top ten releases of 2013

as promised, i have managed to allow myself enough time to rifle through this last years’ archives in an attempt to isolate what i consider to be the best musical releases of the last twelve months. in truth, it proved to be quite a difficult task and so, following this list shall be another containing ‘most honourable mentions’, just to satisfy my completist tendencies.
still, after much agonising, i have managed to pare the list down to ten releases, spanning a wealth of styles and genres, from big-names to underground-heroes, from whistfully soothing to outrageously heavy; a splendid bunch indeed. so, might i request that you take a moment to put your feet up and have yourself a little perusal of the treats i have collected herein.
swordplay & pierre the motionless – tap water
despite some outrageously stiff competition, i would argue that this was my ‘most anticipated’ release of 2013, and would also probably have secured itself the top-spot, should i have buckled and reduced myself to listing them in my own order of greatness. not surprisingly ‘tap water’ has been featured on a lot of end-of-year lists and has received a good deal of press throughout the year and for good reason. for my own part, i was equally blown away by both swordplay and pierre the motionless from the first time i heard their sounds, and knew that this album would be something very, very special indeed. still, how they managed to outdo all of my expectations, bringing to the table a collection of impeccably crafted songs that come together to form a cohesive album in the most truest sense. in a modern age of rushed-releases, low quality albums and cobbled-together mixtapes, this release really highlights what can be accomplished artistically when truest craftsmen allow themselves the time to get it right. five stars, five mics, five cups of black tea. utterly essential.
koko blue – crosses and planks
the debut album from koko blue took me completely unexpectedly and had me absolutely fall in love with it almost directly. i had luckily managed to stumble upon news of the release and secured myself one of the most generous ‘free downloads’, found myself listening to it religiously and then was even more delighted to discover a limited edition cd version being released soonafter, which i naturally had to scoop up directly. the release coincided with the warmest weeks of the summer in the old world and how it soon became my soundtrack for days of riding to the lake by bicycle, gazing out over the shimmering waters, or relaxing in the soothing warmth of the evening, gentle breezes blowing through the window. thirteen songs so perfectly realised and not short of a few killer ‘singles’ too; the whole release a beautifully cohesive whole, wonderfully soothing, yet filled with a very real gravitas by way of the seemingly effortlessly penned texts relating tales of truly heartfelt moments. an utterly magical spell-binding album that i shall be sure to keep near me at all times as the years continue to race by. investigate immediately.
opium lord – the calendrical cycle – prologue : the healer
the horror. the outrage. i somehow very gladly managed to stumble upon the sounds of opium lord around the time of the promotional release of this two-track monster whilst in the ruhrgebiet working with dyxz on the beginnings of the dyxz.born.rndr extension of the throne burner project. somehow lurking on some dark metal blog these two songs absolutely exploded in my headphones and had me immediately pestering dyxz to audition them over the speakers. i can still vividly recall the looks on our faces as we were visibly shaken by the near-impossible magnificence of these utterly ruthless compositions. i have been a keen follower of the heaviest of sounds for more than twenty-years now, but the devastation of ‘heroin swirls’ and ‘street labs’ really did instill in me the kind of excitement i felt when first hearing ‘seasons in the abyss’ echo from within my sisters bedroom as a very young man. still, how a lovely sense of nostalgic pride washed over me to discover that they are a young set of gentlemen hailing from birmingham, uk; the birthplace of all that is metal; a fitting fact indeed. i hear tell that the debut album shall soon be upon us and how i’m honestly not sure that i have anticipated a metal release quite so heavily. if you like your death / doom / sludge / grind, then you need this. you really need this.
laska – laska
how very warming a feeling to be able to include a decorative stamp release on this list indeed, and what a majestic one too. i had been privy to the goings-on at the newly-formed laska camp and was keen to learn that their debut release was nearing completion and simply had to find myself asking very nicely if we could release it in conjunction with the stamp, and how graciously they did agree. three songs that hint at such vast worlds beyond, all shimmering with such a warm beauty; the perfect melodic work of rhys and amy, their magical twin-voices working in perfect unison and the whole being so effortless shaped together by the unbeatable treatments of the mighty beatoven. how the whole release gives me such a strong sense of some kind of identity that could be prescribed to modern electronic music hailing from the united kingdom, but which resonates with a tone of borderless understanding. of course, the always-staggering lyrics of rhys never fail to add the needed gravitas to such a release, and how their accents sure are pretty, but it is the way that the trio operate together, each displaying their greatest strengths that secures this outing a place in this list. wonderfully soothing, perfectly brooding, effortlessly hypnotic; magical indeed.
ghostface killah – twelve reasons to die
this year of our lord 2013 did indeed mark the twentieth anniversary release of the ’36 chambers’ and thusly marked my twentieth anniversary of being an undying fan of the ghostface killah, and what better way to be able to cherish this fact than revel in what quickly became one of my absolute favourite solo releases from the god himself. whilst the rest of the clan steadily let themselves descend into painful mediocrity i have always found myself to be very keen to hear what is to emerge next from ghostface and how ‘twelve reasons to die’ was a real treat indeed. forgiving the slightly hackneyed plot of this ‘concept album’, which is not so overbearing to detract from the whole, the release flows with such energy and gusto that one simply cannot help but be swept up in this new set of street tales which he unfolds. a great part of the credit must of course be given to one adrian younge for serving up some utterly staggering production that has the album hang together as the perfect foundation for ghostface to do his thing, made even more powerful by what appear to be genuinely enthused guest-spots from other members of the clan. still further, there is a wonderfully experimental nature to the release with some passages sounding truly bizarre; another welcome addition to the overall work. not world-changing, by wonderfully entertaining, and easily securing itself a place on this list.
