Alan Lockett’s Top picks from twenty-ten

A summary of Alan Lockett’s top fifteen selections of twenty-ten including helpful links to audio and visual media.

36 :: Hollow (3six)
One of three 36 releases this year, any of which could have been included here. You know the score: ambient wall of sound built of treated guitar, synths, field recordings and sampling set in a processed granular wash; project onto a static and/or tape hiss backdrop against which guitar/synth motifs play out in eeriely affecting ghostlike vignettes. Think SAW II, then factor in the intervening two decades of audio technological advance. Then forget it. [YouTube]

David Tagg :: Pentecost (Install)
David Tagg has a back catalogue voluminous enough to soundtrack Rip Van Winkle’s slumber, most of it homespun hypnagogue guitar drone. Here, though, he’s exhumed his grandfather’s reel-to-reel tapes of organ playing, parts of which he’s extracted, stretched and reshaped into one of his best works to date. Replete with both twinkling tones and shadowy shifts, at once both delicate and huge, its revenant spirit opens a potent portal to deleted scenes and forgotten dreams. [Listen] [YouTube]

Demdike Stare :: Tryptych (Modern Love)
“Whittaker and Canty draw together several recent strands of musico-narcosis, from the chthonics of drone-metal to the hypnagogue throb of minimal techno to grainy retro-grabs and hauntological vox-wraiths. For all its attendant neo-gothic signifiers, its sombre, eerie vibe and creeped out cameos are knowingly, even playfully engineered – a postmodern freeplay of forms rather than a horrow-show gloom-fest or for-effect doom-mongering” (from my review of 2009’s Symbiosis). January 2011 release (, but qualifies through compiling three 2010 releases. [Listen] [YouTube]

Thomas Köner :: Nunatak|Teimo|Permafrost (Type)
“The release of these records as a trilogy suggests that Type, very much in the vanguard of an ambient drone resurgence in recent years, is tracing not only Köner’s roots but its own. These recordings, though, are not mere ‘early works’; they possess an enduring power, beauty and resonance (in both senses) that makes them as striking as on first release. (?) What is striking is the extent to which its deep warm bass tones and ear-fondling filtered soft noise are alluring, inviting, seductive – its affect/effect far from the gloom-mongering of the dreary denizens of doom crouched nihilistically under a stylised black banner clumsily rendered ‘Dark Ambient.'” (from my review) [Look & Listen]

En :: The Absent Coast (Root Strata)
Excellent drone-based tableaux from this hitherto unknown duo, taking in all points north of Hecker’s arcing fires and south of SotL’s sedate swells. Lush layers of organ, melodica, piano, guitar, vocals, koto and sundry other devices shimmer and fade in starfields of hiss and glimmer, warm buzz-tones spool out in chordal swells blurring into slow-mo piano motifs, outfolding in celestial waves. Mmm? nnniiice. [Listen] [Vimeo]

Rafael Anton Irisarri :: The North Bend (Room40)
Irisarri here operates with a fuller instrumental palette than on earlier piano-based work, laying out grand texture maps of neo-classical cadences and drone-oriented ambiance; it taps into an emotional landscape that manages to be both bleak and stirring, invoking a spirit of recherche du temps perdu. Mais, oui, cherie. There’s a largeness of texture, melody and theme that distinguishes it from much in the minimal dronosphere. [Listen] [YouTube]

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma :: Love is a Stream (Type)
“Stream (and its Xela relative, Dream) is the sound of J.C-L ramping up the lowlight drone sonatas of his earlier work to take a walk on the wildside of bleached-out shoegaze abstraction. Sometimes summery with an upward dynamic, other times plunging cavernously, J.C-L comes on here like the bastard love-child of Kevin Shields and Tim Hecker fostered by Robin Guthrie and Fennesz, the album artfully referencing these previous while retaining its own integrity. Thrill to the sound of etiolated almost-hooks and spectral melodies buried beneath grit slurry, static flurry, and tonebent guitar motifs in a washed out tape-saturated sunburst finish.” (from my blog post here) [Look & Listen]

Scott Cortez :: Twin Radiant Flux (Line)
“This may be a reheat of unreleased material from 1997-1999, but it feels very much in-the-now, a tribute to the musicianly imagination of The Artist Formerly Known As lovesliescrushing, in drawing from a heritage left by the likes of MBV, Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, Lush, Catherine Wheel, [insert shoegaze band of choice] to forge something sui generis. A long format piece split into parts, Flux starts slowly with a lone drone to the fore before the shoes-wooze and gaze-glaze drape themselves velveteen over proceedings, over the remainder of which he arcs and dives with shifts and drifts, shimmers and fades, sparingly smearing gorgeous steelmelt over the canvas.” (from my blog post here) [Look & Listen]

