Features Reviews Year End

30 Releases I Should Have Written about This Year (but Didn’t)

I omitted a lot of great stuff this year. This is an annual cross to bear.

Because of how I approach this blog, there are likely hundreds of quality releases that I never get a chance to write about it in a given year. Many of the releases missing from these pages are nevertheless on rotation on my turntable, on my Spotify playlists or downloaded on my phone — yeah, I still do that. I just never got around to giving them a thorough Vehlinggo treatment.

So, instead of doing a standard “Top 10 _______ of the Year” series of lists, I’m going to do this: Here are a tad more than 30 killer, crucial releases I should have written about this year, but didn’t. You definitely should check these out —  stream, sure, but buy when you can.

They are listed in reverse alphabetical order. (Note: I no doubt left out a release and will be filled with regret, but there are plenty of treasures here.)

Zola Jesus – Okovi

Zola’s latest is massive and sacred. Its necessarily dark and contemplative catchy cuts feature Zola’s soaring vocals in a paradoxically intimate experience laced with creative compositions and delectable sound design. (Label: Sacred Bones.)

Xander Harris – Termination Dust

Harris is a synth god, a crafter of dark and compelling vibes and intricate compositions. This is one of my favorite releases from 2017. I included it on a recent Vehlinggo mix. (Label: Data Airlines)

Worriedaboutsatan – Blank Tape

Otherworldly ambient music you can dance to, but also potentially the soundtrack to your transition to the Other Side. (Label: Spun Out of Control.)

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

The band’s most synth-centric and emotionally complex album yet. The songs will embrace you and you will most certainly embrace them. (Label: Atlantic.)

Vectorwolf – Retrofit

A great release from pioneering synthwave label Rosso Corsa. Vectorwolf is a new duo for the label, and they contribute to its ever-expanding sound. Vectorwolf mixes traditional synthwave machinations with experimental compositions. The results are great.

Various Artists – Twin Peaks (Limited Event Series Soundtrack) & Twin Peaks (Music from the Limited Event Series)

“What year is it?” One release centers on the classic and new score cues from Twin Peaks maestro Angelo Badalamenti, Italians Do It Better head Johnny Jewel, director David Lynch and sound guru Dean Hurley, and more. The other has all those cool songs from The Bang Bang Bar (AKA “The Roadhouse”). Either release is a revelation and a damn fine companion to this year’s Twin Peaks: The Return.  (Label: Rhino.)

Umfang – Symbolic Use of Light

Umfang is an extraordinary musician and DJ. Her album reflects her penchant for creating intimate and cathartic experiences using minimal, largely analogue electronic means. Generally, she is known for creating a particularly stunning form of techno and for her Technofeminism residency at Bossa Nova Civic Club in Brooklyn, among other things. Specifically, she’s one of the best there is. (Label: Ninja Tune/Technicolour.)

Timothy Fife & Dave Ellesmere – The Streets Run Red

This one came out recently and it’s a keeper.  It’s a giallo-inspired score to a thriller not yet made. The pair offer a nice complement to each other, crafting a creative partnership in which everyone comes out for the better. I encourage you to click through below to the Bandcamp page to read the narrative behind the piece as you listen to it.  (Label: Spun Out of Control.)

Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe/Debris

A well-crafted album of purely blissful synth-pop. The band just finished a run opening for OMD in the UK. (Label: Happy Robots Records.)

Sonya Belousova & Giona Ostinelli – MFA Soundtrack

An intense and beautifully off-putting score from Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli for a visceral film about an art student named Noelle, who taps into the creative inspiration that comes after the accidental slaughter of her rapist. It’s in some ways a vigilante revenge flick for our times, although it’s much more complex than that. (Label: Lakeshore Records.)

Sally Dige – Holding On

An absolutely stunning expression of musical art. Dige crafts complex electro/new wave arrangements from minimal tools. Her low-octave vocals pair well with the cellular fabric of your soul. This is an album I’ll be listening to regularly for years to come. (Label: DKA)

Ryuichi Sakamoto – async

The master returned and reminded us why we often measure all compositions against his. I could listen to “Life, Life” on repeat for years, but everything is crucial on this album. Also, check out the remix album, which features Electric Youth, Arca, Jóhann Jóhannsson, S U R V I V E, Oneohtrix Point Never, and more. (Label: Milan Records.)

