(In what has become an annual tradition as we near the finish line for our LISTMANIA series, our good friend and long-time NCS comrade BadWolf (aka Joseph Schafer) takes a break from his responsibilities as editor of Invisible Oranges and brings us his year-end list of top non-metal albums from 2016.)
Three things kept me from turning this list in sooner, one large and fairly insurmountable, the other small and petty but terribly uplifting.
Let’s begin dark, and head upward toward the light, because these albums are, on the whole, not very pretty.
Gaelynn Lea is a musician in Duluth, Minnesota. According to the biography on her web site:
“She has been playing violin for over twenty years. First classically trained, she began learning traditional Celtic and American fiddle tunes at the age of 18. During her college years Gaelynn started sitting in with various folk/rock musicians and developed an improvisational style all her own. Eventually she also began singing and dabbling in songwriting.”
“Dabbling” is a humble word for it. Gaelynn was one of more than six thousand un-signed musicians or bands who submitted music videos in NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest. Under the rules of that contest, the song had to be an original work created solely for the purpose of entering the contest, and it had to be performed “at a desk (any desk!)”. All those thousands of submissions were reviewed by a panel of six judges, and they picked Gaelynn Lea’s submission as the winner.
I read the judge’s comments about the song and the video before I heard it. The judges were Robin Hilton, Bob Boilen, Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys and The Arcs), Son Little, and Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the band Lucius. You can read their comments about the song here. In a nutshell, they were all profoundly moved. They explained that they heard other songs that displayed better musical craft and skill, but what Gaelynn did was to create something unusual and memorable.
I can’t separate the song from what I watched in the video and what I knew immediately about Gaelynn Lea from seeing it. It makes the song more poignant and powerful — but I believe (though I’ll never know for sure) that I would have found it tremendously poignant and powerful anyway.
(BadWolf provides his annual list of personal favorites among not-metal albums released in 2014.)
I’ve never written so few lists at the end of the year. During my first year at No Clean Singing, I wrote three separate lists. Many writers compose even more, and I have no idea how they do it. However, each year my format has changed as I think of new ways to think about music. As time goes by, I simplify, I erase boundaries.
There’s only one meaningful distinction in my list this year: metal vs. not-metal. My metal list is currently up at Invisible Oranges, and it serves as my unified vision of 2014 in heavy metal. However, this is my favorite list—my favorite piece of copy that I write each year. There’s something about writing about mainstream music on an underground metal blog that strikes me as fun and transgressive.
More to the point, I always loved reading the opinions of metal heads and musicians about non-metal music. To people outside of the culture extreme music is what sets us apart. Inside the community, however, our tastes in other genres of music can offer interesting window into people’s personalities. I also wonder if the commonalities we find outside of the music reveal something about the threads that other artists and metal share. For example, my #1 album is, I know, fairly popular among metal bloggers, but you’ll have to wade through my bottom nine to get to it.
(BadWolf has been missing in action for a while, spending much of his blog time helping to run the esteemed Invisible Oranges, but today he re-surfaces with a new post in an NCS series he created to take us off our usual beaten paths,)
I’m pretty certain I am the strongest proponent of California resident Jerimiah Johnson’s one-man industrial rock-pop outfit The Ugly Façade that exists. However I’m pretty sure that’s more a result of lack of exposure than a mark of quality, because The Ugly Façade is the real deal, as evidenced by Johnson’s latest album (more of an EP, really) Many Waters, now available at any price on Bandcamp.
I first became aware of The Ugly Façade in the wake of an article I wrote for Stereogum.com about Trent Reznor, the musician behind Nine Inch Nails. Reznor is one of my favorite songwriters on earth, and while Nine Inch Nails is not precisely metal, or extreme, the band has a large following in the metal subculture, and has had a profound influence on several groups, including The Dillinger Escape Plan, The Faceless, Author & Punisher, and others.
Solar Echoes is the name of a double album by an ambient electronic artist named Nigel Stanford, who is a native New Zealander and now lives in New York. A few days ago he released a video for a single from the album named “Cymatics”. “Cymatics” is the name for the science of visualizing audio frequencies. For the video, Stanford and the video’s director Shahir Daud created a series of “experiments” designed to show visual representations of the music.
They assembled an assortment of devices that create imagery in response to sound frequencies, including a Chladni Plate, which vibrates in response to sounds played through a speaker, causing grains of sand on the plate to arrange themselves into various patterns and shapes; a Hose Pipe; a Speaker Dish (filled with frozen vodka); Ferro Fluid; a Plasma Ball; a Ruben’s Tube; and — for the finale of the video — a Tesla Coil.
Now here’s an especially interesting aspect of this project: The video was filmed before the music was composed. In the case of all those science experiments, Stanford, Daud, and their crew found tones that would create the kind of imagery they were looking for, and then Stanford composed music that incorporated those tones — and the music became the single, “Cymatics”.
