utorak, 7. siječnja 2014.

Best Music 2013 - Boomkat, 5against4

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boomkat.com/collections/boomkat-charts-2013

Boomkat Top 100 Albums 2013
Boomkat Top 100 Reissues / Archival 2013
Boomkat Top 100 Singles 2013
Ron Morelli 2013 Chart
Visionist 2013 Chart
Veronica Vasicka / Minimal Wave 2013 Chart
Tropic Of Cancer / Camella Lobo 2013 Chart

Will Bankhead 2013 Chart

Matt Colton 2013 Chart
Karl O'Connor (Regis) 2013 Chart 
Kowton 2013 Chart
Zomby 2013 Chart
Raime (Joe Andrews) 2013 Chart
Russell Haswell 2013 Chart
Bullion / Top 10 Discoveries 2013

Andy Stott 2013 Chart
Amanda Brown 2013 Chart
Kiran Sande / Blackest Ever Black 2013 Chart
EVOL 2013 Chart
Jon K 2013 Chart
Juan Mendez / Silent Servant 2013 Chart
Shifted 2013 Chart
Joane Skyler 2013 Chart
Gnod 2013 Chart
Beneath 2013 Chart
Pete Swanson 2013 Chart
William Bennett / Cut Hands 2013 Chart
Bruce Levenstein 2013 Chart
Helena Hauff 2013 Chart
Mordant Music 2013 Chart
Lawrence English 2013 Chart
John Twells 2013 Chart
Luke Younger / Helm 2013 Chart
1080p 2013 Chart
Sean Canty / Demdike Stare 2013 Chart
Pye Corner Audio 2013 Chart
Peter Rehberg 2013 Chart
WANDA GROUP TOP EXISTENCE OR REAL LIFE MOMENTS IN 2013
 Erik K Skodvin  / Svarte Greiner Best Of 2013 Chart
 Slackk 2013 Chart
 Andy Votel Favourite
 Brian Pyle / Ensemble Economique 2013 Chart
Hippos In Tanks 2013 Chart
Total Fantasy 2013 Chart
Ralf Köster & Tim Lorenz MFOC  / Golden Pudel Club 2013 Chart
Swing Ting 2013 Chart
Richard Chartier / Pinkcourtesyphone 2013 Chart
Public Information 2013 Chart

Adam Harper 2013 Chart
Dominick Fernow 2013 Chart
Monique Recknagel / Sonic Pieces Best Of 2013 Chart
DJ Haus 2013 Chart
Stephen O'Malley / SOMA 2013 Chart
Annex 2013 Chart

Chris Menist 2013 Chart
Brad Rose / Digitalis 2013 Chart
Andrew Hargreaves / The Boats 2013 Chart
Alex Morris (Boomkat) Chart
Night School Chart
G.H. Chart
Total Freedom Chart
 Peverelist 2013 Chart
Rob Booth / Houndstooth 2013 Chart
Powell 2013 Chart
Rainer Veil 2013 Chart
Noel Clueit (Boomkat) 2013 Chart
Conor Thomas (Boomkat) 2013 Chart
Jo Montgomerie (Boomkat) 2013 Chart
Tomasz (Boomkat) 2013 Chart
Paul Shoreman (Boomkat) 2013 Chart
Bill Kouligas / PAN Chart
Miles (Demdike Stare) 2013 Chart



