Whilst contemplating some of my favourite music from 2016, I realised that a bullet list holds many secrets; that choices shared in public are often born of intimate moments. And so here a few such moments, tales that needed to be told, to cast much-needed light on the year gone by.
1. Listening to Xiu Xiu playing The Music Of Twin Peaks, whilst in Twin Peaks
When I decided to take a short trip through the U.S. northwest, I knew that I could cross something special off the bucket list – to make a pilgrimage, 25 years in the making, to Twin Peaks. The town itself doesn’t exist, but rather it’s an amalgam of filming locations around North Bend and Snoqualmie, forty minutes east of Seattle. I visited Salish Lodge, aka The Great Northern Hotel, atop Snoqualmie Falls (which provided the waterfall sequence in the opening credits); along with the location of the ‘Welcome To Twin Peaks’ sign, Twede’s Cafe (which doubled as The Double R), the Twin Peaks Sherrif’s Dept amongst others.
All the while, I was listening not to Angelo Badalamenti’s original soundtrack, but to the album of covers, Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks. This was a wholly appropriate choice given that Xiu Xiu had rendered Twin Peaks anew in 2016, just as I was witnessing the iconic locations a quarter of a century after the fact. The aesthetic of the rework brought to mind Ronette Pulaski’s lengthy flashback at the end of Episode 1, Season 2 – Killer Bob is astride her, beating down on her chest with gorilla-like fists, while Laura stands idly by, flashing vampire fangs in slow motion. It’s beautiful and disturbing, haunting and violent, revolting and compelling – the true essence of David Lynch caught in a moment, wrapped in plastic.
2. Stumbling out of the daylight onto Muscle & Marrow
I always believe that you should arrive early at a gig to catch the support bands. This paid off beautifully when I went to Marissa Nadler’s Portland show and caught the amazing Muscle & Marrow in the opening slot. Plaintive torch songs, spurned howls, brutal guitar – visceral and compelling work, neatly falling into similar Lynchian terrain as Xiu Xiu. I was an instant convert. The latest work from the duo of Kira Clark and Keith McGraw is called Love – a single word, which in their hands, promises a mesmeric tour of heartbreak and anguish.
3. Discovering the psych-freak-folk and voodoo reverberations of Sweden’s Goat
In the latter half of the year, I told anyone who would listen about my love of Requiem, the most recent album from Swedish band Goat. It’s a record that somehow manages to combine psych-rock, freak folk, afrobeat, trance rhythms, and (yes…) pan pipes into a bizarre yet delicious cocktail, boiled in a copper pot over a roaring pagan fire. Goat claim that their home village, Korpilombolo, was cursed by a witch doctor many centuries ago and that the voodoo reverberations still resonate today. True or not, every possible outcome of that story is right there in the music, just waiting for you to sacrifice your scepticism.
4. Visiting the closest thing we have to Kurt Cobain’s grave
Kurt Cobain spent the last days of his life on Lake Washington Blvd in Seattle. It’s an affluent part of town, and the house is a stone’s throw from Seattle’s grandiose private tennis club. I visited the adjacent Viretta Park, from where you can see the top of Kurt & Courtney’s house, poking above the trees. The greenhouse in which Kurt took his life was knocked down by Courtney before she sold the place. He was cremated and his family holds his ashes, so the park – with its graffiti strewn bench – acts as a makeshift shrine. I was an admirer, rather than a fan, of Kurt and Nirvana, and thus I was quite taken back when I found myself momentarily overcome with emotion. I arrived there as an impartial observer, but something took hold of me, albeit briefly. Perhaps it was simply knowing that such a profound death occurred within a few meters of where I stood. Perhaps it was the reminder that Kurt was only 27 when he took his own life. Perhaps it was the knowledge that depression can be such a cloying, persistent and horrific state of mind for many of us and that there but for the grace of something, go I.
