Favorite 30 Albums of 2012 (So Far)
Revisiting the first half of an already amazing year of music


Laurel Halo
Quarantine

[Hyperdub]

“[In] spite of the interview in FACT, it’s hard to hear Quarantine as a ‘painfully human’ record. Everything about it seems to point precisely in the opposite direction, toward a merging of man and machine. Posthumanism is nothing new in music, of course. Halo is totally indebted in this respect to a tradition that extends back through footwork and dubstep to Chicago and Detroit and on to Krawftwerk’s Düsseldorf. And in this sense, her recent move to Hyperdub makes total sense: a common heritage in cybotron. At the same time, though, Quarantine feels like something new flickering into being, some strange new cyborg in the process of being birthed: a frankenstein of pop, noise, ambient, industrial, and a ‘hypnagogic’ continuum that takes in the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never, Actress, Dean Blunt, and Inga Copeland, the new New Age and Not Not Fun. I’m going to go out on a limb and call this an ‘important’ record: new territory being trod. Halo’s soundworld is deeply mediated by technology, media, and memory, but it refuses to be reducible to any of these things. It is neither nostalgic (in the way that some H-pop, chillwave, and most folk is, for instance) nor hopeful (like a lot of rave), nor, for that matter, especially fatalistic (Factory Floor, Throbbing Gristle). Instead, it’s conflicted, ambivalent, complex. It knows that this is the situation in which we find ourselves and sets out to explore it sonically. We are, after all, all cyborgs now.” [Full Review]

• Laurel Halo: http://www.laurelhalo.com
• Hyperdub: http://www.hyperdub.net

The Caretaker
Patience (After Sebald)

[History Always Favours The Winners]

Sketch for a short history of the gramophone, to be read repeatedly before bedtime: Isolated lights… • Reading and writing; storing and scanning; recording and replaying; speaking and listening. More so than the printing press or the player piano, it was Edison’s gramophone that first combined the dual motion indispensable to any universal machine. • Memories haunt them • It is, in principle, always the same stylus that engraves and traces, the same stylus that began as a tuning fork, modded to record its own vibrations: a pig’s bristle, attached to one of the tongues, etching frequency curves into sooty glass. • Dog days drawing • In 1923, Moholy-Nagy writes of transforming the gramophone “from an instrument of reproduction into an instrument of production, generating acoustic phenomena without any previous acoustic existence by scratching the necessary marks onto the record” (der Sturm no. 7, “Neue Gestaltung in der Musik. Möglichkeiten des Gramophons”). • Being, lost forever “If we imagine one hand writing upon the surface of the Mystic Writing-Pad while another periodically raises its covering sheet from the wax slab, we shall have a concrete representation of the way in which I tried to picture the functioning of the perceptual apparatus of our mind.” –FreudDeep and dark hours • Humans are forgetful and gods are hard of hearing: Nietzsche’s theory of poetry. Poetry began as a solution to a technological problem: the limits of memory; the demands of ritual. Poetry’s answer was repetition (Greece) or rhyme (Europe). • The point of decline • “Let us start with three tape recorders in the Garden of Eden. Tape recorder one is Adam. Tape recorder two is Eve. Tape recorder three is God, who deteriorated after Hiroshima into the Ugly American. Or, to return to our primeval scene: tape recorder one is the male ape in a helpless sexual frenzy as the virus strangles him. Tape recorder two is the cooing female ape who straddles him. Tape recorder three is DEATH.” –Burroughs…Invisible, to some extent… • RIP Freddy Kittler [Review]

• History Always Favours The Winners: http://brainwashed.com/vvm

Grimes - Visions

Grimes
Visions

[Arbutus]

“Part of the reason that Visions comes off as an ‘important’ album, despite in some ways converging on plenty of RIYL baggage and the selfsimilar black hole of pop itself, is that it’s constructed using different tools. Like, other TMT staffers made the connection to late Gang Gang Dance, which I can see, but no way is Grimes so hamfistedly “everything time;” no way is Grimes inviting you to that sort of globalized, post-cultural rave. I think, instead, of Burial, and all the untapped potential of what I guess dubstep used to be — vocal grotesques as a means to confront the impenetrably dark, lonely space between people. Grimes seems to be taking those expansive and unfurled tropes of examination-worthy acts like Burial and Grouper (think of those hypnotic clusters that emerge in the latter when all instincts are indulged simultaneously) and re(-)coiling them into something that resembles pop music but is also consistently unique and fascinating.” [Full Review]

