Some years are better than others and 2013 was much better than most. Right now, you can Vote in the Best of Echoes 2013 Listener Poll. But, this list is different. This is compiled by the brain trust of Echoes. These are the CDs we played on the show in 2013 that we thought represented the best, and most innovative aspects of the Echoes soundscape in this past year. If your favorites aren’t on here, I’m not surprised. This was one of the most outstanding years ever for Echoes music. A lot of the albums left off could just as well have been put on. But we had to pick 25 so here they are. You can see a straight list at the end.
25 ESSENTIAL ECHOES CDS FOR 2013
1 Ludovico Einaudi In a Time Lapse
Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi is a giant in Europe but still just lapping at America’s shores. But he swept over Echoes years ago. The Echoes CD of the Month in March, In a Time Lapse is a defining album on which Einaudi pulled out all the stops, synthesizing a 21st century classicism that is all-embracing in its musical influences, and all-enveloping in its emotional sweep.
2 Rhian Sheehan Stories from Elsewhere
New Zealand composer Rhian Sheehan may have created one of the most sublime shadings of ambient chamber music on his 7th album, Stories from Elsewhere. It’s a magical CD of soaring strings, surging rhythms, childlike music boxes and ambient expanses that sounds both familiar and timeless. It was a CD of the Month in May.
3 Olivier Libaux Uncovered Queens of the Stone Age
Why this album wasn’t more popular is one of the mysteries of 2013. I suspect that confusing branding, poor distribution and limited marketing kept this CD under the radar. Olivier Libaux is part of the New Wave/Punk cover band Nouvelle Vague but he stepped out on his own to record an entire CD of tunes by Queens of the Stone Age. All the high priests of hip at Pitchfork, Stereogum and Popmatters completely missed this album where Libaux, accompanied by singers including Emilianna Torinni and Inara George, accomplishes a sublime re-imagining of this alt-metal band’s music. It was a CD of the Month in July.
4 Moby Innocents
The hipsters missed Libaux, but many called this Moby’s best album since Play. I think it’s just a continuation of his atmospheric, introspective trilogy that began with Wait for Me and Destroyed. A CD of the Month in November, Innocents is the most soothing melancholy.
5 Ólafur Arnalds For Now I Am Winter
Both sophisticated and edgy, Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds inhabits his own sonic universe, balancing emotions and mood on a laser’s edge of strings echoing out of frozen skies and electronics trawling the substrata. For Now I Am Winter is his most mature work to date and a CD of the Month in April.
6 Jeff Greinke Scenes from a Train
Ambient music veteran Jeff Greinke reveals a grasp of orchestration never evident in his music before in this album of exotic chamber music with acoustic horns and strings.
7 Jah Wobble & Marconi Union Anomic
Although Anomic only came out in early 2013, I feel like I’ve been listening to it for years. It has that sense of the classic about it. Bassist Jah Wobble brings his deep dub bass lines to Marconi Unions haunting electronic themes.
8 Hammock Oblivion Hymns
Following up their 2012 CD of the Year, Departure Songs, Hammock goes deeper into their ambient chamber music with children’s choirs emerging out of swirling deeply processed guitars. It will be the first CD of the Month of 2014.
9 Bombay Dub Orchestra Tales from the Grand Bazaar
Despite the presence of reggae rhyhm legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare on some tracks, this is actually the most serene and melodically driven album yet of BDO’s merging of eastern music, electronic grooves and Bollywood strings.
10 Azam Ali & Loga Torkian Lamentation of Swans-A Journey Towards Silence
The leaders of Niyaz released a deeply intimate and personal album with Azam Ali returning to her wordless vocals in this album of slow, sensual rhythms and darkly arabesque melodies.
11 Ulrich Schnauss A Long Way To Fall
A wonderfully melodic, groove driven album of synthesizer wonder as Ulrich Schnauss explores childhood memories with electronic dreams.
12 Agnes Obel Aventine
For her sophomore album, Danish singer Agnes Obel turns in another gem of haunting chamber pop.
13 Rachel Zeffira The Deserters
And speaking of chamber pop, Rachel Zeffira turns her opera-trained soprano into a caressing hush; mixes circus organ with a song about suicide; and uses oboe arrangements that sound like The Left Banke’s “Pretty Ballerina.” The Deserters was the CD of the Month in June.
14 Sigur Ros Kveikur
Sigur Ros kick out the jams on this album of delirious, roiling textures and Jonsi’s falsetto melodies of prayer.
15 William Tyler Impossible Truth
Tyler takes John Fahey into the 21st century, weaving fingerstyle guitar melodies that are like long epic tapes. He’s known as an acoustic player but has lots of electric on Impossible Truth.
16 Akara The World Beyond
With the heaven sent voice of Femke Weidema and the elaborate orchestrations of Joshua Penman, Akara creates a transglobal progressive sound that is out of this world on The World Beyond, the Echoes CD of the Month in October.
