Best Songs of 2012, part 2: “N.E.W.”

This will loop indefinitely over the Elysian fields of an afterlife of my design.

Actress (aka Darren Cunningham) redefined ambient beauty with this piece, lighting the spiritual wires from the organ works of Camille Saint-Saëns through Brian Eno’s Discreet Music while sparking fresh air to flame.  Blooming the color of Arvo Pärt’s devotional tilt in an exploratory space odyssey from the dreams of Oneohtrix Point Never or Stanley Kubrick, N.E.W. is uplifting and warm, alien and awestruck.  We’re inside a nebulous pipe organ riding the cusp of a singularity, dancing on the membrane between ascension and obliteration.  Let it repeat.

I should mention the video:  I have no clue where the footage is from, but it strangely works.  This copy was chosen mainly, however, because it can be set to 720p, so the sound quality is superb.

Flying Lotus – Tiny Tortures (video featuring Elijah Woods)

This arrived today and it is beautiful.  Echoing Akira (and Tetsuo) and some of the brilliant, creepy videos from Aphex Twin, it’s a dark, cinematic corkscrew in psychedelic miniature.  There are few videos so evocative of their namesake, working as a perfect thematic foil to the song.  Now watch, as Elijah Wood has a fucked up night.

Despite the fact that I haven’t done a full “album post” about Flying Lotus‘ latest opus, Until The Quiet Comes is easily one of my biggest repeat listens of the year.  It’s the living, breathing incarnation of what I’d always kind of hoped his work was pointing towards.  Its growth from 2010’s Cosmogramma is more organic and inevitable than the sudden leap that album made from its predecessor, breathrough lp Los Angeles; naturally, it’s less surprising how radically good this is.  I feel like I took it for granted at first: “Of course this is good.  Well there it goes in my car to stay in rotation for weeks.”  Only a handful of albums have spent so much time as regular, near-daily listen this year, and if it weren’t for Kendrick Lamar’s new release, I could have, possibly, worn it out.

Thankfully this video came along today.  Not only my favorite track, Tiny Tortures was due for some recognition.  On an album crowded with standout moments between sublime guest vocals and dizzying synth work, its sparkling meditative cascade can be mistaken as a gentle interlude.  It’s more like a brief exposure of Quiet‘s spiritual heartbeat.  It reaches transcendence in the emotive dance of its guitar and bass (by second time MVP Thundercat) over a pulse hinting at great-aunt Alice Coltrane’s organ work on one of her masterpieces.  If you haven’t listened to the album yet, here’s your chance to embrace one of the warmest electronic albums in years, a possible masterpiece of jazz and electronic music.

Atlas Sound – Quarantined

atlas-sound-bradford-cox

I am waiting to be…  changed

Bradford Cox is one of the only musicians working today who I feel, despite fronting a popular band and receiving wide acclaim, is less than fully recognized for his true genius.  My snobbier friends write off Deerhunter as indie/pitchfork ‘core’ while casual fans aren’t often bothered to delve into his often exquisite solo work as Atlas Sound, both on record and (more importantly) in the cornucopia of material he’s released free of charge over the years.

Debut Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, source of Quarantined.

My favorite pieces often combine a sharp nostalgic eye for the detail of pop songcraft with an otherworldly timbre.  On paper they’d make any head nod while in practice they alternately embrace and repel through a veiled fog.  Some display a truly off-kilter sense of place and time, pairing Phil Spector rhythms and shoegaze instrumentaion with lyrics about the inner terror of isolation and the damaged longing for freedom through metamorphosis.  For instance.

He’s covered Unchained Melody (seriously, listen) and recorded drone epics about tripping nuts all weekend with equal devotion and care. Cox most recently dropped a three hour, four volume slab of unreleased treasure on fans just because. Because he was neglecting his freebie-filled blog while touring and releasing multiple items with his main band? We certainly weren’t owed more; he is simply that prodigious and generous an artist.

After the dreamy debut masterpiece Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (from which Quarantined sprang) and slightly more straightforward follow up Logos, and a two year break, Atlas Sound is about to treat us all to another official LP of celestial pop on November 8 with Parallax. Check the artwork below for a bit of weird fun and to listen to advance single Terra Incognita. While you’re there, click on a window in the far right building to hear a bonus ditty I won’t spoil here. You’ll know it when you find it.

Also, another special pre-release “leak” of which I’ve grown fond: Te Amo (right-click and ‘save as’ to keep the mp3).

[while you wait get the Let The Blind… 2LP at Insound, or Amazon – there’s a full bonus EP of equally worthy music included and like other 4ad releases the packaging is gorgeous]

Destroyer – Kaputt

Before 2011, I had heard one Destroyer album, Your Blues.  I recalled a very baroque yet earnest ballad named The Music Lovers, and nothing else.  I thought of Dan Bejar (the sole permanent member) as part of an indie pop milieu I haven’t found interesting in years.  Thankfully, Destroyer changed and I was wrong.  Kaputt is a utopian vision of space-age late night electronic jazz pop.

 

First I’ll mention the atmosphere: as lush as a Ferrari made of diamonds, parked near a waterfall…  bathed in the neon glow of some not-too-distant future.  Every reverb-laden trumpet blast and bright synth line feels magnified, submerged in the liquid cool of Kaputt’s immaculate production.  Some have mentioned the album conjuring memories of the 80s and I can’t disagree;  I think it’s more to do with the painstaking detail of the recording than any genre the band nods toward.   It was a time, after all, when ambitious pop albums were a slightly more common sighting.

