An article by The Silent Ballet Staff


10) Oneohtrix Point Never | Returnal
United States

Editions Mego

The touchstone for both Emerald's and Oneohtrix Point Never's album on Editions Mego this year is Christian Fennesz's 2001 breakthrough, Endless Summer. One of the first instances of a laptop artist creating a work that looked back as much as it looked forward, that album was bathed in a warm, nostalgic glow shot through with numerous Beach Boys references softening the usually prickly and obtuse arrangements that the Austrian label was known for. It is a similar sense of gazing over the shoulder to a simpler time that informs Returnal. Between the two busy tracks that bookend the album (opening with a challenging array of laptop screams, whilst the closer breaks open the box of percussion), Daniel Lopatin offers a sequence of light, melodic drone works that float free in the ether, and the spooky vocals of the title track, like a drumless Fever Ray. Whether the hypnagogic pop concept sticks around next year or dies and goes to genre heaven, an album such as Returnal transcends such labeling - this is, simply, electronic music from the soul. (Jeremy Bye)

[Read Our Review]

9) 80kidz | Weekend Warrior
Japan

Kidz

They say that the stronger the mainstream, the stronger the underground reaction. This is certainly true in Japan, where for every AKB48 and Arashi there is a Mono, Sgt., or Melt Banana. For years this innovation bypassed the Japanese club scene, with it relying heavily on big name Western DJs and artists. Thankfully, the rise of 80kidz has given the Japanese electro scene a much needed boost, and second album Weekend Warrior should cement the group's place even further. Compared to debut This Is My Shit, Weekend Warrior seems reserved on first listen, but in reality it is simply more diverse and more ambitious. There is still the trademark riff heavy electro (“Nautilas” and “Voice”), but there is also some dubstep (“I Wish”), downtempo (“Czerny 13” and “Red Star”), techno (“Highlight”), and even a guitar based interlude (“When You See”). Overall, Weekend Warrior is another excellent electro album that offers something fresh, something different, and ultimately, something enjoyable. (James Ould)

[Read Our Review]

8) Yellow Swans | Going Places
United States

Type

It is a frustratingly ironic title for an album: Going Places, after all, was the last release before Yellow Swans ceased to be, which is downright maddening when it is the duo's most exploratory and developed effort. It is the music, though, that is going places with its abrasive walls of drone conjuring and white noise necromancy, whether or not the Swans are alive to guide it. The tracks may be almost disarmingly short for the genre, but each and every one lurches and pulsates life into its unassuming space. Every track straddles the line between abrasive noise and meditative drone, and at the proper volume it is entirely all-consuming in a simultaneously blissful and terrorizing way. Going Places is the most purposeful maelstrom to emerge from noise in a while, and its unlikely success is no mistake: it is some of the finest work in the genre, and a unexpectedly transcendent swan song. (Calvin Young)

[Read Our Review]

7) Olan Mill | Pine
England

Serein

The evergreen forests of high mountain passes; the longing for something lost: this album captures the solace of the former and the ache of the latter in a single breath. One of the strongest ambient releases of the year, Pine is a testament to the possibilities of narrative within the genre. The album was recorded in the perfect acoustic space for such work, namely a small church, and both the reverence and the reverberations of such a space come through on the album. Soft swells are the staple, but even those tracks that focus more on piano retain the measured pacing of the more ambient tracks, and overall the music captures simultaneously the solace of solitude with ease. (Stephan Sherman)

[Read Our Review]

6) World's End Girlfriend | Seven Idiots
Japan

Virgin Babylon

It is as if Katsushido Maeda wanted to write the one album that would turn the entire music world on its head. If Squarepusher thought he had a monopoly on eclectic, jazz-influenced glitchtronica, he had another thing coming; this album throws in everything under the sun to create an equal-parts obnoxious and mind-bending masterpiece. And jazz is not the end of the story: include a little minimalist piano, lush strings, and child choirs, and we are nearly there. Anyone preparing to listen to this album for the first time is advised to prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime experience: you will be trapped in a hapless lifeboat, buffeted unceasingly by the insistently randomized genius of this perfect storm of cunning compositional craft. Learning to ride these waves is akin to attaining a higher mental state, and upon return from the trip the world will look brighter, vibrant, and more than a little disproportioned. (Stephan Sherman)

[Read Our Review]

5) Richard Skelton | Landings
England

Type

It is unfair to call Landings an album, simply because it does not do it justice. Really, it is a work of art, a narrative to life and a soundtrack to a landscape. It is not so much a collection of tracks but a heady composition that swells up inside the listener, enveloping them with a deep richness. Landings contains joy, melancholy, despair, pain, longing, hope – as Nayt Keane so aptly said in his review, “No two listens are alike.” One moment the listener will be imaging a sparse, broken dystopia, and then next a hazy sunrise on a spring morning. Landings is a work of beauty, of such depth and simplicity that it will leave the audience touched forever. (James Ould)

[Read Our Review]

4) Year of No Light | Ausserwelt
France

Conspiracy

Year of No Light has always pushed out quality, adventurous messes of sludge, but Ausserwelt is about as laser-focused as the genre can get. Over the four lengthy tracks, not a single minute of runtime feels wasted or redundant. The absolutely massive, crushing swaths of doom are downright suffocating, but miraculously, it is not needlessly heavy - it is not devastating without purpose. Each of Ausserwelt’s four explorations are undeniably brutal, but the eponymous “outer world” is explored to the fullest with smart ambient stretches and brave melodic forays; at least until the sheer gravity summoned by the riffing drags everything back into its ferociously dense core. (Calvin Young)

[Read Our Review]

3) Daníel Bjarnason | Processions
Iceland

Bedroom Community

With a population of just over 300,000, Iceland surely has more than its fair share of musical talent. Daníel Bjarnason is the latest contemporary classical prodigy to emerge from the island, and he has already proved himself to be on a par with compatriots Jóhann Jóhannsson, Ólafur Arnalds, and Valgeir Sigurðsson. Ably assisted by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, composer and conductor Bjarnason has created a seven track masterpiece that ranges from the frenetic, through the majestic, to the downright idyllic. Sigur Ros may have showcased the glacial beauty of Iceland in their video Heima, but Processions is so imagery-inspiring that visuals could never do the music justice. Just sit back, relax, and let Bjarnason take you on a journey through the epic wilderness of the Icelandic tundra. (Richard White)

[Read Our Review]

2) Slow Six | Tomorrow Becomes You
United States

Western Vinyl

Slow Six, under the creative direction of Christopher Tignor and with a host of offshoots (Wires Under Tension, Redhooker, and Tignor’s solo work), is clearly a band capable of doing anything it puts its collective mind to. The breadth of talent evident on Tomorrow Becomes You is astounding, and the decision to incorporate drums into the line-up following 2007’s Nor’easter only serves to emphasize the band’s ability to flit seamlessly between neoclassical, experimental, and instrumental rock, often in the course of the same track. This is not the first appearance of Slow Six in TSB’s end of year lists – and I think it is safe to assume that it will not be the last. (Richard White)

[Read Our Review]

1) Ous Mal | Nuojuva Halava
Finland

Preservation

Finnish folk collides with trip-hop in this original experiment by one of the scene's freshest newcomers. Heads will nod, hearts will soar, and minds will be sent scurrying to Wikipedia to discover the origins of the kantele, a traditional instrument used here to great modern effect. Once upon a time, gypsies wandered the Finnish forests, operating as both vagabonds and troubadours. One can imagine Olli Arni playfully tracing their footsteps with a boom box and an iPad. The old ways are not gone, but re-imagined, and this tribute reminds us that the best traditions are seldom forgotten, simply wrapped in new cloths and adorned with new sequins and bells. (Nayt Keane)

[Read Our Review]

Top Albums: 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51 | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-21 | 10-1

Top Tracks: 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-01