Wednesday, December 27, 2023

best of 2023, pt. 3: honorable mentions and historical titles

[This is part 3 of 5 of the DFSBP 2023 rundown; find the other parts here.]

10 honorable mentions

Other 2023 releases — not cited anywhere in the overall or jazz rundowns — that I think are great and worth your time:

Autopsy, Ashes, Organs, Blood and Crypts (Peaceville)

A flood of death-metal legacy acts released new albums this year, including my perennial faves Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Incantation and Suffocation, but while I dug all those records and look forward to spending more time with them, from where I'm sitting, the best 2023 album by an iconic death-metal band was this one right here. Colossally heavy and fueled by the still-feral spirit of true lifers Chris Reifert, Danny Coralles and Eric Cutler. Huge kudos to these dudes for keeping the new material flowing in a nostalgia-fixated scene.

Mutoid Man, Mutants (Sargent House)

As I mentioned in the prelude to this year-end survey, I really fell hard for Cave In this year, and that led to a wider exploration of Stephen Brodsky's gifts. Mutoid Man are a truly radical band, in the adolescent, dirt-bikes-and-half-pipes sense. They're fast and hyperactive and relentlessly anthemic, and they just seem to keep getting better at churning out these action-packed hardcore-meets-thrash nuggets.

Calling Hours, Say Less (Revelation)

During the past few years, I've stumbled across a handful of '90s or early-2000s underground-rock records that have really turned my world around. Near or at the top of that list is Farside's The Monroe Doctrine, which sounds something like a post-hardcore Hüsker Dü — just the perfect combination of sophisticated songcraft and basement-show energy. And one of that band's two singer-songwriters, the immensely talented Michael "Popeye" Vogelsang, resurfaced this year on a goddamn great EP that capitalizes on all his familiar gifts. I'd recommend this to anyone who loves not just Farside, but also ALL and any other smart, sophisticated poppy-yet-punky-but-not-exactly-pop-punk rock you could name.

Zulu, A New Tomorrow (Flatspot)
A true vanguard band, Zulu unite the far-flung diaspora of Black music here, from chilled-out R&B to amped-up hardcore, into a glorious whole, sometimes excoriating, sometimes soothing and always riveting.

Krallice, Mass Cathexis 2 — The Kinetic Infinite + Porous Resonance Abyss (self-released)

Speaking of vanguard bands! I'm going to take the liberty of quoting myself here, since I'm not sure I can better capture my feelings re: existing in the same timeline as this crew and their roughly biannual output: "One of the greatest feelings in contemporary music is being blindsided a couple times a year by the frenzied imagination and relentless progression of this band. 'Prolific' is one thing, but this isn’t just about quantity; it’s about raising the bar every single time. A privilege to witness/partake!" Mass Cathexis 2 continues their wild ongoing collab with Neurosis member Dave Edwardson, while The Kinetic Infinite and Porous Resonance Abyss further their journey into the furthest reaches of mind-expanding space-prog.

Andre 3000, New Blue Sun (Epic)

In some ways this one seemed more like a cultural event / discussion topic than an album. The dialogue surrounding it was lively, thought-provoking and at times, as in Harmony Holiday's reading, downright brilliant. And though it might be impossible to fully clear away all the context and focus on this simply as a sonic experience, no one could say that Andre 3000 and his collaborators didn't make every effort to cultivate that sort of sound-bath serenity.

Tamio Shiraishi, Subway Stations in Queens (Otoroku)

Call me crazy but I honestly see a strong parallel between New Blue Sun and this, just in the sense of "a document of one man's almost worshipful devotion to his chosen instrument." In Andre's case, the flute (or, more specifically, an electronic variant thereof); in Tamio Shiraishi's case, the alto saxophone, which he employs in the most personal of ways. For years, the indefatigable avant-jazz fan, documentor, facilitator Kevin Reilly, owner of the prolific and vital Relative Pitch label, has been filming Shiraishi's regular trips down into the NYC subway to play his horn. From what I can tell, this isn't busking, nor is it really practice, nor is it quite performance; it seems more like communion. And the results, pairing Shiraishi's trademark piercing, fluttering squeals, which (I believe) harness a register above the horn's natural range, with the faint sounds of traffic above and the arrivals and departures of trains, are hauntingly gorgeous. The same goes for this verité audio compilation, which seems to me like a sort of ultimate document of that unique desolation that somehow manages to persist within the city's constant commotion. 

