Before we say goodbye, we thought we'd bring you our collective favorite albums of 2011.
Ash Borer: Ash Borer [Pesanta Urfolk]
Chillwave. It's been shoved down our throats over the past couple of years due to its ease of creation and distribution (thank you Ableton Live soft synths and plug-ins; thank you Soundcloud and the blogs that embed you!!), and a lot of it fucking sucks. This year saw some lazy remixes and underwhelming sophomore releases from the first batch of the genre's icons, and the honeymoon phase ended. Disappointment sets in as the blogosphere continues to herald "the next big thing" and humors publicists' requests for coverage-- maybe for the sake of traffic, maybe for the lack of a better voice. You feel a craving for something visceral. Something different.
Ash Borer enters the scene with an undeniably strong album that doesn't asked to be loved, appreciated, or even known at a time where being an artist seems to require having at least three social media outlets. The sheer weight of this headbanging LP is staggering, and its tension-building ambient moments are just as captivating as the chaotic ones. You don't have to be a diehard black metal fan to feel the impact of their bludgeoning drums, soaring guitars, and anguished screams; Ash Borer's raw power translates to any audience. Epic. --Ric Leichtung
Blues Control & Laraaji: FRKWYS Vol. 8 [RVNG Intl.]
There've been a bunch of all-star collaborations this year-- Kanye and Jay-Z, James Blake and Bon Iver, Flaming Lips and Lightning Bolt-- that've doubled as a stroke of marketing genius and a fan's wet dream come true. There have also been a few lesser known meetings-of-the-mind orchestrated by RVNG Intl.-- Julianna Barwick and DNA founder Ikue Mori, Emeralds and soundtrack man Alan Howarth, the staggering five-way between Borden, Ferraro, Godin, Halo, and Lopatin-- that've been truly stunning. But the synergy between Blues Control and new age zitherist Laraaji trumps them all. Laraaji's been playing music for more than 30 years and is a seasoned improviser, taking on the role of the trio's leader and lifting the noise duo’s psychedelic scuzz to celestial heights. Few collaborations have tapped into something as special as this one. --Ric Leichtung
The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World [Self-Released]
It was a busy year for Leyland Kirby and his peripatetic musical endeavors. Under his given name, Kirby released the beautifully meditative Eager to Tear Apart The Stars before delving into three volumes of electronic manipulations in the Intrigue & Stuff series. His release as The Caretaker, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, landed the softest but burnt the brightest. Using a collection of run-down ballroom jazz 78s as his basic source material, Kirby continued his thematic study into the mind's inevitable fissures, the disconnects that frustrate the desire to cling to a perfect, complete memory.
Kirby's masterful manipulation and distortion of the 78s was so effective that they no longer seemed to belong to the past, or to the present.. An Empty Bliss resides in a kind of temporal limbo, reminding us that the opaque memories of a life -- what is salvaged and what is lost -- follow a most mysterious, inaccessible logic. It was a moment of exquisite calm, humility, and fragility amid the mad dash to omnipotence that is information super highway; it told us that no matter how imperfect, what we are left with is all that we have, and must be cherished. --Daniel Gottlieb
Death Grips: Exmilitary [Self-Released]
Death Grips are a mess, an anomaly that coheres through a set of intertwining delusional threads, mostly relating to personal obsessions and their limits. As much the phrase "practice makes perfect" proves true for beatsmith Zach Hill, MC Ride does the same in his mantras, using repetition as a coping mechanism for his abyss. There's a reason a Charles Manson sample opens this album: he's taken delusion into another universe. Ride really believes he's the king. Tell yourself anything enough times and you're Ringo Starr, guy.
