It seems fitting that as the decade closes out our founder DJ Deep Field dig's back through the last ten years and selects the albums that had the greatest impact on him.
"The journey these albums have taken me on has been absolutely insane and unpredictable. A decade ago I would have found the #1 favorite album an offense to my harsh-noise loving ears and yet here we are. When it comes to music that is this deep and emotive one could be forgiven for thinking that the pieces choose the listener as opposed to the listener deciding upon them.
So this is really a list of the pieces of music that had the most power over me and the ones which steered my ears into the musical realms I find myself in today."
Without further ado here are the ten albums that rose above all the rest in the last decade.
10. Dictaphone - Poems from a Rooftop (Sonic Pieces)
Released 13th April 2012
Over the last eight years 'Poems From A Rooftop', Dictaphone's third LP, has woven its way into my DNA, it's nine pieces each recall different memories and moments from my life. Released on the ever-reliable Sonic Pieces label, (one that feels like an old friend at this point, a look back over their imprint is akin to looking back at my own musical journey, each release being a new adventure that took my ears and mind to places I had never encountered before).
Dictaphone are now a household name in the electro-acoustic world, thanks mainly to Nil's Frahm who included a track from their first EP on his Late Night Tales Compilation back in 2015.
The five-year wait between the genre-defining 'Poems from a Rooftop' (released on Sonic Pieces) and 'APR 70' led fans to believe the outfit was no more. 2017, however, marked the glorious return of Dictaphone (a return re-enforced by the legendary folks at Denovali re-issuing their long out-of-print and highly sought after back catalog in one of the most beautiful box set editions we have ever seen). Indeed one could say that the tail end of this decade was the best time to be a Dictaphone fan. The core duo of Oliver Doerell and Roger Doring went on an extensive international tour culminating in a flawless '20 years of Dictaphone' performance to a full house 'Saal 1' at the legendary Funkhaus in Berlin. We even secured a recording of Oliver diving deep into his record collection for an hour and we had the privilege of having him answer some of our questions.
All of this aside, however - even if they had just given us the album 'Poem From A Rooftop' it still would have been the best time to be a fan as the album satisfies every single craving they created when they established their unique sound back in the early 2000s. The restrained mutated dark jazz one finds on each of the pieces is unlike anything you will hear coming from any band or musician past or present. The artistic quality and originality is at such a high level that one really can't help but be bowled over in awe by the compositions. You can purchase the 2017 repress of this LP here.
Dictaphone perform 'Seance' at '20 years of Dictaphone' Berlin November 2019.
9. Loscil - Endless Falls (Kranky)
Released 1st March 2010
According to the communal Spotify player in Quiet Calm Records office, Loscil was our most listened to artist of the last decade, certainly a statistic that does not surprise us a bit. When putting this list together I knew there would have to be one Loscil album on it. The Vancouver based sound artist has steered my musical ship to so many amazing places since we first heard his subtle atmospheres on 'Endless Falls' way back in 2011 (it was featured on the amazing ASIP mix by Rhian Sheehan - a mix that also introduced us to Max Richter & Clint Mansell so we are truly in debt to that guy.)
Opening with an immensely intense neo-classical track that wouldn't sound out of place on a Stefan Wesolowski album the LP moves into familiar lush Loscil atmospheres before ending in the magnum opus 'The Making of Grief Point' containing some of Loscil's most lauded work Endless Falls was on rotation for the full decade after our first listen. Certainly, an album that will please anybody with an interest in diving into the genres of contemporary ambient & drone music.
The wall of Loscil (in the Quiet Calm Records office)
8. Field Rotation - Acoustic Tales (Fluid/Facture/Denovali)
Released 17th November 2011
Few electro-acoustic albums have had a greater influence on me than Acoustic Tales by Christoph Berg's Field Rotation moniker. In fact, that artist as a whole is responsible for guiding my musical journey more than most. Moving on from his melodic down-tempo debut and subsequent nocturnal ambient 10"s & 12"s Acoustic Tales is an album that bowls you over with its opening track and carries that high level through till the last second. It is a supreme feat of musical craftsmanship.
You will notice that most of the albums in this list are from several years back - this is due to the complexity of the pieces requiring immense spans of time to truly absorb. Acoustic Tales is a perfect example of this kind of artistic profundity a first, second or third (even a tenth) rotation won't give you access to the true inner workings of this album. My prediction is that if I am still alive in 80 years recounting the best LPs of the last 100 years this one will be on the list.
7. Kiasmos - S/T (Erased Tapes)
Released 27th October 2014
Kiasmos set down the landscape for melodic techno when they released there s/t debut. After a few ultra-rare appearances on 12' (65 in 2009 and Thrown/Wrecked in 2012) the duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen released their debut full length in 2014 to a rapturous reception.
At the time the burgeoning Neo-classical/Melodic Techno scene was still directionless with half of it sounding more ambient orientated (led by Ben Lukas Boysen, Olafur Arnalds, and Nils Frahm) and the other half (led by the likes of Piano Interrupted and Jon Hopkins) heading more towards experimental IDM.
