A year of surprises and a year of puzzles. Where did that Dr. Yen Lo album come from? Why didn’t the Holly Herndon and King Midas Sound albums deliver on their promise? How to explain the appeal of that Datblygu album?
Top 10 Albums
- Dr. Yen Lo – Days with Dr. Yen Lo
Underground rap veterans make a mostly-drumless concept album based around The Manchurian Candidate and it’s an improbably beautiful album of the year.
- Theo Burt – Gloss
Beyond any theoretical obfuscation the Automatics Group dude may run, this clearly sounds like a chip tune cover of an early Oval album. Mind-bogglingly lovely.
- Datblygu – Porwr Trallod
After two decades out of the game “The Welsh Fall” returns with an album that is more inventive and certainly more moving than anything Mark E. Smith has done in many years.
- Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs
Ludicrous 70s soft-rock schmaltz wedded to horrifyingly misanthropic lyrics. And yet everything is so pitch perfect that the whole is utterly seductive.
- Stephan Mathieu – Before Nostromo
This drone/ambient tribute to the first Alien movie yields one of Mathieu’s darkest and complex albums – and also one of his best.
- Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
A confident return to form after the extremely disappointing Divide & Exit. Still patchy but the best moments are as vividly righteous as they are deliriously vitriolic.
- Max Richter – From Sleep
Perhaps the eight-hour full version of Sleep is the real deal but this condensed version is in itself a real high point among the recent history of post-minimalist composition.
- Heather Leigh – I Abused Animal
Like the Datbygu album, this reduces song form to its bare essentials in order to deliver something incredibly courageous and emotionally raw.
- M.E.S.H. – Piteous Gate
An abstract electronic debut that has the kind of energy and inventiveness you only get when reach exceeds grasp.
- Dasha Rush – Sleepstep
Lovely nocturnal electronica which probably manages to be the lushest album ever released on Raster-Noton, without sacrificing the formal elegance associated with that label.
The Next 10
- Joanna Newsom – Divers
- Alva Noto – Xerrox Vol. 3
- Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete
- Moritz Von Oswald Trio – Sounding Lines
- Duane Pitre – Bayou Electric
- Holly Herndon – Platform
- King Midas Sound & Fennesz – Edition 1 Instrumentals
- Flying Saucer Attack – Instrumentals 2015
- Rabit – Communion
- Sunn O))) – Kannon
Aine O’Dwyer – Music for Church Cleaners Vol. I & II
Seekers International – Her Imperial Majesty
Mark Van Hoen – Nightvision
Other Great Albums
Tim Catlin & Machinefabriek – Whorls
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – A Year with 13 Moons
Crys Cole – Sand/Layna
Colleen – Captain of None
Ian William Craig – Cradle for Wanting
Sarah Davachi – Baron’s Court
The Fall – Sub-Lingual Tablet
Robin Fox – A Small Prometheus
Yair Elazar Glotman – Etudes
Chihei Hatakeyama – Moonlight Reflecting Over Mountains
Helm – Olympic Mess
Kid606 – Recollected Ambient Works Vol. 1: Bored of Excitement
King Midas Sound & Fennesz – Edition 1
Nicholas Krgovich – On Cahuenga
MED, Blu & Madlib – Bad Neighbor
Neu Balance – Rubber Sole
Vincent Parker – Purge
Philippe Petit – Multicoloured Shadows
Ramzi – Houti Kush
Run the Jewels – Meow the Jewels
Senking – Closing Ice
Wand – 1000 Days
Automatics Group – Summer Mix
General Magic & Pita – Fridge Trax Plus
Arthur Russell – Corn
Loscil – Plume
J Dilla – Dillatronic
Sun City Girls – Torch of the Mystics
Singles, EPs etc.
Kuma – Mine
Loop – Array 1
Loscil – For Greta
Sleaford Mods – Talk Bollocks
Anna Zaradny feat. Christian Fennesz – RE:EM
Oval – Retina Score
The Autechre show in Vancouver was so next-level that it seems reckless to list anything else beside it.
And of Course
There’s loads of stuff I still haven’t heard and probably a few things I’ve forgotten about. Still listening, still learning.
