Friday, March 23, 2012

Best Albums of 2011 #1 Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason - Solaris (Bedroom Community)

As predicted, this Best of 2011 list is wrapping up well into 2012. This blog has been on hiatus because of a trans-continental relocation but now hopefully (maybe) it'll get back on track. We'll see. But at the very least I had to finish the list. In the number one spot, we have a collaboration between two of my very favorite artists courtesy of the great Bedroom Community label which, despite regularly sporting some of the worst album art in the biz, consistently release some of the most exciting albums in any given year. Consider Daniel Bjarnason's Processions, my favorite album of 2010 - a dizzying, ferocious modern classical excursion; Or Ben Frost's By the Throat, my favorite album of 2009, a serrated, brutally intense swath of industrial noise and nightmare soundscapes. No surprise then, when the two join forces with Solaris, a reworked film score of sorts for Tarkovsky's eerie sci-fi masterpiece (note the album cover homage), the result is a brilliantly crafted and beautifully deep piece of work. Frost and Bjarnason get to show off their subtle side with this collaboration. It's a definite shift from their solo work, yes, but still deeply affecting and powerful, a consistently surprising and altogether brilliant melding of man and machine. Acoustic chamber music takes an excursion into the future into some kind of deep space nightmare, grappling with electronic and computer processing, conjuring images of flickering passageways winding through seemingly abandoned spaceships, the crew mysteriously vanished. Keening, mournful suites for skittering strings and warbling, off kilter piano are filtered through gauzey swaths of rumbling drone, bleared static, menacing creaks and piercing buzz. It's a quiet album, largely lacking the earsplitting mechanical terror of Frost's work and the dizzying crescendos of Bjarnason's. But quiet hardly means static. Solaris constantly surprises the listener. A rising piano attack suddenly fractures, fragmenting into splintered notes. Violins slide down in pitch woozily off-key. The whole experience is deeply unsettling and strange. Solaris is that rare musical collaboration where neither member dominates and where the music highlights the talents of each in a cohesive new whole rather than trading off moments where one takes the fore then the other. It's a taught, compact, and bleak piece of work and easily one of the most engaging and exciting released of 2011, one I happily call Best of the Year.

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