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SOLSTØV

Walking alone this evening in an isolated spot in Texan hill country, dusk falling, a deer flashes across my path and halts a few yards away, quivering. I stop and we trade stares for a while, my stillness not quite assuaging her agitation. A bat passes erratically. A sudden movement behind me catches the corner of my eye, and I turn just as a fawn, perhaps a foot and a half high, almost stumbles into my legs. It looks up at me for a long, fragile moment, and bolts away. The moon grows brighter in a vast sky as the last light fades, the gathering night filled with air and glow and darting life and tensile peace. As I walk on I’m listening to Solstøv by Pjusk, an album not from Texas but from Norway, yet evocatively descriptive of such a night as this, a night of peace and vastness and life and surprise and glory. This walk and this music will now live together in my memory.

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Pjusk - Drowning in the Sky

Pjusk – Drowning in the Sky

I visited Ulsteinvik recently, and found time for an all-too-brief hiking excursion up along the cliffs under the guidance of a local school principal. As we clambered up steep slopes in the gathering dusk, buffeted by a stiff wind, keeping an eye out for patches of ice amid the heather, talking about fishing boats and hidden reefs, I realized that Pjusk were playing in my head. Listening to music in its country of origin is one of the perks of traveling, and I had been punctuating my trip around Norway with Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek, and Biosphere, among others. But now that I was out on the bare hillside, surf threshing below, all human habitation out of sight, and the iPod safely back at the hotel, it became evident again that somewhere in my brain Pjusk’s music has become what the Norwegian landscape sounds like.

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Porya Hatami - Shallow

Porya Hatami – Shallow

 

I’ve been listening a lot to Porya Hatami recently, and it has been a delightful experience. It all started with a bandcamp sale by the Flaming Pines label to celebrate their third anniversary – a different album was offered for free download every two days. That drew my attention to their wonderful Birds of a Feather 3″ CD series, and to the first in that series, The Black Woodpecker by Porya Hatami, and that led me to his impressive new CD on Tench, which I will review below. But first a few words about The Black Woodpecker, since that was the piece that tuned my ear to Hatami’s sounds.

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Any list implies criteria, but let’s eliminate some obvious candidates. This is not a list of the most original, or significant, or skilled, or successful releases of 2013. There is so much that I simply did not listen to that those kinds of judgments are out of reach (for me as for everyone else). Instead, I asked myself: if I were to be separated from my music for a month or two and could only keep 20 albums from my collection with me, all released in 2013, which would I choose? This approach keeps me from adding or skipping things because I somehow feel I ought to. Worthy or not in the ears of the world, this is what I liked most from this year’s releases. Listen in; who knows, you might like it too.

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2013 was another banner year for the Twin Cities music scene.  Prince introduced his new band, 3rdeyegirl, and started making more appearances than he had in the last few years (including a pajama party at Paisley Park), The Replacements (well, half The Replacements) reunited to record some music to raise money for former guitarist Slim Dunlap and to play some out-of-town festivals (we’re still waiting Westerberg and Stinson…as if you didn’t know), local O.G.s The Suburbs and Run Westy Run also reunited, Low played a 30 minute festival set consisting of a single drone, and Rhymesayers snagged Snoop Dogg for Soundset.  Oh, and on top of all that a ton of great new music was released by artists both new and old, with a ridiculous amount of that music being released by one local label that is absolutely killing it right now.

For my “Top 20 of 2013” list I limited myself to a single word or phrase about each album.  I think the technique worked in that context because each of the albums on the list already had thousands of words written about them.  When it comes to the top releases by Twin Cities artists, however, that isn’t necessarily the case.  Accordingly, while I’ll still be limiting the amount I write about each album, there will be more information than in the Top 20.  Of note, four of the albums in the Top 10, and several more honorable mentions, are available for free download.  So, if you’re at all interested in exploring the Twin Cities music scene circa 2013, get downloading!

