2013: Beware of Crocodiles

Posted by on January 15, 2014

wondrous structure

In 2013, my favourite song had a simple, catchy melody and the following lyrics:

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream;
If you see a crocodile
Don’t forget to SCREAM!

This past year was my first full year of fatherhood, with all the associated glories and challenges, and by far the most rewarding experience each and every day was watching my infant daughter transform before my eyes into a wobbly near-toddler, who can now tell me whether or not she likes something and who marvels at things such as animals and the massive piles of snow outside. A friend taught me the crocodile-adulterated version of “Row Your Boat” above because my daughter is obsessed with the animal (she calls them “crocos”). I’ve been trying to teach her the song ever since.

2013 was also a year of endings and beginnings: Brad and Eden had a “Digi-kid” and Foxy Digitalis was gracefully hibernated. Joining up with Decoder has been an equally wonderful experience; working with Dwight, Liz, Steve, Bobby, Jheri, Crawford and all the other amazing writers on staff has been a joy and I look forward to more greatness in 2014. A strange phenomenon occurred for me this year: the quantity of time I have on hand for tapping out reveiws has shrunk considerably due to family duties. And yet, I’ve been able to keep afloat, continuing to write for both Decoder and Exclaim (I guess I’ve gotten better at time management now that I have less of it).

Well, enough about my life, let’s get to the music! I’ve been compiling a list of what I felt were my favorite releases of 2013 since about October, refining and adding to it as the months went by – somehow in December, the list doubled! So now I sit at more than 40 gems I want to talk about, but I don’t want to prattle on incessantly either. So I’m going to try something different this year and break my list up into loosely assembled themes, hopefully spilling a few drops of ink about each item in turn.

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THE RISE AND FALL OF ROBERT BRUCE FORD

I figure I should start off reasonably local, and Toronto is near and dear to my heart (this year’s political circus aside). Wolfgang and Victoria over at Healing Power have been long-time pals of mine and their label is a perennial favorite. In 2013 they did not disappoint. With Petra Glynt’s amazing looking/sounding Of This Land EP, the label really stepped up their game in terms of visual aesthetic, continuing the trend with Hoover Party’s completely translucent Some Liquidity for These Troubled Times, Vol. 2 cassette release. Wolf and Vicky even dropped a few CD-Rs this past year, including the amazing all-female Fruits compilation (best comp of 2013, by far) and Garments of Light from the globally-inspired free jazz duo Not The Wind Not The Flag.

Speaking of CD-Rs, Kevin Hainey’s Inyrdisk imprint had a sweet run in 2013 as well. London, Ontario’s Teresa Danielle – a.k.a. Seashells – dropped a sweet silver platter for the label with her The Fondness of a Memory EP, which is probably the most “normal-sounding” release that Hainey’s ever had the pleasure to drop. Pleasence Records, another of my favourite local labels in 2013, had a glorious pair of releases: a split 12″ record from Hobo Cubes and Taiwan followed by a sick tape from Black Walls entitled Mary of the Shrines. Look for a full-length from Black Walls to come in early 2014.

TOMBER AMOUREUX

Venturing a little further from home, I was completely enamoured with a lot of the cassettes hailing from my almost-neighbours in Quebec. Jeunesse Cosmique, which I only discovered in 2013, dropped the amazing Magical Luv split tape, which featured tracks from both Hazy Montagne Mystique and YlangYlang (projects helmed by the respective label heads). La Cohu, another recent discovery of mine, had a number of lovely tapes land in 2013. Anhydride Tapes from France’s Sunny Dunes and Jean-Sébastien Truchy’s Système A were my favourite of the bunch. Furthermore, everything I heard from the Los Discos Enfantasmes camp over the year got my heart pumping. Especially notable were the Dezombi tape from Ramzi, the malformed beats on Ross Birdwise’s Frame Drag cassette, and the bizarre Introjection CD from Nicolas Wiese and Mise_en_Scene.

SPOOLS UPON SPOOLS

Cassettes featured prominently in my life even more so in 2013 than in previous years. I think my cassette stacks quadrupled in size last year, and there were so many amazing releases from within the cassette underground it was almost impossible to choose just a few to feature. Oddball electron-abuser, he-of-many-monikers Nick Edwards had my favourite, Plkzistentializm, released on Further Records under his Plkzfx alias. A close runner-up was the amazing self-titled Circuit Rider tape dropped by Jehu & Chinaman, with the following honourable mentions:

Seth Cluett, Wound of This Deep Blue (Notice Recordings)

G. Sweems, Treasure Island (Noumenal Loom)

Gareth Flowers, A Beginner’s Guide to Lucid Dreaming (Sunshine Ltd.)

