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)
(TO BE CONTINUED…)