Best of the Year

Mixtape #57 : Best Albums of 2019

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Happy New Year!

i want to start this year by expressing my heartfelt thanks to all of you who have followed and supported 5:4 in the last year, particularly my delectable band of Patrons. Hot on the heels of my Best Albums of 2019 list, i’m beginning 2020 with the usual mixtape comprising selections from each of those 40 albums. It rather nicely encapsulates another year of breathtaking musical imagination and ingenuity, exploring a typically eclectic range of styles, attitudes and aesthetics.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with the start time for each track in the mix; links to obtain the music can be found in the previous two days’ articles. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed. Read more

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Best Albums of 2019 (Part 2)

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Here they are, then, the best of the best albums that have brought untold levels of wonderment into my ears and mind throughout this year. i cannot recommend them highly enough – this is music at its most literally essential.

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Best Albums of 2019 (Part 1)

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With only a couple of days left until 2019 comes to an end, it’s that time once again to take stock and celebrate the great and the good albums that have been tickling my eardrums in the most beguiling way this year. Just before that, though, it’s perhaps worth stating the rules that determine whether or not something is eligible to appear in this list:

  1. No reissues, re-recordings (including live concert recordings) or releases that are not widely available can be featured on the list – though limited editions are generally allowed.
  2. A composer, artist, performer, ensemble or group may only appear once on the list in the same capacity (i.e. a soloist can appear more than once if also performing as part of a group or ensemble; a composer can appear more than once if featured on, for example, a portrait disc and a compilation).
  3. The definition of an ‘album’ is determined not primarily by its duration but the nature of its content. However, in general, to qualify for the list a release should be of at least 20 minutes’ duration.
  4. No recordings or arrangements of music composed prior to the 20th Century can be featured on the list – unless there’s a very good reason for doing so.

Right, now that that’s out of the way, here’s the first part of my round-up of the 40 Best Albums of 2019; each and every one of them in their own unique way will make your life a bit better – and give your ears one hell of a thrill.
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Mixtape #53 : Best Albums of 2018

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Happy New Year everyone!

Many thanks to all of you who have read, followed, commented, shared, promoted and otherwise supported the blog during the previous year, most especially to my beloved band of Patrons. i’m starting 2019 in the usual way, with a new mixtape featuring something from each of the brilliant albums in my Best of 2018 list. Being such an eclectic list, the ‘narrative’ of this mixtape is one that unavoidably veers between quite wildly dissimilar styles and aesthetics, but to my ear that only makes it all the more interesting and fun.

40 tracks (well, technically 41: Jóhann Jóhannsson’s were short so i included two) that testify to and celebrate the range and scale of musical wonders created during 2018 – the full tracklisting is shown below, and links to buy each album can be found in the previous two days’ articles. As always, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed. Read more

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Best Albums of 2018 (Part 2)

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i said yesterday how 2018 had been a very good year – just how good is encapsulated in these, the best of the best of the year’s albums, each one of which will do sublimely wonderful things to your ears. Read more

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Best Albums of 2018 (Part 1)

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Right, let’s cut to the chase: forget all those other narrow, limited, parochial and partisan Best Albums lists, here’s the only list you need: my round-up of the 40 albums that have charmed, enthralled, awed and amazed me the most during 2018. In case anyone was in any doubt, it’s been a very good year.

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Mixtape #41 : Best Albums of 2017

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

As of today, 5:4 is ten years old, so first of all i want to say an enormous thank you to all of you who have read, commented, enjoyed, shared and supported this blog over the last decade, especially to my merry band of patrons. As this is a special year for 5:4, i’ve planned some exciting things for the next twelve months, all of which will be revealed in due course.

Meanwhile, i’m starting the year in traditional fashion, with a new mixtape featuring something from each and every album in my Best of 2017 list. It’s typically eclectic and non-partisan, and while in many respects last year may have left a lot to be desired, musically speaking this mix does at least prove that there was a great deal to consider and celebrate. Links to buy each of the albums can be found in the previous two days’ articles.

The mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud as usual. Here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2017 (Part 2)

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

So here they are, the best of the best of 2017. Your CD racks and audio libraries would be so much better off with these incredible gems nestling among them. Read more

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Best Albums of 2017 (Part 1)

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

i started last year’s Best Albums of the Year list  concerned about whether or not such lists were a good, viable or indeed practical idea. This year finds me with no such reservations: lists are fun, lists are informative and inspirational, lists are just cool, dammit, and above all this particular list – in spite of its unavoidably provisional nature – is a great way to celebrate the most implausibly wonderful sounds that have entered my ears during the last 12 months.

