It’s something of a tradition that we start our End of Year Coverage with some contributions from Friends of the Site. We hit up a bunch of contributors, DJs, bloggers and musicians with a simple request: tell us about a record you liked this year. Not necessarily your favourite or the best, just one you want to talk about from any genre you like. As always we got back some great write-ups, some of records we knew and a bunch of records we didn’t, which is always the funnest part of assembling these pieces. Enormous Thank Yous are due to everyone who threw in their two cents, you guys are the best!
Our own end of year lists will start tomorrow with the honourable mentions, but right now it’s time for the Friends of I Die: You Die Year End Round-Up!
Youth Code, self-titled
“Few industrial artists in recent years have ignited the debate, criticism, and praise (both “in scene” and on mainstream music blogs) as Youth Code, who came seemingly out of nowhere (actually the fertile Los Angeles industrial scene), played a few shows tossed up on YouTube, put up some demos on Bandcamp, got signed to the famed DAIS record label, and put out an acclaimed album in the space of a short few years. Youth Code’s eponymous debut is getting people other than industrial fans excited, and that should say something. From opener “Let The Sky Burn” to the single “Carrier Mask” to “Destroy, Said She”, Sara Taylor and Ryan William George’s brutal electronic compositions combine everything that has excited me about this genre for the last two decades: it’s raw, chaotic, seething stuff, dumping the prim and proper production of so many current albums and going back to basics. It’s defiant and out of the gutter, and it makes no apologies.
Youth Code’s dirty electronic punk energy is reminiscent to me of the revered releases of Wax Trax, and their debut is bringing some danger back to a scene that has been more about fashion and keeping up with the current EDM trends than anything else. It’s equal parts reckless, passionate, and perfectly imperfect. In other words, it’s some damn good industrial, and an album that definitely lives up to its name.” – Matt Fanale (Caustic/Failing Better)
Vår, No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers
“The nine-track début begins with a horn sounding and a seasick loop that churns its way through “Begin To Remember,” as we are obliged to do the opposite – the lyrics a plea to “cease to remember” – over a sparse arrangement of rolls and twinkling synths. This conflict between title and content, of bittersweet nostalgia, is mirrored in the sonic unease that permeates the record from start to finish. Horns resurface in “Motionless Duties”, cutting through a haze of loops like foghorns, invoking a tangible isolation and melancholy. The next track, “Hair Like Feathers”, slowly builds a menacing, martial atmosphere and two voices, one spoken and one sung, compete to tell the same story. More unease. Dominance is never quite achieved, but through differences in delivery – the former masculine and defiant while the latter croons and laments – the song arrives at a wholeness. Neither party ceases to remember, instead remembering as memory necessitates – subjectively. Although it seems that the Vår project has stood in the shadow of the band members’ other work (particularly Elias Ronnenfelt’s controversial Iceage), the shadows may be an apt place for it. At once restrained and unapologetically emotional, No One Dances shies away from the fury of Iceage or Loke Rahbek’s Sexdrome, affecting a lo-fi discontent rife with the kind of pathos engendered as much by what is omitted as what is included.” – Karyn (ID:UD Contributor)
Starforce, Omniversal Oscillations
“While scouring about on “teh interwebz” I discovered the retro-synthtastic masterpiece that is Omniversal Oscillations by Starforce, a duo from Finland (according to their Soundcloud profile). Now it’s no secret that I’m constantly hungry for all things retro/synth/electro-awesome and this album hits the damn spot. Sweeping pads, perfectly treated LinnDrum samples, tight driving basslines, synth toms – all the important things. There’s a lot of new music coming out of basement studios these days and the quality varies, sometimes drastically, but Starforce are obviously tapped right into the sound they’re trying to convey and the atmosphere they’re intentionally creating. I put this album on while doing housework, while writing, while eating, while reading, while…well, you get the picture.
