(Editor’s Note: I’m very excited to publish this guest post from Graham Reznick, whose show Deadwax is available now on the excellent horror network Shudder. Reznick is also a gifted composer, this year releasing the albums Glass Angles and ROBOPHASIA, in addition to contributing to Burning Witches Records’s Communion compilation. He also just released “SM Claus,” the original score to his 2018 Creepy Christmas short, .SM Claus.)
Hello, and welcome to my top five tracks of 2018 (in no particular order)!
Let me start this off by saying that because this year I released albums on Death Waltz Originals & Data Airlines (Glass Angles) and Burning Witches Records (R0B0PHAS1A), and since many of the artists on these amazing labels comprise the soundtrack to my show Deadwax, I’m not going to include on their work for this list. Narrowing a top-five set of tracks out of that outstanding lineup would be near impossible for me to do. I probably spent the majority of my listening time this year diving deep into their rosters, and every single release on those labels is essential. Go out and buy them all right away!!!
Instead, I’m going to give myself a set of rules. These are all single tracks that should have an electronic element, not come from a soundtrack, and were released for the first time in 2018. If there’s one thing you need to know about me, it is that I do not break rules. I am very honest — trust me.
Laurie Spiegel and Don Christensen – “Donnie and Laurie”
Recorded in the 1970s but released on vinyl (and digitally) earlier this year, this track was offered as a Kickstarter reward for the great Unseen Worlds label. Unseen Worlds has reissued Laurie Spiegel’s The Expanding Universe twice — most recently in a phenomenal three-LP set — and will soon release her hard-to-find second album, also titled Unseen Worlds, on vinyl.
But this track, oh man, it’s something else: a magical collaboration between two virtuosos in their respective fields — analog electronics (Spiegel) and avant-garde drums (Christiansen). There’s something deceptively simple about each half of the collaboration: Christiansen’s machine-gun drum assault and Spiegel’s haze of analog electronic drone both become more than the sum of their parts from the second it kicks off.
Kurt Vile – “One Trick Ponies” (from Bottle It In)
Hey, this track has no synth or electronic elements! But — it’s my favorite song of the year. Kurt Vile has always touched on drone/ambient and Krautrock tendencies (whether or not that’s intentional, I have no idea), and this track has a repetitive backbone (even meta-referenced in the lyrics) that seems influenced by sample looping and sequencing — yet still coalesces into a bright and powerful pop ballad with a giant backing chorus. Philly style. There’s not much I want to say about it. Just take a listen, if you haven’t already.
Reptaliens – “Nunya” (from FM-2030)
OK, so, this bends the rules a little. This came out in October 2017, but I only became aware of it (and Reptaliens) a few months ago. I really dig the full album, and if you get a chance to see them live, do it. They’ve got such a fun, infectious vibe inspired by so many seemingly disparate things I love (Philip K. Dick, The Breeders, detuned synths). The track “Nunya” puts all this on full display. It’s like a lost track by The Amps crossed with Stereolab and maybe some Chromatics for good measure — and it feels like it could be right at home as a performance in the Roadhouse at the end of any given Twin Peaks: The Return episode.
Black Moth Super Rainbow – “Sunset Curses”/“Mr. No One” (from Panic Blooms)
You may be asking yourself, “Hey me, isn’t this two tracks?” And you’d be right. It is two tracks, which is technically cheating. But something you should know about me is that I don’t care much for rules — especially when the rules in question pertain to not breaking said rules.
Thomas Fec (AKA Tobacco AKA Tobaxxo) has been melting minds as Black Moth Super Rainbow for approximately the past 476,000 years, going all the way back to the legendary Falling Through a Field and Start a People in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Well, legendary to me, at least.
I think the first track I heard was “I Am The Alphabet,” which sounded like if you took Boards of Canada’s obsession with acid-soaked psychedelic children’s entertainment and… gave it acid? Can you double-acid something? If you can, BMSR is triple-acid, run through a set of broken cables and a half-functioning tape deck. I’ve never been able to backwards engineer any of his techniques successfully, but every time I’ve tried I’ve haphazardly found my way to equally exciting and unique new techniques. Super inspiring stuff.
Panic Blooms, the new album, is no different, but it somehow manages to strike a perfect balance between ultra-clean pop production and ultra-lo-fi psychedelic production. Every glitch and detuned warp is a dopamine rush and each track is full of them. He closes out Panic Blooms with the one-two punch of “Sunset Curses” and “Mr. No One,” two tracks that seem more inspired by modern-pop vocal affectations than I ever would have expected of BMSR back in 2004. That said, modern pop’s obsession with autotune and vocoding has got nothing on BMSR’s long history of robo-vocals, and tracks like these seem to acknowledge the shared DNA and then evolve it further. Plus, these songs are darkly optimistic, and lately, that’s welcome.
Johnny Jewel – “What If” (from Digital Rain)
Mr. Jewel has done so much incredible work over the last few years. The dude is on an unparalleled roll: all his work for Twin Peaks: The Return (both used and unused), with Chromatics and everything he produces on Italians Do It Better, is just stellar. In between, he’s releasing all this fantastic electronic ambient music.
I’ve been so behind, I haven’t even listened to the newest one, Vapor, yet. But, when Digital Rain came out at the start of 2018, I listened to it constantly. In fact, I had it on repeat while I sat in a cafe every morning for weeks, plotting out the shot lists for Deadwax. There’s so much wonderful stuff on Digital Rain, including the brittle electronic pointillism of the title track, but the song that has stuck with me the longest has been “What If.”
It’s brief, minimal and distant, but it’s an emotional tapestry that weaves together apprehension, sadness, melancholic hope and mystery in a way I rarely hear outside of someone like Angelo Badalamenti.
You know, I had more to say about this track, but, I think I’m going to wind it up early, and throw Vapor on right now.