In compiling this list, standard 5:4 rules (which i don’t think i’ve ever shared) apply: a composer or artist can only appear once, and reissues or re-recordings aren’t allowed, so the 35th Anniversary expanded edition of John Williams’ score for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Kraftwerk’s 3-D The Catalogue and Jasun Martz’s Solo Exhibition: The Pillory, all of which would otherwise have appeared in my top 40, have been excluded. Also – and this was an eleventh hour decision – i haven’t included Brian Eno’s Sisters; whereas it’s a truly outstanding example of modern ambient that lives up entirely to Eno’s original ethos while making it sound fresh and new (or, more accurately, demonstrating how it never stopped having the potential to be fresh), it wasn’t a widely available release, given away to a select number of people who had bought Eno’s Reflection app, and only for a limited time. One hopes Sisters might see a proper release at some point, as it really is stunning. So bearing in mind these personal peccadilloes, here’s the first part of my round up of the year’s 40 best albums. Read more

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Mixtape #37 : Best Albums of 2016

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

i’m starting 2017 in the usual way, with a mixtape bringing together one track from each of the forty albums on my best of 2016 list. i’m sure posterity will come to regard last year as something of a trough in human history, but this mixtape does at least testify to the fact that it also contained some truly marvellous wonders. i hope you find these three hours of music a nice distillation of the aural magic that was made in 2016; links to buy each of the albums can be found in the last two days’ articles.

The mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud; here’s the tracklistening in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2016 (Part 2)

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

Here they are, then: the best of the best of 2016, each and every one of them packed full of the rarest imagination, invention and ingenuity. i can’t recommend them highly enough.
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Best Albums of 2016 (Part 1)

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

i’ve long wondered whether there’s any justification—or, indeed, any point—in making end of year lists, particularly when, as usual, there’s a pile of as yet unplayed discs staring down at me from the shelf above my desk. But, for all its provisionality, the following list will serve as a good starting point for anyone wanting an eclectic, considered, non-partisan take on the best of this year’s albums. Besides, lists are cool. So to begin with, here’s the first part of my current favourite forty albums of 2016, counting down from 40 to 21. i’ve included links for the albums, each of which is the lowest price currently available; most are streamable or can at least be previewed, so if you like what you hear do please support these fine artists.
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Mixtape #36 : Best Albums of 2015

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A very HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!

In keeping with 5:4 tradition, here’s the new year Mixtape showcasing music from each of my Best Albums of 2015. Three hours that demonstrate something of the sonic wonders that materialised last year. Enjoy! — and there are links to buy each of the albums featured in the last two days’ articles.

As usual, the mixtape can either be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2015 (Part 2)

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

And here, bringing 2015 to a truly glorious end, is the conclusion of my countdown of the year’s best albums. Read more

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Best Albums of 2015 (Part 1)

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

Pausing only to reiterate once again how fundamentally definitive and provisional are all lists, here we go with my countdown of 2015’s best albums, starting with numbers 40 to 21. Part 2 tomorrow.

40 | Andrew Liles – Miscellany – Lussuoso (Electronics: 1990 to 2015)

The first of several epics on the list, Andrew Liles’ consistently unpredictable output was dominated in 2015 by this dazzling three-hour celebration of diverse electronic works dating back a quarter of a century. As the name implies, Miscellany is a veritable hotchpotch, one with a distinct leaning toward the more raw end of electronics. But this is merely the basis for a kaleidoscope of works encompassing radiophonic mayhem, intense beat-driven numbers overlaid with John Carpenter-esque basslines and/or Wendy Carlos-esque baroque twiddling, expansive ambient vistas and delicate, multi-layered bits of melodic tracery. It all makes for an entirely bewildering yet mesmerising experience. [self-released]

39 | Benge – Forms 4 – Moor Music

The latest in Ben Edwards’ ongoing ‘Forms’ series (begun in 2013) is this fine album, created using just a single synthesiser, the Yamaha VL1-m. The sense of evocation here, mingled with elements of nostalgia and retro sensibilities, is strong, conjuring up a soundworld that’s abstract and elemental yet drenched with connotations and allusions. And on top of all that it’s really very beautiful. [self-released – free download]

