Bernard Parmegiani: De Natura Sonorum [Recollection GRM]
What constitutes a sound as a natural sound and when does it become an unnatural one? If a sound's original source is divorced from the sound itself-- if it's manipulated, filtered, juxtaposed against, or isolated from other sounds-- how is it perceived and what does that subjective perception mean to the listener? Questions such as these and their subsequent explorations formed the basis of musique concrète research group, the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, or GRM. If you're willing and able to slog through a translation of a guide to Parmegiani mentor Pierre Schaeffer's treatise on the research of musique concrète and its sound objects, then power to you. But more often than not you'll want to take after his catchphrase and "do and listen." The best place to start is Parmegiani's monumental De Natura Sonorum, which stands as a milestone in both his career and electroacoustic music in general. Rather than plundering from a collection of old studio recordings, Parmegiani applied his experience collaborating with jazz musicians in the early ‘70s and sampled instrumental sounds recorded specifically for his work. The recognizable sources-- saxophone, flute, chimes, and percussions-- flit about and combust into dense electronic crackling or humming, creating exotic languages that fade just as quickly as they’re introduced. At some point questions “what” and “how” no longer matter, and the pleasures of Parmegiani’s playful disassociations settle in. De Natura Sonorum succeeds in exactly what it sets out to do: by creating a new context for sound to exist in, the nature of sound can be examined and in effect possibly understood. --Ian Pearson
Drexciya: Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller IV [Clone]
Very few electronic groups are capable of inducing a thorough archive panic among newcomers like the notoriously elusive Drexciya. While well-known for their secrecy, Drexciya's back catalogue is extensive, consisting of various offshoots and genre-jumps that build to the complex history of the group. To get into it properly would take a much bigger space than this. Luckily, Clone has been building its ongoing compilation series Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller since 2011, in an effort to package the most solid, representative tunes of Drexciya’s work.
Compilations that pull from albums can be tricky, even blasphemous affairs. IV is only the latest of the Clone reissues, but the imprint puts these things together less like a best-of and more like an album structured around a loose, chronological path. We arrive roughly at 1997, with the group’s edges being sharpened to a punishing degree. The collection features the late James Stinson and Gerald Donald’s beats speeding ahead like a bullet train over consistently submerged synth work and snarling, soaring bunkers of low-end, echoing some of 2013’s best output from Laurel Halo and Kyle Hall. This is some of the best techno ever made, and whether or not the newbie digger chooses to go forward or backward from here, she or he will yield the same conclusion. --Brad Stabler
I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990 [Light In The Attic]
Every year, more music aficionados opt to listen to reissues and compilations over new releases, and who can blame them? Especially in the case of something as special as I Am The Center. An expertly sequenced selection of private New Age releases spanning thirty years, the Light In The Attic compilation has stubbornly refused to leave my turntable in the months since its release. In terms of personal response I can't do much better than Mike Sugarman's piece from August, but I will say that existence and enthusiastic reception to I Am The Center perfectly encapsulates the pleasures and rewards of following outré music. Amid the daily grind of music coverage-- the tabloid-esque headlines, the endless stream of pseudo/lyric/found footage exclusive video premieres, the billion hours of unheard Soundcloud streams of remixes and mixtapes-- it's edifying to find a treasure trove of beautiful, personal music made for its own sake, lovingly packaged and brought to light with little regard to viral potentiality, or promises of commercial crossover success. I Am The Center is a reminder of the timeless joy of pursuing esoteric music in an underground culture that has been stultified by its brazen pursuit of the new. --Max Burke
Jandek: The Song of Morgan [Corwood Industries]
I wonder if the representative from Corwood Industries is aware that, in 2013, New Age and that super-long releases were en vogue, or that noise died. Though unlikely, I like to imagine that he anticipated these trends. He thought to himself, “I’m going to release this calm, insular nine-disc box set-- and it’ll be totally relevant.” It might not be shocking if he were that hip. He has, after all, become less of a hermit recently, performing more and has been giving interviews, which is something he would never do in the past. That said, even if The Song of Morgan’s pieces carry the same transcendental weight as many of the tracks on, say, I Am The Center, they’re not like any of the New Age or anti-noise stuff released in 2013. Indeed, like all of Jandek’s music, they’re totally out of time. And in being stylistically unlike everything else Jandek’s done, they’re quintessential Jandek.
