The Best of 2013 (10 – 6)

Mindblowing avalanches of hip-hop, a (whisper it) indie renaissance and the ever-growing dominance of an endlessly inventive electronic scene: by anybody’s standards, 2013 has been the best year for music in some time. As everyone’s music taste has steadily melted into one gigantic crossover success, the genre divides have seemed less important than ever. In a year where ‘Get Lucky’ led a disco revival, Kanye went full space-cadet, and Bowie had a number one album, these were my favourite records.

Thanks for reading, see you in 2014!

10. Psychic – Darkside

Nicolas Jaar’s woozy, skittish techno made a longform return in October, as he returned with guitarist Dave Harrington in his side-project, Darkside.  Having early in the year released their gorgeous album-remix of Random Access Memories, their third LP was a more experimental affair, adding dub beats and fuzz to the cyclical, disjointed Jaar sound. It’s minimalism calls to mind the 90s techno elite (Hawtin, Villalobos etc), but it also incorporates the space-prog and psychedelia alluded to in the band’s name – it’s techno-progrock fusion, undulating on whirring beats and strung out riffs, looping through the dark side of your mind.

9. Settle – Disclosure

Omnipresent thanks to its inescapable string of singles, the Lawrence brothers’ Settle was just one of the years’ fantastic mainstream successes. Brain-wiping repetitive beats, giant hooks, and a raft of excellent guest vocalists allowed the album to dominate the summer, zinging dance-pop, heavily indebted to late 90s garage, that was as suited to drivetime sing-alongs as mindless gurnathons. Get past the singles’ over-exposure, put it back on, and just try and sit still.

8. FIDLAR – FIDLAR

Dumb surf-punk will always have a place in my heart, and in 2013, FIDLAR did it best. Though Light Up Gold beat the Strokes at their own game and Wavves put out a decent second LP, only these LA boys were operating at a Black Lips level of debauchery and young-dumb-fun. Pure sex, drugs and rock n roll, I’ve played this again and again since February and thanks to its stellar hooks and sheer euphoric delivery, it’s still fresh. If you enjoy getting buzzed and shouting, this is the album for you.

7. Zomby – With Love

Following in the footsteps of Actress and Pantha du Prince, 2013 brought us a newly delicate, emotive Zomby – on record, if not in reality. Dark paranoia, lush instrumentation and beats from jungle, garage, dubstep and hip-hop pulsed through this double album, interspersed with miniature symphonies that were more classical than electronic. Spacious, beautiful and complex, With Love only grows with each listen.

6. Arc – Everything Everything

Taut, rhythmic indie has been stuck on the back-burner since Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand were relevant, but in January, it hit boiling point again with Arc. Stuffed with riffs, witticisms and creativity, it was a colossal follow-up album for the Mancunians – all electronic-influenced indie with wordplay worthy of the most tongue-twisting MCs. The gun-fire percussion and razorsharp guitars combine to hysterical effect, building complex songs that are catchy enough to be termed pop.

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Album Review: Zomby – ‘With Love’

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Back for the first time since 2011, Zomby is far from finished with the eerie, introverted soundscapes that defined his acclaimed second album, Dedication. His new record, a sprawling, utterly absorbing double album, takes a slow-motion look at a range of core electronic genres and spreads their bass and beats over unrecognisably low tempos, creating a signature sound of pulsing, melodic, urban unease. It’s the feeling of walking round deserted streets at night; savouring your solitude and the beauty of your moonlit surroundings, but being constantly aware of the threats lurking just out of sight.

Sticking to his long-held ‘Fuck Mixing, Let’s Dance’ philosophy, With Love is a far cry from the smooth transitions of many contemporary electronic album; there are no meandering, cross-fading codas to be found here. Bare, slightly jolting, cuts string the album’s 33 tracks, yet their collective unnerving beauty is unbreakable, with the album’s length only adding to its absorbing, whole-world-in-a-record effect.

Broadly, With Love’s two discs divide into Zomby’s moody take on industrial, jungle, and techno on Volume I, with instrumental hip-hop and sparse, hauntingly beautiful post-dubstep cuts dominating Volume II. Initially, the atmosphere slowly builds through disorientating Crystal Castles-style glitch, spacey dub beats and the tension-ratcheting, climbing-rollercoaster of ‘Horrid’ – and so, Zomby’s (distinctly dark) stage is set.

By the time the old-school hip-hop of ‘It’s Time’ rolls around, and an unusually subdued voice insists “It’s time to go fucking mental!”, it’s long been clear that Zomby is no longer interested in indulging in nostalgia or clichéd bass-drops, but is instead crafting something entirely new from recycled pieces of dance music’s history. As the end of the Volume I approaches, he ferociously underlines the point with the tribal drumnbass of ‘VI-XI’, which mashes an unsettling, squawking pulse to an insistent loop of someone yelling, “It’s this one, the original!”. Resembling a nightmarish hallucination set in a bustling market, it’s thoroughly overwhelming.

Volume II is a noticeably calmer affair. Second track ‘Digital Smoke’ has slow, threatening beats trickle over smears of sub-bass –the antithesis of TNGHT’s burbling, day-glo instrumental hip-hop, this is far more industrial and maintains an astonishing introversion. Skipping over what sounds like slowed down Balearic techno (‘Glass Ocean’) and full-on, pitch-shifting paranoia (‘How To Ascend’), the album’s only collaboration arrives in the form of ‘Pyrex Nights’, with producer Last Japan in tow. With buzzing percussion and a gorgeous melody, it could be a classical score but for the squelching, almost air-horning, bass.

The cherry on the already-very-impressive cake though are the stunning, post-dubstep instrumentals strung throughout With Love’s second side. Combining the layered complexity of Pantha du Prince with the melancholic beauty of James Blake’s first album, these delicate miniatures put With Love amongst the best releases of the year.  From the almost Oriental ‘Reflection in Black’, to the evocative sunny pianos tinged by looming-clouds bass of ‘Sunshine in November’, these brilliant interludes show just how effective Zomby’s dance retrospective collages can be.

At a time when many electronic albums sound more like mixed sets than collections of songs, this expansive double album is all the more impressive, with its 33 abruptly separated songs holding the listener captive within Zomby’s edgy world for well over an hour. Take the advice of many a teen goth’s t-shirt and join the dark side; it’s unnervingly beautiful.