So here at Cyclic HQ we pondered long and hard and decided to ask our writers to do a top 5 list of albums or songs of the year. But we didn’ necessarily want to restrict it to new releases, because at Cyclic we’re into slow music too, old music, we’re into finding crazy old shit that just blows your mind and reconnects your synapses, because sure it might’ve been made 35 years ago, but that doesn’t stop it from sounding more cutting edge and amazing than anything else you’ve heard this year. Also we’re aware that good music can take some time to sink in. So we’ve pitched it as discoveries of the year. If it was new to our ears this year, or it finally made sense to us this year then it can make the cut regardless of when it was released. We would have loved to tally the results and have the definitive Cyclic Defrost top 5, but when you look at this list you’ll find very little repetition, everything from Steven Seagal to Ryoji Ikeda, but that’s just our writers, they’re really really strange folks who are into some very disparate music. Enjoy…
Disclaimer: I listen to A LOT of music. I drive my staff crazy with my eclecticism, my children complain about progressive jazz, and my husband generally hates electronica. WHATEVER. I tell you this, dear Cyclic reader, because doing a Top 5 is bloody difficult – the likelihood of leaving out Something Important is, well, pretty much unavoidable. So I’ve tried to pick the records that took over my life this year- that disrupted my thinking, made me desire listening to them more than coffee (now that’s saying something) and that I think have legs – that is, I’ll still be listening to them, lovingly, for many years to come.
James Blake – Overgrown (Atlas)
Whilst with Overgrown it’s undoubted that Blake has left some of his past musical interests behind, he somehow seems capable of magically making his music sound eerily familiar and yet completely new and surprising all at once. Stripped back soundscapes collide with the thudding pedalboard bass lines, teamed with Blake’s sometimes searing, sometimes insouciant lyrics. Nothing is excessive in Blake’s music, so that every sound and every silence has meaning and import in each song – frankly, this album took over my life for a while.
Ketil Bjornstad – La Notte (ECM)
If Keith Jarrett and ECM mean anything to you, then you’ll know it’s a big call to say that Norwegian pianist Bjornstad threatens any claim Jarrett might have to being the greatest jazz pianist alive. The proof? This album La Notte, a 2010 live recording of Bjornstad and his stellar band, which is effectively a salute to Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni whose approach to film Bjornstad claims as a formative influence. An absolutely gorgeous, rapturous album, recorded in ECM’s usual impeccable manner, Bjornstad’s playing and arrangements are enticing to both casual and committed listeners alike. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ar3B2mLLFX8
Grizzly Bear – Shields (Warp)
I was a little bit late coming to this record, but its brilliance made complete sense to me upon seeing Grizzly Bear perform at the 2012 Harvest Festival. After that, the songs kept reeling me back in and the album became a go-to many times for me during the year. Shields is brimful of fantastic, well written songs – and they are even more so because of the particularly good arrangements, alternately forming textured or sparse backdrops to the melodic lines and guitar work. Vocally and lyrically Grizzly Bear keep it interesting and provocative at times, whilst the longer track lengths prove that they aren’t about to fall down some pop-rock hole anytime soon. http://www.youtube.com/user/grizzlybearband
random old funk/disco shit
For no very particular reason except perhaps a love of great bass lines, compelling motifs and quality arrangements, I’ve been listening to a lot of old funk/disco songs – you know, those records with real musicians singin’ and playin’ on them. There are two tracks for which I will admit completely over-the-top listening binges during this past year … Shuggie Otis – Strawberry Letter 23 and Chic – I Want Your Love. Go on, listen to them. You’ll be hooked. You might not like it, oh cool hipster you – but you’ll be hooked. Just give ‘em a chance. A bit of old shit never hurt anyone. Shuggie Otis http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHe_15fJeCA Chic http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKNII3Ujxjs
Efterklang w/ Copenhagen Philharmonic – The Piramida Concert (4AD)
Brave, percussive, driven, spine-tingling, intense – and that’s just the first track. My introduction to Piramida was live at Vivid last year, where Efterklang effectively debuted the album with a backing orchestra, entrancing the huddled, utterly captivated Sydney Opera House audience. This live recording with the Copenhagen Philharmonic is nothing less than compulsory listening – glistening textures, long vocal lines and soaring string sections are effectively married to the nimble, self-assured sounds of Efterklang. A record that you grow closer and closer to with each listen.
Bob Baker Fish
Cybotron – Sunday Night At The Total Theatre LP (Dual Planet)
Reissue of an obscure 1976 live bootleg from the groundbreaking Australian cosmic Kosmische duo Cybotron. It’s a series of experimental quasi spiritual synthetic wig outs from a man wearing a cape. Synth genius and a cape. Do the maths. https://soundcloud.com/dual-planet/cybotron-sunday-night-at-the
The Necks – Open (Fish of Milk)
A single peaceful 68-minute suite of hypnotic waves of sound and warm drones that makes you forget you’re evening listening to music. It’s audio medicine. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9O93_RITXGU
William Ryan Fritch – The Waiting Room OST (Lost Tribe Sound)
A mÃ©lange of nu music and neo classical music, approached with Fritch’ unique pop sensibility that taps into both the tragedy and hope of an inner city Oakland hospital, this is a beautiful score to a powerful film. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3uexroyRT4
John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – Escape From New York OST (Death Waltz)
An amazing synth score from 1981, killer drum machine and moody bass synth lines, equal parts menacing, cynical and sublime, reminding us how terrible and unimaginative most soundtracks are today. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Mz40kyB4kE
Atom TM – HD (Raster-Noton)
Austere, highly electronic genius from electronic music’ original prankster. Stop (Imperialist Pop) is a song for our generation. And our generation is doomed.
