1 January 2014

Top 25 releases of 2013

So here they are: my favorite 25 releases of the year.  Last year I made a top 20, this year I couldn't manage to bring it down to less than 25, out of a longlist of at least 50 worthy. This year I haven't strictly stuck to albums but also included some EP's. Take it for what it is. Lists are pointless in a way, but they are quite useful way to bring order to an end of the year summary. As always there are releases of the year that I haven't gotten round to listen to or purchase yet, but that would surely be contenders on this list. No one mentioned, no one forgotten. There will also be a separate list of archive/reissues coming soon. Anyway, enough with the excuses, here's the list:

1. The House in the Woods - Bucolica
Mind blowing side project from Martin Jenkins (aka Pye Corner Audio) focusing on more ambient oriented material. Like a Ghost Box take on Wolfgang Voigts GAS-albums, but instead of of chilling out and coming down after a 90's rave in the Black Forest, Jenkins lies stunned in a meadow after a particularly hectic evening at the Belbury Youth Club. Fantastic album, and to my mind probably Our Head Technician's best work to date.

2. Ceephax - Cro Magnox
An amazing new album from Andy Jenkinson, vast in scope. A more melodic and mellow take on acid than Jenkinsons earlier releases. A bit like Kraftwerk in a kosmische mood, with a TB-303. Still haven't managed to get tired of it after multiple on multiple listens. My go to album of the year.

3. Various - Interpretations on F.C. Judd
A compilation/remix album that for once feels like a proper album. The tracks by the different artists flow in an organic way, rarely found on these kind of releases. All tracks have a great respect for the feel of F.C. Judds original without losing their own identity. The list of participating artists is stunning: Perc, Chris Carter, Holly Herndon, Mordant Music, Pye Corner Audio, Karen Gwyer, Leyland Kirby, Ekoplekz et al.

4. Autechre - Exai
New massive album from the legends and one the didn't let down. Two hours of new material with a more straight dance floor edge than in quite a while. After Oversteps look back (kind of) to the Amber ambient era, the references this time feels more Tri Repetae and LP5. An album that managed two live up to expectations, and that's no mean feat considering how high they were.

Read full review of Exai - AUTECHRE on Boomkat.com ©

5. Hacker Farm - UHF
This one was actually released at the end of 2012 but I'm including it here since I didn't get hold of it until the begging of 2013 when Boomkat released it on digital. Listening to this for the first time felt I finally had found an album that sounded the way I've always imagined post industrial should. It's a bit of a cliche, but this is really one of the few albums that really lives up to the legacy of TG and the Cabs.

6. Ricardo Donoso - As Iron Sharpens Iron, One Verse Sharpens Another
This years album from Donoso was actually released as two 12" EP's, containing four tracks each. This feels like a logical development from last years Assimilating The Shadow (my top album of 2012). The changes are as subtle as most of Donoso's solo output. A fantastic album. Nobody does trance influenced kosmische like Donoso.

7. John Foxx and the Belbury Circle - Empty Avenues
A six track EP that I had been waiting for since it was first revealed that Foxx had participated in a session with Ghost Box stalwarts Jon Brooks and Jim Jupp. The result is every bit as good as I had hoped for. Brooks and Jupps music paints a perfect setting for Foxx's melancholic reflexions. Now I only wish for a full album to turn up, even a Belbury Circle album without Foxx would be ver welcome, considering the way Brooks and Jupp complement each other on this one.

8. Ensemble Skalectrik - Trainwrekz
A slightly less hectic year on the release from from Nick Edwards, but he's managed to churn out a few great recordings nevertheless: the Ekoplekz "Devesham Dub" and the PLKZFX "Plekzistentializm" cassette are both great. But this one has to be considered his major effort of the year. A proper album from his most industrial incarnation, paying homage to such greats as Conrad Schnitzler and Maurizio Bianchi.

9. Oneohtrix Point Never - R Plus Seven
Daniel Lopatin's first proper album in two years is a revelation. Finally I understand what he was aiming at on Replica. The full blown widescreen digital sound creations of R Plus Seven is his best work since Returnal and maybe even since Rifts. It feels totally logical that this one is released by Warp.

10. Karen Gwyer - Needs Continuum
A meticulously crafted album of murky melodic bass riffs and intricately programmed sampled drums. There's a subtlety to this that means repeated listens is a must to fully appreciate the width of these tracks. The Doctor Whoish bass rhythm of Waukon and the way Gwyer then plays with the expectations that creates is stunning.

