Sunday, January 16, 2011

2010 - Fifty Great Releases, 15 - 11

15. William Basinski - Vivian & Ondine

William Basinski is one of the most adept composers to work with a writing process that in less skillful hands leads only to tedium: the tape loop piece. His best known works, the Disintegration Loops, explore the phenomenon of slow decay, as elegant orchestral passages on antiquated magnetic tape repeat over and over, each time losing sonic data as bits of the tape flake off. This newest work, Vivian & Ondine, is at the same time more subtle and more directly engaging than those prior masterpieces, making it one of his very best recordings.

At low volume or on speakers that can't provide much detail, Vivian & Ondine plays out much like Basinski's El Camino Real (2007). A neo-Classical theme of magisterial, sublime beauty is repeated again and again. The loop is short, only a handful of seconds, but it possesses timelessness - as one might experience from the iteration of a mantra, hearing the loop indefinitely causes moments just prior to or beyond the present one to take on an identical quality. Unlike El Camino Real, which is beautiful in a coldly austere and uninhabitable sense, the repeating theme of Vivian & Ondine is warmly reassuring and comfortable, like an infinite series of slow rolling waves in a tropical sea. If there really is anything to the healing power of music (which anecdotal evidence has suggested for centuries), this music has that to the fullest.

But beneath the surface of the aqueous main theme is a world of activity, as any pair of headphones will reveal when you listen to Vivian & Ondine in a very quiet room. Basinski compiled a collection of additional short loops, including gently percussive crackles and pops, delicate scrapes against guitar strings, siren-like chimes, and melodic and textural embellishments of the main theme. All the while the main theme repeats, Basinski adjusts which of these auxiliary loops is playing and how loudly (they are always kept low in the mix). Therefore Vivian & Ondine is much more than a simple tape loop composition, in fact having a generous live performance element; this recording was made live in one take in Basinski's studio in Los Angeles. Monumentally beautiful and full of details to discover for many, many listens.

14. Taylor Deupree - Shoals

I've had relatively less time to digest this album than the other ones this high on my list, but I could tell from the first 30 seconds of my first listen to it that it's special. Taylor Deupree - ambient artist, photographer, software designer and head of the consistently great label 12k Records - was given a pretty much ideal situation to make this album. He was afforded the full resources of the University of York Music Research Center, which presumably means he was allowed to use top equipment to make anything at all he could reasonably envision. When presented with such a multiplicity of options, an artist is often wise to set up some strict creative limitations to work within, which is what Deupree did: all of the sounds comprising Shoals are digitally enhanced recordings of Balinese and Javanese gamelan instruments.

With this stringent compositional decision in place, it's wondrous how much the album sounds like somebody placed a very tiny microphone in a natural setting, admist dripping branches, chattering insects, snapping twigs, distant bird cries, clattering rocks and rotting tree trunks. The lovely cover photograph and titles such as "Shoals", "Rusted Oak", and "Falls Touching Grasses" enforce this overall naturalistic aesthetic, and like habitats, the songs evolve, slowly, continuously, and organically. However, now and again sounds intrude that are clearly electronic and processed (especially on the more ambiguously titled "A Fading Found"), thwarting any attempt to categorize this as one of those sounds-of-nature ambient albums. In reality Shoals is a complex electroacoustic work, beautifully juggling sounds of polar opposite qualities - wood/metal, transient/stable, warm/cool, natural/fabricated - and contemplating the sole source of all those sounds richly deepens the experience.

In terms of Brian Eno's criteria for effective ambient music (that it should be as ignorable as it is engaging), Shoals strikes an almost perfect middle ground, but more often than not ends up being too engaging to ignore (certainly not a strike against it). Although there are not really any discernible melodies or harmonic progressions to hold on to, its diverse array of lush timbres and textures makes Shoals one compelling listen.

