Friday, December 26, 2008

BEST OF 2008

It is finally here... It took an incredible effort to actually compile this final list. In some cases it was even more difficult than last years', as I've listened to even more music in 2008. Feels like my mission has been accomplished and 2009 can be started off fresh. But not before I catch up to all the music that I missed myself! Anyway, here it is, just a click away!

Headphone Commute's Best of 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jóhann Jóhannsson - Fordlandia (4AD)

A few years ago, when I was regularly creating mixes for a podcast, an idea came across to compile music for my funeral. One thing I am sure about - I will die. And when I pass on, music will be filling in the void that was once my presence. How touching. Why shouldn't I be the one to select the pieces that would make others weep? Yes, I'll admit, I can be self centered like that. For my opening track, I turned to Jóhann Jóhannsson, and his Odi Et Amo from Englabörn (4AD, 2007). Now, with the release of Fordlandia, I may need to compile a second volume. On second thought, just play the whole album! But don't get me wrong. I don't want to come across saying that Jóhannsson's compositions are full of funeral sound [perhaps that should be a genre in itself?]. Yet, this Icelandic-born modern classical musician composes some of the most beautiful and soul drenching works that I have ever heard. The saturation of emotion approaches even my limits, and my eyes swell up with tears, as the concrete humanity gets cleansed in the rain, out in the windows of my crawling train. This is Jóhannsson's sixth full length album. Besides these contemporary classical conceptual pieces, Jóhannsson produced about a dozen of soundtracks for [mostly] Icelandic films, shorts and documentaries. There are also his theatrical works, arrangements for many artists, and music for installations. It would be an understatement to say that Jóhann Jóhannsson is a prominent figure in Icelandic contemporary artistic community. After all, he's one of the co-founders (along with Kira Kira and Hilmar Jensson) behind Kitchen Motors, "a think tank, a record label, and an art collective specializing in instigating collaborations and putting on concerts, exhibitions, performances, chamber operas, producing films, books and radio shows based on the ideals of experimentation, collaboration, the search for new art forms and the breaking down of barriers between forms, genres and disciplines." Thematically, Fordlandia continues the exploration of technology where Jóhannsson's last conceptual album, IBM 1401, a User's Manual (4AD, 2006) left off. Jóhannsson elaborates: "one of the two main threads running through [Fordlandia] is this idea of failed utopia, as represented by the [its] title - the story of the rubber plantation Henry Ford established in the Amazon in the 1920's, and his dreams of creating an idealized American town in the middle of the jungle complete with white picket fences, hamburgers and alcohol prohibition." For a detailed insight into creation of the album, including a commentary on each individual track (!!!), you absolutely must visit Jóhannsson's web site. Fordlandia thus becomes a second installment in a series of works documenting human hunger for ideals, technological progress, doomed failures, and the beauty of nature reclaiming itself. Such it is still, music for the born and the departed. Highly recommended! Undoubtedly one of the best albums of 2008. | |

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Plastikman - Closer (M_nus / NovaMute)

This flashback is supposed to be another installmanet of my Random Vinyl of the Week series. But I'm already cheating... A little bit... I did indeed pull out this triple twelve-incher from my vast record library (the correct term is discothèque, right?). But it is still shrink wrapped! You can't expect me to break the seal on this collector's item, can you? And, of course, I have a CD version of this 2003 album right here. Plus the disk release contains four extra tracks! So back it goes, whence it came from, to age and marinate some more. Meanwhile, Richie Hawtin is already thumping, laying out some mean bass over reverberated strings. I turn up the volume. I always turn up the volume for Plastikman. Hawtin's control over dynamic range of cranium vibrating bass, and tiny little white noises in the background always creates a hypnotic experience. The pitched down, evil, and creepy Hawtin's voice is reciting some dark lyrics: "I don't know what's left to gain / All the guilt and now the blame / I don't want to stop this game / I'm starting to enjoy the pain." The rolling lower frequencies are penetrating every nook of my studio. The light bulbs are shaking in their sockets. Something just fell in the deep cavern of my closet. Closer is an intense experience, with little release, like an involuntary muscle spasm induced by an alternating current. The themes of paranoia, schizophrenia, and claustrophobia saturate the music. Is this what we get when we get closer to Hawtin? The album tends to continue the discomforting ground work laid out in Plastikman's previous minimal release, Consumed (M_nus, 1998). Moving further away from staple sound of 909 repetitive techno beats, 303 acid sweeps, never ending delays and mind warping arpeggios, Ontario based Hawtin continues his exploration into the deep, the dark and the minimal. A lot of people have dismissed Plastikman as just another speck in the Detroit techno scene of the early 90s, being in the right place at the right time. And at times I wonder if his sound is only exciting because I've been listening to his earlier albums, Sheet One (1993), Musik (1994), and Recycled Plastik (1994) nonstop back in the 90s. But as I mature, revisit, and analyze the sound [which continues to be imitated by many up and comers], I think Richie is here to stay. Even if we haven't heard from him in over five years! Hawtin's owned Canadian labels, Plus 8 and M_nus continue to thrive and output some solid material. For a quick taste of 2008 releases check out Heartthrob's Dear Painter, Paint Me and Gaiser's Blank Fade. | |

