An article by The Silent Ballet Staff
30. Voila! - Bosnie-Herzégovine
This Montreal quartet is relatively young and certainly has dues to pay to Constellation's roster, but its initial output has been quite promising. The highlight from Odessa, "Bosnie-Herzégovine" builds like the best of post-rock songs and climaxes with an emotional rush of vocals, swelling of strings, bombastic drumming, and guitar tomfoolery. Although it's not going to win the band any awards on creativity, "Bosnie-Herzégovine" represents one of the year's best post-rock track and goes to show that, when executed properly, even the overplayed quiet/loud formula still packs quite a powerful punch. In the meantime, Voila! cement its position as one of Canada's brightest new acts. (Jordan Volz)
29. Kwoon - Ayron Norya
Although a late release in the year, Kwoon's When the Flowers Were Singing did not escape the ears of the Silent Ballet staff. The album gracefully evolves the sound laid down on Tales and Dreams, and a handful of tracks exhibit the band's knack for utterly beautiful compositions. Among the highlights is "Ayron Norya," the album's penultimate track and de facto closer. Shimmering along without a care, "Ayron Norya" accumulates tension for the better part of ten minutes and ends at the zenith of Kwoon's musical journey. Taken by itself, the track ends on a cliff hanger ala a certain Swiss band, but when coupled with "Untitled" the full scope and effect of Kwoon's storytelling is revealed. Don't let this late release pass unnoticed, it has more than its fair share of gems. (Jordan Volz)
28. The Dead Sea - The Devil Bends
If there’s any doubt that The Dead Sea’s self-titled debut is one of the best rookie albums of the year, then “The Devil Bends” will swiftly and firmly put one's concerns to rest. Whether viewed as a standalone track or as part of the album as a whole, it will always hold its ground as a beautiful piece of music. Kicking off with vocals, in completely non-post-rock fashion, the track flows seamlessly through the amazing use of dynamics and tons of layered guitar lines. One line stands out in particular: a string bent into submission, on the verge of sounding completely off tune, miraculously fits in perfectly with what’s going on in the background. Australian post-rock has been a constant fixture in TSB’s year-end lists, and The Dead Sea continue this tradition of excellence. (Mohammed Ashraf)
27. Sgt. - Epsilon
It takes a handful of talented Japanese musicians with a broad background in jazz, rock, and everything beyond and in between to produce a track with as unique a sound as we encounter in the ten-minute dazzling trip that is "Epsilon." A spaced-out violin, backed by brass and touches of woodwind, takes the forefront while the rest of the quartet explores Sgt.'s sound to the edges of psychedelia and acid-jazz. Without neglecting the focus on the necessary rhythm - and the skill to do so in an upbeat manner - a maddening yet amazing climax is reached. The energy and drive found throughout "Epsilon" is mesmerizing and infectious. (Jurgen Verhasselt)
26. Saxon Shore - Tokyo 4:12 AM
When discussing Saxon Shore’s latest album, It Doesn’t Matter, a reviewer asked the question, “What could have possibly happened to the band in Tokyo at 4:12 in the morning?” After listening to the track ad nauseam since then and taking in all its splendor, I too wonder what type of event could have inspired such a majestic track. An elegant piano is showcased for the first part of the song as the guitar, bass, and drums seem content to provide a graceful and relatively demure backdrop. However, halfway through the track, these instruments momentarily exit the equation, leaving only the drums to signal an imminent build. By the time everyone comes back in, the track is well on its way to an epic crescendo full of blistering tremolos and pounding bass. Instead of leveling off, the band continues to increase the intensity, making this a denouement that truly keeps on giving. In the end, does “Tokyo 4:12 AM” fall into the category of somewhat cliché guitar-driven post-rock? Maybe. But does it serve as an excellent reminder of exactly why we fell in love with that genre in the first place? Absolutely. (David Boss)
25. Russian Circles - Malko
From the opening notes of “Malko,” we can sense that we're in for something special. Mike Sullivan’s finger-tapping, which by now has practically become a Russian Circles trademark, draws us in with a surprisingly upbeat and accessible sound. Not to be outdone, Brian Cook soon enters with a powerful bass line that not only declares his presence but also foreshadows an impending demise. As the song unfolds it also breaks down, and it appears as if the glimmer of hope that was once provided by the song’s introduction has now been crushed under the weight of a thunderous bass and harrowing guitar. Through it all, the unique and impeccable drumming style of Dave Turncrantz seamlessly guides each movement of the track into the next, providing a necessary anchor for an otherwise unsettling track. From start to finish the song proves to be a tiring exercise, however it is an experience that grows more and more rewarding with each new listen. (David Boss)
24. Irepress - Diaspora
Anyone who has listened to Irepress’ debut knew this band was up to something, and album opener “Diaspora” does not disappoint. Highly schizophrenic in nature, the track moves seamlessly between Meshuggah-esque heavy riffs, hand claps, and screams filtered with light-natured pedal bends, all while the drummer gives one of the most notable performances of the year. In this one ten-minute track, Irepress manages to cover more musical ground than most bands do in an entire album, and it doesn’t give up its vibe throughout the rest of the album. It is not often that a band displays exactly where it's coming from in terms of influence and still manages to add to it with its own unique blend of jazz, sludge, post-rock, and progressive rock. Irepress is in a class of its own and if the band continues to move forward in the manner it already has, it ’ll definitely become a landmark of instrumental music in no time.
