Sunday, December 8, 2013

Favourites of 2013

Hell yes. I love lists. I know you do too. Here's a list of records that I loved this year.

In no real order.

Coin - Stilled (Opal Tapes)
Such a great release. Coin is the solo project of Michael Vallera, one-half of duo Cleared, and Stilled is six tracks of greyscale, drone-infused minimal techno. Out of all the highly regarded, and fast-selling, releases of Opal Tapes, Coin truly stands out for me. Vallera's drum programming is very dubby and certainly not dance floor ready — and that's a very good thing. Processed guitar and piano and gritty swaths of noise swirl amidst minimal, throbbing drums, perfect for lonely, late-night listens.

Locrian - Return to Annihilation (Relapse)
It's no surprise what a huge fan of Locrian I am, and it certainly isn't shocking that I love this album. Off the top, Return to Annihilation is great because Locrian succeeded in throwing a wrench into the gears of both their fans, who perhaps were expecting more of their patented, suffocating, long-form blackened drone/noise workouts, and those of traditional Relapse listeners. A little head-scratching is always a good thing, and really, if you've been paying attention the evolution of Locrian, the direction of Return shouldn't really be a surprise. Nor should anyone be surprised how fucking good this record is. Locrian have delivered a dark, atmospheric, yet dynamic record with actual songs while still draping everything under a veil of experimentation, tension and terror that owes as much, if not more, to 1970s prog than it does drone or metal - black or otherwise; it's an album that in lesser hands would surely have been impossible.

Secret Pyramid - Movements of Night (Students of Decay)
Such an incredibly gorgeous album. Each track unfolds like watching a time lapse of the night sky as haunting melodies and gauzy drones slowly twist and turn around you. Amir's guitar and synth work is so perfectly blended and processed that at times it's hard to pick out exactly what instrument is doing what. Instead, the listener is left to drift through an expansive universe of sound. Stunning. Also, contact Amir directly to grip a copy of the super limited tape he put out this year

Deafheaven - Sunbather (Deathwish)
I know this will be all over every other best-of list this year, but sometimes there's a reason. Deafheaven have created a record that is at once punishing, abrasive and beautiful. I like this.

Wolf Eyes - No Answer/Lower Floors (DeStjil)
The might Wolf Eyes return. One of things I like most about this record is how spacious and restrained it is. While Burned Mind will probably be one of my favourite Wolf Eyes records (and I fully acknowledge that there are probably hundreds of Wolf Eyes records I've never heard and will likely never hear), they didn't need to make another unstoppable noise juggernaut. Everything on No Answer is tense, constantly being pulled and prodded by scraping metal, murmured vocals and percussion that sounds like an abandoned factory slowly collapsing. The mark of true masters is this ability to hold back and ratchet up the tension. And when Wolf Eyes finally let it go, the results are nothing short of amazing and deafening.

Miles - Faint Hearted (Modern Love)
 I admit to being a bit of tourist, still, when it comes to techno. I'm working on it, I swear. But my gateway into certain strains of techno mainly comes from noise crossovers like Pete Swanson and Dominick Fernow or following certain labels, not from anything that happened in Germany or Detroit. Similarly, my introduction to noise/drone/experimental music came from the heavy bands I listened to ten years ago. Anyways, my point is I'm relatively new. I don't necessarily know all the originators that inspired music by Vatican Shadow or Miles, for example, but I like it, and I'm willing to do the homework, time permitted of course. But OK. What I like about this album is that it grooves in some places, more tranquil in others, and really blown out and noisey too. It's cold, yet really listenable. Plus, as with all Modern Love releases, the vinyl sounds great, especially when it's cranked. This album is no exception. A side note about this album: I trekked all the way out to Brooklyn with my daughter strapped to my back to buy this. Killer store. She fell asleep part way through shopping and the dude working there had to help me do up the head support on her carrier, which was nice, but he was super uncomfortable doing it.

Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
For sure my most-listened to album of 2013. Hands down. I've been a longtime fan of Queens, though I really wasn't too into their last full length. ...Like Clockwork is definitely contender for top three, maybe two, favourite Queens records. Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm a sucker for hooks, and this album is filled with smart, jagged, brain-burrowing hooks. This record also feels so comfortable, like Homme knew that he didn't need to make another Songs for the Deaf, or write another "Super Hit of the Summer." This album is spacious, restrained, mellow and just fucking great. It's also got some incredible guitar tones on here. Again, I'm a mega-fan of Homme's sound, writing and playing, but the tones in here have totally made me re-examine what a guitar could, and sometimes should, sound like, in a rock setting. "I Sat By The Ocean" is for sure my favourite song of the year, and is up there for all-timers.

Side note: I pre-ordered this on iTunes because I wasn't sure I'd love it and want it on vinyl (mistake!). The release date was when my family and I were in NYC, but I didn't find a working WiFi connection until we were in the Museum of Natural History. Our trip was great, but it was also really stressful, seeing as my daughter was two at the time and we all had to deal with some pretty bananas sleep issues in NYC. Far from ideal, but that's how it went down. One afternoon while she napped, I spent a few hours walking Manhatting, buying records, drinking coffee, just being there. It was a great way to de-stress for a bit, and I blasted this album probably three times in a row. This record will always take me back there. 