DEEP GROOVES

As far as vinyl goes, I didn’t manage to acquire as much in 2013 as I have in the past. This was mainly due to the savage USPS rate hike. That being said, almost every slab of wax I did acquire last year was pure gold. At the top of the list is Tsembla’s amazingly weird Nouskaa Henget LP, which arrived on Matt Mondanile’s New Images Ltd. imprint. Tsembla is the project of Marja Johansson, who works out of Turku, Finland. Her output resembles that of Jan Anderzén (Kemialliset Ystävät, Tomutonttu) but with a more serious outlook. It’s strange, beautiful, and strangely beautiful (beautifully strange?). Other favorite vinyl releases of mine from 2013 include:

Bernard Parmegiani, De Natura Sonorum reissue (Recollection GRM)

Ensemble Skalectrik, Trainwrekz (Editions MEGO)

Painted Caves, Surveillance (Shelter Press)

Giuseppe Ielasi and Kassel Jaeger, Parallel / Grayscale (Editions MEGO)

Marginal Consort, INSTAL. Glasgow 2008 4xLP set (PAN)

Pelt Part Wild Gate, Hung on Sunday (MIE)

Dead C, Armed Courage (Ba Da Bing!)

Work/Death, Phone About to Ring (Type)

John Davis, Ask the Dust (Students of Decay)

Mary Lattimore, The Withdrawing Room (Desire Path Recordings)

PURSUIT IN THE HOLODECK

One of the labels I was pleased to make an acquaintance with in 2013 was Austin’s Holodeck Records. The boys have had a busy year pumping out release after wonderful release, and always made sure that I scored a copy of whatever they had coming out. Particular highlights for me were the untitled Good Stuff House reissue and the equally stunning self-titled Troller reissue. The label had a number of solid original releases as well, including EPs from Marie Davidson and Sensum & Clunch, and the ultra-wild Ruleth synth-splosion from the inimitable SSLEEPERHOLD. I hear they have a great 2014 planned, and I’m completely psyched.

GENRE-BENDING

One trend I notice every year is the lack of psych, rock, punk and metal that I ingest. Every year, a few releases in this vein trickle into my ears, but not as much as I’d like. Obviously, I was anticipating the return of My Bloody Valentine like most other 30-somethings who cut their teeth on shoegaze, and m b v (self-released) didn’t disappoint. In all honesty, I can never get enough glide guitar. Sophomore Lounge delivered a stunning release with what I believe is the most amazing cover art I’ve seen in awhile. Lantern’s Rock’n’Roll Rorschach 12″ blasted off in a devious Stooges-esque manner without aping the heavy rock legends. On the psychedelic front, Ashram Equinox from Italian group Julie’s Haircut (cassette available on Crash Symbols) completely fried my fragile brain.

I’m always loathe to describe electronic music as “electronic music,” because really, what music isn’t electronic? That being said, I did notice a continuation of the trend in which noise, dub, electro, house, techno, et. al. were blended into a thick, deep, and delicious sonic stew. I don’t really know what to call this music, and I shy away from the ever-so-trendy “outsider house” or “outsider techno” or whatever the nom de jour happens to be. All I can do is offer some examples, right? Opal Tapes head honcho Stephen Bishop slammed two releases directly into my skull in 2013. Both Caim in Bird Form (vinyl out on Digitalis) and Oats (issued on Luke Younger’s Alter imprint) had me returning time and again, wearing out my sensitive eardrums with their immense sonics. Helena Hauff’s intense Obscure Object mixtape (Krokodilo Tapes) backed electro bangers with slabs of noise. Emptyset’s Recur (Raster-Noton) took the skeleton of dance music and drove it through a broken meat grinder. The Acid Tracts EP (Magic and Dreams) from Bass Clef spun me in circles, while Tim Hecker’s Virgins (Kranky) and Roly Porter’s Life Cycle of a Massive Star (Subtext) drifted into a warm oblivion. I’m really psyched to dive into more of this kind of kooky spew in 2014.

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I honestly hope you enjoyed 2013 as much as I did, and I wish you all the best in the new year. Just remember: beware of crocodiles, and don’t forget to SCREAM!