5:4


5:4

5against4.com/2013/12/30/best-albums-of-2013-part-1/

Continuing my round-up of the best music of the year, here’s the first part of the most outstanding albums of 2013; part two will be coming tomorrow.
40 | Blue Hawaii Untogether
Proving once again that much of the most imaginative poptronica comes from Canada, Blue Hawaii’s first full-length LP shows them to have attained a point of real maturity. Adopting a different approach from her other group Braids, singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston subjects her voice to far more experimental treatment here, enfolding it in on top of itself, slicing it up & dispersing it around the rock-solid layers of electronic firmament laid down by Alex Cowan. There’s dreaminess aplenty to be found in the mix, but the music here is working towards altogether more forthright ends.
[Arbutus | iTunes]
39 | Andrew Liles INCOMMENSURABLE MAGNITUDES
One’s gut reaction, confronted with one of the longest albums ever recorded—exactly 24 hours’ duration—is to consider the herculean compositional effort it must have taken for Andrew Liles to create such a behemoth. But one of the most remarkable things about it—as with all Liles’ work—is how completely effortless & spontaneous it sounds. As one might expect for such an epic duration, the music takes its time, & events unfold at a pace that sometimes borders on the techtonic, yet this is entirely in keeping with the kind of musical encounter Liles is presenting. It goes way beyond mere immersion, turning the act of listening into a major event (which, as it turns out, is the only herculean part of the experience).
[Andrew Liles]
38 | Chubby Wolf The Last Voices
One of the most beguilingly anonymous creations by the late Danielle Baquet-Long—it remains unclear whether it was even finished before her death—The Last Voices further demonstrates the subtlety of creative thinking that makes each Chubby Wolf such a deeply impressive artefact. Of course, music of such quality renews the call to mourn her desperately early passing, but we are at least fortunate that Baquet-Long’s talent was matched by her fecundity. This 3-hour release brings together what may or may not be three alternate approaches to her source materials, but regardless it presents some of her most beautiful & hypnotic work.
[Chubby Wolf]
37 | Shane Carruth Upstream Color (Original Motion Picture Score)
One can only imagine what Shane Carruth would have come up with had he decided to compose a score that matched the radicality of his movie Upstream Color (my favourite film of 2013). As it is, Carruth has recognised that when you’re reinventing cinema from the inside out, there needs to be an element of security—comfort, even—in the soundtrack, & that’s what one finds in these 15 tracks. They integrate completely with the film’s slow-moving scenes, combining elements from different forms of ambient music to arrive at something appropriately mysterious & melancholic, echoing the film’s achingly fragile beauty.
[Amazon | iTunes]
36 | Chiyoko Szlavnics Gradients of Detail
It’s high time Chiyoko Szlavnics’ sui generis music was committed to record, so kudos should be extended to musikFabrik & World Edition for this important release. It includes one of Szlavnics’ most captivating works, (a)long lines; we’ll draw our own lines; having directed the UK première of this piece a few years ago, i know all too well the endemic challenges it presents, particularly the dependence on just intonation. musikFabrik’s rendition of this & all three works on this disc is as close to flawless as one’s likely to get, demonstrating the lovely way Szlavnics melds acoustic & electronic timbres into a soundworld that’s somewhere in between.
[World Edition]
35 | Chvrches The Bones of What You Believe
While most contemporary pop is prepared to do little more than misappropriate tired tropes from an earlier time, Chvrches strike a perfect balance between past & future. 80s synth timbres & a fondness for strong, soaring melodies (borne aloft by Lauren Mayberry’s gorgeous voice) are as far as the throwbacks go; the rest is all new, songs so wonderfully exciting it’s as though the band were trying to outdo themselves with each new track.
[Amazon | iTunes]
34 | Ulver Messe I.X-VI.X
Norway’s most relentless experimental band have turned to the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra to help realise their latest project. Like the soundtrack to some imaginary avant-garde noir movie, Messe I.X-VI.X conjures up a grayscale spectrum of dramatic spectres, some of which drag one along with them, while others are intent on surrounding the listener with a sense of dread. Perhaps a product of the group’s extensive post-production work, there’s a lightness of touch amidst the gloom that keeps the album fresh & aerated, allowing the strong emotion underpinning this heavily wrought music not just to emerge but to predominate.
[Amazon | iTunes]
33 | Roly Porter Life Cycle of a Massive Star
