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It’s that time of year again. The Netlabelism staff has picked their 3 favourite releases of the past year and compiled a neat list for your convenience. If you missed some of the reviews or are in desperate need of new year’s tunes, this is the place to check out. Every single one of these releases is highly recommended. Enjoy the selection, and we hope to see you all again in 2014.

Simon Van Bockstal

#3. Lefolk – isn’t this dangerous
Release date: 25.01.2013

Label: Resting Bell
This is one of the best ambient releases in years. Where some ambient might suffer from “cheap synth preset”-syndrome, this is most certainly not the case for ‘Isn’t this dangerous’. Far from walls of sound, all pieces on this release are beautifully crafted, incorporating space and silence just as much as actual sound. The track that stands out the most is ‘Ludmilla’, which is probably my most-played track of 2013.
#2. Params – Grids Grains & Waves
Release date: 24.08.2013
Label: Self-released
Download link
Params released a superb example of clicks and cuts on the world with ‘Grids, Grains & Waves’. Every track is an intricate collage of of patient and haunting synth sounds, subdued kick drums and clicks, cuts and noise. While perhaps not as flamboyant as my #1 pick, this excels in subtlety. ‘Grids, Grains & Waves’ is a fantastic release.
#1. Ochre – National Ignition
Release date: 21.01.2013
Label: Aura Materia
Download link
Whereas deciding the number two and three spots for my list took quite some time, this was not the case for the top spot. When I first heard it back in January, there was little doubt in my mind ‘National Ignition’ was going to be the best netaudio release of 2013. Everything about it just breathes quality: the instrumentation, the intricate rhythms, crisp mixing and stunning artwork (which is available as a separate matte print), and of course the track ‘Leaving Arcadia’. Ochre created something truly special, and it will be in my all-time favourite album list for years to come.

Filipe Cruz

#3. cTrix – A for Amiga
Release date: 16.12.2013
Label: Bleepstreet
Download link
Amiga is forever. Its usage as a music platform strongly influenced the sounds of the 90s in every sense imaginable. Its channel and sample size limitations forced musicians to be creative in ways now lost to most modern composers. This album from cTrix composed on Amiga brings on a wave of nostalgia and good vibes.
#2. Planet Boelex – Exist
Label: Softphase
release date: 28.08.2013
Download link
Softphase releases very seldomly, and all of their releases are usually worth a good listen. This release in particular blends ambient electronics in a very positive and mellow vibe. Also features collaborations with previous legends of the netaudio scene Mosaik and Bad Loop of Mono211 and Kahvi fame.
#1. M-PeX & Makrox – Volutka
Release date: 07.01.2013
Label: Enough Records
Download link
This is my favourite netaudio release from 2013. I am biased since it was released on my own netlabel Enough Records, but I would be remissive not to vote for it, it generate a heap of the positive reviews and it’s tracks are being used in home made videos and licensed to commercial advertisements alike. It beautifully blends world music with different scopes of electronics, jazz elements and Portuguese Guitar in an album that flows gracefully and doesn’t seem to get old.

Simon Haycock

#3. T-Woc - Hoshorom
Release date: 08.04.2013
Label: Invisible Agent
Great EP released at Invisible Agent (Netlabelism’s very own Warren Daly). Dubstep influences and tightly-melded melodics form a solid basis to this well-finished EP. It has a creepy yet trustworthy and mischievous character, and at first may not be easy to get on with due to it’s bizarre and occasionally uncomfortable nature. Give it a few listens, let it nail itself into your brain, and you’ll treasure it in a ‘To Keep’ folder forever.
#2. Various Artists – Anniversary Compilation “10″
Release date: 17.06.2013
I moved house towards the end of this year, and this compilation was my friend and companion all the way. Fantastic production, a vibrant mix of styles and colours, whilst preserving a togetherness and continuity of a well-presented collective. Not an easy task, yet executed beautifully by this label. Stand out tracks are David Douglas – California Poppy, and Weval – The Most.
 #1. DFRNT - High Friends In Places EP
Release date: 24.12.2012
Label: CUT Records
Although this was released late in 2012, it was too late to be included in 2012′s top three. This is an absolute stunner, and although a whole year’s worth of netlabel music has flown by, this is still an outstanding release worth re-crediting. At Netlabelism we are big fans of Cut Records, and have closely monitored their progress over the last couple of years. DFRNT is the owner and brain-child behind this elite netlabel giant, and it is fantastic to hear him fully exhibit the sound that he feels is representative of his label ethos. Dubby, melodic, and deeply exhilarating, DFRNT shows us how it’s done. Only one release from Cut in 2013; let’s hope that release rate can rise as we move into 2014.

Warren Daly

#3. The Waning Branches – Porya Hatami
Release date: 12.07.2013
Label: Self-released
Download link
Charting the growth and decline of a single morus tree in Sanandaj, Iran, through field recordings, and organic drone scape. There’s fabulous photographs and paintings in the physical release. Another stunner from this talented producer.