13. Chubby Wolf - Ornitheology

Here we go - another lengthy excursion into finely honed yet totally unabashed beauty. Chubby Wolf was the moniker of the late Danielle Baquet-Long for her solo releases, and this long two-sided cassette was only her third such work to see the light of day, after L'Histoire and the EP Meandering Pupa. I recommend all of my readers check out this detailed, heartfelt and difficult to follow up review over at 5 Against 4, which blog declared Ornitheology to be the best album of 2010. It's a big claim that I have no intention of trying to refute, as the album is indubitably flawless. Why it only landed at #13 on my list, well, quite a lot of music came out last year that to my ears is in a neighborhood of as 'good as it gets'; I've had some real hair splitting to do in numbering these Best 15, and basically I regard them all as essential.

Back to the actual reviewing. The two album-long tracks here are "On Burnt, Gauzed Wings" and "Phantasmagoria Of Nothingness (Prey To Our Emotions)". These are accompanied by the following poem, written by Danielle and printed in the cassette case insert: "You glue wings to / my ideas about love; / Though, / There is something in / the way they take flight, / spin and begird, / returning again / in the manner of flocks / that suggests / they sprouted manifestly." Combined with the dedication "To my Will", the message couldn't be more clear: this music is a direct distillation of love to sound waves. If it all sounds a little sentimental, it should. This is Romanticism with a capital R at its very finest, stripping away the intellect, the ego, and leaving only feeling. That pure feeling is presented with a raw intensity that has been matched only on albums by Celer (I'm thinking especially of Engaged Touches, Mane Blooms and I Love You So Much I Can't Even Title This).

Superficially speaking Ornitheology operates in the classic long-form Celer style, and many of the remarks I made about their albums Cursory Asperses and In Escaping Lakes, particularly about their use of through-composition and very slow change, apply equally well to this album. There are notable differences, however. Both tracks on Ornitheology use fairly restricted palettes, so they really sound like single long pieces, rather than ten or more short pieces with inaudible boundaries. The variations they undergo are intensional rather than extensional - different arrangements of consonance, dissonance, and dynamics are ceaselessly juxtaposed without conventional development or a sense of direction. The effect is somewhat like wandering through a very small and confining labyrinth in which the walls shift their configuration, constantly giving you slightly different views of the same central abstract object, namely, unwavering devotion. Immersing oneself in this feeling for fully 80 minutes is challenging, bracing, and ultimately affirming as it requires mustering quite a bit of devotion in itself.

It's a happy fact indeed that most Chubby Wolf albums have yet to be released, as we almost surely have additional gems to look forward to. Ornitheology is the brightest thus far.

12. Brother Raven - Diving into the Pineapple Portal

It's a bit difficult for me to explain why I like this short, quirkily-titled album quite so much, but a starting point is that my first listen to the opening track gave me a similar feeling as when I first heard the original recording of Terry Riley's "A Rainbow In Curved Air". What these pieces have in common includes a reliance on overlapping textures of short synth pitches, energetically and buoyantly repeating, with certain melodic lines using different echo periods, so that a thick, polyrhythmic construction results. Both of these pieces also work within a certain dreamy, laid back and positive vibe I associate with the 70s and psychedelics. Influences on Brother Raven, a synth-based duo from Seattle, WA, seem to include Kraut rock and/or so-called "kosmische" groups of the late 60s to 70s, more modern dream pop bands, and to somewhat less of an extent, contemporary electronica/glitch.

For all their experimenting with strange noises, the accessible melodic element to their music is always foremost, and there is also a strong rhythmic component to all of the tracks. "Diving Into The Pineapple Portal", the opening, longest and best track, settles into a joyful groove based on quintuple-time while duplets and triplets bubble about and compete for your attention. "Speaking Whale From My Sea Canoe" emphasizes sustained drone tones, appropriately enough, but it also features a background ostinato in a quick seven-time. Odd metric divisions like this are unusual for this kind of music, effectively anchoring the somewhat noodly melodies without giving the pieces a rhythmically boxed in and constrained feel. The closer "Happy Astronaut" utilizes this component best - I just can't count out how that track works for the life of me, yet it clearly has 'bars' and could be given a definite (if completely artificial) time signature. Brother Raven are doing very fresh things on various technical levels, but most of all their sound exudes playfulness, naiveté and a lack of pretense. Diving Into The Pineapple Portal is the album on my list which most sounds like it was created by benevolent aliens.

