An article by The Silent Ballet Staff


30) Agalloch | Marrow of the Spirit
United States

Profound Lore

Agalloch’s albums have always been growers. Though metal often thrives on bombast, Agalloch’s music has always been comparatively restrained and subtle, favoring strong songwriting over theatrics. The band's fourth album takes its time to get out of the gate, but it epitomizes everything that has made Agalloch one of underground metal’s best-loved bands. Full of dark epics that swell and ebb with controlled mastery, a slightly “blacker” aesthetic than usual (courtesy of new drummer Aesop Dekker), and progressive-rock textures like solo violin and the lengthy organ interlude on “Black Lake Nidstang”, Marrow of the Spirit looks like its cover and feels like winter in the northern latitudes—not the blasting, hyperbolic winter of Immortal and co., but winter as it is actually lived: cold and plodding, one day at a time, vast and immediate, beautiful and depressing. (Lucas Kane)

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29) Holy Fuck | Latin
Canada

XL

So much has been made of this band’s main shticks—the ridiculous and in-your-face name, the rock rhythm section coupled with two keyboard players who arm themselves with a veritable legion of broken-down synths, weird machines, and effects processors—that the real standout component often gets left out of the conversion. What is that component? Energy, energy, energy! The heart of the music these Canadians produce lives not in the shticks but in the wildly frenetic and Dionysian atmosphere they produce, and this album is no exception. The first track may give the audience time to get situated, but from that point forward it is on: one danceable track after another grants little time to sit still, let alone to breathe, and from beginning to end this album is an exquisitely vibrant soundtrack to anyone’s daily life. (Stephan Sherman)

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28) Talons | Hollow Realm
England

Big Scary Monsters

It is clear that a band is special when it does not match the genre it is placed in. Talons' only post-rock characteristics are guitars, bass, drums, and violins. The music on Hollow Realm does not contain crescendos, six-minute builds, or repetition. Instead, it is a furious mix of urgency through sharp violin strokes and neat fretwork. Talons knows how to speed it up and reign it back in; it knows when to strike and when to hold back. The volume of ideas pouring from the fingers of these musicians would be enough to drown more established bands, and it is certainly going to cause arguments in its genre, whichever that may be. (Gary Davidson)

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27) Black Swan | Black Swan (In 8 Movements)
United States

Experimedia

Really, what’s not to love about Black Swan? A virtually out-of-nowhere eight-movement suite shrouded in mystery and glorious analog crackle should be more than enough to entice even a casual reader. And it is that analog fetishism that really gives life to the record. It is almost “easy” to make passable ambient music with a computer and the right software; Black Swan instead revels in every pop, hiss, and warble, every unwanted flux, every physical artifact of something physical. By proudly turning away from the digital immaculate and embracing every last flaw of actual tape, Black Swan has effortlessly stood out in a genre built on shying away. (Calvin Young)

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26) The Ascent of Everest | From This Vantage
United States

Shelsmusic

In 2006, The Ascent of Everest’s debut release, How Lonely Sits the City, with its ranting orators and fierce crescendos, could easily have been drawn from the depths of Constellation Records’ back catalogue. A split EP with We All Inherit the Moon in 2009 alerted us to the fact that TAoE was still alive and making new music, but From This Vantage must surely have come as a surprise to even the band's most die-hard fans. Comparisons with Godspeed You! Yndi Zion are now but a distant memory: Devin Lamp’s somewhat fragile (but never grating) vocals weave in effortlessly with the sweeping strings arrangements, with guitars playing a much more muted role in this release. Evocative and emotive, From This Vantage surely cements the reputation of TAoE as a force to be reckoned with in the instrumental world. (Richard White)

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25) Nico Muhly | I Drink the Air Before Me
United States