Repeated Viewing – Street Force 2

The followup to 2016’s Street Force is equal parts dark and inspiring, and laced with haunting synths. Repeated Viewing is extremely talented and never a second of his work is boring or cliche. I don’t understand why he isn’t busy with a slate of scoring gigs. (Label: Spun Out of Control.)

Polo & Pan – Caravelle

The debut album from French DJs Polocorp (Paul Armand-Delille) and Peter Pan (Alexandre Grynszpan) craft quintessentially French (and smart) pop and dancefloor cuts that are cleanly produced but pack a punch. The color palette on this release is vast — electronic and organic sounds abound — and so are the positive feelings they create. (Label: Hamburger Records/Ekler’O’Shock.)

Phaserland – Cosmic Boundaries

This is one of the best, if not the best, mostly instrumental synthwave release of the year. It’s filled with shiny synths, funky rhythm sections, and nuanced compositions. The Detroit-based producer has been around the scene for years and it shows. I only wish the newcomers would add this to their how-to guides. (Label: Rosso Corsa.)

Pentagram Home Video – Look into the Darkness

Billed as “a soundtrack for short days and long winter nights — influenced by the atmosphere of the BBC’s Ghost Stories For Christmas.” It’s a haunting way to celebrate the holidays, somewhat like what would happen if John Carpenter and Angelo Badalamenti formed an acid house duo specifically for a Christmas party. Somewhat. (Self-Released.)

Paperwhite – Only Us (The Remixes)

One of my favorite independent pop groups of the past several years, Paperwhite have been expanding and modernizing their sound from their roots as a contemporary synthpop group with mild nostalgic vibes. This remix EP for cut “Only Us” showcases their evolution through reinterpretations. They succeed immensely. They’re playing some New York shows, so if you’re in town go check them out. (Self-Released.)

Mac Quayle – Mr. Robot Soundtrack (Volumes 3 & 4)

Mac Quayle’s Mr. Robot score cues are superb. He truly captures the emotional rollercoaster of the experience. Equal parts contemplative and frenetic, set to a barrage of treated, synth-driven tracks, each volume stands alone as a fulfilling adventure. When paired with Sam Esmail’s and writers’ brilliant storytelling and a cast and crew’s expert execution, it’s unstoppable. (Label: Lakeshore Records.)

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

I was irrationally upset when LCD returned — “it doesn’t fit the clean narrative they promised with the denouement at Madison Square Garden!” When I first heard this record’s pre-release singles I still wasn’t convinced. But then the album came out and I gave it three listens. It stuck and I’m happy they’re back.  (Label: Columbia.)

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid

Smith instills a sense of wonder in a world that desperately needs it. (Label: Western Vinyl.)

Jason Hill – Mindhunter (A Netflix Original Series Soundtrack)

Getting into the psyches of serial killers is dangerous, but Jason Hill’s music for Mindhunter does so with great skill. David Fincher’s latest Netflix show is a fascinating look at the early years of a department of the FBI that we’ve come to take for granted as drama gold. Hill augments the story easily and expertly. The palette and compositional choices evoke Fincher score collaborator Atticus Ross a tad, with some Cliff Martinez strewn about for good measure. (Label: Milan Records.)

Italoconnection – Metropoli

The project of Italo Disco legend Fred Ventura and sonic guru Paolo Gozzetti has finally released a full-length album. On Metropoli, the pair, along with collaborators, craft nuanced and catchy synth-driven productions that induce contemplation and compel dancing. (Label: Bordello A Parigi.) 

In Mirrors – Escape from Berlin

One of the most exciting new acts on Italians Do It Better. Led by Jesse Taylor, In Mirrors offers up a cinematic landscape of crystalline synths, soaring arps, noise experimentations, and slow-burning quasi-disco cuts that tap into a similar space to labelmates Chromatics while offering something fresh and sui generis. Johnny Jewel produced the album.

Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia

Extraordinary analogue space-synth compositions backed by a 33-horn ensemble. Peel is a revelation. (Label: My Own Pleasure.)

