Here are some more of the things I thought were good this year
Vaguely (or very) shoegaze-related releases of the year
I didn’t like the term ‘shoegaze’ back in the early 90s and I don’t like it now. I dislike ‘dreampop’ even more. Neo-shoegaze has now got to the point that original shoegaze got to; 99% of it is boring. But I do like some of it and these were good:
Stella Diana – Nitocris (self-release)
Naples shoegaze trio Stella Diana seem to be influenced mainly by the less experimental end of the original shoegaze scene (Just For A Day-era Slowdive with a pinch of Ride), rather than My Bloody Valentine or Curve, but on this, their third album, it all comes together with some quality songwriting and excellent performances.
Minor Victories – Minor Victories (Fat Possum Records)
I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would in fact; but it’s definitely a good album. As with so many ‘supergroup’ records, a bit underwhelming and boring overall, but the good bits, like ‘For You Always’, (where, as usual, Mark Kozelek makes one wish he seemed to be as likeable as he is talented) are so good that it’s definitely worth checking out.
Alcest – Kodama (Prophecy Productions)
For me, Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde is still the perfect Alcest album, the one where the shoegaze and black metal elements blended most seamlessly and where Neige’s vision seemed most clear and fresh. But Kodama is the best he’s made since then, the reintroduction of the metal elements slicing away some of the flabbiness of Shelter. The striking artwork and design of the album also rekindled the spark which had become somewhat mellow over time.
Daniel Land – In Love With A Ghost (self-release)
More singer-songwriter oriented than the other releases here, Daniel Land’s In Love With A Ghost meshes a strongly atmospheric dreampop feel with a very human, rather than celestial approach. His songs; sad, happy, richly lyrical, have everything to do with real life, making this the most approachable and loveable shoegaze(ish) album I’ve heard this year.
More non-genre-specific Releases of the Year
The Vision Bleak – The Unknown (Prophecy Productions)
Even without the conceptual baggage of their previous albums, The Vision Bleak’s latest opus is an overpoweringly rich and theatrical work of gothic melancholy. Konstanz and Schwadorf’s art will never be for everyone, but The Unknown is as accessible and as eccentric as anything the duo have recorded.
Kaada/Patton – Bacteria Cult (Ipecac Recordings)
In terms of time spent listening, Bacteria Cult may actually be my release of the year; the pairing of Mike Patton and Norwegian composer John Erika Kaada makes most of Patton’s other collaborations feel like novelty acts. Sweeping, epic, beautiful, funny and atmospheric, the music on this album is great as background or foreground and I am yet to be bored by it.
Jozef van Wissem – When Shall This Bright Day Begin (Consouling Sounds)
I wrote a detailed review of this great album for Echoes and Dust so will keep this short. This is a beautiful and haunting album of wistful (non-traditional) lute music with some experimental elements. It doesn’t sound like anything else in my Releases of the Year.
Darkher – Realms (Prophecy Productions)
An unclassifiable album of darkly romantic, sort of gothic (but without being theatrical) mood music. So immersively atmospheric that it takes a while to realise just how tightly written and well constructed Jayn H Wissenberg’s songs are.
I wrote extensively about this album here but since it was very nearly my album of the year, here’s a bit more: Rachel Mason has produced so much, in so many fields – performance art/sculpture/filmmaking/music, etc (check out her website for a cross-section) – that it’s easy to immerse oneself in her work. In music alone she is amazingly prolific and has amassed a vast and crazily varied discography (fourteen albums, plus various collaborations) within just a few years. Das Ram is a bold, exciting and accessible album, utterly different from the acoustic/folk rock textures of Mason’s earlier works like Turtles or Hamilton Fish… and even further removed from the raw, homemade quality of Gayley Manor Songs. Only a handful of artists have convincingly made a gesamstkunstwerk in the idiom of popular music without falling into the trap of overblown pretension – and most of those have spread from within the music world outwards. With Das Ram, Rachel Mason has become one of an even more select group – an artist who has learned to express herself with equal authority in whatever medium she chooses – and who seems to have fun doing it.
Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
Deceptively cheerful lo-fi indie pop with incisive tunes and lots of heart
Blizaro – Cornucopia della Morte (I, Voidhanger)
John Gallo’s Goblin-worshipping occult synth doom rock(?) is at its best on 2013’s Strange Doorways compilation, but when this album is great, it’s really great.
Nox – Ancestral Arte Negro (Forever Plagued Records)
Pure Colombian brutal-but-atmospheric black metal – short, to the point; perfect.
More to come….