HearFeel’s third year is coming to a close, and it’s always nice to be able to round up the preceding year before it’s birthday with a culmination of the best albums heard across its span, to take some time to display my favourite records and give people an insight into my personal rankings. As always with these things, this is my list, my thoughts, my personal preferences and lots of good records didnt make the cut, but it doesn’t mean that I didnt enjoy them, so take this as you will.
With that out of the way, I’d like to take the time once more just to thank everyone for their continuing support; all your views and comments and emails, especially submissions, give what I do here some sense of purpose and I’m grateful that people value my thoughts, such as they are, enough to quite literally send me free content. Each year provides something new and more views and more content than the last and if it wasn’t for the continuing motivations it’s possible I wouldn’t still be doing this, so thank you all. Ok enough wishy-washy, let’s get down to brass tax.
1. Kyle Bobby Dunn – And The Infinite Sadness
Let’s be honest here, this should come as no surprise to anyone following me here or elsewhere. This album carried me through some hard times this year and continues to be an incredible source of multi-faceted, multi-functional emotional content. Get swept up in its endless elongate guitar drones and feel Dunn’s melancholy wrapped in assistant and necessary self-deprecation and cosy introspections. Stunning release, truly.
2. Have A Nice Life – the unnatural world
An incredible album released in the darkest corner of the year, its morose tracts of shoegazing Slowcore mirrored my bleakest hours writing my dissertation this past Winter. Closer perhaps to Dan’s Giles Corey solo project it feels much tighter and leaner than their expansive cult-classic debut Deathconsciousness; crushingly and deceptively quiet, its howling vocals and instrumentation rise out of a black hole of despair that’s hard to avoid getting caught up in.
3. Julie Fowlis – Gach Sgeul
I’ve been cultivating a love affair with Julie’s music after discovering her last year following a Summer in Scotland; she’s perhaps the best known musician singing in authentic Scottish Gaelic and whilst only 60,000 people in the world can understand the lyrics, the beautifully clear acoustic Folk instrumentation and heartfelt earnestness of Julie’s voice make this an expressively powerful release that I just can’t get enough of.
4. Saåad – Deep/Float
French duo Saåad just seem to get better and better with every release; a sensual Dark Ambient production, it climbs out of cavernous and claustrophobic trappings to emerge blinking into the light of personal and sexual freedom in heavy waves of luscious, reverbed guitar drone. Feel the reality of the catharsis and let yourself into its tortured and self-resolving microcosm.
5. Eno & Hyde – Someday World
Whilst many consider their other album from this year, High Life, the superior record, I prefer Someday World‘s stronger Ambient Pop focus and admittedly more conventional, bitesized pieces. Everything just feels more accessible and fun, more immediately and persistently compelling in their presentation. Filled with lots of tribal guitars, wiggling synth rhythms and unusual lyrics, this is some great stuff.
6. Ben Frost – A U R O R A
Frost and his contemporaries (Hecker, Lopatin etc) really are the vanguard of exciting, genre transcending Electronic musicians, and his latest is no exception. Pushing the frontier of mammoth Industrial, Dark Ambient and Progressive Electronic constructions, Frost throws us into the violent glare of nostalgia for the lost rave era and crushes us in its gaze. Dark, physical and eviscerating listening.
7. Fennesz – Bécs
His first solo effort in some years, this ode to Vienna captures some of the same shoegazing attitudes as his classic effort Endless Summer but keeps a level of present and active romance in its languid electroacoustic movements rather than the warm, timeless retrospections of its predecessor. Some surprising moments to be found here; not his best for sure but damn fine.
8. Segue – The Here And Now
Segue’s excellent form continues through into 2014 with the blissed out sequences of hushed guitar oscillations and sparse synth turnings of Dub Techno beauty The Here And Now. Whilst many of the albums in this list present a sense of wistful nostalgia, Segue tries to capture the moment as it unfolds, savouring each precious and wonderful moment in his repetitively soothing musical images.
9. Ian William Craig – A Turn Of Breath
It seems for most people that IWC’s sophomore LP is a surprising effort, something of a quiet and understated curveball that has oh-so-gently found its way into numerous end of year lists and received greatly deserved praise. It’s a powerful effort, obfuscating his own operatic vocals under layers of melancholic fuzz and reverb and pairing them with thoughtful yet haunting minimal acoustic instrumentation. It’s frequently very sparse and ruinous in its presentation but something about its damaged and fragile movements leaves a powerful impression on the soul.
10. Marble Sky – Marble Sky
And the last album to make the cut in the upper tier is the evocative compilation of mysterious Jeff Witscher aka Rene Hell aka Marble Sky. Blending his two rare previous albums into one, more concise effort, it seems like this was always his goal, the pieces melting into one another in an 80 minute stew of heady and lush guitar drones. It draws its power largely from its commanding length and expressive density, but it’s closing piece “Lea; Crossed Eyes” is hands down the most emotionally drawing track of the year bar none. Rigid and unwavering, but awesomely constructed.
11. 36 – Dream Tempest
With a heavy heart, Dream Tempest is destined to fill the dreaded #11 spot. It was a difficult decision and it really is an excellent album but it was up against some impressive challengers and lost out. If you’ve got a love for some of Dennis’s older releases but have a yearning to hear them in a more ethereal and diffuse setting then this is the album you’re looking for. If that’s too esoteric and you’re new to Ambient, then Dream Tempest is perhaps one of the best places to start.