Porter’s follow-up to his 2011 debut Aftertime goes a long way to consolidating his position as one of the more ambitious artists working in mainstream electronic music. The title itself says something of that ambition, & while the album could never live up to the insane prolixity of hype that surrounded its release, tracks like ‘Birth’ & ‘Giant’ create a soundworld that is both vast & overwhelming.
[Amazon | Boomkat]
32 | Tomas Phillips/Kenneth Kirschner Five Transpositions
This fine collaboration utilises a large array of sounds & sources to create the album’s five pieces. Sometimes the music rattles through these sources at speed (though never seeming to be doing so at speed), while elsewhere semi-improvisatory gestures are allowed to play out in a relatively static way (those well acquainted with Kirschner’s solo work will recognise this behaviour). ‘Low Bells’ is the standout track, its assortment of textures cast in the shadow of massive bell resonances.
[Amazon | iTunes]
31 | James Newton Howard The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Original Motion Picture Score)
One of the main things that distinguishes James Newton Howard’s score for the recent Hunger Games sequel from the shedload of generic soundtracks is his subtle use of harmony. Whereas most orchestral film scores betray little beyond the most rudimentary knowledge, Howard here taps into the kind of oblique tonality upon which many a Shostakovich work was founded. It entirely suits the movie’s increasingly dark & conflicted character, & even when the action demands a more pugilistic kind of bombast, Howard undermines the familiarity through piled-up dissonances & strange electronic timbres.
[Amazon | iTunes]
30 | Marsheaux Inhale
While Greek duo Marsheaux have often been hampered by their heroes, lacking a truly distinctive voice, Inhale emphatically displays what they’re capable of when standing on their own four feet. There are echoes of other acts (The Other Two in particular & a hint of Uh Huh Her) but what comes across most in these songs is the restless enthusiasm & talent the pair have for shining synthpop. They don’t even sound especially retro any longer, which is perhaps testimony enough to how far they’ve progressed.
[Undo | iTunes]
29 | Ben Lukas Boysen Mother Nature
Boysen taps into a slightly more illuminated soundworld here than the one in his previous soundtrack, last year’s Restive. As they do in so much of his music (both as himself & as Hecq), sounds continue to resound within impossibly huge spaces & there are plenty of glowering deep bass notes & pounding drums. But there’s a brightness to many of these exquisitely crafted atmospheres that draws them into altogether more uplifted territory. The film is dark & threatening, though, & there are few composers better at finding bold new ways to capture a sense of inscrutable menace.
[Amazon | Hymen]
28 | Emmy Rossum Sentimental Journey
Rossum’s first album focussed on original songs characterised by a sense of blissed out enchantment; her second turns to popular American standards from the 1920s onward. Each practically sparkles with the invigoratingly fresh approach Rossum brings to these well-known songs. The arrangements are quirky & sometimes deliciously unpredictable, whereas Rossum’s sublime voice is as predictably perfect as ever. Never a note out of place, she’s not just a delight to listen to, she’s a marvel.
[Amazon | iTunes]
27 | The Knife Shaking The Habitual
The title of this breathtaking album sums up Karin Dreijer Andersson & Olof Dreijer’s entire approach to music-making. Nothing here is familiar or workaday: song structures become elastic in their hands, producing strange & capricious results; melodies wheeze & whine, meandering all over the place on a whim; accompaniments don’t so much develop as accrete materials around them; moods are established & then abruptly shrugged off in favour of something entirely different; & when it suits, lyrics are ejected entirely in favour of complex electronic textures. When the result is as sensational as this, it only makes you wonder why more artists aren’t as open-minded.
[Amazon | Boomkat]
26 | Cliff Martinez Only God Forgives (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [Deluxe Edition]
Blunt, brutish, ritualistic, occasionally mitigated by moments of forced & uncomfortable sensuality. That description could apply as much to Nicolas Winding Refn’s film (another of my favourites) as to Cliff Martinez’s superbly-judged score. Tribal drums are answered by a glass harmonica, soft strings by deep Tibetan horns, interspersed with performances of Thai karaoke—tense, jarring juxtapositions that find some kind of release in the synth-laden explosion of core track ‘Wanna Fight’. As soundtracks go, this is surely one of the most original & troublingly effective of recent years.
[Amazon | iTunes]
25 | Motion Sickness of Time Travel Eclipse Studies