17 Mree Winterwell
Serene dream pop from a 19 year old singer who comes from a singer-songwriter tradition but creates Enya like choirs with her voice on this lush and powerful album.
18 Colin Edwin & Jon Durant Burnt Belief
Timed for release on December 21, the day after the Mayan calendar stopped and the world ended, Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin and prog guitarist Jon Durant unleashed this album of post progressive rock moods. We’re still here and thankfully, so is Burnt Belief.
19 David Helpling & Jon Jenkins Found
David Helpling and Jon Jenkins’ bring an orchestral approach to electronic music, where the orchestra is completely plugged-in, the timbres otherworldly, and the percussion tracks swept in on storms. It was a great CD of the Month to end 2013.
20 Jeff Johnson, Brian Dunning & Wendy Goodwin Winterfold
This trio of keyboards, flutes and violin creates a music full of snow brushed melodies and lush arrangements with a hint of Celtic aire.
21 Syriana Road to Damascus
This record came in under the radar from Real World. It’s an exuberant mix of music from the Middle East to Ireland with musicians from Algeria, Ireland, Jordan, UK, Palestine but with hints of surf guitar and film noir scores.
22 Juliette Commagere Human
Singer Juliette Commagere creates a beautiful and introspective electronic song cycle framing her sonorous soprano with a sound that recalls 80’s synth-pop but darker.
23 Anoushka Shankar Traces of You
With sister Norah Jones and producer/instrumentalist Nitin Sawhney, sitarist Anoushka Shankar creates a tribute to her father Ravi Shankar that continues his eclectic approach to east-west fusion.
24 HEM Departure & Farewell
When you’re contemplating loss, betrayal and redemption, put on Hem’s introspective album about their own break-up and reunion with the caressing voice of Sally Ellyson.
25 Tonight Sky Tonight Sky
Tonight Sky is Jason Holstrom and he’s taken The Beach Boys’ harmonies and sent them into electronica space on this album of songs that manage to make you feel good while still being full of dark atmospheres. Surf’s up again.
John Diliberto (((echoes)))
See below for a Spotify playlist of songs from all 25 albums save one.
25 ESSENTIAL ECHOES CDs FOR 2013
- Ludovico Einaudi – In a Time Lapse (Ponderosa Music & Art)
- Rhian Sheehan – Stories from Elsewhere (Darla Records)
- Olivier Libaux – Uncovered Queens of the Stone Age (Music for Music Lovers)
- Moby – Innocents (Mute)
- Ólafur Arnalds – For Now I Am Winter (Mercury Classics)
- Jeff Greinke – Scenes From A Train (Infectious Music)
- Jah Wobble & Marconi Union – Anomic (30 Hertz)
- Hammock – Oblivion Hymns (Hammock Music)
- Bombay Dub Orchestra – Tales from the Grand Bazaar (Six Degrees)
- Azam Ali and Loga R Torkian – Lamentation of Swans (Terrestrial Lane Productions)
- Ulrich Schnauss – A Long Way to Fall (Domino Records)
- Agnes Obel – Aventine (Pias America)
- Rachel Zeffira – The Deserters (Paper Bag)
- Sigur Ros – Kveikur (XL Recordings)
- William Tyler – Impossible Truth (Merge Records)
- Akara – The World Beyond (Merkaba Music)
- Mree – Winterwell (Mree Music)
- Jon Durant and Colin Edwin – Burnt Belief (Alchemy Records)
- David Helpling & Jon Jenkins – Found (Spotted Peccary)
- Jeff Johnson Brian Dunning & Wendy Goodwin – Winterfold (Ark Records)
- Syriana – The Road to Damascus (Real World)
- Juliette Commagere – Human (Aeronaut Records)
- Anoushka Shankar – Traces of You (Deutsche Grammophon)
- Hem – Departure and Farewell (Redeye)
- Tonight Sky – Tonight Sky (Tonight Sky)
John Diliberto (((echoes)))
GIVE THE GIFT OF THE ECHOES CD OF THE MONTH CLUB
Nine of the CDs in this list were Echoes CDs of the Month, and the other three could’ve been on this list. Join the Echoes CD of the Month Club now and you can put David Helping and Jon Jenkins’ Found under somebodies Christmas tree. It’s our December CD of the Month. You’ll get great CDs and help support Echoes at the same time. You can do it all right here.
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Here’s a Spotify Playlist of tracks from all 25 CDs. Jeff Johnson, Brian Dunning & Wendy Goodwin’s Winterfold isn’t on it, so I put a previous recording by Jeff Johnson in as a placeholder.
Tags: John Diliberto, electronica, Ludovico Einaudi, Ambient, Ambient Chamber Music, Space Music, electronic, guitar, Marconi Union, Hammock, Moby, New Age, Progressive Rock, World Fusion, psychedelic, Acoustic Guitar, Iceland, Sigur Ros, CD of the Month, shoegaze, Ulrich Schnauss, dream pop