Number 40 in the Wire Magazine (@thewiremagazine) Top 50 Releases of 2018.
I’ve heard Grouper over the years, and always had the idea that I like them, or her, but I can’t say I’ve ever really sat down and listened to an album.
Grid of Points is very short, 15 or 20 minutes. (Shortness is seemingly a common thing among Wire Magazine’s picks this year. A lot of EPs.)
Initially, I felt like it was too short and wondered why it couldn’t be longer. It is kind of drone-ey and atmospheric. A drone-ey 4 minute some can easily become a drone-ey 15 minute song.
Then I listened back to a couple of Grouper’s other records, and realized that Grid of Points is less sonically diverse than some of her other work, so it probably made sense to keep it short, before it wore out its welcome.
As near as I can tell, the primary new factor on Grid of Points is that she makes extensive use of multi-tracked harmonizing vocals for the first time.
Other than that, it is pretty much the usual reverb drenched atmospheric mood pieces with spare instrumentation that you would expect from a Grouper album.
If you like that sort of thing, you’ll love it. If you hate reverb drenched vocals, it may not be your bag of cats.
Number 39 in the Wire Magazine (@thewiremagazine) Top 50 Releases of 2018.
I liked Jlin’s last album, Black Origami, so much, that, well, pretty much anything afterwards is bound to be something of a let down, in one way or another.
However, instead of releasing a next album, proper, she released this album, “…the score for her collaboration with renowned British choreographer Wayne McGregor…”
It is often atmospheric, relies more on synthesizers and melodic phrasing, than pure rhythm. But the rhythmic tracks, when they happen, feel more stripped down and less complex than those on Black Origami. On the edge of something that would pass for commercial electronic dance music (not that I am an expert about that!).
It’s an interesting document, but I don’t feel like it really stands on its own as an “album”. I wish I’d seen the dance piece that it accompanied!
Number 38 in the Wire Magazine (@thewiremagazine) Top 50 Releases of 2018.
There are things I like about Room 25 and things I don’t.
The music and beats are Jazz/Soul/Gospel inspired, which is interesting for a rap album. Noname has an interesting speak-sing delivery. Her poetry is clever and enjoyable.
However, the music is on the AOR side of Jazz, Soul, and Gospel, just a tad too pleasant for my tastes.
The combination of her quiet speak-song delivery and a bit of muddle in the Mids makes it a not very good album to listen to while driving. You just can’t hear her very well over the road or if you are listening to it from something like the speakers on your phone.
Coincidentally, I was reading a pretty cool interview with Dennis Bovell in Wire Magazine (Issue 416, if you want to track it down,) where he talked about aspects of mixing instruments so that each one has it’s own aural space in the mix of a tune.
They didn’t do that and the mix suffers a bit unless you are listening on headphones or in a quiet room.
The Return by Kamaal Williams; Bandcamp Page: The Return
Number 35 in the Wire Magazine (@thewiremagazine) Top 50 Releases of 2018.
The Return is sort of like Herbie Hancock’s 1973 band from The Head Hunters album were practicing. They decided to put down their instruments and take a break.
They retired to a nearby closet to smoke a joint.
It turned out that closet was a TARDIS.
During the course of several mind bending intergalactic and interdimensional adventures, on a remote planet, with a particularly smoking native population, the horn players decided to stay, and pass on their legacy of love and woodwinds.
When the remaining players finally re-opened that door again into their practice space, they discovered it was 2019.
They picked up their instruments and started playing again.
Number 34 in the Wire Magazine (@thewiremagazine) Top 50 Releases of 2018.
I had no real idea what to expect when I put this album on. Initially, from the name, I had a vague idea it might be some sort of South American Prog Rock, but then the song names made me think it might be Greek Prog Rock.
It turns out it is a Glaswegian vocalist, Maria Rossi, who originally is from Finland.
The music is primarily multi-tracked vocal harmonies with various loops and field recordings, frequently percussive, playing beneath them. Beyond the rich textures of the vocals, the music is fairly spare. Most of the vocal melodies are based from the classical/folk vein and they are sung in several languages, even one in English.
Number 33 in the Wire Magazine (@thewiremagazine) Top 50 Releases of 2018.
Raw Silk Uncut Wood starts with what sounds like Church Organ, but with some odd whistling floating above, and, eventually, the lower organ tones step down the ladder beyond what is possible for organs to play and into the range of electronic dance music.
The middle tunes, especially “Mercury” and “The Sick Mind”, are interesting and varied in their use of acoustic instruments and electronic treatments.
While I admire the arc of the album, starting in church-ey peace, losing it for a bit, and ending in major chord progressions, the last tune, is maybe a tad too Vangelis-ey and anthemic, as in Chariots of Fire, and leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Still overall, an enjoyable journey.
Number 32 in the Wire Magazine (@thewiremagazine) Top 50 Releases of 2018.
There was an interview with frequent collaborators Eiko Ishibashi & Jim O’Rourke in the December, 2018 issue of The Wire Magazine. In it they discussed their reasons for moving their living spaces and recording studios to a remote village in Japan. Ishibashi’s new album was recorded there, inspired by her father’s time in Japan’s Puppet State, Manchukuo, Manchuria, China.
While many of the songs are instrumental, others are sung in Mandarin.
It is a very atmospheric album, with unusual elements of sound drifting in and out from time to time. It is vaguely proggy, vaguely jazzy; indistinct in a hazy, yet compelling, way.
It does remind me, at times, of the records O’Rourke worked on with Wilco, specifically “A Ghost is Born”. Another reference point for me is, somehow, the band Slapp Happy, a brief confluence of band members from the band Faust and members of the band Henry Cow.