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MiG jumps into the year end ‘Best of’ lists, with Craig McManus leading off with his Top 20 albums of the year:

In the past, I’ve always written a blurb about each album explaining it’s inclusion on my list.  Over the years of checking other people’s lists, however, I’ve noticed that I rarely read similar blurbs.  Instead I scroll through to see what made it, what I agree with, what I disagree with, and with what I am unfamiliar.  Then I move on to the next list.  As I highly doubt I’m alone in this technique, I’m going to dispense with the paragraph of explanation and instead simply note the word or phrase by which it is best encapsulated.  Think of it as a ‘Best of’ word association.  It’ll save me time, and perhaps someone will actually read it rather than skimming to the next image.

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Winter's Fire - The Ashes of Piemonte

Winter’s Fire – The Ashes of Piemonte

A palimpsest.

First layer: Blood and hate and keening grief. In the mid-17th century the Duke of Savoy pursues a brutal campaign to suppress communities of Waldensians living in the mountains of Piedmont. The Waldensians are followers of Peter Waldo, a Bible-oriented group excommunicated in 1215 because of their departure from various Catholic teachings. Despite repeated persecution, they have been able to establish small mountain communities. In 1655 an attempt at forced conversion meets with rejection, and is followed by an orgy of rape, torture, and murder that shocks Europe. 1700 men, women, and children are burned alive, dismembered, variously and gruesomely massacred.

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Here it is finally, my list of the best of what I found among 2012’s new releases. (I found a lot of great jazz from before I was born too, but that’s another story.) I no more listened to everything out there than anyone else did, but these are releases from 2012 that I listened to repeatedly and expect to be returning to in 2013 and beyond. The exact order is arbitrary and could change on any given day, though albums are probably roughly in the right quarter of the list. I’ve included at the end an honor roll of another 20 that did not quite make my list but were also greatly enjoyed. After all, I think the main function of lists like this is help folk find things (at least that’s how I use all the other lists out there).

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#1 Pjusk – Tele
Norway’s Pjusk have become one my favorite ambient/electronic artists on the strength of three stellar releases. Tele (full review here) takes us deep into the glacial cold of northern Norwegian landscapes – the tracks are themed around layers of rock and ice. Deep in the earth, we are taken on a dark and resonant atmospheric journey that ends in light and life. Creation is not all sunlit beaches, and this release gives us a masterful aural tour of its frozen recesses.

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It’s the time of year when folks post their “Best of” lists, and MiG is no exception.  So without further ado, here are the Top 20 albums (and some others that deserve recognition) according to Craig McManus:

Top 20

Purity Ring1. Purity Ring – Shrines: 2011 introduced us to Purity Ring through the singles “Ungirthed”, “Lofticries”, and “Belispeak”, and each of these songs could have made my best of list. Accordingly, I was highly anticipating the release of the band’s debut full length. When news broke that each of these songs would be included on Shrines, however, I grew concerned that Purity Ring didn’t have the depth of quality for a full LP. Obviously, Shrines’ placement on this list demonstrates that my concern was unfounded. With tracks like “Obedear”, “Fineshrine”, and “Crawlersout” added to the early singles, Purity Ring created a dark synth pop gem. The only real negative to the album is the inclusion of the frankly dreadful, “Grandloves”.

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Kane Ikin – Sublunar

The opening track of Sublunar, Kane Ikin’s debut full length release on 12k, clearly announces the theme and aesthetic of the album, and at the same time sets the standard very high for what follows. The album title places us on the ground; the track title, “Europa”, directs our gaze toward the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus (Io, Titan, Hyperion, Rhea, and Oberon are still to come). The track opens with a gently oscillating wash of haze and static, out of which a hesitant, lurching rhythm emerges, sounding like something assembled from various sources and precariously held together by sticky tape and string. The rhythmic effect is somewhat reminiscent of some of Giuseppe Ielasi’s off-kilter beats. A wobbly, ghostly, faintly choral note like a decayed tape recording of music from a decades-old science fiction movie adds a mournful melodic line and a further duality – are we listening to signals from distant moons (as the accompanying video seems to suggest) or the voices of our own past dreams of the future?

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