Acteurs - s/t (Public Information)
Big thanks to Chris Dub Ditch/Prairie Fire for bringing copies of this before they totally went OOP. This reminds me at first of a Wolf Eyes with much nicer, pristine gear if they grew up on krautrock or something. Maybe that's a shitty analogy (Ed: it is). Anyways. This record really grabbed me. The modular synth tones here are really interested and chilly, and the mastering on the vinyl is killer. I also dig the fact that these guys are writing songs here too, instead of just wiring up a bunch of patches and hitting record. I'd love to see this band live, somehow. Sorry, I don't have anything more interesting or profound to say about this LP other than I really like it and it's out of print now but Dub Ditch Picnic STILL has copies available. So get on it.

Kwaidan - Make All The Hell of Dark Metal Bright (Bathetic)
I wrote a fairly extensive review of this record here on my blog, actually, so I likely don't need to say anything I didn't say there. The skill these three players have is staggering, and one of the strongest aspects of this record is how cohesive they sound together. No one steps on anyone's toes or vies for the spotlight. Everyone is too busy listening to what the other is doing. "The Sound of This Bell" is an incredibly beautiful piece. I strongly hope that we hear more from Kwaidan in 2014.

KEN mode - Entrench (Season of Mist)
Full disclosure: I'm good friends with these guys. That aside, Venerable is one of the few aggressive records that I bought and loved this year. As always, brutal, crushing noise-rock heaviness with some lurching breakdowns thrown in for extra destruction. What does it for me is that KEN mode don't just right killer riffs, they write killer songs, and that is huge difference.

TM404 - s/t
Damn it. What an amazing album. Again, acid techno isn't something I grew up listening to, and I guess that's what this is? I don't know. And I don't really care too much about putting a label on things, but all I know is that I love this album and can't get enough of it. The concept behind it is really interesting too. Using a series of Roland 303s, 606s and 808s, Tillander hooked them all together and hit record. Apparently with no overdubbing either, which is totally insane. The results are minimal, yet extremely complex bass lines and beats that intertwine and unfurl with one another in some incredible ways. Thanks to a way pricey and short-lived Euro pressing I had to settle for the digital version, but hot damn I bet this sounds amazing on vinyl.

Autechre - Exai (Warp)
I feel like this record took a bit of bruising, reviews wise. Autechre is one of the first strictly electronic bands/artists that I got into when a friend of mine recommended Confield to me by saying that his friend really like it, but that my friend thought it was super weird and crazy and dumb. I loved it. I digress. First off, the packaging of this 4LP set is beautiful. Anyone familiar with Autechre likely shouldn't be super surprised with the material found on Exai. Totally otherwordly, futuristic electronic music that really sounds like no one else. Plus, at an enormous 2+ hours of music spanning 4 LPs, there's lots to digest, and if you're a fan of Autechre, that's a good thing.

Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks (Universal)
Another childhood favourite of mine that I reconnected with over the last few years. The Downward Spiral remains one of my top albums of all time, but I really stopped paying attention to Reznor after The Fragile. As I made up for lost time over the past few years, discovering how good With Teeth is, it was a happy coincidence that NIN would drop a new one this year. I really like this album. The production, and attention to detail is, as to be expected, pretty amazing, and there's some really good songs on here.

Huerco S - Colonial Patterns (Software)
 A terrific album by an artist I really know very little about, other than he released a tape on Opal and he does lots of DJ gigs. Colonial Patterns has a great, minimal techno pulse throughout, but it's often so minimal and buried beneath hazy synths and stuttering loops, making many of the beats and rhythms pretty woozy feeling, as if it was recorded over and over on a tape that baked on your dashboard for a weekend.

Head Hits Concrete - Hollowed Out Human Husk
Fuck yes. One of my all-time favourite Winnipeg bands make a triumphant return after years of deafening silence. I first got into HHC when I was in high school, and they were one of the bands (along with Propagandhi and Malefaction) who really changed the way I saw the world poltically and socially. Mike Alexander is a truly gifted, ferocious vocalist and lyricist who's writing delivers as great an impact as does the finger-snapping riffage HHC doles out. A particular standout here is "Phoenix," which deals with one of the most horrific, disgusting accounts of abuse and murder I've ever read in the news (Manitoba or otherwise). Alexander's outrage and disgust is front-and-centre, but so is his grief and sadness — a surprising tenet for a grind band, and one that will linger with you long after this 7" has ended.

Cloudrat - Moksha (Halo of Flies)
There are very few aggressive, heavy, whatever bands that really grab my attention anymore. Maybe I'm old. Maybe go fuck yourself. But I increasingly feel that if I want something loud and pissed off, I have plenty of options with the old stand-bys of my record collection. Cloudrat is one of the exceptions this year. And maybe it's partially due to the fact that Cloudrat is exactly the kind of band that would have totally blown me away when I was nineteen — and in no way is that a bad thing: this band totally has totally blown me away at 29. Blending the manic speed of grindcore and the crushing heaviness of His Hero Is Gone-esque hardcore with some incredibly powerful vocals and intelligent writing, Cloudrat do not fuck around. Highly recommended.

Mutoid Man - Helium Head (Magic Bullet)
Brodsky from Cave In and Koller from Converge? Ok, so this this way-to-brief album is a bit of trump card for me, but god damnit. Mutoid Man is the perfect distillation of each member's previous outputs, only coated in meth and fired into space. Brodsky's riffing is some of his fiercest yet, and Koller's penchant for off-kilter, metronome-overloading transitions results is a truly fantastic record that sounds like no one else. But as frenzied and chaotic and heavy as Helium Head is, there are some serious hooks in here that will be lodged in your head for days.

Side note: As the vinyl release for this was delayed, I've just been streaming this beast on Rdio. That's kind of shitty, I know, but it won't be long until I lay this wax upon my table.

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