Best of 2012 - EXPERIMENTAL/DRONE/AMBIENT
I’m sure there’s some program out there that could generate a graph to indicate the activity of the tags I’ve applied to every post this year and if I could get someone to run this program for me I’m sure it would show a rapid growth in the use of the tag “experimental”. In many ways I feel this tag is a bit silly, a bit broad, and aren’t they all, however it is useful in identifying music that challenges ”traditional” structures, that pushes the listeners expectations and often subverts them, that takes you to more interesting places. Cerebral music. Maybe I’ll start using cerebral as a tag. In the past year I feel as if this blog has moved towards featuring more electronic, drone and ambient music and this reflects my own listening habits. A few friends exposed me to a range of ambient and kraut rock music from the 70s and 80s and I thank them kindly for this. It has led to my musical taste shifting in 2012 and hence the blog has taken a different and I believe more interesting form. Layered cosmic synths. Formless shimmering soundscapes. Fractal free form wigouts. Minimal broken down radio drone. This is the sort of thing that I’ve come to relish losing myself within. The wonderful artists below were just some of my favourites that toil in such dazzling fields, incredible musicians that took me on trips to strange and mesmerising places. All aboard.
“We have made this album available for free because we want to share our efforts with as many people as possible, after all, it is for people.”
This is an an attitude that I have come across many times from artists on Bandcamp, often from artists in the experimental sphere. It’s a wonderful community built on positivity and creativity, and I feel as if this is what 2PPM wholly represent. A beautiful warmth emanates from their sound, a driving fusion of jazz and kraut rock that defies categorisation. Tortoise are a touchstone perhaps, but 2PPM are a very different beast. It is not just two people playing music, it is two people constructing totally compelling music. These are musical conversations built on improvisation, on the addition of layers and the removal of sound, on the exploring of musical textures, on two supremely talented musicians creating something that is completely their own. That’s a beautiful thing and 2PPM want to share it with you. That’s beautiful too.
Favourite tracks : Movies Without Sound, The Iron Dreyfuss, Beehive.
Samuel H Wijhtman is Caterpillar Hood, a one man expedition into a pulsing electronic substrata. It’s a disconcerting journey at times - where did that voice come from? What was that? And just when you think you are getting comfortable, the ground will drop way and another psyhedelic dimension is accessed. These are dense sample driven soundscapes, filled with many dark hallucinatory moments. Sparse drone builds to white noise, patterns are applied then deconstructed, then rebuilt again. There is an organic sense to this music yet is distinctly artificial; it is electronic music behaving in a somewhat biological way perhaps. I feel this music visits similar realms that Lee Noble transports the listener to, a place where music casts a many coloured veil over perception. An album that conjures the other worlds within our own.
Favourite tracks : Ocean Floor, Solar Bounce, Submarine.
I could have chosen any of the six albums released by Seattle synth alchemist Norm Chambers this year but I’ve gone with the wonderfully titled Baroque Atrium, the latest of his releases and the one I’ve listened to the most. Released through Sydney label Preservation (with their awesome distinct cover art), these fascinating sci-fi creations offer a transportive musical experience to the devoted listener. Chambers is a true innovator, blending synthesisers with samples, electronic effects and acoustic instruments to produce labyrinthine songs that float through a kind of pixelated haze, at times evoking John Carpenter. While there is a science fiction flavour to these sounds, it is apparent that Chambers also draws on ideas from nature and biology. This year I’ve been studying biological science and Panabrite albums have soundtracked many hours of study. I’ve listened to this music while reading about the endocrine system or DNA transcription or photosynthesis or gated ion channels, and have felt a correlation with these concepts and the sonic inventions of Chambers, that a large part of his inspiration is the natural world. Samples of birds calling and water flowing add to this idea. At times the songs simply sound aqueous, sound like insects swarming, sound like what you imagine cells dividing would sound like. It’s quite a feat from Chambers, in what has been a startlingly productive year. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Favourite tracks : Interfrequencies, Suite (For Winnie and Roxy), Infinite Passage.