Read full review of Needs Continuum - Karen Gwyer on Boomkat.com ©

11. Demdike Stare - Testpressings 1-4
No proper album from Demdike this year, but this series of four EP's more than makes up for that. Considered as an album this would be up there among their earlier ones. A more direct beat oriented approach than the sampledelica of the past, but nonetheless great stuff. EP number three is probably my favorite of the lot.

12. Cray - Delta Wahn
A cassette release from the small australian label Rocket Machine. A wonderful album of melodically playful electronics. Warp meets The Radiophonic Workshop, even if that's not a totally fair assessment. Delta Wahn has an identity all it's own.

13. Stellar Om Source - Joy One Mile
Christelle Gualdi released her most beat oriented material to date. Apparently influenced by the acquisition of a TB-303 this is an excellent album of melodic acid. One of the finest acid albums since Chosen Lords in my mind.

14. CHXFX - The Unhaptic Synthesizer
It's not always synthesizer albums about synthesizers are all that great. But this is an example of one that is. CHXFX second cassette after 2012's split cassette with PLKZFX is a charming journey through sound and the ability of the synthesizer in the vein of sixties and seventies experimental explorers. Very Radiophonic in parts, in the best of ways.

15. Kemper Norton - Carn
Kemper Nortons two sonic geographical explorations in the Carn-series is given a proper album release by Exotic Pylon Records. Folktronic ambient industrials is one way of describing it, but it doesn't really do it justice.

16. N. Chambers - Bathysphere Suite
Norman Chambers has been busy as usual with a few great new Panabrite albums out this year, but it is this "pay what you want"-download of his that has touched me the most. One long form piece that combines Chambers trademark kosmische synth sequences with more exploratory soundscapes makes for an enthralling listing experience.

17. Vatican Shadow - When You Are Crawling
Dominick Fernow has been busy with multiple releases from his Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement project as well as new stuff as Prurient on Blackest Ever Black among other things, but has been lying a bit lower with the Vatican Shadow stuff this year. The VS album "Remember Your Black Day" is good as expected, but it was this follow up 35 minute EP that was his standout release of the year for me.

18. Physics - Spectramorphic Iridescence
Great album of almost Conrad Schnitleresque qualities on Digitalis. Playful, experimental and menacing at once.

19. Frak - Erase
The Swedish legend's first release on Psychic Malmö. High quality electronic madness always drifting between seriousness and irony. Just great.

20. Miles - Unsecured
Miles from Demdike Stare released the fabulous Faint Hearted album, but again it's a tie in EP that was the really great one in my mind.

Read full review of Unsecured - Miles on Boomkat.com ©

21. Moon Wiring Club - A Fondness For Fancy Hats
Yet again, Ian Hodgson releases another new MWG album at the beginning of December. This year a main album on cd and an accompanying cassette with another 45 minutes of musical weirdness. A further step towards ambient experiments, especially on the tape.

22. Michael O'Neill - Michael O'Neill
Tesla Tapes is one of the great new tape labels this year. This one is probably my favorite of their releases this year. Vocal reflections go the shadier side of mancunian life.

23. Xander Harris - Snow Crash
A soundtrack to Neal Stephensons classic sf-novel in the vein of an EBM-ified John Carpenter. What's not to love?

24. Osmiroid - Osmiroid
Dark and brooding dark ambient on Mordant Music.

Read full review of Osmiroid - Osmiroid on Boomkat.com ©

25. DUBCON (twilight circus meets cEvin Key) - UFO pon di gullyside
Key participated on a great Download album and really quite good Skinny Puppy album this year, but this dub collab is his standout delivery of the year.

8 October 2013

Musician's Planet in Stockholm

I visited the first Musician's Planet musical instrument fair in Stockholm two years ago. After missing last years event I decided to pay it a new visit this year to see what it had to offer this time. Since the first occasion it was held it has moved from the rather more central Münchenbryggeriet to the large Stockholm Fair in Älvsjö, albeit in one of the smaller of the halls.

When I arrived, among the multitude of visitors heading for other events such as the home, children and chocolates fair (all drawing much larger crowds) it was quite apparent that not much had changed. At the fair two years ago, the booth arranged by Stockholm music store Jam, was one of the few interesting parts, and it would turn out that their (this time much smaller booth, rather a table than a booth really) was one of the few highs of this years event.

All in all the majority of exhibitors presented painfully predictable products and the level of technical innovation did little to impress. Booths like the one presented by Genelec could just as well had been the booth of some insurance company or obscure lobbying organization. The big guys was represented by Roland, which was about as interesting as could be expected (not, that is) and Yamaha. Both of these was dominated by the predictable selection of digital pianos and drum sets.

