2018 Recap

Here is my yearbook, a recap of 2018. I’ve collected songs from my 25 favorite albums of the last year into a wide-ranging mix. If you would like to keep up with future editions of this podcast, search for sndlgc in the app of your choice or you can subscribe manually using this link.

I’m in no position to say what 2018 was the year of. This site isn’t so much an endeavor in music criticism as the journal of a personal aesthetic journey. I’ve been obsessed with music since I can remember, and here, I’ve made a signpost of where almost 40 years of omnivorous listening has lead me.

If I’m allowed to pat myself on the back (just a little), I feel like I’ve yet to fully surrender to nostalgia. While there are bands I’ve followed closely for decades here (read: Autechre), almost every one of these recaps has included names that were new (or new to me). Granted, I still refer to Field Music as a ‘new’ band, but they’ve been around for 15 years (and have appeared regularly in my recaps for a decade, now).

For some time, I’ve been tracking, what I found as a glimmer of something new, in music. Since about the late 90s, music has been awash in retro-fetish. Not to say all of it is a rehash, plenty of artists, like Shopping, are revisiting the past to build upon it. There was this new thing brewing, though.—this sound that I can’t call a ‘style’ because it’s central premise seemed to be a disregard for the boundaries between styles. These artists weren’t mashing things up, they were making seamless hybrids—or better yet, uncovering the hidden connections between genres a layman like me had never noticed.

For me, 2018 was when this fascination blossomed into obsession. A healthy portion of the albums I’ve included here fall into this category: Ashley Paul, Hen Ogledd, Ben Vince, Sandro Perri and especially Eric Chenaux.

I first heard Eric Chenaux on his 2012 album, Guitar & Voice—which is an entirely accurate title that gives you no clue as to what you are about to experience. He’s appeared regularly in my year-end round-ups since, but Slowly Paradise felt like the one I don’t want to live without.

Slowly Paradise is a beautifully confusing album that doesn’t so much balance contradictions as refutes their very existence. To paraphrase the Quietus’ apt review: Chenaux’s love of Sade in no way conflicts with or confuses his love of Derek Bailey.

I would argue Slowly Paradise is a capital-z, Zen, album. It plays both outside and inside in perfect simultaneity, to show us that there is no in or out to speak of. And all the while, still manages to have some memorable hooks along the way.

Screaming Females: Agnes Martin
Shopping: Asking for a Friend
Marker: French Dress
The Ex: Silent Waste
Ben Vince with Rupert Clervaux: Sensory Crossing
Hen Ogledd: Problem Child
DJRum featuring Zosia Jagodzinska: Creature, pt.2
Autechre: TT1Pd
Matthew Dear: Can You Rush Them
NHK yx Koyxen: Strange Gesture
Jako Maron: Fanali Dann Bwa
Field Music: Checking on a Message
Against All Logic: Now U Got Me Hooked
Thomas Fehlmann: Morris Louis
Neneh Cherry: Faster than the Truth
Mast featuring Jason Fraticelli: Blue Monk
Kristo Rodzevski: Out of Key
Eric Chenaux: There’s Our Love
Ashley Paul: Breathless Air
Roy Montgomery with Katie von Schleicher: Outsider Love Ballad, no.1
Sarah Davachi: Matins
Sandro Perri: In Another Life
Toshimaru Nakamura: NIMB 56
Angelique Kidjo: The Overload
Reidemeister Move: Arcanum 17

2017 Recap

Here is my annual recap: a yearbook, rounding up tracks off 25 of my favorite albums from the last year. If you would like to keep up on future episodes, subscribe to sndlgc podcasts in iTunes or copy this link to subscribe manually.

2017 didn't turn out quite how I expected. It was a surprising year of listening. Many albums I hotly anticipated—St. Vincent, LCD Soundsystem, Deerhoof—struck a tad underwhelming. Their albums were good enough, but each had to contend with a mountain of expectation. Just delivering the goods doesn't rank for this lot anymore, they must scale impossible heights. 

There were a few records that outpaced their expectations. Sacred Paws' Strike a Match, was everything I'd hoped for, after their stunner of a 2015 EP. Alvvays' avoided the sophomore slump by improving the writing, execution and production—all without forsaking their central premise. Shackleton continued his hermetic forays into realms previously inhabited only by the likes of Coil.

Mostly though, my head was turned by artists I'd never heard before. Some of these were new artists—Mourning [a] Blkstar, Zen Mother—and others, like Kink Gong and Sarah Davachi, were new-to-me. Those sent me on feverish quests to catch up on what I'd been missing.

At any given point in the last month a number of these records were in contention as my pick as my favorite record of the year. It ultimately came down to a one that is, given my collective history, blatantly obvious—yet at the same time wholly surprising: Mary Halvorson's foray into John Zorn's world, with Paimon.