(We are not, I repeat NOT, finished with 2013 LISTMANIA. How could we finish without BadWolf’s reprise of this list that he has done in years past?)
They said we were crazy.
They said it couldn’t be done.
Well ladies and gentlemen, they were right. We are crazy—but we’ve done it anyway.
Listmania is even bigger than last year (60+ lists as I write this), and lasting into January. What on earth is wrong with us?
NoCleanSinging will resume its normal functioning soon enough, but first we need to get these fucking lists off our desks.
Long-time readers, you know what that means; my favorite article of the year; my top 10 most metal not-metal albums of the year. I’ve rustled up an eclectic mix, featuring anarchic emcees, satanic songstresses, and even a few ex-metalheads exercising the weirder bones in their musical bodies.
(We are delighted to present to you this guest post by Alain Mower, which takes us off the rails of our usual course and onto a very different line.)
Have you ever found yourself sitting in your dimly lit, Victorian Dining Room, listening to your Burzum/Sunn O)))/Dark Space 1st pressing vinyl in the background, sipping only the finest of that last cask of ’73 lambs blood sitting across from your man/woman/android and thought to yourself, “I wish this could be classier, but I don’t want to sacrifice any of my soul-damning resolve to do so.” Well you, classy reader, are in luck, for I present to you ‘Noirjazz – or Darkjazz for you laymen.
No I’m not talking about Shining (Norway)’s brilliant album from this year, I’m talking about atmospheric, soundscape-driven, foreboding and looming, downtempo (old man’s) jazz.
We’re actually going to have a “THAT’S METAL!” — BUT IT’S NOT MUSIC” post today, but we’re beginning with something on the flip side of that, using a title that I think BadWolf originally coined for something else we posted that doesn’t fall within our usual ambit. We don’t do this often, because we know people don’t usually come here for non-metal music. Also, I almost never listen to anything but metal. But I did yesterday.
One of the blogs I follow is written by fellow Seattle-ite Gemma Alexander. Yesterday she wrote about two live performances she caught on Friday night at Seattle’s Decibel Festival, “a world class celebration of underground and experimental electronic music”. Her vivid description of what she saw and heard (which I highly recommend) intrigued me so much that I went in search of music by the two performers — Nils Frahm from Germany and Ólafur Arnalds from Iceland.
Later, having spent more than an hour immersed in the music of both, I decided I ought to share what I found, because it’s pretty amazing.
Nils Frahm is a Berlin-based contemporary/experimental composer whose principal instrument is the piano — and an assortment of electronic effects that transform the sound. I gather that in his live performances, Frahm improvises and experiments, in essence creating new works using his recorded music as the template. Here’s how Gemma described what she witnessed:
(I bet you thought we’d finished our 2012 Listmania series. Think again. BadWolf brings us one more list.)
Three months into 2013, here’s another top 10 about 2012. These are my favorite articles to write every year, and also the most difficult. 2012 in particular was a musical gauntlet. The more promos we get here at NCS and at the other sites I write for, the more metal I listen to, the more I need non-metal records to give myself a break. It’s an infinite feedback loop.
I thought this would be an easy article. So many of my favorite artists in my favorite genres released albums in 2012 that I anticipated the article would write itself. Needless to say, things did not turn out that way. Old favorites like Marillion and Titus Andronicus released middle-of-the-road records. At the same time, I developed a tremendous appetite for hip-hop. One version of this list was entirely populated by rappers, which would have necessitated another top 10 list.
Also, so many metal labels released more-or-less rock records that I debated including them. In the end I opted not to: you know who Graveyard are, and they don’t need me for a cheerleader (seriously, though—listen to Graveyard).
In the end, these ten albums made the cut more-or-less based on play counts alone. They all share certain qualities with my favorite metal albums: intense sound, aggressive or melancholy delivery, vocals. You could call those things the core of my taste. Perhaps they’re also at the core of yours.
(NCS writer BadWolf was in the audience when Death Grips played Detroit last November, and he provides the following report. The very cool photos accompanying this review were taken by BadWolf’s partner in crime, Nicholas Vechery.)
This show was a long time coming. I first heard Death Grips almost exactly a year ago to the week as I write this article, and almost instantly the group became something of a personal muse to me—I wasted no time pimping the group here, and later made them the subject of my first article for Stereogum. In 2012 the band released two albums, both excellent, and in between booked-then-cancelled a major summer tour. For better or for worse, 2012 saw MC Ride and drummer Zach Hill ride the popularity wave at its very zenith, leaving many of their loyal fans tumbling in the surf. So when Death Grips booked a second tour, and played Detroit’s Magic Stick on November 19, attendance was mandatory.
I attended the show with photographer Nick Vechery, too late to catch any of the tour’s opening act, genre-bending MC Mykki Blanco. Although Blanco hails from NYC’s now-prominent Brooklyn hip-hop scene, I find his music less appealing than, say, Azalia Banks on her 1991 EP.
Death Grips took the stage just after Vechery and I purchased our beer.