21 December 2011

Dr. Schluss' Best of 2011

I never got around to publishing my best of last year, but I've heard a pretty wide abundance of tunes this year and feel like I need to take a crack at it. For whatever reason, I've gravitated towards dreamy, ambient sounds even more than usual this year, so you'll hear a fair amount of that wafting around on these tracks. Anyway, here's the rundown for you:

10. Tom Waits - Bad as Me: The Man doesn't do anything new here. but it's a perfect iteration of his bone-clanging, skid row poet vibe.

9. Jonas Reinhardt - Music for the Tactile Dome: I definitely dig Reinhardt's Berlin school vibes vibrating through this release. Will zone you out for the most part but wake you up every now and again as well.

8. Yuck - Yuck: This UK band sounds like Kevin Shields fronting Dinosaur Jr., or My Bloody Valentine covering Dinosaur Jr.'s tunes. It doesn't really matter as we've got the modern shoegazer stance perfected on this disc.

7. Dementia and Hope Trails - Parts of the Sea: Although not quite Manuel Gottsching at his best, this ambient freakfest has had my undivided attention for the past few months.

6. Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What: Melding his sonic experiments of the past 30 years with the best of his 70's songwriting, Simon manages a classic album pretty late in the game. Dylan's the only other who could pull this off, but Simon's got the added draw that his voice isn't shot.

5. Atlas Sound - Parallax: Bradford Cox keeps pulling direct punches with his solo prokect and his main gig, Deerhunter. He's got it down to a science now, and Parallax continues to perfect his dream-rock sound.

4. Mohave Triangles - Eternal Light of the Desert Plateau: This is the grooviest ambient music I;ve heard this year. Although we'll always reserve a spot at the table for Philip Glass, this takes the yearly cup for a sonic Koyaniisqatsi.

3. Real Estate - Days: The best straight-up rock I heard this year walks a fine tightrope between early R.E.M. and Joy Division with some great songwriting keeping the balance.

2. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues: I didn't buy into the hype on their first album, but the Simon & Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills, and Nash grooves shine through this disc. This mayvery well be your hillbilly Smile.

1. Panda Bear - Tomboy: Keeping Brian Wilson in mind, I'll be damned if anyone else manages to better fill the vocal space of that man in his 1966 prime than Panda Bear. Although the computerized trippiness of his last solo album is largely missing here, the stellar songwriting and insular production more than makes up for it.

Here's a sampler of some of the sounds that I've been talking about. You find the full releases of Dementia and Hope Trails and Mohave Triangles elsewhere on this site. As usual, I threw in a few previews of my new Glaze of Cathexis and Damaged Tape projects, not because I think my music is the best, just because it seems like a good excuse to run them by your ear.

1. Tom Waits - Raised Right Men
2. Panda Bear - You Can Count on Me
3. Jonas Reinhardt - To Lord Eminence
4. Atlas Sound - Te Amo
5. Glaze of Cathexis - Dream's Visions
6. Mohave Triangles - Eternal Light (edit)
7. Paul Simon - Getting Ready for Christmas Day
8. Fleet Foxes - Lorelai
9. Damaged Tape - Melted Into Angel Form
10. Real Estate - Kinder Blumen
11. Yuck - Holing Out
12. Dementia and Hope Trails - It Rung in My Ears and Still Does

Listen to Me:

07 December 2011

Mohave Triangles - 2011 - Eternal Light of the Desert Plateau

Quality: 4.25 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 5 out of 5

I've gone on a bit about all the strange electronic and ambient music that's been drifting around on cassette tapes over the past few years, and this is definitely one of the real winners. The truly trippy cover reflects the washes of sound that you're going to hear on this set. It's a hazy and mystical experience, with the tape hiss becoming a integral ingredient of this sound world. As a musician, I tend to pick out the instruments when I listen to tune, but I have no idea what the hell's going on in these tracks. Personally, I find this kind of disorientation invigorating.

The two tracks tend to follow a similar path of a full on drone which slowly builds in detail with small melodies slowly peaking through the haze. "Eternal Light" begins with an invocation/warning from a Mohave(?) fellow which echoes the environmental/apocalyptic vibe of the great film "Koyaanisqatsi (Life Out of Balance)." You'll hear him drift back into the track as if submerged later on. "in the Realm of the Desert Temples" build ominously, as if we're preparing for a human sacrifice before entertainingly plunging into a coda which provides release as it comes across like the tape of a new age album that's been melting in your Ford Escort since 1985.