I've had a decades-long obsession with John Zorn. His multi-faceted Masada project is not just his most popular, but the one that cracked the code of his music, for me. Mary Halvorson is a much newer obsession. Collecting her work and following her career still feels genuinely exciting. Her groups have appeared in my year-end recaps almost every year since I discovered her music in 2012.

Even still, I found Paimon far more engrossing than imagined. John Zorn has released such a cavalcade of music in the last 20 years (since starting the Tzadik label) it's often overwhelming. Halvorson's entry for the Masada, Book of Angels is the 32nd album in that series—and it's only one of Zorn's many ongoing projects. Yet Paimon transcends it's status as just one more John Zorn record.

Mary Halvorson's touch is different from the players Zorn often taps. She's less bombastic and ecstatic. She's noted for creating a nearly impossible amalgam of diametrically-opposed styles, much like Zorn is, but hers is a more integrated, less juxtaposed sound. Halvorson comes from a different tradition—less associated with Ornette Coleman and European Free Improv and more with Anthony Braxton and the AACM. Paimon feels new by virtue of being a happy meeting of these two sound worlds. The writing is pure Masada, but the feel entirely Halvorson.

2017 has been surprising in ways both good and ill. It was definitely a year that a lot of us took refuge in our respective preoccupations. I certainly did, and here are the fruits of my retreat: 25 songs, charting the vagaries of my listening, organized and edited down for you to share. 

 

Cummi Flu / Raz Ohara: Akasak
Acid Pauli: Ayam
Shackleton & Vengeance Tenfold: Spheric Ghost / Fear the Crown
Kaitlyn Aurelia-Smith: I Will Make Room for You
Soundwalk Collective: Xiao Youmei Corridor
Juana Molina: A00 B01
Kink Gong: Saisir l’Aiguille au Fond de la Mer
The Fall: Second House Now
Thurston Moore: Turn On
Mary Halvorson Quartet: Ruhiel
Nate Wooley: Knknighgh 6
Zen Mother: Strange Mother
The Telescopes: Down on Me
Sarah Davachi: For Organ
Phew: Antenna
NHK yx Koyxen: Intention
RE-TROS: At Mosp Here
Mourning [a] Blkstar: Take Two
Arto Lindsay: Uncrossed
Oto Hiax: Eses Mitre
Alvvays: Hey
Sacred Paws: Empty Body
Kristos Rodzevski: Ladybug
United Waters: Shaped like the Sea
Dans les Arbres: Flourescent

2016 Recap

In which I gather in and present tracks from the 25 best albums I've heard all year—a sort of personal yearbook of listening. If you would like to subscribe to future episodes of sndlgc, copy this link.

Powell featuring Jonny: Jonny
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down: Slash / Burn
Field Music: Don't You Want to Know What's Wrong?
Radian: Blue Noise, Black Lake
Memotone: All Collapsed
Andy Stott: Forgotten
NHK yx Koyxen: 1048
Factory Floor: Dial Me in
Ash Koosha: Fool Moon
Tomutonttu: Studioon Astuu Haavoittunut Ystävä
Grumbling Fur: Perfect Reader
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: Arthropoda
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Magneto
Autechre: Spaces How V
Anarchist Republic of Bzzz: Dark Mirrors
Guy Andrews: Spirit Ritual
Tangents: N-Mission
David Bowie: Dollar Days
Fire! Orchestra: Ritual
DKV / The Thing: Cards
Deerhoof: Life Is Suffering
Oren Ambarchi: Hubris
Supersilent: 13.3
Lambchop: JFK
Sarah Louise: Silent in Snow

I'm not going to lie: in many respects, 2016 was an utter shit year. You could look at the uncommonly high death toll of legendary figures or the global rise right-wing nationalism, if you needed proof. Luckily, I found more than enough new music to take some solace (if not retreat) in.

I've compiled here, my own, highly personal mix of favorites. Therein you will find old standbys—artists who have made regular appearances here—as well as some I've only recently discovered.

Normally, I find it hard to pick a single album as my favorite. It's so many apples and oranges. My pick might not necessarily be the record I've listened to the most times, but one that surprised me or changed my perspective. 2016 turned out to be no contest: I was completely obsessed with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's EARS.

That's not to say there weren't other strong contenders: Lambchop turned in an startlingly original album in FLOTUS. The sophomore Anarchist Republic of Bzzz was as angry and confusing as this whole last year was. Oren Ambarchi delivered a masterwork that seemed to square the circle on his wide-ranging career. Factory Floor's 25 was utterly relentless. Fuck, David Bowie's carefully considered farewell was not only deeply moving, but the best, most daring record he'd made in decaades

…and yet, nothing compared to EARS. I knew Aurelia Smith's record would at least make this list before I finished my first listen. I was slack-jawed—not that I'm all too easily impressed. Analog synthesis has been all abuzz in the underground for years now and a wide swath of it is half-hearted, boring bandwagoning. Aurelia Smith's record was lush, vibrant and mysteriously alive.

