End-of-year lists became something like a plague these days. Like a constant mass of unrequested baby pictures or wedding photos on social media – you know they are coming sooner or later, but you are aware of the fact that you cannot really hide from all of them. Secretly, you also admit that eventually all this is more than okay if they make someone happy. Let it flow. It’s basically the same thing with these lists – we’ve been pregnant with these albums for at least 12 months, and now that another year is coming to end, we would like to share these experiences with you. Since we don’t publish (or hardly ever read!) reviews throughout the year, this list has been composed out of honest passion and the utmost respect for all the labels and artists who worked hard to provide a special aural dessert for us. Keep up the great work, because someone is out there and listening! Be it techno, ambient, modern classical or shoegaze – we tried to collect our favourite sounds for your listening pleasure. The list could be longer but it could be shorter as well. Consider it as a guide if you like. We hope that everyone can discover at least 1 album they missed before. Then it was already all worth it.
50. Yen Pox – Between The Horizon and the Abyss
The dark force is strong with this one. Yen Pox are Michael J.V. Hensley (Blood Box) and Steven Hall (Veil of Secrecy) and they are definitely not new in the scene. ‘Between The Horizon and the Abyss’ marks their first solo release in 15 years, making dark ambient relevant again as a result. Just as the album title suggests, this immersive album invites us to a rather apocalyptic journey filled with unsettling and disturbing surprises, consciousness becomes irrelevant, time and space dissolves into dystopian shadows.
“Between the Horizon and the Abyss is remarkably polished and fluid. Within its realm, no seconds feel wasted, and every sound feels purposefully placed, even as it moves and flows in perpetual motion; strains of a distant angelic choirs fall beneath a complex array of arcing tones, liquidous, molten textures, & harrowing orchestral shimmer, with fervent masses of malevolent atmospherics billowing forth in glorious detail.” Jason Mantis (Malignant Records)
49. Bersarin Quartett – III
Cannot really say that Bersarin Quartett’s sound has changed too much throughout the years, but at the same time it’s always such a pleasure to look forward to their new releases. Why do we even say ‘their releases’? It’s good to know that even though it’s called a ‘quartett’, only one person, Thomas Bücker is acting as four. The consistency through all his three albums makes the whole discography feel like one long anthem of melancholia. Soft ambient music combined with string elements, field recordings and even some beats and vocals make ‘III’ yet another mesmerizing album in this comforting collection. We just wish the track titles would be just as easy to remember as the album titles.
“Much like his two predecessors, III is a pure paradox. It is the creation of a perfectionist, an adamant control freak. Every element, be it a note, an ambience layer, a string arrangement, a field recording, a baseline, a vocal (Clara Hill on Track 11) or a beat, is meticulously modified and then assigned its place in Bücker’s vast but still minimalistic arrangements. Thus, superficially Bücker’s pieces seem to radiate a certain mechanical bleakness. However, there is a unique reduced warmth and liveliness emerging from these stainless compositions and transcending them.” (Denovali)
48. XOSAR – Let Go
Did you know that Xosar studied neuropsychology before getting into music production? Anyway, Sheela Rahman aka Xosar is definitely a refreshing sparkle in the testosterone-heavy techno scene. We don’t really care whose girlfriend she is or she is not, she has built her own reputation with outstanding releases on such well-respected labels like Rush Hour, Crème Organization, L.I.E.S. (Long Island Electrical Systems). Her first full-length release found a fantastic home at Opal Tapes’s vinyl dedicated offshoot, Black Opal and it’s a quirkily playful lo-fi trip!
“It’s perhaps a little less colourful and synthesizer-heavy than previous excursions, instead focusing on dark, fuzzy, heavily percussive takes on acid house and techno. Of course, there are curious interludes – see the wonky industrial IDM of ‘Prophylaxis’ and the beatless synth madness of ‘Gnome Circle’ – but it’s the more floor-friendly excursions (and most profoundly the bleak and intense ‘Hades Gates’) that really stand out.” (Juno Records)
47. Ash Koosha – GUUD
The first time we pushed play and started listening to ‘GUUD’, it did not take more than a few seconds to get immersed by this mysterious fusion of Iranian folk motifs and dazzling electronica. This was way before we did some research to find out a bit more about Ashkan Kooshanejad, who turns out to be one of the most passionate musicians out there who was forced to make immense sacrifices in order to keep doing what he happens to be the best at. Even without being aware of the background story, this record is a chaotic yet precise and well-crafted love letter to music.
“The most accurate way to describe GUUD is perhaps also the least illuminating: it’s a singular, cohesive listening experience worth more than the sum of its parts. As it happens, Kooshanejad is far more interested in the detail than the “bigger picture”— GUUD is formed from “nano-composition”, where fractal patterns found in the minutiae of sound waves are observed and re-purposed. The results are extremely approachable and fascinatingly alien at the same time.” (Tayyab Amin, Pitchfork)
46. Jon Brooks – Walberswick
Jon Brooks must be one of the most underrated musicians in Canada. There, we said it! This is disappointing for many reasons. His solo project is practically unknown – since these days everyone is raving about Facebook likes, why does his page only have 324 likes? Show some support! – although he’s been producing quality material for quite some years now. He’s also the man behind one of our favourite projects The Advisory Circle (‘Other Channels’ is genius!) and got a handful of other aliases. He also composes music for film and television, he produces and engineers music for other artists, and is the long-term mastering engineer for Trunk Records. He also runs the record label Café Kaput where he released most of his previous records. ‘Walberswick’ found a nice home at More Than Human records where it shares the roster with Dieter Moebius, Ekoplekz and Pye Corner Audio.
“Throughout the album, Rothko-like tones and drones drift in like the morning fog, laying and blanketing over each other with soft grace. Tracks such as ‘2700 Kelvin’ and ‘Violet Tide’ and ‘Walberswick’ capture those witching hour territories of the rising dawn and the fading twilight with astounding simplicity and beauty, unencumbered by fussy musical frills or melodies. The only real moment of composition comes in the form of ‘My Corner (Audio)’ where Brooks creates an austere, hymnal piece where the slight infusion of reverb and tape hiss provide a moment of solemn reflection from the village’s only church.” (Bob Cluness, The Quietus)
45. Donato Dozzy – The Loud Silence
This year seemed to be very much in favour of unusual instrumentations, ancient, meditative sounds and psychedelic explorations in a rather minimalistic way. Donato Dozzy’s second solo album documents the journey of his own sounds, taking us back to the roots of the music he’d been playing in clubs – which is something totally different but surprisingly not so different at the same time. All he uses here is the mouth harp, some vocals and synth elements. Primitive but powerful.
