XLR8R's Best of 2013: Releases (30 - 16)

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Over the past three weeks, XLR8R has dedicated itself to highlighting the Best of 2013, a process that has spawned a whole lot of year-end lists. And while we're likely all suffering from a bit of list fatigue at this point, we're happy to report that this year's "Best of" process has almost reached the end of the road. In the meantime though, we've arrived at what is most likely the most anticipated list of them all—our favorite releases of 2013. (For the sake of clarity, we should explain that anything with two or more original songs was considered a "release." Although most of our choices are albums, a handful of EPs made the cut. We also decided to include mix CDs in this category.) Whittling down the contenders and assembling a final list was no easy task, but these 30 records are the ones that we feel made the biggest impact in 2013. We'll be unveiling the list in two parts, beginning with numbers 30 through 16. Come back tomorrow for the top 15.

30. The Cyclist Bones in Motion (Leaving/Stones Throw)
Beyond the nostalgia of appreciating an antiquated medium, there's a certain charm to the wooly hiss of cassette tapes. Take Bones in Motion, the debut LP from Irish-born, Liverpool-based producer The Cyclist (a.k.a. Andrew Morrison), which doubled as the first proper full-length to emerge from the newly established Leaving/Stones Throw label partnership. On it, Morrison reveals a lush, house-indebted sonic world of smeared synthesizer leads and chunky rhythms, all buried beneath a thick layer of crackling tape noise. The way he incorporates the fizz into the LP is textural, giving the record a muffled depth that allows heavy warehouse techno tracks like "Reels" to sit easily next to softer bedroom fare like "Visions." Derek Opperman


29. Locked Groove Heritage (Hotflush)
As Scuba continues to pursue his big-room aspirations, so too has his Hotflush imprint gone further into the world of peak-time anthems. For instance, this year saw Belgian producer Locked Groove offering up Heritage, a double EP of big sounds that felt like a natural complement to the label's relatively newfound bombastic direction. That said, its seven tracks do cover a lot of ground; there's old-school US garage ("Wear It Well," "Nighttime at the Garage"), sparkling, arpeggio-laden trance ("Dream Within a Dream"), and even contemporary tech-house ("Firefall"). It's all gorgeously produced, but the record's main appeal lies in the way that Locked Groove is able to maintain a tasteful composure while constructing compelling rhythms that suit his various stylistic impulses. Derek Opperman


28. Dauwd Heat Division (Pictures/Ghostly)
Considering the shallowness that marks a lot of contemporary deep house, it was refreshing to hear the depth of Dauwd's Heat Division, an EP that found the UK producer navigating a vibe that mixed contemporary polish with sunken atmospherics. The title track is the highlight—it's full of sputtering LFO modulated synthesizers, detuned vocals, and colorfully warm organs that drop in and out above a simple kick-and-woodblock rhythm. Like the record as a whole, it consists of only a few simple components, but it's what Dauwd does with that simplicity that makes Heat Division such an engaging release. Derek Opperman


27. Sandwell District Fabric 69 (Fabric)
Influential techno label and DJ collective Sandwell District has called it quits a few times in the past, but its most recent dissolution feels permanent. A part of that is due to Fabric 69, its installment in the London clubbing institution's respected mix series. Created remotely by feuding principle members Regis and Function, it feels like a piece of final punctuation in the way it neatly summarizes the imprint's cool and carefully designed industrial aesthetic, with long stretches of shifting texture that provide a background for unusual peak moments in the form of dubbed-out anthems like Mary Velo's "Detune" and Mark Ernestus' "Mark Ernestus Meets BBC." Derek Opperman


