Sunday, January 9, 2011

Albums of 2010, part five

Four Tet, There Is Love in You
Four Tet's surprising, to me, collaboration with Burial on last year's* brilliant Moth/Wolf Cub single appears to have had lasting value. The Burial influence here is undeniable from the very beginning, with the twisted vocal samples in "Angel Echoes." What is interesting is that Kieran Hebden here has taken many elements of Burial's revolutionary style--utterly bleak and alien when Burial himself uses it--and applied it to his own characteristic, relatively lush and optimistic, sound without compromising anything.

*Or, I guess, the year before last at this point, because I'm tardy--2009 is what I'm saying.

There are highlights, of a kind, or perhaps just moments I can say things about: "Sing," with its oddly incomplete sounding beat (achieved with some very simple reversed sounds), requires the listener to fill in the gaps in much the same way as the aforementioned vocals in "Angel Echoes" do, by the end filling it in itself as if to revel in the differences between what one imagined and what one ends up hearing; "Plastic People," in addition to everything else it does, features a brilliant, subtle, and completely non-showy sample from the Chiffons' early psychedelic experiment "Nobody Knows What's Goin' On (In My Mind But Me)" that gives me chills (it begins, if you want to know, around 4:10, but do listen to the entirety to get the full impact). But every moment on this album is gorgeous, and the effect is cumulative: any given second is not necessarily any more breathtaking than any other, but each successive one, by virtue of following upon such beauty, feels as if it is exponentially more so than the one before. I'm not by any means a Hebdenatic, but to my ears this blows all of his previous work out of the water, with the exception of the very different Burial collaboration, and is a fifth album of the year contender. It's certainly tied with Badu's as my most listened-to album of the year.

Ghostface Killah, Apollo Kids
This one only came out at the end of December, so I've only had a chance to listen to it twice so far. My early impression is that it's damn good. I didn't hate Ghostdini's experiments in weirdo balladry the way most people did, but this still feels like a very welcome return to form. And, best of all: Ghostface has somehow managed to make an album with only twelve tracks, that only lasts 41 minutes. Praise the lord! It still doesn't feel real.

Gorillaz, Plastic Beach
Damon Albarn, on the other hand, has not yet learned the value of brevity. 63 minutes is a bit more than it can comfortably sustain, but Plastic Beach is a much better album than anything of that length featuring Albarn, members of The Clash, Sinfonia ViVA, Snoop Dogg, Bashy, Mos Def, the National Orchestra for Arabic Music, Bobby Womack (!), Gruff Rhys, De La Soul, Mark E. Smith, Lou Reed, and trillions of others seems like it could possibly be--not that any of those people are bad, quite the contrary, but my god there are just so damn many of them that it seems like it should be an unlistenable mess of mishmashery. Instead, it is frequently brilliant, and, with its transnational cast and subject matter (environmentalism, consumption, etc.), very relevant. I can't say I listen to it much, but really that's only because of its length.

The Knife in Collaboration with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock, Tomorrow, in a Year
I think the most accurate things I've seen written about this album can be found in two adjacent Rate Your Music user reviews. First, mcummings gave it 4.5 stars and said "This will be one of those nobody-liked-it-when-it-came-out records sometime in the future," and then MrMeanDove gave it 5 stars and said "Don't act like you didn't know what you were getting into."

This album is getting a seriously bad rap, and I love it so much (the first time I listened to it, I planned to take a break between the first and second discs, but at the end of the first I was so excited that I went right into the second; then I listened to the whole thing again) that I wish I was able to speak more usefully about it to counter all of that negativity. Unfortunately, for at least two reasons I'm not able to do that. First, I haven't lived with it nearly long enough to figure out how to talk about it. Second, I don't know shit about opera, and while this isn't really opera per se I think a working knowledge of it would be required to talk about the ways that this works so well. All I can do is reiterate what mcummings and MrMeanDove said. What mystifies me, I think, is that people who already like The Knife can react to this by saying "What the hell? I wanted dance music!" For one thing, The Knife were never just pop, never just dance. For another thing, sure, this album is perhaps more abstract than their prior work, but, I don't know, it's no Metal Machine Music*, you know? How fans of The Knife can listen to gorgeous, gorgeous tracks like "Ebb Tide Explorer" and not hear the beauty I hear is a mystery to me. But I guess I'm just a weirdo. Another best of the year.

*I should make clear that I fucking love that album, too.

LA Vampires meets Zola Jesus, LA Vampires meets Zola Jesus
The Wire profile of LA Vampires that convinced me to check this album out mentions that she was introduced to dub music by Pete Swanson of Yellow Swans. Turns out, this album sounds like the music someone who was introduced to dub music by a member of Yellow Swans would make and, if you know what that means, it's just as good as that sounds. Imagine the echoey delay that everything in dub is coated in, then coat that in so much reverb and noise as to make it almost undistinguishable, and you've got an idea. The sound is extremely homogeneous; listen to one song and you've basically heard the whole thing (this is of course an exaggeration and it sells the great vocal melodies short, but otherwise it's not entirely inaccurate). Whether this is a problem depends on your taste and your mood; for me, the sound as it plays out over the album's short length (24 minutes) is perfect.


Randal Graves said...

I'm generally not a fan of dance-inflected stuff (though BDR posting LCD Soundsystem stuff ad nauseum has me actually starting to dig some of that stuff, the clever bastard), but Ebb Tide Explorer is pretty fucking cool. I take it most of their older work *isn't* like this?

Ethan said...

Randal, if you like Ebb Tide Explorer I think you might like a fair amount of the Knife's stuff, possibly. To me they've never so much been dance music as rhythmic electronic music. If I was going to recommend one album to check out, it would probably be Silent Shout, because it's darker and more atmospheric (especially on tracks like "From Off to On" and "The Captain"), but I really have no idea if it'd be your kind of thing or not. I have still yet to figure out how to appreciate metal, so hey, if I've got this on you, you've got that on me.

But yeah, "Ebb Tide Explorer" is frickin' awesome.