Friday, September 4, 2009

Things I almost forgot - a 2009 retrospective

Iran - Dissolver (02.09, Narnak)

For: Pavement, TV on the Radio, Track Star

Two things that everyone knows about Iran's 2009 offering. 1) It sounds nothing like their lo-fi reverb drenched bedroom pop of years past. 2) Iran is the side project of Tv on the Radio's Kyp Malone. These are two very important details that I did not know on the first spin. Without these two tasty morsels of info I was able to listen to Dissolver with fresh ears, devoid of expectations. What Dissolver is on first blush are a couple of jangly slacker indie rock songs from the late nineties Pavement mixed with some well timed power pop of Track Star and Walt Mink. The "whoo-hoos" and "come-ons", 4/4 waltz tempos during the blue-eyed soul ballads, darker, murkier songs towards the end of the album. Pretty standard fare. After the supplemental information is supplied you start to notice things, I'm not sure if I was listening to it through a TVOTR filter, but suddenly I heard David Sitek's (he produced it) mitts all over the negatives. Layered, distortion-laden guitar work under the surface, a few experimental tendencies towards the end, just the ush. Aaron Aites's voice morphed into Kyp Malone's ringing baritone, I suddenly couldn't distinguish the two. It would be nice to think that this album could stand alone from it's superstar doppleganger, but with all of its support Dissolver can't help from being filed in yeah-it's-pretty-good-I-guess category.

Dan Deacon Bromst (03.09, Carpark)

For: Dan Deacon, Steve Reich, F-word Buttons

Bromst is a revelation. It only took me half a year to discover why. Dan Deacon's 2007 Spiderman of the Rings was the anthem to my summer. It was played everywhere from a trip to Las Vegas to shoot a documentary, to an impromptu trip to Antelope Island, and every Thursday before our community Four Square Game. The communal vibe of SMOTR capitalized on everyones desire for relentlessly uplifting music during occasions that call for such. With that said, I don't know if Bromst would be my go-to for those occasions. It is not that Bromst is a downer, just the opposite, it is one of the most incrediblely life-affirming albums of the year. It feels much more personal for me. More like a mantra than a soundtrack. Bromst expands on 2007's D.I.Y computer engineering, circuit bending, mad scientist meets Classically trained minimalist composer that is Dan Deacon to encorporate more live instrumentation: drumming, a hijacked player-piano, guitar washes, mallets, xylophones, etc...with made-from-scratch synths, delays, computer programs. Everything feels much more in control this time, everything is smoothed over a little, Dan Deacon is really singing underneath those pitch-shifted cartoon character voices. An almost Stag Hare like approach of chanted vocals make their entry to Dan Deacons songs, expanding on the more meditative feel of the album. Each song expands gracefully from hyper-minimalist lines to an almost Wagnerian wall of sound that crowds your headphones like being front and center in an opera. Absolutely stunning.

Hanne Hukkelberg - Blood From a Stone (Nettwerk, 04.09)

For: Bat for Lashes, Berntholer, The Knife

Percussion featured on Blood From a Stone: typewriters, train doors, bicycle spokes, flag poles, old refrigerators, etc... This plus the kitchen sink are featured oh-so-subtly on Norwegian Hanne Hukkelberg's newest album. Blood From a Stone stands well on its own without the Blue Man Group menagerie of found or recycled sound. Hukkelberg's arrangements are ridiculously complex palates of sonic experimentation that range from subdued pop, Kid A era Radiohead backwards experimentation, to spacious Metal soundscapes with Hukkelbergs powerful voice punctuating power chords. Buried deep below the surface the found sound aspect to Blood from a Stone is there to be sought out, not as a cheap gimmick. The strength of the album relies solely on Hukkelberg's powerful voice and beguilingly sparse-yet-overpowering compositions. A powerful addition to 2009's Scandinavian oeuvre.

Ryan H.

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