Over the past week I have highlighted my favourite albums of the year I thought i would now condense them all into one blog post for easy access to those who haven’t been following along at the time and for prosperity.
Here are my seven favourite albums this year:
There have been so many fantastic albums this year it’s been hard to work out what would appear in my list however one thing was clear over a month ago. Trouble Will Find Me would be at the top.
In this album The National have shown a maturity that’s only possible from experience. Every track is beautifully crafted and manages to straggle the fine line between complexity and accessibility. On first listen I was hooked on its often simple melodies but through repeat listens there is a level of quality in each tracks construction which makes the album still fresh months later. Using a traditional rock band setup they’ve managed to shake things up with song structures and time signatures not usually found in the genre. These never come across as obtuse instead always complimentary to the album and the tracks.
Complimentary is the perfect word to describe the whole creation and production of this album. This is a band with years of experience as a unit, who throughout that time have developed an understanding of their group dynamic. Everything works so well because each part feels like it’s complimenting the whole, not trying to compete with it. At no point in the album could I think of a piece of instrumentation or vocal that doesn’t aid to the track and I never feel that more should be added.
The National have managed to create an album full of tracks which I wouldn’t change in any way, I would stretch so far to say they’re perfect. Over the years they have managed to become unique in a genre standardised by most acts with wry baritone lyrics entwined with broody instrumentation. Trouble Will Find Me continues this tradition and feels like the culmination of it’s development. It’s my album of the year.
The Watchers is a completely improvised work between James Blackshaw on a twelve string acoustic guitar and Lubomyr Melnyk on Piano. The album was recorded in one day with at most two takes on each of the four tracks being made. In between songs James Blackshaw would set his guitar to a random tuning and start to improvise with Lubomyr Melnyk. It’s this unique method of creation that makes the album truly inspiring.
It’s a sign of both musicians skill that this improvisational approach not only works but sounds great as well. All the tracks seem to drift through melodies and chord progressions as both musicians try to find common ground between the piano and guitar tuning. As the listener your treated to music that washes over you with developing structures that slowly over each piece become more complete.
The albums ability to give you as much as you want to take from it makes it versatile in many situations. It will quite easily play subtly in the background but if you allow yourself to be submerged in its world it reveals itself to be a true gem. An album which showcases above all else creativity in its rawest, impulsive and exciting form.
On the opening and title track of this album. James Blake with Overgrown shows his hand and it’s a winning one.
This whole album focuses on subtlety in its sound design. Most of the tracks are focused and stripped down to their essence which then makes the listener more susceptible to the smallest of changes. A perfect example of which is in Overgrown the track you can hear below. The rolling cymbal sound with underlying string and synth section hit like the finest dance floor drop and on repeat listens have the same effect. The whole track is building to this moment and when it arrives it gives me that hairs on the back of your neck feeling that only great music can do.
As the album progresses this feel of well placed care and attention to the tracks is prevalent throughout. The influences are many with gospel and blues being the highlights but these are then shifted through the ideology of a modern bedroom producer and we’re left with something that manages to look into the past, present and with many modern acts being influenced by James Blake it could be a sign of things to come.
The fact that an album primarily recorded and mixed by one man alone in his bedroom can win the mercury music prize is proof that the music is changing with the times. Technology is the forefront now and great stuff is coming out of the fears that the music “industry” had so prominently in the late 90’s. It may be loosing its hefty business model but if albums like Overgrown are a side effect I hope things continue this way.
With a name like Oneohthrix Point Never you would expect something different from this artist and his work doesn’t disappoint. In fact trying to describe what Daniel Lopatin does is going to be pretty hard other than to class it under the vast umbrella of the genre electronica. If i strip it down to its fundamentals I would say that all of his music is derived from the heavy use of sampling and synthesisers but other than that his sound is truly unique.
