Top Albums of 2012…So Far (My Take)

So for those of you who don’t look at Freshly Pressed when you sign in to WordPress – perhaps you dont have WordPress – there was a blog post here where a guy talks about his favourite albums of 2012 so far. Seeing as we’re halfway through the year and how I havent made an aggregated list of my favourite albums so far on here, I thought I may as well jump on the bandwagon.

Bearing in mind this is an in-progress list, accurate only as of now. I’ll do a proper, Top 25/Top 50 at the end of the year. If you want to check out my current, continuously updated full list (around 90 or so albums), here it is on Rate Your Music (hit me up if any of you are members, by the way).

10. Dropxlife – Furthur

I previously, ie months ago, lauded this as one of the finest albums of the year. That was a little premature on my behalf, but it certainly has stood the test of time and stiff competition. It is literally creeping in to the top 10, only just edging out Biosphere. Not sure if it’ll last. Very cool, downtempo Trillwave, sounds a bit like Burial.

9. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

I reviewed this one. It really did leave quite an impression on me; the weird folkstep fusion tickled me. It’s a little inconsistent, I’ll concede, and it does try very hard to bring a lot of different ideas to the table but I think it pulls it all off rather well. Seriously, it’s like nothing you’ve heard before, highly original.

8. Reptar – Body Faucet

Never got round to reviewing this one, sadly. I struggled enough trying to muster the words for Alt-J, but this is a whole other ballpark. Really energetic and bright Indie Pop-Rock, fantastically catchy melodies, soaring vocals; I just can’t help but crack a smile whenever I put this album on. It has a few introspective, serious moments but it doesn’t take itself too seriously for the most part. Fun, fun, fun.

7. School Of Seven Bells – Ghostory

I was a bit damning with my original review on Ghostory; mostly I was pretty disappointed that they’d changed their sound so much. In hindsight I wrote about it way too early on; like every SVIIB album, this one really grew on me after a bunch of listens. It still feels a bit clinical compared with their softer, more harmonious Dream Pop ala Disconnect from Desire but this is punchier and faster.

6. Geographer – Myth

Have some more Indie Pop. Sadly, these guys have slipped under the radar (compared to Reptar for example), which is sad because I love this. Not quite so energetic by any means, but the vocals are gorgeous and very honest and heartfelt, and there are some great pulses of instrumentation (synths and guitar). Hard to pin down what I like about this exactly, it just feels really earnest.

5. Celer – Evaporate and Wonder

I think I made my thoughts on this particular release pretty clear, this is some stellar drone. Super quiet and super minimal, it really forces you to take some time out to be still and silent and listen to what it has to say. Celer may be stupidly prolific but he isn’t a dunce, he does still crank out some astonishingly beautiful works. Not for anyone with a short attention span.

4. Saltillo – Monocyte

Everytime Classical music is brought together with Electronic, in whatever form or subgenre, the results are always intriguing. There is so much scope in both genres that it’s fairly easy to be original, albeit difficult to pull of successfully. Saltillo really has done an amazing job here though; Trip-Hop, with its big electronic beats and shuffling nature, coupled with lots of spoken word samples and incredible classical string breakdowns. Really dark and menacing, brilliant.

3. Grimes – Visions

The album art sucks. There, I said it. It really is shit. I didn’t listen to this for ages because I thought it was going to be some shitty post-punk album or something. Actually it’s a highly original, quirky, cutesy synth pop album. Sure, it’s a bit repetitious and, well, girly, but it all just comes together and is annoyingly infectious. A few weak moments towards the end but it still feels really consistent throughout.

2. 36 – Lithea

I’m a self-confessed 36 fanboy. There is no other artist out there right now, for me, that is producing work that I love more than this guy’s. Every single album is carefully thought out, beautifully executed and has so much emotional resonance; Lithea is no exception. Glacial drone creeps, euphoric drone soars, electronically produced rhythms tap and sparkle, it has it all. A culmination of all his previous works into one. Just misses out on top spot simply because it’s too long, which is actually quite ironic because…

1. Chromatics – Kill For Love

…Kill For Love is 90 minutes long. I know, it is just a ridiculous length. Honestly, I am coming to question whether it is still deserving the crown of AOTSY because of its crippling length but…it has so much goodness stuffed into it and the sound is so wonderful I can’t help myself. Deeply 80’s vibe with stunning crystalline vocals, a warm tube amp glow and great guitar work. You dont have to agree with me, but I really do adore this album.

Well, there you have it, my Top 10 so far. Feel free to leave a comment or a message and outline your Top 10!

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36 – Memories In Widescreen (2010)

Last week, 36 posted that he had found 3 promo copies of the original picture disc pressing of this release, one with a limited run of only 250 pressings. Fearing I was already too late I went to the purchase page and found, to my surprise, one remaining. So here we are, spinning the very, very last copy of Memories In Widescreen.

36 has always had drone in his albums, it’s a staple component of them. Hypersona had delicate wisps covered in rhythms and samples, Hollow brought them to the fore a little more alongside brooding loops; Memories in Widescreen is almost entirely drone alone (heh). Opener “Before Time” crawls slowly, loops gently, submerging us in a richly detailed fuzz. It moves quickly into perhaps my favourite 36 track of all; “After Time”, a piece that sounds like it could be looped forever and never get dull. Distorted fragments of voice flutter in and out of of the slowly overlapping, tired, sad drones. Before and After Time, the lonely emptiness of both of those places; one where everything is yet to happen and we cannot see it, the other where everything has already happened and we don’t want to see it again.