If you’re at all concerned about the place of music in our culture, 2014 was a terrible year. If you’re just looking for some awesome shit to listen to, it was a fantastic year. Who can keep up? This is, inevitably, an incomplete list. Still listening, still catching up.
Top 10 Albums
1. Scott Walker + Sunn O))) – Soused (4AD)
Hard to pick between this and the Fennesz but – really – Soused is some next-level shit
2. Fennesz – Bécs (Editions Mego)
A partial return to his Endless Summer sound and well worth the wait
3. Oval – Voa (self-released)
Technically, this came out digitally in 2013 but the vinyl is the real deal
4. Diamond Version – CI (Mute)
Top-ten-worthy for Leslie Winer’s cameo alone – the rest is just (delicious) icing
5. Tape – Casino (Hapna)
Pure melodic loveliness? No: specifically impure melodic loveliness
6. Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers (Modern Love)
His most accessible yet but still utterly, utterly knackered
7. Oren Ambarchi – Quixotism (Editions Mego)
Ambarchi’s best in ages – imagine a Moritz von Oswald Arkestra
8. Loscil – Sea Island (Kranky)
Finally, Loscil manages to integrate discontinuous elements into his oceanic swells
9. Black to Comm – Black to Comm (Type)
A massive, mind-fraying psychedelic journey into the heart of the drone
10. Locust – After the Rain (Editions Mego)
Inexcusably gorgeous radiophonic melodicism from Mark van Hoen and co
- The Bug – Angels & Devils (Ninja Tune)
The best bits are as good as anything but there are a few duff tracks
- Sleaford Mods – Divide & Exit (Harbinger Sound)
A very disappointing, patchy follow-up to Austerity Dogs but the peaks are miles high
- Actress – Ghettoville (Ninja Tune)
- Lee Gamble – KOCH (Pan)
- LCC – D/evolution (Editions Mego)
- Tujiko Noriko – My Ghost Comes Back (Editions Mego)
- Vladislav Delay – Visa (Ripatti)
- Lawrence English – Wilderness of Mirrors (Room40)
- Fennesz – Mahler Remixed (self-released)
- Eric Holm – Andøya (Subtext)
- Nicholas Krgovich – On Sunset (NK World Service)
- Kyoka – Is (Is Superpowered) (Raster-Noton)
- Klara Lewis – Ett (Editions Mego)
- Madlib – Piñata Beats (Madlib Invazion), Rock Konducta Vol. 1 and Rock Konducta Vol. 2 (Rappacats)
- Namoi Punk – Television Man (Captured Tracks)
- Nochexxx – Thrusters (Ramp)
- Thee Oh Sees – Drop (Castle Face)
- Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty (Sub Pop)
- Ty Segall – Manipulator (Drag City)
- Arbutus – Bedroom Safari (Vague Sound)
- Sarah Davachi – August Harp (Cassuna)
- Holly Herndon – Chorus and Home (RVNG Intl.)
- Sleaford Mods – Tied up in Nottz (Little Teddy) and Tiswas (Invada)
- The Bug vs. Earth – Boa/Cold (Ninja Tune)
- Ian Crause – The Song of Phaeton (self-released)
- Dalglish – Dorcha Aigeann (Ge-stell)
- Lee Gamble – Kuang (Pan)
- Katie Gately/Tlaotlon – split (FatCat)
- Oneohtrix Point Never – Commissions I (Warp)
- The Fates – Furia (Finders Keepers)
- Leslie Winer – Witch (Superior Viaduct)
- Basic Channel – Q-Loop (Basic Channel)
- The Fall – The Unutterable (Let Them Eat Vinyl)
- Secret Pyramid – The Silent March (Students of Decay)
- Sleaford Mods – Chubbed Up + (Ipecac)
- Kate Bush in London
- Loop in Vancouver
- Big Joy Festival in Vancouver
- Roly Porter
- Sleaford Mods
Oh and I had an album out this year, for what it’s worth.
