The future is now.

Ah, christ, another year done, over and out, a fart in the wind. This next year is shaping up to be less money and more debt, less Eagle Rare and more Benchmark No. 8… Drowning in a deluge of Miller Highlife. But things are looking up, really. I certainly can’t complain. Winter is here, and I’m hunkering down. My bicycle got a flat tire two days ago, and now I have an excuse to be a lazy asshole for a few more months, because there‘s no goddamn way I‘m getting my shit together enough to patch that thing up anytime soon. Ah well… So 2010? I have a mass of unread books sitting across the room, just waiting to come crashing down on me in an unwary moment, suffocated under Gass, Barth, Moravia and Faulkner. I could go worse, I guess. Either way, I have cause for hope when it comes to music, at least when it comes to the nebulous regions I usually cover on Aphidhair. Maybe not the best year for the improv side of things, but there seems to be lights turning on rather than out. A twinkle in the upstairs attic, perhaps. One thing is for sure I hope to cover more material here, and take a little more time with it all. I do let things percolate…

I don’t really enjoy writing lists, but I‘m compiling a loose appraisal of some of the albums I dug this year. With that said, at least half of what I found really compelling last year is from the heavier realms and has little or nothing to do with improv or the experimental shit I usually cover here, and this is obviously far from comprehensive. But my 2010 was far from comprehensive in a variety of areas.

Hellfire, damnation, prohibitive screaming. Probably the best album I heard last year, or at least the one continuing to pay off the most, was Unearthly Trance’s fifth album, V, on Relapse. From the opening neutron star dirge of “unveiled,” V comes slogging into this mess; it’s heavy, battering stuff, as much indebted to heavy late 90’s hardcore like Rorschach (to these ears at least) as it is something more EEEVILLL. I wouldn’t call it black metal or sludge or blackened-sludge, or whatever else lazy reviewers slap it with for easy foot holds and filing options. It’s something a bit more inconclusive, something itchier and less easily defined than all that jargon. I hear elements of Black Sabbath (of course), black metal, hardcore, Amebix and that gutter comedy and absolute conviction of Harvey Milk. Suffice it to say, it’s a monstrous album, with a production that is tight and pulverizing, but not overly-compressed, suiting the material rather than blowing it out into a dynamic-less haze. The artwork by Glyn Smyth is suitably esoteric, symbolic and fascinating… just try to unravel it all. The lyrics part travelogue, part plunge into introspection, always speaking of discovery or apocalypse or dissolution. They’re sung or rather bellowed with absolute conviction by main man and guitarist Ryan Lipinsky (also of The Howling Wind and Pollution). Lipinsky leaves an indelible mark on nearly everything he‘s involved with, as much at home in a searing guitar hero solo as in riff bludgeoning molasses. But you can’t forget Darren Verni and Jay Newman, who hold down the low-end impressively, a firm layer of density, of degenerate matter. No doubt, it’s a large thing, V, complicated, rife, teeming with blunt detail, but unlike another interesting, epic (and possibly great) metal album that came out this year by France’s Deathspell Omega, Unearthly Trance is not interested in showing off an intricate but masturbatory brutalism. There are songs carved out of stone, hewn into a tremendous, terrible shapes. They don’t really move as much as you part around them. There’s a few anthems here as well, like “sleeping while the feast,” probably one of the best songs I’ve heard last year. V is a classic grower; with each listen more is heard, digested, added upon, creating a true album of interconnected events rather than a piecemeal downloadable compilation of hits, tracks and other easily forgotten ephemera. You don’t shuffle this one, or partake of it in parts. You sit, and let it unfold.

Profound Lore released an amazing amount of quality metal in 2010. Standouts for me were the great horror movie death hymns from Hooded Menace and their Never Cross the Dead Lp; the total Incantation worship of Vasaeleth’s Crypt Born and Tethered to ruin, which is by far the best “old school” death metal I’ve heard this last year and absolutely crushing; and the anthem soaked, fist in the air, Slough Feg s/t album, which was a much needed assuagement tO ears that found themselves often stuck in the fetid grotesqueries of kids in corpse paint. I haven’t head much of the Agalloch album that everyone’s on about, but frankly it sounds pretty fucking fey to me. We’ll see. Diabolic, as far from fey as possible, also released one of the superlative examples of Floridian death metal in a while with Excisions of Exorcisms, on the aptly named Deathgasm records — it’s all Morbid Angel-esque swamp gas death, as manic as a meth-head mosquito. Not to be outdone, Sweden’s Nominon also fashioned a pretty damn fine example of a classic Euro DM album with Monumentomb. The title says it all, I guess. And of course, there was, as previously mentioned, Deathspell Omega’s Paracletus, which is easily one of the most confusing and inchoate of their releases, which is saying a lot for a band as mysterious and convoluted as this one. I am letting Paracletus breathe for at least a year before I throw any judgment its way — undoubtedly a good thing.

