My Year In Music
The trick with making any “best of” anything list is that it is totally subjective, especially in a site run by one person. The music found on this years list isn’t really a best of by any stretch of the imagination. The list found here in this post is a collection of the music that caught my attention this year. They are the albums that I kept coming back to after hearing, the ones I probably also bought a vinyl copy of it was available.
2013 was one of those special years when music and ideas all seem to come together in fresh new ways and it was really exciting to have such a constant flow of inspiration coming in all year long. As you know I have no one genre that I stick to or prefer over another, I typically have more of a natural radar for what I think is good. I listen to what speaks to me personally and that varies quite a bit.
Music is more to me than a modest distraction. Music is a huge part of who I am, the crackle of a weird synthesized sound can bring out just as much emotion as a gently sung poetic ballad. I love sound and I love musicians who don’t take its exploration lightly. The music I tend to gravitate toward is that which I can clearly feel what the musician felt while creating it. It’s a powerful tool for any creative mind. A life without music is a life without warmth and joy as far as I’m concerned.
That said, let’s see what artists spoke to me this year, it was hard to narrow down to be honest. My original list was a good amount longer but I did the best I could to keep it reasonable. There are things that I took off that I probably shouldn’t have and a couple that probably deserve to be on here that I have not had a chance to hear yet such as Nils Frham’s Spaces and countless other great music that never even had a chance to cross my awareness. 2013 was a great year for music and if you have not heard any of these I highly suggest you take a minute to check a few out.
Sub Versus by Akron/Family
I haven’t enjoyed an album of theirs as much as this since their early work, it feels defiant, a little chaotic at times but full of life and vigor that kept me coming back to it again and again earlier this year.
Exai by Autechre
I have been listening to these guys since Ep7 and LP5, they were instrumental in pushing my curiosity and love for music that pushed the boundaries of what could be discovered with sound and rhythm when you create without a rule book or any preconceived notion of what is easily acceptable or understood. This album is a return to form, fractured and unpredictable.
Tomorrow’s Harvest by Boards of Canada
Another long standing favorite that made a return to form this year. After an epic build up dropping clues for fans around the world about the new release. The album is brilliant, simple, and lush.
The North Borders by Bonobo
I have long been a fan of Bonobo and this release is easily one of his finest. Bridging genres without failing into any traps or cliches, the music found on here is a masterful blend of hip-hop, soul, and electronic perfect for a late night drive.
Psychic by Darkside
This one snuck up out of nowhere, I had seen the name around quite a bit and eventually discovered it was a new project by Nicholas Jaar and Dave Harrington. Already being a huge fan of Jaar I never really know what to expect from him and on first listen I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Upon closer listening I was quick to realize its brilliance throughout. Somber, fulfilling, and forward thinking this is not one you want to pass up. I have never heard anything quite like it.
Mala by Devendra Banhart
I remember when Devendra first came onto the scene. A distinct voice and approach lead him to become the ambassador for the “freak folk” movement a while back. His rising fame got the best of him I think as he stumbled through his last couple of more ambitious records. I was thrilled to see him come back down to earth and release an album that is calm, focused, and a joy to put on.
Engravings by Forest Swords
I passed over their first release after hearing it through once, it never really stuck a chord within me. After hearing so much praise for this new album I couldn’t help but check it out and was happy I did. The album is dark and has a voice all its own as it pulls from all kinds of different directions. Mildly experimental but completely fulfilling if you let yourself fall in.
Beautiful Rewind by Four Tet
Four Tet has managed to turn himself into a cult indie-electronic music icon over the past couple of years and his new album is a fitting crown for that achievement. Minimal, driving, and without compromise, this release is the result of someone writing music by his own set of rules.
Collected Recordings by Garteth Dickson
While technically this is a reissue I could not help but include it because it was new to me after its re-release this year. I swear he is the second coming of Nick Drake. The music on this album rests somewhere between ambient and folk and it makes for some really truly beautiful moments. It is impossible to put this on and not feel at peace with waterer it is that may be going on around you. I really adore this album.
Invisible Life by Helado Negro
The first time I heard his music was a few years back when I was asked to bring a small sound system to a warehouse where artists rent space for a local show. This year I was lucky enough to work with him again and immediately fell for his new music. This is subtlety in dance music at its best with lyrics sung in spanish in a relaxed groove that is impossible not to hear with out a smile on your face.
The Inheritors by Holden
Another album that snuck up on me without warning. When I first put it on I had no idea what I was in for. The whole record feels like an artifact of the ancient past and the distant future crammed into the same space as though written by a broken time machine. It is a singular work that is disorienting at first but warm and inviting once you give way to its hidden charms.