23. Years - The Major Lift
Omar Benchetrit’s Years album was a bit lost in the excitement of the new Do Make Say Think release, but this highlight proves that the album is worth notice. It’s a perfect post-rock single, chiming in at only 3:23 in length and wasting no time getting down to business. The guitars only get six seconds to themselves before the drums and horns say hello; ten seconds later, we’re into a Cure-like riff; and while we’re paying attention to that, the rest of the instruments start shifting around. At 1:32, the strings enter, the drums start to stutter, and we’re off to see the Wizard. The final build begins at 2:13, when most other post-rock songs are still in their ambient phases. At 3:00, clock watchers can see that the song is almost over. Is there time for a rousing finale? There is. A textbook example of brevity done right, “The Major Lift” delivers exactly what its title promises, a buoyant boost to the spirit. (Richard Allen)
22. Codes in the Clouds - The Distance Between Us
"The Distance Between Us" begins with the all too familiar twinkling of guitars and peppering of drums, signaling a traditional approach to post-rock and perhaps paying homage to the genre's mighty legends. Six minutes later Codes in the Clouds switches on the afterburners and leaves this planet for one that's a little more spacious. This marks the point where the band takes control of the track, combating dueling guitar lines and melodies against a heavenly ambience. Have no doubts about it, the finals minutes of "The Distance Between Us" are perhaps the year's most epic experience, providing a suitable point of departure for the astronaut in all of us. (Jordan Volz)
21. Sunn O))) - Alice
The most monolithic and multi-dimensional track from the mighty Monoliths & Dimensions album, "Alice" sees Sunn O)))) free itself from any notion of being a metal band and push onward, ever onward, echoing Talk Talk's Spirit Of Eden and Miles Davis's In A Silent Way. By taking its music and stripping it to the bare bones (even more than usual) and then building it up again with instrumentation more familiar to the classical and jazz fields, the duo of Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson (along with arranger Eyvind Kang and a sizeable guest list) has created an immense work. It works as a dignified tribute to Alice Coltrane and echoes her work through Melissa Walsh's harp, but the real star of the show is another legend of jazz - step forward Mr Julian Priester and his trombone solo. This is a truly awe-inspiring work. Incidentally, forget matching Dark Side of the Moon and Wizard of Oz - try "Alice" with the Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey to really blow one's mind. (Jeremy Bye)
20. Black to Comm - Hotel Freund
Driven by glorious layers of sepia field recordings and haunting ambient, the blissful omnipresence of "Hotel Freund" evolves from its wicked opener into a soothing,
crackling exploration of woven strings and post-folk elements. By the time the listener has surrendered to the soothing surroundings, Black to Comm shifts to a more
distorted flow. The intensity of emotion laying in the simple yet inexhaustible depth found in the closing track of what TSB's Tom Butcher called "experimental music
for the iTunes generation" is as digestible as it is enticing and moving - truly an instant classic in a year with some fierce experimental competition. (Jurgen Verhasselt)
19. Clint Mansell - Welcome to Lunar Industries (Three Year Stretch)
It's rather difficult to select a single track of Mansell's Moon OST to serve as the best of the lot, considering that, as a proper score should, the tracks deal with similar themes and motifs. But homogenous the album is not, and the reprise of "Welcome to Lunar Industries" edges out the original due to the addition of three innocent minutes. The extra time isn't revolutionary, but when dealing with Mr. Mansell, more is definitely better. "Three Year Stretch" picks up the repetitive and haunting theme of the soundtrack and throws the audience into a hypnotizing trace. A perfect combination of electrical, ambient, and classical sounds, "Welcome to Lunar Industries" is Mansell's most subtle and daringly original work to date. (Jordan Volz)