“Each track maintains an inviolable central pulse, while delicate, fluttering sounds hint at vast spaces that might open up at any minute – they’re just waiting for you to connect with them. Field recordings hover below the resonating harps, adding to the mysterious atmosphere. Where so much of today’s trance-inducing music is mechanical, born of grids and microchips, The Loud Silence pulses with the presence of the human body. As Dozzy says, “The hand gives the tempo, together with the breath.” It’s all about the mouth, the ears, the hands. The organic physicality of the sound, made in concert with the body itself, generates a primal response in the listener, an undeniably visceral understanding, an empathetic resonance. “When you play such an instrument, you’ll feel all your bones vibrating to the sound in a sort of chain reaction!” says Dozzy. “It becomes an emotional and physical clean up. In Italy, one of the ways to call the jew’s harp is ‘scacciapensieri’, which literally means ‘It kicks thoughts away'”. (Further Records)
44. Heathered Pearls – Body Complex
Heathered Pearls (what a pretty moniker!) is Polish-born Brooklyn-based Jakub Alexander, whose career in music was deeply rooted before ever releasing his own music. He’s the curator for Tycho’s ISO50 blog, co-founder of the Moodgadget label, and A&R at Ghostly International. It’s becoming a little bit difficult to show something new in the realms of ‘ambient’ ‘dub’ ‘techno’ – or ambient or techno, period. Jakub is not doing anything groundbreaking here either, but the devil is in the smallest, hidden details. ‘Body Complex’ happens to be an extremely personal record feeding from his childhood memories, which does not only include sounds but scattered images from the unconscious. The album features two guest appearances as well: Shigeto and The Sight Below (Rafael Anton Irisarri, who’s also responsible for the mastering of the record). All in all, a lovely and elegant listen to get lost in.
43. Christian Lappalainen – Acid På Svenska
Swedish folk music and acid house? Yes, please! Christian Lappalainen’s debut album is definitely one of the most exotic releases this year. But also one of the most traditional and unfortunately one of the most underrated as well. Also, it must be one those records you definitely haven’t heard about unless you live in Sweden, since somehow not just you but the international press missed out on it as well. This is a mistake which you should fix right now. ‘Acid på Svenska’ is a fresh interpretation of the legendary ‘Jazz på Svenska’ record by Jan Johansson from 1964. A classic Swedish jazz record totally rebuilt with a smooth acid twist, inspired by the iconic sound of the Roland TB-303 (fun fact: all tracks are 3’03” long!). We promise this is one of the most playful and catchiest albums in a long time, which makes perfect sense even without knowing the original version. Even though the motto of the We Manage With Love label’s is ‘no hype just quality music’, this record definitely deserves more attention.
42. Olan Mill – Cavade Morlem
Definition of serene in English: adjective – calm, peaceful, and untroubled, tranquil; noun – (usually the serene, archaic), an expanse of clear sky or calm sea. Considering the last five years’ productions, Olan Mill’s name should also be included in the definition of everything that has to do with peacefulness and enormous ambient canvases. Alex Smalley has definitely found his own voice at an early stage and with each release he is capable of adding new harmonic nuances and soothing shades to his already rather colourful palette. His first release on Dronarivm might not be his best record but it marks a slightly new tone in his voice, which is brighter, sunnier and more hopeful than ever.
“Writing and recording ‘Cavade Morlem’ was one of the smoothest experiences I’ve had producing an album. The tracks were originally created to be played at a handful of concerts throughout the end of last year. The shows were performed using processed guitar, violin and some pre-recorded samples of voice and organ. I was joined by Mike Jessop on violin for many of the songs and his contributions are sampled at various points on the record. I spent the beginning of the year reworking recordings from the live sets and trying to piece together something coherent. The resulting album is a far calmer experience than the original performances and I hope listeners find a state of mindfulness while experiencing the work”. (Alex Smalley)
41. Chevel – Blurse
Not sure what’s up with these young Italian lads these days, but the 26 years old Dario Tronchin from Venice is yet another great example of elegant creativity when it comes to masterful beats and aesthetic melodies. After a smooth, slow start he cleverly turns into minimal then dubby techno, Chevel’s first full-length release on Stroboscopic Artefacts is definitely a keeper.
“[…] the places that they drive the listener to are satisfyingly beyond customary experience. In other words, despite Chevel’s keeping the sonic toolkit and overall atmosphere consistent from track to track, there is a rich variety in the emotional affectivity on display here. The net effect is like a dream state that leaves strong impressions even though one can’t pinpoint exactly why they are doing so (and which leaves one wanting to dive back into the dream pool and experience something similar again.) This is a talent that unifies the diverse constellation of Stroboscopic Artefacts producers, and one that makes Chevel in particular one to continue watching, listening to, and experiencing.” (Stroboscopic Artefacts)
40. Fjordne – Moonlit Invocations
Based in Tokyo, Fjordne is the solo project of Fujimoto Shunichiro who focuses on two concepts: ‘sound texture’ and ‘twisted time’. He uses an array of acoustic instruments and transforms his sounds into a different dimension, into such a calm sphere that only the Japanese musicians are able to create. His debut album ‘Moonlit Invocations’ on Chihei Hatakeyama’s White Paddy Mountain is a lovely mixture of acoustic and digital elements, a soothing combination of the past and the future.
“Moonlit Invocations” is a homage to the 60’s jazz music. Dense structures and beautiful harmony create a soft depth to these compositions and moreover, a profound personal touch. The solo piano’s colours are the most intimate, honed to evocative perfection with each sampling jazz beat bringing its own texture. This album promises not just an aural treat but a visual experience into a labyrinth. (White Paddy Mountain)
39. Shuttle358 – Can You Prove I Was Born
The Californian Dan Abrams’ new release as Shuttle358 was long overdue. We had to wait 11 years to hear more of his hypnotic glitch ballads on 12k, but it was definitely worth the wait. Many of you might argue that this is not exactly where he left off with ‘Chessa’ in 2004, but we recommend to keep an open heart and especially an open ear (or two!) to take in all the subtle beauties this album has to offer: “a melancholic bedtime story; a familiar aura. A mobius strip.”
“In his most bold and experiential work yet, Shuttle358 pulls you into a highly immersive blend of cinematic loops met with warm analogue performances, fragments of long ago spools of mellotron tape, piano string plucking, hazy guitar processing reminiscent of Abrams’ Fenton project, and field recordings under the stars.” (12k)
38. Scandinavian Star – Scandinavian Star
The story of the original Scandinavian Star, which was a ferry built in France in 1971 is a tragic one. An arsonist’s fire killed 159 people aboard en route from Norway to Denmark in 1990. 15 years after the incident, the Danish Malte Fischer (also a member of Lust For Youth) composed an imposing homage to this ill-fated vehicle, which is yet another reason to keep an eye out on the tape scene. (If you needed any reasons, d’oh!) The cassette features five tracks but none of them sounds the same nor they have the same atmosphere yet they work brilliantly as a whole piece. We might discover some trance and drones, possibly some traces of rave, ambient and industrial techno. The second track, which is one of our favourites is an exciting lo-fi version of Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio For Strings’. Not that it needed another remake but this is definitely something else.
Another favourite track:
37. Blood Room – Habitus
Yet another tape and yet another underrated project: Blood Room who define themselves as ‘restaurant horror’. Sounds interesting? Jimmy Billingham’s (HOLOVR) Indole Records gave shelter for Tim Matts’ quirky technoesque-illbient mélange, which is one of the most exciting discoveries this year. However, he’s been quite active for a while with releases on Fort Evil Fruit, Hylé Tapes and Reject and Fade, and he also forms one half of three collaborative projects: in collaboration with ovis aurum as IXTAB; with Mute-Tiny as Blood Mute, and with Micromelancolie as Dstrss.
