PRINT December 2013

Music: Best of 2013

Julia Holter

Publicity still for Mark So’s Pale Plumes of Dullness (digitally self-released, 2013).

1 MARK SO, PALE PLUMES OF DULLNESS (digitally self-released) Most of So’s latest works come in the form of C30 cassette-tape recordings of his environment (in this case, his apartment on Vermont Avenue in LA at predawn) and of himself reading (in this instance, text from John Ashbery and Joe Brainard’s 1975 The Vermont Notebook). The tape’s compression allows the layers of city noise and So’s casual, unaffected speech to blend—very pleasing to my ear.

2 JIB KIDDER, IV (Gnar Tapes & Shit/ Burger Records) Jib Kidder’s recent release playfully combines his electric guitar and wild wordplay with sampled found sounds. His music is like a fascinating organism growing out of something ordinary from the past—a beautiful flower blooming on top of an old sandwich.

3 LAUREL HALO, CHANCE OF RAIN (Hyperdub) Halo uses the sounds of contemporary electronic dance music, but in a way that is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. On Chance of Rain, one pulsing beat will suddenly tumble over another, forming a beautifully awkward polyrhythm. Occasional ribbons of electric jazz piano are massaged into pools of pulsing microtonal squiggles.

4 EZRA BUCHLA, AT THE DOOR (Care Of Editions) Voice, synthesizers, and layers of Buchla’s viola chant and drone for forty minutes on his debut solo LP, but never all at once; it’s done economically and to stunning effect. The project was inspired by a Jack Spicer poem, “Orfeo,” as well as by a sixteenth-century news item about a man convicted of lycanthropy.

5 JASON GRIER, UNBEKANNTE (digitally self-released) Grier, who runs the record label Human Ear Music, begins his new album singing a simple and sweet-voiced a cappella melody that promises nothing—“Baby, I don’t know right now”—and leaves us curious. Almost every “song” on this record features one specific field recording that is explored for a while and grows more and more abstract. The album feels almost like a series of mysterious short films.

Publicity still for Ezra Buchla’s At the Door (Care Of Editions, 2013). Photo: Emily Lacy.

6 OLIVIA BLOCK, KARREN (Sedimental) Block combines field recordings with acoustic instruments—a common practice these days, but rarely done so well. For Karren, she worked with an entire orchestra, and I love the first movement, “Foramen Magnum”—an exciting piece of musique concrète.

7 NITE JEWEL, GEMS (Big Love) This “greatest hits” compilation showcases the many sides of Nite Jewel’s songwriting, which I’ve admired since she began her solo project five years ago. The newest single on this collection, “Stay a Little Longer,” is, much like her early work, a fun, idyllic pop meditation.

8 SCOTT CAZAN, SWALLOW (Care Of Editions) Cazan is a digital synth wizard who builds complex sound poems out of noise, field recordings, and pure tones. He pushes extreme ranges (and sometimes extreme volumes) to their limit and holds them there, keeping us at once uncomfortable and captivated.

9 LUCRECIA DALT, SYZYGY (Human Ear Music) Dalt can write a really soulful ballad and sing it with a full voice, but Syzygy is more austere and dark than her previous albums. Here, Dalt’s voice is reduced to a whisper or murmur and hidden behind other sounds, to powerful poetic effect.

10 MICHAEL PISARO AND ANTOINE BEUGER, THIS PLACE / IS LOVE (Erstwhile) This album stars two of my favorite things: a harpsichord and intoning singers. Both subtly fade in and out of the seventy-six-minute recording, reentering and retreating like characters in a film, exploring the paradoxes of true “love”: “This place is love. It is absence of place.”

Experimental musician and songwriter Julia Holter gained recognition for her first two albums of self-recorded synth and vocal compositions, Tragedy (Leaving, 2011) and Ekstasis (RVNG, 2012); this summer she released Loud City Song (Domino), an orchestral homage to her hometown of Los Angeles and to Colette’s novella Gigi. After a year of touring internationally with her band, Holter premieres a new piece at the Los Angeles Philharmonic this month.