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:
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:
(WE WILL BE BACK SOON WITH THE LAST PART…)