Here’s the the list of all the albums that have either been on constant rotation throughout the year or albums I felt that were absolutely incredible by either being musically or emotionally engaging and well thought-out. So here is the first half of my AOTY list!
30. Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat
If you’re a fan of Liz Harris’ work, you pretty much know what to expect from a new release from her – she rarely strays far from the path of her signature acoustic-drone, intertwined with haunting melodies and reverbed vocals. Even though the atmosphere on “The Man Who Died In His Boat” isn’t all that much different to her 2008 album “Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill”, it still hits equally as hard and doesn’t suffer from the repetition (of the musical approach) you might feel from the similarity between both albums. It’s absolutely haunting.
29. Forest Swords – Engravings
2013 was a great year for electronic music, personally. Forest Swords is one of the many artists that managed to impress me massively within the last twelve months. “Forest Swords” is a debut that pulls heavy influence from both the tempo of dub music and traditional Japanese instrumentation – never parodying either – and creating something both refreshing and interesting. Each track is layered intricately and runs as natural as can be and it’s easy to feel yourself zoning out while it’s on. It’ll be very interesting to see where Matthew Barnes follows this up.
28. Sex Prisoner – Sex Prisoner
If the name doesn’t give it away, this isn’t the kind of album you’ll probably listen to in this festive season… unless, like me, you’re in a constant need of aggressive music! Sex Prisoner not only have a brash name but also provide some of the hardest hitting powerviolence you’ll have heard in recent years (along with ACxDC; whom they did a three-way split with along with Magnum Force). Pure fury and seething aggression wrapped up in fast and heavy riffs with very short injections of power electronics, all wrapped up in just over ten minutes. Nice!
27. Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons To Die
As opposed to my comment earlier about 2013 being a good year for electronic music, I thought hip-hop really suffered, especially in comparison with the last two years. However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t any good releases to come out of the genre, in fact, Ghostface Killah’s “Twelve Reasons To Die” was constantly blasting in my ears for at least a month on a daily basis. Ghostface still claims the crown for being a great storyteller and engaging rapper. You can read my review of it here.
26. Vatican Shadow – Remember Your Black Day
Vatican Shadow is still relatively new to me but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m currently addicted to his cold, dark, no-nonsense beats. Imagine if George Bush hadn’t had his time as President cut down by legalities and pursued ‘the war on terrorism’ in the Middle-East for another fifty years – this (and most of Vatican Shadow’s music for that matter) would be the soundtrack to the absolute despair and destruction to come out of it. By no means a gamechanger in electronic music, but definitely something worth checking out for any of the genre’s fans.
25. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty
Genre: Experimental/Folk/Gothic Rock
Chelsea Wolfe, whose reputation has been souring since the release of “Ἀποκάλυψις” in 2010, managed to surprise and please most of her fans with this release. Perhaps not so brooding and hopeless as her 2010 release, the album still retains a strong dark vibe while experimenting more with electronics (especially with Feral Love, Kings and Reins) and garage rock influences (Destruction Makes The World Burn Brighter). While this didn’t feel cohesive or as much an engaging album as “Ἀποκάλυψις”, I still enjoyed it a lot.
24. Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
Along with Ghostface Killah, Chance The Rapper’s second mixtape “Acid Rap” was constantly played for several weeks. Bizarre, entertaining yet undoubtedly clever, this release just pushes boundaries and discards the ‘norm’, opting for hyperactive and borderline ADHD vocals and beats, unpredictable direction changes and supplying both philosophical subject matters and pure party songs. Chance The Rapper really grabbed a lot of attention and it’s hard to imagine him letting it go after something like this. I can’t wait for future releases from this guy. You can read my short review of this release here.
23. Russian Circles – Memorial
While I’ve always enjoyed Russian Circles’ music, they haven’t really blown me away or made me slam the repeat button since their 2008 album “Station”… however, the atmospheres they build on this album has revived my interest and “Memorial” is a work of sheer beauty. Cascading melodies, charging rhythms, anxiety inducing build-ups and technical riffs are aplenty here and proves that originality is still strong in post-rock music. However, the highlight on this album is the title track that rounds the album off nicely, featuring fellow Sargeant House labelmate Chelsea Wolfe providing mournful vocals – the mixture of Russian Circles and Wolfe is a magical one, and only makes you hope they collaborate again in the future.
22. Grails – Black Tar Prophecies Vol’s 4, 5 & 6
Genre: Psychedelic Rock/Experimental/Instrumental
Although this is basically a compilation of the individual “Black Tar Prophecies” releases since the first compilation in 2006, this really just works well as a flowing album. The tracks all work well together and supplies a journey through different styles and soundscapes fluently. Mostly concentrating on soft and delicate sounds rather than huge and bombastic parades, you find yourself falling in and out of trances often throughout the whole thing, and you want to repeat the process again as soon as it ends. Just a real nice soother.