But where his influences are often impossible to place, on The Song of Morgan collection Jandek does seem to reference more clearly some totemic figures. Like a more aimless Chopin, filtered through the furniture music of Erik Satie and the freeform stylings of Ran Blake, Jandek gives us nine-hour-long piano improvisations-- each of which is noted as, in typical downbeat Jandek fashion, a “nocturne.” Atonality and confusing turns pop up (especially on disc eight), but more often than not, Jandek’s playing is fluid and melodic: truly pleasant to listen to. The first disc contains perhaps the set’s best distillation of stately traditional playing and atonal rambling, each part highlighting how fascinating the other is, moving elegiacally and laterally towards no particular end. --Joe Bucciero
King Tuff: Was Dead [Burger]
Everyone wants to hear music that makes them feel good, and in reissuing Was Dead, Burger Records seems to say that everyone deserves to. Was Dead is an anthemic forty minutes of rock ’n’ roll that makes you want to dance, sing, and maybe enjoy a slice of pizza. Perhaps it’s the ebullience of King Tuff’s debut that has made it one of the most sought-after “forgotten” releases of the past five years, but it’s not that Was Dead was ever really forgotten. If anyone let it slip his mind, it was King Tuff (real name: Kyle Thomas) himself, who was enthusiastic but surprised when the Burger boys approached him about their initial cassette pressing of his rare opus. Even though its initial release occurred less than a decade ago, the album’s addictive, timeless melodies could have arrived at any given stage in the lifespan of guitar rock-- 1968, 2008, any time in between. Was Dead is an excellent re-issue: a classic, pure distillation of the essence of rock ’n’ roll not to be missed. --Madeline Steinberg
Molly Drake: Molly Drake [Squirrel Thing]
A piano, a voice, and only a handful of lyrics. The nineteen short tracks recorded during the 1950s found on the Molly Drake compilation are captivating. It’s nearly impossible to frame this body of work without referencing Molly’s son, Nick. Longstanding producer Drake family producer Joe Boyd suggests, “this is the missing link in the Nick Drake story.” However, it’s important to consider Molly Drake as an artist in her own right and her music as existing on its own, while still being informed by her role as a mother, without constantly making connections to how this affected her son’s development. The delicateness of Molly Drake’s voice displays warm pleasures and a personality kind, tender, and true. There is so much enjoyment to be gained from the simplicity of it all, so much said in the quaint balladry and in the charm of the crackling home-recordings.
This collection addresses the capacity for an alternative archive and historical memory, an approach to telling stories that are haunting in tone, and it’s a reminder that the past always finds ways to manifest itself in the present. “What Can A Song Do To You?” is Drake’s meditation on the completely transformative potential of music; it challenges time and space, placing the listener in a moment. Molly Drake shows a sound’s magical power to take you where it will, leaving behind any trace of a here-and-now, fully embracing the whims of escapism. --Luis Polanco
The story of Robbie Basho's career isn't particularly mysterious as it is befuddling. In a 1974 radio interview for KPFA Berkeley, he sheepishly bemoans his struggles with obscurity. "People that know what I'm doing rave about me. People that don't, put me down hard as the dickens. I don't sell very well and that's the problem. I don't call a lot of my stuff far-out… It's far-in as far as I'm concerned, a deeper feeling." And though he championed the 12-string guitar around the same time as more celebrated Takoma label contemporaries John Fahey and Leo Kottke, his sound was a harder sell. Perhaps it was due in part to a propensity for cross-cultural eclecticism rarely heard in American fingerpicking music of the day, culling both Hindu raga and Japanese open tunings, among other appropriations. Or maybe it was his voice, which was bound to pose challenging, undoubtedly indebted to Incan princess Yma Sumac. Whatever the reasons were, he was too weird for the folkies and longhairs alike to gain much attention in his life, which is a shame.
