nedjelja, 29. prosinca 2013.

Best Music 2013 - Textura, A Closer Listen, Tiny Mix Tapes


2013 TOP 10s & 20s
If anything stands out about the music selected for textura's annual year-end roundup, it's how stylistically diverse it is, with electronica, jazz, jungle, modern classical, post-rock, drum'n'bass, and prog-rock all making appearances in the list. It's always a fascinating exercise to review a year's releases and then witness, sometimes startlingly, what emerges as the top choices. Like the lists that have come before, this tenth selection of year-end picks represents the music that most captivated textura's ears during the calendar year. As always, the selections were made in accordance with a simple principle: only those releases that were submitted to textura for review consideration during the year in question were deemed eligible. Shown below, then, are the recordings to which we repeatedly returned and which repeatedly rewarded that return (links to the original reviews are included in all cases).
Leeds-based producer Paul Woolford (aka Special Request) reinvigorates jungle with dazzling displays of imagination and invention on this two-CD set, the first a disc of originals and the other featuring remixes of cuts by Tessela and Lana Del Rey, among other things. Brace yourself for jaw-dropping originals like “Lockjaw,” “Undead,” and “Soundboy Killer,” stunning set-pieces powered by shredded breaks, booming kick drums, and lethal bass drops. There are moments on this head-spinning release that make Soul Music sound like the long-awaited sequel to Plug's own two-CD opus, Drum'n'Bass for Papa, issued all the way back in 1996. Nothing else blew us away as much or as often this year as Soul Music.
Don't be fooled by the traditional instrumentation used by the Danish band Causa Sui, as drummer Jakob Skøtt, guitarist Jonas Munk, keyboardist Rasmus Rasmussen, and bassist Jess Kahr collectively produced one of the year's freshest-sounding albums, as well as one of the strongest. For starters, the band's timeless music, regardless of whether post-editing was done or not, sounds live—and brilliantly live at that, especially when Euporie Tide captures the unit in full flight operating at the peak of its power. Best of all, the group achieves a near-perfect balance between improv and structure by grounding the tracks in punchy themes, and alternates between passages of savage aggression and pastoral delicacy with aplomb. An incredible collection by an incredible band.
One of the most beautiful recordings of the year, Let Your Hands Be My Guide captivates the listener using subtle means, specifically delicacy, quietude, and understatement. With critical support provided by Nils Frahm and Peter Broderick and with her pure and natural voice positioned front and center throughout, the Belgium-based, Dutch-born Acda (aka Sleepingdog) issued a collection that in certain moments is so lovely it verges on overwhelming.
A remarkably assured collection of choral and ensemble music created during the past decade, Burhans'Evensong can't be recommended too highly. The recording proves that the NY-based Eastman graduate is not only a countertenor, violinist, and multi-instrumentalist but a distinguished composer as well, not to mention one who shows a preternatural degree of maturity in the confidence and control he brings to the material on this exceptional recording.
In a conceptually inspired move, the London-based pianist Bruno Heinen produced a jazz septet-based version of Karlheinz Stockhausen's 1974-75 work Tierkreis—a considerably more interesting selection for interpretation than the usual shopworn standards. The exceptional result proved successful as a consistently satisfying collection of jazz-oriented music and as a fascinating take on Stockhausen. In fact, in Heinen and company's hands, the composer's music, transcribed into jazz ensemble form, becomes as accessible as it could possibly be.
Shaking the Habitual, Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson's daring, 100-minute follow-up to The Knife's 2006 release Silent Shout (not to mention Tomorrow, In A Year, 2010's opera-styled collaboration with Mt. Sims And Planningtorock), is a superb sequel that delivers on both musical and conceptual grounds. As thematically provocative as Shaking the Habitual is, it's even more arresting on musical grounds—how could it be otherwise when its signature sound is Dreijer Andersson's animalistic howl? The album's a sprawling set that boldly transmutes genres like industrial, techno, ambient-drone, and noise into a bizarre new hybrid.
The chamber-pop artist's fourth full-length is a wonderful fourteen-song set that suggests Singer is eminently capable of creating a work as dynamic and memorable as John Adams' I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky (1995) and Philip Glass's Songs from Liquid Days (1986). Singer's exceptional command of melody, compositional form, and arrangement are on full display throughout his ravishing forty-three-minute song cycle.
A captivating follow-up to 17 Pygmies' Celestina trilogy (2008's Celestina, 2011's CII: Second Son, and 2012's CIII: Even Celestina Gets The Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics)), Isabel surfaced in 2013 as the wonderful first part in a brand new trilogy. Eschewing prog-rock epics of the kind associated with Yes and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, 17 Pygmies presents a twelve-part song cycle that's ponderous and reflective, its pretty tapestries often unfolding in a measured lilt and presented in a chamber music style.
The Knells' self-titled debut album, ostensibly the brain-child of Brooklyn-based composer-guitarist Andrew McKenna Lee, collapses whatever gaps are taken to exist between prog, rock, and classical genres. Merging the sounds of a guitar-based ensemble, classical vocalizing, and a string quartet, the album plays like some radical yet nevertheless cohesive union of chamber music and prog-rock. Lee deserves credit for bringing such a bold project into being.
The fifth full-length from Arborea duo Shanti and Buck Curran won't disappoint fans of long-standing and offers an accessible entry-point for those coming to the group's timeless, Appalachian folk-inflected sound for the first time. As always, Shanti's haunting voice is front-and-center and heard against a luscious instrumental tapestry the duo weaves from banjo, guitars, harmonium, ukulele, hammered dulcimer, and flute. Fortress of the Sun is pure Arborea and as such offers more than its share of spellbinding moments.
The ten settings featured on Character, Julia Kent's Leaf label debut, make a compelling argument for the Canadian-born and New York City-based cellist's artistry. Exploiting layering to the fullest degree possible and utilizing a large arsenal of cello-related techniques, Kent, who previously has established herself through associations with Parellel41, Antony and the Johnsons, and others, shows herself once again to be a solo artist of exceptional caliber.
This recent collection of pianist Lubomyr Melnyk's music was recorded and produced in Berlin by Peter Broderick and includes his contributions on four of the album's five pieces. Melnyk is known as the “pioneer of Continuous Piano Music,” and Corollaries more than bears that out in its focus on the multi-layered, harmonic waves that his playing generates. The unbroken streams of his playing wash over the listener, resulting in a lustrous, shimmering soundworld results that eschews dissonance for a harmonious and chiming style that can be soul-stirring.
In many ways Occupy the World is a logical extension of Wadada Leo Smith's 2012 release, the critically acclaimed Ten Freedom Summers (recently a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music), if one not quite as ambitious. The instrumental forces Smith deploys on the new recording are enormous, with the new one featuring Smith playing with and conducting the twenty-one-member improvising orchestra TUMO. The material straddles the high-wire combination of formal compositional structure and improvisation in captivating manner, and one is repeatedly struck by the music's fluidity and the way the musicians navigate the challenges inherent in large-scale improvisation.
It would be easy to imagine other ambient composers feeling a bit like pretenders to the throne after listening to Matthew Cooper's latest Eluvium collection. The man has an uncanny ability to create melodically rich compositions that make the efforts of others seem amateurish by comparison. In fact, so strong is Cooper's material that it commands the listener's attention even when presented in its starkest form, as happens in the case of Nightmare Ending's piano pieces. It might, in fact, be the ideal starting point for anyone coming to Eluvium for the first time. It references a number of the styles Cooper has explored in the past, and, though it is an instrumental work, its material is totally accessible; that it is so without any compromise to the quality or integrity of the music is a testament to Cooper's gifts as a composer.
Guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson's latest release Illusionary Sea is not only her fourth album as a leader but the debut recording of her seven-piece ensemble. Not only has she built up a strong reputation as a player with her own distinctive voice (not an easy thing to do in a field of music filled with precursors of towering influence), but she's established herself as a formidable and forward-thinking composer. While she might draw from others (there are moments on Illusionary Sea that remind one of Tim Berne, for example, and the intricate arrangements suggest one conceivably could regard Halvorson and Henry Threadgill as kindred spirits), she's no prisoner of tradition.
Producers such as Calibre, Anile, and Nuage specialize in a melodious and heavily atmospheric brand of drum'n'bass that's marked by delicacy, understatement, and sophistication, and a perfectly fine example of the style is Music of Branches, the impressive debut solo album by Saint-Petersburg, Russia-based producer Dimitry Kuzmin under the Nuage name. He has a real gift for weaving myriad elements into dense, textural arrangements that at times are so potent and dreamy they're swoon-inducing.
Though Euan McMeeken (vocals, piano) and Matthew Collings (guitar, laptop, percussion) bring different sensibilities and backgrounds to their Graveyard Tapes collaboration, the album material benefits and so, too, does the listener. On this elaborately presented release (its CD housed within a concertina book-styled design that sees its front and back covers connected via accordion-styled inner panels), the combination of McMeeken's heartfelt singing and piano playing and Collings electronic and guitar colourations makes for a compelling thirty-eight-minute listen.
Carrying on the style of recent albums such as All is Forgiven (n5MD, 2012), Serenity (Darla, 2012), and A Careful Ecstasy (Darla, 2013), Brock Van Wey's twentieth bvdub album, Born In Tokyo, finds his music reaching an ever greater degree of refinement and, if possible, evidencing an even greater emotional charge than before. Piano-based passages characterized by melancholy and wistfulness alternate with supercharged, beat-driven episodes in six long-form tracks, all of which—true to bvdub form—push past the ten-minute mark.
James McVinnie's Bedroom Community debut is special not only for providing a marvelous showcase for his own pipe organ-playing gifts but for those of Nico Muhly, who composed the album's thirteen pieces. And though the organist is joined by Nadia Sirota (viola), Chris Thompson (marimba), and Simon Wall (tenor) on a select number of tracks, Cycles is very much McVinnie's show.
As indicated by its charming debut album, A Little Orchestra is one of those classical outfits that seems more comfortable playing its tunes in the English countryside than the formal symphony hall. Listening to the group's eleven-track collection is an absolute joy, especially when it mixes things up by juxtaposing instrumentals with a generous number of vocal songs. A Little Orchestra shows it's as comfortable playing breezy pop and folk tunes as formal classical music, and the group's refreshing and unpretentious sound is well-served by this thirty-eight-minute collection.
Two years on from its first edition, Exit Records' second Mosaic volume presents a stunning two-and-a-half-hour roundup of twenty-eight tracks. Represented by two choice cuts of his own, dBridge is joined by Instra:mental, Skeptical, Rockwell, Dub Phizix, Kryptic Minds, Fracture, and many others, including Machine Drum and Blackpocket (aka Steve Spacek). The level of craft and artistry is at a disarmingly high level throughout, with the artists contributing thoroughly developed moodscapes of ultra-sophisticated design that amply reward headphones listening.
David Åhlén's Selah is as devotional in character as its predecessor, 2009's We Sprout in Thy Soil. But even the most fervent atheist would do well to set aside his/her convictions so as to allow the Stenkumla, Gotland-based composer's music—and his singing especially—to work its bewitching magic. Put simply, his fragile voice is ineffably beautiful, and though the album is a mere twenty-six minutes in length, they're some of the most soul-stirring minutes you'll hear in this or any other year. Guest musicians enhance the nine meditations with grand piano, zither, vocals, and percussion, but the main attraction is undoubtedly the leader's unearthly falsetto.
A very sincere thanks to the many individuals, artists, and organizations that generously supported and contributed to textura during 2013: 17 Pygmies, Chantal Acda, Ricks Ang, Anile, Babel, Bedroom Community, Caleb Burhans, Mike Cadoo, Cantaloupe, Causa Sui, Dadub, Denovali Records, dBridge, Taylor Deupree, Mike Fazio, Jim Fox, Ákos Garai, Graveyard Tapes, Mary Halvorsen, Bruno Heinen, Hubro, Ikonika, Ryan Keane, The Knells, Richard Knox, Akira Kosemura, Graham Latham, Jonathan Lees, A Little Orchestra, Mako, James McVinnie, Lubomyr Melnyk, James Mernagh, Cam Merton, New Amsterdam Records, Nicolay, Nuage, Om Unit, Seba, Liam Singer, Nadia Sirota, Jill Strominger, Daniel Wohl, and Zeitgeber.