Lesser / Matmos / Wobbly – Simultaneous Quodlibet (Important) 2010
Mondkopf – Rising Doom (Fool House) 2011
Jon Hopkins – Immunity(Domino) 2013
Pat Metheny – Tap (Tzadik) 2013
Galactic – Ya-Ka-May (Anti) 2010
Matias Aguayo – The Visitor (Comeme Records)
The prolific producer Aguayo is a true visionary whose richly textured music is serious fun. Organic groove and driving rhythms sound like they come from someplace African, yet unmistakably define their own territory. Aguayo releases his music on his own Comeme Records label, describing it as a place which unites â€œworldwide heralds of the loony beats, ritmo lunatics and self-styled electronic primitivesâ€. El Sucu Tucu: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jnpLNGAm1M
Monkey Marc – Monkey Marc vs. The Planet Smashers (Jahtari)
This 12â€ EP of finely crafted bass-heavy dub beats produced by the one and only Monkey Marc packs a punch and contains more depth and weight than many full-length releases. There are updated instrumental versions of riddims originally created for Combat Wombat and Roots Manuva, perfectly complemented by three brand-new tracks exclusive for the German-based new school dub label Jahtari. These songs are best heard on any big sound system – preferably Monkey Marc’ own DiY solar-powered sound system. Change Is Gonna Come:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt-6W7kHYjQ
Various Artists – Zouk Bass Volume 1 (Generation Bass)
Portugal’ DZC Crew and DJ Marfox, US producer JSTJR and Angolan DJ Paparazzi produce the stand-out dancefloor bangers featured on this compilation put together by the Generation Bass blog, which made the potential of “Zouk Bass’ as a new genre of club music an exciting idea. This is transnational club music at its best. DJ Paparazzi – Mi Ma Bo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLP9AG4aDdo
Major Lazer – Mad Decent
Major Lazer have risen up as a phenomenon on the back of what for me have been the most exciting club music explorations of the past few years. Although rooted in the Jamaican and wider Caribbean culture of dancehall, Mad Decent CEO and producer Diplo’ talent to search out hot new club sounds, collaborations and exotic locales has put Major Lazer where they deserve to be. Courageous, bombastic, hilarious and simply quality production exploding with ideas. If you dig this also, dig further to discover Major Lazer is just the tip of the iceberg. Watch Out For This (Bumaye): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhtXuXBU8Og
Frikstailers – En Son de Paz – (ZZK Records)
Dengue Dengue Dengue! – Alianza Profana (Auxiliar/Chusma Records)
Dengue Dengue Dengue!’ brilliant debut album was in my recently compiled list of ten most influential releases (http://www.cyclicdefrost.com/2013/09/cyclic-selects-moses-iten/) and I have to include on this list also, but to give credit to an equally great album on a similar tip I also pick the debut album by Mexico City-based Argentine production duo Frikstailers. Like DDD! they make electronic music that’s alive and exciting live. Frikstailers obviously love playing around with technology and their music is fresh and constantly surprising. Frikstailers have their own distinctive, unique sound and their experimentation in Cumbia and Dem Bow riddims opens a whole universe of fun for the dancefloor. Frikstailers live in the Boiler Room: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_VpNtsXS2c
Three of my favourite albums of the year have a common theme: the super group.
Pinnick Gales Pridgen – Pinnick Gales Pridgen (Magna Carter)
A super group of the highest calibre. Dug Pinnick is the bass player and singer from Kings X, Eric Gales is a guitar super hero, and Thomas Pridgen was the crazy drummer from the Mars Volta. What a manic mixture of talents. And the music is super catchy, and heavy. Songs such as Lascivious, and Black jeans are killer. Overall it’s totally head blown clean off type of stuff.
The Nerve – Audiodacity (Birds Robe Records/MGM)
Ok the ingredients are Ezekiel Ox on vocals, and revolution. He is from Full Scale and Mammal. But the guitarist is the music man. One Glenn Proudfoot once of the awesome Electric Mary. Now one cannot forget the amazing Lucius Borich on Drums. Son of Kevin Borich, and former drummer for the legendary COG. And quite possibly the greatest rock drummer in Australia. And lastly the super human Davarj Thomas formally of Pre Shrunk. If that’s not enough, the music is fierce, with razor sharp delivery. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G40XcJanFqo
Mutation – Error 500 (Ipecac)
Described as louder than war. This super group contains Shane Embury of Napalm Death, Ginger Wildheart, of the Wildhearts, Jon Poole of The Cardiacs, Mark E Smith of the Fall, And a noise guy named Merzbow who has worked with the Japanese band Boris.The music is apocalyptic, and has been described as an album that could never be made because of its craziness. Melodic and brutal it is confusing as it is genius. For people who like their music challenging, riff based and with a little nod to Satan. For only he could be responsible for such craziness and madness.
Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five – The message (Sugar Hill Records/Warner)
The first thing I noticed about this album is that the bass player is one Doug Wimbish. The great Doug Wimbish. He now plays bass in Living Colour. Anyway, it is a great privilege to own such wax. I recently watched a documentary called Style Wars, which was based around the New York City graffiti, and the break dance scene with plenty of Grandmaster Flash. The message still holds up well today. Listening to this record is revolutionary. It makes you wanna Pop and Lock, get down on some cardboard, do a helicopter into a back spin. The track ” its a shame ” goes down real well, with Grand Master Flash scratching and rhyming. And the vocal singing “its a shame ” are totally angelic. Same with Dreaming, which they dedicate to Stevie Wonder. It is a totally smooth funk soul number, which makes you wanna make out witcha girl. Overall the album is choice, and oozes with class and groove. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PCv7wNIZrM
Mayer Hawthorne – Where Does This Door Go? (Warner)
For me a totally unexpected release. It is smooth, sexy, hypnotic, and most of all emotive. With a little love on the side. Where does this door go? finds Mayer Hawthorne in a very reflective mood. The album is all about the female anatomy. And how good that is, but also how vulnerable it can be. The main single off this record, and my personal favourite ” Her favourite song ” is all about rejection, and how to redeem your self by going home putting on some headphones, and playing your favourite song, while loosing yourself with in it. The song contains some awesome Brazilian vibes too. The album oozes smooth vibes and sexy rhythms. Mayer had some great help from one Pharell Williams, and his mark is left all over Wine Glass Woman, and Reach Out Richard. The album goes from start to finish with such ease, that every song is an absolute gem. And that’s why it got my album of the year. It’s lyrics are not ideal for a break up, but let the grooves and rhythms soak through your emotions, and you will come out the other side, ok. Please come to Australia Mayer Hawthorne.
John Fahey: The Transfiguration of Joe Death (Takoma)
Where primitive guitar begins. A certifiable dude who lit the way for James Blackshaw et al. Standards filtered through mania. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Icd8RjKX7dk&list=PLKiEBsOXrNf7Fj2UOXzYnI7SGoDg3zPcI
Johnnie Ray: The Electric Ray
A 2CD collection of the grimmest songs not appearing on goth albums. Deaf, a Morrissey icon and an absolute fucking belter. Songs for the terminally bummed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIiKWJbxGjs
Ryoji Ikeda – Test Pattern (Raster-Noton)
Bought after hearing its parts bludgeon visitors to his installation at Carriageworks. The sound of pissed-off word processors. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFqNkv0bsMo
Birchville Cat Motel – Siberian Earth Curve (Drunken Fish Records)
Even though this project no longer exists, this album is pretty much a reason to pack up and go home, droners. Immense, all-engulfing and creepily addictive. Electricity escaping its constraints. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-HivaLLEBU
Troum – Grote Mandrenke (Beta-lactam Ring Records)
Dark ambient duo’s concept album about a citizenry-killing flood. Terrifying, which is remarkable considering it relies on melodica at some points.
Atoms For Peace – Pyramid (Four Tet rmx 1)
Love the moody restlessness of this track and have returned to listen on Soundcloud a number of this this year. Four Tet’s Conference of Birds mix was a favourite in 2012, while the Atoms For Peace Essential Mix is a favourite in 2013. https://soundcloud.com/four-tet/pyramid-atoms-for-peace-rmx
Jared Brickman – Every Day We Are Dying and Outer Space Does Not Give One Single Fuck
This is 60 minutes of ambient piano slowly working through a few chords and key changes. It found me via the Disquiet Junto and I made a disco tune with less than three minutes of it that was one of my favourite jams this year. https://soundcloud.com/one_hello_world/every-day-were-dying-and-outer
Schemawound – Half Past Nothing
Also found Schemawound via the Disquiet Junto and we’ve exchanged a couple of remixes since. This track he made from a sample of a ticking clock and I think it rocks.
Analoc – Keyboard Music
Another result from the Junto, this time a remix of Haydn that blew my mind a bit in terms of how far samples can be pushed.
Kid Koala – Drunken Trumpet (Ninja Tune)
An old track I like to revisit and this video of Eric San performing it is tops.
Synergy – Audion (Passport Records) – 1981
I’ve been on a bit of a prog-rock / vintage ambient bender this year, plus half of the fun as a crate-digger is (a). no one else in Canberra seems to be battling me to scoop it up, and (b). it constantly turns up in the most unlikely places, from St. Vinnies to your neighbour’s front lawn chuck-out. A rule of thumb when chasing this stuff is if it has cover art of a naked lady superimposed over retro space photography of galaxies, you’re probably onto a winner. Circuitry is always a good bet too – and I mainly grabbed this 1981 synth obscurity because of the sleeve art and my amusement that Matthew Dear might’ve nicked his alias from this record. I would describe this album as being the best vintage kung-fu film score you’ve ever heard, crossed with a far more sonically violent version of Tangerine Dream circa ‘Rubycon.’ At points it’s like Edgar Froese came home after a big night on the juice and decided to play the Moogs with his fists. Thanks to Wikipedia, I soon found out that Synergy’s Larry Fast was actually the synth genius behind Peter Gabriel’s untitled albums and has also worked with Foreigner and Hall & Oates.
Carmen Electra – Carmen Electra (Paisley Park / Warner Bros) -1993
This record cost me 38 US cents on eBay, which indicates the levels of hipster cache that presently surround Ms Electra’s discography. But there’s more lurking behind this than you might first expect, and the reference to Paisley Park should be a huge hint. This is basically an album that Prince wrote, got bored with and promptly handed to his latest protege (read – his current squeeze) to release as her own. What makes this album hilarious is that most of the tracks here sound like they were recorded for Prince and his band, and hearing mid-song ad-libs to the band to â€œkick it upâ€ occasionally call to mind Katy Perry cast as James Brown. Curiously, the focus on a sexy female rapper persona makes a lot of this album sound like Ke$ha thrown through a twenty year old time loop. This makes me want to check out Naomi Campbell’s ‘Supermodel’ album, which was written and produced by Bomb The Bass’s Tim Simenon. Go figure.
