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: “I could probably give you a hundred reasons why this is a stupid gimmick of a record, but I could also give you a thousand more why it’s worth listening to. I was surprised by how enthralled I was by it, and I laughed every time I pictured a young Shatner or Nimoy enthusiastically performing their songs.”
What I said: “It seems there’s quite a bit of unresolved history surrounding this release, and I like a good treasure hunt. And it involves Batman, so what could possibly be more fun? Mystery, intrigue, the Caped Crusader … sounds like a job for The Critical Masses!”
What I said: “What you’ll notice, first and foremost, is the gentleness and sadness emanating from Edley’s songwriting. His voice, a deep, even baritone, recalls The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, but at times … he’s got this Neil Diamond thing going on, where his voice trails downward at the ends of the lines he’s singing. And this is a good thing, because we all know how great Neil Diamond is, amIright? Safe’s singing, like Diamond’s, is a soothing croon, in the range of his speaking voice, and even when the song’s sad you can kind of tell that he’s ready at any second to glance up at you with a warm smile, a look readymade for those “it’s going to be all right” moments that flit through great songs and lift your spirits.”
What I Said: “I can’t even begin to express how weird and exciting this release is. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Sure, you can lump it in with vaporwave, and it is that, but it’s so much more than the average, there’s so much more depth and true feeling than other releases, rendering them all wisps of canned and synthesized nothingness compared to the 01100001 S.T.A.R.D.U.S.T. Subsidiary brand.”
What I said: “You know that creepy campfire story, the urban legend about the hitchhiker along Alligator Alley in Florida? You know the one. You’ve told it a million times on camping trips, flashlight pointed directly beneath your spookily illuminated face. Something about the long, lonely highway on a hot evening, nothing but swamp and forest to either side of the road, kicks in that paranoia and tense wariness. You can’t stop here – this is gator country. … What does this have to do with Forest Swords? Well, [Dagger Path] sounds like Ennio Morricone’s take on writing the score to a film version of this campfire story, as guitar lines creep and synthetic keyboard gongs clash against keyboard and vocal samples. Yes, it’s that awesome.”
What I said: “The record is immaculately fleshed out, and bursting with bullet-train-smooth grooves that transport listeners to nowhere that I’ve just described. It’s filled with head-rush moments that stretch for minutes, causing the brain to release endorphins not only to the body, but also to the far-off reaches of the psyche. Tunes such as “Midnight Riders” and “Flares” (two of my absolute favorites here) are emotional and metaphysical catnip, propelling me along at breakneck speeds (for krautrock anyway) yet allowing me to enjoy the scenery as a representational blur. Yet it all makes perfect sense! I’d prefer that this ride lasts for a while.”
What I said: “Finger works in all manner of composition, from electroacoustic soundscapes, to piano-led lullabyes, to sample-based hymns, to horn-inflected dirges, to minimal folk passages, to synthesizer ghost stories and back, never settling into a single groove or pattern, never overindulging in his ingredients. He’s restless without being overt, and experimental while remaining accessible. The tracks here are infused with deep nostalgia and emotion, but also a bright sense of wonder and optimism. Within seconds, Finger can go from melancholy to euphoric and back, and then do it again seemingly on a whim.”
What I said: “But I don’t necessarily want to bog down the narrative of Deep Thoughts with “humans are on the outs, pristine 1990s retrofuturism is on the ins,” because this album is just brimming with so much life that it’s impossible to think that anything but a human mind and a human hand is behind this album. Giant Claw’s music recalls James Ferraro’s best work in places, mainly the digi-graveyard opuses of Far Side Virtual (just an amazing record), but doesn’t distract the listener with “spot the sound of the source material” games. There’s a wild virtuosity to Giant Claw’s work, and although the MIDI action will never take entirely away from the fact that the music is indeed made with electronic components, it’s still exciting and vital.”
What I said: “There are a couple moments on Dick Nights where my jaw dropped. … “Preston ‘Great-Ass’ Imfat” sounds like nothing the brothers had done to this point, and the combination of left-field format and stellar composition had me scrambling for the repeat button. The harmonies are there to be sure, as is the rambunctious playfulness the brothers frequently display, but the song takes on a honky-tonk, foot-stomping singalong, with Andy on piano and Edwin on shuffly drums. The three-part tune is steeped in a Beatle-esque vibe, perhaps fitting in nicely on the third side of the White Album, or at least it resembles something fuzzily tossed off by an E6 mainstay, like, say, The Olivia Tremor Control, especially the acoustic train-hopping midpoint. It ends with another awesome doo-wop harmony. I want to listen to it right now, actually – good thing I’ve got the album embedded right here.”
What I said: “Herwig Holzmann has a vast body of work, and Skaphander Skanks is as good a place to start as any. Holzmann has proven himself a gifted storyteller who communicates through the pulses, beats, tones, and fragments of electronic music, and studying his album-length thematic meditations is always worth your time. For an admitted sci-fi nut like myself – “geek elite” as we prefer to be called – nothing is more intriguing than digging into the philosophical debates stemming from our possible futures. And for that to happen via music – well, Photophob has won this argument.”