The beginning of 2013 is as good a landmark as any to begin a return to music making and creativity. But the top-ten lists that crowded the Web in the last couple of weeks may not be your best guide. Instead of working out what’s “best,” we invited CDM’s music contributor Matt Earp, aka artist Kid Kameleon, to let us know what music found a permanent home in his music library – not just streaming, not just a one-time listen, but repeat performances. That seems an ideal way to give yourself some listening inspiration to fight the darkness (in some parts of the world) and celebrate a new year. -Ed.
End-of-the-year lists are so subjective that they’re almost laughable. The enjoyment of music is the ultimate subjective human experience; often, the only thing end of year lists tell the reader is how the writer accesses/listens to/thinks about/consumes music. (For a fun rip on it, check out Flavorwire’s article Stereotyping You by Your Favorite Album of 2012.)
So the list below is not a “best of,” and it’s necessarily biased based on music listening habits. With that being said, it is a list of ten of my favorite musical discoveries, among the thousands that came my way in 2012. By “discoveries,” here I mean everything from albums to labels to tracks to even groups of labels and artists. They’re the “tangible” musical elements that found their way into my music library and brain in 2012 that I revisit again and again in 2013 and beyond. They also exemplify the intangible things that I loved about this year, be it energy and presentation (Astro Nautico), innovation (Jeri Jeri), or timeliness (Alex Under).
Please add your thoughts in the comments – and shout out artists or projects that changed your world for the better in 2012.
My favorite crew of the year. Brash, young, funny, inchoate, awesome web label / blog / events out of New York that give me serious hope for that city. If you love animated GIFs, this is the label for you. It’s run by a great trio of artists – Kuhn, Obey City, and Paul Jones – all of whom had awesome releases both on and off the label. The description Civil Music gives Kuhn’s Kings EP applies to much of the stuff on Astro Nautico: “Uptempo club tracks with an eclectic sampling palette and Footwork-inspired rhythmic complexities.” But Astro Nautico releases add in lots of head-nod-y tracks as well. Label friends include The Range, Howse, Time Wharp, Moist Ghost, Space Ghost, Dreams, Jacob 2-2, Abel, Raja and a bunch of others, and all are pushing boundaries by still making coherent stuff you want to listen to again and again. The label’s Atlantics Vol. 2 and their joint comp 7×7, produced with Tokyo’s Day Tripper, are great entry points.
Sound Healers 2 and Terrain from Raised By Records
This is my attempt to shout out about 50 artists at once, because they collectively are creating my favorite sound/movement of the year, but one that’s incredibly difficult to describe and definitely does not have a name yet. Their sound is all about extremely precise little musical noises, compiled together and then heaped on top of each other in a jumble. Its genre roots are definitely 1) instrumental hip-hop and 2) post-post-post dubstep. It’s got a healthy dose of the beautiful in it, but there’s tension as well. Some of it stretches into dance-y club domain, but most of it is listening stuff. It’s post-Fly Lo, if you took his music, froze it liquid nitrogen, shattered it with a hammer, then tried to glue only half the shards back together again into a sculpture. Lots of it is utterly brilliant, and the two comps above are the best places to start. Bambooman compiled both volumes of Sound Healers and he deserves a medal as curator of the year for his seemingly humble work gluing much of this scene, such as it is, together (he even found time to put out a full length LP in February). Three other artists in the genre deserving honorable mention – Crewdson, YoggyOne, and B-Ju. It’s worth investigating their entire catalogs. And of those not listed elsewhere below, check out Zack Christ, Kwala, Soosh, Empt, Memotone, and Manni Dee.
Borealis – Voidness
My favorite album of the year, period. Jesse Somfay is an elusive Canadian who makes incredibly emotional music of the highest caliber, and in some of the most interesting ways. I’ve joked that Voidness is the album I wished Burial had made – there’s something about the way the raw-but-muted emotion is conveyed on Voidness that seems infinitely more interesting to me than stolen wisps of RnB that make people gush about the Hyperdub star, although in many ways it covers roughly the same terrain. Borealis even manages to convey an epic-ness to his work that I don’t find annoying, like he’s created a project that’s worth being grand. A stellar pack of 16 remixes both proceeded and followed this album, all on Origami sound (see below) and all worth checking out. For an even more intense version of his stuff, check out his Flourish moniker, but definitely know you’re getting into synth-madness land.
Not just a label, but a collective of labels, including Dark Clover, Farver, and Origami Sound itself, and a collection of 50+ artists stretched over the world. It’s a decentralized super group of people dedicated to emotional electronic music. Curated by a Romanian who goes by the name of Herne, and with a heavy focus on the former Eastern Bloc, the sounds that come out of this shadowy collective is unsurpassed and runs the gamut of styles – Volor Flex with his post-Burial experiments, Moa Pillar with his dark Russian footwork and hip-hop, Arapaima, who sounds like dark wave crossed with crunk, and a bunch of more techno-centric albums from Aebeloe, Liar, Averos, Fjord and Brio on the Farver label. It’s heady, emotional stuff, and diving into it is like opening a Pandora’s box of feeling and sound, but it’s well worth exploring . To me, Origami is the most exciting permutation of what an artist collective can be in 2012 and beyond. Their Chapters 1-6 series is the place to start your journey.
