END OF YEAR CHARTS: Mark Corcoran-Lettice | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

Narc. Magazine Online

Reliably informed

5) Jenny Hval & Susannah – Meshes of Voice

meshes of voiceIn 2009, the Norwegian singers Jenny Hval and Susannah Wallumrød joined forces for a special collaborative performance for Ladyfest Oslo. Bringing together these two distinct voices – Hval, a dabbler in electronics and art-rock who takes a sharp, forensic approach to issues of sexuality and identity, and Wallumrød, known for glistening classical-infused pop and jazz performances – may not appear the most obvious of musical pairings.

Listening back to Meshes of Voice, the result of that collaboration that has finally received a release five years after its original performance, any question marks swiftly dissolve. To listen to this is to hear two vital artists in their own right discovering new territory for both of them, making the most of their differences and constructing a new world where their talents can be showcased at their foremost.

Meshes of Voice is an ambitious song-cycle that takes in jazz swing, classical refinement, harsh washes of electronic noise, subdued folk and much more and yet works superbly as one immersive piece. Repeated musical and lyrical motifs suggest at a crawl towards enlightenment amidst the sublime drift of this music, while Hval and Wallumrød weave in and out of each other, jousting at each other’s voices so as to provoke unexpected new textures.

This is one of those wonderful, rare collaborations that exists happily outside of the frame work of rather artist responsible: in fact, assessing it purely on its own merits might be the most satisfying way of approaching it. For those willing to take the plunge, Meshes of Voice is an immersive triumph.

4) Einstürzende Neubauten – Lament

lamentAmongst the startling sounds you will find in Lament: a multi-lingual performance of a hymnal which, to Anglophone ears, is known as God Save The Queen, a music hall re-enactment of the First World War and, most shocking of all, the voice of noise hellraiser come gentleman of the avant-garde Blixa Bargeld processed though autotune.

Not that any of these are gimmicks. Merely, they are the sounds of a band broadening their scope and accordingly raising their game in accordance with a very unique challenge. Commissioned to produce a live work commemorating the centenary of the First World War, the live show they produced has found itself translated into a new studio release that might just be the finest to ever bear the Einstürzende Neubauten name.

Coming from an implicitly pacifist stand-point, much of Lament is focused on the absurd power-plays and elites that allowed such carnage to happen (The Willy-Nicky Telegrams, How Did I Die?), with Bargeld’s Dadaist leanings leading to the idea of producing a pulsing roll-call for the entire war on Der 1.Weltkrieg.

As for those who fought and died though, Neubauten pay far more sincere tribute than any number of self-interested, crocodile-teared politicians or pundits. The three part title track is a powerful requiem to the tragic, sensless slaughter that was allowed to take place, one that concludes with Neubauten ‘liberating’ the recordings of prisoners of war, set free at last. Lament is an exceptionally moving work, and a vital reminder of the real cost of militaristic and nationalistic posturing.

3) EMA – The Future’s Void

the futures voidThe Future’s Void arrived in stores back in April, but to Erika M. Anderson, the album was not truly complete until Back To The Void, an e-zine made to accompany the album, came out in September. Back To The Void is certainly illuminating about the personal and cultural contexts behind the album’s genesis, a fine re-statement of her aesthetics and an interesting way of challenging what an album can constitute in the post-downloading era.

More than this though, it confirmed The Future’s Void to be one of the sharpest and most successful interrogations of how the internet has changed us as people, of how thoroughly it has re-wired our perceptions of the outside and inside worlds.

If the idea of rock music about technology all too frequently devolves into old men shouting at clouds (or, as it might be these days, The Cloud), then EMA’s second album exists as a proof that the modern age can be written about successfully, should be written about successfully.

Expanding her sound beyond the intimate lo-fi poetry of Past Life Martyred Saints, The Future’s Void takes on unsettling ambiance, primitive industrial beats, piano ballads and fried synth loops whilst also going for the pop jugular in a way new to her work – the opening trio of Satellites, So Blonde and 3Jane is as diverse and effective an opening salvo you could hope for. At a time when so much of what is still laughably called indie rock is backwards-looking conservative inanity, The Future’s Void exists as a very necessary rejoinder.

2) Richard Dawson – Nothing Important

richard dawson nothing importantSitting down to write about Richard Dawson might, for this particular publication, be something of a redundance. But great work demands to be written about, and there can be no doubt that Nothing Important is just that.

Richard Dawson has emerged as something of a local hero over the years, with 2011’s heart-stopping The Magic Bridge marking an artistic breakthrough as he pushed himself to new heights by pushing past the boundaries of conventional song structure. Slowly, surely, the rest of the country (and outside) turned to recognise what marvels were being made here, and so we end the year with our protagonist signed to a subsidiary of the venerable Domino Records (at last, a good use for the filthy lucre made by the smarmy tax-dodgers Arctic Monkeys!)

Boasting two complex, knotty guitar instrumentals and two monumental lyrical songs of sixteen minutes each, Nothing Important is certainly Dawson’s most difficult work to date, but this merely means that each listen reveals new musical flourishes, new lyrical wrinkles to delight the listener anew. Indeed, given the incredible density of imagery and emotion which flows through the title track and its tougher sibling The Vile Stuff, it could be argued that getting these works in at merely a quarter of an hour each is a masterpiece of restraint.

It is rare to find a vocalist on the level of Dawson: that he is just as accomplished a guitarist, lyricist and songwriter is beyond improbable. But here he is, and at last his work is receiving due recognition.

1) Swans – To Be Kind

swans to be kindReformed bands are not meant to do this. Reformed bands are meant to come back in a blitz of publicity and goodwill, as everyone remembers the early years – remembers their own early years, more to the point – and forgives the mistakes and ignominy that came later, tours themselves into the ground until audiences become even more jaded and disgusted than they were the first time round.

What they are not meant to do is what Michael Gira has done since Swans re-emerged in 2010, is to shun the revered back-catalogue and stake everything on new material at the expense of. They are certainly not meant to pull off this insane endeavour, producing an album like The Seer that became widely acknowledged as the finest record to ever bear the Swans name. Suffice to say, they are then really, really, really not meant to make something that then tops even that.

Such is the feat that the new Swans have achieved with To Be Kind. If The Seer felt like a culmination of everything Gira had achieved up to that date – oppressive drone, surreal soundscapes, oblique country-rock – then To Be Kind is a statement of what Swans means now. Which is to say, six players trapped in a room, producing a variant of rock music that wields repetition as a psychedelic instrument, which turns seeming chaos into unstoppable grooves.

Over two hours in length, To Be Kind remains true to the unyielding reputation Swans have built up, but it is dedicated entirely to the pursuit of fresh challenges, to the challenge of fresh glories and the power of now. Right now, no other band can compare.

Like this story? Share it!