Before I start with my personal Top 10 albums of this year, I must say two obvious things: 1st. I regret having this blog nearly abandoned, specially missed to have the time to write my review of last Atonal Festival, again one of my highlights of the year… and 2nd. it’s quite hard for me to resume the year in 10 albums, as there has been so many great albums this year, that sometimes feels unfair to include one instead of another. But! At the end of this post I will make a list of albums worth mentioning, at least for those who want to dig a bit more and maybe take it as a list of suggestions to explore contemporary music.
As always, at least in my case, this list is quite polluted by temporary emotions connected with some albums, meaning that maybe the album came to my attention in the right moment, even though maybe in another time it wouldn’t touched me the same way. But also this list is quite influenced by the live experiences of some of the bands. As sometimes it’s quite different to listen an album before or after the concert. Specially those times that the live performance rises your attention over an album you haven’t listen properly, or in other occasions it increases your obsession for an album you already loved.
My number 1 in the Top 10 is more or less a decision without a doubt. But after that, the first 5 positions are quite interchangeable. Being all of them at the same level within my heart / personal taste. Then my favorite style is again ambient / drone music, as it happened the last years. And if I would have to mention some music labels, probably the bandcamp pages of Whities and Opal Tapes are the ones I visited more often, even though I don’t have right now a one and only favorite music label.
10. HTRK – Venus in Leo
This is one of those cases where having seem them live (at Atonal) made me love their latest album even more. I must confess that their previous albums didn’t touch me that much, but this album has several songs that stick to your brain and stay there with you like a loop the whole day. And just for that you need to have an special talent. Totally recommended if you dark, slow, pseudo-pop, female voice lullabies.
9. Big | Brave – A Gaze Among Them
A strange fruit within this list, a sort of post-metal band. This is another example of an album that after seeing them live I got absolutely hooked, as it happens in most cases with this kind of music. Also I must confess, I saw them because they were touring with My Disco, the band I wanted to see in fact, their performance and album was meant to be in this list, right here. (just decided to exchange them because My Disco is indeed something that totally fits in my sound-aesthetic spectrum, but Big | Brave has meant a real discovery). The album is pure perfection, beauty and rage all at once. Seeing them live I couldn’t take out of my head the idea that they represented feminism better than any flag and any fashionable statement. Absolutely powerful!
8. Mondkopf – How Deep Is Our Love?
Mondkopf is already well-known for his dark ambient style, with several albums released over the years and also some movie soundtracks like the one for the absolutely amazing Bridgend. This year he has been quite prolific and I wouldn’t know which one I liked more if this album or his recent EP “Time We Left This World Today”. Both are perfect inspiration material to visualize within the dark side of your room what floating in space could be. I hope to catch him live sooner than later and if possible in a cosy location. Also… I would love to visualize one of his concerts.
7. The Cinematic Orchestra – To Believe
Ninja Tune is one of those labels that can’t be considered “underground” anymore, but they mastered the path between unique and styled proposals with quite commercial outcomes. This new album from The Cinematic Orchestra is an sticky delicious pop masterpiece, at times it could remind echoes from Radiohead or Massive Attack, but never feels less personal, each and every song has a strong personality and some of them have that loopy effect to stick in your brain for days. Also loved the subject they decided to talk about in this album.
6. Alessandro Cortini – Volume Massimo
This album was a must in this list, Cortini‘s work has been for already a long time in my list of preferences in music. Loved his sound, his instrumental and evolutive patterns, the way he masters the balance between noise and melody. This is his first album in Mute Records and you can notice an step forward a more melodic and commercial approach (in a good sense), he is maintaining his personality, just polishing that style and making it shine even brighter. His live performance is equally a demonstration of taste and talent, specially represented through the visuals that go with him. Maybe my only ‘but’ is the artwork cover (also the lead music video ‘Batticuore’), in my very personal opinion it’s outdated in style, obvious and poor in its concept, and not even fitting the atmosphere of the music, but misleading into a Depeche Mode’s Anton Corbijn wannabe…
5. Croatian Amor – Isa
This is an album that passed unnoticed for me when it was released, then a month or two after I got totally hooked with it, then I forgot and some months ago I came back to it with even more devotion. Somehow the beautiful, minimal and unexplainable artwork cover resumes perfectly the image that their music evokes me. Mysterious, enigmatic, but also hopeful, delicate, cold and ethereal, a kind of broken electronic sci-fi soundtrack for a journey to a parallel reality where you embody a genderless elegant avatar made of light. Perfect feed for my synesthesic imagination.