Grasslung :: Sincere Void (Root Strata)
Jonas Asher gets great results with a move from former gruzzier pyschedelic concerns to these more refined atmospheres, inhabited by piano drift, lost melodies, occluded rhythms of static, and the occasional tamed feedback whirr. Neo-classical minimalism meets gauzy expanses, sonic beads strung on pings of electricity, arcing harmonic loops. Moves effortlessly from doleful thousand-yard stare to smile on the void. [Listen] [YouTube]

Kyle Bobby Dunn :: A Young Person’s Guide to? (Low Point)
“Kyle Bobby Dunn is one of a new wave of soundsmiths re-contextualising classical instrumentation (strings, brass and piano) in post-digital frames – raw material, musician-made, remade and and remodelled in software. (?) predicated on slowcore turns – of swell to relent and back again, of delicate orchestral figures bleeding through process interventions into slow-dissolve fields, delicately mis-treated tones crumbling into strange harmonies, time-lapse shift from clear-light to smudge-smeared.” (from my review here) [Look & Listen] [Bandcamp]

Pausal :: Lapses (Barge)
“This reviewer won’t be the first, nor the last, to note the conspicuous echoes of Stars of the Lid’s refined slowcore space drone and holy minimalism (again) here. “One Watery Lens,” for example, is imbued with a church-like tranquillity. And “Lapsing,” adorned by the violin of Svitlana Samoylenko, exudes neo-classical poise without erring on the side of the overpolite. The duo acknowledge the influence, but it’s clear Pausal has developed an individual voice within what has lately grown into a sort of late-period ambient-postclassical crossover tradition.” (from my review here) [Listen] [YouTube]

Pjusk :: Sval (12k)
“Norwegian duo Pjusk’s second impressive full-length is an excursion into deep ambience, subtly embellished with field recordings and sparse beats, further refining their richly textured take on ambient electronica. ?these ears detect a certain Biosphere-esque quality to it, at times recalling 90s ambient-electronic stylings, but the whole is constructed with a detail and production sensibility very much Of The Now. Musically modelling the soaring Nordic peaks, expanses of implacable tracts of fjords and barren tundra, resonant synth-sweeps swoop over rugged terrain with an earthy low-end support, and cast of crowing birds, creaking train-tracks, aircraft engine drone, cricket-chirp, streams and sundry peripheralia evoking isolation and remotion.” (from my review elsewhere) [Listen]

Simon Scott :: Traba (Immune)
Mini-album from the time of ‘Navigare,’ of which it was said: “Scott brings his shoegaze heritage to an experimental ambient table laden with the recipes of Christian Fennesz and Tim Hecker. Scott deploys various instruments, mainly guitar (?) mostly sounds are so ravaged by deliberate digital depredations as to efface their Ur-identity; if an identifiable voice does emerge from the swells and billows below, its sensory incision is all the more effective. Scott’s predilection for a soupy wooze of field recordings, degraded loops, and manufactured hiss is perhaps the modern-day hangover/development of the shoegaze legacy…” (from my review here) [Listen]

Celer :: Panoramic Dreams… | Weavings… (Basses Frequences)
Despite Dani’s demise there was still a whole lotta Celer goin’ on in 2010, though much fell short of their best. This collection (and its related shorter release) worked like one of the eponymous dreams, though. A slow flow of stunned stasis and dramatic shift taking in strings, old synths, tape sounds and captured and dissolved recordings, prompting remote navigation of your inner discovery channel. [Look & Listen] [Bandcamp]

Clem Leek :: Holly Lane (Hibernate)
The artist here extends the love for his musical weapon of choice (piano) to a wider array of sound sources, guitars, strings, environmentalia, with electronic treatments draping their instrumental hosts in layers of effects, blurring edges to the point of identity erasure; ‘Holly Lane’ is longer, wider and deeper than anything previously Leek-ed out, and accordingly more potent in its haunting resonances. [Listen] [YouTube]

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  1. Josh Bratton says:

    Glad to see Dennis’s ’36’ project made it on top of your list. I enjoyed all 4 releases he put out this year.

    The Grasslung release was one of those nice finds this year. Great debut from a wonderful artist.

    • alan lockett says:

      Hey, Josh. Yeah, 36 deserves more plaudits, though I like the fact he’s still sort of under the radar. The Grasslung album came out of nowhere, and knocked me out. Suggest you look into the En release, also on Root Strata, that is if you haven’t already.
      Also noted quite a few of your picks were faves of mine too, but I strictly rationed myself to just 15!

      • Josh Bratton says:

        Yeah, out of the 4 releases I purchased from Dennis in 2010, I’d have to say that the ‘red’ cassette was the weakest, but that’s because it was quite varied in sound. I’ll be awaiting his new ‘green’ cassette in a few months and then his release on Glacial Movements.

        Yeah, it was hard sticking to only 20, but I had to add 20 Honorable Mentions as well. I’m bad about that haha

        …and yes, I’ve heard the En release. I need to go back to it, though.

        Also, that Celer release is probably my favorite of theirs/his.

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