The reissue of Inquisition’s Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult on Hell‘s Headbangers is something I have apparently slept on since 1997. They have a new one out now, as well, which I still haven‘t heard. But Into the Infernal… is quite possibly some of the best outsider art black metal I’ve heard since Beherit. It’s all magnificently weird– fucked up croak-sore vocals tunneling through a miasma of churning guitars, black as Beelzebub’s asshole — the stuff that makes things go bump in the night. Or something like that.

Shifting gears slightly, Kevin Drumm’s Necro Acoustic on Lasse Marhaug’s Pica Disc, is probably one of the most impressive and diverse things I’ve listened to all year. It’s a staggering document of new and previously released work, including reissues of the entire organ track from the Comedy album; the limited issue tape, Malaise, and a compilation of split tracks called Decrepit; if that wasn’t enough there’s the stunning new(ish) material, Lights Out and No Edit. It’s a lovingly crafted, dense and slightly suffocating document, and an amazing showcase of Drumm’s absolute mastery of granulated puncturing noise, layered drones, and pin prick minimalism. It really looks nice on the shelf, as well.

Michael Pisaro seemed to have an amazing year. Of what I had the pleasure of hearing, a Wave and Waves on Cathnor was my favorite; at this point it’s still hard for me to put into words what makes it so compelling to me. Maybe it’s the fascinating choices Greg Stuart applied to the score, which calls for one hundred percussion instruments. It could also be the seemingly simple concept and the resulting deliriously beautiful undulating sound forms, the waves of these overlaid multitudes. Or it’s all or none of those things. But like the best of things I heard in 2010, it’s a moving experience, and pays off more and more as you spend time with it. It does make me realize that there’s some amazing composition coming about right now… It doesn’t all have to be less than the sum of its parts, but in fact can completely exceed them.

As far as the improv side of things, Erstwhile Records released the beguiling and excellent Motubachii by Annette Krebs and Taku Unami, which I wrote about previously on Aphidhair. There was also the criminally underrated Bestiaries by Dominic Lash and Patrick Farmer, again on Cathnor and written about earlier, as well. Olivia Block and Kyle Bruckmann’s Teem was another good one on And/oar. Like many others John Tilbury’s interpretations of Terry Jennings and John Cage, Lost Daylight, on Another Timbre was a highlight. Cariol by John Butcher and Rhodri Davies seemed to defy some of the standard issue work out that can come from two guys so obviously good at their instruments– they seem to be working hard, pressing themselves somewhere else, breaking a sweat. Seijiro Murayama and Eric La Casa’s Supersedure on Hibari was a nice discovery, difficult, bruising and pretty goddamn invigorating for this side of things, reveling in the ugly as much as the quaint. Actually nope, never fucking quaint. More car horns already, jesus.

On the more rock and/or roll spectrum, I really loved Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s Rush To Relax on Goner Records. A perfect example of a great punk band that is both simultaneously bratty and achingly sincere, reminding of you a time when you weren‘t just some cynical prick. In those days of complete failure, just slap this one down on the turntable and bask in a few Aussies just as messed up as you are. Ty Segall‘s Melt was also up there, with endearing, simple songs about god knows what, but get a load of that conviction. Really, great garage rock played loud and undoubtedly written about better elsewhere. Woven Bones on Goner was also another high class affair full of grungy, dog eared tunes that all sound like the same one, but if that one song is pretty fucking great, who cares? And hey, I did really enjoy the new Beach House album, Teen Dream. Too bad John Hughes never got a chance to film a movie where Beach House could be the band at the prom. Where’s the spiked punch? Nostalgia for experiences I never had pretty much sums it all up for me.

Ultimately, I probably listened to more music made before 2010 then during, but hopefully that’ll change this next year. As far as older bands go, by far the best discovery of 2010 was The Chameleons UK. How the hell had I never heard them before? Yikes.

There were a lot of things I missed or have just recently acquired that I think I would probably add here later if I could. I’ve been listening a lot to Kevin Parks and Joe Foster’s Acts have Consequences, which I’ll probably end up writing about next. It’s definitely a lot to get one’s head around, but thank christ for that… I haven’t gotten to hear the Sugimoto/Pisaro on Erstwhile yet, nor any of the Wandelweiser work that seems to be making a couple small waves in the area of the electro acoustic improv and what have you. Hopefully, hopefully…

Thanks for reading and have a good ‘11. Wherever you may be.

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