At this time last year, I was worried that I’d mistake a 2005 release for something from 2006. This year, I find myself wishing for such a mistake, as I’ve been unable to winnow down my list of top releases from 14 to 12. In the same spirit that has left me unable to open a checking account for the rest of my life, I’ve decided to fudge my numerical shortcomings, and present my Top 12 Best Happy Neat-O List of 2007 anyway.
In no particular order:
1) Al Margolis/If, Bwana — “An Innocent, Abroad” — With all the ability of producers to realistically render digital unreality, I’m still a little surprised I’m so taken with this disc. It’s not a brand new idea to combine unrelated elements into a working whole… but Al Margolis makes me think it is, putting “An Innocent, Abroad” into my top albums of the year.
2) Sabrina Siegel — “Grace/Precarious” — Yeah, I became Sabrina Siegel’s number one fan this year, sue me. Siegel’s ‘situationist’ approach to recording results in hyper-personal work where setting, physicality, thought, and personality interact as equals. It’s a stunning disc, and you’d be a big dope to miss it.
3) Circle Six — “Night in Kansas” — Talk about a missed opportunity! C6 releases one of the best albums of the year, in an edition of 30… for trade only. Compounding the unlikely scenario that a noise album about Kansas could kick so much ass, my good friends at Roil Noise Offensive actually have a remix album of it in the works. What’s next? A crow-themed double-disc drone set?!
4) Various — “Crows of the World, vol.1” — GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!! But seriously, this is a terrific set. Last Visible Dog, well-known for last years 6-disc outer-limits drone Invisible Pyramid set, once again manages to curate an essential collection of drone wooziness guaranteed to fuel your next excursion to the place between “pleasantly stoned” and “fugue state”.
5) Tom Nunn — “Identity” — Things just keep getting weirder and weirder. Tom Nunn plays moth-shaped instruments (of his own design) with combs, masters the knitting-needle-spring combo, and generally leaves my jaw on the floor the whole time. I could have easily added a few more Edgetone Records releases to this list, but this is the best of the bunch, hands down.
6) The Transhumans — “Into the Maelstrom” — Cursed with a somewhat dorky-looking cover, this disc still provided one of my best listening experiences of 2007. Post-listen, I was physically exhausted; a full believer in The Transhumans unique dynamic utilizing drums, electronics, and more electronics. Don’t worry, nothing remotely techno occurs.
7) Thanos Chrysakis — “Klage” — The folks at Aural Terrains sure know how to kick off a label! With “Klage,” Chrysakis has created a crystal-perfect world of electroacoustic sound with a high level of physicality still present… not an easy thing to do, if the sterile and disembodied releases so often claiming the “EA” title are any indication. As a fun fact, “Klage” has also gotten more people to call in to “It’s Too Damn Early” than any album this year.
8 ) Jeff Rehnlund — “Our Thin Mercy of Error” — Hymns released a ton of killer recordings this year, but for me, Rehnlund’s disc was one of the real high points. Taking the “anything goes” found sound aesthetic of the label, but also combining it with a narrative feeling resulted in a disc not only strikingly open to influence but also notably human.
9) Mike Tamburo — “Language of the Birds and Other Fantasies” — This one is kind of a no-brainer. Seven discs of Mike Tamburo’s exploratory free-folk improvisations and compositions, an 80+ page booklet, hand-made artwork, and a DVD of his film experiments to boot. Last I knew, these were still under $50— if there’s any left.
10) My Fun — “Sonorine” — One of two returning artists from last years list, Justin Hardison continues to send full-color maps and supplies for those interested in exploring the land promised by home recording and CDRs. This album is like the North Star, people! Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about it.
11) Phil Hargreaves, Glenn Weyant — “Friday Morning Everywhere” — Here’s one you can even download for free. I’ll admit, I didn’t really take into account netlabel releases in this list– if they’re free, you should just be checking them all out, right? Lucky for you, “Friday Morning Everywhere” squeaked in when Phil Hargreaves mailed me a copy. I guess he knew my printer was out of ink, cause I got the full pdf-cover workup and everything. Both Hargreaves and Weyant have joined my short list of incredible musicians this year (Hargreaves work with Caroline Kraabel on “Where We Were,” and Weyant’s “Sonic Anta” series are essential listening) so having them both on one disc is fantastic. While you’re ordering the other 13 releases here, why don’t you put on your new download of this?
12) Shelf Life — “Ductworks” — Judging from Public Eyesore’s release page for this disc, I was one of the only people who gave “Ductworks” a good review. You know by now that this means they were all wrong, and I was right. Otherwise, how could it be on a Top 12 list of best albums?! (See what I did there?) But seriously, I’m super-impressed. Collectively, Shelf Life resist the tendency to make something familiar of their sounds, and instead remain wholly focused on wringing every conceivable sound from their respective instruments, whatever they are. The level to which this quartet manages to fully blend their sounds is amazing, pointing away from the call-and-response improv model to something completely new.
13) Robert Ashley — “Now Eleanor’s Idea”— Robert Ashley is the second of the returning artists to my top albums list. Surely assisted by my near-fanatical devotion to Joan LaBarbara’s work, “Now Eleanor’s Idea” fascinates me for many of the same reasons as Ashley’s “Foreign Experiences;” the ordinary human impulses followed to fantastic conclusions, the ability of the performers, and the restrained elegance of Ashley’s music.
14) Various — “Untitled” — A three-label, three-disc untitled noise collection from the Public Guilt, Epicene Sound Systems, and Underadar labels. Everyone seems to have their own unique path to noise music, so it’s hard to recommend an entry point– but as a survey of the impossibly wide-spread noise “scene,” this is probably as close as it gets. Extra bonus points for keeping this release reasonably priced, and in an edition greater than 25– a freakin’ rarity these days, it seems.