Tag Archives: 2013 top 20

Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.1 – Melt Banana – Fetch


CD, A-Zap, 2013

As I’ve already mentioned elsewhere, Melt Banana won 2013 for me with this short, sweet thirty-minute rocket of an album. The group, now a duo, are able to use the newly electronic rhythm section to expand their blizzard of beats, effects and feedback into new territories and that freedom is apparent in the range of ideas they manage to incorporate into the otherwise limited form of the two-minute punk song. That Melt Banana are able to find anything new to say in the form after so many years is testament to their tireless capacity for invention and reinvention, their mastery of composition and structure, and Agata’s total command over the exhaustive range of sounds he is able to wrestle out of his guitar.Melt Banana: The Hive

Of the descriptors most often thrown at Melt Banana, bubblegum and hardcore are often inextricably linked, and it’s important to remember that in amongst their blast beats and layers of guitar noise, extremely catchy, poppy melodies often lurk. Schemes of the Tails is striking every bit as much for its melody as for its rhythmical structure, and The Hive is a joyously fun punk-pop nugget. Much has been made of their decision to throw a curveball at the end by closing with the disco-punk Zero, but from the opening shoegaze chords of Candy Gun and running through the entire album there’s a willingness to play around and incorporate any styles, ideas and effects that sound good in service of the greater spazzy musical delight, which is why from start to finish, Fetch fills you with joy and excitement, and why it’s 2013’s album of the year.

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.2 – Extruders – Colors

Extruders: Mono

Another band about whose music I’ve run out of hyperbole to describe, just as Extruders’ self-released live album Pray was one of the best releases of 2012, their full-length studio album Colors is up there with the best of 2013. The first half basically covers the same material as Pray, with delicate, intricately structured melodies delivered with barely more than a murmur by bassist/vocalist Yohei Toriyama and embroidered by the spectral melodies and expertly deployed bursts of feedback and noise that Ryo Okada teases and caresses out of his guitar. The second half of the album sees the band exploring new territory, with the Velvetsy thirteen and a half-minute Luna and in a more tightly focussed form on Elder? Minor? in particular pushing the envelope both in terms of minimalism and expansiveness before cutting to a ruthless and sudden stop. Every sound on Colors seems to have been lovingly fashioned and placed with the utmost precision and care, and behind these 53 minutes clearly lie many hours of work as the group honed these songs down to the glittering, sculpted finished result we see here.Extruders: Elder? Minor?

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.3 – Deltas – Float in the Light

This electronic duo from Fukuoka came onto our radar in 2012 via a hypnotic live performance at Utero (Fukuoka’s finest live venue) and a CD/R mini-album cryptically titled √DL_TS 2. This full-length album revisits some of the same material, dialling back on the more brutal noise extremes for the most part, but at the same time retaining its avant-garde ethos and incorporating it into the more ambient, organic elements seamlessly and coherently (as a side note, if any readers here can get the term “glitchgaze” trending on Twitter, that would be just marvellous).

Images from nature abound in the songs, but they’re filtered through the prism of technology: synthesised, interrupted, chopped up and spliced so that the resulting music staggers like a Frankenstein’s monster, a digital-organic cyborg sound that lashes out in dissonant bursts of noise like the magnificent pls=152 or drifts through space in ambient nature sounds like for˧t Oƒ W▲Ter. These elements are combined in all manner of creative ways, with a great example being Xt/Qm, a Kyushu shipping forecast cut and manipulated electronically to a beat, the band incorporating the inconstant FM signal, itself influenced by the weather conditions the radio reports, into the music.

Float in the Light is a restlessly creative album but more than that it’s a coherent artistic statement by an inordinately talented duo and one of the most striking, original albums of not only last year but in a long long time.

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.4 – Buddy Girl and Mechanic – Buddy Girl and Mechanic

I’ve already written so much about this band over the past couple of years that there’s really very little else I can add. This album came out at the beginning of 2013 and its seven tracks (three of which are available to listen on the band’s Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages) kept bringing my back over and over again. It’s breathy, bluesy and ambient, but with a motorik driving power that underlies it and gives propulsive force that prevents it from getting bogged down in the dreamy web it weaves. More recently the band made a cameo appearance in and contributed to the soundtrack of the Zellner Brothers’ forthcoming film Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, which will hopefully see them garner a wider following, and it’s easy to see how the Herzog-influenced, Austin-based filmmakers would be attracted to BGM’s spacious, dreamlike combination of intensely physical blues and out-of-this-world kosmische.