What I can say is Daniel Lopatin could definitely be classified as an auteur. Although he samples and uses instruments that make each album sound completely individual. The way he programmes and produces the textures he uses all have his style etched into them. He doesn’t usually fit into a model of musical structure that were used to and melodies are usually sparse and rarely last a whole track. This makes his work, at first, hard to grasp. In fact I still find a lot of it perplexing. It’s this almost riddle like nature in his work that keeps me coming back to it time and time again.
R Plus Seven certainly holds the traditions of his previous work but i would say that this time the textures he has chosen to use are far more accessible. The use of choir like samples and syth pads are definitely the trademark of the album, which is a little more melodic and softer around the edges. For me this makes the album a perfect place to start for someone who wants to listen to his work for the first time. It introduces you to the his world but gives you a comfortable platform to stand on.
I will make a promise that anyone who listens to this album will like at least a part of it. Simply on the basis that there are so many different textures and melodies in its play time that it will be hard not to find one thing you like, even if it only lasts for 20 seconds. The album manages to sound mournful, playful, uplifting, ominous, relaxing and confusing and in some instances all of them within a few minutes. A perfect example of this is Problem Areas which is the track I have included below.
So were left with an album that seems to do what it wants, only fits into convention when it needs to and is continuously subverting and overstepping the boundaries it creates. It won’t be for everyone but for those who say that every thing’s been done in music, I would like to use this as a contradiction.
If you consider yourself open and interested in music and haven’t made your mind up by giving Onohtrix Point Never a serious listen then you owe it to yourself. Hopefully like me you will start by being hooked by small sections before you slowly succumb to the whole thing. Refreshing and Confusing, a constant contradiction to any preconceptions of what music can be. R Plus Seven deserves its place in any album of the year list.
It’s rare to see artists take big risks as they become more successful. Especially when they reach the stratospheric status of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter who’s robot alter egos Daft Punk are universally iconic the world over.
The album Discovery is a classic and will be looked on in years to come as game changer because it influenced so many up and coming indy musicians to drop guitars and pick up synthesisers. An argument could be made that it started the renaissance in synthesis which is now prevalent in all pop music.
Since discovery there was human after all which had its moments and a live album which mixed their previous work. Followed up by a long void of releases whilst they worked on the tron legacy soundtrack and random access memories.
So after an 8 year wait what have they created? Daft Punks routes are based in French House A genre you which unabashedly takes influence from other genres often seen as out dated or unfashionable but handles them with such a reverence that they become cool again. Random access memories handles Disco with this reverence. Care and attention has been put into bringing us back to a sound of the 70’s, the whole album shines with the infectious positivity and optimism that still makes the genre poplar to this day.
But it isn’t purely disco trough the eyes of modern house producers who have done a bit of film scoring (although that features). Daft Punk throw their credibility and money around and get lynchpins of the genre to collaborate on the album especially the work of Nile Rodgers who’s iconic guitar sound is prominent throughout And Georgeo Maroda who’s synth sound, voice and name are featured. Add to that many modern producers/performers who add new ideas to the mix and production that is simply sublime. Daft Punk manage to crate something that couldn’t have been achieved by any other artist. A love letter to Disco that manages to go above and beyond that, into a classic in its own right.
Touch demonstrate the scale of this achievement and can be heard below:
Berlin has always been tied to the electronic development of many artists, whether they be fully fledged pop stars looking for a creative change or new artists developing their trade. Berlin is considered by many as a mecca of the wide swath of genre that encapsulate electronica.
Moderat is the collaboration between two heavy hitters of Berlins prolific electronic music world. Apparat who creates an atmospheric mix of the organic and electronic and Modeselektor who fall into a more electronic dance orientated groove. Together they have managed on two occasions to blend together their ideologies into new and exiting music. Driven by the rougher edge danced based percussion of Modeslektor mixed in with the organic instrumental textures, electronic synth pads and vocals of apparat.
