An article by The Silent Ballet Staff


A Dancing Beggar | What We Left Behind
England

Grand Independent

After this year’s How They Grow EP, one could be forgiven for thinking that A Dancing Beggar was lining up to be just another entry in this ever-swelling ranks of generic crescendo-bore. Perhaps James Simmons sensed this too, because What We Left Behind makes a deft and confident move into more textural, less overwrought territory. Comparisons to the gentle ambience of Hammock or the folksy earthiness of Six Parts Seven can be drawn, but the album sets itself apart gently, without a hint of the pompous or the forced. What We Left Behind is meticulous but never fussy, emotional but never maudlin, with nary a misplaced note or moment stretched too long, and its forty minutes of introspective, understated, and succinct compositions constitute one of the year’s hidden gems. (Lucas Kane)

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Animals as Leaders | Animals as Leaders
United States

Prosthetic

Led by eight-string guitarist Tosin Abasi, Animals As Leaders offer up a debut album of finely crafted progressive metal. Able to switch mood and tempo on a sixpence, the quartet's obvious musical chops fortunately do not outweigh its talent for composition or arrangement. By resisting the urge to show-off and successfully avoiding the temptation to over-complicate its music, the band creates thrilling tableaux that never quite do what the listener expects. Fans of the Porcupine Tree and late-period King Crimson are advised to check them out at earliest opportunity. (Jeremy Bye)

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Black to Comm | Alphabet 1968
Germany

Type

With a vastly different set of sounds and academic style, Marc Richter (aka Black To Comm) arrives at a very similar effect as did Deaf Center several years ago with Pale Ravine. Alphabet 1968 is a morosely introspective album. It almost sounds like the long, toiled over pastiche of an ever-maddening audiophile. Found sounds and old synthesizers swell and capitulate in constant swirls supporting piano or reverse samples of strings. While Alphabet 1968 is widely accepted and tagged as a drone record, it succeeds wildly in stepping beyond that singularity. Richter shows off, humbly so, an ability to thump through a micro-house and drone piece on one end of the spectrum and a chilling horror flick score on the other. Even more impressive is his ability to throw a smorgasbord of sounds at his listeners while maintaining a clear flow from track to track and even a narrative link between them. (Gabriel Bogart)

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Blut Aus Nord | Memoria Vetusta II - Dialogue With the Stars
France

Candlelight

Blut aus Nord, despite the German name (meaning "Blood from North"), is a French band, which just so happens to be one of the best black metal outfits on the planet. This year's album, the only slightly-pretentious sounding Memoria Vetusta II - Dialogue with the Stars, has just about everything one could possibly ask of black metal: blast-beat drums, a philosophically nihilistic tone, avant-garde structures and guitar riffs, and screamed vocals buried in the mix rule the day. I'm not sure if it's because this is a fantastic album or despite that fact, but Dialogue with the Stars is also a surprisingly accessible album, perfect for black metal newcomers and veterans alike. It doesn't get much better than this. (Tom Butcher)

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Clorinde | The Creative Listener
England

Etruscan

Two brothers skillfully playing about a dozen of instruments, most of which won't mean a lot to the average listener, might sound like an artsy effort, but the fact of the matter is that Clorinde brings an enchanting flavor of rhythmic psychedelia and mathematical post-folk to the table. Most of the duo's sound palette is made up of stringed instrumentation alongside delightful-sounding glockenspiels - and derivatives - creating an album filled with enticing structures and surprising passages of minimal introspection. With a relentless, yet peaceful, flow, The Creative Listener takes the listener on an audible journey where he is left dangling and wanting for more at the very end of this sublime debut. (Jurgen Verhasselt)

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Codes in the Clouds | Paper Canyon
England

Erased Tapes

Unless the intention was to become an Explosions in the Sky tribute band (and, let’s face it, there’s a huge gap in the market), then perhaps it would have been advisable for Codes in the Clouds to try to distance itself from its Texan counterpart name-wise. Certainly, stylistically speaking, the UK instrumental band borrows very heavily from EITS. Fortunately, Codes in the Clouds has demonstrated a superb talent for this particular brand of post-rock in Paper Canyon. The band is adept at creating soaring, feel-good melodies, with sweetly chiming guitars. It knows precisely when the music calls for an almighty crescendo. The percussive talent evident in this record has few rivals in the instrumental world. As far as I’m concerned, deciphering the codes in the clouds leads to one clear message: listen to this band. (Richard White)

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Dakota Suite | The End of Trying
England

