Top Singles of 2010
1. Joe Claptrap / Level Crossing 12″
2. Portable This Life of Illusion 12″
3. Demdike Stare Forest of Evil 12″
4. Jamie Woon Night Air 12″
5. Zola Jesus Stridulum 12″
6. Puerto Rico Flowers 2 7″
7. Pop. 1280 The Grid 12″
8. Addison Groove Footcrab / Dumbsh*t 12″
9. Dino Sabatini & Donato Dozzy / Modern Heads In Vaders EP 12″
10. The Daily Void The Eclipse of 1453 12″
11. Moodymann Ol’ Dirty Vinyl 12″
12. Puerto Rico Flowers 4 12″
13. Pangaea Pangaea 2×12″
14. Eddy Current Suppression Ring Wet Cement 7″
15. Scorpion Violente Scorpion Violente 12″
16. Kurt Vile Square Shells EP 12″
17. Total Control Paranoid Video / Real Estate 7″
18. Men’s Interest More War 7″
19. Zola Jesus Valusia 12″
20. Sis Sceam / Break Down 12″
Cosmin TRG Now You Know 2×12″
Clockcleaner Auf Wiedersehen 12″
Moonbeam Distance 12″
James Blake The Bells Sketch 12″
Vile Gash Vile Gash 7″
Top Albums of 2010
1. Matthew Dear Black City
2. Merchandise (Strange Songs) In the Dark
3. Haus Arafna You
4. Demdike Stare Liberation Through Hearing
5. Yelawolf Trunk Muzik
6. Mount Carmel Mount Carmel
7. Defektors Bottom of the City
8. Purling Hiss Hissteria
9. The Bastard Noise A Culture of Monsters
10. Eddy Current Suppression Ring Rush to Relax
11. Sightings City of Straw
12. Circle Pit Bruise Constellation
13. Demdike Stare Voices of Dust
14. Happy Birthday Happy Birthday
15. Emeralds Does It Look Like I’m Here
16. Daily Life Necessary and Pathetic
17. LA Vampires & Zola Jesus LA Vampires Meets Zola Jesus
18. Kriegshog Kriegshog
19. Slices Cruising
20. Tamaryn The Waves
Kitchen’s Floor Loneliness is a Dirty Mattress
John Roberts Glass Eights
The Young Voyagers of Legend
Innergaze We Are Strange Loops
Vampire Weekend Contra
Seems like there are more lists than ever this year, and while it’s easy to become overwhelmed and annoyed by the ulterior motives and competitive snobbery that go into many “best of” lists, I enjoy spending a few hours each December, taking stock of all the great albums and singles that came out over the past twelve months and tallying them up as best I can. These lists are nothing more than my personal favorites, and I’m sure there are many other records that would’ve made the cut, had I heard them. There’s just too much great music constantly produced. That said, two guys stood out above the rest for my enjoyment: Matthew Dear and Joe.
Joe Claptrap / Level Crossing 12″ (Hessle Audio)
Various strains of electronic dance music dominated my favorite singles this year – I could easily survive on a diet of Portable, Demdike Stare, Jamie Woon and Zola Jesus for the foreseeable future. But it was Joe’s under-the-radar Hessle Audio 12″ that blew my mind more than anything else. Both songs utilize frantic drum-line percussion, as if a marching band was pushed to it’s physical brink, creating rhythms that are at once physically impossible yet soaked with human sweat (and in the case of “Claptrap”, various coughing and shuffling sounds). For something so rhythmically complex, Joe lives up to his understated moniker, creating music that is as easily digestable as any basic pop tune. It’s dubstep that sounds like no other dubstep, and Claptrap / Level Crossing had me smiling, bouncing and fascinated from first listen to last. That’s really all I ever want music to do to me.
Matthew Dear Black City (Ghostly International)
My favorite singles of 2010 were all so close to each other in terms of personal enjoyment that I was essentially splitting hairs by ranking them, whereas Matthew Dear pretty much towered over the full-length competition. I liked this guy in the past, especially under his Audion guise, but Black City completely took me by surprise, presenting a perfectly realized album in an age where full-lengths are often regarded as groups of songs rather than cohesive statements. The dance fixation of LCD Soundsystem, the playful funk of Beck, the sexually-deviant pop of Nine Inch Nails and the graceful electronic anomie of Tin Man are all here, squeezed into something utterly weird, beautiful and unique. Matthew Dear sings in all sorts of voices, acting like Criss Angel in one song and Klaus Kinski in the next, clearly reveling in the characters he has created. Along with the pitch-perfect production, Dear’s ideas continue to provoke new and unintended thoughts with every new spin. If Black City is any indication for what’s to come, my leather pants won’t gather any dust in 2011.
