In 2013, electronic music embraced innovation and throwback sounds alike, with new acts emerging and old favorites making triumphant returns. But above all, it was a year when the cream of the crop did what they do best and left no one wanting for more.
—Alan Ranta, David Abravanel, Al Kennedy, Mike Newmark, Benjamin Hedge Olson, and Darryl G. Wright
Akkord is the culmination and almost the logical conclusion to the journey the pair of Manchester-based producers Indigo and Snykro have undertaken so far. Initially birthed as an anonymous collective, partly due to the fact they didn’t want any of their previous music to influence the way that people took in their new project, their first eponymous white-labelled releases have fast become collector-edition releases. Their debut EP for Houndstooth Navigate was a sub-destroying depth charge of muscular, minimal, breaks-y bass music.
The debut album from the once shadowy Akkord is an oceanic trench of techno influenced, dub-flecked UK bass music that revels in its mastery of sound, design, precision beats, and deep, deep, DEEP bass. From strange 0161 phone numbers, through to distinct flyer packs, and more, the promo campaign surrounding the release of their debut album was actually less interesting than the music it was pushing.
Hard, dark, and cold are all apt words to throw at this release. Supplanting colour and melody for monochrome, greyscale atmospheric backdrops and grime influenced bass tones, Akkord has created an otherworldly experience that combines the attitude of early era dubstep with the relentless, inhuman, pinpoint precision of techno. Al Kennedy
Positive change rarely comes from the top. It comes as a result of pressure from social movements, by the people organizing, and from that push, leadership tends to emerge. As such, it was telling in a year which saw drum and bass start to make a comeback in the wake of dubstep’s oversaturation, seeing the ‘90s rave style pop up on releases by Machinedrum, Mark Pritchard, Om Unit, Zomby, and other big names, that the king of jungle returned to claim his thrown. Having helped birth jungle and grime under the names Rebel MC, Congo Natty, and so many more, the spiritual musings of vocalist Mikail Tafari have always been delivered over a melting pot of urban influences, all of which comes together in a distinctively UK form. Mixed by experimental dub great Adrian Sherwood, Jungle Revolution sees Congo Natty pound all the buzzwords and expected themes of jungle politics into the listener’s skull over a swath of reggae-tinged, high-BPM bass tunes, pulling vocal contributions from a veritable who’s who of the scene’s past and present as well as guitar from Skip McDonald (Sugarhill Band), which are peppered throughout the album. The revolution is here. Alan Ranta
Like all truly great musical collectives, Múm mutate and rearrange their sound throughout the years. Most of the elements that make records like Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is Okay and Finally We Are No One stone cold classics are present on Smilewound, but in a somewhat different form. The contemporary classical elements are there, the glitchy yet pretty electronic beats are there, and the abstract, ambient lushness is there, but all of these elements are rearranged on Smilewound, making it sound both familiar and totally new. On Smilewound, Múm bring on a range of friends and guest musicians, giving this record a particularly eclectic quality, while also retaining a distinctive, cohesive feeling throughout. Múm has always sounded like a creaky wooden ship, or a wind battered Icelandic barn deep in the West Fjords, or an early morning Reykjavik flea market held in the depths of winter darkness, or going swimming in the summertime. There is no getting around the fact that Múm will always bring me back into the atmosphere of their Icelandic homeland; Smilewound reminds me, lest I forget, that I will always wish to return there. Benjamin Hedge Olson
The Black Dog
There may be no song title more direct and self-referential as Tranklements’ “Atavistic Resurgence” in the Black Dog’s entire catalogue. In addition to bringing back the sound of British IDM circa 1992, the group is in the midst of a surprising renaissance, which began in the late 2000s long after the original trio had been left for dead. Tranklements finds Ken Downie, Martin Dust, and Richard Dust doing what they do best: serving up a steady diet of solid British techno while pitching a few curveballs to keep things fresh. Most tracks pair interstellar keyboard melodies with simple but effective drum programming, while several interludes create oblique, intriguing bridges between them. That’s the celebrated Black Dog style, of course, but the group shines even when they don’t sound particularly like themselves; the introverted, dub-laden “Cult Mentality” pumps and pulsates like Fluxion’s most danceable cuts and “Hymn for SoYo” is a sticky, metallic love letter to Dial Records. Thumbing its nose at the new generation of electronic artists who trip over their shoelaces chasing the latest trend, the Black Dog continually reminds us that an assiduous dedication to craftsmanship is usually more than enough. Mike Newmark
House of Black Lanterns
Kill the Lights
The 2006 debut album from Dylan Richards (formerly known as King Cannibal) was an unexpected treat. Having gone to ground after a series of label disputes with Ninja Tune over the future of his King Cannibal project, Richards moved to Germany and refined his brutal sound, distilling down everything that was good about his previous projects, re-contextualizing the results into a more techno leaning framework, and birthing the subdued menace that is House of Black Lanterns in the process.
Juggling footwork, techno and UK bass with aplomb, Kill the Lights is a fantastic exploration of mood and atmosphere that is able to exist on both the dancefloor at peak time and in an armchair late at night. The mastery of sound design is second to none. Bursts of Vangelis-esque synth work combine with dread infused harmonies and deep, chest constricting bass to devastating effect. It’s not an in-yer-face affair like King Cannibal was, but that is what growing and evolution is all about. It is subtle and pleasing whilst still retaining the dark memes and tropes that gave Mr Richards his time in the spotlight to start with. Al Kennedy