Failing Lights (Mike Connelly, from Wolf Eyes and Hair Police), Pete Swanson (ex-Yellow Swans) and Carlos Giffoni have released magnificent works – “Failing Lights”(Intransitive Recordings), “Feelings In America” (Root Strata) and “Severance” (Hospital Productions), respectively– on which evolutional lines are noted that are similar, at least at a conceptual level, to those that happened to the first industrial wave, back in the early eighties; the broadening of registers that resort to the atmospheric, not to be confused with ambiental, and that make use and abuse of mechanisms –field recordings, guitars, analogue synthesisers– that can still be squeezed a lot. At least, in this context.Failing Lights – Revealing Scene
On the other extreme of the spectrum, 2010 has been a good year for wall noise. Frenchman Vomir and Serbian Dead Body Collection (nasty title of the year: “She Was a Whore Anyway”), both masked and with similar aesthetic styles –the definitive anti-music: after this, there is nothing–, have ruled the roost for yours truly. If only for their releasing pace: fifteen and thirty releases in twelve months, respectively.
And speaking of crazy release policies, I should mention Merzbow’s two works from last year: “13 Japanese Birds” (Important) is a box of thirteen volumes stuck in an eco-bag, all brought together around ornithological themes –I assume you are aware of Masami Akita’s militancy when it comes to the defence of animal rights; and “Merzbient” (Soleilmoon) is another box-set with a dozen CDs of high historic value, as the recover previously unreleased pieces from the era 1987-1990, preceding Merzbow’s crowning as the king of noise.Merzbow – Angel Of The Odd Lastly I have to mention the release of “Whitehouse” ( Zeitkratzer), the album of cover versions of Whitehouse by Zeitkratzer: a record of which the quality is equal to its symbolic capital, with regards to the hybridisation of contemporary music with noise.
2. Avant-rock The media attention for drone metal has diminished importantly. The pretensions of some journalists to put the leadership of the avant-garde rock armada in the hands of bands like Sunn0))) and Earth have clashed with a reality that, in fact, has always been there: the metal audience doesn’t care at all about what these bands are doing, and to the aficionado more or less cultured in avant-garde music, their efforts seem, though praiseworthy, after the initial overwhelming intensity of their sound, as ingenious as they are, in the end, inoffensive. In this tessitura, bands with more moderate styles like Nadja or KTL seem to be the winners, where the bastardisation of the genre is articulated in the opposite sense to that of the others –from experimentalism to metal–, with more profound results. We will leave that thing about black metal being the supposed means of progress for April Fool’s Day.Outside this field, the styles that have left their mark on 2010 the most haven’t been less virulent. The bands who insist in skinning rock while keeping its skeleton intact – Sightings, Robedoor– have delivered the goods last year. As have those who tried the very opposite, to get closer to free jazz, free improv, blues and folk –i.e. Zs, Jailbreak and The Dead C, Bill Orcutt and Rangda— without losing the intensity of rock.
But maybe the biggest revelation of last year was the textural revision of pop music. Hypnagogia, if such a thing really exists, has contributed a palette of equalisations –opaque sound, maximisation of middle and low frequencies– and timbres –fourth-hand synthesisers, crude field recordings– which, in the best of cases, has transcended the overall very low level of composition. Something similar to what in other disciplines has been happening frequently lately, like the extreme compression in dance music – Actress, witch house in general and Salem in particular– and the use of 8-bits equipment.
Ah, and Stereolab released a record, although nobody really seemed to be too bothered.
