Marc Leclair (aka Akufen)’s debut as Horror Inc on Perlon wasn’t a timely record. In fact, his brand of precision-edited microhouse would’ve sounded positively archaic in any hands but his own. Yet something timeless tugged at the corners of Briefly Eternal, beyond the beautiful instrumentals and the noir atmosphere. Beneath the immaculate surface lurked a rich, intruiging story, just waiting for the listener to draw it out.
Max D’s assured second outing was a joyous record, melding his loves of house, boogie and hip hop in a colourful new-age rush. His melodic range was impressive, with heavenly woodwind coming as easily as fine-tuned synthwork, yet it was the record’s live-style drums and kaleidoscopic pacing that kept us coming back time and again.
Talk about stopping the presses: we only got our hands on this late 2013 release the day before this list was to be published. This turned out to be quite the stroke of luck: Fishermen followed their promising Skudge White EP with one of the year’s most diverse and vital techno records, ably hopping between ambient atmospherics and gritty dancefloor muscle, as at home with humid tribalism as they are with distorted industrialism.
In retrospect, it probably wasn’t possible for BoC to put out an album that would have lived up to our preposterous expectations. Tomorrow’s Harvest was more dark, knotty and cryptic than any of the Scottish duo’s work to date, yet the pair’s unique touch still lurked beneath these evocative compositions. We may not have loved it straight off as with the pair’s first two albums, but rest assured that we’ll probably still be listening in ten years, trying to work it all out.
Omar S is one of the most revered of Detriot house’s new school, and everything great about the man’s music found a place in this album. Amalthea and Air Of The Day brought the funk in inimitable style, we got not one but two anthems in the form of The Shit Baby and Thank U 4 Letting Me Be Myself, I Just Want and Helter Shelter took lofi to the warehouse, and after-hours was catered for on the sweaty soul of Rewind and Its Money In The D. For a comprehensive survey of today’s Detroit sounds, you need look no further.
Footwork was granted its best album to date on kingpin Rashad’s debut LP for Hyperdub, taking juke hybrids from their soul and hip hop homes to the future breeds of acid and abstract menace.
Critics often bemoan dance albums being little more than a collection of dance tracks, but that’s because these albums are almost never as good as Robert Hood’s Paradise. This record contained ten muscular house outings veering from euphoric vocals and piano to dubby technoid mutations, a dream for both DJs and the listeners at home.
Akkord’s debut LP showed the duo maturing considerably, shaping their hi-def dread meditations into a brilliant album which allowed the pair’s atmospheric talent to really shine. The menace of the UK’s hardcore tradition was given a futuristic update at once polished and rugged, while the album’s thoughtful structure lent it a narrative of emotion and tension often lacking in techno full-lengths.
One of the year’s best debuts came out of nowhere on 1080p. Perfume Advert’s live house jams are dense yet funky, loose-limbed grooves skipping across humid atmospherics on a lean LP which eschewed filler, leaving just the good stuff.
Walton’s excellent debut album showed a restless creative mind effortlessly hopping across genres and styles, fusing light and darkness with grooves plucked from the UK’s rich dance tradition. Whatever style Walton touched turned to gold, from the low-slung stomp of Amazon to the loved-up slink of Every Night.
Another fantastic UK debut came courtesy of Medlar, whose jazz-infused Sleep was a triumph of mood and organic production. Grooves stop and start according to some twisted dream logic, while a kaleidoscopic array of samples colours the productions in vivid strokes.
Sonic engineers Dadub were responsible for the year’s most immersive techno experiences on the taut monochrome trip of You Are Eternity. The mixed tracks trade in muggy atmospheres and impeccable beatscience, building to an unholy crescendo before returning to restrained ambience. The overall effect is involving, at times overwhelming, and as a whole verges on the spiritual.
Germany’s unbelievably talented pianist decided that instead of a solo album of new material he would release live recordings of his performances and improvisations in concert. This stroke of brilliance allowed the full range of Frahm’s musicality to be proudly displayed, from beautiful reinterpretations of old favourites (Familiar, For, Tristana) to stunning new material such as the fragile, powerful Says.