Future Shuttle: Water's Edge [Intercoastal Artists / Holy Mountain]
When Future Shuttle released their debut EP Water’s Edge in late August, they established themselves as an outfit that makes nu age music for body and spirit alike. Their blend of synth, flute, samplers, and beats elegantly intertwines the cosmic and the earthly. Through sounds that evoke flowing streams, bird and dolphin calls, and the vibrations of ancient rock formations, Jessa Farkas’ voice resonates with striking humanity. It is as commanding as it is sorrowful, bringing to mind both the mortal condition and our desire and power to transcend it. In “Rain Source,” Farkas repeats the mantra, "I became everything that I’ve ever encountered," as the relationship between humans and each element of their environment is emphasized. Similarly, as “spacey” as Future Shuttle’s music is, every component is crystal-clear, a voice within its vast landscape. --Samantha Cornwell
Holy Other: With U [Tri-Angle]
Due to the ghostly vibes and his Tri Angle roster spot, Holy Other's work is mistakenly cast as something gothic, dark, or due to be canonized in wing-ding letters in some infinitely vacuous witch house manifesto. In reality, this past year found the veiled Manchester producer offering something far different from those suspected shock and horror tropes: the romantic hybrid house of With U. Holy Other's deep, disembodied vocals echo like distant memories as screwed orchestral swells and choral bass moans swallow them up. The atmosphere of yearning is palpable, whether for past love or new direction; the subdued lust of a simultaneously ravenous but tender one night stand looms over the hungry pleas of With U, especially in the meter- and momentum-shifting standout, "Touch." Holy Other's debut is a triumphant melding of R&B's emotion, bass culture's sensuality, and house's heartbeat, and the result is one of the year's most intimate albums. --Matt Sullivan
Iceage: New Brigade [Escho]
It's been a hell of a year for Iceage. Their first full-length dropped in their native country of Denmark in January. By June, they had gotten What's Your Rupture on board for a US release, toured with Fucked up, captured the attention of an Odd Future-obsess press (remember them?), and basically taken the underground music world by storm-- all pretty much by accident. They put out one of the most talked-about records of this year, and although their high school status, their notoriously bloody shows, and the controversy surrounding the Nazi doodles surely played their parts, the album had the kind of energy that hadn't been heard in years. Iceage is the type of band that sparks obsession. They put their hometown of Copenhagen on the music map by coining a movement and rekindled faith in a genre that had been stagnating for a few years. Mostly, they brought punk back into our minds, at least for a little while. --Ric Leichtung
John Maus: We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves [Ribbon]
If 2010 was the year when the music elite deemed Ariel Pink worthy of their ever-loving embrace, then 2011 was the year when they extended a tender hand to his CalArts classmate and lo-fi co-"discoverer" John Maus. However, as a series of revealing interviews following the release of his remarkable We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves made clear, Maus’ relationship with industry success was a complex and acrimonious one. Pitiless Censors was brimming with concepts and conjectures about modern political inertia, the sclerosis of advanced global capitalism, and the challenges they pose to the individual subject.
The album balanced and combined these influences accordingly: it's cerebral and conceptually driven, but also a revealing portrait of John’s personal and artistic struggle to break through these restrictive forces. Pitiless Censors thus gave us an image of Maus inhabiting a role not dissimilar to the lighthouse that appears on his album art: luminary but mysterious, vulnerable yet resolute, anxious to illuminate a place that lies just outside what it can reach. "This is where a human being finds himself"-- using the musical tools of the past, feeling ambivalent about the present, and longing for the possibilities of the future. In 2011, we welcomed back John Maus, the Believer. --Daniel Gottlieb
Julia Holter: Tragedy [Leaving]
Equal parts electronic pop and minimalist chamber music, Julia Holter’s Hippolytus-inspired debut puts both conservatory kids and bedroom producers to shame. Not too many artists manage to square the large and sprawling with the focused and minutely detailed, but this Los Angeles composer will channel just as much rigor into an extended drone as she will a loaded pause. Rather than belabor the plot details of Euripedes’ tormented love story, she abstracts it into a feeling of hovering doom.
