An article by The Silent Ballet Staff


10) Opitope | Hau
Japan

Spekk

Listening to the any of the tracks on Hau is roughly equivalent to watching a flower bloom. The songs begin tightly, softly, and lull the listener into a quiet, if mysterious peace. But wallowing in this peace is as ill-advised as looking away while watching the aforementioned flower bloom, because the tracks swell unannounced, breaking the self-imposed restrictions they've placed upon the music and become something else entirely. When you finally do manage to catch the subtle change that produces such a gorgeous result, you'll never look at ambient music the same. You have to pay attention to catch the mysteries of nature unaware, but the effort is always worthwhile, and the same goes for Opitope, who have outdone themselves on the masterful Hau.
(Zach Mills)

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9) Giuseppe Ielasi | August
Italy

12k

The art of organizing feedback, reverberation, and distortion has seen considerable refinement over its course, shaping undesirable sounds into desirable forms to foster maturity in a deeply introspective genre we refer to as ambient music. Elusive Italian drone artist Giuseppe Ielasi is emphatic on the introspective component, and he achieves depth through his ability to linger within the listener a prolonged desire to feel. Ielasi finds five different ways to achieve this, each piece a sonic departure from the last yet still displaying the same adroit manipulation of such fragile harmonics, the subtle tuning of delicate dynamics. August need not be shown differentiation track-wise, rather it is its diverse entirety which illustrates Ielasi’s immense talents as an artist of his kind.
(Mac Nguyen)

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8) The World on Higher Downs | Land Patterns

United States

Plop

The Wisconsin-based group describe their music as sounding like "a fine torpor that utilizes a small clutch of patterns-cracks and modulating buzzes-which hang on a line of reedy organ." This is definitely a fair representation of the sounds of Land Patterns, yet it is one of most engaging types of torpor imaginable. The state induced by listening to The World On Higher Downs is less one of lethargy than one which is akin to the dropped-jaw slowing of time in a Zhang Yimou film, and the entire album is bound up in an enveloping sense of cohesion which makes it exceedingly hard to pick out any one key track, as it is essentially a complete unit in and of itself. This is the kind of music I have to set time aside to just sit and listen to, and I sincerely hope they can continue to aid me in getting nothing done in such a productive manner.
(Fred Bevan)

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7) Six Parts Seven | Casually Smashed to Pieces

United States

Suicide Squeeze

Listening to Casually Smashed to Pieces is like having that conversation that puts everything in perspective. All of the vague irritations and pointless complaints of life are shown to be just that, and melt away in favor of merely enjoying the world around you. The band has been producing important instrumental music for over ten years, and the mastery they've acquired is inherent in the subtle simplicity of each an every track in the half hour we have with them. From the positively lovely banjo on “Conversation Heart” to the picture-perfect trumpets rising in “Stolen Moments,” the alternate elements the band introduces to the album are still utilized with that warm, satisfying touch that pervades the arrangements, providing variety and impact at just the right moments. The Six Parts Seven have crafted an understated masterpiece that shows the band is not becoming tired with time -- no, quite the contrary, they are aging like a fine wine.
(Zach Mills)

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6) Kashiwa Daisuke | Program Music I
Japan

Noble

I don't think many musicians would complain if "Stella" were the only thing they could claim responsibility for creating over their lifetime, but for Kashiwa Daisuke, I get the feeling that this is just a taste of things to come. Describing his work as creative or ambitious doesn't even scratch the surface -- ingenious and life-changing is more on point. Though he certainly contains some similar traits to other Japanese electronic artists, none have reached such a sophisticated plateau where the stylistic changes themselves are secondary to the overarching development of the music. This is not the same instance of "chaos" which is so frequently credited to this type of music, but instead the first step in resolving the entangled, convoluted approach which has reigned supreme for several years now. Daisuke is a pioneer, single-handedly changing the way we see electronic music forever.
(Lee Whitefield)

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5) Tulsa Drone | Songs From a Mean Season
United States

