Saturday, December 31, 2011

Podcast: End of Radio #39 - The Best Albums of 2011

"Tying a bow on their third year in business, your End of Radio co-hosts Jordan Cronk and Brian Webster countdown the fifteen best albums of 2011, discussing the importance of perception in an era of nostalgia as they debate the merits of certain genres—drone, minimal techno, R&B—which traffic in the effects of memory and the comfort of the familiar."

InRO Feature: Home Movies - Top DVD & Blu-Ray Releases of 2011

Note: For archiving purposes, I've included my personal contributions to this column below. Please follow the link provided in the introduction to read the entire feature.

"Cataloguing and keeping up with the world’s DVD and Blu-ray releases is an overwhelming and obsessive job that both Jordan Cronk and I relish with a hoarder's delight. The internet may be changing the face of home distribution, but, for my money (literally), nothing comes close to replacing the DVD or Blu-ray on my shelf for instant and flawless home viewing. And when a film is restored halfway around the world, with little chance of an accessible theatrical screening, the resulting release is nothing short of priceless. Jordan and I have chosen ten such releases, including three imports, for this outstanding year. Although it might seem that we are fairly biased for Japanese films—which lock-up half this list—I would argue that we're entering an era where these films, many ignored or dismissed in the realm of English-language friendly releases, are finally getting their due, and our eight-disc number one pick is a perfect example. If you're looking to start a collection, start here, start now." Kathie Smith [InRO]

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Yearbook (Film): 2011

• 2010 - 2019 •
2010 • 2011 • 20122013 • 2014 •
• 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 •

Aurora / Cristi Puiu
Certified Copy / Abbas Kiarostami
Film Socialisme / Jean-Luc Godard
Go Go Tales / Abel Ferrara
Le Havre / Aki Kaurismäki
House of Pleasures / Bertrand Bonello
Margaret / Kenneth Lonergan
Meek’s Cutoff / Kelly Reichardt
Mysteries of Lisbon / Raoúl Ruiz
Poetry / Lee Chang-dong
Le quattro volte / Michelangelo Frammartino
To Die Like a Man / João Pedro Rodrigues
The Tree of Life / Terrence Malick
Tuesday, After Christmas / Radu Muntean
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives / Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Yearbook (Music): 2011

• 2010 - 2019 •
2010 • 2011 • 20122013 • 2014 •
• 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 •

Julianna Barwick / The Magic Place
Blackout Beach / Fuck Death
James Blake / James Blake
Braids / Native Speaker
Burial / Street Halo
Destroyer / Kaputt
Gang Gang Dance / Eye Contact
Tim Hecker / Ravedeath, 1972
Humcrush with Sidsel Endresen / Ha!
Jenny Hval / Viscera
Oneohtrix Point Never / Replica
Shabazz Palaces / Black Up
St. Vincent / Strange Mercy
Colin Stetson / New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
Robag Wruhme / Thora Vukk

InRO Feature: Year in Review: Editor's List - Jordan Cronk's Top Films of 2011

When I consider the hand-wringing that usually goes into these lists, it’s interesting that in 2011—the single best year for cinema in at least a half-decade—it would prove so decidedly easy to carve out a top ten. I greatly admire a few dozen films that opened in the U.S. over the last twelve months, some just now seeing the light of day after years in distribution limbo (“United Red Army,” “Go Go Tales,” “Love Exposure,” even “Margaret,” which is as inspired as it is messy), others arriving on a wave of festival hype and meeting those expectations (“Of Gods and Men,” “Poetry,” “A Separation”). But when I think of the handful of films in direct threat to my top ten (“Le Quattro Volte,” “El Sicario: Room 164,” “To Die Like a Man”) none would feel right dislodging any of my favorites. And this was, above all, a year where feeling really coursed through the best of cinema, a fact I find difficult to reconcile with the general acclaim meeting a certain subset of the year’s films (“Melancholia,” “Shame,” “We Need to Talk About Kevin”) which were utterly vacant and devoid of any tangible emotion or insight. What follows, then, are ten works of genuine passion and consistently enveloping formal ingenuity, nearly all worthy of anchoring their own respective year as opposed to sharing space with nine equally impressive films.

