the masterly use it makes of innate harmonies when gathering to its fold the suspended and wandering tonalities of the past." This is music that I will carry forward with me from 2008.
12. Brendan Murray – Commonwealth (23Five)
The most monumental, detailed piece of drone you’ll hear all year. Nearly 40 minutes of continual discovery and subtle revelation.
11. John Eckhardt – Xlyobiont (Psi)
A solo double-bass record that reckons with the legacy of 20th century compositional giants like Feldman and Xenakis as well as the last four decades or so of free improvisation. At some moments, jaw-dropping; at others, puzzling; at all times, transcendent.
10. Joel Stern – Objects, Masks, Props (Naturestrip)
Australian Joel Stern blends the aural image of actual locales, off-kilter improvisations and electronic debris into the sonic equivalent of elliptical short fiction.
9. Loren Connors – The Moon Last Night (Family Vineyard)
A century after its inception, Connors retains the blues’ essential intimacy and epicness while utterly transforming it.
8. G*Park - Reuters (Tochnit Aleph)
Musique concrete seems eternally old-fashioned and eternally modern. Marc Zeier makes you fall in love with the form all over again. Who knew ice, wind, piano innards, plankton, a bow, a whip and who knows what else could sound so vital?
7. Thuja - Thuja… (Important)
The loose-knit and free-form collective makes the melding of improvisation, rock dynamics, DIY instrumentation seem like a thing of nature—inevitable, beguilingly complex and always captivating.
6. Eleh - Homage to the Square Wave (Taiga)
What does Eleh’s identity matter when his aesthetic path is so clear? Of the four Eleh LPs this year, this one, dedicated to Josef Albers, takes Eleh’s sub-bass explorations in a new direction, fleshing out the rhythmic intricacies in the most subterranean of tones.
5. Emeralds – Solar Bridge (Hanson)
Vintage synths rediscovered, like lost alien technology, in the suburbs of Ohio and made to do the bidding of these three upstarts. Beautiful and visceral all at once.
4. Russell Haswell - Second Live Salvage (Editions Mego)
Repetition, timbre, rhythm – Haswell shreds all these, replacing them with texture, masses, and architecture. This is computer music that refuses to sound like it was made on a laptop,
3. Kevin Drumm - Imperial Distortion (Hospital)
The last sounds of existence might resemble something like the six distortion elegies on this double album.
2. Christina Carter - Masque Femine (Many Breaths)
American popular song, transformed from saccharine nostalgia into psychotropic aural poetry. It’s like Carter is sitting next to you, whispering these songs into your inner ear.
1. Alan Licht & Aki Onda - Everydays (Family Vineyard)
This record gathered up so many of the ideas I was hearing this year – noise, drone, musique concrete, cassette fidelity, improvisation, field recordings – and effortlessly combined them into the first record I’ve heard in a long while that truly transcends classification.
By Matthew Wuethrich