Clavia had a place in one of the bigger music store booths (4Sound, if I'm not mistaken) with the Nordlead 4 and the Norddrum 2 present.

The Fitzpatrick booth had a grand selection of Moogs. Among the things on display were the newly announced minimooger pedals. I don't know if these were prototypes or the real deal, but they did look a bit cheap in finish compared to other Moog gear. The most interesting of the series, the delay, was not on display.

Moog also had one of the 30 gold Voyagers on display, which probably was one of the more photographed exhibits at the fair.

One more interesting booth was the one by Stockholm pedal/guitar store These Go To 11. They had a vast selection of pedals on display.

I did discover the Catalinbread brand that I hadn't heard of before. Their Echorec emulation pedaled seemed interesting for example. These Go To 11 had special fair prices on some of the pedals but not all. (One weird thing about this fair is it's reluctancy to offer things for sale. It is a fair geared towards the public, but is set up like a fair for representatives from the business.)

Then of course there was the most interesting table, the one hosted by Jam, that also housed modular on-line store Escape From Noise, german pedal/module producer Koma Elektronik and swedish gear manufacturer Teenage Engineering. All of these were present on one table. Jam had brought an Analogue Solutions Vostok Deluxe and a 9U eurorack with modules from Ananlogue Solutions and Malekko among others. These were hooked up to an array of Koma Elektronik pedals, and what was probably the crowd pleaser or novelty piece of the fair, the Kommander. (It was quite interesting to watch the reactions to passersby when they saw different synth noises being triggered in the air from this little device. The novelty effect of this seems to be just as great in this day and age of Wii and Xbox Kinect as it was when Lev Theremin introduced his instrument in the first half of the 20th century.)

Jam also had one of each of the Korg (who didn't have a booth of their own) Volca series on display (as far as I know it's the first time they've made a public appearance in Sweden. The Volcas are as yet not available to buy here. Since I have two of them on pre-order with Jam (the Beats and the Keys) it was nice to finally get to see them in the flesh. Can't wait to get mine, but will probably have to wait at least a month, probably more.

On the other side of the table Escape From Noise had a rather substantial eurorack setup containing modules from Mutable Instruments, Make Noise, Metasonix and a whole bunch more. One piece that was particularly interesting was the Micromac module from Macbeth. Despite it's high price, it's probably the most bargain oriented module from Macbeth so far.

So alla in all I spent a couple of pleasant hour at Muscian's Planet this year. It's a fair that needs to think about who it's geared towards a bit. It would be nice with a wider selection of smaller more edgy exhibitors. I also think it would be a good idea to encourage the exhibitors to have more items on sale. I didn't buy anything at the fair, but seeing the Koma Elektronik Kommander in action made me order one, that I picked up from Escape From Noise today.

6 October 2013

The House in the Woods

Martin Jenkisn has been making quite a name for himself in the murkier side of the electronic music scene over the past year or so. Or at least a name for his main project Pye Corner Audio. He himself often hides behind the moniker Head Technician. From his first two Black Mill Tapes volumes that got a release on Type last spring and his debut on Ghost Box "Sleep Games" last autumn to this springs tape and EP releases there's been two clear strands to his productions, one brooding techno influenced side and one more ambient (on occasion almost kosmische) side. On his latest full length release, this time under new nome de guerre The House in the Woods it is the side that's taken over the proceedings completely. Or at least almost,

When I listen to "Bucolica" I'm reminded of those GAS albums Wolfgang Voigt put out in the nineties. They were like hazy chill outs after that eras raves, sonic pictures of Voigt relaxing after a week long trance trip in the Black Forest. The beats from the rave still echoing in the distant. "Bucolica" is more like someone trying to come down after a full night of shaking the booty at the Belbury Youth Club, and having retired to the haunted woods nearby, just next to the old abandoned cottage of that seventeenth century witch.

Jenkins has tapped in to that same sphere of beat centered ambient. The drones are in the center but the rhythms are never far away, slowly building and coersing the listener along to an almost trance like state. So enough with the contrived descriptions: this is a great ambient piece, brooding yet somehow strangely uplifting. (There's links to radiophonics and Howlrounds excellent "The Ghosts of Bush" album as well.) It's richness in detail rewards the patient listener. This is an album that needs to listened to repeatedly, to be fully appreciated. Something I've already done, very little else has made it into my iPod over the last week. It's an amazing album that manages to build a sonic world all it's own with seemingly simple elements. This is surely an album that's destined for my personal top ten albums of the year.