Small Town by the Sea (Aagoo, 2014), is simultaneously connect_icut’s most accessible and most ambitious album. It’s the first to feature a truly solid rhythmic underpinning (aka beats) but it also packs in all manner of epic song structures, processed field recordings and general psychedelic madness. Dedicated to connect_icut’s home-base in Vancouver, Canada, Small Town by the Sea twists familiar environmental sound tropes (bird song, ocean waves) into new shapes, creating an uncannily powerful sense of place and time. As with all connect_icut productions, the results are both enveloping and ominous. The album is being issued in two completely different versions – a tight, punchy mix for CD/download and another, more expansive mix for vinyl. To provide the deepest, most immersive sound possible, the vinyl version has been cut as two 45rpm 12″ singles.
- Listen to “Tennis Players” on SoundCloud
- Listen to “Bathroom Mirror” on SoundCloud
- Listen to “74 Guitars” on SoundCloud
—Praise for Small Town by the Sea
- “It is a gripping-by-the-throat beauty.” – Caleidoscoop
- “Six intriguing tracks and each one is effective and reflective. Smart and resilient electronic music from a different mental space.” – Babysue
- “A perfect album for those who are driven by curiosity.” – Paperblog
- “With adventure aplenty while rich in sounds and effects, this album dwells in being one hell of a seaside resort excursion.” – Penny Black Music
- “More than an album – a real psychic journey.” – ImpattoSonoro
- “Has a pleasant weirdness that sparks your imagination without giving you a headache.” – WRUV
- “It’s a place for daydreamers, deliberately instigating lapses in concentration.” – Rock-a-Rolla
Recommended if you like: Actress; Burial; Vladislav Delay; Demdike Stare; Fieldhead; Forest Swords; Holly Herndon; Monolake; Oval; Rhythm & Sound; Andy Stott etc.
The new connect_icut album – Crows & Kittiwakes Wheel & Come Again – is now available on LP (with deluxe eight-page booklet) and CD. The most intense and cosmic expression of the connect_icut sound so far, it anchors all manner of granular chaos and glitched-out abstraction in a solid foundation of three-chord pop. But don’t take our word for it: listen to a couple of songs on Soundcloud or watch the video for “Imperial Alabaster”.
And here’s where you can mail order a copy:
- Buy the LP from Aagoo (North America)
- Buy the LP from Rev.Lab (Europe)
- Buy the CD from Rev.Lab (Europe)
- Buy the LP or CD from Midheaven (North America)
- Buy the WAVs/MP3s from Juno
Recommended if you like: Oren Ambarchi, Black to Comm, Kim Cascone, Sylvain Chauveau, Dalglish, Greg Davis, Vladislav Delay, Ekkehard Ehlers, Lawrence English, Farmers Manual, Fennesz, Ben Frost, Lee Gamble, Gas, Katie Gately, General Magic, Tim Hecker, Holly Herndon, Giuseppe Ielasi, Klimek, Machinefabriek, Stephan Mathieu, Mountains, BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa, Oval, Rosy Parlane, Pita, Roly Porter, Sébastien Roux, Sohrab, Tape, Rafael Toral, Tujiko Noriko etc…
Praise for Crows & Kittiwakes Wheel & Come Again:
- “Excellent” Simon Reynolds
- “A faultless album for those who want to immerse themselves totally in the flow of their own consciousness, for those looking for healthy and lawful means to cross the barriers of the senses.” Libero (Italy)
- “An overwhelmingly great album!” Caleidoscoop (Netherlands)
I’m going to keep it short this year for four reasons: (i) Promoting the new connect_icut album is time consuming, particularly when it’s just become available on vinyl and CD; (ii) most of the picks here are pretty obvious, at least to anyone who’s seen previous Bubblegum Cage lists; (iii) specifically, it should be bloody obvious what this here blog’s favourite album of the year is and everything else kinda, sorta pales by comparison; (iv) it seems like nobody even reads music blogs anymore, so…
If you’re looking for an overview of what 2013 was all about musically, then look to point two, above. In spite (or perhaps because) of the Internet opening everything up to everyone all the time, seems like it’s easier than ever to just stay in your own musical bubble and only bother with new albums by your favourite artists. Or maybe some of us are just getting old. Either way, it doesn’t feel great.