The atmosphere is thick on Tragedy. Husky strings, white noise, harpsichords, fog horns, and crackling opera LPs cohere with mounting pressure, only to plateau until we forget that they are supposed to set the scene for a narrative event: a bit of dialogue or monologue set to words, such as in “The Falling Age” and “Celebration,” where her voice evokes Enya auditioning for a Madrigal choir, or single “Goddess Eyes,” where it’s clipped, vocoded, and maybe a little cold. Tragedy is the kind of record that makes you feel as though you’ve traveled far by the end-- through time, though space, though multiple musical languages and sounds that you never thought of as musical to begin with. Still, from start to curtain call, you can feel the clock ticking at every moment. --Emilie Friedlander
Julian Lynch: Terra [Underwater Peoples]
As life on Earth tends to move in circles, so has much of the music of 2011. Where many of this year’s releases are grounded in computer-driven loops and synth-based repetition, Julian Lynch’s Terra cycles through nylon, four-stringed guitar, meditative jazz clarinet, and hushed, tabla percussion. The Madison, Wisconsin-based ethnomusicologist refines the wide panorama of influences that was already present on his past releases, reaching into the past with smokey, prohibition-era falsetto croons and ‘50s music box piano symphonies while keeping it “modern” with his proggy guitar-synth. His third studio effort sounds more refined, more concise, and more three-dimensional than anything we've heard from him before. In another instance of coming full circle, Terra marks his return to Underwater Peoples, the home of his first non-CDr release, a split 7” with childhood friend Ducktails.. --Mary Katherine Youngblood
Jürgen Müller: Science of the Sea [Foxy Digitalis]
In 1979, German oceanographer Jürgen Müller built a music studio on his houseboat off the North Sea and slowly recorded an album inspired by the natural wonders that surrounded him. There were about 100 copies made, most of which were given away to his peers in the oceanic field; by some bizarre stroke of chance, one of them ended up in the hands of Brad Rose at Foxy Digitalis, who reportedly restored the album. The story is a library music collector's dream, and is unbelievable from the get-go, but Science's sophisticated palette is probably the most conclusive piece of evidence we have that Jürgen Müller and his project are the stuff of myth. Most exotica albums coming from "Jurgen's" time were awfully shallow listens, the cute wordplay and kitsch concepts constituting the core of their appeal. Science draws from the shimmering textures of the late, great Mort Garson and evokes the minimalist side of Raymond Scott. It's too damn good to be true. Its story is an integral part of the album, but its validity as a work of art doesn't hinge on fact-- it's in the beauty of the music, and the ideas lurking in its great depths that make this album more than a myth. --Ric Leichtung
Laurel Halo: Hour Logic [Hippos In Tanks]
MP3: Laurel Halo: "Aquifer"
One night at CMJ this year, I pushed forward to the front row of 285 Kent's attendees to catch Laurel Halo. As I walked away from the stage, the buzz in my headspace was killed with another concert-goer's groan-inducing synopsis: "Wow, she really killed it… for a girl." The blatant sexism of the analysis was a little stunning, but it seemed to fit in oddly well with a long line of bizarre preconceptions about this year's divisive ode to time-leaping-- and her best work yet-- Hour Logic. Halo's EP is the soundtrack to an imaginary silent sci-fi film where a cultural shift in information retrieval and consumption leaves significant effects on our brains' memory capacity and habits. It's a contemporary thesis on the possible aftermath of inhabiting a world like Far Side Virtual's for too long, drawn from futuristic bouts with electronic classics. Ultimately, that cerebral take is best left for the forum; Hour Logic's constant forward momentum is designed to be felt. The finer details of the painstakingly orchestrated domes and arcs of this symphony can be almost overwhelming, but the Detroit EMF veteran hasn't taken a left turn-- she's reached further for the future. --Matt Sullivan
Liturgy: Aesthethica [Thrill Jockey]
There’s no doubt that Brooklyn black metal outfit Liturgy pissed a lot of purists off this year when Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, their philosophizing Columbia grad of a frontman, published his infamous “Transcendental Black Metal” essay on the Internet. It renamed the “blast beat” the “burst beat,” boasted several black-and-white diagrams, and combined a band manifesto of sorts with a vision of the genre moving toward its ideal culmination in "the self-overcoming of Hyperborean black metal." (The implication being, of course, that Liturgy would be the band doing all the overcoming). At the end of the day, Altered Zones can only admire Hunt-Hendrix’s willingness to think deeply about what his own aesthetic choices mean, and will remember 2011 partly as the year when Aesthetica took the pummeling 16th notes, ecstatic death cries, and shifting guitar tremolos of black metal and showed us non-specialists just how powerful that language can be. It was also the year that the band lost perhaps its strongest music asset in virtuoso drummer and Guardian Alien mastermind Greg Fox; whatever you’d prefer to call his athletic and idiosyncratic pattering, it combined the thrill of total destruction with the joy of being alive. --Emilie Friedlander