18. Amiina - Tvisturinn
The all-female Icelandic band Amiina brings forth a compelling piece of soothing neo-classic music laced with the psychedelic flavors one might find on obscure experimental
albums from Scandinavia in the 70's. The catchy - dare I say, poppy - down tempo explorations of the sounds in this string quartet remind us why we all love Icelandic
artists so much. The cloud-gazing theme is supported by layers of string picks, cello bows, and peppered drum lines, offering shivers of melancholic bliss to the
listener who'll have the main tune of "Tvisturinn" dwelling through his mind for years to come. (Jurgen Verhasselt)
17. Panoptique Electrical - Some Rooms Become Us
Even though our album lists here at The Silent Ballet frequently champion ambient/experimental artists, the tracks lists are usually rock-oriented. Such a phenomenon is not hard to explain. Ambient artists are capable of creating magnificent albums, but individual tracks rarely shine as brightly as the work as a whole; instrumental rock bands may stumble on an album, but also have the opportunity to suck in the audience with a devastating single track. Exceptions to this rule can be found, such as with the work of Hammock or Stars of the Lid, and Jason Sweeney, aka Panoptique Electrical, has joined this group. "Some Rooms Become Us" is a marvel of an ambient work, combining strings and drones to devastating effect and fully accomplishing its goal of drawing the listener into Yes to Fear's deceptively complex interior. (Jordan Volz)
16. Tyondai Braxton - Platinum Rows
It's easy, in light of the mammoth success of New York math rock super group, Battles, to forget that singer and multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton has had a storied career as an avant garde guitarist and is the son of free jazz saxophone pioneer Anthony Braxton. For those not in the know, this year's Central Market was a poignant reminder of the man's skills outside of an ensemble setting. "Platinum Rows," Central Market's towering epic showcases Braxton's way with an orchestra and definite affinity for the bizarre. The track swings effortlessly between Braxton's trademark warped-voiced math rock and nouveau Looney Tunes classical music like some clandestine anachronistic meeting between Tex Avery and the members of Don Caballero.
15. Rhian Sheehan - Standing in Silence Pt. 10
Rhian Sheehan didn’t exactly come out of nowhere in 2009. He’d released plenty of albums in the previous decade, but none come close to Standing in Silence in scope or execution. The album plays like a suite (“Standing in Silence Parts 1-14”), but its signature moments stand on their own. After germinating politely in the background for nine tracks, the orchestra chooses this time to awake, and this blooming is as rich and unexpected as a terraformed desert. A belief in the power of possibility sends the strings swirling skyward, as if the artist were declaring that all is not lost, that the crammed tenements and stripped rainforests of today reflect not destiny, but intention; and that positive intention may turn the tide. Perhaps listeners won’t know about these things. Perhaps they won’t care. Yet only the most hardened of ears will be able to resist being caught up in the exultation of this track. (Richard Allen)
14. Mountains - Choral
Choral ought to be considered by many folks (and not just TSB) as one of the best albums of the year. Naysayers are asked to check out the opening track, a graceful, slow-pulsing drone. Analog synth and what must be a melodica make for a lustrous ambient mist, the broth in which some delicious, fragmented guitar melodies enrich the listener. The track is as satisfying as chicken soup on a cold day, serving as a transcendental healer to any a listener's jaded malaise. The rings of soft voices and bells that brush the stardust around us are so comforting that this could easily be the soundtrack to one's tunneling ascent to a heavenly hereafter. The lone acoustic guitar that awaits us at journey's end comforts us in our solitude, speaking to the magic of life as not being a quest for destination, but a series of arrivals. Mountains evokes a sadness with "Choral" - it is warm and inviting, but can only be measured in units of the divine.