It’s been an almost absurdly productive 2013 for Rachel Evans (around 10 releases), somewhat militated against by their mixed & inconsistent quality. But Eclipse Studies would have made the year worthwhile by itself, a pair of equal-length, large-form pieces filled with a highly engaging & variegated collection of musical swatches. It’s a kind of compendium of ideas, by turns playful, distant, dogmatic, emulatory—all of it suffused with Evans’ characteristically light, whimsically effervescent style.
[Motion Sickness of Time Travel]
24 | Rashad Becker Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I
Listening to this, it beggers belief that it’s a debut album. Yet Rashad Becker, renowned for his work as engineer at Berlin’s equally renowned Dubplates & Mastering, has clearly been formulating & honing his ideas about sound for some time. The results are as astonishing as they were highly anticipated; the way in which Becker contrives both to synthesise instrumental & vocal timbres from scratch & then make them jump through his own series of decidedly taxing & contorted hoops is one of the most unique things i’ve heard in a very long time.
[Boomkat | iTunes]
23 | Nine Inch Nails Hesitation Marks (Audiophile Mastered Version)
Being a lifelong fan of Nine Inch Nails, i’ll admit to having had misgivings about this album prior to listening. What now for the man who once felt little more than endless rage at the world, but is now clearly so happy & contented? Hesitation Marks doesn’t quite answer that question; the traces of anger are softened, the subject matter more wide-ranging & mellowed—in many ways this doesn’t seem like the NIN we’ve known & loved (& sympathised with). But Trent Reznor is a powerhouse of conceptual & technical ingenuity, & despite one’s reservations, this is a supremely impressive album that somehow keeps the NIN continuity intact.
[NIN]
22 | Flat Earth Society 13
It’s tempting to ask yourself whether it’s jazz you’re hearing or if someone’s just taking the piss. In truth, it seems to be both & neither: by thumbing their nose to convention, Flat Earth Society create some the most bewildering but thrilling leftfield jazz homages you’ll ever hear. The sensibility of Zappa (think Make a Jazz Noise Here) seems to be the guiding light, causing the music to shift abruptly between big band tuttis, faux eastern melodic interludes, rock music outbursts & plenty of other stuff that defies any kind of meaningful description. Wonderful.
[Amazon | iTunes]
21 | CocoRosie Tales of a Grass Widow
Those familiar with CocoRosie’s output know to expect the unexpected, but that didn’t prevent Tales of a Grass Widow from packing two fists’ worth of unseen punches. Introducing quirky sporadic use of autotune only makes the girls sound even more out there than usual, but the real surprise (for me at least) is how these songs nonetheless seem utterly grounded, rooted in a kind of seriousness belied by the all the timbral/textural/structural/vocal eccentricities. Never, in fact, have they sounded more pensive & developed than here; how they manage this while executing all manner of stylistic twirls & coquettish whispers is anyone’s guess.
[Amazon | iTunes]
20 | Ryoji Ikeda supercodex
Ikeda’s stark exploration of humanity’s increasing interaction with—& dependence upon—the movement of data has found perhaps its most engaging expression in supercodex. On some previous albums (matrix & test pattern spring to mind), his approach has felt so rigorous, & so concomitantly aloof, that the electronics seem entirely bereft of the human touch. Not so here: playfulness dominates Ikeda’s manipulations, causing the raw sine tones & noise clusters continually to reform themselves into irresistible beat patterns & even semblances of basslines. It’ll still give your ears & your speakers a hell of a pounding, but Ikeda’s arguably never made the experience so much fun.
[Amazon | Boomkat]
19 | Autechre Exai
Exai finds Sean Booth & Rob Brown getting back to basics. The hat-tipping to ambient softness, a recurring feature of their work since Quaristice, is essentially gone, replaced with chrome-plated beat machinations of fabulous complexity. Combined with a renewed interest in large-form evolutionary structures, Exai represents some of their most strikingly challenging work since Untilted.
[Bleep | iTunes]
18 | How To Destroy Angels Welcome oblivion
Trent Reznor’s latest project—featuring his wife Mariqueen Maandig as vocalist—was perhaps always going to be seen & heard in parallel to Nine Inch Nails. In practice, while Reznor’s sonic fingerprints are all over HTDA’s music, there’s a softness & a form of vulnerability here that markedly distinguishes itself from the NIN soundworld. What these songs betray most, though, is elegance; the intricate textures that surround & reinforce Maandig’s voice—clearly the product of intense studio labours—feel nothing less than sculptural.
[Amazon | HTDA]
17 | Secret Chiefs 3 Book Of Souls Folio A
