Feature: Review of 2018

I begin my review of 2018 with a lyric taken from a song released in 2015 (after all, it’s worth noting in these end-of-year articles that recency isn’t a prerequisite to present pertinence). The line comes partway through “Stonemilker” by Björk, her sentiment buoyed by the ricochet of the entering rhythm:

“Moments of clarity are so rare – I better document this.”

As far as I understand, the lyric refers to emotional lucidity arising from the mire of Björk’s collapsing relationship. Another possible interpretation of this line could be its enactment of a very modern problem: in trying to capture our most intense and epiphanic experiences, we can’t help but dilute their potency. Not only is our documentation a mere souvenir of the occasion – as opposed to a preservation of the occasion itself – but by diverting our energies to the act of immortalising the experience, we forfeit the opportunity to wholly submit to it. Some well-worn examples come to mind, such as the use of social media to broadcast one’s presence at a particular concert or picturesque location, at a time when maximising the riches require the mind to be engaged in an intimate closed loop with the experience itself.

So where does that leave ATTN, as a website devoted to the attempted documentation of deep listening experiences? This quandary has dominated my relationship with the website in 2018. I worry about degrading my connection with music by listening from the perspective of a writer, with portions of the mind remaining stubbornly reserved for the linear articulation of sound: the distillation of multiple realities, the ossification of shapeless ambiguity. How can an experience ever drench my inner eye in unseen colours, or beckon me into beautiful confusion, if I perceive such phenomena as the symptoms of writer’s block?

For this reason, I’ve devoted more time this year to listening for its own sake. Many of my favourite listening experiences in 2018 occurred outside of the sphere of ATTN. I listened through R.E.M.’s entire discography, prising open a kernel of affection that dates back to childhood (long car journeys to my dad’s house soundtracked by Automatic For The People and Out Of Time). I traced their 30-year trajectory just as one might read a book, eventually perceiving each album as both the outgrowth of the record prior and a prescient glimmer of the music to come. I sank into Sarah Davachi’s Gave In Rest during mornings in bed, pressed into the mattress by a sound that seems to spiral gently downward, like a thick draft tumbling down the stairs in a castle turret. I gave up on reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, redirecting my craving for scrambled narrative to Age Of by Oneohtrix Point Never instead.

There were a handful of records that became particularly special to me through conversations with their creators. I learned that the rumbles of microphone-on-concrete during My Home In The Year by Lauren Tosswill are the product of a very tactile relationship with creativity. Chaines and I talked about their album The King, through which I came to hear traces of Twin Peaks amidst the anxious mists of tracks such as “DOWN”. Sound Awakener and Dalot shone torches through their beautiful collaborative record Little Things, during an interview that illuminated their mutual affection for serendipitous sonic detail. A memorable conversation with Yann Novak led me deeper into his album The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past, which regularly billows throughout my living room like tinted smoke, or invisible plumes of electrical charge. Christina Vantzou talked about the power dynamic between composer and performer, leading me to hear No. 4 like the work of a vaguely coherent shoal: ultimately harmonious, yet rife with the flickers of player intuition. The composer-performer relationship was also a key theme when Ingrid Plum invited me to interview the 14 participants of her Taut project, who each created a score for Ingrid to perform. After a series of intimate discussions around the contradictions and considerations that render the score such a curious medium – for example, seizing the opportunity to push the performer beyond habitual movements, while allowing performer interpretation to press against the limits of composer intention – I was left spellbound by Ingrid’s manifestation of each score in sound and gesture.

And despite fretting over the conflicting priorities of listening and documentation, the fact that I’ve become intimately connected to several records that I’ve written about this year makes a strong argument to the contrary. Egregore by Dominic Lash and Seth Cooke continues to spill far beyond my attempt to describe it, like clouds in ever-shifting levitational quadrille. The same can be said for the latest double-album by Black Spirituals which, despite bringing their work as a duo to a conclusion, possesses an improvisational urgency that never feels any less than present tense. Laurel Halo’s Raw Silk Uncut Wood is now a deeply familiar work to me, yet each listen still contains glimmers of surprise, like precious stones winking among the tangled roots of organs and keys and cello. Audrey Chen embeds chambers inside chambers on Runt Vigor ­– some rendered in wood, others in flesh – while Me, Claudius uses looping to explore the hidden ecstasy beyond the wall of obnoxious repetition, with rough scraps recast as transcendent mantras through persistence alone.

In 2018 I covered much less music than in previous years. Partly that was due to the hiatus I took between May and July, but when ATTN returned in August, I also took a conscious decision to reduce the quantity of records I wrote about; since August 2018 I’ve reviewed a total of 10 records, compared with 40 during the same period in 2017. Yet these reviews are each the product of weeks and months, updated as new listening circumstances reveal new modes of understanding, culminating in diaries that trace the path from tentative first listen to those clicks of epiphanic connection. I’ve tried to restructure the format of these reviews to fit my aspirations as a listener: to never forget the fallibility of each assessment – even if declaratively stated – and to relish the opportunity to correct and contradict myself. Here’s to a rich and humbling 2019.

And for anyone interested, here’s a list of records that stuck with me in 2018 (in no particular order).

  • Black Spirituals – Black Access/Black Axes
  • Sarah Davachi – Gave In Rest
  • Arctic Monkeys – Tranquillity Base Hotel + Casino
  • Me, Claudius – Good Diz, Bad Bird
  • Fleshlicker – S/T
  • Lauren Tosswill – My Home In The Year
  • SUMAC – Love In Shadow
  • Chaines – The King
  • Yann Novak – The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past
  • Zeno Van Den Broek – Paranon
  • Masayuki Imanishi – Worn Tape
  • Slobodan Kajkut – Dark Room
  • Beach House – 7
  • Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
  • Dominic Lash + Seth Cooke – Egregore
  • memorygarden禅 – districtアトランティス
  • Christina Vantzou – No.4
  • Sofheso – Archive
  • Audrey Chen – Runt Vigor
  • Laurel Halo – Raw Silk Uncut Wood
  • Low – Double Negative
  • Mitski – Be The Cowboy
  • Sound Awakener + Dalot – Little Things
  • Bjarni Gunnarsson – Lueur
  • Mirrored Lips – Сексуальность неуместна

Finally – a reminder that ATTN left social media in 2018. If you’d like intermittent, lovingly-crafted updates from me via email, you can sign up to the newsletter right here.