I do hope you’ll forgive me for writing up my favourite five albums of 2007 a little early, but at this point it is unlikely these will be bettered:
Ernesto Hulvaez – Dog Chorus #17
Another fine offering from Hulvaez. The man’s facility for training large groups of stray dogs to bark in unison cannot be denied. This year, following the untimely death of a shit-tzu and young poodle in the street outside his house, Hulvaez has obtained two large rottweilers and a young runt of unidentifiable heritage. These new additions have added a decidedly deeper timbre to this album — you will have to decide for yourself whether you approve.
Hulvaez’ work has, of course, over the years become looser and more experimental in form. This drift has only now, I think, come to fruition. At certain moments we can recognise delicious “mistakes” in the form of half-articulated yelps and whines that overall lend a sense of openness and natural feeling to this offering that has, in recent years, been lacking.
Manny Brothers – August Afternoon with the Nephews
If you had told me three years ago that I would become entirely enamoured with a group releasing music based on recording children sealed inside barrels with a microphone and rolled down hills, I probably would have been sceptical at best. And yet here we are with only the second release from the Manny Brothers, and I am hooked.
The brothers have opened greatly in scope on this record — the debut mainstays of wooden barrels on grass slopes have been replaced by a host of new variations. Plastic water containers, beer kegs and even square post boxes have all been dragged to new locations including shale quarries, potholed tarmac hills and cobblestone streets.
The kids display the full gamut of unrestrained emotion we have come to love. Fear, rage, elated shouting and relief-crying are all beautifully amplified in each confined space. We are left with an album of great range and power. A triumph.
Jeremy Ekleb – Surprise Bear
Jeremy Ekleb, for his debut release, retreated to an Alaskan cabin last spring to assemble an ambient album from recordings of howling winds and creaking forests. Nothing particularly new there, with the exception of what happened the last day of his expedition. Ekleb was crouched low over a frozen lake, recording cracking ice for what was to be the last track of the collection, when a polar bear approached him from behind and tore his right arm off.
The end result made it to press (rumoured to be against Ekleb’s wishes — proof once again that labels know best and can be relied upon, always, to save musicians from themselves) and it rates beyond all expectations. I simply can’t describe the feeling of listening to forty-five minutes of nature-inspired ambient music when you know what is coming in the final thirty seconds. Jeremy Ekleb may have unwittingly given birth to a new genre: ambient horror. He should be properly lauded as soon as he is back up and on his feet again. And who knows what he has planned for his second full-length, which has a contractually obliged release date of October 2008.
Shanloe Ramone – Chinese Kitchen and Helium, Trombone Accompaniment. April 2007, Drogheda
So called “Reality Music” has been making rather a large splash over the last number of years, but I’ve found little to recommend it above its execrable TV counterpart. One album did cross my path, however, that I feel it worthwhile to share with you.
Shanloe Ramone, famous now for his natural recordings of human interaction, trains his microphones on the busy kitchen of a Chinese Takeaway outside Drogheda, Co. Louth. After fifteen minutes or so of quick paced orders and apparent joking between the chefs and delivery boys in the back rooms, we begin to realise that not everything is quite normal. Ramone, in a fascinating twist on his regular methods, begins to slowly leak helium into the kitchen, and almost imperceptably the voices of the workers begin to rise and rise.
The real payoff, of course, comes when the men begin to realise that something is amiss — they become quite panicked in their questioning of the situation. A number of fights even break out! The whole hour is beautifully underscored by a novice practising trombone through the thin walls of the building next door. We cannot be sure whether Ramone organised this sweet detail, but I like to trust in the reputation of the man and believe that he did not.
Joanna Newsom – Hi, ________. How was your day?
I know that this is not technically a music album but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t include a CD that I’ve spent so much time on this year.
Ms. Newsom, presumably in an attempt to reduce instances of young men loudly telling her how much they love her at live shows, released “Hi, _______. How was your day?” earlier this year.
You simply insert the DVD into your computer, select your first name from the list, and the software burns you a CD full of Joanna speaking ordinary, everyday phrases with your name inserted. Apparently she recorded over 2000 names (bless her!) so the chances of yours being included are quite high.
Hi, Pierce. How was your day? What do you want for dinner, Pierce? There are scripts included in the liner notes to help you narrate your side of the conversations. You will chat idly about films, North Korea, the trials of touring. As the relationship develops you even begin to have small disagreements: about the weather, about that jacket you insist on wearing. In the final chapter you argue viciously about your family’s opinion of her. Later that night you lie silently beside each other. “I love you,” you whisper into her hair, but no response — she appears to be asleep. Moments later she stifles a cough and you turn away and curl into a ball.