As we've done in the past, we asked artists whose works appeared in the last issue's 2013 TOP 10s & 20sfeature to select their favourite recordings released in 2013 (or before) and perhaps also say a few words about what made them special. We thank them for taking a few moments at this especially busy time of year to share their picks with textura's readers. Here's what they said:
Chantal Acda (#3 album: Let Your Hands Be My Guide, Gizeh)
I really loved the new Sam Amidon release Bright Sunny South, which is built around old folksongs. The way he sings the songs, in freedom and as intimate as wild, really touched me. He also worked with Shahzad Ismaily, an amazing person I also worked with on my record and who opened my soul to a new world and a new life, to be honest. Sam experimented with old folk traditons and jazz musicians—a really stunning combination. I also saw them play live in Brussels. The freedom and joy of playing were just mindblowing. This concert made me laugh out loud, cry, smile, and made me feel at home. And that almost never happens with me.
David Åhlén (#1 EPs / singles / 12-inch discs / mini-albums: Selah, Mishkan)
I Break Horses: “Denial” and “Faith” (singles) (Bella Union, 2013)
My friend Maria creates a hybrid of melodic shoegazer and electronic pop, much like My Bloody Valentine-meets-The Knife. Beautiful and intense. Strong melodies on amazing soundscapes. Discover her now; next year she'll conquer the world.
Arborea (#10 album: Fortess of the Sun, EPSK)
One of the most inspiring musical finds in 2013 was Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac album Then Play On(reissue). The album was originally released in 1969, but the deluxe edition released in 2013 includes additional material such as “Oh Well” (parts 1 & 2) and “Green Manalishi.” We've been listening to Peter Green's music for years; his work with Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers is brilliant, and we were even familiar with videos of live performances of songs from Then Play On, but until this year we had never listened to the entire album. The music on the record is mystical and otherworldly and endlessly inspiring! Songs like “Before the Beginning” and “Closing My Eyes” speak to us on so many levels—beautiful melodic guitar arrangements, Peter Green's voice so full of vulnerability and understated passion, Mick Fleetwood's great drumming, etc. The album feels like a dreamscape or a surreal film. It's a musical masterpiece.
Caleb Burhans (#4 album: Evensong, Cantaloupe)
John Grant: Pale Green Ghosts
Since his departure from Czars, John Grant has developed into one of the finest singer-songwriters of our generation. I loved his first solo album, Queen of Denmark, which was mainly acoustic, but with Pale Green Ghosts, he's looking outside of that world and incorporating more beats and lovely synth sounds. Between the sentiment of GMF and the epic outro of Glacier, this is easily my favourite album of 2013.
bvdub (#18 album: Born in Tokyo, n5MD)
ASC: Time Heals All
(Brock Van Wey) Full disclosure, James Clements is a good friend of mine, and so my understanding of or connection to the album may be influenced as a result, not in the way that I have to like everything he makes (we are both very harshly vocal if we don't like something the other has made), but in the sense that knowing someone personally can surely help you to better interpret their message in something so abstract as music. But I don't think there's anything wrong with that. After all, music is made to be understood. Regardless of all that, this to me ranks as not only the best of 2013 (well, besides anything I made, haha), but one of the best ambient albums of all time. It takes me back to the days when it all started, to the reason I vowed to dedicate my entire life to this music, reminds me of the good left in the present, and keeps my hope alive for the future, all in one breath. It's pure and classic ambient, the kind I came up on, without even coming close to ‘trying' to be so like so many try to do these days. It just is what it is, and speaks straight from the heart with zero pretension—a quality rare in all music, especially ambient. It's so pure and true, and such an abashed yet understated travelogue. These days it's rare for me to become completely immersed in an ambient album (no matter who made it), but I can't even count the number of nights this album accompanied me on aimless walks through every terrain and backdrop known to man… nor can I count the number of times it truly healed all. It's been the soundtrack to my life, and will continue to be far past 2013.
Cakewalk (#23 album: Transfixed, Hubro)
(Øystein Skar) Local Natives' Hummingbird: Good songs, and they are excellent at making traditional instrumentation sounding fresh.
Deportees' Islands & Shores: Simply great music!
Bohren & der Club of Gore's Black Earth: A dark album with Rhodes and saxophone in a Twin Peakslandscape.
(Stephan Meidell) Fire Orchestra's Exit!: Twenty-eight of Sweden's best improvising musicians come together for this one. Powerful and versatile improvised music! I was told the audience cried when this orchestra toured Sweden. Hopefully I get to see them soon.
My Bloody Valentine's MBV: I had been waiting for this one and enjoyed it a lot. I like how the mix sounds so personal. It's not fat, bassy, or beefy like most music these days, but goes its own way. I especially like the more kraut-esque tracks towards the end, with persistent drums and hypnotic noise.
Causa Sui (#2 album: Euporie Tide, El Paraiso Records)
Our pick for 2013 is Ron Mazurek Octet's Skull Sessions (Cuneiform). With this record Mazurek has created one of the finest, and loudest, records of his career. With an all-star crew of musicians including drummer John Herndon, vibrafonist Jason Adasiewicz, and flutist Nicole Mitchell, Mazurek has put together a modern fusion-classic, melting the high powered voodoo-magic of electric Miles Davis with furious grooves and an adventurous sound palette. Sure, this is a jazz album and there's plenty of free passages to go around, but it surely does rock as well. John Herndon on the drums is pure magic throughout, and I really dig the fact that Mazurek has created the most intense record of his career at the age of fifty.
Elektroguzzi (#3 EPs / singles / 12-inch discs / mini-albums: Cashmere, Macro)
James Holden: The Inheritors
When we first heard this album in our studio, we had to listen to it the whole way through. And it doesn't happen often these days that one can feel such a strong overall structure that leads to a great trip. It also captured us sound-wise as it has this analog synth flavour and a very rough sound with interferences of ritual beats and minimalistic harmonies.
Eluvium: (#14 album: Nightmare Ending, Temporary Residence)
(Matthew Cooper) I spent most of this year working on new music and so haven't really had time to catch up with all the releases in areas of modern interest. I spent most of my time with music from the 1920s to 1950s; a few orchestral pieces were thought about quite often as well:
Peggy Lee & Benny Goodman's The Complete Recordings 1941-1947Nat King Cole's After MidnightSidney Bechet (pretty much everything)
Tommy Dorsey and his Clambake Seven's Having a Wonderful TimeArtie Shaw's The Essential Artie ShawEarl ‘Fatha' Hines' The Early Years 1923-1942
Tchaikovsky's Symphony 6 (no particular recording): I probably first heard this used in the film Now, Voyager, and it has since become a long-time favourite of mine.
Beethoven's Symphony 7 (second movement, no particular recording)
(and some newer things…)
The Books' Music for a French Elevator and Other Oddities: I love the biodome stuff on here; I've had theFrench Elevator music since its original release, but all the additional content on this release is excellent. I've been listening to Nick Zammuto ever since Solutiore of Stareau; I've loved every moment and every project.
Burial's Rival Dealer: curious and strange and lovely and perplexing and unsettling …
Yo La Tengo's Fade: Another instant classic: the ohm lyrics are stuck in my head often (a good thing) but there are so many beautiful tracks on here.
Oval's Systemisch (vinyl reissue): Everyone loves 94diskont but I've always been a Systemisch man.
The Focus Group's The Elektrik Karousel: strange and intriguing and unique and playful, which is basically how I feel about everything on Ghost Box, but The Focus Group is generally my favourite on the label.
Graveyard Tapes (#17 album: Our Sound is Our Wound, Lost Tribe Sound)
(Euan McMeeken) Once in a while an album comes along that you cannot stop playing, cannot stop growing inside of you, cannot stop overwhelming your thoughts, and cannot help but fall in love with over and over again. It doesn't happen very often but when it does I don't know if there is a feeling similar to it. It's different to anything else you experience in life. Push the Sky Away by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds would be one of those records for me. I think 2013 has been an amazing year for music with great records by the likes of The Avaret Ensemble, The Flaming Lips, Gideon Wolf, Mat Riviere, Matt Collings, Mogwai, and Atoms for Peace. However, Push the Sky Away is just something otherworldly. It does everything I look for in a record from beginning to end. It's the perfect length and has the perfect mix of tone and texture. It's just sublime and very rarely off my stereo.
(Matthew Collings) Favourite recording of 2013: These New Puritans' Field of Reeds
This record really blew me away on hearing it for the first time, and I've hardly stopped listening to it. What keeps me coming back is the power and beauty of it, as well as how intricately put together it is musically. There's no other record out there like it—pop, contemporary classical, rock, god knows what else and poured in and arranged with such skill and balance. In in a way it reminds me of work on Bedroom Community, combining electronics and acoustic instruments so seamlessly and powerfully. The ambition of this music is also so exciting, and I love that in music, when people working in their bedrooms look far far outside it and bring in influences and musicians from different backgrounds and places. The whole thing really shouldn't work but does, which makes it such a unique and exciting listening experience. It's the sort of record I'd love to be making myself. Plus extra points for getting away with using a hawk on “Organ Eternal” without sounding ridiculous.
Mary Halvorson (#15 album: Illusionary Sea, Firehouse 12 Records)
Marc Ducret: Tower, Vol. 3 (Ayler Records, 2013)
I've always loved Marc Ducret's guitar playing and composing, and this record might be my favourite so far. Every minute of music is intense, thoughtful, surprising. The instrumentation (three trombones, guitar, piano/ celesta, and vibraphone/ xylophone/ marimba/ percussion) is unusual and highly effective. Parts of the music are deeply orchestrated, and other parts feel crazy and reckless. It all fits together in a way that makes a lot of sense, and Ducret's guitar playing is beautifully featured throughout. The level of invention and vision at play is inspiring.
Bruno Heinen (#5 album: Tierkreis, Babel)
I've picked two albums as my highlights of the last couple of years, and they're both of artists I'm lucky enough to play with. The first is the Italian trumpeter Fulvio Sigurta's 2012 duo album with pianist Claudio FilippiniThrough the Journey. The second is British tenor player George Crowley's debut album Paper Universefeaturing Kit Downes (piano), Calum Gourlay (bass), and James Maddren (drums). I've chosen these albums not only because of the superb playing, but also because the compositions on both albums are centred around beautiful melodies. The recent trend in contemporary European jazz toward groove-based music is interesting, but I personally feel a great melody should be at the heart of any great composition, a sentiment which these two artists seem to share.
Fulvio Sigurta's album is a gem. For me his sound at the trumpet is one of the most expressive you can find. He is a true musician, which comes across in his playing, as well as his compositions, which I find impressionistic, playful, and at times cinematic. His pianist Claudio Filippini is also a wonderful player, and they work beautifully as a duo, leaving lots of musical space for each other.
George Crowley is for me a complete musician. His tone at the instrument is extremely warm and deep, and his writing seems to take the best from the tradition as well as the contemporary scene. My personal favourite is the title track “Paper Universe,” a lyrical, snaking melody that suits George's tone perfectly. The playing from all four members of the quartet is magnificent, especially on the track “Bb Man.” I highly recommend both of these albums.
Julia Kent (#11 album: Character, Leaf)
It's hard to pick favourites from 2013 releases—there were so many great ones!—but here are a few of mine:
The Necks: OpenHelen Money: Arriving AngelsLaurie Goldston: Film ScoresAnna von Hausswolff: CeremonyTeho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld: Still SmilingLubomyr Melnyk: Corollaries and Three Solo Pieces
For me, these records, while radically different stylistically, all share a quality of openness, of unexpectedness, and of exploration that made them infinitely inspiring and powerful. I found them transportative, in the way music should always be.
The Knells (#9 album: The Knells, New Amsterdam)
(Andrew McKenna Lee) My favourite record from 2013 would probably have to be Steven Wilson's The Raven that Refused to Sing. Wilson's band careens their way through this beautifully performed, recorded, and produced collection of epic tunes with both graceful dexterity and hard-hitting, spontaneous swagger. Of course, none of this would matter if it weren't built on the foundation of Wilson's excellent songwriting, which isn't shy about disregarding standard song structures in favor of longer, more thoughtfully considered forms filled with intricate riffs and beautifully woven grooves.
I already feel personally indebted to Wilson—my relatively recent “discovery” of his work in Porcupine Tree and as a solo artist came at a time when I was looking for affirmation that rock music could still be a viable artistic format for me, and the amount of inspiration I have taken from his work has been considerable.
A Little Orchestra (#20 album: Clocks, A Little Orchestra)
(Jill Faure, violist) Home Stretch by Timo Andres
Timo Andres is a young New York composer who stole the show at the final night of the Nico Muhly (another great young New York composer) weekend at the Barbican earlier this year. His album consists of three pieces, of which the centerpiece is his version of Mozart's Concerto for Piano No. 2 in D. Mozart never wrote down the piano part for the left hand and so Andres has written his own part. It's highly entertaining how the piece is both very familiar (with the distinctive Mozart lightness) and jarring when the deliberate dissonances and more modern approaches pop up. The final piece is based on music by Brian Eno and features, at its conclusion, the most beautiful and calming two minutes of music I've heard all year.
(Natalie Hudson, violinist) City Forgiveness by The Wave Pictures
This album was only released in October, but already I've listened to it perhaps more than any other record this year. In all honesty, I do think they could have sifted out the best songs and reduced it to one amazing album, but stand-out tracks such as “Missula,” “Like Smoke,” “Before This Day,” and “The Wood” more than compensate for some of the weaker songs. The band are huge music fans themselves, so I really shouldn't be surprised at how their sound continues to change and evolve, and yet they still continue to amaze me with every new album. Those guitar solos! Outros that make you want to rock out rather than fall asleep! And, of course, David Tattersall's incredibly evocative lyrics. He jam-packs every song with such vivid imagery that it's impossible not to let the songs captivate your imagination and paint a scene for you. I'm firmly convinced that he should publish a book of his lyrics in future. So—in conclusion—go out and buy this record!
Lullatone (#4 EPs / singles / 12-inch discs / mini-albums: Summer Songs / Falling For Atumn, Lullatone)
We are always a few years behind learning about new albums, but this year we came upon Beach House's amazing 2010 masterpiece Teen Dream for the first time while doing a Google search for beach houses (real homes by a beach) for some architectural ideas.
Their track “Norway” is definitely one of the most beautiful recordings I have ever heard.
The whole album soundtracked our Sunday night drives back from the beach every single week. I couldn't imagine a better soundtrack for diving back into the city lights with sand in your hair and skin dried out from the sun and salt water.
James McVinnie (#19 album: Cycles, Bedroom Community)
Oneohtrix Point Never's R Plus Seven: I am obsessed with this music. It's a kind of elegy to the crude, super-clear sounds that were available to early programmable music in the ‘80s. The music is both nostalgic and beautiful as it is unsettling.
Giles Swayne's Riff Raff (Kevin Bowyer at Blackburn Cathedral, Priory Records) is in a similar vein—for pipe organ. Dating from the early ‘80s, the music calls for the pipe organ to sound like a synthesiser. Pure magic.
Thomas Tallis's Videte Miraculum (Andrew Parrott/Tavener Consort, Virgin Classics)—because everyone needs some pre-reformation English Tudor church music in their lives.
Timo Andres' Home Stretch (Nonesuch): Any music that successfully manages to pair Mozart and Brian Eno is worth its weight in gold. Timo's Home Stretch is, for me, one of 2013's most colourful and brilliant releases.
Orange Yellow Red (#24 album: A Rose Made of Galaxies, Saint Marie Records)
Mine (Philip John Mayor) and Emma Hayward's favourite record of the past year is The Invisible's Rispah, an intricate deep, complex, hi-fi record that you hear new things on every listen, even a year later. Radio Dept'sPet Grief is one of the best records I've ever heard, full stop. The Mary Onettes' Islands: heart-wrenchingly brilliant melodies, and how to write a great chorus! All wonderful records.
17 Pygmies (#8 album: Isabel, 17 Pygmies)
(Jack Del Rey) In 2013, I finally found a copy of the first Martin Carthy album. The self-titled LP was released in 1965 and is comprised of Martin singing and playing acoustic guitar (although there are some tracks with accompanying instruments) playing pretty good versions of ye olde folk songs. The reason the album is somewhat infamous: is because it contains Martin's arrangement of “Scarborough Fair.” Now, as legend has it Martin played his version (which he copied from some sheet music) for Paul Simon who very shortly thereafter recorded a version for the Simon & Garfunkle album Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme without crediting Martin Carthy or even acknowledging that the song was an arrangement of a public domain folk song. Well, to say the least that caused a bit of bad blood between Mr. Simon and Mr. Carthy. Apparently the duo reconciled some twenty years later and are presently on good terms. Thing was, I had never heard Martin Cathy's version till this year. Now that I've heard it, all I can say is that if I were Mr. Carthy, I'd have been a bit peeved too.
Kate Simko (#2 EPs / singles / 12-inch discs / mini-albums: Lost in London, Get Physical)
Three of my favourite music releases from 2013, in no particular order:
Dense & Pika's Colt (Hotflush): Love this fresh new sound. Clunky techno beats with warm melody.
Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi's The Four Seasons (Deutsche Grammophon)The first three minutes or so of the live concert in New York at Le Poisson Rouge is amazing (find it on YouTube)! It's such a tasteful mix of classical-meets-electronic. Timeless classic, basically.
John Dimas's Rhythm Trap (One Records): Probably my favourite new house music artist of 2013; I'm playing his tunes all the time. His sound mixes great with house or techno, and always has a cool jackin' vibe.
Liam Singer (#7 album: Arc Iris, Hidden Shoal)
I can't say there's one album I've been particularly obsessed over, probably because my tastes have been very wide-ranging and exploratory this year. The new records by Boards of Canada, Kurt Vile, My Bloody Valentine, Grouper, Kanye West, Pantha du Prince with The Bell Laboratory, and Julia Holter have all gotten a lot of plays at my house—all are really fantastic. I've really enjoyed the atmosphere and lyrical world of Push the Sky Away by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and it's led me to investigate some of his earlier work. I also discovered Steve Hauschildt's records this year, and am really into S/H as well as his other albums; they sound at once austere and personal to me in a way I really dig. Compositionally, the new album that's most blown my mind has been The Knells, which I found out about through this very website; I love their harmonic invention and the way the pieces move structurally, as well as the ingenuity of the ensemble's makeup and how the timbral elements interact. I've played it for some people who can't really handle its overall sonic density, but I think they're wonderful. I've made an effort to go out dancing a lot this year, and have started to get to know and appreciate the various genres of House music, since that's mostly what's around in Brooklyn these days. I also like a lot of the dark dance music that's been coming out recently, and seeing Vatican Shadow play on Halloween was great. The best live shows I went to were Liars at Le Poisson Rouge, Fuzz at Death by Audio, Stockhausen's Oktophonie at the Armory, and Stars of the Lid at a church in Brooklyn.
Talvihorros (#29 album: Eaten Alive, Facture)
(Ben Chatwin) I haven't been so interested in new music this year, but one album I did manage to hear (and I'm really glad I did) is Roly Porter's Life Cycle of a Massive Star. I am really interested in the blurring of the lines between the acoustic and the electronic worlds, and Porter uses these two disparate elements to devastating effect. It's an intense yet extremely beautiful listen. A tremendous achievement.
January 2014