If you’re familiar with Miles Davis‘ monumental Bitches Brew, you’ll have some idea of the tone and color the omnipresent trumpet takes on as it darts through the album from beginning to end.  Muted and echoed at godlike levels, it’s an apparition as much as a driving force.  Accenting and elevating the songs, highlighting the utopian feel, it’s a major aspect in cementing this sound in memory.  Another is Bejar’s voice.  With a deliver both earnest  and cool, his affecting lyrics take impressionistic flights spiked with lump-in-throat moments which remind us: he’s not just our tour guide on this  twilit adventure, he’s sharing the story of how we got here.

This chilled out, slickly psychedelic album is polished pop of the highest order.  Crackling with an energy and intricacy unheard of in Bejar’s (former) circles, it unapologetically stands out with a crystaline picture of a time we’re not living in.  For me, it’s the future.  I’m sure this has something to do with my upbringing in the aforementioned decade; this is how the future was supposed to sound then!  You may hear the past.  Either is a fantasy wholly worth inhabiting.

If you’re like me, you may need more assurance that this isn’t the tired indie pop you may expect (or fear) it to be.  So try this:

On second thought, everyone watch that.  One of the most original, thrilling, and straight up funny music videos I’ve seen in a long time.  80’s girls with wet hair, desert mirages, and flying whales!  Wow.  That just made me like this even more.  Anyway…

[you can get this straight from label merge, or even at amazon]

Albums I Missed: 2010, part 2

Here’s another set of essential 2010 albums unfortunately left by the wayside.  Witness their excellence.

  • Mark Van Hoen – Where Is The Truth

Beauty.  Just, pure fragile beauty.  Floating like a spiderweb made of static, hung with fragments of shattered dreampop.  Van Hoen, who started out in Seefeel and ferried the shoegaze & idm Locust through the next decade, knows a thing or two about prismatic blissouts.  Being unfamiliar with his past solo work, I won’t remark on how this is a more personal statement or not; I will simply say that, as a *huge* fan of Seefeel, a longtime admirer of Locust (especially Truth Is Born of Arguments – an essential document), and an eternal seeker of alluring disintegration, this album hits the spot.

  • Solar Bears – She Was Coloured In

Being taken in by the line that their name is inspired by a certain Tarkovsky film and the fact that they employed old school synths in a more pop-friendly framework than Oneohtrix Point Never or Emeralds, I nevertheless held this one at arm’s length upon first listen.  The tones grabbed me, the melodies held me, the sheer variety kept my attention from wandering, but I was stopping short of truly absorbing it.  Second go-round, I realized it’s not made to dissect the individual tracks or feel around for a signature invention, something groundbreaking to hang its hat on.  This album is one to sit back (or walk or ride or whatever) and take in all at once.  Much like Teebs’ utopian fever dream Ardour, this 50 minute excursion is built carefully out of vignettes highlighting different facets of the sound until a wholly rounded picture is formed by the end.  I can hear Blade Runner and The Neverending Story and even the Terminator at times, but I can also sense the instructive warmth of Boards of Canada, fellow Scots with a penchant for playfully distracted, unpretentious psych explorations.  Where else would we find songs titled Head SupernovaPrimary Colours at the Back of my Mind, and Neon Colony?

  • Girls – Broken Dreams Club EP

Well this one snuck up on me.  I was never a fan of the debut LP, which swam in a torrent of praise in 2009.  Some songs caught my ear but the band simply didn’t hit those pleasure centers I need to truly enjoy an album.  Playing this lengthy EP on a blizzard bound morning while making pancakes turned out to be a shining revelation, and an arresting listen.  Moving beyond their Velvet Underground, jangly garage sound into the realm of earnest, intelligent, well written pop infused with more than a little  grit and gravitas, the band has officially released one of a literal handful of rock albums which I can admire, adore, and really sink my teeth into.  Biggest highlights are the title track, a stoned lament for the fractured state of our world today, and Caroline – a tune which steps out of any boundaries the band previously ruled, into pure psychedelic wanderlust.  It reveals itself slowly (at first echoing The Smashing Pumpkins‘ deep album cut Porcelina of the Vast Oceans), unwinding like a scarf caught on a fence, until it’s stretched to the point of abstraction and hanging in the air around you.  A cloud of a hazy rock dream, tugging upward.  A great way to end an album and point to an even brighter future for this duo.

James Blake – James Blake

My first album of 2011. So infectious, I’m giddy with the prospect of holding its vinyl in my hands on release day – still a month off. James Blake set the blog frontier ablaze last year with two progressive leaps beyond the dubstep fray – the CMYK and Klavierwork EPs – but never gripped my attention, making my ears perk up, my spine tingle, quite like this. This self titled debut is easily this year’s (first) benchmark.

Continue reading

Teebs – Ardour

Teebs is about to release the album of our sweetest dreams, and I mean that in the most literal sense.  The also-visual-artist and freshest face in Flying LotusBrainfeeder collective has finally created a full length release, finally exceeding even his most beatific psychedelic paintings in service of rendering his uniquely utopian vision.

Yes, utopia.  This is exactly what Teebs conjures on record; one listen leaves no doubt as to the veracity of a claim by Flying Lotus himself that this album sounds “the way Avatar looks.”  I’d be hard pressed to utter a more succinct bon mot.  This music reminds me of imaginary imagery more than any specific prior music; tropical visions of the future as seen in 60’s cinema, a psychedelic James Bond-ian secret island accessible only by submarine.  Or space ship.  The colors and tones may have forebears in  John Barry and Martin Denny – and the optimistic sheen the future once sported – but the construction and the visionary feel is all his own.

Listen to Arthur’s Birds – a cut right from the center of Ardour.

[pick this one up October 18th via brainfeeder on amazon or *more coming soon*]