Omniversal Oscillations is purely instrumental (save for a few well placed vocal/dialogue samples – always a plus) and while some people might be turned off by that don’t let it sway you. Do you like dark synth sounds? Beefy drums? Totally rad chord progressions and genuinely well crafted music? Then Omniversal Oscillations by Starforce is for you! Strap on your headphones, fire up the Atari 2600, jam in your favourite cartridge, and sail off to an electronic world full of neon lights, lasers, and other stuff taken directly from the original Tron. Do it. Do it for yourself. Do it for the lasers. Always…for lasers.
“While there aren’t any screamingly obvious album-of-the-year-if-not-the-decade discs from 2013 like there have been in the past few years from Legend, ∆AIMON, Necro Facility, and Left Spine Down, there have been an astounding number of great releases. It’s hard to choose just one to talk about. While I’m tempted to spend some time on the incredibly excellent new releases by old bands from this year- notably Covenant, Mesh, Project Pitchfork, Pankow, Front Line Assembly, Hate Dept., Acucrack, Gary Numan, and Skinny Puppy- I’d guess most readers already know those acts, and if you like them, you’ve heard them. On the new school front, of course everybody’s talking about Youth Code and then I loved this year’s output from Distorted Memory, Comaduster, Author & Punisher, ESA, Volt9000, Blush Response, and Voster. The thing that sticks out to me right now though, is LIFE by Mr.Kitty. A lot of the new semi-scene acts that we’ve all grown to love in recent months present awesome ideas, but don’t back them up with good songs. Mr.Kitty has a bunch of synthwave stylistic flair and triangle shit going on, but his album is all substance. It’s a great set of songs that comes together perfectly, and it seems like everybody agrees that the disc’s greatest crime is being too long- hardly a major barrier to spending $10 on Bandcamp.
I should add that this is definitely a pop album, and it definitely has that ’80s analog feel to it that a lot of people can’t get into. Like any worthwhile piece of art, it isn’t for everybody. It also has one serious clunker track, “Sacrifice,” which sounds like some bullshit indie dance club hit by a Ting Tings wannabe or something. But the contrast between that and the rest of the disc really drives home how great it is. Be sure to pick up the Bandcamp release direct from the artist, not from his former record label, who he’s got some dispute running with.
PS: I tried to avoid transparently talking up my bros/bands I perform with in this thing, so I didn’t mention the Caustic/Causticles releases, XP8, or Ayria… But I recommend you get up in all that business, as well as the new album by SF local chiptune-fusion guys Crashfaster, which features my vocals on one track. Also, stay tuned for the new Everything Goes Cold release, which should be out on Metropolis in the first half of 2014!” –Eric Gottesman (Everything Goes Cold/Basically Every Industrial Band in Existence)
Phelios, Gates of Atlantis
“Considering how impressed I was with 2010’s Astral Unity from Martin Stürtzer’s project Phelios, one of the most respected acts in the dark ambient genre, I’m sure it’ll surprise no one that I awaited the release of his new album on Malignant Records this year, Gates of Atlantis with high hopes. The anticipation was bolstered by the beautiful album artwork, done by the talented Pär Boström (of Kammarheit and Cities Last Broadcast), which was posted prior to the album release. The album exceeded even my loftiest expectations. Gates of Atlantis is a masterful work, full of beguiling depth and majesty. The title track and “Temple of Yith” are dark meditations, a colossal merging of ancient and modern realms where mystery abounds. The hypnotic tribal percussive elements in “Spiritual Possession” inspired me to choreograph ritual dance sequences within the first few measures; as the track then gives way to the haunting melancholy of the solemn “Hibernation” and the atmospheric ebb and flow of “New Stellar Age,” a vivid labyrinthine world of wonder takes shape. A lighter, more reflective note draws the album to a close with “Ascension.” Definitely one of my favourite dark ambient releases of 2013. This album will be Stürtzer’s last as Phelios; however, one of his projects with Christian Stritzel, Sphäre Sechs, is also highly recommended for Phelios fans. If live performance of dark ambient is your thing, be sure to put Stürtzer’s Phobos Festival in Wuppertal, Germany on your calendar.” –Danica Swanson (Black Stone Hermitage)
Boards of Canada, Tomorrow’s Harvest:
“Caveat emptor: people either intrinsically love Boards of Canada … or love to complain about how boring they are. And with good reason. The Boards of Canada aesthetic, namely what one might call the lost scores from imaginary ‘70s-era educational film reels, has a relatively niche appeal. Either you find this aesthetic—well-honed from the inspiration of the soundtracks of their namesake (The Film Board of Canada)—enticingly dreamy and hypnotic … or you find them akin to listening to paint dry. So, if you’ve read this far, you are probably already know where you fall on the spectrum. And if not, stop and go listen to “Everything You Do Is a Balloon”. If you can get to the end without wanting to kill yourself, read on.