#2. Hoshorom – T-Woc
Release date: 30.03.2013
Label: Invisible Agent
Download link
T-Wok’s canvas doesn’t contain a few blurred lines, the entire composition is a dazzle of bass, funk, brain-dance, and dub. A solid, genre defying salvo, from a producer that is bubbling under. I’m expecting even greater things in the future, keep a close check on this producer.

#1. Northcape – Exploration And Ascent
Release date: 14.05.2013
Label: Sun Sea Sky Productions
Download link
The somewhat mysterious Northcape has been producing electronic music for over ten years. I knew when I first heard Exploration And Ascent that it would be a favourite of mine. Ample melodies, languid breaks, not overly complex; wonderful. There was a lot of commotion in 2013 regarding a certain release by a Scottish electronic music duo. Northcape should receive as much attention.

Robert Kozain

#3. Nyetscape – After
Release date: 20.07.2013
Label: Lo-Fi by Default
Download link
After an impressive release schedule, consisting of five different projects spanned out over a period of 11 months, we’ve interestingly seen vaporwave pioneer Nyetscape’s growth as a human being and artist. With each record, the sonic platforms transform into unique moods and it’s ‘After’ that offers the most diversity. Filled with drones and clicks, short tracks like ‘Earth Rebirth’ and ‘You Can’t Win’ create ambient haunt, while ‘For We’ recalls the early work of Boards of Canada and eventually ascents into a swept chill-out haven. Co-produced with ROUTINE, standout tracks like ‘We remember because you don’t’ and ‘Birth’ breathe fresh air into the disintegrating genre. After the vaporwave trend has trailed off, we still have After.

#2. Blank Banshee – Blank Banshee 1
Release date: 20.10.2013
Label: Self-released
Download link
Blank Banshee’s 2012 debut record was spotty. While ‘Teen Pregnancy’ was a breakthrough, under-produced beats and uninspired melodies surrounded it. With Blank Banshee 1, the Canadian musician soars into a realm complete with fifteen tracks that get it right. From the Rihanna-sampled stereo image of ‘B:/ Infinite Login’ to the cloudy ‘Eco Zones’ and beyond, this sophomore release finds post-trap percussion between flowing pad and mostly  sampled instrumentation. The overgrown garden of ‘Realization’ changes mood brilliantly and ‘Conflict Minerals’ expands on Blank’s minimalist songs on the debut with a steady vibe that makes it, and all of Blank Banshee 1 work.

#1. Kinesthetiac – Holy Shit I’m a Werewolf Part 1
Release date: 10.06.2013
Label: Self-released
Download link
The prodigal Jared VanMatre has been inventing his own musical world since age nine. After a slew of astounding independent releases under the moniker Kinesthetiac, Holy Shit I’m a Werewolf Part 1 continues the trend of extremely melodic, accessible, and rewarding released amongst the hard underground electronic world. Now sixteen years old, Kinesthetiac’s charm lies within synthesized melodies of which could be played just as easily on piano (and they are, sometimes) and any traditional instrument for that matter. At times, the mix can be lacking in the low end, but it doesn’t detach from its bright persona. As it’s name suggests, Werewolf is quite playful. ‘Foghorn Leghorn’ cheekily samples a Looney Tunes cartoon of the same name and ‘Bike Ride (I Want The Green One)’ seems metaphorical of a sunny day bicycle venture. However, it gets ironically serious during the iconic (pun) ‘Micheal JordanJackson’ and the aggressively pop-flavoured ‘Life Enhancement Hypothesis’. All in all, the record thrives, the songs sing, and Holy Shit is it another accomplishment for the Kinesthetiac catalog.

Chris Hilliard

#3. Luke Ob – Funk For Fighters/Let’s Bring Some Hot To Hoth
Release date: 14.12.2012
Label: Perfidnyplan
Download links: FFF Download Link, Hot to Hoth Download Link
Luke Ob’s releases aren’t even from 2013. But I didn’t know that when I found them (which was definitely in 2013). All I knew is I had stumbled upon some of the funkiest, most danceable, most energetic music I had ever heard. Almost every song stirs me out of seat and lights a fire under my feet.

#2. Black Chamber – Black Chamber
Release date: 10.01.2013
Label: Cult Classic Records
Download Link
Black Chamber was hypnotizing the first time I heard it. I was immediately drawn into a daydream of sitting in a dimly lit club, smattered with smoke and alcohol. And on stage, a spotlight and three figures, barely visible. The jazz they play is so cool and laidback. Their uncomplicated nature enables the listener to really appreciate the individual elements. A fact which I find adds depth and dimension.