“Micro detail with macro scope and pose, claustro clicks, cuts and scrapes rub up against propulsive kicks and uncanny tonal phrases. One for the decon/recon set. Blood Room emerged whilst Tim was living and working on his Ph.D in the US, Berlin and Denmark. Beginning life as a loop-based musique concrete and plunderphonic project, early Blood Room drew heavily on film audio, which was reprocessed in line with an interest in domestic or ‘restaurant horror’. Whilst remaining tongue-in-cheek, Blood Room was and remains an extension of Tim’s interest in the relationship between habits, symptoms and repetition. Whilst the project still retains a shlock horror component, it has moved towards the beat-driven techno sound.” (Indole Records)
36. Basic Soul Unit – Under The Same Sky
If you read the word Dekmantel, you most probably know what to expect here. If you don’t, we can ensure you that Stuart Li’s second full-length release is definitely a banger, a powerful collection of ten techno/house hymns. This is what Shed would be able to sound like if he would care a little bit more these days, but it’s also highly recommended for Carl Craig and Levon Vincent fans. Also, if you happen to live in Montreal and you don’t have any plans for New Year’s Eve yet, you might be in for a treat.
“Hypnotic and deep, but always funky, Li now brings his rugged house to the Dekmantel imprint for the very first time, serving up this finely crafted follow-up to his 2012 debut album. Delivering ten Detroit and Chicago-inspired house tracks of the finest calibre, Li’s offset and grubby bruk drums are a constant nod to the dance floor, while his melodies lean towards an unparalleled industrial edged emotion.” (Dekmantel)
A little teaser:
35. Operation Midnight Climax – Operation Midnight Climax
When acid house meets techno at its best! “Making his Peak Oil debut with a full-length inspired by the CIA’s acid-dosing mind control experiments of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Swiss analog synth mastermind Florin Büchel crafts a spiralling, immersive narrative of vital, psychedelic, acid-drenched, murky fugues recorded live to cassette. Whether the disoriented whirling dervish 303 echoes of ‘Behavioral Engineering’ or the meditative dissolution-of-reality via cascading aural fragments in ‘Mind Control in Marin County’, Büchel has scripted a conceptually layered, palpably thrilling love letter to all forms of transgressive psychedelia, musical or otherwise.” (Peak Oil)
A taste of goodness:
34. offthesky – the serpent phase
Fortunately it became sort of a tradition that Hibernate Recordings has got something special for us every year. Jason Corder aka offthesky (even Off The Sky) has proven to be a prolific ambient sculptor for quite some years now, providing some unforgettable masterpieces straight from the beginning (‘Cold Distances’, 2003).
“Initially conceived with the aim to create a series of piano sketches exploring mobile recording techniques, ‘the serpent phase’ takes in recordings made in Chicago, Switzerland, England, Canada, Colorado, and Kentucky. These initial recordings were then added to with other instrumentation including vibraphone, guitar, a synth, drum kit, vocals and textural field recordings. Wishing to leave any deeper meaning up to the listener’s interpretation of the music, offthesky’s atmospheric collection of pieces allows us to explore the religious, spiritual and moral connotations of dark and light periods in life.” (Hibernate)
33. Petrichor – Mångata
Behind this very much Scandinavian sounding album we find Simon Stokes and and his machines straight outta Glasgow. Although the cover art suggest more of a dark ambient touch, ‘Mångata’ is a well-crafted piece of slowly unfolding ‘rose-tinted techno’, a soft glow in the darkness, the darkness itself. Recommended to take it all in in one sitting, the euphorical reward is guaranteed.
“From the crystallising intro of ‘Komorebi’ to the dying moments of album closer ‘On Tides’, it is impossible to deny the hypnotic bliss of Petrichor’s debut album. As each track melts into the next and the journey unfolds, you are absorbed into the world of ‘Mångata’, a soundscape of mesmerising beauty and ethereal texture. It’s already being hailed as one of the techno albums of the year, but to file ‘Mångata’ under one genre (albeit an increasingly diverse one) would be undermining its essence. This is a work of sonic brilliance, and it reaches far beyond the dancefloor.” (Alex Caslano, Synth Glasgow)
32. Nils Frahm – Solo
Nils Frahm had a very busy year. Thanks to him now we have a World Piano Day, which is falling on the 88th day of any given year. The reason for this is that a piano has 88 keys. Mark your calendars, the next date is March 28, 2016! Thanks to him we also have a wonderful ‘Solo’ album, which he was sharing FOR FREE to raise money and help build the world’s tallest piano, the Klavins M450. He also wrote his first ever, German Film Prize-winning film score to ‘Victoria’, and let’s not forget that he was also touring around Europe with the ‘Nils Has Lost His Mind Tour’. He definitely hasn’t lost it, he’s got it all together, more than ever. And he deserves all the attention.
“Recorded on the Klavins M370 in 2014 as an improvisation single take without any overdubs. The 370 is situated in Tübingen / Germany, 1.8 tons in weight, 3.7 meters high, its longest strings are about 10 feet in length. Once recorded, I began to think of ways to release the album as a gift to my fans, similarly to my 2012 release Screws. That’s when we came up with the idea of Piano Day, an official body created by a group of close friends to house various and exciting piano-related projects. The first project we revealed is the building of what will be the world’s tallest piano: the Klavins 450. With a target of 120.000 euros to reach, I’ve eased my fans into sharing their money for the project with this free release. All direct donations and a portion from any record sales will go to the Klavins 450 project until the target has been hit.” (Nils Frahm)
31. Markus Guentner – Theia
There was chaos and violence, a collision of dark matter and heat.
In the maelstrom, a legacy was created and a new moon born.
She left something here forever.
But amongst infinite black depths,
Theia rages on.
Have you ever thought about how the legendary impact of planet Theia could sound like? If you are familiar with Markus Guentner’s previous work on Kompakt, Sending Orbs or Moodgadget, you know that he is the perfect person to make it happen. And it sounds fantastic. Generous, blissful drones of infinity, powerfully layered pulsating rhythms, and yet another guest appearance from The Sight Below (Rafael Anton Irisarri).
“The evolution of a historic astrological moment is brought to life through a dramatic, evolving soundscape that only Markus could capture. Drones build upon swathes of light, cut by an ever-present sense of fear. The distant shine of stars puncture a pitch-black canvas, as a force gathers momentum and intensifies. Theia’s tortuous movement slowly builds in-front of you, and the inevitable moment of impact creeps closer and louder. The destruction is desolate, dramatic and beautiful all at once.” (A Strangely Isolated Place)
30. Border Force – Motionless
Ascetic House are on fire this year. So are the boys from Lust For Youth, something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Malte Fischer’s ‘Scandinavian Star’ landed on #38 while Hannes Norrvide’s second cassette as Border Force made it up to #30 this year. Throbbing industrial rhythms, a rewarding listen from the dark side.
Get a taste of it:
29. Moon Wheel – Okänt Land
Olle Holmberg has been quite busy these last years, mostly feeding the ever so hungry tape scene with his kaleidoscopic, mystical melodies and putting on some exquisite shows. Originally hailing from the deepest depths of Sweden, now living in Berlin and releasing his latest record on ‘Where To Now?’ which is based in London, with ‘Okänt Land’ (which translates to ‘Unknown Land’) he was focusing to explore complicated relationships with geography.
“Exploratory is a word that perfectly sums up the vibe of ‘Okänt Land’, there is a meditative pace which permeates Olle’s work, in which we are able to physically feel the manipulation of sound used to create an effect that grows from a very personal and human exploration of both nature and space – we literally hear the pulse of a heartbeat in the beatwork, we hear the cracking of unfamiliar objects underfoot that shake us back into consciousness, and we feel the sense of dread and anticipation that can come with the entering of an unknown sphere. It’s hard to decipher whether Olle is concerned with the mostly known world of nature and the healing properties is harbours, or the physically unknown world of outer space, but I imagine this is purposeful… an intentional mixture which serves to both soothe and excite the soul.” (Where To Now?)
