Amazingly, this year’s Best Happy Neat-o List is on-time, a nice touch for its 5th Anniversary! But professionalism be damned, I’ve decided to add 4 “honorable mentions” this time around– obsessive music geeks take note, and please adjust your Star Wars figurine/obscure sound art purchase budgets accordingly. As always, this list is given in no particular order:
1) Violet — “Violet Ray Gas and the Playback Singers” — Quite simply, this one scared the bejeezus out of me during my first listen. Zeromoon do a fine job upholding their “intelligent noise” claim with this truly dark, and at times harsh, slab of crisp and disturbing electronics. It’s the sort of disc you’ll handle with care for fear it might actually cut you, no shit.
2) Mark Peter Wright — “Inanimate Life” — A strong
debut release for the 3 Leaves label, featuring a series of odd field recordings from Wright taken from within bushes, hand rails, flag poles, and the like. If you’re looking for more of a “hands-off” use of field recordings in a non-travelogue setting, this disc is for you. Bonus points for classy packaging, and Wright’s own 3″ commentary disc included with the album itself. Correction: This is not the debut release for the label, as the release page clearly shows. Not sure where I got this idea. Past releases include works by label head Ákos Garai, Lasse-Marc Riek, Scott Sherk, and others.
3) Various — “Zelphabet” — At this point, I can honestly count the GX Jupitter-Larsen-curated “Zelphabet” series among my reasons for continuing to exist. If caffeinated beverages and photobooths were to suddenly disappear, I’d have an awful day, but could pull through with the help of these generous and ear-opening entries which have continued to reveal an increasingly faceted noise universe– an aural equivalent of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field survey.
4) The Painful Leg Injuries — “The Anomaly That Had Gotten The Better Of Me” — Serious weirdness from the OKSRNA label, and a contender for my favorite release employing circuit-bent instrumentation. Deceptive “simplicity” reminds at turns of Frank Rothkamm or George Korein, especially in the ability of PLI driving force Bill Byrne’s apparent ability to perform a total brain dump onto CD. Remarkable stuff, highly recommended for those who need their sonic oddities at full strength.
5) Gen Ken Montgomery — “Birds + Machines” — I don’t know if anything Gen Ken Montgomery does is “good” or not. What I do know is that even among sound and listening enthusiasts, Montgomery is a cut above, being absolutely fascinated with sound in such a way that life must surely be a constant source of amusement and interest. This disc is further evidence to the fact, radiating with Montgomery’s passion and infectious excitement.
6) Fat Worm of Error — “Ambivalence and the Beaker” — This one might be the strangest entry on this year’s list, but frankly, I’d expect that from a Resipiscent release– most of which seem to share an uncommonly cracked musical vision. But this… well, it’s the work of madmen. Staring at the sun, gibbering and naked, clutching a thousand-page handwritten manifesto kind of stuff. I have no idea what to make of it, but so far I’ve been happy not to ruin the experience by trying. Be sure to fill out your mental history intake forms if you plan on playing it back-to-back with The Painful Leg Injuries!
7) Amy Horvey — “Catchment” — Stunning self-release for trumpeter Horvey and friends, coming out of left field for this listener. Clear and un-embellished recordings highlight a series of playful and interesting sound actions– improvisation with distance and space, volume dynamics, setting, etc. Very well realized material; I’m certainly looking forward to Horvey’s next outing.
8) Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Manuel Mota, Gino Robair, Ernesto Rodrigues — “Our Faceless Empire” — Quite possibly the most inscrutable recording on the list, and paradoxically, one of the most intimate. Featuring the work of this one-time quartet of experienced improvisers, “Our Faceless Empire” channels amazingly nuanced playing at every turn, buffeted by mysteriously coordinated changes of direction and intent. A high-water mark for improv, highly recommended for deep listening.
9) David First — “Privacy Issues” — Here’s another one to sail away on, XI Records three-CD retrospective of David First’s droneworks spanning from 1996-2009. Extensive liner notes bring a lot of pertinent and interesting information to light, and the recording quality is top-notch throughout.
10) Tom Hamilton — “Pieces for Kohn/Formal & Informal Music” — Two-disc anthology of early Tom Hamilton works on the Kvist label, and a surprising entry into this year’s list in regards to the age of some of these pieces, each of which has its roots in the early to mid-1970s. Regardless, I had a blast listening to this one, particularly the “Crimson Sterling” series on disc two. Kvist thankfully gives Hamilton the proper treatment, with thorough liner notes and smart packaging.
11) @c — “0°-100°” — Rarely has any single disc received so many positive listener comments in a year than @c’s “0°-100°” release for the exceptional Monochrome Vision label. I have been continually surprised at the ability of this meticulously-produced work to generate so many different ideas within listeners. Everything from submarine voyages to enormous growing forests have been cited as thoughts conjured by reporting listeners. Who knows what you’ll end up hearing?
12) My Fun, John Ira Ebersole, Kimberly Ellen Hall — “Camaraderie” — Without a doubt, the classiest release of the year, from label The Land Of. Hall’s design work, which has permeated the feel of The Land Of releases, is on bold display here. Throughout Ebersole’s included small book of poetry, Hall’s jaunty sketches find themselves quite at home. My Fun’s collage of field recording and found work is a gentle counterpoint to both, seemingly accompanying the others’ contributions, rather than simply providing a soundtrack or inspiration to either. The Land Of has long been a label to watch, with “Camaraderie” surely the central piece of evidence why. Highly recommended.
The following four “honorable mentions” might throw off my numbering scheme, but they also deserve a place in your stereo, or on your shelf:
Warm Climate — “Camouflage On the River Wretched” — Stunned Records
Robert Ashley — “Atalanta (Acts of God) Volume II” — Lovely Music, Ltd.
Mari Kimura — “The World Below G and Beyond” — Mutable Music
Ava Mendoza — “Shadow Stories” — Resipiscent
Think you’ve got everything now? Check out the Top 12 Best Happy Neat-O Lists for 2009…. 2008…. 2007, and 2006!