Well I seem to be one of the last people to post up their “Best of..” list this year, largely due to a hugely enjoyable two week holiday in Cornwall where there was no internet, TV or mobile signal, but plenty of rain and wind ! This list just reflects those albums I played the most throughout the year and is in no particular order. OK here we go….

belowsealevel

1. Simon Scott: Below Sea Level

Often described by reviewers as a hymn to the fens and I would have to agree with that.  Field recordings from fenland locations blend seamlessly on this album with hints of melodic guitar and drone ambience. Do get the accompanying booklet in the deluxe edition from 12k if you can as it adds hugely to the context of the recordings and includes site sketches and photographs together with a digital download of a live venue recording  http://shop.12k.com/products/500470-simon-scott-below-sea-level

mariellevjakobsonsglasscanyon

2. Marielle V. Jakobsons: Glass Canyon

Marielle is one half of the Oakland based duo Myrmyr (with Agnes Szelag) whose recent albums The Amber Sea (Digitalis) and Fire Star (Under the Spire) are also well worth picking up. On this solo album Marielle explores the meeting of timbres between violin and various synthesizers and its a great combination of sounds ! http://experimedia.net/index.php?main_page=product_music_info&cPath=578&products_id=5771

Hanetration

3. Hanetration: Tenth Oar

This anonymous EP was sent in for review at the start of the year and really took me by surprise. Hanetration describes his music as “ambient soundscapes, woozy atmospherics and glitchy sound collages – music for headphones”. With leanings toward the slurtronic vocalisms of Kemper Norton and a nod toward the hauntological scene this is a really interesting listen. This was followed up by a second EP, Torn Heat, in August. Both EP’s are free to download on Bandcamp here http://hanetration.bandcamp.com/

htda

4. How To Destroy Angels: An Omen EP

More inventive tracks derived from some distinctly quirky instruments (watch the “Ice Age” video) with a subtle hint of electronic tension and unease throughout from Trent Reznor, Mariqueen Maandig, Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan http://store.destroyangels.com/

 

carn

5. Kemper Norton: Carn 1

My most recent discovery of 2012 thanks to an article in The Wire magazine on the electronic music scene in the south west of England http://thewire.co.uk/archive/artists/hacker-farm

Kemper hails from Brighton, but has roots in Cornwall and describes his totally unique sound as “slurtronic coastal folk” – a suitably obscure description for a musical output which cannot quite be pigeonholed into any current scene or genre. On Carn 1 myth, legend and landscape are explored via sampled folk instrumentation and etherized vocals over constantly evolving drone style ambient layers. It’s a complex, mysterious and exciting sound which is in a constant state of flux and there is clearly development here from his earlier releases including Lowender, Libraries Act and the free Unrequited series of EP’s. Carn 2 will be released on Exotic Pylon early in 2013 and i’m really keen to see how the Carn project develops. You can listen to and purchase all of Kemper Norton’s previous releases here http://kempernorton.bandcamp.com/

 

dooks

6. Chris Dooks & Machinefabriek: The Eskdalemuir Harmonium

This was, without doubt, the most obscure concept for a musical project this year. Basically it goes like this – Chris retires to a countryside retreat for some convalescence to recover from an illness and discovers two decaying American harmoniums on the premises. He proceeds to record their wheezes, rattles and thunks, together with the occasional musical refrain, and then interviews the owner about their history and past use by her father. Later on Rutger Zuydervelt, aka Machinefabriek, from the Netherlands is invited to join the project that develops from these recordings and a drone ambient underlay is created. Tinged with folk nostalgia, perhaps a bit of melancholy, but also a healthy dose of optimistic renewal, this is a real undiscovered gem of an album full of character and inventiveness.  The LP is a work of art in itself, but if you don’t have a turntable there is also a download option too and both include extensive project notes and photographs. Order your copy here http://kominorecords.com/site/news/portfolio/k0m1n0-004/

 

elisaluu

7. Elisa Luu: Un Giorno Sospeso

Perfect music to relax to during a Sunday morning coffee with the papers. This is a more technical album then her previous ambient electronic releases with intricate rhythms and subtle melody interspersed with the electronic hum, pulse and chatter of synthesizers. Most tracks start quietly, but always develop in interesting ways – well worth a listen. http://agora.hiddenshoal.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=42&products_id=204

 

