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The Top Ten Albums of the Year 2013

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Album of the Year

  • R Plus Seven
    Artist
    Oneohtrix Point Never
    ReleaseProduct
    R Plus Seven
    Label
    Warp
    Cat. No.
    WARPCDD240
    Release Date
    September 2013
    10 Tracks VL CD DL DL DL

    Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven

    With R Plus Seven, Daniel Lopatin made his first appearance on Warp, and he could not have made a stronger statement. Having carved out a stream of releases grounded on his cherished Juno-60 synth in the last few years, collected in the Rifts compilation and brought into noisier territory on his debut proper, Returnal on Editions Mego, R Plus Seven continued with the wider sample-based palette explored in 2011’s Replica, released on Lopatin’s own Software imprint.

    The album in many ways feels like Lopatin’s most mature. The angelic synth choirs, arpeggiated Juno patterns and noisy fuzz which produced such psychedelic sensations on previous releases are here treated with a cleaner, bolder touch. On the album’s pillars ‘Zebra’ and ‘Problem Areas’ synthetic layers which might previously have been blended into a poignant smush are given space, coagulating into sharp rhythms before wormholing into languid drones. Elsewhere, sustained organs lull the listener into a trance abruptly broken by candy laser synths on ‘Boring Angel’, and ‘Chrome County’ further riffs upon the tropes of classic American minimalism with piano motifs that recall Steve Reich.

    The sheer breadth of the record - both musical and emotional - is astounding, with a bewildering array of influences brought together against all odds by the hand of one of electronic music’s most relentlessly inventive voices. Read R Plus Seven’s cover as its make-up: all of Lopatin’s doors and detours are still intact but they’ve been refined into something all the more magical.

    <a href="https://bleep.com/the-top-ten-albums-of-the-year-2013">This album features in the top ten albums of 2013</a><br><br>

  • Soul Music
    Artist
    Special Request
    ReleaseProduct
    Soul Music
    Label
    Houndstooth
    Cat. No.
    HTH012D
    Release Date
    October 2013
    23 Tracks CD DL DL

    Special Request – Soul Music

    <a href="https://bleep.com/the-top-ten-albums-of-the-year-2013">This album features in the top ten albums of 2013</a><br><br> London’s landmark club Fabric pushed their label Houndstooth from strength to strength in 2013, with Paul Woolford’s album as Special Request being an outstanding highlight. With remixes from a list of brilliant and varied artists including Lee Gamble, Anthony Shakir, Kassem Mosse, Heiroglyphic Being and Anthony Naples, Soul Music traverses jungle and techno influences with an invention that nonetheless pays its dues to classic dance music forms. <br><br> ‘Ride VIP’ renders a jungle breakbeat and siren strangely cold and sleek, much more in the vein of European techno, while ‘Soundboy Killer’ is a rough jungle slammer with more classic chopped up incendiary vocals. ‘Broken Dreams’ collides a Drexciya bass line with vintage drum & bass to provide a re-contextualisation of these two rarely combined genres, and ‘Mindwash’ takes the combination further, with a chugging ring-modulated synth line wobbling through the breakbeat maze. <br><Br> Of the remixes, Lee Gamble’s take on ‘Capsules’ impresses most, making an elegiac haze from Woolford’s jungle armoury which is utterly beguiling, while Heiroglyphic Being and Kassem Mosse’s takes on ‘Deflowered’ provide an interesting take on where blunted house music of the highest order might push UK breakbeat tropes. Soul Music all in all is a compelling and comprehensive listen which touches on the year’s most vital waves of dance music.

  • Virgins
    Artist
    Tim Hecker
    ReleaseProduct
    Virgins
    Label
    Kranky
    Cat. No.
    krank183
    Release Date
    October 2013
    12 Tracks VL CD DL DL DL

