Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Conelrad (SCQ's Year-End Questionnaire Part III)

I wrote the review of Sure Is the Risk Made while suffering from an unflinching hangover, when there was no better record to comfort my foolish head. Conelrad’s latest survives my head-aching Boards of Canada comparison with one of SCQ’s best darkhorse records of the year. Remaining true to his custom of giving away his music in spite of some lucrative label offers, Conelrad talks about the many endeavours he’s currently working on.

SCQ: What have been some of your favourite records of 2009? Gush away.

I'm glad it doesn't have to be from this year, because I'd struggle to think of music I've been listening to which came out this year. To give 2009 a look-in though, I'm happy to proselytise (not that I need to do any more than people do already) about the latest Antony and the Johnsons album, _The Crying Light_.

It's tremendous; it's so rare for any act to release a really great, unique album, but they've done it three times in a row now. I mean, it helps when you have the most heartbreaking, incomparable voice in the world fronting you, but the compositions themselves remain interesting and varied. I caught one of their gigs in Gateshead (UK) on the tour supporting that album, but the gig was near-ruined by a couple of very loud drunk assholes sat right next to me who kept shouting at the stage in quiet moments and forcing Antony into conversation. He was amazing at handling them; he's so much more robust than you might think. Witty too. But the effect really was acute on the atmosphere at the gig. I'd like to see them again, to get a better experience; I have tremendous respect for him and his band and their performance - what I could hear of it - was impeccable.

Hmm, what else... loads of Stars of the Lid. Mainly _Tired Sounds... _and _Refinement of the Decline_, but also things like _Avec Laudenum_. Again, nobody else really does what they do (I managed to see them, as well, as a matter of fact - it was great). I think Stars of the Lid might be one of the only acts in history who can pull off The Double Album - double albums absolutely suck ninety-nine per cent of the time, but SOTL's work seems to work best almost on geological time; their sound and their appeal is a kind of tectonic shift. Also, the Stars of the Lid side project, The Dead Texan. Can't remember which member of SOTL that is, but I seriously recommend checking it out - it takes the SOTL sound and toys with it, occasionally adding vocals and other more conventional features - but it never stops having that amazing restraint and sense of implication that makes SOTL's music such a beautiful, minimal, blank canvas for aural interpretation.

The other thing I've listened to a lot is Talk Talk's _Spirit of Eden_. I can't express enough what an incredible album this is for anyone who is interested in post-rock, ambient music, drone, minimalism, or just music in general. It's a stunning achievement. Recorded in 1988, but it sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday. It's just that sense that the songs have been crafted organically; they've been gently pushed into rough shapes but never contained or imprisoned in predictable structures or categories. I don't know how to describe it without sounding like a prat, but it just makes me feel so good when I listen to it. It's steadily becoming one of my favourite albums.

Other things this year include the things I can never stop listening to, to the detriment of new musicians: Wu-Tang's GZA, AKA the Genius, specificially his solo album _Liquid Swords_, which is one of the most emotionally complex works I've ever heard.

It's something of a white bourgeois cliché now to extol the virtues of Wu-Tang fifteen years after the fact, but I could not recommend that album enough. It's ruthlessly clever lyrically, as well as having some of the most vicious and technically innovative production that the RZA ever did. _Liquid Swords_ stands as an enduring and powerful answer to anyone who might suggest that gangsta rap (or indeed hip-hop in general) lacks worth or significance (and there are still so many people who believe this, depressingly). Yes, there is talk of violence, gun running, drug dealing, but GZA makes full use of those devices as metaphors for lyrical skill, as well as examining in literal terms the nightmarish life in whose very discourses so many people are trapped - doing so with subtlety, care and a sense of self-awareness.

