Klaus Kinski’s top 10 sonic salves of 2016
Even though I contribute to basically the best mostly-music website in the entire world, the energy required to stay on top of music's cutting edge is something I just don't have in me. I find myself orbiting around the same constellation of bands and genres, occasionally coming across a new moon or planet that will lead me towards other musical discoveries. In general I get fixated on certain bands and sounds. I end up obsessing over them. I listen to them until the wheels fall off. New discoveries are tangentially tethered to sounds I already like. At the end of the day, if you are looking for contemporary suggestions, I'm probably the last person you should ask. But I listen to music. I love the music I love. Here are 10 sonic elements that kept me going through 2016 (though, only a few are actually from 2016).
1) Alva Noto : Xerrox vols. 1 - 3 (2007 - 2015)
Carsten Nicolai is a German artist and musician based in Berlin who goes by the pseudonym Alva Noto for his musical output. Though he has a rather lengthy catalogue of aural works, including the soundtrack for the film The Revenant, his breathtaking ambient three-part Xerrox series (which will eventually expand to a five-part series) is a beautiful, dense, sonic adventure that is in heavy rotation chez Klaus. Employing dense sheets of static, distorted melodies, undulating bass tones, and ebbing and flowing sonic waves, Xerrox envelopes the listeners' head within a fog of almost tangible ambiance. Though I often lean towards experimental music that employs brutal cacophony and skull shattering beats, the Xerrox series is a headphones-on, eyes-closed meditation that is capable of sating me at my most manic states of mind.
2) Emptyset : Recur (2013)
Emptyset is a Bristol/London/Berlin based production project formed in 2005 by James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas. A multi-disciplinary pair, Ginzburg and Purgas work in performance, installation, and moving images. Their work has existed/exists/will continue to exist in a variety of settings including museums, galleries, clubs, warehouses, mansions, and derelict structures. They are constantly blurring the lines and pushing the boundaries between what the ear recognizes as noise and music. Of their many projects, their masterpiece, Recur, is a work I simply cannot get enough of. A relentless exercise in repetition, pattern, and brutality, Recur puts listeners through what I consider an aural obstacle course where the sounds we are presented with hammer away at our ears with slight but noticeable changes and evolutions. It should be experienced at high decibel levels with at least one subwoofer.
3) Belong : October Language (2006)
Belong is an experimental music duo comprised of Turk Dietrich and Michael Jones who formed in New Orleans, LA back in 2002. Unlike Alva Noto and Emptyset, Belong weave a tapestry of loud, dark, ambient music that falls somewhere in the My Bloody Valentine / Tim Hecker / Shoegaze side of the field. Their music has elements of absolute sonic beauty woven into a dense scream of treble and noise peppered with subtle guitar work. Comprised of eight brilliant sonic experiences, this album, for me, is best experienced as a whole and not on shuffle. In the best way possible, this music is extremely dense with barely any latitude left within to add as much as a sneeze. The temptation to include a YouTube of the entire album below is a difficult one to ignore, but I will leave you with the title track and hope it inspires you to seek out the whole thing.
4) The Young Gods : L'Eau Rouge (1989)
For the uninitiated, The Young Gods are a Swiss post-industrial band whose 1989 release L'Eau Rouge is an absolute crusher. Formed in 1985, The Young Gods existed as a three piece consisting of a singer, a drummer, and a keyboardist/sampler operator until adding a fourth member in 2007. Their use of samples as the primary source of musical accompaniment is absolutely staggering. For fans of industrial giants like Nine Inch Nails and Godflesh, the inclusion of L'Eau Rouge in your music library is a moral imperative. D'accord!