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.5 – Church of Misery – Thy Kingdom Scum

Thy Kingdom Scum

CD/vinyl, Rise Above (UK)/Metal Blade (US), 2013

Let’s be clear about this before we start: There is no way that an album of dirty, riff-grinding, old-skool Sabbath-style heavy metal about serial killers wasn’t going to make this list somewhere, but it’s on the quality and execution of those grinding riffs that doom/stoner merchants Church of Misery come in so high. Thy Kingdom Scum is just raw, brutal, heavy like a collapsing cathedral roof in a thunderstorm. It’s also unashamedly epic, most of the songs hovering around the six-seven-minute mark with the notable exceptions of solo-shredding thirteen-minute closer Düsseldorf Monster and a relatively parsimonious, punkish cover of British 70s rockers Quatermass’ One Blind Mice, both of which underline Church of Misery’s prog credentials while simultaneously in their savage, remorseless implementation reminding us that they are here first and foremost to rock hard, harsh and heavy. Thy Kingdom Scum is sharp, intelligently constructed music, drenched in sweat, brood and who knows what other bodily secretions, that makes you feel like a god of Valhalla. It’s a beast of an album.Church of Misery: Brother Bishop (Gary Heidnik)

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.6 – Lo-shi – Flasque


Spice bottle, self-released, 2013

This Japan-besed duo (via France, Tahiti and the UK) was a lesson in expertly crafted, genre-defying experimental yet accessible instrumental music. Yet where work that throws together genres to this extent can often result in work that is disjointed and maundering, Flasque is throughout an elegant and coherent artistic statement shot through with a cocktail of beauty, menace and a distinctly Gallic sense of humour.

幽客 from Lo-shi on Vimeo.

Flasque is at heart a collection of cinematic soundscapes, with reverb-heavy guitar reflecting both a fondness for 80s-style indie guitar music, particularly on closing track Yu-kaku, and what was probably way too much time spent watching Twin Peaks in their youth — a show which is sampled heavily in The Pink Lodge. Underlying the tracks, on the other hand, things suggest a 90s spent immersed in the skittering beats and ambient sonic textures of artists like Orbital, not to mention a strong and deep appreciation of Krautrock (“Kraut’n’bass” is one of the duo’s preferred descriptors for their music, and marginally more useful as a tool than “NudeCouscousTaoistBeatCore”) in the application of loops and repetition, as well as the way synths are used to create a sonic layer that sits between the beats and guitars.

I called Flasque cinematic earlier, and there’s more to that than simply Lo-shi’s frequent use of movie samples. The collaboration of sound and vision is key to how they approach music, with live performances always delivered with a video accompaniment and the duo also having dabbled in live soundtrack performances. Obviously on the recorded version that element isn’t present, but it still informs the content, and the content is compelling.

Piston from Lo-shi on Vimeo.

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.7 – Under – Under Demo 20November

Other than that Under seems to be one person and female, I know nothing about this project, but she has spent 2013 releasing material to Bandcamp on a pretty much monthly basis, culminating in this stunningly beautiful five-track demo. The track list is just as mysterious as the artist, the song seemingly having been made by just switching on caps lock and holding down random keys, although it’s curious that an acronym of the titles reads “No Age” — not sure how much it’s worth reading into that. In any case, it serves to focus the listener intently on the music, free of preconceptions or instructions from the author.

2013 saw a growing interest in the Japanese shoegaze scene with a lot of interesting records coming out, but while some people seem to take shoegaze in a watered-down form, treating it as just another kind of retro indie music, and others see it as a way of adding sonic depth and contrast to post-hardcore or metal-influenced music, the low-key, psychedelic, spectral roots of the genre — its Galaxie 500s, its Cocteau Twins — often get lost. My twin touchstones when dealing with music like that are always Flying Saucer Attack and Movietone, and Under Demo 20November sits right in the middle between those two acts. It sounds as if it was recorded on a portable cassette deck at the bottom of a well, and infiltrates you in waves of rural psychedelic drone like the sun rising over the Avebury stones on a misty winter morning.

Heavily effected human voices seem to be used as underlying texture on tracks like NNNNNN and GGGGGG, but AAAAAAA and the closing EEEEEE are the only tracks that could easily be called “songs” and while the lyrics remain indistinct, the vocals are a powerful and heartbreakingly affecting instrument to deliver their melancholic folk melodies. It feels like an act of sheer reductive barbarism to assess a collection as shot through with fragile beauty as this using as blunt an instrument as a ranking, but let it at least be said that this was one of the finest things I heard last year and is all the more precious for having found me out of what seems like nowhere.