28. Christina Vantzou – No. 3
Following Christina Vantzou’s sonic explorations throughout the years feels a little bit like watching a little girl turn into a grown woman. Feels fascinating and intrusive at the same time. We kind of hope that after listening to her third full-length album, the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear her name won’t be ‘oh, the girl from The Dead Texan!’ anymore. Her ambience is not that solemn or comforting anymore, there are terrifying drones lurking around every corner, reminding us of a somewhat more forgiving version of Ligeti. Super curious to hear what comes next!
“This is gorgeous stuff, but made in sorrowful droning figures: where Vantzou almost seemed to be emerging as a serene neo-classical composer with her last record, here she creates emptying ambient music that leaves the listener feeling stilled and isolated. The ominous fog this record exists within makes it hard to tune out: hearing tracks like “The Library” for the first time is a fully terrifying experience, the violent bass grooves and violin plucks layered underneath weighty textures that make one feel trapped by nothing more than their own fear. I don’t want to be alone, but acutally let me listen to this a few more minutes.” (Norman Records)
Listen and watch:
27. Ken Camden – Dream Memory
Kranky were on fire this year, however that is not really surprising. One of their beauties this year consists of guitarist Ken Camden’s (Implodes) third solo album, which is a successful exploration of pushing the boundaries of the electric guitar. By making use of both a steel slide and e-bow technique, Camden has moved into micro-tonal territory to bridge the textural gap between guitar and synthesizer while examining their inherent differences – and the result is mesmerizing ambient psychedelia. Another interesting aspect of the album is the introduction of an organic vocal sampling machine called the Vocaltron.
“Much like a Mellotron, vocal samples (contributed by Emily Elhaj and Angel Olsen) are chromatically organized in half steps from the lowest note to the highest possible. Each set is specific to the contributor’s range and each note is unedited to keep all original characteristics of that particular individual’s voice. This organized organic information adds a contrast to the electric guitar and synthesizer arrangements on the album.” (Kranky)
Listen and watch:
26. Jasmine Guffond – Yellow Bell
Luckily this record came out already in January, because it took quite some time to discover then re-discover its beauty over and over again. It grows on you slowly but it’s an outstanding keeper. Sonic Pieces are very careful with each of their releases – since every one of them receives a special treatment and feels extremely personal, it’s kind of guaranteed that when a new record leaves their headquarters, it’s something worth paying attention to.
“However, if you’re anticipating veins of clean, melodious folk or purely experimental electronic, you should shift your expectations. ‘Yellow Bell’ presents a broad spectrum of musicality, floating within hazy electronics, lost vocals, and ambient dimensions. The balance of digital synthesizer, loops, processed voice, and guitar creates a meticulous soundscape that both intrigues and calms. With its delicacy and immediacy, ‘Yellow Bell’ distorts the perception of time and creates an environment for engagement and understanding.” (Sonic Pieces)
25. Kangding Ray – Cory Arcane
This text straight out of the factory is just perfect, you will have to live with this:
“cory arcane found her comfort zone in a constant state of crisis, and her liberation through love, sensuality, and high-speed internet access.
as some might recall, she used to struggle with her own decay, navigating an intricate web of bureaucracy, endless social-media scrolling, 24-hour news channel feeds and marketed strategies of seduction.
her intense and continuous obsession for surf, breakdancing and cat videos might have saved her from a silent decline, but it would be her first attempts at integrating a professional ballet company that provided the initial spark. her unorthodox dance movements were often considered shocking, transgressive, and barely legal; and even though some recognised her genuine talent, it was clear she would never make it into this structure. this is when she started her slow drift towards the outer limits of society, in search of the way to achieve the conditions for absolute freedom.
her emancipation was surely marked by different forms of excess: the inappropriate use of fireworks, the consumption of large quantities of alcohol and controlled substances, as well as the occasional blasts of kitchen appliances.
she bypassed the gender war and became an expert in advertising sabotage. soon cory would give academic courses on the true liberation of the mind, or, in her own words, the apotheosis of senses.
lately, she could be seen squatting in the outskirts of different giant metropolises, embracing the mayhem, contemplating the crumbling of a system. the sound of the city, mixed with the music on her headphones, would weave complex rhythms and futuristic textures into a beautifully coloured, pixellated surface.
looking out onto this fabulous chaos, she smiled.” (raster-noton)
24. Elian – Harrowgate
Michael Duane Ferrell’s name should not be unknown to your reading eyes and carefully listening ears. But unless you are especially focused on the ambient drone scene, it most probably fell under your radar. This is awful, since we have this feeling that his Elian project never really gets the attention it would deserve, even though he’s been actively releasing music for over ten years now. After a five-year break he returns to Home Normal, a great home for so many wonderful releases. Ian Hawgood, the man behind this great label already made a serious effort to present and describe this album, therefore we will borrow his thoughts for a second:
“Now, press releases are a bit of a nightmare. You have to find the right words to convey the music. I’ve always taken a very honest route with them, and whilst I am given to hyperbole, it really is often because I feel so strongly about music and feel expressing that in the limited form of a press release is at least a way of being honest about all things music. Despite being pretty measured with said hyperbole, ‘Harrowgate’ makes me want to scream at the world about how utterly brilliant his work is. […] Prodigious, undefinable, soulful, intelligent, obscure, profound, subterranean, magnificent, artistic, deep, resplendent, phenomenal, profound, exquisite, minimal, maximal, suggestive, fleeting, ethereal, intangible, timeless…in an age when people apparently ‘involved’ with music seem to care less about the music itself, when people ‘involved’ with life seem to care less about the everyday connectivity of life itself, these things matter. That the work of Elian is all these things and more should matter more than the immediacy of everything now; so just stop, ignore all that crap around you, and just listen to something that, if you give it the time it so richly deserves, might just change your life.”
23. Dialect – Gowanus Drifts
“IKEA stores next to huge burnt out shipping warehouses, squats next to Whole Foods, Artisan flower shops with dead dogs outside. Litter on the breeze and foghorns blowing across the water. Sirens, porn stores, storage, prisons, dogs barking, carparks, fast food, highways, burnt out massage parlors, old tires, wire fences, empty buildings, bus depots, raw sewage flowing. Such is the bewildered ecstasy of abstracter Dialect (aka Andrew PM Hunt) – a darker but richer journey in ambience, texture, moods and grotesque beauty.
Recorded near Red Hook in Brooklyn, Dialect became fascinated by the post-industrial landscape of the shipyards that reminded him of home in Liverpool. Gowanus in particular seemed distinctly American, yet in stark contrast to the iconic Wall St skyline which stood opposite on the other side of the East River. Gowanus was decrepit and decayed with razorwire tumbleweed blowing across cracked sidewalks erupting with weeds and dirt, empty billboards and huge elevated bridges looming overhead.
It’s incredibly easy to hear these images in ‘Gowanus Drifts’, a 40-minute snapshot that exists within a drone continuum that for Hunt started with the psychedelic explorations of Gong, Cluster and Tangerine Dream (as well as a more formal strand of psychedelia made by minimalists such as Steve Reich and David Borden) but now extends into deep network music movements in online culture like ASMR, unboxing videos and Xbox gameplay recordings.