5) Roly Porter : Life Cycle of a Massive Star (2013)
Former Vex'd member Roly Porter's second full length LP Life Cycle of a Massive Star clocks in at around 35-minutes, but this five-track masterpiece accomplishes so much within those 35-minutes it's absolutely shattering. An aural voyage through the, uh, life cycle of a massive star, this album employs a variety of sonic devices so well that your brain creates the album's narrative involuntarily. Porter utilizes shrill glitchy sounds, male choral flourishes, Vangelisian synths, planetarium-esque orchestral arrangements, strings, driving beats, monotonous drones, static, feedback, hiss, startling breaks, horns, and even silence so deftly that you become awash with sensations of claustrophobia, airlessness, expansiveness, darkness, and solitude. It's long, closing crescendo brings to mind both utter destruction but also rebirth. Here's a taste:
6) Mika Vainio : Black Telephone of Matter (2009)
Finnish Composer Mika Vainio's Black Telephone of Matter is yet another foray into my personal fascination and obsession with difficult music. You can forget about getting locked into any sort of groove anywhere on this album. Once you feel like you are locked into a pattern, Vainio will slap you with a left turn that will either deafen you or force you to prick up your ears to find the hidden bits of sound peppering the silence. And unless you have a dead silent, acoustically tuned listening room packed with state of the art speakers, this is a headphones album and you WILL ride that volume knob. There are quiet parts on this thing with sound so subtle that even the slightest ambient noise creeping into your room will cancel them out. And the loud parts are so loud that you are reflexively going to reach for that volume knob. But this is part of the Black Telephone experience and you gotta hang in there because this f'ing album is so utterly beautiful and frightening. Requiring patience and tenacity on the part of the listener, this is an active listening experience that pays huge dividends for the brave.
7) Jesu : Heart Ache (2004)
The early 00's were not the best of times for music legend Justin Broadrick, founding member of Napalm Death, Godflesh, and many other significant musical projects. In 2002, Broadrick suffered the collapse of a 13-year relationship, a nervous breakdown, and the dissolution of Godflesh. From the ashes of these tragedies rose a new project, Jesu, whose debut release, the two song, 40-minute masterpiece Heart Ache, marked the beginning of a new, fertile chapter in the Broadrick canon. Broadrick wrote, sang, played all the instruments, produced, and mixed Heart Ache all on his own. The result is a heavy, lo-fi, catharsis that I began to re-listen to over and over again in 2016 for some reason.
8) Final : Live Reprocessed : Birmingham 2009 (released June 2016)
Final's Live Reprocessed : Birmingham 2009 is an epic four-song, 135-minute journey through "reduced, thick, semi static heavy ambient drone, for very quiet or extremely loud listening." Final is the brainchild of Justin Broadrick (see above), and this particular live album is another project that is just him doing what he does best. Airy and beautiful, this phenomenal album conjures up feelings of darkness, coldness, hope, suspension, space, and machinery heard off in the distance.
8) Zerfallmensch : Dirteaters 2016)
I wrote about this atrocity back in July and my feelings are the same; "This 10-track, 60+ minute journey is easily one of the most challenging aural experiences I have ever put myself through, repeatedly. At turns frightening, intimidating, and nerve-wracking, it is an extremely difficult record to appraise."
9) Eluvium : False Readings On (2016)
This album truly was a triumphant return for one of music's most underrated talents. This impeccably produced album. Like I said back in August, "False Readings On is a fantastic follow-up to his epic 2013 masterpiece Nightmare Ending and a perfect amalgamation of the sonic themes he has created throughout his previous seven studio releases. The resulting product is a satisfying blend of swelling and receding ambience, pattern-oriented melodies, piano flourishes, and spare vocal interventions." From beginning to end, this is an amazing sonic journey.
10) Pink Floyd : The Early Years : 1965 - 1972 (2016)
The most lamestream act on this entire list to be sure, but the scope of this box set has been blowing my mind since the day I got it. To a lot of Pink Floyd fans, their most crucial period is 1965 – 1972; a short but profound window of time that takes listeners from the Syd Barrett psychedelic era right up to the brink of their most important record,1973’s Dark Side of the Moon. This box set is so crammed with rare, high quality B-sides, bootlegs, movies, and soundtrack recordings. And I am not even close to being halfway through it. Every disc has made me feel as though I am rediscovering Pink Floyd for the first time, which is no small feat given the enormity of their career.