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Skulls, Bones and Unicorns

This Is Not A “Best Of” List

January 2nd, 2010 by Christopher

Alright, so I’m finally getting around to putting up my own 2009 retrospective list. With the sheer volume of releases being put out, even within our own small scene, it’s next to impossible to keep up with everything out there and typically it isn’t the best stuff that gets the most press. Lists such as these are our way of highlighting great works you should know about and will hopefully pursue if you haven’t already. At the very least these lists we publish will hopefully encourage you to explore some new sounds and possibly lend some support to artists who are truly doing great things that go beyond what you may have come to expect.

Unlike Nightraven, I wasn’t all that impressed with 2009 from a musical standpoint. There has been so much repetitiveness that things have grown either bland or completely stale in a fractured and shrunken scene. I don’t mean to imply there weren’t some fantastic releases in ’09 though. As part of what I do here I have to listen to hundreds of albums each year and like I mentioned in the list I put up twelve months ago it’s significant when you go back to albums about which you’ve already written. There rarely seems time to actually enjoy something again and again so I think it says a lot when an album compels me to put it in the player, sit back and not think about writing deadlines and such. I’m not going to make a numerical list and declare “bests.” I’m also not going to limit my selections to the psychologically satisfying number “10.” This list merely represents what I feel were such powerful works that they managed to rob me of valuable time which should have been spent working. I highly recommend you add them to your own collection.

AUTOCLAVAutoclav1.1 Where Once Were Exit Wounds (Tympanik Audio) –our review– While this isn’t a numbered list I felt compelled to place Tony Young’s latest work at the top as it was probably my personal favorite of 2009. If you’ve followed him album by album you’ve most likely enjoyed the progression as much as I have and WOWEW beefs up the organic instrumentation to a startling degree making for an electronic release that rocks about as hard as anything else out there, if not harder, regardless of genre. Yet in Young’s hands the songs are crafted with such emotional depth and layered brilliance that every spin reveals some new discovery, either in regard to the music or just yourself. Tony’s friend and collaborator Jamie Blacker announced this year he was putting to rest his ESA project after one more album. If Young made a similar pronouncement I might feel compelled to make an exit wound in my own body. He’s definitely one of the best out there in the current scene.

ESATSATS ESA The Sea & The Silence/The Immaculate Manipulation (Tympanik Audio) –our review of TS&TS– Okay, so I’m cheating on this one a little. Technically The Sea & The Silence was released at the ass end of last year just as its remix companion, The Immaculate Manipulation was put out at the very end of ’09 (and as such I haven’t had a chance to review it yet). But the impact of Jamie Blacker’s music was felt throughout the year and I feel both releases are worthy of a mention. Complex, challenging and fierce yet invitingly adventurous and strangely alluring ESA gets everything right with music that reinvigorates Industrial in a compelling way even as it celebrates the darker urges within the human condition. ESATIMThe remix album offers tracks that will make club floors quake and others that will broaden your perspectives on all that can be done with song structure and analysis. Both should be considered must-own CDs. Unfortunately, Blacker revealed in our interview with him last August that his plan was to record only one more album as ESA. I’m still having a great deal of difficulty coming to terms with that.

ProBurn Prometheus Burning plague called huMANity (Crunch Pod) –our review– I was pretty shocked even from the first listen of this one. I mean, I was expecting it to be pretty good but I had no idea it was going to be so good that I would forget about everything else for at least a couple weeks. This album is an addiction and the sounds have a classic feel that still seem fresh and unique thanks to all the personality injected into the music. The vocals are highly acidic but I couldn’t imagine any other kind within the act’s sound and because of that I don’t think they diminish the appeal of ProBurn. All the noises are expertly crafted and mixed together with near-perfect precision. Beyond that the work can be ingested on a variety of levels with an overarching storyline, creepy artwork and recurring themes. I almost feel bad for these guys because I can’t imagine they’ll be able to top this. I just really hope they’re able to prove me wrong. Actually, I’m counting on it.

ImpurfektImpurfekt Human (Shinto Records) –our review– This is one of those “from out of nowhere” releases that can surprise the hell out of you in the nicest of ways. It’s self-recorded and, to be honest, sounds a little muddled with the low end levels mixed too high but musically Human is an amazing amalgamation of styles melded together to form a powerful and thematic piece of art. The rhythms have hooks like talons and the melodies sting with a methodical sweetness. Picked up by the rapidly rising upstart label Shinto Records this is one you simply must hear. Judging from this album alone I predict big things and much success for Aaron Russell.

STENDECStendeck Sonnambula (Tympanik Audio) –our review– This isn’t just a good album. It gets better with every listen and has tremendous staying power. It can be beautiful, it can be harsh, it can be accessible and it can be complex. Throughout the duration it’s always appealing, however. Swiss musician Alessandro Zampieri has created a stirring epic of an album with Sonnambula and has manufactured a sound that is unique even as it references its influences. Beyond that it seems to fit in with most any mood or atmosphere. Regardless of how I happen to be feeling or what the weather may be like outside I find that I reach for this blissful collection quite frequently. It’s going to be interesting to see how Zampieri follows this up.