I was so taken with her record, I saw Aurelia Smith twice this year (which I rarely do). I ceaselessly promoted it to friends. EARS was clearly a defining and landmark moment in drift pop's rise to underground prominence.

This is also the tenth of my yearly Recap mixes. They're always challengingly fun to assemble. They force me to try and make some sort of general sense out of my haphazard aesthetic and ranging interests. So many artists turned in such divergent records, I made nearly seamless connections that seemed unlikely: Nick Cave leading into Autechre? Lambchop chasing Supersilent? C'est impossible!

I hope you'll enjoy my Recap of 2016, maybe more than you did the year itself. Here's to a better year, by hook or by crook.

playing favorites

Since my podcast just crossed the 10-year mark and has stacked up 100 episodes, I thought I would publish a primer, of sorts—bringing together some of the best episodes, so far.

Admittedly, all my picks are latter day missives. My tools and methods evolved as the sndlgc series went on, so the earlier episodes feel more exploratory to me. There's still plenty of nuggets back there, though, if you care to dig. To get at the older episodes—as well as keep up with the continuing adventures—use this feed link to subscribe to the series in the player of your choosing.

no.1, Punks in the Post: End of Service Area
Hands down, this is the best mix I have ever made, in any format. I am well and truly obsessed with the post-punk era, and this is (in my humble opinion) one of the best collections of that music I've ever heard. It's deep, dense and thorough. I set up so so many rules as to how this would come together, but I navigated them all. It felt like ages, fiddling with the edits and levels. It digs deep into songs and bands you may not know yet, but when it turns to the familiar touchstones, it serves up obscure gems that still dazzle. Quite literally, I almost shuttered this podcast after I finished this mix.
(further listening: If I Had Only Known)

no.2, 2013 Recap
My year-end round-ups are fun as hell to make. Since the only theme is what's flipped my lid in the last 12 months, they span the breadth of my interests. I try to instill some semblance of a cohesive narrative from that smorgasbord of sound. This particular year, it flowed like all hell. There are leaps in audio-logic that shouldn't work, but fabulously do (Mary Halvorson into Melt-Banana?). I also just think 2013 ended up being a goddamn banner year for new music—all these songs still thrill me.
(further listening: 2011 Recap)

no.3, Pation Stations 4
This series, since it's inception, has been near and dear to my heart. Released as an annual Memorial Day BBQ mix, it's the soundtrack to the opening salvo of summer. My ideal here is a sort of gentle rocker: good time music that is not slamming or insistent, but never too melancholy or lethargic. This mix always displays a strong vein of 90s indie-rock that belies my age a little. I think of this as the music I put on to hang out with old friends—our shared nostalgia. Plus, there's just something about a track that nails that sweet spot of mellow cool that makes me think music is just supposed to sound like that.
(further listening: Patio Stations 8)

no.4, Oblique Portraits: Andrew Weatherall
This is a veritable techno and electro-pop thesaurus. My original idea was to feature legendary producer, Andrew Weatherall's career solely through his remix work for other artists, The resulting mix is eclectic and wide-ranging—yet entirely cohesive. This includes a slew of rare tracks, with a focus on the master transmorgifying rock bands into mutant-dance hybrids. Along the way, it ends up charting a chronological map through the first 20 years of what we now call electronica.
(further listening: Biscuits for… Dog Days)

no.5, Freeform Freakout
This one is not for the faint-of-heart. It's hard to find a place in the average podcast for my love of full-bore free jazz, so instead, I made an episode of only that. I selected songs that were (at least, at the time) rare or hard-to-find. Additionally, each of the seven tracks is presented in a readers-digest version (the originals ranged from 20 minutes to 2.5 hours). I tried to capture small portions from across the entirety of each song yet still retain a sense you were listening to a a complete work. This meant making more edits for 7 songs than I've done for mixes with 30 tracks or more. The end result is utterly insane.
(further listening: a forthcoming episode, Oblique Portraits: William Parker)

2015 recap

A quick run through 25 of my favorite songs from the last year.

As long as I can remember, I've been collecting music--and for a good portion of that life spent listening, I've kept track of my favorite record of each year. I like to keep it as a personal yearbook--a scrapbook of my own ever-evolving aesthetic. Of course, with decades of this behavior under my belt, and now with a podcast platform, I like to tell myself that I'm good enough this collecting business to hold court about my choices.

As the decades of doing so have gone on and I've become a more well-heeled sound traveller, I ought to feel less embarrassed by the habit (let alone holding forth on it). Instead—as my listening has widened and diversified—any concept of equivalency has dissipated. I'm left, still, with the keenly felt impression that what I pick is not (entirely) a statement of quality but more about where I am; in listening (and in life).