11. Chihei Hatakeyama - A Long Journey

This album snuck up on me and blew me away. Chihei Hatakeyama is a prolific musician with about ten albums out since 2006, most of which appeared in the last two years. He is a true musical Impressionist, with highly visually descriptive titles such as "The Moon Reflecting on the Surface of the Ocean" bestowed upon nearly every track he records. A Long Journey probably refers to Chihei's own artistic path, which always seems concerned with recreating lost places, moments or feelings. The album is fairly brief at 34 minutes and passes by as a series of ten vignettes, all nostalgic in character and seamlessly blending recognizable instrumentation (guitar, piano, bell tones) with abstract drone material derived from thereof with a laptop. The majority of the tracks feature direct melodies and chord changes to follow, and very earnest ones at that, giving them the feeling of something closer to 'songs' than 'ambient compositions' (though the distinction is only one of vague connotation). Many though not all of the tracks also feature anecdotal field recordings, always to illustrate, as on "Within New Trees" which includes families chatting in Japanese, leaves in the wind, gentle wooden knocks, and a squeaking swing, among other events. The most impressive of the field recording heavy tracks is "The Distant Sound of a Bustle", which effectively summarizes in four and a half minutes what Celer's Generic City is all about (not at all to say Generic City is any less valuable), and which finally forced me to find myself a new direction/format to work in for my own music, because this guy is just too good at this stuff. Hats off! If the late Luc Ferrari's then-unprecedented Presque Rien ou le lever du Jour au Bord de la Mer was musical photography, Chihei Hatakeyama is a master musical videographer.* The closing track "The Dance of The Sea" features field recordings alone, of light rain on the ocean, a boom of thunder, heavier rain, a chiming bell calling in children at play, more thunder, and a sudden crescendo of excited bugs. This ending is somewhat abrupt, though it does successfully get across a sense that ordinary, day to day events often regarded as mundane are in fact precious and beautiful from another angle, and that these qualities are encoded in their associated sounds. Although I haven't yet heard the definitive Chihei Hatakeyama album, A Long Journey stands out in maturity and variety, and has some of his individually strongest tracks to date.

*I don't seriously intend to compare the quality of these two great artists with this metaphor.

Top 10 coming who knows when!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2010 - Fifty Great Releases, 20 - 16

Sorry these are taking so long to get out. Part of the trouble is I keep checking out more albums from 2010, and a lot of them are really great so it's tempting to revise my Top 20. But all too often the excitement of hearing something new can lead to an initial overrating, so I'll resist temptation and stick with the list I formulated just before New Year's. The other problem is, it's gotten to the point where all of these releases are so great that I want to say a lot about each one, which is daunting, and in certain cases I'm not really even sure what to say. Settling on an ordering has also been extremely challenging. But onward we go...

20. Freddie Gibbs - Str8 Killa

Freddie Gibbs is a contender for the single most talented emcee on the rise today. He still hasn't released a proper debut studio album, but this nine-track EP, just shy of 40 minutes long, almost feels like one. Four elements come together to make Freddie Gibbs the most exciting young rapper: 1) he is technically a monster on the mic, effortlessly shifting his flow into any number of metric styles, sometimes at dizzying speed; 2) he only raps the truth; 3) the truth is that he hustled his way out of one of America's harshest ghettos, in Gary, Indiana, surrounded by poverty, violence and drugs; 4) he delivers his words over ace production. Str8 Killa is aptly titled - track after track kills. Overall the EP is an unapologetically heavy listen, with eight gut-punching descriptions of struggle, crime, abuse, death and most of all, force of will to survive in a harsh world, surrounding the center track "Personal OG", Str8 Killa's only respite to a kind of comfort, but still one tinged in darkness. Freddie Gibbs released this EP alongside a much longer mixtape titled Str8 Killa No Filla, ironically titled since it regretfully contains not just a little filler, mostly in the form of some weak guest performances and mediocre beats. But Str8 Killa is nothing but that. Don't miss this proper label debut of a rapper who will surely become known as one of the most vital alive.

