RF Top 30 Records of 2007
Typically, I find the task of compiling year-end lists about as easy and enjoyable as pulling teeth. In a fit of pique (or something remarkably like it), I decided to extend the agony by annotating this year’s list. Funnily enough, I found that I enjoyed the process immensely, since it allowed me to more closely revisit some of my favorite music from the last 12 months. I also unearthed some forgotten musical gems, making for a happy end to 2007.
Hans Appelqvist, Sifantin Och Mörkret (Häpna) CD-EP
I like to think I’m an oh-so serious person, who listens to oh-so serious music, but I fell hook, line, and sinker for Appelqvist’s 2003 3”CD release, Att Mota Verligheten, and evidently I’m still a sucker for his sweet, silly/cute take on musique concrete. There are loads of goofy sound effects, sly musical interludes, and shy little songs about who-knows-what. Perhaps I should know better, but, obviously, I don’t. Review
Gui Boratto, Chromophobia (Kompakt) CD
This is the lone straight-up techno record on this year’s list, and it’s a serious corker. Boratto’s music combines intricate latticework rhythms with infectious melodies that are lightly sweet, but never sugarcoated.
Frank Bretschneider, Rhythm (Raster-Noton) CD
It had been five, long years since the release of Bretschneider’s last solo full-length, but the long wait for Rhythm was well worth it. Featuring his trademark clipped snare clicks, razor sharp pops, and deep bass pulses, this album references everything from hip hop to techno to funk to dubstep, stripping them down to the barest of bones to damned near perfect effect.
COH, Strings (Raster-Noton) 2CD
Another release from Germany’s Raster-Noton imprint makes this year’s top 30. COH (aka Ivan Pavlov) released three solid discs this year, but for my money Strings is the cream of the crop. With its mix of string instruments (piano, electric guitar, oud, and saz), this record finds Pavlov moving away from the pure, extreme frequency electronics that had been his hallmark and revisiting and expanding on some of the techniques he explored on his excellent 2003 double 12” Seasons on Idea.
DJ C, Sonic Weapons (Wimm) CD
Jake Trussell, one of Boston’s finest DJs and producers recently relocated to Chicago. Before he left, however, he served up this final salvo, his first full-length as DJ C (he released a pair of excellent discs as Electro Organic Sound System some years back). In spite of its bellicose title, Sonic Weapons is no snaggle-toothed beast. It’s an ebullient album-length affirmation of the riotous power of frenetic beats and heavy bass. Trussell combines elements of jungle, dubstep, hip-hop, and Baltimore house to create a style he’s dubbed “Boston Bounce.” Wicked. Article
Tim Feeney & Vic Rawlings, In 6 Parts (Sedimental) CD
More homegrown music, but it could hardly be more different. Percussionist Tim Feeney and cellist/cracked electronics whiz Vic Rawlings have been active in Boston’s electro-acoustic improv scene for many years; however, this is their first recording as a duo. With its vast, near-empty spaces, it’s a resolutely difficult record, but there’s heaven within the rumbles, high-pitched whines, soft static, and electrical hums.
Heribert Friedl, Trac[k]_t (Line) CD
Using a cimbalon as a sound source, Viennese sound artist (and Non Visual Artists label head) Heribert Friedl creates a beguiling disc of finely detailed sonic miniatures. Spare and beautiful. Review
Eli Keszler, R.L.K. (Rel) CD
One of Boston’s most dynamic young percussionists, Eli Keszler generates dense, atmospheric pieces using a mix of drums, crotales, guitar, and feedback. Sensational.
