Rainer Veil - New Brutalism [Modern Love]
Rainer Veil are a new(ish) duo on Modern Love who sound painfully like they belong there—which is to say that their slate grey music lives in the shadow of Andy Stott. But what their second EP lacks in novelty it makes up for in execution: four slabs of ambient techno thick with the suffocating pollution of modern urban society (with a very specify angle, if the title “UK Will Not Survive” wasn’t enough of a hint). Each of the four tracks tends to bubble and smoke before bursting into rhythmic life, whether that means trendy jungle revivalism on the Stott-style edit jam “Three Day Jag,” or freer broken beats on “Run Out.” Like surveying a concrete jungle from different points of a tower block, each tuneis eerily similar but carefully nuanced, pockmarked and desperate in markedly different ways.
Poemss - Poemss [Planet Mu]
Poemss is the latest project from mad scientist Aaron Funk, but in contrast to his punishing breakcore work as Venetian Snares, his collaboration with fellow Canadian Joanne Pollack is a more bucolic affair. The songs are built on a near-beatless, twilight foundation that’s all perfumed air and madrigal melodies, sung in arch tones like Renaissance Fair actors. Funk isn’t the most technically skilled singer, but his dramatic baritone suits the escapist fantasy well. Pollock makes for a great foil, suffusing the mystical atmosphere with just a smidgen of sexual tension. The duo’s songs don’t strike out every time, but there are some magical moments like the haunting lullaby “Moviescapes” or the breathtaking “Bedtime.”
AT/NU - Psi Grove [1080p]
AT/NU is the collaboration between two Canadian producers, and one of the most promising acts to emerge from the constantly surprising Vancouver imprint 1080p. Think hippie new age West Coast styles melded with the blunt structures of European techno and welded to the sharp and vivid chrome of the Night Slugs-Fade To Mind axis. The tracks here vary from razor-edged techno jams to ethereal space disco to breaks-heavy stompers to bleary-eyed ambient drift, all imbued with a quasi-spiritual glow—like something you’d hear from Donato Dozzy but delivered with a slyly winking sense of irony.
Hands - The Soul Is Quick [Ecstatic]
It seems like every year, Axel Willner has to drop an album, even if it’s not always as The Field. First there was 2012’s And Never Ending Nights as Loops Of Your Heart, and after last year’s Field LP comes The Soul Is Quick, an album released under the name Hands and inspired by a Berlin sanatorium-cum-military-hospital where Hitler was treated in WWI, and driven by Willner’s frustration with the world in general. And though his unmistakable melodies are as present as ever, on Quick they’re obscured by a Kevin Drumm-esque wall of dull and unwavering drone. It’s more like the kind of music that gets passed around by nerds on cassette tapes than Willner’s more polished material, but that rawness makes it perversely thrilling, even if it’s the most patient record he’s ever released. It’s music where anger is sublimated into hopelessness, perhaps best exemplified by the submerged rhythm on “Part 7” (track two), which sounds too exhausted to claw its way up through the fog.
Planningtorock - All Love’s Legal [Human Level]
In the eyes of some, Jam Rostron is as much an activist as a musician. That position is diminutive, because her music is high quality regardless of its lyrical content, though the Planningtorock project is nothing if not confrontational. All Love’s Legal is something of a concept LP about the universal nature of love and the futility of gender, though Rostron’s polemicizing rarely reaches anything beyond sloganeering, and none of the messages her are terribly complex. But that’s a tactic which actually works perfectly for bangers like “Let’s Talk About Gender Baby,” the supremely weird “Misogyny Drop Dead” or the defiant dream “Patriarchy Over And Out,” which sit next to the lush balladry of “Human Drama,” all written with a newfound confidence that squares her quest to rub against the grain with pure pop songwriting.
