An article by The Silent Ballet Staff


10) Tortoise | Beacons of Ancestorship
United States

Thrill Jockey

After a long silence, Tortoise re-emerged this year with a record rife with the its trademarks: electronics mixed with rock, a tight rhythm section with an emphasis on percussion, and a hint of jazz. What makes Beacons of Ancestorship different is the energy it possesses. Whether it is a rocker like "Yinxianghechengqi" or more experimental material like "Gigantes," some of the mellow that Tortoise has always carried has been clearly exchanged for a bounce in the step, which in turn provides for some really compelling music. Even in its calmest moments, this record reveals a seemingly reborn Tortoise - still the same, but also better somehow. Tracks like "Charteroak Foundation" exhibit a sophistication that was always present, but only recently was fully realized. Bravo! (Lee Stablein)

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9) The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble | Here Be Dragons
The Netherlands

Ad Noiseam

One wishes to say The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble is back twice as bad, dark, and broody as before, but the reality is slightly different. The band's second length album is not only a swerve to a new direction but also a remarkable achievement. The deep, intensely atmospheric, and cinematic features are still present, only that this time the band takes the coherence factor into consideration and adorns its effort with warm electronica, Charlotte Cegarra's vocals, and trip-hop elements. The result is deeply dramatic but less menacing, gloomy yet somehow detached, delicate and still haunting. Should one stay with it until the end, Here Be Dragons can be an utmost gratifying experience; but, beware, trying to unravel its subtleties and perplexities might open up a path of perils. (Diana Sitaru)

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8) Mountains | Choral
United States

Thrill Jockey

It’s hard to describe this Brooklyn duo, so amorphous is its brand of beautiful electroacoustic music. While always managing to maintain the lovely veneer, the band's production skills always shine, rewarding attentive listeners with subtle layers of sound and aurally fascinating movements. At times almost folksy, at times more ambient, the result reflects what should be the aesthetics of a technological society. Its Thrill Jockey debut, Choral, showcases the band's most refined work yet, expertly blending just enough melody with folk-drone to elevate it to the status of essential listening. Not only is it rare to come across an artist who can blend field-recordings and acoustic guitar so seamlessly, but Mountains manages to be just as captivating live. (Joe Sannicandro)

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7) Blueneck | The Fallen Host
England

Denovali

What makes The Fallen Host such a pleasure, and what demonstrates Blueneck’s admirable growth as a band, is the flawless pacing of the record. Not a single song, movement, or even note is out of place. The reverb-drowned piano takes center stage, inviting strings and guitar to wrap themselves around it. The vocals fit especially well, most notably in the haunting first half of “The Guest.” This is not to say they’re ineffective elsewhere, however, as whenever the singing does come in, it's always effectively done and never takes away from the emphasis of the record: the intricate and beautiful instrumentation. The final two tracks are particularly enthralling, with “Lilitu” being an amazing culmination of everything that makes the band brilliant - from the expert pace to the varied instrumentation and compelling vocals - and “Revelations” providing a startlingly violent, invigorating closer. Never before has “the difficult second alum” been executed with such grace, flair, and a surprising sense of maturation. (Calvin Young)

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6) Alexander Turnquist | As the Twilight Crane Dreams in Color
United States

VHF

If the album’s title is any indication, Alexander Turnquist has crafted a very dynamic poem of dreamful instrumentation; horizontal simplicity intertwines with vertical complexity in ways that recall the workings of the mind at rest, a permanent harmony of acoustic neurotransmission bristling with small, but enormously significant events in the form of short keys, violin, and cello interventions. The twelve-string guitar functions as the bloodstream of this impressionistic system, taking its textures and minimalist developments forward, backward, sideways, and everywhere in between. Like both a system and a poem, the movements in this music are rhythm and harmony-based, a continuous flow of ideas made in precise short movements that gradually build a greater whole - a whole that is one of this year’s best, one of those albums that is a practically must-listen regardless of musical preference. (David Murrieta)

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5) Rhian Sheehan | Standing in Silence
New Zealand