• Grimes: http://claireboucher.carbonmade.com
• Arbutus: http://www.arbutusrecords.com

Demdike Stare
Elemental

[Modern Love]

Elemental has an existential portentousness. The rhythms on the album mostly emerge as dead thumps, often literally coming across as the sounds of dead weight falling: samples of heavy chains dropping or sticks striking lifelessly onto drum membrane. This dread is expressed through the dissonant textures of late modernism: Ominous orchestral samples moan in the background of ‘Violetta,’ alongside prepared piano and looped static. ‘Dauerline’ juxtaposes a cello’s sampled, eternal groan with slashes of metallic noise. ‘Erosion of Mediocrity’ produces relentless intensity with an industrial orchestra à la the Young Gods: Furious percussion, distant foghorn blasts, squalls of violin, and unidentifiable apocalyptic screeches careen through an ocean of echo. Tension builds and builds across momentary pauses, roaring back each time with more power than ever, and yet Demdike Stare summon this fin de siècle symphonic bombast without ever building to a crescendo. Instead, their songs subside into echo, as in ‘Falling Off the Edge,’ in which a sampled choir amasses sound the way a black hole consumes stars.” [Full Review]

• Demdike Stare: http://www.myspace.com/pookawig
• Modern Love: http://www.modern-love.co.uk

Death Grips
The Money Store

[Epic]

“The ‘experimental hip-hop band’ self-released Exmilitary last year, and the album deservedly featured in our Favorite 50 Albums of 2011 list. The stark minimalism of ‘Guillotine’ was an illustration of Death Grips’ ability to muster brimming intensity in even the emptiest of sonic arrangements. The Money Store maintains this degree, even augments it at times. ‘Punk Weight,’ for example, sets out with a frantic Eastern tone, before collapsing — presumably from said weight of punk — into a heavily distorted low-end barrage of percussion. Despite a continuation with regards to intensity, The Money Store presents a significant and generally positive progression in the band’s sound. Opener ‘Get Got’ immediately indicates a more soulful inclination, MC Ride’s voice tender and cool above the overdriven electronics. The album advances with a string of hefty offerings; ‘The Fever,’ ‘Lost Boys,’ ‘Black Jack,’ ‘Hustle Bones,’ ‘I’ve Seen Footage,’ and ‘Double Helix’ are all contenders for best track. In fact, it’s seemingly impossible to discern a weak number from the 13-song set.” [Full Review]

• Death Grips: http://thirdworlds.net
• Epic: http://www.epicrecords.com

Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras Meet The Congos
Icon Give Thank

[RVNG Intl.]

“[For] lovers of dub reggae and (subdued) psychedelic skronk, Icon Give Thank is the stuff of dreams: spaced-out, echo-y dub mantras that feel both like artifacts caked in years of fuzzy magnetic degradation and products of our contemporary moment of sludgy, electronic droning. Of course, there are likely purists who hold The Congos’ Perry-produced Heart of the Congos among a small number of canonical monuments to reggae splendor and eccentricity, and to them, this may seem a few steps too far from anything resembling classical pop song structure. However, even for fans of that earlier era, the ones who found the extended dub mix the material of divine contemplation, this new collaboration will resonate profoundly. As with earlier Sun Araw work, repetition is a key component. Most tracks are built upon combinations of simple, repeating musical phrases that create a soundscape within which The Congos’ harmony-laden vocals can drift and sway. […] [The] album (along with the essential corresponding film, Icon Eye) stands as a rather moving document of the profundity of the cross-cultural and cross-generational conversation that goes on throughout all popular culture, and given the niche audiences for both Sun Araw and The Congos, this project offers a view on a very rarely explored conversation at that.” [Full Review]

• Sun Araw: http://sunaraw.com
• M. Geddes Gengras: http://mgeddesgengras1.bandcamp.com
• RVNG Intl.: http://igetrvng.com

Motion Sickness Of Time Travel
Motion Sickness Of Time Travel

[Spectrum Spools]

Motion Sickness Of Time Travel presents four snapshots of the artist in the process of revealing herself to herself. In a certain sense, it’s exactly like every MSOTT release that has come before: impressionistic, enigmatic, lovely, and deeply psychedelic. In another sense, it’s hard not to see this as a definitive statement. It’s the first self-titled album, the longest yet, and arrives housed in a gorgeous, collaged double-gatefold sleeve. Musically, the album is more confident and varied, with an increased dynamic range that peels away some of the muddy layers of saturation intrinsic to the cassette medium. Happily, it’s still an MSOTT album, a series of longform meditations on love, whether love of self, love of another, or love of the universe.” [Full Review]

