2011 ARTISTS' PICKS
As we've done in the past, we asked artists whose works appeared in last month's 2011 Top 10s and 20s feature to select their favourite recordings released in 2011 (or before) and perhaps also say a few words about what made them special. Here's what they said:
Arborea • Balmorhea • Alexander Berne • James Blackshaw • FareWell Poetry • Fovea Hex • Randy Gibson • Gulls • Macro Recordings • Akira Kosemura • The Lickets • Mem1 • orchestramaxfieldparrish • Orlando B. • Quiroga • Jody Redhage • Sleepingdog • Talvihorros • Alexander Turnquist
01. PJ Harvey: Let England Shake (Vagrant / Island Def Jam, 2011)
02. Ornette Coleman: Sadness (Ornette Coleman Town Hall, 1962, ESP-Disk)
03. Meg Baird: Seasons On Earth (Drag City, 2011)
04. Glenn Jones: The Wanting (Thrill Jockey, 2011)
05. Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter: Marble Son (Fargo, 2011)
06. Victor Herrero: “Barcarola”
07. Cian Nugent: Doubles (VHF, 2011)
08. Alexander Turnquist: “Hallway of Mirrors” (Hallway of Mirrors, VHF, 2011)
09. Chuck Johnson: “Down in Flames or Not At All” (A Struggle Not a Thought, Strange Attractors, 2011)
10. Laura Marling: “Night after Night” (A Creature I Don't Know, Ribbon Music, 2011)
Balmorhea's number one pick of 2011 (as selected by Michael Muller): Nils Frahm: Felt (Erased Tapes)
Nils can do no wrong with me. His touch is just so severely perfect. Felt is his first, and very brilliant, venture into the outer reaches of sonic space apart from solo piano. With its minimal close-miked hammering, scratchings, and creaks, Felt is a non-stop beauty one needs to let permeate through one's very being. Put it on via headphones with the volume up.
Ten recordings that I listened to repeatedly this year:
01. Brad Mehldau, Kevin Hays, Patrick Zimmerli: Modern Music (Nonesuch)
02. Kaat Hellings: Hit of the Century (Eigen Beheer)
03. Fovea Hex: Here is Where We Used to Sing (Janet/Die Stadt)
04. Goro Yamaguchi: Mukaiji-Reibo (JVC)
05. Skuli Sverrisson: Seremonie (Extreme)
06. Pierre Boulez : Répons & Dialogue de L'ombre Double, Alain Damiens & Andrew Gerzso (Deutsche Grammophon)
07. Sarah Kirkland Snider: Penelope (New Amsterdam)
08. Hans-Henrik Nordstrom: Fantasy for Bass Flute, Kolbeinn Bjarnason (Classico)
09. Brian Eno & David Byrne: My Life In the Bush of Ghosts (Sire)
10. Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Violin Concerto, Op. 35, in D, Jascha Heifetz (Music and Arts Programs of America)
Without question, my favourite record of 2011 was Eiko Ishibashi's Carapace (Felicity). It was released way back in January in Japan only and unsurprisingly garnered little attention outside of the country. Ishibashi sings and plays piano, among other things. Her vocals have a gentle and breathy quality, and her songwriting is quite stunning: often simple and unashamedly melodic, by turns both joyful and bittersweet and frequently shifting unexpectedly in key and time signature. There are understated elements of contemporary classical music and jazz in her music, but the album is undeniably a pop record and a pretty perfect one at that. Oh, and did I mention it was engineered and co-produced by Jim O'Rourke? There are some wind and string arrangements on this album (which is often quite instrumentally sparse) that wouldn't sound out of place on one of his solo records and that's no bad thing at all, in my opinion. It's a real gem.
Older records I spent a lot of time listening to this year include Bola Sete's Ocean, Joe Walsh's Barnstorm, and David Shire's The Conversation OST.
