Words by Andrew Lampela
Andrew Lampela was an employee and eventual co-owner of the 40-year old institution, Haffa’s Records in Athens, Ohio, just outside of the dark woods from which Skeletonwitch emerged. Over his years there he has played in a number of bands ranging from rock to noise to metal and has taken his lifelong knowledge of music into contributing to a number of publications. He writes the periodic Ears of Decay metal column. Here are his top ten albums in ascending order.
“Since I will be throwing together a list of Metal that crushed me this past year in my column, and because one cannot live on metal alone, here are ten decidedly non-metal offerings that consumed my attention!”
Danny Paul Grody – Furniture Music II (self-released)
The first album I bought this past calendar year, and one that I have consistently used as a centering oasis amidst the turbulence of life. Satie coined the term Furniture Music to put a name to music intended as a background feature. Danny Paul Grody’s music is anything but. In a crowded field of solo guitar music, the refined waves of sublime clarity that emanate from his fingertips are a standout. Even amongst his own albums, this is a real winner. Beautiful balm for the soul.
Despite the title, there is nary a saxophone to be found here, just one incredible hour and twenty minute performance by Charles Curtis of Jenning’s composition, arranged in just intonation by Jenning’s contemporary LaMonte Young. Dense waves of sound as deep as the ocean, this is the perfect soundtrack for a walk or, say, laying on the floor in the dark staring at the nothingness of the ceiling. Admittedly, if you’re a fan of ‘resolution’, just intonation may not be your thing, but I find hidden nuances in every tonal wash with each listen. Absolutely stunning.
This was a slow burn. I enjoyed it, then I liked it, then it consumed my brain. You would be hard pressed to guess that none of the musicians involved were ever in the same room/state/country, so smooth and seamless are the grooves on display. It sounds like a lost Belew/Levin-guided Crimson side jaunt. The first half is great. The second half is GREAT, just brain-consumingly awesome. Ambarchi has assembled thirty five immersive minutes of instrumental rhythmic bliss.
As much as I loved Parker’s solo album Forfolks last year, holy smokes, give me the quartet settings all day long. These four tracks simmer in patient grooves across an hour and a half, an exemplary snapshot of powerfully addictive modern jazz.
It honestly could’ve been any one of a half dozen albums Rolin put out this year (seriously, Winged Wheel? Sea Of Stars? Both contenders), but it’s Passing that finds itself on the turntable the most these days. I always have my fears when an artist I like, known for the shitty Lo-Fi edge to their music, hits an actual studio. Fear not, studio sheen doesn’t diminish these fleet-fingered tunes at all, in fact, the concise nature of these songs sits nicely amidst a deep catalog of winding raga spiritual jams. I find it difficult to single one album out in Rolin’s ever-growing discography, but Passing is certainly riding its way to the top.
Angular compositions for four guitars? Gimme. Orcutt writes some thorny songs here, a bit dense at first, but a magical world of sound once they open up for you. I don’t really know how to accurately describe this music without ruining the experience of hearing it for yourself, no preconceived ideas. I recommend getting acquainted with the terrain of these songs, then head-phoning this shit on the darkened evening streets of your neighborhood, if wandering around aimlessly to knotty rhythms in the dark is a safe thing to do in said neighborhood.
I always wish I could be there to see the people I’ve recommended Horse Lords to as they take their first listen. I’m sure most of them hate me right off the bat. Hell, even I’m not always in the mood for the weirdly angular splattering of rhythms across their songs, but when I am, there is nothing quite like it. Just an absolutely horrible comparison, but imagine if Belew-era Crimson decided to cover some Talking Heads, but they all picked different parts from different songs from different albums, and somehow made it work in bad-ass ways. (Huh. I guess I should listen to more Belew-era Crimson, looking back over this list.) Anyway, Horse Lords aren’t for everyone, they’re infuriatingly jarring to someone just looking to nod their head to some jams, but much like fellow travelers 75 Dollar Bill, they are one of the freshest, most exhilarating things going to my ears.
JPKS’s songs are much like old friends you don’t get to see but every couple of years. At once familiar, yet just enough extra life has happened to add a newness to it all. I am unabashedly vocal about my Water Liars love, but Pete has really cultivated a unique feel on his solo outings. He’s a songwriter’s songwriter to me, a student of the process as much as he is obviously a fan. This album continues the feeling of his records being like the AM radio of feelings, warm and nostalgically familiar, yet soul-crushingly bare across the Folk/Americana spectrum. This album soundtracked many, many destination-less drives through the early morning hills this past summer, a perfect pairing. Now if I could just get him to hook me up with a double disc set of Petty covers…
I fell down a massive Tangerine Dream abyss this year, and as much as I absolutely loathe what Record Store Day has become(/always was?), this reissue was absolutely essential. Cleaving tangible chunks out of the countless digital hours certainly brings the chunk in question into focus, and this is a glorious little slice of prime navel-gazing-as-lifestyle keyboard wash. There really isn’t much music that makes me wish I still smoked weed, but this is definitely near the top of the relapse list. Nice pressing, solid packaging, another laying-in-the-dark gem.
Technically dropped last year, but I picked this up on a whim in February and, quite honestly, I can’t imagine what my year would have been like without this thrumming out of the speakers. I’m certainly no authority on the band’s output over the last decade or so, although Mr. Anderson is still one of my favorite interviews I’ve done. These live pieces, however, perfectly coincided with a period of deep depression and extended sobriety, giving an aural shape and density to confronting, and more so, dealing with my shortcomings not with shame, but with an eye on growth and acceptance that it is possible to learn from flaws. Anyway, this album is deep dark ambient awesomeness, and it fuckin’ rules.