26. Autre Ne Veut Anxiety (Software)
The thing that sets Arthur Ashin (a.k.a Autre Ne Veut) apart from the countless other electronic musicians reimagining R&B and '80s pop is the sense of vibrancy and unpredictability in his music. Where many of his peers opt for sleek, minimalist aesthetics, on Anxiety, Ashin underpins his vocals with a chaotic patchwork of crisp drum-machine rhythms, potent outbursts of emotionally charged synth, and tense, dissonant electric guitars. It could almost come off as kitsch, but—both instrumentally and vocally—Ashin delivers everything with such heartfelt conviction that it's impossible not to be drawn in by his hyper-emotional compositions. Si Truss


25. Shigeto No Better Time Than Now (Ghostly)
In the world of instrumental hip-hop, few have displayed such an intrinsic flare for jazz as Shigeto. His talent, not only for the compositional tools that jazz requires, but also for the ability to perform a variety of these feats live, is at the heart of No Better Time Than Now, the Michigan native's most accomplished album to date. Throughout the record, Shigeto uses the framework of instrumental beats to splice together immense hybrids, which at any one time can coherently bring together some combination of found-sound percussion, live drums, thumb-piano plucks, moody analog synthscapes, and dense Rhodes chords. No Better Time Than Now is bursting with ideas, but never feels overcrowded by them, as Shigeto skillfully finds ways to weave his many muses together, either by piling interlocked layers of elements or by gracefully covering fast-evolving movements within a track. With Shigeto's hand-played rhythms and keyboard suites at the forefront, No Better Time Than Now is one of the most poignant examples of jazz-infused beats (or beat-infused jazz) that the modern instrumental tradition has produced. Glenn Jackson


24. Ben UFO Fabriclive 67 (Fabric)
With Fabriclive 67, Hessle Audio boss Ben UFO solidified his shift away from bass music proper and emerged at the forefront of a hybridized, distinctly UK vein of house and techno. The nearly 80-minute-long mix is hardly an easy listen, but over its course, it's hard not to feel like the London DJ is heading into some deeply uncharted territory. Threading together the likes of Delroy Edwards, Kyle Hall, Jam City, and Pev & Kowton, Fabriclive 67 achieves a perfect, difficult balance between being well paced and having a jittery, electric sense of frisson. Tim Gentles


23. Bobby Browser Still Browsing (100% Silk)
Last year's debut EP from Bay Area producer Bobby Browser, Just Browsing, stuck out amongst the 100% Silk crew for its effortlessly lackadaisical, disco-influenced grooves. This year's follow up, Still Browsing, improved on the producer's first effort with four tracks that somehow managed to be even more glamorous and breezy than his first set. The record opens with "As Far As I Know"—a song we listed amongst the Best Tracks of 2013—but the Italo-flavored "Theme from Tony's Party" is another highlight. Built on a bed of lush synths and midtempo beats, upon which breathy vocals are layered, the track points to Bobby Browser's deftness, not only with evocative atmosphere, but with taking the "cheesier" elements of dance music's past and recombining them in delightful ways. Tim Gentles


22. Kyle Hall The Boat Party (Wild Oats)
Considering Kyle Hall's diverse catalog, the young producer's debut album could have gone a number of different ways. True to its witty cover art, The Boat Party is not the sort of thing one hears off the coast of Ibiza. Its eight tracks are caked in grit and work on a range of motifs, from surreal, ghettotech-ish workouts "Flemmenup" and "Finnapop" to the filtered euphoria of "Crushed" and "Measure 2 Measure." Most importantly, Hall's experimental inclination reigns over everything. It is not that the producer leaves his accidents in—rather, he twists these clips and pops to achieve a radically cracked approach. Steve Kerr


21. Logos Cold Mission (Keysound)
2013 has been an exceptionally strong year for instrumental grime releases, but even against this backdrop of stiff competition, London-based Logos' debut LP stands out as something truly special. Cold Mission is an album that see Logos deconstructing his influences, breaking grime down to its most basic elements and exploring the individual power of each one. Crisp synths, reverb-drenched samples, and snatches of drum machine sit against a backdrop of ominous silence, slowly building tension across the course of the album before coming together into a crescendo of energy and beauty during the album's stunning three-track coda. Si Truss