19. Daedelus - Righteous Fists of Harmony

In my estimation, this 26 minute EP is the best material Daedelus has released since the full length Daedelus Denies the Day's Demise in 2006. It is also his first release for Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label, and arguably his most explorative and creative work to date. Behind the lush music is a complex unifying concept, the Boxer Rebellion of China at the turn of the 20th century. Now, I love a good concept album, but unfortunately what could have been a very interesting story is presented here in rather vague terms. In other words, this album earned this position on my list for its strictly musical merits. Nothing about this sounds Chinese or antiquated; other than from its name, song titles and certain lyrics, you would never guess this EP is about what Daedelus says it's about. But that's alright; Righteous Fists of Harmony features heart-swellingly lovely songs. The most accessible is "Order of the Golden Dawn", featuring Daedelus' wife Laura Darlington on vocals. The tune sounds like a lost bossa nova classic worthy of the great Nara Leão. Why we get bossa nova in the middle of a trip to rebellious China ca. 1900, I do not know, but it sure is a wonderful track. Other standouts are the short instrumental "Tidal Waves Uprising" with its multitude of acoustic guitar loops building up and threatening to spill over; the mysterious and nostalgic "The Open Hand Avows" with high lilting synth melodies and hypnotic arpeggios; "Succumbing To" with gorgeously sighed vocals from Kid A and fully acoustic instrumentation including strings and a bass clarinet; and the dreamy closing track "Fin de siècle" which sounds like it could have been composed by Maurice Ravel, a complement of the highest order. A couple other tracks are more aggressive and evoke the violence of the Boxer Rebellion; the most surprising of these is "The Finishing of a Thing", the early climax of the EP and the most programmatic (as in illustrative) track, in which a hesitant fanfare is overwhelmed by an avalanche of war drums and noise. The following three mellow tracks are denouement after that explosion of sound, and it's an interesting puzzle to imagine what they all have to do with the overarching concept. If the overall relation of the Boxer Rebellion to this music is a little hazy, at least that allows for a variety of possible interpretations for the listener. Daedelus deserves much applause for this artful release that owes as much to acoustic as electronic music.

18. Onra - Long Distance

Like the currently in theaters "True Grit" by Joel and Ethan Coen, Onra's Long Distance is a lovingly-made genre work. The French beatmaker aimed to put a fresh spin on funk, boogie, and R&B from the 80s and 90s, revitalizing these styles with the luxurious production of contemporary hip hop. The result was a smashing success, and one of my top summer jams of 2010. The dominant mood throughout is blissful nostalgia, all neon glo-lights, disco balls and slap bass. If that makes it seem like the album rides on its oldschool appeal, that isn't really the case; the songs are deep and detailed enough to warrant many listens. Not a fully instrumental affair, a lot of strength is lent to Long Distance from several vocals performances spread across the album, like the irresistibly catchy "High Hopes" featuring Reggie B., and "The One" featuring T3 of Slum Village. As great as the few vocal-heavy tracks are, three consecutive instrumental tracks around the middle of the album got stuck in my head for the longest: "Send Me Your Love", a deeply beautiful shimmering funk ballad; "We Out Buddy", an uber-groovin synth romp that somehow makes me think about Ghostbusters; and "Moving", a perfectly hazy throwback to G-Funk with some downright dangerous bass. My only complaint is that Long Distance is a bit long for what it is; a few lesser tracks could have been cut from the second half without any damage done to the album. Quibble aside, Onra has certainly proved himself a capable and versatile musician - who could have predicted the switch to this style after his great chronicle of Chinese and Vietnamese pop & hip hop, Chinoiseries?