V/A - Prologue Portefeuille 3 [Prologue]
Portefeuille is the name that Munich techno label Prologue once used for a few various artist EPs a few years ago. For their first release of 2014 they’ve revived the brand to show off three newcomers. Etapp Kyle, a Ukrainian who had a stellar release on Klockworks last year, contributes the archetypal “Lotos” with that distinct nocturnal pulse, lit up by slowly creeping melodies like an action movie score in slow motion. Italian newbie Mod21 offers up the acid-streaked “Ionization,” which is pretty boilerplate as far as Prologue releases go. But it’s Field Recordings associate Artefakt who hits it out of the park with the lengthy “Twilit,” which sizzles, percolates and moves with a remarkable dynamism, trading in Prologue’s usual endless tunnelling with something more spontaneous.
Mondkopf - Hadès [In Paradisum]
Hadès. Sometimes titles just nail it. Mondkopf has always produced really hard techno, but on his first flirtation with the long-player format he really takes the opportunity of the format to slow down and twist the knife. Made up of sludgy tracks that crest like flowing magma, there’s an obvious Pan Sonic influence in the careful ebb and flow of serrated noise. But then there’s the techno part, which comes crashing in every once in a while, aligning it more with the Perc style of bludgeoning industrial influence. At a brisk 42 minutes, techno LPs rarely come this cohesive, nor this brutal.
Pearson Sound - Raindrops [Pearson Sound]
Another self-released EP to follow last year’s astounding Starburst, this time on 7-inch format, the result is appropriately brief: just two different two-minute versions of the same track. David Kennedy has been feeling out further into the abyss with each release, and Raindrops is definitely his most experimental yet. Taking the rarefied aether that defined the lofty Starburst tracks, these ones practically float by in a soft-focus dream full of of looop-de-loop arpeggios and gentle basslines that feel like a hug. Definitely the least floor-friendly thing in Kennedy’s catalogue, they’re almost like small clips of a Pearson Sound track viewed with a microscope.
Seba - Mesmerism [Secret Operations]
Seba is a bit of a maverick in drum & bass—the Swedish producer doesn’t exactly identify with one subgenre or label (he just releases on all of them), and though his music often carries a touch of the ethereal, he can whip up a banger with the best of ‘em. His love for melody and big-room production values can push him over to the wrong side of cheesy, but on his latest EP for his own Secret Operations label he shows off his versatility in a more tasteful way. The title track makes you think you’re in for a Radio 1 style trancey blowout, before it settles into a confident half-time strut muscled up with dub techno synths. Reverb and light acid touches define “Physickl,” while “Life Is” is a classic Autonomic roller with contemplative pads and “Science Fiction” finishes things off dBridge style, pummeling breaks and all.
Sunn O))) & Ulver - Terrestrials [Southern Lord]
This is a pretty dreamy collaboration on paper: drone lords Sunn O))) go head-to-head with Ulver, one of the most forward-thinking (former) black metal bands whose most recent work has touched on dark ambient and goth-tinged electronica. The collabo isn’t a simple matter of two heavy music juggernauts coming together—”Let There Be Light” and “Western Horn” feel more like jazz than metal, both slowly intensifying drone delicately marked with horns. When the climax comes on the former—all roaring electric guitars and screeching brass—it bears distinct resemblance to “A Saucerful Of Secrets” era Pink Floyd, but there’s a distinct control to it all as well; it’s more of a resolution than a crescendo. The 14-minute “Eternal Return,” meanwhile, hints at something greater, ending with a vocal passage built on reverberating waves of synth, a nice head-nodding passage after over half an hour of creeping ambience.
Alis - Things Next Door [Astro:Dynamics]
When Sabina Plamenova changed her alias from Subeena to Alis, it marked a renewed emphasis on her own vocals, and then a turn towards techno on last year’s EP for Don’t Be Afraid (blame her move to Berlin). She changes gears again for Things Next Door, an experimentally-minded EP of tracks recorded in one take with a new loop pedal while on vacation in Sofia. All of the tracks here are vaporous and spectral, layered densely but light like gossamer. Only “Leslape” has a beat any kind of beat—the rest of the tracks are hissy experiments that range from sensual (the breathy, almost Panda Bear-esque vocalisms of “11) to sublime (“020,” which sounds like it could be made up entirely of her own vocals).