Jamie Lidell, Self Titled
Ah, Jamie, a jester of electronic exploration has covered more ground than most musicians could only dream of. The fact that he is still managing to release albums that defy his previous work by shifting in such unpredictable directions while still containing that unmistakable soulful voice is incredible and always ends up being a favorite. This go around we have a brilliant album of pop allure.
meadow:watt by KILN
Ghostly International is no stranger to my ears. They have such an uncanny ability to release distinct, beautiful albums unlike anything else out there I am rarely if ever disappointed in the albums they release. This album from KILN is absolutely beautiful yet really difficult to describe. The music here is like a waterfall of sound with just enough of a rhythm to hypnotize you as you drift down river in the rush of cool water flecked air. Essential listening.
Letherette, Self Titled
I felt this was one of the more overlooked dance albums of the year. It’s tightly compressed sound is full of unpredictable twists and turns as it drifts in and out of 4/4 dance and hip-hop. I really loved how it kept me guessing, one of my favorites to pull out this year when out spinning vinyl.
The Waiting Room by Lusine
The Waiting Room is electronic pop at its most pure and transparent. Sharp and with a distinct drive that is entirely his own, Lusine has carefully carved out his sound over the years and stuck firmly beside it and with each release we see more and more refinement and exploration. While much of the world of electronic music has chosen to focus on darkness and the night this album is full of light and its wholly refreshing.
Vapor City by Machinedrum
I can’t help but feel as though Machinedrum aka. Travis Stewart coming to form with this record. It is a dark yet gorgeous collection of songs that I have had to pace myself listening to in fear of wearing it out too quickly. Travis has an incredible ability to wear his influences on his sleeve yet let his heart shine brightly through in his fearless approach to creating music. Every track on Vapor City feels like a different reflection of himself in various ways. I love it when electronic based musicians manage to balance emotion and excitement without overdoing it on either front and this is a near flawless example of his abilities. I hope this is just a taste for what is yet to come.
Beyond by Marihiko Hara & Polar M
This album found its way into my library recently and I felt it deserves a spot among my favorite discoveries this year. With clear influences from other so called modern classical musicians they incorporate elements of electronic exploration among delicate piano and spoken word elements that all fall into place as a beautiful ambient journey.
II by Moderat
When I heard Moderat was gearing up to release a new album I was excited. After enjoying their first release so much I was curious to see what they would follow it up with. As soon as I realized just how badly the lead single, Bad Kingdom had become lodged in my head for weeks after first hearing it I knew the rest of the album was bound to be special and it most certainly is. Easily bests their first album by a long shot in my opinion.
Cold Spring Fault Less Youth by Mount Kimbie
Hard to find words to describe just how much I enjoyed this release. With their previous efforts being delicate yet unforgettable ventures into electronic music I was surprised to hear such a big vocal presence on this release. While I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first it quickly grew on me and I could not get enough. Jumping back and forth between a live, organic feel and their classic electronic trickery I put this on more times than I can admit this year and if you have yet to hear it I can not recommend it highly enough.
Babel by Mumford and Sons
Say what you will but I love these guys. No idea what it is about them but its a joy to listen to them sing about whatever emotional story they feel like telling and I kept coming back to Babel when I needed a break from the world of forward thinking music and just feel like singing along to something joyful in my car. The songs found on this album are full of life and I for one and happy to see such music grow to be as popular as it is among the rest of the pop music mess out there.
(Oh, wait, Babel was released in 2012 haha, I just bought my LP in early ’13 so I made a mistake. Still, technically my year in music and it was new to me at the time so I’ll roll with it.)
m b v by My Bloody Valentine
I’m not sure how they did it but My Bloody Valentine managed to pick up right where they left off with a brilliant album of fuzzy dream pop that I feel deserves to sit among the best releases from this year. Put on your favorite pair of shoes and let its contradicting gentle noise wash over you. Worth every minute.
Trouble Will Find Me by The National
I guess you could call this pop music if you were so inclined. Their fan base grows and grows with every new release and for good reason. This album is easily one of my favorites of theirs and while I know not everyone enjoys their meandering sound and the half sung, half mumbled lyrics but I love it. As soon as I heard Sea Of Love the first time it was all over, one of my most played songs of the year, an instant classic.
I was Flying by The National Park Service
The only release on the list that I bought on a cassette tape. The music found here is loose, calm, and understated. Full of found sound, twisting textures, and forgotten melodies I found the trip to be something akin to a scrapbook of memories which were scraped from the backs of photos as though the music is a collage of sound that was lost in time.
