Susumu Yokota - Grinning Cat
On his album Grinning Cat, prolific Japanese ambient electronic artist Susumu Yokota presents some of the most inventive music to come out of the genre this decade. One of Yokota's biggest drawcards on the album is definitely his ability to utilise hypnotic, minimalist loops (which range from piano to bass guitar to soft percussion, and combinations thereof), static-laced production and dreamy voice samples to lull the listener into a relaxed, almost "zoned out" headspace, only to rouse them from it - and never jarringly - with a well placed robust vocal chorus or powerful drum sample. It makes Grinning Cat an album that's at once comfortable and accessible and yet totally unpredictable and highly engaging. A must for fans of ambient music, but likely to please just about anyone.
Drummers Of The Societe Absolument Guinin - Voodoo Drums
Voodoo Drums is a collection of multi-layered, poly-rhythmic, tribal percussion pieces - averaging around 2-3 minutes in length - that initially seem deceptively sparse, but eventually reveal themselves to be intricate and fascinatingly multi-dimensional. Different styles, rhythms, tempos and volumes interweave amongst one another to create a tapestry that's simply too complex to fully grasp in a single listen (or even a few), yet opens up with every additional play. At one point a track might be most characterised by the slower, bass sounds, and yet during the following spin some of the more rapid-fire elements may shift into the foreground, and then upon subsequent listens it might be something else again. What's really incredible is that the album manages to be so dynamic, hypnotic and engaging despite the complete lack of non-percussion instruments, and hence an essential lack of true melody. This hurdle is effortlessly overcome by the sheer variety of sounds and tones on offer, which build upon one another to the extent that, at times, a ghostly tune will seemingly emerge.
Radiohead - Amnesiac
(experimental-rock, ambient, electronic)
The cliche about Amnesiac is to say that it either does or doesn't deserve its supposed status as "Kid B", although with so much time having passed since its release you'd expect such questions had become somewhat redundant. Amnesiac does remain surprisingly misunderstood, though, as an album that reflects Kid A's electronic aesthetic but starkly contradicts its cold precision. This album is rough and ragged and blatantly emotional throughout, and while Kid A displayed enough character to never quite feel like an album made by robots, its followup feels impossibly far from any such descriptor. From the claustrophobia of "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" to the seasick melancholy of "Pyramid Song" (probably my single favourite Radiohead track), all the way to the paranoid disorientation of "Like Spinning Plates" and "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" and the composed bitterness of "Knives Out" and "Life in a Glass House", Amnesiac is uneasy and emotionally draining listening. There are days when I think it could be Radiohead's best album.
King Khan and His Shrines - Three Hairs and You're Mine
(garage-rock, soul, funk)
King Khan and His Shrines are easily one of the best things garage-rock revival has going for it these days, and their debut is a loose, riotous tour-de-force on par with the genre's finest albums. Much like The Dirtbombs, who appeared on the list a little further back, they incorporate soul and funk into the raw, high-speed playing of garage, and frankly they do it better than anyone else, making for a truly killer concoction. King Khan himself is one of those larger-than-life frontmen that are so crucial to rock music, and a somewhat unlikely one at that - shirtless, cape-clad, beer-swilling and pot-bellied, he bellows his sexed-up lyrics with furious abandon and limitless energy, making him feel like a cross between James Brown, Iggy Pop and the local drunkard. Fans of garage-rock revival acts like The White Stripes should consider the entire King Khan catalogue absolutely essential, and Three Hairs and You're Mine is the perfect place to start.
Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles - La Mar Enfortuna
(experimental-rock, Sephardic music)
Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles, guitarist and vocalist respectively for New York outfit Elysian Fields, contribute to Tzadik's "Radical Jewish Culture" series with La Mar Enfortuna, reputedly one of the series' most accessible works. Delivering a modern perspective on traditional Sephardic music, the duo (along with a handful of guest collaborators) have created a perfectly contained album whose vivid melodic textures, haunting vocals and exotic flourishes make for a truly gorgeous listening experience. Perhaps the most interesting aspect, however, is how Bloedow and Charles so completely combine the album's traditional, modern and culturally disparate elements, which may cause La Mar Efortuna to surprise listeners with its mildly unsettling sense of dislocation. It doesn't merely straddle some imaginary line between "modern" and "traditional", but blends some of the concepts behind such vague descriptors to create an album rich with ghostly unease and lyrical beauty that never quite seems to find true context.