Hacker Farm – UHF (Exotic Pylon) 2013
I personally find living in Canberra fascinating, though I suspect it’s because I look at this city in a different light to a lot of other people. You can wander through the Parliamentary Triangle at night under the gaze of hundreds of surveillance cameras and a fifteen minute drive later be sitting in the middle of bush and farmland with not a soul in sight. I suspect my exposure to electronic music in pine forest and moonlight parks as a teen here is one reason I’m so drawn to Hacker Farm’s rural occult meets 21st century urban paranoia vibe. After reading The Wire’s excellent intro to them earlier this year, I wasn’t sure if the actual music would live up to the descriptions. There’s a very perceptible leyline running straight back to the likes of Coil, Current 93 and Nurse With Wound, making this one of the most potent examples of England’s hidden reverse I’ve heard for a long time, alongside the likes of Demdike Stare.
The Melvins – Any Album (Ipecac)
Like a load of other folks I’d always had a couple of Melvins records in my collection (‘Houdini’ and ‘Stoner Witch’, which were purchased chiefly for their Nirvana associations as a grunge-loving teen. It was only this year that I started to really discover the band’s sprawling back catalogue properly – no mean feat when you’re dealing with a group that has around 30 albums to their name. There’s the sense of constant creativity and a refusal to sit still more than anything else – between ‘The Bootlicker’s’ take on nineties alt-rock, the Lustmord electronics of ‘Pigs Of The Roman Empire’ and ‘A Senile Animal’s ferociously tight twin drummer attack, I’m finding it hard to pick favourites. Instead I’m enjoying their output as one continuously ongoing feast…indeed just the last four months alone have seen the release of a covers collection as well as the new studio album ‘Tres Cabrones’. One day I intend to actually keep up with them, but in truth this is a discography that’s equally enjoyable in any order.
Steven Seagal – Songs From The Crystal Cave (Warner Special Marketing) – 2005
As you’re probably guessing by now, one of my favourite things is when someone who’s reputable in another artistic field – especially B grade action movies has the cash and clout to back their own vanity solo album. But I’m secretly convinced that Seagal is up to something. Eventually he’s going to reveal the grand plan that ‘Under Siege 2′ and receiving an obscure Tibetan Buddhist honour (yes, it happened) are all leading up to. Until then though, we’ll have to contend with his solo albums. If I didn’t know more about Seagal’s squeaky clean lifestyle, after listening to his 2005 debut solo album ‘Songs From The Crystal Cave’, I would have assumed that he was one of the most druggy people out there. Even Brian Wilson couldn’t come up with some of the stuff that features here. Even Gene & Dean Ween locked in a room stocked with every pharmaceutical substance known to man probably couldn’t quite some of the heights that get reached here. I personally found the highpoint here to be Seagal’s rendering of ‘My Girl Lollipop’ (see what he did there) which sees Tenor Saw’s dancehall MC stylings battling for space with what sounds like your mate’s dad at open talent night at the local Master Builder’s club. Sadly, his ensuing follow-up ‘Mojo Priest’s is pretty much standard blues. Perhaps he changed his macrobiotic diet. Never has the tag ‘Warner Special Marketing’ meant more.
Golden Blonde – Gwen (Tenzenmen)
Gwen was an absolute revelation for 2013. Whilst Golden Blonde came to light a couple of years back under the name Kasha, nothing could have prepared me for their full-length debut.They cite Warp label electronica and hip hop as influences, which isn’t exactly rare for a live band these days, but it’s how they incorporate these influences into their unique sound which sets them apart. They can comfortably share the stage with electronic/beat artists or post punk bands which certainly says something about their versatility and virtuosity.
These New Puritans – Field of Reeds (Infectious Records)
A great example of how a band can evolve over time. Field of Reeds is full of brooding orchestral arrangements, stunning piano melodies and the endearingly deadpan vocal delivery of Jack Barnett. The neo-classical elements were hinted at on their previous album Hidden, but they are now fully realised on what is their most cohesive and mature work to date.
Lower Spectrum – Little Appeal (self released)
A seamless blend of organic and synthetic elements. Little Appeal boasts the rich sonic grandeur of a film-score, instrumental hooks galore and infectious rhythms made for the dance floor. Lower Spectrum is a world class producer who will hopefully get the attention he deserves.
TV Colours – Purple Skies, Toxic River (Dream Damage)
An intriguing and impressive effort from Canberra musician Bobby Kill. Whilst there are definite nods to sounds past, the album remains light years ahead of its contemporaries.
This album will certainly be included in plenty of best of 2013 lists, and rightly so. True genius.
Arca – &&&&& (Hippos in Tanks)
2013 was a big year for this NY-based producer. Arca was responsible for another 2013 highlight in FKA Twigs, as well as some more high profile yet less notable work with Yeezus.
&&&&& is a seemingly endless patchwork of ideas melded into a single breathtaking 25 minute piece. It’s the fact that a lot of the ideas get tossed out, then pulled back before they have time to develop that goes to show the pool of talent that Arca can draw from at any moment.
Esmerine – Dalmak (Constellation) / Saltland – I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us (Constellation)
Two albums on Constellation from Montreal cellist Becky Foon – her solo project Saltland and her band Esmerine’s sparkling adventures with Turkish collaborators.
Nils Frahm – Spaces (Erased Tapes)
Nils Frahm’s record of two years of touring and live performances is one of those rare live albums that captures more than just a recording of a moment but also the dynamism and energy that accompanied each. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aln6DztAsMQ
Royal Dust – Royal Dust (Haunt)
I came upon this very late but this Venezulean-in-Berlin piece of cut up jazz beat science is equal parts golden-era Herbert and Villalobos, and dusty 60s crate digger magic.
Various – Psychemagik presents Magik Cyrkles (Leng)
Hot remixers and edit duo Psychemagik have been assembling some fantastic crate digger collections and mixes over the last few years. Magik Cyrkles is a dive into some lost and forgotten disco oddities from around the world resulting in some funky nonsense to make your day get instantly better.