Ggoolldd – Teeth

Dreamy indie-pop from Wisconsin. Colorful synths, a crafty rhythm section, and memorable guitar work combine with singer Margaret Butler’s always sublime vocal stylings. To put it simply: These are very well-written songs. The band is opening for OMD during several Stateside dates in 2018. We will be hearing a lot more from them in coming years. (Label: Roll Call.)

Espectrostatic – Silhouette

A haunting synth score that’s paralyzes with its beauty. There doesn’t seem to be any film for which it exists, but there should be. Someone needs to write a film around this, because it would surely be both horrifying and life-affirming. (Label: Burning Witches Records.)

Crystal Bats – Anyone

A more modern-pop-oriented take on the nostalgic synth-pop of The Midnight, “Anyone” is a laid-back thing of beauty that conjures up warm, relaxing nights under the neon moon. (Self-Released.)

Confrontational – The Burning Dawn

A soaring triumph that closes a complicated and inspiring synthwave and electronic rock trilogy that began with 2015’s A Dance of the Shadows and was continued on last year’s The Kingdom of NightHe presents an homage to classic giallo artists Goblin, while equally tapping into the vibe of John Carpenter, fellow Italian Fabio Frizzi, and even The Cars. Weave Johnny Marr and The Sisters Of Mercy into all of that, and you have The Burning Dawn. To say it’s “Carpenteresque” is an understatement, because the director’s son and bandmate, and longtime Confrontational collaborator, Cody, shows up on three killer cuts. (Self-Released.)

Chihei Hatakeyama – Mirage

Ambient transcendence of the highest order, and seemingly an examination of the structure and character of sound and architecture. (Label: Room 40.)

Charlotte Gainsbourg – Rest

A beautiful experience, courtesy of a slate of French and English musicians of prestige. Gainsbourg’s lyrics, which weigh heavily on the topic of addiction, address the deaths of her father, Serge, and her sister, Kate Barry. The music is crafted by French Touch heavyweights like SebastiAn and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo with Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) contributing additional production. Paul McCartney also contributed a song. Overall, it’s a compelling album. (Label: Because Music.)

Brass Hearse – Brass Hearse

Haunting electronic rock, if Bauhaus had more synths and a sense of humor. (Label: Burning Witches Records.)

Bottin – I Have What I Gave

Italian musician Bottin outdoes himself. He crafts propulsive, disco-laden scores for films not yet made, and introspective, mind-expanding cuts designed to ensure that people who want to dance never get caught up in conventional experiences. Each moment with Bottin is a memorable one. (Label: 2MR/Retrogroove/Tin)

Bjork – Utopia

Leave it to Bjork to release an album called Utopia in dystopian 2017. She and Arca unfurl a rich and complicated catharsis that after a few devoted listens could indeed start cultivating a utopia. Depending on how you say it, “utopia” could mean “good place” or “nowhere.” I don’t care where or what it is, as long as Bjork’s there. (Label: One Little Indian.)

Anoraak – Black Gold Sun Remixed

The brilliant French producer has offered up a different take on this year’s Black Gold Sun, releasing a remix comp with some interesting perspectives on that release’s songs. Syntax orders a cascading, arp-battalion take on the popular instrumental “Last Call.” Lazerdiscs Records’ Absolute Valentine injects some French House into the vocal cut, “Outcome,” introducing a sense of urgency to Anoraak’s original track. Maethelvin’s remix returns from the original EP, taking the more modern “Evolve,” featuring Lydmor on vocals, to a more Valerie Collective place. (On that note, it’s always great when Anoraak and Maethelvin, or any other Valerie members, work together in some capacity). (Label: Endless Summer.)

Andrew Douglas Rothbard – Divonium Digitalis

Rothbard has put together a cascade of synthy psychedelia into which hushed vocals and off-the-wall guitar maneuvering are injected. It’s a beautiful expression of controlled chaos and truly a different type of release for Italians Do It Better. The label appears to still have some vinyl copies left.

Alex – Youth

Dark, beautiful, and often lush, while generally minimalist and never too heavy. The Scottish producer offers a lovely take on synthwave, with which guest singer Rachel Mcalpine’s devil-may-care vocals pair well.

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