• Motion Sickness Of Time Travel: http://motionsicknessoftimetravel.blogspot.com
• Spectrum Spools: http://editionsmego.com/releases/spectrum-spools

Chris Corsano
Cut

[Hot Cars Warp]

“Over 19 tracks, Corsano rarely edges over the five-minute mark (one piece on Cut is nearly seven minutes, but the rest are brief) in approaching drums, metal objects, saxophone parts, gongs, cymbals, and woodblocks with sticks, bows, and breath. Although he’s constructed his language with very specific and personal intentions, I’m reminded of the liner notes that Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre added to his 1969 Drum Conversation LP (Calig): ‘This record is a musical portrait of myself. It expresses my mood on the day I made the recording… This record is not a test, nor a brilliant showpiece. It is simply a conversation that I should like to have with you.’ Of course, the conversation is not only with the listener, but implicitly with the instrument; alongside Favre, Milford Graves, Tatsuya Nakatani, Masahiko Togashi, and others, Corsano seeks to expand his work as a ‘drummer’ or even ‘percussionist’ into a broader ‘instrumentalist.’ Graves and Favre are the only above-mentioned musicians who come out of the jazz tradition at its most basic. While Corsano isn’t a ‘jazz’ player per se, his work certainly stands alongside musicians like these. The music in some ways ceases to be about the drums as we normally think of them, instead being a personally expressive vehicle that can mass rhythms or present a variety of singing and scraping tones. With a recording that moves between a variety of palettes as Cut does, there is a danger of it becoming a clinical exploration, but it’s here that Corsano remains deftly attuned to emotion and curiosity.” [Full Review]

• Chris Corsano: http://www.cor-sano.com
• Hot Cars Warp: http://www.cor-sano.com/merch.html

Belbury Poly
The Belbury Tales

[Ghost Box]

“All the standard reference points are still there, as is Jupp’s characteristic playfulness, melodicism, and attention to detail. The effect has simply been amplified. The contributions from Jim Musgrave on drums and Christopher Budd on bass and electric guitar help a lot in this respect. Musically, everything is sharper, more detailed, richer, fuller, in higher resolution. And the vocal tracks are all exquisite. From the sheer strangeness of ‘Cantalus’ through the naivety of ‘Green Grass Grows’ to the earthy, rural beauty of ‘The Geography,’ it’s these tracks most of all that mark this out as a ‘folk’ record. It’s not that vocals have never featured before, of course. But on tracks like ‘Caermaen’ from 2004’s The Willows or ‘Wetlandv from The Owl’s Map, previously the vocals were always heavily treated and distant-sounding — shadowy, undecidable. On ‘Caermaen,’ for instance, Jupp took the vocals from a 1908 cylinder recording of a tune called ‘Bold William Taylor’ and ‘changed the speed and pitch and reconstructed it to make a different melody with unintelligible lyrics.’ On The Belbury Tales, all the samples are given more space. They’re foregrounded, present: they don’t sound like samples. And even if everything’s been given a new and strange electronic context, therefore, there’s an implied continuity with the live folk tradition.” [TMT Review]

• Belbury Poly: http://jimjupp.blogspot.com.au
• Ghost Box: http://www.ghostbox.co.uk

Dean Blunt
The Narcissist II

[Self-Released]

“If Hype Williams’ music fetishizes the drift in the context of the body, then The Narcissist II, a self-released solo mixtape by Blunt (stream here, download here), acts as a particularly noteworthy foil. For all the evasive dodge-balling — reflected also in their shrouded identities and multiple truth-tellings (Who exactly are Rory Gibb, Roy Nnawuchi, Karen Glass, Denna Glass, Bo Khat Eternal Troof Family Band, and Paradise Sisters?) — the moments of what one might call ‘song’ are framed by a story about abuse and infidelity told through scattered audio clips. Paranoia. Suspense. Rage. Violence. It’s all narcissistic stuff. But tethering the floating, impotent sounds of unstable synths, chink’d rhythms, and brilliant off-tune karaoke-ing (courtesy of Dean, except for a Julee Cruise-sampled track that features Copeland) to such a clear narrative encourages a functional reading: a hierarchy in sound materializes, where the tension-creating becomes complementary rather than an end unto itself. The result is a sort of dragging panic, a grotesque scrawl of ‘deconstructed’ R&B whose impact is muddied with just the right amount of commentary and absurdism.” [Full Review]

• Dean Blunt: http://www.youtube.com/pollyjacobsen