Beaka - Beaka EP [Infinite Machine]
The UK’s Beaka would fit right in at Swamp81: what he makes is house in formation but heavily informed by dubstep and bass music at its heart, from the volleying LFO notes on “InDisguise” to the hard-swung rhythms of “Killjoy” or the glitchier “Timelapse.” He’s got a roughneck sound palette grubby, growling bass notes and drums that hit like a slap in the face, but it’s all drenched in supple, gorgeous reverb. It’ never quite macho in its aggression—even “Subconscious,” which seems like it’s chomping at the bit to let loose, melts into shimmering pools of synth at the end of its bars.
Vril: Vortekz [Delsin]
Giegling’s Vril has been steadily rising through the ranks, but outside of an appearance on Marcel Fengler’s Berghain CD he hasn’t really had a big track to his name. “Vortekz” should go to some length to change that, or at least it deserves to. It’s pretty much a perfect techno banger, so high-impact that it almost feels silly listening to it on headphones. It’s a textural beast—the beat sounds like snapping wood, and there’s some serious spatial manipulation going on with the chords, when they aren’t screaming like Hoovers. It’s an atom bomb from the sometimes more restrained Delsin Records, and one of the most satisfying techno tracks I’ve heard this month.
Terrence Parker: Life On The Back 9 [Planet E]
Wherein one of Detroit’s more underrated house producers pens a paean to God, and overcoming adversity, with bleating divas and lush beats. “Gospel house” is an unfairly constricting term, yes, but I dare you to find a more appealing example than Parker’s first studio album in fifteen years. Titles like “God (He Is),” “Pentecost” and “My Virtuous Woman” belie the sheer decadence on display here, from Parker’s signature synth trills to chunky groove after chunky groove with indelible vocal hooks abound—opener “Finally” stomps all over any sample-based UK house banger. Sure, it’s too long, but this triple-LP isn’t meant to be listened over a cup of coffee at home. Christian or heathen, get inspired.
Simian Mobile Disco: Snake Bile Wine [Delicacies]
No offense to the UK duo, but the latest release on their tool-toting Delicacies label belongs to Trevino. He takes the original—a smooth deep house number built on softened chord stabs—and jacks up the speed till it sounds like one of his magical Detroit tributes. Full of rounded textures and full-bodied bass, it’s the kind of ethereal-but-grounded thing that could be a long lost Metroplex record, and only the big-room touches (e.g. big-ass reverb) give away its more modern vintage. There’s even a second Trevino remix, not that anything could touch the first.
Cooly G: Hold Me [Hyperdub]
Cooly G’s excellent Playin Me LP from last year stripped her sound down to the unmentionables, focusing more on emotional impact than her usual hypnotic beats. But she jumps right back on the dance floor with her first EP since, full of liquid UK funky rollers that hearken back to her very first Hyperdub release. Just try not to hear “Love Dub” in the way the vocals waft over pseudo-polyrhythmic drums on “Hold Me.” She gets weird with “Molly,” which has spongy synths and blocky techno chords, and then gets weirder with DVA, who proves an excellent foil on “Ol Dirty” (which dates back three years) with all the plasticky synths and oddball touches that define his work lately (the panning hi-hats are a nice touch). It’s impressive as always how Cooly manages to keep such a recognizable sound so fresh every time.
Marcel Fengler: Remixes [Ostgut Ton]
Remix EPs are often just kind of shitty, but Ostgut’s are always worth a look—and so it goes with Fengler, whose gorgeous album gets retrofitted to fit the dancefloor over four direct techno cuts. Dave Clarke and Aubrey both give their tasked tracks a no-bullshit techno makeover, while The Exaltics best embraces the album’s spirit, keeping its stained glass textures and choral pomp and adding a bed of glitchy effects beneath it. In typical form, Shed blows everyone else away with his remix of “Jaz,” which sounds like one of the more ethereal numbers from the Shedding The Past days—which means rubbery kicks like only he can do, decorated with ribbons of melody that wrap around the drum track.