Seven Lies made good on the promise of DjRum’s superb Mountains EP, taking the listener on a cinematic journey from hip hop to house to drum and bass. His fluency across genres and moods was staggering, but it was the impeccable mastery over sample processing and song structure which made each of Seven Lies’ tracks glitter like gemstones.
Paul Woolford’s Special Request project came into a league of its own this year, culminating on his furious debut album for Houndstooth. Channelling the vital energy of pirate radio and the lost hardcore generation, Woolford’s rugged hybrids were intense and vital, a big middle finger to today’s generation of polished pop-house practitioners.
Holden’s wild sophomore album was a powerful statement: rejecting polished sounds and conventional dance structure, his organic compositions on The Inheritors were in turns savage and beautiful, raucous and meditative, often mystical. It was a large, at times unwieldy album, but few others attempted a release as ambitious with as much success in 2013.
KWC 92’s trip to Kowloon was one of the year’s most evocative records, fusing retro synthscapes with Oriental samples and ghostly ambience to singular effect. The pair ask the listener to devise her own story for this imaginary soundtrack, turning the passive party on the end of the speakers into an active collaborator, forming narrative for the mournful beauty and lurking threat which haunt this stunning album.
Logos ran the banner for grime’s new generation on Cold Mission, an exercise in both power and patience which reconfigured the genre’s signifiers in new spacious arrangements while never forgetting the lethal power of expertly deployed bassweight.
No album made us feel as warm and hopeful as von Erckert’s blissful Love Based Music, and we’re betting that was exactly the point of this funky slab of wax. Funk, soul, hip hop, disco and house all found their place on this beautiful album, each treated with the care and authentic spirit of those genres’ decades-old originators.
Hyperdub’s choice to release an RnB-influenced singer raised a few eyebrows, but few expected the restrained rush of Pull My Hair Back. A pop album par excellence, Lanza’s wonderful vocals brought catchy hooks to a series of brilliantly produced electro-pop vignettes, all mastered with a subtlety and quality control which contributed to an utterly infectious whole.
Since his superb debut Dagger Paths, Forest Swords has never sounded like anyone but himself. Those deep, dubby soundscapes, searing guitar riffs and mystical atmospheres made a stunning return in Engravings, beckoning the listener into a sonic world of mist, myth and pure wonder.
Few electronic artists have attempted a feat as ambitious as soundtracking the life of an interstellar body. Yet Roly Porter more than achieved his goal, creating in the process a profound meditation on mortality and cosmic human significance. With a combination of heavenly strings, brutal noise and techno know-how, Porter conjured the sublime, a classic which deserves to echo for future generations.
Daniel Lopatin has the mind of a true original: ever restless, with each release he seeks to expand and shift his sound, to make some new comment or sonic fusion. R Plus Seven channelled a century of American contemporary classical and electronic music history into a vibrant album which sought the beauty in the West’s saturated digital present, and is utterly enchanting from the first listen to the hundredth.
2: Various Artists – Livity Sound [Livity Sound]
While strictly a compilation rather than an album, the collection of Pev, Kowton and Asusu’s releases on Livity Sound was doubtless one of the year’s finest long-players. There is a unity to the three producers’ sound which came across more clearly than ever when presented as a whole, a club-tooled sound where nothing is superfluous: just the rhythm and a few expertly-deployed melodies were responsible for a host of brilliant, mind-bending dance tracks. It’s almost unheard of for an album of eighteen tracks to feature not a single dud, but if you can trust anyone to keep evolving while never letting the quality slip an iota, it’s the boys at Livity.
While ordering this list proved to be a logistical nightmare, there was never any question which album would take the number one spot. Hopkins’ phenomenal compositions were alive: breathing, growing and contorting before your ears. The wealth of sonic detail never distracted from a pure clarity of thought behind each individual track, and from the blistering techno of the album’s first half to its meditative close each song blazed with musical mastery and a soaring inner beauty.