Not the best year of music, not the worst. (I like to say that every year).
Onto what music, in my opinion, didn’t blow.
1. Oneohtrix Point Never-R plus 7
I am surprised every year by how little the tools of digital music making have shaped what music sounds like in the big picture. It’s mostly producers using these new tools to make the same electronic music that was happening 20 years ago. And those experimenters that thrive on the digital-ness of digital potential tend to produce unlistenable noise. Rarely is that sweet middle ground struck.
But Oneohtrix Point Never has gone and done it again. Ultimate music for music nerds. Both challenging and giving, looking forwards and backwards equally… all-knowing.
R plus 7 is the closest thing I’ve heard this year to a new form of music. Playfully utilizing computer power to craft something that knows what it’s made of, OPN’s heightened awareness of both trends in internet genres and how to make gorgeous music like Glass give him the perfect tool set to bring his future vision to life. These songs were performed live with great success.
Video for “Boring Angel” made entirely of emojis.
Video for “Problem Areas,” by Takashi Murata, which I did not like until a friend explained that all images are computer generated, which made me like it more.
Video for “Still Life” (excerpt) with Nate Boyce, who currently does OPN’s live visuals.
Here’s this weird archaic-file-type, intentionally-near-impossible-to-hear version of Chrome Country… embrace the digi-noise!
2. Autechre-Exai and L-event
Autechre released a 2+ hour lp and an ep this year. What did you do?
A return to a more harsh, aggressive mood: rhythms particularly muddled in the noise and melodies particularly difficult to discern, if there at all. Business as usual for these boys.
No one has caught up to where Ae were in 1993.
This is the sound of them walking alone in a barren, aesthetic tundra of their own design. There are so far ahead in their own race, they tread in any direction, answering to no one.
Baby listening to Ae Exai track…
Most pleasant track on the album…
…and one of the more fragmented…
Oh yeah, and they did a 10 hour dj set to promote the album. Some of that here…
Likely the strongest “I’ve arrived” debut of the year, 15 mighty tracks (75 minutes) of untethered studio wizardry and cosmic intentions show Holden having quite a bit of fun. Mostly modular synth and drums, with occasional guitar, Holden channels the Kraut Gods in Kluster-esqe jams that go in special directions.
Had the privilege of seeing him open for Atoms For Peace, and he brought it live.
Excellent video for “Renata” by creator of all Inheritors related art, Jack Featherstone.
4. James Blake-Overgrown
James Blake is so damned GROWN for his age. He holds back those deep melodic hooks with a confidence that bugs me out. Alongside the XX, Blake is solidifying the new minimal pop aesthetic. Futuristic soul music done so right. Hell, he even pulls off a song with RZA.
Big video dollars spent well…
5. My Bloody Valentine-m b v
The elders return from upon high mountain. The only guitars worth listening to this year.
“Only Tomorrow” live..
First solo album by Brian DeGraw, the dude behind Gang Gang Dance. I swear, the first time I went to text this album to a friend it auto-corrected Beedeegee to “needs refer,” which I translated to “needs reefer,” which I hope is the meaning behind this silly, silly name. The vocal guests are all over the place, but damn the production is righteous. Great sense of 3-D space and plenty of sound pockets to get lost in.
I guess he recorded this in Woodstock, which is hilarious and fitting. Brian listens to everything and I like stuff he puts out an awful lot.
Official video for “Flowers”
7. Kyary Pamu Pamu-Nanda Collection
In Japan Kyary Pamu Pamu endorses all manner of products, like toothpaste. She gleefully shows up in a strange outfit, acts quirky, and happily promotes whatever. In her homecountry she is opening for K Perry and Gaga.
Kyary has her own line of fake eye lashes, and sings about how silly and materialistic modern life is, all the while embracing it.
As image is key, her videos are ridiculously gleeful imaginings of her sugar-coated fantasy land. There are goofy dances that accompany each song, which her fans perform along with her in concert. Cute!
She doesn’t write any of the music, but the rest of her producer’s work is worthless garbage, so … I don’t know. I’m guessing she’s magic? Kyary songs are childish, alternating between playground stompers and naptime lullabies. If, at first, this music strikes you as obnoxious, wait it out a little, herein lies some of the finest condensed pop serum of our time. Best j-pop I’ve heard since Kahimi Karie worked with Cornelius.
Not as strong as her previous album, but the single for the upcoming album, “Motei Night Land” is good fun.
“Motei Night Land” video…
“Invader Invader” (best track off Nanda)
8. Tim Hecker-Virgins
I had my doubts that Hecker would be able to put another spin on his signature haze-is-beauty style, but strike me down if he didn’t pull it off. This album involved him recording/manipulating classical musicians, which helps clarify his emotive pull. A massive, giving album.
His live performances are something to behold. I’ll never forget seeing him at Public Assembly, in the smaller front room, with audience members pumping fists and screaming … to loud ambient hiss.
Official Video for “Black Refraction”… this song is quite the creeper… and what a video…
9. Lonnie Holley-Just Before Music/Keeping a Record of it
Oh, music revelation.
I guess these recording were made in 2010-11, but I only heard about Lonnie this year. He grew up poor in the south with, apparently, something like 22 siblings (?!). He made a name for himself repurposing found objects into sculptures, doing music on the side. It’s not often that a true outside artist of such merit comes to light. Rejoice.
