Transmissions from the Ovulation Station: PoOP List – Best Albums of 2008
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1.) Goldmund – The Malady of Elegance (Type Records, 2008).
In an age where we are unfairly expected to process and comprehend arsenals of information on a daily basis, whether it be the fine print of an insurance contract, the numerous deductions from a paycheck, or the barrage of horrifying news we view on the television, it should come as no surprise that we are crying for LESS and not more these days. This is represented most clearly in the music that has become popular as of late. With music critics coming to realize how crowded the space between their ears has become, excavations in search of more room to breathe in the dense world of sound are being sought. Now minimalist composers are finally getting the recognition they deserve. Minimalist piano music, in particular, seems to mollify that anxious longing to return to a simpler time: a time of dusky roads, serene lakes, and old houses. The piano itself, with its ivory keys and polished wood finish, is an instrument that is instantly recognizable as a symbol of refinement and old-fashioned values. The music of Gurdjieff is now seeing a revival, thanks to ECM. And performers like Michael John Fink and Harold Budd are coming to be appreciated by a whole new generation. Goldmund has accessed the greatest elements of this kind of music with the skill of a true master. Every piece has been carefully thought out and rings with a deep, nostalgic beauty, making this an engaging listen from beginning to end which one never tires of play after play. He never falls into the trap of sounding overly sentimental or simplistic and, though you can tell he is influenced by other composers, the compositions are wholly original. Recorded with what sounds like only a single microphone inside the piano, you can actually hear the sound of the hammers hitting the strings and reverberating throughout its body. On songs like “Gifts” he has used something to somehow muffle the impact of the keys, creating the quietest and most delicate atmosphere imaginable, while country settings and hazy images of a distant childhood immediately come to mind when listening to “In a Notebook”. The gentle rapture and quiet beauty of this release is chicken soup for the clamor and harsh static of this convoluted century.
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2.) Forms of Things Unknown – Cross Purposes / Black Trenchcoats & Swastikas ‘n Shit (Panaxis Records, 2008).
The musician behind this outfit is exceptionally talented when it comes to dozens of instruments, but has a divine gift for wind instruments which puts him on a pedestal beside the likes of Djivan Gasparyan, Alihan Samedov, and Ustad Bismillah Khan. So is he touring the world? Performing to hushed crowds at packed opera houses? Accepting awards cast in gold and platinum? Um, not quite. I told him that I used to work at this certain peepshow as a spoogemopper and he asked me if they were hiring.
You may find that some of the song titles and the artwork of the latter album are rather bizarre. This is most likely a symptom of the curious modesty he has for his work. Or maybe it’s the demoralizing poverty he has been forced to endure. Don’t let the gallows humor turn you off. The output may be varied but the quality of every single piece is top notch. The dark quirkiness is kept to a minimum, but even these tracks sound pretty cool once they’re set into motion. Most of these songs ooze with existential pathos and spiritual yearning. “Elegy”, a subtle masterpiece, could easily be played as background music to any of Bela Tarr’s films.
I included both discs here because they’re meant to be sold together. You can buy them separately but you get a deal if you buy them both. Please purchase them directly from the artist’s site as he is desperately in need of funding. Listen to these works in their entirety and learn more about the artist at www.formsofthingsunknown.com.
3.) Oorchach – Chtonikka ( Autarkeia, 2008).
Rumor has it that the folks at Autarkeia are less than fond of us Americans over here. Despite these sentiments, we were able to get a copy of Oorchach’s latest album from the label without any hassles. This one-man project blew us away with his debut “Prisimerkti”. And he shows no sign of easing up on the reins as he continues to plow through the badlands of Lithuiania with this second release. This is heavy, trance-inducing tribal music ensconced in dark shadows and forgotten magic. The shining track is doubtlessly “The Sun is the Beast”. Imagine a chase scene involving a young man in war paint running through the jungle in a race to save his people and you’ll have an idea of the tone of this number. But even a description as dramatic as this fails to illustrate just how intense, unique, and spectacular this music actually is. Primordial sustenance for the thinking mortal.
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4.) Robert Millis – 120 (Etude Records, 2008).
