Coming in at a fashionably late mid-January comes my favourite albums of the year. I'm finding with every passing year that having to pick absolute faves using the classic reverse numbered ranking is becoming more and more moot, not to mention unnecessarily cumbersome. So, this will likely be the last time I assemble the year-end list in such a dictatorial manner. With that said, many of these could have easily been switched around and almost any of the honourable mentions could have pegged a numbered spot on a different day, so don't read into the numbers too much. I must say though, what a year, with much to reflect on. Landing my gig at Dusted was great for exposing more music, and credit is due to all the great blogs, review sites, labels and distros I discovered in 2011; I never would have discovered some of this brilliant music had it not been for their existence. Keep producing for the sake of art and the prolonged existence of physical media. For now, enjoy the list.
15. Borden, Ferraro, Godin, Halo & Lapotin - Frkwys Vol. 7 (Rvng Intl.)
Until the seventh volume of the frkwys series – a clever spinoff by Rvng Intl. of the now historic Folkways collection (I guess that's Smithsonian Folkways now) – my interest hadn't quite piqued. That was, until I saw this album's line-up, a cast of some serious heavy hitters in the synth-laden underground. It's nice to hear a five-way collab with this much restraint, especially with Ferraro involved because let's face it, so much of what he's produced is the sonic equivalent of a headache (though I have to say I enjoyed Far Side Virtual). A stunning ambient electronic record, with plenty of pitch shifted synthesis and classic OPN style new-age leanings.
14. Chris Watson - El Tren Fantasma (Touch)
A new album by Chris Watson is never to be overlooked, and El Tren Fantasma certainly made it's mark on critics, fans and also on me. I've long been infatuated with the sounds of trains and that infatuation grew even more fierce after discovering David Jackman's work, so hearing this album now has me reminiscing of the good 'ol days, whilst replenishing a musical desire within. Although the focus here is the Ghost Train, Watson cleverly interlaces his field recordings with the sounds of surrounding wildlife, ie birds and insects. In fact, some of these recordings don't seem to feature the train at all, which I found a bit surprising. When we do hear the mysterious train, Watson presents it perfectly, including recordings that have been augmented to form abstract beatscapes. I found myself more drawn to the 12" of remixed material that focuses almost entirely on the train, although all the material here is stunning, which isn't surprising considering Watson's track record. Chris Watson continues to push the boundaries of what a field recording album can represent, and he does it with class here.
13. Yann Novak - Presence (Hibernate)
Words printed on the cd packaging state that Presence is intended to be listened to at a relatively low volume, and much like with the case of Asher or Richard Chartier's work, turning the volume to, I'd say just shy of medium, tends to reveal enough of the nuances while also staying true to the artist's intentions; this of course varies from case to case. When listening to Novak's latest at medium-low, one is gradually taken through an austere sound world as cold as Thomas Koner's Permafrost. While Koner never really hinted at a bright side on that album, Novak provides some light here, especially in the final quarter, a dare-I-say breathtaking ebb and flow of soft white noise and translucent melody. Sublime.
12. Ben Owen & Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Frêle à Vide (Contour Editions)
It was a good year for both of these musicians, with releases and plenty of label activity to boot. Frêle à Vide saw Owen and Monteiro in top form, cross breading an auspicious junk-box musicality (shortwave, turntables and feedback all make an appearance) with an 80's power-electronics sensibility. Noisy, raw and certainly addictive. Read my full review from February here.
11. Valerio Tricoli & Thomas Ankersmit - Forma II (Pan)
Touch signed saxophonist Thomas Ankersmit and 3/4HadBeenEliminated member Valerio Tricoli teamed up on this rather brilliant electroacoustic album. The closing piece is especially nice, with gradually building layers of saxophone highlighting Ankersmit's skills. Read my full review of Forma II via Dusted here.
10. Jim Haynes - The Decline Effect (The Helen Scarsdale Agency)
Speaking of having a good year, Jim Haynes was rather productive as well, embarking on a west-coast tour with Brendan Murray, performing and exhibiting in his home state of California and releasing some compilation tracks plus his opus for HS, The Decline Effect. This is the best and I'd also say, the most varied album from Jim yet. Read my full review of this for the SF from October here.
9. Ampax Catalog - Dsr.Slit (Phaserprone)
It was only last post that I was boasting this cassette from the mysterious Ampax Catalog. Hands down, tape release of the year. FYI this is now sold out at the source, though some distros might still be carrying. Read my full review of this here (second one down).
8. Rolf Julius - Music for a Distance: Small Music No. 2 (Western Vinyl)
The late Rolf Julius left behind a legacy of music, and if one had to choose a single album to represent the man's ingenuity, style and determination, it could easily be this one. Julius spent over 6 years refining Music for a Distance, and frankly, it shows. A seminal work. Read my full review on the SF from September of last year here.
