Michael Vitrano is head of Desire Path Recordings, a label based out of Buffalo that has released music by Kyle Bobby Dunn, Charlamagne Palestine & Janeck Schaefer, and Nite Lite. Here are some releases that he enjoyed from 2012.
High Aura’d, Sanguine Features (Bathetic)
Anxiously awaited this as his Mooncusser cassette was one of my favorites from 2011. Sought out John. Splendid human being. Became car soundtrack. Traveled everywhere with it. Bought LP. Continue to be in awe.
Nathan McLaughlin, The Refrigerator is Emotional (Senufo)
Exchanged some music with Nathan and he sent me some cassettes and his LP. Put it on, walked into other room, stopped, came back, sat down, stayed.
Paul Buchanan, Mid-Air (Newsroom)
Of Blue Nile. Fragile voice with fragile piano for the fragile psyche. “The buttons on your collar/The color of your hair/I think I see you everywhere.” First words, first track.
Coppice, Holes/Tracts (Consumer Waste)
The most original music being done right now. I don’t know how they make the “music” that they do.
Kane Ikin, Sublunar (12k)
Kane is one half of Australian duo Solo Andata. I will listen to anything Kane (or his Solo Andata partner Paul Fiocco) create forever. Sublunar has seemingly little in common with his work in Solo Andata, but there is a mood explored here which bears some resemblance to Ritual, the album Solo Andata put out with our label.
Kyle Bobby Dunn, In Miserum Stercus (Komino) and Bring Me The Head Of (Lowpoint)
An everlasting moment and everything else washes away. To me, Kyle is making some of the most important music of our lifetime.
Andrea Belfi, Wege (Room40)
Blistery. Bric-a-Brac. Belfi.
Grasshopper, The Day America Forgot (SicSic)
How this duo is not well-known is beyond me. House of Alchemy put out an excellent tape of theirs called Miles in the Sky, which was my introduction. This release takes their unique sound even further into the sky.
Hallock Hill, The Union/Hem of Evening (MIE Music)
Damian Valles is head of Komino Records, operating out of Toronto. He is also an artist that has released a number of well-received albums, including this year’s Non-Parallel (In Four Movements). Below are some records that he enjoyed from the past year.
Eli Keszler, Catching Net (Pan)
Even though I had an exceptionally difficult time compiling my list this year, my number one choice was very easy to decide. Eli Keszler’s double CD is, simply put, a ferocious monster of an album and a genuine masterpiece in my books. It includes the 2011 release, Cold Pin, which is, in itself, amazing and would have made it onto my 2011 list, but I didn’t get an ear on it until this year. However, it’s the additional pieces – the ensemble renditions and installations – that really put this release above and beyond. Experimental, arty, precise, unpredictable, refreshingly unique. It’s pretty much a perfect score.
Duane Pitre, Feel Free (Important)
The first thing that struck me about this recording was the production. A lot of times music of an experimental nature tends to be this wash of layered sounds (not that that is a bad thing most of the time) that blend and build to create what people refer to as drone or ambient or whatever you want to call it. On Feel Free, it is clear that Pitre really takes time placing each sound so they inhabit their own space, but still work to create a meditative blend of sound. It works very well and lets the listener almost pick and choose what they want to focus their attention on. Also, the whole album is basically one long piece broken into sections.
Culture Of Un, Moonish (Bocian)
Pianist Chris Abrahams has the “touch.” His other gig, The Necks, is consistently great. Here, he is paired with guitar player, David Brown. Together they have created an album full of unpredictable twists and turns and they both seem to play off of each other very well. Abstract and free, this is a solid as it gets.
Emptyset, Medium (Subtext) / Collapsed (Raster-Noton)
Ok, so these are two separate releases, but I decided to compile them into one entity since they are relatively shorter than most albums and both came out this year. I’ve always been a fan of “beat” oriented music, but for some reason, most of the time I am not very blown away by a particular album as a whole. With these two releases, Emptyset really seemed to nail it. Heavy and direct beats, pummeling bass tones, the right amount of distortion, cavernous space enveloped in total darkness. Great stuff.
Chicago Underground Duo, Age Of Energy (Northern Spy)
The best configuration of the Chicago Underground by a mile, Chad Taylor and Rob Mazurek consistently release amazing records as the Duo. Age of Energy is no exception, it actually may be my favourite release by the two of them so far. Both of them are masters of their crafts creating, more often than not, jaw dropping movements fusing insane rhythms, messy skronks and fat synth lines. Just listen to the digital only track, “Moon Debris.” Enough said.
Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph)
Ok, now for something completely different. First off, I am sucker for great heavy music and have been a long-time Converge fan. This album is an absolute barn burner. From start to finish, it is just fucking crazy. All the best parts of metal, hardcore, d-beat, sludge and punk all rolled into one. No holds barred. It’s definitely not for everyone, but they are, in my opinion, the best in their field. Not the mention, the drummer is a machine.
Mika Vainio, Fe₃O₄ – Magnetite (Touch)
Mike Vaino is on fire these days. Last year he released a great album on Editions Mego. He also was part of an amazing collaboration put out by Pan earlier this year. His newest for Touch records doesn’t show any signs that he’s running out of steam. This album builds on the darkness that possessed his last record, but is clearly more focused on presenting a certain theme. There are no drum machines to propel the blistering bass distortions, just calculated peaks and valleys that bring out tension.
Swans, The Seer (Young God)
How much more can be said about the Swans really? Michael Gira has created something reaching epic proportions here. This really feels like the ultimate culmination of all the previous Swans material fused with the best moments of his Angels of Light project. I think this music is in a category all on it’s own and nobody comes close to doing it with the same intensity.
This is my favourite KTL lp so far. It also has one of my favourite album covers of the year. The Editions Mego site claims it’s O’Mally and Rehberg’s “most sophisticated release to date,” and I can only agree. It definitely sounds like they took their time creating these pieces and paid close attention to detail. A rewarding listen indeed.
EL-P, Cancer 4 Cure (Fat Possum)
I listen to quite a bit of hip hop and am really taken with the production side of things more than great MC’ing. EL-P is a really solid producer, his work on this year’s Killer Mike album is phenomenal but the production on his own Cancer 4 Cure is exceptional. Tracks like, “The Full Retard” and “Drones Over Brklyn” really stand out among the sea of the generic production that is often found in the genre.
Adam Richards runs the Buffalo-based label House of Alchemy with his wife Katheryn. His recording project is called Chapels. He also records in the groups The Circle and the Point and Air Loom. Tune in to hear Adam guest host The Upstate Soundscape tonight (wed., 12/26) on 91.3FM WBNY at 8pm. Stream at WBNY.org.
David Kilgour- Here Come the Cars (De Stijl- reissue)
Of anything on my list, I definitely spun this the most in 2012. Perfect song craft, pure and simple. It’s so unassuming, it kind of just nudges you here and there until you realize that you’ve spun it four times in a row and you’re ready for another go.
Vanessa Rossetto- Exotic Exit (Kye)
Following up last year’s excellent Mineral Orange is this astounding piece of work. Her deft handling of sounds both random and exacted is dazzling. It all melds together to create 3 sweeping and engaging pieces of music. Field recordings mixed with hunks of composed sound, or so I guess. Either way, dive in. It’s intoxicating.
Henning Christiansen- Fluxid Behandlung Op 189 (Kye- reissue)
Major reissue of late 80’s Fluxus sound works. Jarring, odd, engulfing soundscapes. Unpredictable, mildly erratic and totally compelling. Essential.
Aaron Dilloway- Modern Jester (Hanson)
Aaron Dilloway/Jason Lescalleet – Snakes and Grapes (Pan) Modern Jester is pretty much perfect. From start to finish, you are treated to some of the finest electronic quackery I have heard. Abrasive, gritty, elaborate and spot-goddamn-on. Probably the best thing I have heard all year.
Riding shot gun with that substantial album is a heavy collaboration with Jason Lescalleet. His set here in Buffalo this summer was above and beyond. This album gets deep and murky. These are two of the best modern sound composers out there right now. It’s a menacing slow burn. Wow.
Josh Mason/Nathan McLaughlin – “3440” split (Tape Drift) What a tape. Mason’s side is liltingly cyclical, minimally evolving with minute, subtle flourishes. Piano, then some guitar. Deliriously just outside of repetitive. Something tiny is added with every lap. Coma sounds. Perfect coma sounds. McLaughlin offers lonesome banjo plucked with menacing deep bass looming behind. Plaintive, then dark until distortion washes it all out. It goes from minimal to sub-minimal and then turns to disorienting. It’s a puzzling and remarkable tape through and through.
