These are by no means the ‘best’ of 2013, but these are most / hopefully all of my favourites that were released last year.. I felt rather disconnected from a lot of the trends going on: the noise techno thing has really failed to develop into something interesting, and instead a lot of bad productions get given a free pass. Deep house continues to be deep house, and thus deeply boring for me about 95% of the time. The same can definitely be said of most techno, with the range of artists and DJs that can keep me interested and excited narrowing to single digits. But… But I still managed to find a huge amount of fantastic music throughout 2013. Admittedly much / most of what I was listening to over the last year was older music and reissues, but there were still enough new releases to keep me excited. So here are my highlights for 2013. What they have in common is that they all feel like very complete artistic statements and they have all survived well under heavy listening. These are releases I have gone back to again and again, and still feel very fulfilled after listening to them. So much music in 2013 felt bitsy, underdone, incomplete, overly rough (even if intentional). While this may partly be because of trends, most of the time it made for rather unsatisfying listening. In contrast, all of the releases below have a much longer used by date and are well worth your time.
Black Deer – “Trail of Tears” [No ‘Label’]: This one slipped under many people’s radars, but I expect it will slowly starting getting more attention retrospectively. Weirdo Krautrock vibes with native American themes is perhaps how I’d describe it. Yes, that doesn’t seem like an obvious pick for the best of 2013, but I think it is was. It was just such a completely formed and beautifully unique statement. I loved this from the first listen and I have been playing it regularly throughout the year.
Silent Servant – “Performance (Sections 1 – 6)” [Mount Analog]: I feel like a douche for including a tape of which only 70 copies exist, but this is just way too awesome not to have on this list. This is a recorded version of Silent Servant’s new livepa, and it has a dirty old drum machine going through most of it that gives it this real feeling of energy and urgency. Here is a new recording of him doing his livepa in Italy, which gives you a decent idea of what this is like.
Standish/Carlyon – “Deleted Scenes” [Felte]: Seductive, slow burning album that get stuck in your head. A quick listen and you might be tempted to dismiss it as a bit kitsch / hipster ironic, but what makes it so good is that it is precisely the opposite: this is a very genuine, sincere statement. Well balanced and perfectly executed, this is a charming, fun listen.
Karen Gwyer – “Needs Continuum” [No Pain in Pop]: This one deserved a lot more press than it got. Warm syth sounds blended with Gwyer’s voice makes for an inviting, comforting listen. It has a certain delicate beauty that makes the album very appealing. The one big problem with it, however, is that the mix downs are really off. It doesn’t nearly as good as it should have. Maybe this is part of the charm? I’m doubtful about that, but I am sure it was a highlight of 2013.
Steve Moore – “Pangaea Ultima” [Spectrum Spools]: Steve Moore has been having a good run with his productions and continuing to develop an updated take on the cosmic synth stuff from the ’60s-’80s. This new album feels like his most complete and impressive statement to date. It is a very well balanced and paced release, and has this very grand, epic feeling to it. This one is perfect for Sunday afternoons or late nights after a long day of work.
Rashad Becker – “Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. 1” [PAN]: I had been eagerly awaiting this release since being blown away by a live performance from Becker a couple of years ago. His music has this wonderfully alien feeling to it – nothing really sounds like this. It is hard to figure out where exactly it came from, or what exactly Becker is trying to do. I can appreciate why many people would find this release frustrating or annoying, but this pushes all my buttons.
Mika Vainio – “Kilo” [Blast First Petite]: Vainio returns to the fringes of techno with this album, recalling some of the better moments of Pan Sonic. There was a lot of love for Haxan Cloak’s album in end of year charts, but that was just power sonics and not too much more. Vainio gives you a similar sonic blast, while also providing a much richer and more satisfying musical experience. Techno from a true master.
Tropic of Cancer – “Restless Idylls” [Blackest Ever Black]: This could have very easily sucked by going a bit overboard. Instead, it is a very restrained and deliberate affair. It is certainly not cold and calculated, however. There is a real warmth and sincerity to the music, this is where the beauty of it comes from. It’ll be interesting to see how the project will develop from here.
J.D. Emmanuel – “Time Traveler” [Aguirre]: This is a series of live recordings taken from JD Emmanuel’s 2011 European tour. It is essentially trance music in the most basic meaning of the term: meditative sounds that transport you to a different state of mind. This is perfect for a tired or sore head, with JD taking you somewhere much more calm and serene.
Autechre – “Exai” [Warp]: What to say about Autechre at this point? Who knows how they keep on doing what they do, but I’m just glad they exist. “Exai” is an incredibly dense album. I am not sure if I even “like” it per se, but I do know that I have been listening to it on a regular basis since it came out and I still find it a very puzzling yet rewarding experience.
Those are the main ones. Will do a post – hopefully next week – with my favourite reissues from 2013.