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Top 50 of 2007

That's right - it's not a typo. I'm taking a few moments to revisit the Best of 2007 before we wrap up this year. As many of you know, it is nearly impossible to listen and cover all the great music out there. There simply can't be a definitive list for the "best of the best". And once such lists are released, many discover great albums that somehow have slipped passed their radar. It is the case for me as well... Every year... I still stumble upon amazing albums from previous years that sound fresh to me. So I'd like to take this opportunity and bring back the gems that have since moved to the top of my rotations. How many of these have you heard? How many of these have you totally missed? Hold on to your undies, boys and girls, cause it's a doozy!

Headphone Commute's Top 50 of 2007
(listed in alphabetical order)
Aaron Spectre - Lost Tracks (Ad Noiseam)
Amon Tobin - Foley Room (Ninja Tune)
Apparat - Walls (Shitkatapult)
Architect - Lower Lip Interface (Hymen)
Balmorhea - Balmorhea (self)
Ben Frost - Theory Of Machines (Bedroom Community)
Boxcutter - Glyphic (Planet Mu)
Burial - Untrue (Hyperdub)
DJ Hidden - The Later After (Ad Noiseam)
DJ Kentaro - Enter (Ninja Tune)
DeepChord presents Echospace - The Coldest Season (Modern Love)
Elegi - Sistereis (Miasmah)
Eluvium - Copia (Temporary Residence)
Evan Bartholomew - Caverns of Time (Somnia)
Fennesz * Sakamoto - Cendre (Touch / Commons)
Goldmund - Two Point Discrimination (Western Vinyl)
Grails - Burning Off Impurities (Temporary Residence Limited)
Hauschka - Room To Expand (130701)
Hecq - 0000 (Hymen)
Kashiwa Daisuke - Program Music I (MIDI Creative / Noble)
Keef Baker - Redeye (Hymen)
Kettel - Whisper Me Wishes (Djak-Up-Bitch)
KiloWatts - Ground State (Native State)
Krill.Minima - Nautica (Native State)
Lights Out Asia - Tanks And Recognizers (n5MD)
Lusine ICL - Language Barrier (Hymen)
Manual - Lost Days, Open Skies And Streaming Tides (Darla)
Modeselektor - Happy Birthday! (BPitch Control)
Morning Recordings - The Welcome Kinetic (Loose Thread)
Mr. 76ix - 3 (Minority Of 1) (Skam)
Murcof - Cosmos (Leaf)
Near The Parenthesis - Of Soft Construction (n5MD)
Ólafur Arnalds - Eulogy For Evolution (Erased Tapes)
Onra - Chinoiseries (Label Rouge Prod / Favorite)
Pan Sonic - Katodivaihe / Cathodephase (Blast First Petite)
Porn Sword Tobacco - New Exclusive Olympic Heights (City Centre Offices)
Port-Royal - Afraid To Dance (Resonant)
Rafael Anton Irisarri - Daydreaming (Miasmah)
Sankt Otten - Wir Koennen Ja Freunde Bleiben (Hidden Shoal)
Stars Of The Lid - And Their Refinement Of The Decline (Kranky)
Stateless - Stateless (Studio !K7)
Swod - Sekunden (City Centre Offices)
The Cinematic Orchestra - Ma Fleur (Ninja Tune / Domino)
The Field - From Here We Go Sublime (Kompakt)
The Flashbulb - That Missing Week (Alphabasic)
The World on Higher Downs - Land Patterns (Plop)
Valgeir Sigurðsson - Ekvílíbrium (Bedroom Community)
Venetian Snares - My Downfall (Planet Mu)
Vladislav Delay - Whistleblower (Huume)
World's End Girlfriend - Hurtbreak Wonderland (Human Highway)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stephan Mathieu - Radioland (Die Schachtel)