It's been a few months since we've had a real brainwasher on the blog, but I think this'll do the trick. I've found it to be addictive listening. This kind of music requires a sort of painterly control and sweep. Mohave Triangles may very well be masters of the form.

Head to their website to download this one and perhaps a few more:

Parton Kooper Planetarium - 2011 - Glass and Bone

Quality: 3.75 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5

I'm really have no idea where these folks are from, but I'm going to guess it's a desert. I've done my psychic detective work. The first track is called "In A Desert," which seemed like a possible tip off. Also you slowly realize that this is a blooze-infected shoegazer album as the psychedelic shards of desert sands wind-blast like glass though your bones. Anyway, this album is slightly spotty, but in that positive sort of way where the good stuff is really good, and you find yourself hoping that this will be a nostalgic prelude to something even better in the future.

The opener didn't quite hook me, but I found myself diggin' the almost gothic rock of "Future Unions" quite well. Then the band floors you a bit more with the full bore shoegaze blast of "Chew Off Your Foot," before cranking the amps to 11 for the title track, which recalls the completely deranged noise-pop of Astrobrite. "Patmos" and "Voyager" also rank well in the sweepstakes for the next rockin' pop hit on Neptune, and I do hope the band expands a bit on the strange, truncated sound worlds of "Gasoline" and "Abstraction" next time around.

This isn't the best album I've come across this year, but it's got enough that I'm looking forward to hearing more from these guys in the future. The bedroom shoegazer has become a bit of a cliche (which I've admittedly fallen into on some of my own Glaze of Cathexis recordings), but this album has the meaty production and band interplay to take it somewhere a little different, and that's definitely worth your attention. They also include influences such as the blues and "More," "Meddle"-era Pink Floyd, which shoegazers typically avoid.

Head to their website for a free download:

Akiko Nakamura - 1968 - Hit Album

Quality: 3.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 2 (plus a ghost point for surf guitar) out of 5

As you may or may not know, I'm based in Japan and as such many sounds of the island pass by my ear. Unfortunately, J-pop is pretty rotters, although there is definitely some awesome music lurking in the underground. I do did the older sounds of Japanese pop and old school enka (enka is the traditional form of Japanese popular music), and Akiko Nakamura's album has a bit of both running through her musical DNA along with a candy-coated obsession with the contemporary sounds coming from the West. I hope you dig the groovy, if a bit square, sounds on this LP. Japan didn't really have any of the 'peace, love, and LSD' revolutions we had in the West, and it shows.

Nakamura goes for a few Western cover tunes, but that's not really the place to start. The arrangements are pretty schmaltzy, and I've got to admit that I hate Peter, Paul, and Mary's "I Dig Rock n' Roll Music" with a passion - regardless of who's playing it. No, you're here for the day-glo, go-go dancing pop tune, and you'll get that in spades. "Niijiro no Mizumi (Rainbow Lake)" gets us started with an almost funky drumbeat almost drowning in an amusingly enka-like string arrangement and punctuated with a surf guitar lead (the Japanese LOOOOVED the Ventures in the 60's). "La, La, La" throws us another great surf guitar bone, and would've felt right at home in the Bond flick "You Only Live Twice." "Betsuri (Wakare) (Separation)" goes full-enka, which basically mean a depressing melody with even more depressing lyrics played melodramatically. Of course you haven't really heard enka until you've heard a drunken, middle-aged, crying salaryman belting it out at karaoke, but this will do for now. "Tokyo Flower" will pick you up again anyway with a jaunty horn arrangement. But y'know, by this part of the album they've completely stopped trying to be groovy for the kids anyway. They try to trick you by sticking the Peter, Paul, and Mary cover at the end, but that's kind of like trying to make up to your girlfriend by pooping on her doorstep.

So, this isn't really psychedelic, but it may be mind expanding, especially if you haven't spent time in Japan. Anyway, it goes well with senbei (Japanese rice crackers) and Asahi beer. Does anyone know a good blog for 60's and 70's Japanese pop? All I can find at the record store is damn AKB48.