7. Mist - House (Spectrum Spools / Editions Mego)
The Boss described Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" as "the snare shot that sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind." I thought exactly the same thing upon first listen of "Twin Lanes", the opening track on Mist's House. I hadn't felt any piece of music (not even Emeralds material) since Tired Sounds... that was able to achieve that all-encompassing feeling I'm often yearning for. Elliot and Goldberg posses a collaborative dynamic that has the clearest of vision, maintaining a firm hold on a top-tier position in my books, as far as contemporary synth duos go. My favourite of the Spectrum Spools releases this year, and pretty much flawless.
6. Trouble Books and Mark McGuire - S/T (Bark and Hiss / Wagon)
I definitely had my doubts going in to this record, especially after incessant spins of Young Person's Guide... to the point of being on the brink of exhausting the McGuire sound altogether. Fortunately, The Trouble Books help take these tracks to only vaguely familiar places. I'm not sure how many times I played this album, too many to count. Read my full review of this over at Dusted.
5. Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica (Software / Mexican Summer)
I'm hard pressed to say anything about this album that hasn't already been said, but maybe I'll try. Seems a bit of a polarizer, with I'd say a slight majority going to those deeming it an absolute masterpiece (OK, maybe most of us think it's a masterpiece). I certainly am one to value anything that pushes preconceptions of music, not excluding the deconstruction and recontextualization of old TV commercials – Lapotin's modus operandi on Replica. In his mind, Lopatin felt the well from which he had pulled his musical inspiration had run dry, so he decided to make something different, challenged himself a little. The lackadaisical piano on the title track; the rhythmic hypnosis of "Up", and the rough-hewn-to-crafted trajectory of "Child Soldier" are all stand out moments. But really, it's just an outstanding record.
4. Lawrence English - The Peregrine (Experimedia)
Never have I heard songs that more aptly capture the feeling of looking out across a majestic valley from a mountain top at dawn. For all those who wished there existed a soundtrack to life, look no further; English manages to encapsulate it all in The Peregrine, his 2011 tribute to J.A. Baker's book of the same name. Read my full review of this wonderful album at Dusted.
3. Andrew Chalk - Violin By Night (FarawayPress)
After decades of making music and never straying far from his core sound, Andrew Chalk still manages to produce such high quality albums, not only in sound, but also in presentation and packaging. Violin By Night is Chalk's most exquisitely presented release to date, all done up in a full-blown, handmade deluxe LP, in the familiar Faraway Press presentation. The sounds within lean more than usual towards electronic and classical than what he's known for, but his sensibility is definitely steeped into this work. What strikes me about these pieces is how many of them seem to drift in and out of focus to astonishing results, as if they were transmitted through a wavering radio frequency with the distortion removed; the true sound of hypnagogia.
2. Jon Porras - Undercurrent (Root Strata)
Undercurrent is the latest album by Jon Porras, who is one half of the droned-out psych duo Barn Owl. In their own right Barn Owl are quickly becoming a household name and given all the high quality albums that they've produced – not to mention works by Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras as Elm – I had none other than high expectations for this. My expectations were met on first listen, and then blown apart by the second spin. Undercurrent is an exceptional effort that exceeds any Barn Owl affiliated release to date... Continue reading my review of this album from the SF here.
1. The Field - Looping State of Mind (Kompakt)
Sometimes the best records of the year are the ones that come out of nowhere and blow you away. I've been a fan of Alex Willner and his project The Field for sometime now, but Looping State of Mind just managed to push all the right buttons. I'm sure it was a combination of things that allowed me to enjoy this album as much as I did – the fact that The Field toured the record and played in Vancouver for one, my increased interest in minimal techno and progressive house being another – but the bottom line is that it's just an amazing feat. I'm not really a fan of dance music and I doubt I ever will be, but the album got me dancing and loving it (be it, in a neurotic, jerky sort of way).
There's something very particular about the way The Field's music unfolds, slowly building in nearly imperceptible ways and sustaining for minutes on little more than one or two loops before slightly altering once again. It's too minimal for dance music and too dance-y for minimal music, and it feels out of place on those pop ambient compilations. Bottom line is, it works, and very well at that.
bj nilsen & stilluppsteypa - big shadow montana
barn owl - lost in the glare
mark mcguire - young persons guide
rick reed - the way things go
helm - cryptography
luigi turra - ki
hive mind - elemental disgrace
forma - forma
golden retriever - light cones
secret pyramid - the silent march
kyle bobby dunn - ways of meaning
pierre gerard - environment and gesture
alva noto and ryuichi sakamoto - summvs
red horse - red horse
jim o'rourke and christoph heemann - plastic palace people vol.1
cm von hausswolff - 800,000 seconds in harar
demdike stare - triptych
htrk - work, (work, work)
destroyer - kaputt
asher and garet - melting ground
mpld - lacunae
ernst karel - swiss mountain transport system
sean mccann - open resolve
william basinski - a red score in tile
talk talk - laughing stock
mark hollis - s/t
throbbing gristle - 20 jazz funk greats
lawrence english - kiri no oto
disco inferno - the 5 eps