Albums of the year: Top 3

Before the trumpets sound and the drums roll, here are a few things that could have made the top thirty, but didn’t owing to the fact that I haven’t yet heard them! But all are high on my “to hear” list in 2008:

ARVE HENRIKSEN: Strjon; MISTICAL: The Eleventh Hour; WILLIAM BASINSKI: Short Wave Music; ALVA NOTO: Xerrox Volume 1; BJ NILSEN: The Short Night; ALEKSI PERALA: Project V; LUKE VIBERT: Chicago, Redruth, Detroit; BUGGE WESSELTOFT: Im. And those are just some that I know about.

Compilations / Reissues: The continuing Motown series gets better and better. Volume 9 is out soon covering 1969 over six discs. Best reissue for me was Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Englaborn – it would have made my top ten with ease if I’d deemed it eligible.

OK. On to my top trio. They were easy to pick, but not so easy to order – particularly the top two.

3. MURCOF: Cosmos

Ignore the last paragraph of my review. I got a little overexcited and carried away. That said, Cosmos is a seriously good suite of music. The two title tracks are particularly remarkable – long drawn out drones constructed out of snippets of orchestral samples, like particles of dead sound coalescing around a new core, and reawakening. Or something like that.

2. BURIAL: Untrue

In a true pessimist’s fashion I was prepared to be disappointed by this. Burial’s debut album was so remarkable, that I couldn’t see how it could be matched. Even the early reviews attesting to its greatness failed to sway me – how many times have people, who were late to a debut album, heaped praise on its ropey successor, simply because they weren’t there for the first? Then a couple of years later, everyone’s embarassed about it, and all pretend that they always thought it was rubbish. I call it Arcade Fire syndrome (Neon Bible really is pants – overblown, self-important pants at that).

I digress. I heard “Ghost Hardware” before the rest of the album. I was convinced then, and I’m convinced now. Untrue not only matches the first album, it betters it. And it does so by taking the music into a completely new direction, whilst deepening the mood of dislocation, and confused melancholy. If your instinctive reaction is to run as fast as possible in the opposite direction at the first whiff of hype, then you’re like me. But sometimes what seems like hype is just collective enthusiasm. Rarely, but it’s definitely the case with Burial.

1. STARS OF THE LID: And The Refinement Of Their Decline

On the face of it, this is two hours of drones over two CDs (three LPs), occasionally enlivened by snippets of melody from a lone piano or clarinet. The pace is not so much glacial as geological. This isn’t music in a hurry. Stars Of The Lid share a kind of narcotic quality with Burial. With the latter, it is a twitchy, fugged mind, tired but not sleepy kind of state. With Stars Of The Lid, all is calm, and the mind drifts into a warm coccoon of semi-consciousness. Every now and then, there is a heartbreaking melody on piano, cello, clarinet, that breaks through the comfort like glimpses of past regrets. This isn’t mellow, chill-out music. There is a deep sadness about it that can be emotionally exhausting, but also cathartic. It’s also very, very beautiful.


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