It isn’t often one gets to hear such diverse elements as pimped up Turkish music, experimental electronics, faux radio jingles, French-inflected post-rock, arrangements of ’70s horror themes & ’60s crooners, ritualised orchestral tomfoolery & MoR road music on one album. The reason for such a potentially schizoid release is due to it encompassing no fewer than six of Trey Spruance’s compositional identities. However, Book Of Souls Folio A doesn’t merely hang together but actively clarifies the points of connection & continuity within Spruance’s outlook; the range of his imagination is simply stunning.
[Amazon | iTunes]
16 | Liza Lim Tongue of the Invisible
Reviewed back in October, the single work on this disc is a hugely successful testament to the ways in which improvised music can integrate fully with pre-composed material. As an example of what Lim has called an “ecology of collaboration” it’s impressive enough, but Lim’s ear for surprising sonorities is remarkable, & on top of all that Tongue of the Invisible is both thrillingly dramatic & deeply sensual.
[Amazon | iTunes]
15 | Michael Finnissy The History of Photography in Sound
Completely immersed? Check. Out of my depth? Pretty much. But then, it’s hard not to find oneself lost—in both senses of the word—listening to Finnissy’s 5½-hour magnum opus for solo piano, yet that only makes the experience all the more exhilarating. Everything about this release is extreme: Finnissy’s relentless compositional invention, Ian Pace’s frankly flabbergasting technique, & his fascinating book-length programme notes—which, once you make it past your tl;dr gag reflex are phenomenally useful. It’s an astounding, revelatory work, & this release is nothing less than a milestone in the history of both composition & recorded music. Essential.
[Presto Classical | Divine Art]
14 | These New Puritans Field of Reeds
Three years have passed since Hidden, but this album reinforces further how far & wide Jack Barnett’s interests lie. Affording himself the riches of additional instrumental & vocal ensembles seems to have unleashed a hitherto tethered scale of ambition. The worlds of pop & rock have never sounded so distant, so irrelevant; Field of Reeds is not so much an album than a contemporary song cycle—can These New Puritans really be described as a ‘band’ any more?
[Amazon | iTunes]
13 | Igor Stravinsky Le Sacre du Printemps (Simon Rattle/Berlin Philharmoniker)
Perhaps it was inevitable in this 100th anniversary year of the Rite of Spring that it would fall to Simon Rattle—one of music’s most perspicacious of conductors—to break through a century of gradual over-familiarity & find the essence of what caused such havoc in the first place. Le Sacre still sounds as though it could have been written last week rather than last century, even more so when one hears with such clarity the strange counterpoint, the seeming non-sequitur chord progressions & such wildly Dionysian orchestral pile-ups. With the Berlin Phil, Rattle has enabled the Rite to sound entirely fresh for the century that lies ahead.
[Presto Classical | Amazon]
12 | Bloodgroup Tracing Echoes
While it’s unfortunate that so many Nordic acts get saddled with the epithet ‘quirky’, both of Bloodgroup’s previous albums would qualify. But not Tracing Echoes, which will inevitably be looked back on as a turning point in their career. The songs are as gymnastic as ever, but now underpinned by pretty no-nonsense, heavyweight basslines & beat patterns, & they’ve coloured their palette (like the cover artwork) with a black & white selection of hard edges & buzzy sonics. Earnest yet energetic, Tracing Echoes surely elevates Bloodgroup to the status of Iceland’s best group.
[Amazon | iTunes]
11 | Black Swan Redemption
Black Swan’s ongoing obsession with the subtleties to be found deep within the noise & fuzz of aged recordings continues to yield fascinating results. Redemption is in many ways a brighter survey; it does plumb the depths, but that’s not at all the focus of attention on this occasion. Neither do Black Swan afford the listener as much opportunity to reach into the abstract; both the choice of source materials & the way they’ve been treated emphasises clarity & the particular kind of poignant beauty that emerges from the best & most honest hauntological objects.
[Black Swan]
10 | Aidan Baker & Troum Nihtes Niht
Having tread the safest of waters for some time, Aidan Baker has hit the jackpot in this splendid collaboration with Troum. Drones, not surprisingly, are the lynchpin of this joint project, but drones that are festooned in a fabulous array of colours & atmospheres, passing between close intimacy (falling to almost sub-audibility in the process) & vast reverberant spaces, examining dense noise & allowing quasi-tonal chords to coalesce out of drifting pitches. Heady, involving stuff that makes the case for the continuing power of drone music.
[Broken Spine Productions]
9 | iamamiwhoami bounty
