End of year bullshit
1) and 2) Rocket From the Tombs Black Record and X___X Albert Ayler's Ghosts Live at the Yellow Ghetto. Ohio is the secret music capital of America, and it does my heart good to see these '70s proto-punk veterans treading the boards and making music equivalent to their (obscuro) heydays. The RFTT is head, shoulders, and maybe tits above its predecessor, Barfly, which I dug when it was new but never listened to again. Already, Black Record has rewarded repeated (compulsive) spins, and the new material (pick to click: the single "Coopy (Schrodinger's Refrigerator)," while my idiosyncratic fave is "Spooky," as close to an unironic love song as D. Thomas will ever pen) truly ranks up there with the canon. (The participation of guitarist Buddy Akita's "other" band, This Year In Black History, probably deserves credit for forcing Crocus et al. to up their game.) Albert Ayler's Ghosts... proves that guys in their 60s can still scare the shit out of bands a third their age. I'm looking forward to seeing these guys (with TMIBH's Bim Thomas manning their drum chair and performing under his solo moniker Obnox) when they hit Rubber Gloves in Denton on January 20th.
3) Velvet Underground The Complete Matrix Tapes. I bitched about Universal milking the VU so much that a friend bought this for me, and it's now become my preferred way of hearing the Velvets, a worthy replacement for 1969 Live at long last. Proof that high fidelity and the VU are not natural antagonists. Oh, and the McGuinn-ism with which Lou throws down on the 12-string on multiples versions of "I Can't Stand It!" I'm still not a fan of superdeluxeness, though. "Enough," not "More," is my new mantra.
4) and 5) Pinkish Black Bottom of the Morning and The Great Tyrant The Trouble With Being Born. Early in the year, I saw these guys live and was impressed by how regular touring has tightened and enhanced their stage trip (although when they closed with a request I wondered, "WFT? Aren't people afraid of them anymore?"). This one-two punch came late in the year, with PB's own album showing them evolving further in a song (and dare I say "pop") direction, while retaining all their old obscuro influences (basically everything Daron Beck and Jon Teague have ever listened to and liked), while the final volley from PB's predecessor The Great Tyrant shows that the trio with the late Tommy Atkins was evolving in similar ways before the bassist's suicide. To these feedback-scorched ears, TGT's "Softly, Everyone Dies" might be the very best thing these guys have recorded to date. Teague and Atkins were perhaps the greatest engine room Fort Worth has ever produced, equalled only by Quincy Holloway and Miguel Veliz in Sub Oslo, with whom PB will share the stage New Year's Eve at Lola's. Honorable mention to Nervous Curtains' Con, partially produced by Beck, on which they mate synth pop sheen with punk rock politics, most memorably in my Song o' the Year, "City of Hate," a perfect soundtrack for a very interesting (in the Chinese sense) time.
6), 7), and 8) are all based on texts. Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog uses quirky personal anecdotes to illustrate larger points about love, death, and life in post-9/11 Meercuh. Paul Kikuchi's Bat of No Bird Island draws on the diary and record collection of drummer-composer Kikuchi's immigrant grandfather -- who died 12 years before the artist was born -- to sonically explore the Outsider's experience in America. And Sarah Ruth's Words On the Wind draws on the Denton-based singer-experimentalist's childhood experience to evoke the desolation of growing up in West Texas -- a vibe she continues to explore with guitarist Gregg Prickett in their duo, They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy.
9) and 10) are a reflection of my awareness that the generation of musos born in the '30s and '40s that inspired me when I was young are now passing. Jack Dejohnette's Made In Chicago, a very unlikely ECM release, teams the drummer with three of the surviving giants of the Windy City's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, of which he was an early member, although he's more associated with Charles Lloyd/Miles Davis/Keith Jarrett et al. The leader, Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, and Henry Threadgill all have compositional input and fuse their sounds thoughtfully and seamlessly. On Free Form Improvisation Ensemble 2013 (released by scrappy French indie Improvising Beings), two originators of free improv from the '60s, pianist Burton Greene (best known for his ESP-DISKs) and bassist-synthesist Alan Silva (a key player in Cecil Taylor's '60s Units) push their sounds into the sky alongside North African-born French saxist Abdelhai Bennani (who sadly died before this recording was released).