Dialect treats his zither improvisations, field recordings and saxophone compositions in a sculptural way, deconstructing and reassembling them around each other with a loose fluidity. Angelic vocal presets rise from Dialect’s distinct, scorched FM synths as half-remembered Reichian loops drift in across the water, floating on a smoggy breeze.” (1080p)
22. Palmbomen II – Palmbomen II
The Dutch Kai Hugo works with two aliases: Palmbomen is a group-oriented collaboration suited for live dynamics and instrumentation, while Palmbomen II is geared toward solitary production with an austere toolset: classic sequencers, time-tested drum machines and their contemporary counterparts. Hugo’s foray as Palmbomen II makes its debut on Beats In Space Records with the eponymous full-length ‘Palmbomen II’. This album is far from being traditional in any sense – each track reveals a chapter from the life of a minor character from the X-Files.
“Program the rhythms, arrange the harmonies, play these together, and record to tape. That’s it,” says Hugo. By virtue of Hugo’s reductive approach, Palmbomen II is flagrant with moments that fall outside an “ideal” mix. The album is imbued with a literal human touch. One hears Hugo riding Oberheim DX faders in real time, improvising Arp 2600 patches at the turn of a track, and dripping sweat across Roland TR-909 keys.
‘Palmbomen II’ possesses the qualities of an artist slowly slipping from one reality to the next, yet it welcomes listeners to experience this transcendence in tandem. By toeing the primal lines drawn in early electronic production, the base – and bass – from which Hugo explores the fringe remains musically bright and in sight.” (Beats In Space Records)
21. Lakker – Tundra
After 8 years, Ian McDonnell and Dara Smith aka Lakker from Dublin return with a full-length energy monster, an album which has proven to be popular all year round – and we can fully understand and support this idea! People love to make comparisons, such as it sounds like Andy Stott, Aphex Twin, Ben Frost or Emptyset etc. etc… but the truth is they have managed to build their own sound spectrums, playful rhythms, melodies and inspiring patterns which they must have experienced with for quite a while to get to the point where all these elements gained consciousness and started their own lives. It’s engaging and addictive, creative techno at its finest. Also, we would love to see them play live, must be a powerful experience!
We absolutely love this one:
20. Acid Fountain – Fauna Diction
Yet another fantastic tape, yet another underrated album! Richard Francés is a musician based in Paris, France and his project Acid Fountain is exactly what you think it is. With his first full-length release ‘Fauna Diction’ he’s paying tribute to a generous number of various genres that could be called post house, cosmic acid, krautpop, cosmic techno or dream drone – anything you can achieve with melted synthesizers and tipsy drum patterns, spiced up with mysterious voices from other galaxies. Exciting rhythms, unpredictable turns. Wish more people would discover this gem.
“Whoa, is that floating pumice on the cover? It better be, because if it is, that’s a great visual metaphor of what’s going on behind those glossy pixels in the artwork. The music here, released on the up and coming electronic label Hyle Tapes, makes you feel almost light as air and still leave a rough, DIY edge to it. Following the rich legacy of French house scene, Acid Fountain takes a dive into steady dancefloor beats, neon synth washes and minimalist, subtle structures reminiscent of the more modern purveyors of the mutant house craze such as Octo Octa. It thumps and beats, it goes deep, and it goes smooth. Total zone-out. Recommended!” (Weed Temple)
This one is dope:
19. Sarah Davachi – Barons Court
If you’ve been keeping an eye out on our website last week, Canadian electroacoustic composer Sarah Davachi’s name should already feel like an old friend’s. She made a ‘festive’ mixtape for us, featuring some pieces that basically have nothing to do with this album. This is just a way to show how versatile she is when it comes to thinking in sounds. ‘Barons Court’ is another excellent example of her multi-faceted talent, being one of the most monumental and memorable drone albums of the year.
“Trained at Mills College, Davachi’s work marries an academic approach to synthesis and live instrumentation with a preternatural attunement to timbre, pacing, and atmosphere. While the record employs a number of vintage and legendary synthesizers, including Buchla’s 200 and Music Easel, an EMS Synthi, and Sequential Circuit’s Prophet 5, Davachi’s approach to her craft here is much more in line with the longform textural minimalism of Eliane Radigue than it is with the hyper-dense modular pyrotechnics of the majority of her synthesist contemporaries. […] Davachi’s work stands alone – distinctive, patient, and beautiful.” (Students Of Decay)
“Timeline finds two of the conceptual electronic world’s most earnest players teaming up for an extended improvisational session that pushes each party’s respective boundaries while emphasizes their inherent sonic charms. Jesse Osborne-Lanthier is the Berlin-by-way-of-Montréal transplant largely known for his racketous bouts of rhythm with Bernardino Femminielli (as Femminielli Noir) or drifts of minimal techno with Hobo Cubes’ and Hobo Cult-head Francesco De Gallo (as the H). Robert Lippok is the Berlin native who spent the past two decades as one-third of seminal electronic post rock band To Rococo Rot (Domino, City Slang, Staubgold, Raster-Noton).
Executed in a one-shot jam-session and loosely inspired by a designed timeline that was exchanged back and forth throughout the months prior to the artists physically meeting, Timeline’s songs react and adapt from moment to moment. “Aperiodic” maintains a sordid simmer of modular patches, kinetic clatter, and curiously paranoid melodies that launch the set’s open-ended purview. “Many a Moon” wades in an oceanic drift of tidal throbs and electrified air, forcing the hand of fellow tectonic, textural meditators to reveal their bluffed mechanics. “Visit” is a potent dose of noirish avant-gamelan, operating a surrealistic and schizophrenic account of some anonymous, foreboding follower.” (Geographic North)
Let’s start from the beginning:
17. Tor Lundvall – The Park
We used the expressions ‘underrated’ and ‘fell under the radar’ quite a few times regarding some of the previous albums and artists, but the real deal is the American painter and musician Tor Lundvall and his latest beauty ‘The Park’. If you Google for this, you can only find a rather limited number of websites who took the effort to write about it. This is not only disappointing because ‘The Park’ is the perfect combination of art and craftsmanship but also because Lundvall has been active in the scene for almost two decades. Yet whenever we mention his name in our circles, apparently no one has ever heard about him. Perhaps our circles are the real problem, you tell us. He does not promote his music violently like so many do these days, he is not even active on social media… Good news is that we are going to publish an interview with him in January, so you will be able to find out more about this mysterious man whose albums are painted sounds, the perfect soundtracks for a melancholic screenplay written by YOU.
In Tor’s own words…”Like most of my previous albums “The Park” follows a timeline, in this case, beginning on an early spring morning and ending on a late summer evening. The track sequence also maps out the shifting light and weather patterns during the course of a day. For the first time in years, I’ve incorporated field recordings into the music, other than the sounds recorded from outside my studio window. I carried my portable recorder with me during bike rides and walks through my favorite parks, recording birds, insects, lawnmowers, wood chippers, field games, and other less definable sounds. Parks have always been my sanctuaries and my greatest sources of inspiration since childhood. Although this album is not focused on one park in particular, the music resonates strongly with memories of my favorite childhood park, The James A. McFaul Environmental Center in Wyckoff, New Jersey. The McFaul Center is a place of quiet beauty, but it is also filled with shadows and secrets, especially deep within the Nature Trail.” (Dais Records)
You can check out the full album here:
16. Hecq – Mare Nostrum
In August 2013 Ben Lukas Boysen aka Hecq spent quite some time in Barcelona, making audio recordings of the 9th biggest supercomputer in the world, Mare Nostrum. Mare Nostrum is not only impressive in its performance but it also happens to be the most gorgeous supercomputer, installed in a former chapel with acres of glass and steel. It’s worth taking a look at it HERE. Hecq must have felt like a little kid during his first visit to Legoland, a creative trip that others can only dream of. Most recommended with headphones, as loud as possible, no pauses inbetween.
