What a busy year. Its been almost non-stop all year on all fronts. There have strains and stresses, departures and arrivals, joy and sadness, and plenty of new challenges.
In between all this I’ve felt a strong shift in my musical consumption patterns. Late last year I started to use Last.fm and this has been pretty much tracked almost everything I’ve listened to over the past 12 months – at least everything I’ve bothered to transfer to my iPod or laptop. The effect of having Last.fm tracking has been interesting – now I’m able to track the frequency of listening to particular artists and albums, and actually observe the patterns in which I consume, or more accurately, dip in and out of artists and albums. Probably reflecting my age I still do listen to a lot of albums from beginning to end rather than chopping them up into the playlists, or worse, ‘random play’ so beloved by younger generations. Interestingly, too, the ability to observe the patterns of others using the same means has produced some new paths to follow and new artists to listen to and track down.
Apparently I listened to nearly 18000 tracks this year – including a pretty diverse range of most frequent albums.
It is important to remember that the most frequent don’t necessarily mean ‘favourite’. Last.fm has its own particular logging quirks and there are a lot of tracks and artists that slip between the cracks.
So, what were my favourites? (in no particular order)
Leafcutter John – The Forest & The Sea (Staubgold)
It look me a few weeks to really warm to The Forest & The Sea -” not another folk/electronic crossover!?”. But over time it became a firmly ingrained soundtrack to many journeys. Full of truly spine-tingling moments of words and processed sound, the album earthy and dark rather than cheerily bucolic.
Burial – Burial (Hyperdub)
What an amazing listening experience and a timely reminder that ‘good production’ or sound quality is not a necessary element of a ‘good record’. Sombre, bleak, and full of ambiguity and space, Burial had need universal appeal to everyone who has heard it from original dubsteppers to indie kids. There hasn’t been a record that has had so many words written about it in years – certainly not an independent and niche album like this.
Joanna Newsom – Ys (Drag City)
Just five tracks, long and winding, adventurous and proudly bookish. I’m really looking forward to her shows in Sydney in a few weeks time. Again, so many words have been spilled on this album already that I need not add any more.
Root70 – Heaps Dub (Nonplace)
Burnt Friedman and Hayden Chisholm visited these shores in 2005 and played an intimate show and q&a session for the Cyclic Music Club. Perhaps it was this that endeared me to this album so much this year. Chisholm’s reconstructions of his favourite Friedman tracks with his jazz quartet is inspired and engrossing. Friedman’s final production tics and particular eccentricities round off an ever-revealing album of future-past digital jazz.
Beach House – Beach House (Carpark) / Grizzly Bear – Yellow House (Warp)
These two albums were almost interchangeable for living room listening. Damaged lo-fi pop a little like slightly faded curtains in the late afternoon sun.
Seaworthy – Map In Hand (12K) / Ben Frost – Theory Of Machines (Bedroom Community)
Map In Hand is rippling and endless guitar-based ambient music from Sydneysiders Seaworthy. Their sense of quiet and delicacy is a perfect contrast to immense and crashing tones of the processed guitar tones of former Melbournian, now Icelander, Ben Frost. Both records share the same sense of expansive space.
Triosk – The Headlight Serenade (Leaf) / Adrian Klumpes – Be Still (Leaf)
Two amazing albums which also sit nicely together. Brimming with ideas and atmosphere, both release revolve around a crew of folk who richly deserve their international acclaim.
Honourable mentions also to a trio of ambient and folk-ish records that filled many an hour – Brightblack Morning Light’s self-titled (Matador) sprawling Tex-Mex, The Gentleman Losers – self-titled (Buro) ambient Ry Cooder-ish moods, and Perth’s M.Roesner’s epic tonal ambient experiments on Morning Tones (Apestaartje).
This year is also notable for its reissues and compilations. The Prog Is Not A Four Letter Word (Delay68) compilation was on high rotation and had me tracking down other albums by many of its included artists. Likewise Tropicalia (Soul Jazz) and Fuzzy Felt Folk (Trunk) were great for raising the mood on a rainy day stuck indoors.
Also, a mention must go to the discovery of Italian psych rock band Aktuala. Existing for three albums in the early 70s, Aktuala fuses African and Asian influences with avant-garde and jazz experimentation. Their second album La Terra (originally on Bla Bla, reissued in the early 90s on Artis) had a similar effect on me as discovering Alice Coltrane’s Journey In Satchidananda (Impulse) did all those many years ago.
In my DJ box I pretty much moved entirely to playing dubstep by the year’s end, interspersed with related sounds in dancefloor sets where possible. I like it that dubstep at the moment feels like that period of early d&b in Sydney – new people, new sounds, new punters, new venues. It has been a long time coming and I was excited by the health and expansion of the scenes and sounds. DMZ releases got better and better, Benga and Kode9 continued to drop bombs and there were exciting fringe oddities from Bristol’s Werk Discs and affiliates like RLF/Bass Cleff, as well as Skull Disco and Shackleton. Moving Ninja represented for Sydney with productions that got more and more detailed and industrial.
Live gigs this year were a bit of a mixed bag – overshadowed by the closure of Frigid on its tenth birthday with Luke Vibert. That was a seriously fun night and will be remembered long into the future. Animal Collective were enchanting and strange, Buck65 was, again, a fantastic showman, Sigur Ros returned with another bombastic heart-string pulling show, whilst Dungen was a bit scratchy and underattended, and Saul Williams’ long awaited spoken word show was ruined by idiotic audience participation (slightly redeemed by his intelligent Q&A at the Festival lunchtime seminars). Keith Fullerton Whitman, Monolake and the Grey Daturas were all stunning on the tiny stage in Frigid’s final couple of months.
So on to 2007.