Released on the terrific Fallopian Tunes, this wildly imaginative album from Melbourne’s Trjeau is a gorgeous collection of spaced out experimental rock songs. Like stable mates Yolke, Document Swell and the excellent Mild Life, Trjeau are part of a blossoming experimental scene here in Melbourne and in my opinion this album shifts them to the very upper echelon. These songs have been crafted with great care though at the same time there is a loose improvisational feel to Heights Peak, the sound of a super talented band exploring shimmering psychedelic worlds. It’s an album devoid of filler however the lovely “Endings” is a stand out for me with it’s bright beats and subtle tropical flavour. There are danceable moments yes, but mostly it’s an album of serene sonic space being created and then filled with entrancing electronic textures. It isn’t an album of extended jams-the pulsating Third Eight is the longest song at 6:45-though I get the impression live Trjeau would play and play and play, expanding these songs into works of sprawling pop hypnosis. I get the feeling I need to see them. Soon.
Favourite tracks : Endings, Eastern Singing, Fishpond.
Another absurdly prolific artist (there’s fifteen releases awaiting your compulsory investigation at his Bandcamp), Paul Skomsvol has been releasing music for some time as Former Selves, with this album being quite a departure for the Oakland resident. Most other Former Selves releases are slowly unfolding synthesiser compostions, lush soundscapes that gently billow and drift by like so many clouds. I love those pristine works but I found the stirring tribal sounds of Build to be something of a revelation. Drawing from a deep kaleidoscopic kraut rock well, Skomsvol performs these songs with a tangible exuberance. It sounds like an artist creating sounds that are less abstract and restrained than his other work, and enjoying the experience. Distorted guitar and vocals feature heavily, with the brilliant “Mine Also Races” being a jubilant high point. “Evening Rituals” reminds me a bit of Black Hoods in it’s evocation of an approaching midnight storm, powered by a thumping rainmaker of a beat. It’s no mistake that I’m using clouds as a metaphor again. Skomsvol’s music is of the sky. It’s from a higher place.
Favourite tracks : Mine Also Races, Build, Trace Vision
You should also check out :
Bandcamp Hunter Mixtape #8 - August + September 2012
Other Bandcamp favourites from the first half of 2012
In the spirit of music discovery, here are 10 of my favourite Bandcamp releases from the first half of the year with none being a Pick of the Week or a mixtape contributor. Hope you find a new musical crush in here. In chronological order then, from oldest to newest:
Another top shelf release from Baltimore’s Friends Records, Secret Mountains have got that smouldering shoegaze sound nailed - pounding rhythm, plenty of reverb and the amazing vocals of Kelly Laughlin combine to create a killer brace of psychedelic songs. Terrific sonic clarity to these songs, those guitars are towering. More please.
A startling debut from New Myths,the work of three girls from New York City. There’s great maturity and swagger to these songs, produced by the band themselves and veteran Seth Glassman. Lower Dens are an apparent influence however New Myths forge their own distinct sound in these three songs-there’s a hardened post punk edge to the bands indie sound. Can’t help but feel this is a tantalising glimpse of something big.
This album continues to amaze, a display of supreme musicianship that’s wholly arresting. Released on the wonderful Three Lobed Recordings, these songs from Gunn-Truscinski Duo (guitarist Steve Gunn and percussionist John Truscinski) are absorbing musical journeys, winding psychedelic rock songs that explore various genres as the two improvise and build superb sonic structures. Deserves full attention at high volume.
It’s been a real thrill to discover eyes, wings and many other things this year and Napalm Beach was one my most anticpated releases. The album fully delivered, another stellar collection of cosmic psychedelic songs from the Dallas group. There’s an undercurrent of dread to the EWAMOT sound - hazy jams that float down ink black waters under a post apocalyptic sky. Blazing.
Lower Plenty seemed plenty surprised at the enthusiastic reaction to this EP-a heap of radio play and many a sold out gig-but they shouldn’t be. It doesn’t take much effort to become fond of this EP’s blend of bleary eyed folk pop and detached noise, the perfect soundtrack to the middle of a Melbourne year. There’s something of sunny suburbia to the Lower Plenty sound that is (I hate this phrase but it’s appropriate) uniquely Australian. A simple delight.
I intended writing an in depth review of this album but time conspired against me and in the end I decided I couldn’t do it justice anyway. This album from Canadian James Irwin speaks for itself as one of the finest singer songwriter albums to emerge in recent times. Irwin has a peculiar voice-sometimes sounding like M.Ward, sometimes like Skip Spence-and he applies some beautiful phrasing to his at times oblique lyrics. He can be poignant too-“Hearts Like Old Cars” is one of my favourite songs of the year, so sad and pretty. Irwin is a ghostly poet, no doubt, but it really is best for his words to speak for themselves : “It turns out you don’t know how to be poor. There’s only one way to learn. When you fall off the broken wheel, lie in the weeds and watch it burn.”
