This is not review. This is response. 2010 is coming to an end, so here's three that have bent my time, altered my path, and changed my approach.
Agalloch :: Marrow of the Spirit
(2010, Profound Lore) [Genre: Metal]
I am almost speechless. After eleven long months, I have found my Album of the Year for 2010. Sometimes, a record comes along that makes you realize how lucky you are to still have your hearing. For me, Agalloch's Marrow of the Spirit is just such a record. It has, quite literally, blown my mind. I have been trapped in Agalloch's world of winter for a full week, six tracks on endless repeat; they are bleak, haunting and incredibly epic. And while many will comment at length about this bleakness, it is the performances here that are the key for me; they wrap you in a sustaining, protective warmth, generating a transcendental sphere which keeps you hovering in awed safety above the landscape. Hallucinatory guitar layers and mind-expanding structural flourishes dot this snow-covered expanse like meteorite fragments: cold, magnetic, blackened remnants from when the solar system was young. But then there are moments, like at 14:35 of track 4 ("Black Lake Nidstang") when that iceberg you were staring at suddenly explodes and Agalloch transports your mind to a place you never thought it could go. That track, "Black Lake Nidstang," is the most hypnotic piece of aural art I've heard in a long time. 17:34 blows by in an instant. It is filled with moments which seamlessly transition. It's the kind of song that widens your eyes as you listen to it; people might think you've lost your mind, sitting there on the train or bus, earbuds pulsing, your unblinking eyes lamely attempting to process the visual overflow of your mind. The whole album, however, is like that. Analog synths circulate in the foundation of these tracks; cellos haunt, Nature whispers, and the solar winds press further into space.
Wire :: Red Barked Tree
(2010, pinkflag) [Genre: Alt/Punk]
Wire are so clearly... Wire. I don't know how they keep doing this. And though I freely admit to being a hopeless Wire fanatic, that won't stop me from recommending this album to everyone. It is difficult to comment on Wire's new album without feeling a need to compare it to their prior work, but I don't think that's a particularly meaningful approach, since they have so many albums. I believe, however, that each subsequent Wire album amounts to a further distillation of what it is that makes Wire the band they are. There are familiar things here - shapes, sounds, textures, structures. Track to track, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis trade lead vocal duty, just like they always have. Newman's twisted style of "language delivery" is in full force, as is Lewis's knack for smoothly eviscerating whatever it is he's targeting (the first track "Please Take" is a wonderful example of this). Red Barked Tree contains DNA fragments from every Wire album. Because of this, the physical CD itself takes on the semblance of a tool for time travel; a shiny artifact from the future. I found myself reliving random moments from my Wire-infused past as I listened; but as these images coalesced in my mind, they were instantly intermingled with new possibilities, different outcomes. The last track "Red Barked Trees" left me reeling. I once had a dream of red trees, long ago (an aerial view of a forest; and near the center, a patch of red trees, inaccessible). There was something important about these trees, but it wasn't until I heard this track that I remembered the dream with further clarity. I don't know what the dream meant, and I am not sure it really matters. I have always suspected there is something more than just music going on with Wire (tapping into a collective unconscious?) and Red Barked Tree is extraordinary proof of that.
Rosetta :: A Determinism of Morality
(2010, Translation Loss) [Genre: Metal]
Something about Rosetta makes me think of deep space; of future points of demarcation from known societal constructs as the human species evolves and seeps outward to colonize distant planets. These 7 new tracks are monumental slabs, floating in an infinite, echoing cosmos; they grab you by the throat, shaking you into awareness with every searching bass note, every cascade of kick and snare and cymbal. The vocals are immersed in Rosetta's trademark hazy grandeur. And the guitars... things of aching beauty, haunting, piercing. These tracks lumber. These tracks gallop. And through it all, there is a seething intensity that I find irresistible. Unlike the tracks on Rosetta's Wake/Lift (2007) album, the tracks on A Determinism of Morality rarely feature cliff dive-like plunges into a crunching abyss. But the free-falling weight of these tracks, taking on much different structures than those on Wake/Lift, are more immediate. You can see their shapes a bit more clearly. But the title track - the album's closer - is 10:51 of abject power, beauty and unrelenting weight. It's like a spoonful of matter from a neutron star. And that's likely an understatement.
Additional recommendations for 2010...
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross :: The Social Network
Brian Eno :: Small Craft on a Milk Sea
Daft Punk :: TRON: Legacy
Zoroaster :: Matador
Hans Zimmer :: Inception
Enslaved :: Axioma Ethica Odini