Holden – The Inheritors (Border Community)
An unexpectedly excellent analogue synth workout from former prog-house producer James Holden.
Daniela La Luz: Based On Electricity (Rawax)
(… and indeed the whole Rawax-Housewax-Dubwax-Chiwax roster)
These eight tracks mix the Rawax basic deep house template with melodic song structures, warm tones and wonky vocals. Some of the most understated, grooviest dance tunes of the year. The Rawax label family has been on fire this year too, worth checking everything they’ve put out.
Glenn Gould: Slow performances from Glenn Gould: The Complete Original Jacket Collection (Columbia)
I used to consider Glenn Gould as something of anovelty performer, despite loving the (slow) performances of his famed Goldberg recordings. After patiently wading through his vast discography collected in the 80CD Columbia recordings collections, discovering his radio and TV documentaries and his views on recording, I realise what a unique and idiosyncratic musician he was. His slow readings of Bach and Baroque music are especially powerful.
Kay Larrson: Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artists (Penguin) / Various: Music For Merce (New World Records)
The music of John Cage has made less of an impact than his life and thought, as presented by Kay Larsson in her wonderful Where the Heart Beats. And I could say, almost, perhaps, that I understand Cage. 2010′s Music for Merce boxset is filled with gems but the highlight is Cage’s Inlets, the most overtly “Cageian” sounding music I’ve heard, for conch shells and the crackle of fire. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-wF0zrev7c
Prince Jammy – Computerised Dub (Greensleeves)
Late 70s dub rhythms drawn with basic 8-bit electronics. Simple, repetitive, crisp, beautiful. I bought it from Hardwax on name only, triggered after last year’s Mysteron Killers digi-dub instrumentals collections on Soul Jazz, and now want as much of this stuff as I can find. It’s probably immensely well known and cherished but was a fresh revelation for me.
Various: I Am The Center: Private New Age Music from America 1950-1990 (Light in the Attic)
Late-in-the-year issue and bound to show up on plenty of lists, but wow! Truly beautiful, disarmingly seductive music. I’ve always favoured the prettier, geekier side of ambient, that which is more ignorable than interesting in Eno’s binary, and found the inclusion of dark, threatening drone music as “ambient” problematic. This new age is what I’d term ambient proper. Plenty of diverse stuff I’ve long liked lumped usefully together but mostly new discoveries. Interesting to play alongside the Music for Merce set.
Althea and Donna – Uptown Top Ranking (Frontline/EMI)
Reggae one hit wonders Althea and Donna did produce a magnificent album with the help of backing band The Revolutionaries who were the house band for channel One Studios in Jamaica. With Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare at the helm it was in the Rockers style of reggae and foregrounded their talents on drum and bass that have created many an artist’s sound from Grace Jones, Mick Jagger, Madonna, Sinead O’Connor to Bob Dylan. Not to mention the wide array of self-titled, reggae and local Jamaican albums they have appeared on or produced. Althea and Donna did not even write the songs but they have the sweetest voices and completely carry the album to the top of the charts in the UK with their songs of love, teenage rebellion and Rastafarian culturally inspired tracks. It is a beautiful album, listen to it when you are in love and it will become your soundtrack to that period, who knows it may even create it.
Biosphere – Substrata (Touch)
A classic 1997 album by Norwegien musician Geir Jenessen. While described as ambient it is a document of sampling of environmental sounds of artic, tundra and atmospheric sound along with electronic drone and some samples from Twin peaks. I remember it strongly not just because of the awe it conveyed on first listening with its static and frigid monumentalism but it coincided with a reading of Aristotle’ Metaphysicia and the tracing of ideas to a substrata of which we could say little about played on the mind then as much as the Higgs field makes the same claim for a universal underpinning in today’ terms. It really does conquer the ambient genre for it’s day and the shenanigans of Brian Eno in regards to this album really were a disappointment. But I suppose when you have been outplayed at your own game one strategy is to deny it. Listen to it and you will understand most of contemporary drone music or that subgenre of glacial ambient.
The Congos – Heart of the Congos (Black Ark/Blood and Fire)
Often considered the best production work of Lee Scratch Perry this 1977 album combines the falsetto of Cedric Myton and the baritone of Roy “Ashanti’ Johnson. The rocksteady form of roots reggae skanks away, while in the background with percussion and experimental flourishes, as the two intone their Rastafarian inspired songs of biblical stories. If you are expecting the maniacal affected weirdness version of Perry’ skills you will be disappointed but it certainly demonstrates his studio experiments within a framework that allows for the form of the songs not to be disturbed but are balanced so as to enhance the project. The excellently restored Blood and Fire reissue of this album contains a bonus CD of the mixes, versions and chants which demonstrate the width of spaces that Perry and the Congos were aiming their music. It is one of Rastafarian music’ best examples as well as being a studio producer’ finest moment.
Burnt Friedman – Con Ritmo (Nonplace)
Friedman really ramped up his sampling prowess with this album taking us to a smoky jazz dive where the bongos meet vibraphone and moog sketches play against upright bass in an atmospheric incantation where the real and the simulacra are ambiguous to such a degree that the question is finally lost in an acceptance of the hyper-reality of fictive space. It is at once exotica as it is smoke den and future jazz. It lays the imprint that his often compatriot Atomâ„¢ will extend to extravagant degree under his Senor Coconut monikers. However applause rests with Friedman who when it comes down to it conveys a warmer sound and ultimately lays a groove that is both convincing as artifice of the instrumental as much as when it is simulated as when it is real. The division is so masterfully smudged that the question is left as an existential joke regarding authenticity.