Prurient: Washed Against The Rocks [Handmade Birds]
Okay, you’re right—this one isn’t from this week, but whatever. I didn’t hear it until recently and it’s worth highlighting. Though Dominick Fernow has been binging on techno as Vatican Shadow lately, last year he released a fantastic album on Blackest Ever Black under his classic Prurient alias, and now he’s followed that up with a single that sounds like that record’s ghost, formless and incorporeal. “Doors Closed Against Secrecy” sounds, appropriately, like listening to some satanic ritual from behind a wall, all unsettling rumbles and thick tension hanging in the air; eventually the hum and high-pitched frequencies gather into a storm cloud that feels like primordial noise music. “Washed Against The Rocks” is the more serene counterpart—it’s like watching a film soundtracked by post-rock on 8mm as the epic melody slowly sighs.
PVC: She Can Get It [Q Recordings]
Based around an instantly recognizable Kendrick Lamar sample, this first release from DJ Q’s Q Recordings (by Brighton’s PVC—that’s Purple Velvet Curtains, what a name) runs the risk of gimmickry almost immediately, but the track’s raucous radio finish (think Rudimental) manages to save it. Taking a more contoured tack to bassline house, PVC smooths it out so that signature skronking low-end is more sexy than aggressive. The flipside adds an irresistibly swung drum track to the formula complete with vintage house touches—proof that when it comes to glossy high-energy house, Disclosure and Rudimental don’t have a monopoly.
This is something I’m going to try and do every week. I won’t be able to do it every week. But more and more it feels like there’s a lot of music I want to spread than I can cover in a professional capacity, so here we are. These columns, at least as I see them right now, will be for music that I don’t cover on RA or Pitchfork. They are by no means comprehensive—for that you’ll have to follow along with my work for those websites.
Chris E Pants - Hello? [The Nite Owl Diner]
<The first release on new label Nite Owl Diner, “Hello?” sees the newly-christened (sorry) Chris E Pants further explore house, but it doesn’t have the same panache that his excellent Hypercolour debut did—its jaunty bassline is run of the mill, and all it has is the cheeky vocal samples and telephone rings to give it character. Mr. Murderbot makes a great decision in handing over the b-side to his label partner, Alex Burkat, however, who manages to transform the song into something with the same majestic grandeur of his breakout “Shower Scene,” only he keeps the silly sound effects. The result is something as massively danceable as it is hilarious, and the the sling-shotting dub chords are a rather ridiculous counterpoint to everything else. In one word: massive.
Henry Rodrick: Don’t Believe [Studio Barnhus]
Studio Barnhus has always been weird, but with this one they’ve outdone themselves—Swedish footwork? You got it. Truth be told, it doesn’t sound all that different from the more polished end of the “authentic” stuff, minus an arch take on repetition that feels more techno than soulful. But Mr. Rodrick shows off a deft, almost Floorplan-esque hand with his sample-dicing, whether that’s the drowsy voice on the title track or the patchwork R&B of the incredible “Inner City Lites,” which could give DJ Rashad a run for his money.
Container: Adhesive [Liberation Technologies]
Liberation Technologies continues to stretch their tentacles out in all directions, and the latest in their clutches is Container, who shows off two very different sides of his personality here. For “Slush” and “Glaze,” we see the same producer as the first two Container albums on Spectrum Spools—motorik techno egged on by tinnitus-inducing frequencies and other abrasive touches. But it’s the other two tracks, where he pushes his hardware past its limits, that it really takes off. The title track sounds like he’s lobbing fireballs at dancers, with every mega-distorted stroke, while “Complex” feels like it’s being ripped-and-torn in real time—you can practically hear the knife tearing across the master tape.
