Smoking Bottles & African Triumph: 2007 in Review
For me, 2007 was a fantastic and monumental year. The main thing was our 3-day event out in Los Angeles, Bottled Smoke. It went off without a hitch and really set the tone for the last half of 2007. I met a lot of amazing people and heard a ridiculous amount of great music. Everyone says the music industry is dying, but nobody seems to have told that to all the incredible musicians and labels out there that keep churning out gem after stinkin' gem. So things might look bleak in some respects for 2008, but if there's half as much good music on its way, then fuck it - I don't care - I'm optimistic. So here's a ridiculously long list of things I liked (and didn't) in 2007. Enjoy.
Also, check out the companion podcast to this article HERE
Group Doueh "Guitar Music From the Western Sahara" (Sublime Frequencies)
I seriously think this might be the best album I've heard in the past 5-10 years - it's that freaking good. The blend of Western-style guitar/rock and traditional Sahrawi is absolute genius. The songs are catchy, yet technically complex. I have no idea what anyone is saying (it's all sung in Hassanian). Sublime Frequencies mentions Hendrix and James Brown as influences, and they certainly come blaring through the thick layers of Sahrawi-laden sounds. It's such a ridiculously perfect marriage of ideas seemingly on opposite ends of the world that you can't help but be in awe. This is a perfect record.
Blues Control s/t (Holy Mountain), Meg Baird "Dear Companion" (Drag City), Bruce Springsteen "Magic" (Sony), Islaja "Ulual YYY" (Fonal), Christian Kiefer "Dogs & Donkeys" (Undertow), Gultskra Artikler "Kasha Iz Topora" (Miasmah), Tenniscoats "Totemo Aimasho" (Room40), Yellow Swans "At All Ends" (Load)
"Suzzanah" - Turner Cody (from "Quarter Century" on Boy Scout)
Okay, this is a bit of a cop-out since "Quarter Century" was originally released, sort of, last year on vinyl. But the CD came out this year and is more, uh, official. Whatever, this song is amazing. Lyrically, you're not going to find many better than Cody and his talents are displayed on this song better than just about anything else he's done. From the opening lines of "I've studied cruel bastards and I know a thing or two / They'll hook you up with shining stuff and get you things for free, then laugh at you and cast you to the sea" to "Let them be believing there are reasons they should die, what good is it that they should know what fortune they supply?" it doesn't get much better. This whole album is full of gems, but "Suzzanah" is definitely the centerpiece. If there's any song that I heard this year that I'd give my left arm to have written, it's probably this one.
"Waltze of the Tennis Players" - Meg Baird (from "Dear Companion), "Fisher King" - Christian Kiefer (from "Dogs & Donkeys"), "Pysähtyneet planeetat" - Islaja (from "Ulual YYY"), "No You Won't" & "The Moon" - Lightning Strike Lightning (from Tryst Haunt 7"), "Way Their Crept" - Grouper (from "Way Their Crept" 12")
Best Debut (a tie!)
RV Paintings "Trinitiy Rivers" (Root Strata)
This Starving Weirdos sideproject emerged as one of the best new groups of the year by far. They are a completely different beast than their weirdo brethren. Darker and a bit more angular, less about the Humboldt spirits and more about channelling some kind of unspoken dark energy. Totally great and I'll be the first admit that I'm more excited about RV Paintings next outing than I am Starving Weirdos next (not that that is a dig on SW at all!).
Meg Baird "Dear Companion" (Drag City)
Sure I told everyone not to pick more than one thing per category, but I can break my own rules. Seriously, though, Baird's solo effort was going to be my pick for album of the year until I realized Group Doueh came out in 2007 not 2006. This is a perfect album. It's as simple as it gets, but thrives in such a setting like few people can. There's a wholesomeness to this album that is impossible to ignore, but it's not forced or phony or anything of the sort: it's just brilliant music presented with no frills and no bullshit. Comprised of covers, standards, & originals, "Dear Companion" has no throwaway tracks and doesn't overtstay it's welcome. Everything about it is done just right and makes you want to listen to it again and again (and again and again and...).
Honorable Mentions: The Family Elan "Stare of Dawn" (Locust), soccer Committee "sC" (Morc), The Vulture Club "Live Young, Die Fast, and Leave an Exquisite Corpse" (Utech)
Fire on Fire s/t (Young God)
An absolutely stunning five song offering from this new supergroup featuring Caleb Mulkerin, Colleen Kinsella (these two also form Big Blood, another one of the year's finds), Chriss Sutherland, & Tom Kovacevic from Cerberus Shoal plus their ultra-talented housemate, Micah Blue Smaldone. This is down-home folk goodness at its best. All these guys & gals live together in the Blue House up in Portland, Maine and it shows. The varying styles and ideas fit together perfectly and make up a release so damn good that I had to invent a category specifically for it. This limited release is only available from the band or directly from Young God, so get moving or you're going to miss out on an absolute gem.