A Closer Listen

ACL 2013: The Top 20 Albums of the Year

A Closer Look!Over the course of the past year, we received thousands of albums and EPs to pore over, review and discuss.  Out of these, we reviewed approximately 500.  In this feature, we answer the Big Question: Which releases were the best?
The list below demonstrates the incredible variety of the music we cover.  In addition to orchestra and organ, you’ll encounter sample and spoken word, laptop and live performance.  You’ll read about an album featuring Turkish musicians and another inspired by a Garden of Monsters.  One is a score; another is a crossover hit.
We are grateful to every artist and label who continues to make music.  We feel a rush of anticipation whenever a new album or EP comes in.  These 20 albums stood out in a crowded year.  We hope that you’ll love them as well!
And now, in order of preference, A Closer Listen presents its Top 20 Albums of the Year.
1) Tim Hecker ~ Virgins (Kranky)
Virgins is an album of multitudes. It revels in the diversity of its sound types, bursting at every moment with the energy of a collapse, with the intensity of a sunlight that erases everything it touches.  It develops ever-so-slowly with a strength only achievable by a dying star. If it is a ‘theological’ album, then its purpose is reflective.  The elevation of organ tones into the heights signals the opening of the divine, allowing a sudden glimpse of the wholeness it comprises, a sudden mystical reflection of the subtle noise that grants an understanding of a world divided. Its ‘virginal’ qualities speak not of purity, but of the majestic impossibility of such a totality.  The album addresses the manner in which created sound carries a multitude of meanings.  It cannot help but reproduce itself as miracle, as self-extension, as a linguistic attempt to give everything a name, a place, an interwoven existence in which there is little space for things untouched by divine intent. Whether one believes or not is irrelevant: this album speaks of so many things, of so many moments, of so much love for the sounds it generates, no one who hears it will remain indifferent. (David Murrieta)
Review and purchase link
2) Wrekmeister Harmonies ~ You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me (Thrill Jockey)
From the near-white, glacial artwork, to the violins and harp, through the epically slow ascension to the singular, cathartic climax, this album transforms the roots of  black metal and advances it somewhere new. While J.R. Robinson recruited some of the best in the business for this black opus, there is wide appeal in listening to this one-track album unfold. During all the sonic textures and the slow lifting of limbs that build this track up from its fungal beginnings, it’s clear that a big, explosive finish is going to arrive. And, no matter how many times we listen, it still gives us goosebumps! At nearly forty minutes, this is a gorgeous demonstration of tension and release as well as modern composition–one that must be taken in full. (Nayt Keane)
Review and purchase link
3) EUS ~ Sol Levit (Contradicta)
Whether it’s his masterful use of harmonies or his programmatic/conceptual approach to making music, EUS will appeal to all fans of drone and similar experimental styles. Sol Levit provides as many thick, physically-imposing projections as moments of meditation, delving into ‘atmospherics’ at a level in which the mind cannot entirely grasp what is going on.  The mind struggles to impose a narrative form, to make sense of something that is in principle non-sensical. The beauty of the album resides in this contradiction, as an experience of something deeply within, awakened by music that is meant to describe nothing. “Levitate in solitude”, the liner notes say, suggesting a conceptual minimalization born of the urge to rid oneself of extraneous things in order to come to terms with the real. These collages shed layer upon layer of sound, revealing an essential silence underneath. (David Murrieta)
Review and purchase link
4) Eluvium ~ Nightmare Ending (Temporary Residence)
Eluvium’s return did not disappoint: Nightmare Ending is an ambient blockbuster. Matthew Cooper’s emotionally-charged ambient project has all the weighty drones, beautiful swells and tranquil melodies, wrapped up in a double album. The looped piano of ‘Don’t Get Any Closer’, abiding in its major key, sets the musical tone. Running towards paradise, the music endures the rainy weather on the way to its beautiful haven. As the rain falls in Oregon, the rainy mood masks itself as a light guitar strum or an electronic loop. Nightmare Ending was highly anticipated, which for any other musician could’ve been its undoing. It was long in the making, but this only testifies to Cooper’s adoration and ambient expertise. ‘Covered In Writing’ is emotionally propulsive, igniting the soul’s flame. There are tears inside the kaleidoscope. Matthew Cooper pushes through the storm of negativity, the struggle, at full throttle, until he casts it aside, making it through to the other side and giving us hope that we, too, can pull ourselves out of the nightmare. While comparisons to his classic ‘Copia’ are close to the truth, Nightmare Ending tops it, taking its throne – it is his defining masterpiece. The piano pieces aren’t mere interludes – they take their place alongside the longer ambient movements. Chimes glow in the distant Pacific mist. Love pours out of the music; it is a labour of love. We made it out. The nightmare has ended.  (James Catchpole)
Review and purchase link
5) Petrels ~ Onkalo (Denovali)
We pop Petrels in the Drone category at ACL which is a bit like describing Dylan as a folk singer; accurate to a certain extent but missing the bigger picture. Sure, there are drone passages on Onkalo but this is an album that sounds much more composed, and is all the more powerful for it. Certainly, this music is almost physically overwhelming at times, such is the intensity of the sound, but it is balanced with moments of delicacy and reflection, such as the two parts of “Trim Tab”. The combination of tribal drumming and choral singing that illuminates “On The Dark Great Sea” provides another contrast to the otherwise tenebrous tone of the album, which is inspired by the nuclear waste containment facility under construction in Finland. The subject of the documentary Into Eternity, the Onkalo repository is designed to protect the waste for 100,000 years; an unfeasibly long period of time. The weight of the unknown future bears down upon those responsible for designing it, expressly to prevent our descendants unwittingly opening the site up, and it’s this sense of scale that seems to dominate Petrels’ music, for the only word to describe Onkalo is immense. (Jeremy Bye)
Review and purchase link
6) Daniel Bjarnason ~ Over Light Earth (Bedroom Community)
It was always going to be a monumental task for Daniel Bjarnason to follow up his debut, Processions. A lesser musician might have taken the easy way out, sticking to the same formula on his sophomore effort out of fear of not getting the same response. Not Bjarnason, who with Over Light Earth has extended his repertoire in the rightest of directions. While Processions went straight for the kill, Over Light Earth takes the scenic route, building tension slowly and releasing it even more slowly. In a way, it’s a more complete album, one that cements Bedroom Community’s status as the home of today’s most forward thinking contemporary classical music.  (Mohammed Ashraf)
Review and purchase link
7) Human Pyramids ~ Planet Shhh! (Oxide Tones)
This is what post rock has been waiting for: an album that pumps us up and stays happy from start to finish. Planet Shhh! is more than a salve that soothes a burn; it’s a rainbow band-aid, a raspberry lemonade in a canoe, the vacation with endless surfing and a beach-side strut full of hope. UK-based mastermind Paul Russell gathered a big band together, wow they hit every mark with jubilance and supreme musicianship. Big drums, punk rock guitars, sun dappled arpeggios, choirs, horns, melodica, glockenspiel and picture perfect production make for an irrresistable life-affirming experience. Every track is an ace up your summer mix tape’s sleeve, and we highly encourage playing it in winter, as well! (Nayt Keane)
Review and purchase link
8) Clorinde ~ The Gardens of Bomarzo (Self-released)
Italian-born Londoners Clorinde have taken their inimitable ‘avant-folk’ sound honed over two prior releases and set it free to roam through this sprawling concept album spanning two discs. Transported to the titular gardens, created in the 16th century by an Italian duke, the listener is guided through its many statues both abstract and grotesque. The first disc presents Clorinde’s renowned union of obscure stringed and percussive instruments, including citterns, dulcimers and kalimbas, to more traditional post-rock fare, calling to mind images as anachronistic as a troubadour with a loop pedal. The songs are intricately constructed and tightly controlled in length and development, with crescendos often limited to a braying guitar chord sustained with liberated abandon over the metronomic mutter of the supporting cast. The more internalised second disc offers moodier pieces in which atmosphere predominates, with acoustic guitars more prominent and percussion less so. Tracks such as “Glaucus” and “The Nymph” seem to portray the mind of the gardens’ recently widowed creator, from melancholy to anguish. As with the statues, the songs’ moods and titles offer just enough to make the listener feel that deeper meaning is within their grasp, but perhaps all we need to know of musical motive is that carved into one of the statues: ‘just to set the heart free’. (Chris Redfearn)
Review and purchase link
9) Dan Friel ~ Total Folklore (Thrill Jockey)
If there is one 2013 album that has blown me away on every listen, Total Folklore is it. My first impression was that it sounded like an extension of Oneohtrix Point Never‘s  Returnal or Fuck Button‘s Street Horrrsing.  Over time, it has shown itself to be a completely different beast. Pleasant pop hooks surface from beneath a near deafening amount of indecipherable analogue noise and hiss to form an eerily enjoyable and intense album. In a better world, Dan Friel would be heralded as a pop music genius.  While this won’t be happening here anytime soon, he can find solace in that fact that he is unmatched in what he does; Total Folklore is a stroke of genius!  (Mohammed Ashraf)
Review and purchase link
10) Matana Roberts ~ Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile (Constellation)
A mix of fleet-footed jazz, spoken word and operatic vocals, Mississippi Moonchile is the dazzling second instalment of Matana Roberts’ 12-part Coin Coin cycle. Inspired by her grandmother – the moonchile of the title – this album is a tour de force, distilling decades of jazz music into a single piece, a process Roberts likens to making a quilt. As with Chapter One (Gens de Couleur Libres), the spoken word passages are devastatingly powerful descriptions of the life of an African American woman in the southern United States, in this instance post-slavery but no less moving for all that. In contrast to the full-on big band assault of the previous outing however, Roberts has assembled a crack quintet of New York musicians who can seemingly play any style thrown at them, changing direction on a dime. Restrained at times, they can play up a storm when required; the combination of Roberts’ sax and Jason Palmer’s trumpet interweave to breath-taking effect. This is not merely one of the best albums of the year, it’s a singularly important document for this generation – listen to it, study it, treasure it, be inspired by it. (Jeremy Bye)
Review and purchase link
11) Forest Swords ~ Engravings (Tri Angle Records)
Hip hop beats given the dub treatment with pitched vocal samples and memorable synth hooks might not exactly be mainstream, but it’s certainly more accessible than most of what we cover here at ACL.  Still, when it’s done this well we take notice.  Matt Barnes’ Forest Swords hasn’t shattered the mold, but he’s certainly raised the bar with this one. Not content to ride out a steady beat, Engravings’ surface traces a complex map of grooves.  Though his tunes are meticulously crafted and well-arranged, he’s unafraid of throwing in weird ambient breaks or disruptive codas that would leave lesser producers fumbling.  He’s also able to take the most minimal elements – a short vocal sample, a brief piano riff- and spit out a grade-A pop tune. Barnes draws on a wide variety of samples, even including liberal doses of guitar, crafting national anthems to countries that don’t exist, but that you’ll want to revisit again and again.  (Joseph Sannicandro)
Review and purchase link
12) Secret Pyramid ~ Movements of Night (Students of Decay)
Few drone albums make such a strong impression on the first listen, let alone continue to unfold over time with repeat listens.  It is a special skill to create complexity this subtle, deceptively simple aural interactions rich with emotional weight.  These gently drifting compositions are like the soundtrack to a lonely walk through foggy streets.  No surprise that Amir Abbey hails from Canada’s rainiest city, though Secret Pyramid deserves more than the tired clichés of melancholic drone.   Cassette can be a really beautiful format for ambient-drone, with a rich mid-range and gentle high-end, but on his debut LP Abbey takes advantage of the dynamic range afforded by vinyl. Though the compositions themselves tend to drift along, the harmonics and textures convey emotion in a way that tired swells and crescendos can’t match.  (Joseph Sannicandro)
Review and purchase link
13) Barn Owl ~ V (Thrill Jockey)
Barn Owl’s fifth album sees the ambient US duo delve into more textural composition with the addition of electronics and more refined integration of percussion. V presents a palpably less desolate sound that broadens its perspective from the panoramas of sandy wastelands presented in Lost in the Glare. This time, Barn Owl look down for a more studied examination of the earth’s constantly shifting surface, searching for signs of extant life amidst vacuity. These usually emerge as rhythms resounding far below – heartbeats of microscopic organisms or echoes of distant beings on the move. In opener “Void Redux”, a gentle bass synth undulates with the rise and fall of sand dunes but is then joined by the persistent pluck of guitar string and click of percussion – suggesting the more immediate and scuttling presence of life. With the addition of synths to their guitar-based sound, the duo also raise their gaze to the stars, offering an at times otherworldly view as chilling and dark as the night sky over a desert. Key to this broadened perspective is that the gaze is forever on the move, roving with the changing timbres and atmospheres but not in search of anything, merely content to observe and absorb. V strays close to being the musical equivalent of H. P. Lovecraft, presenting something familiar but porous, leaking traces of the unknown and the awesome. (Chris Redfearn)
Review and purchase link
14) r+ (rotor plus) ~ dust (The Radiophonics Trading Company of New Zealand)
If a baby had listened to the first album of r+’s trilogy when it was released, that baby would now be a teenager.  Such is the distance traveled from the futuristic glitch of alleron to the elegant orchestrations of dust.  Those who listen to all three works in a row may say to themselves, what a long, strange trip it’s been.  And yet, it’s also been a good one, tracing the promise of future music from the very first days of the 21st century through today.  In one sense, dust is a requiem; in another, it’s a statement of belief.  New music comes and goes, but great ideas endure, and rotor plus has produced an epic trilogy of lasting quality.  (Richard Allen)
Review and purchase link
15) Esmerine ~ Dalmak (Constellation)
The ever-evolving Esmerine delighted with a fourth LP not long in the wake of 2011’s La Lechuza. The now expanded line-up took inspiration from a temporary residency in Istanbul, and the city’s influence looms large, casting a richly woven pall over proceedings. A meditative atmosphere prevails across the nine tracks, most of which were recorded in Istanbul itself in collaboration with four local musicians. Eastern instruments such as the darbuka and saz add an exotic layer over the stalwart marimba and cello (plus the additions the extra members bring). Even at its most pulsating and layered, however, as in the intoxicating groove of “Barn Board Fire”, the composition is disciplined and the production spacious – somehow drawing from the many the band’s singular sense of minimalism; it is this controlled assimilation of such myriad and diverse instruments that begets the album’s richness and allure. As implied by the middle track, “Hayale Dalmak”, to listen to it is truly to fall into glorious daydream. Where to next, Esmerine? (Chris Redfearn)
Review and purchase link
16) Pausal ~ Sky Margin (Own Records)
Harold Budd doesn’t like the term ambient music, favouring ‘lovely music’, particularly in reference to his own work. But he’d find himself in good company with Pausal the, erm, ambient duo of Alex Smalley and Simon Bainton, who have made some of the year’s loveliest music in the shape of Sky Margin. This is music that positively glows and sparkles, every note and tone bursting forth with a rich glow of heart-warmth – luminescent was a key word in our review and it’s too apt not to recycle here. Sky Margin is one of those rare moments where everything clicks together beautifully; Smalley and Bainton have both released fine albums this year (Olan Mill’s Hiraeth and Bainton’s Visiting Tides) and Own Records have released a startlingly good string of albums. But this is the peak for all concerned in 2013. Lovely.  (Jeremy Bye)
Review and purchase link
17) Ruhe ~ Organs/Easing (Unknown Tone/Cotton Goods)
Organs and Easing are fine ambient gems. The former consists of organ (surprise!) and tape experiments, recorded on his beloved 1949 Hammond organ before they said their farewells and parted company. The music has that lovely vintage tone, cathedral-deep, looped to oblivion and back. The light oscillation of the tape and her imperfect crackle breeds the lost artefacts of nostalgia, bringing with it those long departed days that the sunshine left behind. A choir of ancient angels sing the words, ‘I never saw the sea’, but entrenched deeply is the faded stone of memory. The rich tone helps the music to remember its distant past, returning to the mind as if it were a spell of déjà vu, splashing along the shore of a joyful childhood. Easing is a lighter sheet of ambience that takes its time to brew. At times, the music is gritted with an ever-increasing distortion, but it still manages to sail along serenely. Cooler textures come from within, making the music incredibly warm and alive. It’s music that you won’t want to leave behind.  (James Catchpole)
Review and purchase link
18) Public Service Broadcasting ~ Inform Educate Entertain (Self-released)
On paper, Inform-Educate-Entertain could have ended up being a case of “Jack of all trades, master of none”. In reality, it turned out to be one of the most beautifully realised, ambitious debuts in recent memory. A blend of almost everything we cover here in ACL done so well makes this one of the most difficult albums to pigeonhole. The songwriting and composition are excellent and the musicianship and sample choices are second to none. The set is memorable from start to finish, with every track unravelling yet another amazing facet of this duo’s abilities.Whether or not making a career out of albums built around archival samples will bear more fruit is to be seen, but for now, we should bask in its goodness. My biggest regret of 2013? Missing seeing these guys live on three occasions.  (Mohammed Ashraf)
Review and purchase link
19) Botany ~ Lava Diviner (Truestory) (Western Vinyl)
Beats and samples didn’t die in the 90′s, folks. Although Spencer Stevenson’s Botany has many musical touchstones linking it to the sounds of early blissed-out electro-acoustic pioneers like Caribou and Four Tet, the tracks are modernized with big and delightful beats. Voices mutate rhythmically while an array of bells, whistles, chimes, woodblocks and other elements maintain a cheery atmosphere. Even if none of the samples’ origins jump out, the entire album feels like a cinematic journey somewhere in our own past. Teebs’ music is very similar, but where his tracks can really be arranged in any order, Lava Diviner (Truestory) behaves as a much more cohesive album from start to finish. (Nayt Keane)
Review and purchase link
20)  Jayne Amara Ross, Frédéric Oberland and Gaspar Claus ~ The Freemartin Calf (Gizeh)
FareWell Poetry and its relatives fulfill the promise of early 2000′s GY!BE. “What promise?” one might ask.  The music is an instrumental extension of the tragedy of living in the end times, a clear sliver of light against a backdrop of shifting darkness. The Freemartin Calf is a multi-media project: a record and a movie, a poem and a performance.  It grows out of the chamber music disposition of its predecessors by pushing it further against the fringe of what most expect post-rock (and its chamber variation) to sound like, underlining it with electronics and overlaying it with spoken-word sections that thread the music into a dark, chaotic pulse of vitality. Every element of post-rock is still present, but it is made new, noisier, and more extreme, perhaps reflecting a stranger, more deceitful vision of the world. With The Freemartin Calf and its peers, we can see a ‘mature’ post-rock, all grown-up into formidable music, proof that the genre is very much alive. (David Murrieta) 
Review and purchase link

