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TheBug

And lo, we entered the Third Quarter of 2014 – and it was Good. 

Every three months, we pull together a rundown of our 20 favourite albums of the season (check our First Quarter Report and Second Quarter Report for previous highlights from 2014).

Q3’s haul, covering albums from July to September (plus one nifty exception), is a veritable parade of doozies. Ultra lo-fi cassettes sit next to major label pop polish, dance veterans put in a good showing, and we get to bestow props on somebody called Angharad van Rijswijk – and who can argue with that? These albums demand your attention – head to the next page to survey the list.

As is traditional, there’ll be no Fourth Quarter Report in December. Instead, we’ll list our favourite albums, tracks and reissues of the year in its entirety. (In the meantime, you can peruse our individual contributors’ favourite albums and favourite tracks from the first half of 2014).

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FINAL MASTER SYRO DIGIPAK.indd

APHEX TWIN
Syro
(Warp)

Conceded – Syro is a fairly meagre proposition compared to Richard D James’ best LPs, and if these tracks are indeed the choicest fruits from the last seven years of music-making, then the wellspring of inspiration that produced his legendary ’92-’98 run has dried up considerably. But a decent Aphex album still drifts, blimp-like, over the competition, and Syro’s highlights (‘Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix)’, ‘XMAS_EVET10 (Thanaton3 Mix)’, ‘Aisatsana’) delight, excite and confound.

 

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3Grande

ARIANA GRANDE
My Everything
(Republic)

“Although her songwriting hasn’t improved since Yours Truly, this album is still a hell of a lot more fun. Ariana wraps her competition-slaying voice around phrases every which way you can imagine… While she’s guarded in her lyricism and never totally innovative in her sonic choices, these conscious moments of oddness mean that Grande is still one of the most intriguing popstars around.” – full review

 

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4TheBug

THE BUG
Angels and Devils
(Ninja Tune)

Ambitious but never pompous; heavy like granite (the mighty ‘Function’, Warrior Queen on ‘Fuck You’) but carved with a light touch (Gonjasufi’s mystical melancholy on ‘Save Me’, a barely-there Liz Harris on ‘Void’); wildly diverse but solidly consistent – it’s no wonder FACT staffers experienced a rare outpouring of unanimous love for Kevin Martin’s latest album, one of the year’s most essential releases.

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5Dark0

DARK0
Fate
(Gobstopper)

Who can argue with a record that’s so darned colourful? Dark0 outdoes himself on Fate simply because he’s not afraid of showing a bit of passion – this time for the humble 16-bit RPG. Between the Chrono Trigger-worship of the anthemic ‘Gaia’ and the doomy battle vibes of ‘Mako March’, it’s hard not to fall for Dark0’s inimitable charm. World domination is surely only around the corner.

 

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6DJDodger

DJ DODGER STADIUM
Friend of Mine
(Body High)

Samo Sound Boy and Jerome LOL re-team for Friend of Mine, an album heavily steeped in Chicago house and Detroit techno traditions but fundamentally one about and for Los Angeles: a dance record built for downtown warehouses and drives down the 405 that is rooted in the space the city plays in our collective imagination.

 

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7Wilderness

LAWRENCE ENGLISH
Wilderness of Mirrors
(Room40)

“Tracks are painterly, with drones rendered in thick impastos and light washes that are constantly shifting, swelling and retreating[…]Drone albums are by their nature immersive, but it’s rare to come across one so tempestuous, evocative and compelling from start to finish as Wilderness of Mirrors.” – full review

 

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8FKATwigs

FKA TWIGS
LP1
(Young Turks)

“[Twigs’] music is pop deconstructed, trading in jarring silences, distended grooves, odd contortions of voice and instrument. It’s hard to think of an emergent pop artist who sounds quite so fresh.” – full review

 

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9Flugel

ROMAN FLÜGEL
Happiness is Happening
(Dial)

Flügel’s knocking a quarter century in the game, and albums from old dogs simply shouldn’t sound like this – fresh, graceful, and as wide-eyed as any deb effort. Happiness is Happening darts between twinkly coldwave (‘Friendship Song’), wonky electro (‘Stuffy’) and the sort of coruscating softcore house that’s long been Dial’s bread and butter (‘Wilkie’). Pure class.

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VatShad

FUNCTION & VATICAN SHADOW
Games Have Rules
(Hospital Productions)

The similarities between Sandwell District’s hulking, industrial techno and Dominick Fernow’s refined basement noise have been pointed out on numerous occasions, but it’s solidified here for good on Games Have Rules. Weirdly, it finds both Fernow and David Sumner working on markedly restrained form, pulling on John Carpenter’s haunting soundtracks for influence rather than anything in the storied Downwards canon.

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10HeadHigh

HEAD HIGH
Megatrap
(Power House)

Full disclosure: this actually snuck out just before the start of July – but, then again, you don’t argue with Shed at his most obstreperous. Power House’s surprise eight-tracker shows that the Head High methodology (leadbellied breakbeats + ‘ardkore piano stabs + a throttling sense of claustrophobia) isn’t going to be getting old any time soon, and this set sits up there with his all-time best work.

