Top 10 albums of 2008

December 18, 2008 at 4:47 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

I love this time of year.  One of the things I enjoy most about it is sharing music that I loved during the year and digging up records that other people enjoyed.  I would love to hear what other people listened to this year, so please let me know.

P.S. all these below have links where you can listen and\or read more about the musics.


#1 – Fuck Buttons – Street Horrrsing

I’ve already written a bit about this record here so I won’t say too much more.  Layers and layers of fuzz like blankets over your ears.  Beautiful melodies and textures assemble themselves as it feels like the ether around you is resonating and crackling.  This may not be for everybody, but I would recommend at least checking out one track.


#2 – Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dymphna

A complete journey from one point to another while rarely re-treading over its own path.  The song forms on this record are free of traditional verse\chorus\verse structure.  Its pieces together music from the Middle East, Asia and various corners of the world into one meandering voice.


#3 – DJ /rupture – Uproot

Weaving together disparate musics from around the world, dj /rupture has created one of the most thoughtful and carefully created re-combinings of music I have ever heard.  From Moroccan hip hop to classical music to dubstep, they are all weaved back together with a very deliberate and cohesive alchemy.


#4 – Portishead – Third

Beyond the disbelief that this record finally came out is the disbelief that it’s actually good.  It’s more than good.  It’s one of the best records I have ever heard.  After 11 years they are back with a record which is a completely new exploration and a very enjoyable one.  Their commitment to reaching out to new musical space is nothing less than inspirational to me.


#5 – MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

Hands down among this list, this record is the one that I would recommend to almost anyone I know.  Maybe even my mom.  She would probably love “Electric Feel”.  Some of the spaciest, danciest pop I have ever heard and I still can’t get enough of it.  It’s sweet and catchy and still it lasts.  I’m looking forward to more from these guys.  Especially if they continue working with Dave Fridmann since they seem to be like a younger and catchier Flaming Lips.


#6 – Buraka Som Sistema – Black Diamond

If you want rhythm, then check out some of this music called by some “kuduro” (“hard ass” in Portugese).  Full of fresh rhythms that I had not previously imagined, it’s hard to describe without playing it.  So click.  Pull down shades.  Shake your hard ass around your living room.


#7 – Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I – IV

Far and away this is the record I do not agree with music critics on this year.  Admittedly it is a collection of song ideas.  Fragments.  Nothing produced.  Nothing seen to completion.  However, there are moments in these recordings that I find to be extremely valuable.  Moments that made me feel something more than anything else I have listened to this year.  I didn’t expect Trent Reznor to remind me that I have a heart.  For examples of these, please see “Track 13” and “Track 22”.  The rest is left as an exercise to the listener.


#8 – The Kills – Midnight Boom

Pure guilty pleasure.  A great blend for tastes like mine since it combines atonal complicated musical ideas with instantly enjoyable pop.  Their most accessible record so far, it is sensual and well produced while still retaining its quality of being raw, and almost animal.  Those of you who were with me at the Monolith Festival at Red Rocks know that I was a bit impressed with Ms. Alison Mosshart as well.


#9 – Torche – Meanderthal

Is this really my only heavy guitar album on the list?  I’m afraid so.  Beyond being heavy, Torche are melodic and epic.  Some of these songs are so huge I think they could become anthems of small nations if they were to fall into the wrong hands.  Despite being “heavy” guitar driven rock, the music feels positive, almost uplifting at times.  I think I will go ahead and give this record the distinguished and highly sought after award of  “Kelly’s pump up record of the year”.


#10 – School Of Seven Bells – Alpinisms

Fell completely backwards into this record.  I had forgotten that the Secret Machines had changed their roster and I read that they had a new record.  I listened to it but it didn’t really sound like them.  Turns out that previous vocalist\guitarist Ben Curtis left and created this wonderfully ethereal record with a couple of young ladies.  Filled with lush, psychedelic layers, African rhythms and beautiful vocals, I would recommend this to anyone who loves My Bloody Valentine, M83, or Cocteau Twins.

Honorable Mentions


Marnie Stern – This Is It […] That Is That
Who would have known that such technical guitar playing could be so enjoyable?  If 2009-Kelly came to visit 2008-Kelly to tell him that one of his favorite records was full of two-handed guitar weedlemanship (weedlewomanship???) would he have believed 2009-Kelly?  Most likely not.


This Will Destroy You – This Will Destroy You

An album I was not expecting.   I was not expecting it to destroy me.  But it did.  A great record of “post-rock” which employs a bit of noise and glitch elements along with more guitar-driven instrumentals a la MONO, Explosions in the Sky, and Mogwai.  It turns out that good things can come out of Texas.


