Destination Out: Year in Review 2008

Destination Out: Year in Review 2008
Instead of building 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.

Aidan Baker / Tim Hecker Fantasma Parastasie (Alien 8)
Two of Canada's most adept practitioners of textured drone music join forces on this all-too brief disc. Bleary-eyed smears of guitar and brittle electronics churn slowly over seven dark-hued and elusive pieces. While oriented slightly toward Tim Hecker's soundworld, Fantasma Parastasie nonetheless showcases Baker idiosyncratic guitar work. The diffuse, metal-informed distortion heard on Nadja's recordings often surges into the foreground, as trickles of gently coaxed notes loop, forming shimmering pools. Like other outings by Baker and Hecker separately, things are consistently tenebrous, yet never unremittingly bleak. Rather than inspiring claustrophobia, the darkness heard here offers all-enveloping, nocturnal warmth, but with mild suspicion that some paranormal tampering is taking place somewhere nearby.
Nick Storring

Natasha Barrett Trade Winds (Aurora)
Barrett's music matters because it raises our consciousness. Fascinated by her adopted home Norway's maritime life, she explored sounds associated with old ships and the sea. By paying extra close attention to the burblings of water, both above the surface and below, bells, creaking planks, she collected timbres for Trade Winds, a tour de force series of electro-acoustic compositions. To add to the narrative arc, she includes a sailor's story of a life-threatening storm at sea and punctuating organ chords, an allusion to Captain Nemo of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea.
Glen Hall

Anthony Braxton 12 + 1tet (Victo)
This is a conducted work assembled from the series of scores and improvisational strategies that informs Braxton's Ghost Trance music. There is a lot contained in this release, from the walking bass lines of jazz to moments of improvisation reminiscent 20th century classical to comic opera marches that could've come out of a Fellini movie. Above all, there is the unified sound of a band that has a thorough understanding of the materials and method of Braxton's sound world and Braxton's presence as conductor and musician ensures the fluidity of this inspired work.
Nilan Perera

Bulbs Light Ships (Freedom to Spend)
On Light Ships, ex-Axolotl members William Sabiston and Jon Almaraz have concocted a drum and guitar sound that threads glistening feedback through tumbledown near-rhythms. Their diverse and razor-sharp sonic vocabulary skirts the edges of free jazz, noise, minimal electronica and rock. Best of all, after laying down a one-two opening punch of extremely fractious string noise and Steve Reid like bass thumps, they become more cinematic, and slightly more jazzy. The title track suggests a delicate melody but avoids coalescing into anything grand, which keeps your ears open. There is some gorgeous pointillism on this record; some of the best non-idiomatic improv I've heard this year.
David Dacks

Empty Cage Quartet Stratostrophic (Clean Feed)
Hard to believe such rich, multilayered narratives could be constructed out of the sparse two horns, bass and drums format popularized by Ornette Coleman. Trumpeter Kris Tiner has a beautifully clear swing-to-freebop sound and a gift for phrases that hang provocatively in the air. He's got a perfect partner in Jason Mears' lemony alto, and the spiralling, witty extremity of their counterpoint rivals the Zorn/Douglas interplay in Masada. Ivan Johnson and Paul Kikuchi have blossomed into one of the supplest rhythm sections around: rather than locking in together, they pull away from each other in order to let these ultra-elastic grooves breathe.
Nate Dorward

Feuermusik No Contest (Standard Form)
What began as an innocent experiment between two hardcore punks blossomed into a gorgeous, multi-layered musical advancement by Toronto duo Feuermusik. Though they shake the novelty aspect of their bucket percussion/woodwinds configuration any time they play live, Gus Weinkauf and Jeremy Strachan entered sessions for No Contest with something to prove. The relative pop-cheer of 2006's Goodbye, Lucille lurks within No Contest but the new record shoots for grace and poise first, hitting the mark with uncommon authority.
Vish Khanna

Christina Kubisch Five Electrical Walks (Important)
If folk music is about taking the temperature of the current culture, Christina Kubisch has created a wired folk masterpiece. Sourced from headphones specially designed to act as electrical antennae, recording the invisible information cycles that envelope our modern landscapes, Kubisch concatenates the ambient music of Times Square, the terrorized metal of airports and shopping malls and decaying structuralism of Birmingham. We've taught the world to sing, and Kubisch is now teaching us to listen to it.
Eric Hill

Phantom Orchard Orra (Tzadik)
Harp and electronics are the instruments employed by Zeena Parkins and Ikue Mori - two downtown New York musicians known for their contributions to DNA, Electric Masada, Björk, Nels Cline, and many others - on Orra, but you'd be forgiven for imagining gamelan, Theremins and, on the final track, distorted guitars. For their second release as Phantom Orchard, Parkins and Mori transmute their raw musical materials into a meditation on the base elements of nature, an inviting soundscape with an undercurrent of doom-folk unease. Guests include Makigami Koichi on Jews harp and Josh Quillen on steel drum. This is one forest worth venturing into at night.
Jonny Dovercourt

Pocahaunted Island Diamonds (Not Not Fun)
What do you get when you cross a female primitivist guitar/vocal drone duo with the deep-fried bass rhythms of former the For Carnation member and California underground maverick Bobb Bruno? The answer: quite possibly the most viscous sonic concoction this side of Jamaica. This cracked-out proto-dub/deep psych masterpiece couldn't have come at a better time, as the prolific yet monotonous girls of Pocahaunted were about to become a one-trick pony with their slippery brand of reverb-heavy moan. Bruno's dank throb pulls the girls out from beneath the crust of the Earth, providing fresh kindling to augment their maniacal signal fires.
Bryon Hayes

Various 1970's Algerian Proto-Rai Underground (Sublime Frequencies)
Alan Bishop (of Sun City Girls) has helmed Sublime Frequencies for five years, and in that time he's redressed the concept of "world music" from a new-age vanity to a pulsating global hotbed of cross-cultural experimentation. Among his favourite regions to discover is Algeria, and 1970's Algerian Proto-Rai Undergound digs into the heart of this reclusive country and its political heartbeat of Rai deeper than any other compilation has previously ventured. The four acts here add to what is already a golden decade for African music, with proto-Rai fusing political sentiment with Arabic transcendentalism and West African poly-rhythms for as raucous a jam session as you're likely to find anywhere in the twentieth century.
Dimitri Nasrallah