I had thought to write something about 2016 here, as I often do in these end of year lists, but what is there to say? Personally, societally, what a mess of a year it’s been; it feels like I’d rather not sit here and dwell too much on the past 12 months but at least everything I have to offer you today represents my image of the best that 2016 provided us.
As always I want to personally thank everyone, old and new, who has joined and maintained their journey with me over the last (nearly) 5 years. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere this has not been my best year and personal problems have impacted on HearFeel badly: I’ve never posted as little as I have recently. I hope that things will pick up sharply early within the new year and I’ll get back to more consistent and regular content, but until then I just want to say thank you all so much for your patience and support. I know I’ve written some of my best work in 2016 and I’ve never been more proud of my writing; here’s to seeing much more of it in 2017! Without further ado, the list. (Review links in titles where relevant, links to listen listed after each).
For the last 3 years IWC has found himself barging his way into my lists; I’m a shameless fanboy at this point, but can you blame me? Centres is his most texturally complex and refined work to date as he charts a course through romantically stormy seas, drama unfolding at every turn before its sweet acoustic resolution. Although there are a few odd inclusions here as it teeters on the edge of overlong, there’s no question that everything has its place in the journey, the destructions only becoming more ambitious and affecting. The most affecting yet elusive concept album of the year.
Listen: Set To Lapse
Since 2007 we’ve been struggling to find a way to plug the gap Stars of the Lid have left us with, and although we’ve yet to quite find something to fill the void there’s plenty of artists that dance close to their style; Diminished Composition is certainly one of those records that manages to capture the magic of SotL’s electroacoustic/drone journeys without impinging too much on their hallowed ground. Very sensitive listening from a project keenly aware of themselves and their output.
Listen: Four Films (Films Four)
Although ultimately featured in such illustrious establishments as Stationary Travels and Tome To The Weather Machine, I can’t help but feel as though Permanence is one of 2016’s secret gems. It’s nagging, anxious, introverted and trapped in some lonely twilight corner of the mind, every moment occupied by drones that feel like they’d rather be somewhere else. Transient, melancholic, and reflective.
Listen: open air
Another consistent appearance is this fellow, Takahiro Yorifuji, though I have to admit Apsidal Motion is by far his best output to date. I can’t help but have a soft spot for Drone of this kind; singular, elongate, gentle, evolving: this slow burner charts the night’s sky across the heavens with beautifully relaxing precision. I only suggest you find yourself a nice bottle of wine, sit down with this on a quiet evening and immerse yourself in its quiet splendour.
5. Deakin – Sleep Cycle
Some fans have been waiting for this member of Animal Collective to release his solo debut for a long while now, and the result is mind-blowingly good. Whilst some have become disappointed in AnCo’s trajectory into poppier tunes through time, Deak seems to bring back memories of their earlier, more raw style in the deliciously earnest tunes here. We’re carried along in his battle with his self-worth and it’s a captivating story from its energetic highs to its simpering lows. Not one to be dismissed.
It’s been years since a Padang Food Tigers release and, despite it being a collaboration, Bumblin’ Creed still imbibes the same ultra-relaxed Free Folk sensibilities of their past. The stress-free guitar noodlings, the woozy accordion and sunny field recordings; I just feel adrift in lazy Americana from start to finish. Impossible to fault and a most welcome return for PFT.
Speaking of Americana, Familial Rot finds itself distinctly on the darker side of proceedings as Amini tunes his Dark Ambient bent to Finney’s haunting spoken word poetry. I was lucky to have spent some months with this prior to its release and I was enchanted yet disturbed with every listen, and it’s pretty overt in its menace too. Troubling, bleak, yet obliteratingly cathartic listening.
Give Greg Buffier and Romain Bardot a few days with a church organ and Verdaillon is the result, the power and physicality they channel through their music redirected into that instrumental behemoth. There’s religious fervour here, questions on the source of Christendom’s power and the tools used to deliver it, the nature of the game and its players. Truly a fascinating socio-political listen if you want the investment, and a bold ride if you don’t.
Although I have to admit that this pales in comparison to 2014’s unbelievable Life Cycle of a Massive Star, I’m glad the cosmic theme continues in the dark, exploratory Third Law. It really does feel every bit as oppressive as the endless void of space and its limitless expanse, as well as the reflecting the harsh chromed walls of the spacecraft that carry us through it. Certainly very dramatic and somewhat relatable as we teeter on the precipice of interplanetary travel.
It’s hard to know what to say about this, other than this record probably makes more elaborate use of guitars than any other album you’ll hear this year. Progressive Electronic at its most kitsch and grandiose, but with a very comely lilt towards the pleasure of company with friends and family; too quixotic for simple description, you’ll just have to give it a go.
11. Eluvium – False Readings On
Perhaps controversially I’ve not really clicked with any of Eluvium’s prior records, though they may now need to be revisited in light of False Readings On. Just filled with a rich, often sombre sort of beauty; introspective in the most luxurious steeped drones and piano drippings.
12. Symbol – Consequence Ornament
Creeping in at the deadline is Symbol’s sophomore Consequence Ornament, and although not quite as thickly thematic as its predecessor it swims in fateful ethereal drones in many of the same ways. It really gets going by the end; one not to be missed by Belong fans.
The start of a divergence in sonic direction from his past few records leaves Love Streams as one of Hecker’s weakest efforts, but for this to be one of his worst says a great deal about his talent. Glimmering electronics with an OPN overprint; weird and wild.
Although I was greatly pleased to be treated to two whole Ikin records this year, I felt I could only include one here and the distinctly urban Modern Pressure ultimately won out. Bold, direct, and groovier than ever.
Spectral in the most absolute sense as Jenssen takes old Eastern European Folk recordings and obfuscates them in unusual effects and spooky looped sequences. Musical equivalent of an old manor house in the woods by candlelight in the 19th century.
Retro-futuristic goodness from this well-known Vaporwave output. Although this seems to have upset long-time fans, its lush Ambient Techno fabrications burn with a seriously sensual neon glow.
Barwick is a consistently good listen and Will doesn’t disappoint, now with the surprisingly nice inclusion of supplementary male vocals also. It’s also somewhat more empowered than previous works which is a good change of pace.
18. Purl – Form Is Emptiness
Mellow Ambient Techno always finds its way here, and since I found the new Segue record a little underwhelming Purl has admirably taken up the slack in this lush collection of slow burners. Luxuriously atmospheric.
An enjoyable Progressive Electronic journey through urban streets and waterways from Hauschildt, as always faintly kitsch as it simmers in classic Emeralds synths. Neatly conceptual, if you take a little time to get into it.
Fennesz’s overprint on most collaborations is fairly firm and this is no exception as it cycles through hazy drone processings to thundering guitar rippings. Earnest, dramatic and heartbreakingly suffocating as usual, and absolutely deserving of being on the list.
Special Commendation: Mikael Lind – Intentions And Variations
As usual an EP that otherwise would have stormed the list is relegated to a footnote; this small collection of delightful, Modern Classically influenced pieces just has a beautiful painterly vibe, each track imbibed with its own stirringly specific amalgam of paints and brushes. Poetry.