4. UVB76 – SĀN
Maybe the most techno oriented album of my list. It’s just hard for me to listen techno music at home, as usually I listen music while I work or I use it to relax. But the proposal from UVB76 is so tasteful and rich in Japanese references, that is hard not to stop whatever I’m doing and let myself enjoy surrendering to a private dance in my room, hoping to catch this French guys anytime soon live in a club / festival in Berlin. The key in their music is not just the Japanese references in their samples (and beautiful cover artwork), but an elaborated sound design and a great combination of rhythms and ritual drums. If you were into industrial music years ago, this is the perfect update to listen nowadays.
3. Shasta Cults – Shasta Cults
Again, not sure if I love more this album or his also recent EP, or the combination of both of them. I came across his music due to the simple and minimal artworks (certain type of abstract art in a context of experimental electronic music attracts me like honey, and usually it doesn’t fail), also being part of Imprec family and reading the story related to Richard Smith (being the official Buchla & Associates repair tech for studios, collectors, and musicians around the world) helps a lot to foretell I would immediately love his music. Here we have a whole abstract universe of beautiful melodies, vibrating sound structures emerging slowly like a perfect tune to meditate with. If you like the sound of Buchla synthesizers (part also of Cortini’s style) this is absolutely your world to dive in and get happily lost.
2. Carl Gari & Abdullah Miniawy – The Act of Falling from the 8th Floor
Whities 023 is the wonderful and perfectly balanced union of two worlds, electronic soundscapes and arabic chants (in fact an Egyptian poem where the protagonist, jumping from the 8th floor of a building in Cairo, describes (while falling) a unique scene happening on every balcony, painting a dark picture of Egyptian society). The album (or extended EP) captures the beauty of imagined faraway landscapes painted through passionate and hypnotic vocals and a bed of post-rock and electronic sounds, vaguely reminding at moments to the highly missed Muslimgauze. Also in this case, kudos for the beautiful and styled graphic design of the vinyl, but in the case of Whities that good taste is part of their identity as a label.
1. Abul Mogard – And We Are Passing Through Silently
As I said before, no doubts about this one… Maybe it’s just because he is one of my favorite contemporary artists in ambient music (along Paul Jebanasam), but every album he releases is a journey filled with emotions and beautiful, yet mysterious landscapes. I have spent a immense amount of time within this album, at home, walking on the streets, or in the woods, flying to another country, at every hour, but specially at sunsets and in the night. It has become a companion that is always there, waiting for me whenever I need. Maybe the most significant fact that made me consider it my number 1 is that the album is a compilation of remixes he has done for other artists, yet he still manages to transform whatever was the original song and made it totally his own world, leaving behind big doubts about the real origin of such beautiful compositions. So, this album is not just another album but the proof of a truly personal style and a great talent remixing. Also, the album surprises by having most of the tracks with lyrics, which is kind of weird to find ambient music with voices, specially with a perfect match where the voice becomes a part of the whole and not just the protagonist. The only complain would be the artwork cover… But that has been always like that in his case (with the exception of the abstraction in ‘Works’). It’s just not my style, which seems to be his, due to the continuous line followed.
Most of the following albums should be up in this list, but I don’t want to extend this post any more (becoming a Top 25). I do encourage you to check out each of them, they are different styles, mostly in the spectrum of electronic music, mostly ambient, or the so called ‘experimental’. Each title is a link to an streaming of the full album (if available):
Environment by My Disco
Epitaph by Jay Glass Dubs
Futuro (Music For The Waldorf Project) by Not Waving
Sutarti by Joshua Sabin
Morphology by The Subdermic
Corra Linn by Lanark Artefax
Oneknowing by Lena Raine
Reach The Endless Sea by Tunes Of Negation / Shackleton
Dead Skin Cells by Kamikaze Space Programme
Muutto by Adam Winchester
A Point Between by Floating Spectrum
Anoyo by Tim Hecker
Abstraction In High Fidelity by Ixuol
Scattered Memories by Saba Alizadeh
Deep Rave Memory by Richard Fearless