Arguably the best, certainly one of the most ludicrously imaginative artists to have emerged from Scandinavia in recent years, Jonna Lee’s second album is more considered than last year’s kin, but is essentially as carefree as ever. Indeed, some of the songs—’u-2′ especially—let rip with the most joyous abandon, yet as a whole the pace is slowed, the tone reflective. Not many can get away with that attitude atop ceaseless analogue synth arpeggios, but then iamamiwhoami is without doubt the most unique voice in contemporary electronica.
[towhomitmayconcern | iTunes]
8 | Paul Jebanasam Rites
In such a secular world as that of contemporary music, the place & role of symbols & rituals has attained a new form of significance. Paul Jebanasam has channelled deeply into that most modern mindset; in my review of Rites a couple of months ago, i remarked how it is “like a five-part liturgy to an unknown god or force”. Certainly the way Rites unfolds has all the structural patience of a liturgy, only gradually moving into its dark, passionate core, a veritable blizzard of resounding echoes & melodic keening.
[Amazon | Boomkat]
7 | irr. app. (ext.) Tuberpendicular
Matt Waldron’s music has a tendency to linger at the liminal point between eccentricity & outright absurdity. This album interestingly draws away from both, presenting instead a more serious soundscape. Waldron handles sound the way a magician might use a cauldron; scraps of ideas from a myriad sources are thrown into the pot sometimes on a whim, sometimes to steep & transform the nature of the whole. In the case of Tuberpendicular, the choice of sounds is as tantalisingly anecdotal as ever: almost nothing sounds synthetic, & the resulting smorgasbord of unrelated, almost identifiable sources impacting off each other makes for an absolutely fascinating aural journey.
[irr. app. (ext.)]
6 | Stephan Mathieu The Falling Rocket
In a year that saw practically no ambient music of quality, Stephan Mathieu consistently proves that the genre yet has life. Chords hang, melodies slowly form, deep clusters judder at length, motes of material appear & drift—none of this is new, of course, but Mathieu imbues these nine pieces with such interest & beauty it’s as though he was inventing ambient anew. The music has a transfixed, ecstatic quality, & that’s precisely the effect it has on the listener. Really gorgeous stuff.
[Schwebung | iTunes]
5 | Jakob Ullmann fremde zeit addendum 4
Once upon a time i found it hard to write about Ullmann’s music; now i feel as though i can hardly shut up about it. The single work included on this release—solo III für orgel—continues the argument & practice established in last year’s 3-disc bonanza. Back in May, i described the work’s lengthy drones as “deeply etched grooves within the performance space, a kind of simple grain upon & about which utmost delicate moments of tracery are imposed”. The more time one spends with the piece, the more these very occasional flurries of barely noticeable activity become moments of the profoundest significance. It’s an astonishingly vivid demonstration of Ullmann’s observation that “The less loud music is, the better I can hear it”.
[Presto Classical | Amazon]
4 | Xopher Davidson + Zbigniew Karkowski Processor
In a year that was largely spared significant compositional losses, the death of Zbigniew Karkowski earlier this month (at the age of only 55) came as a shock & a blow. All the more so when confronted by the music in this monumental collaboration. Imagine if the monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 began to emit sound, & you’ll come close to what Processor is like: an unstoppable stream of calm but resolute noise, throb & shimmer. The way it captures a sense of the numinous lends it an ineffable quality that’s rare in contemporary electronic music. In just 43 minutes, Davidson & Karkowski tap into something absolute & everywhere.
[Amazon | Boomkat]
3 | Main Ablation
Robert Hampson’s decision to revivify his Main project, following a seven year gap, has produced what is far & away the most brilliant electronic work of the year. The only gripe is that, at 46 minutes, it feels so short, but that’s simply a reaction to the astounding level of expertise & invention captured in each of the album’s four tracks. Hampson’s aural melting pot contains a huge variety of elements, essential in order to fashion such kaleidoscopically shifting textures as these.
[Boomkat | iTunes]
2 | The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation Roadburn
Honestly, it’s tempting to think that The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation can simply do no wrong. Two years ago, on Anthropomorphic (my best album of 2011) they defined fin de siècle jazz; now, in this live performance from the Roadburn festival, they’ve reached far beyond it into a post-apocalyptic hinterland. Such a wasted musical context as this can only bestow on the vestiges of melody a dignity & majesty of the heaviest kind. Ultimately, as i noted in my review in October, the piece results in “a musical & an emotional tabula rasa”; having wiped the slate clean, one can scarcely imagine where they’ll go next.
[The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation | iTunes]