This works because Apparat and Modeselektor have common ground, both are known for their experemental use of sound design throughout their tracks. Often turing found sounds and wildtracks into drum kits and background textures. This attention to detail gives us allot more to contemplate when listening to their music and on Moderat II we hear the same. Tracks will always have beds of interesting sounds bubbling underneath, adding to the overall feel of the album and the individual tracks.
Moderat II is also a perfect example of production as an instrument. All three musicians are virtuosos of the studio and On Tracks Like Damage Done, the isolated aesthetic of the overall track is aided by the use of tape delay echo and cold reverbs that add just as much for me as the instrumentation does.
If you want to hear an album that is at the forefront of berlin based electronica Moderat II covers this perfectly with a collection of varied tracks that manage to showpiece the best parts of modern electronica and production and yet come together to form an overall experience.
From the Opening intro melody of Tomorrows Harvest you can tell boards of Canada are back. It’s been eight years since their last album the campfire headphase and it was worth the wait.
BOC were a pioneering part of the IDM scene in the 90’s. Their dreamlike sound design and use of sampling made them one of the cornerstones of the genre. But their sound (although highly influential) has always belonged to them. Tomorrows Harvest replicates this sound all over again and will fit nicely into their back catalogue but still has some new ideas that keep it fresh and interesting. Synthesizers are very much the forefront to Tomorrows Harvest. Looped samples of more traditional instruments have taken a side line on the most part, with the music beds being made this time from drone and pad sounds giving the album a more ambient dreamlike feel overall.
This is where BOC excel. To me their music feels like when you wake up from a dream but can’t quite remember what happened or whether it was a nightmare. Their music constantly hints at feelings but rarely brigs them to the forefront of the track. There’s always an underlying feeling of something dark lurking in the albums shadows. What cuts through these ambiguous textures is the heavily processed drum patterns, chopped and sequenced to perfection which drive all the tracks forward.
Tomorrows Harvest manages slip into your subconscious and buries itself there. With repeat listens the album starts to feel like its been there all along. You get a continuous feeling that your about to uncover and understand it and yet its constantly evading you which makes it a captivating piece of work.
Every year it gets harder to decide my 5 albums. It’s got to a state where I would have felt guilty to leave out a few, so i will include them as notable mentions throughout the week. I have managed to round them all down to seven albums in total. So my notable mentions will be over the next two days and then following that we will get into my favourite five before I finish with my album of the year on new years day.
This year has seen some heavy hitters and more unexpected contenders for my list. But one thing that’s becoming clear is the development of technology and its influence in the music industry.
I’m not just talking about the proliferation of synthesis into the mainstream in the past few years. Technology is shaping the way modern music is being created and developed from every angle in the same way that stereo or the 8 track recorder revolutionised how music was made in the past. Only this time it isn’t just one technological advancement but many that are making the future of music as exiting and fresh as it has ever been.
We can start with the fundamentals, creating music to a standard that would be considered studio grade ten years ago can now be done at a cost open to any enthusiast. Quite simply the bar to low-end technology is increasing at such a rate that even the cheapest equipment is of a standard that takes itself out of the equation and leaves the producer/musician to make music of a “professional quality”. Production terminology such as “lofi” now exist purely as a choice in style rather than an end to a means. Because this barrier has been lowered, anyone can create music no matter how inaccessible or unique and with the wonder of the internet it can be available to anyone who can find it.
The internet is also fundamental in the development of new acts, The entirety of all music recorded is available online if your willing to look hard enough and this allows modern artists and producers to be influenced by Music they simply wouldn’t have had access to in the past.
So were left with artists who have a greater knowledge of the history of music to source from, who can create anything they want on a budget available to them and with a method of distribution that doesn’t require any third-party support. This is the future of music, It may not be as commercially viable as it was in the past and it may be hard to find the stuff you want to hear but I would happily sacrifice that convenience for variety. Over the next week i will highlight the albums that have struck a chord with me the most over the previous year and try to explain why they do. All the albums I write about are worth your time, So give the articles a read and if you like what you read give them a listen.