“This release is a fascinating symbiosis of electronic soundscapes and systematic recording where samples of Mare Nostrum’s sound are masterly integrated into four lengthy compositions. Abstract pulses of a machine with sometimes even creatural sounds and atmospheric synthesized ambience result in a deep, organic opus, creating a yet unheard sonic landscape in the listeners’ minds. A dense, impressive auditory adventure and one more epic milestone of Hecq’s ambient-oriented side.” (Hymen Records)Fasten your seatbelts:
15. Rafael Anton Irisarri – A Fragile Geography
Rafael Anton Irisarri has been involved in many albums that were featured on this list – as The Sight Below. It’s fascinating how many projects he’s constantly involved in, how much creativity and work he’s able to present in such a short period. Even though last year he’s been the victim of a horrible robbery where he lost all his studio equipment and all his personal belongings, ‘A Fragile Geography’ marks the beginning of a new era, filled with sorrow from the past but also polished with the elegance of hope.
“Recorded over the past two years, the record bares the marks of difficult terrains – personal, political, social and cultural. It tips its hat to the complex and unpredictable dynamics of the contemporary world, correlating concerns both macro and micro. Compositionally the music mirrors the tensions of contemporary America, contrasting passages of great beauty and calm with harrowing waves of density and pressure.
‘A Fragile Geography’ also charts Rafael Anton Irisarri’s personal journey of transience and tumult. His entire studio, audio archives, and possessions were stolen while moving from Seattle to New York, forcing him to rebuild from ground zero. But such a tabula rasa moment also brought with it a chance for renewal, and for reductive experimentation. This experience birthed a range of fresh approaches and ideas, many of which became central to the aesthetic pillars of this record. ‘Empire Systems’, the album’s centerpiece, perfectly encapsulates this mood of flux: a rich and harmonically saturated monolith of sound, restless and constantly reaching outwards.
Like much of the album, it is considered, but not excessively laboured; open, but never unruly. ‘A Fragile Geography’ is an exercise in the art of maximal minimalism.” (Room40)
14. Yair Elazar Glotman – Etudes
“Yair Elazar Glotman’s Études disrupts the subconscious processes and muscle memory learned as a classical contrabass player to interrogate his instrument, drawing out hidden resonances, physical vibrations, and explorations of uncharted territory of the instrument’s acoustic dynamic range. Within the ten pieces presented here, each a solo performance, he looks to develop a black box scenario for composition. Creating a separation between action and outcome, he escapes learned restraint, abandons former training, and develops a method by which concentration and control are translated into a visceral interaction with the bass, uncovering hidden sounds and building an expansive and dynamic sonic palette for the contrabass, beyond the confines of classical virtuosity.
Deconstructing the contrabass into its sound components, he repeats and reveals the material properties of the instrument. Working outside the instrument’s natural dynamic range, close-micing various parts of the instruments body and strings, previously obscured resonances are revealed and energy expenditure is transferred into colossal rumbles and physical vibrations, the thrum and whirr of the contrabass and the hiss of tape, amplified and interrogated into monolithic presence.
The recordings preserve these resonances from the instrument’s body and strings but rather than attempt a neutral and accurate sonic representation of the traditional sound of the instrument, Études gives the analogue recording and mixing process a tangible presence in the recordings, drawing out and exposing the medium of recording reflexively.” (Subtext)
Let the drone strings speak for themselves:
13. SAFFRONKEIRA – Synecdoche
SAFFRONKEIRA is Eugenio Carìa’s project from the island of Sardinia, Italy. Since 2008 he’s been experimenting with electronics and unconventional elements in a precise way. Synecdoche is a figure of speech, in which a term for a part of something refers to the whole of something, or vice versa. When used in literature, a synecdoche will add to the visual imagery of the passage and enhance the reader’s experience. When used in SAFFRONKEIRA’s fourth album, it will definitely change the listener’s perception and hence their experience as well.
“Combining subtle and sometimes even almost invisible rhythms with textures of sound he confidently moves between minimalistic pieces and classic ambient tracks which should please both the analytic ears and the listeners who just want to dive into the music. SAFFRONKEIRA’s previous album ‘Cause and Effect’ constituted the first ever collaboration work of Carìa and resulted from a close and unique joint work with trumpeter Mario Massa. ‘Synecdoche’ picks up this collaboration idea, but this time features collaboration with various different artists, namely Mia Zabelka and Siavash Amini & Idlefon, as well as the Denovali artists Field Rotation, Sebastian Plano, Subheim and Witxes. Mixed and mastered by Alex Gámez at Störung Studio, Synecdoche brings Saffronkeira’s distinct electronic sound to a next level which is further perfected by the individual and fascinatingly diverse collaborations.” (Denovali)
Feel free to start with this one:
12. Helena Hauff – A Tape
“A prolific DJ with a number of singles out, the descriptively titled A Tape is German artist Helena Hauff’s first full length release. A combination of stripped down minimal techno, house beats, and industrial dissonance, it is a gripping tape of heavy percussion, noisy synth, and extremely memorable rhythms.
The songs I found myself coming back to most are the ones where Hauff turns the volume up and adds in a hint of distortion and noise. A piece like “c45p” is heavily built upon deep stuttering drum machine […] and deep, sinister analog synth sequences. “ff297-3” sits on the other side of the tape as its more menacing counterpart. She utilizes a similar heavy bassline and drum program, but pushed into the red for a nice overdriven sound. Both pieces have a sort of classic electro vibe to them, but with a more menacing edge.
Not all of the pieces on here are as oppressive, however. “!#+#!” has Hauff using a pulsing synth and 808 cowbell to excellent effect, with the song coming together with a slightly sunnier atmosphere. “hdowed” has the same lighter mood about it, with a more spacy edge that works in heavily flanged beats and an organ synth lead. The organ also features heavily in “split scission,” amidst tight synth arpeggios and heavy thumping drum machine.
Both halves of the cassette end with Hauff stepping outside of the intentionally stiff, robotic rhythms and taut sequences and instead showing her adeptness at creating less conventional electronic sounds. “for I am dead” is immediately a more distorted endeavor, with bitcrushed melodies and fuzzy electronics dueling it out before a bit of heavy bass drum appears at the end. “$§”$43” is all dark, sweeping synth pads with the occasional blip or pulse. There is a mystery and darkness about it that would work excellently in a film score setting, but stands strongly on its own.
With a noticeable uptick in the amount of artists in this minimalist techno field, Hauff stands out strongly with her ability to weave together sharp drum programming with memorable synth patterns. Her work retains enough of the static nature of electronic music, but she is also an expert at slowly building and disassembling the music, resulting in an album that is entirely danceable, but is compelling to listen to intently on its own.” (Creaig Dunton, Brainwashed)
Turn up the volume!
