Tuesday, December 31, 2013

smilecoldanatomy's top 10 of '13

it's time for me to go on about my top album picks from the year that was. compared to my music pursuits in 2012, i spent much of the past twelve months listening to more experimental and less techno and house-focused LPs. maybe in 2014, the pendulum will swing back the other way. but for now, here's my top 10 of '13.

10. tim hecker - virgins
kranky (discogs)
i'm not sure i like this one as much as other stuff i've heard from tim hecker (like ravedeath, 1972). but there's enough powerful pieces to warrant a serious listen or three, like the "virginal" and "stigmata" tracks. and then there's "black refraction," its plaintive piano loops slowly spreading thin and disintegrating as time winds down - certainly my pick of the bunch, and overall one of my favorite tracks from 2013.

9. ulwhednar - LP
northern electronics (discogs)
ulwhednar is the duo of abdulla rashim (who made anatomy 20 in late 2012) and varg, two swedish artists and friends who've collaborated on records put out this year through the former's imprint northern electronics. this LP sees abdulla rashim's tendencies towards horizontal rhythms merged with varg's fondness for icy ambient moods, and the result is a set of highly pressurized, percussive techno tracks like "dömd till elden" to go with some blurry-eyed beatless sections, my favorite of which is the shimmering psychedelia of last track "trä och vatten." tune in and try it out with a full stream over at the label's bandcamp page.

8. TM404 - TM404
kontra-musik (discogs)
at the beginning of the year, veteran producer andreas tilliander linked up with kontra-musik to release a self-titled LP as TM404, created 'only' with a pile of roland hardware (drum machines and synths). the result: a collection of slowly simmering acid soundscapes destined for places away from the dancefloor. there's "202/303/303/303/606/606"'s deep, narcotic groove; the anxious echo-laden melodies of "202/202/303/303/606;" and the dubwise "303/303/303/303/808" - all highlights on an album that sees tilliander putting his machines to good work.

7. murcof & philippe petit - first chapter
aagoo / REV. laboratories (discogs)
a strangely addictive album from this duo - it just needs a little space to spread out. "the call of circé," which at twenty minutes in length might be the most fascinating long-form work i've heard in 2013, is laced with sparkling melodic curlicues, quivering choral odes and light ethereal tones. "pegasus" is a six-minute experimental synergy of folk and world music, and "the summoning of the kraken" finishes off the three-track LP with close to thirteen minutes of unsettled abstractions. if you're up for the trip, you can stream first chapter in full over at petit's bandcamp page.

6. roly porter - life cycle of a massive star
subtext (discogs)
with life cycle of a massive star, former vex'd member roly porter continues to refine his intense and cinematic production style. working together elements of modern classical, noise, ambient and drone, and here taking inspiration from from cosmic cycles of life and death, he offers up a fine follow-up to his first solo album, 2011's aftertime. there's generally a keen appreciation for space and balance here - raw physical force accompanied by graceful emotional movement - though at times it seems just a little bit off, as if the artist's best is still yet to come. still, a captivating album worthy of being heard from front to back.

5. conforce - kinetic image
delsin (discogs)
this is something of a late surprise, in part because previously i wasn't a huge fan of conforce. here, we have a colorful collection of smooth, spacious, syncopated techno. "spaciotemporal" and "temporary reversals" are among my favorites, the former filled with airy melancholy, the latter with high-tech voodoo vibes, while "optimum pace" near the end works out a range of reverb-heavy 303 bellows at 90bpm. apparently, conforce "wanted to make moving images and art that evolve and unfold like passing landscapes" - that's a good way to describe these meticulously designed tracks, which should appeal to those seeking techno of a more understated sort. for me, kinetic image was one of the genre's better LPs in 2013.

4. stave - reform
flingco sound system (discogs)
i first found stave on the lineup of a demdike stare show here in chicago, back in august, and i'm glad i arrived early to see him play. (fun show!) stave is chicago artist jonathan krohn. he appeared alongside fellow local karl meier under the name talker on the recent downwards label compilation, and reform marked his production debut as stave. his style: abstract, industrial techno, or something close to that, i guess. whatever you call it, his vision is clear and compelling. "tower 9," with its long blasts of noise and stuttered barks, is an obvious highlight, while "gun control" is squeezed through mind-bending, interlocking rhythmic machinery. "disc1" is relatively spacious and subdued, yet still tense, and punctuated somewhere in the middle by a few delightfully unhinged plucks on a guitar. overall, an excellent album, and an artist to look out for. you can try this one out in full at the label's bandcamp page - do it to it!

3. miles - faint hearted
modern love (discogs)
faint hearted is miles whittaker's first solo album under his own name, though he's had plenty of experience with the full-length format by way of other projects - perhaps most notably, his spooky machinations with sean canty as demdike stare. as you might expect, this album does plenty of blurring between genres but it manages to feel, from front to back, quite cohesive. from first track "lebensform"'s dive-bombing attack, through the hallucinatory collage of minor-key piano loops and noir-ish swagger in "rejoice" later on, to the bittersweet sci-fi outro of "loran dreams," faint hearted is a fine addition to whittaker's catalog. seem interesting? check out the whole thing at the modern love soundcloud page.

2. my bloody valentine - m b v
mbv records (discogs)
oh, i love my bloody valentine. the walls of fuzzy guitars grinding in and out of focus, those barely decipherable, perfectly whatever lyrics... i don't think i've written about them here but i often can't get enough of kevin shields and company; i still listen to their last album, 1991's loveless, pretty regularly (it's been one of my go-to guitar-centric albums in recent years as i've turned towards more and more electronic music). and for me, they hit the spot with m b v, their first LP in 22 years. not much has changed, though i'd offer that in comparison to the group's prior work, this one is especially dense, filled with even more tense yet strangely comforting texture and a ton of fine detail. prime examples: "if i am" - the middle of that one has this beguiling sequence of bubbling tones that float about like aquatic echoes - and the thrilling last track "wonder 2," with all its hyperactive drumming down low, roller-coaster flanging, clever key changes and aching-heart harmonics. it's not perfect, there's a dud or two ("new you" seems out of place to me), but overall i think m b v is a fantastic album. now, would it be too silly to hope this isn't the last we've heard from my bloody valentine?

1. mika vainio - kilo
blast first petite (discogs)
after much deliberation - and a lot of thinking as to whether i should instead give the #1 spot to m b v - i just couldn't resist this pick. with dozens of album credits to his name, mika vainio, aka Ø and formerly of pan sonic, continued to dish out the goods in 2013, both as a collaborator (with joachim nordwall and stephen o'malley) and as a solo producer. kilo is his latest LP crafted alone under his own name, and it's more rooted in rhythm, more pan sonic-esque, than much of his recent productions. (the fact that it came out on blast first petite, home to all of pan sonic's later albums, further suggests a comparison with that currently defunct outfit.) here, apparently inspired by the shipping industry, vainio offers up nearly an hour of dark, pulsing noise that sounds like it could have come from nobody else but him. rough and heavy percussion, rhythmic snaps of electrical current, surging waves of distortion, and cavernous atmospherics - kilo is a supremely immersive experience, and as it winds down, the final gasps of last track "weight" never fail to send a chill down my spine. this is an essential listen, i say, for fans and newcomers alike. oh, and vainio will return as Ø for a new album called konstellaatio in early 2014 - i'm eagerly anticipating that one.

... and then, in a few days i'll post about more sounds that grabbed my ears in 2013, including some of my other favorite releases and mixes/podcasts. happy new year or whatever!

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