    Tim Hecker – Virgins

    <a href="https://bleep.com/the-top-ten-albums-of-the-year-2013">This album features in the top ten albums of 2013</a><br><br> In a year where much critical attention focused on rough-edged, dark electronic excursions from the underground, Tim Hecker’s Virgins proved a startling and beautifully persuasive anomaly. 2011’s Ravedeath 1972 had been a masterclass in pushing acoustic sources to breaking point, with instrumental samples rendered almost untouchably distant through layer upon layer of distortion and decay. Virgins’ showed the influence of collaborative work with Daniel Lopatin on 2012’s Instrumental Tourist in its lucidity of sound quality, with Hecker allowing a previously degraded acoustic presence to take the fore in an album dominated by plaintive pianos, sharp brass, and warm harmoniums. <br><br> Hecker achieves an unusually effective poise in his combination of acoustic and electronic, zooming in on melancholy minimalist piano loops from peer Ben Frost, before subjecting them to disruptive distortions and manipulations, or placing grand brass chorales in spaces which gave back malevolent reverbs. The effect is an instrumental experience which draws as much upon psychedelia as contemporary electronic music, and avoids the saccharine traps of ambient music through its sheer volatility. <br><br> Virgins is a truly singular record which injected much needed urgency into the body of work navigating the nether region between instrumental and electronic disciplines, and offered a sense of disorientating depth and disruption of time which seemed very much of-the-moment for burgeoning producers using a more sinister, oppressive sonic palette.

  • Trouble Will Find Me
    Artist
    The National
    ReleaseProduct
    Trouble Will Find Me
    Label
    4AD
    Cat. No.
    EAD3315A
    Release Date
    May 2013
    13 Tracks VL CD DL DL DL

    The National – Trouble Will Find Me

    <a href="https://bleep.com/the-top-ten-albums-of-the-year-2013">This album features in the top ten albums of 2013</a><br><br> American indie royalty The National’s sixth album Trouble Will Find Me saw them convincingly open out their sound to more pronounced electronic influences, whilst retaining the soulful rock heart which makes them so endearing. On ‘Demons’ singer Matt Berninger produces a confessional vocal take in his growling lower register amongst crisp synthetic drums to powerfully oppressive effect, while ‘Sea Of Love’ sees them add to their already considerable body of anthemic rock persuasively with what is bound to be a festival anthem come the summer. <br><br> Despite the conventional song writing style pursued by the band, there is a plethora of neat touches which should make the record pleasurable listening to fans of more experimental fare. ‘Heavenfaced’ is grounded upon a chord pattern which is subtly angular in its progression from step to step, and is played on a unassumingly exotic mixture of filtered piano and guitar harmonics. ‘Pink Rabbits’ recalls the folky majesty of the likes of Bon Iver, with breathy layers of backing vocals giving extra life to the circling lilt of the rhythm section. <br><Br> It is above all Berninger’s excellent vocal performance which recommends the album, with the range and delivery making the songs come across like intimate confessions heard from a close friend, rather than overblown rock proclamations.

  • Tomorrow's Harvest
    Artist
    Boards of Canada
    ReleaseProduct
    Tomorrow's Harvest
    Label
    Warp
    Cat. No.
    WARPCDD257
    Release Date
    June 2013
    17 Tracks VL CD DL DL DL

    Boards of Canada – Tomorrow's Harvest

    <a href="https://bleep.com/the-top-ten-albums-of-the-year-2013">This album features in the top ten albums of 2013</a><br><br> While Boards of Canada need little introduction, it didn’t stop them mounting a tantalising album teaser campaign of codes and whispers for ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’, their first major release in eight long years, which happily delivered musically amidst a storm of hype. <br><br> A far cry from the blissed-out guitar washes that characterised its immediate predecessor ‘The Campfire Headphase’, the album focused the mysterious duo’s palette upon a depiction of technological apocalypse glimpsed from a murky distance. ‘Reach for the Dead’ rendered the duo’s trademark blunted hip-hop percussion ghostly, introducing John Carpenter-esque arpeggios which rear their head again and again in the dystopian landscape, perhaps most convincingly on the chilling ‘White Cyclosa’. Cuts like ‘Jaquard Causeway’ and ‘Cold Earth’ showed Boards at their best, with the beats crisp and physical, punching holes in immaculately textured atmospheres which frame yearning square wave synth lines. <br><br> The album’s length afforded the release luxurious ambient tracks, which through repeated listens slowly became the record’s highlights: ‘Sundown’ pushed gorgeous synth pads in and out of a sandstorm of decayed static, while ‘Transmisiones Ferox’ seemed to beam a disembodied voice from some alternate dimension into the brooding and unnerving landscape. Much like 2002’s ‘Geogaddi’, ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ was a vital examining of the darker underbelly of the duo’s output, and felt like a timely addition to their already formidable catalogue.