As always, this was written in a hurry, at the last minute. Apologies for the inevitable, grammatical and factual errors.
Here’s the list…
Top Ten Albums of the Year
1. My Bloody Valentine – m b v (no label) LP
This was the big one, of course. In a year of long-awaited albums (Boards of Canada, Daft Punk…) this was the longest awaited. And in many ways, the rapt critical reception it received was puzzling. The fact is, m b v: doesn’t hang together as an album; has a rushed, demo-ish feel; features two throwaway instrumentals; starts with what sounds like a Slowdive B-side; in no way lives up to any of the band’s classic, Creation-era work.
Here’s the thing, though: MBV’s Kevin Shields is still so far ahead of the pack that none of that really matters. Even a below-par Valentines album achieves peaks of complete otherness that nobody else working in any genre of music can come close to matching. And the peaks here are truly vertiginous, especially the ecstatic “Only Tomorrow” and the roller-coasting “In Another Way”. What is more, m b v contains some of Shields’ most sophisticated songwriting as well of some of his most bizarre experiments. Disappointing? Kinda. Godlike? Oh yeah!
2. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual (Mute) 3LP
Another long-awaited album and another mixed bag. Shaking the Habitual is a rambling, inconsistent mess of haranguing political doggerel, primitive electro blats and grotesque transmogrifications. But it’s delivered with such wild-eyed conviction that one can hardly help but be sucked in. It’s hard to fault The Knife’s ambition or the commitment they show to their cause. The wonderful “Full of Fire” acts as a telling microcosm of the album, thundering blindly towards the horizon, becoming more crazed and mutated as it goes on and on and on.
3. Secret Pyramid – Movements of Night (Students of Decay) LP
The work of Vancouver’s Secret Pyramid is sure to appeal to fans of cultish dreampop acts like Flying Saucer Attack and Lovesliescrushing. But on his first vinyl release, he truly comes into his own with a series of genuinely haunting nocturnal ruminations, each based around a simple, achingly beautiful chord progression circling amid a gathering swarm of spectral drones. This is a pitch-perfect album experience that absolutely deserves your attention.
4. Forest Swords – Engravings (Tri Angle) 2LP
While he has associated himself with American labels peddling voguish hypnagogic pop and witch house, England’s Forest Swords has a great deal more in common with the darker end of 90s UK post-rock, particularly Scorn and The Third Eye Foundation (more of whom later, sort of). Chiming guitars, bumping beats, eerie samples and a mood of vague foreboding are all deployed to emotionally evocative effect. Engravings is the sound of a major talent slowly and subtly emerging.
5. Cindytalk – A Life is Everywhere (Editions Mego) LP
Another album of solo laptop exploration from under-appreciated industrial music veteran Gordon Sharp. Like all Cindytalk records, A Life is Everywhere furthers Sharp’s singular vision, which is as empathetic as it is harsh.
6. Dalglish – Niaiw Ot Vile (Pan) LP
It has been observed elsewhere that Dalglish manages to evoke deep melancholy while deploying hardly any of the signifiers one would normally expect from emotionally-downcast music. Imagine a more contemplative take on Autechre’s most abstract moments.
7. Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus 7 (Warp) 2LP
Like Dalglish, OPN’s Daniel Lopatin makes instrumental music that is both conceptually smart and emotionally evocative. R Plus 7 uses complex structures, self-consciously cheesy presets and sliced-up digital madness to explore the loneliest stretches of the information superhighway.
8. Matt Elliott – Only Myocardial Infarction Can Break Your Heart (Ici D’ailleurs) LP
For those of you who haven’t followed the Third Eye Foundation man’s progress, he’s now crafting singer-songwriter albums mixing elements of Leonard Cohen, flamenco, Yiddish folk song and surreal electronics. This is not as good as 2012’s The Broken Man but it’s still pretty damned powerful.
9. Stephan Mathieu – Un Coeur Simple (Baskaru) CD
On The Falling Rocket (Dekorder, 2LP), Mathieu crafted his darkest drone epic to date. But the more diverse Un Coeur Simple was his finest release in a typically prolific year.
