This is the first year that I have tried to put together a best of list for the CerebralRift website. I know that a lot of people think that these things are easy to do, however, I would say otherwise. In fact, I would say that it’s anything but easy. First, in the case of my site, we have something close to 70 reviews this year to select from. Just narrowing the list down to 21 releases was a horrendous task (my original list had something closer to 25-30 releases on it).
Once I had them selected, I had to select a track (or two) from each one. General rule: if the release would have been a two CD set, I selected two tracks. Otherwise each release has one track.
And, with all of this done, it was necessary to write something about each one, and format the list in a way that was easy to peruse and sample the tracks.
This was a labor of love that I started back at the end of November. In fact, anything that I wrote about in December wasn’t considered for this list. I plan to select releases based on a December-November calendar each year from now on, just so that releases don’t get overlooked, even if they end up waiting a year to be selected.
Other sites try to assign a specific order to the releases that are picked. I’m not doing that here. Instead I am grouping them into rough categories. Some releases I say are surprises or favorites, take what you will from that.
Okay, so on with the list of releases!
Pop / Rock
|Space Weirdo: Press Start
This was, plain and simply, my favorite release of the year. I originally found these guys on Jamendo back in 2010 and was immediately captivated with ‘Cosmonaut’ and ‘Automata’. I reviewed them at the time, and stated that possibly my only dissatisfaction with the releases was that they were too short. So, this time out they took care of that by releasing a two CD set of music. They managed to keep the same sense of humor that I had come to expect from their previous releases, and also maanged to explore a few directions I hadn’t initially thought they would.
|Small Colin: Tape Productions
One of the things that most people say when they start listening to Creative Commons releases is that the artists are derivative: ie, they only imitate the things that they hear from other artists. Well, this was the release to prove that concept completely wrong. Using a unique production technique, this release sets itself apart of most of the music released by the major labels, and shows that it is possible for artists to explore new territory outside of the mainstream music industry.
|Jekyll Wood: Only Son
This was the surprise find of the year for me. This French acoustic musician knows his way around more styles of music than most musicians do these days. Heavily infused with soul, R&B, and Motown, this release bristles with energy that most releases are missing these days. Oh, did I mention that this is a one man band, using electronics to layer sounds and rhythms on top of each other? No, well, I really didn’t need to. The end results are what matters here, and Jekyll Wood’s results are amazing.
[Note: review retracted.]
| Rotten Lily: Blame!How do you define art? Well, if I was going to take a stab at it, I might actually point to Rotten Lily. They are a group that literally defies categorization, and yet each and every track on their releases shows a complete mastery of composition and style, and production and engineering. It seems that there are no details spared at any level in their work, and the surprises never stop coming from one track to the next. This release caught me completely off guard, and reminded me precisely why I love listening to netlabel releases.
Downtempo / Electronica
|Amygdala: Pillars of Creation
Hungarian electronic musician László Néder has been around for more than a few years, and has expanded his stylistic range in many directions. This release sees him combining contemporary music styles with excellent of knowledge of many masters of electronic music to make a recording that is just exceptional.
|Audio Dropout: Get Down With The Tempo
Smooth, jazzy electronic music with trip-hop breaks from Audio Dropout is just a lot of fun to listen to. The solid bass lines, and chilled drum loops are a mesmerizing experience. One of the recordings that is still in my playlist today. Some releases are too short, and this is really one of them in my book, I would have really loved to have heard a full-length release from Audio Dropout. However, there is a something to be said for putting out the highest quality work that you can, and this release accomplishes that in spades.
Bridging ambient, IDM and trip-hop Tardiss continues innovating and evolving their sound. Compositional skills are of the highest order, and this is another work that makes it clear these aren’t kids on a home computer in their bedroom messing around. These are skilled musicians using all the tools at their disposal to create lo-fi indietronic masterpieces. This duo from Minnesota is always a great listen.
This is actually my favorite accident of the year. I was helping one of the listeners of CerebralMix find Japanese netlabels when I came across this release. After reading the powerful story of Junpei, and understanding the emotional core Sean Crownover had as the basis of this release, I was unable to look at any other electronic music releases the same way for several weeks. This is truely one of those extra special releases that everyone should hear.
With over twenty four releases to his credit, Anitek is familiar to many in the Creative Commons and Netlabel music scene. On Lily, Anitek has worked with some of his favorite collaborators: Tab, DSpliff and Lyrcisit to create a massive 20 tracks of mellow-chill-groove dedicated to his new daughter, who the release is titled after.
|Spiedkiks: Take Off Your Makeup
Somewhat more Hip-Hop influenced that most of the releases here, Spiedkiks have produced a wonderfully funky, hooky and engaging release on ‘Take Off Your Makeup’. I have my reservations about the last track: Kitchen Sink (I still would have rather heard the pieces of that track developed into complete compositions), but everything else on here is just so damn fun it would have been a crime to not include it in my end of year favorites list.
