2012 brought us another mountain of quality releases. Like last year, we were amazed just how many pages we had to scroll through to refresh our memory and pick the three best releases of the year. And while we heard a lot of good music this year, we seem to be remarkably like-minded in our selection. Below you can find our writing staff’s top 3 selection, complete with easy-access download links, so you can catch up on releases you might have missed.
Thank you for following the magazine in 2012, and we hope to present you with much, much more content in 2013. Happy holidays from the entire Netlabelism team.
#3 – Various Artists – rec72 5th Anniversary Compilation
The essence of five years of fantastic label work collected in one compilation. It was one of my favourite netaudio moments of 2012 to celebrate this online release from the Cologne-based rec72 netlabel.Instead of describing each of the 16 tracks, I urge you to head over to Rec72 and give it a try.
#2 – LLLL – Mirror
As big of a mystery as Madonna’s real age, LLLL represents a sound and artist behaving almost like the secret service. This record has it all: obscure sound worlds combined with mysterious sounding female vocals; disturbing audio scopes combining abstract and harmonic soundscapes. ‘Oddness’ was one of my most played tracks in 2012, according to iTunes. A record for 2020 and beyond . Be sure to check out the complete world of LLLL, including the videos and other audio works.
#1 – Actraiser – Phantomile EP
On the one hand brutal, on the other hand as fluffy as a vanilla cupcake. This is my favourite release of 2012. Everything starts with an smooth anthem and tries (and succeeds) to suck you deep into the more masculine world of bass music. Like a prism reflects the different colors of light this EP represents the different colors of the state of the art bass music.
Simon Van Bockstal
#3 – New Motive Power / The Flying Batteries – SNESCore
What can I say, I have a weakness for anything 16-bit. So when I saw an album titled ‘SNEScore’, I downloaded it expecting a quick nostalgia-trip. Did I ever bite off more than I could chew! This is an epic powerhouse of an album. From start to finish, the utter aggressiveness of the beats engulfs you and threatens to rip you to pieces. The rawness of the music, the vocals which are delightfully off-key at times and the completely over-the-topness of it all have won a place in my heart and this year’s top 3.
#2 – Various Artists – Choose Ur Way
‘Choose Ur Way’ is a great introduction to the Energostatic Records catalogue. Actually, it’s more like four releases in one. The 16 tracks are neatly divided in four groups, with each group consisting of two tracks by two artists. The styles of the four parts range from ambient over dub techno to chillstep and drum and bass. Each part of the release is given a specific vector, ranging from AA to AD. This is attention to detail in creating an atmosphere around the label really sums up what I’ve discovered in Energostatic Records this year. Just all-round quality releases, and this is one of their very best.
#1 Mmpsuf – Retina
In a scene that is still utterly dominated by electronic music, ‘Retina’ was not only a breath of fresh air; it was a quiet little bomb under our presumptions of what makes up our little subculture. ‘The Rooms’ is a classic that would propel any album that features the song to the top echelons of the year, whether it be 2012 or 2022. The great production and haunting voice of the lead singer make sure that this is by far the best album of the year.
#3 – Ketsa – Al Kemet
Expert musicianship, stunning production skills, and all with a distinct originality. This release was a real eye-opener for me, and has raised the benchmark for future reviews quite considerably. The twinkling piano motifs, the lush chord progressions, the subtle tension, and its professional deliverance; it all adds up, and is a pleasure and a privilege to listen to time and time again.
#2 – μ-metik – Paths
IDMf released this polished journey into a dystopian landscape in the latter half of this year. Lots of spectacular sound design, invigorating melodies and harmonies, and flawless production. This release flies considerably higher than a vast proportion of netlabel music, and it is quite startling that this is available to download for free. If μ-metik continues to develop his sound and push his boundaries, I’m sure that his success as an artist will follow close behind.
