Albums That Made Our 2017 Brighter



2017 was fruitful in terms of excellent albums produced. Paulius Ilius picks some highlights ranging from hazy and lush ambient to rough and gritty techno.


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The end of the year is when we celebrate The List. This is great, but I’d rather just mention some releases, which, in my opinion, did not receive the attention deserved and slipped behind the year-end hype. I too enjoyed wonderful outings by Jlin, Slowdive, Caterina Barbieri, The Caretaker, Felicia Atkinson etc., but I’ll focus on the ones that left a big impression on me, but were less frequently mentioned.


Daniel O’Sullivan’s magnum opus “Veld” is one of most brilliant records I have heard throughout the latter five years or so. It has art pop appeal with a delicate spacious touch and elevated ethereal ambience, multilayered abstract soundscapes and convincing sonic depths going together with smart accessibility and excellent songwriting. It provided a great soundtrack for so many occasions last year: summertime outings, driving across California deserts or contemplating. In a way it reminds me of Eno’s “Another Green World” had it been informed by the British hauntological tradition.


A record that’s been mentioned here and there, but probably not to the extent it deserves, is Hiro Kone’s LP debut on Geographic North, Love is the Capital. I tried my best to figure out why these spacious and clear tracks are so appealing and in the end I had to concede that someone had probably hacked my brain. Somehow it just sounds better than most things. Not only that, but it also sounds quite genuinely new and stays that way regardless of how many times you listen to it.



Japanese avant-garde legend Phew released two full-lengths this year - Light Sleep and Voice Hardcore. Normally this might be a mere interesting factoid, but it seems really remarkable that such a veteran artist should release some of her strongest work so late in her career. Both records sound like nothing else, including each other. Light Sleep is an eerie synth-based masterpiece, accessible in some parts, uncomfortable and nightmarish in others, like a sultry alley in a feverish mind. Having said that, Voice Hardcore is undoubtedly the far stranger of the two. The bulk of this LP is filled with a multitude of Phew’s voice, manipulated, overlapping, surprised with itself, agreeing with itself, performing some ritual on itself - an Inland Empire of music. Phew probably has a lot more yet to give.


Damien Dubrovnik’s “Great Many Arrows” was another powerful highlight, one of the top entries in the Posh Isolation catalogue. This is a long matured marriage of power electronics in its most gentle and emotional form and neoclassicist grandeur at its most lush and refined. One might describe it as industrial music for intense summertime romances, which gets its heaviness not from abrasive outbursts of noise or shock value, but from sheer stripped down emotions - an open heart and touching sensitivity. You can hear hearts beating so densely between these shrieks, metal shards and soothing chamber ambient scapes. The record’s press release puts it quite well - “the pair's most 'musical' work to date, its veneer of accessibility might also make it their most terrifying”.


Ambient aesthetics were further elaborated and refined via Internazionale’s Janushoved label, which kept on polishing its sound, all the while remaining loyal to its DIY modus operandi and sonic consistency. There are more and more diverse overtones in the label’s sound, so nicely summed up in the Wealth of Stars compilation from 2016. One of my personal highlights was Olympisk Løft double tape, Tvillingeseglet, which presented tranquil ambient drama interspersed with elegant synthesized jazz. This was nocturnal music filling the room like cigarette smoke from lover’s lips, or the dim evening light coming through a half open window. It is nice to observe the label as a secret and carefully preserved universe, constantly growing new galaxies and encompassing different shades of isound.


Another exciting tape label coming from the North has been XKatedral - a rising Swedish imprint of ambient music merging the sublime and graceful neoclassical sounds of chamber and organ music, majestic/minimal static and acoustic experiments. Dufwa’s Fältinspelningar från Terres de l’Ebre was an exercise in Proustian romantic ambient, a record with the intensity of power ambient and a pastoral flow.


In 2017 Folklore Tapes turned towards Britain’s industrial heritage with Industrial Folklore Tapes Series and its two entries - Springs by Fred Helliwell and Instruments of Industry by Hannah Leighton-Boyce. However, my personal highlight was their excellent compilation The Folklore of Plants Volume 1 - a collection of short gems, each illustrating a single plant and exploring areas of acoustic, synth and ambient music. The short pieces illustrate that a single idea can be conveyed in less than a minute.


Another personal favorite has been Snake’s Pipes Escape Me. This is one for fans of hazy experimental folk that feels like the dream of a grunge track. The music is completely simplistic and minimal - there are few beats, the production is delightfully lo-fi, and the backbone of the tracks mostly consists of the voice and an unplugged guitar plus the ingenious, subtle use of effects. A true gem of non traditional songwriting.


Swimming into hauntological waters, we got a weird-as-ever proposition from the ever productive Ian Hodgson, aka Moon Wiring Club. His Cateared Chocolatiers immerses the listener in a murky and distorted Victorian fairy tale that echoes like a surreal dream, fusing ballroom music with spectral trip hop, repetitive vocal loops disappearing into radiophonic chaos.