17. A.G. - Everything's Berri

"Song for song, hook for hook, verse for verse / Line for line, or word for word, or letter for letter / I'm A.G.!" Wordsmithing on that level or better pervades Everything's Berri, my favorite rap album of 2010. A.G. or André the Giant has been active for two decades now, seizing credibility early on as a member of the legendary Diggin' In The Crates crew. "Twenty years in, so my pen is worth more than your necklace." A.G.'s attitude on Everything's Berri is generally laid back and cool but not comfortable. Many of the tracks sound mellow, even pretty, but A.G. isn't just kicking back on his laurels: "Put our life where our mouth is (Money ain't enough) / Death before dishonor (You die if you bluff)." Plenty of grit and dark self-reflection comes into the picture throughout the album, like on the fierce "Destroy Rebuild Repeat": "To reach my level you have to fall / Then rebuild, and repeat / Times that times four / Lose your peeps, lose your whore, lose your freedom, lose it all / Then get it back / And after that if you didn't crack / Then we'll consider that. / To be here is a miracle / But it's a phenomenon to be this lyrical / Now sit with that." Production-wise the album mostly favors stripped down and jazzy instrumentation, with piano, Rhodes, horns, and exceptionally good flute work. The best tracks sound like classic 90s joints, full of soul, and only one of them sticks out in a weird way, namely "No She Didn't", the closest the album comes to being club-friendly. I can easily imagine Akon doing something over the beat to "No She Didn't" - not a good thing. A.G.'s rapping on this sketchy track is pretty goofy as well, but fortunately it is immediately countered by the dope "Fuck The Club". The rest of the album is remarkably consistent, even if a few of the tracks represent more mainstream themes like pretty girls and/or chilling out; the production and lyrical craft is solidly creative 'til the very end. On the haunting closer "YMI Still Here", A.G. questions how he has outlived so many of his peers and friends, mourning the loss of 2Pac, Biggie, Big L and a host of others. We are lucky to still have this veteran around - André the Giant is an authentic force for the old school yet one of the freshest emcees active today.

16. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part II: Return Of The Ankh

I'm a little embarrassed to admit Return Of The Ankh was the first album I heard by Erykah Badu. Given how high profile the singer is, I'm sure I've been hearing her songs on the radio for years, but I somehow never realized Badu is much more than a radio-single type of artist, that in fact she's arguably the most important contemporary soul singer. Given what a major success this album was, I doubt I will be able to say anything about it that hasn't been already said a hundred other places. So let me simply say that it's an outstanding assortment of R&B/soul/hip-hop/funk without a single dud, with production from the likes of 9th Wonder, Madlib, and J Dilla, among others, and with Badu's trademark jazzy improvised vocal flourishes. The album doesn't feel particularly weighty in concept or message, but it can be put on at any given track and instantly appreciated. From start to finish Return Of The Ankh never wavers from a position perfectly in between sophistication and direct enjoyability.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 - Fifty Great Releases, 30 - 21

30. Big K.R.I.T. - K.R.I.T. Wuz Here

Bit K.R.I.T. (King Remembered In Time) released this full studio album as a free digital download last June and firmly established himself as one of the most exciting voices of the South. His intelligence and hunger to succeed are delivered through the classic tradition of Underground Kingz, with honest lyrics backed by highly musical production (Big K.R.I.T.'s own) that includes funky organs, mellow Rhodes, wah guitars, cold piano runs and a lot more. Some of the cuts are deliciously 90s, like the super faded and smooth "Moon & Stars" featuring the still-relevant veteran Devin The Dude. Big K.R.I.T. has it all and I can't wait until I'm hearing new tracks of his dominating the rap charts. One can hope.

