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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Music For Dwindling Days:
Max Schaefer's Fave Recordings Of 2005


Neumu Contributing Editor Max Schaefer writes: As 2005 flickers out of sight, I find myself looking upon the idea of eternal recurrence with some curiosity. It is an idea that the Aztec and Mayans trumpeted with some veracity, yet it was also given shape by others such as Friedrich Nietzsche. Were time to be circular and each moment in this life to be encountered time and time again in an endless circle of events, how well adjusted would one have to be, with oneself and to life, in order to bear such a weight? It is from these thoughts that the following list was spawned.

Stephan Mathieu, The Sad Mac (Headz): For this work, dying gasps and murmurs emanate from the crevices of Mathieu's hoary software and bludgeon flitting violin sonatas into a similarly mangled, aching pulse. For all the album's sense of decay, pieces whirl with Dionysian elements — a recognition of one's finite life without the resignation that might nip at its heels. The Sad Mac is in this sense a romantic album. Unlike so much romanticism, however, these compositions do not so much manufacture emotion as give form and shape to those that dwell in the nether regions of Mathieu's imaginative psyche.

Keith Berry, The Ear That Was Sold to a Fish (Crouton): Berry tends to state that his music is like drifting down a river, and indeed this is easy to see — his rich, texturally full movements ripple like minute waves that reflect the sun's rays in ever-changing shapes, caress them for a moment, and finally carry them in their bosom down underneath nuanced blocks of sound.

ES, Sateenkaarisuudeima (Kraak): Over the course of two albums, this work resonates as secret rituals performed in private. The music snakes and swirls about as though of its own accord, and more than played, the instruments sound as though they are serving as vessels through which forgotten spirits make themselves manifest once more.

Ikue Mori, Myrninerest (Tzadik): I had the pleasure of witnessing a live performance by Ikue Mori recently in Victoria, B.C. During that night's events, Mori's carefully measured, jittery electronics were accompanied by processed visuals taken from traditional paintings on the ceiling of Kertha Gosa in Bali. Over time, these two elements became entrenched in a rich dialogue until they interlocked, signaling the point at which the characters, who had previously lurked about in hell, were redeemed and transcended their surroundings, finding heaven. Much in the vein of this night's performance, Myrninerest, although adorned with budding electronic tones and sharp high-end frequencies, very much resembles an old fable, one that will tell a most edifying story if one takes the time to be calm and listen.

Tod Dockstader, Aerial View #1 and #2 (Sub Rosa): These works mark the first two installments in sound-sculptor Tod Dockstader's foray into short-wave radios. Dockstader describes these works as stemming from his fascination with those rare moments at night when a channel, blearing in and out of frequency, would cross over into the space of another. Dreary sine-waves, chafed harmonics and wailing slivers of electronics foster this sense of a vast open space, a sense of weightlessness and abandon. Much like Stephan Mathieu and his work in The Sad Mac, Dockstader gives shape to an often discarded form of technology, unveiling a setting that, for all its subtlety, takes on an animated, spectral presence that whirls about the room, speaking in tongues.

Trio and Sainkho, The Forgotten Streets of St. Petersburg (Leo): At times violent and challenging, at others deceptively docile and tranquil, the players adopt an antagonistic guise, constantly upsetting and disorienting one another. Hovering atop it all are Sainkho's rather impressive throat-singing techniques, which have the power and raw carnal force to startle and take over the listener like little else.

Windy and Carl, The Dream House/Dedications to Flea (Kranky): One would do well to listen to listen to Dedications to Flea while reading Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Both works are ruminations (at least in part) on the death of a beloved dog and the light it can shed on aspects of our own livelihood. The Dream House is a tenderly escalating patchwork of brighter notes and loops from squalls of guitar and organ. These instruments bleed together over the course of two extended drone compositions, sketching moments of clarity and elation as well as murkier moods of personal turmoil. The liner notes are letters from Windy herself, and the willingness with which she reveals seemingly private matters speaks volumes about the potency of the music enclosed within, but also the thoughtful people from which they sprang.

Richard Youngs, The Naive Shaman (Jagjaguwar): With The Naive Shaman, Youngs makes a transition to the bass and digital recording. The outcome is a work tightly woven around Youngs' lilting tenor, as strenuous bouts of repetition and alliteration lay his words nude, engulfed in bubbling electronic squiggles, distant chants and circular, warm pulses of bass guitar. Youngs possesses a deeply affecting hymnal voice, and it finds a certain balance in these compositions, often taking the lead, but also waiting, listening for new developments to which to respond and give shape.

Tu m', Just One Night (Dekorder): Named after Duchamps' last painting, this Italian duo saunter through fields of scratchy electronics that seem to suffer from ADD, beaming trumpet melodies and spectral ambient underpinnings. Such flitting, self-reflexive sounds astutely convey the impermanence of every moment, awakening memories from their nocturnal, bleary slumber.

Brian McBride, When the Detail Lost Its Freedom (Kranky): McBride has been a participant in the lulling drift that is Stars of the Lid. Here, pieces are more singular and distinct, conveying a deep-seated sense of personal loss. Given that McBride recently passed through a breakup with his spouse, of particular interest is the manner in which grossly manipulated violin, trumpet, and guitar form delicate webs torn asunder, leaving one to hang in the air exposed, sketching a dreary melody.

Notable Mention:

Mirror, Still Valley
Andrew Chalk, The River That Flows Into the Sands
Chris Abrahams, Thrown
Alog, Miniatures
Joe Mcphee, Everything Happens for a Reason
Hood, Outside Closer
Paavoharju, Yhä Hämärää
Vashti Bunyan, Lookaftering

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