Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013: Jonny's Top Albums, Songs & Live Shows

Jonny's Top Everything of 2013

10 Songs, 15 Live Shows and 50 Albums

Hasn't 2013 been great? Ignoring the fact no real classics have come out, it's really hard to complain. Daft Punk and Boards of Canada came back from the dead, Justin Bieber announced his impending retirement and someone threw eggs at Simon Cowell. It's also great because the world was supposed to end last year, so I guess we're all still running off the high from that.

Looking at these lists, they're a little weighted. The songs list is mostly electronic and the albums are almost entirely ambient, so while I tried to be objective it obviously hasn't worked as well as I'd hoped. Still, I rate how I feel; and apparently I either feel mellow or hyper. Anything in between is for people who vote Lib Dem and listen to Enya.


Top 10 Songs

To avoid copies, none of these songs are on a top 50 album 

1. Darkside - "Freak Go Home"
Psychic originally had a very firm place on the album list, but then I realised it was only high up on the merit of one song. "Freak Go Home" is by far and away the most infectious and interesting track of the year: finally moving Nicholas Jaar's sound to the dancefloor and doing it so well you wonder why he had so much trouble doing it in the first place. Sadly, it's fact it keeps you guessing which makes it impossible for use in a club, but it can still remain as the perfect bedroom banger.

2. Moderat - "Therapy"
For II to not make it to the top 50 says a lot about how good this year's been, especially with an absolute corker like "Therapy" hidden in the middle. A little bit mellow to be a dance tune, it plays out much like the title: repetitive and calming but at the same time happy, uplifting and inspiring. I'd jump around to this with my eyes closed if I wasn't so scared of falling over and/or hitting something.

The only place I could find it online was on vimeo, which I can't embed.

3. My Bloody Valentine - "Only Tomorrow"
If it really is true that mbv is made exclusively of b-sides, why the hell wasn't "Only Tomorrow" on Loveless? It's one of their most mesmerising tunes yet, and all the electronic effect tomfoolery is enough to make you melt after the first verse. How did they make those sounds and how did they know it would sound so cool?

4. Brian Eno - "Lux" (Nicholas Jaar remix)

5. Ludovico Einaudi - "Walk" (Phaeleh remix)

6. Benjha - "Gravity"

7. Son Lux - "Tear"

8. Gui Boratto - "Generate"

9. Tycho - "Awake" 

10. Klatu - "Auburn"

Top 50 albums

a 50,000 word dissertation

Ambient: bvdub & Loscil - Erebus
Classical: Dmitry Evgrafov - Pereehali
Dance: Booka Shade - Eve
Electronic: Geskia! - Silent of Night
Folk: Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium
Indie: Fanfarlo - The Sea

1. Okkervil River –  The Silver Gymnasium
Just as it looked like Okkervil River might be slipping, The Silver Gymnasium comes along to show they haven’t quite dried up yet. It sees a return to the fan-favourite Black Sheep Boy era of expressive folk-rock songs neatly tied together with the band’s legendary musicianship and singer Will Sheff’s narrative lyrics. For their 7th LP the band turn their gaze to childhood: drawing out a fantastical map of their small hometown with landmarks like lake of the strangled crane and the creepy physical plant (vinyl buyers get a fold-out version of this: sweet deal). It’s an album about the wonders of childhood and what it’s like to look back on a path of decreasing innocence. Though most of all its just really, really pretty.

2. Ben Frost – FAR
Five minutes before posing for FaR's album artwork, Ben was a happy man ready to direct smiles and charm towards the camera lens. Sadly, he chose this point to remind himself of how his album actually sounds and within a couple of seconds was reduced to a quivering wreck who couldn't bring himself to stand let alone look anyone in the eye. They used the happiest picture they could get. FaR will have the same effect on pretty much everyone. 

3. bvdub & Loscil – Erebus
I had serious reservations about listening to this, mostly because my exposure to bvdub before Erebus was entirely negative. I didn't like his music, I didn't want to like his music and I'm a little bit annoyed at absolutely loving Erebus. Loscil's involvement comes as no surprise seeing as he's been absolutely killing it these past few years, but this could easily be put forward s the best thing he has his name on. Erebus is hugely immersive: turning 24 minute compositions into passing daydreams. Every moment is necessary, and any fan of ambient music will find this particular daydream one they're desperate to stay lost in.

4. Geskia! - Silent of Light
The problem faced by albums released at the beginning of the year is they're mostly forgotten about by the time end-of-year lists come round. Silent of Light has somehow managed to stay in my increasingly short attention span, not least due to the fact this is the fifth time I've written about it on this site. It's absolutely exhausting. Still, all those percussion polyrhythms and chirpy, Japanese melodies give me strength to keep going.

5. DAUU – Eight Definitions
It's very hard to describe an album which sounds like someone's attempted to make a minimalist classical work with all the wrong instruments. Eight Definitions is dark and distorted: twisting otherwise pleasant tracks into horribly disfigured, tragic cries for help. Somehow, amidst all of this, it's impossibly beautiful. Love born of decay.

