Published Feb 01, 20001. Fennesz Endless Summer (Mego)
I. Khider: Fennesz has instilled a pop sensibility to electronic music; in that respect, one could compare his music to Stereolab, who have also merged abstract experimental with pop and made it work. Fennesz is known for taking pop tunes by mega-star artists like the Rolling Stones and processing (not remixing) them beyond recognition in essence using the pop song as an instrument in itself. A strong melody writer, Fennesz plays warm, organic guitar chords to catchy electronic glitch-noise that evoke nostalgia. Each song is well balanced, finding the bridge between brazen futurism and sentimentality for the past.
Eric Hill: Who knew there was melody lurking under the laptop chaos? Not a cover of, but a homage to the Beach Boys... sort of. Rather than reproduce the wigged-out studio arrangements or sample the Wilsons' oeuvre, Fennesz rubs his own analog and digital sound sources together to somehow manage a hard drive spark that ignites the warm mood of hippie era West Coast music. More pop than you'd ever imagine.
2. Stars Of The Lid The Tired Sounds Of (Kranky)
Eric Hill: It's music you can read by temperature. Water freezes. Glaciers melt. Steam rises. No, you can't dance to it, but you can almost soak in it. In putting out this double CD Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie maximised their minimalist potential. The duo have been breathing out through their guitars for five bliss-filled albums, but here they've enlisted help from other vibrating strings pianos, cellos, vocal chords. Rather than simply pleasing, the music rewards the listener patient enough to notice the density and diversity of sound beneath its calm surface. Though the pieces are titled, the themes suggested are merely hints of places, times, ideas a vagueness that is a strength for once. It is a reminder that, like with temperature, change can be quiet and gradual, yet powerful and affecting too.
Roman Sokal: The duo that is Stars Of The Lid have conjured what is perhaps the most potent album of loneliness for all time. But it is a good thing, because if you are ever feeling such an emotion, then playing it might cancel it out, or at least make you feel safe. Many layers of sound keep the album floating: from distant droning field recordings to clean guitars, pianos and horns that wail quite slowly in an Angelo Badalamenti-like waltz. Although there are 19 tracks that sprawl across the album, they seem to flow and develop like an organism, each somewhat containing a snapshot of a former track. And given the intense introspective and reflective vibe, one could almost say that the album is a eulogy for the ancestry for one large family that goes back thousands of years. It is extremely powerful, and not to be taken lightly.
3. Hamid Drake and William Parker Piercing the Veil (Aum Fidelity)
David Dacks: Piercing the Veil is my favourite pure rhythm album of the year. Bassist Parker and drummer Drake are formidable soulful musicians with extensive resumes of like-minded projects. But once they hooked up in Peter Brotzmann's Die Like A Dog band, they found a mutual love for one another's playing. Piercing the Veil starts with some intense and funky bass and drum duets, then slides into sublimely recorded hand drums and wind instruments. Everything is played to maximum groove effect, and their spirit of togetherness sounds like they've been collaborating for years. This disc has a universal sound that could appeal equally to jazz, dub and global groove fans.
4. Kristian, Shalabi, St-Onge s/t (Alien8)
I. Khider: An austere, minimal and dissonant recording comprised of David Kristian on synths, Shalabi on oud and guitar, and St-Onge on upright bass, all of which made subtlety the main strength in their music. Each dissonant piece is placed on an island in a sea of silence where the listener drifts along startled by the pluck of a string, the hum of the bass or the low rumble with scant noises from Kristian's synths. These sounds are delicate enough to require active listening; moreover, no other recording this year has made silence such an active part of their music. No small feat. Listening to this trio is like taking a crash course in existentialism and psychoanalysis.
5. Boredoms Vision Creation Newsun (Birdman)
Michael White: The music of this veteran Japanese collective was once little more than a dare to the most reckless out-rock masochists. Nineteen ninety-eight's Super Are suggested that the Boredoms were beginning to use their noise fetish for the purpose of texture, tension and release, thrill and spill, rather than an end unto itself. But Vision Creation Newsun is a left-field revelation; the most audaciously smart construction of soothing melodies and merciless racket in recent or distant memory. Essentially one subtly mutating 68-minute piece (indexed into nine tracks on disc), it evokes the notion of "psychedelia" (futuristic, challenging, mood-altering) without ever seeming to reference past psychedelic music. That more people didn't listen to it this year suggests that the group's beleaguering past might still be too fresh in people's minds. But it wouldn't be ridiculous to predict that everyone will be hearing echoes of this album when the rest of rock catches up.