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.8 – ZZZ’s – Magnetica

Despite having a wrongly placed apostrophe in their band name, the ZZZ’s continue to grow in stature, developing their scratchy, clanging no wave sound in more complex artistic directions. Vocals are a far less integral part of Magnetica than of the previous year’s Prescription, but then tracks like DNA and Busy Bee makes the guitars sing in ever more creative ways. The arrangements too offer more diversity, with Drippin’ starting a dance-punk track with call and response vocals interspersed with almost industrial noise, and (A Man Looks Into) the Hole containing both gothic and dub elements. It’s all expertly put together and produced in the scuzziest good taste by Jonathan Kreinik, whose Boombox Magnetica studio gives the EP its title, and helped establish the ZZZ’s as the hippest thing in contemporary Japanese postpunk in 2013.

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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.9 – Puffyshoes – Puffyshoes

This no-fi duo bade us farewell in 2013 with a typically DIY valedictory statement, releasing an album on a self-titled, self-released double cassette, with slightly different versions of exactly the same track list on each tape. It was made available through the band’s web site and a handful of live performances before the band unhelpfully imploded, sputtering to a close a couple of months before their planned end — but then Puffyshoes were never a band to do something they didn’t feel like out of a sense of mere professionalism.Puffyshoes: Matilda

There’s a contradiction at the heart of Puffyshoes’ music, which at once affects to be confessional and intimate, but at the same time exists in a fantasy world where the band are forever living in a faintly unreal teenage fantasy of dream lovers, infused with the innocence of 60s girl group harmonies and ramshackle 70s punk energy. Puffyshoes fall in love so many times throughout the course of the album and yet for all they they seem to be playing characters, there’s a level at which you suspect they half believe it’s true, and this tension inherent in the illusion that is so alluring that it should be real gives the album its sense of genuinely affecting, fragile yearning. Don’t Wake Me Up, they cry, and they mean it.Puffyshoes: I’m in Love with a Boy from USA

The songwriting follows along lines that will be familiar to anyone who knows the group (or anyone who knows the also recently departed Vivian Girls), but the songwriting is better than anything they’ve so far released, adding an extra tinge of regret to their passing. Tonight is built round a dirty riff straight out of The Creeps’ Down at the Nightclub but overlaying it with honey-sweet harmonies, Why is just the most beautiful, simple, plaintive melody they’ve ever done, while I’m in Love with a Boy from USA and the frankly pretty silly I Wanna be Your Shoe are joyous one-minute bursts of headbanging punk. You can dip into the album anywhere and come out with something equally gorgeous though. Given Puffyshoes penchant for splitting up and reforming on a pretty much biannual basis, don’t bet against them making a comeback at some point in the future, but at the moment that seems unlikely and this album is a jubilant, heartbreaking memorial.Puffyshoes: Goodbye to You


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Top 20 Releases of 2013: No.10 – Capsule – Caps Lock

Caps Lock

CD/Download, Warner Music Japan, 2013

I’ve already written a lot about this album, so regular readers will know that I love it and think it’s one of the most exciting things Yasutaka Nakata has done in a long time. To drop a genuinely experimental record like this in the middle of a year when his work with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Perfume was scaling ever greater commercial and creative heights was a surprise and one that seems to have left a lot of fans scratching their heads or just outright disgusted. It was certainly a poke in the eye to those Capsule fans who seem to wish the group was just an idol project built around Toshiko Koshijima; it avoids obvious dance beats, instead exploring the possibilities of sampling and layered loops, cutting and splicing Toshiko’s vocals like a Vocaloid voice synth.

The key track to unlocking what Nakata is doing with Caps Lock is the six-minute 12345678, a track that sets itself up with a defiantly irritating klaxon loop and then challenges you to find musicality in the shifting layers of sounds underneath. Get that track and the whole rest of the album falls into place. Control and Shift are the closest things to traditional Capsule pop songs, while closing Return sounds like a cross between a Jo Hisaishi Ghibli soundtrack and a Ryuichi Sakamoto instrumental work, suggesting that there might be a high profile Hollywood film soundtrack in Nakata somewhere should the opportunity arise.

Caps Lock is also the most Shibuya-kei thing Nakata has done in years, with Cornelius an obvious point of comparison. It’s short at only about 35 minutes, but after the excesses of Perfume’s (also excellent) Level3, that economy makes a nice contrast, ensuring Caps Lock is a tight, fully-formed package in its own right. Clever, imaginative, fun and still at its heart pop, Caps Lock doesn’t so much take you on a journey as lay out a musical landscape before you and leave you to explore it by yourself, and the result is the best album released by a major label in 2013.


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