Anonymous East London left-field electronic collective Old Apparatus released two LPs worth of material this year spread across four EPs, each with a distinct tone and approach, some a little more group-oriented than others. That’s after setting up shop under the banner of their own label, Sullen Tone and releasing their first 2012 document, Darren, an EP that acted as a prologue for what was to come with contributions from all four members of the group. Harem is the final chapter in a trilogy of EPs–each chapter the responsibility of a third of the group (whatever that shakes out to)–and it’s markably the strongest. The twenty minutes contained on Harem is a full and singular experience, not to mention one of the most engrossing of the year, despite its length. Whoever’s responsible for the record (it’s credited to the titular Harem) treads across cavernous pools of black, analog Kranky-esque ambiance, littered with shuddering vocals and sleep-deprived synth arpeggios, before blowing up into widescreen, vocal-driven Dead Can Dance-style mystic-futurism bombast. There’s enough sonic detail and intricacy decorating the EP’s expansive, breathtakingly vivid atmosphere to get lost in, but its sense of emotion and beauty is very much intact, almost brazen in its hugeness.
– Will Ryan
Walk On Heads
Last year Iceage was the big Copenhagen band on Escho records getting props on year-end lists, but their citymates and labelmates Lower aren’t far behind them. This year’s Walk on Heads EP unleashed a similar brand of blood and sweat drenched post-punk, though, unlike Iceage, Lower seems as aimed towards other emotions as it is towards anger. Though the last three tracks (which combined barely reach the 6 minute mark) adopt a stereotypical punk drive, “Craver” combines a Ian McCulloch-esque vocal croon and bass heavy squeaks and squelches. The “Someone’s Got It In For Me” 7” pushed further in the realm of Echo and The Bunnymen melodicism, hinting at an intriguing sound for the future, but for now we have this awkward and wonderful marriage of the violent and the melodic, the punch and the instant hook. It’s tortured in its own way, but no less immediate.
– Colin Joyce
Willis Earl Beal
Principles of A Protagonist
The leadup to Willis Earl Beal’s 2012 album, Acousmatic Sorcery was big on backstory. As a sometimes-homeless Chicago subway crooner and one time X-Factor contestant, Beal had more than enough good will headed his way to pretty much guarantee widespread acceptance of his debut effort, but in true outsider art fashion, the finished project wasn’t exactly what the general public was ready to digest. Rough around the edges – though certainly not short on sentimental songwriting – it was a tough listen, but one that hinted at overwhelming promise. After a string of well-regarded live shows, Beal dropped this free EP, which included five reinterpretations of tracks from that debut. For this EP, ostensibly a soundtrack to a forthcoming short film, Beal took away much of Acousmatic Sorcery‘s difficult production, turning tracks like “Swing On Low” and “Evening’s Kiss” into the vocal-cord-shredding soulful ballads that they always should have been. Beal put a lot of people off with the smirking piss-take of an aesthetic that ran throughout his debut, but here his songwriting is allowed to take its natural form. Bare, unadorned and beautiful, Beal strips back the lo-fi noise and creates something even more personal and special.
– Colin Joyce
You Know You Like It
The most striking thing about AlunaGeorge’s You Know You Like It EP is how confident they sound for a duo with only a handful of released songs to their name. From the off it’s clear that AlunaGeorge have started to find their sound; singer Aluna Francis sounds less girlish than before – her assured and measured delivery, which manages to be constantly alluring without ever being overwrought, matches perfectly with the EP’s hintingly sexual nature. These themes are pressed forward by the slinky production; clicks and claps punctuate the sumptuously pulsating bass, covered over by layers of melodic effects that are placed precisely and compellingly around the tracks to accentuate and add to their potency. This all combines to make the three songs on You Know You Like It some of the most irresistibly replayable of the year, and, considering they managed to continue their upward trend by bettering all three of them on the follow up single, “Your Drums, Your Love,” there’s plenty to be excited about in AlunaGeorge’s future.
– Rob Hakimian
Silent Hour/Golden Mile
Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles mainstay Daniel Rossen released his debut solo EP in March of this year. And for most people, that statement alone would have them rushing headlong to the nearest record store (or laptop) to procure their own copy. But Rossen would rather his work stand on its own and not rely on the goodwill of either of these other bands’ fanbase. Thankfully, Silent Hour/Golden Mile is a dizzyingly immaculate, heady rush into Rossen’s own fractured pop mindset that more than warrants both the attention of both Grizzly Bear/Department of Eagles fans and relative newcomers to his music. If ever a side project felt like the continuation of an artists’ own progression apart from their main gigs, then Silent Hour/Golden Mile is it and would make a spectacular poster child.
Employing nothing so dramatically different than what we’ve come to know from his previous work in Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles, Rossen instead builds refinements into his established and well-versed musical arsenal. It’s not so much that the pianos sound different or the acoustic guitars are employed in any overtly fanciful way but this EP feels fuller and more fleshed out than some artists can manage in an entire album’s worth of material. Tracks like the beautifully hesitant “Saint Nothing” and the very Byrds-ian “Silent Song” show that Rossen is not indifferent to his own place within musical canon and is proud of his influences and adaptations. Silent Hour/Golden Mile feels casually timeless in a year when many records feel dated the moment you press play.