I'm probably the worst person ever at compiling these year end lists. I have to make sure at the very last minute what shit came out when, it's just messy. And I realize there's still a month left, but I've already heard a shitload of records that have blown my dome, so I don't feel the need to look any further. So for what its worth, here's some records I thought killed it. I'm not even sure how many there are, and there's a million I'm forgetting, missed, and haven't even listened to yet, so whatever…
First off, I'll just say: these are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER…
Pete Swanson, Feelings In America (Root Strata)
If you don't remember, Pete Swanson used to be in Yellow Swans. They were pretty righteous. I don't suppose this record is too far off from what they were doing, and of course if you were into that shit, you'll dig this shit. It's white-hot blasting distortion zones, overblown guitar drones, some dark and minimal bleakness, but it maintains this melodicism that is just, well, blissful. This isn't like some spaced-out ambient record, and believe me, there's plenty of those ahead — but this is truly a scorching record. It might catch your drapes on fire or something. It's sold out here, but you can check out some audio. Look around distros, you can probably find it somewhere.
Geoff Mullen, Bongo Closet (Type)
Just a quick tidbit, one time I played a show in Providence and I saw Geoff Mullen take a dive off some steps and crack his head on concrete… The dude took it like a total champ, even with a fucking gnarly ass grapefruit-sized bump on his noggin. Badass. Anyway, Bongo Closet is a minimal, droning, yet slightly pulsing and rhythmic ambient soundscape. It's like what I imagine hearing as I stand on a balcony of some burn out high-rise hotel in the year 2021, but it's kind of fucking beautiful. It's mechanical, yet organic at the same time. Snag it and hear the audio here.
Mirror To Mirror, Heart (Ekhein)
This tape is fucking gorgeous! Straight up blissed out, ambient synth soundscapes. It's the kind of music you put on and zone out 100% to. Definitely, one of the best drone-type releases I heard in 2010. Here's Ekhein's discogs page, if that's any help… Check around the net, check distros, etc… It's worth finding!
Bitchin Bajas, Tones/Zones (Important)
Jon (Bathetic) turned me onto this, as he is a big Cave fan and all that shit. This is Cooper from Cave, apparently… This is really some cosmic shit; part ambient, part bloopy fuckin' space-ray shit… I don't know what to call it, but it's way good. Each track kind of sounds like your stepping foot onto a new planet in some distant galaxy. These are some deep zones to float into and explode. Check it out here.
Grouper, Hold/Sick (Room40)
What can I say about Grouper that hasn't already been said? Shit, I even already did a piece on this exact release. If you've ever heard Grouper, you'll know what to expect… It's shimmering, other-worldly, lush, reverbed out guitar and angelic vocals. It's beautiful. I personally think these two tracks are two of the best Liz Harris has offered up. This shit is just beauty defined for the restless soul. Snag here.
Concern, Cæsarean (Arbor)
Arbor has been a label that has consistently killed it with releases from the likes of Treetops, Rale, Cloaked Light, Evan Miller, Emaciator, Work/Death, and others you'll hear about later. Mike Pollard is running a class act over there. The stuff he drops is always top notch, with awesome sounds and rad design layouts. This Concern LP is no different. You can hear samples from the whole thing right here to truly understand what I'm getting at. It's a beautiful record; shimmering, airy and floating, while melodically dense. This isn't just some random droning tones, this has a lot of layers, all shuffling about and bouncing off one another. It's glistening and golden, brilliant stuff. Cop it here. Also, you should check out this digital mix Mike put together for mnml ssgs, containing numerous samples taken from current and upcoming Arbor releases.
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Love Is A Stream (Type)
Yet another Type Records release, and an ultimate winner. Unfortunately, this is a record I actually just recently heard so I don't know too much about it, Still, I felt it definitely needed to make this list. Type is pretty much always releasing amazing stuff, from the likes of Rene Hell (which I'll talk about later) to Altar Eagle & The North Sea to Xela and Grouper and Helios and a million more. This falls right in line, with its ominous, heavy tones. Don't get me wrong, this isn't fucked up, distortion heavy; it's just a very dense, very layered record of voluminous drones. This is like listening to clouds form and conquer one another. Listen to the whole thing and get it here.