KTL, 2 (Editions Mego) CD
To be honest, the first KTL disc made little impression on this jaded soul, but this second one floored me. “Theme,” in particular, is an utterly overpowering mix of guitar and electronics from Stephen O’Malley and Peter Rehberg (aka Pita) that singes your synapses and makes the hairs on the back of your neck tingle. Review
Major Stars, Mirror|Messenger (Drag City) CD
A thunderous album of pure rock excess from Boston’s beloved six-piece. They’re a band that still best experienced live, but this album comes close to capturing their ferocious, psych-soaked glory. Article
Marhaug | Asheim, Grand Mutation (Touch) CD
Recorded in a single session in an cathedral in Oslo, this magisterial, hour-long piece, features the fascinating interplay between organist Nils Henrik Asheim’s sonorous, textured playing and Lasse Marhaug’s abrasive electronics. Truly grand. Interview
Lasse Marhaug, Tapes, 1990-1999 (Pica Disk) 4CD
Given that he released an astounding 17 full-length CDs (and a handful of tapes and vinyl) in 2007, it’s not surprising that Norway’s king of noise appears twice on the RF countdown. The guy may put out a mountain of music, but he still manages to keep a handle on quality control. This elegantly designed box set on his own Pica Disk label (which also appears twice on the list) collects choice selections from Marhaug’s voluminous cassette-only releases from the nineties and is essential for all fans of serious sonic abrasion.
Alireza Mashayekhi and Ata Ebtekar, Persian Electronic Music: Yesterday and Today (Sub Rosa) 2CD
This excellent collection features works by two different generation of Iranian electronic musicians. Mashayekhi is the pioneer and Ebtekar, who also releases under the pseudonym Sote, is the rising star. Both combine the techniques of electronic music from tape collage to DSP with traditional Persian musical forms to fascinating effect. Review
Novi_sad, Misguided Heart Pulses, a Hammer, She, and the Clock (Tilt) CD
This release came like a proverbial bolt out of the blue, arriving in the post one day from Greece. It’s a fantastically atmospheric record and the quality of the sounds is quite exquisite. Excellent late-night listening. Review
Daphne Oram, Oramics (Paradigm Disks) 2CD
Were I to choose a number one out of these thirty, this collection of long-lost work by the late Daphne Oram, would surely claim the top spot. Oram was one of the founders of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, but left early on to pursue her own electronic music experiments that include ethereal tonal experiments and eccentric, sometimes groovy commercial work. Review
Pan Sonic, Katodivaihe (Blast First Petite) CD
My affection for this album of brooding, icy electronics from Finland’s finest analogists deepens with each listen. Skirting the boundaries of minimal techno, noise, and abstract soundscapes, the album doesn’t slot neatly into any genre, but still remains all of a piece and is a perfect for a little atmospheric late-night listening.
Anthony Pateras, Chasms (Sirr) CD
This collection of prepared piano pieces (pardon the alliteration) by Australia’s Anthony Pateras almost slipped off my year-end-list radar. Thankfully, I was reminded of its existence at the 11th hour, since it’s a beautiful disc. Pateras coaxes and cajoles a fascinating variety of scrapes, rattles, hums, buzzes, and thumps from a piano prepared with bolts, coins, and god-knows-what-else to create three intense, dramatic pieces. You can get a sense of what he does from this video of a live performance from earlier this year.
Pjusk, Sart (12k) CD
On this lovely debut of pastoral, lightly reverberant electronics, the Norwegian duo Pjusk create lovely, dub-inflected music that seems to defy gravity as it swirls, drifts, and flows at the gentle pace of a daydream. Review
Bhob Rainey & Ralf Wehowsky, I don’t think I can see you tonight (Sedimental) CD
It took five years of long distance collaboration between Boston musician Bhob Rainey (of nmperign and the BSC) and legendary German sound artist Ralf Wehowsky to complete I don’t think I can see you tonight. This exquisite, and thoroughly engrossing disc is a testament then to the virtue of their patience and care.