1 | Philippe Petit Needles in Pain

Masterpieces aren’t always obvious, but within just the first few seconds of Philippe Petit’s acousmatic tour-de-force, it was abundantly clear that this was something seriously special. In a way, Needles in Pain is something of an existential musical experience, an examination simultaneously of the practices of recording & playing back sound. Turntables have long been the locus of Petit’s attention, & his 2010 collaboration with Cosey Fanny Tutti, Mist While Sleeping / Invisible Whispers, made the heavily-worn aspects of vinyl playback an integral component in his compositional palette. Here, it’s as though we have personally been integrated into the mechanism (an experience greatly enhanced—almost too much—through headphones), finding ourselves betwixt gigantic styluses, scurrying over scuffed vinyl surfaces, in the process contributing directly to the maelstrom of glitches, pops & scratches that pepper the clamorous, immovable clouds of noise & blasts of more concrete material that become periodically perceptible.
In fact, to continue the existential thread, so much does Petit make the music as a whole feel like the spontaneous consequent of our own unwitting participation that it begs the question of whether any of this material can be heard as diegetic. That’s imaginary, obviously, but regardless, it doesn’t prevent a fundamental undermining of the concepts of composer, performer & listener; indeed, it challenges us directly to find our place & our role—or, more likely, on further listenings, multiple places & roles—with respect to Petit’s inscrutable material. i don’t know if i’ve ever heard an album with the ability to provoke such intense inner conflict as this, or to force such a re-evaluation of the entire music-making/-listening experiences. As such, Needles in Pain is unique & amazing, & easily my best album of 2013.

[Philippe Petit | Alrealon Musique]