Oneohtrix Point Never: Replica [Software]
For those of you keeping score at home, this is Dan Lopatin’s third appearance on an Altered Zones year-end best album list, the first two being for Games’ That We Can Play and Oneohtrix Point Never’s Returnal last year. November’s Replica reconfirmed Lopatin’s status as an ingenious samplist whose complex process doesn’t prevent him from creating music that’s both erudite and somehow nearly as accessible as the TV commercials that provided his source material. The songs shirk narrative and explicit meaning, opting instead for contrapuntal juxtapositions and textured sound collages. Lopatin's magnum opus. --Luke Carrell
Peaking Lights: 936 [Not Not Fun]
Peaking Lights had several key elements of their sound place for their 2009 album, Imaginary Falcons, but the duo’s ability to weave noise-pop together with a humid strain of dub lay buried under a heavy dusting of drone and hiss. The project had plenty of promise, but it needed to be coaxed out into the setting sun. 936, this year’s subtly addictive gem of an album, has been buffed to a faded neon sheen, run through the heaviest dubplates, and pumped through a V.F.W. hall public address system straight into our hearts. Scotch Taped beats snake through oil-slicked puddles of bass that feel perfectly primed to rumble the speakers of the average ‘78 Escort. Indra Dunis’ honeyed coo seems to languish forever in a pool of hushed purple light while Aaron Coyes’ homemade synths billow into every available audible nook left behind. In short, 936 is a sweaty beast of a record. --Andy French
Pete Swanson: Man With Potential [Type]
I was wrong when I said the NYPD should play this on LRAD -- it belongs to Occupy. I mean, can you imagine the first hook, a full four minutes in, dropping as Zuccotti Park or Frank Ogawa Plaza faced eviction? Though Pete Seeger's endorsement was nice, did we expect much energy or inspiration from a 92-year-old, withering "This Little Light"? If the opener of Pete Swanson's Man With Potential, "Misery Beat," was meant for any catharsis at all, there's plenty of miserable subject matter to mine nowadays. Sure, it's named for the singular, but this entire release carries the imminent movement of massive crowds, exemplifying the power and potential of wordlessness. Perhaps the title points more to Swanson's autonomy, as he departed from the much-loved Yellow Swans duo three years ago.
Throughout this edict for Type Records, Swanson ping-pongs pointed loops through fields of scuzz, his deliberate modulation stretching each interval to its limit as agressive, head-bobbing beats sneak in. And while you can almost read the formula adhered to, no two tracks carry identical temperament or momentum. Man With Potential is thoughtful on a long-term scale, speaking to anyone with a pulse and a modicum of collective sense. --Dale W. Eisinger --Dale W. Eisinger
Prince Rama: Trust Now [Paw Tracks]
I think it's no secret that times are pretty tough for everyone nowadays, and Taraka and Nimai Larson of Prince Rama know this as well as anyone. Trust Now is their first album since founding member Michael Collins left the group and it slimmed to a duo. It's an airing of grievances, a mourning period, but also a survivor's statement of perseverance. We find a new Rama, re-energized and dressed for the battle arena. Shadow Temple's sophisticated drumming, swarming synths, and banshee-strength wails are more potent than ever on "Rest In Peace" and "Summer of Love," although the celestial prog of "Incarnation" and "Golden Silence" alludes to an age of enlightening surrender, a place where moments in time seem to lose their linearity. Trust Now is an important message of faith in an era where hope is dwindling and little seems trustworthy. --Matt Sullivan
Pure X: Pleasure [Acéphale]
Calling Pure X’s Pleasure a summer album wouldn’t be wrong. Lord knows it had a strong run as the soundtrack of choice for a host of sweaty activities over the course of the season, but as the album made so many return trips to headphones, ear canals and turntables, a new character emerged in the textures of those carefully interpreted songs: a tinge of darkness, equally honest and murky, that never really takes shape, but might be a bit sticky. Fellow Austinite Malcolm Elijah’s vids for "Surface" and "Easy" and the glamour shot of bondage cuffs on the album art display this theme, but avoid devolving into camp menace. This is holistic music, best enjoyed live and loud-- exactly like it was recorded. --Luke Carrell
Run DMT: Dreams [Culture Dealer]
Mike Collins has been an ambassador to all sounds weird and wonderful for a couple years, making the Run DMT moniker a mascot for the type of abstracted sound collages that have characterized the best of Baltimore's underground. Dreams is a series of fleeting, intergalactic visits that channel the spaced-out pondering of Bong Voyage, the classic '60s pop bounce of his Spruce Bringsteen split 7", and the spiritual awakenings of a deemster-fueled blast-off. Considering that it was recorded a few years ago, there's something of an old (but not that old) school charm to Dreams, recalling the excitement of exploring the vast unknown of the late aughts' blogosphere --the scene that Collins cut his teeth on-- for the very first time again. I am reminded of a time when I first heard Run, discovered Altered Zones, and ran away to Brooklyn to fashion dreams into reality. Needless to say, it's inspiring to hear Collins do the same with this labor of love, which almost didn't see the light of day. --Matt Sullivan