38 | Kate Havnevik – &i

Punchy, imaginative pop that builds directly upon the foundations set out on her 2011 album YOU. Smooth electronica is still the music’s most prevalent quality, but Havnevik keeps it informed with gruff basslines and itchy rhythmic diversions. Her voice is as gorgeous and indeed gymnastic as ever, turning endless cartwheels and somersaults which both reinforce the emotive core and embody the anthemic frivolity of her exquisite songs. [self-released]

37 | IAMX – Metanoia

The product of a runaway success crowdfunding venture, Metanoia finds Chris Corner extending further the utterly unique IAMX sound. His songs have always inhabited the widest of extremes in order to capture faithfully life’s emotional highs and lows, embracing grit and grime as well as the most ecstatic heights of elation (that voice!), and this album is no exception. Song titles like ‘No Maker Made Me’, ‘Say Hello Melancholia’ and ‘Oh Cruel Darkness Embrace Me’ are simultaneously brave—potentially suggesting a rather off-putting emo sensibility at work—and profoundly honest; yet the beat goes on, and while there’s more than an element of danse macabre permeating these songs, the restlessness of their rhythms keeps them from becoming self-indulgent. [self-released]

36 | Alva Noto – Xerrox Vol. 3

Xerrox Vol. 3 inhabits a very personal environment, founded upon broad washes of soft ambience, overlaid with bursts of electronic babble and semi-arbitrary burblings that more-or-less coalesce into melodic shapes. The slow, sedate manner of the first two Xerrox albums often suggested the solemnity of a ceremony, but Nicolai keeps things lighter on this occasion: materials are thinly-layered and clearly demarcated, and the general tone is one of buoyancy and lift, each track practically floating on its own thermal currents […] Avoiding the tendencies so many ambient composers make when attempting to tap into the idea of outer space, Xerrox Vol. 3 instead offers something that manages to evoke immensity and things unknowable from the perspective of a lone, small individual, at once infinite and intimate.” (reviewed in June) [Raster-Noton]

35 | East India Youth – Culture of Volume

William Doyle’s second album is a little hard to pin down. “The end result is not what was in mind” he sings, and it’s tempting to hear that as a descriptor for Culture of Volume itself. At its heart is a light-footed pop sensibility—Doyle is an irresistible melody-maker—yet this sits within a context of convoluted structures that often feel like miniature operas, their drawn-out dramas telescoped into four-to-six minute time spans. Whether expressed over an unstoppable pulse or through long-form lyrical lines (as in album highlight ‘Carousel’), they make Culture of Volume one of the year’s most beguilingly off-kilter pop albums. [XL] Read more

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Mixtape #32 : Best Albums of 2014

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HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!

Many, many thanks to all of you who have followed the blog through the last 12 months, particularly to all those who have commented and tweeted in response or retort. As usual, here’s my new year mixtape featuring a track from all forty of my Best Albums of the Year. i said yesterday how 2014 had been a breathtaking year, and listening to this 3-hour condensed version of its best music, i really think that becomes obvious.

Enjoy! – and assuming you do, please support the artists wherever possible; links to purchase each of the albums can be found on the last two days’ articles.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, followed by the download link; and you can also stream the mixtape via Mixcloud. Read more

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Best Albums of 2014 (Part 2)

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

Bringing the main course to an end, here’s the conclusion of the countdown of my forty best albums of 2014. It’s been a breathtaking year.

20 | Salvatore Sciarrino – Cantare con silenzio

Easily one of the strangest albums of the year, from a composer who continues to push back the boundaries of what constitutes contemporary classical music. Two of the three works on the disc focus on the flute, sometimes violently foregrounding it while elsewhere it becomes lost amidst heavier forces. The oldest work on the disc, Berceuse, is wonderfully weird, summarised in my original review as “like a seething, roiling organic mass, acting in waves of dense, surging material, it’s as inscrutable as it is hypnotic”. [Presto Classical]

19 | Bass Communion – Box Set

This rather wondrous 4-disc box set brings together a considerable number of rarities from Steven Wilson’s Bass Communion back catalogue. The earliest dates from as far back as 1998, the first of the deeply impressive Indicates Void series based on individual instruments, all of which still sound overwhelmingly modern. In many ways the collection proves how polarised is the Bass Communion canon, not just encompassing but often directly addressing extremes of serenity and cacophany. Regardless of which end of the spectrum Wilson finds himself, his highly-sculpted results are staggering to behold. [Steven Wilson HQ]