A mysterious release from one of the guys from the Climax Golden Twins who brought us those amazing compilations Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics and Victrola Favorites. The former impressed us so much we listed it as one of our top ten faves of last year. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we leaped on this album like a pack of ravenous wolves the moment it popped up. And what a treat indeed! I guess you could say that 120 is primarily a drone album, but there is much more going on than what one might expect from this genre. Celestial washes of ambience dominate the first two tracks, but intermingled neatly throughout these creations are tapestries of sound that range from samples of scratchy 78s to field recordings from various locales. While away in different parts of the world, Robert Millis clearly tries to capture those special moments unfolding around him with the use of some kind of hand-held recorder, a device that is probably by his side at all times. And the noises he picks up, though not always entirely distinguishable, are all testaments to the awe and love he has for his surroundings and their exploration. Like a kid who has built a fort out of snow, there is a spontaneity and naïveté to what he offers. Simmering with innocent elation without crying from the rafters, this is a work of fresh and inspired fun.
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5.) Desalvo – Mood Poisoner (Rock Action Records, 2008).
This is sick, enraged, pummeling hardcore from the School of the Absurd where bands like the Butthole Surfers or The Cows would be seen wandering the halls. A welcome distinction from the droves of macho idiots you find promoted in the Heavy Metal section of the mall these days. Fans of Converge and Dillinger Escape Plan would definitely dig this band. But before we go any further, let’s take a trip back in time to the early nineties. A young turd in his early twenties lives for punk music and punk music alone. It runs through every fiber of his body. It fuels his very soul. He had heard two songs by a band called the Stretchheads on the Pathological Compilation. Both songs clock in at barely a minute each but it’s enough to set this boy’s heart all a flutter. The bass player’s sound is crisp and rolls off the neck of his axe at a fierce but distinct speed. The guitar is not overly distorted and its jangly skitter weaves around the bass lines in a clever juxtaposition that allows for the entire melee to be heard with crystal clarity. And the vocalist yanks it all together and spits it back out like a nail gun bent on depleting every last shred of its ammo. There is no posturing, no choruses where the singer decides to get emotional and show his sappy side by suddenly singing in perfectly sweet pitch to a guitar melody, no trying to be a rock star. Just fierce energy with split-second timing that blasts through one ear and out the other like a hunter’s arrow. A quest begins for their 1991 album bearing the distinguished title of “Pish In Your Sleazebag”. It is a tireless search and the disc is finally found after considerable detective work spanning several cities. The fan eagerly places it in his CD player upon returning home. An inferno is unleashed the moment the full-length is put into rotation and tendrils of charred skin dangling from his bones are soon flapping in the scorching hot currents of fury emitted from the blaring stereo. This is punk-friggin’-rock! Balls to the wall, all the way. And then, as with almost all great punk bands, the Stretchheads broke up. But what’s this? Re-enacting a scene from a Lucio Fulci movie, we view a lumpy-skinned hand slowing emerging from the soil of one of the band member’s graves. Arising from a neighboring plot is another ex-member of the Stretchheads. Granted, not all of the members experienced life beyond the grave. But those who put the pieces together to create Desalvo managed to salvage all the greatest aspects of what their earlier inception used to be. Nothing has slowed them down and they have not failed to stay as hard and uncompromising as they were in the Stretchheads when they first started out twenty years ago. They’re from Scotland. Another ultra-heavy band from this area is Snowblood. Explore them, too.
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6.) Tamagawa – L’Arbre Aux Fees (Basses Frequences, 2008).
We love when the music we get comes in special packaging. Being the very first release from this brand new label out of France, Basses Frequences made sure that it counted. And boy does this light up the eyes and ears of anyone lucky enough to track it down. L’Arbre Aux Fees consists of three 3” CDRs packaged in a giant envelope. But that’s not all. Inside you will find a cardstock replica of a tiny stage lamp along with five little pictures of a church taken from different angles. The music is made up of processed guitar and each disc builds in intensity up to the last one, which consists of a long drone piece of intense, hypnotic power. The listener’s synapses are flooded with dopamine and light appears to emanate from the speakers as these works run their course. “Decollation et Discobule” uses a hook that reminds us of the extraordinary music by The Cure during their Seventeen Seconds era and “A Toi Ho Cloporte” drifts through our listening space like passing clouds at sundown. Become blissfully submerged in the glorious radiance of this release.
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7.) Eluder – The Most Beautiful Blue (Infraction Records, 2008).
