Looking back over the music of the year, it struck me that two of my favorite bands released both proper records and compilations this year, and that all four were among my favorites of the year. With the music industry currently shaped like a big question mark and all of the nay-saying about creative churn, I just thought these two (groups of) creators and their creations deserved an extra mention.
dälek kicked 2007 in the ass early with their third full-length Abandoned Language (Ipecac Recordings). I had a sit-down with producer Oktopus during the recording of this album last year, and he excitedly explained to me what they were doing in the studio. I wish I’d been prepared for such an explanation (“prepared” as in “prepared to record”) because I couldn’t explain it to anyone now to save my life. Whereas on From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots, dälek found their feet and on Absence they used them to stomp a mudhole in the noisy Hip-hop they pioneered, Abandoned Language comes correct with the subtleties. Its layers of humming strings and buzzing samples jostle with the vocals for position among the crackling boom-bap beats. Don’t get it twisted, dälek is no less brutal this time around, but a lot of this record eases in through your ears as opposed to just bashing you over the head. How Oktopus and dälek accomplished this (and what their underlying goals were with the orchestration) is the part I can’t put back together: lots of nonlinearity, lots of threads, lots of ins and outs, lots of what-have-yous, but the result is a very important record.
Also in February, Jesu released their second full-length record, Conqueror (Hydra Head), and a more aptly titled record one is unlikely to find. This thing doesn’t just own, it renovates. Mike Patton once described Godflesh (Justin Broadrick’s most prominent band prior to forming Jesu) as sounding like the batteries on your Walkman (hey, this was almost twenty years ago) running down. Well, if Godflesh was dead batteries, then Jesu is your iPod melting. Conqueror continues the droning wall of noise of Jesu’s self-titled debut, but the picture is clearer here. Justin’s adept song-smithing shines through the layers more than before. The songs “Medicine” and “Mother Earth” prove it all by themselves, and “Transfigure” might be the heaviest pop song ever recorded. Conqueror is everything Justin has worked on up until now (twenty five years of making music) mixed together and rolled out wide. It’s huge, and it’s punishing, but it’s also beautiful.
Halfway through the year, dälek dropped a collection of B-sides and rarities, Deadverse Massive Vol 1: dälek Rarities 1999-2006 (Hydra Head). Spanning almost their entire recorded history, Deadverse Massive… doesn’t quite sound like a pile of leftovers, but, given the extreme care and vision these guys put into their studio outings, it doesn’t sound like a proper record from them either. It somehow manages to stay cohesive though and is a damn moving listen from beginning to end. The production is crunchy, grinding, monumental, and the instrumental pieces on here prove that their sound is more than just noise with raps on top.
Recently Jesu released a collection as well. Pale Sketches (Avalanche) is a project-spanning purge of previously recorded but unreleased ideas, or, as Justin’s blog describes it, “a compilation of Jesu songs that Broadrick felt didn’t fit with previous Jesu releases.” Their signature drone is here, but overall the sound is more mellow. As with the dälek compilation, Pale Sketches doesn’t altogether sound like a proper record, but it hangs together better than many other bands’ records.
So, before 2007 is wrapped up and sent on its way, I wanted to give these four records by these two bands due attention. They deserve it.
Here’s the video for “Paragraphs Relentless” from Abandoned Language by dälek (directed by Alexandra Lyach and Alap Momin and featuring cuts by Rob Swift). Enjoy.
I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.