Flight, The Lead Riders EP (Zoo Music)
If you've ever even casually checked out Never Waking Up, you should be very aware I'm a Flight fan. I literally think this cat is churning out some of the best slabs of mutant rock around. Everyone wants to call it muddy and swampy, mostly because homeboy's from Mississippi, and that's an easy, suitable tag. However, once you get past the overdriven guitars, keys, drums, vocals, etc… You'll realize Flight's music is hook-laden, catchy as hell. I think at this point, Flight has moved head and shoulders beyond the likes of his so-called “lo-fi” or “no-fi” brethren, with both his chops and his sound — which is constantly getting better. Snag The Lead Riders here.
Rene Hell, Porcelain Opera (Type) + Baroque Arcade (Night-People)
Alright, I'll just admit that I'm absolutely too stupid to define what exactly Jeff Witscher is doing as Rene Hell. It's some sort of futuristic, experimental electronic-based…something. Too call it drone music is to sell it way short, and there's really just no cut-and-dry genre, at least in my pea-brain. It's basically highly-articulated synth workouts that are a bit sci-fi, a bit epic, and a bit psychedelic. I had to include both his LP for Type, Porcelain Opera, and the tape he dropped on Night-People, Baroque Arcade in this blurb, because I like them both so much. In all actuality, I would've liked to include his 18:54 Torture Highway tape and the Flower Man split release, both on his own Agents Of Chaos label, as well as the split with Wet Hair I was fortunate enough to take some part in with Bathetic, but I didn't want to straight up overkill this Rene Hell thing. It's all awesome though, and should be sought out. Snag Porcelain Opera here and Baroque Arcade here.
Failing Lights, Failing Lights (Intransitive)
Surely, everyone knows Mike Connelly from both Hair Police and Wolf Eyes, but his Failing Lights project is some of the best noise-related “music” out there. This is some of the murkiest, densest, bleakest shit. Dark, abysmal pools of tar and ash. It's just really intense, charred drone-scapes. I have to say that this self-titled LP release is actually a bit more expansive, and dare-I-say milder than some of the stuff I've heard in the past. There's an ambiance to it, grim as it may be, but it's very atmospheric. Chiming metal gives way to overblown, yet constrained static pulsing and strung out metallic groans, and then even more feedback-tinged dulled fuzz and some windy cave-type shit. It's not the easiest listen, but it'll set the tone for a fucked up evening. It's here, and you can even read what Henry Rollins thinks of it.
Perispirit, Abysmal Penetrations (Hospital Productions)
Keeping with that noisy vibe, here's Perispirit's Abysmal Penetrations from the always reliable (for fucked up noise vibes) Hospital Productions. I have to admit, I've done a bit of reading, but still don't know enough to really wax poetic on Perispirit. I just really liked this tape. It's noisy, without really copping those super-harsh vibes, I mean… Those harsh vibes are definitely there, they're just not the most present aspect. There's plenty of space for the more melodic — in a really creeped out, oppressive sort of way — vibes. It's like the background music to some sort of slasher film. I don't know why these horror directors don't get with the program already and start hanging out in the noise-circuit to find the real soundtracks to their films. I'm sure this is long gone from Hospital, but check around the distros and blogs, I'm sure you'll come across something.
King Dude, My Beloved Ghost (Bathetic)
Dude, was I ever stoked to get the email back from TJ Cowgill agreeing to drop this shredder on Bathetic. What you have hear is a dude in a pretty well-known, legit as fuck metal band, Book Of Black Earth, playing some of the most earnest neo-folk around. You can tell TJ has studied all that is Death In June, and is absolutely not fucking around. He's dropped a few other releases since this tape; a 7-inch on Clan Destine and a full-length CD-R on the witch-house-centric Disaro, of all places. For me, though, I always go back to this recording. It's just perfect, in my opinion. Classic, catchy songs that grab you and take you for some sort of ride. It's simple, it's raw, it's perfect. It's out of print now, but check with the dude himself, because I think you can purchase it on iTunes or something.
