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OPITOPE- THE DAWN OF MEMORIES
PHYSIS (SPEKK, 2014)

I’ve long had a soft spot for the Japanese label Spekk. Now ten years old, Nao Sugimoto’s imprint champions an approach to design and sound that make Spekk a close cousin of 12k—a connection made concrete with its first release, an album by 12k head Taylor Deupree that is one of his best.

Dormant for the past few years, the label now returns with the release of a new album by Opitope, the duo comprised of Chihei Hatekeyama and Tomoyoshi Date. Their first record, Hau—also released on Spekk— is a small gem, finding a comfortable balance between the hushed, pastoral work of Tape and the processed grandeur of Deupree or perhaps Asuna. It feels intimate and widescreen at once, which is to its credit. A new Opitope album, Physis, is now available and the duo appears as adept as ever at mining that sound.

Also of interest: a second new Spekk title for the year—Celer’s Zigzag—is out next month, apparently influenced by ’60s and ’70s minimalism—as well as new wave…

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FRANCESCO MESSINA- PRATI BAGNATI DEL MONTE ANALOGO
PRATI BAGNATI DEL MONTE ANALOGO (CRAMPS / DIE SCHACHTEL, 1979 / 2013)

Die Schachtel did a laudable thing in reissuing this relatively obscure split LP that first appeared on the venerable Cramps label nearly twenty-five years ago. Messina and Raul Lovisoni (whose pair of deeply meditative pieces for harp, glasspiel, and voice occupy side B here) are not here as collaborators so much as kindred spirits. There is a story behind this music that involves an “unfinished metaphysical novel” (as expanded liner notes suggest) and mysticism but ultimately the pleasures of this album are almost immediately apparent and need no context or justification.

Prati bagnati del monte Analogo appears now, remastered by Stephan Mathieu, on LP and CD. Both have new artwork as Lovisoni apparently hated the original cover, which suggested an odd pairing of Art Deco and new age iconography. I’d recommend searching out the CD as it includes three bonus tracks by Messina, which were to be the second side of music before Lovisoni became involved with the project. They’re startlingly good, especially “Reflex,” an eleven-minute piece for piano and tape delay which is indebted to Charlemagne Palestine’s strumming music approach.

Just a few more days left to see the vibrant, typically idiosyncratic exhibit of Charlemagne Palestine’s video work now at Sonnabend Gallery, which ends this Saturday. I saw much of this work at EAI over the summer in a private viewing room but experiencing it in a gallery with overlapping soundtracks and larger projections is a real treat.

It’s a relatively busy time for Palestine—in addition to the show, there is the recently published book/DVD set Running n Chanting n Falling n Ranting, which features over 200 pages of interviews and stills (as well as five pieces from the 70s and 80s); a new artist’s edition of Four Manifestations of Six Elements on Alga Marghen; and news that he will be featured in this year’s Whitney Biennial. Finally, a fantastic feature-length documentary, Charlemagne Palestine: the Golden Sound, appeared on DVD late last year. Directed by Anne Maregiano, it tidily explores his biography with a bevy of interviews, home photographs, and performance footage.

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LA MONTE YOUNG & THE THEATRE OF ETERNAL MUSIC- 28 XI 63 THE OVERDAY (EXCERPT)
THEATRE OF ETERNAL MUSIC (bootleg, 1963 & 1964 / 2013)

Right around Christmas, a new La Monte Young bootleg appeared, mysterious and without direct attribution, as these things often do. I only found it through Fusetron, where it sold out almost instantly—so it appears here as a download. (I don’t have much compunction about bootlegging bootleggers.)

Three of the four tracks here—all excerpts of longer pieces—have found their way onto previous unofficial releases, while the excerpt of “30 X 63 Day Of Hummingbird Night” appears to be new. Having just finished Edward Strickland’s (excellent) survey Minimalism: Origins, I’m reminded while listening to this music of how strong John Coltrane’s influence was on Young and many of his peers. Conrad, Cale, and Zazeela mostly lay down the tonal foundation here while MacLise and Young push towards some kind of ecstatic blur on hand drums and sopranino saxophone, respectively. Somehow “less is more” and “more is less” both apply at the same time, in a fascinating way.

