When it comes to the hear and now, the conceptualists have been there, done that. Postpunk records and their retreads have been the hip platter du jour for half a decade, and the positive wake of this resurgence isn't contemporary but rather a spate of ace long-out-of-print albums reissued and the recent release of Simon Reynolds's expansive tome Rip It Up and Start Again, a survey of the fertile 1978–1984 era. From the book-cover summary, Reynolds seems to imply postpunk strove for a modernist militancy that resonates even today, an idea reinforced by 1980–82 Collected—the Factory America LP, Belgian EP, and unreleased studio/live tracks of New York avant-groove quartet Ike Yard.
Occupying the same continuum as Suicide, D.A.F., and Cluster, Ike Yard's treated guitars, synths, and syndrum, plus live percussion and processing pack high-contrast contusions around a monotone but not monochromatic heart. As indicated by Ike Yard's Stuart Argabright on DustedMagazine.com, the band picked up on Kraut-rock-like motorik rhythms, coupling corporeal sequencing with "a certain disorder in the treble range," as Factory Records producer Martin Hannett espoused. Ike Yard were indeed 20 years ahead of their time, alongside Einstürzende Neubaten and This Heat. Rooted to a resolute, tinny twack, "The Whistler," "Kino," and more could easily be tracks off Liars' 2006 album Drum's Not Dead, while other tracks range from burbling dub to static-scuffed ritualism. Ike Yard is the sound of when culture jamming could actually jam. TONY WARE
Every year with Teutonic precision, Kompakt Records drops another Total, a handy CD selection of the most choice 12s from the Cologne techno label. For those without the euros to keep up with Kompakt's power-plant-like production schedule (or for the turntable averse), the Total series is a catchall for the finest strains in banging minimalism, crisp disco glam, and trance (the label's forays into schaffel and pop ambient get their own collections). Even though Kompakt no longer enjoys the cachet of being the "it" label among hipsters, that hasn't stopped the machinery, and since 2004 it has offered two discs' worth of music, combining the past year's highlights while also weaving in new tracks from its roster.
Of course, label godheads like Reinhard Voigt, Wolfgang Voigt, Superpitcher, Justus Köhncke, DJ Koze, and Michael Mayer appear here, the former's "Tranceformation" a searing workout of said genre. Jürgen Paape's "Take That" snaps and bristles over what sounds like a long-lost '70s bass slink. Newcomer Gui Boratto from Brazil appears twice (getting Superpitcher and Mayer to remix him) as do the Wighnomy Bros. While their "Wombat" is choice, Wighnomy's remix of Triola's "Leuchtturm" sputters and boings along on wobbly analog bass pads that embrace old-school legends like Larry Heard and Pierre Henry in equal measure. The set reaches its conclusion with Jonas Bering's shimmering, steam-building "Melanie." Its electronic string figures at the break give the track a poignant, almost bittersweet feel, reminding us that yet another year has come to pass. ANDY BETA
WOODEN WAND AND THE SKY HIGH BAND
(Kill Rock Stars)
Perhaps the most prolific figure in America's recent avant-folk explosion is NYC's James Toth, AKA Wooden Wand, whose output in just three years of recording has been both mind-bogglingly vast and tremendously inconsistent. From a pragmatic standpoint, Toth's oeuvre is maddening: Peruse taste-making websites like Pitchfork Media, and you'll assume their critics aren't so much embracing Wooden Wand's ingenuity as they are just trying to pin down an artist who's changing hats so often, there's no time to read him. In other words, it's not a case of the emperor having no clothes; it's more that he's got too big a clothing budget.
While it's a group effort—Toth's "Sky High Band" features members of Davenport, the Skygreen Leopards and his own alter-ego troupe, the Vanishing Voice—Second Attention is the closest thing to a Wooden Wand solo disc since 2005's Harem of the Sundrum & the Witness Figg. Unfortunately for anyone who discovered Toth through whacked-out prog- and jazz-inflected group efforts such as Xiao or Gipsy Freedom, Second Attention is also the most trad-sounding album in the ringleader's catalog. Subtly accented with drums, harmonica ("Crucifixion, Pt. II"), group choruses ("Rolling One Sun Blues"), and vintage fuzz-guitar leads ("Mother Midnight"), these 10 tracks are essentially just Toth's nasally baritone and an acoustic guitar, their homespun tone shuffling between Skip Spence's Oar and Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, via, say, Neil Hagerty's nudge-wink awareness of both. That's not to say Toth's creative anachronisms are disingenuous—or that they have anywhere near the emotional resonance of Spence or Dylan. It's just that it's hard to appreciate Second Attention beyond the formidable shadow of everything that's come before it. AARON BURGESS