29. Dirty Projectors and Bjork - Mount Wittenberg Orca

New jaw-dropping material from one of the most unique and important songwriters active today, Dave Longstreth. I revere this guy's ability to combine direct pop sensibility with really smart composerly ideas that draw from, for example, Medieval polyphony (hocketing). I feel like, if he wanted to, Longstreth could easily compose amazing works for the full modern orchestra. Instead, we get advanced works for the modern "indie band" format that sound like no other music in existence. This stuff is so good it's worthy of scholarly attention. The fact that Bjork is on this EP is somewhat incidental unless you happen to be extremely fond of her voice - it feels fully like the aesthetic product of Dirty Projectors. Compositionally as exciting as Bitte Orca, this might have made my Top 10 if it was longer.

28. Ras G & Samiyam - LA Series #3

I can't get enough of this stuff. You've got six songs on this little split 10", three each by Ras G (& The Afrikan Space Program) and Samiyam. If you're not hip, these guys are two of the best Brainfeeder affiliates after Godhead Flying Lotus Himself. Ras G is something like the reincarnation of Sun Ra as a hip hop producer, using his dirty GarageBand concoctions to communicate with interstellar beings and blow out venue sound-systems. Samiyam brings the next movement in gritty, nostalgic hip hop with generous use of Nintendo sounds. The two of them make for a dynamic duo on this short, blunt-fueled space romp. Put your car's bass on +3 - Los Angeles bangs.

27. Polar Bear - Peepers

Polar Bear play an eccentric blend of jazz, funk and punk that is generally really catchy, though they aren't afraid to explore more dissonant and aggressive territory. The two tenor saxes that comprise the main melodic element of the band sometimes work with extended techniques that recall the great Eric Dolphy's voicelike squawks and howls. Interesting use of electronic manipulation also comes into play at times, resulting in a sound akin to The Contortions sent fifty years into the future, but without those inimitably pissed-off James Chance vocals. A great followup to their self-titled debut, Peepers is full of crafty songwriting and gutsy solos.

26. The Roots - How I Got Over

Now almost 20 years in the rap game, The Roots prove with How I Got Over that they are still capable of dropping releases as hungry, observant, classy, and downright essential as Phrenology, Things Fall Apart and Illadelph Halflife. This band probably has as good a ratio of artistic credibility to mainstream acceptance as it's possible to get in the hip hop world nowadays. They have honed a widely appealing sound, increasingly including cross-over elements from rock and roll and pop music, without ever compromising their message of elevating the mind or straying from the core values of hip hop. Black Thought is one of the best emcees, period. ?uestlove is a top-shelf drummer and producer, and the fact he got Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle of Dirty Projectors fame for the opening track "A Piece of Light" should clue you in to how cool How I Got Over is. In a genre where live "bands" don't properly exist (or are extremely rare), The Roots are as vital as they come.

25. Supersilent - 11

Supersilent are one of my favorite groups of all, so I was really happy when 2010 brought not one but two excellent full albums by them. For the uninitiated: Supersilent free-improvise absolutely everything they play, and maintain an air of mystery by just numbering everything they release. I have to admit, when it was announced that Supersilent's drummer Jarle Vespestad was leaving, I had fears for the future of the group, even though it's undeniable that some of their most moving recordings don't feature the drummer. In truth, Supersilent are doing fine without a drummer, as 10 shows, but this vinyl-only LP is a welcome gift for anyone who misses the classic Supersilent sound. Its contents stem from the same sessions that gave us 8, and Vespestad's drumming appears in top form. In my opinion, Supersilent have only released one miss, the highly unusual (even for them) 9, an album of explorations on three Hammond organs. Besides that anomaly, the band has been mining gems for over a decade now, and moments of 11 are as breathtaking and difficult to accept as improvised as anything they have ever recorded.