11. Olivia Block – Aberration Of Light
“An accomplished composer of electro-acoustic music, Block has premiered her work all over the globe in the form of both solo and collaborative live performances, sound installations at highly-regarded art institutions, and lectures at academic establishments.
This conceptually inspired work was originally conceived in 2011 as a four-speaker soundtrack for a collaboration with two expanded cinema artists using manipulated light from film-less 35mm projectors. For NNA’s 82nd release, the artist offers us a 31-minute reworked version of this material for the cassette format. In essence, this piece is as much about the absence of sound as much as the presence of it. Slowly materializing from total silence, Block utilizes acoustic sounds blended with a palette of electronics to create intricately assembled fields of sonic depth. The result is richly ominous without being overtly aggressive, as the compositional arc of the piece follows a swelling, almost respiratory motion of expanding and contracting.
The dynamic nature of Aberration of Light is enhanced by Block’s delicate use of white noise as a textural guide, calling attention to the acoustic sounds at its valleys, and overwhelming the listener with ferocity and harshness at its peaks. As the piece progresses, harmonic tonalities begin to emerge, reinforced by the use of clarinet and bass clarinet from fellow Chicagoan musicians James Falzone and Jason Stein, respectively, seamlessly integrating themselves into the mass of electronics.
The quieter moments of the piece command deeper listening, to the point where the sounds of one’s own listening environment become indistinguishable from the recording, calling to mind Cage’s ideas on the impossibility of true silence. Block claims to bring an emotional element to her work which can be both heard and felt through the delicate and dynamic nature of the recording, further deepened by a brilliant use of control, precision, power, and patience.” (NNA Tapes)
Listen to the whole piece:
10. Mr Bronson – Trans Pacific
When we discovered this album, we thought daaaamn it was so smooth it must have been released on 100% Silk, which turned out to be true. Never heard of this Mr Bronson before whose real name is Mr Andrew Broughton and who’s hiding out in the world’s most livable city, Melbourne. He mostly works as a designer and has got quite some side projects going on as well, so his sonic explorations might not be one of his main concerns. This is what makes it even more exciting and authentic. ‘Trans Pacific’ is a collection of creamy, effortless sounds full of authentic vision. Hypnotic electronica with flowing synthesis. Ambient house if we may say so, but the best is not to try to label it anything. Just enjoy the ride and keep looking forward to his next release! Our favourite track is ‘Release Your Self’ but since we cannot find that anywhere online you will have to live with ‘Fly Above Your Self’. Much your, very self!
Jóhann Jóhansson has been on fire these last years when it comes to film scores. Everyone keeps talking about his work in Dennis Villeneuve’s ’Sicario’ but not too many are talking about this brilliant little film which captures his own journey to the Antarctic Peninsula to discover the calm scenery of a landscape changing seasons, barely influenced or even noticed by humanity. ’End Of Summer’ is a comforting study of a peaceful setting in one of the most crucial and endangered areas of our planet. Shot on black and white super 8 film, it is a hypnotic and slow-burning journey through the austere landscapes of the island of South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. Filmed as a series of mostly static tableaux over a period of 20 days during the waning days of the Antarctic Summer, the film is a startling look at life at the edge of the world.
”Accompanied by rich and detailed field recordings of the surrounding this footage makes a perfect foundation for Jóhann’s musical compositions, performed together with fellow musicians and friends Hildur Guðnadóttir and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (Lichens). The varying use of cello, voice, synthesizer and electronics creates a listening experience that reflects both the vast beauty of the quiet scenery and the necessary cautiousness of its inhabitants. As if gliding through the steep ice, its rough edges and the harmonious water movements, organic arrangements are patiently devolving into voice and electronic based ambience that adds warmth to the icy, artefact laden environment.
The soundtrack to End of Summer is an emotional, enduring listen and a compelling experience. Forming a soundscape as broad as the view it was inspired by yet equally heartwarming, devotion to the music will slow down time and provide a moment of harmony within times of change.” (Sonic Pieces)
Watch an excerpt from the film, there are lots of penguins in there!
8. Kerridge – Always Offended Never Ashamed
If any record could be called erotic and violent on this list, it’s this one. So much energy stuffed into one single album and the rawness of it makes it all unbelievably powerful. Techno turns into power electronics, the guitar and vocals come in focus which either makes you turn away from Kerridge or fall even more deeply in love with his music. ‘Always Offended Never Ashamed’ also marks the beginning of his own and Hayley Kerridge’s record label which will provide a platform for new and old talents. Last year we could see they kept their promises with a Karl O’Connor (Regis) and In Aeternam Vale release, and this year already looks promising with SØS Gunver Ryberg’s first debut EP. We had the pleasure to see Kerridge in action at the Norbergfestival in Sweden last year, it’s a performance you shouldn’t miss.
“’Always Offended Never Ashamed’ is Samuel’s most personal recording to date. Spanning over 7 tracks, his own vocals are prevalent throughout the entire LP. Thrashes of guitar adjoin steely percussion, showing restraint and elegance in the process. Electric pulses wreak havoc on the senses, with earth shuddering bass & kicks providing the raw physicality which has become synonymous with his work.” (Contort)
Turn it up loud and make sure you don’t have anything else to do in the next hour:
7. Benoit Pioulard – Sonnet
Never thought we would say this but Thomas Meluch aka Benoit Pioulard stopped singing and we love it – his instruments are singing instead of him this time and it’s all analog! No digital/software after effects were allowed on the album, all sounds are from analog tape and some guitar pedals. ‘Sonnet’ is based on a series of field recordings and unintentional harmonies he made in the summer and fall of 2013. This includes whistling industrial air conditioners, bird songs, locust drones, washing machines… but instead of recording then manipulating these bits and pieces, he mimicked and interpreted them on the guitar, which resulted in these lush droney loops that developed into something totally different. Pioulard even dreams with harmony loops (we’re jealous!), and after waking up – instead of just tossing around – he sits down and records them. According to him, originally a few pieces had lyrics and vocal parts that he eventually removed, since this album is an exercise in restraint – the essential parts had been kept, all the rest had to go. ‘Sonnet’ has not just been made out of dreams, it is a dream itself. One we would like to live in for a really long time, forever if possible.
A tiny piece of the dream puzzle:
6. Alessandro Cortini – Forse 3
Alessandro Cortini definitely does not have time to get bored, he had two full-length releases out this year. ‘Risveglio’ on Hospital Productions and this one we’ve finally chosen to be among the best records of the year. ‘Forse 3’ is the final release in Cortini’s trilogy and indeed it is an important record (not just ‘maybe’, as the album’s Italian title would suggest, hehe). The album was recorded with an original Buchla Music Easel – of which only 13 are known to exist. They are making them these days as well, but not sure you could afford one… Anyway, this is an invigorating listen not just for the mighty synth nerds!