20. Blondes Swisher (RVNG)
Few acts feed off each other like New York's Blondes. Since their earliest releases, Sam Haar and Zach Steinman have honed a sound that achieves a big-room rush via the push and pull of small, interlocking parts and the way the two artists work together to add to and tweak the music. On the surface, this basically means nothing—most dance music is like this. But for those trying to parse Blondes' secret, Swisher is a great place to start, as its songs psychedelically magnify tried-and-true elements so that they gleam and hit viscerally before swirling back into the mix. Never before has the duo sounded so dynamic and in control. Steve Kerr


19. Akkord Akkord (Houndstooth)
In some camps, 2013 will be remembered as the year when lo-fi nostalgia went big in underground dance music. It's interesting then, that one of the best LPs released this year takes a completely opposite tack. In late November, British duo Akkord unleashed its self-titled debut, a prophetic record that's so clean it might as well have been made in a microchip factory. Across its 10 cuts, the album draws a blueprint for some near-future club music that's built from both the surgical precision of techno and the full rhythmic complexity of the UK hardcore continuum. "3dOS," one of the album's highlights, encapsulates Akkord's vision by striking the perfect balance, placing a chunky bassline over a spastic rhythm that runs, at one point, straight off the grid. Derek Opperman


18. John Talabot DJ Kicks (!K7)
Making a memorable DJ mix requires a careful approach; many recent commercially released mix CDs lack inspiration, acting more like a preview reel or business card than as a standalone listenable document. This is precisely what makes Barcelona DJ John Talabot's entry in the esteemed DJ Kicks series so appealing. It's an atmospheric trip through the man's wide-reaching sound, one carried by a narrative of sunny, sub-100 bpm Balearica that gradually gives way to a tasteful expanse of '90s-leaning house. Though moving at a relaxed pace, the trip between those two points is exhilarating, giving the listener the feeling of being on a personal tour through the core of Talabot's sonic aesthetic. Derek Opperman


17. The Knife Shaking the Habitual (Mute)
Shaking the Habitual is by no means perfect; its 98-minute runtime is littered with failed experiments and moments of unnecessary excess. Yet it's precisely these flaws that make the record so utterly fascinating. It's more than just an album, it's an artistic adventure. The LP sees the Swedish siblings challenging both themselves and their audience by creating pop songs out of a jarring and often difficult array of sounds. The result is like listening to an electro-pop record that's questioning its own existence—it's an album full of would-be hits that has been mixed and mangled out of shape in a commercially suicidal act of self-sabotage. Even if the music isn't always consistent, there's little doubt that The Knife is still light years ahead of everyone else. Si Truss


16. The Haxan Cloak Excavation (Tri Angle)
Somewhat fittingly for an album named Excavation, the full depth of Bobby Krlic's second LP as The Haxan Cloak only really reveals itself once the listener begins to dig beneath its surface. Given repeated listens, glimmers of light and optimism emerge amidst what, at first glance, appears to be a work of pure dark ambience; natural and organic timbres reveal themselves from beneath the layers of electronics; rhythmic pulses become apparent within tracks that previously seemed beatless. It's testament to Krlic's exceptional skill as a composer and sound designer that, some eight months after its release, the depths of Excavation still feel like uncharted territory. Si Truss


XLR8R's Best of 2013 coverage will continue through the end of this week, so check back each day for additional year-end round-ups. In the meantime, don't forget to take a look at the other Best of 2013 pieces we've posted already:

XLR8R's Best of 2013: Top Downloads (100 - 81)
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Top Downloads (80 - 61)
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Top Downloads (60 - 41)
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Top Downloads (40 - 21)
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Top Downloads (20 - 1)
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Features
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Podcasts
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Labels
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Tracks (50 - 26)
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Tracks (25 - 1)
XLR8R's Best of 2013: New Artists
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Gear
XLR8R's Best of 2013: Disappointing Releases