Obviously, this list needs to go to 11.
#1 – Jane Chardiet–curated night of noise and its variants somewhere in Bushwick
This is what I like to call “getting shit done.” In August, I walked through an art gallery and then a kitchen to go out back, and then down some stairs and through a busted-up hallway into a basement, where the best show of the year happened, organized by Jane Chardiet. I missed a lot of shows this year, but I stand by the assessment that no other was better. A perfect mix of veterans and newer noise makers, with Sickness and Pedestrian Deposit representing the former, Saran Man and Negation repping the latter. From the uncomfortable restrictions of Saran Man to the double fists of Negation and Sickness, to the final lashing delivered by the absolutely stunning Pedestrian Deposit, the lineup reminded me of how transformative great curating can be. Every set was better than the already-great one before it, and in the end, the whole made something more magical than its already excellent individual parts. Everyone — players, DJs, drink mixers, audience — was in this night together. It pretty much restored my faith in everything, and it made me a little sad for the art world.
#2 – Ascetic House label
Most mental label in all the land. I’d love to say that they’re risk takers, but really, they just don’t give a flying fuck. They do what they want. And what they want to do is release music they love by people they respect. It’s a simple formula, and it makes for a vibrant program. Makes it easy for me, too: if I see an Ascetic House cassette, I plunk down my four or five bucks and buy it. I don’t know what I’ll be getting, but I know it’ll be good. Dub techno, drone, dark house, underwater hip-hop, jangly trash rock — it’s ALL good and grand in their canon. Buy or die trying. Supreme bonus points for making their tapes available for free to the incarcerated and tape-manufacturing choices that are prison-friendly. Press release here.
#3 – King Crimson: The Road to Red
“Sprawling” doesn’t quite cover it. It also wouldn’t be very accurate. This 24-disc set focuses on the bulldozing path that King Crimson cut across America in the months before recording one of their heaviest and most influential albums, Red. I saved my pennies for this puppy, and and it was worth every one of them. King Crimson were the T.J. Maxx of prog rock, never the same band twice. There was only the slightest of formulaic predictability from night to night with how songs would sound or what might happen within their structures. And there were always slots set aside for pure improvisation. This is the sound of a band at the peak of their powers pushing things to the very edge, and sometimes going over it. That’s OK. Either side of the precipice is a pretty thrilling place to be.
#4 – Chips & Beer magazine
When you cross the metal heart and proclivities of a 17-year-old heterosexual boy, the mind of the geekiest and most relentless librarian you know, and the writings of André Breton and Al Goldstein, what you get is Chips & Beer magazine (link often NSFW), probably birthed by one of the expectant mothers in the “preggo” section of YouPorn. I came across most of the back issues at Mind Cure Records in Pittsburgh (see #9 below), and I binge read them all from cover to cover. The latest issue just hit the stands. It features an exhaustive primer on Scorpions and an interview with Andrew Horn , the director of We Are Twisted Fucking Sister (also director of The Nomi Song). For good measure, they throw in an essay about The Bad News Bears with a sidebar of character breakdowns. Also, I find it impossible not to love a magazine that sideswipes the loud and endlessly tedious Michael Gira on their way to eviscerating heavy-handed strivers like In Solitude. The lowest review rating is GG Allen (In Solitude, FTW!) while the highest is the coveted Flying Tits rating. That pretty much sums up the Chips & Beer ethos. Be offended (by crap music). Be offensive (about as much as possible). Be dumb. Be smart. Be whatever. Just remember to rock hard and follow your beer-soaked heart. Oh, and destroy all Swans.
#5 – Maurizio Bianchi & Ryan Martin: As Strong As Death Is, double cassette
Two years in the making, As Strong As Death Is was worth the wait. Italian industrial legend Maurizio Bianchi and Robert & Leopold label runner and multi-genred sound creator Ryan Martin explore the machine in the ghosts we all think we know. This mesmeric application of sounds and loops was edited down and around by the tasteful and thoughtful hands of Hoor-paar-Kraat main man Anthony Mangicapra. Having the golden-earred Kris Lapke mix the final sound into shape doesn’t hurt things either. Death. Strong as it wants to be. Press PLAY.