#1 – N-qia – Audio Illustrations
Easily my favourite release of the year. This release completely baffled me when I first heard it. The tight sampling, the fascinating drum sequencing, the immense vocal work… It is a simply stupendous release, which effortlessly manages to invigorate my brain regardless of my mood or situation. I can safely say that this is one of the best CC albums I have ever come across. It goes an extra dimension, it pushes the exploited genres to their peak, it fuels me with a childlike excitement. No other release has managed to grip me and keep hold of me as efficiently as this. Stunning.
#3 Proyect Moon Jazzers – Jazzing to a Cat Like Moon
This is an intimate and strange record, one that has as many flaws as it does beautiful moments and this is a really appealing thing for me. It is simply one guy in his room recording, sometimes the sounds of the outside creep in, and sometimes the artist himself comes into the music in unconventional ways. A modern classical album with a vintage feel.
#2 Mmpsuf – Retina
What can I say about this release… When I first heard it I was so very excited, something very unique being released under a creative commons license. The combination of soft beautiful vocals and dense, focused instrumentation was a combination to fall in love with. The influences for the music can be pulled from a number of places but Mmpsuf tend to mould their very own style throughout the tracks. If you are looking for something unique and very emotional then I would highly recommend this release.
#1 – N-qia – Audio Illustrations
Dense, rhythmic, beautiful, crisp and engaging. My top netlabel release of the year comes from a duo in Japan destined for big things. This little release is one from which I have been peeling back the layers ever since I first listened to it. Working with breathy vocals over precise production and many styles of music is a winning combination here. On paper it sounds like it could be too much, but the compositions and vocal melodies are so inviting that it comes off really well. Its climaxes hit hard, its downtime works well and everything gels in this outstanding piece of work.
#3 – Marc Broude – Dead On Arrival Demo
When you have a well crafted release it doesn’t matter what genre you tag on to it. I remember the days when you could buy a record based on cover art alone. If this were pressed in vinyl and I saw the accompanying art on a cover I would expect to get something with an edge, something beautiful, something a little dark, maybe mysterious, definitely introspective – guess what? Marc Broude holds an attitude and preaches an attitude many netlabels and musicians should more often. He is punk and anti establishment – he is a musical anarchist. Almost any record label out there could take his releases and make a lot of money on them if they wanted to. He won’t let that happen and you benefit. With a lot of angst towards the industry he however turns out some of the more beautiful post-rock available. It isn’t complicated, it isn’t remarkably unique or ground breaking – it is simply, really good stuff.
#2 – Idiot Queen – Self Titled
The musical moniker of painter, photographer, musician Dawn Mendonça, Idiot Queen, has been compared to both Laurie Anderson and Anne Clark. As a musical artist she explores electronic sounds and dabbles in collage, dissonance and cleverly crafted repetition. The songs and musical yarns are built out of electronics, sampled acoustic instruments, looped samples, and a vocal quality closer to storytelling than singing. “Love and loss, the absurd and the divine are the broad themes Idiot Queen explores in this release for MiMi Records”.
Idiot Queen initially presents as having the qualities of many similar past experimental releases, primarily due to the somewhat rudimentary quality of the looped rhythms and synth patches coupled with breathy and disembodied “spoken” word. While simple in technique, the structure of her tracks are compelling enough to not fall into the realm of ridiculous retro and this release is far from a throw away effort standing far above many similar attempts within this genre’s past.
#1 – Radio for the Daydreamers – Denouement
RftD have done it again by making my top list of 2012 after making my top list of 2011 – not an easy thing to do given the sheer volume of music consumed by my ears each year. This is a paid release (a mere $5 or free stream) however it is an independently released project by the artists and distributed via the net by folks who have given away an absolute ton of music up until now so I am officially counting this as a netlabel release whether everyone likes it or not.
