30 Prominent Records of 2013
updated over 5 years ago
On the verge of beauty and harshness – 30 most memorable sonic journeys of 2013
At the end of every year we see the ongoing fuss of best-of lists. Retrospective listing seems to be quite a long-lasting tradition among music journalists and even somehow inherent in the nature of human kind. However, it is getting more and more complicated due to the increasingly ambiguous nature of coherent piece of art, in this case, an album. But it still remains the key measurement point, a unit or particle of sound, which can be treated as a separate independent entity with its own system, atmosphere and pulsation. It forms a separate world, a unified artistic piece with its own narrative, its ups and downs. And that probably would be the main criterion for picking our best albums of 2013 as we chose the records, which captured the essence of our attention and forcefully immersed us the same way as a book or a movie does. Immersed into their own sonic narratives, unexplored landscapes, innovative constructions, unheard harmonies or just jaw dropping beauty.
2013 was a bit more adventurous with its unexpected comebacks, boundary-breaking collaborations, relevant reissues. It was also the year of explicitly expressed contrasts and diversities.
Speaking of the latter, on one hand we had DIY harshness of outsider house by Shapednoise or Basic House, anarchic and brutal noise/techno of Pete Swanson, the intimidating power electronics shockers from Posh Isolation label, which continues the legacy of Scandinavian industrial although in a more punky manner. Equally important was the unexpected rise of Pharmakon, who shot straight to the top with her abrasive, brutal, yet elegant and aggressively beautiful “Abandon”. Mika Vainio has also been quite heavyweight this year with his “Kilo”, a concrete and monolithic affair bursting with synthetic heaviness, uneasy depth and underlying fear, And, of course, the legendary Wolf Eyes impressed with their most matured and refined effort “No Answer – Lower Floors” bursting with internal controlled tension and industrial insanity. Another prominent pioneers were Esplendor Geométrico with their trance-inducing atmospheric effort of “Ultraphoon” mastered by renown Francisco Lopez. So 2013 saw the tendency of refinement among the experienced sound extremists and the heaviness was created through cinematic atmosphere rather than explicit aggression.
Moving to the other side of the specter, 2013 was also remarked by many elegant and romantically beautiful records most of them coming either from goth/coldwave/shoegaze revivalists or the old masters of the genres. The comeback of Lycia was probably one of the most impressive returns in several years time. “Quiet Moments” provided an intense introverted and mature journey through Mike VanPortfleet’s past, memories and haunts and thus summarized all the terrific discography of the band and is definitely one of the most emotional and personal sonic journeys ever released. New generation goths Tropic of Cancer, Automelodi and Lebanon Hanover also were in their finest shapes yet with their twilight moods, foggy and hazy sound walls, elegance and bleeding hearts.
Another beautiful statement came from French dark jazz innovators Dale Cooper Quartet and the Dictaphones. “Quatorze Pieces De Menace” mesmerized with its noirish travel through old Paris alleyways and waterfalls of Twin Peaks with the touch of 1930′s, the shades of the jazz age and shoegaze heights. It successfully merged jazz experimentalism with dream pop/ethereal spaces and drone like loops.
2013 was especially fruitful for Mannequin Records, which spread the synthetic voyages in the underground with excellent Light House, Phantom Love, Deathday, Phosphor, The Coombe, Police Des Moeurs releases as well as lost and found Italian synthwave reissues. All this was perfectly showcased in “End of Civilization”, excellently crafted compilation handpicked by the label’s native Mushy, and the special mix for our Spotlight series made by label boss Alessandro Adriani.
The year didn’t pass without interesting oddities as well. One of them was politically charged collage “Commercial Mouth” by Greek experimentalist Jar Moff. Not an easy listen though, it provided some food for thought about the system around us as showcased in the chaotic and at times disturbing sonic nature of the album. Felix Kubin also premiered a surreal continuation of his retro cosmic analog explorations in “Zemsta Plutona”, definitely one of his best works yet. A familiar, yet interesting twist to his sound with tracks ranging from analog minimal wave voyages to futuristic abstract constructions or weird pop tunes. Legendary Ryoji Ikeda crafted a mathematical affair “Supercodex” for Raster Noton compiled of millions minuscule sound particles reminding work of an LHC accelerator. Moreover, there were tectonic three-part Emptyset live experimentations in “Material” and raw analog technoid journeys of Andreas Tilliander‘s TM404.
Several monstrous collaborations also heavily disturbed our eardrums. “Through a Pre-Memory” by ÄÄNIPÄÄ, the joined venture between Mika Vainio and Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley, was one of the heaviest and most challenging listens this year. It sounded like an avantgarde and futuristic doom metal affair filtered through Mika’s drones and machine-like stroke beats. The record was released by Peter Rehberg‘s Editions Mego, what makes this collaboration even more unique. Another one was the union between Charlemagne Palestine and Z’ev, which resulted in the record of their second live performance in 20 years. A rare occasion to see a minimalist composer and an avant-garde drummer performing together. Finally, Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescaleet presented us “Photographs”, a monolithic exercise in memories presented in drone/experimental/concrete shapes.
As this year was really fruitful we did not manage to include all the releases we enjoyed, so unfortunately some of them were left out in the painful process of trimming down the list to the essential 30. The records we showcased here are the ones, which represent our aesthetic experiences and identity most accurately. The list stands on the verge between drastic experimentation and classical beauty, spontaneous improvisatory acts and precise studio-crafted constructions. So, just explore, experience and enjoy and, of course, feel free to share your own individual suggestions of lists.