Tim Hecker: Ravedeath, 1972 [Kranky]
From Tim Hecker’s interest in the sonic refuse of the digital age emerged one of the most enduring albums of 2011. "I became obsessed with digital garbage, like when the Kazakstan government cracks down on piracy and there's pictures of 10 million DVDs and CDRs being pushed by bulldozers." From the portmanteau of the record to the image of the piano drop to track names like “Studio Suicide” and “Analog Paralysis, 1978," Ravedeath, 1972 was consumed with the timelessness and transience of sound. Its twelve elegiac pieces shifted from moments of action to periods of stasis. Passages of ambient purity tussled with lurching movements of hazy noise; synthesisers from the studio dialogue with organ sub-bass recorded in an Icelandic church. It was a journey that slowed down time to the point of stopping it altogether. --Daniel Gottlieb
After a slew of tape releases and notable collaborations with the likes of Linda Perhacs and Nite Jewel, Los Angeles composer Julia Holter has at long last released her debut LP, Tragedy. Holter is an alumnus of Cal Arts, alongside Ariel Pink and John Maus. While her music is far removed from the aforementioned Failure Popists, her approach to composition reflects a background in conceptual art. One of her more notable endeavors is her phonetic translations project, in which she covers a song in a foreign tongue and translates it into English based on phonetic sounds and the psychic impact of certain vocal inflections. In another ongoing project, Lady JJ, Holter and Berlin-based video artist Jana Papenbroock send each other independently conceived videos and music on a monthly basis, then mash the pieces together, creating a finished product that oscillates between the awkward and the sublime. Although Tragedy is a more cohesive and long-gestating project, it drives home her aggregate approach to aesthetics.
Leaning equally on her classical training and the kind of archival appreciation of the history of pop and world music that can only come from growing up in the Internet age, the album is as full of careful detail as it is grand in scope-- and it establishes Holter as one of the most distinctive composers working today. Its main inspiration is Euripides Hippolytus, a Greek tragedy that was first performed in 428 BC. In the play, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, smites the protagonist Hippolytus for worshipping Artemis, the noble goddess of the hunt, instead of her. At the story's outset, Aphrodite dooms everyone around her; most of the play's action is watching the disastrous events that she predicts come to life. While Tragedy is in many respects a concept album, it does not appear to unfold in narrative order. Holter culls much of the lyrical content from Euripedes' text, but her main focus seems to be using sound and excerpts of the source material to capture the story's overarching sense of doom.
Although there are some distinctly lyrical moments, much of the atmosphere and drama is established in long, slowly building instrumental passages. The album versions of "Try To Make Yourself a Work of Art" and "The Falling Age" enmesh the listener in noise and audio collage before introducing the melodic elements, functioning almost like the expressive scenic shots in the films of Antonioni or Malick. Whether we are hearing droning, dischordant strings, the crackle of old phonograph recordings, the buzzing of synths, or the rumble of human chatter, Holter's soundscapes play out like a kind of audio mise-en-scène, making the short passages of narrative songwriting all the more kinetic and rewarding. (It should be noted that this is much more pronounced in the digital version, as the LP seems to have been pared down, probably due to space concerns.)
Holter's vocals play an interesting role in this mix. While it is often tempting to interpret a vocal, particularly a female vocal, as a pop or singer/songwriter element, Holter's does not seem to correspond to any single category (or character). With the exception of "Try To Make Yourself a Work of Art," in which she seems to be singing in the voice of the goddess Aphrodite, she does not seem to be channeling the emotions of the actors in the story. In fact, the majority of the time, she sounds more like a machine age, vocoded observer à la Bruce Haack or Laurie Anderson. The cyborg persona is most pronounced in "So Lillies," where the Kraftwerkian main melody pushes through a wall of incessant chatter like a space age radio transmission. Here, we could easily align Holter’s character here to the narrating chorus so often associated with Ancient Greek Theater. However, as Holter the vocalist weaves in and out earshot, another figure might be a more intriguing fit. It is said that in the original production of Hippolytus, the two goddesses, Aphrodite and Artemis, were represented on stage throughout the play's action by statues. Perhaps Julia's character is a mechanical age version of this sort of figure-- part Greek goddess, part Maschinenmensch.
