I haven’t written about any recent music here yet, but I guess a round-up of the tracks and EPs that floated my boat this year is a good place to start. These days I’m buying a more varied range of stuff than ever before, including a fair bit of older music, but at the same time I’ve become much pickier about new records and I also seem to be much less caught up in trends and hype than I might have been in years gone by. So you won’t find any footwork, grime, hip hop or ‘outsider house’ on here – not because I haven’t been following some of it with interest, but simply because haven’t bought the records.
Cliff Lothar – White Savage (Viewlexx)
I have Laurence Hughes to thank for tipping me off about this mysterious, every-track-a-winner EP which I’ve listened to umpteen times this year. The stripped-back, 808-fuelled house template may be a familiar one, but the creative use of vocal samples and distinctive melodies throughout the EP really set it apart from much of the forgettable vintage fodder that’s plagued 2013. I assumed Cliff Lothar was an alias for an established producer since it’s such an accomplished record, but it seems he’s a genuine newcomer (with a release for Skudge in the pipeline too). Anyway, whoever he is, this is the real deal – raw, unique and timeless.
Isolee – Allowance (Pampa)
If I had to narrow it down to a single track of the year it would probably be this one, from an excellent EP on DJ Koze’s label. Isolee rarely disappoints and this 6/4 beauty is a perfectly melancholy, utterly unique piece that could only have come from his studio. Sublime.
Iron Curtis – Daniel (Smallville)
Definitely a producer I’d slept on for a while, but I started to really dig him this year via his excellent Soft Wide Waist Band album and this track on Smallville’s Thirtyfive Ways EP. Deceptively simple, analogue-style deep house with a heavy debt to Mr Fingers and a hefty emotional wallop – the kind of music I’ll never stop loving.
Mr Beatnick – Symbiosis (Don’t Be Afraid)
A real grower from the final part of the Synthetes trilogy of EPs, this combines raw house drums and synths with an inspired string sample. It’s the kind of music I wish Theo Parrish was still making, but with a distinctly British edge. Ace.
Hugh Mane – Spectra Sonics (Running Back)
I’m assuming the claim “made in the basement of an old tram station circa 1990 in a town that was probably London, Hugh Mane’s first and only release so far consists of hidden gems on a vintage DAT” is made with tongue firmly in cheek (a bit of online digging eventually led me to the Stupid Human crew). Regardless of when it was actually made, it’s a superior EP of highly playable, authentically vintage-flavoured house in a year that was full of pale imitations.
JTC – Valley Road (We Are 1) (Spectral Sound)
Tadd ‘Dabrye’ Mullinix released some great stuff under his JTC moniker this year – the Park Days EP on Hoya:Hoya is also great – but this is probably the best. The immense title track probably gets my vote for club drums of the year – slamming house rhythms with a subtle breakbeat undercurrent and some crafty edits. Alpha Helix, on the flip, is a brilliantly deranged beat track reminiscent of Derrick May’s more unhinged experiments.
Ob Ignitt – Oh Jabba (FXHE)
This Detroit cut actually came out right at the end of 2012, but I’m going to sneak it on to the list anyway since it’s such a belter. A perfect fusion of Underground Resistance-style hi-tech soul and European techno, it’s a total club destroyer if dropped at the right moment, thanks to huge chord washes and P-funk bass licks which punctuate the bed of hypnotic, unwavering drums and bleeps.
Lord Of The Isles – A2B (Unthank)
Another one that technically came out at the end of 2012 but which I played a lot in 2013, particularly while driving fast late at night. This is the main cut on the ace Futures 10” released on Firecracker’s Unthank offshoot, and it’s possibly the finest moment in the Lord Of The Isles catalogue. Its simple but propulsive groove doesn’t really change for the duration – all the action is in the layers of phasing, syncopated effects on top. Killer wares from an absolute don.
Jon Hopkins – Open Eye Signal (Domino)
This may have been a huge crossover track hammered by everyone from Jamie XX to Zane Lowe, but that doesn’t take away from its brilliance. Epic, driving, widescreen techno with state-of-the-art sound design that demands to be played as loud as possible.
Floating Points – Wires (Eglo)
A lovely singled-sided 12” taken from the Eglo compilation, showing the full extent of Sam Shepherd’s compositional talents over 11 sumptuous minutes, with a 12-piece ensemble. It’s not a gazillion miles away from The Cinematic Orchestra – in a good way.
And finally: here are five of the albums that got heaviest rotation on my iPod this year:
Vakula – You’ve Never Been To Konotop (Firecracker)
Huerco S – Colonial Patterns (Software)
Neville Watson – Songs To Elevate Pure Hearts (Creme Organization)
James Booth – Reunion (100% Silk)
Ian O’Brien – Understanding Is Everything (get it from Bandcamp)