by Various Artists
The most monumental release this year is certainly Rhys Chatham's A Crimson Grail, a recording of a piece scored for 400 electric guitars commissioned by the city of Paris. Moving far beyond the actual spectacle of having 400 guitarists playing to an audience of 10,000 in a massive French church, Chatham fashioned a gorgeous, chiming work out of beautiful elongated group chords, creating a serenity that hangs within a shimmering, grandiose and outright majestic moment of time. A similar musical essence was mined by the Boredoms on their new live album Super Roots 9, in which frontman Eye manipulates the sounds of a pre-recorded choir accompanied by three drummers in 40 minutes of cosmic bliss. The similarity is not surprising: Chatham is thanked in the liner notes.
Panda Bear's Person Pitch was embraced by a large cross-section of open-minded listeners and made many year end lists. With sampler loops and Beach-Boys-in-an-airplane-hanger vocals, the Animal Collective member's album greatly eclipsed his own band's full-length offering from 2007, creating the perfect soundtrack to many a summer. Rock-wise, Columbus, Ohio's unfortunately named Psychedelic Horseshit four-tracked inaccessible, ramshackle pop on Magic Flowers Droned*,*coupling reckless pop abandon with a complete disregard for recording techniques in an unabashedly lo-fi sound world. Portland artists Privacy and Grouper both treaded intimate territory on Without Mercy**and Cover the Windows and Wallsrespectively,the former sounding like solitude spun over stark blankets of bedroom guitar strum, the later sounding like the former dipped in a vat of liquid codeine.
Minimal techno outshined other forms of electronic music this year with two German labels, Kompakt and Dial, offering up a slew of textured, repetitious and ultimately engaging albums that were surprisingly evocative, especially Thomas Fehlmann's Honigpumpe, Pantha du Prince's This Bliss and The Field's From Here We Go Sublime. The Field record proved to be a surprising crossover hit, spinning microscopic shards of pop songs into transfixing cycles that would make Steve Reich proud.
In terms of overall sonic uniqueness, Finnish collective Kemialliset Ystavat's new untitled album sounds not quite like anything else, a disorienting stew in which freeform electronics, unidentifiable folk instrumentation and disembodied voices are heavily effected and haphazardly arranged into an overwhelming psychedelic outpour. In similar territory, forward thinking experimental musician/ex-jazz drummer Lee Rockey's collected works from 1959-1974 were finally released by De Stijl Records, and with layered violin and looping electronics they sound more in line with modern noise excursions than anything in their time.
Reissue-wise, Young Marble Giants' timeless *Colossal Youth finally got a deluxe, expanded re-release. A product of their geographical isolation (Cardiff, Wales) and apparent lack of distinct influences, their spacious arrangements of primitive drum machine, organ and snaky guitar/bass with male/female vocals evoke more in their simplicity than most bands can do with a 200 track studio. This 1979 album is a must for any fan of minimal, lo-fi-based indie pop: not only did they originate the sound, but no band since has done it with as much elegance and poignancy. Another important reissue was Hungry Beat, a retrospective of Scottish band **Fire Engines**, who, along with Orange Juice and Josef K, were key in the early '80s Scottish post-punk zeitgeist that modern bands like Franz Ferdinand and Bell and Sebastian stole most of their key moves from. There were also a fair share of rescued ultra-obscurities, most importantly the real people psychedelia of **Bobb Trimble**'s criminally unknown Harvest of Dreams and the harrowing string quartet dissonance of **Harley** **Gaber**'s Winds that Rise in the North*.
And lastly, let's not forget Vashti Bunyan,whose double-discSome Things Just Stick in Your Mind couples early singles with her original '60s demo tape, illuminating a whole new side to the forgotten singer, one of chiming pop decadence with an intimate folk tint.