Feelin’ Good by Nightmares On Wax
This sure was unexpected, an old Warp staple came back and released an album as though they didn’t disappear from radar years ago. Being a long time fan I was excited about this one when it was released and was not disappointed. Full of soul while still exploring new ground after all these years, this was a sorely overlooked gem from 2013.
Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails
Yes, NIN found its way onto my list. While lyrically Trent is the same old emotional soul searching for some way to express whatever it is inside his music has taken a lively new direction. The tension often found on his older releases is still there to a certain extent but he holds it back in favor of a more controlled approach to songwriting that I couldn’t get enough of when it was released. Took me back to his Fragile days which were my personal favorite.
Muchacho by Phosphorescent
Ever since first seeing him perform locally in tiny venues in support of his early records I knew this voice was bound for greatness and this year he seems to be getting the attention he deserves. Muchacho feels like a fully realized version of his vision as a songwriter it is filled with confidence and joy and I caught myself putting this on whenever I needed a pick-me-up.
Hinterland by Recondite
Moody and haunting at times I feel like this album was built for the winter months. 4/4 rhythms offer a hypnotic pulse that carries you through landscapes of hushed, foggy melodies and a calmness that takes you any number of places when you close your eyes and listen along.
No Better Time Than Now by Shigeto
Another stand out on Ghostly I have been following along with since his first releases on the label. Moody and percussive hip-hop inspired beats often played live and reconfigured to his liking the resulting music has a natural swing and emotional hooks that dig deep at times. While at first I felt I preferred his older releases more this album quickly became a favorite once I let it sink in.
Labor by Small Sur
I can’t honestly remember how I came across Small Sur but I sure am glad I did. While I loved their first full length I think I like the followup even more. Their understated music is like warm sun on a cold day. Gently sung melodies carry you through the breadth of this album full of warm instrumentation. I am a sucker for Rhodes Pianos so the third track, Bloomington sucked me in and became one of my most played songs of the year. This album is a beauty through and through and can’t be recommended highly enough.
Virgins by Tim Hecker
Tim Hecker is a force to be reckoned with in the ambient music world. Each release offers a different vantage point to explore and his newest is one of his best. Always balancing between acoustic sources and electronic ones he creates entire worlds inside some of his work that I more often than not find myself getting completely lost in.
Modern Vampires Of The City by Vampire Weekend
In their latest album I was happy to see they decided to shed some of their cuteness and mellow out a bit this time around. The result is a focused but still joyful sound that provided me with the perfect soundtrack to sunny days this past summer.
Paracosm by Washed Out
Ever since their first EP and accidentally kick starting the worlds worst subgenera name “chill wave” I have been a big fan of his. With Paracosm he doesn’t let go of his dreamy sound but he does fine tune it and end up reaching a near tropical peak in many songs that I really love. I still feel this will be a favorite for a long time to come.
Onto the EP’s and singles! There were a handful of smaller releases that really stood out to me this year and I feel they are just as much worth mentioning as their full length brothers.
Re-Animations EP by Dawn Day Night
I don’t know much about this guy other than the fact that he performs and appears dressed as a mummy of sorts. His music straddles genres and makes for perfect party music, “hold that hold that leeeeg up.”
Blip Culture/Lemon Drops by The Fresh Up Players
I came across this brilliant single after discovering the label Fresh Up and falling all over their collection of soulful electronic 7” records. The music goes by quick but is leaves me reaching over to move the needle back to the start over and over.
Trust by Gold Panda
Before releasing his full length this year it was preceded by this great EP that saw a lot of time in my ears earlier this year. The title track, Trust is not to be missed.
Grind/Prelims by Les Sins
Toro Y Moi’s other project saw to this soulful release that sucked me in without me even realizing it. After hearing it once in passing the baseline was stuck in my head for at least a month before I finally sought out where it was that I had heard it. Since then it has been essential listening.
Clissold VIP by Machinedrum
As far as remixes go this was my favorite this year. One of his best club ready tracks in my opinion ranks right up there with his classic, Alarma.
Eolian Instate by Pattern
A new face to the Warp Records Roster took stage this year and I loved this first EP on Warp. Music that pushes electronic forward without holding back, soft while at the same time chaotic it brought me back to what I love about indie IDM music years ago.
Love Songs: Part One by Romare
With initial influences from the world of Juke/Footwork Romare has a couple of EP’s that expand on the genera utilizing unexpected elements from other genres that I love. I eagerly await his next release but in the mean time I am more than happy continuing to spin this brilliant EP.