Drew Bandos – Specialty Director picks of 2011
Grouper – A I A: Alien Observer / Dream Loss
A I A, Liz Harris’ follow up to her third critically acclaimed album, is a double album in every sense of the word. The two discs have diametrically opposed sounds that somehow surround the listener in the same environment. The two behave kind of like a mirror image, both creating a relaxed, introverted atmosphere through opposing sounds. On both sides, she eschews the straight-strumming acoustic guitar of her breakthrough album in favor of a more diverse sound. The first disc does this through almost-lullabies, as in the title track, “Alien Observer.” Accompanied by a distant electric piano which sounds almost like a toy, Harris’ harmonies sound like something sung by mothers to lull their children to sleep, if only the music wasn’t so interesting.
The second disc produces a similar feeling from the opposite direction. Most of the sounds accompanying her vocals on Dream Loss seem to be made from guitars. When strummed, the chords are dissonant, but always suppressed under feedback and distant distortion. The distinctive sounds of the discs each have so much depth to them that I really fall into my headphones when I listen to the album. This certainly isn’t music that can bounce off the walls of your room as you study – Harris has created two worlds that engulf the listener rather than just exist to be viewed from afar.
Shlohmo – Bad Vibes
“It Was Whatever”
I don’t get this guy on multipe levels. For one, he gave me the best and worst shows I’ve seen in 2011, in that order. Soulja Boy-infused DJ sets aside, his studio output confuses the hell out of me. Each of his EP-length releases is like a debut. He completely leaves behind his previous sound, not even building upon the last release, but working as if he is starting over completely. Under the guise of instrumental hip-hop, he has explored a wide spectrum of sounds, between ambience, jazz, and dubstep, all the while creating new styles along the way. Yet somehow he has never built a distinctive sound to associate his name with. That is, until Bad Vibes.
For his debut full length, Shlohmo veered away from much of what defined his previous output. Here there is NO sampling of other artists’ work. Many of the songs feature his processed voice and live recordings of instruments – the stuttery drums and sidechained bass is just a structure upon which the live instrumentation sits. He has much of a more baby-making feel on certain tracks, such as “Places,” pulled from a previous EP (granted, those would be some weird babies).
The album takes a really interesting turn about halfway through, veering away from the Sunday morning chillout mood to a stressful insomnia – thus the album title. The R&B-tinged basslines are replaced with walls of noise made from guitars and vocals. He’s finally taking the shoegaze influence he has dabbled with in the past to a new extreme, favoring distortion over reverb. No more foreplay for this guy.
I think the aspect of this album that finally gives him a distinctive sound is his voice. Never bare, it always is sent through various effects – reverb, distortion, tremolo – and is haunting as hell. Even on relaxing tracks like Just Us, his voice is a ghost in the background, reminding you that the title applies to each song.
He claims that he didn’t play these songs on the most recent tour because the album is a bit of a downer for him. I can understand that – Bad Vibes is less about the dancefloor and more about interiority (interesting for someone who almost exclsively seems to listen to the likes of Drake and Gucci). But it’s a very compelling listen – unlike others in the realm of instrumental hip-hop, he’s totally doing his own thing, one that should be paid attention to.
Sonic Youth – Simon Werner a Disparu
I don’t really have anything specific to say to this. If the rumors are true, then this is an amazing note for this band to go out on. It’s beautiful. I need to get around to seeing the movie that it’s set to.