A large portion of early 2011 was sound tracked by Belong by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. The song writing was similar (romantic, urgent) but the production cast the band in a different and flatteringly anthemic light. And since that release shares a name with the band Belong I’m reminded of Common Era, which blends atmospheric shoegaze-esque songs with drum machine beats to create a removed, dark result. Speaking of cold drum machines: Ltd Form by Silk Flowers continued the band’s progression of gothy, synth-pop-gone-wrong work. A favourite new find this year was Black Earth by Implodes which used guitar fuzz to conjure dreamy moods. A different type of dream was summoned by The Clearing, the latest album from Locrian, who evolve and triumph with every new release and have yet to put out anything that hasn’t transfixed my imagination with their greatness. Greatness is a word that springs to mind when I think of Iceage – definitely my favourite new band of 2011 – and whose debut New Brigade has been played to death in my home; take all the best bits of Husker Du, Wire, Black Flag, fuck it all up with melodies and aggression and you probably still won’t be anywhere close to how good their album is, at least in my mind. Going along a similarly aggressive thread, I was sad to discover the other day that BARGEPOLE, who I’ve already enthused about on this site, have split up – damn shame, because Born a Genius, Buried an Idiot has yet to be released and deserves a much bigger audience than it’s had chance to reach yet, and the band put in a couple of the most thrilling gigs I’ve seen this year. Another notable performance this year was provided by Loren Connors when he played at London’s Café Oto in May and brought tears to my eyes; a few months later he released Red Mars, his new studio album since 2004 and a fitting new addition to his sprawling but flawless discography. I saw two shows by Deerhunter by this year – one in Manchester and one in New York – and Bradford Cox continued his consistently moving output with the shimmering and beautiful Atlas Sound album, Parallax.
Beautiful is also a word I’d use when describing the work of Nick Hudson, whose two releases this year – My Antique Son and A Year Without Comfort both contain songs of loneliness and pain captured with disarming honesty and imagination – the work feels haunted; a unique, singular vision. Tyler, The Creator’s Goblin was probably the album in my list that was in receipt of the largest amount of media hype this year, although I feel it deserved the praise that was included in among the fuss. On the opposite side of the coin there are bands who seem to receive very little fuss, perhaps because of the fact that their work is so consistently good it’s almost taken as a given, but Mogwai (Hardcore Will Never Die but You Will) and The Mountain Goats (All Eternals Deck) both delivered wonderful new material (although in all honesty, for those who know me I probably make enough fuss about The Mountain Goats to last a year). It’s also easy to lose track of Jim O’Rourke’s discography – although I don’t as I’m kind of freak/geek with his stuff – and 2011 saw several more additions to the insanely long list of work with his name on it; for the sake of brevity, favourites this year: Jim O’Rourke & Christophe Heemann’s Plastic Palace People Vol. 1, and Shinjuku Growl by The Thing with Jim O’Rourke. Oh yeah and Old New # 5 which continued the majesty of its predecessors. Right, that’s enough JO’R for now. White Suns and their Waking in the Resevoir LP was one of the most cathartic and clattering albums this year. Sacred Bones has started to build a respectable profile over the last year and was home one of my most listened to records of the last few months Leave Home by The Men, who like the aforementioned White Suns create a desperate and vicious howl of a sound.
The Men are not to be confused with MEN, who are also from New York, but who channel their frustrations through less agro’ stylings. The later, fronted by JD Samson released their first full album Talk About Body, an electro upbeat dance record that manages to talk about the economy and feel sexy at the same time. Heatsick’s album Intersex – of which I was kindly tipped off about by Rich from Feral Debris – is intriguing, queered electronic music of a high standard. Speaking of queer electronic music – a late discovery of the year I have to mention a batch of releases that I got from Bored Bear Recordings towards the end of the year, my favourites of which were the Narcissus at the Gym cassette by Where is This – an unsettling and intense piece of work (with a a great accompanying booklet of prose) which I’ll be writing about in more detail at a later date, and a Fuck Patrol (a joint project between Where is This and Richard Ramirez) CD-R called Contact (released by Violent Noise Atrocities) which offers pure aural terror of best kind and some of the most exciting underground offerings I’ve heard in a while. I quite like the perversity of going from the most underground stuff on my list to a release so overground it’s practically in the sky (I don’t think that works, but whatever, it’s the coffee talking) – REM’s final album Collapse Into Now which was for me their best album in 13 years and a strong collection of songs to bow out on. 2011 also looks like the year that Sonic Youth may have ended as a recording and touring band, although it’s not set in stone so I can always keep my fingers crossed, doubtful though I guess … whatever, they released the latest in their SYR series earlier in the year – Simon Werner a Disparu which was the soundtrack to a Fabrice Gobert film, sounded exactly how you’d imagine a record would sound if I were to tell you that it sounded like Sonic Youth jamming along in the studio while they watched scenes of a film about French teenagers – to me that’s a good thing. Thurston Moore also released Demolished Thoughts a great album that gives you deeper rewards each time you play it again, some really special stuff (his Voice Studies cassette was pretty cool, too).