18 | irr. app. (ext.) – The Jennies Made Me Do It {1}

Three pieces originating in Matt Waldron’s collaborations and split releases with the equally unhinged At Jennie Richie, they chart an ambitious path through highly complex sonic imagery. ‘Studio Backflow’, unusually for Waldron, is driven along by a relentless pulse, slowly processing past a kaleidoscope of manic sights; ‘Foregone And Ungotten’—the highlight of the disc—begins as a radiant texture before passing down into something altogether more sinister and strange, whereupon it fragments and roams around in a seemingly endless dark space. [Bandcamp]

17 | OY – No Problem Saloon

One of 2014’s most marvellous oddities, No Problem Saloon melds African & European styles and manners into a uniquely congruous confection. Unaffected almost to a fault, OY’s lyrics tackle subjects almost embarrassingly slight (the joys of afros and dreadlocks) as well as deeply profound, the latter captured in the album’s standout track ‘Doondari’, which recounts in detail the stages of the Fulani story of the creation of the world. From my review: “Essentially a slice of drum-pumped electronica, Frempong’s rapid meandering through the repetitions of the story resembles a scrambling recitative passing through an assortment of episodes that skew off at oblique angles, the references to creation & milk finally combining in the quiet wail of a baby.” [Crammed Discs]

16 | Senko – Dronetudes

Despite the title of Danish musician Daniel Kosenko’s latest album, drones are not the primary focus of Dronetudes. Some of these absorbing studies do involve them, draped like large swatches of fabric across each other to create extended forms that shift and shimmer. Beats predominate too, though, existing both in sympathy with and counter to this slower material, and Kosenko clearly revels in the disjunct interrelationship, heard to best effect in ‘karpus trio’—a track that clearly can’t sit still—and album opener ‘wolfsong’, the underlying light of which is continually flecked and tickled by surface-layer beat tracery. [Hymen]

15 | John Pickard – Gaia Symphony / Eden

John Pickard’s magnum opus for brass orchestra and percussion has been given a superb new recording by the Norwegian Eikanger-Bjørsvik Musikklag. Although daunting in terms of both scale and scope, the Gaia Symphony is an immensely accessible and immediate work, carving “huge, rough shapes but handles them as though they were fluid, forming them into pounding rhythms and pseudo-fanfares” (from my review). Anyone potentially put off by the thought of 65 minutes of brass music: think again – Pickard has revivified the medium for the 21st century in this astounding piece. [Presto Classical]

14 | Joseph Trapanese, Aria Prayogi & Fajar Yuskemal – The Raid 2 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

One of 2014’s most exhilarating movies needed nothing less than a score that matched it in terms of both violence and dexterity. What it got was easily the year’s most breathtaking soundtrack, one that moved and acted with the skill of the film’s hero, Rama – biding its time (and thereby tapping deeply into the emotional subtexts that run like threads throughout) before unleashing onslaughts of unimaginable ferocity and virtuosity. Music remade as a martial art. [Amazon]

13 | Markus Reuter – Sultry Kissing Lounge (Crimson ProjeKCt Tour 2014)

Superficially similar to the EP of tracks recorded in Australasia (included in my Best EPs of the Year list), this extended set originating in European concerts goes very much further and deeper. ‘Patricia’ sets the bar very high, filled with surging triadic waves that continually hint at but thwart any cadential connotations; ‘Lorena’ opts for a vaguer harmonic language that threatens to be dragged into the depths. All 13 of these remarkable improvisations are outstandingly beautiful, crowned by Reuter’s thrilling white-hot guitar improvisations, frenzies shaped into melodies like strands of lightning from a Tesla coil. [Iapetus]

12 | St. Vincent – St. Vincent

Something from Annie Clark’s collaboration with David Byrne seems to have rubbed off, as her latest album has a distinctly heavyweight lollop in its step from the get go. Songs like ‘Rattlesnake’, ‘Birth in Reverse’ and ‘Digital Witness’ are punchy as hell, eat beat like a slap in the chops. Her experimental nature still pervades every song, making even relatively conventional numbers like ‘Psychopath’ sound oblique; standout track ‘Bring Me Your Loves’ encapsulates the album, pushed along with military precision while exploring unexpected side alleys en route. Not a verse-chorus structure in sight. [Amazon]