Can- The Lost Tapes (United Artists- reissue)
It’s not very often that an essential band opens their vault and comes out with 3 CD’s of unreleased material that ranks amongst their finest. Vibrant, visceral, urgent. We now live in a world with three more CD’s of Can. That’s a damn good thing.
The Congos/Sun Araw/M. Geddes Gengras- Icon Give Thank (RVNG Intl)
This record is the soundtrack of a dream. I find myself in a trance within the first few minutes of dropping the needle, every time. It’s a magical hybrid of different worlds. Reggae vocal lay over outer limits psych grub. It’s like jumping into warm ocean water.
Venn Rain- multiple releases
The soundtrack of 2012 for me. In and around everything else on this list and all the other great recordings from this year, I was listening to Venn Rain. Half a dozen glimmering, mournful, hazy, cassettes: each one a comfort, an escape into tranquility. Get all of it.
Pedestrian Deposit- Kithless (Arbor)
They played a breathtaking set here in Buffalo this spring, on edge from beginning to end. This record rides from terse, tense minimalism to cathartic release with lots of space in between. Skin-crawling and beautiful. Essential sounds.
Hanel Koeck- Piano Music (Robert & Leopold)
Not only is the music fantastic but this has the packaging and concept of the year for me. Improvised piano, every aspect of the piano. After the recording the piano was disassembled and a piece of it is included with each cassette. Completely engrossing.
[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giW06S_hur0%5D Work/Death- Phone About to Ring (Three Songs of Lenin)
He played a devastatingly good set here in Buffalo In July. A batch of new releases came out this summer as well. They’re all great but this one is astounding. There is a good amount of menace here. The electronic yelps slowly build to a crowd of howling. Everything is vibrating. Drone and sound at its finest.
Needles is the host The Upstate Soundscape radio show. Here are 10 releases that he dug from 2012.
Sax Tape, S/T
This insane 60-minute romp came from Guelph’s Bry Webb. An unbelievable collage of looped beats, sonic twirls, and honking saxes. Funky, twisted, and psychedelic, this one hit all the right notes for me.
Alfred Brown, Music for Moving in Slow Motion (Asthmatic Kitty)
Probably one of the most graceful records of 2012. It could easily serve as the score for one of Terrence Malick’s majestic films.
Cinnamon Aluminum, We Ate the Wrong Crab Spirit (Level 4 Activated)
This Buffalo trio (now a four piece) perfectly straddles the line between experimental and pop. The songs on this album are as catchy as they are whacked out.
Venn Rain, Bioharmonics (House of Alchemy)
It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly I like about this cassette, but I just found it totally compelling. Four very simple recordings, all of which are mesmerizing.
M. Mucci, Days Blur Together
60 minutes of true drone bliss from Guelph-based M. Mucci. One of the most patient and refined pieces I have ever heard. Very few pieces present listeners with this type of challenge and subsequent reward for committing to it. Basinski-esque.
Phillips-Borden, System Vandross
A really discombobulating listen. Following the intersection of Borden’s crazed cello and Phillips’s turntable manipulation is like trying to walk on shifting ground in the dark.
Tony Conrad and HangedUp, Transit of Venus (Constellation)
Such a simple formula. Big sloppy drums combined with thick vibrating drones. The result is what I always imagined the Theater of Eternal Music would have sounded like. Great for both sitting in a chair and zoning out to or flailing around the room and breaking shit.
Damian Valles, Non-Parallel (in Four Movements) (Experimedia)
I am a sucker for any sample-based drone. Valles’s re-use of classical avant-garde sounds from the Nonesuch label is a fantastic example of the possible directions sample-based sounds might go in the future (even if they don’t sound at like sample-based works).
Thoughts on Air, Random Tandem (Old Frontiers)
I had the pleasure of hanging out with Scott Johnson (ToA) one night in Hamilton this past summer. We traded some tapes, and this was one he gave me. The art work immediately blew me away but it wasn’t until driving home the next day hung over with the window’s down and music blasting that I actually heard this amazing double cassette. The graceful tones poured out my windows down the QEW. Then I got stuck in traffic on top of the Rainbow bridge in 90 degree heat with no air conditioning. A faint mist from the falls blew over me ever so often. I just sat there listening in a sweat induced trance. This tape will always run through my mind whenever I cross that bridge.
Loud and Sad, Fales Intimacy (cae-sur-a)
At times, there is so little going on in this cassette, which is what I love about it. You can really only absorb this by listening with all your might.