Ed.: Look, Origami – out of all these cats – made our job easy, by posting a year-in-review 2012 to their SoundCloud! Please copy this, ye other labels and artists.
Synth Sense remixes
This is truly great. There is a small cadre of artists who have hijacked Drum and Bass in the last several years and turned it into something truly special again – the details of who and what and how can be saved for another time, but it’s contemplative, dark, synthy, minimal, rhythmically complex stuff from people who followed dBridge and Instra:mental’s lead in ’09 and ’10. This release, on ASC’s Auxiliary label, gathers together 2012’s best producers in this tricky half-tempo style. Two of the remixes come from Synkro and Indigo, each of whom had stellar, artist-of-the-year contender releases (and lots of them) on Apollo, Exit, and other labels. And then it’s rounded out by Sam KDC and ASC, who would be my picks for 3rd and 4th most interesting artists of the year in DnB. Four quiet superstars together at once – delving into any of these producers is well worth your time, and this release transcends genre and I hope can bring new ears to the sound.
Shatterhands – Still D.R.E. (Shatterhors Sitdown Remix)
My favorite track of the year. Any fans of Sholmo will love this – it’s the classic Dre and Snoop raps dropped over this achingly ethereal piano riff and a lazy beat. I’m not even sure why it works so well, but if there was one song on repeat this year for me, it was this. It’s actually a collab between Shatter Hands and Hors, and while I don’t know much about the latter, the former is hands down one of my favorite hip-hop producers of the year – all interesting weird stuff, part body groove and part heady contemplation. Copenhagen at its finest (and there was a lot of good stuff out of Copenhagen this year!)
I, like many people, love Rhythm & Sound, and probably always will. I’ll never get enough of the ice-y German take on Dub and Roots that they do in a way that’s pretty much unique. But I’m not a slave to it, and so it’s incredibly exciting to see Mark Ernestus, half the R&S production duo, turn his attention, and mixing prowess, to a completely different word musical world. The Ndagga label, with just two singles so far, is focused on the Senegalese group Jeri-Jeri, with awesome singer Mbene Diatta Seck and a mess of drummers and instrumentalists, but flips and twists the original performances into lively dub productions that are utterly unlike anything I’ve heard before. An exuberant take on both dub and Griot music, I can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store for this collaboration.
Project Mooncircle had a banner year, including celebrating their 10th anniversary in March that CDM covered earlier this year. But in my opinion their best release came at the end of the year, and it’s the Kidkanevil and Daisuke Tanabe collaboration with the hybrid name Kidsuke. A pixelated toy house of an album, filed with childish playfulness, ambient sounds, moments of manic complexity and others of soft shimmering beauty. It’s the pinnacle of the type of productions showcased in Sound Healers Vol 2 – tracks that shine with raw musical talent but take full advantage of the endless worlds of rhythm that were unlocked by Flying Lotus and his disciples 5+ years ago. This is an album you can, and should, fall in love with, and also one you should listen to with all your close attention.
Like the Synth Sense remixes, this another one of those monster remix projects that brings together greats of the current scene. This also sits half in the instrumental hip-hop world and half in the dance space, like Sound Healers, but it’s all a little more chunky and attention-grabbing than some of the other stuff mentioned here. It’s a riff on Fybe:one’s Harp EP, which already was solid – a set of tracks that interwove crunchy beats with various harps of the world (and wasn’t cheezy). But the remix album is just next level – each track is full of super well fleshed-out ideas, interesting derivations of the originals that all stand up in their own right. More than ½ of the remixers I hadn’t heard of before but have become new favs, like Chesslo Junior, Capes, and Duct. Then there were folks I was already getting to know and this solidified my love for them (especially Mute Speaker and Deft). The whole thing is great, and it vaulted Shades of Grey into favorite label status immediately.
A great and lasting piece of work. As a man who has previously been associated with micro-house and techno, Alex Under definitely slipped well below my radar for many years. But this album of seven slow moving, inexorable 10-minute long “Bolas” is far from techno – though I can see techno’s influence, especially when looked at through the lens of Deepchord or old Chain Reaction, labels whose artists often explored tempos well below 130 or even 110 bpm. The end result reminds me both of David Last’s classic stuff as well as Mathias Delplanque’s Lena alias, which is to say darkly beautiful, slightly whimsical longform creations that have a clean, ever unfolding and beguiling aesthetic. They’re hypnotic without being sterile, overwhelming, cheezy, or boring, traits to which this kind of music can sometimes succumb. It’s magical stuff, and serves as a great reminder to me that inspirational music can come from all corners of the genre universe, and open ears often pay off.
It’s hard to pick just ten, so here’s a short list of other fantastic innovators from the year. Almost all are here because they put out (or I discovered) multiple things they did this year that were sublime or awesome or sublimely awesome. Names of releases that came out this year follow artists in parenthesis, but think of those more as guideposts for something to check out rather than a crowning achievement. If there’s nothing there, it’s because there was just too much goodness to choose from. And of course, this leaves out multiple hundreds of artists who had great releases this year – just not enough space!
Solvoid +(EPs 1, 2 and 3) (see CDM: Mystery Artist Solvoid Delights Ears, Dodges Questions [Listening, Interview]