“All pieces were written and performed live on a Buchla Music Easel, in the span of one month. I found that the limited array of modules that the instrument offers sparked my creativity. Most pieces consist of a repeating chord progression, where the real change happens at a spectral/dynamic level, as opposed to the harmonic/chordal one. I believe that the former are just as effective as the latter, in the sense that the sonic presentation (distortion, filtering, wave shaping, etc) are just as expressive as a chord change or chord type, and often reinforce said chord progressions.” (Important Records)
Start from the beginning:
5. Kreng – The Summoner
Only a few musicians are capable of producing such surprisingly persistent quality over the years as the Belgian Pepijn Caudron aka Kreng. When you know that a new Kreng record is coming… you just KNOW it’s not going to be disappointing, on the contrary. His latest album ‘The Summoner’ comes 4 years after the tremendous ‘Grimoire’ and 3 years after the massive retrospective box set ‘Works for Abattoir Férme 2007-2011’. All of them found possibly the best home at Miasmah. It was about time for a new batch of haunting sounds, although the circumstances around the genesis of ‘The Summoner‘ could not have been more harrowing: it is based around the five stages of mourning, been made after a year of losing several close friends. This record is one of the most personal albums on our list, also one of the most addictive trips you could have taken last year. But also one of those which you can take over and over again.
“Losing one friend is understandable, losing two friends is very unsettling, but losing three friends is really traumatizing. This kind of loss was beyond language. I became filled with an abstract, numb and heavy feeling that stayed with me for months. On the one hand, ‘The Summoner’ is a way of trying to make these feelings visible for myself, a way of monitoring them. On the other hand, I hope it can also serve as a zone of comfort for people who are going through the same thing. The record is not dedicated to the people who are dead, it’s a record for the living. I made it for those who have lost, those who stay behind. So yes, it is a very personal record, but I hope that there is also a universal feeling in there, something everyone can relate to.” (Read our interview with Kreng HERE.)
4. Valet – Nature
We don’t make separate lists with ‘Best Labels of the Year’ and such, but if you take a closer look at the whole picture, Kranky would absolutely get the gold medal on that one – we’ve got 4 albums representing them this year. It’s astonishing how they are able to fit in such a wide range of various styles and genres under the same roof. The ‘odd one out’ on our list this year is definitely Valet’s ‘Nature’. The only record that has been soaked in ephemeral vocals, no harsh beats or ambient landscapes on this one… but there are some soft drones laying around here and there. Shoegazing at its best, it’s something that you just want to listen to on repeat.
“Recorded at home over the course of a year, ‘Nature’ evolved as a collaboration between Honey Owens, Rafael Fauria, and drummer/bassist/keyboardist Mark Burden. The album finds the trio crafting enveloping layers of guitars, synthesizers, and reverb to create a shimmering, wide open sound. It’s a restrained, direct style, but tying it all together is a lulling, dreamy melodic sense that is distinctively Valet. At the center stands Owens’ ethereal voice, which has transitioned from evoking trippy fantasies to creating space for honest contemplation. Informed by Owens’ early musical life in the 90s Bay Area underground music scene, ‘Nature’ slyly synthesizes the DIY spirit of punk, the expansive guitar whorl of shoegaze, and the propulsive rhythmic drive of dub.” (Kranky)
Tough call between ‘Sunday’ and ‘Nature’:
3. Peder Mannerfelt – The Swedish Congo Record
As you could see on our list earlier, 2015 was a fruitful year for reworks and tribal music inspired explorations. However, our unquestionable favourite is the Swedish synth master Peder Mannerfelt’s first appearance (hopefully not the last!) on Archives Intérieures – a relatively new label founded by Yves De Mey and Peter Van Hoesen. Mannerfelt always had his ways around the latest production techniques but this time he has really outdone himself. His unique skills not only shine through when it’s studio time but also when it comes to live performances. If you’ve seen him live in action, you know exactly what we are talking about, otherwise you better make sure to catch him in flagrante somewhere this year – this should be prioritised on your bucket list. Also, read our interview with Peder to find out more about one of the most talented Swedes out there.
“This adventurous album finds its roots in a very obscure 78 rpm record, put together by Belgian filmmaker Armand Denis, who was one of the first Europeans to capture the incredible sounds of Central Congo. These recordings were published in 1950 as The Belgian Congo Records. Mannerfelt is an avid collector of African tribal music. When he came across this record he was immediately intrigued by the complexity and rendition of these recordings of Congolese music. His initial idea was to use the original album as a sample source, but this concept was quickly abandoned and Peder decided to recreate the album using only synthesizers.
The Swedish Congo Record is first and foremost a thrilling, refreshing album. However, it is also an unintentional critique on a dark passage in Belgian history. The colonial times are marked by a violent, shameless exploration and exploitation of resources and people. On a humanitarian, political and social level a deep scar was left behind by this period of Western European Colonialism. Still now Western economic interests continue to influence the fate of central Africa. Simply sampling the original album could be seen as another way of colonising or disrespectful appropriation. However, by re-sculpting the album, reshaping its original musicality into a wild electronic universe of his own, Mannerfelt pays tribute to the traditional and folkloric meaning of the dances. The nature of this tribal music pushed Mannerfelt to further explore his unique sense of rhythm he’s known for with Roll The Dice as well as with his solo work. The Swedish Congo Record also bears his signature way of combining skillful productions with a touch of humour, which results in a multi-faceted, daring album.” (Archives Intérieures)
We had this piece on repeat for hours, seriously addictive!
2. Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh
It’s getting more and more difficult to formulate our thoughts, especially when we are reaching the end (the top!) of this list, which means that these releases are way more precious and complex to describe them with a few nice words available in our vocabularies. It’s good to know that Blanck Mass is the solo project of Benjamin John Power, who’s also half of Fuck Buttons. They earned quite some attention already with being one of those groups whose music was featured in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, but the world is less aware of Benjamin’s solo adventures. You should dig into it ASAP, it’s a brave and refreshing masterpiece full of bold surprises, original ideas and powerful executions.
“As a work of art, ‘Dumb Flesh’ is a comment on the flaws of the human form in its current evolutionary state. The frailty of the human body naturally became a resonant and inescapable part of the album’s gestation. “We are at the mercy of our genetic heritage everyday. No matter how intelligent we are compared to other life forms, we’re still made up of the same building blocks and things can go very wrong”. In particular, the first single ‘Dead Format’ reflects upon this reality, whilst ‘Atrophies’ and ‘Detritus’ acknowledge the organic decay we will all inevitably succumb to.
The album went through myriad stages of completion before arriving at this definitive version. Benjamin elaborates “There must have been at least three occasions where I re-produced the whole thing, replacing instrumentation and experimenting with new machines until I was happy with where the evolution of the project had arrived. That’s the difference between the subject matter of Dumb Flesh and the process of creating it; an end point can be reached. Saying that, I don’t like to stick around in one place too long so we’ll see where this leads to next.” (Sacred Bones Records)
Almost impossible to pick a favourite but ‘Dead Format’ is brilliant:
1. Acronym – June
Another exquisite record from Stockholm, Sweden on the quite mysterious Northern Electronics label. This young man working under the Acronym alias might have fallen in the shadows of his more acknowledged label mates like Abdulla Rashim or Varg, which actually gives us one more reason to keep an eye out on this exciting project. It’s up to you to decide if you believe us or not but it was probably us who have listened to this album the most times ever since it came out last June. (If it would have been released one month earlier would it be called ‘May’?) And this number must be at least around a hundred if not more… 9 tracks flowing into each other in the smoothest imaginable manner, with each piece drifting closer to the climax, reminiscent of the traditional Tangerine Dream sounds but not neglecting the current flows of techno either. Talking about the flow, this album should be forbidden to be listened to in individual pieces. Therefore, here comes the whole thing thanks to Bandcamp and Northern Electronics: