As December approaches, and people start turning the procession of the last twelve months as a narrative, some professionals boil that down further, into a list that can be compiled into a consensus narrative. When it comes to music, I have done a fairly good job keeping any potential readers abreast of the music I thought was notable. But as music continues to come out, there were more things to discuss.
First and foremost is Jeff Zagers' Key Conduction cassette, put out by Human Conduct Records. For all this year's synthesizer music, that uses incredibly expensive equipment to sound like cheap presets, I like Zager's use of MIDI more, hitting upon those "new age" tones, while live instruments, such as drums and saxophone cascade in vague emulation of a Coltrane's spiritual pursuits through jazz. There's also some songs with vocals. I saw Zagers on tour with Russian Tsarlag earlier this year, when he covered a Yoko Ono song, and Yoko fits into the stew of influences on display here. His blog also has a "salute" section, which I appreciate both for the openness and sincerity of the gesture and for the musicians he credits.
(The other things that were available from Human Conduct when I made my order, the Moth Cock cassette and the Bathetic-released Dinner Music tape Tomb Of Comb, are also really good.)
Another one of the best shows I've shows I've seen all year was Alvarius B, Alan Bishop of the Sun City Girls, in Philadelphia. I am really into the lone performer these days, someone who does songs, who leaves enough space around them for the audience to violate, and seeing how they hold that attention. Alan doesn't take shit, stopping mid-song to yell "hey fuckface!" at two talkers in the balcony. That was around the time of the reissue of his 1996 double-LP, which I previously only had mp3s of a crappy vinyl rip of, but now own a nice double-CD with bonus tracks, one of which is a solo version of "CCC." In between the increased fidelity and witnessing the live performance I have newfound love for these songs, somewhat evil in lyrical content and deeply compelling. Hopefully the next new LP will contain the rewritten version of Bob Dylan's "Wanted Man" that slayed everyone in attendance.
(Other notable reissues/archival projects from this year would by My Bloody Valentine's EPs 1988-1991, containing a good deal of bonus tracks, and Can's The Lost Tapes.)
Another solo performer, but one with a completely different stage presence, was Angel Olsen, who kept an audience fairly enraptured with a fairly short set. Her new record, Half Way Home, seems more like a country record than Strange Cacti did, due to an absence of reverb that makes her phrasing more apparent, and the slightly embellished arrangements. I am really into these more uptempo cuts, which were fairly unexpected going in.
For a moment when I was trying to set up that Angel Olsen show, before I gave up completely and Elijah stepped in, I had this idea that it would be cool if that show had Bee Mask playing it as well, despite the completely different styles of music- Bee Mask makes electronic music, the sort of dude who is now playing European techno festivals, which seems like a bad fit to me, but what do I know? I like his Vaporware/Scanops 12-inch and the When We Were Eating Unripe Pears LP fairly well. Somehow the deep psych explorations of this material seems like a useful contrast to grounded songwriting, and while that live show did not happen, they can be juxtaposed comfortably besides one another in record player rotation.
Other electronic music that seems noteworthy is Golden Retriever's Occupied With The Unspoken LP, and Mouse On Mars' Wow. I'm looking forward to the Container and Three Legged Race records set for release on Spectrum Spools by the end of the year, as well as the Form A Log record, from a lebel unknown to me, that spawned this video. (Form A Log is a trio consisting of Ren of Container, Rick Weaver of Dinner Music/proprietor of Human Conduct, and Noah, formerly of Social Junk and presently of Profligate.)
In terms of rap music, I like the new Kendrick Lamar record, as well as the new Aesop Rock and El-P records. I don't like any of these as much as the rap records I've mentioned in other posts from this year (Death Grips' The Money Store, Lil B's God's Father and White Flame mixtapes, Lil Ugly Mane's Mista Thug Isolation). It's been a good year for weird rap, and the fact that Kendrick Lamar's record feels like such a triumph for classicism and conscious rap makes it seem like a good year for the genre all around.
It feels like a good year for music in general, actually, in comparison to the last few years: There is music getting press that seems actually good, and things that seem actually "new." As I've been writing this post I've been listening to Chris Weisman's 88-song digital release, Maya Properties, and just reached a point where the songs stop and a down-pitched voice warns that this is the point where things get weirder, farther out, potentially embarrassing. A very exciting prospect to consider if you don't like the other very exciting prospect of November 22, 2012, which is that the world will end in a month.