Clams Casino has a lot to answer for. His inexorable rise from Limewire-browsing student to white-hot production wizard over the past two years has been fully deserved, with his uniquely lush brand of bangers appealing to everyone from diehards to those with only peripheral awareness of the ‘beat’ scene. But in this calendar year he was comfortably second best, outclassed by a Bay Area duo who gently but emphatically pushed the entire genre forward over the course of 14 tender tracks. Collection 1 works neatly as a counterpoint to more headstrong and muscular fare, a masterstroke of brevity that pays as much heed to ambient soundscapes as traditional hip-hop structure. The punchy snares and skittering hi-hats remain present, but play second fiddle to the kind of ivory-tinkering that hints at a level of trained musicianship amongst the pair that bely many of their peers, all sat atop a bed of lush textural detail and faded vocal samples. It all flutters by with the faintest of touches, “Chuch” and “I Miss Y’all” are, at a push, the finest cuts, carrying an emotional resonance rarely found in this field. In keeping the impetus on the cloud as much as the rap, Friendzone’s sublime Collection 1 pretty much set the bar for instrumental mixtapes this year, and can be picked up for nothing on their Bandcamp – no excuses then.
– Gabriel Szatan
See The World Given To A One Love Entity
For most bands, releasing your debut album in the form of a single 37-minute song might be viewed as being intentionally difficult. But for Guardian Alien, the latest project from ex-Liturgy drum maven Greg Fox, it’s just business as usual. There’s really no other way of taking in their debut effort, See The World Given To A One Love Entity, than as a whole. It’s a 37-minute display of instrumental prowess and tight interplay that doesn’t really let up; it just flows from section to section of hypnotic psychedelia. The first part, anchored by Fox’s inimitably creative timekeeping, achieves a unique kind of heaviness through the use of instruments such as the shaahi baja. But then, around the halfway point of the album, it takes a turn towards the pastoral with a series of sampled field recordings, before finally returning at the end to the hazy psychedelia of its first half. It has its moments for sure, but ultimately it’s a journey meant to be taken in one sitting; like a post-rock album with movements, but achieving something entirely different and unique with its sound. Nothing else I’ve heard this year does anything quite like it.
– David Wolfson
Joy and Better Days
Joy and Better Days is the second album from singer songwriter Philippe Bronchtein under his moniker Hip Hatchet, and shows impressive growth from 2011’s Men Who Share My Name. Bronchtein knows the economy of words and how to use them most effectively, with each of these 12 songs unfurling naturally and vividly into vibrant and evocative paintings. His ability to condense atmosphere, character traits and emotions into simple verses comes from a natural talent with metaphor combined with a rich and versatile voice. Joy and Better Days is all about various experiences on his travels around America, and may well be best experienced while on the road; the warm textures provided by the organic folk music provide the ideal aural accompaniment for staring out the window at wide expanses while contemplating and sympathizing with Bronchtein’s refreshingly honest lyrics. Joy and Better Days is the kind of album that you have to cherish your time with, and in doing so you will be rewarded with a deeper and deeper appreciation of the craft that’s gone into the making of it with each listen.
– Rob Hakimian
Hobo is Canadian producer Joel Boychuk and his full-length debut for Richie Hawtin’s M-nus imprint is an ode to his formative years’ stomping grounds in Ontario near the American border. The title is derived from a railway junction in and around his hometown, but there isn’t a hint of nostalgia about Iron Triangle. Instead it’s a supreme mixture of Midwestern minimal techno at home on M-nus and Ricardo Villalobos-ian tech house, all supple kick, heaving, toiling drones, and clamped percussive samples fleshing out the sounds and atmospheres of the titular railway, but with an almost futuristic bent. “Camlachie” feels like you’re careening through metal-plated subterranean tunnels and the cyberpunk vocal sample on the title track is the sound of a robot boogying. The record is dark and dank, reaching near Demdike Stare levels of blackened moodiness, it’s also texturally immaculate, but it’s floor ready from the get go, its build-and-release hooks squeezed firmly between clenched teeth.
– Will Ryan