Review Of The Year 2012, Part 2: 12 EPs

In previous years I’ve assembled my annual review solely from album length releases; it’s interesting to note that the vast majority of music I come across, whether I actively discover it or somebody sends it to me for review, is in something resembling album format (notwithstanding that most of it reaches me as a sequence of ones and zeros). However, I do receive EPs and singles, and some of the very best music I’ve heard this year has come my way in shorter releases. It’s clearly time I reflected this in my end of year review, and as it would seem strange to compare two track singles with seventy minute albums, I’ve decided to assemble my favourites in two parts …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Given its title, its cover, and Quak’s avowed intention to make ‘dusty’ albums, we might expect a taste of nostalgia, of painful distance about this recording; it begins with thunder. This doesn’t presage any protracted exposition of sturm und drang however; it seems rather more like the thunder heard through the windows of childhood, the thunder that tells you a rainy day will be keeping you indoors for the foreseeable future. Quak employs elements of conventional tonal practice to establish emotional conditions, and makes use of technological or human noise and natural ambience to evoke more experientially specific states of being. The sounds have an unsettling character, leavened with some notes of optimism, all filtered through a distancing …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

This sophomore EP from The Light That Kills is less granular, more directionally narrative than the debut A Day That We Drift And Fall. This is not to say that it consists of conventional musical phrases arranged according to a nice, accessible formal grammar; that really would be weird, given Scott Crocker’s established experimental proclivities, but there is a far less atemporal approach to the succession of events, and there is a discernible dramatic arc to most of these pieces. There is also a more extended use of recognisable sonic sources, including some protracted free-rock improvisation in ‘Woken By Bells’, ‘Letting Go The Gods’ and particularly, most successfully, ‘New Eden’.

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Schoolday nostalgia seems to be a current in many branches of music nowadays. It’s by no means a new thing, but it’s definitely growing. It’s curious how it lends historicity and distance to times that probably don’t seem at all distant to a greybeard like me; my theory is that it represents a re-appropriation, a staking out of territory in which an artist can feel rooted. It’s definitely not the dominant theme on NAM KYO, but it’s an important presence, and not just in ‘Were Still The Same’, where it is explicitly referenced. We live in an era where history is fragmented and recycled, and individuals are as disenfranchised from historical agency as from political agency. Asserting the significance of personal biography is one way to reclaim that agency …

Dementio 13 – El Lissitzky (electronic post-rock)

Composers of electronic music, if they wish to work with a relatively accessible aesthetic, face a particular set of challenges: to avoid a sense of impersonality, to make their music feel ‘human’, to make it breathe, when it may in fact move no physical air between the moment of composition and the moment of reproduction, requires the artist to attend consciously to aspects of the sound that occur automatically in acoustic performance. The uniformity of a repeated sound produced digitally in response to identical instructions is not completely compatible with the idea of music as an expression, as an act of affective communication; this characteristic of electronic music can be exploited as a positive (not just to evoke anomie), by addressing the …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Serious pop music: I love it. Of course most pop music has been made with a serious attention to getting the sound right, such as it is, but then there’s the stuff that applies the language and sensibility of pop to its chosen themes in a manner that looks way beyond the superficial concerns of the mainstream. Obviously the ‘popular music’ label has ended up including tons of stuff, such as extreme metal and progressive rock, that have pretty much nothing to do with pop, but while DIN Martin’s filigreed post-punk is hardly in the pop mainstream (and is certainly a lot more gloomy than anything that charts these days), but there’s still something distinctly pop about this.

