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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. We’re still in Iraq, the Penguins did indeed gain revenge, defeating the Red Wings in a Stanley Cup finals rematch, and, yet again, I’m finding the idea of a year-end “best of” onerous. This isn’t 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, I’ve 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 wasn’t music. I’d love to talk to you about Hiding Man, Tracy Daugherty’s wonderful Don Barthelme biography, discuss Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition Take Your Time or debate Von Trier’s adoption of the horror idiom in Antichrist (well maybe strike that last one, I’ve 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, I’ll instead focus on a few releases that weren’t written up here in Dusted, but struck me as worth touching on as the years comes to a close.

Robert Millis120 (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 AcruxRadian 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 aren’t overly frequent, the chance to see it all pulled off live shouldn’t 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 percussionist’s recent work. Once a Chicago mainstay, then a resident of the bay area, and as of just recently a Brooklynite, Walter’s 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. There’s plenty of high-octane cataclysm here, but also lots of more subtle work, showing sides of Walter’s playing that went unfortunately unheard during the last few years of his time in Chicago. This disc offers a survey, of sorts, of Walter’s recent work, gleaning stylistic bits and pieces from other releases with Kaiser, Graham and Peter Evans. The cover art might suggest otherwise, but there’s plenty of nuanced playing on the disc, and one can only hope that Walter’s relocation to New York means further exploration of all sides of his improvisatory talents.

ZsMusic of the Modern White (The Social Registry)

A few line-up changes removed from 2007’s brilliant Arms, Brooklyn’s Zs haven’t 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. It’s minimalism gone industrial, abrasive beyond the clamor three people should be able to make. The trio paints side A with a wide brush, one that’s been dipped in something caustic. The drum rhythm that begins “MWW II” on side B seems more familiar, but where former Zs output had a certain polished tone, there’s 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 group’s rigorous musical talent isn’t 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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