#6 – Chondritic Sound label
I was hungry for some filthy, crusty industrial this year, and the Chondritic Sound label was happy to provide it, even though it was a more recent addition to the label’s sick and torturing history. But there was so much more to be had: punishing noise, drone, the music of bones, trash acid southern rock, and Aaron Dilloway. Tie this mutha down.
#7 – Henry & Hazel Slaughter releases
King Tubby as spirit animal. One of the John Olson’s 100+ extra–Wolf Eyes projects, Henry & Hazel Slaughter is powered by the force of mid-’70s dub without actually sounding anything like it. Destroying things within the limitations of what’s right in front of him, Olson turns his dub obsession into the land of a thousand lumbering jams, illuminating the “crack in everything” about which Leonard Cohen once sang. Or it might be the other kind. Doesn’t matter. All I know is that I spent the year obsessively checking the American Tapes page to see if there were any new Henry & Hazel Slaughter releases. Free Detroit. Free. Bass.
#8 – Buried by Time and Dust Records label
Mind Cure Records (see below) also introduced me to the great Buried by Time and Dust Records. BBTAD mainly reissues lost heavy metal gems, with a focus on the new wave of British heavy metal and doom bands, both genres close to my heart. Lovingly remastered and repackaged and offered up on some heavy vinyl — this is how to do things right. I picked up some of the newest ones in the beginning of the year and then spent the rest of the year tracking down as many as I could find. That was no mean feat given the near comedy of BBDAT’s distribution strategy. No problem; I would have doubled my efforts if I’d had to in order to get these platters of splatter.
#9 – Mind Cure Records in Pittsburgh
On one of my trips to Pittsburgh this year, my sister gave me a lift over to Polish Hill so I could explore the bins at Mind Cure Records. Um, WOW! I knew I was going to be in good shape when I saw some old Alice Cooper posters on the walls. Punk, Metal, Noise, Experimental, International, Glam, Garage, all the angles of Jazz, and a couple other genres you never thought of are well represented in the bins at Mind Cure. And the shop is run by an expert guide, Michael Seamans. He never fails to deliver with things I’m looking for, AND he’s always ready with a few recommendations off my map — which, let’s face it, takes some doing. This shop has everything you want when searching for music: great inventory, a good guide, and its heart in the right place…PIttsburgh.
#10 – Hakobune / M. Sage split cassette
I have the New York Art Book Fair to thank for this one. I was unfamiliar with Matthew Sage’s work or his Patient Sounds label before I happened upon his swell and swelling performance at the event at MoMA PS1 in September. I immediately bought everything on his merchandise table. When I got home, I was happy to discover an artist and label that doesn’t sit still for long. M. Sage on tape, just like his live jam, flits easily and convincingly between Drone, Cut-up, IDM, and Noise — like a compressed Kid 606 without the bitter desire for failure and with better self-editing abilities. Sage’s Patient Sounds label offers an even wi(l)der array of styles. Shoe-gazing pop, elegant drones, and immersive sound environments are up for grabs. M. Sage’s split cassette with the ever consistent Japanese drone master Hakobune is the best thing the label’s released. M. Sage ups his already high-level game by throwing down a more angular B-side to contrast with the gorgeous parallel lines of Hakobune’s A-side.
#11 – Wolf Eyes at St. Vitus on July 6
Fuck YEAH! The day before, I’d given the eulogy for one of my favorite people on the planet. When I got back to Brooklyn, I just wanted to grab an early dinner, crawl onto the couch, and disappear. However, when I checked my Twitter account, I was reminded that Wolf Eyes was playing that night. I thought about going, but like I said, I was looking to disappear. Then John Olson’s wife, Tovah, RTed a tweet of mine about some random thing. I saw it as a sign from God, or at least from Michigan. I went to the show. It was the first time I’d seen Crazy Jim play with the band. Wasn’t ready for that. Wolf Eyes entered the same emotional space occupied by the deep, sideways blues of John Lee Hooker, with a cold eye on a burning field. It brought me home.