ACL 2013: Guest Lists

Guest lists from Jayne Amara Ross and Frédéric D. Oberland (The Freemartin Calf, Oiseaux-Tempête), Bryan Ruhe (Ruhe), David Vélez (The Field Reporter), Monique Recknagel (Sonic Pieces) and David Colohan (Raising Holy Sparks, United Bible Studies) round out the year! Happy post-Christmas to all!
Jayne Amara RossJayne Amara Ross and Frédéric D. Oberland had a busy and fantastic year in 2013, as the release of The Freemartin Calf on DVD/vinyl was preceded by global screenings in living rooms and parks, and followed by the debut of Oberland’s Oiseaux-Tempête project.  At the end of the year, Amara Ross began a residency in Iceland.  Reviving post-rock and spoken word, these artists continue to redefine the essence of creativity.  With a new FareWell Poetry in the works for 2014, we’re already excited for the new year!
Enjoy each artist’s Top Ten picks below, and click here for their recent interview with A Closer Listen, where they share much more about The Freemartin Calf and upcoming projects!
Jayne’s Top Ten
Oiseaux-Tempête / Oiseaux-Tempête (Sub Rosa)
Agathe Max / Dangerous Days (Inglorious Records)
Tindersticks / Les Salauds OST (Lucky Dog)
Sigur Ros / Kveikur (XL)
Julianna Barwick / Nepenthe (Dead Ocean Records)
Amiina / The Lighthouse Project (Morr Music)
Arve Henriksen / Places of Worship (Rune Grammofon)
William Basinski / Nocturnes (2062 Records)
Julia Kent / Character (Leaf Label)
FDOFrédéric’s Top Ten
AGATHE MAX - Dangerous Days LP (Inglorious)
CHANTAL ACDA - Let Your Hands Be My Guide CD (Gizeh Records)
COLIN STETSON - New History Warfare Vol.3: To See More Light 2xLP (Constellation)
ENSEMBLE PEARL - Ensemble Pearl 2xLP (Drag City)
GASPAR CLAUS - Jo-ha-kyū LP (Modest Launch / Important)
GETATCHEW MEKURIA & THE EX & FRIENDS - Y’Anbessaw Tezeta 2xLP (Terp Records African Series)
NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Push The Sky Away LP+2×7″ Boxset (Bad Seed Ltd)
TINDERSTICKS - Les Salauds (OST) LP (Naïve)
WITXES - A Fabric Of Beliefs 2xLP (Denovali)
Bryan RuheBryan Ruhe
One of the youngest artists to crack our year-end Top 20, Bryan Ruhe made a solid impression with multiple releases.  As the owner of the Clothbound label, Ruhe made a dent in the industry, but as a solo artist, he’s poised to make an even bigger impact.  We’re looking forward to hearing his new sounds in the new year!
Benoit PioulardRoanoke (Self-Released)
The BoatsLive At St. James Priory, Bristol (Our Other Ideas)
e + iPutting Off Stars (Cotton Goods)
EluviumNightmare Ending (Temporary Residence Ltd.)
Josh MasonConduit (Scissor Tail Editions)
The Seaman & The Tattered SailLight Folds (Facture)
WixelRevox Tapes (Jordskred)
Johann JohannssonFordlandia (NTOV)
VangelisBlade Runner (180 remastered vinyl reissue)
Vikki Jackman, Andrew Chalk & Jean-Nöel RebillyA Paper Doll’s Whisper of Spring (Faraway Press)
David VelezDavid Vélez
As a recording artist, David Vélez is both prolific and accomplished, his field recordings, soundscapes and installations stretching the boundaries of the ever-developing genre.  As the head of The Field Reporter, he makes a difference in the entire industry.  His website’s annual review (with guest lists!) is only a few days away, but here we have a preview of his own picks!
Big Wad Excisions. COPPICE (Quakerbasket)
Compound form. COPPICE (Triple Bath)
Music for earbuds. STEPHEN CORNFORD (3Leaves)
Aral. D’INCISE (Mystery Sea)
Blank tape positive. RICHARD GARET (Contour Editions)
Forest solitude. JOHN GRZINICH (Static / Very Quiet)
Quasi static crack propagation. YANN LEGUAY (Consumer Waste)
Untitled #308. FRANCISCO LÓPEZ (Very Quiet)
The great silence. JAY-DEA LOPEZ (3Leaves)
Oiarzun. JEREMIE MATHES (Taâlem)
An extended meaning for something meaningless. FRANCISCO MEIRINO (AFT)
Offset. PALI MEURSAULT (Doubtful Sounds)
These walls resemble absence.  MUFI.RE -Rui Almedia- (3Leaves)
Vaccabons et malfactours. FRÉDÉRIC NOGRAY (Kaon)
Circle wind. HIROKI SASAJIMA (Felt Collective)
Strata. TARAB -Eamon Sprod- (Unfathomless)
Crackle Party. VA AA LR (Porta)
It just ain’t flapping. VA AA LR (Consumer Waste)
A measure of ground. STEPHEN CORNFORD, PATRICK FARMER (Consumer Waste)
Framework Seasonal -Issue #5 Summer 2013-. THE DERBY TAPE RECORDING CLUB, THE LEICESTER TAPE RECORDING CLUB. Edited and compiled by MARK VERNON (Framework)
Monique-Madeira-smallMonique Recknagel is the owner of Sonic Pieces, a label which continues to impress with a stellar artist roster and hand-made, color-coded sleeves (as well as a sweet 7″ series!).  She’s been a friend of our site since the very beginning, and we love everything she releases ~ the very name of Sonic Pieces has come to mean quality, and we trust her discerning ear.  Next up in 2014 is Otto A. Totland’s Pino.  But first, here’s what Monique was listening to in 2013!
Anna von HausswolffCeremony (City Slang/ Kning Disk)
A Hawk And A HacksawYou Have Already Gone to the Other World (LM Duplication)
ColleenThe Weighing of the Heart (Second Language)
Kaboom KaravanHokus Fokus (Miasmah)
Dean BluntThe Redeemer (Hippos In Tanks)
V/ALondon Is The Place For Me 5 + 6 (Honest Jons)
Johanna BillingI’m Gonna Live Anyhow Until I Die (Apparent Extent)
Sumies/t (Bella Union)
MountainsCentralia (Thrill Jockey)
Harold BuddPerhaps (Root Strata)
Dave Colohan, Man of MysteryDave Colohan (Raising Holy Sparks, United Bible Studies) went over and above with his list, but we don’t mind, because with tastes this diverse, we’re interested in what he has to say!  (Would you like to write for us, Dave?)  A slew of fine releases came our way this year from the prolific artist, including a late-year one-two punch of For Fran, Etched in Glass and Water and Era of Manifestations.  Many more are in the works, including a release recorded with our very own Lost Trails!  Here’s a thorough list from Dave, whose diverse tastes are reflected in his own music.
Dave Colohan
Though hard to pick just ten albums from the mountain of tapes, cds & vinyl I picked up in 2013, here’s a selection, in no particular order, that moved me in one way or another, all of which I can heartily recommend….
1. Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaVallePerils From The Sea (Caldo Verde Records)
I bought the first Red House Painters album the day I started college & have been a fan of Kozelek ever since, though probably much more intermittently since the dissolution of that band. When I first heard ‘Gustavo’ from this album, I felt like I’d just watched an incredible film. One of those early 90s Indie ones I seemed to live for back in the day & truthfully, still do. I was really taken aback by it & when I heard the whole album, I was not disappointed. Maybe it was hearing him singing in a new context, without the cyclical fingerpicking (which I absolutely love, mind) or maybe it was the fact that the songs all seem to have their own narrative. It made me listen to him with fresh ears. Those haunting, world-weary moments of clarity & epiphany are made all the more beautiful with the electronic backing & gently pulsing beats. So many stunning moments. A perfect pairing of musicians.
2. Lord Dog BirdThe Trinity Knot (Moon Glyph) * Daniel Higgs - The Godward Way 12” (Latitudes)- 
A lonesome pump organ carries prayers to the green heart of the Void out across the mountains of Northern California. To me, the pump organ, the harmonium, the chord organ… these are the sounds of hope, a melancholy sort, but hope nonetheless. Combined with the declamatory (Though in a good way. What’s a word for that?) hymnal reaches of Colin McCann’s voice, I can hear eagles high above the valley & see the sun reflecting off the Yosemite snowfields of my own wanderings. Joining the ranks of Charlemagne Palestine, Hermann Nitsch & Gurdjieff (in harmonium mode) for my fix of hope’s name shouted from the treetops, though the shout is a real one here & these are songs you can hum & stamp yer feet to. Like Daniel Higgs…’In these last days, there’s not much to say so you might as well sing…’ After an opening quip & a gentle meander on the banjo, Daniel sings these words & ascends across a harmonium drone with a wordless chant. Then, numinous visions set to banjo stomps carry us further into these last days… Think Sandy Bull with an apocalyptic bent & the voice to make ye believe it. I had the good fortune, as a member of Woven Skull, to tour Ireland with the good man himself & I got to hear an ever-evolving version of The Godward Way each night. Theories on the interdimensional nature of the Sasquatch, shooting hoops & playing together in a sunlit yoga room just out of the shadow of Newgrange sent us all along The Godward Way. Long may we wander… Honourable mention also to ‘Surrender To Love’, a tape on Wild Sages which is a whole other trip entirely.
3. Slow WalkersSlow Walkers (Peak Oil)
The music Liz Harris makes takes me to another place & isn’t that something to look for? Music as a portal. A portal to where though? A steamy Ballardian jungle growing inside the rusting hulk of a sunken submarine? A firefly-lit forest of teleporting trees & spirits walking in straight lines towards an unreachable horizon? Her music feels alternately suffocating & expansive but this collaboration with Lawrence English definitely leans towards the claustrophobic. Though ‘The Man Who Died In His Boat’ by Grouper & ‘The Event Of Your Leaving’ by Raum, her collaboration with Jefre-Cantu Ledesma, are works of beauty & shadow too, Slow Walkers is my most returned to of the three.
4. John CarpenterThe Fog OST (Death Waltz)
’11:55, almost midnight. Enough time for one more story. One more story before 12:00, just to keep us warm…’ Oh how I wailed & gnashed my teeth when I missed the first pressing & oh how I jumped for joy when a second pressing finally spun on my turntable & Mr Machen uttered those words by the campfire, as indelibly etched on my mind as every other mist-drenched moment. I can’t separate the music from the film, nor would I want to. Still one of my most watched favourites, the music is as foreboding now as when I first rented the video. A tense mix of ethereal & pulsing, like much of his soundtrack work.
5. These New PuritansField Of Reeds (Infectious)“You asked if the islands would float away… I said, yes.” There’s a video on Youtube of the title track set to clips from ‘The Tree Of Life’ & it makes so much sense to me when I watch it, that it’s impossible not to shed a tear at the sheer beauty of it all. I’m talking about whatever is outside the window when it’s on, whatever’s in yer glass, be it coffee, wine or ale & whoever is on yer mind & every single mile that separates you from them, every single thing that separates them from you. Those four in the morning, end of December moments where you are fit to burst with loneliness & outside that same window, a fox goes by. A mist is settling & stars are scattering… & you remember how small you are in the scheme of things, so what’s there to do but smile? One of the few bands to remind me of Talk Talk, in that they seem to have absorbed the very waters from the lagoons of Spirit of Eden or Laughing Stock. Check out the clip I’m talking about & take a deep breath….
6. GateThe Dew Line (MIE) * Alastair GalbraithCry (MIE) * Peter JefferiesThe Last Great Challenge In A Dull World (De Stijl/Xpressway)
Three essential reissues of NZ underground classics. When I was a young four-tracker, records like these were my Holy Grail, alongside the Sentridoh & Daniel Johnston tapes. Gate’s ‘Needed All Words’ (titled slightly differently on the reissue) is a resigned anthem, stumbling over itself again & again. Elsewhere, jangly indie as played through amps encased in cardboard boxes sits alongside the kind of yearning fuzz-drenched balladry that can only come from living on the edge of the world. On ‘Cry’, backwards guitar & keening violin surround mumbled incantations like briars endlessly intertwining while lonesome Casio patterns drift into mist. Fragments are all we get, snapshots of tiny epiphanies & that voice! Aw, how I love the sound of the sung (& spoken) NZ accent. Made these musicians all the more otherworldly to me back then & nothing’s changed, this is still magical. Peter Jefferies evokes pure resignation too, but that same edge of the world-weariness reaches a transcendent pinnacle in ‘On An Unknown Beach’, one of the most beautiful songs this poor heart has ever been broken to. The NZ underground is deep & endlessly rewarding, all seemingly held together by a sound that descends like mist on so many recordings from the era. Maybe they were all using the same four-track or teetering on the same brink. Who knows? Do yerself a favour & hear these albums…
7. Alice ColtraneDivine Songs (Tummy Tapes) * Julianna BarwickNepenthe (Dead Oceans) * HammockOblivion Hymns (Hammock Music)
In a year where I managed to  track down several free jazz LPs I’d been hankering after (Alan Silva, Kenneth Thornton, Giuseppi Logan, Roswell Rudd…) thanks to the second hand stores of Germany & Scandinavia, I didn’t seem to pick up any contemporary records. So, this welcome bootleg LP of a tape from Swamini Turiyasangitananda’s devotional Hindu phase is my choice. That said, it’s pretty far from the jazz she is most known for, though just as spiritual & incantatory, with an occasional Nico fronting the Cosmic Jokers atmosphere to it & a warm exploratory feel to the organ. What a voice though! Essential listening for those who want to sip from the soup of the eternal OM….. This same transcendent feeling can be found in the vocal soundscapes of Julianna Barwick, augmented here by a raft of Iceland’s finest. If this record had just been ‘Pyrrhic’ stretched out to 40, 60, 100 minutes, it still wouldn’t be enough. ‘Departure Songs’ was one of my most listened to albums of the year, though it was recorded in 2012 (not that this list is being all that strict) & I haven’t lived with Hammock’s latest for too long, but there is something of that sense of epic joy about this one too. Hope, hope, hope… What a beautiful thing to beat at the heart of an album. No secret how much I love Stars Of The Lid & Hammock share something of their endless vistas & vapour trails…
8. Steven R. Smith / Ulaan KholEnding / Returning (Immune)
A split record with himself, the Khol sides expanding on the ‘solo’ half with acres of skyblown fuzz & gnarled thickets of noise. A master of evoking the desolate plains we sometimes find ourselves lost in & the paths we take to escape them. With the exception of his Hala Strana guise, the music he makes is as solitary as it gets. Notes & chords seem to stumble & smear into one another, spooling around fragments of themes, only to dissolve or abruptly cut out. For fans of Neil Young’s ‘Dead Man OST’ or Loren Connors at his loneliest. Now that would be some trio…..
9. Lost TrailNothing Is Fucked Forever (Wood Thrush Tapes) * The CloistersS/T (Second Language) * Mike GangloffPoplar Hollow (Klang)
If I were to write about all the amazing records friends of mine put out this year, I would still be writing when you read this, so here are three albums, all of which draw on landscape in their own ways. ‘Nothing Is Fucked Forever’ (If I was going to get a tattoo…) exists in that spectral realm, the ‘Other Burlington’, where ghost trains can be heard in the distance, water towers rust into the dusky horizon & the voices of loved ones slur & speed up as if in a dream. ‘The Missing Hour’ reminds me of sitting under a tree on Madison Womble Road, NC, with sunlight glinting on my banjo, safe in the knowledge that nothing is fucked forever. The same sunlight’s trapped in Mike Gangloff’s banjo & fiddle, spilling free over Virginian soil. I had the good fortune to live with some of these songs when Mike first toured Ireland & so this album is particularly special to me, as rooted to me in the Irish landscape as it is in the local, rural traditions that Mike drew upon when he set them down. You often read about the rawness of Old Time music, as though it’s something that has been & gone. Well, here it is, kicking & screaming across eternal hollers. Have to mention the beautiful artwork by Jake Blanchard too. The Cloisters album is similarly beautifully decked out, the cover photo reminding me of Iceland & a nearing Spring. Whatever landscapes Micheal Tanner is drawing upon are cloaked in the dew of memory. This is numinous music, an Other Albion… Hiking the hills to abandoned villages, the smoke rising from cottages on a Winter’s evening & time speeding up, slowly, slowly, slowly…. Essential, life-affirming stuff!
10. Ash BorerBloodlands (Gilead Media)
Like the wheezing of a great blackened lung, breathing out into vistas of endless chiming emptiness & sucking back into suffocating darkness over & over again, Ash Borer are a collapsing force of raw buzz & anger. This is a howl into the void I need to see live. By turns droning, squalling & cleanly shimmering, this is some otherworldly blackness. Reading about a gig they played at night, in a forest under a star scattered sky, it makes utter sense. Emissaries of the Abyss. Get staring….

