Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Favorite Music of 2013 - Part 2

  1. Javelin, “Hi-Beams” - this upbeat album edged out the excellent "Muchacho" because it is so damn fun and I'm not always in the mood for the often somber tone of Phosphorescent. I'm amazed that this wasn't on more lists this year. 
  2. Phosphorescent, “Muchacho” - easily could be number one as well - a exceptional album with a complex variety of instrumentation, big choral introductions, and jangly choruses
  3. Kurt Vile, “Waking on a Pretty Daze” - he played an awesome set at the Bluebird earlier this year - nice laid back rock album
  4. William Onyeabor, “Who is William Onyeabor?” - a re-issue of 1970s/80s Nigerian electronic music - infectiously energetic -basically functioned as the soundtrack for our December road trip
  5. M. Sage – numerous cassette releases from the prolific Ft. Collins based ambient arranger
  6. Monster Rally, “Return to Paradise” - a highly recommended beat album full of chill tropical/lounge samples - the kind of thing you can put on during most any event and play it all the way through
  7. Willow Beats, “Alchemy” -five organic/robotic glitched out electronic songs make for an excellent ep
  8. Jai Paul – demos - not an official release, but it still managed to make it onto tons of lists at the end of the year because these chill dubstep influenced pop gems are so good
  9. Black Swan, “Redemption” - not something I play every day, but as far as very dark drone/ambient compositions go Black Swan is one of the best
  10. Forest Swords, “Engravings” - strange broken up spare beats and samples - very dark
  11. Polica, “Shulamith” - great synth pop - vocalist is awesome
  12. Dirty Beaches, “Drifters/Love is the Devil” - a smokey double-album with a lot of tension and mystery - something I think I'll be listening to a lot more in the winter months
  13. Deerhunter, “Monomania” - they played a loud, noisey set at the Bluebird this year and I really enjoyed it - this album is more of a noise-rock album than their previous releases that tend to have more atmospherics
  14. Julianna Barwick, “Nepenthe” - beautiful choral compositions
  15. Shipmate, “Mint”, “Static” -humble 4/4 lo-fi autotuned RnB from Ft. Collins- both albums are a free download

Worth Mentioning:

  • No Joy, “Wait to Pleasure” - nice shoegaze album I need to sink my teeth into
  • Vampire Weekend, “Modern Vampires” - supposed to be a great album but I really haven't listened to it enough
  • The Knife, “Shaking the Habitual” - sometimes hard to listen to, but other times it is exceptionally creative
  • Arcade Fire, “Reflector” - a bit on the fence about it - "Reflector" made a big first impression but that has tarnished a little upon further listens...still a not-as-good Arcade Fire album is superior to most other artists better ones
  • Invasions, “Invasions” - western-tinged surf! need to listen to it more, but I've enjoyed it quite a bit on initial listens
  • Califone, “Stitches” - probably should be on the list above - solid quiet acoustic/rock album
  • Midlake, "Antiphon"

I know I forgot some great albums... There are numerous other instrumental albums/tapes that I listed previously as part of my Favorite Ambient Cassettes of 2013 (see below)

Memorable Films:
I didn't see many this year, but these few stood out: 
  • Act of Killing (very heavy but powerful)
  • Gravity
  • The Great Beauty
  • Anchorman 2 (could do without about an hour in the middle of this over-long movie but the beginning and end were fun, even if they were mostly reworkings of the first movie)

2013 Concerts
  • Califone living room show
  • Lake Mary @ Groundswell Gallery
  • Julianna Barwick @ Leon Gallery
  • Destroyer @ the Larimer Lounge
  • Deerhunter @ the Bluebird
  • Kurt Vile @ the Bluebird
  • Noveller @ Goldrush Festival
  • Midlake @ the Larimer Lounge
  • Robert Plant/Black Angels @ Red Rocks
  • Heinavanker @ St. John’s Cathedral

Favorites from my previous lists:
2012: Sharon Van Etten
2011: The War on Drugs
2010: Beach House
2009: Bill Callahan
2008: The Walkmen

Favorites from 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 , and 2008.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Favorite Music of 2013 - Part 1 - Ambient Cassettes

2013 was the year of quiet cassettes for me. Not all of these on the list came out in 2013 -a few were from 2012 - but I purchased them or listened to them a lot in 2013. I can bend the rules, because it is my list! I know it sound strange to be mail-ordering short-run cassettes in the 21st century but some of the best delicate bedroom compositions are coming out in this format. As I wrote in this Tome to the Weather Machine review, "cassettes have a lot of the same appeal to me that I find in drawing. Drawing is typically a personal, immediate, and usually low cost medium. There’s nowhere near the degree of material preparation one might have with a painting. In some of the same ways, home-made lo-fi cassettes exemplify an imperfect, direct, and personal medium." The affordability of cassettes can't be understated - typically $5-$10 with shipping. You can find a walkman for a few bucks at most thrift stores, so you can start listening for a minimal investment.