Karaoke Kalk

Dakota Suite's music, while pure and honest, is at the same time regretful and retired, mirroring life at its finest and most accessible to the average listener. Isn't that what every band tries for, and why an album succeeds? That is how Dakota Suite succeeded - by giving a truthful depiction of life as Chris Hooson and his band know it. While fond of minimalism, the band is still able to pull the deepest emotions from their bare bones foundation. Chris Hooson is a particularly integral part of the group's genius, having poured his life's challenges into The End of Trying. Sensing that the band is giving up, the listener feels a sense of urgency amidst a desolate landscape. Additionally, Dakota Suite makes it okay to fail and move on, which is remarkably refreshing. (Jessica Reuter)

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David Tagg | Wind Blown Guitar
United States

Second Sun

New York’s David Tagg writes compelling ambient guitar washes in the style of Hammock, with a touch of Stars of the Lid and Andrew Weathers thrown in for good measure. The pieces, such as the epic thirteen-minute title track, are eerie and ominous, yet entirely self-controlled. The music represents a carefully-constructed castle of sound built brick by brick, or layer by layer, to chilling effect, pushing towards a fury of feedback and searing noise that is as unexpected as it is cathartic. This is ambient guitar music that isn’t afraid to break boundaries. It may not be enough to call David Tagg an iconoclast or an innovator, but those are the words we have to describe such breakthroughs, so they will have to do. (Zach Corsa)

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David Wenngren | Sleepless Nights
Sweden

Auetic

David Wenngren (of Library Tapes) pulls a new kind of sound out of his bag of tricks, settling on fractal repetition which pulses in waves like the endless ebb and flow of the sea. This is not a three-hour tour, but rather, a moody and introspective "meditation upon the ocean and our relationship with it in survival and disappearance" as Gabriel Bogart commented in his review. A tale of a man lost at sea, Sleepless Nights is lovely, but complex and haunting all the same. It seems as if the album is a reminder of how vast, loud, powerful, and commanding the ocean is in comparison to man. Wenngren is strong in his ability to illustrate the uplifting and downtrodden elements of the sea, as well as the dimensional space and command of sound. (Jessica Reuter)

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Emeralds | What Happened
United States

No Fun Productions

Releasing multiple albums in a year can be hit and miss. Fortunately, What Happened is a hit. Droning yet scattered and heavily textured synths rule the sound of What Happened. It is ambient music that has heavy depth and is meant to be forceful. Thick analog synths produce rich sounds that are layered and manipulated to create an album that is haunting at times and inspiring at others. The experimentation of sound production and manipulation place the band on its own level. Spacey sounds from the ‘50s are juxtaposed with fat lead synths from the ‘80s, along with guitar and other recorded elements, to create a sound that is nostalgic yet intriguing in its mayhem. What Happened is a jewel amongst the proliferation of albums generated by Emeralds. (Greg Norte)

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Ethan Rose | Oaks
United States

Holocene

Creating pieces of sound rather than pieces of music, Ethan Rose explores the possibilities of sound as created by common and uncommon means. Electronic elements are critical to the feel of Oaks, as are found sound and re-utilization of antiquated instruments. His music is calming in its simplicity, yet perplexing in its constant insistence on providing surprises to the listener. Deep rumblings accent an otherwise crystalline track while blips and bleeps bring images of another world. Every song is unique, but the album is held together by the common thread of evolving textures and abstract simplicity. Simple, mellow tracks to upbeat, joyful ones make Oaks a delight to listen to. (Greg Norte)

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French Teen Idol | El Siete es la Luz
Italy

Self-Released

El Siete Es La Luz is the bold accumulation of this Italian solo artist's previous long player, Enlightened False Consciousness, and his self-titled debut. While holding on to the familiar sound that makes French Teen Idol what it was - glitched out post-rock meets ambient - with age comes a more sinister timbre to the whole. The listener is welcomed to a more relaxed atmospheric setting, yet with a darker tone. Long crescendos build toward a subliminal focal point toward the middle of the album where one finds the encompassing, evocative mixture of post-rock, effect-shredded textures of vocals, dusty drum lines, and a caressed piano. With the aid of field recordings, FTI's audible post-potion make this an ideal album to dream away to wondrous visions of an ancient city or wherever our imagination make take us on this cinematic, introspective, and mostly excellent album. (Jurgen Verhasselt)

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Hildur Gudnadóttir | Without Sinking
Iceland