Lali Puna – Scary World Theory (Morr Music)
When Dj Thomas Morr’ label broke in Germany along with the wave of indietronic sounds arrived this little gem from Lali Puna. Sometimes described as a Munich based electropop group they are fronted by singer and keyboard player Valarie Trebeljhar are of this mould. They present a slightly hesitant and concerned mood, part optimistic part scared rabbit and deeply playful presenting a naÃ¯ve bliss along with electronic experimentation of the glitch variety. There is also a sense of life lessons being taught to the young, which they invariably are themselves, a sort of informational loop of learning, representation and replication. Take Middle Curse (LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UesABogaRF8&list=PL7mWG0vc1FqHeD1J5Dv71Rfu5_EKzUz6B ), which basically instructs you on how to choose your job and friends and a path in life along with a simple optimistic loop like pop melody. Or Scary World Theory (LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i81IbGFkPu0&list=PLD275AC8931F6EA89) which is a dark melody bedtime story to a “child’ about the psychological battle that is the real war in a person’ life. They do not really pull the punches in their story telling and they present the inclination towards a bright world along with the reality of the darkness both outside and possibly within. As Angel Carter would say: wise children.
Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom (1974)
In 1973 virtuoso Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt fell from a fourth-floor window at a party and was paralysed from the waist down. The following year he released Rock Bottom, a devastating suite built on drones, bursts of free jazz and disjointed spoken word cameos, all underwritten by Wyatt’s strange and reedy falsetto. On the day Rock Bottom was released, Wyatt married the poet Alfreda Benge, his inspiration and partner on an album that turns out to be as tender as it is full of sorrow.
Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden (1988)
Drawing from blues, jazz and avant-garde classical, Spirit of Eden marks Talk Talk’s definitive step away from the New Romanticism of their early years towards the elegant abstractions of their ‘late period’. Melancholy and restrained, the album was recorded at a converted London church that they kept in near perpetual darkness. The resulting improvisations are so slow and refined as to be almost sculptural, but from time to time they explode, the steely guitar sound pushing into the red and Mark Hollis’ angelic yet anguished vocal turning to a shriek.
Julia Holter – “Hello Stranger” (2013)
Holter’s interpretation of Barbara Lewis’ 1963 hit brings the original deep within the hermetic world of Loud City Song. Thick with nostalgia and hesitation, the song swells but still holds back as Holter coos, “Please don’t treat me like you did before, because I still love you so”.
Marvin Pontiac – The Legendary Marvin Pontiac: Greatest Hits (1999)
Ostensibly a posthumous collection of songs by a reclusive African Jew who was raised in both Mali and Detroit and whose adult life became a tragic descent into madness, The Legendary Marvin Pontiac was in fact conceived by actor, painter, musician and all-round white boy John Lurie. The album, nonetheless, is all charm – a playful mixture of Afrobeat (influenced in particular by the bluesmen of the Sahara) and rhythm and blues, with shades of minimalism. It even channels Serge Gainsbourg at times, and features such batshit lyrics as “I got a bone for you/ cos I’m a doggy/ and I’m naked almost all of the time â€¦ Bow wow!”
Alan Lomax – Negro Prison Blues and Songs (1994)
In the 1930s and 40s Alan Lomax and his father, musicologist and folklorist John Avery Lomax, travelled to penitentiaries in Louisiana and Mississippi to capture field recordings of prison work songs. The penitentiaries were brutal places, essentially cotton plantations surrounded by barbed wire, like living museums of the slave-driven farms of the Deep South. Likewise, the music mostly derived from field songs. Featuring just voices and the thud of picks, the songs here amount to a raw and moving document of the origins of American blues and roots.
The Electric Hair – Electric Hair (Festival) 1970
70s moog wigout versions of the ever popular Hair soundtrack. Rollicking good funky and noodly versions of all your favorite flower power tunes. Was re-released this year by Evolution Records. Lots of fun. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mq30XsVvQsM
Various Artists – Emergency Ward (Australian Marijuana Party) 1979
Produced in 1979 as a fundraiser for the Australian Marijuana Party, this double album should be played to school children as a guaranteed discouragement from experimenting with drugs. Imagine a bunch of hippies, stoned out of their minds, sitting around jamming out â€œhilariousâ€ parodies of popular hits. Yes, it is worse that you can imagine. Beware.
Jazzercise ’82 with Jackie (Golden Editions) 1982
Top Instructor Jackie (no surname listed) was quite probably a New Zealand TV breakfast show host who branched out into the booming home exercise market in the early 80s. Typical of â€œJazzerciseâ€ style albums of the time, this one stands out particularly for its incredibly odd inclusion of Tom Tom Club’ “Wordy Rappinghood’. Listed here as “Woody Rappinghood’, this cover version overlaid with Jackie’ instructions are a truly odd combination.
Oddly, nobody has uploaded it to youtube, but I believe it is on this mix somewhere: http://www.mixcloud.com/artist/jazzercise-82-with-jackie/
Tony Bellino – Shame & Scandal in the Family (Vogue Music) C1990
Cashing in on 15 minutes of fame through the scandalous Fitzgerald Enquiry into corruption in Queensland, local mafioso Tony Bellino produced this highly awful album. There is next to no information online about this record, except for a recurring ebay listing (they want $40 for it!). The title track is a shambolic disco calypso tune, cheap keyboards and rhythms mixed with Bellino’ â€œwittyâ€ lyricisms. Terrible. No links to this online at all, thankfully.
Eddie (Der Brudders) Minnis – Nicole an’ Shan an’… (Pot Luck Records) 1977
Amazing Bahamian calypso from the late 70s. Not traditional in it’s subject matter, this record deals with contemporary Nassau issues of the time, politics, alcohol abuse and of course UFOs. Sublime music and great delivery from Minnis make this an outstanding LP, from any era. This is definitely the best thing I found this year.