I was sitting in the waiting room. Waiting. The only external factors affecting my senses were the parallel lines of the desks and the chairs, the subdued colors of the withered walls, and the music of Stephan Mathieu in my headphones. I looked over to the clock, and the hand stood still. I turned my head sideways, squinted, and waited. Finally the hand moved. One second has passed. Then the parallel lines began to move, the chairs rippled against the desks, and the colors of the walls bled onto the carpet. My presence smiled, exited the waiting room, and slammed shut the door. I snapped out of my trip, as the clock has jumped ahead one meager second. The music on Radioland has a tendency to spread through reality its invisible tentacles of sound and invade every frequency with its incredibly thick palette, turning inaudible noise into sound, into music, into white noise again. Radioland is Mathieu's fifth full length release. And here's the kicker - it has been 'exclusively based on real-time processed shortwave radio signals', down-casting the higher frequency wavelengths to an audible spectrum of the human ear. Radioland is a limited release on a Milan (Italy) based Die Schachtel label. It is shipped on a transparent disk, Plexiglas body, with a clear acetate multi-fold cover, and appears to be already sold out on Boomkat. German born Stephan Mathieu, has been working with digital and analog processing techniques for more than a decade. His work is well known with an extensive discography concentrating on experimentation with sound, audio installations, and unique live performances. Mathieu's previous full length studio release was The Sad Mac (Vectors, 2004), followed by a collaboration with Janek Schaefer on Hidden Name (Crónica, 2006), and a single half-hour long recording of Radioland which was released by TouchRadio mp3 podcast series (Touch, 2006). The album is a highly recommended headphone experience, available as a digital FLAC download, if you can not get your hands on a limited hard copy. One thing for sure - this isn't drone music. It's macroscopic sounds fusing together into a grandiose orchestra. Another favorite of 2008. |

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Boards of Canada - Geogaddi (Warp / Music70)

In 2002, the Scottish electronic music duo, Boards of Canada released their second commercial full length album on Warp Records, titled Geogaddi. I say, "commercial", because prior to being signed to Warp, brothers [yes, they _are_ brothers] Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin Sandison have released several obscure EPs and albums on their own, Music70 imprint. These were mostly self-made cassette tapes, recorded for their friends and family, and are very rare and pretty much unavailable, with the exception of a few, which were later re-released. In 1995, Twoism attracted the attention of Sean Booth (Autechre) through a demo released on [that famous] IDM mailing list, and soon thereafter Hi Scores EP was released on Skam Records. In 1998, Warp picked the duo up with Music Has The Right To Children, and the rest, as we say, is history. On Geogaddi, BoC continues to play around with warped effects of stretched magnetic tape, light sprinkled beats, ghostly melodies and echoes of distant voices. The mood of Geogaddi is dark, melancholic, and at times nostalgic for the childhood, perhaps as a continuation of BoC's previous themes on Music Has the Right to Children. The sound of this electronic recording is very organic and warm, no doubt benefiting from BoC's use of analog equipment, acoustic instruments, and samples sourced from nature documentary films produced by the Canadian government agency, NFB - National Film Board of Canada. Sandison was quoted to say that Gogaddi is "a record for some sort of trial-by-fire, a claustrophobic, twisting journey that takes you into some pretty dark experiences before you reach the open air again." The 22 tracks on the album are a result of 400 different song fragments and 64 complete other songs, which were all trimmed, re-sampled and selected to be featured on a beautiful triple 12". The last record's side F (considered to be the 23rd track of pure silence), contains an etching in the vinyl of an image of a man, woman and two children. The artwork on the album consists of kaleidoscopic images of photographs of children created by the brothers themselves. We last heard from Board of Canada through their 6 track Trans Canada Highway EP, released on Warp in 2006. Today, the brothers continue to stay out of the spotlight, working away on more tunes featuring their original staple sound. Or at least we can hope that they are ;) | | |