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

This track, this EP, is a remix in one continuous utterance of the Hanetration EP Tenth Oar which I reviewed in my last roundup of short releases. Tenth Oar was divided into four tracks, while the Barren Waste EP I reviewed in the same roundup was called A unified idea split into meaningless pieces, which may explain why they stitched this into a continuum. The piece evinces the same sort of tonal continuity as the source from which it is constructed, and its sounds are recognisably the sounds of Hanetration’s release, but it is very much its own thing, with very much the sound of Barren Waste …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Too moderately paced to really signify as dance music, the opening track of this EP is, nevertheless, hella heavy. Building on accumulating layers of atmosphere, when its brutalist bass hook and simple kick pattern enter, it hits with an ominous compulsion as dark and deep as doom metal. It’s not all darkness though: the track shifts into funkier uplands, still slow, admirably so, but with the kind of rhythm that hooks you bodily and pulls you with it. Similar strategies are in evidence throughout the Rauthaz EP: it’s not a matter of slowness and darkness, but of the creative exploitation and framing of potentially limitless digital resources …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

The Trappers were kind enough to send me a CD, which usually results in a full length standalone write up, since I appreciate the expense of promoting a band, and also enjoy extending my collection. The fact that they’re in a roundup instead is no reflection on the quality of the release, but more on the kinds of things I tend to talk about when I review a recording. Although I will expand on it somewhat, basically all I can think of to say is ‘it’s roots rock, they do it very well, and I like it a lot’. That should certainly not be taken to say that there is no more content to it than ‘it’s root rock’ can tell you …

Army of 2600 – Return Of The Bloop Beep Buzz (chiptune/ noise)

Chiptune purists may stick exclusively to using sounds as they are synthesised by their chosen platform, but there’s a well established set of musical practices that take the sounds of a Gameboy, an Amiga, or, in this case, an Atari 2600, and liberally mash them up. Mike Bourque likes to slather distortion over his sounds, but he still has an ear for the original context of his instrument; the sounds captured on Return Of The Bloop Beep Buzz are not sourced exclusively from his computers, but they are deeply, nostalgically redolent of the sounds that accompanied many geeky kids’ gaming experiences in the 1980s.

Dementio 13 – Crash St (electronic post-rock)

Our statements have meanings only inasmuch as they indicate distinctions or differences. Words, and other meaningful gestures, draw lines around pieces of our conceptual universe, and say ‘x means y because it doesn’t mean z’. A piece of music that sounds very similar to another, has a very similar meaning; in the context of a unified style, when lots of pieces of music sound the same, they really don’t mean anything much. They are generic. But there’s a danger of flinging the baby out with the bathwater if we reject every piece of idiomatic art on that basis: generic conventions can be manipulated to profoundly meaningful effect as well. It behoves listeners to be alert to difference, and those without an understanding of a particular style …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

There’s more than a nod to dreampop and shoegaze in this music, but Lisa Masia and Marina Cristofalo are clearly too in love with the raw and ragged sound of a distorted electric guitar to tame it to the extent that might imply. Some of Wish You Were A Pony is downright heavy! This is pop music, but not lowest-common-denominator, mass-market pop; it’s pop because it’s all about simple, accessible melodies, infectious, danceable rhythms, lush, inviting soundscapes, and, well… fun.

Janne Hanhisuanto – Circles In 3D (ambient)

All music has an atmosphere. I’d go so far as to say it’s a central aspect of all musical meaning, although it’s obviously not the only meaningful element in music. Words, melodies, harmonies, rhythms, timbres and so on, all have their particular capacities, but the atmosphere of a piece of music falls somewhere in the cracks between all these things. There’s a sense in which that elusive quantity, musical meaning, is the same thing as mood or atmosphere, in as much as meanings are in the experience of listening, and music that addresses itself directly to atmosphere is cutting straight to the chase in some respect.

Various Artists – Singles & EPs

I’m not sure what Marie Craven is sorry about. Without overcoming my innate laziness and conducting a proper analysis of the lyrics, it’s hard to say whether she’s expressing regret, making an apology, or meditating on the nature of transgression. In fact the title is a little ambiguous itself: does it refer to a transcendence of the terms of transgression, or a violation of surpassing seriousness? Either way, bracketing this release with two versions of its title track makes her mournful declaration a key aspect of its meaning, and the structural linchpin of its narrative arc.