If the idea of stacking up plastic cases doesn't thrill you I would recommend checking out these artists on bandcamp where most of the above albums are available to stream and/or purchase digitally. Most of the releases pictured above came out in editions of 100 or less, so the audience is obviously quite small. However, it is unfair to assume that my reason (or anyone else collecting this music) for listening to these artists is because of their obscurity. I would love for these artists to be better known and supported. When attempting to translate these complex textured sounds into words I will certainly fall short - so listen to the samples below for the best way of appreciating the music. With that intro out of the way, let's talk about these exceptional tapes from 2013:

1. M. Sage - multiple releases (eight pictured above) - I am becoming quite the superfan of Fort Collins-based musician Matt Sage. Most of his releases are on his own aptly titled label Patient Sounds - with a couple exceptions this year on the Moon Glyph and Mirror Universe labels. These tapes are grainy compositions that ebb and flow with washes of guitar and strings. I can't recommend them enough. Listen below:

2. Kevin Costner Suicide Pact - "Container Ship" - also a Colorado-based group making soft arrangements on the Patient Sounds label. On rare occasions when I was in grad school in Savannah, Georgia I would venture down to the touristy River St. area for some food/drink or to visit friends. Inevitably a large container ship would be lumbering down the river and if you were lucky enough to be in one of the shops or restaurants on River St. at the time it would appear as if the whole building was moving because the ship would engulf the entire view out of the windows. It is a phenomenon that's hard to describe, like a lot of ambient music.  This double-tape/download set is spare and quite melodic. There's a lot of beauty here. This just came out at the end of November so a small number of the physical releases are still available. Get on it.

3. Hedia - Wool - These quiet neo-classical/ambient arrangements come wrapped in a stunning little letter-pressed cover. The music is described by the artist Bryce Hample in this way, "WOOL' CULMINATES FROM 2 YEARS AND 3 WINTERS. A FAILED FILM SCORE. A THEME REPEATED IN STOLEN MOMENTS ON GRAND PIANOS IN WISCONSIN, NEW YORK, AND NEW MEXICO. PIANO AS WOOL. VIOLA DA GAMBA, A BORROWED CLARINET,AND DESERT SNOW." It does feel like a film score when listening to the pianos and strings weave among each other, but hardly a "failed" one. I could picture Jep in "A Great Beauty" walking along the Tiber river in Rome to this piano:


4. Gimu - "A Silent Stroll on Sombre St.", and "All the Intricacies of an Imaginary Disease" -  these both came out in 2012, but Brazilian artist Gimu has released 8 (!) additional albums/eps in 2013 and if I had those on tape I would include those as well. I have had the pleasure of working with Gimu on album art for one of these tapes and an upcoming release in 2014 and I'm honored to have some of my art accompany such dark, heartfelt, textured arrangements.

5. Aria Rostami - "Decades/Peter"- When compared to a lot of the other releases on this list, this tape is one of the most dynamic. Rostami's songs incorporate EDM, classical, noisey textures, and ambient to form a really enjoyable album. 


6. Paw Paw - "Temporalis/Epiphysis"  -more great ambient from Denver - more acoustic than other releases on the list - not a single bad track on this two tape set.

7. Forming, "Variations of the One Essence" - sampled tape loops - soft repeats

8. Kyle Landstra, "The Illusion of Becoming", and "Sage" -big new age synth-scapes with dramatic crescendos

9. Olli Aarni - Pohjoisen kesä - this came out in 2012 - reviewed by myself on Tome in 2013

10. Pines, "A Spirit"  - perfect soundtrack for a winter in a log cabin


11. Stag Hare, "Angel Tech" -hazy hippie house music - a really enjoyable and upbeat listen

12. Foothills, "A New World" - Patient Sounds says this about Foothills, "Chase Hudson brings to us a shimmery unveiling of ambient and pop structures refracted through a psychic crystal, projected into the future, and shone brightly onto the wasted past. Glittery synths, drum machines, radio wobble and lush soundscapes."

13. Tuluum Shimmering, "Islands of the Moon and Sun" - I played this in drawing class over the summer and one student said, "does this just repeat for a half hour?" - yes, it does more or less. That's what I like about it.

14. Former Selves/The Original Flowering Earth, "split" - I am more inclined to like the less-abrasive Former Selves side of this tape but it is a solid release as a whole on Denver's own Planted Tapes.

15.  Sky Stadium, "Setting Vision" -mellow synth-based new age ambient

16. Journey of Mind, "Oil Burner" - dark loops

Monday, December 2, 2013

Finished Painting, "Desert Sage"

Nathan Abels, "Desert Sage", Acrylic on Linen, 24x36"

Scroll down to see the process of how this developed.


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