Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cory's Best Records of 2012


For me there was no release this year in any genre that was anywhere near as majestic or pure as Alga Marghen's vinyl issue of Eliane Radigue's early work with feedback and tape loops.  Few artists can so beautifully touch the sublime with their music, and Radigue does this every time, every composition.  There are hardly any contemporaries that can produce drone material on par with Radigue's-perhaps Pauline Oliveros (who had a lovely reissue from Important Records this year as well) and, in the modern realm, William Fowler Collins and Eleh-but as lovely as the work produced by all of them, none come close to matching the expanse of a Radigue composition.  There is simply something deeply personal within her tracks, something that touches me every time I listen to them.  And that something resonates.
These early pieces, while obviously precursors to the magnificently dense extremely long-format minimalist works she would go on to create with ARP synthesizers and analogue tape, are also brilliant documents of an artist completely and fully realized at her conception.  Radigue appeared almost entirely self-actualized; the only thing that changed across her career was the quality of her work, which grew exponentially with each new release.  The works here show a slightly different side of Radigue, a side more attuned to the psychic disparity of existence as opposed to her usual serenity, but the pieces themselves are as accomplished and far-reaching as anything in her catalogue.  Alga Marghen has done a masterful job with the package as well, including a wealth of previously unseen photos and notes.  On the back cover there is an ethereal photo of Miss Radigue holding a conch shell to her ear, looking perfectly tuned in to the mystery of it, of what it can tell us about our world.  That's the difference between Radigue and everyone else: she can hear the vague, the tenuous, the subconscious roar of infinity.  And she can help us hear it, too.


One of my very favorite black metal projects, Make A Change...Kill Yourself's third opus finds the band tilling the same poisoned soil to devastating effect, turning in a suicidal black metal masterpiece that pretty much makes every other depressive BM effort from 2012 obsolete.  Monotonously repetitive riffs that carry an air of the tragic and forlorn fuse together with spiteful lyrics that express rage only at oneself, creating a crumbling monument to self-loathing and personal weakness, a deep and embittered sorrow that can only grow and grasp.
The monotony becomes motorik, an endless cycle through the same over and over again, illustrating beautifully the always-tired mind of the truly depressed, the inability to find any sort of meaning in existence, made all the worse by the inherent cowardice that prevents total self-eradication.  The voice is demented, destroyed, defeated.  The guitar work is mournful, elegiac, majestic, autumnal.  The night seems darker, the sky inking down more heavily, whispering a mocking promise to make all of this end.  Hope is a dead dream.  Rafters and ropes are replacing reality.  The spectre of your own worthlessness cringes in the corner of your mind, dragging its bony claws across the threshold of your consciousness, seeping, bleeding.
Though their recorded work amounts to only three records ("Fri" is the third), Make A Change...Kill Yourself have created a discography that defines suicidal black metal.  No one does this better.  Without resorting to the ethereal distance of Xasthur or the belligerent progressive tendencies of Shining, not to mention eclipsing scores of lesser bands working in the genre, Make A Change...Kill Yourself illustrates the weight of modernity in a truly uncompromising and weeping manner.  "Fri" is fucking epic, and any year this band releases an album it'll make my "best of" list.


