Top Tracks 2013: December

After a slight delay, I now present the final edition of Top Tracks 2013. Despite a relative scarcity of new releases in the final month of the year (perhaps a fear of missing consideration for any end of year lists), there were enough top quality albums released in December to assemble a decent (and pretty chill) playlist.

John Zorn [perf. The Sapphites]
“Rose of Sharon”

From: Shir Hashirim
Genre: A cappella
Time: 3:11
Listen: N/A
zorn-shirSurprisingly, it has taken me all year to finally feature the endlessly prolific John Zorn in one of these lists. Zorn released two albums in December 2013 which brought his album count to a total of eight for 2013. This first song listed here is taken from his work for a cappella voice Shir Hashirim which was first premiered in 2008 and has now received a definitive studio recording. Inspired by King Solomon’s erotically charged “Song of Songs”, this sensual piece of work performed by all-female quintet The Sapphites is possibly one of Zorn’s most intimate works to date.

John Zorn [perf. The Gnostic Trio]
“The Night of Entharmon’s Joy”

From: In Lambeth—Visions From The Walled Garden Of William Blake
Genre: Chamber Jazz
Time: 5:00
Listen: YouTube
zorn-lambethThe second Zorn song on this list is from his tribute to English poet, artist, and philosopher William Blake. This is also the third Zorn album performed by The Gnostic Trio which features Carol Emanuel on harp, Bill Frisell on guitar, Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone and bells, and also with the addition of Ikue Mori on electronics for this release. This trio has quickly become one of my favourite of Zorn’s performance groups (nothing will ever beat Naked City though) with the interplay between these musicians and instruments being something truly special.

“Spells You”

From: Sumie
Genre: Folk Pop
Time: 3:35
Listen: YouTube
sumieThis debut album from Swedish songstress Sumie Nagano is every bit as gorgeous as its illustrated artwork suggests. Reminiscent in tone of Alela Diane‘s About Farewell from earlier in the year, Sumie is an understated little gem built mostly upon her instantly enthralling voice and delicately picked guitar lines. Some may find the sleepy pace of the album a little unrewarding, so this is perhaps an album only for those willing to close their eyes and surrender themselves to the private microcosm crafted by Nagano on this album.

Secret Boyfriend
“Beyond the Darkness”

From: This Is Always Where You’ve Lived
Genre: Electroacoustic
Time: 4:02
Listen: YouTube
secret-boyfriendNorth Carolinian Ryan Martin has maintained a relatively low profile performing as Secret Boyfriend over the last few years. Following a number of live performances and exclusive cassette releases, This Is Always Where You’ve Lived is his first proper full-length album and it is an erratic mix of sounds including acoustic fingerpicking (“Have You Heard About This House?”), violent distortion (“This Is Always Where You’ve Lived”), noisy soundscapes (“Flashback”), retro drum machines (“Beyond the Darkness”), and everything in between.

Flying Lotus

From: Ideas+drafts+loops
Genre: Wonky
Time: 3:27
Listen: YouTube
flyloFlying Lotus, the experimental electronic musician, part-time rapper, and grandnephew of Alice and John Coltrane, celebrated reaching 300,000 Twitter followers with a surprise collection of previously unreleased tracks. Appropriately titled Ideas+drafts+loops, many of the 24 tracks are indeed nothing more than ideas, drafts, or loops. There are plenty of gems and enough featured guests (including Earl Sweatshirt, Shabazz Palaces, Thundercat on a cover of “Black Skinhead”, and many others) for it to be more than just for diehard completists. The full collection is available for download here.

Clams Casino

From: Instrumental Mixtape 3
Genre: Instrumental Hip Hop
Time: 2:50
Listen: YouTube
clammy-clam-clamNot to be confused with the clam, breadcrumb and bacon dish of the same name, US hip hop producer Clams Casino (a.k.a. Mike Volpe) has released his third and final mixtape of instrumental tracks from songs he produced for a number of rappers, including MF DOOM, A$AP Rocky, Mac Miller, and Mikky Ekko. There are also a number of unreleased tracks included, as well as “Crystals” which featured in Grand Theft Auto V. Download the complete trilogy from Clams Casino’s official site here.

“Rival Dealer”

From: Rival Dealer
Genre: Future Garage
Time: 10:46
Listen: YouTube
rival-dealerBurial well and truly established himself as master of the extended play format in 2012 with his two excellent EPs Kindred and Truant / Rough Sleeper. He continues this fantastic run of half-hour releases on his latest EP Rival Dealer. Opening with vocal samples such as “I’m going to love you more than anyone” and closing with an excerpt from a moving 2012 speech by transgender film director Lana Wachowski, it was perhaps no surprise when Burial later came out to point out the “anti-bullying” theme of this release. While it may perhaps not be as immediately memorable as Kindred, this one is definitely worth half an hour of anyone’s time.

Ensemble Economique
“As the Train Leaves Tonight”

From: Light That Comes, Light That Goes
Genre: Ambient
Time: 4:05
Listen: YouTube
econo-lightConsidering new releases typically dry up in December, I was a little worried when approaching this playlist that I wouldn’t be able to find an appropriate song to close out both the year and also this little series of blog posts. Ensemble Economique (which, despite the name, is actually just the one person Brian Pyle) stepped up to the plate though with “As the Train Leaves Tonight”. Maybe it’s just my guilty love for Spandau Ballet’s “True”, or perhaps something to do with the sensually hushed French vocals, but I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect way to end 2013.

And that concludes Top Tracks for 2013. Although featuring 96 tracks in total, these posts featured just a small sample of some of the great music released throughout the year. Stay tuned for a more comprehensive list in a few weeks detailing my favourite tracks from 2013. Until then…

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