Saturday, January 5, 2013

smilecoldanatomy's top 10 of '12

and finally, here it is: my favorite albums of 2012. like my 2011 list, what ended up as my #1 pick initially came as a surprise... but more on that in a bit. stay in your seats (no skipping ahead!), and check the discogs links for more details on each album, if necessary. let's start the countdown:

10. deepchord - sommer
soma quality recordings (discogs)
deepchord lp
rod modell strikes again with another great LP under the deepchord moniker. this time he hit the beach to gather field recordings, and that sunny mood is evident throughout. sommer defies easy classification (no, it's not just 'dub techno'), but tracks like "cruising towards dawn," with its sepia-tinted vistas, or "amber," with its lush, idyllic charm, made this the sort of album that could be left to loop over and over again.

9. vatican shadow - ghosts of chechnya
hospital productions (discogs)
vatican shadow lp
the brainchild of veteran noise-maker dominick fernow, vatican shadow has been one of 2012's most distinctive and most essential music projects. tough, industrialized sounds, moody ambiance and (crucially) headline-grabbing track titles... it's become obvious that vatican shadow has found a lot of fertile ground in the no-man's-land of wartime musical commentary. ghosts of chechnya probably ranks among the project's more accessible releases. at times the 'song-writing' seems a bit raw, but overall it's a pretty diverse listen. my favorite tracks are "peace rage," "voices came crackling across a motorola hand-held radio," and the wonderfully understated last track "snipers as a breed tend to be suspicious."

8. forward strategy group - labour division
perc trax (discogs) 
fsg lp
labour division is proof that forward strategy group - aka al matthews and patrick walker - know how to put together a proper techno LP. it includes some of the duo's most intriguing creations, like the triumphant opening track "ident," and "fading centres," with its cold cavernous depths. then, of course, there's "metal image," "TTH," and "cultivar," the stunning trio of tracks that close out the album. stern, tense, gloomy, strange - a fine full-length debut from FSG, methinks.

7. andy stott - luxury problems
modern love (discogs)
andy stott lp
unsurprisingly, it was another good year for modern love. along with the typically weird pursuits of demdike stare, the manchester imprint also recruited vatican shadow for an LP. but the label's best release in 2012 was surely luxury problems, from andy stott, which layered a nifty variety of samples on top of tons of grinding low-end percussion. my picks of the eight tracks would have to be "lost and found" and "luxury problems," which both feature lovely female intonations. in short, luxury problems was (and still is) sexy as hell.

6. terrence dixon - from the far future pt. 2
tresor (discogs)
terrence dixon lp
terrence dixon comes through with a masterpiece. indeed, from the far future pt. 2 is full of ultra-futuristic moments, making it an excellent counterpoint to a techno landscape that's become filled with too much darkness and way too much drone. "light of day," "horizon," "fountain of hope"... there's too many highlights to list, but my absolute favorite is "the study," with its curious, bleeping loops and soft kick drum. keep in mind, there's two different release formats for this, CD and vinyl, with fairly different tracklists. try to check out both if you can.

5. porter ricks - biokinetics
chain reaction / type (discogs)
porter ricks lp
let us not forget porter ricks' classic LP, biokinetics! originally issued on chain reaction in 1996, biokinetics got a fresh re-release on type in 2012. "port gentil," "port of call" and "nautical zone" are my picks from an album that still feels oh-so-refreshingly elemental.

4. edanticonf - forest echo
silent season (discogs)
edanticonf lp
moody, atmospheric techno par excellence - as to be expected from the vancouver label silent season. forest echo is the debut album from edanticonf, and it marks him as an artist to watch. you might notice that neel mastered this one, but edanticonf's unique talents shine through clearly on tracks like "planet" and "drome." forest echo is an hour-long journey that's sure to appeal to deep techno travelers.

3. mohn - mohn
kompakt (discogs)
mohn lp
mohn is the latest collaboration between veteran german artists wolfgang voigt and jorg burger, and mohn might be the least accessible album on this list. it's an unpredictable but altogether remarkable blend of krautrock and slow, ambient-tinged techno, and it's a perfect addition to the kompakt catalog. don't be turned away by the floydian gloom of opening track "einrauschen." (who gets turned away by floydian gloom, anyway?) just be patient, because the best is yet to come, as the album moves through lounge-y atmospherics toward the softly spiraling climax of "ebertplatz 2020." i'm a huge fan of voigt's music, and for me, mohn is a welcome expansion of his sound.

2. voices from the lake - voices from the lake
prologue (discogs)
vftl lp
this one has been praised from nearly all angles, and i don't have much more to add. it's been a busy year for prologue (with two other solid albums from claudio PRC and dino sabatini) but voices from the lake, donato dozzy and neel's collaborative album, is clearly the highlight of 2012 for both the artists and the label - an excellent full-length realization of their hypnotic, organic sound. it's hard to find a standout track, though i'm quite fond of the run-through-the-jungle vibes of "meikyu," because this one is best experienced from front to back. i'm very interested to see where dozzy and neel go from here.

1. earth house hold - when love lived
love's label (discogs)

earth house hold lp

my most listened-to album in 2012, by far. and yes, it was at first a surprising listen, just like nuel's album back in 2011. earth house hold is brock van wey - that prolific purveyor of deep, evocative electronic music perhaps best known as bvdub - and when love lived, released on the chicago-based love's label, is his first LP produced under that alias. the surprise is in the style: it's more house-y, and a bit more 'accessible', than much of van wey's work. each track is generously sprinkled with classic-sounding house motifs, but as usual the artist's distinctively airy touch (and inimitable use of vocal samples) is present throughout, and every single moment is filled to the brim with emotion. of course, with stuff this good, picking favorites is a chore: "need you (in a trance)" is a superbly righteous bliss-out, and the title track nearly overwhelms with its array of sensual female vox. but they're all winners. to my ears, when love lived is not just one of 2012's biggest surprises, it's easily the best album of the year. happily, whereas much of van wey's music is put out only on cd and digital formats, this one was pressed to wax as well. kudos to him, and to love's label, for sharing this gem.

... and, unless anyone would like to comment on what i've chosen (or not chosen), i think we're done for now. so let's put 2012 behind us and look forward to a new year.