Helm: The Hollow Organ [PAN]
I’ve had a bit of an up-and-down relationship with Luke Younger’s found-sound-heavy music, primarily because a lot of it tended to wash past me in a sea of creaks and and other strange noises. So it goes that last year’s Silencer, also on PAN, was (for me) the best thing he’s ever done—full of grandiose synth runs and some crunchy beats. With hasty follow-up Hollow Organ he’s back to his old tricks, however, full of prepared instruments and ominous drones, only this time, it’s more engaging, from the slow-motion supernova of “Analogues” to the epic title track, which rewards attentive listening with a few seconds of honest-to-god organ at the very end, because by god you earned it.
Volta Cab: We Are The New Generation [Hypercolour]
Volta Cab is a Ukrainian producer with a slew of releases on solid house labels for the past two years, and now he finds himself on UK powerhouse Hypercolour. It’s a funny pairing, because Konstantyn Isaev uses the 4/4 obsessed-platform to let the breaks fly, with a jazzy take on breakbeat house that somehow manages to feel loungey and invigorating at the same damn time. “Apache” is essentially slowed-down jungle, bouncing and breaking in all the right places, just a few BPMs slower, and the way it skips and stops has an almost scatty feel to it. The other two tracks are straight-up house—”Back To The Top” with flamboyant stabs and diva vocals and “Fantazia” with mystical synths—but he does with an addictive springiness that makes it a little more lively than your average slice of 201x tech house (e.g. the crop of labels and crews that have popped up in the wake of Hypercolour, fancy that.)
Vellico: The Pennines EP [Snowfall]
Vellico is the newest project from musical polymath Throwing Snow, this time a collaboration with his brother Tones. It comes on his own Snowfall label, and as you might expect from Mr. Tones, it’s a bit of a mishmash stylistically. On the surface it bears most resemblance to Graze—hyper-polished techno-informed 2step of the cybernetic variety. The production values are astounding, with an uncanny presence that makes the tracks feel 3D (check out those Joker-esque shards on the title track). The duo avoid the anodyne sheen of so much bland garage with techno-minded muscle (“Peace Signal”) and a sense of dynamism that means no track stays in one mode for too long. The way a Reese bassline sneaks up on the otherwise tranquil house jam “Becks Brew” is but one example, and it sounds huge, like storm clouds rolling in.
A list every bit as flawed and idiosyncratic as my big-eared self. No Beyonce because I still don’t know where it belongs, but if it were released earlier it’d certainly be in this post. I kept the formatting bare to keep it as simple as possible—hit me up if you need help figuring out what something is.
1. Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety
Perfectly glossy ‘80s pop contorted into by stomach-twisting insecurity, with endless hooks that twist and turn like overgrown vines.
2. Kanye West - Yeezus
No explanation needed.
3. Jessy Lanza - Pull My Hair Back
The year’s most welcome surprise—rarely do albums this catchy sound this unassuming. Haim for the Hyperdub set.
4. Logos - Cold Mission
Grime torn apart in a spastic fit and then set loose to float disparately through space, where no one can hear your gun cocking sounds.
5. DJ Koze - Amygdala
Trying to capture the magic of ‘60s psychedelia through the lens of house and techno sounds like a disaster, but if anyone could do it, it’s Koze, who proves there doesn’t have to be any clear line between dance music and pop songwriting.
6. Special Request - Soul Music
The jungle and ‘ardkore-inspired album that kicked UK dance music into full gear, too spirited to be derivative.
7. Natasha Kmeto - Crisis
One of the strongest voices in American underground electronic music both artistically and literally (she’s a powerhouse singer), Crisis is a collection of 21st century torch songs.
8. Drake - Nothing Was The Same
More of the same in spite of the title, and all the more welcome for it.
9. Nils Frahm - Spaces
A live album showcasing the true breadth of one of modern classical’s most distinctive voices, and there’s not much classicist about him.