Kiasmos galvanized the scene and gave its devoted followers a standard against which to measure all other attempts at real neo-classically driven techno.
Followed by whirlwind touring and a string of 12's that have never quite reached the peak that their s/t did, the album remains to this day the #1 record I give to people who ask for a recommendation in this genre.
The release itself is a concept lp with each track blending seamlessly into the next. From start to finish it traverses introspective down-tempo, melodic floor movers and crescendoing anthems which makes it a go-to record in the crate of any forward-thinking DJ. Throughout the 9 tracks, there isn't a single moment that doesn't emit an overwhelming sense of quality of production and refinement of technique.
If you only listen to one Melodic Techno record in your life it should be this one!
6. Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano - Everything (Erased Tapes)
Released 25th July 2017
I discovered the music of Ben Lukas Boysen back in 2008 when his magnum opus 'Night Falls' was released (an album that probably would have held the top spot on this list had it been released two years later) under the name Hecq. Even back in 2008, his back catalog was an intimidating mountain to scale with four albums and three eps under his belt he was a force to reckon with and a standard against which to measure others. It would be four years late that his compositions under his given name would begin to appear - slowly at first, a remix here and there (most notably his rework of 'Nightfall' by Borealis which may be one of the most beautiful piano pieces ever conceived, right on par with Nils Frahm, in fact, it sounds as if Nil's borrowed a page from Ben's songbook when writing his lp 'Screws'.)
This teasing of his neo-classical abilities made him a very exciting artist to follow and it came as no surprise that in 2016 he was signed to the legendary Erased Tapes. In 2017 spurred on by the wave of interest in the genre he unleashed the floodgates and gave us the very appropriately named 'Everything' with the Argentinian cellist Sebastian Plano. Both Ben and Sebastian represent the new wave of Neo-classical composers who will soon be as well known as Max Richter & Nil's Frahm.
At over four hours in length and varying in tone, structure, atmosphere, and landscape 'Everything' is an album that still to this day reveals more and more. A testament to the craftsmanship and talent of these unrivaled musicians, 'Everything' was both a thank-you to the fans who had followed them for years and a salute to the genre that now has a new high watermark. You can purchase this LP here.
5. A Winged Victory for the Sullen - S/T (Kranky/Erased Tapes)
Released 13th September 2011
I would not hesitate for a second to say that A Winged Victory for the Sullen's debut self-titled LP is the crowning achievement of Neo-classical music in the last decade. This band is woven into my own life story - I used the epic closing track 'A Symphony Pathetique' with its blissed-out 6+ min long ambient ending in my wedding ceremony. I flew 26 hours to see the world premiere of their second LP ATOMOS in London and drove 6 hours to see them perform in Knoxville with Loscil and Max Richter at Big Ears Festival. I LOVE this duo of Dustin O'halloran and Adam Wiltzie - in fact, both of them are close to my all-time favorite musicians. Adam has enriched my life to no end with his genre-defining drone outfit Stars of the Lid and Dustin's releases under his own name have been on constant rotation on my turntable for over 8 years now.
The first time I ever saw A Winged Victory for the Sullen was at the 2012 edition of the Denovali Swingfest in Essen, Germany. They closed their set with a performance of 'A Symphony Pathetique' and when the lights came up I turned to see I was one of the few people in the audience still on their feet and still awake.
That moment made me realize that neoclassical and ambient chamber music had a very special and intrinsic place in my mind and heart. Instead of releasing melatonin and relaxing me it released adrenaline. I remember looking at the violinist and thinking, 'playing this kind of music is the purest form of human existence'.
Since the release of this LP, A Winged Victory has gone on to release two more full-lengths and several singles. All are fantastic but none could be compared on an equal plane to their first.
This is my desert island record, my go-to when people ask what music I like. If you only own one record I would recommend it be this one right here.
4. The Haxan Cloak - Excavation (Triangle)
Released 28th September 2014
Excavation was our favorite release of 2013 (This record also held the number one spot on a one miss Mary Ann Hobbes year in review list, so you know it's not just me waxing lyrical about this gem).
Described by Bobby Krilic (The Haxan Cloak) as a musical interpretation of death and what follows, this LP just knocked us to the floor (literally – due to the bass, seriously though a customer told us he had to put a stack of pennies on his needle to keep it from jumping due to the bass.). We had never heard such dark a frightening soundscapes executed so subtlely. It is so soaked in sub-bass that barely any high notes resonate to the surface for the entire piece
Since it's first rotation we have never really heard anything that can compare to its insanely dark and deep bass lines.
Bobby Krilic AKA The Haxan Cloak notched his tense output up a bunch of levels when he released Excavation on Brooklyn based label Triangle. He said in interviews that his first self titled LP was a musical description of a character trudging his way through an empty, tiresome life whilst Excavation was a continuation with the character dying in the opening movements and proceeding through the realms of the afterlife.