2011 Top Six Albums (in no order):
01. (Jayne Amara Ross) Tindersticks: Claire Denis Film Scores (1996-2009) (Constellation, 2011)
02. (Frédéric D. Oberland) Barn Owl: Shadowland (EP) and Lost In The Glare (LP) (Thrill Jockey, 2011)
03. (Stéphane Pigneul) Snowman: Absence (Dot Dash Recordings, 2011)
04. (Colin Johnco) Umberto: The Prophecy of the Black Widow (Not Not Fun Records, 2011)
05. (Jeff aka Eat Gas) Connan Mockasin: Forever Dolphin Love (Phantasy Sound, 2011)
06. (Stanislas Grimbert) Kouyate-Neerman: Skyscrapers & Deities (No Format, 2011)
Fovea Hex (Clodagh Simonds)
This isn't a list of material released in the past year that I'd recommend—it's just a list of material I've been listening to during the past year……I've listed them in no particular order.
1. Riho Ensemble: Polyphonies Vocales de Svanetie (Inedit, 1999)
2. Bjork: Biophilia (One Little Indian, 2011)
3. Ensemble Marcel Peres / Discantus / Ensemble Gilles Binchois / Dominique Vellard, /Alla Francesca: Le Mystere des Templiers (Naive, 2009)
4. Nico Muhly: Speaks Volumes (Bedroom Community, 2007)
5. Human Greed: Fortress Longing (Omnempathy, 2011)
6. Laura Sheeran: Lust of Pig and the Fresh Blood (self-published, 2011)
7. Music of the Tutsi, Hutu and Twa: At the Court of the Mwami, Rwanda (Stichting Sharp Wood Productions, 1998)
8. Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca (Domino, 2009)
9. Yo Yo Ma (curator): The Silk Road (Smithsonian Folkways, 2002)
10. Sidney Robertson Cowell (recorded by): Songs of Aran (Smithsonian Folkways Archival, 2007)
There are two albums, and one live music experience that I keep coming back to in 2011.
The first of these is the remarkable recording of C.C. Hennix performing The Electric Harpsichord live in 1976 (Die Schachtel). This amazing music is just pulsing and lively and enveloping, and really something special. The packaging as well is amazing with poems by La Monte Young and essays by Hennix and Henry Flynt that get to the heart of what was happening when this work was made. It's a transcendant experience and truly shows the breadth of Young's influence.
The second recording I keep coming back to is Exile by Charalambides (kranky). It's incredibly focused and intense, especially the last two tracks of the album which present simple repetitions in an incredibly powerful way. I'm not sure it's their best album, but it reaches fantastic heights.
The final thing I keep returning to in 2011, and beyond, are the performances of Raga Darbari taking place in the spring and fall of each year at the Church Street Dream House by La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, Jung Hee Choi, and Naren Budhkar as The Just Alap Raga Ensemble. Young is a true master of raga, and his presentations of Darbari are simply exquisite. If you're in New York when they are performing, it is a must-hear experience (details are here).
Gulls (Jesse Munro Johnson)
Here are my 10 fave releases for 2011 (in no specific order).These are the musics that gave me inspiration, and hope for the future of it all. Next-level jams.