run the jewels – run the jewels
i did find myself just a little late to the run the jewels party, but clearly needed to make my way there in my own time. as much as a few songs from the last el-p album really blew me away, i wasn’t feeling the whole release quite enough to get so very excited, and how i regrettably slept on killer mike’s ‘r.a.p music’, a fact which i have very gladly managed to remedy, which finally lead me full-circle onto this stunning release. now that the curious-surprise of el-p and killer mike joining forces is quite some ways behind us, all that is left is to marvel at how magical a combination they are together indeed. i am, of course, one of many graduates from the school of ‘funcrusher plus’ and have been a keen el-p listener since my late-teens and am always ready to hear his latest musical developments, and how this release is yet another fascinating excursion further into his steadily-evolving sound; always captivating and setting a masterful stage for raps that need to be very high quality to maintain the balance. gladly both gentlemen really do offer us some wonderfully captivating wordplay that does indeed keep the attention-level high at all times. this is the kind of quality that we should be able to expect from such hard-working artists and how reassuring and enjoyable that they should indeed deliver on such a scale.
the knife – shaking the habitual
a new album from the knife is always going to be a big deal, and how they are always guaranteed to confound, to mesmerise and to push boundaries as far as their immense reputation will allow. from the arc of their releases thusfar it would have been fair to predict that this latest album would be the ‘darkest’ and ‘weirdest’ yet and, to that end they certainly don’t dissapoint, but could any of us have been prepared for just quite how dark and weird it really is? one could even perhaps be forgiven for thinking that they really are just messing with us, given the utterly appalling album artwork, the audacious running-time and the bizarre juxtaposition of sounds, melodies and texts that make up this powerful collection. but, once allowing oneself to slowly soak up this immense body of work, the initial doubt, confusion and turmoil gives way to something incredible powerful, emotive and beautiful; masterstrokes indeed. i would be very willing to admit that this is quite easily the ‘most-challenging’ release on this list and really does demand a lot from the listener, but how wonderfully paradoxical that the most cerebral, most dense, most demanding release on this list is the only one that might find itself filed in the ‘dance’ section. joy.
my bloody valentine – mbv
any new release from my bloody valentine would surely guarantee its place on absolutely all end-of-year lists, even if it was only for the sake of hip-journalists trying desperately to cover their backs, but how they did indeed manage to unveil a ‘new’ collection of songs which does only serve to cement their reputation at the undisputed and much-imitated masters of shoegaze. the fact that the lions share of the material was written and perhaps even recorded but a few years after ‘bloody kisses’ can only be seen as a strong feature of this release. how the sound of their much-hallowed second album was so distinctive that the only way to perhaps satisfy listeners with a sequel would be to return directly to that source and continue to mine the depths therein, and how this release does exactly that; and somewhat effortlessly, it seems. mbv gets it exactly right, it is the perfect continuation of what we have all loved about the band for so long now, and only branches out a little into newer territory, enough to feel there has been a little development upon the path, but not too much to allow us to sense that they have wandered off in some direction influenced by the myriad on imitators that have taken their place in the intervening years. like stepping into the past, but through a new lens, somehow seeing everything splendid and anew.
dale cooper & the dictaphones – quatorze pièces de menace
another keenly anticipated release for this year, and one that did not disappoint. having been tuned onto the sounds of dale cooper & the dictaphones many years ago by the mighty fbcfabric, i have always been quick to reach for their music on frequent occasion and was thus over-the-moon to hear of fresh material on the horizon in the form of this new, sprawling release. once again we return to that effortlessly uneasy nocturnal world in which they invoke, and once again they slowly managed to expand the reach of their musical-magics by way of steadily drawing in more and more styles and feelings whilst still maintaining their own signature variant of the dark-jazz sound, as perfected by the masterful angelo badalamenti those long years ago now. still, here as with all their releases, it is the crisp and calculating electronic edge that pushes the whole in its own identifiable direction, and with such an ambitious running-time there is opportunity aplenty for them to explore their ever-altering whole to oftentimes mesmerising effect. how i sincerely hope that they may indeed be able to extend their listenership wider-still with this highly-polished release, that many more folk will be able to discover the delights of this powerful group of musicians.
walter gross – rotorcraft
utter, unspeakable devastation, always. walter gross is a name synonymous with monolithic noise terror, and rightly-so. anyone even vaguely interested in the possibities of sonic devastation within a beat context really ought accept that he has, by now, become a true master of the art indeed. how fortunate i found myself to be back in the spring to be able to play a show alongside the man himself at the legendary djazz in duisburg, north-west germany, and was treated to an utterly-relentless assault of a live performance which included cuts from this mighty release, and did indeed gratefully receive a copy of the release itself as a kind gift, for which i shall be eternally-grateful. ‘rotorcraft’ is an absolute bloody-mess of a release, spewing its gnarled and twisted guts all over the soundstage in horrific display after horrific display or sprawling noise-terror and frightening audio-threats, as if some kind of surreal nightmare with an all-too-real blackened core ready to burrow its way out into the waking day with each new distorted vocal-tone. this is scarcely music, more like some biologic-weaponry developed with the intent of purging sanity from fragile minds. one for anyone brave, or adept enough to travel to the darkest of regions.
so, there we have it. another wonderfully-mixed bag indeed; a little something for everyone perhaps. still, might i heartily recommend you investigate anything that tickles your fancy, as i will wholeheartedly stand by my opinion that each of the above releases is of the absolute highest quality indeed and without a doubt worth a good deal of your listening time.
again, thank you muchly for your time and attention, and how i do trust you might be finding yourself inspired to do a little investigation or re-celebrating from your own archives of the last year, and do expect a final list of ‘honourable mentions’ to follow; celebrating just a few more releases that i had to force myself to strip away from this short-list selection.