A brilliant vid by Leaving Records co-founder Jesselisa Moretti crowns this Julia Holter song, which begins with the initials "TTMYAOA" and a slew of '70s Japanese aesthetics, including a rising sun, a multicolor, kabuki-faced Holter, and percussive instrumentation. Despite the expanding ink blots, silhouettes, and superimposed colors, nothing about the song or the vid seems spontaneous. The esoteric and meticulous sample manipulations jibe with our knowledge that the Los Angeles composer turns to well-defined imagery as inspiration for her works. The heavy beat and soft vocals make for a sound that is demanding and capricious, evoking the elements of Greek tragedy that make her new LP so appropriately named. --Coco Zoabi, International Tapes
Los Angeles' Julia Holter seems to be singlehandedly leading a return to the kind of erudite and hyper-theatrical electronic music that put Brian Eno, Bruce Haack, and Laurie Anderson on the map, articulating the story of man's becoming-machine through synthetic washes and vocoded verse. Loosely based around Euripedes' Hippolytus, her highly anticipated Tragedy LP on Leaving Records approaches pop songwriting with the precision of a microtonal composer and texture with the ear of a noise kid. "Goddess Eyes," below, is a case in point; essentially a duet between Holter and her electronic self, it unfolds with the pacing of a dramatic aside. --Emilie Friedlander, Visitation Rites
San Francisco-based label Human Ear dropped its first vinyl release ever yesterday: a limited edition 7" from Los Angeles composer Julia Holter, who used to co-direct the label with founder Jason Grier. Side A, "Maria," is a bizarre first missive from Holter's phonetic translations project, in which she "interprets global kitsch songs by translating word sounds into surreal poetry." Holter's archly melodramatic take on "Maria," a Latin-sounding ballad of unspecified origin, sounds like something one might sing to one's self in the shower, scored for a production of West Side Story dimensions. It'll leave you with all kinds of unanswered questions about what happens when we try to put ourselves in the shoes of "the other," whereas her grainy cover of Roxy Music's "2HB" on the flip, captured in a 2009 in-studio on KDVS, will probably just make you feel a little melancholy. --Emilie Friedlander, Altered Zones
Julia Holter says:
Six years ago, Pandit Pashupati Nath Mishra instilled in me some crazy will to become a singer of songs. He was my guruji on a brief intensive study in Benares, India. I listened to his voice every day for four weeks; very little was said, but very much was sung. Whether or not I "understood" what I was hearing during this time, something fundamentally changed in my musical world. I knew no Hindi, and he knew only a bit of English, yet I left Benares louder than I had ever been. What magic had Pashupati carried out on me, that I suddenly too became a performer? Can we speculate by focused listening to his voice? A CD-R of his brilliant, light-classical recordings quietly handed to me toward the end of my study lost its case somewhere in my travels. Back in Los Angeles, years later, I still listen in awe, with limited information about the pieces.
Here is the first track on the album-- the longest and most haunting, in valambit (very slow) deepchandi taal. Pashupati’s voice flows non-stop for eighteen minutes, like a river over rocks. He travels to a new place at every moment, arriving every time with the confidence of natural speech. He must be singing from a very long text? Or not. Over and over, Pashupati repeats almost exactly the same phrase, with some variation, though to the ear it is a different piece of information every time. Like melismas set to the Kyrie, the song expands a small fragment of text into sound so long and profound that the meaning could be either deeply rooted in place, or almost completely obscured.
A fellow student in India at the time, tabla player/percussionist Dan Piccolo, tells me that this piece is a thumri, a romantic/devotional song. I have come across a well-known text by the medieval poet Lalan that fits the typical thumri theme of separation and seems to be the text sung here. It might be tough for someone who doesn’t speak the language to say so, but I see this situation as one in which the meaning becomes more deeply rooted with every long reiteration of the short text. The text translates, roughly, as follows: “Enough! Now stop playing on your flute, dark lover. This braja girl's heart is aflutter, I ask you, please stop playing.” Here, flute-playing Krishna’s threatening magnetic pull compels the "braja girl" Radha to propose a distance. Pashupati’s melody continuously outlines a major seventh chord. The maddened Radha is the unwieldy major seventh (ni, or Western "ti")-- so far from her magnet fundamental (sa, or Western "do") on one side, yet so dangerously close to it on the other side. If that sounds like a contrived interpretation, add to it that subtleties of the near/far paradox can be found when he throws in an occasional, gorgeous, flattened ni, or ga (Western "mi"). These most dissonant moments Pashupati uses sparingly, to full-effect, and they are dizzying and gorgeous.
