Here is the next part of the hiatus info-dump, a nostalgia trip through the five and a half years that I’ve been doing Crate-Digging columns here at Critical Masses. I figure I’d have fun and quantify some stuff, as much as quantifying anything can be fun. So, I took a trip down the ol’ Internet wormhole and compiled a top-50 list of releases I’ve reviewed. To take a look back at some of the best stuff I’ve reviewed here. You know.
One of the criteria that has developed over the years is that I had to like a record to review it here, and so even though I’ve given myself the arbitrary number fifty as stopping point, rest assured that if I’ve written about you, I’ve liked your music. See? Everybody’s my buddy, at least electronically, whether they like it or not. You’re all top infinity in my book. But this is an exercise, so there you go.
There are a couple rules I’ve imposed myself for making up this list. No singles or videos were considered, which means there is no Signior Benedick the Moor on this list, which is too bad because his albums and EPs have been some of my favorite work released over the past couple years. It just turns out that I only wrote about his singles and videos for some reason. So rule number 1 here is kind of an honorable mention for Christian – he’s a bad dude, and you should listen to everything he’s ever released.
Also, I tried to keep this to the records I’ve discovered while writing. What I mean by that: I began Crate-Digging as an attempt to write about my record collection in alphabetical order by album, but that became difficult to maintain, and I abandoned that after a year or so in favor of reviewing the new and exciting things that crossed my path. So even though I reviewed a bunch of stuff that was older or more visible (read: popular, I guess), I didn’t consider much of it here. An exception: Ween’s All Request Live, an in-studio performance album that I did discover while reviewing for this site, and I just fell madly in love with. So it’s on the list … somewhere.
I noticed that Northern Spy Records are well represented on this top 50. Bravo.
What I said: “It’s hard to recommend this album enough – it totally jumped out and surprised me, in a way that I’d never expected an ambient tape to do. It’s at once transportative and internal, and highlights the deep understanding that Ian Kennedy has of the genre and his place in it. … I can only imagine great things are ahead for this composer and sound sculptor. Now, let’s get him a movie gig.”
What I said: “If Entertainment Systems keeps cranking out the strange and unusual, I’ll be on board for the long haul. I loved their ambient releases, but this changes everything – i.o puts them in a totally different game. “Put Flame on Tiny Blue Flowers” is the poster child for the future – a marriage of punk, metal, and ambient guitar washes that works way better than it has a right to. I’m stoked by this one – you should be too.”
What I said: “I could just immerse myself all day in describing the individual experiences I have with each song, but I’d rather not bore you to death. … [If Thousands] were made to soundtrack images. And they have, indeed, provided music for a few, hard-to-find films. Their music begs to be visualized, as my imagination so desires after diving headfirst into For. But until that happens with these new compositions, I’ll have to be content with them as magnificent headphone fodder.”
What I said: “But all this comparison – ah, it’s bogus. It’s just a way for me to situate music along a continuum for your sanity and mine. A helpful tool, nothing more. What you really ought to do is sift through this review, pull out those nuggets of info that point to “damn, Nomadic Firs is good!”, and cling to them. There’s a song on here called “Fun” after all, and if that don’t clinch it, I don’t know what does.”
What I said: “All this to say, it’s too bad rRope is no more, because they would have been one unique live experience. I wish I had seen them – I’m jealous of you West Coasters that did. But there isn’t a better way to present the band’s idiosyncracies and oddities, as well as their undeniable dynamic interplay, than We Are You There. I guess if there’s one lesson to be learned from rRope’s career, it would have to be, if Sonic Youth wants you to open for them on tour, you say yes!”
What I said: “Sax is first and foremost Jonah Parzen-Johnson’s calling card, and it’s given primary weight on the recordings, but the synthesizer is the element that takes the record to the next level. I gotta admit, it really surprised me how well the two go together, and how adept Parzen-Johnson is at composing this type of experimental music for seemingly disparate palettes. The synth adds an otherworldly pulse to a track like “I Wrote A Story About You, Without You,” removing the noir-esque saxophone from its usual surroundings to a completely alien environment. Or, on “If You Can’t Sleep, Just Close Your Eyes,” the smoky jazz is softened by the bed of synthesizer chords, turning it into a lullaby that begs for a Julee Cruise cameo. Then there’s the utter craziness of “Eyes Like Paddles,” which breaks into sci-fi arpeggios about a minute and a half into the track. It’s unsettling and strange, and makes for one of the best passages on the album.”
What I said: “Although not specifically recorded as a companion piece or “phantom soundtrack” to Méliès’s films, Voyage could certainly stand in as musical accompaniment to any one of the breakout universes described above. It’s both baroque and experimental, forward thinking while steeped in compositional tone of past eras. The instruments are played by humans and recorded in a room, and as such there is little indication of studio trickery or computerized manipulation (save, of course, for periodic puncutations of synthesizer, which add a zest of sci-fi). The mood is utterly fantastical, yet melancholy, as if there is always something at stake. In short, these pieces, these thirty minutes of recorded cassette tape, are the perfect encapsulations of world-building through sound, rich with life and wonder.”
What I said: “Black Zone Myth Chant is by loose definition the High Wolf hip hop project, and I’d like to think that’s true, if by hip hop you meant the desolate soundscapes made by deities before they laid waste to human existence and then cawed deeply at the remaining cosmos. If you’d rather define it by saying it sounds like High Wolf but less tribal and more 4/4, then sure, that’d work too. But there’s so much more going on with this than to merely peg it with “hip hop” and move on. This is great, astral drone and spectral dance, filled with dread and wonder, and truly not of this world.”
What I said: ““Walking in Milwaukee” and “Hometown Hero (I Ain’t No)” are the perfect encapsulations of Yo! MTV Raps–era tracks, which means they take me back to my favorite era of hip hop (1989, the number, another summer), where the samples were fresh and the DJs scratched actual records on actual turntables rather than on iPod rigs. This kind of universal music may have you reaching for your nostalgia meter (and it would definitely be in the red), but man, does it really feel good to hear it again. … I guess it really pays to “Follow your Fucked Up Dreams,” as Juice closes out the album, another anthem on a record full of fist-pumpers, and this one a culmination of artist, lifestyle, and record together.”
What I said: “What could easily have eventually been tucked away in a drawer or a folder was unleashed upon us, challenging its very nature by its sheer quality. An excellent debut. Few bands start out like this, and continue to make equally compelling music. … And then Deafheaven made Roads to Judah.”