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fennesz - Black Sea (Touch)

Here comes Fennesz, with his highly anticipated fourth studio album on Touch. Christian Fennesz is a prolific Vienna based composer who has been crafting electronic multi-layered laptop compositions with an aid of his guitar since the late 90s. Or is it the other way around? His guitar driven pieces with a heavy dose of DSP? Either way, Fennesz has developed that instantly recognizable and many times imitated sound. His vast discography extends through numerous EPs, remixes, soundtracks and collaborations, most notable of which is his work with Ryuichi Sakamoto on Cendre (Touch, 2007); as well as Cloud (Erstwhile, 2005) on which he worked with Keith Rowe, Toshimaru Nakamura and Oren Ambarchi. With a collection of works approaching the count of 30, Fennesz's last solo studio release was four years ago, Venice (Touch, 2004). So it should be no surprise that the fans jumped in anticipation to grab this 2008 release, Black Sea. And I hope the fans are not disappointed. Fennesz picks up where he left off with Venice, building on his trademark of processed and filtered guitar sound. Faint melodies cut with their pale beauty through a sharp fuzzy white haze. Sure, it may sound like over-driven, bit-crushing, pixel-offsetting, standing noise you have heard before on another album. But let me remind you once more, that Fennesz has been pioneering this sound well before the advancement of software and saturation of costly plugins on the market. On a nine-and-a-half minute track called Glide, for example, Fennesz is joined by Rosy Parlane [check out his albums Iris (Touch, 2004) and Jessamine (Touch, 2006)], to build up an incredible swell of sound, that buzzes to an orchestral crescendo, until it breaks into a tidal wave of near silence, which washes off the coast of a Black Sea. Experience Fennesz if artists like Alva Noto, Philip Jeck, Jan Jelinek, and Oren Ambarchi are on your radar. 

Also... Check out my previous review of Cendre and Two and a Half Questions with Christian Fennesz | |

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Von Magnet - Ni Prédateur Ni Proie (Ant-Zen / Jarring Effects)

Ni Prédateur Ni Proie is a complete theatrical performance packaged into twelve sketches on a disk. Strings tune up. A gong rings. A voice pleads with a shadow. Tension builds up. Industrial percussion kicks in. What follows is a combination of experimental neo-classical and avant-garde rhythmic technoid, curated with ethnic organic beats and acoustic orchestral instrumentation. Along the dark curtain of apocalyptic soundscapes, people confide in their woes. What is this place? With scalpel sharp precise execution, the French collective Von Magnet, tells a story of a human conflict. Regardless of the geographical location, we, the people, tend to find reasons to create interpersonal struggles that reflect externally through rage, tears, and war. The field recordings and the produced performances in different tongues speak for the voice of the human condition and the reality of today's brutal world. The cover art depicts two hands, of different skin color, smothered in oil, attempting to hold on to each other, but slipping away. The music conveys a similar theme. Von Magnet has been around since the late 80s, saturating the airwaves with post-industrial sound through more than a dozen albums. Their live shows are usually accompanied by performance art which transform the stage into a fascinating experimental musical. A quote from their bio: "Based successively in Barcelona, Rennes, Amsterdam, Lille, Berlin & Paris, for each project gathering different creative teams and mixed peculiar tribes of performers, visual artists, dancers, musicians, designers or sculptors, Von Magnet is indeed one of the cybergypsy pioneers of euroculture." It would be an absolute treat to see them live. Meanwhile, this excellent addition to an already powerful catalog of Ant-Zen will have to satisfy your cravings. The album is released in parallel on a French Jarring Effects label. Refusing to be divided, refusing to be boxed in, and refusing to accept the two extreme choices, with their music Von Magnet proclaims that it will be... neither predator, nor prey. | |

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sylvain Chauveau - The Black Book Of Capitalism (Type)

