Brendon Anderegg – June (2018)
From a certain point of view, critics should probably avoid writing about records made by their friends. Objectivity is always hard to find. Love affairs hold a strong sway, made that much more complex when they are offered by the hands of those we hold dear. But, the community surrounding experimental music is incredibly small. Within natural limitations, we are all more or less friends or know each other. This is why, when choosing records to write about, I often think of myself as an advocate, rather than a critic. This instance – Brendon Anderegg’s June, issued last month by Thrill Jockey, happens to be an exceptionally complicated case. Not only is it an album by one of my oldest and closest friends, but one which I unexpectedly helped produce – a culmination of very long road. Thus, if not a piece of criticism, there is a story to be told.
I met Brendon Anderegg 22 years ago, facing my new roommate when walking into the dorms on my first day at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago – a gangly, rail thin hippie, hair well below his shoulders, a glazed look in his eye and wry smirk on his face. We spent that year living together, not saying much. At 18 I took everything a little too seriously, and was rarely far off being a grumpy stick in the mud. Brendon rarely seemed to take anything seriously, an image in stark contrast to the man – a meticulous, obsessive work o’ holic, who I later came to know. The truth is, in the years we were first acquainted, if we paid the other much mind, I’m pretty sure we didn’t like each other that much. There was certainly no hint of how intimately our lives would become intertwined over the decades to come.
During the years we were there – maybe it still is, I honestly don’t know, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago was among the most prestigious art schools in the world – closely resembling a boot camp for practice and ideas. It was incredibly demanding. Everyone worked around the clock. Tears were the defining attribute of nearly every critique. Students dropped out like flies. Because of the incredible workload, not to mention the pressure we placed on ourselves and the fact that the school’s buildings were scattered around the Loop, once a focus was chosen, very few students from different departments crossed paths. I ended up in painting. Brendon was largely focused on sound. We barely saw each other for our remaining three years.
In 2000 I moved to Philadelphia to attend graduate school, and then, in 2002, to the wilds of Bushwick in Brooklyn, NY. Still reeling from 9/11, the city’s economy was at a low. The only job I could find was at a cafe at the corner of Bedford Avenue and North 7th in Williamsburg, then still, for just a moment more, the center of a neighborhood for artists, musicians, drop outs, and freaks. A month or so after arriving, hunched over the espresso machine, I heard my name called over the counter. Before me stood my old roommate. He had moved around the corner only a few days before.
Over the coming years, before I moved to London around the middle of the decade, it was rare for me to go a day without seeing Brendon. It was a stark contrast to what our relationship had been. We each encountered young men who resembled each other in countless ways. I had mellowed. He worked obsessively. Somehow we had met in the middle. His apartment became a hub around which our circle of friends gathered – chattering away, sifting through the piles of records which he brought home from his day job at Kim’s, many us very often sitting around, talking among ourselves, while he worked away on whatever he had spent the sleepless previous night recording. Eventually we found a loft together in Downtown Brooklyn, becoming roommates once again.
On relative terms, the Brendon I encountered in the early 2000’s was already fairly well known. During the 90’s, he and a small circle of friends in Chicago had been among the first in the world to embrace the laptop as an instrument for composing and performing. With Koen Holtkamp, whom I had also slightly known in Chicago, he founded Apestaartje Records, a small imprint which released a series of fantastic and acclaimed albums by Collin Olan, Nicolas Collins, Minamo, Fourcolor, Sébastien Roux, and others, as well as Koen and Brendon’s solo work, which had been met with almost universal love and praise.
During those years, Brendon and Koen both worked as solo acts – Brendon under the moniker Anderegg, and Koen under Aero, but, when they played live, it was rare to see one on stage without the other – laying the foundation for Mountains, the duo project through which they both would become most well know, influencing an entire generation of artists in their wake.
For the first few years of Mountains, both Brendon and Koen were entirely focused on the project, but in 2008 Koen briefly stepped out, releasing Field Rituals under his own name on Type, the first of a string of fantastic solo efforts which have carved their way through the years since. And so it was, ten years ago, that I raised my eyebrow to Brendon, giving him a little poke. In my mind, it was his moment to do the same. Year after year, day after day, I would repeat the call. The record never came.
Knowing him as well as I do. Having shared so much of my life with him, it’s impossible for me to sum Brendon up. What I can say is that he is one of the most talented, inspiring artists I’ve ever know. His natural sense of touch, vision, and facility is intimidating. His rigor and perfectionism is a bar against which I hold myself. In many ways, he’s the closest incarnation I’ve witnessed, among my own generation, to someone like Jim O’Rourke. The bodies of music he creates display astounding diversity and range. He can seemingly hear it all in his head before he lays it down, and it’s not uncommon, if knowing something isn’t there which he needs, to teach himself to play a new instrument in order to realize it. He works on music day and night. He hardly sleeps. The big difference between Brendon and O’Rourke, is that the former almost never lets any of it out the bag. Few things reach the mark of his internal bar, and thus his hard drives are filled with countless terabytes of incredible music, which almost no one has heard but me. Most of what has entered the world over the last decade and half, beyond Mountains releases, has been composed for film soundtracks, his primary means of making his living.
