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Music For Those Nights: Max Schaefer's Fave Recordings Of 2004

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Music For Those Nights: Max Schaefer's Fave Recordings of 2004

Neumu's Max Schaefer writes For me, music in the year 2004 found itself often dappled alongside books read when the sky had been all but drained of light. As the moments passed, I became somewhat accustomed to reviving the music I kept beside me when the night had settled down and I'd begun reading or writing something or other under a dim desk lamp. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the music with which I became most acquainted had at its origin sound, rather than recognizable melody or turns of verse. If vocals were to be present, they would be of the slowcore sort, or would only poke their heads above ground for a quick peek before sauntering down below once more. In a year ripe with records, here are a few — in no particular order — that I recall being with during my nights.

Rosy Parlane, Iris (Touch): Iris exposed Parlane as a focal artist in modern music. Adorned with John Wozencraft's superlative photographs of abandoned, snow-encrusted pastoral landscapes seen through a blue filter, this work acutely articulates the malaise and mystery spurred by a season of blustery blizzards and frozen icicles drooping off of rooftops. Parlane paints on a canvas of arching drones with hailstorms of glitch electronica, an occasional sibilance of hazy white noise and sharp shafts of digital sound equivalent to squalls of wind snapping at a metal awning. Given that where I am presently it is -37 degrees outside, one might imagine that I would be playing Endless Summer ad nauseam, yet Iris accommodates itself so well with the winter season. With the inclusion of subtle field recordings and organic instruments such as a celestial church organ, these compositions stand out from their peers on account of the human quality with which each is imbued.

Akira Rabelais, Spellewauerynsherde (Samahdisound): Though Rabelais adopts a spectator position so as to reassemble these traditional Icelandic a capella lament songs, which date back to the '60s, he is nonetheless wholeheartedly engaged in pondering his movements, as exposed by his choice to leave particular pieces to stand on their own, while having others hit with a deep resonance or sublimate into dim drones. Regardless of which avenues these compositions pass through, Spellewauerynsherde, marked only by the human voice and its manipulation, has a curious capacity to communicate.

Irr Apt (Ext.), Ozeanische Gefühle (Helen Scarsdale): Snapping snares, airless pattering clicks, coiling metallic drones and buzzing saw-toothed organs are but a few of the sounds that overlay palpable, ever-evolving samples of nature's muddled majesty. In an album that seeks to exemplify a life inexhaustible in possibilities, these compositions swiftly veer from insect-like electronics (mirroring the rhizomatic growth of plants from a Japanese garden) to otherworldly voices and bewildering intrusions of cacophonic noise with the unstable volatility of overloaded circuits. The people of Irr Apt (Ext.) line their album notes with florid convictions as to human freedom and responsibility in a way that recalls the Hafler Trio and, like those artists, this work ought to be sought by those who want something of a challenge.

Deathprod, Morals and Dogma (Rune Grammofon): This effort consists of four engulfing drones, but is defined largely by its centerpiece in "Dead People's Things"; pock-marked by a whiny violin and a scratchy test oscillator being played like a theremin, the piece is cloaked in a perturbed ambience as the violin sketches a sad melody.

Max Richter, The Blue Notebooks (Fat Cat): A chattering of gulls on the shore; the typewriter smack; actress Tilda Swinton (Orlando) reading excerpts from Franz Kafka's "The Blue Octavo Notebooks" and Polish author Czseslaw Milosz's "Hymn of the Pearl" and "Unattainable Earth" — these are but a few of the minute details coiled in this work's delicate fabric. Delectably melodic and eminently accessible, The Blue Notebooks' stark piano playing and lyrical violin harken back to the elegiac mood and restrained romanticism of Satie, Nymann and Bryars.

Richard Youngs, River Through Howling Sky (Jagjaguwar): In something of an intersection where the poignant marriage of melody to lyric found in his recent efforts meets with the terse experimentation of his youth, Youngs employs this avant-garde folk form as a means to dislocate the notion of song inside itself. A crackling of pebbles fuses into a single shrill noise, while guitar strings are snapped anxiously and Youngs' angelic warble wanders through a strenuous repetition of phrase and line, altering dynamics and creating tiny variations in his lyrics so as to draw the listener deep into the woods of his world, where the two become seemingly inseparable. With his catalogue already replete with classics such as Sapphie and Advent, River Through Howling Sky finds Youngs in top form.

Johann Johannsson, Virðulegu Forsetar (Touch UK): A shift from Englabörn's three- to five-minute vignettes, this effort focuses upon extended modern compositions which wade near drone waters. This being said, a simple three-note motif reappears throughout these four selections, rising from mercurial depths into exultant highs that elicit strong emotions. The concert at which it was originally played live in 2002, amid balloons arranged so as to plummet into the audience as the compositions unfolded, was considered that year's best in Iceland.

Birchville Cat Motel, Beautiful Speck Triumph (Last Visible Dog): Campbell Kneale tends to approach recording with an everything-even-the-kitchen-sink manner, and while this might well produce a jumbled mess, Kneale also displays a deft ability to weave his many toys (baby monitor, garbage, turntables, etc) into a singular — even, at times, coherent — statement. And although at moments it's intentionally difficult, absurdists as well as Set Fire to Flames fans should appreciate its anarchist charm. Sprawling over two discs, Beautiful Speck Triumph provides a muted voice to what is fundamentally a chaotic void.

Andrew Chalk, Fall in the Wake of a Flawless Landscape (Three Poplars): Of any record I listened to during 2004, I imagine I spent the most moments with this effort from Andrew Chalk: an engrossing, self-contained environment of rich, billowing drones whose origins escape me still. It's rife with sounds that continually elude the conscious mind; you may lie about and attempt to focus on them or engage with something else as these two 21-minute pieces nevertheless transform your environment.

Arco, Restraint (Dreamy): Chris Healey wrote my favorite set of lyrics found on an album in 2004. Restraint, the mature follow-up to the endearing lullaby Coming to Terms, finds Healey in a thoughtful self-questioning as to how he might continue with his life. As for the compositions, this work stands out from its predecessor with a dense weave of trumpet and glockenspiel, as well as the more prominent contributions from Dave Milligan and brother Nick. Full of honest confessions and general wonderings — as in "Stream" where Healey moans, "I know a choice is coming/ For peace or honesty/ Pour concrete on the footprints/ From everything that you might be/ Love will set you free — Restraint is a testament to the notion that there is nothing more beautiful than a mind grappling with a world that transcends it.

Notables

No Man, Together We're Stranger (K Scope): I've always been a trifle in between on No Man, but here Tim Bowness has a voice so tender, wafting along a sound that may almost satisfy anyone who ever feels nostalgic for latter-day Talk Talk.

The Loop Orchestra, Not Overtly Orchestral (Quecksilber): Employs reel-to-reel tape recorders and an array of turntables to fashion a multi-layered, almost dated outer-space sound.

Charalambides, Joy Shapes (Kranky): Christina Carter's voice sounds like a tortured instrument and, upon my first listen, brought me close to something I now feel was probably fear.

Hope To Hear In 2005

Hood, Outside Closer (Domino): Bless, bless.

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