2 October 2013

Physique Sedition

The first band proper I was in was called Physique Sedition. We commenced operations sometime in 1990, when we all started 9th grade in school. The members were myself on vocals (because I couldn't really play anything, neither could I sing, but I dared to do it anyway), Lars-Erik Pettersson and Martin Andersson, both on programming, synths and drum machines. I also did the occasional programming chore, but I seem to remember that my efforts were not always heralded with accolades from my band mates ... The band's activities lasted probably about until 1992, after which we rarely worked as a three piece again. Me and Lars-Erik did a couple of further tracks during the 90's until we continued working as Radical Tea Party along with Sebastian Fannon in the early 00's.

I'm in the middle of the process of transferring most of the surviving tapes from the early Physique Sedition era to digital in order to make them (or at least a selection) available on bandcamp. Most of these recordings are very primitive, recorded in mono on one of two stereo channels on a standard tape deck. Most also recorded to normal grade ferric tape, so some are starting to show their age. One exception to this was the latest real recording we did were all three of us were present. Towards the end of 1992 we managed to borrow a 4-track Tascam porta studio from a friend of mine's brother's friend ... and recorded four tracks (no pun intended) made a cover for it and then never really released it. This tape is available to download or stream at the Physique Sedition bandcamp site. Soundwise it's probably the most advanced we ever achieved. The instruments that are most prominently featured on the tape is probably the Yamaha TX16W sampler and the RY-30 drum machine.

Right now I'm putting together some kind of collection of earlier recordings. These have a much more primitive and minimal sound and will be available soon.

Cray "Delta Wahn"

The Australian tape label Rocket Machine is a new acquaintance for me. I only discovered it through a tweet from Brad Rose about their release of Ossining's "Company Men". Having ordered their latest batch of 4 tapes, of which all are good. 2 of the tapes were real standout to me however. I already had the download version of the Ossining tape, so was prepared for that to be great, but what really blew me away was the "Delta Wahn" tape from Cray.

Now, I must admit I know next to nothing about the artist, but sometimes that's a good thing. Free from context you have a tendency to listen without prejudice and preconceptions. And I'm really moved by this tape. Musically it could be described as somewhere between early nineties Warp electronica meets Conrad Schnitlzer in a high fidelity future. The tracks are quite varied and just as you've thought you've got it figured, something turns up to confuse you and amaze you yet again.

The tape edition of 38 copies or so, quickly sold out, but it's still available to get as download. Don't miss out.

1 October 2013

John Foxx and the Belbury Circle

When I first learned last year that John Foxx had been recording something together with Jon Brooks (The Advisory Circle) and Jim Jupp (Belbury Poly) for the Ghost Box label, I assumed it would be another entry in their Study Series, i.e. two or three tracks on a 7" single. That in itself was enough to have med longing for it. When it turned out to be a six track 10" EP instead, I was, well not quite ecstatic, but pretty damn close.

When I'm this excited about something I quite often feel a bit disappointed when I eventually get to hear the actual record. In this case that wasn't to be the case. "Empty Avenues" is a stunning piece of nostalgic synth pop at it's best. All the three main participants signatures are there clearly on each track, and yet they seem to fit together so snugly that they seem made to be working together. Even though I greatly appreciate Foxx's collaboration with Benge as John Foxx and The Maths, this is just one step ahead of those albums for me. The lyrics and their mood fit perfectly with the general sense of melancholy and retrofuturism that permeates the proceedings. The links to Foxx's lyrics on Metamatic is obvious, but these are more mature, more settled down takes on the same topics: urban desolation and man alone.

Apart from the five main tracks Pye Corner Audio also delivers a remix on the title track, which perfectly rounds out the EP. What I supposed would be a single turned out to be an EP that I wish would be a full album. Would it be too much to ask for some kind of follow up?

Read full review of Empty Avenues - John Foxx and The Belbury Circle on Boomkat.com ©

Donato Dozzy plays Bee Mask

I've never been one for remix albums, but this is one that has me intrigued. As in many modern "remix" situations Donato Dozzy has quite freely interpreted the original by Bee Mask. Vaporware was released on vinyl last year and one of that years highs in modern kosmische. When Dozzy was asked to do a remix of the track he got so inspired he didn't just make one remix but seven, and all of those remixes are what makes up this album on Spectrum Spools. What I particularly like about the album, apart from the fact that I get further takes on a track I love, is that this actually works as an album in it's own right. Dozzy manages to create a epicly flowing album that's part inovative dronish electronica and part lush neo-kosmische in an almost neo-classical way, almost Steve Reich-ish. Anyway, enough with silly name dropping, just listen to it.

Read full review of Plays Bee Mask - DONATO DOZZY on Boomkat.com ©