The appearance of Neil and CH's 40 minute jam on Neil's website earlier this year was an obvious alert that some new garage destruction was in the works.  On both "Americana" and "Psychedelic Pill" Neil and the Horse return to the sacred, hallowed rumble of fuzz, with both records functioning as a three way love letter to the rich tradition of American folk songs, the electric guitar, and the awesomely transportative power of music in all its meandering, wanderlust-fueled glory.
"Americana" is the more easily digestible and immediate of the pair, finding Neil and CH slogging through the American songbook, dusting off gems you used to sing in grade school and feeding them through a glass-splintered filter of grit, violence, and the ragged glory, all in the hopes of showing the constant restlessness of the land's spirit.  As usual, Neil rewrites these songs from the ground up, using lyrics as a guide but totally reworking form and melody, and the result is something at once nostalghic and brutal.  Crazy Horse sound perturbed by the cultural anxiety Neil seems intent on showcasing, and together they swagger through these songs, a tour of blood, dust, perseverance, and fire.  It's the true soul of the garage, cascading, immense, pissed off, and fucking alive.
But as aggressive and archaic as "Americana" is, it's a mere preamble to the awesome power of "Psychedelic Pill," perhaps the best Neil Young and Crazy Horse outing since the landmark "Weld" set.  Distortion vomits itself up in every manner, from sludged-out lava sloughs to echo-drenched melancholic dirges to brain-blasted haze-o-delic whispers in the dark.  Half of these songs take it past the fifteen minute mark without any discernible growth or plot beyond dropping yourself into the zone and just letting go for awhile.  Neil's songs are the sounds of lives in the twilight, of moonlight burning down into willow-wisps of memory.  Simply astounding, the guitar album of the year, and one of my most played records of 2012.  "Walk Like A Giant" lays waste to pretty much any other song this year.  Gorgeous.


Pure, suffocating, infinite stasis courtesy Culver and La Mancha Del Pecado, a shared vision of bleak and hopeless drone that eradicates time as a physical force and parades the erosion of life across the span of 60 hollow, breathless minutes.  At once co-opting the severity of HNW without succumbing to the violence, Culver and La Mancha Del Pecado both create outcroppings above the great stagnant abyss and gaze deep, deep into the bowels, throwing their eyes into the ever-hungry gulf where dreams go to slit their own throats.  This is the true and total doom, an eruption of putrid disspiritedness in the calm and indifferent face of modernity.  Escape is worthless: there is only a complete and total succumbing.  Life is the illusion of feeling and the chilling embrace of infinite numbness: towards yourself, towards others, towards everything.  Feel the drain, the pull, the end.  The vast and beautiful nothing awaits with open arms.


One of the most brutal, dense, and rewarding releases of the year for me was this 5 CD set from the HNW project known as Anonymous on Vagary Records, dedicated to and inspired by the battle of Gettysburg.  While the project's moniker speaks to the more obvious aspects of its thematic HNW associations (tedium, meaninglessness, etc.) its consistent focus on historical concepts clouds the waters and allows the imagination to pry itself open further when considering the actual breadth of HNW frameworking.  The sounds here are as caustic as anything you're likely to subject yourself to, and infinitely more rewarding from a transcendental perspective: there is simply nothing better for astral separation than the gnawing stasis of crushing tone.  Gristle and flesh separates from bone like subconsciousness separates from self across this album's majestic span: psychic flaying as a method for personal inquesting and transformation.  There is no humanity, no great comingling, no joy.  There is only the endless torrent of violence that humankind proffers upon the world.  Our soil is drunk with the blood of ages past.
The sublimely simple and eloquent packaging job completes the record: grey bag, grey photography, grey areas.  History isn't as transparent as we want it to be.


Matthew Bower's reimagining of Sunroof! as a black metal drenched occult death-worship unit  has bequeathed us this terrible and shuddering vision of the tattered, ferverish underbelly of psychedelia, the rotted corpse of Bower's clouded out blissfest that he presided over during Sunroof!'s golden period.  Here the sheer weight of Skullflower's eternal hatred weighs Bower down and forces him to conjure more of the dark from himself, creating altars to oblivion with blood torn from his own pallid skin.  Guitars on top of guitars on top of guitars on top of a universe of lament and a choir of quaking sorrows, a summoning ritual for the great and total bummer.  Bower's world is all blood red moons and wavering realities, the cosmos on the cusp of total immolation.  Your blood is not enough.  Your force is not enough.  Your joy is not enough.  There is only the eternal, the great gnashing unlife, hurtling through the umbra with a desire to feed.  You are provender, mere and inconsequential.  Bower's triple-tracked legions of six-string squall are a carrion call to the new night, the purest invocation of the end.  The nightmare is the dream.