Moving into an area of more sunshine, we find Garrett (aka Dam Funk), who dropped Private Life on Music From Memory. This is a wonderful coalescence of rich and nostalgic feel-good synth ambience with subtle funk grooves. It is sounds like German kosmische sounds born under palm trees, soaked in the California sun and merged with Johnny Jewel’s noirish neon-lit italo. A perfect soundtrack for watching the sunrise kiss the LA skyline in dimmed yellow light.



Among many Offen Music jewels, a particular stand out was Smagghe & Cross’ collaborative album MA, one of the most difficult releases to describe. Blurry ambience intertwined with field recordings and hypnotic kraut pulsations (“Warren”), Adelle Stripe’s poetry on violence and substance abuse, darker drone pieces. In terms of shaping a separate world of many sounds, Simon Fisher Turner’s Giraffe was slightly similar, although a more peaceful, brighter and more uplifting offer containing field recordings collected all around the globe. This is a peculiar place where Mumbai dog barking, machine sounds, string sections, cosy melancholia a la recent Deux Filles output, and personal spoken word passages coexist.


Early on in January, Oto Hiax, a collab of Seefeel’s Mark Clifford and Loops Haunt’s Scott Douglas Gordon, dropped a self titled LP of lush sharp-edged soundscapes reminding an imaginary collision between Autechre and Slowdive, but also classic Seefeel material within its subtle undercurrents. It shaped a world homely and alien as if the coziness of circa 2000 IDM merged with constructive surrealism.



Biosphere dropped the wonderful The Petrified Forest EP, a synth miniature reimagining the cult noir movie in sound. This cinematic, charming and elegant record is one of the more emotionally touching in electronic music of late. Also, it is another prove that Geir is a master of dialogue cut-ups. Another noirish proposition was Dale Cooper and the Dictaphones’ long and epic Astrild Astrild. Their sounds were even more shadowy than the dreamy Quatorze Piece de Menace and they even retained some psychedelic undertones paired with an atmosphere reminding some ‘50s art-house monochrome movie half-seen, half-dreamed-of. The year of the third Twin Peaks season is an especially fitting time for that kind of music.


It seems unfair to pick just a few dancefloor records in a year when there have been so many great ones, but that’s life. Prostitutes has released one sleazy, evil, plastic monstrocity of a record with Dance Tracksz. Each of the 8 tracks are amazingly detailed bangers with great progression throughout, yet they also feel rough and crass in the very best sense. The music of Prostitutes is really at home in this era of ours, giddy about the glitter and the lights - not bothered.


Opal Tapes have released a number of interesting albums this year, as they always do. One that stood out for me was E-Saggila’s Lux Campaign - a dark and brooding, atmospheric and groovy set of tracks touching on so many areas, including noise, techno, ambient and even drum and bass. Lux Campaign is a thoughtful and unique creation that feels like an autonomous and alluring world. The one responsible for this treat is Rita Mikhael - an already-prolific Toronto artist who also co-runs the brilliantly gloomy Summer Isle imprint.

Amongst the political and social turmoil, the sonic world did not lack the infusion of beautiful music, which manifested in a wide variety of forms that were not always evident, occasionally hidden in disguise or left between the lines.

Reviewed Albums

01. Daniel O'Sullivan ‎- VELD [O Genesis]
02. Hiro Kone ‎- Love Is The Capital [Geographic North]
03. Phew - Light Sleep [Mesh Key]
04. Phew - Voice Hardcore [Bereket]
05. Damien Dubrovnik - Great Many Arrows [Posh Isolation]
06. Olympisk Løft ‎- Tvillingeseglet [Janushoved]
07. Dufwa ‎- Fältinspelningar från Terres de l’Ebre [XKatedral]
08. Various ‎- The Folklore Of Plants Volume 1 [Folklore Tapes]
09. Snake - Pipes Escape Me [Tears Of Joy]
10. Moon Wiring Club - Cateared Chocolatiers [Gecophonic Audio Systems]
11. Garrett - Private Life [Music From Memory]
12. Smagghe & Cross ‎- MA [Offen Music]
13. Simon Fisher Turner - Giraffe [Editions Mego]
14. Oto Hiax - Oto Hiax [Editions Mego]
15. Biosphere - The Petrified Forest [Biophon Records]
16. Dale Cooper Quartet & The Dictaphones ‎- Astrild Astrild [Denovali Records]
17. Prostitutes - Dance Tracksz [Diagonal]
18. E-Saggila - Lux Campaign [Opal Tapes]

About Author

Paulius Ilevicius is a Secret Thirteen journalist, editor and occasional DJ focusing on more dreamy and melancholic soundscapes. Born in post-industrial town of Pavevezys, currently he lives and works in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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