(Over the next few days or, more likely, weeks--I'm not a timely person--I'm gonna be posting a paragraph or two, festooned with links, about all of the new albums I heard--and kept--this year, in alphabetical order, four or five at a time. I apologize for how shitty I am at writing about music. Most of these reviews will be very positive.)
James Blackshaw, All Is Falling
Many of those who have been following James Blackshaw's quiet, little, and wonderful career seem to be unhappy with the type of progression he's decided on for himself. As for me, I love it. His early stuff was sharp-edged and discordant, but never un-beautiful; a combination of Fahey-like guitar picking, raga structure, and electronics that was absolutely under the sway of its influences but no less powerful for it. Over time, he's phased out the edges and the discord, kept the Fahey and the raga, and added in fuller instrumentation (piano, violins, even vocals from time to time) and influences from modern classical. That last addition is of course not much of a stretch, as modern classical owes pretty much everything to the Americana Fahey worked with and to raga. The end result is a slight but unmistakable shift in the kind of beauty he creates, and, to me, a previously unforeseeable increase in the amount of that beauty.
Brain and Brain, Context
Brain and Brain, Coma
OK, these are my albums. It would be indecent for me to go on and on with my second-rate music criticism about how great they are, so I'll just say this. Context was a response to Jim O'Rourke's statement here (search in the page for the word "context"). As much as I love him, I couldn't stand that quote, so I decided to make a piece of music designed to piss him off: it's four heavily treated samples from works of his set against one another in constantly shifting combinations, so as to be always creating new contexts for the sounds. Coma was an experiment in dramatically lengthening samples that worked out much better than I expected. It was almost entirely accidental and it's even a stretch to say I was responsible for it; I'm tempted to give more credit to Audacity than to myself. If you're interested, you can listen to them here.
Glenn Branca, The Ascension: The Sequel
Branca's original The Ascension is a classic, rightly so: it's a bunch of carefully controlled, cathartic chaos, music that pushed the boundaries of what rock instrumentation was capable of and taught Sonic Youth everything they needed to know for the next thirty years (Lee Ranaldo played on it, as did, oddly, the guy who wrote "Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other"). I don't blame Branca for wanting to make another album just like it; even aside from how good it was, it must have been enormously fun and rewarding to make. And I appreciate that he just went right ahead and gave this album exactly the title it otherwise would have been given jokingly in every single piece written about it.
I admit I haven't given it all that much of a chance. It's not bad music. But I don't see any reason to ever think "I want to listen to The Ascension: The Sequel" when I could just think "I want to listen to The Ascension." Again: I don't, remotely, begrudge this album for existing, and it is in fact quite excellent when you listen to it. But regardless, it's an album that already happened once and did not, particularly, need to happen again. That said, the tribute to Steve Reich is a lot of fun, if only because I spend an embarrassing amount of time making my own similar tributes.
The world is finally catching up to Arthur Russell. This is excellent news. Even more excellent is "Jamelia." This album is inspiring, but not in the way that it's inspiring me to write about it.
You never know what to expect from a Circle album the first time you listen to it, aside from relative assurance that it will be great music. This album strikes me as being more in their concise Kraut-metal vein, though tweaked in a way I can't quite find words for. There are elements of prog here that are stronger than I've heard them do before, but there's more to it than just that.
No one sounds like Circle (not even Circle sounds like Circle); the elements in songs like "Pelkkä meno" aren't far off from turn of the 70s hard rock--Sabbath, Zeppelin, Bowie, maybe a bit of Stooges even--but the way they're arranged, and the way the song is structured, and the way incongruous elements like the quiet little piano line that recurs throughout play against the whole, are, if you're me, totally indescribable. As always, excellent stuff.