Jessica Rylan, Interior Designs (Important) CD
The latest full-length CD from local analog synth designer and noise legend, Jessica Rylan (aka Can’t), captures much of what makes her such a compelling figure, ranging from the entrancing, fluttering electronics of “Phantasia” to the acoustic guitar kinda-pop of the title track. Article
Omar Souleyman, Highway to Hassake: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (Sublime Frequencies) CD
Souleyman is a legend in Syria and this collection of songs from cassette releases from the nineties shows why. Chock-full of screaming saz, cheap, wobbly keyboards, and, of course, Souleyman’s gruff, oft-distorted vocals, this is an unnervingly wonderful record.
Hild Sofie Tafjord, Kama (Pica Disk) CD
I think I can say with confidence that Hild Sofie Tafjord’s debut is, hands-down, the greatest french horn noise album ever. Tafjord, who is one-half of Fe-Mail and one-quarter of SPUNK, unleashes a single, forty-one minute long track that is complex, dramatically paced, and simply riveting from start to finish.
Asmus Tietchens 4K7: Early Recordings (Vinyl on Demand) 4LP
The German reissue label Vinyl on Demand strikes again with a killer box set of long out of print cassette releases by Hamburg sound artist Asmus Tietchens. Dating from the late seventies and early eighties, these records, which range from atmospheric soundscapes to quasi-industrial gloom, are pure gold for any Tietchens fan. Interview
Mika Vainio, Revitty (Wavetrap) CD
The title of this latest full-length from Pan Sonic’s Vainio translates as torn. The cover art features a drawing of a shark in a feeding frenzy. The record is, not surprisingly, ferocious and tormented. Lots of blood-stained shredding and bleak, arctic wastelands delivered with typical aplomb. Review
Von Südenfed, Tromatic Reflexxions (Domino) CD
Who would have thought that the Fall’s Mark E. Smith and Jan and Andi of Mouse on Mars would be so well-matched? Certainly not I, but this record is righteously groovy, riotously dyspeptic, and too much fun. Color me pleasantly flabbergasted.
V/A, The Art of Field Recording, Volume 1 (Dust to Digital) 4CD
It’s become a treasured ritual, a symbol of the holidays and the coming of the New Year: the release of a wonderful, over-the-top box set on Atlanta’s Dust to Digital imprint. This year brings us the first installment of Art Rosenbaum’s collection of recordings of folks around the country singing songs and occasionally telling a story or two. Divided into religious, blues, and dance pieces, the performances are oh-so fruitfully idiosyncratic.
V/A, The Black Mirror (Dust to Digital) CD
Curated by Baltimore musician and inveterate collector Ian Nagoski, this selection of 78s from around the world features one gem after another including music by Tibetan monks, Ukrainian peasants, a full gamelan orchestra, a Greek rembetika singer (the wonderful Marika Papagika), and a lone bagpiper. Article
V/A, Gamelan of Central Java, Vol. VIII: Court Music Treasures (Dunya/Felmay) CD
Though it’s not as flashy as its Balinese cousin, Central Javanese gamelan has its own uniquely oneiric pleasures. This latest installment in an ongoing series of Gamelan releases on the Italian Dunya/Felmay labels is devoted the quiet sounds of court gamelan, and acts on your system like an intensely pleasing aural sedative.
V/A, Lipa Kodi Ya City Council (Mississippi) LP
Another wonderful release on the mysterious Mississippi imprint, which pulls together various strands and styles of African music from 1967-1972. Every record on Mississippi is worth picking up (if you can find them, that is), but this collection of funk, r&b, juji, highlife, religious choral music from around the continent may well be their best release yet.
V/A, Soundboy Punishments (Skull Disco) 2CD
Though critical praise has been heaped wholesale on Burial’s cinematic sophomore release, this Skull Disco compilation is my personal favorite dubstep full-length of the year. Producers Shackleton and Appleblim, who contribute the vast majority of the cuts, operate at dubstep’s frayed edges. Their music is darkly pessimistic and portentious. Though not always suited to the dancefloor, their cracking use of North African and Middle Eastern percussion and samples will certainly get you bobbing.
And, for good measure, here are a pair of mp3 blogs that I love beyond reason:
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