We are jumping from one beautiful release to the next. But this album is endowed with a wholly different texture and color than the last. The hues are darker and the feel is cooler… like a mountain spring under the shade of an evergreen. Beauty is clearly the concept and driving force of this work. The artist surely concentrated on making every track a lovely fragment to an awesome whole. This is a pleasant departure from a track we heard by him on a compilation entitled Exercises in Obscurism as we absolutely hated it. Jason from Infraction Records deserves mention here considering his label has gained so much momentum in this past year. He is especially selective with what he puts out and somehow the merchandise gets better and better as it comes out. When it seemed like nothing could top Aloof Proof’s classic and historical Piano Text re-issue, two heavenly bodies of work by our good friends Celer emerged shortly thereafter. He’s also one of the only label heads nice enough to actually return our geeky emails, has hooked us up with free stuff, and turned us on to a number of different labels and musical ventures that would never have been brought to our attention without him.
8.) Have a Nice Life – DEATHCONSCIOUSNESS (Enemies List, 2008).
For those of you prone to suicidal urges this is a production that should be avoided at all costs. The band’s nihilistic message is depressing enough to send even someone like Ned Flanders over the edge. We went totally crazy over the packaging of this one, which came with two spray-painted discs in a slimline DVD case touting an impressive full-color cover of Renaissance-period art along with an eighty-page book written by a scholar from the University of Massachusetts about a religion called Antiocheanism. The professor must have decided at the last minute that he did not want his name associated with the publication as his name has been blackened out with a magic marker wherever he is credited. Strange. The music is inspired by the pessimistic and outright insane beliefs surrounding this obscure religion. Though the members are fans of black metal, there is no sign of this style to be found anywhere in the music. The group sounds much more like Gang of Four or a lo-fi New Order. Reading the text and hearing the twinge of hopelessness in the singer’s voice will send you plummeting into the depths of irredeemable sadness. A band member is quoted as saying: “We’re playing songs in a dead genre about believers in a dead religion. Who’s going to want to listen to that?”
We are listening, brother. In fact, the ideas surrounding this project hit us like a ton of bricks. Though they have now broken up, the aftermath of this group’s recordings still hangs heavy in our hearts. Dismal and incredibly profound.
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9.) Taiga Remains – Ribbons of Dust (Root Strata, 2008).
Okay, so this is a re-issue. But this composition is just too outstanding not to write about and a lot of these artists have to repress their long-finished works time and time again before anyone even starts to take notice. So hate the game, not the playa. We at Ovulation Station have to say that this release has got to be one of the all-time greatest ambient albums of all time, no holds barred. Alex Cobb, the man behind Taiga Remains, has churned out dozens of other concoctions but has yet to come close to the genius of Ribbons of Dust. Listening to it is such an emotional, passionate, soulful experience! This music actually listens to YOU: It hears your pain, finds where it hurts, and comforts those undisclosed sobs from within. These pining rivulets of sonic tenderness offer edification for the spiritually-starved sub-conscious. Play this for your friends! Play this for your children at bedtime! Play this for yourself over and over again!
10.) White Hills/Gnod – Aquarian Downer (White Hills Music, 2008).
We usually run the other way when it comes to collaborative projects (a.k.a. pissing contests). All too often we wind up hearing two or more egos locking horns, each playing something completely different from one another in an effort to prove how clever he/she is compared to all of the other wankers in the studio. But the exact opposite scenario is represented by this document of musical events. These are tribal jams with a psychedelic edge integrating elements from prog acts like Il Balletto di Bronzo. The best parts to be heard on bootlegs of Gong and King Crimson may come to mind when hearing this for the first time, but associating this project with progressive music might be a little too daring because there is so little tinkering going on anywhere here. This particular recipe calls for generous measures of Neu, Popol Vuh and Harvester. But the group has also added their own secret ingredients, creating a caustic soup as thick and as black as tar. The chemistry remains loose without the aforementioned noodling. The band members are just tripping out to the carnal vibes, supported mostly by acoustic percussion. Our favorite track is the ten-minute-long, ultra-mellow piece “Subordinate Contact”, which transports you to a paradise comprised of green fields and free love. Then we are roused from this tranquil slumber by “Aquarian Downer” – an all-out party… an LSD-fueled parade of demented flower children led by a substance-deluded drummer, who is now behind a full-on drum kit. And he’s beating the hell out of those skins, leading a march of drug-crazed zombies through the gates of hell with a steady, propulsive rhythm.
Admittedly, we know nothing about Gnod. But White Hills have been rocking our universe with innovative and original psychedelia ever since their ep No Game to Play. Check out all of their stuff out and grab this one if you can.
Our email address has changed since we last met. It is now otlodge AT yahoo DOT com. Write to us. We’re lonely.