Still with me? Awesome. So, going back as far as their celebrated late-‘90s breakthrough, Music Has a Right to Children, the Sandison brothers have had a mysterious and, at times, eerie mystique. Despite sounding like the sonic equivalent of temazepam, their records are frequently underpinned with pessimistic and downright spooky overtones. 2000’s In a Beautiful Place out in the Country, for example, was evidently about the Branch-Davidians, and 2002’s Geogaddi was laced with occult references. 2013’s release of Tomorrow’s Harvest—their first release since 2005—has proven to be no exception. The title, as it has turned out, is a reference to a survivalist website. Subsequent conversations with the band (notable in and of itself—the duo rarely grants interviews) revealed that the album’s theme stemmed from their belief that society is on the road to inevitable collapse. In fact, one of the stand out tracks, “Palace Posy” is widely believed to be an anagram for “apocalypse”. (Thanks a lot, Scottish doomsday brothers.) Yet, despite the grim theme, the record manages to nearly effervesce with aloof atmospherics and dalliances which play like a VHS copy of an ‘80s-inspired midsummer night’s dream. But it is precisely this juxtaposition that makes the record so compelling. Drawing on the inspiration of ‘video nasties’-eqsue composers like Fabio Frizzi, John Harrison, and, notably, John Carpenter, Boards of Canada manage to weave a tapestry of almost cheerful sonic lushness which would be utterly intoxicating if it weren’t for its creepiness. The brothers BOC even purportedly built the album with a palindromic structure around the central track “Collapse” (go figure) such that opposite tracks echo themes and motifs of one another. If you’re an audio nerd, you can have a field day with this one—which is the embodiment of its genius. Take it at face value and soak in the reverie. Or delve into its darkness and enjoy the abuse. The choice is yours.” – Sharon Kyronfive (Friend of ID:UD)
Comaduster, Hollow Worlds
“There is honestly so much to be said about Comaduster’s sophomore album that a written review will necessarily only gloss over the power of the release. Réal Cardinal comes from the realm of professional electronic music production and design, which translates to a sonically awe-inspiring sound; tight production, expert design, and a close attention to detail shine through every layer of the work from start to finish. However, for me, the true victory of the album is that it achieves something that many have tried, and almost all have failed at: producing a coherent crossover album. Cardinal’s affinity for industrial music leaves no doubt that this release belongs under the industrial umbrella, yet while other acts seeking crossover success have often come across as sloppy and opportunistic, Cardinal’s visionary approach to creating a musically diverse and highly contemporary album that’s still rooted in a dark aesthetic leaves no room for pedantic paint-by-numbers cross-genre ham-fistedness. Instead, what comes across is an inspiring, aurally-bombastic mixed-genre masterpiece, clearly designed by an artist who refused to skimp on his artistic vision. In a sea of mediocrity, this album dropped like a nuke, and was the kick in the ass we needed.” –Matt Pathogen (ID:UD OpEd Guy/Disco Sinistro)
“If I had one word to describe these two releases by Autechre it would be cavernous. I could get lost in these records for years, and most likely I will, as I have with every Autechre record in the past. There is so much depth contained within these recordings. Reverbs that are perpetually contracting and expanding. Coats of digital silk, present in the atmosphere yet not obfuscating the music contained within. Some may argue that there is a lack of emotion and accessibility contained within Autechre’s Max/MSP wizardry, but I would disagree. The emotion is hidden within the details. Autechre has never been a group that you could listen to once and understand. They require years of attention, and I guess that’s the key point. Musicians today are still trying to replicate the sound and feel of their earliest releases, while Autechre themselves keep on moving forward into their own dimension of sound. A dimension far beyond what we could have imagined, and one we may never reach on our own. Truly inspiring.” – Joey Blush (Blush Response)