Often just himself and his keys with no overdubs, he never plays a song the same way twice. His babbling, meandering lyrics seem to hold all celestial wisdom.
Amazing video by Robert Beatty, who can apparently do anything.
I guess this is part of an unfinished documentary on Lonnie started in the 90’s…
10. Atoms for Peace-AMOK
AMOK was just what I was expecting/hoping it would be: electronic Thom writing pop songs with more space and simpler, consistent instrumentation. This is Thom relaxing, taking a break from Radiohead, kicking back… and going on a relentless world tour.
Great video for album standout “Ingenue” with Yorke poking a bit of fun at himself maybe? Thom is still cool.
Great live “Dropped”
11. Blood Orange-Cupid Deluxe
I hate music that desperately tries to re-create an era that is gone forever.
What I love about this Blood Orange album is Dev’s heartfelt affinity for a bygone era combined with his ability to make it new. Sparse, slick, and just so damned genuine.
Every track’s opening has that I-could-be-a-single moment.
The dude pulls off the moves. Effortless cool. Video of Dev visiting his 92 year old Grandpa in Guyana for the first time.
12. Bardo Pond-Peace on Venus
I was introduced to Bardo Pond a little late in the game. I liked them, saw them live, and now love them.
One could say that Bardo has a single song, with many variations. I’m guessing some drug-induced ritual allows all members to ebb and flow in a collective stretching of time. This is liquid rock music.
(OK, other than MBV, Bardo have the only guitars worth listening to this year.)
Appropriately balls-out trippy fan video for “Kali Yuga Blues”… a perfect song…
13. Charli XcX
Undeniable UK pop success that made surprisingly few waves state-side. Drugged up teen singing about partying and boys coupled with hipster-cred production, damn decent songwriting and, well, they hit the sweet spot. My go-to soundtrack for making it through grueling work hours.
Video for “What I Like”
14. Huerco S-Colonial Patterns
An excellent full-length that somehow sits between Andy Stott’s bass-blowout techno and Aaron Dilloway’s tape experiments. Club music for the neo-hippie generation. The shape of things to come for sure.
Official video for “Ragtime USA”
15. Roly Porter-Life Cycle of a Massive Star
This dude will always have a place in my heart as he was half of Vex’d. As Roly Porter he makes soundscapes of the highest drama. Cosmic emotions of a very serious depth. He’s good enough to get away with this album title.
Trailer for what is apparently a 45 minute live set with visuals he is touring/toured?!?! (no NYC dates posted).
Fan video with visuals from “Tree of Life”
16. C418-Volume Beta
One of my middle-school students turned me onto this. C418 is 27 year old East German Daniel Rosenfeld. He writes music for the video game Minecraft, which I will never play.
C418 is pure essence of what internet genres, like vaporware, ironically repurpose.
This is cinematic, heart-felt, lonely ambient music designed to be the soundtrack for late nights playing videogames.
My student explained to me that you have to ‘unlock’ a lot of his best tracks by beating certain levels.
Youtube comment: “Well the minecraft songs are so sad because you’re all alone in a forgotten world.”
And here is the entire 2 hr beta release…
Some End Music from the game…
17. John Wizards-s/t
Got to love Planet-mu for somehow listening in on all corners of the globe. John Wizards, a young lad hailing from South Africa, brings the combination of regional tradition and digital-updating you hoped for. Goes from auto-tune reggae to footwork idm and it’s all good.
Nice studio footage…
Apparently “seapunk” is another micro-genre. Ultrademon, amongst a few others from Chicago, created and branded the scene. There is no real discernable defining feature for seapunk other than its neon electronic club music from-and-for the internet cult. Whatever. More power to ‘em.
It’s good fun and has track titles like “Chatroom with Enya.”
This was released by a Rephlex subsidiary… interesting.
Official Video for “Bahrain”
Official Video for “Step Into Liquid”
Alunageorge didn’t get the respect they deserved outside of the UK. I fcking hate Disclosure. I like these guys so much more.
Music in the stylish UK vein of well-programmed beats and smart live instrumentation. The vocals are pleasantly 90’s throwback (something I typically hate). Most importantly, they can write a damn fine pop tune.
Some nice studio-live footage…
20. (trend) Vocaloids/Hatsune Miku
Bizarro trend in Japan. Vocaloid is a program in which you can manipulate synthetic speech to make it sound more or less human. Fans make countless vocaloid songs, but Hatsune Miku, a digitally created artist, appears to be the official idol.
Miku performs live in Japan via hologram with a live band. Her lyrics are mostly about what life is like being a purely digital entity, how she is afraid she will disappear in a hardrive crash, and that she loves her fans.
Great example of digital/human synergy. The singularity awaits!
Here’s the video for “Eden” (2011), closest thing to Autechre’s “Gantz Graf” since!
New video by Takeshi Murakami!
Vocaloid Software tutorial
21. (trend) Black Midi
New internet-forum-based genre of employing as many notes as you can using basic midi software. The ‘black’ is reference to the indiscernible black mass that occurs when too many notes overlap on a score.
3 millions notes!
4.6 million notes!
8.49 million notes!!!
21 million notes!!!!! (which awesomely/annoyingly is half in just error clicks as the program crashes!)
And that, I guess, is a fitting end (coming full circle from OPN), as the digital era, like any, poses great possibilities… and shitty sounding mistakes… that can be turned into great possibilities…
till next year, ta ta!