Touch

After a number of years working with numerous artists, such as mum, Pan Sonic, and Jóhann Jóhannsson, Gudnadóttir gives the world Without Sinking. Sure, she’d released Lost In Hildurness a few years back, but in relative obscurity. This year we are blessed to hear just how richly dark, incidentally sinister, and simultaneously mournful her cello-centric compositions can be. Whereas her contemporary Danny Norbury exudes the soft side of loss and love, Gudnadóttir puts some real fear into the audience with that glimpse into her soul. Therein lies the real accomplishment of Without Sinking, because within all this darkness and dreariness, no ounce of beauty is lost. Gudnadóttir’s compositions contain a wondrous mix of Warren Ellis-style Americana, traditional chamber music, and a unique voice of her own heading forward into the swiftly blossoming realm of 21st Century classical music. I know I look forward to many more late night bike rides while slipping in and out of trance states listening to Hildur Gudnadóttir. (Gabriel Bogart)

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If These Trees Could Talk | Above the Earth, Below the Sky

United States

The Mylene Sheath

The heavy, delayed, and reverbed sector of post-rock has in If These Trees Could Talk a great representative. The band is perhaps not as ironed out as Russian Circles or as epically-minded as Gifts From Enola, but it is certainly no less talented and not without its own, deeply moving, cathartic, explosive brand of sound. The band has taken the post-rock formula and augmented it with ear-shattering power, thundering through build-ups while making sure it doesn’t neglect the softer, mellow foundations of its sound, revealed every so often among the rage. There’s an eye to every hurricane, an overbearing silence before the hunter swoops down on its prey, a calm unmoving sea of ashes after every fire. (David Murrieta)

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Irepress | Sol Eye Sea I
United States

Translation Loss

If there is a band with which we can trace a clear evolutionary tree, it would be Irepress. Sol Eye Sea I is the latest link in this apparent progressive movement (for, if we take into consideration every genre-break, every gesture of un-rock instrumentation, it becomes a wider, multi-directional kind of movement), and man, has it moved. Melding post-rock with metal, bits of electronica and a prog-rock sensibility for melody and harmony, the band moves into territory ripe for exploration. With its debt due to the first maps charted by the likes of Isis, Rosetta, and Gifts From Enola, Irepress still provides the listener with a modern, if warm, sense of unpredictability. Even when this translates into inconsistency, the album is solid enough to represent one of the great prospects of the metal side of post-rock in the near future. (David Murrieta)

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James Blackshaw | The Glass Bead Game
England

Young God

The Glass Bead Game suggests that the clear, definite association of Blackshaw with the guitar might prove inconsequential should he remain on this musical path. At play in this album (in contrast, perhaps to the more virtuosic Alexander Turnquist) are a myriad of atomic arrangements involving Reich or Nyman-like minimalism and the “new” classically sensitive approach to folk sounds. It is, perhaps, a revealing statement that the last two tracks are actually without guitar. This is the work not of an instrumentalist, but of a composer that looks at the wider whole while at the same time playing and advancing the music forward. The single-word titles of the tracks become a reflection of the complexity of a single entity, containing multiple meanings (a full array of harmonics), different pronunciations (many a sound through diverse instrumentation, including piano, strings and voice), and maybe infinite possibilities of use dependent of context. Spectator and active agent become one and then explode into multiplicity, filling our ears with blissful continuum. (David Murrieta)

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Kwoon | When the Flowers were Singing
France

Self-Released

From the very first few measures of When the Flowers Were Singing, Paris’ Kwoon comes on like Dead Cities era M83 on fire and running down the street looking for Saxon Shore to extinguish its fury. This could become extremely tiring over the course of an entire LP, naturally, but the band knows when to pull back the bombast and does so with reserve, class, and pure style. The title track is the pleasant melancholy trifle that Mogwai doesn’t bother to write anymore, which is a shame. Thankfully we have Kwoon to cover such ground for us on this solid trad-post-rock release. (Zach Corsa)

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New Century Classics | Natural Process
Poland

FDM

Natural Process' birth wasn't uncomplicated, but nonetheless it found us just in time to earn a spot in listing of our end-of-the-year extravaganza. New Century Classic's brand of post-rock is a sophisticated kind, the kind we want to enjoy with a fine glass of red wine while comfortably lounging in the coziness of our favorite seat. The album itself comprises strings, glockenspiels, and other classic instrumentation found in this niche, and it is played, mixed, and administered in a blissful unforced whole. Albeit having a subconscious live-feel to it, the album displays a wide and detailed audibility that makes one of the year's post-rock treasures. (Jurgen Verhasselt)

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Nils Frahm | Wintermusik
Germany