Innergaze is the musical project of Aurora Halal and Jason Letkiewicz – Letkiewicz is known
for his work with or as Manhunter, Steve Summers and Rhythm Based Lovers; Halal a
video editor and director. It’s pretty clear that Innergaze is a wholly collaborative effort, as
Letkiewicz’s penchant for pulsing beats and organic house mingles with the hazy, psychedelic
new-age atmospheres that shine through Halal’s video work, together creating something that
could loosely fall under the “minimal synth” tag. Don’t expect some sort of easily placeable sound,
though – Innergaze has far more personality than your average electro duo, relying on intuition,
emotion and a good jam session to create their music, not a rigid set of pre-determined parameters.
Together, it’s like a robot coated in human flesh, sentient yet vaguely artificial, and like most
cyborgs portrayed on TV, quite beautiful. I’m pretty sure they are in love, too, which is an
interesting dynamic for a sound that often relies on aesthetic impassiveness. Their debut album
We Are Strange Loops has been getting a ton of spins in my household, full of rich synth sounds
and interesting ideas, so I got in touch to get a little more info.
When you first started playing music, did you know you wanted to make electronic
music? Like, did you start messing around with synths first, or was there a period of learning
guitar or piano or something else?
Jason (synthesizers/vocals/rhythm boxes): My father has always been involved in playing
or recording music for fun, and I remember he had this Yamaha RX-11 drum machine that I was
completely entranced with as a kid. I played various woodwind instruments in school, but it wasn’t
until I was 17 that I picked up the bass guitar. It was the first instrument I really connected with,
and is still the one that I consider myself most competent at playing. My first high school band,
which funnily enough also included Ari Goldman of Beautiful Swimmers, was alternative / punk rock,
haha. A few years later, Ari and I started experimenting with guitar pedals to make strange sounds
and noises. This was the beginning of our project called Manhunter, which later became a dance
music project. As we discovered early Chicago House, Italo and weirdo disco, I began to take more
of an interest in trying to discover what synths and drum machines were used in their production.
It wasn’t long after that that I bought my first analog synth, a Juno-106, and from then on there
was no going back.
Aurora (synthesizers/vocals): I took piano lessons for seven years, and occasionally made
weird bedroom songs in high school, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I got hooked on
jamming with electronics. My friends Pam Finch & Jan Woo had a Juno-106 and some pedals, and we’d
get together every night to experiment with them. We had a super fun, anything-goes mentality –
making psychedelic pop, library music, and eventually new age dance jams with our band Second Life.
Then Jason and I got together as a couple, and right away we had this intense musical connection…
But yes, I would say that the only music I’ve ever felt compelled to participate in has been
electronic – it fits my mood and brain chemistry.
Was there an initial thought process for what Innergaze was going to be? And did
the band stick with the original plan?
Aurora: Innergaze sort of happened accidentally when I was visiting home in DC, where Jason
was living. We’d been in the same circle of friends for years, but had never really hung out… The
first weekend was really exciting – I saw him DJ on Friday, we went on our first date Saturday and
collaborated on our first few songs that night. They were a super weird mixture of what we had been
doing musically on our own – he brought a dancey, deep knowledge of drum machines and synths,
and I brought a desire to experiment with strange sounds. The first was a deep, slow dance song
that started with ocean samples turning into a beat, and the next was a super mystical one called
“Atlantis”, and I was doing vocals.
Jason: When we jammed the next day, I changed the setup a bit, and took elements of how I
was producing my Steve Summers tracks. I hooked up the 808 to trigger my Juno-6 arpeggiator and
Aurora played the Poly6. I also remembered that years ago I had used a certain guitar pedal in a way
that made an interesting phaser/flanger type sound and decided to try using that again. By the end
of that day, we had “Change It Up” and “Midnight Riding”, and were really excited about them. Both
of those songs ended up on our LP, and over the month that followed we wrote the rest of the songs
on that album while visiting each other in DC and Brooklyn.
How do you write a song? Is it the result of jamming, or is a framework determined before
the song is actually put together?
Jason and Aurora: The songs on our LP were started by recording a live jam from the mixer –
with the drum machine, bassline, and sometimes a synth or vocals. Because they were all recorded
together, usually we would do several takes/versions until we got one that felt like a good basis to
build on. And other times, like with “No Shame”, our first improvisational jam ended up being the song
we stuck with. After that, we would go back and add parts in specific places on top as a way of
fleshing out the jam and in some instances giving it more of a “pop” structure.
At Aurora’s house we used a digital loopstation to record, and at Jason’s house we used an ADAT
machine. With both setups, everything has to be recorded, overdubbed and mixed down in real time.