Peter Hollo (Who can’t follow instructions)
Dear Bob & Chris,
I hate lists. Waaaah. I particularly hate top 5s. My minimal top albums list of this year would have to be… 20? 50?
Ha. Earlier in the week I made a smart playlist of music from 2013, and then did a dump into another playlist of everything that stood out to me in a quick run-through. That was still huge. So just now I did a run-through of THAT list to make a long short-list. That took me to 84 albums (or EPs). 84 releases that I would consider really really great. There were a FEW as I went through where I was like “I’ll put this in but it wouldn’t end up in the top 20″. But… condensing this to FIVE? That’s just ridiculous.
I can’t deal with arbitrary choices. I fully realise everybody goes through this, if not necessarily on this scale. Still, I’m bad at this, I hate it, so I guess I’ll have to not take part [So we're publicly embarrassing him instead - Eds]. Even “5 vocal albums” would be hard. Five albums by almost any genre would be hard. FYI here’s the list (you can see it’s more than 84 because there’s a few grouped together by artist too).
I have summarised them in the style of @boomkat_ebooks.
Aidan Baker – Already Drowning
(amazing song cycle with a collection of brilliant women on the vocals)
Atom™ – HD
(his best in ages, trademark (pun intended) electronic manipulations & pranksterish covers)
AUN – Alpha Heaven
(dark techno without the beats, widescreen drone)
Autechre – Exai
(at 2CDs it’s overlong, but particularly the 2nd disc is crammed with goodies)
Banabila & Machinefabriek – Travelog
(glitchdroneworldbeat collaboration to die for)
Boduf Songs – Burnt Up On Re-Entry
(mysterious whispered indiefolk songs, now with electronic backbone – amazing)
Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
(just a wonderful return, everything you could’ve wanted)
C. Spencer Yeh / Okkyung Lee / Lasse Marhaug – Wake Up Awesome!
(collaboration of the year, beauty from noise)
Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
(possibly his best yet, including a barking (mad) vocal from Justin Vernon)
Demdike Stare – Testpressing series
(reinvention of rave/d’n’b aesthetics with dark atmos, better than their ambient hauntology)
Ensemble Pearl – s/t
(drone noise/black metal supergroup with dubbed out production, spineshattering)
Faint Wild Light – s/t
(Emptyset’s James Ginzburg doing shoegazey indie folk? Should’ve been a mega-hit)
fire! orchestra – exit
(Swedish free jazz orchestra with driving bass & scintillating vocals – a masterpiece)
Foetus – Soak
JG Thirlwell – The Blue Eyes OST
(look, I haven’t even listened to these yet but how can they not rule?)
Four Tet – Beautiful Rewind
(a return to form after an unnecessary 4/4 house detour, with a couple of corkers for sure)
Fresh Snow – I
(postrock/krautrock/noise from Toronto, led by a Melburnian ex-pat)
Golden Blonde – Gwen
(best Aus album by a mile, freaked-out chopped-up math-rock by way of Grizzly Bear!?)
Grumbling Fur – Glynnaestra
(everyone’s favourite, not as great as their first two but still great warped pop music)
The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
(cellist and consummate sound sculptor, and dark as fuck)
Horseback – A Plague Of Knowing
(3CDs, black metal Americana thru hardcore punk to processed loop-based indie songs?)
Holden – The Inheritors
(the most organic electronic music ever – endlessly fascinating)
Ill Professor – Wire & Air
(Zelienople member’s cassette of drones & half-expressed guitar & piano thoughts)
James Plotkin & Paal Nilssen-Love – Death Rattle
(Plotkin’s array of guitar-processing in full attack mode & Nilssen-Love’s garage rock/free jazz drums)
Janelle MonÃ¡e – The Electric Lady
(a supremely talented artist; if not quite The Archandroid then at least as catchy)
Jenny Hval – Innocence Is Kinky
(and not quite as brilliant as Viscera, but equally slippery and engrossing)
Jesu – Everyday I Get Closer The Light From Which I Came
Pale Sketcher – Just Won’t Sing
JK Flesh / Prurient – Woship Is The Cleansing Of The Imagination
(Lord JK Broadrick in fine form: epic shoegaze metal, perfect poptronica, raging industrial beats)
Juana Molina – Wed 2
(the return of Argentina’s finest purveyor of deliciously weird electronic folksongs!)