6. Last Days – Satellite
The gloomy north of the UK (as opposed to the gloomy south) is a common place for artists to find inspiration, and Last Days follows directly in the footsteps of the likes of Richard Skelton to channel all the bleakness into a surprisingly beautiful album. Satellite might possibly benefit from leaving any cynicism at the door, but it breathes new light into the tried and tested modern classical-come-ambient formula.

7. Clem Leek – Rest
While still working to establish his name as a solo artist, Clem Leek had a nice break of success last year as part of Black Elk with Sparks. This album is even better, and switches out all those piano parts and swells for a guitar based twilight jam. Very simple, but very good.

8. Petrels – Onkalo
As an album about a building meant to last 100,000 years, it would be a nice thought to think someone (if anyone's left) will be listening to this album when the building finally crumbles. It's unlikely, but Onkalo is an album that really makes you think about these things. It helps that it sounds fantastic, too.

9. Radical Face – The Family Tree: The Branches
I actually ended up seeing Radical Face live after booking the ticket about an hour before the doors opened. One of the best gigs of the year: someone got proposed to and it turns out the drummer used to be the forth best yoyo-er in the world (he proved it). This album is surprisingly good as well – I found myself procrastinating with these blurbs by trying to tab up “Letters Home”.

10. Machinedrum – Vapor City
The double LP comes in white with splatters of blue, and the sleeve itself forms the covers of an art book. Neat. Thankfully, Machinedrum put even more effort into the music, making the best DnB record of the year.

11. Piano Interrupted – The Unified Field
On Piano Interrupted's second LP released on Denovali this year (the first ended up at #52 – so close!) they finally perfect the perfect blend of piano and electronics. Instead of just using a keyboard to do this -because it would have been far too easy- they take live samples and splice them up in electronic software into some classic frankenstein version of their formal selves. These are then played off against more “pure” piano and violin. Chilling.

12. Ocoeur – Light as a Feather
If you want to see Matt Berninger cry you play “Let it be” or Nevermind. If you want to see me cry you play this. Ocoeur perfectly mixes glitch, downtempo, ambient and orchestral elements to make one of the most disarmingly beautiful albums around. He released a very good follow up EP called Memento too, which is also worth checking out.

13. AR – Succession
Like the single piece of wheat on the album cover, Succession is a lonely experience. Also like the album cover, it's very delicate: tattered strands of twisted strings and vocal cries carefully pieced together with a drone which spends more time between notes than on them. Come to think of it, it's a very good album cover. And like the album cover, the album itself is brilliant.

14. Sophie Jamieson – Where
It seems cruel to put Sophie all the way down here (although she's still above 1263 others!), because this is a fantastic little EP. Sadly for her it's now the winter and I'm far more inclined to bury myself in ambient than get all mellow to her lovely singer-songwriter charm. It's all too pretty to be soul crushingly depressing.

15. Bluhm – In the Veil of Tears
To completely make the point, this is another winter-appropriate ambient album. However, this one isn't depressing! Well, not entirely anyway: it chooses to focus more on the positive side of sadness. As ridiculous as that sounds, bear with me. Even a track called “As We Cry” is far closer to a celebration of the outburst than wallowing in the reason for crying in the first place. It's about feeling better. Any way you look at it In the Veil of Tears is deep and interesting, and these kinds of conflicting emotions are common.

16. Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus 7
“That's a weird name,” says everyone ever. “I bet the music's really weird too.”

For the first time, everyone ever is right! But don't mistake weird for bad: 10trix throws all kind of abstract forms into this follow-up to 2011's hugely successful Replica and somehow, whether by luck or genius, it all works excellently.

17. Piers Faccini – Between Dogs and Wolves
Piers made me sad in a language I don't understand. That's all you need to know really. He made me even sadder when he started singing in English. Why do you do this to me Piers!?

18. Tim Hecker – Virgins
Tim's probably as close to an ambient superstar as you can get, and Virgins solidifies his place in the ambient fall of fame. Even if it didn't personally grab me, it's impossible not to be completely spellbound by how he takes a complete mess of sample shards and glues them together into something seamlessly coherent. Definitely one of the -if not the most- interesting sounds of the year.

19. L. Pierre – The Island Come True
The Island Come True takes its name from a chapter in a Peter Pan book. The chapter itself is, by all accounts, pretty grim: with the kind of conflict and over-abundance of blood not expected from a children's classic. The album follows suit, and it's clear L. Pierre has had a lot of fun exploring the idea of darkness in what most consider to be a light-hearted story. Expect a lot of ambiguous samples and variation within!

20. Atoms For Peace – AMOK
AMOK can be effectively described as the sound of Thom Yorke pleasuring himself for nine tracks. Somehow it sounds really, really good and if you move past any prejudices it leaves a good pile of great tracks. “Ingenuine” and “Unless” have found themselves repeated on my ipod for most of this year.