ACL 2013: Top Ten Rock, Post-Rock, Folk & Jazz

DalmakThe last of our genre lists is filled with WOW moments: big crescendos, bold moves, instinctive collaborations, explosions of brass.  This is music for car stereos and open windows, music to lift the sullen heart and to make it race.
We don’t review a lot of folk, jazz, or vocal music, but this list includes it all: albums that defied expectations and broke down our resistance.  In order to comfort ourselves, we also chose some traditional post-rock, which is far from extinct; and one single-track album that jumps from genre to genre like an overcaffeinated shopper on a grocery line.  Together, these albums have little in common, save for their quality; in 2013, this music rocked our world.
And now we present, in alphabetical order, A Closer Listen‘s Top Ten Rock, Post-Rock, Folk and Jazz Releases of 2013.
52 Commercial Road ~ Communion (Self-released)
Call it The Little Album That Could.  This self-released gem began life as the soundtrack to an indie film of the same name, and the finished product is a modern post-rock miracle.  The music covers a spectrum of emotion, from hope to fear and back once more, a sonic reflection of inner turmoil and outer danger.  When the last notes have faded, the angels continue to hover, listening to frequencies beyond human ears.  (Richard Allen)
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Amiina ~ The Lighthouse Project (Morr Music)
A few years back, Amiina underwent a small tour of Icelandic lighthouses, playing to intimate crowds at out-of-the-way, beloved venues.  The same intimacy is brought to bear on this tender EP, bound in a hardback book.  After the music ends, we hear the inner workings of the lighthouse, its dependable light still shining, still guiding sailors home.  (Richard Allen)
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Andrew Weathers Ensemble ~ What Happens When We Stop (Full Spectrum Records)
Andrew Weathers’ gradual but steady progression from drone purist to gentle experi-folk wizard coincided largely with his move westward from Greensboro, North Carolina to Oakland, California.  Watching his progression is like watching a reluctant but determined butterfly emerge from a broken chrysalis, boldly venturing into the fresh night of a new creative frontier. What Happens When We Stop splits the difference between tattered folk, classical splendor, and wistful drone in a way that few others were able to accomplish this year.  (Zachary Corsa)
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Esmerine ~ Dalmak (Constellation)
The beauty of Dalmak is that it comes across as a true collaboration.  Instead of simply incorporating guest musicians, Esmerine invited them to be part of the compositional process.  A fusion of west and east, Dalmak is packed with exciting sounds, bursting forth from Middle Eastern instruments:  duduk, darbuka, erbane, saz.  There isn’t anything else like it on the market.  (Richard Allen)
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Human Pyramids ~ Planet Shhh! (Oxide Tones)
There’s some serious fun to be had on this disc, with some of the catchiest, most uptempo post-rock we’ve heard in ages.  Trumpets, glockenspiels and handclaps converge to make Planet Shhh! an album no one will want to stay quiet about.  It’s post-rock and punk; it’s party music for both the bar and the backyard barbecue.  It’s also Oxide Tones’ best release … ever!  (Richard Allen)
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Matana Roberts ~ Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile (Constellation)
Matana Roberts is one of the most interesting musicians working today.  She develops projects that take distinct jazz roots (and routes) as leaping points to something fresh and new, something of our own times. Coin Coin Chapter Two constitutes this circumstance in every way, from its incredibly smart use of elements of pop musics and pop musics-gone-’high art’ to its African-American connections.   The album is a perfect example of “history coming alive”.  This music is understood collectively, contextually, and personally, a function of life as work, dreaming of a promised land. The album demands empathy, faith, will, and emotion from its listeners, who are called upon to live this music out until they, too, are deeply moved. (David Murrieta)
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Oiseaux-Tempête ~ S/T (Sub Rosa)
This is the second appearance on our 2013 chart for Frédéric D. Oberland, who also scored with last year’s Le Réveil des Tropiques.  The new album continues in the GY!BE vein, with murky guitars and dialects bobbing in a undercurrent of political discontent.  This is strong, thick, post-rock, the kind we thought was lost forever.  A generous play time of 74 minutes allows the mood to unfurl; can uprising be far away?  (Richard Allen)
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Sigur Rós ~ Kveikur (XL)
To many Valtari was too tame, Med Sed i Eyrum… too happy. Sigur Ros were apparently en route to never matching the heights achieved by their previous effortsKjartan Sveisson’s departure signaled the end to many, but then came Kveikur (which currently sells as a beautifully packaged limited edition with instrumental versions of all songs).  Within its first 30 seconds, “Brennisteinn” dispels all these concerns. Apart from its bookend (which reflects back on Valtari‘s finale), this is the Icelanders’ heaviest, most industrially tinged album to date. Kveikur is a reaction to changing sounds and circumstances.  In in its vast soundscapes, ever changing sonic environment and overall schizophrenia, it shows that the band is yet to reach its fullest potential. (Mohammed Ashraf)
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United Bible Studies ~ Spoicke (Fluid Audio)
Spoicke is largely instrumental; a sprawling land that time forgot. United Bible Studies tread the path of folk, but it is a mystical, other-worldly sound. The harp and the guitar are joined by the piano, but loops and drones swirl into the music, too. It is cohesive, yet wide enough to span the centuries – fittingly, the trio share a love for medieval music and mythology, and this in turn helps to sculpt the unique sound, sinking into the music.  (James Catchpole)
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Wrekmeister Harmonies ~ You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me (Thrill Jockey)
This 38-minute track percolated on Soundcloud for an astonishing two years before its vinyl release ~ those who haven’t heard it can still hear excerpts, but will have to buy the vinyl to hear it all.  Nayt Keane calls this “one of the most gorgeous and captivating single tracks we’ve ever heard”, and he’s right; tracks like this don’t come along every day, not even every year.  Verging from ambient to metal to modern composition, You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me now means something to us; it’s an explosion of emotion that blinds listeners with its ambition and execution.  (Richard Allen)
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ACL 2013: Top Ten Modern Composition

virginsThis may be called Neoclassical, Modern Classical or Modern Compostion, but everyone knows what it is: classical music for a modern generation.  When it comes to honoring remarkable writing and playing, Modern Compostion is the genre to which we turn.
Some of these composers fill concert halls.  Others perform in smaller venues, solo or with ensembles.  One creates his own orchestra.  Each is identified with at least one specific instrument.  While some kids grow up wanting to play the guitar, bass, and drums (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), these composers prefer the piano, cello and baton.  One might call this “serious minded music”, except in many cases, it’s downright fun.
And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen‘s Top Ten Modern Composition Releases of 2013.
Aaron Martin / Christoph Berg ~ Day Has Ended (Dronarivm)
Soundtracking the passage of time that captures the day’s penumbra from sun’s descent to moon’s dominance, Day Has Ended sees Aaron Martin and Christoph Berg each contribute a half, Martin’s ending with the dip of the sun behind the horizon on track four. But this split is no simple ‘light meets dark’; it instead toils throughout under the weight of solemnity – the sense of a day passing easily inferred as a sense of waiting, or longing. Despite this, the tonal and instrumental variety across the pieces, including use of choral vocalisation, banjo and organ, makes for an engaging if soporific experience. (Chris Redfearn)
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Daniel Bjarnason ~ Over Light Earth (Bedroom Community)
Processions has the big moments, but Over Light Earth is the more consistent album.  As patient as an Icelandic winter, the album stores provisions for the long haul, doling them out to listeners who wait, as hungry as wolves.  Inspired by Rothko and Pollock, Bjarnason utilizes broad strokes to convey his themes, but a tiny brush to elucidate his ideas.  Another triumph for the young composer, this album only increases our admiration.  (Richard Allen)
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Eluvium ~ Nightmare Ending (Temporary Residence)
Nightmare Ending is the amalgamation of every album, side project and soundtrack that Matthew Robert Cooper has worked on to date. It is everything one would want to hear on a contemporary classical album, with mood swings coming in at the right times and wrapped in so much beauty it becomes almost unbearable. Piano, drones, ambience, muffled beats, noise: everything is here, and every single element works perfectly with the rest. It’s Eluvium’s best record date and you owe it to yourself to listen to it.  (Mohammed Ashraf)
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Julia Kent ~ Character (Leaf)
A real surprise from the Leaf label, better known for its electronic leanings, Character is the sound of Julia Kent coming into her own.  These confident, dynamic compositions are compact and powerful, laden with sweet melodies and memorable motifs.  Like Sarah Neufeld (below), Kent began as the cellist in another band; but this is the way we want to hear her now.  (Richard Allen)
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Luke Howard ~ Sun, Cloud (Self-released)
On Sun, Cloud, Luke Howard (composer) pays homage to another Luke Howard (the meteorologist who classified the clouds).  This elegant suite moves with slow intention, like the clouds that flow from west to east.  The Melbourne Symphony and Oslo Philharmonic provide the album with many widescreen moments, but Sun, Cloud soars in quiet, plaintive moments as well, as the composer dreams alone at his piano.  (Richard Allen)
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Rauelsson ~ Vora (Sonic Pieces)
Through a sumptuous 44 minutes that seem to coast on the crest of a single wave, Rauelsson presents an ambitious yet intimate work of composition mostly bereft of the vocals once prevalent in his output. Vora starts with a desolate piano piece before growing like the swell of that lone wave, introducing strings, harp, percussion and – in time – vocals. Occasional electronics threaten to belie the organic flow, but the masterful transition from synth-heavy rigidity to wilting orchestration actually makes penultimate track, “Parasol”, one of the highlights. A coherent and melancholic gem. (Chris Redfearn)
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r+ (rotor plus) ~ dust (The Radiophonics Trading Company of New Zealand)
dust completes a trilogy that began in 2000.  The waiting has been long, but the composer has been patient, not wanting to rush out an inferior product.  As it turns out, dust is a quiet triumph, marked by deep gullies and sudden turns of timbre.  Unlike its predecessors, it abandons the beats in favor of a sophisticated small ensemble.  Our staff found dust to be an undiscovered gem; we hope it doesn’t stay a secret for long.  (Richard Allen)
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Sarah Neufeld ~ Hero Brother (Constellation)
This has been a stellar year for Neufeld, who appears not only here, but on the latest albums from Arcade Fire and Esmerine.  Her cello is in fine form, verging from tender to tumultuous, often within the same song.  The highlight is the title track, as catchy an instrumental piece as one will ever hear.  We love the sound of her other bands, but we’re overjoyed to hear her performing on her own.  (Richard Allen)
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Sean McCann ~ Music for Private Ensemble (Recital Program)
The privacy of the ensemble may refer to the fact that McCann plays everything himself or to the suggestion that the work is meant to be played by a group of instrumentalists in one’s own apartment.  Either way, Music for Private Ensemble is an excellent collage that drones hard. On the surface, this is chamber music, the reflection of an afternoon spent in a rich family’s closed garden.  But its heart is that of a noisy city. Here we are, listening to true art, when suddenly a player growls. Scandalous! This is one of the reasons why Music for Private Ensemble works so well; its ambiguity is only apparent, since at the bottom it is attempting to tear apart the complacency it mimics. (David Murrieta)
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Tim Hecker ~ Virgins (Kranky)
How to top a Juno Award?  Tim Hecker does it by making the best album of his career.  Virgins is a theological treatise, a marriage of traditional and modern, and a sonic tour-de-force.  The scope is huge and the sounds are vast.  Credit Kara-Lis Coverdale (organ), Ben Frost (electronics) and Valgeir Sigurdsson (production) with the expansion; credit Hecker with the vision, along with the boldness necessary to see it through.  (Richard Allen)
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ACL 2013: Top Ten Experimental