Kaboom Karavan – Hokus Fokus
(dark yet playful, acoustic yet sample-based, very odd)
Leah Kardos – Machines
(stunning second album from London-based Aussie; piano & electronics & songs based on spam)
Littlebow – Pi Magpie
(second album offering further proof that the flute can lead krautrock or psych-folk songs)
Locrian – Return to Annihilation
(the most approachable album from these experimental metal/drone masters)
Locust – You’ll Be Safe Forever
(as good as anything Mark Van Hoen produced in the ’80s, blissful glitchy shoegaze-tronica)
Lonnie Holley – Keeping a Record of It
(unbridled folk unlike anything you’ve heard)
Lucrecia Dalt – Syzygy
(her third and most experimental album, a unique vision of guitar songs and sound art)
Machinedrum – Vapor City
(the album I came back to most this year – stunning cyberpunk vision rendered through juke & drum’n’bass)
Mammifer & Circle – Enharmonic Intervals (For Paschen Organ)
(two restlessly creative post-metal scenes meet and create something melding classical & noise influences)
Matmos – The Marriage of True Minds
(sweet & acerbic humour and sonic invention as always from this duo)
Matt Elliott – Only Myocardial Infarction Can Break Your Heart
(far removed from Third Eye Foundation, but epic and featuring his best songwriting yet)
Matthew Collings – Splintered Instruments
(another I had on repeat, production by Ben Frost, post-Talk Talk songwriting & arrangements, amazing)
M.I.A. – Matangi
(return to form? Compulsively danceable, glitchy production, in-your-face vocals, I loved it)
Miles – Faint Hearted / Unsecured
(Demdike Stare member with post-Autechre techno that blew me away)
Misty Conditions – D’Zzzz
(impeccable trap/dubstep/juke beats from breakcore mashup producer & cohort)
The Mistys – Stalking/Drawers / Redemption Forest / Recombinant Archaeology
(UK’s The Boats producer and a female vocalist make a weird distorted sideways tribute to ’80s electro-pop)
Moon Zero – Tombs / Tombs Remixed
(just some great analogue electronics with some equally great drone artists on the mixes)
My Bloody Valentine – m b v
(the return, everything we expected but ultimately even better)
The Necks – Open
(one of their finest in later years, ultra-restrained minimalism and great grooves)
Nils Frahm – Spaces
(piano & keyboards supplemented with delay pedals for some equisite live creations)
How To Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion
(while the new NIN seemed ultra-boring, Trent’s project with his wife was great, including pop gem Ice Age)
Oceania – Coil Up EP / Eyes Of Glass EP / Five Stones EP
(three post-dubstep EPs from a Moscow artist, delicate songwriting & contemporary production)
Okkyung Lee – Ghil
(terrifying cello mayhem – the most effective noise release of the year, produced entirely acoustically)
Oliver Mann – Slow Bark
(opera singer brother of Grand Salvo makes wonderful experimental folk album)
Om Unit – Sleepwalkers EP
(I thought the Threads album was OK, but this is drum’n’bass as it needs to be in 2013)
Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven
(I’m not as rapturous about this as some, but yeah, it’s almost spitefully brilliant)
Paul Jebanasam – Rites
(Aussie dubstep pioneer now based in Bristol making bass-heavy almost-classical works of great depth)
Piano Interrupted – Two By Four / The Unified Field
(jazzy piano & laptop works, just lovely & fun)
The Rational Academy – Winter Haunts
(unpigeonholeable indie-noise from Brisbane)
Roly Porter – Life Cycle of a Massive Star
(ex-Vex’d member brings dubstep bass pressure to his outer-space electronic epic)
Saltland – I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us
(A Silver Mt Zion/Esmerine cellist Becky Foon’s surprising solo album)
Sarah Neufeld – Hero Brother
(virtuoso solo debut from the violinist with The Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre)
Sole – No Wising Up No Settling Down / Crimes Against Totality
(2nd & 3rd in his series of anarchiest protest-rap albums)
Son Lux – Lanterns
(as masterful as ever, connecting indie with classical with electronica)
Spartak – Catch/Control / Conscience
(lone pair of singles from Canberra’s finest, reinvented as indietronica band)
Special Request – Soul Music
(house & techno DJ Paul Woolford’s tribute to early jungle)
Sunken Foal – Friday Syndrome Vol. 2
(more magnificent folktronica, idm, techno from the brilliant, underappreciated Dunk Murphy)
Svarte Greiner – Black Tie
(Deaf Center cellist & Miasmah label boss with two dark & minimalist masterpieces)
Swans – Not Here / Not Now
(possibly still the loudest band in the world, fundraising their next album, unmissable)
Talvihorros – Eaten Alive
(gorgeously-packaged album of drones, strums & noises from an artist to watch)
Teho Teardo – Music For Wilder Mann
Teho Teardo & Blixa Bargeld – Still Smiling
(veteran Italian composer & post-industrial electronic musician, on his own & in charming collaboration with Blixa)
Telafonica – Sister Zephyr
(late entry to 2013, they can do no wrong. The kids singing in the punkiest track is gold)
These Hidden Hands – s/t
(engrossing breakbeat techno, retro in a way that could only be made right now)
These New Puritans – Fields of Reeds
(post-Talk Talk quiet-pop, continuing their love of 20th century classical music, one for the ages)
Tim Hecker – Virgins
(his best album by a long shot, helped in no small measure by the presence of Ben Frost)
Various Artists (Flaming Pines) – Tiny Portraits
(no label has greater vision than Kate Carr’s right now)
Various Artists – yellow loveless -JAPAN-
(MBV covers, some over-faithful, some totally un-)
Various Artists (Fanu) – The Breakbeat Sound of Finland
(it seems Fanu’s the tip of the iceberg for exciting Finnish d’n’b)
Various Artists (New Weird Australia) – Sixes And Twelves
(just about the perfect selection of Australian experimental guitar music)
Various Artists (Second Language) – Music and Migration III
(perfect conclusion to this bird-themed indiefolk & post-classical series)
Various Artists (EXIT Records) – Mosaic Vol. 2
(the most exciting aspects of drum’n’bass today)
Various Artists – The Outer Church
(hauntology at its best)
Various Artists (Feral Media/Lofly) – Strain of Origin III
(exciting collection of forward-thinking Aussie artists remixing each other)
Various Artists (Feral Media) – Winter EP / Spring EP
(wonderfully diverse first two entries in the Ferals’ seasons series)
Violetshaped – The Remixes Part 2
(mysterious post-industrial techno duo enlist both Keith Fullerton Whitman and the aforementioned JK Flesh for remixes!)
The Stranger – Watching Dead Empires In Decay
(best work in ages from Mr V/VM)
witxes – a fabric of belief
(mixture of postrock, drone, electronics & even folk – just what I wanted)
Wouter Van Veldhoven – Faroe Islands
(ear-turningly exquisite sound manipulations, sparing strings, three short but utterly perfect tracks)
Young Echo – Nexus
(the post-dubstep sound of Bristol today)