13. Zu - Ostia
Blazing tenor saxes and frenzied smaller sized saxes annihilate any prejudices one might've had on this headfuck on Zu's best effort to date. With adrenaline-pumping waves of jazzcore laced with outlandish techniques, "Ostia" impresses with sounds and patterns that we won't easily forget. It's an blend of jazz and something-core turned into a five-minute novice piece of uncompromised, audible madness that will have the listener going berserk in his living room. (Jurgen Verhasselt)
12. Kashiwa Daisuke - Requiem
Even if Kashiwa Daisuke hadn't already proven himself to be a master of constructing an album's arc (see: Program Music I), he'd still be doing pretty well on his singles alone. 5 dec was decidedly an album more for his electronic fans, but "Requiem" threw a bone into the chaotic post-rock camp with its spastic glitching and genre shifts. The album's signature bass guitar is certainly present, but doesn't overpower Daisuke's more elegant classical touch. The most impressive aspect of the track may be the experimentation with vocals, which raises the bar from a casually enjoyable piece to one of hair-raising, spine-tingling levels. Whatever the end result, "Requiem" shows that "Stella" was no fluke and perhaps this young Japanese artist has just whet his appetite. (Jordan Volz)
11. Fuck Buttons - Lisbon Maru
Fuck Buttons may have toned down its act a wee bit since last year's face melting Street Horrrsing, but that doesn’t mean that the duo can’t still shatter some spines. "Lisbon Maru" is an unrelenting, pulsating monster of a track that illustrates beautifully just how effective the more focused approach of this year’s Tarot Sport has been. Driven along by stirring military drums and harsh synths, this epic journey builds in hypnotic style to an exhilarating climax, a final third pay-off that puts many of this years crescendo-toting post-rock acts to shame. On this form one can only hope that these genre-defying noise-niks will inspire others to make music this inventive, this fun, and this intoxicating.
10. Mono - Everlasting Light
How can a song be considered among the best of the past decade when it was just released this year? Those familiar with Japan’s Mono surely have no qualms with the inclusion of “Everlasting Light” on this list. The track works on two levels; in one way it stands alone by merit of its withering crescendo of ambivalent instrumentation, and on the other it attests to the continuing excellence of a group that has helped define the instrumental movement of the last ten years. For so much beauty to come out of such a small and humble group as this is remarkable. As with so many Mono tracks, "Everlasting Light" features a patient and introspective build that erupts into a chaos that resembles the soundtrack to cosmic explosion. Its ending is succinct and leaves the listener feeling awestruck and drained - the way good post-rock should.
9. Tim Hecker - Boarderlands
If anyone can think of a better name for Tim Hecker's latest album, An Imaginary Country, then by all means go for it. "Borderlands" resembles nothing so closely as a lazy afternoon drive through the countryside. One of the record's less fussy moments, the track drops the veil of static cloaking much of An Imaginary Country to expose the composer's quiet side. A fuzzy, crackling synth washes over the mix repeatedly like a gentle sea breeze blowing over the water's edge. The reposeful, glacial track typifies Hecker's ability to make electronic instruments sound just as warm as their organic counterparts. Hecker makes these synths breathe.
8. Tortoise - Charteroak Foundation
One thing we would almost be guaranteed never to see Tortoise get praised on is simplicity. And yet, while the redoubtable giant of Chicago’s instrumental scene will always be celebrated for its wondrous experimentation, sonic textural complexity, and jazz-like precision timing in execution, somehow “Charteroak Foundation” manages to illustrate something even more extraordinary: when Tortoise subverts its usual trade to instead deal in simplistic melodies minimalist compositional layering and structure, it still miraculously results in the same, delectable iconic sound. Generating simple, looped riffs on a succession of timbres, the track seamlessly merges tempos and aligns delightful melodies to a produce a lovely, energetic, upbeat, uplifting piece. (Mac Nguyen)
7. Sunwrae - The Machine
Sunwrae is my kind of band: phenomenally talented, brilliantly inventive, and possessing a keen sense of fun. Nowhere are all these attributes better illustrated than on "The Machine." The high tempo is set from the beginning as alarm-like violins kick off the track. Soon joined by piano and more strings, the music swells until the central grin-inducing melody breaks through. "The Machine" is packed full of mini crescendos just like this, each one proving more joyous than the last. By the end, every instrument is played with such free abandon that it feels as though the music could just collapse in on itself at any moment. Thankfully, it never does, and it is this unrestrained, playful approach that has made Sunwrae, and ‘The Machine’ in particular, one of the highlights of the year.