This dusty selection of modern classical compositions originally released by Sylvain Chauveau in 2000 [and re-issued in 2002] is once again available on Type Records! This was Chauveau's debut album, originally titled in French as Le Livre Noir Du Capitalisme, and released on a Dijon (France) based experimental and ambient label, Noise Museum [which is now defunct]. This album has been long out of print, and I'll admit - since it never reached US, it totally fell off my radar. But thanks to Type, this remastered version [although still limited to only 400 copies] can be heard again! Throughout the years, Chauveau has experimented with sound applying self-imposed principles that amount to just these three: "to stay as close as possible to the abstract beauty of 'silence'; to make sure that each sound committed is absolutely necessary; to find [my] own roots within [my] cultural and personal history." Chauveau's collection of albums range from solo piano pieces to minimal experimental drones. For an interesting minimal exploration of fragmented sound check out the last five-track album, simply titled S. [Type, 2007]. Chauveau also has composed soundtracks for films by Sébastien Betbeder. The latest release, Nuage [Type, 2007] compiles music for two films, Les Mains D'Andréa, and of course, Nuage. But back to The Black Book Of Capitalism, which, incidentally, shares its title with a French book published in 1998, which is a collection of essays covering everything from African slave trade to the era of financial globalization. This original album is very much different from Chauveau's current experimental pieces. It is quiet the opposite, and one might say "full of sound". And immediately, one track after another, start to receive five star rating on my player, falling along the roster of my favorite works by Peter Broderick, Goldmund and Max Richter. Through the crackling grooves of a record the images of early European films flood the airwaves with ghost-like beautiful melodies that have only matured since their original birth. Music like his doesn't age. It is classic. Highly recommended! | |

Monday, December 1, 2008

Biosphere - Shenzhou (Touch)

Prior to doing a proper writeup on Geir Jenssen, I listened to all of his grandiose works. Twice. OK, maybe not all. Jenssen's discography does not only span albums under his most famous moniker, Biosphere. There is his debut album, The North Pole By Submarine (SSR, 1989) as Bleep; two volumes of The Fires of Ork in collaboration with Pete Namlook (Fax, 1993 & 2000); two releases with The Higher Intelligence Agency, Polar Sequences (Beyond, 1996) and Birmingham Frequencies (Headphone 2000); an album, Nordheim Transformed (Rune Grammofon, 1998), with Deathprod; and finally a collection of field recordings from Tibet, Cho Oyu (Ash International, 2006), under his real name. And that's just scratching the surface. However, after spending an entire week (!) revisiting Jenssen's contributions towards the evolution of ambient sound as we know it today, I settled picking Shenzhou for this writeup. That one, my friends, is a masterpiece. Shenzhou explores more than just dark atmospheres and loop based hypnotic soundscapes. Here Jenssen does something many musicians have tried to accomplish - use classical music as the main ingredient, but without being too overbearing, obvious, or just for its mere sake. In Shenzhou, Jenssen constructs haunting environmental passages based on orchestral works by Claude Debussy, La Mer (The Sea) and Jeux. During the beatless layers of lush pads, deep sonic bass, and dusty vinyl samples of strings and woodwinds, Jenssen builds on meditative templates inflicting a trance-like state for the mind relying on its pattern recognition capabilities. The subliminal waves of euphoria wash over the timeless expansion of sound throughout the universe of the void. The subtle contributions of Jenssen's own sound design only enhance Debussy's already melancholic impressionist approach. Purely genius. This work solidifies Biosphere's impact on ambient movement. Previously, Jennsen has been known to pioneer his own personal style - arctic ambient. The latter is thematically named for Jenssen's geographical and minimalist attributes. Born in Tromsø, a city in the Arctic Circle of Norway, Jenssen evoked the sense of isolation and arctic calm, more prominent in his earlier albums like Substrata (All Saints Records, 1997) and above mentioned Polar Sequences. But in Shenzhou the ice melts away into the ocean of sound. And with it we drift... and we drift... For a sensory deprived in-vacuum experience, pick up Biosphere's Autour de la Lune (Touch, 2004) [headphones with deep bass response recommended], as well as his latest, Dropsonde (Touch 2006). In 2007, Norwegian Beatservice Records, re-released the first three of Biosphere's albums - Microgravity, Patashnik, and Insomnia. Highly recommended for the likes of Gas, PanAmerican, Steve Roach, Robert Henke, Deaf Center and Murcof. |