Honorable Mention: Barry Burst "Gora" (L'Animaux Tryst)
Baby Grandmothers s/t (Subliminal Sounds)
This is such an essential CD for everyone reading this list that it's not even funny. Heavy fuzz psych monsters from Sweden that will make you shake that ass. This is basically their entire recorded output collected onto one CD, and everything here rules. It'll punch you in the face, but take you out for drinks afterwards. So heavy, so good, so essential.
Honorable Mentions: Rex Holman "Here in the Land of Victory" (Fallout), Chico Magnetic Band s/t (Lizard), The Alps "Jewelt Galaxies/Spirit Shamples" (Spekk), Richard Youngs "Summer Wanderer" (Gipsy Sphinx)
Best Various Artists Compilation
"Compact Listen" CD (CLaudia)
This was a tough call because the "Post Asiatic" 2CD on URCK is pretty great, too. But "Compact Listen" has a little bit of everything but works perfectly. It's a great collection of stuff from New Zealand, with the highlights being Métal Rouge (who are actually based in LA at the moment), Greg Malcolm, Mhfs, and of course, The Futurians. There's also quality tracks from Foxy D favorites A.M. and Stefan Neville.
"Post Asiatic: Lost War Dream Music" 2CD (URCK), "Black Mirror" (Dust-to-Digital)
Loren Connors "As Roses Bow: Collected Airs 1992-2002" (Family Vineyard)
Total genius. Both Connors' anthologies have been nothing short of essential, but the "Airs" collection is my favorite simply because the "Airs" stuff is his best solo work. If you don't own this, run out and buy it now. Rumor has it that an anthology of his duets with Kath Bloom is in the works. I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that'll be the winner in 2008 (three years running!) as it's some of the best music ever recorded.
Honorable Mentions: Daphne Oram "Oramics" (Paradigm), Machinefabriek "Weleer" (Lampse)
Best Cover Art
TwinSisterMoon "Levels & Crossings" and Isengrind "Golestan" (Self-Released)
I always feel a little weird listing stuff that Digitalis is in someway directly related to, but since we're strictly talking cover art & packaging here, and the reissues of these albums we're doing won't have the exact same packaging, I'm making an exception. These two releases are works of art. Literally. First, there's the exquisite drawings by Solange Gularte (of particular note are the Mayan-inspired images covering "Levels & Crossings"). Then, there's the packaging itself. Hard-bound 4-panel sleeves that are more like a book cover than CD packaging and an immense multi-fold accordian style sleeve that houses TSM. These are hopelessly limited, so I feel a bit like I'm rubbing it in the faces of those of you that weren't able to snag copies, but I can't help but heap praise on the work these two do. There's nobody else like them in the world.
Honorable Mentions: Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood "Enter the Cult Until the Dust.." 2XCDR (and just about everything else on Musicyourmindwillloveyou - Catrider's s/t debut is incredible too), Everything on Phaserprone, L'Animaux Tryst's Tryst Haunt 7" series Batch #1, Evan Miller "Beeswax Ephemera" (Self-Released)
Best Vinyl Only
Blues Control "Puff" (Woodsist)
Blues Control just fucking ruled in 2007. "Puff" is a mini-masterpiece and was the perfect appetizer for their full-on opus on Holy Mountain. What makes "Puff" so great, though, is the incessant dichotomies that are constantly at play. Russ Waterhouse & Lea Cho are really onto something here, combining all sorts of sounds and ideas that shouldn't go together, but in their capable hands, they fucken scorch. Thank god this puppy is getting reissued soon.
Honorable Mention: Richard Youngs & Tirath Singh Nirmala (HP Cycle), Grouper "Way Their Crept" (Root Strata), Gregg Kowalsky "Tendrils in Vigne" (Root Strata), Black Monk "Flowstone" (Not Not Fun/Arbor), Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood "Suppress (Detached) Orchestra" (Students of Decay)
Best CD-R Only
Steve Gunn s/t (Onomato)
This amazing document was sadly pretty rare and not all that well distributed (I think Zach Reno (of Ghosting fame) shut down Onomato soon after it came out), but that doesn't take away from how great an album it is. Based around solo 6-and-12-string guitar with embellishments of banjo and harmonium, Gunn (who is best known for being the backbone of GHQ) shows off his considerable skill. These songs are melodic and hypnotic, but never overdone. It's a great collection of tracks and I hope it's going to be reissued at some point.