10. Blue Hawaii - Untogether
Moonlit pop exploring a breakup in wrenching detail, where vocal outbursts and skittering beats are cathartic.
11. Segue - Pacifica
Uncommonly beautiful dub techno that escapes cliche by virtue of simplicity.
12. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City
Wherein they make good on all those Paul Simon comparisons in a much more palatable way.
13. Erika - Hexagon Cloud
An update on classic Detroit electro made to mimic the city’s sad and crumbling state, all weeping machines and lonely reverb.
14. Dawn Richard - Goldenheart
An epic R&B-as-holy-war tale that’s equally ambitious as it is cohesive.
15. Marcel Fengler - Fokus
A reflective turn from the Berghain resident that no one really expected.
16. Ciara - Ciara
A triumphant comeback for a strong R&B singer whose career seemed permanently mired in major label politics.
17. Alix Perez - Chroma Chords
Modern drum & bass injected with Eglo soul and just enough Radio 1 sheen to make it slippery and shiny.
18. Ariana Grande - Yours Truly
Timeless teen pop that borrows from trap, doo-wop and Mariah Carey, all delivered with one of the year’s most unforgettable new voices.
19. Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe
An ensemble R&B album that unfolds like a Woody Allen movie.
20. Moon B - Untitled [PPU]
Stoned analogue funk from Atlanta that stands head-and-shouders above a legion of producers who have been doing similar work on the West Coast for years.
21. DJ Rashad - Double Cup
Footwork goes international, and wears it well.
22. Function - Incubation
The former Sandwell man turns in one of the year’s most well-rounded techno albums.
23. Holden - The Inheritors
James Holden “builds ‘is own fucking synths” (in the words of my editor) and makes krautrock that sounds like a coven ritual circa 1540.
24. Pharmakon - Abandon
Where much of the noise world spent 2013 turning to techno-inspired rhythms, Pharmakon combined the form with black metal nihilism and created arguably the year’s scariest record.
25. Jon Hopkins - Immunity
The guy who occasionally works with Coldplay makes a techno album, and it’s exactly as good and as bad as you’d expect.
26. The Knife - Shaking The Habitual
Let’s talk about gender, baby, over ten-minute beds of sputtering synths and malfunctioning machines. It’s The Who’s Quadrophenia dressed up in a Swedish spacesuit, and yes, that’s a good thing.
27. Forest Swords - Engravings
Dub inspired by a thick of English countryside instead of the Caribbean isles—mossy as fuck.
28. Marcos Cabral - False Memories
Braindead IDM experiments from the late ’90s that ended up the most forward-thinking material on L.I.E.S. all year.
29. Daniel Avery - Drone Logic
Relentless techno that goes off like a firecracker in all the right places.
30. Darkstar - News From Nowhere
The dudes who made “Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer” continue down their early ’70s Floyd rabbit hole (one dude even looks like David Gilmour now) and craft some indelible pop melodies in the process.
31. Lumigraph - Nautically Inclined
The best of a healthy Opal Tapes batch this year, Nautically Inclined was techno submerged in spit and vinegar that built itself off samples torn haphazardly like construction paper.
32. CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe
A Glaswegian sugar rush of the highest import, with deceptively complex song structures to keep you guessing.
33. Machinedrum - Vapor City
A refinement on its predecessor Room(s) instead of another radical reinvention, what Vapor City lacks in forceful impact it makes up for in enduring earworms and svelte production values.
34. Disclosure - Settle
You don’t have a heart if you don’t like at least a few songs on this record—and the joke’s on you, because there isn’t a bad one in sight.
35. August Alsina - Downtown: Life Under The Gun
The man frequently billed The-Dream’s protege outshone his mentor with this short mixtape where he laughs, cries and triumphs, sometimes in the span of a single track.
36. Date Palms - The Dusted Sessions
Desert rock in a baroque style, viola never sounded so badass.
37. Laurel Halo - Chance Of Rain
The closest I’ve heard anyone approach Actress’ level of sublime rhythmic confusion.
