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Dusted’s 2011 Halftime Report

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Dusted Features

We mark the midway point of 2011 with a recap of our favorite albums of the year thus far.

Dusted’s 2011 Halftime Report

Apache Dropout - Apache Dropout (Family Vineyard)

“I’m So Glad”

America’s best garage band in years drops a megaton bomb of poison and uncertain green skies on us all. This Bloomington, Ind., trio rose from the ashes of Lord Fyre and John Wilkes Booze, but has made a record that is instantly timeless, rocks with a unreal amount of grit and friction, and in an astounding feat, sounds more psychedelic and drugged out than almost all current rock bands currently trying to push the demented/stoned agenda to a false truth. Anyone writing lyrics and songs in the caliber of “Sam Phillips Rising” should be put on a pedestal as an example of what to do while providing no blueprint on how to do it; the sheer amount of mystery and intensity that these three men bring to their craft hasn’t been experienced since the Oblivians hung it up. They are absolutely at the top of the pile, and have made a flawless record that hopefully won’t get lost in the shuffle. (Doug Mosurock)

Anne-James Chaton - Événements 09 (Raster-Noton)

“Barack Obama”

Even if Anne-James Chaton were reading gibberish, Événements 09 would still own. The album, comprised solely of layered, rhythmic vocal cut-ups, is all about the drop, that suspended moment before the beat returns. Événements 09 has drops every 10 seconds for the entire album. "Unceasing" is an appropriate word, and brief silence followed by a harsh consonant apparently never gets old. Also, he’s not reading gibberish: looped newspaper headlines co-exist with recitations of what Chaton terms "poor literature" (e.g., store receipts and metro tickets). Flex yr brain and interpret as you see fit. Another untouchable album from the best and most consistent electronic music label since the turn of the millennium -- how does Raster-Noton do it? (Brad LaBonte)

Demdike Stare - Tryptych (Modern Love)

“Bardo Thodol”

The music Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty make as Demdike Stare takes a minute to work its magic. That was especially true of Symbiosis, their 2009 debut, but these days, they’re fucking with darker forces. On this year’s Tryptych, a compilation of three LPs released throughout 2010, the vibes are both deeper and easier to tap into. Once you hear the proverbial call of the Cthulu, you can only turn the record off reluctantly. The duo comes off on paper as earnest and nerdy record collectors, a transparency that’s in sharp contrast to the mystical energy of the music. Combining obscure (and obscured) samples with analog gear, Demdike Stare shed light upon some dub-techno groove every once in a while, but the pitch-black vortexes are just as narcotic and compelling. (Brandon Bussolini)

The High Llamas - Talahomi Way (Drag City)

“Talahomi Way”

I’ve been writing a lot about The High Llamas lately, partly to do with their new album Talahomi Way, but also for slightly more elliptical reasons, a kind of "working out" of what I’m really after from the listening experience, from music, and from the people who wrote and played the music. And it struck me that with The High Llamas, the reasons to love these songs is their air of truths hard-won, and lessons learnt through lengthy and ethical engagement with culture. The thread that binds is a love for / channeling of Robert Wyatt, the model artist for a socio-politics that’s also deeply personal, and based in a notion of a "community of / in sound." And when Sean O’Hagan talks about the power of unison singing, the affect of architecture on everyday living, and the need to write songs and arrange sound in an egalitarian manner -- well, then, the 12 songs on Talahomi Way tell you all you need to know about the power of a humble and human voice, shoring up against the world’s ruins. (Jon Dale)

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine (Domino)

“First Watch/John Taylor’s Month Away”

Modern renditions of seemingly ancient songs, written by a townie and produced by a tourist, this pocket-sized album by proud Scotsman Kenny Anderson and the more urbane Hopkins is just about perfect. The Scot’s weathered burr is framed beautifully by Hopkins’s crystalline concoction of field recordings, which command your attention as much as, if not more than, Anderson’s heart-wrenching verses about staying in love in a small town. At just six stunning songs and 32 seamless minutes, Diamond Mine was designed to be heard without interruption, something I can attest to. In our three months together, I haven’t pressed “stop” yet. (Otis Hart)

The Magic I.D. - I’m So Awake / Sleepless I Feel (Staubgold)

“Children’s Tale”