01. Music For Saharan Cell Phones: The International ReWorks (Boomarm Nation)
02. Andy Stott: Passed Me By (Modern Love)
03. Paper/Upper/Cuts: Illa Killa Yellow Space (Boomarm Nation)
04. Harmonious Thelonious: Talking (Italic)
05. Mark Ernestus Meets BBC: Shangaan Shake (Honest Jon's)
06. Sound People: Teatime (Under The Spire)
07. Music From Saharan Cellphones (Sahel Sounds)
08. The Durian Brothers: Cuts EP (Diskant)
09. Strategy: Super Awareness Is Fruit (Under The Spire)
10. CityMouth: Holodecker EP (Dropping Gems)
Macro Recordings (Finn Johannsen)
01. Morphosis: What Have We Learned (M>O>S)
02. Reel By Real: Surkit Chamber - The Melding (Artless)
03. Jeff Mills: Star Chronicles - Orion (Axis)
04. Virgo Four: Resurrection (Rush Hour Recordings)
05. Surgeon: Breaking The Frame (Dynamic Tension)
06. Pinch & Shackleton: Pinch & Shackleton (Honest Jon's)
07. Container: LP (Spectrum Spools)
08. Drums Off Chaos + Jens Uwe Beyer: Drums Off Chaos + Jens Uwe Beyer (Magazine)
09. Ekoplekz: Intrusive Incidentalz Vol. 1 (Punch Drunk)
10. Kid Creole & The Coconuts: I Wake Up Screaming (Strut)
My favourite discs of 2011 (in no particular order):
01. Haruomi Hosono: HoSoNoVa (Daisyworld Discs)
02. nunu: nunu (Schole)
03. MimiCof: RundSkipper (Progressive Form)
Steve Roden: in flows and spuns (en/of 20) (1999 / 2003 / 2005)
Very few people in this world possess the ability to make mechanical drones and metallic static as warm and comforting as sound artist Steve Roden does. Steve and his work hold a very special place in our hearts and our lives. We have been followers and admirers of his work for the past decade, and even first met each other at one of Steve's concerts in 2003. Over the years, we have had the fortune of being able to host Steve as part of our series Ctrl+Alt+Repeat, share a bill with him at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, and collaborate with him on our 2008 album +1. More importantly, we have had the opportunity to get to know Steve—who is as honest and warm as his music—and are honoured to be able to consider him a good friend. In 2011, we became the proud owners of his limited edition in flows and spuns (en/of 20) when he presented it to us over a cup of tea at his home in Pasadena, CA.
The record has four tracks: “Into the Shadow,” “Soft Walking,” “Out of the Sun,” and “Still Burning.” The source material of the music consists of sounds from Steve's Super 8 camera and recordings of the Indian playback singer M. Raffi. The tracks are reworkings of audio that Steve had made for Doug Aitken's 1999 video installation into the sun. Slow swells, satisfying pops and clicks, and tenderly looping organ-like harmonies immediately transport you to a lazy and balmy afternoon that you never want to leave.
The original pressing of this LP was released in 2003 by en/of as an edition of 100 records with accompanying art by Doug Aitken. Steve re-released an edition of 25 copies of the record in 2005 with his own handmade artwork. This album is truly one of our most prized possessions and without a doubt our favourite recording of 2011.
orchestramaxfieldparrish (Mike Fazio)
Kate Bush: 50 Words For Snow (Anti- / Fish People)
I listen to (and buy) an extensive amount of various music and am always thrilled when something gets my attention for more than one listen. I managed to once again compile a personal ‘best of' year list and decided after some thought that they were all favourites so it was difficult for me to pick just one of the bunch to write about. But one album I seem to keep coming back to has a highly emotive nature and one that seems to be without peers amongst my favorites, Kate Bush's new one.
A wonderful surprise for me, thinking that all we would get from Kate this year was just the wonderful Director's Cut release and now at the end of the year comes this work of brilliance. Masterfully recorded and produced, 50 Words For Snow is indeed A Winter's Tale if there ever was one. Kate is at the very top of her form here and my favourite of her's since Hounds Of Love. The duet with Elton John is a nice surprise, and I love the fact that she stretches out with a jazzier rhythm section for this album. The longer pieces are absolutely to the point and not self-indulgent in the least and couldn't have worked without their extended lengths. The cut “50 Words For Snow” has an eye towards Hector Zazou musically, an artist and gentle soul I deeply miss today. I couldn't help but think of Joni Mitchell's Hejira after a few listens, where each of the characters come to life and seem like you've known them a lifetime. There's not a mediocre track amongst the lot, and there are moments on this record I find myself thinking about out of nowhere. This is a beautiful, fantastic work from an artist who is obviously actively challenging her preconceptions of what art is and moving forward as opposed to rehashing her comfort zone which seems to be all the rage today. I love this recording.
Orlando B. (Orlando Britain)
Sadly I don't listen to many albums these days, what with the lack of free time, and I tend to mainly purchase EPs. However, here are some albums which stood out for me along with some of my favourite EPs of 2011.