#1. Wax Triptych – A Tale Of 3 Heads
Release date: 17.06.2013
Label: Dusted Wax Kingdom
Download Link
Speaking plainly, I found this album to be astonishing. It’s profound, complex, multi-faceted (appropriately enough from 3-headed beast). The beats, the melodies, the moods, all of it executed masterfully all combined to form a brilliant, paradigmatic example of musical creativity. I don’t believe in over-stating things, I really liked it that much.

George De Bruin

#3. Planet Boelex – Exist
Release date: 28.08.2013
Label: Softphase
Download link
The return of Planet Boelex to the world of netlabels was more than a welcome addition to my collection.  I was downright excited to have a new release from one of my favourite ambient pop electronica artists.  And this release lived up to my expectations.  Each track is sharply written, has something new to say musically, and is just plain and simply a joy to listen to.  I still find myself completely enthralled listening to it every time.

#2. Artist: Small Colin – Tape Productions
Release date: 06.03.2013
Label: Rec72
Download link
Small Colin took the concept of Lo-Fi production and turned it on its ear.  Taking each stem he recorded, transferring it to analog tape, then digitally re-recording the tape version.  But that wasn’t enough, during mastering each song was transferred to tape, and then back to digital again to produce the final mp3′s. The sound of this release is like no other Lo-Fi release you will ever hear.  And the songs range from introspective to humorous looks at life.

#1. Space Weirdo – Press Start
Release date: 07.03.2013
Label: Self-released
Download link
The definitive nerd’s pop-rock group.  Possibly one of the widest ranges cultural references I’ve encountered in a single release: opera, 8-bit video games, Jame Bond, Spanish theater and Shakespeare to name a few.  And their range of music influences is just as amazing: jazz, 70′s pop, Kraftwerk, The Bangles, Chumbawamba and surf music to name just a few.  All of this without taking anything too seriously: their sense of humor sparkles.  This much fun in a single release shouldn’t be allowed.

Noah Christopher

#3.  Various Artists – Explorations in Dub
Release date: 30.11.2013
Label: Dub-o-phonic
Download link
The latest release by the relatively new netlabel, Dub-o-phonic, is a compilation of select artists exploring themes related to the ‘dub’ genre.  Although I might give one or two tracks a miss on this one, most of this album is a nice showcase of what has been a great start and first year for a new label.  Try tracks like ‘Alive’ or ‘Antchi Dub’ for particularly crunchy, stompy vibes.

#2.  Sr. Click – Brain
Release date: 26.06.2013
Label: Inoquo
Download link
We sift and search the interwebs to find little gems like these.  Sr. Click’s short EP, ‘Brain’, is a refreshing break from all the random, “experimental,” or otherwise overly-noisy netaudio we encounter all too often.  Check out the netlabelism review too.

#1.  Tab & Anitek – Sights & Sounds
Release date: 28.10.2013
Label: Dusted Wax Kingdom
Download link
Although this release would likely be a 4 or 5xLP if actually pressed to vinyl, I’ve found its marathon of 50 tracks to be very listenable.  Reviewed on netlabelism by Chris on November 12, 2013, it was well received.  Also check out our interview with Anitek.

Tim Powell

#3. Roppongi Sky – VEJ/Tulip 2
Release date: 11 April 2013
Label: Enderbeats
Download linkThis small two track release is a great blend of noisy electronica with a modern garage vibe. I’m a big fan of Burial whose music often seems to paint a picture of a cold, urban environment, so it’s interesting to hear something like this because it has some of the same feel but sounds like music best suited for the summer. The beats and composition are great and this is just an all round fantastic release.

#2. Ewphoria – Hentai Radio
Release date: 08.08.2013
Label: Self-released
Download link
Ewphoria seems a little elusive but from what I can tell is both a producer and an associated netlabel. As usual with Ewphoria, Hentai Radio is a name that may seem crass or silly but the music is well produced, wonderfully composed and very deep, blending genres and unique ideas. This is not a free release but is worth the $0.99 for this wonderfully noisy, psychedelic, energetic, melancholy and intricate EP.

#1. Fidelium – I’ll be Famous When I’m Dead
Release date: 05.11.2013
Label: Altered Echo
Download link
Without sounding overly rigid or sequenced, I’ll be Famous is very electronic for the most part, though it often sways into the orchestral, the noisy and the ambient. Aggression sits comfortably next to dreamy soundscapes. There’s an array of catchy melodies and solid beats and they carry a lot of depth at the same time. This is a double length album and it’s worth the time.

About The Author

Simon Van Bockstal, or Hushfield, is based in Ghent, Belgium. He is a freelance reviewer and musician (previously known as ‘The Quiet Orchestra’ and ‘Droidmusik’) raised on a diet of moody ambient and glitchy beats. A turntable with Chopin records and a drumcomputer are his idea of starting a party. He spends most of his time locked in the basement with cables, knobs and netlabel culture.

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