Charles K. Noyes Full Stop (Ecstatic Peace)
I. Khider: An odd, eerie recording that sounds like it was made to soundtrack a film about a cataclysmic event. The music sounds surreal, not enjoyable but definitely makes one aware and conscious. The music is made of processed field recordings and instrumentals set to render an impression of impending doom. One could listen to this music the way one reads a story by Kafka, not a relaxing read so much as something that makes you think, sometimes long into the night.
Matthew Shipp's New Orbit (Thirsty Ear)
David Dacks: A fine return to form after a brief retirement of the most vital pianist in jazz today. More than makes up for some of his questionable synth choices on David S. Ware's recent disc.
Chris McGregor and The Brotherhood of Breath Travelling Somewhere (Cuneiform)
David Dacks: A finally unearthed 1973 recording which writes another brilliant chapter in this South African/British jazz maelstrom. They can be totally straight n' swinging and utterly discordant at the same time.
Parabola s/t (Independent)
I. Khider: Bizarre yet fun improvised music that skirts over a variety of styles from pure abstract instrumentation, to avant-jazz to a bit of hip-hop/jazz stylings. Music for and by outsiders with a strong sense of humor.
Keiji Haino Abandon All Words At A Stroke, So That Pray Can Come Spilling Out (Alien8/Sonic Unyon)
Roman Sokal: It's like hanging out with the devil in a church for six weeks straight with no sleep and plenty of hallucinogens. Nice hurdy gurdy drones.
The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-la-la Band Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward (Constellation)
Eric Hill: Doubled in size and name length, the Godspeed and non-Godspeed malcontents push this ensemble further into a world of quasi-religious ecstasy and terror. Vocals play a larger part, but the familiar haunting piano and string sounds remain. In many ways this recording manages to surpass the modus its more famous older cousin has operated under.
Tim Berne The Shell Game (Thirsty Ear)
David Dacks: Another comeback release sponsored by Thirsty Ear, a label that's had a great year. Berne isn't as furious as he used to be, but the expansive compositions set a new pace for integration of electronic keyboards in improvised music.
Toshimaru Nakamura/Sachiko M-do (Erstwhile)
Eric Hill: This may just be the sound of one hand clapping.
Kaffe Matthews cd dd (Annette Works)
I. Khider: Not music for passive listening, this is a very intense album with a combination of soft and highly abrasive textures that could be the future of rock music thirty years from now. Kaffe Matthews created a series of live recordings, processed feedback and processed violin sounds to create jarring improvised pieces.
Roy Campbell Quartet It's Krunch Time (Thirsty Ear)
David Dacks: Aka the Khan Jamal show. The vibes player shows that there's much more to the instrument than Roy Ayers. Campbell's album recalls Eric Dolphy's masterpiece Out To Lunch.
Zebradonk s/t (Independent)
I. Khider: This is music with strong character and uninhibited charm. It's great to get improvised music that is not afraid of humor and vulnerability. The lead singer did a great job of articulating his wonky personality and creating some humorous on-the-spot love and story-telling ballads that are audacious.
George Lewis and the NOW Orchestra The Shadowgraph Series (Spool)
David Dacks: Another great album from one of the very best big bands in jazz/new music today. George Lewis compositions are featured, but the Orchestra's work deserves most of the credit.
White Out (w/ Jim O'Rourke) Drunken Little Mass (Ecstatic Peace)
Eric Hill: For every ten horribly unsatisfying improv recordings there is one like this that captures dynamism, emotion, leaps of faith rewarded, abandon met with trust.
Detention Warp and Woof (Arrival)
David Dacks: Superlative free duo of Sam Shalabi and Alexander MacSween are perfectly in tune with one another as they go from laconic to furious at the drop of a hat.
Windy & Carl Consciousness (Kranky)
Raoul Bjorkenheim Apocalypso (Cuneiform)
Mark Dresser/Denman Maroney Duologues (Victo)
Nommensemble s/t (Aum Fidelity)
David Dacks: Whit Dickey's pretensions aside, this is a truly interesting balance of alto instruments sax and viola (this could be Mat Manieri's best work yet) floating on a subtly grooving but open ended rhythm held down by Dickey and Matt Shipp's piano.
24. Set Fire to Flames Sings Reign Rebuilder (Alien8)
Eric Hill: More of that Montreal collective sadness. Less organized (or I should say arranged), freer and in some ways uglier than most of the recordings the thirteen members have made with various other projects. Because of this the sounds do reach closer to representing the frustration and longing suggested in other places. Not easy listening.
25. Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Quintet Flutter (Tzadik)
Eric Hill: The busiest Japanese man in show business (except for Merzbow) arcs back around to examine his roots in jazz tradition. In this pursuit he grafts the standards of the '50s and '60s (both American and Japanese) together with the free exploration of the '70s and today, by way of electronics courtesy of Sachiko M sine wave sampler work.