2009: Brandon Bussolini
Writing has been a bigger part of my life over the past year than it’s ever been – formally, through an internship and freelancing, and also in terms of quantity. Given the contortions I’ve seen friends go through and performed myself in order to make do financially while identifying primarily as a writer as well as the mañana payment schedule weeklies and magazines and probably newspapers as well seem to be adhering to, it strikes me that so few writers talk about their day jobs.
A year-end list might be useful as a sanctioned place to write the things one can’t write during the year. The things that sounded good to me in 2009 are doubtless a product of oversaturation and perhaps overproduction, squeezed out between or through actual money-making endeavors. I wonder if our generation’s Roland Barthes writes in a Google doc at a temp job. While my soft spot for the minor and the lowercase is a fact of my constitution, these things have sustained my attention for the longest during this year. Not that things have become too major, bombastic, dynamic, that I’m overburdened by music that sounds too deliberately musical, but that indie rock’s style wars and partis pris seem more transparently kitschy and meaningless with every news item.
I don’t want to go all Glenn Branca old dude on this, but I’m still surprised by how boring Veckatimest is, by how listening to Girls feels cynical and uplifting at the same time, by how little my ears want to do with guitars lately. I also wonder if there’s some hysteria in Dirty Projectors’ self-referencing attempt to fuse "high" and "low" culture, a desire for those distinctions to still work. The internet has sensitized people to "good design" by creating a context in which the viewer can understand he or she is looking at "good design." It is the kind of cultural capital that comes along with being a "fan." And being a fan of something seems, under current conditions, a particularly exploitable subject position.
Belief has a role in loving art, and I meet the selections below halfway and don’t hold them up as examples of unstained integrity. Whatever mediocritizing forces major labels exercised while still running things haven’t collapsed with them, they’ve simply splintered and driven themselves into news cycles, beefs, best new music designations, whatever. And it seems that the more autonomous certain scenes attempt to be from the economy, the more they become microcosms of that logic. The music below quietly resists certain kinds of image stability, but all emerge with some kind of meaning rather than deferring it.
Terre Thaemlitz’s music is invariably loaded with meanings and intent. It’s clear he sees individual tracks, monikers, and albums as excuses for investigations into how capitalism, inequality, gender, and myriad other forces and constructs create faultlines in all music. Midtown 120 Blues takes a fairly obvious subject for Thaemlitz – house music – and crafts meticulously detailed, sensitive, and intelligent music that’s both in and outside of its given genre.
When Windy & Carl’s Songs for The Broken Hearted came out in 2008, it seemed like a formal statement that all drone in the near past and near future would tend towards bummer trips. Alphabet 1968 is not drone, although that style is in Black to Comm’s past. While the album is dark, Marc Richter’s latest doesn’t have the feeling that he’s trying to steer a fog-of-despair with a tiny rudder, and at times his use of collage and acoustic instrumentation is reminiscent of Koen Holtkamp’s Field Rituals.
Omar-S has created a mix and artist album in one with this, a record that relies on ‘80’s sci-fi tropes (track names include "Blade Runner" and "Strider’s World"), but is able to wring something both menacing and comforting out of them. Psychological and utterly unique techno that picks up on what Cybotron laid down in the first place, Omar-S seems oblivious to the current state of dance music.
"Courage" manages to capture something of the essence of Arthur Russell that’s been elusive for artists who’ve tried to approach the producer’s sound in a more straightforwardly reverent way. Not bad for one of the guys from Kings of Convenience, and the rest of the album is no slouch: the deliberateness with which the lyrics outline what our own Daniel Levin Becker termed "adult situations" in his excellent reivew of the album speaks also to the music’s own cautious gestures. This music aches with both resignation and a genuine desire to learn how to navigate interpersonal relationships.
There’s something really satisfying about living in an era when, after you’ve decided to truly invest in an outdated format like the album, you can decide to not gorge on an artist’s back catalogue after you’ve found the One. Whatever you’d like to call the genre Mokira works in, it’s not classic rock and there’s no vested interest in describing the All Music Guide linear narrative of an artist’s progression. I’m sure Cliphop is excellent and all, but Persona’s one of the best electro-ambient records I’ve stumbed across, and I’m comfortable with that for the time being.
Something about Koze is almost too likeable. Dude is a ham compared to his po-faced peers, but in any musical universe, refashioning Battles’ "Atlas" as a futuristic zombie trudge would be a wacky move. DJ Koze’s manipulations are utterly convincing here, with each standing out as much as a single track on one of Kompakt’s Total compilations. Superficial trickster moves belie real crafstmanship and a keen sense of the cut of his emotional jib: his edit of Wechsel Garland’s "Swim" is an unguarded moment of loveliness.
The band’s almost vaudevillian schtick suggests they might be former hardcore dudes trying to free themselves from self-imposed servitude, but there’s something uncommonly satisfying with what the band is doing with indie rock. What never fully clicked for me with The Dead Science’s act makes sense here – a perfectly compelling sense of drama that might not be as unexpected as moments of Limbo, Panto, but has none of the debut’s throwaway moments.
Junior Boys are workhorses with occasional and delicious questionable judgment. That burp/throat-clearing sound in the mix on "Bits & Pieces" fails to make itself necessary or even interesting, but equally significant is the choice to make an album of slow burners seemingly to avoid being accused of making another "In the Morning." While some might consider it charitable to call the album a grower, I feel this album harder than anything they’ve done in the past.
As the newish saw goes, Cass McCombs is consistently inconsistent. Every album of his has head-scratching moments where it seems possible that McCombs isn’t as in control of his craft as a something like "The Executioner’s Song" might suggest. "One Way to Go" is that moment on Catacombs, but it’s not worth begrudging him. A flawless record from him would be cumbersome. His mask game is at least as old as Dylan; lucky for us, it’s that much harder to know where to start understanding what’s at stake.
Not dance and not ambient, somewhere in between and undecided, half-effaced. I love Marguerite Duras’ place names because they seem folded and inscrutable – The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein is set in a place called T. Beach. A lot rests on that "T." Lawrence’s music always appears somehow unremarkable at first, but it is secretly compelling and mysterious. It’s mood music, but never just bummed, slight but always releasing substance.
By Brandon Bussolini