5. Marking the moment of Provenance with a vinyl test pressing
Two years ago, Sar Friedman sent me her album I And Thou and asked if I wanted to release it. I adored it, to me, it sounded like Bat For Lashes backed by Sunn O))) – a beautiful combination. But I didn’t have a record label, so I declined Sar’s offer. Another year went by, and Sar asked me again, telling me that she’d changed her artist name to Medicine Voice. I was reminded of just how incredible the record was. I thought “if no one else is going to release this, I’ll just need to start a label and release it myself.” And that was that. Provenance became a real thing.
The moment could have been marked by many events, but the arrival of the first vinyl test pressing of I And Thou was when it all hit home – this was different to all that had gone before. And it was also at that moment that I remembered why the physical music product was so important. The vinyl or CD or cassette is a self-contained and fully realised work of art. It is the finished jigsaw puzzle. We can marvel at the individual pieces and stream them with great joy and amazement, but it is in the realisation of the physical product where the artwork comes together into one glorious whole.
And thus Provenance was birthed, a new record label of left-field and experimental releases, commencing with I And Thou and followed by work from a beautiful family of artists – Paneye, Spartak, Lortica, Lovely Head, Aphir, KAIA and Kris Keogh. It’s been a challenging birth in some respects (read my recent interview with Who The Hell for a deeper perspective), but I sleep safely in the knowledge that the world is a better place with this music in it, and 2017 will be dedicated to getting that truth out there.
6. Pulling some pretty gritty music Out From Under
In 2016 I made 25 episodes of a new music podcast, Out From Under, a weekly hour-long program featuring eclectic and experimental Australian music, weaving documentary stories and interviews with new music specials and live performances. Out From Under was broadcast in the UK by Resonance Extra, a 24/7 broadcast platform from Resonance FM (home to Little Atoms and The Wire’s Adventures In Music & Sound) and podcast by FBi Radio in Sydney.
It was the first program that I produced ‘away from the desk’ – that is, all interviews were conducted in the field, and programs were voiced and edited at my home in the Blue Mountains. After thirteen years of paneling live radio, this was a fun and unique process, best encapsulated with the recording of the very first program, where I took a deep dive into ‘Pretty Gritty’ – an intimate experimental music event curated by Gail Priest. I interviewed Gail along with vocalist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Astrid Zeman; Sydney sound artist Daniel Whiting and Canberra musician Happy Axe, who lulls beautiful and eerie tones from her violin and musical saw and presented them all in a final edit with live music recorded at the February show (listen back here).
Out From Under was a salient reminder of the eclecticism, originality, and talent that lies in the Australian underground, and the need for people, like Gail and others like her, to rise to the challenge and be their champion.
To close the year, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but indicative of where my love lay in 2016. 20 albums that you can add to the above, in no particular order.
- Yves Tumor – Serpent Music (PAN)
- Yama Warashi – Moon Egg (Stolen Body Records)
- Anohni – Hopelessness (Rough Trade)
- Eartheater – RIP Chrysalis (Hausu Mountain)
- The Necks – Vertigo (Fish Of Milk)
- Pye Corner Audio – Stasis (Ghost Box)
- Elisabeth Dixon – LP1 (Trait)
- Carla dal Forno – You Know What It’s Like (Blackest Ever Black)
- Equiknoxx – Bird Sound Power (DDS)
- Corin – Virtuality (Wondercore Island)
- Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones)
- Jóhann Jóhannsson – Orphée (Deutsche Grammophon)
- Marie Davidson – Adieux Au Dancefloor (Cititrax)
- Nisennenmondai – #N/A (On-U Sound)
- Brian Eno – The Ship (Warp)
- Fatima Al Qadiri – Brute (Hyperdub)
- Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy (Rvng Intl)
- Scraps – TTNIK (Moontown Records)
- Tomorrow The Rain Will Fall Upwards – Wreck His Days (Blackest Ever Black)
- Various – Space Echo – The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed! (Analog Africa)