WYCOMBEHigh Wycombe Reverser (Wycombemusic) –our review– The word that comes to mind when I think of High Wycombe is “smooth.” Reverser is a startlingly good progressive electro album with rhythms that aren’t necessarily aimed at dance floors but could find a home in any club regardless. The electronics and samples are extremely thoughtful and deliciously moody. This isn’t at all an oppressively dark release but it also ain’t bright and shiny either. As with Stendeck you could put this album on at any time and, goddammit, you really should. Guaranteed to impress on a variety of levels.

imminent-cask-strength-11Imminent Cask Strength (Ant-Zen) –no review– Yeah. I never got a chance to review this. And if you happen to pick it up and listen to the first few tracks you’ll think you’ve been duped. It’s not as though those first three songs are bad, they’re actually quite interesting. But interesting enough to warrant inclusion on a list of the finest releases of the year? Eh. It isn’t until track four when Cask Strength begins dropping jaws and after that it never looks back. The level of diversity is stunning, from ambient to near-Gabber level intensity. This album is an amazing piece of work that will leave you beside yourself. I still pick up an diffent things when I listen to it. It’s not the kind of CD to which the club kids are going to flock but if your tastes are a little more open and adventurous you really need to experience Imminent’s latest batch of sour mash-ups.

dISHARMONYdISHARMONY Evolution (Tympanik Audio) –our review– For all the talk in ’09 about how Coldwave was seeing a resurgence I guess I was more impressed with the return of great Dark Electro and it’s a trend I hope to see continue in the coming year. Evolution managed to surpass dISHARMONY’s critically acclaimed previous album, Malignant Shields, with stunning track after stunning track of bleak yet lilting numbers filled with the decaying remnants of human hope. Evolution is a study of the beauty in utter dessication. It even resurrects some of the funk aspects of classic Dark Electro though not to the degree for which someone like me might wish. Even so, this release isn’t so much memorable as it is haunting in a way that you will simply not be able to shake once you’ve given it a few spins.

MILLIPEDEMillipede All My Best Intentions (Hymen Records) –no review– I really wish I’d had the time to do a write-up for this one when it was released. It’s one of those unclassifiable albums that will most likely be labeled “Ambient” by default and yet the beatwork is incredible given that each track is mid-to-downtempo in nature. It’s much too powerful and heavy to be relegated to the airy atmospherics of most Ambient artists and yet there’s so much more depth and diversity than you would expect out of most uptempo electronic outfits. Every time you think you’ve got the aims of a song in mind Don Hill reveals a sly surprise that throws each expectation on its ear. Just as with Imminent the club kids aren’t going to “get” this one. And that’s a shame given the cerebral nature of Hill’s work here.

OriginsUnfoldedCenotype Origins Unfold (Origins Productions) –our review– It seems pretty odd to me to include not one remix collection on a year end list but two. Remix collections are easy throwaways for artists. They don’t require work so much as handing over your tracks to other acts and letting them pass back to you material for a new release with your name on it. And yet just as the ESA remix collection encompassed a variety of styles that transcended the typical “extended club mixes” that you invariably get with these outings Origins Unfolds uses Cenotype’s debut album as a foundation for something stellar. A number of the mixes even take two, sometimes three tracks and fuse them together to further a non-linear storyline. While some of these reworkings could find a home in some enterprising DJs club set many of them set out for something deeper and less of-the-moment. The list of contributing artists is quite impressive and their handiwork is woven together expertly. Hopefully you didn’t miss this limited edition collection.

DOSUberbyte DOS (Crunch Pod) –our review– When it comes to straightforward, hard-hitting club music most people these days defer to Combichrist. Maybe that’s why Uberbyte is invariably compared to Leplegua’s crew. Yet Combi is at a point where the project is just spinning its wheels and Richard “Uberman” Pyne is juuust getting warmed up. Uberbyte’s second album steamrolled over their first effort to claim high ground within the Body Music category (EBM, TBM, what have you). Already a third and even more aggressive release is about to hit the internet and it’s virtually guaranteed to give Uberbyte some well deserved and wide-ranging name recognition. While my own list hasn’t quite been as friendly to the club kids as some may like I highly endorse this absurdly infectious piece of work that deserves rotation in every single DJ set list you see posted online.

SESE Epiphora (Tympanik Audio) –our review– The introduction of harsh or scathing sounds in the midst of beautiful synth movements can be a tricky proposition and it requires as delicate a balance as you can muster to ensure neither approach cancels out the other. SE manages to achieve this balance in what comes across as a seemingly effortless manner, providing plenty of lofty, appealing atmosphere with an underlying edge that gives the music a bite you wouldn’t ordinarily expect out of Ambient. And it’s probably his work in other musical genres that lend him such a great hand at song structure. Hopefully we’ll be hearing a lot more out of Sebastian Ehmke in the future.

While these albums represent the ones I felt carried the most weight during the year there are certainly others that, at the very least, deserve an honorable mention. Tyske Ludder‘s Anonymous. Caustic‘s This Is Jizzcore. IAMX‘s Kingdom Of Welcome Addiction. W.A.S.T.E.‘s A Silent Mantra Of Rage. Access To Arasaka‘s Oppidan. Rotersand‘s Random Is Resistance. Cervello Elettronico‘s Process Of Elimination. Assemblage 23‘s Compass. Undermathic‘s Return To Childhood. And of course I should mention Tympanik Audio’s brilliant Emerging Organisms compilations, the third volume of which was recently released.

And now on to 2010…