Visions for the Country, his first for then-budding New Age stalwarts Windham Hill Records, found Basho distilling the creative whims and intents he explored through his nine previous albums, giving voice to that unknowable ancient beauty he was constantly in search of. In the album's liner notes, he paints America as a young singing maiden, "untamed, untrammeled upon, and unashamed", echoing in sentiment its musical contents. On tracks such as "Rocky Mountain Raga" and "Orphan's Lament", Basho's performances are earnest and somber expressions for his love to the land, his instrumentation frantic and otherworldly, and his voice stretching out as if to reach across vast distances of space and time. 35 years after Visions of the Country's initial release, he's fallen on ears finally listening. --Ian Pearson
There's A Dream I've Been Saving: Lee Hazlewood Industries 1966 - 1971 [Light In The Attic]
Lee Hazlewood’s legacy seems so assured now that it’s hard to imagine this not having always been the case. His look, his voice, and his audacious, larger-than-life personality seem the stuff of legend. But the release of There’s a Dream I’ve Been Saving-- a massive collection of nearly all the recorded output of Lee Hazlewood Industries during the peak of his creativity-- marks the triumph a long, drawn out process of rediscovery. In the introduction to the book that accompanies the four discs, Mark Pickerel describes his attempts in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s to reissue this body of work while working at Sub Pop Records. Despite Hazlewood already being held in high regard by artists like Sonic Youth and Nick Cave, Pickerel struggled to even locate him. Sub Pop’s plans to reissue the LHI catalogue and an accompanying tribute album fell through, and it wouldn’t be until 1999 that the first reissues of some of Lee Hazlewood’s solo records from that epoch saw the light of day (on Smells Like Records). Light in the Attic continued the process, first with the release of a compilation of Lee Hazlewood’s best solo and duet tracks from the era, and finally culminating with this exhaustive release.
The output of LHI was diverse: country rock, soul, and Hazlewood’s trademark “Cowboy Psychedelia” all found a home on the label. Such disparate musical strands were bound together not only by the consistently phenomenal production of Hazlewood and Suzi Jane Hokom, but also by the collective willingness (and available resources) of Hazlewood and his associates to take huge risks signing artists they believed in. Gram Parsons, for example, found his first shot at success with his International Submarine Band. The group's sole album, while a commercial failure, proved tremendously influential to the development of country rock. The level of freedom available to LHI was unsustainable, of course-- eventually the money ran out, and the fertile, creative environment that facilitated the label’s adventurousness grew bitter. But this compilation provides us with the possibility of immersing ourselves in an exceptional and unprecedented moment in the history of popular music. --Miguel Gallego
Robert Turman: Beyond Painting [Fabrica Records]
Despite the internet's pure inundation of music, the lost album maintains its mystique. Be it Vernon Wray's Wasted or an esoteric Alice Coltrane cassette, nothing inspires jubilation in many listeners like a piece of music that seemed doomed to obscurity. On that note, RIP Mutant Sounds. Robert Turman has been enjoying a revival over the course of the past couple of years, thanks to a joint effort by Aaron Dilloway and John Elliott to reissue his albums from the '80s and keep him active on the contemporary abstract music circuit. Beyond Painting was wrapped up in 1991, and really only saw release a couple of years ago by Turman himself on CD-R. Ironically, the lost album at hand only fell into total obscurity for a short period before Fabrica did it justice on vinyl. Boyd Rice got pretty pissy when I asked him about Turman's early involvement with NON, and you can't help but shake the feeling that it is because the onus of musical talent was left on Rice when Turman left. Both have performed numerous improvisations on the roto-guitar, and as evidenced by Turman's LP of improvisations on Hanson this year, Robert did it much better. In so many words, that's why Beyond Painting is such a significant reissue in 2013. Right now we have a proliferation of studied drones, Middle East-infatuated power electronics, and beautiful noise. Turman did them all best over 20 years ago. No one got the chance to hear until now. --Mike Sugarman