Dots & Dashes’ Records of 2013 rundown began with some rather noteworthy inclusions from the likes of Kwes., Local Natives, Factory Floor and Yo La Tengo, amongst others, and we today continue with a further ten numbered six through fifteen. This time around, contributions come from unpredictable collaborations and unanticipated side projects; consistent records and indie constants. Oh, and arguably Canada’s finest songwriter, Raphaelle Standell-Preston, features twice. So kudos to her for what already feels the umpteenth time this particular calendar year…
DIANA, comprising members of Destroyer, The Hidden Cameras, Bonjay and so on, may be widely deemed a ‘side project’, although discount them and their impeccably pieced together début full-length, Perpetual Surrender, at your own ignorance. For spicy variety proved its prevailing flavour, with addiction and consequent repetition the aftertaste. And so far as decomposed protoballads go, New House was right up there amongst the finest to furnish 2013.
Another superlative, spectacularly diverse début endeavour, Ellis Ludwig-Leone has slowly, if surely proven himself to rank among the North American continent’s best nascent composers. Commingling an apparently pliable classical schooling together with pop hooks clingy as Velcro and memorable as viscoelastic foam, San Fermin is an expressive, impressionistic and endlessly impressive pièce de résistance, and one you can’t help assuming shan’t be Ludwig-Leone’s last of such eminent distinction.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, or perhaps rather Sonsick to lovesick, Québécois crooner Sean Nicholas Savage is something of an anomaly within a contemporary context, in that this latest oeuvre from the compulsively hyperproductive songsmith demonstrates little, to absolutely no regard for conventional form nor trendy contrivance. And Other Life is immeasurably better for it, for few could get away with slinkily warbling: “Yeah, we could do our time together/ Fillin’ each other up with pleasure/ Or you could go to bed with your freedom/ But he’ll make you a lonely woman” (Lonely Woman), or: “Back when you were so cruel, and I was a fool/ Like a grave growing daisies, you were so sweet and crazy” (More Than I Love Myself) without sounding insincere nor trite. So ta, Seanie.
Caribou’s Swim continues to splash about the insides of our stereo with persistent frequency, although the frequencies contained within this from the band’s head rhythmist, Brad Weber, have made more than a few ripples of their own. Pick a Piper is itself something of a collaborative endeavour from Weber, who recruited everyone from The Ruby Suns’ Ryan McPhun to Caribou bassist John Schmersal, plus the seemingly ubiquitous Standell-Preston, for the conception of one of the year’s most cohesive vanguardist pieces. The Raph-featuring Once Were Leaves to this day remains its tumultuous standout, however, standing as a refined lesson in restraint and release likewise. For you’d be hard pushed to pin down a more compelling 21st century, electrorganic crossover dance track.
The most unlikely combo of our entire rundown, few could have foreseen Germanic minimal techno mastermind Hendrik Weber, aka Pantha du Prince, combining so potently with Norwegian genii The Bell Laboratory, but there was so much more intrigue to Elements Of Light than first met the ear. For the music itself – composed of five pieces, constituting forty-four minutes – was as invigorating as the stories of 50-bell carrilons that provided a prerequisite insight into its manufacture. And an unanticipated marvel lay in wait, were you to heed its tolling…
The latest full-length effort from Kiwi kook Connan Mockasin, Caramel, quite literally took off where his off the wall Forever Dolphin Love then abandoned us now a couple of years ago, beginning as it did with a contorted, coital review of the latter’s gauzy title track. Though henceforth, we heard a sensual post-funk masterpiece replete with louche falsettos (I’m The Man, That Will Find You), Ariel Pinkish surreality (Do I Make You Feel Shy?) and violently seductive, soulful doozies (I Wanna Roll With You). Throw in an impassioned five-part exploration of sparse lunacy (It’s Your Body), and you’ve a record that’s rakish as it was outwardly riveting.
Truth be known, we’re finding the ongoing absence of Gang Gang Dance in the wake of supreme 2011 LP Eye Contact to be pretty difficult. That said, not only did this from the band’s in-house production doyen Brian DeGraw (or bEEdEEgEE) stave off the impatience, but it evidenced his idiosyncratic brilliance in its very own individualistic fashion, exhibiting some of the finest escapist electronica experienced in recent years. And despite featuring a motley cast of several, encompassing everyone from Alexis Taylor to Lovefoxxx and Gang Gang Dance’s indwelling vocalist Lizzi Bougatsos, DeGraw singularly gave a statement of intent few would, nor even could negate. Indulge in Like Rain Man for purgation; Bricks for pure aural ruination.
The first of two rather more direct contributions from Standell-Preston, Blue Hawaii’s Untogether saw she and Alex “Agor” Cowan plough a fecund, more techno-oriented furrow than they had during Blooming Summer. Which, by the sounds of its eleven tracks, is no bad thing whatsoever: if Blue Hawaii were initially the result of her refusing to go to university, alternatively “trying to have a life” while her peers headed for further education, then Untogether is instead the consequence of her listening to pure, unadulterated techno for two years. Its title couldn’t be more fitting either, she and Cowan splitting In Two midway through its conception, but its contents couldn’t really be much more convincing in kind. And in Try To Be, well, you can likely guess the rest…
And the second: a dichotomy between the new – “renewal, rejuvenation and birth” – and “the heavier back path, which is more dark; more contemplative”, Flourish // Perish in many respects represented a difficult, conflictual record for Calgary art-tronica trio, BRAIDS. Their first without abiding keyboardist Katie Lee and a remarkable foray into infinitely more intricate, electronic territories, it made for a therefore extraordinarily cogent stock of sounds and songs to match its tremendous cover art – devised by Mark Rimmer, the above has been nominated for the Best Art Vinyl Award 2013, for which you’re able to cast your vote here.
Lastly, if most admirably by default, we come to Jon Hopkins, whose breathtaking, quietly contagious Immunity of June ensured he should be regarded, and with it revered, as a recording artist in his own right. No longer merely another of Eno’s cronies nor the bloke Coldplay once pilfered from, Hopkins shed an opalescent radiance on the otherwise murky realms of British electronica, and did so with a blinding live show to match. Bis!