A wish for 2011: let common sense –or at least some kind of discretion– rule when it comes to celebrating drones. More than one artist needs to learn that it’s not about maintaining the same note for twenty-something minutes and adorning it with some keyboards here and effects there. Precisely the art of drone consists of knowing how to maximally exploit that continuous frequency, to generate a world by invoking virtual harmonics and, above all, to keep the listener from falling asleep. From the evidently excessive amount of productions that have tested my patience last year, those which have been (who knew?) the most purist and faithful to the canon stand out, IMHO: Eleh, Suum Cuique, Charlemagne Palestine and Black Mountain Transmitter. Of the heterodox ones, my favourites are the formidable “Do-Undo (In G Maze)” by M. Holterbach and Julia Eckhardt, a charming conjunction of acoustic drones and field recordings. Although all of them pale in comparison to the recovery of “The Electric Harpsichord”, by Catherine Christer Hennix .
4. Clicks y Cuts ( excusez le mot )In experimental music, like in almost everything, there are trends. And trends, as you know, come as fast as they go. When the decade that just ended started, the so-(badly) named clicks & cuts were all the rage. The microscopic sound, the MAX patches, the use of the error, the laptop as an essential instrument, the post-structuralist essays of Deleuze and Guattari and a radical renovation of the timbric range –and in more extreme cases, almost all of them initiated by Mego, the structural dynamic– in musical production marked a very exciting start of the century, determined by the “Clicks & Cuts” compilations on the Mille Plateaux label. Ten years after, little of that is left. Mille Plateaux, like so many other labels, went down with distributor EFA, as did Austrian label Mego, in this case because of their own mistakes. And with their catalogues, the possibility of a sonic future that to me still seems more adventurous and exciting than the one we have today, shipwrecked as well. Lately, the two labels have returned, but it’s not the same anymore. The most discouraging example is the lukewarm reception of “Clicks & Cuts 5: Paradigm Shift”, paradoxically one of the best volumes of the series. Not to mention “Bektop”, by Frenchman Kabutogani, also released by Mille Plateaux and one of the most unjustly ignored works of the year. Mego, in its turn, has risen from its ashes as well, thanks to the time and money of Peter Rehberg, also known as Pita, but after losing its most “commercial” asset, Fennesz –who keep reissuing “Endless Summer” on different formats and with different additions, which is symptomatic, the label seems to have gone past go without getting paid: they are still releasing excellent records of extreme computer music – Marcus Schmickler, Hecker, the reborn Fenn O’Berg–, but the laws of taste –theirs and, mostly, I’m afraid, that of the public– has brought them to leave their path and venture into the new analogue kosmische with Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never. Many people like that a lot. I don’t.
Even so, three of the best works of 2010 have been delivered by three other survivors of the click’n’cuts generation. Markus Popp reanimated the Oval project with unexpected turn, “o” (Thrill Jockey), and he did a great job: the German’s monumental double CD was, for yours truly, the big revelation of 2010. And Carsten Nicolai, somewhat disperse as of late –neither “Unitxt” (2008), nor the “Xerrox” series, nor the two volumes of “For” (Line) can stand the comparison with “Transform” (2001) or the “Transrapid” / “Transspray” / “Transvision” (2004-2005) trilogy–, reconciled with my sound system thanks to “Mimikry” (Raster-Noton), the first album of anbb, his project with Blixa Bargeld (Einstürzende Neubauten). And Mark Fell (snd) simultaneously released “Multistability” (Raster-Noton) and “UL8” (Editions Mego). The first one is good, the second, a masterpiece.
5. Either they’re not as good as they think, or I’m getting oldSpeaking of veterans, I have to mention that most of the (IMHO) memorable moments of 2010 were by artists who’ve been around the block a few times. Some returned –the proto-all Swans reunited with the tremendous “My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky” (Young God)–, some left – Pan Sonic said goodbye with the complicated “Gravitoni” (Blast First Petite)– and some others who have always been there claiming historic justice with good reasons – Scorn contributed the best possible arguments to his favour as the godfather of dubstep with “Refuse; Start Fires” (Ohm Resistance); Thomas Köner reminded us of how good he is with the reissues of “Nunatak”, “Teimo” and “Permafrost” on Type. After all this, my conclusion is that either the new generations still have a lot to learn, or I’m getting old. In both cases, I’m worried.