The Gardens of BomarzoWhat’s new?  The Experimental field has the answers: tortured tapes, disturbing images, military drums, a garden of monsters brought to life.  This selection is where to turn for the most creative and original music of the year.  You’ve been warned!
There’s nothing wrong with making good, solid music.  But when it comes to pushing the boundaries, artist experimentation is key.  Those who choose this path are well aware that they are taking risks.  They may push too far.  Audiences may not follow.  But this isn’t a genre that seeks to be popular; it seeks to be something that others are not.  Thanks to these artists and others in this field, music keeps moving forward, and we owe them a debt of gratitude.
And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen‘s Top Ten Experimental Releases of 2013.
0011011001111000 ~ [6x] (Self-released)
One could spend days lost in these labyrinths.  0011011001111000′s magnum opus is a combined CD/DVD package filled with snippets of sound, hidden doors, dead ends and Easter eggs.  It’s the least accessible of all the albums on this list, which is saying quite a bit.  It’s also the most addictive.  The amount of time spent on this project boggles the mind.  It’s well worth the trip, if you can make it; and after the last physical copies have long disappeared, the abrasive music will still justify the ridiculously low cost.  (Richard Allen)
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Clorinde ~ The Gardens of Bomarzo (Self-released)
Before hearing this album, I’d never heard of the Gardens of Bomarzo; afterwards, I went searching for the book.  Not only is this an amazing subject for a concept album, it’s also an amazing album, period.  By blending multiple genres, Clorinde reflects the haphazard angles of the garden itself, created by a sculptor who was hired by a grieving prince.  His sculptures are called monstrous, but grief is its own monster, and sometimes it takes a bigger monster to swallow it.  (Richard Allen)
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Jayne Amara Ross, Frédéric Oberland and Gaspar Claus ~ The Freemartin Calf (Gizeh)
Another DVD/music project, this one on vinyl, The Freemartin Calf film + score has been on the minds of collectors ever since FareWell Poetry brought the work of this ever-changing collective to a larger audience.  One of two spoken word albums on our year-end list, the album demonstrates the power and the potential of the format.  The black-and-white images are enhanced by an evocative score, narrated by Jayne Amara Ross’ brilliant poetry.  A success on every level, The Freemartin Calf is an original vision brought to life.  (Richard Allen)
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Gabriel Saloman ~ Soldier’s Requiem (Miasmah)
The relatively simple constituents parts of Soldier’s Requiem are carefully crafted and layered, an evocative work that haunts the listener long after the final sound fades away.  Without realizing it until it’s too late, an eerie quiet is overcome by distorted cloud, the rhythm of a marching drum driving us forward, a mournful melody just a faint memory.  One might hear echoes of Saloman’s past as a Yellow Swan, but unlike his solo work enacts a narrative quality that grants it a formidable emotion weight, all the more so when that narrative is only implied.  Metaphorical or otherwise, this requiem of a soldier is frighteningly vivid.  (Joseph Sannicandro)
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The Holocene ~ Scars (Self-released)
There’s no shortage of folks doing the damaged tape collage thing out there in Experimental Land, but what makes an album like Scars stand out is the innate sense of melody, as well as that creeping feeling of slowly-building tension unique to this project. The Holocene had a stellar year of releases, no more so than this crowning jewel of cassette-warped majesty.  (Zachary Corsa)
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Jerusalem in My Heart ~ Mo7it Al-Mo7it (Constellation)
The long jams and experimentalism of psychedelic music have always carried an air of adopted mysticism and prayer, which is why the journeyed fusion of Arabic traditions and Western electronic compositions feels so natural on Jerusalem In My Heart’s debut. A near decade of production experience puts this record in the “timeless” realm.  It sounds like nothing you’ve really heard before, and yet it could be mistaken for something lost from the 1970′s. Radwan Ghazi Moumneh’s emotive vocals are rock and roll prayers shot through tape echoes and subtle distortions. The music acts like a gentle desert breeze or a white hot crown chakra of self awareness. The band’s performances use music and film projectors to create a uniquely visceral experience.  (Nayt Keane)
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Lost Trail ~ Holy Ring of Chalk (Wounded Wolf)
Lost Trail’s music is haunting. Radio static seems to crawl with the sound of disembodied voices, calling out from the local woods. In Clover, Virginia, the abandoned streets scream their music, forgotten by modern America. The drones lie low, beaming out their supernatural lights on a road that was once choked with traffic. Serene ambient passages that are nonetheless eerie in their sound lie against the light hiss of nostalgia. The buried photographs of a long lost, sepia family continue to haunt the township. Lost Trail will haunt you with their beautiful desolation. Among the trees, the entity walks: something horrific and yet transfixing, captured on their tape recorders and handheld camcorders.  (James Catchpole)
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Richard Chartier ~ Interior Field (Line)
Interior Field reflects the wider world; field recordings from across the globe, expertly crafted into a unified whole, particularly the focus on a post-industrial site in the second part, where the sense of decay is palpable. Originally conceived as a multi-channel installation piece, there may be some loss when transferred to plain old stereo, but such is the density of the layering – even on the calmer sections – that it isn’t noticeable. Detached from their environment, the sounds take on different natures; what could be a thunderstorm becomes timpani, what could be static becomes rain, and vice versa. It’s an enthralling experience. (Jeremy Bye)
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SaffronKeira + Mario Massa ~ Cause and Effect (Denovali)
Weighty in concept but wraith-like in presence, SaffronKeira’s third LP sees the self-proclaimed sound researcher collaborate with trumpet player Mario Massa – a partnership whose magnetism seems as strong as that which binds Earth to the Sun. Like the planets it alludes to, Cause and Effect is in perpetual drift, moving slowly between different shades as tenuous and quick to disperse as a cloud of dust caught in light. It is not for every mood, but the moments of human warmth that emerge from the abstract – evoking the sublime alignment of astral bodies – are among the finest to reach these ears this year. (Chris Redfearn)
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William Basinski + Richard Chartier ~ Aurora Liminalis (Line)
Evidence that typecasting is inherently unfair is peppered throughout the expansive, always rewarding discography of William Basinski. When he’s paired with Richard Chartier, as he is here for the second memorable occasion, the results are staggering. From rumbling drones to gentle beds of sound, Aurora Liminalis is one hopeful step further on the path to making Mr. Basinski more than just the ’09/11 Tape Loops Guy.’  (Zachary Corsa)
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ACL 2013: Top Ten Field Recording & Soundscape

Kate Carr's first snowstormIn compiling these field recordings, some artists traveled to distant lands, while others stayed at home.  Some added instruments, others computer processing.  Some of these releases are in love with certain places, but each one is in love with sound.
An effective field recording is more than just a sonic photo of a specific time and place; it’s a recording that speaks to larger themes, such as history or home.  In like fashion, an effective soundscape is more than just a jumble of sounds; it’s an investigation of sonic properties that brings new ideas to the table.
The artists below best exemplify what it means to take a closer listen.  In response, we listened to them, and liked what we heard.
And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen‘s Top Ten Field Recording & Soundscape Releases of 2013.
AIPS Collective ~ Postcards from Italy (Oak Editions)
Postcards from Italy, the album, grew out Postcards from Italy, Gianmarco Del Re’s fabulous interview series for Fluid-Radio, in which he interviewed Italian electro-acoustic artists about their work and the regions in which they live.  Each of the participants on this record is a member of AIPS, a collective of Italian artists working with field-recordings.  Each track consists of a set of field-recordings made by one member shaped by another.  This deceptively simple concept produced an album of remarkable compositions exploring the intersection of identity and place, as diverse as Italy itself, somehow clinging together with a sense of cohesion.  (Joseph Sannicandro)
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Chris Watson ~ In St. Cuthbert’s Time (Touch)
The Lindisfarne Gospels bear images of the Holy Island, and Chris Watson’s field recordings capture its sounds.  It’s hard to make a good field recording today without modern intrusions such as planes, but Watson does a great job concentrating on the wide variety of birds and the soft tug of the surf.  In so doing, he creates a spiritual exercise, a reflection on ancient faith that passes through the filter of modern sound.  (Richard Allen)
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David Vélez ~ Unseen Terror (Echomusic)
The editor of The Field Reporter nearly placed two albums on this list, as isolation matter also found support from our staff.  In the end, unseen terror won out, an experimental work reflecting the three stages of catastrophe.  The cover depicts the closing scene, in which everything gets smashed.  But unlike The Hulk (“Hulk Smash!”), Vélez is concerned with the sound of smashing ~ an antithesis to the sound of silence.  The work may not be terrifying, but it’s terribly good.  (Richard Allen)
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Daniel Blinkhorn ~ Terra Subfónica (Gruenrekorder)
An investigation of sound and sub-sound, Terra Subfónica offers a vast array of timbres: heartbeats and clocks, coral creatures and children’s toys.  This rich, engaging, and fulfilling work is sequenced in such a way as to produce a feeling of ongoing surprise.  Blinkhorn takes an obvious delight in his subjects, and his mood is contagious.  (Richard Allen)
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Guillermo Pizarro ~ Glasswerks (Self-released)
Guillermo Pizarro’s live shows are a spectacle to behold, lingering somewhere in the haunted boundaries between experimental music and performance art. His roaring soundscapes are a treat to experience in person, and on Glasswerks, Mr. Pizarro has managed to bottle such invigorating lightning in recorded form, for which I couldn’t be more grateful. This is the definition of envelope-pushing music.  (Zachary Corsa)
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João Castro Pinto ~ Ars Abscondita (OTO)
The work of this Portuguese artist can be difficult to comprehend, as it offers a combination of the traditional and the untraditional: drain pipes, Tibetan bowls, a calliope.  These sources are then combined in an unconventional manner, as sharp edits and sudden fades as balanced by full, rich tones.  This hidden art becomes the basic of a beguiling set, that challenges listeners to encounter familiar sounds in an unfamiliar way.  (Richard Allen)
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Kate Carr ~ Songs from a cold place (Flaming Pines)
Pilgrimages in the name of artistic inspiration are nothing new in the underground music world. A change of scenery can easily shake the dust from a period of creative decay and rejuvenate the necessary senses. Australian soundscape ingenue Kate Carr’s spring trip to Iceland birthed this incredible collection of field recordings layered with exotic langspil and gentle glockenspiel, and this is definitely an artistic journey worth taking.  (Zachary Corsa)
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Monte Isola ~ Niebla (Wild Silence)
Myriam Pruvot’s trip from Brussels to Chile may have taken her out of her physical comfort zone, but it brought her to the middle of her sonic comfort zone.  Instead of filling her suitcase with tchotchkes, Pruvot filled her ears – and recording devices – with the sounds of hulls and dogs.  After returning home, she pasted them all into a sonic scrapbook, along with poetry, song and travel writing.  The result blows away any slide show.  (Richard Allen)
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ExchangesSimon Whetham & Slavek Kwi ~ Exchanges Across a Dinner Table (Tentacles of Perception)
This pair of collaborators sorts through sound like scavengers through a junk pile, rescuing the best bits while leaving the rest to rot.  Flies buzz above the lot, while bicycles and balloons, motors and saws are rescued from the sonic debris.  Exchanges is thick with detritus, but pure in intention.  What begins as trash ends up as a buffet.  (Richard Allen)
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Hear Cape CodSteve Wilkes ~ Hear Cape Cod Volume One (Hear Cape Cod)
More than any other album this year, Hear Cape Cod Volume One brings field recordings to a wide audience, and it does so without compromise.  The first disc captures local sounds that cannot be mistaken for those in other coastal regions: morse code from the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center, voices in the Pilgrim Monument stairwell.  The second compiles musical works from Goldmund, Loscil and more, utilizing the sounds of the Cape.  Together, the set is as a blueprint of how to share the sounds of a region.  (Richard Allen)
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ACL 2013: Top Ten Electronic

Total FolkloreA quick glance around the few remaining outposts of the printed UK music press suggests that guitar bands are still very much ruling the roost, although it’s pretty obvious to anyone outside of a small coterie of indie-obsessed music hacks that this is clearly nonsense.  What is noticeable this year is that the guitar itself, far from being an instrument for a series of uninspired bands to listlessly strum away at, is being used increasingly by electronic acts. Take a listen to our favourites below, and see how many utilise the humble six-string in way more inventive fashions than might be expected. It’s not quite ubiquitous – synths, samplers and laptops are still the weapons of choice – but it is one of the trends of the year.  And it’s not just limited to drafting in Nile Rodgers, although, admittedly, that does help.
And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen‘s Top Ten Electronic Releases of 2013.
Arovane ~ Ve Palor (n5md)
In a year of big name comebacks, the most understated may be that of Uwe Zahn (Arovane). In his first full length album in 9 years, Zahn hones, perfects and unleashes his sound, bringing back everything we loved about him.  These intricately built, brilliant songs mesh the organic and electronic to maximal effect, sounding like Four Tet before he got his four-to-the-floor on or Autechre at its height. Pop sensibilities lie underneath all sorts of glitch, and carefully chosen sounds build up and repeat to reach beauty in every single instance; a magnificent album from start to finish.  (Mohammed Ashraf)
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Botany ~ Lava Diviner (Truestory) (Western Vinyl)
As a combined mix tape, sound collage and dance album, Lava Diviner (Truestory) offers 44 minutes of aural bliss to its listeners.  But it’s not all nostalgia; Spencer Stevenson adds his own instruments for a three-dimensional treat.  Warm, uplifting, and graceful, Botany’s debut album is a boost to the body that also manages to engage the mind.  (Richard Allen)
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Dalot & Gavin Miller ~ Wards (This Is It Forever)
Good news for Dalot and Gavin Miller fans, who have one extra track each to enjoy this year. Bad news for Dalot and Gavin Miller collectors, as the limited run of 10 (ten!) has already sold out. Dalot adds a dubby shimmer to a pulse that echoes the sound of a heart monitor before giving way to layers of strings in a fine companion piece to the recent Ancestors LP. Gavin’s contribution caps an impressive run of singles in 2013 and dovetails neatly with the first track, adopting a similarly spacey dub sound that gradually builds in intensity. It’s a mighty impressive pairing. (Jeremy Bye)
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Dan Friel ~ Total Folklore (Thrill Jockey)
Like going on a psychedelic dumpster dive, this album was the most fun listen I had all year. Dan Friel’s amazing hooks and blown out beats come from a different dimension where rainbows and hyperactive glowworms disintegrate 16-bit video game landscapes like there’s no tomorrow. It’s persistently pleasurable and each song sounds at risk of destroying itself with all manner of distortion on pretty much every compositional element. Put on the headphones and celebrate the world around you, no matter how cracked the pavement or dingy the walls. Total Folklore blasts color into your ears, promoting Life as the place to be.  (Nayt Keane)
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Deep Magic ~ Reflections of Most Forgotten Love (Preservation)
Alex Gray isn’t one to sit still, and though Deep Magic has remained his most consistent project, it’s still been constantly evolving and expanding.  Unlike his more meditative slowly evolving drone tapes, his LPs  take the listener on a tour across a dense sonic landscape of processed field-recordings, instrumentation, and who knows what. Standout tracks like “Brighter Days” encapsulate what is so powerful about Deep Magic, an abiding drugged out spirituality that never loses sight of bliss.  (Joseph Sannicandro)
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Disparition ~ Madoc (Self-released)
Propulsive, non-stop trance music often tries hard and goes nowhere, but Madoc is a constantly shifting journey that keeps the attention by weaving colorful new worlds. What begins as an unassuming techno piece morphs deliciously into dark, urgent chill-scapes peppered with oud, piano, marimba, bells and others that keep the long pieces fresh and exotic. Disparition’s albums always ride a theme, and this one is named for one of two Welsh explorer princes who appears as a central figure in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third part of Madeline L’Engle’s famous fantasy trilogy. The perpetual rhythms and organic instruments ensure this album’s constant sense of adventure. (Nayt Keane)
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Forest Swords ~ Engravings (Tri Angle Records)
Liverpudlian producer Matthew Barnes took his sweet time before unleashing the debut Forest Swords album on an audience enraptured by his sequence of EPs back in 2010. It was worth the wait and fully justified the levels of anticipation that had been building up, more than holding its own against other long-awaited albums this year. Bathed in a hazy luminescence, anchored by solid hip hop beats and liquid, dubby, bass, the tracks on Engravings were bursting with invention. Every play reveals something new on this album, and the creative impulses are balanced with a cohesion in the sequencing that makes Engravings a complete record; it starts strong and just gets better. (Jeremy Bye)
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The House in the Woods ~ Bucolica (Exotic Pylon Records)
Pye Corner Audio’s Head Technician adopts a new identity for this powerfully atmospheric album, using the good old horror movie standby of The House in the Woods (given Joss Whedon’s rather lacklustre movie, it’s only right that the Cabin has been abandoned). Bucolica is drenched in atmospheric effects in keeping with the imagined location; rain persistently falls, the generator hums away, there’s mysterious rattling and clanging just to ramp up the tension.  It is a genuinely spooky experience – a bit like the opening bars of Black Sabbath’s debut extended over 50 minutes, and unlike most horror films nowadays, at no point is the spell is broken.  (Jeremy Bye)
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Junior Pande ~ Tape Three (Spring Break Tapes)
Justin Peroff’s Junior Pande project reaches its zenith with his third tape of screwed beats, sneaking synths, and hazy soundscapes.  Best known as the drummer of Broken Social Scene, that gives you little inclination of what to expect from his Tape trilogy.  Sure BSS has its origins in bedroom studios, and sure Peroff’s tight beats were a defining feature of that sprawling group, but the similarities end there.  Even his oft-forgotten instrumental duo Junior Blue -the namesake of this project- won’t tell you much.  Drawing on the hypnotic atmospheres of the beat scene and the creative techniques of hip hop, Junior Pande has come into his own.  (Joseph Sannicandro)
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Public Service Broadcasting ~ Inform Educate Entertain (Self-released)
Talent and popularity don’t always go hand in hand, but Inform Educate Entertain is the exception.  It’s just so darn likable.  Public Service Broadcasting plundered public archives to find samples for their debut album, now accompanied by a DVD (Region 2 – Bastards!).  Combined with dance beats, ambient washes and post-rock flavors, this potpourri of British culture created enough goodwill to stretch around the world.  (Richard Allen)
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ACL 2013: Top Ten Drone