Honorable Mentions: Jefre Cantu-Ledesma "Shining Skull Breath" (Students of Decay), Lightning Strike Lightning "Turn Myself Into the Ocean" (L'Animaux Tryst), Sorc'henn "Harmonium Pieces & Dead Reveries" (Fauna Sabbatha), Fantastic Ego "Trips the Light" (Phantom Limb), CJA "Pink Metal" (Pseudoarcana), Evan Miller "Beeswax Ephemera" (Self-Released)
Best 3" CD-R
Cursillistas/Bird Microphone "Paper Mines" dbl 3" (L'Animaux Tryst)
This is definitely one of my favorite releases of the year. Everything from the music to the packaging, the whole aesthetic is just spot on. Cursillistas is great as always. Disjointed, enchanted folk rhythms drowning in pools of reverb, with "Drone (Groan)" being a particular highlight. The other disc, from Bird Microphone, is just as exquisite. Alyce Fornella
Machinefabriek & soccer Committee "Clay" (Self-Released), Tim Coster "Blackberry" (CLaudia), Emaciator "Remorse" (emr), Pefkin "Lie On the Ground & Breathe" (Cook an Egg), Kites "Sky Hammer" (Chondritic Sound), Jefre Cantu-Ledesma "The Phantom Harp" (Root Strata)
Best Cassette Only
Fantastic Magic "Witch Choir" (Abandon Ship)
Abandon Ship has quickly become one of my favorite labels around, releasing loads of quality in 2007. But nothing can hold a candle to the weird and brilliant "Witch Choir." It's endless hooks and off-the-wall jams make this a total stand-out. I find myself humming these songs at random times and am starting to wear my copy of the tape out I've listened to it so much. Out-of-print at the moment, sadly, but I would be shocked if some kind of reissue doesn't materialize. Track this sucker down. NOW.
A quick mention to Sloow Tapes who had another amazing year. Particularly impressive were the Anna Kallio, Pulsating in the Eye and Vision, Attar Cups, and Suishou No Fune tapes.
UW OWL "New Birth of Old Death" (Phaserprone - this one is a VERY CLOSE second
), Fish & Sheep "Dead Nuns Rising" (Silver Ghosts), Marble Sky "The Sad Return" (Callow God), Evan Miller "Three Spells for Six String Guitar" (Night People), Watersports (w/ Aaron Rosenblum) "More" (Arbor)
The first installment of L'Animaux Tryst's "Tryst Haunt" series
If you haven't subscribed to L'Animaux Tryst's 12-part 7" series, you need to do so RIGHT NOW
. The first three volumes are all absolutely divine. Tempera & Bad Bus offer up some kraut-tinged jams that set the pace for the rest of the singles. Bad Bus are particularly great and "The Field" grooves along inside a cold and glacial palace. Totally great. The other two 7"s feature single acts taking up both sides of each (Cursillistas on one and Lightning Strike Lightning on the other). Starting with LSL (who are quickly becoming one of my favorite bands), they steal the show with "No You Won't" & "The Moon." They're such exquisite songs. The former bends your ears with layers of vocals and excellent rhythm backing the hypnotic voice of Adrienne Heflich. This shit will lull you into a splendid trance. "The Moon," is just as good, too. And extra points for prominent banjo use and great lyrics. So last but not least is the mighty Cursillistas, who I love. "Taste Teeth" is a great track with a slow-moving melody buried beneath waves of distorted guitar drones. It's catchy and covered in the organic mess that autumn leaves behind. Just to give you an idea of how great these three 7"s are, the Cursillistas one is my least favorite, and it's fucking great. When you consider the incredible packaging that each is housed in (the Bad Bus/Tempera split comes in hand-sewn mini-quilted sleeves) and the installments to come (Big Blood, Visitations, Elephant Micah, GHQ, Drona Parva, & much more) I am shocked
that any of these subscriptions are still available. Like I said, BUY THIS NOW. RIGHT NOW!
Warmth/Robe. split (Black Horizons), Heavy Winged/Blues Control split (Not Not Fun), Shepherds "Bush Babies" (DNT)
Best Live Show
Look, I don't care if I co-organized this whole thing. We don't get a lot of good shows out here in Oklahoma, so this was it for me in 2007 and there were a load of amazing performances over the weekend. Some highlights included: Ilyas Ahmed
dedicating the set to his mom and generally just blowing everyone's mind with his simple, enchanting songs. Theo Angell
exorcising demons and generally just helping set the bar for the next festival. Bonus points for including the official Bottled Smoke mascot, 3 year-old Cat, in his set. Ghosting
shaking my fillings loose and stealing the show Saturday night (with apologies to Tarentel). Gregg Kowalsky
also hit it out of the park with his tape chants orchestra. I was sick as a dog during his set (and Theo's), but it was the perfect antidote.