Sonic Pieces

Artists nowadays tend to put so much effort into being experimental that they forget all about making beautiful music. Not Nils Frahm. In this three track opus, Frahm announces himself as a force to be contended with in the modern classical music scene, without ever seeming to be over doing things. He focuses on the more beautiful side of music, the kind of music that touches us and forces us to listen to a work in its entirety without having the slightest urge to skip a second of it. Probably the greatest injustice made to this album was done by Frahm himself by calling it Wintermusik, because this is the kind of album that works whenever one presses the play button, regardless of season. (Mohammed Ashraf)

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Peter Wright | Snow Blind
New Zealand

Install

With three substantial full-length albums released in 2009, veteran New Zealand dronescapist Peter Wright would be reasonable to expect some appearance on this list. Snow Blind is the most sprawling of these, traversing two discs and a huge range of musical material, a contrast with the focused, lower key An Angel Fell Where The Kestrels Hover on Spekk and Bright Falling Star on Release the Bats. Snow Blind is an epic listen, and it unbelievably makes all 114 of its minutes seem necessary. Longer tracks top 25 minutes, but may as well be considered a part of the full trajectory of the album. The evolution of Wright's endlessly dark electronics is not on the small scale, but stretched through the entire length of the album. The atmosphere, here, is as pungent as drone ever was, but lengthened and always enveloping, grungey and corporeal. (Marcus Whale)

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Pillowdiver | Sleeping Pills
Germany

12k

Berlin’s Pillowdiver lists ‘early electronic music’ as an influence on his myspace, but these dark ambient pieces bring nothing to mind so much as Richmond’ late and much lamented Labradford. More fitting of an influence to list would be 'early Kranky Records'. Still, none of this work is derivative. It’s a pleasant sound expanse that never recedes to the background, one of the few ambient albums I’ve heard in years that demands us to sit up, pay attention, and inhabit its world. It would be nowhere near a slight to say that this act may have the most fitting name I’ve seen in years: this is music not to bore the listener to sleep, but to lull him into a pleasant coma of distant feedback washes, tape decay, and swirling, emotional guitar reverb. (Zach Corsa)

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Russian Circles | Geneva
United States

Suicide Squeeze

Russian Circles return with Geneva, the band's third LP in four years. Some might worry about a case of diminishing returns, and indeed many who fell in love with Enter, the 2006 debut, have leveled such charges at Russian Circles. Others argue that Geneva represents some of the group's strongest work to date. Indeed, the course of the band's career thus far shows that Russian Circles is a band with both the talent and the temerity to evolve and change its sound, and also to do so successfully. As it becomes increasingly difficult to tell whether Russian Circles is post-rock, post-metal, or some other genre less easily pigeonholed by stereotypes, it only becomes clearer that this is a band with a bright past and an even brighter future. (Tom Butcher)

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Spartak | No Signal
Australia

Hello Square

It's telling that No Signal, a stopgap mini album between debut album Tales From the Colony Room and forthcoming Low Point follow-up Verona, has made this honourable mentions list. Spartak have always been a slick outfit, but these recordings are sharper, more alive and dynamic than ever. For some of No Signal, Ahmad ditches the guitar for percussion and highly manipulated field recordings. However it's on the guitar-based "Sleet/Skid" that No Signal delivers possibly Spartak's greatest achievement so far - a skittering, violent 10+ minutes of improvisatory acrobatics that bites harder than anything on the excellent Tales from the Colony Room. That the exceedingly impressive No Signal is a collection of outtakes, bodes extraordinarily well for Verona. (Marcus Whale)

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The Necks | Silverwater
Australia

Fish of Milk

At the risk of being whipped into submission, I will go ahead and say this: I had never heard of The Necks prior to this album. Therefore, it was quite natural to approach this track-long album timidly; I mean how many bands can pull off such feat without boring the hell out of the audience? On first listen, it is quite apparent that this is a band that is totally in its comfort zone, with each instrument or line being added at just the right moment. The Necks challenges our patience and it pays off every single time. The album never crescendos, per se, however, the subtlety by which the trio increments each layer passes the same sensation as a full blown distorted guitar, cum crazy post-rock crescendo. Silverwater is a masterful work of art. (Mohammed Ashraf)

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Tyondai Braxton
|
Central Market
United States

Warp

Tyondai Braxton's second album - his first since Battles broke out - probably confused some of his new army of fans. Sure, the 'Mickey Mouse through a vocoder' vocals were still in place, but the math-rock instrumentation had been usurped by classical orchestration. Rather than using samples and loops to create what might have been a low-key work, Braxton utilized a large group of players to produce an ambitious and evocative album. It is certainly not as foot-tappingly accessible as Battles, which might explain Central Market's absence from the higher end of the year-end charts, but this is a suite of pieces that rewards repeated listening and is far easier to navigate than much contemporary modern composition. (Jeremy Bye)

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