Tim Hecker, Apondalifa (Room40)
I'll be honest, anything Tim Hecker released in 2010 would've made this list. The motherfucker is just killer. He's been a huge player in this whole ambient-electronic scene forever. He makes some of the classiest, most direct, most passionate music I've ever heard and Apondalifa is no different. It's like the Grouper release, you know what to expect if you've heard Hecker before, and if you like his past works you're going to love it. I wish there was an LP I could be talking about, but I believe we get that next year in the form of Ravedeath, 1972 — on Valentine's Day, no less! That should kill. Until then, we have this, and it's gorgeous. Get it here.
Barn Owl, Ancestral Star (Thrill Jockey)
For some reason, I've always felt this band's name, in some weird way, totally fit their sound… I don't know, maybe Barn Owl could be some weird rustic folk act, but to me, their brand of heavy, ambient drone fits the name. The album title, Ancestral Star, fits the tone of this album even better. This literally sounds like some dudes just fucking riffing on a rocket being shot straight into a red giant, or something. This is a heavy, super psychedelic album, recalling the likes of Sunn O))), Earth, Expo 70, and maybe Growing. It's just huge. I haven't spent as much time with it as I'd like, yet, but I knew it needed to be on the list. Cop it here and then snag a fatty joint.
Federico Durand, La Siesta Del Ciprés (Spekk)
I honestly knew nothing about Federico Durand before listening to that mix Mike Pollard made for mnml ssgs I mentioned before. Apparently, Federico and Nicholas Szczepanik have a project entitled Every Hidden Color, with a forthcoming LP on Arbor, and an excerpt from this LP was included in the mix. I fell in love with this excerpt, and had to seek out both Federico and Nicholas. Federico's album La Siesta Del Ciprés blew me away, and when I saw it came out in 2010, I knew it had to make the list. If I were numbering this list, believe me, this album would be near the tippy top. It's absolutely brilliant, atmospheric, textured ambient pieces that just flow like water over crystals. I cannot express to you how absolutely goddamned gorgeous this piece is. Any fan of anything remotely ambient, should check this out, on the double. Get it here. I'll be waiting patiently for that Every Hidden Color LP.
Pale Blue Sky, Shades Of Grey (Arbor) + Cloaked Light & Pale Blue Sky, Untitled 12″ (Arbor)
And so speaking of Arbor and Mike Pollard, here you have Mike's post-Treetops project Pale Blue Sky and the LP, Shades Of Grey. It's actually not very far off from the sounds Pollard was working with in his Treetops-era. The album packs the minimal synth landscapes. It's lush, without being overly dense and layered. It's just simple, floating tones that weave in and out. Basically, it sounds like the record cover looks. It's like floating through a blue sky on in some sort of dream state. It's a very quiet, calm record. This has been a definite highlight for me in 2010. You should also check out the split 12″ with Cloaked Light, another Arbor staple. Get Shades Of Grey here. I have to also include the split 12″ between Cloaked Light & Pale Blue Sky. It's short but essential, with its blissed out atmospherics; hazy, billowing, drifting clouds.
Lil B, Rain In England (Weird Forest)
Holy shit. How can anyone really describe this album? How can anyone even wrap their fucking head around this album? This came at me from out of left-field. I had heard some Lil B, I even wrote an article on him, enjoyed the fact he could work an Elliott Smith sample, but I had no fucking clue this album would be on some Stars Of The Lid-type shit with some of the most, mind-expanding, off-the-top-of-his-head, motherfucking honest rhymes. This album is damn near as lush as all the ambient shit I just listed, but then you get this motherfucker rhyming over it, and it's just honest, gripping shit you can't help but wholly pay full attention to. This isn't for the casual hip-hop fan. This is some seriously epic shit. I'll leave it at that, snag it here.
And there's that… What? Like 16 or so records I really dug. “What, you couldn't have just made it 20?” No. Fuck that. Sure there's more albums out there that I really enjoyed and could mention… There's shit like Chrome Jesus' Anti-Aquarian, Cloaked Light's Plain Curtain, Scott Tuma's Dandelion and Peeper/Love Songs Loud & Lonely releases — goddamn those are really good, Al Queda's Hundreds Of Wives Only A Few Are Dead, Emerald's Does It Look Like I'm Here, pretty much every single thing OFWGKTA-related — FREE EARL!, and a bunch more. But… I've said what I wanted to say. I'll leave it at that; an incomplete, though not entirely half-assed list. Hope you might've found some new shit you haven't heard yet. Enjoy.