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  • Field of Reeds
    Artist
    These New Puritans
    ReleaseProduct
    Field of Reeds
    Label
    Infectious
    Cat. No.
    INFECT156D1
    Release Date
    June 2013
    9 Tracks VL CD DL DL

    These New Puritans – Field of Reeds

    <a href="https://bleep.com/the-top-ten-albums-of-the-year-2013">This album features in the top ten albums of 2013</a><br><br> These New Puritans’ third album Field Of Reeds is impressive in its refusal to simply repeat the tricks of 2010’s critically-lauded Hidden, charming through understated beauty rather than searing dread. The orchestral musicians which had previously bolstered a sound that essentially remained a rock band here come to the fore, resonating out from plaintive piano playing. <br><br> ‘Spiral’ constructs huge swathes of orchestral strings and muted horns around mumbling ethereal vocals in a manner recalling Bjork’s most esoteric work, while those vocals echo within the resonance of a homespun piano sound on ‘This Guy’s in Love With You’, giving a more personal effect than most large-scale orchestral music. Elsewhere, gorgeous organ sounds give the album much needed depth and weight, ‘Organ Eternal’ adopting a bubbling minimalist stream of notes with twinkles of marimba and ‘The Light in Your Name’ focusing the same elements into a ballad which ebbs and flows at a strange and constantly compelling pace. Album closer ‘Field of Reeds’ delivers a welcome arrival point in an ambiguous and shape-shifting set of songs, as a velvety male choir flesh out the promise of breathy vocals from previous tracks, and carefully employed vibraphones make the song sparkle as well as feel mournful and luscious.

  • The Inheritors
    Artist
    Holden
    ReleaseProduct
    The Inheritors
    Label
    Border Community
    Cat. No.
    40BCCDD
    Release Date
    June 2013
    15 Tracks CD DL DL

    Holden – The Inheritors

    <a href="https://bleep.com/the-top-ten-albums-of-the-year-2013">This album features in the top ten albums of 2013</a><br><br> Since 2006’s The Idiot’s Are Winning, Border Community stalwart James Holden’s release output has been minimal, though the influence of his work has nonetheless spread. The Inheritors displays a wealth of strong material, which shows Holden still has a capacity to produce inventive and stimulating electronica of the highest order. <br><Br> There’s a wayward sense of playfulness in Holden’s mixing of unusual musical combinations throughout the record. ‘Seven Stars’ is part muscular trip-hop, part seaside carousel tune, while ‘Sky Burial’ adds splintering knife scrape samples and church organs around a pummelling bit-crushed bass line. The quieter, more introverted retreats within the album’s more dancefloor-ready numbers impress most, with ‘Circle of Fifths’ creating a sensation of physically spinning through disorientating samples in addition to harmonically continuing to fall and fall. <br><Br> ‘Delabole’ and ‘Rannoch Dawn’ see Holden approach a band-like sound, with intriguing results, the latter track drawing an unlikely link between jacking house and driving Krautrock. It is The Inheritors sheer volume of tracks which avoiding generic categorisation recommend it so highly, with eccentric dancefloor bangers like ‘Gone Feral’ and ‘Blackpool Late Eighties’ crystallising the record’s bewildering span of influences into club formats in a way which shows experience and a continued spark.

  • Engravings
    Artist
    Forest Swords
    ReleaseProduct
    Engravings
    Label
    Tri Angle
    Cat. No.
    TRIANGLE20D
    Release Date
    August 2013
    10 Tracks CD DL DL