38. The Haxan Cloak - Excavation
The psychological thriller companion to Pharmakon’s gorefest, Excavation doesn’t let you get comfortable for even a millisecond.
39. Earl Sweatshirt - Doris
The most hyped member of Odd Future delivers their best record not by Frank Ocean, a pleasantly blunted collection of old-school jams that sounds like 36 Chambers made by a bunch of apathetic teenagers.
40. Dadub - You Are Eternity
Stroboscopic Artefacts continue their great juggling game with this one, an ambitious techno album whose inventiveness outshines its clumsily political messages.
41. Deerhunter - Monomania
I fell in love with their sumptuous psychedelic rock and stayed for the frayed acid folk.
42. Vatican Shadow - Remember Your Black Day
It’s still a pretty meagre offering, but his first “official album” is the noise head’s most representative techno work yet.
43. Perera Elsewhere - Everlast
"A gothic atmosphere that actually kind of sounds like it was recorded in a frigid castle, her vocals echoing through chambers of cold stone."
44. Ryan Hemsworth - Guilt Trips
Just as meek and unassuming as the man himself, Guilt Trips feels more like a bedroom indie record than the club-busting DJ sets he’s become known for.
45. Akkord - Akkord
Mathematical techno that sounds like it was made on an assembly line, frightening robot arms and all.
46. Sky Ferreira - Night Time, My Time
Neither disappointing nor mind-blowing, Ferreira’s long-awaited debut is just a collection of well-written songs delivered in an affable, ’90s-alt-rock-inspired palette of flannel and other loose, draping fabric.
47. ENA - Bilateral
One of Japan’s most underrated electronic music producers siphons all his influences into an unclassifiable album of technoid paranoia and spacey explorations.
48. Chevel - Air Is Freedom
A young Italian producer finding his sound right before our ears.
49. Young Echo - Nexus
A sprawling album from a nine-strong Bristol collective that represent their city’s most fearless new musical minds—it shouldn’t work as an album, but its ramshackle flow is part of the charm.
50. Autechre - Exai
The infamous duo continue to bring the emotion back to their music after a decade of aggravatingly precise digital ice sculptures—not that the music here doesn’t feel randomly generated, rhythm patterns budding and falling away on command.
(Data Garden, 2013)
Shinji Masuko is a member of avant-rock heroes Boredoms and the bluesier DMBQ, but you wouldn’t know it from Bookshelf Sanctuary, which is more of a dazed krautrock dream. It’s the guitarist’s first album with Moan, a two-piece he formed with Makiko of fellow Japanese grip Water Fai, and it’s inspired by a childhood bookshelf that holds most Masuko’s earliest secrets, shames and desires (as a journalist, one gets the idea that books are important to him). Brief but epic at the same time, Bookshelf consists of four tracks that unfold in gorgeous splendour. “Banded Agates” is the longest, full of elements that bubble and gurgle like a generative orchestra—until guitars strike out halfway through, opening up a post-rock section, a swirl of joyous vocals and even birdsong. “Chord Ripples” is like a compact Terry Riley composition while “Summer Camp ‘79” switches the emphasis from chirpy scales to long, choral drift. It’s rounded off by “A Cymbal And 3 Organs,” which, well, has a lot of organ pyrotechnics (it’s better than that sounds). A roughly 40-minute package that packs the emotional wallop of a double album, Bookshelf Sanctuary is one of the more out-of-nowhere great albums of 2013 for me.
You can buy the album here.
Sheer force of will I guess? I had been writing about music, for fun and for myself, since I was about 12. During my teenage years I toyed around with the idea of trying to write for a publication, and came *this close* to applying to cokemachineglow in, like, 2006 or something. In retrospect I’m glad I didn’t, because I certainly wasn’t ready at 16. But a few years later, when I was beginning university and doing a shit-ton of writing for that, I thought, well, why not? An internet associate of mine had just started a website (which is now beatsperminute.com) and I figured that’d be a good opportunity to try my hand at it—no expectations and no high stakes.
