Destination Out: Year in Review 2007

Destination Out: Year in Review 2007
Rather than trying to build one top ten list from the many disparate styles of electronic ambience, non-linear improv, experimental rock, avant jazz, droning noise and many more, we've asked ten frequent contributors to the Destination Out reviews section to write about one release that most excited them this year.

Ateleia Formal Sleep (Table of the Elements)
Brooklynite James Elliott introduces Formal Sleep with a lovely undulating drone that promises a pleasant listening experience, but even as "Of Isthmus” unfolds, adding glittering bits of detail, it’s evident that Elliott isn’t satisfied with the merely pleasant. Each subsequent track reenergises the prevailing mood; crests and lulls of electronics are gently agitated by muffled beats or the keening tones of harmonium and melodica (courtesy of guests David Grubbs and Jon Philpot). Ateleia rides that rich current where "melancholy” is not merely cloying and "dreamy” is not in hazy greyscale, with no fixed destination other than fleeting glimpses of bliss. Eric Hill

Bruise We Packed Are Bags (Foghorn)
At times Bruise sounds like free jazz’s answer to gamelan, as interlacing patterns of notes and percussion join together in a delicate sound mosaic. At other times, the musicians seem to be trying to step outside of time altogether, draping the aural space with huge sheets of noise: the buzzy electronic washes of Ashley Wales (of Spring Heel Jack), saxophonist Tony Bevan’s lung-shredding howl, Orphy Robinson pummelling steel pans until the notes distort. When the band settles into a groove, the music judders, sways and doubles back on itself like one of Sun Ra’s multi-percussionist assaults. Nate Dorward

Gultskra Artikler Kasha Iz Topora (Miasmah)
Kasha Iz Topora, the second album of Russian-folk collage experiments by Gultskra Artikler, is a hidden treasure; it begins with the same swathe of granular ambient that has been put forth by artists like Svarte Greiner and Machinefabriek, and then veers in the direction of Slavic folklore, gypsy music, Czech jazz, and carnival-esque overtures of classical music that, over the course of 18 tracks, take the listener on a full-bodied and wide-ranging voyage. Kasha Iz Topora is a rarity: a gorgeous, frequently breathtaking mash-up of Eastern musical traditions that goes beyond the signifiers of "ethnic” music and invests the effort into concocting a wholly original and deeply unclassifiable record. Dimitri Nasrallah

Geordie Haley Trio Polar Bears (Geo Ha)
Often, free improvisation is a hit-and-miss affair. But in the hands of these three creative individualists, the space for invention bestowed by the thorny genre is commandeered with serious thought, thorough experimentation and the indispensable correlative of genuine artistic invention: hard work. Guitarist Geordie Haley really applied the elbow grease to realise this project. Just pick any tune and check the diversity of guitar sounds; Haley never coasts. Trombonist Scott Thomson and drummer Nick Fraser have never sounded more challenged, and they sound the better for it. Polar Bears has got balls and brains. Glen Hall

Basil Kirchin Particles (Trunk)
Composer/drummer Basil Kirchin was a woefully underappreciated musical visionary of the post-war UK jazz scene. He honed his talents drumming in his father’s big band then, after a Coltrane-like hiatus to India in the early ’60s, began scoring television and film soundtracks. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Kirchin’s sophisticated writing and arranging style rivalled Ennio Morricone’s. But his early ’70s albums, Worlds Within Worlds 1&2 and 4&5, meshing improvised jazz and found sounds, were pioneering ambient music recordings. The music on the posthumously released Particles — Kirchin died in 2005 — reflects every creative flashpoint in his intrepid musical life. Jerry Pratt

Monarkh Rites Profanes (NMB)
Labels like Southern Lord and Hydra Head have brought certain forms of dark ambient to the limelight, but if you ever feel like the standard offerings are simply not scary enough, look no further than this one-man, Montreal-based project. Instilling his unsettling, gothic/industrial-based soundscapes with everything from cryptic spoken word passages and distant sword clashes to tortured screams and ringing church bells, Monarkh successfully pushes the boundaries of horror without laying it on melodramatically thick. Rites Profanes pushes the untouchable atmosphere of the early works of Current 93 and Abruptum to the next circle of hell. Max Deneau

Mudboy Hungry Ghosts! These Songs are Doors (Not Not Fun)
A member of the fertile Providence, RI underground, Rafael Lyon spends most of his time honing his circuit-bent Mudboy persona, crafting a three-ring terror circus on home-built keyboard instruments. On Hungry Ghosts! These Songs are Doors, Lyon delivers a feverish nightmare in which every direction leads toward the realisation that true darkness does not lie in the foreign, but is hidden deep within each of us. Self-described as an exercise in "doom dub,” Ghosts is a journey fraught with edgy apprehension, a phantasmagoria of alien tones. Decidedly Lynchian, this tension-filled song cycle pairs the weird with the wicked, and delivers a subtle dose of psychological harm. Bryon Hayes

The Radio.String.Quartet. Celebrating the Mahavishnu Orchestra (ACT)
The Mahavishnu Orchestra was a stadium-sized jazz-fusion ensemble that brought a new audience into the instrumental music through formidable virtuosity and sheer rock volume. They also could be fairly pompous for the same reasons. What the Radio. String.Quartet. does is bring all that musicianship and volume down to an acoustic level that not only retains the power but defuses the pomposity into a level that is at once charming and thoughtful. This is the essence of the process of great classical ensembles: a spirited, original and inspired interpretation of a specific work. Nilan Perera

Ziya Tabassian Tombak (Ambiences Magnetiques)
Ziya Tabassian has been a common figure in traditional Middle Eastern and fusion-oriented projects in Quebec, but Tombak allows him the opportunity to delve into the wonderful sonics of the hand drum, apart from its usual rhythmic role. Rhythm and texture and even melody recombine into endless variation — Tabassian knows his instrument literally inside and out. His mastery of formal techniques plays a major part in his ability to generate abstract sounds, consider the drum flurries in "Varashan,” which sound more like smears than precisely metered riffs. David Dacks

Torngat You Could Be (Alien8)
There’s great playfulness and palpable joy on You Could Be, the best album by Montreal’s wonderful orchestral trio Torngat. Though they continue to venture away from their improvisation and post-rock roots, Torngat can’t shake off such sensibilities outright. These remarkable compositions conjure all manner of moods and visions, which stem from the propulsive freedom generated by the chemistry between multi-instrumentalists Pietro Amato, Mathieu Charbonneau, and Julien Poissant. Few groups mesh together like Torngat, whose three-pronged telepathy for mischievous musical paths has fostered the dynamically open and lively soundtracks found on You Could Be, a bold, animated masterpiece. Vish Khanna