one of the biggest musical highlights of the year was actually a live show: severed heads performing at la sala rosa. not only was this an opportunity to see a long-admired favourite, but it turned out to be very close to perfect in terms of the selection of songs played. i didn't get to hear my very favourite song ["guests" from city slab horror], but that's not surprising, given that it's an obscure album track. everything else was dizzyingly satisfying.
immediately in the wake of that show, i went to see moor mother, which was another great performance in an entirely different way. whereas severed heads were polished and crisp, and drew on a vast back catalogue of material, moor mother is a rising star, slamming beat poetry and noise influences into a searing sound quite unlike anything i've heard. where severed heads' perfection seems remote, moor mother's sound, especially live, is almost uncomfortably close, raw, and has the personal and political fighting for dominance within it.
hats off as well to drew mcdowall, who gave an inspired performance [just a couple of weeks prior to the others] at possibly my least favourite venue in montreal [la vitrola], backed up by pharmakon and hiro kone. i'm not as familiar with mcdowall's music as you would think, given that i'm such a big coil fan, so this was one that i enjoyed more than i expected i would.
now that i look back on it, not only was it a decent year for shows, but a lot of it was concentrated in the suoni per il popolo festival in june.
sadly, but predictably, i didn't get to see any of the artists who released my favourite albums of the year. because so much of the music i like comes from europe, it's rare that lesser-known artists get to come to north america, and even rarer that they come to canada. all the sighs. but the sighs don't make me love these albums any less:
the best of the best
michael idehall :: machine spirit transmission
for the second year in a row, this gentleman ranks as one of my very favourite artists of the year, and for many of the same reasons. "machine spirit transmission" is as difficult to define as last year's "no man's land", but that doesn't mean it's repetitive. this album is more stripped down, stamps where "no man's land" slithers, and has a new roughness to it.
sutcliffe jugend :: shame
it's rare, but some artists do improve with age, but i can't think of another band that's done so quite as startlingly as this. and that's not a knock against their early material, which has a visceral lure; it's just that the music they're coming out with now transcends boundaries in a way that few artists are capable of doing. as loud and dissonant as they can get, they are just as capable of exquisite restraint, and are experts at balancing the two. as they've progressed, their lyrical content has also gained much death, going from bursts of youthful anger to poetry.
but not far behind...
gazelle twin :: kingdom come
i've been waiting what seems like a lifetime for a follow-up to "unflesh" [three years. a pretty short lifetime, even in rockstar terms. -ed.], and in november, the gods finally smiled on me. well, on us, because anyone can buy "kingdom come" if they want to. gazelle twin, aka elizabeth bernholz from brighton, uk, is a fascinating combination of industrial, grime, experimental and even hip hop.
esplendor geometrico :: fluida mekaniko
technically, this was released in 2016, but since it came out on the 27th, i'm going to let myself cheat a little. you pretty much know what you're in for when you buy an esplendor geometrico album, but he has a way of mixing in new elements to keep what he's doing interesting. in this case, the new things added are sort of like old things: reminiscent of some of the noisier, less structured pieces from the early eighties. there's still the hypnotic tribal rhythms and electronics, but they rest on a lush carpet of sound that really adds to the experience.
am not :: the developing world
building on his excellent debut "unpunished", this album sees the artist with the most un-google-able name in history get denser, darker, and greater. it's like standing hip deep in the ocean as a hurricane threatens to wash ashore. it feels dangerous and thrilling in a way that a lot of power electronics releases no longer do. as with the previous album, the thematic focus here is on the sorts of issues that should generate the sort of anger that simmers in this genre. no surprise that this came out on tesco organisation, since am not is carrying their well-known sound into the future. [the subtly unnerving artwork is what you see at the top of this post.]
she spread sorrow :: mine
i was impressed enough with alice kundalini's debut album, but this one is extraordinary. in the short space between her first album and her second, she's already matured as an artist, making expert use of the sound spectrum, and proving the idea that the most unsettling things are often whispered, not screamed. although the vocals are mixed a bit louder than i usually like in this type of music, i make an exception in this case because of her strength as a lyricist.
stromstad :: new devoted human
this collaboration between the mercurial strom.ec and kristoffer oustad sounds... well, a lot like you'd think it would sound. you can hear the contributions from each participant, but it builds to something rather more than the sum of its parts. it certainly has a sound that i immediately associate with artists from scandinavia [for the purposes of this post, finland is part of scandinavia], especially the over the top vocals that still work, as they don't overwhelm or distract from what's around them. i has a stuttering, lurching quality that really throws the listener off balance, in the most enjoyable way, as well as moments of surprising peacefulness.
it's always a little difficult to predict the future in niche genres, because a single release or, in the case of a well-known artist, a shift in sound, can throw off the curve, but there are a couple of things that i think we'll be seeing more of in the coming year, if not longer.
- the women are coming :: this is actually something that's already happening, as you can see from what i've said in the post so far, but it's something that i expect is going to pick up steam going forward. industrial and experimental music have long been male-dominated, even by the standards of alternative music in general. in fact, artists in this area have used often extreme violence against women in lyrics and art, to capture the essence of rage and frustration, to shock and provoke, or to create the illusion of notoriety, depending on your perspective. [those things aren't mutually exclusive. -ed.] there's still a lot of that about, but there is also a growing number of female artists entering the scene, many with a new and refreshing sound.
- distant rituals :: i think this one stems from the rise of phurpa, but i'm hearing more "tribal" or "ethnic" elements than at any time since the early nineties. in that wave, however, those influences were more upbeat, calming and beautiful. this time around, the sounds are darker and more sombre. the presence of these influences runs the gamut from incorporating the more complex rhythm structures found in africa and asia to the sort of full-on recreation of practices from other cultures. whether this constitutes a type of cultural appropriation or the syncretism that occurs when different cultures come in contact is an interesting subject for debate, and it's possible that that debate will get louder, because i think that this is a sound that will work its way into more releases.
full disclosure :: the videos for both michael idehall and sutcliffe jugend were done by my honeybunny dom. that didn't factor into my choice [he's done a lot of videos for a lot of different artists], but i figured i should let you know.