It’s not easy to mix any disparate aesthetics without short-changing one or both, but it’s especially tough to reconcile songs with electro-acoustic improvisation. Since one adheres to structure and the other challenges it, it’s hard to find common ground. David Sylvian’s Manofon, the highest-profile congress between eai and the song, cheated by putting the musicians’ improvisations far enough behind the singer’s voice in the mix that they couldn’t mount any meaningful challenge to its dominance. The Magic I.D. is a middle-European quartet that crosses the divide from the other direction. Everyone in the group is a credible improviser, and each has in some way frayed the boundary between acoustic and electronic sound. But singer-guitarist Margaret Kammerer and singer-laptopper Christof Kurzmann not only mount a good tune, they understand that it takes more than that to make a good song. They sing stories about jazz, religion, business and diverse bridged divides, and history suffuses their performances — Kammerer sings a bit like Billy Holiday, Kurzmann plays a G3 so old it’d probably crash if he used it to read Dusted. Time and again clarinetists Michael Thieke and Kai Fagaschinski pick sounds from outside the pop realm, and all four players are willing to let loose a surprising gesture and let it slip away. I’m So Awake / Sleepless I Feel gives both sonic adventurism and lyric expression their due; I haven’t heard another record this year that sounds more complete. (Bill Meyer)

Milk Music - Beyond Living (Perennial)

“Beyond Living”

The natural response to a first listen of Beyond Living is “this just sounds like Dinosaur Jr.” The appropriate reaction on hearing it a second time is “YEEEAHHH!” These two dudes produce the most tremendous crunched-out basement RIFFS of recent memory, drum with the most psyched energy, and write the greatest anthemic-nonsensical teenage doom lyrics. “Beyond living in an unknown world / I went down / to my room.” What the fuck does that mean? I don’t know, but my neighbors and roommates are probably sick of hearing me shout it out along to this record. Though it came out in December 2010, Beyond Living is ideal summer lazing music, the perfect soundtrack alternately for drive to a beach or for head-banging out romantic frustrations. Even the instrumental is good. (Talya Cooper)

Peaking Lights - 936 (Not Not Fun)

“All The Sun That Shines”

True sounds of bliss from these two, cutting Cali love with just enough reggae sunsplash inna de Madison style. Everything on 936 floats, yet somehow the record maintains enough heft to keep things seriously substantial. A credit to Peaking Lights that they can use homemade instruments wired out of abandoned thrift store technology to such, uh, musical ends, never sounding gimmicky or contrived. I consistently dug their previous outings, but this is something of a master class. Many coffee shop songsmiths have tried and failed to capture the quieter, intimate moments of love. Peaking Lights crush them with their effortless, weird-as-fuck murmuring dubouts, an unprecedented sound that nonetheless remains startlingly true to life. (Daniel Martin-McCormick)

Sandwell District - Feed-Forward / Sandwell District (Sandwell District)

“Falling The Same Way”

No, I know. This stuff did come out in 2010 (mostly), but if you actually heard it last year, chances are good you’re either in Sandwell District or you’re the guy who presses their vinyl - and maybe not even then, who knows. Who knows about any of it? Feed-Forward presented questions about the state of techno, but its depth was a blessing and a curse - you could spin it for hours and never hear the careful adjustments, the brilliant intricacies, the answers. Regis, Function, Female, Silent Servant, whoever else is a part of this - they’re playing with air, toying with rhodopsin in a District of blindness. We can’t see, we can’t always hear, but we can feel. It’s a cold world out there, somewhere. (Patrick Masterson)

The Skull Defekts - Peer Amid (Thrill Jockey)

“Fragrant Nimbus”

Daniel Higgs plays shaman to this intense and otherworldly post-punk collective from Sweden, muttering incantations over an adrenaline-inciting clangor of guitar, drums and electronics. The long title track sets a tone which is, at once, primitive and dystopian-futuristic, a driving, all-enveloping exploration that is like transcendental meditation at Autobahn speed. Most of the record follows this template, though “The Silver River” backs off the pace and ups the mystical content, while “What Knives, What Birds” fiddles with alternate vocalizations and abstract effects. It all comes to a end with “Join the True,” a monumental rock closer that is as ominous as it is thrilling (and vice versa). (Jennifer Kelly)

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