I’ll be posting an interview on here soon with Chris Cochrane, who along with Dennis Cooper and Ishmael Houston-Jones revived the theater piece THEM this year; I’ll be posting more about the soundtrack here in the next couple of weeks, but for now let me just recommend it for anyone looking for an exciting and emotionally compelling experimental record. Mego Records seem to have reached a real high over the last couple of years and in 2011 they put out so many good records that I don’t know where to start: Bill Orcutt’s How The Thing Sings, Fabric’s A Sort of Radiance, Bee Mask’s Elegy for Beach Friday to name just a few. Mego was also home to Oneohtrix Point Never’s previous record, although his latest – the textured celebration that is Replica is out on Software, and is excellent. Texture also seems to play an important part in the work of Collarbones, whose 2011 album Iconography feels like cut up and re-stitched pop music – there have been a couple of times this year when I’ve stuck on the album while I do something and have ended up doing nothing but sitting and taking it all in – a really well put together record.
There’s cutting up and patching back together going on within Exmilitary by Death Grips as well; in this case to make up a battering hip-hop attack with a deliberately harsh edge – thanks to Jeff for the tip-off. Most listened to album during the end of 2011 was probably the self titled first record by Wild Flag, who I’m looking forward to catching live this coming January (“I’m so hardwired to be alone” was one of my favourite lines of 2011, and my admiration for Carrie Brownstein seems to grow by the year). Blanck Mass by Blanck Mass was also a great first album. Earth’s Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light furthered Dylan Carlson’s dark droning vision and was perhaps the best release by Earth since their reemergence a few years back (Descent to the Zenith being my pick from the new album). Dark visions have been a preoccupation of David Lynch to varying degrees over the years and his Crazy Clown Time album contained the sort of stylish, modern darkness that I wanted it to. The reissues by Throbbing Gristle and The Jesus and Mary Chain deserve a mention, too.
Edouard Levé- Suicide
Dennis Cooper – The Marbled Swarm
Blake Butler – There is No Year
Ariana Reines – Mercury
Lynne Tillman – Someday This Will Be Funny
Colin Herd – too ok
Matthew Simmons – The Moon Tonight Feels Like My Revenge
Eileen Myles – Inferno
Terence Hannum – The Unholy Bow
Megan Boyle – Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee
O.B. De Alessi – Theme of Sadness
Dennis Cooper/Michael Salerno – French Hole/An Attempt at Shattering Pierre Clementi as a Child
Scott Treleaven – The Two Eyes are Not Brothers
Better Than Language – edited by Chris Goode
Kim Parko – Cure All
Grace Krilanovich – The Orange Eats Creeps
Lonely Christopher – The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse
Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations new translation by John Ashbery
Dodie Bellamy – The Buddhist
Probably more that I’m forgetting … it feels like a really good year bookswise. Also, some of the books on that list probably came out towards the end of last year but I didn’t get round to reading them until 2011. Whatever, you get the idea.
The coffee is wearing off.
I was ecstatic to find out that during my first ever visit to New York this past summer, one of my favourite contemporary artists – Ryan Trecartin – was having a show, which I managed to catch a few days before it closed. Any Ever at MoMA’s PS1 gallery was best exhibition I’ve seen this year, which its disorientating, non stop barrage of the senses. The videos were overwhelming, confusing, entertaining, fucked, structurally engaging, formally experimental and bombastic in all the right ways. A totally inspiring collection of work. Argh … Trying to think of other exhibitions now. Unfortunately unlike with music or books I can’t go and look on my shelves for hints … ok, off the top of my head I also enjoyed the Body Drama show by Xavier Cha, parts of the Cory Arcangel Pro Tools exhibition (didn’t connect with the whole show but there were certain pieces of brilliance), Paul McCarthy’s recent The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship, the Dennis Cooper curated The Weaklings group show at London’s Five Years space … next year I should keep a list … it’ll be easier to remember.
Same with films unfortunately … but definitely my favourite of the year was Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Loved Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life as well, kinda wished that Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In had been a little bit more cohesive and less clunky in places but it definitely deserves an favourable mention for certain moods that it created and that stook around for a while after I’d finished watching it. Hmm … must have been others but I’m starting to flag and/or the coffee is wearing off.
A great year arts wise and a lot of stuff to look forward to in 2012, too (new Xiu Xiu, Perfume Genius etc …). Onwards!