Loop

One of the finest masterpieces of sound this year comes from the island country of New Zealand, from the multi-talented electronic producer, Rhian Sheehan. Standing In Silence is one of the most incredible and sincere portrayals of the consequences of having to deal with an out-of-control human existence whose life may well be limited by its own greed. While that description may paint a gloomy picture in some minds, those who are willing to take a chance will find that this is Rhian’s breakthrough album, his grand cinematic excursion, overwhelming with crushingly beautiful yet daring emotion. This is an album, that if overlooked, will not achieve its destination as one of the year’s most inspiring albums. Using unique instruments such as the glockenspiel, music boxes, and helpful hands from several notable musicians, including the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, there seems to be a never-ending dosage of mind-blowing splendor and self-reflection within this sonic gem. (Brett Hayes)

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4) Do Make Say Think | Other Truths
Canada

Constellation

As much flak as instrumental music might get for being essentially dead or, at least, static, Do Make Say Think continue to flaunt how far it can take its music and exactly how many preconceptions it can stop in its tracks. Gracefully swaying between grandiosity (the heavily orchestrated “Make” in all its tribal-chanting glory) and toe-tapping melody (the straight-ahead, wildly catchy “Do”), Other Truths feels as varied and experimental as any previous Do Make Say Think record but focuses on the band’s stellar songwriting ability: gone is the jammy feel of its early material in favor of structured epics that never overstay their welcome or become self-indulgent. Other Truths may only comprise of four songs, but they’re among the most intense, engaging songs the band has ever written. And while it may be DMST's sixth album after twelve years, it only cements the band’s reputation as a group who is as eager to innovate in its genre as we are to hear a band doing just that. (Calvin Young)

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3) Christopher Tignor | Core Memory Unwound
United States

Western Vinyl

For someone who is both schooled in classical music and creates his own music software, this fellow sure sounds like he's been at this for a long time. Core Memory Unwound is Christopher Tignor's first solo effort away from the Slow Six collective, which has been responsible for some pretty stellar releases over the last few years. Tignor's unique musical voice was apparent within Slow Six, and here he has elaborated upon his compositional virtuosity with an experimental confidence unheard of on a debut. He revitalizes the neo-classical leanings akin to Pärt and Cage into a magical sounding environment that really doesn't sound electronic at all. Behold the whirly, symphony twisters cascading throughout "Last Nights On Eagle Street" or the watercolor anemones in "Core Memory Unwound." The piano and violin seem to be whisked away on a pegasus, but the music is not lofty or nostalgic. It is direct and tangible. This is truly a step forward into new musical techniques and ideas. (Nathan Keane)

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2) Ben Frost | By the Throat
Australia

Bedroom Community

Ben Frost’s second Bedroom Community effort, coming a full three years after the surprising and spectacular Theory of Machines, was always going to make a big splash. With Theory of Machines, Frost had kept the histrionics of his now-dormant School of Emotional Engineering project firmly in check while retaining the balance between electro-acoustic acrobatics and wild, freewheeling rock’n’roll. By The Throat exists in a far more acoustically aware realm, with instrumental arrangements left bathing in their own breath and less dominated by Frost’s electronics than before. The kind of progressive balance between the two displayed in “Forgetting You Is Like Breathing Water” from Theory of Machines is demonstrated widely here, and it is managed with more awareness of the album’s full trajectory. While all of its eleven tracks are preciously formed, “Leo Needs A New Pair Of Shoes,” with its pairing of resonant strings, piano, and room sound with lo-fi tape distortion in solemn free time is unspeakably beautiful. If Theory of Machines was Ben Frost’s coming-of-age, By The Throat is a masterful consolidation. (Marcus Whale)

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1) Tim Hecker | An Imaginary Country
Canada

Kranky

It’s a strange phenomenon when one wants to stop listening about things and begins to crave the sound of things themselves; one longs for the source and not an artificial edifice imitating the authentic. Laptop drone artist Tim Hecker captures that source nearly perfectly on his sixth studio album, An Imaginary Country. Twelve timidly paced ambient tracks dilate from a single line of static to expansive three dimensional environments of sound that invite the listener in to explore and discover a sonic reality that can nearly be held between one’s palms. This is music that is not just heard, but felt, fluctuating between dark back alleyways where shadows leap off walls and eat daylight, and scenes that do nothing but radiate an all consuming, pulsing warmth. Perhaps there’s some irony in alluding to things so ridiculously imaginative in something so basic and present, but that’s exactly what Tim Hecker has created here: an honest source of music to live and get lost in. (Jonathan Brooks)

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