Published Jan 01, 20061.CHRISTIAN FENNESZ
If Christian Fennesz's 2001 album Endless Summer struck many listeners as sun-drenched, this year's Venice seemed altogether sunburnt, its melodies crisper, its atmospheres more sinister. Still, the gentlemanly guitarist is in a great mood, energised by a raft of new collaborations with Sparklehorse, Ryuchi Sakamoto, and Radian's Martin Brandlmayr.
You've recently started playing guitars in your live show. Why?
I never left the guitar. I was playing it and recording it but I just didn't use it live for a long time. Using it now, it's almost like jumping into cold water. I was always trying to avoid this comparison between a guitar show and a laptop show because for me it's the music that's important, not the way it's made. But now that I'm using the guitar, the audience seems more excited and it's a little bit more like a rock show.
What influence does pop music have on your work?
I love pop music, but I don't want to make clean pop songs. I'm much more interested in hiding the structures of pop so that people have to work a bit to discover them. It's like archaeology in a way, to find something in my music that reminds people of a pop song. This is something that has always been influencing me, even when I'm at my most abstract.
In comparison to most other computer music makers, you seem to take a long time between albums. Why?
I'm constantly working, but I just could not release everything I make. With my music, if it's working under the headphones, it doesn't always mean it works in a live context. When I play live, I use a lot of new tracks but most of them never get released because they're not good enough. When I first started making this music on my own, I thought I would be able to release a new studio album every year, but I haven't and that's fine. Martin Turenne
2. SHALABI EFFECT
Pink Abyss (Alien 8)
Sam Shalabi and his collective may have descended into more accessible terrain on their third album, but they also remained true to their original vision. Pink Abyss is beautifully arranged, wandering into the uncharted and remaining just as unpredictable as in the past. The emphasis on upping the melody and vocals is hard to miss, but there is still a strong sense of creativity that reassures all the magic of the Effect is still intact. Cam Lindsay
3. BLACK DICE
Creature Comforts (DFA)
This utterly confounding, naturalistic cycle of intricately composed soundscapes left critics scratching their heads while fans' heads blazed, listened and understood. Creature Comforts is a breath of fresh air that gently defies every expectation the epic Beaches & Canyons created and effectively leaves their promising future blissfully open to new directions. Kevin Hainey
Ballroom (Thrill Jockey)
While Trapist shares drummer/percussionist Martin Brandlmayr with longer running trio Radian, this group is more than just a younger, stranger brother. Brandlmayr, frequent collaborator and guitarist Martin Siewert and bassist Joe Williamson take their jazz-influenced acoustic structures slowly but unswervingly into near-future scenarios subtly enhanced by electronics and synthesised tones. It's like listening to a graceful time-lapse evolution in sound. Eric Hill
5. WOLF EYES
Burned Mind (Sub Pop)
Michigan's most treacherous trio approached their first widely distributed album the same way Kenneth Anger might approach making a narrative film they made it, desecrated it, put it through a shredder and then placed a curse on it. At least, that's how it sounds. Burned Mind (overly treated vocals aside) is everything previous releases like Dread and Mugger are, just with more expensive mastering. All hail the new gods of abrasion! Kevin Hainey