As I look back at my beginnings in this annual tradition, although I still love (and listen to) each of the records I selected, not all of them hold up as the best of their year. Sometimes this is because things are always happening every year that I have no fucking clue about at the time. Other times, I'm just a different person now. My aesthetic has mutated and evolved. It's that very change though, that makes going back such a treat for me, like flipping through an old photo album.

For a few years now, I've been obsessing over a strain of confounding and complicated albums—records that bend the very concept of genre boundaries to the point of meaninglessness. They zig when you expect them to zag, defying any idea of easy categorization. In our rampant remake / redo / rehash culture, these are some of the few things that have a whiff of 'new' to them. They also flout our desire to sort, tag and file everything away neatly—an amateur librarian's nightmare.

This trend influenced the pick of my favorite record of 2015. It came down, neck-and-neck between Lonelady's Hinterland and Ricardo Dias Gomes' -11. It was not an easy call, as there is very little to compare them to each other, head-to-head. Hinterlnad is savvy and astute update of New Order and the greater Manchester dance-rock bloodline—one that is adding to that tradition, not just repeating it. -11 is an experimental Brazillian-pop record. Where's the equivalency in that? It was, ultimately, that confusing scent of new that drew me to pick Gomes' work. Each and every listen had me upending theories about the record—and sometimes pop iteslf.

Lonelady has created a masterful, high-water mark of a record—I cannot recommend it heartily enough—but it's one very connected to its own past. While Gomes clearly comes from a tradition, Brazilian pop music has had a highly experimental streak in it for well nigh 50 years now, -11 is from that lineage but not entirely of it.

His record upends your expectations at every turn. So often, in fact, his biggest trick seems to be helping set up those expectations at all. Take the most overtly universalist pop-sounding track on the album: it's an instrumental, laughably titled Some Ludicrous Self-Indulgence to Develop. The most memorable melody's heft is undercut earlier in the running order by a sickly sweet lullaby version. The longest song, dropped in the middle, is a droning piece of sound-art hovering somewhere between keening organ and guitar feedback, only briefly featuring pitched down vocals.

Some of this is a part of his inheritance. Making experimental gestures seem genteel or tossing them off with an all-too knowing smirk is very Brazilian, with precursors like Caetano Veloso (who Gomes has played with) or Tom Zé. Many of his turns are not something I (at least) have heard in that tradition. His penchant for sound sculpting—which runs at odds with his knowingly awkward studio presence. His use of close mic'd breathing as a musical element is a recurring theme, tying the record together. Gomes' forebears, like João Gilberto made careers out intimacy like that, but theirs was always warm and welcoming, on -11 it's a tad unsettling (in a good way). He is bringing new traditions into his cultural heritage but blending them so they seem like they were Brazilian to begin with.

He not only strips his songs down to their barest essentials, it sounds like parts of the song you are hearing have been surgically removed. This was another key factor in my adoration—I have a long standing love affair with what I call 'stark pop', and most of -11 is awfully stark. Again, while it remains a record of its place, it's minimalism also reminds me of even recent albums by avant pop stalwart Michael Morley.

So this is my pick for favorite record of 2015, in every sense of the word. Ricardo Dias Gomes' -11 is interesting, challenging, compelling…oh, and compulsively listenable. It can evoke Tropicalia and the New Zealand noise rock in the same song. It's thick in hummable melodies that just happened to be embedded in bizarre, isolated instrumentation and surrounded by breath: gasping, gulping and sighing. This is what made me stand up and take notice in 2015. This is what I hummed to myself in the shower. This is what I pushed on anyone who would hear me out.

As to the podcast? While I've done my best to arrange my hodge-podge of interests into a somewhat logical flow for this the mix—I like to keep the pop hooks spread throughout, so you never have to go down any one particular rabbit hole entirely. Even if none of this was on your radar, I hope you hear something you enjoy.

TRACKLIST:
Sacred Paws: Shirley
Sleater-Kinney: A New Wave
Screaming Females: Triumph
Lightning Bolt: Mythmaster
Vision Fortune: Tied and Bound
Sote: Lacuna
LoneLady: Hinterland
Matias Aguayo: Gato Disco
Hot Chip: Why Make Sense?
Cummi Flu: B.
Wire: Burning Bridges
Vilod: Surmansky Blow
Jenny Hval: Heaven
Ricardo Dias Gomes: Junta-Espirito
Boduf Songs: Great Anthem of Our Youth
Senyawa: Hadirlah Suci
Ghold: All Eyes Broke
Zomes: Syster
Battles: Dot Com
Pole: Kafer
King Midas Sound featuring Fennesz: Lighthouse
Helen: Pass Me By
Kris Davis Infrasound: Jumping Over Your Shadow
Eric Chenaux: Poor Time
Mary Halvorson: Aisha