A customer once pulled this title out of the crate at a record fair and said 'this one is neither quiet nor calm' a sentiment to which I wholeheartedly agree. I think what makes it fall into the dark ambient spectrum is it moments of calm that are punctuated but intensity. It is this aspect that makes it work very very well alongside pieces by the likes of Raime (particularly their 'Quarter turn over the living line' LP) Ketev (his 'I know no weekend' LP) and Loscil (in particular his latest offering 'Monument Builders')
Sadly The Haxan Cloak has been quite silent since Excavation dropped, he has released a few 12" singles, some reworks and an excellent OST to the film Almost Holy but no follow up to this epic tome.
3. Piano Interrupted - 2x4 (Days of Being Wild/Denovali)
Released 14th September 2012
2x4 by the enigmatic Piano Interrupted is like a fine vintage, it pleases the senses more and more with age. Being the title we recommend to people starting out on their exploration of the world's finest record label (Denovali) it's the best of the best. We are pretty happy with the way we summed the album up earlier in the year when we listed it on our introduction to Denovali bog post so we will include that below.
"Piano Interrupted's debut LP 2x4 really did change the landscape of the Neo-Classical world when it was released. The amalgamation of Tom Hodge on Piano & Franz Kirman on laptop succeeded in creating an emotive glitch and infused uptempo masterwork. For a long time, it was the work against which future entries into the genre were measured. Prior to 2x4 there really was no crystallized example of the genre distilled down to its basic form. As a whole the LP is flawless with each track feeling labored over and perfected by the duo - dropping the needle at any point on this record will instantly provide a feast of sounds and melody that grabs the ear. Since 2x4 the duo has released two follow-ups (The Unified Field & Landscapes of the Unfinished), a reworks lp (The Unified Field Reconstructed), solo efforts (Meridians & Elysian, by Franz Kirman) & collaborative albums (with Tom Hodge appearing on more projects than can be printed here, highlights, however, would have to be his work With techno pioneer Max Cooper, his dark brooding band Second Moon of Winter & his latest release, the amazing 'A portrait of John Doe' with Czech Clarinet mastermind Floex).
Still to this day 2x4 is being discovered by new fans and is a hard one to keep in stock. One last word of recommendation - if you ever get the chance to see this duo live make sure you do. Their command of the stage and live interpretations of these classics are indescribable and really just have to be seen/heard to be believed. Of course, 2x4 ends with several live interpretations of the tracks in the album and through these, you can get a sense of the vigor and gusto a live performance entails".
2. Nils Frahm - Spaces (Erased Tapes)
Released 19th November 2013
Neils Bohr once quipped that when it comes to quantum physics words do justice only as poetry, the same can be said for Berlin Pianists Nils Frahm’s live album 'Spaces'.
This LP was always going to be on this list, its an amazingly comforting thing to be so engrossed by an artist's musical output that you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that anything that they put out will be the finest of quality - if you want more evidence of this check out our top ten list's for the last two years where Nil's holds the top spot.
I first discovered Nil's Frahm back in 2011 when I obsessively listened to his live recording from Route du Rock - a video that begins with Nils mentioning that he hadn't slept in two days, was incredibly hung-over and not feeling too well. He then proceeded to hammer out the most amazing piano music I had ever heard.
The Neo-classical world would be a very different place without Nil's - he is on par with artists like Max Richter, Olafur Arnolds & A Winged Victory for the Sullen. This small collection of musicians catapulted the genre (along with the help of Erased Tapes) into the popular zeitgeist. Indeed they are now as household a name as someone like Ludovico Einaudi or Hans Zimmer, for good reason as the compositions they put to air are on a wholly other level, with each seeming to surpass the last in pushing the envelope of what is possible in this new and exciting genre.
Spaces was born from countless hours of live recordings, hundreds of variations on songs featured in former releases each one slightly different to the last as each space that it was recorded in was different. One thing I always mention to people when talking about this title is the quality of the pressing, due to Nil's sending back the test pressing no less than 6 times. This uncompromising commitment to quality is just another one of the many reasons this record will stay on rotation for decades to come.
1. Max Richter - Sleep (Deutsche Grammophon)
Released 6th November 2015
Of course, their can be no question about which album lands at the number one spot on our favorite lp's of the last decade list. Max Richter's eight and a half-hour long magnum opus is a sprawling masterwork and a complete representation of everything that is best about ambient chamber music. A composition designed to be slept through one could certainly have forgiven Max for phoning it in at around the six-hour mark when his listener is supposed to be in deep sleep. The temptation to add an extra few loops of the last section would tug on any composer's mind when approaching a challenge like this. Now I have listened to this piece in its entirety probably 30-40 times and can assure you that every second is labored over as if it were the opening track.
One cannot talk about this release without mentioning the extensive tour that Deutsch Grammaphon organized for Max. Taking place at various amazing locations around the world - like the Sydney Opera House, an ancient church in Brussels, An industrial space in New York or a giant park in the middle of downtown LA. All seating structures were removed at each location and beds were brought in for the performances that ran through the night.
This is an LP that you could listen to in small bits for the rest of your life and still discover hidden caverns of sound. An achievement that will not be matched and one that definitely deserves the top spot on our list.