Year in Review: Avant-Garde

In the interest of not having a bunch of overlap between this article and those few avant-garde/noise releases that may have made it onto our year end staff list, I will not be covering certain things here that you will most definitely see on our Best Albums of 2009 feature. That still leaves a ton of great stuff and if you’re looking for some really “out there” things to keep your mind occupied while you wait for 2010 to arrive then just snuggle up to any of the albums below. These are not listed in any particular order and I give my personal guarantee of greatness to them all for whatever that’s worth to you…(insert canned laughter here).

john wiese

John Wiese – Circle Snare [No Fun Productions]

A friend of mine described Wiese as “almost the American Merzbow” and I’d be hard pressed to disagree but for the vastness of Masami Akita’s catalog in comparison to that of Wiese. However, what Wiese lacks in sheer numbers he makes up for with quality control, which is something Merzbow apparently knows nothing about. Following from his first “proper” full-length, the critically adored Soft Punk, Circle Snare is four compositions that again showcase the artist at his most powerful and complex. Carefully constructed using Max MSP software with live recordings and contact mic noise, Circle Snare can be a challenging listen for the uninitiated. Unlike the work of groups such as Wolf Eyes, Lightning Bolt, or Hair Police – who all still adhere to some kind of structure that resembles song form – Wiese lays waste to everything using only ultra-abrasive textures that grate against the ear like tiny needles inserted directly into the eardrum. Pay close attention and you will be rewarded.

Broadcast & The Focus Group – Investigate Witch Cults of the Layout 1Radio Age [Warp]

Some of you might gawk when you see the name Broadcast in a feature about avant-garde music. The band’s output to date has been a very keen take on Phil Spector style pop over which singer Trish Keenan’s gorgeous voice takes full precedent. This year, the group teamed up with The Focus Group’s Julian House. House has designed all of Broadcast’s album covers to date and is involved with the Ghost Box label – home to The Advisory Circle and Belbury Poly. Many of the Ghost Box releases favor a kind of library music on drugs atmosphere that would fall into the avant-garde category a little easier than that of Broadcast. On Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, Broadcast and House team up to create an album with a handful of pop “moments” subsumed within the kind of warbly soundscapes which The Focus Group is known to have traversed in the past. The end result is that of pop music that barely hangs to any form or structure by the slightest thread and is all the more beautiful for it.

wolf eyesWolf Eyes – Always Wrong [Hospital Productions]

If you’ve followed Wolf Eyes long enough you always knew that at some point Sub Pop would no longer have any interest in releasing the band’s work. Even though Burned Mind remains a high water mark in the ever expanding Wolf Eyes catalog, it would be impossible to say that the progression from its short blurts of noise to the even more abstract and psychedelic sounds on Always Wrong is a step backward. Taking a cue from Wolf Eyes member Mike Connelly’s other group, Hair Police, and their triumphant Certainty of Swarms album from 2008, Always Wrong finds these guys in acid eating territory. The horrific bile spewing forth from dank sewers on previous album Human Animal has been replaced with a terrifying reaction to taking the wrong colored tab. Down the rabbit hole and into an abyss of clanking chains and spidery wisps of white noise.

Ben Frost – By The Throat [Bedroom Community]ben frost

If one were to go by the cover art to Ben Frost’s latest album, it would seem that a statement of intent is being issued to the listener – “this album will tear you apart.” A figure is depicted surrounded by wolves in the midst of some kind of feeding frenzy. Inside, digital machinery butts heads with string arrangements by acclaimed composer Nico Muhly. Frost has sampled the sounds of wolves howling to throw you off his trail. He leaves breadcrumbs indicating the path he took through the snowstorm. A few acoustic guitars avail themselves here and again but the the majority of the album feels like gritting teeth as you await some kind of unknown yet imminent danger. By The Throat is a watershed moment where modern classical shows up to a mixer with power electronics.

Merzbow - 13_Japanese_Birds_Vol._4_KarasuMerzbow – 13 Japanese Birds (series) [Important]

Thirteen albums in one year is nothing for a man whose catalog has got to be approaching several hundred releases at this point. Truthfully these weren’t the only Merzbow albums released this year, let’s not forget the excellent Camouflage and Somei. This series explores two of Mr. Akita’s favorite things, birds and drumming. All of these albums contain percussion from the man himself and some kind of image depicting a favorite bird or pet on their sleeve. Not only that, but Merzbow has been at the top of his game lately. While these can’t compete with classics like Rainbow Electronics 2 or Pulse Demon in my mind, don’t let that keep you from enjoying every delicious minute. There are still a few volumes left to go before the series is complete so get in on the action while you can.

Hecker – Acid In The Style of David Tudor [Editions Mego]eMEGO094_Cover_21FEB_RZ.indd

Not to be confused with the always excellent Tim Hecker whose An Imaginary Country also came out this year, Florian Hecker’s work has always been a little more abrasive. On his latest album for Editions Mego, Hecker has removed any trace of the dance elements normally found in acid house. Leaving only the bizarre squelching, pearls of digital feedback, and undercurrents of bass that would normally lace an acid house track. Everything here is panned and pitched and filtered to the point of being extremely atonal. The pieces come off as severely minimal yet just as severely abrasive. High pitched tones could easily destroy your ears but I’d be wary of the rumbling lower register as well. Unlike the dance music from which it is supposedly derived, Acid In The Style of David Tudor is best played alone, where one can pay close attention to the subtle details without your friend asking you to  please turn this off.

black to commBlack To Comm – Alphabet 1968 [Type]

Marc Richter’s latest album under the Black To Comm moniker is also his best. It combines elements of house music, drone, noise, and hauntology to create the kind of modern masterpiece that could only be achieved through the distillation of techniques and categories of musicians past. Whether he’s conjuring up visions of Wolfgang Voigt’s turn of the millenium techno on “Forst” or using field recordings to evoke a kind of rural psychedelia on “Traum Gmgh,” Richter manages to craft the kind of excellent album that bears endless repeat listening.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Adequacy.net/a> provides some noisy highlights of 2009. In the interest of not having a bunch of overlap between this article and those few avant-garde/noise releases that may have made it onto our year end staff list, I will not be covering certain things here that you will most definitely see on our Best Albums of 2009 feature. That still leaves a ton of great stuff and if you’re looking for some really “out there” things to keep your mind occupied while you wait for 2010 to arrive then just snuggle up to any of the albums below. These are not listed in any particular order and I give my personal guarantee of greatness to them all for whatever that’s worth to you…(insert canned laughter here). […]