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:
- Best of 2015: Part #1 (50-41)
- Best of 2015: Part #2 (40-31)
- Best of 2015: Part #3 (30-21)
- Best of 2015: Part #4 (20-11)
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: