Monday, 30 December 2019
Psymon Marshall - Top 10 2019.
PSYMON’S TOP TEN FOR 2019
It’s that time of year when I attempt to whittle down the hundreds, nay thousands, of worthy records released this year to form my top ten. It’s a thankless task in many ways – it has to be noted that the quality of the material I have listened to, on both a ‘professional’ and personal level, has been, quite frankly, astonishing. I am loathe to leave anything out, but if I did that this would become unwieldy. I could be wrong, but I think that technology and its democratisation is responsible for shining a figurative light into the hidden corners of the underground scene, thereby allowing artists who were once constrained by perpetual obscurity to showcase their material to a broader and receptive audience, as well as allowing them to target those audiences more effectively and at a fraction of the cost. Certainly, when l was involved in the burgeoning scene in the late 80s/early 90s this fantastic virtual arena was unimaginable, and the only way to hear of artists was through the rare occasion a mainstream magazine happened to feature an article on this weird musical scene, or through the pages of an underground ‘zine, or the artists themselves contacting one directly. Now with the plethora of sites like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Facebook, personal websites and blogs such as this one, obscurity is a mostly a choice.
My only rule for this top ten is that I have reviewed all these records within the last twelve months (or, rather, since I’ve been writing for 1208 North Fuller Ave, Apt 1) and my write-up was published on the blog. There was far too much good material to choose from and, please be assured that, even if a particular record doesn’t appear here, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like it – it’s just that ten is an awfully small number and there are thousands of releases per year. In no particular order then, here’s my selection:
The debut record of the year without any shadow of a doubt, Alessio Antoni brought us a stunningly mature work that normally would be characteristic of an artist’s career peak, rather than one which represents their first release on a major label. Furthermore, the quality is doubly emphasised by the presence of major underground alumni such as Northaunt, Treha Sektori, Taphephobia, Infinexhuma, and Ugasanie amongst others lending their considerable talents to the mix. My reasoning is that they also must have recognised Antoni’s innate talents to have even considered contributing. Seven tracks of haunting, deeply mystical, seismic, and chthonic atmospherics brought forth from the deep time present at the world’s creation, this is an album that deserves its place in any fan of dark ambient’s sound library.
A deep dive into nihilistic dystopian nightmares and disaster-fuelled dreams, this is one of those projects that refuses to let any light dilute their dank and foetid vision of a diminished future humanity and the denuded world they’ll find themselves living in. In my original review I described it as Lovecraftian in atmospheric tone but, some months later while I am writing this, it’s gone beyond that and the whole takes on a tinge of having foreshadowed the current state of our world, Definitely one to listen to while the social fabric and order of civilisation collapses around you.
Here’s a release that takes something that all of us are familiar with (the church organ) and makes it sound otherworldly, creating and devising textures, voices, and tones one wouldn’t normally associate with the venerable instrument. This is a thought-provoking work, in that it blows away ingrained perceptions and assumptions, and shines the spotlight on a new creation that is at once familiar and alien. This nine track album successfully posits the notion that synthesisers have in fact been around for hundreds of years, not mere decades.
I could have quite easily chosen a top ten consisting solely of Cold Spring releases such is the continued quality of output from this long-established label. Instead, I chose Llyn a Cwn’s Twll Du that, apart from being a release of well-crafted atmospheric ambient pieces, also locked into a particularly Celtic ambience that I have experienced personally. Each of the seven compositions is based around feelings and reactions to specific areas within Snowdonia, North Wales, a region which is heavily invested with myth and magic. I’m from South Wales, which has its own similar patches of mystery (the Preseli Mountains, home of the bluestones of Stonehenge) and parts of which are associated with the Mabinogion (an epic of Welsh literature), and so I found myself buying into the mystical and doomy atmospherics with ease. One can very easily glean the nature of the places described herein.
Now for something completely different: a quartet of ambient drone pieces based around tea. It’s a novel approach, one that reaps huge benefits, and that has the effect of being both interesting and intensely calming, allowing the listener to ride waves of bliss. Think of it as an antidote to the stresses of modern-day living, so I can recommend sitting back in your favourite armchair, sipping on a freshly made cup of one (or all) of the teas mentioned in the composition titles, and let yourself just drift away into oceans of infinity.
This was originally ‘released’ way back in 1989 as a limited edition of just 31 tapes, none of which were on general sale but instead given to the artist’s friends. Thankfully, then, the fine folks at Industrial Ölocaust Recordings saw fit to re-release this masterpiece in remastered form (by Raffaele Pezzella of Sonologyst), in a signed edition of 93. Massively occult and deeply seismic in nature, these are all rituals meant to open up the vast underground currents streaming through the bowels of the earth, both physically and spiritually. A timeless set, not at all dated, and in some ways deeply resonant with our present times – in other words, essential listening.
Another (and very welcome) reissue and remaster from the UK’s premier underground label. Apart from being a seminal band from the early industrial music scene of the eighties and nineties, the one aspect of the band that this shows off to perfection is the sheer breadth of vision and musicality that Jhonn Balance and Peter Christopherson possessed, and this emphasises just how successful and far reaching their musical collaboration was. The twelve songs (or thirteen if you have the CD version) are essentially outtakes and experiments gleaned from the recording sessions that ultimately gave us the Love’s Secret Domain album, and as such it adds to the latter release, demonstrating the evolution and thinking processes behind LSD (and the band’s MO). It not only reminds us of the loss of the genius of both Balance and Christopherson (may both RIP) but it will also serve to introduce new fans to this titan of a project of the British industrial scene.
I shall reiterate my description in my original review: ‘This is a BEAST of an album…’. Featuring not only the original six tracks recorded by Caulbearer but also the same tracks with enhancements added by luminaries such as Black Mountain Transmitter, Gruntsplatter, Wilt + Gnaw Their Tongues, Steel Hook Prostheses, The Vomit Arsonist, and Fire in the Head. These are gargantuan behemoths, both original and enhanced, a soundtrack for the end-times, and for a dying and decaying world. Get your doom on!
There are hundreds of self-released albums put out each year, and this particular one made it to this list simply because of its holistic approach to the subject and its maturity of expression. Based around your favourite occultist uncle, Aleister Crowley, this takes as its inspiration the birth of Thelema and its subsequent evolution plus its promulgation by Crowley (which was inevitably intertwined with his larger than life character). It’s a serious release, and a seriously good one at that, swerving away from both Crowleyan aggrandisement and tabloid sensationalism, as well as treating the subject seriously. Nicola Locci, the man behind the project, appears to have been working on this for a long time, and in the process gave it a lot of thought, which shines through every note on here. Quite a cerebral release, and well worth your time in listening to.
Four tracks, yet all magnificently sweeping in their cold and frozen glory, this is a sonic study of glacial ambience at its peak of perfection (in human terms anyway). Icy landscapes and skies filled with the crystalline and sharp beauty of the stars, planets, and faint nebulae comprising the band of the Milky Way Galaxy, this lifts the listener bodily skywards and deposits us right in the midst of the polar regions of the earth. I can readily envisage lying in a glass igloo looking up at the pristine vault of the heavens whilst being cocooned in these blankets of sound, my spirit able to feel and to touch those stars, planets, and faint nebulae. Glorious and breathtaking: that’s all you need to know about this fine release.
So that’s it! I hope you like my selection, and apologies to any whose output didn’t make it here. 2019 was the year I rediscovered my love of off-the-wall and non-mainstream music, and I feel richer for having listened to just about everything I’ve been sent (and I will finally get around to reviewing the ones I received in December). If this last year was anything to go by, then 2020 should be another bumper year – buckle up!
Psymon Marshall 2019.