Whenever I’m in NY, I usually divide most of my time between Brendon and Koen, crashing with one then the other. When I’m staying with Brendon, it usually entails spending a substantial amount of time with him in his studio, checking out what he’s been working on, watching him work, and sometimes running to board while he’s recording. It’s impossible to recount how many times I’ve been blown away by what I’ve heard, desperately trying to encourage him to form the unfolding sounds into a solo record. I failed again and again. Then, sometime last year, I found myself sitting next to him once again, listening to simple long synthesizer piece he had recorded during the months before. Something different unfolded before my ears – the ease, flow, and emotiveness which is always present in Brendon’s work in the beginning, often drifting for view during his rigorous pursuit of perfection, was laid out, entirely exposed. I was incredibly moved. It felt almost perfect as it was – unmediated creativity – immersive, natural, unlabored, and mater of fact – slow, taking its time. Something inside of me snapped. Enough was enough. This was going to be it. This god damn thing – this brilliant little kernel, wasn’t going to gather dust on yet another hard drive. I said as much.
Truthfully, at the time, as part of me still thinks now, I assumed Brendon was humoring me when I told him we were going to spend the coming days working on this thing – that, hell or high water, it was going to become a record. We each embrace the other with an incredibly high degree of respect, and have always enjoyed being in the studio and working on things together, but this time I wasn’t fucking around. It was too good. And so, over the coming days we rarely left the studio, editing, shuffling the mix, tweaking the tiniest things – I barked at him, threatening to duct tape him to the chair, until, without that much work, everything fell into place. More than a little shocked, we realized that the record was done – the first solo release which would bear his name in 13 years. I had been sitting next to him when he put the finishing touched on the last one, and the one before. I had been in the room at some point during the recording of nearly every Mountains release. Here I was again. We’d know each other more than half our lives, and I’d finally done my part.
It took a few more kicks up the ass to get Brendon to let go and send the record out into the world. Thrill Jockey, hearing what I did, quickly agreed. Daniel Castrejon, the brilliant artist and designer who also runs Umor Rex, signed on to do the cover, and off it went. Poetic and wry as ever, Brendon called it June – the month of its release, the transition from Spring to Summer, and a thinly veiled allusion to the lone instrument on which it was made.
And so, that’s the consolidated tale of the 22 years leading up to the realization of June – of how two friends who love each other came to be sitting in the studio, one threatening to duct tape the other to the chair if the other attempted to leave before it was done. They had met as visual artists. One became a brilliant musician and composer, the other a critic with a pretty good ear. Two misfits who never really fit in, who I expect will be there for each other until bitter the end.
I’ve had roughly half a dozen mixes and masters of June on my hard drive for more than a year. Having nothing to do with its maker, nor the fact that I had momentarily stuck my hand into its guts, I have found myself coming back to it again and again – becoming completely mesmerized and immersed, continuously encountering new secrets creeping from its shadows. It is brilliant piece of music which stands way out on its own – an inky, murky, mysterious work, imbued with simple elegance and a profound depth and beauty, slowly unfolding over just under three quarters of an hour – shockingly at ease with itself and mater of fact – achieving near perfect, if not a little off kilter, balance and harmony. It is, or at least feels, exactly as it was meant to be – almost as though it appeared without a sculpting hand, going on, getting to where it needs to, in exactly as much time as it should – laying pieces in a puzzle, the image of which can’t be seen until the last note rings out.
Perhaps, despite what I’d like to think, it’s impossible for me to separate June from the hand of its maker. But maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. Art is, after all, a form of mirror. To certain extent, this is undeniably what June is – a sonic manifestation of man I know so well. Within the notes, I can hear his form – his artistry, brilliance, overwhelming knowledge of music – its history as much as how it is made, and most importantly, his wry sense of humor, forever jabbing in the knife. It is electronic music as absurdist tragedy and self-conscious critique. Like all the best tragedies, as serious as it is, it can’t help but make you laugh.
Against the beauty of art – of music and sound, my objectivity, or lack there of, has little effect. I can point my figure and tell a tale, but my voice pales against what is heard. Great art stands on its own. It appears. And this, in my view, is one such case. Anyone who takes the time to immerse themselves in June, will likely hear what I hear – an album defined by its generosity, intelligence and whit – an individual offering forms of beauty and understanding – bearing his soul. And this, over the last 13 years is what we’ve all been forced to miss – Brendon’s singular talent, mind, and sensitivity, realized in sound. He is unlike anyone I know – a brilliant artist and the dearest of friends. May June be the first falling stone in an avalanche to come.
You can check out June below in its entirety, and pick up via Thrill Jockey or a record store near you.
Brendon Anderegg – June (2018)