Monday, December 28, 2015

Three albums I didn't "get" in 2015

This year my tastes fell way out of step with the hype surrounding the most talked about electronic music , and I couldn't quite put my finger on the reason why.  Predictably, everything became much clearer after reading Philip Sherburne's excellent essay on The Year in Electronic Music for Pitchfork.  Wild hybridizations were in, and genre purism was out.   Sherburne notes that many of these hybrid styles are made by LGBT artists who are accustomed to being outsiders and never saw themselves bound by the so-called rules of making music in a particular genre. 

A backlash against genre purism comes along every few years in electronic music, so the mashing of otherwise disparate styles hardly represents a revolution.  The problem is that so much of this stuff, to me, sounds like a modern take on Tigerbeat6's adolescent nihilism,  which I didn't enjoy 10-15 years ago either.  One of the few exceptions is Arca, who combines Actress'  unconventional cut-up approach to rhythms with the twisted melodicism of 90's Autechre at their peak.  

Oneohtrix Point Never, "Garden of Delete"

Speaking of Autechre, this one takes the schizophrenia of their 21st century output and adds more humour and pathos.  On paper it sounds great.  On paper "Draft 7:30" was a great idea too.  Praise for that album usually starts with "wow, how did they generate that sound?  This is so much more advanced than 'Tri Repetae'!".  It also ends there, because debates over sound creation are as boring as sin, Autechre's best work never had to be compared to alien creatures coaxing unheard of sounds out of their equipment, no matter what you've heard to the contrary.  "Garden of Delete" is one of those albums where I can't remember a thing about it as soon as it's over, which is a shame because there are a million different things happening here and you'd think that one or two of them would be more memorable.  There's a wacky sense of ADD-style humour at play that feels like a cross between Kid606 and Duck Sauce -- two notorious novelty acts. 

Dawn Richard, "Blackheart"

It's a story that poptimist critics can't help but love.  "Making the Band" alumnus and former P. Diddy lackey breaks the mold with a most un-girl band-like album of dark electronica.  But there's nothing eye opening here, just R&B made by producers who never met a breakbeat or a filter tweak they didn't like and have a hankering for Burial. 

Suzanne Sundfor, "Ten Love Songs" 

I invested a lot of time with this album and wanted to like it so badly.  The pedigree is there -- she's got a great voice, worked with solid producers, and the world definitely needs an OTT orchestral pop album.  Maybe Sundfor is a victim of high expectations, in that nothing here comes close to the grandiosity of "Oblivion" (with M83).  The album is missing that majestic spark that made "Oblivion" so memorable, and not so carefully straddles the "McCarthur Park" line between parody and high drama.   

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