Why do you record this way, instead of using software? I’d imagine it’s more difficult
and delicate to record live, on the fly like that.
Jason: I started recording this way years ago because I like playing the mixing board and effects
as the song is being mixed down, inviting as many unintentional ideas/moments to find their way in
as possible. It is definitely a more delicate and time consuming process, but I consider it essential to
Aurora: I’ve never tried using software, so I’m used to doing everything in layers of live takes.
Especially since my only recording setup for a while was a digital loopstation, which was pretty limited.
I really appreciate that Innergaze is electronic music that sounds like it is being played
real-time, that human hands are actually constructing what I’m hearing. Is that an intentional
aspect, or just how it worked out?
Jason: The hand-played aspect is intentional. With all my projects, it’s been important for me
to either capture a special moment in a live take, and/or infuse the primarily machine-driven music
with more of a human feel. Aurora was used to playing everything by hand, had never used MIDI
and had no interest in it, so it was a really good match.
Aurora: We are starting to experiment with using some MIDI in our songwriting now, but
tweaking things by hand at the same time. I was pretty anti-MIDI for a while, since I didn’t really
understand it, and felt like it was hard to express myself while things were automated, but I’m getting
interested in the possibilities now.
Is this your first project with live vocals? Does their addition change the way you write?
Jason: No, I also do live vocals on my Steve Summers tracks, both in the studio and when
I perform out.
Can you explain what “We Are Strange Loops” is all about? I really dig that title.
Jason and Aurora: The title is based on a book Jason was reading at the time called I Am A
Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter. It’s about self-awareness being based on an “abstract
model of symbols and self-referential loops,” which can also involve paradoxes. We really liked the
ideas in the book, and so some of the lyrics were reflecting those themes. In “Perception-Reception”
the lyrics say “What’s your perception of my reception / What’s your reception to my perception of
love”, etc., and “Illusions” explores the idea of paradoxes – “Illusions of the future – allusions to the
past / Allusions to the future- illusions of the past.” Those lyrics are sort of about this interesting
dialogue going on between current music and past music. In the past, a lot of people were using
these new synths and drum machines to try to create music that sounded like their idea of ‘the
future’, and now a lot of people are making music that sounds like, or at least has elements from,
the past. There’s this “strange loop” being formed when one goes into the past to try to move
forward, and it’s especially unavoidable when you’re using vintage gear.
The title worked because the music also felt a bit ‘strange’ to us. The drum machine patterns were
one or two bar loops. Half the songs were recorded on a loopstation, so in a sense those songs
are themselves long strange loops. Every weekend we would take the bus to visit each other,
again performing physical loops in our travels.
When it comes to music like Innergaze, it seems like a lot of people really fetishize
the gear being played, almost to a point where the music seems less important than the
gear being created. How do you react to people who want all your specs?
Aurora: Gear is beautiful and exciting, so it doesn’t surprise me that people get into it, though
it doesnt necessarily create any specific result. Jason uses almost the exact same equipment for his
acid house project, and we have other side projects that sound completely different too.
Jason: As someone who also has a bit of a gear fetish, I can relate, because if I really connect
with a certain sound I like to try to find out how it was made. Different gear offers you different ways
of expressing yourself.
How important are the original artifacts to you? Would you use a computer program
to do the same thing as a modular synth, if it was easier or more affordable?
Aurora: We use a lot of vintage analog and digital synths, not because we want to emulate an
older time, but because we simply love the way they sound and feel. I’m also very drawn to working
on music with hardware, because it’s a creative outlet which doesn’t require sitting in front of a
computer, which I have to do for work all day as a video editor and sometimes at home when I’m
working on VJ stuff. For me the excitement is in being present in a room, touching buttons, and not
looking at the dreaded screen for once!
Jason: I think that owning the original artifacts used to be more important to me than it is now.
If my 808 stopped working tomorrow, I would be bummed, but I doubt I would shell out for another one
any time soon. It’s cool to have the original machines if you can, but it’s not going to make you write
better songs. There are plenty of crappy songs out there with a real 808 on it, and plenty of amazing
songs with 808 samples.
If you had to explain the greatness of the 808 to someone, what record would you
Jason: The Dr. C. Stein Echo Trip LP.
Aurora: I love the Dr. C too… Wanexa The Man from Colours.
Will Innergaze ever do any touring? Can we expect a follow-up record?
Jason and Aurora: We would love to do more touring… we did a small tour at the end of
October, and played at underground parties in New York, DC and North Carolina, and it was a lot
of fun. Right now we are planning a possible European tour for March. And we are working on a
new record now!