10 Locust – You’ll be Safe Forever (Editions Mego) LP
Another solid effort from Mark Van Hoen, returning to his mid 90s alias and honestly sounding like little or no time has passed since he last used it. If you like Boards of Canada and don’t think “trip-hop” is a dirty word, you’re going to love this.
Other Top-Notch Stuff
Ian Crause Downloads
Talking of the mid-90s, Ian Crause has essentially picked up where his band Disco Inferno left off back then. That may not seem too exciting to those not aware of how far ahead of the game DI’s virtual-reality rock was but the tracks posted on Crause’s Bandcamp page over the last 18 months or so represent some of the most startlingly original music of the last 20 years. It’s shocking this material hasn’t gained wider exposure. Still, the fact that the page appears to be blank right now might suggest he has plans for some kind of real-world release.
Diamond Version – EP3, EP4 and EP5 (Mute) 12″s
In the age of EDM and brostep, it’s nice to know that electronic music can still deliver visceral thrills without having to dumb itself down one bit. The Raster-Noton-associated duo of Alva Noto and Byetone went from strength to strength to strength in 2013. Hopefully, there’s more to come.
The Best 2012 Release This Here Blog Totally Slept On
Lee Gamble – Dutch Tvashar Plumes (Pan) LP
This fellow has a lot in common with Actress, not just in his habit of pulverizing techno tropes into unstable sound dust but also in his ability to convey a sense that the whole thing is part of some impenetrable prank. But Lee Gamble’s background is apparently more academic and his deconstructions are more extreme. Everything on Dutch Tvashar Plumes sounds somehow utterly wrong and yet the album has a consistent atmosphere and sense of development that belies its outwardly half-baked conception. Puzzling and wonderful.
Dutch Tvashar Plumes very nearly made it into the top 10 for 2013 but it turns out to have been released in November 2012. Huh.
This is an incomplete list of other worthy releases. More may be added, if and when they spring to mind:
- Aerosol Constellations – Dark Side of the Sun (Isolated Now Waves/Thankless) LP
- Juan Atkins & Morris von Oswald – Borderland (Tresor) 3×12″
- Autechre – Exai (Warp) 4LP
- Blondes – Swisher (Rvng Intl.) 2LP
- Dean Blunt – The Redeemer (Hippos in Tanks) LP
- Broadcast – Berberian Sound Studio (Warp) LP
- The Bug and King Midas Sound – various singles
- Sarah Davachi – The Untuning of the Sky (Full Spectrum) cassette
- EVOL – Proper Headshrinker (Mego) LP
- The Fall – Re-Mit (Cherry Red) LP
- Father Murphy – Anyway Your Children will Deny It: 9 Heretical Views (Aagoo) LP
- Fennesz – 17.02.12 (Song Cycle) 2LP
- Marcus Fjellstrom – Epilogue M (Aagoo) 12″
- Katie Gately – s/t (Public Information) 12″
- Tim Hecker – Virgins (Kranky) 2LP
- Giuseppe Ielasi/Kassel Jaeger – Parallel/Greyscale (Mego) LP
- Kemper Norton – Lowermoor (More Than Human) 12″
- Nicholas Krgovich – Who Cares? (JAZ) LP
- Loscil – Intervalo (Frond) LP
- Main – Ablation (Mego) LP
- Mountains – Centralia (Thrill Jockey) LP
- Murcof & Phillipe Petit – First Chapter (Rev.Lab) LP
- Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin (Castle Face) LP
- Oval – Calidostopia! (no label) download
- Vincent Parker – Hypo (no label) download
- Duane Pitre – Bridges (Important) LP
- Plays: Four – Lay Doe (More Than Human) 12″
- Prophecy Sun – Sleep Fever (Panospria) download
- Quasimoto – Yessir Whatever (Stones Throw) LP
- Roger Robinson – Novella EP and Contemplate Mixtape (no label) download
- Ty Segal – Sleeper (Drag City) LP
- Secret Pyramid – Distant Works I (Proposition) cassette
- Souns & Scant Intone – Attempts Space Time (Panospria) download
- Touch Sevens singles
- Zomby – With Love (4AD) 3LP
Looking Forward to in 2014
- No UFO’s