Though I think I prefer Young’s later work with Zazeela more than the recordings made with this group, it’s foundational music for many other artists and should absolutely be encountered, at least in passing.

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THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS- DEDICATED TO THE ONE I LOVE
DELIVER (DUNHILL, 1967)

This is a picture of my mom when she graduated college in 1964. I’m posting it because she was an inspiring and exceptionally gracious person and she passed away three weeks ago on New Year’s Eve. Recognizing that I am writing anonymously to mostly strangers, I won’t go into specifics, but I wanted to acknowledge her here—her impact on me is profound and everlasting.

Part of how I have dealt with her being gone is to listen to some songs she liked. This is one of them, a really great one.

Best of 2013

In compiling this list, I realized just how much music I listen to that I don’t find a place for discussing on this site. In part, that’s because I feel more competent writing about some kinds of music more than others; it’s also because I sometimes think that people expect a certain kind of music on this blog and that those people might not particularly care what I think about, say, R&B. While I also continued to listen to a lot of drone or ambient music, little of it was released this year. Instead, I spent a significant amount of time exploring early American minimalism and Hindustani vocal music.

So with all of these pseudo-apologies out of the way, of the music that came out in 2013, here’s what I am most grateful for, in alphabetical order:

ALBUMS:

The 1975- s/t (Vagrant)
Beyoncé- BEYONCÉ (Parkwood/Columbia)
Disclosure- Settle (PMR/Island)
Golden Grrrls- s/t (Slumberland)
Gunplay- Cops & Robbers (mixtape)
Tim Hecker- Virgins (Kranky)
King Krule- 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (True Panther/XL)
Mary Lattimore- The Withdrawing Room (Desire Path)
Stephan Mathieu- The Falling Rocket (Schwebung)
Daniel Menche- Marriage of Metals (Editions Mego)
Quasimoto- Yessir, Whatever (Stones Throw)
Justin Timberlake- The 20/20 Experience [first part, not the second] (RCA)
Toro Y Moi- Anything in Return (Carpark)
Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City (XL)
Waka Flocka Flame- Duflocka Rant 2 and Duflocka Rant Halftime Show (mixtapes)
Kanye West- Yeezus (G.O.O.D./Def Jam)
Yo La Tengo- Fade (Matador) 

SINGLES/EPS: 

Benoit & Sergio- Bridge So Far (Hot Creations)
CHVRCHES- Gun (Virgin)
Ciara- Body Party (Epic)
Classix- All You’re Waiting For [feat. Nancy Whang] (Innovative Leisure)
Miley Cyrus- Adore You (RCA)
Daft Punk- Get Lucky [feat. Pharrell] (Columbia)
Doc Daneeka- Walk On In [feat. Ratcatcher] (Numbers)
Drake- Started from the Bottom (Cash Money)
Ducktails- Letter of Intent (Domino)
Duke Dumont- Need U (100%) [Skreamix] (Win/Downtown)
The Juan Maclean- Feel Like Movin’ (DFA)
Kool A.D.- Moneyball (self-released)
Bruno Mars- Treasure (Atlantic)
Perfect Pussy- I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling (self-released)
Kelly Rowland- Kisses Down Low (Universal Republic)
Sampha- Dual (Young Turks)
Todd Terje- Strandbar (Disko) (Olsen)
Robin Thicke- Blurred Lines [feat. Pharrell & T.I.] (Star Trak)
The xx- Jamie xx edits (Young Turks)

SONG MOST LISTENED TO

Kelly Rowland- Sky-Walker [feat. The-Dream]

Tags: Best of 2013

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JULIE LONDON- I’D LIKE YOU FOR CHRISTMAS (LIBERTY, 1957)

Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating. I hope you’re with people who make you happy and finding some time to play The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album—but also this, which is maybe my favorite non-traditional Christmas song. I originally discovered this on the Christmas Cocktails comp during a prolonged, somewhat unexpected interest in the revival of lounge, exotica, and studio orchestra music of the fifties. (I was left cold by the swing revival, however.)

The year this was recorded, London commented on her singing style in Life, saying, “It’s only a thimbleful of a voice, and I have to use it close to the microphone. But it is a kind of oversmoked voice, and it automatically sounds intimate.” Can’t really say it better myself, but I love the close harmonies of the backup vocalists and how they subtly change the pronouns in their chorus; “I” becomes “she”, so they’re not just echoing her words, they’re directing them to you, the listener—part pleading and part commanding you to make her wish come true. For some people this is probably a bland kind of music, but I think it’s impeccably produced and arranged. (And written—by Bobby Troup, pictured above at the piano with London. The two were married for forty years.)

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MARK MCGUIRE- DECEMBER 10, 1991 (FOR BRITTANY KAY MCGUIRE)

THE SOUNDS OF XMAS (SELF-RELEASED, 2006)

In the wake of the surprise Beyoncé album and the recent copyright-extension release of some 1963 Beatles’ recordings, I feel compelled to discuss Mark McGuire’s The Sounds of Xmas, which was originally recorded in 2006 but only released to the public this month. Like the Beatles recordings, it’s a digital-only release that is announced as being available for “a limited time,” though I’m sure the internet will make sure it lives forever.

Honestly, I’d be drawing attention to McGuire’s music regardless of how well it syncs up with some larger trend—it remains true that his work has meant more to me than anyone else’s in the past five years, and I’ve certainly written about him many times before on this site. But this album-length release is a real gift; literally so in its initial distribution, which was only to family and friends, and also in the sense that it is an important addition to his ever-growing discography. Recorded when he was not yet twenty, The Sounds of Xmas is comprised of five pieces for electric and acoustic guitar and, crucially, samples of his family at Christmastime taken from home videos. Technically, it dates to before McGuire released music under his own name or even the Cat Nap alias—this is some of his earliest recorded work, chronologically in line with the Bad Habit CDRs. Emeralds was still in its infancy as well, but you can absolutely hear shades of work like No More Spirits Over the Lake here.

This disc explores a simple but beautifully executed idea, wherein the people who the music was intended for are also unwitting players in the music’s composition. McGuire has utilized sampled conversations throughout his career, either of his own family (on Living With Yourself and this year’s “Adaptions [of the Human Spirit]”) as well as others’ (most notable on Let Us Be the Way We Were, a tapestry of movements linked by dialogue from American Movie.) The piece streaming above, “December 10th, 1991 (for Brittany Kay McGuire)” is exemplary, driven by a hovering guitar motif and (I think?) a wordless vocal, smeared and acting as some kind of aural horizon line. The moody intimacy of the music, which continues for over thirteen minutes, eventually transitions (improbably and joyously) into the sounds of Stevie Wonder’s ”Isn’t She Lovely?” playing in a room as a man announces to McGuire and his brother that their cousin Brittany has been born.

This sort of moment is something McGuire has achieved again and again—the examination of a moment (either big or small) that is at once specific and personal but also, to some extent, universal. Listening to The Sounds of Xmas as a whole, you begin to feel like you know the McGuire clan—who they are, what they do, and why one of their own would care enough about them to create this kind of love letter.

imageTAYLOR DEUPREE- LIVE IN YORK (MAY 4, 2006)
LIVE1:MAPPING (12K, 2009) 

My post back in October about Taylor Deupree sent me down a rabbit hole for a month or so, just soaking up as much of his music as I had time for. I especially gravitated to some of the stray singles and EPs that appeared in the last five years. Live1:Mapping is a digital-only compilation of select moments in concert that appeared in 2009. This relatively brief (5+ minutes) piece is from a concert in York, England.

Sequenced last on the album, it unfolds beautifully as a kind of coda. The woozy tones seesaw and vaguely evoke some kind of archetypal vision of a harmonica played under a starlit sky while also nodding to the lunar weightlessness of Eno’s Apollo. Ending your day with this music is a decision you’ll likely not regret.

Sorry for the delay in updates. It’s happened before and will happen again.

This is a really successful clip that’s been making the rounds of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Liz Harris performing last month at the Glass House in New Canaan. That evening’s concert highlighted their collaboration as Raum and their LP under that name has finally been issued by (appropriately enough) Glass, House.

Something about the transparency of the architecture juxtaposed with the progress of the music, which seems to both decay and crystallize simultaneously, feels beautifully apt here. It’s also refreshing to see Cantu-Ledesma pull away from the harsher, frenetic elements of recent work like Devotion and Speaking Corpse and just let sounds hang in the air.