Sunwatchers, Music Is Victory Over Time (Trouble in Mind)

Consciousness-raising punk-jazz, alternately blaring and meditative, that occasionally arrives at similar zones to the aforementioned Mendoza Hoff triumph but via a totally different path. Imagine the 1966 Albert Ayler band multiplied by early-aughts DIY shred heroes Ecstatic Sunshine, and that puts you somewhere in the ballpark of this joyful noise. I really need to see this band live, stat. (For more in this fruitful musical interzone, check out "Second Freedom: Every God Needs a Witness," the latest offering from New Freedom Sound, Jawbox drummer Zach Barocas' fascinating and aptly named minimalism-meets-avant-jazz-meets-ecstatic-chant ensemble.)

Imelda Marcos, Agita (self-released)

Can't remember how or where I stumbled across this four-song EP from Chicago outfit Imelda Marcos (formerly featuring a vocalist; now an instrumental two-piece), but it drew me in instantly. Burly noise-prog — emphasis on the noise — that combines the live-wire charge and DIY virtuosity of the great early-to-mid-2000s avant-rock duos (Hella definitely come to mind) with the massive asymmetrical groove of Meshuggah and sprinkles of Battles-y sleekness. Abrasive as hell yet also unabashedly fun and compulsively body-moving. I imagine that this music absolutely detonates in the live setting, and I hope to witness that go down someday, but in the meantime, this is a ripping and brutally effective release.

And lastly, Significance, the latest effort by my ever-brilliant/-prolific friend Nick Podgurski's shapeshifting Feast of the Epiphany project. Rich, moving, layered art pop, centered on Nick's exacting yet highly emotive croon — in a way some of the most conventional music he's ever made, but still embodying that otherworldly, unclassifiable quality that marks all his work. Truly a must-hear. (And many thanks to my friend John D. for reminding me about this one, which got lost in the year-end shuffle — his year-end recap and playlist are always worth perusing!)


historical top 10 (+1)

Here are 10 historical titles (either reissues or newly issued material from the vault) I loved this year, in no particular order, plus one additional plug:

Abdul Wadud, By Myself (Gotta Groove)
This, for me, is really one of the greatest albums, full stop. And this reissue is a godsend. It was an enormous honor and pleasure to provide some context for the Times.

Fred Anderson, The Milwaukee Tapes, Vol. 2 (Corbett vs. Dempsey)
Despite having been something of a Fred Anderson completist in the past, the first volume of The Milwaukee Tapes, issued way back in 2000, flew under my radar. Thankful to have another crack at this body of work via a very welcome sequel, because this band, with trumpeter Billy Brimfield, bassist Larry Hayrod and drummer Hank (later to be known as Hamid) Drake, is just pure delight. A must-hear for any Fred fan.

Barry Altschul, David Izenzon and Perry Robinson, Stop Time: Live at Prince Street, 1978 (NoBusiness)
For all I know, this trio only existed for one night in October 1978, but man, do they sound great. Altschul is in his most swinging mode here, and Robinson, always an up-for-anything improviser, sounds totally in the zone riding the groove provided by the drummer and the brilliant, underdocumented bassist Izenzon. This is another one, like the Leap Day Trio disc in the jazz top 10 above, that really embodies that eternal freebop groove. Glorious fly-on-the-wall sonics on this one too — grateful that NoBusiness saw fit to put it out.

