It’s 2014 and things are worse. Well not really, but it seems that the visible, big-indie side of things sucks more than the last few years. BUT lots of great confusing and interesting stuff is bubbling below the surface. It’s sad what a band has to do be “relevant” in the eyes of the music media and the amount of actual dialogue happening around new music but here are five groupings (some of which I’m very much clutching at straws to invent) that could help you navigate through the overwhelming and useless piles of dung in the contemporary music world.
1. Richie Records Saves Rock Once Again
Mordecai’s Neil’s Generator released on Richie records reminds me of how pure and magical no frills DIY rock can be. It’s worth mentioning the bands origin of Butte, Montana if only because I don’t think a band this pure and untainted by cynicism could exist in the big smoke in 2014. This feels like a summary of the history of American countercultural rock music. From the Velvets to Flipper to Grateful Dead to Mike Rep to Red Crayola and the Urinals. In saying that this music is pure and full of heart, they are not attempting to cash in on those groups cultural currency.
On the flipside Watery Love’s (featuring Richie Charles of Richie records) debut LP is a negative record. A subtly profound and funny negative record that I would file alongside the output of Flipper, Richard Meltzer and Louis CK.
2. Australian Strangeness
Others will big up the excellent LPs by Ausmuteants, Total Control or Blank Realm so I’ll focus on a few things not so big on the blogz. From Tasmania, Drunk Elk’s Oceanus Procellarum is a real tearjerker, pairing this edge-of-the-world strangeness you’d associate with NZ’s Xpressway records with songs, melodies and emotions that bands currently referencing 4AD/New Romantic can only wish they could summon. On the same label (Wormwood Grashopper) is the beautiful Untitled LP from Muura aka Matt Earle of xNOBBQx , Breakdance The Dawn etc. While his previous 7” sounded like a mesmerising air conditioner this is based around slow-motion synth and tape meditations. More from Pig City: Dag, Thigh Master and Scrabbled released music that wasn’t particularly weird but recaptured the down and out desperate guitar pop I associate with Brisbane due to Kitchen’s Floor and co.
Shit floats to the surface in synth music just as it does in garage rock. While most of the music composed by widely celebrated experimental solo artists evoke mental images of a slow motion Keanu Reeves in a long leather coat, Tim Coster is a name on very few peoples tongues. The ex-Aucklander now based in Melbourne plays ‘textural keyboard music’ that is obviously smart and considered but has this organic, inviting quality. His Gemini release is a great break from the harsh realities of the world.
Joint winners of the ‘Young Parents Doing Rumbling Bass Heavy ‘Noise’ Rock Better Than Ex-Hardcore Kid in Swans T-shirt Trying to Convince You He’s on the Fringe of Society’ award goes to Exiles From Clowntown's Tape Scissors Rock and Exhaustion's Biker. Exiles is more of a early Dead C with the physicality of feedtime, while Exhaustion are more of a The Gordons driving down the Autobahn in a speedy and efficient European vehicle.
Award for 'Only Good Song That Mentions ‘Beach’ In a Long Time’ goes to Oily Boys for their track "Suffer Beach". Their whole Majesty 7” EP is riveting ride and I can’t fkn wait for their oily return in 2015.
3. Altered States Tapes and Future Archaic Tapes
Here are two great Melbourne labels documenting homespun electronic and experimental music. I would have said Future Archaic handles the more rhythmic stuff and Altered States the abstract but things have switched with the last batch of releases. FA throw a few Broken Flag style scummy power electronics tapes and AS release some things that wouldn’t be out of place on Hyperdub. When approaching “techno” both labels avoid the pitfalls of retro-chic, trendy, ironic house or even typical noise-guy-gone-techno sound. Top marks to releases by Cervere, Cooper Bowman, Freejack, LA County Morgue with my overall favourite being Hour House, who weave together synths, field recordings, voice and samples in an otherworldly voyage.
4. Wot U Call It “Urban”?
Considering hip hop was the first music I truly invested in, I have a hard time finding new stuff I enjoy. In an effort to capture a global, relevant, meme-ish sound all the regional characteristics have been stripped. Grime seems to have those area-centric/ glimpse into another world characteristics I miss in rap. Everyone in the "That’s Not Me" all star remix video feels so real, there’s so much personality. I love it. Second favourite is Wiley's "On A Level".
On a similar note I think Chicago footwork also benefits from having a very “regional flava”, mutating from the previous signature sounds of Chicago. From what I can see it really benefits from that raw, organic, crucially where-they’re-from sound while also pushing forward and embracing the world around them. A real shame DJ Rashad passed away this year, way too soon.
5. One Person's Hendrix is Another Person's Food Court Field Recordings
Experimental music. What a stupidly vague term but I don’t know what else to call it. Post-noise? Electro Acoustic Improvisation with a sense of humour? The punk DIY ethos applied to Musique Concrete? When jive talking in a hip record store I would probably call it the Kye/Swill Radio/Penultimate Press axis. The three artist run labels that would be a good starting point for this family tree. The Kye podcast has great insight into key characters that’ve reinvigorated experimental music with actual strangeness and eccentric mad-scientist like exploration.
Ora Clementi – Cover You Will Softer Me LP (Penultimate Press)
Matthew P. Hopkins – Vent LP (Penultimate Press) & Nocturnes LP (Vittelli) & 'Spins, Groans, Tones (For Coins, Voice And Synthesizer)' and Economic Frown Book (Self Released)
Half High – Calling Nina Cassette (Elderdown)
Rodman Melchior / Melchior Rodman – Rodman Melchior Melchior Rodman Cassette (Fabrica)
The Tobacconists – A Secret Place LP (Fabrica)
Aaron Dilloway - Medicine Stunts Cassette (Lal Lal Lal / Hanson)
Safe House - Region VI Cassette (Vitrine)
Dan’l Boone LP (Drag City)
Astral Social Club - Fountain Transmitter Medications LP+CD (VHF)
Form-A-Log - For The Record LP (Bathetic)