As stated on the band’s website, “Denouement is the final action of a triptych entitled ‘Paying for the Be(a)st’. The release continues and concludes the story of a protagonist through all discrepancies and dilemmas. A realization of the power of existence and dreaming”
This is another release that cannot be placed in a single genre. The prolific work of RftD comes across as both remarkable and unique. It is rare to find artists that can tell a story, let alone unfold that story across three releases, and again present it in a cinematic soundscape. RftD don’t just provide something to listen to, they provide an entire journey.
#3 – Tofubeats- Summer Dreams
The international music scene has been the strongest it ever has, but looking beyond anything “Gangnam Style,” we also have the Japanese netlabel scene to thank. Artists such as tofubeats (who also performs under the name DJ Newtown) and associated label Maltine Records, have helped bridge the divide between what is “cute” Japan and “cool” America to create something that is distinctly both. ‘Summer Dreams’ is referential to net culture in that its sweetly slowed and spliced samples ring closely to the resurgence of “chopped and screwed” or to an extent, “vaporwave,” yet it still retains such technical beatmaking as to put it in the reign of Ableton obsessed beatmakers. Tofubeat’s sense of melody is still reminiscent of his works as DJ Newtown, where he mostly sampled 90′s J-Pop and anime songs, and with that he still holds a sound true to his native Japan. ‘Summer Dreams’ holds its influence close to its heart to create something that is universally modern and hip.
#2 – N-qia – Audio Illustrations
Shoegaze has been a genre of music that has either been extremely stagnant, or constantly evolving. Audio Illustrations was more Pygmalion than it was Loveless and demonstrated how even with the advent of computer-generated instruments and electronic sound, the term of “shoegaze” is more about the feeling than it is just about blaring guitars. Singer Nozomi’s words are timid and light, and producer Takama’s compositions are glitchy and technical, yet retain an airiness that can only be referred to as “shoegaze.” The abstract subtlety and symphonic intensity of N-qia is sure to push them to the ranks of groups such as World’s End Girlfriend.
#1 – Slime Girls- Vacation Wasteland
With the end of New York’s Blip Festival this year symbolically ending the chiptune scene in the United States, we only now have next year to look forward to with the advent of LA’s Frequency Festival and the beginnings of LA Game Space, which will be sure to promote all things related to video game music. Slime Girls will be one of many performers at Frequency signifying that shift. His debut release, Vacation Wasteland, proved to be one of the strongest chip albums of the year, demonstrating enough sense of pop punk hyperballadry and futuristic tendencies to make it a vacation to be remembered across the cosmos.
#3 – Stereopathy – The Weight of the Wisest
I’ve long been a fan of the Deep in Dub netlabel. With so many releases, they remain always in-track with their format and sound, and their latest 2012 release by UK’s Stereopathy is no exception. Just quality dub-techno goodness all around.
#2 – Anitek – Calm & Collect, Vol. 1
At first listen, Anitek’s music sounds awfully sample heavy. That’s because it is, and after interviewing him for netlabelism, I learned that nearly all his samples are created by himself. He’s not only a talented producer/arranger of music, but plays several of the instruments he uses in his music. He has so many albums its hard to choose, but I think Calm & Collect volume 1 is a great example of his talent.
#1 – Galaxyexplorer – The Journey – Escape From Earth
Definitely a favorite of 2012, not just because it is independent and netaudio, but also because it was all produced using only iOS. Very timely considering how mobiles have swept the market over the past couple of years. Although upon first listening, You might not guess it was created with only an iPhone.
#3 – Apta – Visions
I love that fact it’s difficult to categorize Apta’s music. While not immediately apparent, he merges the semblance of several genres. Minimal rhythmic styling and ample helpings of melody, without over doing the melancholy.
#2 – Hazy Memories – Out Of Place
Engaging and full of emotion, out of place is a dubby and down-tempo affair. Beautiful melodies, and sparse but clever rhythms are abound.
#1 – Voodoo Tapes – Samedi night fever
Fun, energetic, conscious. Great production, lyrics and bass-lines. An absolutely listening pleasure. A shining archetype of quality every artist and label should strive for.