Albums of the Year 2013
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