I took pretty well to the whole thing, and with another internet friend of mine (the lovely vurtonmusic) pitched the idea of a “dubstep” column, which I had pretty much free reign over because the website had little-to-no dance music coverage. This was at the time when dubstep/post-dubstep was really starting to cross over into other musical realms, so it was well-timed. From there, my work was noticed by the likes of FACT, RA, XLR8R, Little White Earbuds, and my freelance work became a bit of a chain-reaction, moving from site to site. Then all of a sudden I was getting paid for it. Honestly, it’s just a matter of working hard, and, um, starting from the bottom. (And being good at it, I suppose, but I won’t claim that here.)
So basically, i just started doing it, and then shit happened. It’s just about taking that first step and getting your work out there.
I guess my advice is pretty simple—just work hard at it, and don’t have any particular expectations. It’s a hard field to break into, and even harder to make money from. I certainly never thought I would or could be a professional music writer. Be choosy about what kind of publications you align yourself with, and make sure you believe in them. And keep trying. If you’re good enough, someone will probably notice eventually.
You probably better know Seattle’s Rafael Anton Irisarri as The Sight Below, a core member of the Ghostly roster and a reliable purveyor of gorgeous gossamer techno. He’s used his given name to explore the more drone-oriented extremes of his sound, most famously on 2010’s fabulous The North Bend on Lawrence English’s Room40 label. Irisarri returns to the imprint for a spiritual sequel inspired by California’s Salton Sea, where land developers accidentally created a huge saline lake that ended up strangling the life of everything around it, leaving behind a tragic but alluring husk in its wake.
Like images the lake itself, The Unintentional Sea is vast and haunting. Each track generally consists of a single chord progression blasted by Fennesz-style interference, whether it’s the electric guitar (I think?) tones of the opener “Fear and Trembling” or the obsidian synth drone of the funereal “Her Rituals.” The record often feels like it’s moving on two planes at once, as the more fastidious details bloom and fade on top of the glacial, flowing melodies. “The Witness, recalls Bowie’s “Warszawa” in its haunting fusion of natural and artificial tones, and it’s no coincidence—both records inhabit a man-made wasteland forever marked by the mistakes of the past.
There’s an intense sadness at the heart of The Unintentional Sea that’s almost more comforting than it is depressing. The message here is, yeah, the world’s a fucked up place, but let’s find beauty in our own commiseration rather than isolating ourselves. It’s a poignant emotion felt most in the ten-minute “Daybreak Comes Soon,” which lacks the hands-on distortion effects in the other tracks, leaving it all the more lonely, only a mere piano plonking in the far distance to hint that there’s anyone else out there at all. Ending with the near-orchestral “Lesser Than The Sum Of Its Parts,” The Unintentional Sea closes right where it began, drifting aimlessly on the saline waves that eat away at its very foundations.
You can purchase the album here.
The appeal of Dan Bodan—a Berlin-based, slightly unlikely DFA signing—so far has largely boiled down to a bedroom-borne intimacy. He makes unassuming but heart-rending homemade pop songs that follow in the footsteps of one Arthur Russell (an artist whom I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Bodan idolizes, given his press pics and general look). After the pretty good “Anonymous,” which was backed with a slew of excellent remixes, he teams up with Physical Therapy and one member of Finnish oddballs Renaissance Man for a stirring jungle-inspired (of course) track to wrap up the year.
"Anonymous" was a lonesome torch song, and "Hunger Games" practically wipes the floor with it—the melodies are stronger, the production is uplifting, and there’s still a distinct crack in his voice that makes it all the more powerful. Even with the sonic upgrade, there’s still something definitively DIY about it, theatrical and homespun all at once. It’s backed with a mysterious "Stadium Mix," which despite the name, takes the jungle out of "Hunger Games" and replaces it with fluffy clouds, gently nudged by pitter-patter percussion straight out of a Jacques Greene track.