The Needle Drop

Austen's Mid-Year Faves 2015

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Mid-year list time is upon us! Anthony released his yesterday, but you've been seeing his lists for years and we figure it's about time to get some other perspectives now that we have a website again. So it's Austen's turn now!

For the majority of you unaware of my part in The Needle Drop, I run the show here on the website, spam your Facebook news feeds, produce the podcast, and am like an adviser to Anthony. Our tastes overlap a little bit, but the top 10 I'm presenting here is pretty different from his. Anyway, I hope you get something out of it. Let's head into it...

Zs Xe [Northern Spy]

Right off the bat, Anthony and I agree on the appeal of Xe's hypnotically repetitive grooves. Despite constant line-up changes, Zs never skips a beat -- this trio of saxophonist/founder Sam Hillmer, guitarist Patrick Higgins, and drummer Greg Fox is maybe the tightest yet! Not much to add beyond Anthony's review.

(Honorable mention to The Ark Work, from Fox's other band, Liturgy. The world needs more totalist glitch-metal.)

Ikue Mori In Light of Shadows [Tzadik]

Ikue Mori outdid herself this time around. The shimmering, vaguely exotic-sounding electronic textures of In Light of Shadows form a fantastical sound world that is better experienced firsthand than explained. I could see it as the soundtrack to a trance film set in a Buddhist temple. This is perhaps Mori's most traditionally pretty solo effort to date and it'd be easy to make the case that she's currently the best in the laptop electronics game.

Graham Lambkin & Michael Pisaro Schwarze Riesenfalter [Erstwhile]

I had Anthony check this album out at the start of the year and his response was disappointment that it didn't really advance beyond what John Cage was doing decades ago. I don't disagree with him; Lambkin and Pisaro aren't reinventing the 20th-century classical/musique concrète wheel with Schwarze Riesenfalter, but they are having a hell of a time rolling it around. From the thundering, sustained piano chords of the opening track I was vibing with it, but my favorite spot has to be the second track, which over the course of its 17 minutes rides a gloomy piano and glockenspiel composition, at one point juxtaposing field recordings of undertone singing and that "Oh Long Johnson" cat. The twosome thereby strike a beautiful balance of starkness and lightness.

(One more honorable mention to Frank Zappa for his final album Dance Me This, the second great modern classical work this year to feature throat-singing and a sense of levity.)

Fedorov & Kruzenshtern Blast of Bloom [Auris Media]

This is a wonderful avant-prog album made collaboratively by Russian singer-songwriter Leonid Fedorov and Israeli klezmer outfit Kruzenshtern. Although I can't understand his words, Fedorov's gravelly voice is commanding and perfectly suits Kruzenshtern's crunchy bass grooves. Not to be overlooked if you're into this style; never mind the language barrier!

Nzʉmbe Titubeo [Organized Music from Thessaloniki]

If you found Jamie Stewart's whispers all over Xiu Xiu's Nina Simone cover album too freakish, you'll probably want to steer clear of this project from Spanish musician Nzʉmbe (Miguel Prado). Merely thinking about this collection of art pop-cum-electroacoustic love songs is enough to give me goosebumps. An intriguing listen if you're into that sort of thing.