|Planet Boelex: Exist
Do I need to even write anything about this release? Planet Boelex has been producing music for many, many years. And, after a three year absence from the netlabel scene he has returned with a release that shows why he is one of the most highly respected artists out there. I love everything about this release, from his chosen collaborators, to his exquisite production, to the many influences he draws upon. The only thing left to say is: Welcome back! Please don’t make us wait three years for another release! 🙂
|Fucksia: Il Piccolo Cinema Di Beseno
When I started accepting review submissions, I was concerned that I would starting getting a lot of releases that weren’t of the quality that I would like to review. If anything, this was one of the reviews that proved any fears I had about providing submission process were ill founded. While Fucksia maintains this was a project with “no serious intention” it’s apparent that a lot of time was spent in working on the compositions. While I had misgivings about the first track, they quickly dissolved when I finally grasped just what the artist was doing (see the original review, linked above). Another small, concise release, it has found it way into my mind on many occasions, and even been a release I have compared other releases to – even if I haven’t stated it in the reviews.
|Th.e n.d: Annodam 94
Originally, I stated this release was like listening to “Mother Goose or Brother’s Grimm on acid…” but I think I need to revise that statement slightly. See, I was just thinking about the horse head on the cover, and linking it to Ketamine. Why Ket? Well, the video for the song ‘Ket is for Horses’ by Organ Donors prominently uses the same mask head… Okay, it’s a stretch, but the twisted fun of this release could be quite easily attributed to being in a drugged state. The surreal dream-like other worldly qualities of the tracks on this release are just astonishing that it’s difficult to imagine a sane person writing. But then again, I’ve read and heard stranger things from people whose brains just worked on a whole different level. Take your choice with this release, but it will likely stay with you no matter what you believe.
|Alterphase: Severem Retrixia
Quirky, angular lilting melodies woven between sound scapes that mix rapid-fire electronic percussion and keyboard textures. Even the breaks in the tracks are full of surprises, like the slice of a piece of choral classical music from some un-determinable piece. This made of a release that was a joy to listen to, and drew comparison to Aphex Twin. I couldn’t have found this to be a more enjoyable release if I had composed the pieces myself. Alterphase has produced a work that is extremely enjoyable on many levels.
Ambient / Experimental
|Henri Feuillade: Wraith Paradigm
Taking a technique that is similar to twelve tone style composition, Gennady Vladimirov has created a work that could easily be compared to some of the Russian masters such as Tchaikovsky and Shostakovitch. This is the kind of work that is one of the reasons (as I’ve said before) that I enjoy listening to music from the Creative Commons and Netlabels. You don’t know when you will find something that will turn your head (or ears), something that you weren’t expecting. I’m ecstatic that this release is available, and cannot wait to listen to more from this artist.
|Elvis Herod: Pork Belly Rumble
I used the first track from this release ‘Clutterbuck’ as the opening tune for the CerebralMix for a while. I love the soft-shoe style, with a slight touch of gentle humor. It seemed a really nice way to open the show, alas as the show has progressed, I’ve had to cut out the opening to have the time for other songs. Hopefully one day I will start playing it again. This mixes unusual styles (like a drum-n-bass loop with toy pianos and other instruments), and spoken word story pieces that are sure make your mind bend in convulsions of unusual-ness.
|Ergo Phizmiz: All Our Clocks Are Dying: Prepared Piano Improvisations
This is a distorted, fractured and slightly off-center way of looking at our past. A way of re-casting long-standing musical stereotypes in a different light. It’s a look at the decay that time causes to our memories, our ideals and perceptions. The way that a lot of electro-acoustic music is manipulating things from our past, Ergo is doing in a completely organic acoustic form.
|Bobby Jones: Planets With Two Suns Have Black Trees
My first review of a release from the Subterranean Tide netlabel features deep wash of soundscape, formed and shaped from light and dark, a sonic sculpture that never ceases to yield new facets on each listening. And to top off the pure sonic shapes, we have luscious guitar work that transforms these pieces from abstract color pallets into fully formed paintings. The linking element for all of the artistic expression within this work, and the guitar work of Bobby Jones. It’s an exceptional and impeccable release, and really sets the standard of expectations for future Subterranean Tide releases.
|Steve Hilmy & Daniel Barbiero: take a sound. do something to it. do something else to it.
Overall, an excellent, and engaging recording. It is not so dense that you get lost trying to tease out all of the details through a density of layers. It is definitely not the typical listening fare for most people, but I found it to be an easy and approachable work. I even listened to it in my car, or while I was working, and yet still find that it I can find more subtlety and detail listening to it when I am not working on anything else.
|The Basic Income Earth Network: The Art of Boredom I
Listening to this release is more like a meditation. The challenge is to keep the words and concept focused in your mind over a long period. This is definitely the kind of music that is most fittingly listened to on headphones. Some of the tracks are more rhythmic, and might lead you to groove with them, but you will still be meditating on the piece. A perfect example is the doo-wop style first segment of ‘If I Had Money, I Would Have Money’.