Bedroom Community

Between Peter Broderick and Nico Muhly, the ballet score seems to be getting a lot of traction lately. Of course, avant garde ballet is nothing new—the riot-inducing Rite of Spring was a ballet, after all—but it is still refreshing to see new life breathed into old forms. I Drink the Air Before Me is a very different record from 2008’s remarkable Mothertongue, much more orchestral in nature—more classical, less modern, one might say. But that hardly amounts to criticism; indeed, Muhly’s keen handling of motifs and themes plays well in this comparably more restrained setting. And when it comes time to enact the storm promised by the titular quote from The Tempest—well, how the winds do blow! Muhly continues to cement his reputation as one of the brightest young stars in the world of music. (Tom Butcher)

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24) Strië | Sléptis
Europe

Soundscaping

The music contained within Sléptis is so sparse that the whole album nearly passes by unnoticed. Nearly. Thankfully the music is also enrapturing and intriguing, searing passages into the listener's brain and making him subconsciously yearn for more. Sléptis is not confined; rather, it plays host to a myriad of influences that fuse together to form one whole composition of rich and beguiling textures. Drone, ambient, experimental, classical, electronic - they are all featured on Sléptis; yet the album never feels overstated or too ambitious, with each track perfectly crafted and judged, creating something that it innovative, interesting, and emotive. Basically, exactly what music should be. (James Ould)

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23) Rafael Anton Irisarri | The North Bend
United States

Room 40

Invoking the lush stillness of fog, moss, old growth forests, and gray skies, The North Bend is a cohesive narrative of natural beauty directly inspired by the greenscapes of the Pacific Northwest. The album shares the sadness of a winter sunset; it is a deeply personal work that eases in and out of the ears. Alive with fragments of static, guitar murmurs, aqueous tones and clouds, Irisarri’s compositions comfortably emerge and reveal themselves in what feels much longer than forty one minutes. If instead of being murdered, Laura Palmer meditated peacefully into the afterlife in the fictional town of Twin Peaks, this album would have made a fine soundtrack. (Nayt Keane)

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22) Sophie Hutchings | Becalmed
Australia

Preservation

There is something about Becalmed—something in its soul, spirit, quintessence—that makes it near impossible to believe that it is a debut. First off, it is way too mature to mark a beginning; from the technical flair to the compositional shrewdness, Becalmed exhibits all the signs of a work propped up by years of refinement across an extensive back catalogue. Secondly, listening to Becalmed is akin to seeing an old friend; the familiarity is not necessarily a product of the music, but rather the repose and commiseration of the emotions it evokes. Sydney local Sophie Hutchings communicates every ounce of introspection and poignancy to the listener in the most fluent possible rendition of the piano language. The fact that buried in there, amongst the gorgeous timing and haunting resonance of her starring piano, is a subtle myriad of strings, organ, and percussion, suggests not only ambition but also meticulous execution. Swooped up by Preservation and engineered by the finest of local producing talent in Tim Whitten and Tony Dupe, Becalmed sees Hutchings comfortably soaring into this generation’s upper echelon of prodigal pianist contemporaries, alongside the likes of Nils Frahm, Peter Broderick, and Rae Howell. (Mac Nguyen)

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21) Brian McBride | The Effective Disconnect
United States

Kranky

While another long-playing tour-de-force from Stars of the Lid would certainly be at the top of many Silent Ballet staffer’s letter to Santa, it can safely be said that the next best thing is a solo record from one of its members. Quiet since 2007, Brian McBride delivers the latest Stars of the Lid fix in 2010’s The Effective Disconnect, a soundtrack commissioned by the filmmakers of an obscure, Ellen Page-narrated documentary, The Vanishing of the Bees. More so than his previous solo effort, The Effective Disconnect is littered with moments faithful to the Lid aesthetic—a string section’s stirring inundation of Lynchian poignancy on "Melodrames Telegraphies”, the lingering subdued remnants of piano on "Girl Nap", or even the synergistic effort of both on “Toil Theme”. The Effective Disconnect sees McBride portray the essence of his body of work, the intermingling of sound and emotion, in a manner so irreducibly pure that it resonates his mastery beyond the film. The fact that this soundtrack exists under its own title, as opposed to the documentary, is very telling about what might be its raison d'être—not as background music, but, like any other Stars of the Lid offering, a standalone work of overwhelming affective substance. (Mac Nguyen)

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Top Albums: 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51 | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21| 20-11 | 10-1

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