InRO Feature: Year in Review: Editor's List - Jordan Cronk's Top Albums of 2011

Access and availability being what they are today, it’s become increasingly difficult to define any given year in music by applying overarching trends or identifying specific movements or scenes. It’s almost as if each micro-genre now has its own yearly story to tell, most not beholden to anything else going on in music, period—let alone in conjunction with blanket classifications such as independent, mainstream, or otherwise. It’s not enough anymore to say that R&B or underground hip-hop had a great year (although both did); rather, it’s more important to note that literally dozens of sub-genres produce consistently interesting and worthwhile material, so much so that any single writer’s opinion is inevitably marked by blind spots. In my estimation, then, what ultimately united 2011—reflected in the following list of my ten favorite albums of the year—was a general air of earnestness that permeated even the most outwardly niche offering or potentially hazardous pastiche. All the best records I heard this year felt not only natural but honest in their artistic expression, whether that was via free-improvisation, carefully chiseled drone, or re-appropriated genre signifiers. It was a beautifully strange year for music, and there’s more—much more—to it than the small sampling listed below.

Monday, December 26, 2011

CokeMachineGlow Feature: Top 50 Albums 2011

In case you were hibernating in the run up to Christmas, all last week we rolled out our list of the Top 50 Albums of 2011 over at CMG. It's a typically eclectic list, collecting everything from modern classical to noise rock to minimal techno to mainstream and underground rap; it's also the best music list you'll find on the internet this holiday season, and I say that as humbly as possible, this being is my first full year writing for the site. In addition to casting my vote, I also contributed capsules reviews for 13 & God's Own Your Ghost (#42) and Robag Wruhme's Thora Vukk (#21). Individual staff lists, including my personal top 30, were posted late last week as well-- you can fine those here. As is tradition, it's a dense, very in-depth look at fifty records we love, so take your time and read through as time presents itself-- this is some of the best music writing you'll find nowadays and each of these albums are worthwhile in their own way. A lot of time and effort went into this list; we hope you enjoy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

InRO Feature: Home Movies - Fall Review

Note: For archiving purposes, I've included my personal contributions to this column below. Please follow the link provided in the introduction to read the entire feature.

"While most people reading this feature might struggle with only visions of sugarplum dragon tattoos dancing in their heads, there's plenty else deserving of your attention in the realm of movies at present. With a great puff of hot air, Jordan Cronk and I attempt to pin-down the fall’s best DVD and Blu-ray releases, and just in time for your wish/shopping list. As a matter of fact, the twelve releases below may just suffice as replacement for the ol’ partridge, turtle doves, French hens and colly birds." Kathie Smith [InRO]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 16 - Kenji Mizoguchi's The Crucified Lovers

Another great Japanese auteur gets one of his lesser known 'gems' reconsidered in this installment's cinematic back and forth.
Jordan Cronk: Thus far, we’ve been fortunate enough with ReFramed to kind of focus on some of our favorite films that for one reason or another don’t get the attention they deserve from either audiences or critics. This has resulted in a lot of talk about individual directors’ best works—say, Love Streams, Stalker, The Green Ray, A Brighter Summer Day, etc. I’m sure we’ll soon venture back toward canonical works like these in the near future, but outside of our Hitchcock two-fer (Frenzy and Family Plot), we haven’t taken a whole lot of time to push for less visible works from major directors that haven’t crossed that invisible barrier between curiosity and classic. The Japanese film industry is especially ripe for such discoveries, as many great works remain unavailable or simply buried amidst the plethora of releases from the golden age of East-Asian cinema.

Kenji Mizoguchi, arguably the greatest of all Japanese filmmakers, has a dense and knotty oeuvre, and one that remains sadly under-represented on the home video front (at least in Region 1 format). Two of his best films, 1953s Ugetsu and 1954s Sansho the Bailiff, are solidly ensconced in the canon, but outside of those two peak-era works, other fine Mizoguchi films languish just left of widespread regard. His other great 1954 film, The Crucified Lovers, is one film that I feel undoubtedly deserves to be reconsidered, at the very least, alongside Mizoguchi’s greatest works.

Monday, December 12, 2011

PopMatters Feature: The 75 Best Albums of 2011

Year-end music proceedings come to an end this week at PopMatters with our list of the 75 best albums of 2011. I don't have a whole lot to say about the results; things look about how I expected. PopMatters has a huge staff, and when democratically voting for lists like this, it's only natural that the more generally agreeable records make their way to the top. Thus, the bottom half of the list contains, from my vantage, the more interesting selections. Records from Battles, the Field, and Colin Stetson can be found lurking around these parts, in addition to our #71 pick, Gang Gang Dance's extraordinary Eye Contact, for which I provide the capsule. But if you're looking for slightly more idiosyncratic picks, stay tuned for the CokeMachineGlow top 50, which is dropping early next week. It's wall-to-wall fantastic albums I assure you-- a good majority of which probably came nowhere near this PM list. But perspective is key when assessing lists like these. And just to note, I'll also be contributing to PopMatters' best film lists in the coming weeks, so look out for that as well (that roll-out begins the first week of January). Lots to explore here though, so enjoy yet another take on the year in music. [PM]

Friday, December 9, 2011

Podcast: End of Radio #38 - Before and Again (Folk IV: 2000 - 2009)

"Wrapping up their epic four-part series on the history of folk music, your End of Radio co-hosts Jordan Cronk and Brian Webster survey the modern freak-folk scene while attempting to connect the contemporary Americana landscape with the trailblazers who first laid the blueprint for one of the oldest forms of recorded music."