Crucial reissues of these landmark Carpenter compositions, in stunningly lovely packages featuring newly commissioned artworks from Death Waltz.  No one does darkness like John Carpenter and these two soundtrack albums show him in top form, summoning deep electronic drones and torments that bathe in their own repetitious grandeur.  These are the soundtracks to slaughters, monochromatic explorations of homicidal violence and unearthly indifference that became as synonymous with their origin films as the killer they immortalized.  Carpenter isn't about fear as much as he is about tension and control, and these recordings highlight just how in command of his vision Carpenter always is.  Incredibly minimalist, this sound has no true master other than its originator: everything else is clawing at the base of the mountain, hoping for a view of the void.


Maybe it's a little egotistical to choose one of my own label's releases for this list, but there were few (if any) records this year that came as close to psychedelic noise destruction perfection as WDA's massive double disc outing "Baser."  Listening to this thing is like a holocaust in your head for two and a half hours, an immersion bath in the psychic void that shreds the frontal lobe as surely as it separates the consciousness from the confines of the physical.  On top of that it's insanely loud.  For me this was a reminder of what I love about music and creation-hearing those sounds that inspire you to do your own work, to go deeper into yourself and see what you can dig out of the rot.  "Baser" is the best kind of brutal, that nerve-severing sort of intensity that just does not fucking let up across its entire runtime, a total wipeout in every sense of the word.  There is no way you can not be exhausted, haunted, and transported at the end of this record-it is pure audio insanity in beautiful, simple, unchanging waves.  Fucking masterful.


Kevin Drumm released a wealth of material this year sans label affiliations, all of which were stellar documents of his isolationist approach to ambient terrorscapes, but it's this short and sweet 36 minute noise apocalypse recorded for Editions Mego that really speaks to Drumm's considerable strengths as a noise architect.  In the tradition of his landmark works of layered severity "Sheer Hellish Miasma" and "Land of Lurches," Drumm here sculpts a seething tower of dilapidated, scorching sequence destruction and algorithm mutation that owes as much to the empty onslaught of black metal classicism as it does power electronics.  Drumm is better at this sort of thing than anyone else, and "Relief" is a testament to his seemingly ever-growing compositional power.  At its heart "Relief" is a work of unadulterated beauty, the torrents of noise doing their best to completely bury a whining, echo-oozing swathe of melodic cloudiness that can't help but cut through and assert itself.  Beyond the simplicity of aggression lies the numbing grace of the angelic; Drumm's deft hand is the only one capable of conducting such a complex marriage.


Bill Orcutt's growing visibility as an avant-garde acoustic guitarist has birthed renewed interest in his prior work with Harry Pussy, with both Editions Mego and Orcutt's own Palilalia imprint issuing recordings from the band.  While I don't care much for Orcutt's solo work, these early HP documents constitute a fairly essential redefinition of rock music and are as polarizing now as they were when originally unleashed.  The better of the two for me is "Let's Build A Pussy," a massive statement of glacial drone that abandons the idea of rock momentum in favor of total immobility.  Crafted from the most pointless of rock postures, the power scream, Orcutt here chops and manipulates Adris Hoyos' vocal ululations into an endless drift of ear-splitting tonal discomfort, simultaneously destroying the effect of and embracing the violence of rock and roll.  Frequencies and tones take the place of riffs and structure, melding into a looming mountain of stereo despair.  Abandon hope all ye who enter here, because this is the fucking end.
"One Plus One" showcases the other side of the HP coin, the side that studied and co-opted simplistic rock and roll forms and emerged with a redefinition of that form in the process.  Far from the single-minded onslaught of "Ride A Dove," "One Plus One" is a tour through the diseased mind of rock most fractured recidivists, with pieces ranging from pure death skronk to whirlwind frenzy bash-a-thons to almost intimate and subdued melodic guitar meanderings and deep head rush psych-outs.  If ever there were a document that illustrated how visionary and in control of their aesthetic (and by extension the evolution of rock music) Harry Pussy were, it's this one.  A beautiful and authoritative wipe out, the protean building blocks of rock primacy and an essential on any LP shelf.

That's it.  No honorable mentions, no almost made-its, no curiousities.  I'm not really interested in growth or progression in music anymore.  It's a bloated dead whale on the beach of the future.  I'm interested in stasis.  I'm interested in the beyond.  These are records that help me get there.



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