01. Soweto Kinch: The New Emancipation (SK Recordings)
02. Fudge Fingas: Now About How (Prime Numbers)
03. Jeff Mills: The Power (Axis Records)
04. The Nautilus Project: Solid State Society (U-Cover)
05. Jay Z and Eminem: Legend Meets Legend
06. Andy Vaz: Straight Vacationing (Yore)
Favourite EPs (in no particular order):
01. Agnes: Got That Music In My Mind (Hudd Traxx)
02. 1XA: Transit Ways / Seven Days (1XA)
03. Above Smoke & Ernie: Four Suns EP (Deep Explorer)
04. DJ Jus Ed: Memories Of You (Underground Quality)
05. Nicholas & Simoncino: From The Underground EP (Quintessentials)
06. MR G: G Spot EP (Bass Culture)
07. Roman Lindau: Lot De Deux (Fachwerk Records)
Quiroga (Walter Del Vecchio)
My 2011 favourite picks:
01. Young Montana: Limerence (Alpha Pup)
02. Seahawks: Invisible Sunrise (Ocean Moon)
03. Ichiro: Unconsidered (Oilwork)
After a lot of consideration about which album was my favorite of 2011, I keep coming back to Becca Stevens' Weightless, released on Sunnyside Records earlier this year. Becca's acoustic band has been growing and developing a lot over these past few years, and with Weightless, they really pull together some of my favorite musical elements. Becca's writing is lyrical, sweet, and memorable, but not predictable. Her song forms are almost always quirky, as are her chord changes—and I particularly love music that seems to be working within the “usual” harmonic system, but then throws juicy curve balls. Almost all the vocals are sung in crystalline two- and three-part vocal harmonies, and there is a great peppering of dissonance. The combined high level of musicianship from all of the band members is pretty stunning. I've listened to the album a bunch of times, and it's a great mix of jazz, indie rock, and folk, and seems to be a great representation of the Brooklyn music scene of 2011.
Sleepingdog (Chantal Acda)
The record that I listened to the most this year is Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar). For me this was a big learning experience. I find it rare for musicians with that kind of mainstream success are able to surprise me that much. He was able to fully show his heart and at the same time do technical things that are so exciting. This recording sometimes sounds so tiny in sounds and composition and then suddenly it grows, gets bigger, and just makes you forget everything for a second. I was often surprised by such changes. The song “Holocene,” with all the little sounds and the calming waves of the drums, made me more relaxed than any ambient record that came out. The use of brass was also suprising. Instead of using it just as layers, Iver used it as little voices trying to tell us something and suddenly they dissapeared. This record left me silent and in peace.
Talvihorros (Ben Chatwin)
It's been a great year for experimental music this year; countless releases have caught me by surprise, and I couldn't help but be impressed by what has been coming out in the furthest reaches of electronic and electroacoustic music, with Raime—slow and minimal, rhythmical work-outs that are as haunting as they are beautiful—probably being the find of the year for me. I'm hoping a full-length will live up to the promise of the EPs they've put out over the last two years. Although I find it difficult to rate records into a top whatever list, I'd like to mention the following five albums/EPs as being among my highlights for the year:
01. Alva Noto: Univrs (Raster-Noton)
02. Damian Valles: Skeleton Taxa (Drifting Falling)
03. Raime: Hennail / EP (Blackest Ever Black)
04. Roll The Dice: In Dust (The Leaf Label)
05. Tim Hecker: Ravedeath, 1972 (kranky)
Here is my year-end list of the music I listened to the most this year. It's not necessarily all new stuff, but it was new to me:
01. Johann Johannson: The Miners' Hymns (FatCat) and Virthulegu Forsetar (Touch)
02. Hauschka: Salon des Amateurs (FatCat)
03. Malcolm Dalglish: Jogging into Memory (Windham Hill Records)
04. Dr James Hopkins: Golden Ratios (Art All Ways Inc.)
05. The Field: Looping State of Mind (Kompakt)
06. Arborea: Red Planet (Strange Attractors)
07. Eric Carbonara and Jesse Sparhawk: Sixty Strings (VHF)
08. A Winged Victory For the Sullen: A Winged Victory For the Sullen (Gizeh)
09. Scott Solter: One River (Hidden Shoal)
10. Cass McCombs: Wit's End (Domino)