11 | John Cage – Works for Two Keyboards • 2

Xenia Pestova, reigning queen of the toy piano, reunites with Pascal Meyer on this superb second survey of John Cage’s two-keyboard music. In my review i remarked how their performance of Music for Amplified Toy Pianos “is as fascinating as it is laugh-out-loud hilarious, their navigation through Cage’s indeterminate score resulting in a mercurial kind of halting hocket between the toy pianos & an array of bizarre sounds.” The prepared piano music is no less striking (and more gamelan-like than ever), testifying to the continual freshness and unpredictability of Cage’s music. [Amazon] Read more

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Best Albums of 2014 (Part 1)

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

And so to the main course: the countdown of my forty best albums of the year; part 2 will follow tomorrow. Read more

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Best EPs of 2014

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It’s that time once again, so as the year starts to sputters to its close, here’s my annual round-up of the best encounters i’ve had with 2014’s crop of new releases, beginning with the top 10 EPs.

10 | Deaf Center – Recount

Feel the solemnity; Norwegian duo Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland’s latest missive comes drenched in autumnal melancholy, an aimless piano picking its way through the penumbral space that is ‘Follow Still’ while the ground shifts beneath. Ominous sounds lurk at the periphery, dispelled in second track ‘Oblivion’, a beautiful essay in the darker forms of ecstasy. [Boomkat]

9 | Monolake – X I E

Having toyed with both ambient- and beat-based materials in the last few years, Robert Henke’s new release (his first in two years) brings them together. Bookend tracks ‘Xor’ and ‘Ethernet’ are pretty delicious slivers of hectic electronica, held together by a cluster of clanging rhythmic loops, but it’s central track ‘Inwards’ that, despite being the shortest on the EP, goes deeper, a timely reminder of just how fresh ambient music can sound in Henke’s hands. [Hard Wax | Boomkat]

8 | Dwntwn – Dwntwn

Whereas dance-oriented music has been the focus on their previous EPs (The Red Room and Cowboys, both released in 2012), Dwntwn have placed much greater emphasis on song on the five tracks of this self-titled EP. ‘Til Tomorrow’ tops off its exquisite melodic writing with a gradual shift from delicacy to full-on impassioned outburst, while ‘Heroine’ folds the mildest of country touches into a heart-felt ballad packing considerable pain beneath its grace. [iTunes]

7 | Squarepusher – Music For Robots

“In this project the main question I’ve tried to answer is ‘can these robots play music that is emotionally engaging?’” The fact that much of this EP sounds essentially identical to Tom Jenkinson’s recent work, plus the ‘uncanny valley’ effect that such razor-sharp accuracy engenders (redolent of Zappa’s synclavier work) perhaps renders his question moot. Yet working with a trio of Japanese robot musicians has clearly unleashed a distinctive burst of imagination; ‘Dissolver’—a fiery quasi-extemporised workout—is arguably the finest demonstration of this unique collaboration, but ‘World Three’, involving the unlikely presence of a pipe organ, brings an oft-absent pensivity to Squarepusher’s output. [Bleep]

6 | Monty Adkins – Residual Forms

Monty Adkins’ work continues to plough increasingly deep furrows into material at the meeting point of ambient and experimental electronics. The results are uniformly beautiful, and this short piece is no exception, slow shifting chords and clouds matched by episodes of more blistered music, positioned with Adkins’ typically unerring skill so as to draw out a potent sense of inner drama. [Crónica – free download]

5 | Darren McClure – The World Is Made Of Words

Born in Northern Ireland, today based in Japan, Darren McClure’s latest release is a gorgeous and impressively focused slab of electronics. The work’s drones seem immovable yet malleable, McClure often pushing and shaping them in such a way so as to obscure both their pitch and timbral qualities; a delicate garnishing of almost-identifiable noises on the surface keeps the music and one’s listening experience sharp. [Yugen – free download] Read more

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Mixtape #29 : Best Albums of 2013

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A very HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!

i want to say a big thank you to everyone who’s followed 5:4 in the last year, and especially to those of you who’ve posted comments and tweets in response. There are lots of exciting things planned for 2014, so watch this space.

In the meantime, continuing the 5:4 annual tradition, here’s the new mixtape, celebrating the music in my Best Albums of the Year list. A little something from each album, seamlessly stitched together and lasting a little under 3 hours. Enjoy!—and if you do enjoy what you hear, links to purchase the music can be found on the previous two days’ articles.

Here’s the tracklisting in full:

Read more

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