ACL 2012: Top Ten Electronic

Ekstasis

It would appear that the Electronic section of A Closer Listen is the poor relation of the site, which in a way is no bad thing; certainly the remit when the site was founded was to give those artists who were ignored by the mainstream – and in some cases, even the leftfield – press a platform. As electronic music generally gets more attention elsewhere, it might explain why our Top Ten has ended up the way it has, with a distinct tint of the experimental in certain places. The selection obviously stems from what we review, and what we review comes from what we’ve been sent; that we’re not top of the list for a bunch of generic electronica releases is actually a blessed relief. Some of the albums here might have ended up in the Experimental category, and vice versa; it’s good that the barriers are blurred.

And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen’s Top Ten Electronic Releases of 2012.

afarOne ~ Lucen (Karl Records)
It’s not such a bad thing to sound like Murcof, especially when Murcof himself seems to have disappeared.  Stefano Ruggieri seems ready to take on the task, providing a brisk October score that echoes like bootsteps on untreated wood.  The beats provide an anchor like bread crumbs in the forest, the strings the enticement of candy, the swirling pads the furnace.  (Richard Allen)

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Bersarin Quartet  ~ II (Denovali)
Bersarin Quartet’s II feels much more baroque and personal than Thomas Bücker’s exuberant debut.  Between every drum resonance lies a sense of human frailty, between the clarinet and violin a buried hope.  The piano breathes a joy we aren’t allowed to feel; the tasteful electronics provide the road to freedom.  This music captures the darkness that every human shares in a quest for lightness of being.  (Nayt Keane)

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Julia Holter ~ Ekstasis (RVNG)
The title is drawn from Greek philosophy, and the lyrics come with a list of inspirations from Euripides to Virginia Woolf, which may indicate a heavyweight listening experience. However, Ekstasis is a wonderfully surefooted, nimble record, as light as the breeze that could be called ‘dream pop’ if that wasn’t woefully underselling it. Holter taps into similar sounds that Emeralds use, but uses the blissed-out sound of analogue synths as a backing to her voice rather than an impressionistic end in itself. At times, it almost sounds like she’s channelling Trish from Broadcast, which would be apt as Holter is also drawing on older music to push her own forward. According to Plotinus, ekstasis is the culmination of human possibility, which is a big claim for one album; it’s to Holter’s credit that she doesn’t sound like she’s missing by much. (Jeremy Bye)

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Mala ~ Mala in Cuba (Brownswood Recordings)
It’s a project that could have gone very badly wrong indeed; a dubstep producer transplanted from his South London environs to work with a collection of musicians in Cuba. Thankfully, the common ground – it’s music to dance to, wherever it stems from – outweighs any possible differences. The Cubans change their playing to fit in with Mala’s preferred 140bpm, he adds only the most discreet dubstep touches (a vibrant kick drum here, an atmospheric patch there) to their music and it all fits together beautifully. It’s the Buena Vista Social Club for a whole new generation. (Jeremy Bye)

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Mark Fell ~ Sentielle Objectif Actualité (SND)
Peter Rehberg’s EditionsMego is the premier label for innovative and challenging electronic music.  If there was ever any doubt, 2012 left the competition far behind with exquisite releases from the likes of Hecker, Raglani,Mark Hampson, Fennesz, Kassel Jaeger, Oren Ambarchi, and of course the latest from Mark Fell.  Best known as half of the pioneering hardware glitch duo SND and for his more dub-techno work under his own name. Fell has settled into a happy medium between cerebral electronics, dance-floor aesthetics, and artistic practice. The off-kilter beats of Sentielle Objectif Actualité consist of seven radical reworkings of earlier material which draw on a restricted palate of classic techno hardware.  The result is perhaps the clearest distillation of Fell’s superb production skills to date.  (Joseph Sannicandro)

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Mentallo & the Fixer ~ Music from the Eather (Alfa Matrix)
If industrial music is ever to make a comeback, it will take a few more releases like this.  A triple-disc sensation following a career retrospective, Music from the Eather is generous in both size and sound.  At any moment, multiple patterns are vying for dominance; the tempo may be constant, but the beats are not.  If the rest of the field had developed in this fashion, we’d all be living in an unrecognizable world.  (Richard Allen)

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Park Avenue Music ~ For Your Home or Office (mu-nest)
Wesley Steed and Jeanette Faith – or Juju – are the duo behind Park Avenue Music. Originally released in 2003, For Your Home or Office now includes some new, bubbly remixes; it’s a perfect date night of nocturnal bubble-gum electronica that loves to wine and dine over lucid beats and dreamy melodies. Juju’s vocals are truly alluring, as the natural light descends and the phosphorescence lights flicker into existence. After the day’s workload, we could watch the sun go down over Sacramento, California, if you would like to.  (James Catchpole)

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Pawn ~ Glimmer of Sunlight (Dynamophone)
Six songs and six remixes make Glimmer of Light a friendly package.  The timbre, brightened by music box, glockenspiel and strings, makes Glimmer of Light a friendly album.  But the beats are responsible for the album’s framework; they may be laid atop the architecture like pillows positioned by mittens, but they act as the glimmer, a fine veneer of stardust that sparkles in the frost.  (Richard Allen)

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Pie Are Squared ~ Three Quarter Moon/Memories et Cetera (self-released)
It isn’t nepotism. ACL’s own Pie Are Squared’s isolated time spent aboard a Middle Eastern oil platform resulted in these sparse, chilling electronic-tinged pieces, each of them throbbing with life and stirring, overwhelming emotion. It’s the best release in a line of long and rewarding excursions from one of our own.  (Zachary Corsa)

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Robert Hampson ~ Signaux (Editions Mego)
One of two records released on the same day, Signaux is the artist’s pointillistic statement, a pair of long pieces constructed pinpoint by pinpoint, dot by dot.  One would be hard-pressed to dance to it, despite the presence of a pulse; but one would certainly be enticed to investigate the room in which it was playing.  Computer music is rarely this complex and accessible; Hampson’s experience pays off well in these grooves.  (Richard Allen)

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One comment

  1. Ans

    So well deserved and good to see afarOne ~ Lucen is in ACL’s top-ten!

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