OnkaloIn a classroom, a drone is a nuisance, but in music, it’s an attraction.  These artists know that drone is more than sustained sound; it’s texture, movement and tone.  Songs hum like appliances, grind like motors & clank like factories.  Reflecting the title of Daniel Menche’s honored work, drone is a marriage of metals.  This list includes some of the loudest music of the year, but also some of the softest; the beauty lies in the contrast.
If there’s one constant on this list, it’s that these ten recordings don’t sound like each other.  None would mistake Menche for Pausal, or EUS for Main.  A wide variety of approaches leads to a wealth of sound.  The field may still be in flux, but the quality is clearly on the rise: encouraging news for fans old and new.
And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen‘s Top Ten Drone Releases of 2013.
Aquarelle ~ August Undone (Students of Decay)
August Undone will likely endure the test of time, perhaps not in the spectacular, mainstream sense, but as a departure from its peers that somehow remains closely related.  It represents everything that is great about drone music, done right. The volume is massive, the sound is thick and noisy, yet a deeply emotional element thrusts the listener right into the middle of yellow falling leaves, their crunching against the ground eliciting many a vivid memory of being undone, of the flow of seasons in every withheld sigh, every melancholy look at a clock that seems to say “I know”. Albums like this are few, and like a gift, it will remain embedded in our treasure troves of memory. (David Murrieta)
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Daniel Menche ~ Marriage of Metals (Editions MEGO)
With Marriage of Metals, Daniel Menche continues to show how immensely interesting his work is, particularly as it represents some of the keenest concerns of contemporary music. The album provokes a long (alchemical) meditation on music technology.  The gamelan is united with the computer, creating a platform from which to think about communication, community (since both a gamelan and a computer can be conceived of in terms of systems, of paths to order), and the production of mingled sounds. Marriage of Metals explores the interaction of digital and analogue, traditional and modern, East and West, noise and music, as an analogical procedure.  A completely new, albeit uncannily familiar, type of sound emerges. This album has so much to say, so many veins to adventurously roam into; it’s, an idea impeccably performed. (David Murrieta)
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Ennio Mazzon ~ Xuan (Nephogram)
The idea of recording a single 42-minute track and releasing it as an album is daunting; some would call it foolish.  Ennio Mazzon silences all potential skeptics with Xuan, an electronic exploration of scrapes and whispers, silence and noise.  Certain melodies are accidental here, others intentional.  Even the sub-tones have sub-tones.  The album is a Where’s Waldo of sound; with so many hidden textures, repeated plays are a necessity.  (Richard Allen)
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EUS ~ Sol Levit (Contradicta)
This is the second year on the list for Jose Acuña, who also scored with 2012′s Los Otros.  The new album is also related to another album on our list, as Petrels’ Oliver Barrett contributes cello to the recording.  But its beauty lies in the reframing of the past, as Acuña incorporates evocative samples from his great-grandfather’s recordings.  We are remembered best when we are remembered with love, and Sol Levit provides multiple generations with a new legacy.  (Richard Allen)
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Main ~ Ablation (Editions MEGO)
At 48, Robert Hampson is one of the oldest artists to make our year-end list, but if anything, age and experience have brought him wisdom and grace.  His latest work resurrects Main as a duo (welcome back, Stephan Mathieu!) and as a result, the new work is filled with a sense of sonic surprise.  While other artists are content to revisit old themes, Hampson and Mathieu are anxious to experiment with new sounds, and every step they make here is surefooted.  Our hope is that this collaboration will continue in 2014.  (Richard Allen)
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Pausal ~ Sky Margin (Own Records)
Heavenly-bright, Sky Margin glows warmly with its own phosphorescent aura. The pure dronescapes glisten like ambient gems, trailing through the high sky. Pausal’s seemingly stratospheric rise is an indication of the duo’s quality – their music is sensational. Sky Margin rests peacefully, at the top of their ambient ascent.  (James Catchpole)
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Petrels ~ Onkalo (Denovali)
Topping Haeligewielle was always going to be a difficult proposition, but Oliver Barrett sidesteps the issue with Onkalo, a different sort of album that delivers more in terms of sound and less in terms of story.  Sure, the album includes references to nuclear waste and balloon launches, but the main story is the boldness of the artist, who goes for broke with a 20-minute track late and succeeds.  We’d give the album points on ambition alone, but Onkalo also happens to be powerful and expansive:  a pair of factors that launch it into the stratosphere like hot air blown into cloth.  (Richard Allen)
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Secret Pyramid ~ Movements of Night (Students of Decay)
Secret Pyramid is the alias of Vancouver musician Amir Abbey. Movements of Night is full of sunken ambient tones, emitting a dull aura in the face of a fading civilization and a crumbling harmony, The vast seas of drone flow with the surging momentum of change, leaving deep chasms in their wake. The fathoms imprint blurry hieroglyphics upon the music, which is gritted by light distortion and swathes of reverb. The drones loose themselves on the world with ferocious intensity, touching upon something that is as mystical as the ancient pyramids, left behind so long ago.  (James Catchpole)
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Shoganai ~ ショウガナイ (Self-released)
We love the dark stuff: experimental drone filled with crunchy distortion and off-kilter tones.  Bas van Huizen’s under-the-radar project is slowly finding its way to the surface like a coelacanth adjusting to the light.  This smoldering set is evidence that the artist thrives best when he pushes the boundaries.  Neither safe nor staid (nor pronounceable), ショウガナイ nonetheless adds a light touch of humor, winking at listeners via the inclusion of a smile icon.  (Richard Allen)
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Svarte Greiner ~ Black Tie (Miasmah)
Miasmah has a very special place in my heart. The label has come to exemplify the true essence of experimental music, and no one knows how to bring that sound into focus better than curator and owner Erik K Skodvin. Over forty minutes spread along two side length tracks, Black Tie manages to subtly yet purposefully enthral and encapsulate its audience in a strange confine that offers as much space for thought as it does encage them in a state of relentless claustrophobia. Black Tie is masterfully recorded and laid out and the flow throughout is second to none.   (Mohammed Ashraf)
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ACL 2013: Top Ten Ambient

OrgansAmbient music continued to stretch its wings in 2013.  Among our top picks: an album conceived as a love letter, an EP addressing mental illness and a 7″ vinyl that samples the original Dracula.  It’s not just piano and birds anymore.
The amount of ambient music we received this year nearly doubled, but our coverage slightly decreased.  The reason: it’s easy to make ambient music, but it’s difficult to make enduring ambient music.  These artists succeeded in different ways; some did what others were trying to do, only they did it much, much better; others blazed their own (quiet) path.  In so doing, these artists accomplished what some considered impossible: they made ambient music memorable.
And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen‘s Top Ten Ambient Releases of 2013.
Barn Owl ~ V (Thrill Jockey)
Formulating their own style of “doom dub”, this San Francisco duo’s fifth studio album could have been billed as “music to watch evolution to.” Barn Owl has long fashioned cosmic outsider ambient music, but V is a leap into exceptional new heights. While the clouds slowly form holy images, percussion (real or implied) drives this album from deep underground. This album is poised to scissor the veils we hold up, revealing a more primal consciousness, as if we are witnessing the dawn of language or the birth of a sun. V is a rich and potent beast.  (Nayt Keane)

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Ben Fleury-Steiner ~ Clearings (Rural Colours)
There’s something both relieving and disturbing about a forest clearings. A clearing is relaxing to the sight, but the enclosure usually seems out of place in the rhythms played by trees. It might give pause to a tired traveller, but if we imagine the clearing in a foggy winter evening, the cold at the back and only a few crying night-birds to keep company, it could easily turn into an image of the verge, an apocalyptic feeling of the clearing being the only clearing, an alienating sense of being inside against a backdrop of an infinite, towering outside. Clearings is a powerful ambient work in which there is more at stake than aural environments, a chillingly touching reminder that the genre is much more experimental, much more on the edge of an infinite outside, than it usually gets credit for. (David Murrieta)
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Federico Durand ~ El Idioma De Las Luciérnagas (Desire Path)
No, it’s not just pianos and birds anymore… except sometimes it is. Federico Durand uses the sounds of nature (insect chirrups, the sea, and, yes, birds in the trees) as delicate background colour to his thoughtful compositions of chimes and piano, guitar and bells. There’s a brilliant lucidity and clarity to this album but it’s the sense of narrative to El Idioma De Las Luciérnagas that just gives it a lift above many other ambient works, with the music shifting in response to nature and subtly changing as the shadows lengthen, the sun sets and the fireflies come out to play. (Jeremy Bye)
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Field Rotation ~ Fatalist: The Repetition of History (Denovali)
One of two entries this year from Christoph Berg, Fatalist: The Repetition of History falls under the more sombre Field Rotation moniker. Creeping stealthily across the mist-laden land presented on its cover, the record is a mournful ode to the cyclical nature of life, but seems in direct counterpoint to the idea of ‘rebirth’. Through its languorous final third, the cynical nature of Berg’s interpretation is apparent on every plaintive chord, each sighing note. (Chris Redfearn)
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Kreng ~ …And Then In the Morning (Sonic Pieces)
Even a 7” from Kreng is worthy of inclusion on a year end list, especially when mastered by Nils Frahm. Pepijn Caudron has yet to give us a proper follow up to 2011’s immaculate Grimoire, and since he’s now soundtracking a new horror-commedy starring Elijah Wood, we may have to wait a bit longer.  Luckily little releases like this are here to tide us over.  Not one to rest on his laurels, Caudron braves new territory once again, offsetting his suspense cinematic tape music with new elements. The careful dissonance and creeping melancholia are still present, but the addition of Flamenco rhythms puts the listener a just a bit off balance, and the surreal recollection of a dream by a young woman confuses the mood with its ambiguousness.  Lush, beautiful music that makes the most of its time constraints.  (Joseph Sannicandro)
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Loscil ~ City Hospital (Wist Records)
City Hospital is a complex release that earned an elaborate reissue in 2013.  The new jackdaw frame surrounds the music; the music accompanies a novella; the protagonist reflects the author.  The turns of the prose are echoed in the music, which also incorporates hints of Peer Gynt, a parallel tale based on a fairy tale, interwoven with wonder and fear.  For the best experience, we recommend reading while listening; the combination celebrates the aural and literary sublime.  (Richard Allen)
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Raising Holy Sparks ~ For Fran, Etched in Glass & Water (Fallow Field)
We still don’t know if Dave got the girl, but For Fran, Etched in Glass & Water is a love letter through and through.  It’s a languid, wistful, hopeful reflection of the fact that love and regret inspire in equal measure.  A lovely array of instruments makes this album stand out from the pack; the Appalachian dulcimer and shruti box never sounded so good together.  As good, perhaps, as Dave and Fran may be?  Perhaps one day we’ll find out.  (Richard Allen)
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Ruhe ~ Organs/Easing (Unknown Tone Records/Cotton Goods)
When this pair of releases was unleashed early in the year, we knew they were something special.  We just didn’t know how special, as both ended up in our Top Ten and are combined here to allow another lucky artist a spot on our list.  Easing is more soothing in nature, while Organs offers more grit.  Together, they solidify our opinion that Bryan Ruhe is about to become the next big name in ambient music.  To us, he’s already arrived.  (Richard Allen)
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Wixel ~ Revox Tapes (Jordskred)
The old Revox B77 tape recorder was lovingly brought back to its prime. The heads turned and the sound of ambient drifting imprinted itself upon the tape. The machine caught fire, but it left behind melodic ashes in its strips of sound. This is the magic of Revox Tapes – something beautiful, made so by the imperfect becoming perfect. Accidental experiments become precious moments, never capable of fading.  (James Catchpole)
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woodworkings ~ day breaks the morning shapes we speak (Own Records)
The latest album from Kyle Woodworth has the distinction of being the newest album to make our year-end list.  While it was only released a few days prior to this feature, we received a copy well in advance and have been enjoying it ever since.  day breaks the morning shapes we speak traces the late-year shift from autumn to winter with warm tones and inviting textures.  It makes the perfect soundtrack for a family drive home.  (Richard Allen)
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ACL 2013: The Year’s Best Winter Music

my-home-sinkingWinter music begins with the sound of wind and freezing rain, the crackle of ice and the soft tap of snowflakes.  It continues with the sound of boots on snow, shovels and snow plows.  Months later, it concludes with melting icicles and thawing lakes.  Recording artists capture these sounds with field recordings and reflect them through compositions.  Their most successful efforts reflect not only the natural world, but the thoughts and emotions that accompany the season ~ the joy of the first snowflakes, the warmth of family around a hearth, the fear of being snowed in.  These are the finest winter recordings we heard in 2013, and together they reflect the fullness of the season.  They are presented in recommended listening order, from late autumn to early spring.
woodworkings ~ day breaks the morning shapes we speak (Own Records)
This gorgeous album maps the transition from autumn to winter.  An array of intricate arrangements incorporates field recordings, piano, cello, breath and subtle electronics.  Winter arrives at the LP’s midpoint; the closing tracks provide the soundtrack for a drive home in the early winter snow.
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Fabrizio Paterlini ~ Now
Paterlini describes Now as his “snow album”, but it can be placed on either side of the season.  A peaceful yearning suffuses the album with glowing grace.  We’re not yet ready to settle in for the season, but the time is drawing near.
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Endless Melancholy ~ Five Songs
Alex Sakevych’s improvised piano EP offers the sound of post-holiday melancholy, as the company has left and the birds have gone quiet.  One might sit on the park bench, alone, or gaze at the wood through a window.  Inspired by the poet Ivan Androschuk, Five Songs is the sadness of a Ukrainian winter, as melancholic as the artist’s name.
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Various Artists ~ Winter EP (Feral Media)
A nod to Down Under, where winter has already passed.  Four disparate tracks provide a quartet of views, from forlorn to friendly, somber to celebratory.  The Seasons series continues in 2014 ~ stay tuned for more!
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Parhelion ~ Temples in Ice (Kalpamantra)
Dark drones and glacial soundscapes dominate this oppressive EP, which reflects the danger of the coldest climes.  Skin can freeze in an instant; white-out conditions can cause one to lose one’s way.  Yet great majesty can be found in the scale of these compositions.  This is the cold that kills.
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My Home, Sinking ~ S/T (Fluid Audio)
My Home, Sinking is an album of survival.  The lyrics delve into the deepest winter, one of foreboding and loss.  But when the vocals fade, a different human sound emerges: that of a figure emerging from the storm.
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Fescal ~ Two Winter Poems (Dronarivm)
Under ice, a river glitters, writes Alexandr Pushkin in “Winter morning”, one of two poems who find their reflection in Fescal’s shimmering drones.  The poet may have written in exile, dreaming of home; but the memory of his homeland kept him warm throughout the winter.
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Jared Smith ~ Home (Own Records)
The first of two albums on this list inspired by visits to Iceland, Home amplifies the themes of Two Winter Poems above.  Smith found each place he visited to be home, and captured its sounds ~ a flagpole, a coffee maker, a bicycle bell ~ for this sonic travelogue.
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Kate Carr ~ Songs from a Cold Place (Flaming Pines)
When Kate Carr visited Iceland this spring, she found herself thrown back into winter, but pleasantly so; she experienced her first blizzard, and picked up some new instruments to accompany her crisp field recordings.  The album found its inspiration in a cold climate, but its timbres are warm.
Review and purchase link
Seaworthy + Taylor Deupree ~ Wood Winter Hollow (12k)
Earlier this year, Taylor Deupree invited Cameron Webb (Seaworthy) to New York’s Hudson Valley to tour the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and to record this tender album.  This is music of hope and revival, the recovery of a region during the passing of its toughest season.
Review and purchase link