So, having listened to no fewer than 261 EPs & albums released this year, it’s time to distil that listening into the annual Best of the Year lists. As always, we’ll start with the ten most exceptional EPs.
10 | Gazelle Twin Mammal
Elizabeth Walling’s first release of new material since 2011′s dazzling The Entire City contains a trio of songs plus a quartet of remixes. The former are deeply impressive; ‘I Turn My Arm’ may well be her most impassioned song to date, all the more far-reaching due to emerging out of Walling’s characteristic sedate solemnity. As for the latter, unlike pretty much all examples today these remixes are well worth hearing, sensitive re-interpretations that tease out fresh aspects of the originals.
[Juno Download]
9 | Braids In Kind // Amends
Braids have a rather exciting habit of playing cat & mouse with singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s voice. In many ways, she’s a new Elizabeth Fraser (yes, she really is that good), but many’s the time when the band keeps that to itself, subduing the vocals or peppering them with jolting electronica. When let loose, though, Braids’ songs attain the kind of soaring delirium few groups can match. ‘In Kind’ captures this best, transforming itself from aspirational verses to a vision-filled chorus at gloriously unexpected altitude.
[Arbutus | Boomkat]
8 | Jefre Cantu-Ledesma Devotion
An outstanding example of how to frame an argument within the context of noise & scrunch, & then to transcend it entirely. Forcing material to fend for itself in fields of harsh disjecta membra is commonplace almost to the point of cliché nowadays, but Cantu-Ledesma somehow makes the two elements feel interdependent. This symbiosis emphasises the beauty of each aspect, resulting in some of the most strikingly original & graceful ambient music not just in 2013 but of recent years.
[Boomkat]
7 | Yugen Observations On Trance Or Human Hybernation
David Sani’s latest creation meditates on source materials culled from self-hypnosis recordings. That suggests soft restraint, but Sani whips up these sources into a dense, polyvalent texturescape, passing through noisy clouds of obfuscation, passages of obliquely audible speech, industrial-strength static clusters, near silences & mesmerising drones. Not so much episodic as evolutionary, it’s Sani’s most wide-ranging & inventive work to date.
[Yugen Art - free download]
6 | Christopher McFall Quivering into your blood night radio
McFall’s work seems more like the product of a sonic blacksmith than anything else, & his latest release only reinforces that impression. This time his attention is focussed on field recordings of the atmosphere & activity of Kansas City’s Union Station, forging from them another impossibly dark, nocturnal study. McFall’s ability to unsettle comes not from the merely theatrical affectations of dark ambience but by tapping into the inherently uncanny qualities of his materials. It pervades both pieces on this EP, some of which resound as if from a bottomless pit, others seemingly emerging out of one’s own head.
[Impulsive Habitat - free download]
5 | Access to Arasaka écrasez l’infâme
One of the masters of contemporary glitchtronics, Rob Lioy’s only release of 2013 occupies a more meditative space than much of his previous work. It takes a while to make its mark, but the latter half of this 6-track EP positively burns with intensity, moving from a scalding semi-stasis into the kind of rug-pulling beatcraft for which Access to Arasaka is justly renowned. Yet the emphasis here is on rich, ominous clouds of nebulosity, an aspect Lioy has hitherto usually kept in the background. Considering the question posed by the album’s accompanying notes—”What infamous thing do you wish to eradicate?”—this shift in focus perhaps foretells interesting developments for 2014.
[CRL Studios]
4 | Autechre L-event
The boys are back with four tracks that in some ways return to the kind of elliptical elongations heard on 2005′s Untilted. They share that album’s strong sense of momentum & clear surface evolution, the beats emerging as if through multiple layers of filtering gauze. However, the brevity of these tracks bolsters their directness, projecting clarity & immediacy despite the music’s abundant inner complexities.
[Bleep]
3 | voidesque the water test
Since his first release at the start of last year, Derek Jeppsen has become one of the most interesting figures in experimental IDM. Although still a relatively unknown voice, that situation may well change after an extremely productive 2013, which saw no fewer than half a dozen releases (all freely available). His music is for the most part concise & concentrated, & while the three tracks on the water test together last barely 10 minutes, the amount of invention piled into them, combined with Jeppsen’s increasing propensity toward unchecked aggression, makes them powerful & cutting.
[self-release - free download]
2 | Kenneth Kirschner March 15, 2013
Kirschner’s highly diverse work has taken a demonstrative turn in the direction of synthetic chamber music in the last few years, & this release demonstrates an especially striking example of it. Like so much of Kirschner’s music it comports itself via slowly-moving materials (Feldman is an abiding inspiration) that are behaviourally limited & timbrally shrouded. The effect created is immersive & mysterious, even magical, but this 22-minute piece sets itself apart from related works in the way its air of suspension is aggressively broken in its latter half.
[self-release - free download]

1 | Man Without Country Entropy Pt. 1

In my recent appraisal of Man Without Country, i noted how, with this remarkable EP, “the songs have outgrown themselves & become vast anti-paeans, the scale of their themes requiring not just musical but physical space. In short, they sound big, their scale reinforced by unstoppable percussion & a rare, aching lyricism that enables the songs to attain dizzying heights”. i won’t just echo those sentiments here, i’ll underline them. 2013 is a year that’s seen heavily hyped, over-discussed releases from many of the leading figures in contemporary pop, & even the best have shown themselves to be wearyingly predictable, lyrically mundane & lacking real imagination.
Seen alongside that kind of crestfallen clamour, both the ingenuity & the lyrical clout of Man Without Country’s music stand tall & clear. As i mentioned previously, there’s an element of lyrical retreat (or, at least, reticence) in the four songs that make up Entropy Pt. 1, but the sentiments impelling those songs is as palpable as ever. The duo’s fondness for alternating huge, synth-driven outbursts & subdued, semi-whispers lends them a particular kind of emotive power, but quite apart from that, the exquisite beauty that permeates Man Without Country’s songs distinguishes them as leaps & bounds ahead of the competition. This EP is their most mature release to date, & on the strength of it they are surely one of the hottest prospects for 2014. To quote myself again, “This is about as good as contemporary electronic pop gets”.

[Man Without Country | iTunes]

 

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