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2009: Adam Strohm

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Dusted senior writer Adam Strohm focuses on four albums that we overlooked this year.

2009: Adam Strohm

In reviewing what I wrote in this space last year, I found my year-end column for 2008 prescient in a few ways. Weíre still in Iraq, the Penguins did indeed gain revenge, defeating the Red Wings in a Stanley Cup finals rematch, and, yet again, Iím finding the idea of a year-end ďbest ofĒ onerous. This isnít due to some inherent flaw in the form; I thoroughly enjoy reading the lists created by my colleagues here, and have happened upon a good deal of music that I might have otherwise missed. But when it comes time to craft my own breakdown of the best music released in the last 12 months, something goes afoul, and my mind seems unwilling to mentally line-up releases and offer any sort of final judgment. In the past year, Iíve celebrated two sports championships, finished grad school and entered the requisite (and seemingly endless) job search, and, as has been a trend in recent years, spent more time in film screenings than live concerts during nights and weekends. Much of the work that inspired the most thought in me over the past year wasnít music. Iíd love to talk to you about Hiding Man, Tracy Daughertyís wonderful Don Barthelme biography, discuss Olafur Eliassonís exhibition Take Your Time or debate Von Trierís adoption of the horror idiom in Antichrist (well maybe strike that last one, Iíve probably done enough of that already), but music is the focus here.

So, like last year, rather than present my list of personal favorites over the past year, Iíll instead focus on a few releases that werenít written up here in Dusted, but struck me as worth touching on as the years comes to a close.

Robert Millis Ė 120 (Etude)

Millis, half of Golden Climax Twins, offers up a rare solo release with 120. The pastiche of recordings crosses boundaries of time and space, but with a constant care. Millis pulls his sound sources from disparate places, but melds them into fluid wholes, editing everything into an album that relies far more on the slimmest of similarities in its sounds than their more obvious differences. Field recordings, old 78s, and ambient drones pepper the tracks in a series of constructions whose dreamlike qualities belie the care taken in their arrangement.

Upsilon Acrux Ė Radian Futura (Cuneiform)

This Southern California outfit has taken their modern twist on prog to new levels on recent releases, and Radian Futura continues the trip. The sheer density of activity can be overkill, but its offset by the bright tones and sunny disposition of the music. Complicated, but executed with a near mechanical aplomb, Radian Futura showcases a band that seems intent on writing convoluted songs purely to prove that they can pull them off, but their performance can feel too perfect, and the music is wanting for some blemishes, if only to provide a hint of humanity into the smooth, clean, and almost robotic performance. Still, it can be exhilarating, and though Upsilon Acrux tours arenít overly frequent, the chance to see it all pulled off live shouldnít be missed.

Weasel Walter - Apocalyptik Paranoia (Gaffer)

Those who think of Mr. Walter as some sort of enfant terrible, all blast and bluster behind the kit, might be surprised by the percussionistís recent work. Once a Chicago mainstay, then a resident of the bay area, and as of just recently a Brooklynite, Walterís circle of improvisatory partners has widened over the past few years, and this disc exhibits work with players like Henry Kaiser, Greg Kelley, Forbes Graham and Fred Lonberg-Holm. Thereís plenty of high-octane cataclysm here, but also lots of more subtle work, showing sides of Walterís playing that went unfortunately unheard during the last few years of his time in Chicago. This disc offers a survey, of sorts, of Walterís recent work, gleaning stylistic bits and pieces from other releases with Kaiser, Graham and Peter Evans. The cover art might suggest otherwise, but thereís plenty of nuanced playing on the disc, and one can only hope that Walterís relocation to New York means further exploration of all sides of his improvisatory talents.

Zs Ė Music of the Modern White (The Social Registry)

A few line-up changes removed from 2007ís brilliant Arms, Brooklynís Zs havenít merely changed members. As their membership has shifted, so has their sound, and Music of the Modern White comes out fighting, with the group in a new sonic space entirely. Loud, brash, and noisy, the music on this LP begins with rhythmic clanging, and evolves into a squealing, grating drone. Itís minimalism gone industrial, abrasive beyond the clamor three people should be able to make. The trio paints side A with a wide brush, one thatís been dipped in something caustic. The drum rhythm that begins ďMWW IIĒ on side B seems more familiar, but where former Zs output had a certain polished tone, thereís more of a snarl here. And even when the track bursts into handclaps and harmonics, rough corners and odd angles abound. Zs may not be bucking intentionally against the criticisms that their work was too intellectual or mechanical, but this LP will do much to dispel that theory. The groupís rigorous musical talent isnít as obviously on display at it has been on albums past, but the wild streak shown on Music of the Modern White is a nice changeup for the band.

By Adam Strohm

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