The final thing I want to mention isn't even music. It's a 'radio' play, put together by Canadian media students, made a few years ago but set in 1983(?). It's called _The Last Broadcast_, it's about an all-out thermonuclear war arising from a crisis in East Germany, and it's really worth hearing. Okay, it's rough around the edges, some of the acting is bad, but not *too* bad, and its overall effect is pretty haunting - especially if you listen in the dark on an ipod or something. I had nightmares. So I approve greatly. You can find the whole thing on youtube, I think.

Actually, this is gonna sound pretty bad but I have probably spent most of this year listening to my own stuff. I've been so obsessed with getting the album right and so low on time from work that when I did have time to listen to music, it tended to be listening to tests of my own music to try and figure out the mix etc.

SCQ: Be it from the radio, lost on Myspace or your own personal discovery, what song(s) could you not stop spinning?

Again, this may actually sound like a joke answer, but bear with me here. I have not been able to stop listening to the work of a very eccentric gentleman whose back catalogue seems to exist (periodically, regularly deleted and re-uploaded) only on youtube. He's known as Tonetta777, and he records these strange, scatologically and sexually-obsessed songs about everything from broken relationships and the bitter influence of money to his enjoyment of straight-up sexual deviancies like corporophagy. I don't share his sexual obsessions, but the thing is that as well as being a completely unironic and earnest musician, producing dozens and dozens of songs in all kinds of genres - usually 4-track-recorded, with simple drumloops underlying layered acoustic and electric guitars, bass and vocals - the songs happen to really, really groove. There's one song in particular, called "$$ VIRAL $$", that really stays with me; it really sticks in my head. It's the song I've played most this year, I think. It has this angular acoustic groove at its centre, and Tonetta's gruff, spoken-word lyrics growled and layered in a way that betrays how much work must go into each song. I love $$ VIRAL $$ so much that I've actually recorded a cover of it, but I've no plans to release it at the moment - fortunately for everyone, I think. My cover's not a patch on the original. Search Youtube for Tonetta and you'll find some of his stuff. You'd have to give it a chance but I honestly love it. Oh, and the videos themselves... Tonetta is an older gentleman, probably in his 50s or so, but in pretty good shape, and he tends to dance mostly-naked and mime his songs while canned digital preset video effects warble and undulate around him. It's hypnotic and I guess a little voyeuristic but the music speaks for itself. I hope this doesn't sound like some kind of terrible hipster smug bullshit, because I'm completely honest about this. I think he rules.

SCQ: Seldom celebrated but crucial to The Album’s identity is cover-art. Can you offer any shortlist of personal favourites from the past year?

I'm rubbish with album art because I tend to just buy albums digitally now, and don't really squint at my ipod screen that much. I will say that I think the album art for The Dead Texan is god awful though, and really mis-sells the album.

SCQ: When you look back on what transpired this year, what will stand out as your most memorable moment(s) of 2009?

Probably stuff related to my career unconnected with music - I wrote a monograph of film criticism this year which is coming out next year, published by Palgrave MacMillan. If I'm remembering for a moment that people other than me exist in the universe, and thinking about memorable moments in 2009 that other people shared, then probably all the obvious stuff - Michael Jackson dying (another one of those 'where were you' moments), Obama's inauguration, etc etc. All the stuff I'm
probably meant to care a lot more about than I dare to admit.

SCQ: Most of us probably haven’t thought as far as New Years Eve plans but still, looking forward, what do you have on the horizon for 2010?

Musicwise, loads of stuff. I'm working on a slightly unusual multimedia project - producing a kind of soundtrack album/score for a novel. That won't be out til late 2010 at the earliest, though... in the meantime, I'm working on a kind of B-Sides collection of stuff I've produced but not put on albums or properly 'released'. The way that I put out music means that, with no singles, there's nowhere to easily put the stuff that doesn't necessarily fit thematically with an album but which people might enjoy anyway. So I'm gonna do a collection like that soon. And I'm also almost done with another droneish mini-album like my (long) EP "Community Shelter Planning" - I'm aiming to have that out in the next few months, actually. Maybe before christmas.

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