10-6 of The Records of the Year of My Choosing

It’s the top 10! Which feels significant because our mathematics is predicated on a decimal base! Because we’ve got 10 fingers! How many fingers will we have in the future?

10 Deerhunter – Monomania

Deerhunter have produced excellent albums from day one, but it took Monomaniafor me to appreciate them as more than just another decent guitar band.

It’s a weird turn in their discography and one that could have come across as too self-aware and corny, in the sense that there’s a new braggadocio in their style and posturing in the lyrics that is, essentially, an introspective indie band playing at being proper rock ‘n’ roll.

But, in the stripping away of their noisy/ambient characteristics and the dreamy romanticism of Halcyon Digest they demonstrate the same attention to detail and texture, albeit applied to engineering a grinding, sleazy sensibility full of sawing guitars and delayed vocals. It’s like a studied exercise in notching up classic rock references (shitty bars, neon lights, leather jackets, motorbikes) that manages to appear both postmodern/wryly humorous and immediately believable.

Tracks like T.H.M. showcase their ability to encapsulate simplistic cool (an excellent bassline always helps), while Back to the Middle is a shit-hot garage pop tune and The Missing nods back to previous albums’ indie balladry.

9 Powell – Untitled EP

Powell makes the kind of music I’d make if I made music.

I think Boomkat described it as ‘techno for people who like rock and rock for people who like techno’, and I agree. This sense is largely produced by the extensive use of No Wave samples and Powell’s narrow but signature palette of drum sounds and effects – it satisfyingly combines a knowledge of its underground heritage with a rawness in its surface and a neck-snapping rhythm that places it in that murky territory between dance and rock.

Techno, at one extreme, can be obsessed with production and structure in such a way that it consistently ossifies conventions and appeals to tutting specialists who wear expensive headphones.

Rock can also too easily forget the importance of dancing, hypnotic rhythm and the texture of sound – but No Wave and Powell shrug off those potential flaws in both genres, with No Wave artists introducing repetitive rhythm and electronic noises to a punk shell and Powell reinserting the punk aesthetic into the often mechanically flawless surface of techno.

It results in a really filthy industrialism that’s got way more swing than much that’s previously been released under that banner – A Bandbeing a fine example of an almost funky rhythm being wrought from clangs and clatters, and stand-out track Oh No New York directly referencing its No Wave heritage with foot-stomping beats, steampunk hisses and dissonant synth buzzes.

I say it’s the kind of music I’d make because I love this fusion of Industrial dirt, sonic innovation and rock ‘n’ roll abandon, but also because that punk aesthetic feels inexpensive, DIY and approachable in that it wrenches something admirable from simple and unassuming components.

8 Vatican Shadow – When You Are Crawling / Remember Your Black Day

Dominick Fernow is no shrinking violet. As Prurient, he makes uncompromising Noise with a ferociously political performative aspect and he has explored the nexus of ritualistic spirituality and mass murder in his guise as Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement.

As Vatican Shadow, Fernow continues his commitment to imbuing traditionally nihilistic and self-contained genres with an explicit content. In this case, he utilises the repetitious and structured nature of techno to invoke the conformity, relentlessness and violence of the military-industrial complex.

The success of this project could be called into question since, ostensibly, the legibility of his message appears to rely on the excellent imagery on his album covers and the poignant and evocative track titles (Contractor Corpses Hung over the Euphrates River,Jet Fumes Above the Reflecting Pool). Nevertheless, the music manages to capture something of that weird marriage of beauty and horror in military imagery through wrenching some melancholic resonance out of industrial soundscapes.

There’s an element of satire in the use of sonic aesthetics that might just about fit in a Call of Duty soundtrack, but they’re lent a sinister malevolence that brings a reflective quality. The collagistic anti-propaganda that was explicit in the early cassette releases has matured into a subtle atmosphere of distant dread – of atrocities committed far away that scratch at the Western conscience.

When You Are Crawling is an EP that acts as something of an addendum to the full-length Remember Your Black Day and – with Silent Servant getting production credits – it packs a more immediate punch as out-and-out techno.

 

Both releases, taken together, present a compelling, thoughtful and resonant body of work that navigates a minefield of extremely serious subjects.

There are few people attempting such high-minded, coherent and controversial music around; it’s extremely hard to ignore.

7 Laurel Halo – Chance of Rain

I have to admit, I didn’t quite get Laurel Halo before. I found Hour Logic a bit stark and disjointed and, although I appreciated Quarantine’s scope and originality, it left me cold.

Chance of Rain adds a lot of physical depth and some darker shades to Halo’s sound, giving it far more traction than previous efforts. She’s removed the vocals that were foregrounded in Quarantine, but the album somehow presents a more engaging face and, true to its place in Hyperdub’s stable, adopts a more rhythmic focus.

The title track’s a belter, perfectly encapsulating everything that works about this album. High tempo kick drums are given a huge amount of momentum by filtered arpeggiations that climb up and down in the mix – and it’s given some serious bite by whip-crack snares that sustain throughout – but the whole thing segues into a melancholy keyboard phrase that sounds like it’s been lifted out of In a Silent Way.

The entire album revels in this sort of oscillation; between hard-edged metallic sounds that are expertly modelled into jittery digital rhythms and a warm, blue-filtered jazz sensibility that only occasionally flickers into view.

The album comes across, therefore, as lurking in that territory where the bleak landscape of fragmented digitalia and mechanical dance music – disjointed rhythms and stark sounds (think Mouse on Mars circa Glam) – meets an irrepressible musicality. It’s easy to identify the former with sinister, mindless process and the latter with human warmth and creativity, but Halo brilliantly blurs these distinctions by delighting in the rapturous possibilities of anonymous sounds.

6 My Bloody Valentine – m b v

Probably the only reason this isn’t higher in the list is that it was so bloody late and I’ve penalised it for tardiness. Some of the textures and influences on this album do sound too 90s for an album that was released in 2013 (like the vaguely D&B clamour of Wonder 2), giving the whole thing an atmosphere of curious distance.

But My Bloody Valentine transcends all that nonsense about time and space. Coming after 17 years of Shields’ digestion and monkish crafting, m b vblew most other records in 2013 out of the water; it hopefully made swathes of half-arsed indie bands realise that transcendental aural experiences can make people physically shit themselves, and that they should be attempting to elicit this most flattering of responses from their listeners too.

Some of the tracks on this album are up there with moments on Loveless, and I really didn’t expect that. Who Sees You achieves that characteristically stirring, queasy beauty that can make both tears and blood stream down your face like Eisenstein’s screaming nurse, and If I Am manages to sustain a real groove behind its ephemeral vocals and gorgeously subtle guitar line.

Nothing Is takes the record somewhere a little different, spearheading its riotous close. Something of Shields’ love for balls-out rock ‘n’ roll creeps out here and it’s the only track I actually remember from witnessing them live (virtually unconscious for 80% of the gig). I remember the stage looked like the mouth of hell and I was about as happy as I’ve ever been.

_______________________

There ya go; eat yer cauliflower and you’ll get the next lot fer afters…

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