Midnight Radio

2018 Rotation

At least dystopia has an excellent soundtrack.

Everything continues to dissolve into static. Ideas are crammed into weird little boxes begging for attention. Scenes from our lives are cropped, filtered, stripped of context, and pinned to a scoreboard. Perhaps the album has suffered the most, stripped for parts and strewn across algorithmic playlists as our listening habits revert to the era of the digestible single. The endless churn of the digital jukebox brings to mind Adorno and Horkheimer’s phrase from 1944: “the freedom to choose what is always the same.”

Does the album still matter in 2018? Getting my head around an entire record takes more effort than I remember. Perhaps this is a result of age; more likely it’s because my attention span has been blown to bits. But putting a record on loop is still the best way I can nail my memories of each season to some kind of texture and timeline. Here are a few of the albums that challenged and reassured me and, above all, harmonized with the strange vibrations of another disorienting year:

Abul Mogard – Above All Dreams

Elegant drift and drone for a rainy afternoon. And maybe the story is true, that Mogard is a Serbian metal worker who began building synthesizers during his retirement, hoping to recreate the acoustics of the factory floor. Either way, this is the soundtrack of myth.

Ben Chatwin – Staccato Signals/Drone Signals

Haunted chrome and machine grit like a Ballard novel. A string quartet conjures a slow-motion chase across a snow-covered plain, followed by sensations of free fall as synthesizers stretch across the sky, covering the light. A line from Jeff VanerMeer’s Annihilation: “…when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.”

Certain Creatures – Nasadiya Sukta

Spacey electronics that hum with nostalgia for the pre-millenial days of analogue bubblebaths, those halcyon years when artificial intelligence was still a fantasy and a networked future seemed like it would be so much more elegant than it turned out to be.

CUTS – A Gradual Decline

Cascading drums and plaintive synthesizers wrapped around field recordings of collapsing glaciers. I remember the sound of white thunder, that bone-shuddering crack as another piece of a ice fell into the sea. Most of all I remember the sound of our voices cheering and our cameras clicking, as if we were applauding the results of our terrible way of life. This is the sound of the world collapsing and it is sublime in the strict sense: beauty twinned with fear.

Divide and Dissolve – Abomination

Plunging miles beneath standard-issue doom and drone, this is vantablack snarl and groan with unexpected shifts that flash like bared knives.

Ectomorph – Stalker

Neuromancing future sleaze. Rarely have synthesizers sounded so tactile, conjuring black leather, blinding chrome, and broken glass. Bass lines crawl out of your speakers towards some shadowy corner of the room, leaving traces of godknowswhat across the floor.

The Eye of Time – Myth II: A Need to Survive

Ambitious and roomy, these songs aim towards a futuristic opera with layer upon layer of blurred vocals, crashing drums, and shivering columns of bass. The title of the first song perfectly captures the mood of these strange days: “There Is So Much Pain in This World That We Have Created Robots to Share It”

The Field – Infinite Moment

Another episode of The Field’s reassuring heartbeat chug, although it’s a bit more nervy this time around, veering into skittering drums, acidic synthwork, and grey morning weather with voices wailing at the edges like the echo of some half-remembered party.

GAS – Rausch

Another gothic monument from Wolfgang Voigt’s series. Dense pines beat against a stained glass window in the middle of the night. This is the closest techno has come to church.

Jerusalem in My Heart – Daqa’iq Tudaiq

Static spills into the margins of a reverberated ode to an Egyptian classic originally titled “Oh Neighbor of the Valley,” now renamed “The Language Of Speech Has Broken Down.” A fitting coda for 2018. Here is the sound of history collapsing, which is thrilling and a little scary. Don DeLillo’s Zero K comes to mind: “How human are you without your sense of time? More human than ever? Or do you become fetal, an unborn thing?”

Midwife – Prayer Hands

Vapor trails of dream pop and beautiful fuzz. “Angel” was my favorite song of the year, taking the best elements of classic Slowdive and Sugar Plant and streamlining them into something dark and new.

Witxes – Orients

An overwhelming blast of light. An uneasy blend of the melancholy and triumphant, this is perfect music for looking out of the window at 35,000 feet, breath fogging the window pane.

Spotify playlist. See also: Spiritualized, And Nothing Hurt; Khruangbin, Con Todo El Mundo; Public Memory, Demolition. Further reading: Alex Ross, Pop Culture and Power; Don DeLillo, Zero K; Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation; Vantablack.

Leave a Reply

Further Reading