The Best Albums of 2013 (My Choices)

Just for fun, let’s do this in reverse order. . .

There are two entries for each number on this list, perhaps they are not always musically identical, hopefully they share thematic parallels that are equally applause worthy.

X. Stomping Techno: House of Black Lanterns – Kill the Lights & Akkord – Akkord

Two superb collections of bleeding edge techno dance music from new label Houndstooth (which is ostensibly my choice for label of the year).

House of Black Lanterns’ debut collection chugs through various midnight streetlit genres of heartbroken house and gloopy techno, but it’s the footwork tunes that really soar above the rest of the tracks.

Akkord is the sound of industrial machines being retuned by geometric tesselation fetishists (yes, in a good way) and has quickly become a fast favourite in the month since it was released.

IX. Experimental Noise Generators: Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus & Yosi Horikawa – Vapor

Whilst perhaps not sonically bedfellows, both of these acts have brought unique & fresh perspective to music production techniques.

F Buttons’ album saw them transform from benign purveyors of anthemic stadium drone into a dark, sludgy morass of antagonism and almost heavy metal aesthetic that they wore surprisingly well.

Yosi Horikawa’s lp meanwhile is a beautiful piece of work that betrays his clear talent for field recording – splashing raindrops make subtle rhythms, scribbling on a chalk board another, it really is a highly accomplished and delicious feast for the ears.  Definitely one for bedtime too.

VIII. Nu-nu Soul: Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady & Sango – North

Janelle’s sophomore effort was even more confident than the first – im baffled why Dance Apocalyptic isn’t “The New Hey Ya” yet.

I don’t know a huge deal about Sango, but his productions alongside Ta-Ku and Kaytranada have been dominating a lot of my headphone time this year – crisp fat beats with a sensitive undercurrent. A bit like The Weeknd before he became creepy.

VII: Boom Bap Hip Hop: Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels & Danny Brown – Old

No embed available, but click HERE to see the Banana Clipper video

I’ve only just realised that both of these hip hop lps came out on Fools Gold,  well i never..

Anyway, two searing, speaker destroying blasts of proper hip hop with one leg on the past and one eye on the future.  Dope Song is my daughter’s current favourite “jumping on the sofa” anthem.  For the record i actually found Danny Brown quite irritating prior to this lp, that’s how good it is – he changed my mind.

VI. Breakbeat Revivalism: Congo Natty – Jungle Revolution & Special Request – Soul Music.

Jungle has come back in a big way in 2013 (more on that later) and these two lps represent the most overt demonstration of that.

Congo Natty has been knocking around quietly making jungle ever since his days as Rebel MC, but pairing with Big Dada he brought out this collection that is as close as you’ll get to being in an early 90’s Notting Hill street party without a time machine at your disposal.

Meanwhile, Paul Woolford surprised everyone by assuming this pseudonym and using his latest cutting edge production techniques to make a modern but authentically jungle lp. The results are pretty spectacular.

V. WARP Old timers return to the Stable: Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest & Nightmares on Wax – Feeling Good.

There was a time when it almost felt like only one record label was delivering the goods, and of course that label was WARP. As it’s star has waned, I personally think Ninjatune has grasped that mantle in making bold choices in electronic music.  However, this year we were lucky enough to see not one but two “classic” age WAPR artists return to the fold and deliver solid hours of music that were instantly recognisable as their familiar sound with a few modern quirks.

BoC’s Harvest took a slightly darker turn with their Carpenter-esque homage to 80’s synth soundtracks and bleak nihilism, whilst NoW was the unmistakable sound of a man who clearly loves a very relaxing and happy lifestyle chilling out on a Balearic island.  For the record, either Feeling Good or Bonobo’s North Borders wins the prize for “Most played family road trip soundtrack.”

IV. Post Trap Bleepcore: Eprom – Halflife & Desto – Emptier Streets.

Two slices of bass heavy abstraction from up & coming Dutch label RWINA. Desto’s lp is the sound of taking a dance music template and turning it into an introverted, slightly bleak, soul searching affair.

Eprom, meanwhile, continues to make music the likes of which are completely unexpected and previous unimaginable as that Vogel embed suggests. Utterly bonkers, whilst deeply serious.

III. Sad Boys with their Keyboards: James Blake – Overgown & Atoms For Peace – AMOK

Sometimes I’m not aversed to “indie” music, whatever that means these days. Both lps came out very early in the year and heloed me trudge through the Winter months – Blake’s 2nd lp strikingly more confident that his excellent 1st, whilst Thom Yorke’s supergroup basically sounded like a more electronic Radiohead.

II. Brain-work Junglists: OM Unit – Threads & Machinedrum – Vapor City

Bit of a banner year for these two chaps.  I have of course mentioned Machinedrum in a previous year end countdown, but his joining the Ninjatune family seemed to focus the elements of his recent output that had made him so unique. . .  That is except for the fact that the man formally known as 2tall and Phillip D Kick delivered one of the most outstanding works of electronic music this year under his recent nom de plume OM Unit.

Both of these albums strike a perfect balance between solemn late night listening and rinsing dancefloor terror, somehow synthesizing the ambience and space of abstract electronica whilst barrelling along over modern equivalents of footwork, jungle and drum and bass beats. Quite a feat to make a sound that can be so ambiguous and focussed at the same time, and I think whilst the “jungle footwork” sound has been evolving over the last couple of years, it is these two which will be remembered as the turning point for the sound’s evolution.

which means my top choice for 2013 is…

I. Organic Techno: Holden – The Inheritors & Jon Hopkins – Immunity.

With all honesty, I can’t really describe these albums and do them justice, so let me just say that whilst I am a fan of many forms of music, you can often hear or feel how all the separate pieces slot together – the vocals, the samples, the drum breaks that may or may not be familiar.

Both Holden & Hopkins have somehow made albums where it is near impossible to notice the cracks – almost as if both musical works had beamed down from another dimension where we use plants as musical instruments and elephantine heart rhythms can sometimes be heard in lieu of a drum machine.  If you’re a fan of comics, i’d say this is like the current run of PROPHET – you don’t fully understand what is happening or why, but it’s so beguiling you want to stay involved to try and find out.

2013 has been an exceptional year for music (across all genres), but nothing has quite enchanted me and woven it’s way into my psyche like Hopkins’ Immunity has. I suppose you could say it’s infected me.

So, with that said, I urge you to treat yourself, get comfortable, turn the speakers up & the lights down low and enjoy a beautiful video to go with an amazing body of music – Jon Hopkins’ 8 minute long “Open Eye Signal” from the Immunity LP.

Merry Christmas, and Happy 2014.


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