6. Gifts from Enola - Aves
Gifts From Enola is prepared to take flight into a new decade with a heavy arsenal of weaponry at its side, in the form of two spectacular full-length albums and a stunningly impressive five-song split CD. Fans of the band were nearly falling off the edge of their seats in waiting for June’s From Fathoms. Containing some of the most desirable, ambitious songs from the band to date, the album’s brilliant closer, “Aves,” provides a high-flying example of how these Virginian men are easily leading the revolution against the doldrums of instrumental rock. After hearing the album in its entirety, “Aves” is more than ready to unleash a final maelstrom of energy for its already captivated audience, effectively producing a group cheer near the end for one of the most inspirational moments of the year. This is Gifts From Enola doing what it does best.
5. Blueneck - Lilitu
The Fallen Host may be a more overtly post-rock release than its predecessor, but the craftsmanship of tracks like “Lilitu” help Blueneck maintain its coveted title of "The Band that Makes Us Sad in the Best Way." The combination of the band's trademark plaintive, obscured vocals and organic cello in the best post-rock mode set the stage, and while everyone knows where the track is going, they may not be prepared for what's waiting at the end of the line. Like all of Blueneck's best work, the track's peak is not a relief or a turning point; the band refuses to provide an easy way out of the atmosphere it has created. Instead, it functions as an attempt to escape that always fails. Blueneck's consistent (if evolving) application of such a characteristic aesthetic is one of the biggest reasons why it's such a great band, and there's no better example of this on The Fallen Host than “Lilitu.”
4. The Mercury Program - Chez Viking
There is no doubt that reaching the heights of a record like A Data Learn the Language for a second time would be a Herculean task for any band, and the release of Chez Viking proves that sometimes we have to return to the original artists for the best results. Like the other tracks on the quartet’s long-awaited comeback LP, the title track opens immediately with a melodic precursor to the lusciously addictive guitar hook that pervades this extremely well-devised and catchy number. Running at a conservative four minutes and forty-eight seconds, the track witnesses the band weaving its intricate, complex sound into a more tightly-packed space—much like the rest of the album. The trademark lingering fade-out ensures things remain fresh and makes “Chez Viking” a perfect launch to the album. (Mac Nguyen)
3. Do Make Say Think - Say
In just under thirteen minutes, Do Make Say Think sum up an entire decade’s worth of post-rock. Syncopated dual drums unite with hesitant guitar in a polyrhythmic groove, which collapses into a melodic, triumphant chorus; a driving mid-section gives electronics, acoustic guitar, and those golden horns room to wander, with the chorus growing ever grander until everything falls away into a long decrescendo where horns and vocals become the prime movers. Throughout, this emotional recipe yields the complex balance of flavors familiar to any Do Make fan: grounded nostalgia, bittersweet joy, mystical mundanity, and gentle strength. There are no hints of overwrought triumphalism or epic preciousness – it’s a song that engenders the commonplace (though no less worthy) hopes and failures of life as it is lived. (Lucas Kane)
2. From Monument to Masses - One Ounce of Prevention
In the words of Ben Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and in this spirit of foresight, From Monuments to Masses utilizes fluid guitar lines, guitar-drum breaks, inventive electronics, and trade mark-sound excerpts to craft one of the year's best tracks. At almost ten minutes in length, the song refines all the musical qualities so characteristic of the band. From the melancholy drum-rolling intro to the jagged guitar break down and ultimate riff-rocking buildups, FMTM manages to shift themes with envious efficiency. Nevertheless, the last three minutes are the highpoint of the song, with its soaring, triumphant synthesizers that punctuate the song with a jubilant sonic bliss.
1. Caspian - The Raven
With Caspian recently expanding to a quintet, its sound has become accordingly massive. Sophomore LP Tertia arrived this fall positively chocked full of sound. The band responsible for Tertia is now an army of guitars, synths, bells, xylophones, and the occasional wordless vocal. Tertia's most intense moment, "The Raven," flips the script a little, introducing booming electronic drums and a gloomy synth underscoring the guitar squalls that make up the song's opening riff. It's Caspian's black metal moment. The song restlessly switches gears after that: volleying back and forth between time signatures, occasionally stopping on a dime to lighten the mood by adorning the track with acoustic flourishes, all the while picking up intensity before dashing to a sweaty, cathartic finish. (Craig Jenkins)