Another exciting discovery for me this year has been delving into the psychedelic semi-aquatic world of Panabrite (Norm Chambers). I loved the new album from Chambers though I was particularly intrigued by this collaboration with experimental musician Christian Richer. These are fascinating soundscapes that evoke images of the natural world through electronic and acoustic instrumentation, bubbling like a pixelated brook populated with so many shimmering holographic fish.
One of the real pleasures of running this blog for me is discovering a band and then watching their progress. Such is the case with Eidolons, a Portland band whose album from last year “Wolf Den” I was quite fond of. “China” is a progression from that album (superior production here) while sticking to the band strengths - smart indie pop with clever lyrics and infectious melodies. Cant wait to see what they do next,
I believe I found this album while at a point I sometimes find myself at with BCH - mindlessly hunting through Bandcamp and being totally disinterested in everything I find. The opening chords of this EP instantly hooked me and the drunken delivery of the slacker lyrics had me sold. Great little lo-fi tunes from J, a mysterious cat from the Czech Republic. There’s such such a charming simplicity to these songs and I loved the touches of horn throughout. Plus it’s a free download.
The latest release from promising Brisbane label Lost Race Records is the psychedelic soundscapes of Caterpillar Hood, the side project of Cobwebbs. These hypnotic pieces are heavy with loops and distortion, at once disorientating and engaging. There’s something of Lee Noble to the pulsing drone and shimmering atmospherics of these tracks, seemingly borne of a dense hallucinogenic haze. Highly potent and terribly good.
BCH Pick Of The Week
It was Tuesday morning and I couldn’t sleep again so I rode to the park, the rim of my front wheel scraping on the pavement. I supposed I should inflate it but then, I’d be gone soon. The sky was bereft, a muddy grey of erstwhile stars. In a concrete mansion a couple were fighting or making love, but these are only small differences. The nature strips were flush with flowers or weeds, but these were only words. A streetlight was having a fever dream, its little burn waking on and off. It would do the same come the collapse of day and had so for years; no one could bother to fix it.
Now it was lawn and the rim had bitten its way through cheap rubber, gathering and losing fingers of grass. I made wheelies in the soft dirt, spinning my body in figure eights till inevitably I fell. The earth was gentle, and I could hear the hum of chute-building worms. There was thunder in the distance or maybe it was a truck. I wiped a little blood from my knees, it smelled like summer.
I decided to climb a tree so I could see the mountains. Toward the borderline of the park were haggard pines, carved with the names of long-gone lovers. Their branches were frail but if I balanced my weight perhaps I could reach the top without falling. I took off my slippers, but then there was a bear.
We had all heard of her and had seen the carnage of pets she left when rubbish bins failed to sustain her. On the first Sunday of spring the men gathered their shotguns and a hunt was held. Often someone young would claim they’d spotted and shot her, but I could see that her bulk was unscathed. She had to die for the bounty to be won, but it had been so many years that we’d forgotten how much it was for. For the sake of the festival, it was forbidden to attempt a kill at any other time of the year. We built our community around organised death.
She stood on her hind legs, and her stomach was a great swathe of ribs and flesh. I didn’t know if I should stand tall or play dead. She swayed from paw to paw, making low noises that were growls or greetings. I decided to stand. Perhaps it was the wrong choice, or she had already decided.
The blow caught the side of my face and then I’m not sure. There were crunching noises, leaves or bones. There was the wet smell of dawn or perhaps it was teeth. My body was rolled and heavy, a wreck of useless muscles against the enormity of space. I thought I saw my parents but they were holidaying at the ocean.
I woke to a scrape. My limbs were there. My scalp clung obstinately to my head, I still needed a haircut. In the first sun I could see the mountains, and in the distance, the dull scrape of rim on dirt as she rode my bike back into the forest.
*sometimes writing about why we like the music we do doesn’t suffice. This week the dark and beautiful web of Flouxetine Morning from Now Wakes The Sea motivated something a little different. Listen and see where it takes you. Huntress x