2010 – a year in listening


Here are the albums released in 2010 that caught my ear, in alphabetical order:

Actress – Splazsch
Akira Rabelais – Caduceus
ANBB – Mimikry
Brian Eno – Small Craft on a Milk Sea
David Sylvian – Sleepwalkers
Demdike Stare – Tryptych
Dino Saluzzi – El Encuentro
Food – Quiet Inlet
Francois Couturier – Un Jour Si Blanc
John Foxx – Cathedral Oceans (reissue)
Nils Petter Molvaer – Hamada
Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal
Stereolab – Not Music
Steve Tibbetts – Natural Causes
Stian Westerhus – Pitch Black Star Spangled
The Knife – Tomorrow In A Year
Underworld – Barking
Various – Vertical Integration (Second Language)

Last year, I divided my list into what I thought I would continue to listen to in 2010, what I thought was worth hearing, what I’d missed and what I’d been listening to that wasn’t new. The only ‘enduring’ choice I made last year that I’m still listening to is, absolutely inevitably, Kraftwerk’s The Catalogue.

This year I’m focusing solely on what I’ve actually been listening to, with reference to my last.fm account:

Artist Chart 2010

1. Kip Hanrahan (3,216)
2. Dino Saluzzi (1,468)
3. Steve Tibbetts (1,263)
4. Scott Walker (1,208)
5. Jimmy Giuffre (1,115)
6. Anouar Brahem (885)
7. Nils Petter Molvær (802)
8. Kraftwerk (795)
9. Billie Holiday (740)
10. Brian Eno (708)
11. Stereolab (682)
12. Astor Piazzolla (630)
13. Underworld (549)
14. SND (531)
15. Scritti Politti (462)
16. Cocteau Twins (421)
17. Ornette Coleman (387)
18. Akira Rabelais (386)
19. Zbigniew Preisner (372)
20. Oval (364)

2010 was the first full year of a new listening pattern for me (though in the last few months it’s partially changed again). This mode began in 2009 when I started to concentrate on a single artist intensely. That artist was the American guitarist Steve Tibbetts, at the very end of which phase (lasting something in the order of 10-12 months), I wrote a career overview for the long-running music web-zine, Perfect Sound Forever entitled Quicksilver, Fire and Water.

Kip Hanrahan was, by a long chalk, my most listened to artist of 2010. I don’t know how exactly I returned to listening to him after a decade or so of neglect, but this year I found and listened to everything he had recorded or produced: 19 albums under his own name and many releases by artists on his now criminally out of print label, American Clavé. I followed the Tibbetts overview toward the end of this year with a collage portrait, again for Perfect Sound Forever. Instead of attempting to write about the man myself I invited a number of writers to do so, a number of whom kindly and creatively responded. The resulting piece I hope conveys a partial outline of the man from multiple perspectives: Kip Hanrahan: This Song Could Be Rivers….

After Kip came the Argentinian bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi who proved an unexpected revelation. His mixture of passion, melancholy and experimentation continues to enthral: Kultrum is tango as chamber music, bandoneon plus string quartet; Senderos is a series of duets with drummer Jon Christenson that manages to be both Modern and traditional. My favourites, however, are the delightful, generous trio interplay of Cité De La Musique (1996) and the solo Andina (1988) whose Tango of Oblivion I choose as my funeral song! I came to Saluzzi via Kip Hanrahan’s production of Astor Piazzolla‘s final trilogy of albums, The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night (Tango Apasionado), Tango Zero Hour and La Camorra. This is music that took me much time to begin to assimilate, but whose connections with my favourite author Jorge Luis Borges provided ample incentive to do so.

Nils Petter Molvær‘s Hamada impressed me tremendously, it’s his most singular statement in a long career. I pray he continues to explore with such a precedent in mind. Likewise, Akira Rabelais‘s Caduceus was a career highpoint, its mixture of noise and light remains breathtaking. And Demdike Stare‘s combination of bass, soundtrack, techno and dubstep has been thrilling.  Brian Eno‘s Small Craft On A Milk Sea appeared to receive very mixed reviews, but I’m continue to find it tremendously enjoyable and characteristically beautiful.

Other groups that gave me a huge amount of pleasure in 2010: Stereolab (where previously I’d found ultimately same-y, I now find joyously fecund); Underworld, brilliant chroniclers of modern life, London, shopping centres, Essex, wonder and pleasure; Cocteau Twins who I never ‘got’ until I purchased their Lullabies to Violaine 4cd to feature on Hard Format and then the penny dropped, and snd whose skeletal, syncopated rigour continues to thrill. I’d wager Mark Fell‘s solo albums will appear in my 2011 list as I was late in ordering them.

A few months ago I ‘discovered’ ECM. I’ve been listening to music from the label for a quarter of a century, but my ears opened more fully, something finally made sense to me – the seriousness of the project, the quality of sound, the asceticism, but most important by far the music and the character of its musicians. I realise that the label is in most quarters tremendously unfashionable, perceived as painfully precious – it’s a view I’ve had for a long time. As a result, the music apparently receives no attention in year end blog lists or in that venerable institution The Wire (which I’ve become terribly averse to now after reading for more than 20 years. If only Mark Sinker’s attempt to refocus with the Michael Jackson edition had succeeded I might still be reading it, but I digress).

Listening to Dino Saluzzi provided a foot in the door to the label, so to speak, that enabled me to open my ears to Anouar Brahem, Tomasz Stańko, John Surman, Christian Wallumrød, François Couturier and others. Couturier is a current particular fascination, his tremendous contribution to the Brahem records on which he appears led me to investigate his solo piano Un Jour Si Blanc and Nostalghia – Song for Tarkovsky with Anja Lechner, Jean-Marc Larché, Jean-Louis Matinier. I can’t recommend these highly enough. And that’s where I am now, listening intensely not to one artist, but to one label, ECM.

Previous years:

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