Over the next couple of week’s we will posting several [2012 in Review] lists that feature the favorite releases of some notable people from the Upstate experimental community.
First up is Michael Mucci, host of Sounds from the Tall House on Guelph, ON’s CFRU 93.3 FM. Every Sunday morning at 10am, Michael graces the airwaves with a radio show that features all kinds of experimental music and sound, focusing especially on long, improvisational pieces that you don’t often hear on the radio. Perfect Sunday morning radio.
This is the work of Steven R. Smith, a perennial favorite of mine. I always look forward to his releases and this one doesn’t disappoint. So far, this is a download only release, but hopefully that will change in the near future.
This year was, as always, a year full of new discoveries. A friend gave me a copy of Julian Cope’s book Japrocksampler which may just end up costing me a few hundred dollars chasing down some amazing records from Japan. This record isn’t on that list (and I’m not suggesting it should be), but it is a great record of solo guitar explorations. Bluesy, but not in the traditional sense, he’s also capable of blasting out sheets of feedback reminiscent of Keiji Haino.
Swans, The Seer (Young God Records) + live show Oct. 25/12 @ Lee’s Palace, Toronto
A good friend of mine let me hear this record and convinced me to go see the band in Toronto. I had seen Gira solo a few years back and he was intimidating as hell with just an acoustic guitar in his hands. The guy is intense and that’s probably an understatement! Swans was hands down the best live show I saw all year. I haven’t been knocked out by a live band like this in ages. I went home exhausted after being subjected to their sonic beating for almost 2 hours. Oh, the album’s pretty damn great too.
This record kind of caught me by surprise, having never heard anything by Robert Turman before. Seeing his name associated with folks like Aaron Dilloway was probably what caused the surprise. There’s no harsh noise here though. It’s probably closer to minimalism than anything else with its shaky kalimba, piano, and drum machine tape loops. A mesmerizing record to say the least.
There are a few musicians whose music just makes me stop and listen; I can’t do anything else, not reading, not writing, not thinking of other things, just listening. It’s almost tranquilizing in its effect on me. These two tracks contain many of Skelton’s signature sounds (circular patterns of various bowed stringed instruments, for instance) but seems to stretch out into some new territory, especially on the second track “Cappanawalla.” The strings are there, but something unusually menacing, too (organ? synth? or maybe some recordings slowed way down?). Truly wonderful.
A fantastic guitar soli release by this Boston-based musician. I’m never quite sure what to expect from him (past tape releases on his own Private Chronology imprint saw him manipulating tapes, synths, and field recordings to great effect). Here, it’s just him and a guitar (if you listen closely though, there’s some really nice tape manipulation/delay happening too). Stunning packaging by the folks at Wagtail. I really hope Reuben has some more guitar work in store for future releases.
Hallock Hill, The Union/A Hem of Evening (Mie Music)
Hallock Hill is Tom Lecky, once of Upstate NY, but now residing closer to NYC. The Union was previously released in a small CD run a few years back and I didn’t get a chance to hear it. Mie picked it up, repressed it on LP and added a new album A Hem of Evening” to make this a double LP package. Hallock Hill plays solo guitar music, but it strays quite a ways from the well-worn guitar soli/Takoma school. This is a really beautifully recorded, played, and packaged record.
Gasoline Gathers Hands, Gathers Friends, S/T (No Shade)
Finally, a release I was able to get my hands on! After who knows how many limited tape runs that go out of print before I even know they exist, they drop this LP. Hamilton is home to some of the nicest musicians around and these fellows are no exception. They’re also fairly damn talented at creating some serious vibes from creeping slow jams to all out noise murk.
Gates is the work of Bryan W. Bray from Toronto, also of Gardenia and Orca. Gates is a decidedly darker, harsher project. This one has some black metal and harsh noise overtones. Mr. Bray has been putting out fantastic releases for some time now and its great to see them getting some wider recognition and attention. The packaging for this tape is also stellar.
Hanged Up/Tony Conrad, Transit of Venus (Constellation)
I hadn’t heard anything from the Montreal duo Hanged Up in years, but I was quite excited when I saw their name added to Constellation’s Musique Fragiles series. Doubly excited when I saw the name Tony Conrad. A great collaboration here that has all the hallmarks of a Hanged Up album, with the added benefit of Mr. Conrad’s searing violin….actually it sounds like the former are just trying to keep up with the latter!