Perpetual Motion Machine

It is rare to see a band of any genre step back from the spotlight, to avoid the easy route to acclaim, to dodge the “sure-fire” route to success. It hardly seems worth it for most artists to buck the big, expansive release in favor of something more subtle – really, how many people will notice? Tulsa Drone has taken this route, and the big winners are those who take the time to notice. Meticulously crafted tracks ignore the opportunity to gloat over the skill present in order to take the road less traveled, carefully drawing together each instrument to create a seamless and gorgeous whole. The major instrumental factor that separates the band from the rest of the crowd – the bass dulcimer – is not even highlighted, rather pushed back in the mix to support the rest of the music. It says a lot about a band's commitment to its craft when vocals are used so sparingly, especially when the band has a vocalist who is better than most dedicated to the use of their voice entirely. An album of careful restraint and massive rewards, Songs for a Mean Season is not a release to miss.
(Zach Mills)

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4) Vladislav Delay | Whistleblower

Finland

Humme

Having released two albums in 2006 under Uusitalo and Luomo respectively, Sasu Ripatti returned in early 2007 with Whistleblower, his best album since Multila. Layering dense and claustrophobic sounding percussion over a backdrop of hypnotically pleasant ambient passages, this album further proves that his attention to subtle detail creates an album more involving than it initially seems. With another excellent full length CD having been released later this year, Ripatti's creativity and skill is a breath of fresh air within the sometimes stagnant field of electronic music.
(Eric Common)

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3) Balmorhea | Balmorhea

United States

Self-Released

When compositions of high sophistication and complexity, of layers upon layers pushing decibels beyond decibels, when extravagance is the function of our appreciation with respect to effort, it takes a band such as Balmorhea to act as a theory proposition for the neglected notion of simplicity. Utilizing instrumentation in an almost, dare I say, country sense, the group defy their stomp-box-happy fellow Austin brethren by creating rich, organic, hauntingly beautiful textures with nothing that so much as requires a wall socket.. Whether it be a solemn frets of acoustic guitar, as in “Dream of Thaw” or “En Route,” or a Tiersen-esque piano, “In the Rowans” and “If You Only Knew the Rain,” or even the ability to arouse affect from an instrument such as the banjo, “...Soft Rustling of My Blood,” Balmorhea always radiates warmth with whatever is beating at its core.
(Mac Nguyen)

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2) Caspian | The Four Trees
United States

Dopamine

With the release of The Four Trees, Caspian set about humanizing the instrumental genre. Swirling crescendos and funneled distortion were played out against the backdrop of an overly personal and intimate album. Track titles “Moksha”, “Some Are White Light” and “Our Breath In Winter” validated their emotional investment in carving out reaction from storytelling. Although the record is at its zenith when played out in its entirety, the individuality and dependency of its parts are to be lauded; there are fleeting heroic instances that emerge throughout that are unequivocally glorious. Since 2005’s You Are The Conductor, Caspian have always come across as underdogs, yet where the also-rans only have luck and grit on their side, Caspian have only ever needed their sterling craftsmanship to succeed - 2007 was the year they delivered on their unwavering potential.
(Alex Bradshaw)

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1) Grails | Burning Off Impurities
United States

Temporary Residence

I'd hate to call our staff predictable here at The Silent Ballet, but there are a few things we love to see in an album. First is sophisticated experimentation, that is, experimentation with purpose, and with knowledge and understanding of the lineage of musical development. Second is technical excellence, that is, people who are are not only great artists, but also exceptionally skilled musicians. Last is mature song-writing, which should speak for itself. It's no surprise that Burning Off Impurities embodies these three elements (and more), and additionally, these were the exact same traits we so highly regarded in Magyar Posse's Random Avenger from last year. Grails' long and successful career has been an exercise in excellence and consistency as each album changed our conceptions about the band and revealed a deeper pool of knowledge at their disposal. Burning Off Impurities puts it all together, effectively putting a capstone on the band's work as their finest moment to date. While the album isn't one that necessarily knocks the listener's socks off, it certainly doesn't appear to be Grails' intention. Instead the listener is required to have as strong a knowledge about the influences behind the album as the musicians themselves to truly gain a full appreciation for what transpires over the length of the album. When everything begins to click, this becomes a devastatingly dense album.

With the canvas cleared after the immense success of Burning Off Impurities, one can only wonder what Grails has in mind for future work. If history is any indication, anyone's guess is as good as the next.
(Jordan Volz)

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