There’s a brief pause as I get up to flip the record and admire the artwork; each side has a unique, water inspired image. “Drifta” blows in softly on what sounds like a light breeze, with such a minimal presence that would impress even Thomas Koner. The most minute snippets of voices can be heard buried beneath its wash and the flaws in my system made known as distortion creeps in. “Drowning” follows it up, another track following this tired, confused and depressed theme. As the drone gets heavy and oppressive (sound muffled underwater), delicate little fragments seep in as the light shimmers off the water’s surface above our sinking head. Slowly, this eternal moment slips away as consciousness fades into “Disappear”, relatively more optimistic than previous tracks and really bringing 36 back to familiar sonic territory with a Hollow-like sound, with “piano” now accompanying the drone. Does this represent the belief that with death there comes relief? Possibly.

There is a longer pause again as this time the discs are switched to get to Side C and “Lucid”, “Memories In Widescreen” and “Melt”. I’ve always believed that in ambient, track names are crucial, that they help to pad out the story (I just broke my onscreen keyboard, lame!). Throughout the album this has been true, and it continues here; “Lucid”‘s optimism and clarity in its shining melodies, “Memory In Widescreen”‘s uplifting drone as the past is wistfully recalled and played back, remembering all those tiny little moments and rendering them larger than life (on the big screen), while “Melt” is the comedown, the fugue following the realisation that those moments will never be relived, the tones becoming chaotic, almost angry at the thought, before being followed by acceptance.

We now approach our last side and the story is almost over. “Slide” has curious electronic intrusions, what sound like harps and xylphones, brief sparkles over the unrelenting, unwavering drone note that stretches out depressingly over the course of the track. “Vesl” proceeds fairly uninspiringly into our final track, “Revert Time”. Continuing along the same train of thought as the first two tracks, having explored the past and not accepting the circumstances of the present during the main sequence of the album, 36 wants us (or himself) to try and turn back the clock to a happier and more carefree time, a time when things were better and we didnt feel so bad. Interestingly we actually have a real woman talking on this track: “Revert time, (go?) and see” repeats as the walls of drone and white noise rise up, drowning her out before slipping quickly away into silence.

Memories In Widescreen tells a tragic story, yet one that is beautifully rendered through the medium that is drone; it is one of loss, guilt, sadness, possibly unfairness, and ever present human desire to go back in time and fix our flawed pasts.

8.5/10

Steve Roach – Structures From Silence (1984)

What I consider to be an absolute classic when it comes to defining ambient albums, Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence.

I almost wasn’t going to write this tonight. It’s been a really long, weird day and I’m sort of not in the mood to sit down and talk about music in any great detail. I’ve been listening to random pop shit for a couple of hours because my tired, confused brain can’t handle anything deeper.

Luckily, I’ve owned Structures From Silence for a while, and I formulated opinions on it and have written about it long ago, so here it goes.

Ahh synth. It’s a troublesome instrument for a number of reasons, primarily being that what may sound “modern” or current now may very well sound old-fashioned and dated 10, 20 or even 30 years down the line in this case. A lot of people chastise this album for that very reason; they bemoan the synth for sounding too quaint and cheesy and badly aged; I disagree, I think it’s quite fitting and charming in the circumstances.

We start with “Reflections In Suspension”, which is lucky because it also happens to be my favourite track. It introduces itself slowly, its delicate synth bloops and serenading strings grow to their maximum volume gently, which is an achievement because they barely rise to more than a whisper. This piece to me has always been a warm, sunlight room, blinds partly drawn with soft shafts of light streaming through the chinks. Caught for brief moments as they move slowly and chaotically through the air are dust particles, momentarily illuminated, flaring into sight and existence before drifting away again. I used to be fascinated by the way the sunlight caught the dust during boring assemblies in primary school, and that serenity and fascination holds true with this beautiful piece also.

“Quiet Friend” doesn’t share the same warmth as the previous track; the synth pads are replaced with somewhat more melancholic synth drones, quavering notes that expand, overlap, hover sadly and then disappear. Halfway through we get some more activity with slightly more rhythmic and looped synth “bells” – for want of a better word – sequences. Subtle, typical 80’s synth can be heard rolling and oscillating in the background. It’s an ode to a lost friend or relative, this one. Feelings of absence and loss are expressed quietly, tastefully, introspectively.

Lastly is the longest track on the album, the title track. With a distinct nod towards Brian Eno’s ’78 release Ambient 1, “Structures From Silence” is 29 minutes of pure, unadulterated bliss; non-progressive loops of synth with no apparent goal, no specific direction, just simply to create a perfectly mellow atmosphere that will saturate your brain stem when you want it to but also just float along unobtrusively in the background when you don’t. There is nothing to interpret here, no absolute meaning behind this piece, just music that allows you to fill it with whatever you want and draw up thoughts and opinions and emotions of your own accord. Pure ambient, as it were.

Structures From Silence is an album that certainly won’t be for everyone, it will at some point demand you to listen and inspect it closely, but also reward those that do enjoy it and pay attention. Classic, essential, ambient listening.

7.5/10