Pashupati was all song. While watching a video of a performance of his, I reflect how, when he sings, his body language is explanatory, almost as if he were talking. Interesting to consider the unlikelihood of a young Californian ever fully "understanding" what is communicated in music made in such a different world, even if one has studied it for years. But beyond the sheer beauty of his work, what I do take away most of all from Pashupati’s song is the absolute necessity of the voice.
San Francisco-based label Human Ear, curated by producer/musician Jason Grier, just posted this down-tempo, lounge-inspired missive from Nite Jewelia, a fledgling collaboration between two of our favorite Los Angeles singer/electronic composers, Julia Holter and Ramona Gonzalez (aka Nite Jewel). The duo's untitled debut sounds sparser and less effects-laden than anything I've heard from either of them individually, but it unfolds like a clockwork of dramatic asides in a play, which is no surprise whenever Holter's in the picture. --Emilie Friedlander, Altered Zones
Nite Jewelia make their world debut May 17 on a compilation from Human Ear, which is also putting out Julia Holter's Live on KDVS cassette on June 21st
[Photo by Andrew Cholakian/Orange Aperture Photography]
LA native Julia Holter maintains a number of carefully brewed pots. A graduate of CalArts, where she studied electronic music, she combines classical elements like piano and cello with synthesizers and drum machines. Her compositions unfold at the breathless pace of a theatrical production, and sound kind of like what might happen if Arthur Russel, Brian Eno, and Joni Mitchell were sent back to the 18th century to make chamber music. Between collaborations with everyone from Nite Jewel to acid-folk legend Linda Perhacs, and two (potentially three) records on the way, you have to wonder how she makes it all happen. We got together at Stories Café in Echo Park to discuss phonetic translations, tAtU, and her forthcoming album, The Tragedy, which is based on Euripedes' Hippolytus.
AZ: How did you become interested in Greek Tragedy?
Julia: I don’t have any background in classics. I read Medea in High School, but I wasn’t that into it. I started reading them at some point and just became interested, specifically, in Hippolytus. It's such a weird play because it starts with Aphrodite saying, “I’m going to do all this bad stuff. I’m going to ruin everything.” She’s so mad because Hippolytus isn’t worshipping her-- because he worships Artemis, who is very noble. He doesn’t care about Aphrodite. She dooms the whole story, one thing after the next. The hopelessness is just so strong.
When I say that Julia Holter's song "Gigi" sounds like musical theater, I certainly mean it as a compliment. Since Julia's upcoming full length on Leaving Records (tentatively titled Tragedy) is an ode to Greek Tragedy, it seems that she's no stranger to theatricality. "Gigi" is named for the novel by Colette, which was actually adapted into a movie musical. Not surprisingly, Holter's sonic interpretation of the text is much darker and weirder than Lerner and Loewe's, featuring some dubby rhythms and unnerving stage whispers. Holter layers her own voice to create the feeling of an ensemble cast, and ups the drama with loaded pauses and a persistent piano line. This could easily be the standout number from the freaky dub reggae musical of my dreams. If you're reading this Julia, thanks, from one theater kid to another. --Samantha Cornwell, Visitation Rites
“Gigi” is from an unnamed future release from Julia Holter, stay tuned for her full-length on Leaving Records
Laurel Halo says:
L.A.-based composer Julia Holter creates incredible music full of collaged emotion and persistent decay. She's currently singing and playing the keys with Nite Jewel, and while Julia's music has a similar gauzy feel, her sense of rhythm and pace are free and organic. Metric restriction seems deliberately absent, replaced by invisible LFOs of intensity and exploration. "The Falling Age" is an amazing track. It's nine minutes of ambient-classical doom, commencing with low, detuned drones and an opening melodic narration, then swelling into longing waves of live chamber instrumentation. It's just pure orchestral anguish, minute after minute of breathing suspension and release. Eventually, the track decays, returning to the drone cocoon from which it began. The combination of artificial/actual, of synth moments with live orchestration (the middle section is actually a piece for 13 instruments that Holter wrote at CalArts) is disconcerting and gorgeous, revealing undercurrents of black metal ambience. I'm happy that WCBN, where I first met Julia, has inspired so many contemporary musicians, including Jib Kidder, Kohwi, and COBO.
Tragedy is out on Leaving Records in early 2011