“There were many albums that dominated my personal airwaves this year, but BARTEL Shadows is one that really stands out and seriously isn’t getting enough attention. BARTEL is a mostly instrumental electronic act from Vancouver created by Andrew Harris. As an artist, Harris draws on a rich number of musical styles, which is evident from this album. Sonically the album is incredible. The use of space and texture feels three-dimensional, as its style is completely cinematic and narrative without being impersonal or cliché. Harris absolutely understands how to properly use sampled sounds and utilizes them to create a lush atmosphere around his music. My favorite track is probably “Black Raft”. The first time I heard it, I simultaneously wanted to quit writing music altogether and drop everything I was doing and work on music. Only the most inspiring of music ever does this for me. Shadows is well-crafted, intriguing and engaging without being predictable. It’s a well balanced, gourmet meal – for you ears… in a Sci-fi Movie. Other tracks I would recommend are “Shadows”, “Garden”, “Ash Grade” and “Daylight Sequence.” –Kassi Cork (MEND)
Teeth of the Sea, MASTER
“I totally missed this band until a friend mentioned how brilliant they were sometime a year or so back, at which point I went and picked up their previous material, which was an impressive take on post-rock with a distinctly electronic, jazzy slant…and heavily featuring a trumpet. But nothing they had done before quite prepared for the sheer epicness of MASTER. This takes what they’ve done before, and ups the ante in every way. It marauds through the shadows, every single track containing a steel-edged darkness that is never allowed to take over fully, and at points it reaches quite jaw-dropping peaks: the mechanised beats of “Reaper”, the storm-clouds of rhythm that steadily build on the stupefying “Black Strategy” (before a looping synth elbows everything else out of the limelight and proggy guitars wail behind, and then rips into a chaotic, noisy climax). Or the amazing closer “Responder”, which seems to condense all of the band’s (many) ideas into one ten minute piece of brilliance. A band who couldn’t give a shit about whether they fit into one genre or another, so they pretty much tried them all, and along the way proved that they are better than just about everyone else at all of it. Miss this outrageously brilliant album at your peril.” –Adam Williams (A Model of Control)
Live Not On Evil, When Everything Goes Down
“2013 was to underground music what 1066 was to killing English Kings. Shit, Luther, where do you start? There was brilliant new stuff from Pre-Cambrian Era bands like Skinny Puppy, Bile, and KMFDM, Gary Numan, and Cat Rapes Dog. We finally got to hear iVardensphere’s brilliant “The Methuselah Tree. Krystal System caused whole continents to break apart with “Rage”. Go Fight’s “Musical for Military Torture” contained one of my favorite singles: “Pussygrinder”. Vomito Negro’s “Fall of an Empire” was the bee’s goddamn knees; and Aaimon covered Leonard Cohen for fuck’s sake! Die Sektor; Ludo Tech remixes; Youth Code; the Causticles, IAMX…I think my brain just melted.
That said, I’d like to mention a CD that was originally intended for release in 2012, but – thanks to a series of frustrating setbacks – didn’t see a general release until this October: Live Not On Evil’s “When Everything Goes Down”. The short and dirty is that When Everything Goes Down is simply just a great, ol’ fashion, Dark Wave record. But for me, the amazing part was watching my friend of nearly three decades, Rob Windfelder, jump through more hopes that a Romania gymnast on meth in order to drag this CD, kicking and screaming, into the world. He never gave up because he believed it was a great CD. And he was right, and I’m honored to have been a part of it.” –Rodney Anonymous (Dead Milkmen)