    Forest Swords – Engravings

    <a href="https://bleep.com/the-top-ten-albums-of-the-year-2013">This album features in the top ten albums of 2013</a><br><br> Matthew Barnes, aka Forest Swords, brought together one of the more brilliant EPs in recent memory in the form of 2010’s Dagger Paths released through No Pain In Pop, and his debut full length for Brooklyn-based Tri Angle records was no less spectacular. Reportedly mixed outdoors on a laptop in the Wirral countryside the artist calls home, the album is shot through with the sounds of natural noise and interference, lending expansive guitars and earthy hip-hop beats an environmental quality. <br><br> Lead track ‘The Weight of Gold’ is pushed on by a nagging guitar twiddle which summons up the ghost of Ennico Morricone, while the community vocals sampled on ‘Gathering’ once again prompt a sense of some abstract narrative occurring in an imaginary collision between the English countryside and the Wild West. <br><br> The distant sliding pan pipes on ‘Thor’s Stone’ and ‘Irby’s Tremor’ give a depth to Barnes’ productions, while the beats throughout are constructed from drum skins which sound more like household pots and pans than 808 machines. On ‘Anneka’s Battle’, the album makes its closest link with the sound many listeners will associate with Tri Angle, as crisp finger clicks and an R&B-tinged vocal recall the likes of Holy Other, but all in all this is a singular record which resists useful comparison and plays beautifully by its own rules.

  • Slow Focus
    Artist
    Fuck Buttons
    ReleaseProduct
    Slow Focus
    Label
    ATP/Recordings
    Cat. No.
    ATPRDD49
    Release Date
    July 2013
    7 Tracks CD DL DL

    Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

    <a href="https://bleep.com/the-top-ten-albums-of-the-year-2013">This album features in the top ten albums of 2013</a><br><br> Bristol duo Fuck Buttons’ third album Slow Focus saw them cement their widely appealing, but uncompromising sound with an admirable flair. Lead single ‘Brainfreeze’ is a statement of the groups brazen intent, with blunted post-punk toms underpinning grandiose layers of synthetic drone which feedback into huge washes of biting distortion again and again, creating something like the sci-fi cousin of My Bloody Valentine. <br><Br> It is the interaction of the glossy, naïve sounds of arpeggiated synths or midi drums and more aggressive ‘live’ guitar distortions which appeal as much here as on the churning romp of ‘The Red Wing’, where the drums are placed subtly at a distance, allowing walls of texture to do the pummelling. On ‘Year Of The Dog’, electronic elements are pushed to breaking point as a trance riff continues to roll through walls of high synthetic screams, and ‘Stalker’ doesn’t let up either, with aggressive low end stabs of analogue electronics. The highlight is ‘Prince’s Prize’, which shows the duo’s full scope in its combination of floating vampire movie synths and a sweat dripping toy funk line. Slow Focus shows Fuck Buttons at the height of their powers, taking in ever more influences and channelling them into something coherent and hard-hitting.

  • Needs Continuum
    Artist
    Karen Gwyer
    ReleaseProduct
    Needs Continuum
    Label
    No Pain In Pop
    Cat. No.
    NPIP032
    Release Date
    February 2013
    9 Tracks CD DL DL

    Karen Gwyer – Needs Continuum

    <a href="https://bleep.com/the-top-ten-albums-of-the-year-2013">This album features in the top ten albums of 2013</a><br><br> Karen Gwyer’s immaculate debut album ‘Needs Continuum’ once again shows No Pain In Pop’s uncanny ability to dig up unknown gems from an introverted underground. The record sounds little like anything else released in 2013, with feather light percussion lending the album a singular sense of atmosphere in a year which was dominated by rough-edged, pounding club music. <br><br> ‘Pikku-Kokki’ is a sensuous and delicate house number, with beautifully judged bongo rolls offsetting whispered vocals and beds of wide synth chords, while ‘Jajja Uses Ancestral Spirits’ conveys a sense of serenity and bubbling rhythm through choice analogue elements. The crisp claps on ‘Some Of My Favourite Lotions’ recall the likes of Steve Summers but Gwyer’s record is more cerebral than club music, allowing the listener to take in subtle textural changes and shadings rather than simply encouraging them to move. <br><br> On the beatless cuts, ‘Needs Continuum’ is most persuasive, with ‘Waukon’ channelling Popol Vuh’s synthetic pastoralism and ‘Lentil’ a slow-burning beauty with occasional bursts of Roland brass and the producer’s vocals. Album closer ‘Part B’ pulls off this ambience with a serene poignancy fitting for a commanding album and recalling the best of Motion Sickness of Time Travel and recent My Bloody Valentine; company not to be sniffed at.

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