Milford Graves with Arthur Doyle and Hugh Glover,  Children of the Forest (Black Editions)
The Milford Graves archives are starting to bear fruit via Black Editions and we are oh, so, lucky. This stuff, roughly contemporaneous to the celebrated Bäbi, is absolutely searing, documenting the late genius Milford Graves both solo and alongside truly simpatico saxophone and multi-instrumental extremists Arthur Doyle and Hugh Glover. Graves was one of one, surely one of the most mind-blowing and spirit-lifting percussionists the world has known, and this material captures him at peak strength. Hear and be healed.

Archie Shepp, Derailleur: The 1964 Demo (Triple Point)
Who could have known? A previously unknown-to-me — and to most of the world? — demo recording teaming epochal saxist Archie Shepp with the cult-favorite "School Days" band featuring Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, Denis Charles and, here, bassist Arthur Harper, issued by Triple Point, the always-revelatory free-jazz archival effort headed up by my friend and mentor Ben Young. This sounds as exciting coming out of the speakers as it does on paper, and that's saying a lot.

Abilene, Endee Burial (Landland Colportage)
For me, Hoover were one of the great bands of the past 30 years, and though it's a shame they were short-lived, it's a blessing that their demise spawned so much excellent music, from the Crownhate Ruin, whose own elusive, explosive early material saw low-key reissue last year, to the outstanding Regulator Watts and later Abilene, a slower-burning but still enthralling outfit fronted by Alex Dunham. This box reissues their entire body of work, and its mix of dubby, near-abstract drift and incendiary post-hardcore-meets-postbop (dig the trumpet work by Hoover/Crownhate bass master Fred Erskine) retains its mystery and steely edge.

Derek Bailey and Paul Motian, Duo in Concert (Frozen Reeds)
Another "Who knew?" windfall. The feel of the centerpiece concert, recorded in Groningen, the Netherlands, in 1990, is charmingly choppy, with Motian having no problem matching Bailey's signature stubborn angularity, and refreshingly subtle, with neither player seeming to feel much need to generate climaxes so much as a continuous unhurried flow. (While we're on the subject of Bailey, don't miss a new Otoroku reissue of The Topography of the Lungs, the guitarist's stupendously ornery 1970 meeting with Evan Parker and Han Bennink.)

John Fahey, Proofs and Refutations (Drag City)
John Fahey is a musical hero of mine, and I love pretty much every period of his work. The '90s stuff, marked by outstanding Table of the Elements releases like Womblife and Georgia Stomps, Atlanta Struts and Other Contemporary Dance Favorites is especially out there and still underrated, so this compilation of self-recorded material from that era is most welcome. It's most definitely a mixed bag, featuring both peculiar vocal experiments (some sounding a lot like Fahey's attempt at throat-singing) and fascinating electroacoustic collages, pairing that signature Fahey guitar sound with oddball soundscapes and/or corrosive distortion. A portrait of a endlessly curious and uncompromising mind.

John Coltrane with Eric Dolphy, Evenings at the Village Gate (Impulse)
The early (i.e., pre–Jimmy Garrison) Coltrane quartet, plus Eric Dolphy, live in summer '61, a few months before the band's legendary Vanguard recordings. It's easy to become a little desensitized to the constant stream of archival Trane, but any quality time spent with this will quickly remedy that. Elvin's drums are especially present on this one. Crank up "Impressions" and let it rip.

Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit, Mass Hysterism in Another Situation (Black Editions)
To quote a favorite Mr. Show sketch, alright, buckle the fuck up... This is simply the greatest noise album that I personally have ever heard, sounding even more electrifying to me now than it did back in 2010 when I first enthused about it here. A howling wind tunnel of relentlessly pounding drums and shrieking feedback. As chaotic as the Wadud is serene.

Lastly, the Bill Laswell Bassmatter subscription on Bandcamp is very much worth your time, offering an enormous trove of unreleased archival material from his countless projects (including unheard Last Exit!) and assisting a wildly prolific visionary in a time of need. 

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