21. Fanfarlo – The Sea
Fanfarlo tragically rode off the wave of hype generated by their debut into the sharp reef of fuckupery that was the follow up. As a result, no one's really given The Sea the time of day, but if they did they'd have heard Fanfarlo resurrected be Poseidon and charged with making a bloody brilliant, nautically themed EP as a kind of penance. “It makes me feel glad that I'm not dead.”

22. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
After watching a Futurama episode where the lead exchanged hands with the devil in order to master an instrument, it's now clear Colin has done something similar. How else does the man make a whole album of dark, brilliant jazz with only one saxaphone? Guest vocals from Justin Vernon (aka. Bon Iver) are great too, but ultimately overshadowed by Colin's devil hands and lungs.

23. Jon Hopkins – Immunity
I saw Jon Hopkins live this year. Packed into an old firestation like a Japanese commuter, except everyone was jumping and smiling and screaming at how perfect the music was to dance to. Even at home, Immunity offers plenty of depth to keep you entertained with every reviewer on the internet picking out different tracks as their favourite. For the record, mine's “Breathe This Air.”

24. Francesco Giannico – Luminance
I'm not sure if the title is a joke, because as an album Luminance tries very hard to keep itself secluded. It's static and hazy, with distorted piano poking its head up above to gloom to offer contrasting clarity. Maybe Giannico is just trying to highlight the contrast between the two, as the haze falls and descends routinely but tracks often feature a kind of illumination as the obscured sounds slowly break into the foreground.

25. Factory Floor – Factory Floor
It's really hard to explain why Factory Floor is good without directing you to one of their live shows. I caught them in a record store at the beginning of the month and it turned out to be the best gig of the year. A small crowd of grinning revellers all grouping round the rows and rows of analogue synths in the centre: loving every moment. Local legend Big Jeff going mental in the middle of the band... Perfect.

26. The Range – Nonfiction
Everything exciting about urban electronic music in one LP.

27. Bonobo – Northern Borders
Misses here and there, but hits so hard it hurts.

28. James Blake – Overgrown
Smooth, emotional electronic looking comfortable with a Mercury prize strung around it.

29. Dmitry Evgrafov – Pereerhali
Electronic and piano loveliness from the east.

30. Julia Holter – Loud City Song
Amazingly smooth and atmospheric, it's no surprise to see this top so many end of year lists.

31. Pausal – Sky Margin
Some very nice, very pure drone ambient.

32. Benoit Pioulard – Roanoke
See above, but with textures!

33. Booka Shade – Eve
One of the best things to dance to this year.

34. Son Lux – Lanterns
Containing both the worst and best example of Son Lux's music. “Easy” is easily (hah!) one of the best tracks of the year.

35. Old Joy – It Slowly Disappears
Calm, emotional electronic music straight from the depths of soundcloud.

36. Baio – Mira
Another one of the best things to dance to.

37. Yves De Mey – Metrics
Minimal techno that struggles to be anything but fascinating yet oddly unsettling.

38. SOHN – Bloodflows
A great little RnB EP from the guy who produced BANKS' new album.

39. Saltland – I Thought It Was Us But It Was All of Us
A splinter group in the Canadian post-rock scene: it's lovely music from lovely people.

40. Eluvium – Nightmare Ending
He returns to the magical land from Copia and finds all the prettiness has turned slightly maleficent in his absence.

41. Stuart Warwick – The Butcher's Voice
High-pitched, soulful singing about a transvestite. Really interesting production on this.

42. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow's Harvest
All guns blazing after an eight year absence. It won't be remembered as their best but it's still excellent.

43. Ancient history – Tracks
Low-fi singer-songwriter stuff dabbling in electronics here and there.

44. John Lemke – Walizka
The happiest electronic album you'll find on this list.

45. Paul Valentin – Vvide
Heralding from the Other People part of the woods, Paul's blend of classical and electronic influences is almost too cool.

46. Nacht Plank – Psychology of Religion and Understanding St. Catherine
Deadly serious ambient music.

47. Graveyard Tapes – Our Sound is Our Wound
Bridging the gap between dark-ambient and rock music, and then some.

48. Sorrow – Dreamstone
It's been a bit of a shocking year for dubstep in my opinion, but in this case the best of a bad bunch is still great.

49. Simon Bainton – Visiting Tides
Landscape-inspired ambient. It includes a piece about the place I went on holiday with my ex, so cheers for bringing that up Simon.

50. Forest Swords – Engravings
More ultra-cool downtempo electronic music. 

Top 15 Live Shows

I barely remember some of these, but all I know is they were awesome.

1. Factory Floor @Rise, Bristol
2. Kraftwerk @T in the Park
3. Sigur Ros @End of the Road
4. Jon Hopkins @Simple Things
5. Radical Face @The Lantern, Bristol
6. The Dismemberment Plan @Thekla, Bristol
7. Evening Hymns @End of the Road
8. De La Soul @Standon Calling
9. Eels @End of the Road
10. Daughter @Town Hall, Oxford
11. David Byrne & St. Vincent @End of the Road
12. DjRum @Simple Things
13. Ital Tek @Simple Things
14. Braids @End of the Road
15. The Inexplicables @The Attic Bar, Bristol

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