21. OvO – Abisso
Genre: Noise Rock/Experimental
Now this album is a different thing altogether: don’t expect to feel comfortable or safe while this is on, don’t assume that the band is going to leave you go untouched (or even untainted) at any moment. “Abisso” is a rabid beast playing with its pray in a tropical forest, teasing you both physically and mentally. Tracks like Tokoloshi and I Cannibali chase you down, as the latter track repeats ‘You can’t run away’, while tracks like A Dream Within A Dream (featuring Khanate and Gnaw’s shrieker Alan Dubin) and Abisso will scar you and leave you terrified, shivering at the memory of what just happened, covered in the hunter’s saliva. If you enjoy music that makes you feel in danger and unnerved, then this is unmissable.
Favourite tracks: I Cannibali, A Dream Within A Dream, Pandemonio.
20. Ulver – Messes I.X-VI.X
Admittedly, I’m only really a fan of Ulver’s ambient/electronic stuff… their style of black metal doesn’t appeal to me so much and I never really care much for their folk or classic rock throwbacks either. Their ambient stuff however is a different matter. On this release, Ulver adopts the help of an orchestra which results in some moving and beautiful soundscapes – feelings of loss, despair, hope and courage stir into one another through the tracks. While I’m usually a bit cynical of Ulver’s vocals too, they really don’t bother me on this release and fit well in the context of the album. This is probably something fans of post-rock might enjoy too, there’s some great composition on this.
Favourite tracks: As Syrians Pour In, Lebanon Grapples With Ghosts of a Bloody Past, Glamour Box, Son of Man.
19. Cloud Rat – Moksha
Cloud Rat, yet again, brings out another stellar release; whether they’ll ever bring out a ‘bad’ album is looking as unlikely as ever. How they keep managing to mix and balance pure aggression and hatred with catchy riffs and screamed (yet intelligable) vocals is beyond me and it’s surprising that Cloud Rat isn’t getting as much attention as they deserve. As usual, they switch up between grind and emotional hardcore smoothly and neither outweighs the other. This album does feature clean vocals for the first time (as far as I can remember in their discography) on Infinity Chasm and their cover of Neil Young’s The Needle And The Damage Done, and it works well. Just another flawless album by the trio.
18. Oathbreaker – Eros|Anteros
Genre: Hardcore/Black Metal/Sludge
Okay, so this band isn’t straightfoward with any genres: they mesh the above genres in a monster where the ancestry isn’t clear at all, and that’s great in my opinion. Although they have the overall fast and heavy hardcore vibe, they fluently go into black metal tremolo riffs and blastbeats, and can just as easily slow down to a thick sludge pace. Vocalist Caro Tanghe can switch between throat-ripping screams to clean singing flawlessly and the mixture of both on this album works well, never even looking toward the cheesy and predictable direction that most bands who attempt to mix either fall into. I was admittedly cynical about checking Oathbreaker out when this was released and only did so in November… I’ve been kicking myself ever since.
17. Yellow Eyes – Hammer of Night
Genre: Black Metal / Atmospheric Black Metal
Deafheaven has definitely overshadowed a lot of releases in black metal, especially those who bring outside influences. While Wildernessking was one of my favourite discoveries as one of those types of bands last year with “The Writing Of Gods In The Sand”; Yellow Eyes takes up the same position in mind for 2013 with this “Hammer Of Night”. Black metal is their genre, no doubt about it, but you can’t help but feel that there might be some sort of influences from shoegaze and progressive metal/rock in here, although no way as obvious as you might think reading that… it’s hard to describe. If you’re looking for a black metal band that’s not comfortable with regurgitating the same boring riffs and routines as traditional black metal, then give these guys a go. Really promising stuff.
16. Black Swan – Redemption
Genre: Drone / Ambient
Black Swan seems to have been pretty busy this year with releasing a single track, releasing their pre-Black Swan/previously unreleased tribute album to KLF and releasing this album (as well as announcing another album for next year). This piece of beauty is a lengthy travel through mostly mellow but loud drones; with the occasional burst of sudden musical samples. I’m not sure what the theme is here, but much like The Haxan Cloak’s “Excavation”, it feels like the soundtrack to a spiritual journey after death, going through the dark and the light. If you’re general fan of drone or ambient music, then this is a must for 2013. You can read my short review of it here.
Favourite tracks: Ascension, Black Horizon, Evermore.