Thursday, 26 December 2013

Best of 2013: Music Pt.3

Burial - Rival Dealer

It's another case of evolution not revolution on the latest release from production-genius William Emmanuel Bevan (aka Burial). Although only an EP, clocking in at just under half an hour, it somehow contains an audiophile's treasure trove of riches requiring many weeks to be properly absorbed and obsessed over. The basic Burial sound remains: vinyl crackles, ghostly vocals alternating between the melancholic and the ominous, beats that rumble under foot like a passing subway train. But this time out, Bevan has opted to add a few dashes of colour to his typically monochrome palette: 'Hiders' reveals its New Wave melody when the candy-stripe synths and motorik beat kick in, whilst 'Come Down To Us' leaves behind its gorgeous Weeknd-channelling beginnings to become a full-blown pop ballad.

At the end of the record Bevan drops in excerpts from Matrix co-creator Lana Wachowski's touching acceptance speech for the Human Rights Campaign's Visibility Award, discussing her gender reassignment and desire to be true to herself. Much like the unmistakeable, sui generis music of its creator, the ultimate message of this mini-masterpiece is a celebration of self-acceptance and self-expression. (Nick Pierce)

Oneohtrix Point Never - R Plus Seven

Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Ever, features heavily in Simon Reynolds’s 2011 book Retromania, which compares his cut up and collage techniques with those of France's music concrete pioneers. This technique arrives at its zenith on R Plus Seven, a gorgeous yet divergent record, more tangents than regularity. Whilst thematically everything is tied together by soft synth pads and Enya-alike vocal samples, individual sounds and melodies disappear with no warning to be replaced by something completely new. Whilst at first this can be distracting, repeated listens reveal a dense dream-like world entirely bereft of convention. Like his partner, Ina Cube (aka Laurel Halo), who appears elsewhere on this list, Lopatin is not comfortable resting on his laurels (pun not intended), instead preferring to build bizarre and beautiful soundscapes, dazzling yet still comforting. R Plus Seven deserves its place here as a pioneering effort. (George Bate)

El-P and Killer Mike - Run the Jewels

The dynamic duo heavily teased on Cancer 4 Cure and R.A.P. Music finally came together this summer for a half hour of serious power rap. Whilst not quite as consistent in greatness as Kanye’s foray into so-called ‘alternative hip hop’, El-P’s production here is an impeccable reminder of who came to the game first, with his paranoid rhymes finding an equal in the charisma of Killer Mike’s Southern flow. The way the two complement and contrast throughout the album’s runtime puts similar pairings to shame, though it would have been nice to have a few moments of Funcrusher Plus level venom thrown into the mix – Run the Jewels is perhaps El-P’s most accessible record, but at times it feels as though he might be holding back as a result. That said, “Sea Legs” easily stands toe to toe with “Black Skinhead”. (Tom Dunn)

Disclosure - Settle

Disclosure were the group which spawned the most cringeworthy newspaper articles this year (I'm looking at you Guardian), as writers attempted in vain to keep up with a zeitgeist which had long since left them behind. Far more interesting than reading Alexis Petridis's "down with the kids" shtick was their actual debut record, which despite it s "deep" house (oh but is it "deep" house? Who knows? More importantly, who cares?) sound is also one of the slickest, most well written pop albums of recent years. Choosing guest vocalists on their own merit rather than for their star status, here Disclosure curate a work with an incredibly wide appeal; from casual pop radio listeners to wide-pupilled club kids, Settle’s very British allure seems to have infested every corner of the nation and beyond. (GB)

The Knife - Shaking the Habitual

As the title suggests, Olof and Karin Dreijer Andersson’s latest record makes clear that the decompressed, ambient sound of Tomorrow In a Year wasn’t just a fluke, instead building upon it and eschewing the shriller techno pop last seen on Karin’s Fever Ray. Often arresting – and very occasionally too aloof for its own good – Shaking the Habitual is the duo’s vastest, and to my mind most accomplished album yet. Alternately sweeping and machine-gun like, at times this full-frontal attack on neo-liberalism can come off as rather po-faced, and in the case of “Fracking Fluid Injection” there’s such a thing as overstretching the point, but highs like “Full of Fire” and its gender-bending message, alongside the record’s bundled “End Extreme Wealth” comic, more than make up for any misfires – sonic or soap-box. (TD)

Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus

Whilst previously solid if occasionally uninspired in its output, Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Powers’ Fuck Buttons project really came into its own on this third record, rejecting their previously crystalline soundscapes in favour of something black as tar and full of menace. Yet the somewhere deep beneath the gloopy sounds the DNA of Tarot Sport is still apparent, and whilst Slow Focus is unlikely to see any of its tracks backing the next Olympics, its heaving bass and synths see the two continuing their work as builders and experimenters, crafting work that is immediately evocative and rewarding. The initial hammering of “Brainfreeze” makes way for ‘The Red Wing’ and its neon sleaze, as Slow Focus works it way through something at once visceral and cold. Tellingly, while the London 2012 Opening Ceremony found place for “Surf Solar”, it’s Channel 4’s return to gritty, innovative TV as part of its ‘Born Risky’ campaign that seeks out the darkness of “Hidden XS”. (TD)

Prurient - Through the Window

Dominic Fernow has been making a cacophony of all sorts of different types of music (with plenty of different monikers to boot) since his first releases in the late 90s, but always with a focus on the darker end of the sonic spectrum. It's this darker focus that makes London's Blackest Ever Black label a natural home for the misanthropic American. His first release for them sees a more ambient take on his Prurient alias, all pulsating keyboard motifs and regular kickdrums in place of pummelling white noise structures. As with much techno the strength here is in the glorious repetition; Fernow finds something darkly wonderful and sticks to it. Releases as Vatican Shadow later in the year saw Fernow operating in a more "business as usual" kind of manner, but Through the Window is now the standout release amongst dozens, if not hundreds, of Fernow recordings. (GB)

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience Part One

Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds are quite rightly considered two of the best pop records from last decade, so the fact that Justin Timberlake’s comeback manages to hold its own against those two behemoths is no small feat. Whilst the radio debut of “Suit & Tie” hinted at a more soulful direction for JT and Timbaland, this compact single betrayed the sheer expansiveness of the full record to follow; every track on The 20/20 Experience Part One is a suite in itself, switching keys, changing in mood or dropping heavily distorted sounds and samples before confidently veering off somewhere else. Carrying a real sense of space and sexiness, The 20/20 Experience Part One was easily one of the year’s most soulful records, and should have remained as a one-off. (TD)

Machinedrum - Vapor City

Machinedrum has said in recent interviews that he envisioned his latest record as a walk through a dystopian city (Will Self would be proud), with each track representative of a different sector within that metropolis. The cover image to Vapor City is a visual rendering of that place. It seems that the residents of Vapor City are fans of an interlocking series of related high-BPM electronic subgenres, with juke, jungle and drum'n'bass all playing a part in their soundtrack, and an overlaying of Machinedrum's highly polished sheen and texture binding everything together. Standout track "Gunshotta" sounds like a lost classic hiding somewhere in DJ Hype's record bag, whereas other more ambient pieces come directly from Burial's school of atmosphere; "Vizion" could almost have been copied and pasted from Untrue, but it's no worse off for it. Elsewhere in Machinedrum's busy 2013 schedule he found time for a BBC Radio 1 essential mix and one of the most interesting and cohesive mixes of the year in his Resident Advisor podcast. (GB)

All that remains is our album of the can get up to speed with almost all of our choices for the year with the Spectrum Best of 2013 Spotify playlist.