The Flaming Lips – Christmas on Mars (soundtrack)

One more to file away in the “I can’t believe this finally happened” category.  Along with new recordings from Portishead and Guns n Roses, I started to wonder if this movie and its soundtrack would ever see the light of day.  I love the Flaming Lips but was not too impressed with their last album.  It had a few moments, but overall I felt it was lacking.  This does not disappoint.  It is a soundtrack, so there’s nothing here to tap your foot to.  However, the compositions and soundscapes here are masterful.  It feels like there were some deliberate efforts on the behalf of Stephen Drozd to try new thematic methods in creating the score.  On the interviews on the DVD he talks about how we would write a melody and then re-write it so that the melody and rhythm changed places to invert back and forth on one another.  The sound\music of this film are definitely the highlight and after years of waiting and receiving Christmas cards from Wayne saying that the movie was “finally coming out that year” I’m glad that they took their time to do it right.


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Unifying theories of sounds and horses

December 9, 2008 at 6:53 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Last Friday marks the one year anniversary of the passing on of a fascinating mind in the world of music and sound.  Karlheinz Stockhausen was a pioneer in audio synthesis who was the first to show that properties of sound once thought to be distinct were in fact the same thing.  In other words, all various properties of sound and music that we know of as rhythm, pitch, and timbre are really all the same thing.  The only difference is that we perceive these based on the window of time in which we look at them.  This idea was a breakthrough both in music and in modern audio synthesis.  In this, he succeeded in not only proving but using this new “unifying theory of sound”.

The piece Stockhausen created for this theory was in 1960 and it is called KONTAKTE.  Here are some notes on the piece :

“The most famous moment, at the very center of the work, is a potent illustration of these connections: a high, bright, slowly wavering pitch descends in several waves, becoming louder as it gradually acquires a snarling timbre, and finally passes below the point where it can be heard any longer as a pitch. As it crosses this threshold, it becomes evident that the sound is comprised of a succession of pulses, which continue to slow until they become a steady beat. With increasing reverberation, the individual pulses become transformed into tones once again.”

There is something very tantalizing about unifying theories.  I’ve realized lately that there is an interesting theme in the books I am reading lately.  They all seem to revolve around thinkers who try and even succeed in explaining large chunks of the worlds in a small sentence or two.  No matter the subject matter at hand, there is such a feeling of completion to wrap up disparate ideas and put them in a package to put a red bow on top.  Stockhausen is not the only mind I admire for his unifying theory of sound.  Some of my favorite thinkers are those who attempt to explain our world through a much simpler view.  This is my obsession with Joseph Campbell.  By looking at all world religions and mythologies from a high level he is able to pull out of them all simultaneously their essence.  It’s much easier to understand the world when we can see that any of them could be explained by one simple recipe or archetype.  Again in the extremely complex world of linguistics we have Noam Chomsky who strives to explain all languages as falling under the umbrella of one Universal Grammar.  I’m still trying to figure out why I am so drawn to this theme, but so far I am content with these ideas going directly to the pleasure center of my brain.

Fuck Buttons and a Horse

Fuck Buttons and a Horse

Now finally after crossing these stepping stones of prerequisites we have finally arrived at the FUCK BUTTONS. Have you ever seen two musicians look so happy or show such love for a horse?  It just might be because they have happen to have succeeded in creating a piece of music which I believe is a beautiful and engaging expression of Stockhausen and his unifying theory.  A great example of this is the opener track “Sweet Love for Planet Earth”. After some introductory chimes we are drawn to a droning bed of fuzz which forms the timbre of the piece. Several minutes later when we are lulled into the function of this sound as a drone, the entire sound is processed with a delay until it becomes what we would normally call the rhythm track of a song.  Finally after we have accepted this as our rhythmic center, it now begins to lumber into a sort of melody.  All the duties we expect from our sounds get shifted and blurred to the point that no sound or instrument can be expected to perform a certain function before eventually it morphs into something else.  Right from under our ears.  Also the vocals in this music are not what we tradionally think of as vocals.  Instead of carrying a melody or pitch instead they provide rhythm and timbre into an increasingly complex piece of music where sounds slide about in use much like young children on a slip-n-slide.  On the Fuck Buttons website not long ago was a statement that their music was a means of transcending melody and rhythm so that they are each other.  Continuing beyond this, it also said that there was the effect of their music of creating a oneness between the individual and the Universe.  If we follow the logic and (sometimes strange) ideas of Stockhausen, then it looks like they have achieved that kind of unity.  Try listening to it reading Campbell or Chomsky.  Who knows, maybe you could come up with a theory uniting all possible sounds, religious ideas and parts of speech?

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