Demolishing Particles: Making Sense of 2014 with Bryon

Posted by on January 12, 2015

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I’m in my late thirties. For me, a year begins and then in the blink of an eye I’m looking back on it, writing about it.  When I was younger, I disagreed that time flew by quicker as one got older. Now, I’m not so sure that my younger self was right. But by reflecting at the end of the year, the realization that I was able to be mindful and to exist in the moment is a source of pride. Time didn’t disintegrate, it was lived through.

I try not to compare years, especially with respect to music. There was a tremendous amount of vibrant, groovy, thoughtful and fascinating music that arrived in my ears over the last 365 days. Far too much to write about, far too much to even contemplate. Somehow I managed to sink my teeth into a little piece of what came out in 2014, but in reading the lists of others, I realize now that it isn’t possible to grasp it all. So here’s how I saw the past year.

Music as Cosmic Analogy  

In trying to come to terms with what I felt were the “best” releases of 2014, I managed to pull together a list of categories which described what I thought I wanted to write about. As I started writing, I got about one or two categories in before I realized that I’d never end up finishing this piece because there was just too much great music. I then imagined a kind of sonic annihilation. Most of what I truly loved involved electronics, tapes, instruments and computers colliding in what should have been unnatural ways. Matter and anti-matter coming together to destroy themselves. This chaotic interplay is what I truly fancied this year.

The most striking example of this phenomenon is of course Matthew Sage. I reviewed both his A Singular Continent double LP (Patient Sounds) and his Data in the Details tape (Geographic North) and came to the realization that this man is an outright sorcerer when it comes to fusing modes of operation into cohesive patterns of sound. In a similar fashion, Jan Anderzén (who I’ve been following for at least a decade now) and his Kemialliset Ystävät project released Alas Rattoisaa Virtaa, the first album in years under that name, and it created a completely new set of neural pathways for me. Equally mind-bending yet far more gargantuan in scope was the multi-format A Line in the Sand project by Nathan McLaughlin, Joe Houpert, Cody Yantis, and Josh Mason. Without getting into the particulars, this set of music really fired my engines and made me realize that ambition and talent are a potent combination in the right hands.

Unfinished Business – That Which Did Not Get Reviewed

As the old proverb goes, sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. Along those lines, there were some amazing releases this year that I planned on writing full reviews for but for one reason or another did not manage to do so. It’s a shame, because I probably spent hundreds of hours listening to these albums but somehow didn’t manage to spill any ink on their behalf. Mike Weis of Zelienople fame lit a fire with his tremendous Type release Don’t Know, Just Walk. A trio of meditative sound art pieces based around a variety of percussive instruments, the album is a mind-and-ear-opening work of majesty. The sheer power of this music is demonstrative of Weis’ unflagging ability to work magic.

Anyone who follows the New Interfaces column knows about the GRM, and probably also follows Paris-based GRM member Kassel Jaeger (real name: François Bonnet).  Jaeger/Bonnet released his second solo album for Editions Mego in 2014, the epic Toxic Cosmopolitanism. Both sides of the album – the eponymous A side and the four-part “Exposure Scales” suite on the flip – were created by fusing sounds sourced from cultures that span our increasingly shrinking globe. Yet any distinguishing markers associated with the originating instrumental sources have been obliterated in the process of creating these immense and contemplative pieces.  The process works, however, revealing the unseen energy that binds every one of us to our planet and to each other.

The Holodeck label had another stellar year in 2014, but its most fantastic release was also its outlier. Austin’s Sungod somehow manage to marry together kosmische psychedelia and acoustic folk music into a powerful intoxicant that is also quite addictive. Their eponymous LP pulls together five expansive tracks that seem to levitate by the sheer force of their own unexplained energy. It also rocks, which adds to the overall charm.

Around Again – The Year in Reissue

Ever since the internet shrunk our globe to the size of a marble and crammed all of recorded history into a bunch of server farms, there has been a marked increase in the quantity and quality of music being rediscovered. It’s no surprise, then, that there was an incredible amount of outrageously wonderful reissues and career surveys produced in 2014. French INA-GRM alumnus Ariel Kalma saw his meditative 1970s output compiled by the Brooklyn-based RVNG Intl imprint into An Evolutionary Music (Original Recordings 1972-1979). I sat on this album for months, basking in its effervescence and digging deep into the nooks and crannies of Kalma’s intriguing back story. There is an infectious glow about the man and his music – I highly recommend seeking him out. Also worth noting was the appearance of Giant Chocolate Think Tank Blues by The Always Red Society this year, Will Cullen Hart’s early Elephant Six project that preceded Olivia Tremor Control and featured Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel.  Arriving for the first time since 1993 via the Hope for the Tape Deck imprint, the tape features a nascent version of the OTC classic “Can You Come Down With Us?” and is a refreshing look back to the formative years of what came to be the hydra-headed psych-monster collective.

The mysterious Sanity Muffin label is situated in Oakland, California. This year, a number of what must be grey-area reissues have bubbled up to the surface from the SM camp in cassette format. My favourites are Wings of the Delirious Demon and Other Electronic Works from Turkish electro-acoustic maestro İlhan Mimaroğlu and SF Tape Music Centre mainstay Warner Jepson’s Tullian Beach Bum (Machine Excerpts).  Mangled clarinet sprays all over Wings, while Tullian finds Jepson riffing on a custom-built Buchla synth to great effect. Recently, the label revived what I thought was a long-lost CD-R of Flying Saucer Attack live sets, the epic P.A. Blues, so there are certainly no signs of stopping.  I, for one, am glad.

In terms of vinyl reissues, not many do it as good as San Francisco’s Superior Viaduct. Their double-LP issue of kiwi should-be legend Peter Jefferies’ Electricity is sublime, and the eponymous masterpiece recorded by Gruppo d’Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza (which included a pre-fame Ennio Morricone) is essential avant-garde clangour. No-wave fanatics should also part with their cash to acquire Glenn Branca’s debut full-length, The Ascension.  All of these look fantastic and sound even better.

Honourable Mentions

Because I really can’t slaver incessantly like a rabid dog for ever, I’ll merely list out some of my other favorite releases from 2014. Enjoy and may 2015 be full of light and love for you and yours!

• Essentially everything released by Pleasence Records in 2014

• Nick Storring’s Gardens CD (Scissor Tail Editions) and Endless Conjecture tape (Orange Milk)

• The Fleshtone Aura / Dylan Nyoukis split LP on Bennifer Editions

• Dane Patterson’s Ghosting cassette (Fabrica)

• The insane rock opera that is His Name is Alive’s Tecuciztecatl (London London)

• Giant Claw’s Dark Web LP (Orange Milk / Noumenal Loom)