12. Symbol – Online Architecture
Solo project of Chris King from This Will Destroy You, Online Architecture muses of the state of the disruption of the natural order of things by humans, our continuing greed and overconsumption and confusion in the face of these obvious realities in its touching Drone and Progressive Electronic minimalism.Sparse, misty and ethereal.
13. Trampique – Face To Face
I’m very fussy and particular when it comes to Future Garage and Chillstep, but Volor Flex’s Trampique alias hits the perfect spot in terms of dark, muffled beat structures and touching human inclusions/field recordings in this record. At 30 minutes long it charts his depressing and tumultuous year in a quietly menacing and seamless production, perfect for these lonely Winter nights.
14. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Hovering somewhere between Americana and Avant-Folk her sophomore release is wholly more accessible and direct than her enchantingly bizarre debut. Crooning about love with that distinct and expressive voice of hers coupled with instrumentation that knows when to strike hard at the right time, this is a frequently overwhelming and deeply enveloping little number.
15. Aphex Twin – Syro
Despite enjoying this way more than I originally expected, it does still leave something to be desired as far as some level of thematic and sonic consistency is concerned, but nit-pickings aside there’s some headbanging monsters here (as well as some entirely unexpected moments of deep introspection) that remind us why Richard D. James is widely regarded as one of the best Electronic musicians we’ve ever had. Recommending even if you, like me, are not an avid fan.
16. Keaton Henson – Romantic Works
Another relatively short release and something of a surprise announcement when it was dropped, Keaton Henson spins heart-wrenchingly delicate fugues out in his guitar and piano led Modern Classical Constructions. It’s very polite and fragile and honestly it’s pretty difficult not to get caught up in its romanticism, even if it is a little boringly conventional.
17. Christopher Willits – Opening
With Tycho’s Awake being a complete sellout it was fortunate indeed that Willits arrived to produce the kind of downtempo, electroacoustic record that I’ve been lusting after for some time and balance the tables a little. It’s a creepingly cathartic record that unwinds on idiosyncratic beds of light guitar and synth drone but somehow manages to successfully deliver its touching story without sounding cliché.
18. Scuba Death – Nitrogen Narcosis
This creepily titled Ambient Techno record completely lives up to its namesake as it tracks our descent into the black oceanic abyss, sinking deeper into its unfathomable depths and progressively losing sight of reality as it decays from confused and frightened tumblings into black and unforgiving clipped beats. Really glad I picked this up, adheres to its theme perfectly and is absolutely suffocatingly bleak.
19. Christopher Bissonnette – Essays In Idleness
It’s been a long while since his last solo effort, but that’s largely due to the fact he literally made all of the analogue synths that comprise this record. And that earnest love of the craft comes through in its deeply organic presentation, simultaneously feeling both spontaneous in its gentle damnations but also springing forth as though from a deeply planned wellspring. A little clinical and stark but precisely gorgeous.
20. Loscil – Sea Island
This is a late in the year arrival that just about managed to make it to the list on time; it’s perhaps his strongest effort since 2010’s incredible Endless Falls and is certainly a contender for his best release in general. Stays generally true to his Dub Techno roots while giving many pieces the elongate drone lines he’s been cultivating so brilliantly; it’s very well balanced if a little overlong.
21. Siavash Amini – What Wind Whispered To The Trees
Amini’s second record of 2014 essentially blows the former out of the water by a significant margin; a surprising release and one of the only non-compilation albums to drop on Futuresequence this year it carves out huge tracts of morose drones that, much like many other records on this list, force a certain introspection and command our respect of the elements beyond our power and scope of understanding. Really beautiful production here.
22. Grouper – Ruins
Whilst the content of the music in this release isn’t surprising (Liz Harris has found her niche and is firmly maintaining it), what is surprising is that so much of this content is so old, some created even before her debut. And considering how blissfully magical and quietly sad many of these pieces are, I personally can’t wait to see how much more of her melancholic back catalogue will be unearthed.
23. Torn Hawk – Let’s Cry And Do Pushups At The Same Time
This album really is a ridiculous production but damn if it isn’t awesome. It exists somewhere between the dimensions of Hypnagogic Pop and Vaporwave and crafts some incredibly bombastic pieces from obnoxious synth and crooning guitars that pine over the naivety and simplicity of youth. Remarkably self-conscious and seriously fun to boot, worth a listen.
24. Trampique – The Voice of Colour
I really tried not to have two records from the same artist but this is another end-of-year blinder that surprised me. Another awesome Future Garage/Ambient Dub release that this time has a few cheeky guitar grooves and is generally more propulsive. I can imagine synaesthesia sufferers relating rather strongly to its central theme as it attempts to define a cross section of colours through sound and texture alone.
25. Jonas Reinhardt – Ganymede
And last but by no means least, Ganymede is a bit of a cheat since it’s an audiovisual release with the music complementing assistant video produced specifically for the project and vice-versa. Deeply 70’s inspired in its synthetic ambience, it’s a cerebral and multivariate affair that is totally a believable substitute for gliding over the mysterious and tumultuous landscape of a foreign and aspirational world.