24. Hiroki Sasajima - Nille

I can't say this about many albums: Nille scared me on the first listen. It possesses a genuinely haunted quality that downright spooked me when I gave it the proper, immersion-style listening test: with headphones, lying down in the dark, full attention. There may be no other way to really appreciate this work, which is extremely minimal in terms of traditional musical content. Nille operates mostly with field recordings, opening with an aural depiction of a vaguely nautical location marked by a subtle and somehow ineffably cruel background reverberation. Tension builds through unidentified wooden thumps and scrapes, and over several minutes the strange resonance thickens to something more miasmatic, as delicate sounds like clinking crystal chains join the mix. Later on, the sound of rustling, crumpling paper builds into an atmosphere of anxiety before giving way to primitive electronic hums. As eerily foreboding and bracingly austere as this music is, there is also something entrancingly beautiful about it; Nille ultimately resides in an emotional no-man's land for the brave and patient.

23. Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid

A fantastically ambitious debut album, The ArchAndroid somehow combines hip hop, R&B, soul, rock, funk, rap, pop, electronica, and at times even classical orchestration without any serious missteps. It doesn't even sound overly ambitious, sprawling, or unfocused - just amazingly fresh, confident and exciting. Janelle Monáe has a very strong and individual voice, overlooks her own production, and has cooked up some kind of sci-fi plot behind all of this in which the Android is a mediator between the majority and minority, like Neo in the Matrix, or something. (Her words). Pop brilliance that I bet Michael Jackson, rest his soul, would have gotten behind.

22. Various Artists - Pomegranates: Persian Pop, Funk, Folk & Psych of the 60's & 70's

The post-Beatles psychedelic movement reached a lot further than a lot of people may realize. Yeah, there's all that wonderful Brazilian psych a la Os Mutantes, Os Brazoes, Tom Ze and etc. And you've got your Amon Duuls and Ash Ra Tempels and other Kraut rockers. But who knew Iran had a thriving hippie scene in the 70s?? This compilation was one of the most eye-opening records I heard in 2010. As a "stupid American", to borrow a stereotype popular around the world, I didn't commonly think about Middle Easterners going out and shaking their asses to groovin James Brown-esque jams. But it seems that, as a form of rebellion against the Shah's autocratic rule of the 70s, that's exactly what some people did, at least until such practices were deemed sinful by traditionalists and fanatics after the Revolution of '79. "One form of tyranny swapped for another", as the liner notes to this absolute jewel of a compilation puts it. Broaden your cultural awareness and collection of deep dance cuts with this trove of forgotten treasures.

21. Celer and Yui Onodera - Generic City

This review will be necessarily personal. If my past review of their albums Cursory Asperses and In Escaping Lakes is any indication, I am quite taken by the diverse ambient oeuvre of Celer. Heck, I even dedicated my debut album as an ambient recording artist to them. I thought I had worked out a pretty clever game plan with my album, combining totally unprocessed, "anecdotal" field recordings of real environments, with pensive, atmospheric drones and instrumental textures. I thought I was giving just the right amount of a nod to Celer's legacy (the drones), while bringing my own element to the game (the field recordings). Turns out, I'm not at all the first person to think of combining these two basic elements; in fact, while I was toiling on my album, Celer and Yui Onodera had already done it, and done it extremely well. I couldn't have known that, as Generic City, to my knowledge the first Celer album to use anecdotal field recordings in any overt way, would not be released for some five months after my album. It is quite a revelation hearing them work in this format; I am humbled at the pristine quality of their recordings, how finely the episodes of sound transition, and as always, how lovely and full of life the drones are. Several years of work went into the creation of this album, and you can hear it. For all of this praise, there is a "but" I have to mention at this point - Celer were at their best working alone and with abstract sonic material. As engaging as Generic City is for the most part, there are times when the musical arrangements and field recordings seem to be incongruous, one's presence distracting from the mood or character of the other. When this happens, the listener is stirred out of the otherwise perfect sense of place the music establishes, suddenly remembering that these sounds are not natural but have a hidden contrived organization. Fortunately, this doesn't happen too many times, and the album's more effective parts paint shockingly vivid urban scenes that instill complex emotions. Quite possibly the least characteristic album Celer ever had a hand in, and therefore one of their most intriguing, Generic City resides among the stronger of the band's many releases from 2010.

To be continued!