ERC-cover

8.  The Eccentronic Research Council: 1612 Underture

What’s not to love about this concept album release from the excellent Finders Keepers label ! It has a bit of everything – retro-analog radiophonic style pop, scathing northern political satire, actress Maxine Peake handling the spoken word content in style and witches, yes witches ! It makes you smile and shimmy whilst also giving you a subtle historical narrative about the terrible events surrounding the Pendle Witch trials in Lancashire in 1612, the 400th anniversary of which are hereby commemorated.  Highly recommended ! http://www.finderskeepersrecords.com/discog_014eggs.html

 

hidden birds nest

9.  Hiroki Sasajima & Takahisa Hirao: Hidden Birds Nest

The first of a number of pure field recording releases in my list. This one from the excellent 3 Leaves label concentrates in minute detail on the wildlife of the Togakushi region of Japan. After listening to the secret microworld activity  of a range of unnamed creatures the soundscape pulls back to the macro scale of the human environment and ends blissfully in a rainstorm at a Japanese temple with temple bells chiming. http://3leaves-label.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=0&products_id=18

 

holkhammovement

10. Peter Toll: Movement (Holkham)

An immaculate set of field recordings from Peter Toll which perfectly transport you to each location and envelop you in the daily lives of creatures inhabiting the Holkham estate grounds in Norfolk and the adjacent wildlife reserve leading down to the sea. Peter’s stated aim of hoping to convey the magic of moments spent in close proximity to wildlife, which seems completely oblivious of his presence on these recordings, is admirably achieved here. Completed over two years the recordings have a pristine quality devoid of human noise and you feel right there in the middle of the action as deer snuffle around in the undergrowth at your feet, owls hoot in the trees above, geese call at dawn as the sun rises and squirrels skitter up pine trees bending in the wind. It’s a complete tonic for the soul in audio form. Available from Jez Riley French’s excellent Engraved Glass label here http://engravedglass.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/peter-toll-movement-holkham-eg.html

 

madal oo

11.  John Grzinich: Madal oo (Shallow night)

This is another high quality recording by John Grzinich of five dawn chorus sessions completed during spring in Estonia. The sense of space and location in these recordings is immense and the sounds have tremendous depth from foreground pond life to distant background bird calls and dogs barking as the landscape slowly wakes. The Cookoo chorus on this release is one of the most amazing field recordings I have heard this year. Available from the Engraved Glass label here http://engravedglass.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/peter-toll-movement-holkham-eg.html

 

mushybreathless

12. Mushy: Breathless

Wonderful Italian darkwave electronica with a distinct 80’s analog flavour. Peppered liberally with thumping retro beats and topped off by the soaring melancholic vocals of Valentina Fanigliulo.  Available from Mannequin Records here http://mannequinrecords.bandcamp.com/album/mnq-030-mushy-breathless

 

nilsquakaether

13. Nils Quak: Aether

Easily the best use of a eurorack modular system to create an ambient album that I have heard all year. A wealth of constantly evolving sounds are conjured from the swirling tones of electronic hiss, thrum and pulse to create a melancholic and occasionally sinister narrative perhaps tinged by nostalgic reflection. This is one of those deep listening albums that requires headphones and multiple listens to get fully immersed. http://nqmusic.bandcamp.com/album/aether

 

offtheskyandmanwatchingthes

14. Offthesky & Man Watching the Stars: Afar, Farewell

This is a hugely moving ambient work that really defies words to explain the full gamut of emotions you will experience on listening to it. Something akin to a grand hymn to nature this release is given huge depth by the experimental violin constructs of Brendan Paxton working in perfect harmony with the electronic processing techniques of Jason Corder.  http://music.ruralcolours.co.uk/album/afar-farewell

 

ravenscar

15. Chris Whitehead: Ravenscar

Chris Whitehead’s field recordings capture nearly 2000 years of landscape change and development at Ravenscar near Scarborough in North Yorkshire in a sound exploration. Five key periods of human activity which sought to harness the topography and resources of this windswept stretch of coast are featured including a Roman signal station, a 17th century alum works, a 19th century railway tunnel, a failed holiday resort development and a WWII radar station. Collected material from each site was manipulated along with location recordings and some sound processing to create a highly atmospheric representation of site. The sense of long history and inevitable decay are palpable throughout. http://unfathomless.wordpress.com/releases/u12-chris-whitehead/

I can thoroughly recommend Chris’s earlier work Gryphaea on the Russian Obs label too which explores the Jurassic coastline near Whitby in a similar way http://abser1.narod2.ru/releases/