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.
If you missed the first parts, make sure you check them out here:
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:
(OBVIOUSLY: TO BE CONTINUED…)