ACL 2013: Top Ten Electronic

Total FolkloreA quick glance around the few remaining outposts of the printed UK music press suggests that guitar bands are still very much ruling the roost, although it’s pretty obvious to anyone outside of a small coterie of indie-obsessed music hacks that this is clearly nonsense.  What is noticeable this year is that the guitar itself, far from being an instrument for a series of uninspired bands to listlessly strum away at, is being used increasingly by electronic acts. Take a listen to our favourites below, and see how many utilise the humble six-string in way more inventive fashions than might be expected. It’s not quite ubiquitous – synths, samplers and laptops are still the weapons of choice – but it is one of the trends of the year.  And it’s not just limited to drafting in Nile Rodgers, although, admittedly, that does help.

And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen‘s Top Ten Electronic Releases of 2013.

Arovane ~ Ve Palor (n5md)
In a year of big name comebacks, the most understated may be that of Uwe Zahn (Arovane). In his first full length album in 9 years, Zahn hones, perfects and unleashes his sound, bringing back everything we loved about him.  These intricately built, brilliant songs mesh the organic and electronic to maximal effect, sounding like Four Tet before he got his four-to-the-floor on or Autechre at its height. Pop sensibilities lie underneath all sorts of glitch, and carefully chosen sounds build up and repeat to reach beauty in every single instance; a magnificent album from start to finish.  (Mohammed Ashraf)

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Botany ~ Lava Diviner (Truestory) (Western Vinyl)
As a combined mix tape, sound collage and dance album, Lava Diviner (Truestory) offers 44 minutes of aural bliss to its listeners.  But it’s not all nostalgia; Spencer Stevenson adds his own instruments for a three-dimensional treat.  Warm, uplifting, and graceful, Botany’s debut album is a boost to the body that also manages to engage the mind.  (Richard Allen)

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Dalot & Gavin Miller ~ Wards (This Is It Forever)
Good news for Dalot and Gavin Miller fans, who have one extra track each to enjoy this year. Bad news for Dalot and Gavin Miller collectors, as the limited run of 10 (ten!) has already sold out. Dalot adds a dubby shimmer to a pulse that echoes the sound of a heart monitor before giving way to layers of strings in a fine companion piece to the recent Ancestors LP. Gavin’s contribution caps an impressive run of singles in 2013 and dovetails neatly with the first track, adopting a similarly spacey dub sound that gradually builds in intensity. It’s a mighty impressive pairing. (Jeremy Bye)

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Dan Friel ~ Total Folklore (Thrill Jockey)
Like going on a psychedelic dumpster dive, this album was the most fun listen I had all year. Dan Friel’s amazing hooks and blown out beats come from a different dimension where rainbows and hyperactive glowworms disintegrate 16-bit video game landscapes like there’s no tomorrow. It’s persistently pleasurable and each song sounds at risk of destroying itself with all manner of distortion on pretty much every compositional element. Put on the headphones and celebrate the world around you, no matter how cracked the pavement or dingy the walls. Total Folklore blasts color into your ears, promoting Life as the place to be.  (Nayt Keane)

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Deep Magic ~ Reflections of Most Forgotten Love (Preservation)
Alex Gray isn’t one to sit still, and though Deep Magic has remained his most consistent project, it’s still been constantly evolving and expanding.  Unlike his more meditative slowly evolving drone tapes, his LPs  take the listener on a tour across a dense sonic landscape of processed field-recordings, instrumentation, and who knows what. Standout tracks like “Brighter Days” encapsulate what is so powerful about Deep Magic, an abiding drugged out spirituality that never loses sight of bliss.  (Joseph Sannicandro)

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Disparition ~ Madoc (Self-released)
Propulsive, non-stop trance music often tries hard and goes nowhere, but Madoc is a constantly shifting journey that keeps the attention by weaving colorful new worlds. What begins as an unassuming techno piece morphs deliciously into dark, urgent chill-scapes peppered with oud, piano, marimba, bells and others that keep the long pieces fresh and exotic. Disparition’s albums always ride a theme, and this one is named for one of two Welsh explorer princes who appears as a central figure in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third part of Madeline L’Engle’s famous fantasy trilogy. The perpetual rhythms and organic instruments ensure this album’s constant sense of adventure. (Nayt Keane)

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Forest Swords ~ Engravings (Tri Angle Records)
Liverpudlian producer Matthew Barnes took his sweet time before unleashing the debut Forest Swords album on an audience enraptured by his sequence of EPs back in 2010. It was worth the wait and fully justified the levels of anticipation that had been building up, more than holding its own against other long-awaited albums this year. Bathed in a hazy luminescence, anchored by solid hip hop beats and liquid, dubby, bass, the tracks on Engravings were bursting with invention. Every play reveals something new on this album, and the creative impulses are balanced with a cohesion in the sequencing that makes Engravings a complete record; it starts strong and just gets better. (Jeremy Bye)

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The House in the Woods ~ Bucolica (Exotic Pylon Records)
Pye Corner Audio’s Head Technician adopts a new identity for this powerfully atmospheric album, using the good old horror movie standby of The House in the Woods (given Joss Whedon’s rather lacklustre movie, it’s only right that the Cabin has been abandoned). Bucolica is drenched in atmospheric effects in keeping with the imagined location; rain persistently falls, the generator hums away, there’s mysterious rattling and clanging just to ramp up the tension.  It is a genuinely spooky experience – a bit like the opening bars of Black Sabbath’s debut extended over 50 minutes, and unlike most horror films nowadays, at no point is the spell is broken.  (Jeremy Bye)

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Junior Pande ~ Tape Three (Spring Break Tapes)
Justin Peroff’s Junior Pande project reaches its zenith with his third tape of screwed beats, sneaking synths, and hazy soundscapes.  Best known as the drummer of Broken Social Scene, that gives you little inclination of what to expect from his Tape trilogy.  Sure BSS has its origins in bedroom studios, and sure Peroff’s tight beats were a defining feature of that sprawling group, but the similarities end there.  Even his oft-forgotten instrumental duo Junior Blue -the namesake of this project- won’t tell you much.  Drawing on the hypnotic atmospheres of the beat scene and the creative techniques of hip hop, Junior Pande has come into his own.  (Joseph Sannicandro)

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Public Service Broadcasting ~ Inform Educate Entertain (Self-released)
Talent and popularity don’t always go hand in hand, but Inform Educate Entertain is the exception.  It’s just so darn likable.  Public Service Broadcasting plundered public archives to find samples for their debut album, now accompanied by a DVD (Region 2 – Bastards!).  Combined with dance beats, ambient washes and post-rock flavors, this potpourri of British culture created enough goodwill to stretch around the world.  (Richard Allen)

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