Learning how many of my fellow weirdo music junkies were also huge soccer/football fans. The stereotype goes that musicians and sports don't really mix, but not so when it comes to this group of shredders. Most unfortunate was that this was learned at the very end (literally) of Bottled Smoke in one case, and after the fest in others. I don't even remember how it happened, but walking up the alleyway beside the Echo Curio after the last band had played and everyone was packing up, some Ed Hardy & I started talking about the Champion's League final that happened two days before the fest began. It further turned out that we both supported the same team (Arsenal), and I recently found out that Ed's also extremely knowledgable about the squad. Too fucken cool. After the fest, I made a blogpost recapping some of the highlights and mentioned said incident, and then all sorts of folks chimed in. Brian Pyle from Starving Weirdos is a huge
footie fan (and in fact, we probably talk about soccer more than we do music at this point, ha!), Tony Cross from Tarentel - also a huge Arsenal fan, Ned Raggett, Mats Gustafsson, Bruno Parisse... we're all a bunch of addicts. So yeah, it surprised me, but now I'm determined to do a big European tour with Starving Weirdos and Tarentel and go see as many matches along the way as we can.
I've been in love with this duo ever since they released their brilliant debut 3" on Tim Coster's CLaudia imprint, and they've only got better. Helga Fassonaki plays the santur (Persian hammered dulcimer) like nobody else. She excorcises layers of noise from an instrument you'd never associate with such a thing. It's brilliant and perfectuly augmented by Andrew Scott's angular, distortion-and-effects-driven guitar assaults. There's not really a duo out there like this and their music is as impressive as it is unique. Definitely a band to check out, especially if you live in LA where they play live regularly.
While steel-string slingers like Richard Bishop and James Blackshaw get all the plaudits, there's a trio of players who are equally impressive in my book: Steve Gunn, Maurizio Abate, and Evan Miller. All three released some truly lovely stuff in 2007.
Best Label (a tie! oh my!)
What a fucking year for John Whitson's Holy Mountain imprint. Good god. Blues Control, La Otracina, Daniel Higgs, Wooden Shjips, & the Shining Path are all
incredible albums. There are few labels that can even come close to that output this year. Any of those releases could have vied for best release of the year in truth.
L'Animaux Tryst burst onto the scene this year. Run by Matt Lajoie (of the mighty Cursillistas), this label has been a revelation. He's releasing bands nobody else is (admittedly he's in a bunch of them, but that's not a bad thing at all) and he's putting together packaging schemes that are as original as they come. LAT was in the running for this before
their incredible "Tryst Haunt" 7" series, but that was just icing on the cake. Looking over my list here, I think there's more LAT titles on here than any other label, so maybe it should have won this coveted award outright, but oh well. And I'm not just saying this so he'll release an album of mine some day, I swear. Seriously though, get over to the LAT site and start buying everything that's still in-print.
I have to give a shout to my boy Mike Pollard's Arbor
imprint. He cranked out a lot of great releases this year (highlights for me include Evan Miller/Gown split tape, Bobb Bruno tape, Robedoor & Haunted Castle collab LP, Black Monk LP, Tent City CDR, Watersports w/ Aaron Rosenblum tape) and his packaging is consistently great and innovative. The thing that makes it doubly impressive is that he's 17 and still in high-school. So mad props to Arbor and Mike who is a total inspiration.
continues to be an inspiration to anyone who doesn't suck.
The fact that Sunburned let Four Tet "remix" them and then actually released it. "Fire Escape" is pretty horrible. The thing that makes Sunburned great (when they are great, anyway. It can admittedly be pretty hit-or-miss) is the balls-to-the-walls-ness that they totally embody when they're on. Hebden castrated them and made a jam-band boogie record. It makes me weep. Uncontrollably. Seriously.
Christina Carter's half of the split LP with Pocahaunted on Not Not Fun. I love
Christina Carter, but eesh, these four tracks really did nothing for me. But PHNT delivers two scorchers making the record well worth the price of admission.
pictures from top to bottom:
John Xela & I share a quiet moment at the top of some random stairs in Los Angeles. If only we were into dudes, we'd be such a power couple.
Nathan Young (my partner-in-crime in Ajilvsga) checks out the incredible 'quilt of CDR covers' at the Echo Curio, designed & installed for the fest.
Gregg Kowalsky adjusts one of his seven tape players during his performance of Tape Chants at Bottled Smoke. It was truly one of the highlights, and Gregg just plain rules.
The first night at Bottled Smoke, about 20 minutes after Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Gregg Kowalsky, Jed Bindeman, John Xela, & I all met for the first time, we performed as Sea Zombies (debut coming in 08). This was the exact moment Jefre told me, "If this gets too metal, I'm walking off stage." Ever since, he is simply known as _THE ENIGMA_.
One of the many posters/flyers designed by the folks at the Echo Curio for the festival. This one also appeared on the cover of the festival program.
all pictures taken by Eden Hemming Rose
-- Brad Rose (8 January, 2008)