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11Ital

ITAL
Endgame
(Planet Mu)

“[Endgame] sees Ital finally migrate from the realms of the theoretical into the actual. He does so by embracing convention – specifically, techno of the Berlin or New York school, sleek, linear and thunderous. In the wrong hands the results might be deathly dull – particularly given the record’s hour-plus runtime. But Martin-McCormick tackles the sultry (‘Black Dust’), the bouncy (the aptly titled ‘Dancing’) and the incendiary (‘Whispers In The Dark’, ‘Concussion’) with equal flair, deftly sidestepping numerous techno cliches in the process.” – full review 

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MJenkins

MICK JENKINS
The Water[s]
(Self-released)

“Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins returns with his second nature-focused mixtape of the year on The Water[s], and it uses the opportunity to get philosophical and metaphorical over moody, synth-washed productions that live up to the tape’s aquatic title. On the mic, Jenkins outpaces the lyricism of his peers in the left-field Chicago scene, with a wordy stream-of-consciousness flow that brims with freestyled energy” – full review

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12JuanMaclean

THE JUAN MACLEAN
In A Dream
(DFA Records)

You might not have noticed, but DFA’s resident second-fiddler has quietly pulled out the album of his career. As ever, it’s retro in the extreme, but John MacLean’s synthesis of Italo disco, glory days garage and New Order dazzle proves that pastiche needn’t be a dirty word. There’s nary a hair out of place, but the substance rises to the style – ‘Love Stops Here’, ‘I’ve Waited So Long’ and ‘Running Back To You’ are standouts amidst a welter of belters. DFA talisman Nancy Whang is more conspicuous than ever, too – a Good Thing TM

 

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13KaneWest

KANE WEST
Western Beats
(Self-released)

The splendidly monikered producer takes us on a barmy joyride through the acid-bright virtual vistas of PC Music, but with less of the “divisive” bits (GFOTY’s infuriating helium-glitches; A.G. Cook’s sickly-sweet bubblegum tendencies). All your favourite instruments are here – flutes! slap bass! hand claps! farty MIDI brass! – and punctuated by a smattering of ’90s rave samples, airhorns and deranged one-finger solos. If you’re still on the fence (and it can’t be comfortable up there), let Western Beats help you down to the (righteous) side.

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14MixORap

MIX-O-RAP
I Am The DMR
(PPU)

Washington diggers PPU typically stick to funk reissues, but they struck oil with this new collection of brutalised go-go from Maryland ‘local hero’ (read: spirited nobody) Mix-O-Rap. Ostensibly recorded using Edison’s tin foil technique, I Am The DLR is shamelessly groovy, and grotty as hell – the scorched soil where Container, Sensational and Galcher Lustwerk intersect.

 

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15Moire

MOIRÉ
Shelter
(Werk Discs)

Capitalizing on the acclaim of his Rolx and Never Sleep EPs, Moiré doesn’t necessarily break much new ground on Shelter, but perfects and sharpens his sound. It’s one of the year’s most consistent records, and nails the darker, grubbier side of dance music without jettisoning its primary function – to encourage movement on the dancefloor. A rare album that works just as well on headphones as it does in the club, and doesn’t suffer for it.

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16Senni

LORENZO SENNI
Superimpositions
(Boomkat Editions)

Lorenzo Senni’s eerie deconstructed trance was already on our radar thanks to 2012’s slippery Quantum Jelly, but he outdoes himself on Superimpositions. The main difference is that this time around, there’s variety. Senni seems more explorative, retaining the big-room arpeggiated bliss of the record’s predecessor but adding a range of similarly familiar elements – sun-bleached Balearic synths, churning festival dance basses and loads more. Mainstream dance nostalgia has never sounded so weird.

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18Travi$

TRAVI$ SCOTT
Days Before Rodeo
(Self-released)

“The interesting production tics that helped Scott elevate ‘New Slaves’ and Jay-Z’s ‘Crown’ are on full show here as he tramps through genres like a redneck in a monster truck. He has an alarming lack of self-awareness, and that’s refreshing and rare – when he layers cheesy soft rock guitar licks over ‘Drugs You Should Try It’, what in other hands would be an awkward collision of styles sounds easy and effortless. He’s a weird kid, and it sounds like in accepting that, his persona has moved forward in leaps and bounds.” – full review

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19Sully

SULLY
Blue
(Keysound)

Jungle revivalism might have been flogged half to death, but it’s even hard to argue with Sully’s Blue, simply because he absolutely nails the brief. There’s something unquestionably authentic about his set of throwback anthems, from the crisp crunchiness of the drums to the bright and garish suite of synths. Blue is more than revisionist nostalgia for a sound thirtysomethings wish had never disappeared, it’s actually a handful of tracks that capture exactly what was so good about jungle in the first place.

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20TRwb

TRWBADOR
Several Wolves
(Owlet Music)

The north Wales duo of Angharad Van Rijswijk and Owain Gwilym call themselves “elecktro-folk-rave”, and who are we to argue? Their first album trod a more or less standard kooky folktronica path and there’s some of this here too – but several tracks on Several Wolves see them turbocharged with something in between the posh trance of Kompakt and a Belgian new beat chug. As well as the slick electronics, there’s harps, there’s rap verses, there’s a lovely psyche-acoustic turn by Gorkys Zygotic Mynci’s Richard James, and there’s Van Rijswijk’s uncannily pure voice throughout. It’s odd and it’s great.

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