Record Review: Pete Swanson - I Don't Rock At All / Man With Potential

Yellow Swans announced their break-up in 2008, but as they slowly tied up the loose ends of the project with a few last small-run releases and a towering final album (Going Places [2010]), it had been rather easy to take for granted their place in the underground. Yellow Swans are now officially all said and done, and the reverberations of their dissolution are just now beginning to be felt across the landscape of experimental music. Pete Swanson, one half of Yellow Swans and the more visible of the band’s two members, has so far kept a concurrent solo career afloat on the back of a built-in audience, but 2011 marks his introduction as a full-time solo figure. He certainly hasn’t lost his restless, prolific spirit in the transition: I Don’t Rock At All and Man With Potential—released just a few months apart and on different labels—document Swanson’s initial forays away from collaboration, and they couldn’t be more different.

Monday, December 5, 2011

PopMatters Feature: The 75 Best Songs of 2011

Year-end honors continue this week at PopMatters, highlighted by our list of the 75 best songs of 2011. It's a pretty straight forward process: you vote for your five favorites and see where they place. Voting for songs is a particularly personal practice in my view, as I often gravitate to standalone songs that affect me rather than weighing them in relation to the albums they come from. Which is why only two of my song picks come from albums that are on my list of the 30 best of the year. This also probably accounts for why there are such a diverse crop of tracks represented on the final list, as I imagine others employ similar methods. Even still, I'm not gonna pretend I like all of these-- in fact, there are a handful I flat-out despise. But hey, democracy reigns when involved in projects like these. And if it gave me the opportunity to write about my two favorite songs of the year-- which it did; our #52 and #38 picks, respectively, top my own personal list-- then something good has come of it. Anyway, head on over and judge for yourself. And finally, my list of the five best songs of the year: 1) The Weeknd - "The Zone"; 2) Shabazz Palaces - "Recollections of the Wraith"; 3) Jenny Hval - "Portrait of the Young Girl as an Artist"; 4) Pure X - "Stuck Livin'"; 5) EMA - "The Grey Ship".

Thursday, December 1, 2011

PopMatters Feature: The 25 Best Reissues of 2011

Year-end festivities kicked off this week at PopMatters, and as I have for the last four (!) years now, I've contributed a handful of capsules to the various best of 2011 music lists that they'll be rolling out over the next few weeks (I'm also in on the film lists, which will begin in January). First up is our list of the 25 best reissues of the year, always a personal category for me. Overall I'm pleased with the outcome; this has been a spectacular year for reissues, and although only three of my picks made it on the final list, nearly everything here is worthy of attention. The disparity between my list and the official 25 comes down to how one appraises an actual reissue. I personally favor records that are either out-of-print or extremely rare. Thus, you'll never see a record by Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones on my lists, no matter the merits of the actual album. There's no right way to go about these kinds of things I suppose, so it's best to use lists like these as a jumping off point rather than as definitive canonizations.

Anyway, there's plenty to explore and/or rediscover, so head over here to check it out in full. For my part, I contributed some thoughts on our #4 selection, Disco Inferno's The Five EPs (and can I just say how awesome it is that a top five which includes records by U2, the Beach Boys, and Marvin Gaye also found room for a document of left-field sound experiments by a rather obscure English trio). But for those curious about my full list, it stacked up something like this: 1) Disco Inferno - The Five EPs; 2) The Beach Boys - The SMiLE Sessions; 3) Mark Hollis - Mark Hollis; 4) Martin Newell - Songs for a Fallow Land; 5) Bruce Gilbert - The Shivering Man; 6) Harold Grosskopf - Synthesis; 7) Bobb Trimble - The Crippled Dog Band; 8) Jürgen Müller - Science of the Sea; 9) Roberto Cacciapaglia - The Ann Steel Album; 10) The Reatards - Teenage Hate/Fuck the Reatards. And in case you're looking for even more contextual info, I wrote a little bit about both the Martin Newell reissue and the legacy of Jay Reatard earlier this year.