Half Year Mix
A month ago Matos called for mixes that defined the first half of 2006 for their authors. I am month late with mine, but here's the mix that'd tell you where my head's been most of the year. There is no metal on it for several reasons, the main one being that metal is a whole separate thing (and the secondary one being that there've only been a few metal albums this year that did the trick for me). The only glaring absence is Om, whose album is one of my very favorites this year but which is very much an album to be taken in all at once. Anyhow, past the jump, here's my year so far:
Anouar Brahem Trio, “La Chambre” (from Le Voyage de Sahar)
I read a review of this in Frets, which is pretty much my favorite magazine right now for a whole host of reasons. The whole album pretty much defined July for me – less defined it than salvaged it, really. There’s comfort and then there’s that profound level of comfort that hits some really basic personal centers: this achieves the latter. Interestingly, this is one of six entries on the list that have a “dry” texture to my ear: I don’t mean that in terms of reverb, which is the usual sonic sense of the word, but rather in a sort of synaesthetic sense. I don’t get colors from music usually but I do get senses of terrain. This year is about one-half desert-at-night.
Barbara Morgenstern, “Polar” (from The Grass Is Always Greener)
This on the other hand is “wet”: so many sounds sluicing against one another, sharing the same wide space. The melody here is Morgenstern at her lyrical best: starting out with two notes hesitantly pacing back and forth for half a verse, then calmly soaring up and back down the octave, settling half-comfortably, half-warily into the intervals.
De Kift, “Nauwe Mijter” (from De Kift)
Dutch act that has evidently been around forever. Sings in Dutch, which is a language I enjoy hearing and which doesn’t get enough musical play, even from the Dutch. In a sort of loose cabaret-jazz tradition, this song comes off like an unaffected Rain Dogs outtake, which isn’t to say anything against affectation – you gotta live, after all. There is something to be said for the feel of measured abandon that comes off here.
The Golden Bears, “Wall to Wall” (from (The Golden Bears)
I have had this melody stuck in my head most of the year. The guitar is this dry-as-a-peanut unstoppable sing-song riff, and the vocals do this breaking-free-from-claustrophobia thing...really terrific stuff.
Christine Fellows, “Vertebrae” (from Paper Anniversary)
This is the song of the year by a country mile, and also by a city mile, and by a nautical mile, too. Nobody else is writing at Christine’s level.
Ecstatic Sunshine, “Goose” (from self-titled album)
Ecstatic Sunshine are an instrumental duo whose point, partly, is that there are things you can do with sound besides just experience feelings all the time. I am with it.
Dr. Octagon, “A Gorilla Driving a Pickup Truck” (from The Return of Dr. Octagon)
It’s the outro that does it, when he starts referencing Mario Kart. Sue me.
Ghostface, “Shakey Dog” (from Fishscale)
It’s just a story, right, but so’s Ulysses. I spent much of the summer listening to this over the headphones trying to see if the narrative ever ran out of new developments. Not yet! Has the best moment of the whole damn pop year about 3/4 of the way through, and killer horn samples, and rock-solid characterization in auditory charcoal pencil like a Frank Miller sketchbook full of troubled bad guys trying to get by.
Masta Killa, “Iron God Chamber” (from Made in Brooklyn)
A great song from a great album – this one’s got verses from U-God, RZA and Method Man, and it’s Meth who just stomps the shit out of his verse in my opinion, though everybody’s in top form here; the opening verse from U-God is also awesome. The beat is tinny and oily, which is annoying to some people I guess, but for me it feels like an effort to stage the song in a different headspace than the one songs usually try to occupy. The snare & the electric guitar loop do get a little assaultive, for sure, but isn’t that sometimes the point?
Tom Verlaine, “Shingaling” (from Songs and Other Things)
Hired-killer guitar-slinging that comes off as casual, off-the-cuff stuff with an absolutely breathtaking feel for how to let a song develop naturally. Draws a real clear line between rock craft and the way Coltrane interpreted song-songs, which is one of Verlaine’s older & better tricks.
The Ohsees, “You Oughta Go Home” (from The Cool Death of Island Raiders)
I don’t know if you can really dig this song without having first listened to the album. Just a few years ago I was all about tracks, but now I’m almost exclusively interested in how they sound in the broader context. I believe this makes me a relic; fair enough. Anyhow, this closes the album by Coachwhips-mastermind John Dwyer’s third-eye-opening side/other/whatever project. I prefer this to the Coachwhips because it’s very, very lost, which is perhaps the quality-to-beat for me this year.
Metallic Falcons, “Berry Metal” (from Desert Doughnuts)
I listened to this album over and over again throughout the early summer. Can’t get enough of it. Utterly adrift, like the Ohsees and like most else that I dig lately, but more expansive than the Ohsees. This is a song that seems to start in the middle and stay there, drifting darkly, which is to say, it gives me exactly what I want these days.
Kaki King, “You Don’t Have To Be Afraid” (from …Until We Became Red)
I am more susceptible to simple irreducible truths than I have ever been in my life. Stuff that would have sounded simple-minded to me years ago now doesn’t. I am a big ol’ softie. The lyrics to this song (Kaki sings! Get ‘em, Kaki!) are “you don’t have to be afraid of the pain inside you.” The music is half acoustic King-isms at a slower tempo and half King-gone-electric in a clean, quiet mood. Can’t get enough of it. I should own, however, that the King track I listened to most this year was her live version of “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.”
Ralph Towner, “Always By Your Side” (from Time Line)
Solo classical guitar beautifully recorded live in an Austrian church without an audience. Lyricism that sounds the depth and then heads for light at the surface – it’s hard to believe that this melody hasn’t always existed, it feels that in-pocket. There is a very, very sweet ache to this piece. It got me through the parts of July that Anouar Brahem couldn’t.
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