ACL 2013: The Happiest Music of the Year

glenn-jones-my-garden-stateWhen last year’s list was published, it wasn’t very popular.  But over the course of the year, the hits kept increasing, until it became our number one specialty list.  Why?  Because people need happy music, and search for it online.
Life can be brutish, and short.  So why not balance the melancholy with a touch of joy?  This is music to cheer the soul, to motivate the body, to provide the courage to get out of bed, to write the novel, to win the game.  Call it the daylight of the soul.  We need this sort of music, and we’re happy to know it’s here.
We hope the following selection of music makes you smile, laugh, breathe a sigh of relief.  There’s a lot of goodness in the world, and this is its soundtrack.
The Black Twig Pickers ~ Rough Carpenters (Thrill Jockey)
Rough Carpenters is the sound of a country hoedown, along with washboard and harmonica, sweet tea in mason jars and bare feet on fresh grass.  These good ‘ol boys are building a house made of gold, and we’d love to hang out with them there.
Review and purchase link
Fighting Lion ~ A Convenient Place (Flaming Pines)
Appearing here for the second year in a row, this time with his third EP, Álvaro Menéndez continues to make us smile with his tiny ukulele tracks.  And we do mean tiny; with seven tracks in eleven minutes, A Convenient Place is shorter than a siesta, but it’s just as energizing.
Review and purchase link
Glenn Jones ~ My Garden State (Thrill Jockey)
In addition to boasting some of the year’s happiest music, My Garden State also bears the year’s happiest cover, which is why we chose it for this feature.  Just look at that happy shamrock!  His audience may be a lone bird, but he doesn’t care; he’s content to finger-pick the day away.
Review and purchase link
Haiku Salut ~ Tricolore (How Does It Feel to Be Loved?)
Accordion, glockenspiel, trumpet, drumsticks and more add up to an ebullient tone on this fully-fledged debut album, recorded in the middle of two EPs.  This is the sound of confidence and fun, with a wink, a smile and a dob of sass.
Review and purchase link
Henry the Rabbit ~ Earthen Birth by Henry the Rabbit (Moon Glyph)
Craig Martin Wood’s “psychedelic ukulele skiffle” is immediately endearing, as is the title.  We can’t resist calling this blurb “The Blurb of Earthen Birth by Henry the Rabbit, by Henry the Rabbit.”  The sun, the moon, the rabbit, the fish: all creation is in a good mood as long as this tape keeps playing.
Review and purchase link
Human Pyramids ~ Planet Shhh! (Oxide Tones)
Perhaps the happiest post-rock album ever made, Planet Shhh! is a blast of pure joy, replete with catchy riffs, glockenspiel, and an outdoor party vibe.  It’s music for jumping up and down, driving really fast (but legally) and hugging friends (but not at the same time).
Review and purchase link
Lullatone ~ Summer Songs/Falling for Autumn (Self-released)
Hands-down THE happiest music of the year, Lullatone’s summer and autumn EPs are like shots of espresso, stuffed in cupcakes and covered in chocolate sauce and sprinkles, on a bed of brown sugar, next to a batch of fresh-baked cookies, a glass of milk and a margarita.  The next two installments are already the ones to beat for The Happiest Music of 2014.
Review and purchase link ~ Summer Songs
Review and purchase link ~ Falling for Autumn
Nienvox ~ Space Castles, Love Songs (Fuselab)
Surf rhythms and a laid-back vibe permeate this beat-driven album, the first physical full-length for both Nienvox and Fuselab.  The fact that it was released during the first week of 2013 only gave us that much more time to enjoy it; and as the year draws to a close, it still sounds fresh.
Review and purchase link
Public Service Broadcasting ~ Inform Educate Entertain (Self-released)
Ambient, rock, post-rock, electronic, plunderphonic, and country music weave their way throughout this fascinating debut album, which places all topics on equal ground: television, exploration, fashion, war.  The album inspired half a dozen singles, and we couldn’t resist it.
Review and purchase link
Weerthof ~ Out of Control (esc.rec)
We can pretty much guarantee that if you make an album using the sounds of toothbrushes, roosters, faucets and kazoos, put it on a USB stick and cook it into a bar of soap, you’re going to make this list.  But if you’re not Weerthof, please don’t copy him ~ come up with your own idea!
Review and purchase link
Richard Allen

Rich’s Picks: Soundtracks

GravityDuring the movie nomination season, the tight Best Original Score category is of particular interest to A Closer Listen.  Here are five nominees for your Oscar consideration, plus two bonuses: scores released in 2013 for films released in 2012 and 2014.
1)  Steven Price ~ Gravity
I’m not alone in choosing this score to occupy the pole position.  In a film dominated by the vastness of space and low on dialogue, the score needed to carry the film ~ and it did.  The surprise is that the music is so heavy on drone, with long, building stretches punctuated by sudden swirls of nearly atonal sound that disappear without notice.  A triumph in every way, and well deserving of every accolade it receives.

2)  Hans Zimmer ~ Man of Steel
Scorn Zimmer if you must, but the man is a force of nature.  For Man of Steel, he brought his A game, with all-new Superman themes and many memorable motifs.  The sense of excitement was palpable from the very first preview, and the traditional Zimmer combination of tenderness and bombast was perfect for the comic book narrative.

3)  Jóhann Jóhannsson ~ Prisoners
Jóhann Jóhannsson has been doing soundtrack work for a few years (Varmints, The Miners’ Hymns, Copenhagen Dreams), but this is his highest profile release to date.  It still managed to go unnoticed by many people, perhaps due to its subtle nature.  Restraint was key in building cinematic tension, and one can’t imagine the film being as successful with a louder score.  But in the main theme, the composer brings all threads to a satisfying conclusion ~ more satisfying, it must be said, than the open-ended conclusion of the film itself.

4)  Shane Carruth ~ Upstream Color
The best way to avoid splitting profits is to do everything one’s self, and this is exactly what Shane Carruth did by writing, directing, scoring and starring in Upstream Color.  The abstraction of the film was beautifully matched by the ambient score, which somehow managed to avoid drifting into mist.  An exercise in color and movement, Carruth’s score takes on a life of its own.

5)  Daniel Hart ~ Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Occasionally a film becomes known less for its images and its acting than for its score.  This may well become the fate of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, by most accounts a well-intentioned yet mediocre movie lifted by an evocative batch of banjos, violins and handclaps.  The low profile of the film may keep it from Oscar consideration, but we think it deserves a seat at the big dance.

Honorable Mention #1
William Ryan Fritch ~ The Waiting Room
Film Released in 2012, Score Released in 2013
The Waiting Room already received awards consideration in 2012, but we first heard it in 2013, when the album was released.  Easily one of the best scores in recent years, the album bears up well after repeat listens, and establishes Fritch as a major league contender.  Read our full review here.

Honorable Mention #2
Dustin O’Halloran ~ Breathe In
Film Released in 2014, Score Released in 2013
It’s rare that a score is released so long before a film, but this indie circuit darling just couldn’t wait.  Dustin O’Halloran turns in some of his best score work to date, and adds previously released music from Efterklang and his own A Winged Victory for the Sullen to round out the set.  If the movie is as good as the score, we’re in for a treat.
Richard Allen

Electronic Observations 2013 #10

The Angling Loser ~ Author of the Twilight

AL-deluxe-release-page-image-1.jpg778Angling is Britain’s most popular sport, according to a survey conducted a few years ago, although I must confess there is a lot about it that leaves me baffled. I understand the idea of finding solitude and tranquility in the countryside and consequently the need to keep our rivers free from pollution to help the fish population but I struggle to equate that with pulling a fish out of its environs via a hook in its cheek and then letting it asphyxiate on the river bank. The Angling Loser concentrates on the tranquil aspects of fishing, and is thus the aural equivalent of J.R. Hartley meets Wind in the Willows, all sun-dappled streams and hours spent watching the day go by. The pieces, named for different periods of the day, are long, relaxed guitar and synth excursions bathed in field recordings and given extra texture by excerpts from a fly-fishing manual. It’s quite, quite lovely – forget Beethoven’s 6th, this is a pastoral symphony.
Available here

Compound Eye ~ Journey From Anywhere

eMEGO181_Cover-350I was relatively late in discovering Coil, although I’m glad I did so whilst they were still active – sandwiched between Mouse On Mars and Plaid at a gig, improbably enough. The deaths of Jhonn Balance and, later, Peter Christopherson ended the project tragically early with, seemingly, very little in the vaults, so it’s left to former associates to carry the vision. Drew McDowall, a member of Coil for several years, teams up with Psychic Ills’ Tres Warren in Compound Eye, a duo that seems to take its cue from Coil’s Remote Viewer; both that album and Journey From Anywhere deal in hypnotic, psychedelic drone pieces that work most effectively the longer they are, so the listener is fully immersed. Some of the tracks seem to carry degrees of spiritual resonance, others gradually reveal deep pools of mysterious sound over their duration. It’s a fine drone album regardless of McDowall’s previous band, but I think Journey From Anywhere may touch some souls more deeply than others.
Available here

DJ Rashad ~ Double Cup

HDBCD020It’s been a little quiet this year in terms of footwork/juke albums but two additions in 2013 certainly count as proper artistic statements – one, RP Boo’s Legacy has been unfairly slept on by this column due to a lack of time and reviewer competence, so let’s not miss out on the other from DJ Rashad. Whilst Legacy feels almost spiky and awkward at times, Double Cup is a proper party album; nearly the whole album could be played out and slay the club. Rashad collaborates on all but two of the tracks here, which keeps the ideas fresh, and they fair tumble out in quick succession. In the wrong context, it just sounds a mess: the bass often lurches queasily, the vocal samples are frequently aggressive, and the mix is almost oppressively compressed. In the right location, however, Double Cup takes off, and with jungle breaks being co-opted into his sound, Rashad shows that footwork isn’t standing still.
Available here

Glossata ~ Pearls & Smoke

a1889097650_2Formerly known as Alteria Percepsyne, the now more concisely named Glossata specialises in two things: expressively descriptive titles and – more importantly – beautiful and creative tracks of a dubby, techno nature. There’s so much to enjoy on Pearls & Smoke, it seems a shame to single out any highlights but a good place to start is the evolving dub of “Victoria’s Fading Eyes”, which could happily stick in a holding pattern for its duration but introduces new elements midway through, giving a fresh dynamic to the piece. Emily Griffiths, the producer behind Glossata, has a way of developing her tracks beyond merely sticking with one idea – sometimes the changes are scarcely perceptible but only become apparent after a while, and weirdly this results in time feeling stretched or shortened depending where you are in the album. Heartily recommended, this is an understated masterpiece of the genre.
Available here

Graze ~ Edges

NK47Regular visitors to the site will have no doubt filled their boots with the overview of album cover art, but here’s a late entry for one of my favourites. A minimalist design, with clean lines and angles and a reflection hinting at added depths… it’s a pretty accurate indication of what’s going on musically. Graze, the duo of Canadians Adam Marshall and Christian Andersen, have made an album of techno that’s nearly all beats and bassline and not a lot else – but they are impressively creative with the limited palette they have chosen, and there’s a lot that only becomes apparent on repeated listens. Whilst the kick drum holds down a steady pulse, the rest of the kit provides a lot more variety and colour, and on several tracks the bassline is brought to the fore to play the lead melodic line. Edges certainly grips the listener – at times the music is taut, intense and engaging, but then that bass comes throbbing out of the speakers and resistance is futile.
Available here

Marina Rosenfeld ~ P.A./Hard Love

v300_rm452_rosenfeld_pa_hard_loveYou can guarantee that Room40 will release at least half a dozen records each year that will, at the very least, be interesting, and there’s always a danger that one will get unwittingly overlooked, although Marina Rosenfeld‘s P.A./Hard Love isn’t going to fall into this category, even if I’m about 6 months late covering it. This album contains six pieces based on sound installations that Rosenfeld undertook in large areas, but rather than being a dry exploration of urban space, P.A./Hard Love is tempered by the presence of Warrior Queen, who may be familiar to you from her appearances on The Bug’s albums. So Rosenfeld’s impressionistic electronic pulses, glitches and scrapes become a disquieting backdrop for part-rap, part-poetry of Warrior Queen. Only on very rare moments, like a few brief bars on the title track, does Rosenfeld provide a more familiar riddim, but even then it’s amidst fractured chimes rather than pounding bass. It’s a fascinating collision of two disparate musical worlds and the result is one experimental album that works totally.
Available here

Om Unit ~ Threads

artworks-000060436422-uc3hqc-originalThreads is Jim Coles’ debut album as Om Unit – although he chalked up a few albums last decade under a different name, he rebooted himself in 2010 and has made regular appearances as a remixer and collaborator since with this new identity. It has that first album feel to it, too, with nods to numerous influences channelled through a dubstep mentality. So the music is sluggish, atmospheric and stripped down to its simplest elements a lot of the time, like the doom-laden, urban vibe of “Healing Rain”. This is balanced, however, with various guest appearances which tend to break the overall mood – whether the MC is American or British, they just don’t quite fit in. So there’s about a quarter of the album that could be sliced off to make a varied EP, whilst the rest makes a taut journey through the nocturnal world of dubstep and its antecedents. Recommended, then, but with a few reservations.
Available here

Shunya ~ 0

a2125363596_2With some albums, it’s relatively easy to work out the influences behind an artist – and to be brutally honest, these are the ones that end up in the ‘reject’ pile. Shunya‘s 0 isn’t easy to pin down at all, in fact it’s possibly too scattershot to be a coherent listen but honestly, where else are you going to hear a track influenced by Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, an hip hop tune with rapping and a tabla used in the beats, and an ethereal ambient flute piece in quick succession? Because that’s what we’ve got here. We’re never going to accuse an artist of having too many ideas, but it’s hard to tell whether this EP is a ‘here’s what I can do’ calling card, or a ‘no, I really like all this stuff’ artistic statement. Either way, the individual tracks are all really rather good, and if you can cope with the idea of what is essentially an untidy trip-hop record with you’ll probably end up loving this album. It worked for me.
Available here

Tiny Mix Tapes

50. Lil Ugly Mane - Three Sided Tape [Volumes One and Two] (Self-Released)
49. Foodman - Shokuhin (Orange Milk)
48. Frog Eyes - Carey’s Cold Spring (Self-Released)
47. These New Puritans - Field Of Reeds (Infectious)
46. Paisley Parks - Бh○§† (Pan Pacific Playa)
45. Earn - Hell On Earth (Bathetic)
44. Grouper - Man Who Died In His Boat (Kranky)
43. The Dead C - Armed Courage (Ba Da Bing!)
42. Huerco S - Colonial Patterns (Software)
41. Death Grips - Government Plates (Self-Released)
40. Jenny Hval - Innocence Is Kinky (Rune Grammofon)
39. Chief Keef - Almighty So (Self-Released)
38. Ahnnu - World Music (Leaving)
37. Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light (Constellation)
36. Wolf Eyes - No Answer: Lower Floors (De Stijl)
35. Julianna Barwick - Nepenthe (Dead Oceans)
34. The Flaming Lips - The Terror (Warner Bros.)
33. Lee Noble - Ruiner (Bathetic)
32. Nmesh - Nu.wav Hallucinations (AMDISCS)
31. Matana Roberts - COIN COIN Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile (Constellation)
30. Bill Callahan - Dream River (Drag City)
29. The Body - Christs, Redeemers (Thrill Jockey)
28. Stara Rzeka - Cien chmury nad ukrytym polem (Instant Classic)
27. Danny Brown - Old (Fool’s Gold)
26. Inga Copeland - Higher Powers (Self-Released)
25. James Blake - Overgrown (Republic)
24. Dirty Beaches - Drifters/Love Is the Devil (Zoo Music)
23. My Bloody Valentine - m b v (Self-Released)
22. Bill Orcutt - History Of Every One (Editions Mego)
21. Andrew Pekler - Cover Versions (Senufo Editions)
20. DJ Rashad - Double Cup (Hyperdub)
19. Dean Blunt - Stone Island (Self-Released)
18. The Knife - Shaking Habitual (Mute)
17. James Ferraro - NYC, HELL 3:00 AM (Hippos in Tanks)
16. Lucrecia Dalt - Syzygy (Human Ear Music)
15. D/P/I - Fresh Roses (Chance Images)
14. Laurel Halo - Chance Of Rain (Hyperdub)
13. Sean Mccann - Music For Private Ensemble (Recital)
12. Mohammad - Som Sakrifis (PAN)
11. Tim Hecker - Virgins (Kranky)
10. Forest Swords - Engravings (Tri Angle)
09. Arca - &&&&& (Hippos in Tanks)
08. 18+ - MIXTAP3 (Self-Released)
07. Graham Lambkin / Jason Lescalleet - Photographs (Erstwhile)
06. Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety (Software)
05. Kanye West - Yeezus (Roc-A-Fella)
04. Pharmakon - Abandon (Sacred Bones)
03. Julia Holter - Loud City Song (Domino)
02. Dean Blunt - The Redeemer (Hippos in Tanks)
01. Oneohtrix Point Never - R Plus Seven (Warp)

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