Wednesday 20 January 2016

Critics Choice: P. Emerson's Listening Obsessions of 2015

2015 was a year here I immersed myself less in new releases than I had most of the preceding decade, so I'm bringing together a short list of the albums that I kept coming back to until the vibrations re-arranged my DNA. This was a year in which I binged on Bach cantatas, an exploration of Czech composer Leoš Janáček compelled by reading Haruki Murakami's novel 1Q84 and finding I could not shake the feeling that we're in 2Q15, classic and more underground funk and a year-end orgy of wallowing in records and live video of The Damned. What follows are the releases that marked the releases that marked points of coming up for air and a waking up to the musical present amid the musical gluttony of which I was guilty.

The Ancients – 'Mind'

More than two decades after their debut album Fred Schreck & Co. return with a varied and beautifully produced followup. I found this out only after I heard their entry in the superb For The Bats III compilation. Upon finding their track I had to go find them online an exercise I had tried before, to no avail. This album would sit confortably next to the young bands a few years back who were plowing the post-punk furrow while courting the fashionable and steering clear of goth circles. The Ancients have better choruses than any of them, though. I never thought there would be more to come from this band, so this feels like getting an extra unexpected gift.

Killing Joke – 'Pylon'

Fanboy alert: any year in which we get a new Killing Joke release is means they have a place in my year-end roundup. The sound is a monstrous and aggressive thing roaring out across the charred landscape of the omnipresent pan-Atlantic military/industrial/surveillance/prison empire. Verily the soundtrack for staring down the billion eyes of the panopticon. Post-modern paranoia no a step closer to Anonymous than theories cribbed from Alex Jones (Fema Camps)as we found on MMXII. Geordie's guitar is an orchestral tour de force throughout, and enhanced with orchestration on New Jerusalem, the effect is glorious. Think tanks and the corporate propaganda machine aims to make us feel powerless, but it's impossible to give in to despair with Killing Joke raging the catalogue of their crimes and subterfuge at us. This is the sound of the unbreakable outsider. As the comliant middle manager and bourgeoisie is immolated, the outsider is most of humanity.

Attrition – 'Millions Of The Mouthless Dead'

The teaming teaming up of two such immense talents as Martin Bowes and Anni Hogan can only raise expectations to cosmic heights. This is not a product, this is a work of art comparable to Picasso's Guernica. We encounter much dark music, but rarely does a work take us to such dark places and express the horror of a human finding himself standing in the path of  unimaginable destruction and carnage. The mouthless dead are given voice and they speak with humanity and eloquence to the heart of the listener. The listener is left feeling a heartrending compassion for those who lived through the war while being overwhelmed by the harrowing and evocative beauty of the music. Contained in the tracks of Millions Of The Mouthless Dead are by far the most intense and stunning pieces of sonic art it was my privilege to experience in 2015.

Tech N9ne – 'Special Effects'

There are classical elements weaving in and out of the beats as hard and raging vocals, flavored more like an infernal chamber choir than the cinematic tendencies of RZA. Special Effects is another in a string of albums from Tech N9ne that shows immense growth, standing as a testimony of an artist's dedication to his art. There's nothing in mainstream hiphop that can approach this. Thois album may also be the most gothic thing I heard all year without being horrorcore. Where the lyrics blend the defiant stance of a survivor with frank exploration of personal pain and frailty is where this album is most powerful in its expression.

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