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1. Voices From The Lake – Voices From The Lake (Prologue)

This is an album that has stayed with me since I first listened to it in the freezing early months of 2012. As the year has once again reached the months of dark skies and chilling air, “Voices From The Lake” remains a favourite and a release whose place in pole position for album of the year was never in doubt. The work of Donato Dozzy and Neel is both beautiful and lucid with deep ambient atmospherics and an exceptionally crafted piece of sound design. Listening to “Voices From The Lake” is an immersive experience as the deep wells of ambient sounds develop and unfold at their own pace. Textured beats and unhurried rhythms pour forth with a hypnotic flow, creating an intoxicating sense of tranquillity. Drones and gently pulsing bass drums lead us into soothing pillows of thick ambience against a humid backdrop. The pair’s reworking of the previously released ‘S.T.’ is a revelation. After 30 minutes of bubbling and pulsation, the album’s first proper bass line emerges underneath a gently ascending and descending chord progression, creating the album’s biggest moment of impact while remaining airy and translucent. Rhythm, texture and atmosphere are the key components of “Voices From The Lake”, creating an enveloping physical presence that asks contemplative concentration; a meditative state of listening. Its patterns shift and morph in minute detail, so subtly and patiently that it gives the album an unusual feeling like it is floating while simultaneously surging from the depths of a dense forest. The construction is painstaking, so much so you can’t tell where one track begins and another ends yet, surprisingly for something that has been put together so intricately, it contains warmth that feels inviting and effortless. “Voices From The Lake” is a unique, entrancing release that supplies the closest aural equivalent to waldeinsamkeit since Pantha Du Prince’s “Black Noise”, my top-ranking album of 2010.

2. Shed – The Killer (50 WEAPONS)

“I hate guitar music…because guitars have been out there for hundreds of years now, and I think it’s enough.” Shed (Rene Pawlowitz) the stern-faced German doesn’t care for much, at least that is what his interviews in English depict and with “The Killer”, the producer delivers the tracks on his third album in true German attitude: to the point, straightforward and no bullshit. “The Killer” doesn’t introduce listeners to anything new but by his own admission he doesn’t aim to. For him the best techno was released in the ‘90s and he finds the genre as it is currently, boring. Pawlowitz testifies, “I guess by about 1995 techno stopped being new or innovative and since then it has stayed the same. That’s why I like the past so much, nowadays there is no big change in techno.” What “The Killer” does do is stand as the most visceral and powerful techno album of 2012. Pawlowitz brilliantly drags tracks away from being simple genre exercises by burying nuances and his enigmatic personality among the flashes of brutal intensity. The insistent breakbeats and searing, sinister synths that make up the sadistic throbbing of ‘I Come By Night’ would become tiresome in another producer’s hands but Shed’s nuances are there in the background with the addition of delicately fluttering synths that weave through the track. Making “The Killer” all the more interesting are the feverishly repetitious melodies that flourish underneath the deep, pounding drums, crackles and ambient noise. They are omnipresent yet only really reveal themselves after several listens. Again Shed has pulled the magician’s trick of hiding them in plain sight. Dreamy melodies float through ‘Silent Witness’, Pawlowitz upturns typical techno arrangement by forcing the drums to follow the lead of the billowing melodies on ‘You Got The Look’ and rapturous techno beats are suspended by melodious atmospheric synths on the floating ‘Phototype’. “The Killer” and its producer are refreshing in their directness and techno purity and it is Shed’s individual blend of brutality and subtlety that makes “The Killer” one of the best albums of 2012.

3. John Tejada – The Predicting Machine (Kompakt)

The Austria born, L.A. based producer runs wild, excitedly and purposefully pulling sounds from an assorted catalogue of eras and styles for ‘The Predicting Machine” as it cycles through ten tracks that fluently weave lean electronics and pounding, yet sparse, beats with Tejada’s famously emotionally resonant melodies. It covers a lot of ground yet perfectly summarises his deeply focused approach to production and when it comes to effortlessly and beautifully conveying emotion in music no one gets close to John Tejada’s finely tuned melodies or his instinctive musicality. “The Predicting Machine” moves with pace through sculpted bleeping hooks and thick ambient fogs that rise from aquatic grooves, a Kompakt schaffel-inspired rhythm makes several appearances and the percolating tech house that made Tejada’s name features on the knowingly titled ‘A Familiar Mood’. A moment of magic occurs when the opening bars of the anthemic ‘The Function And The Form’ begin. Its fizzing melody and growling bassline lifts “The Predicting Machine” up a level and the incredibly rich modular synth textures and sparkling arpeggios surrounding it play out joyously. Throughout “The Predicting Machine” long gleaming melodies and spiralling arpeggios mingle with wet, elastic rhythms and effervescent clouds of synths. Every one of his tracks is an inviting and wondrous soundscape filled with luxurious and elegant detail; pure Tejada.

4. Sigha – Living With Ghosts (Hotflush)

After a bundle of 12”s for Scuba’s Hotflush label Berlin-based, UK-born DJ and producer Sigha (James Shaw) delivers his debut album “Living With Ghosts”. The album’s twelve perfectly balanced techno and ambient productions fuse his love of classic techno with the genre’s contemporary sound that is owned by Germany’s capital and over the course of “Living With Ghosts” Sigha shifts between brooding subterranean techno soundscapes and fluid emotive strokes. Album opener ‘Mirror’ slowly introduces the listener to the show with an unhurried sketch of quietly grinding austere noise until the second track ‘Ascension’ kicks in with a throbbing techno beat that almost suffocates its undulating synth. The addition of subtle changes to the rhythm and percussion in the final third takes the track close to breakbeat territory. For the last 30 seconds the drums suddenly drop out to a soft drone that acts as a palette cleanser; refreshing the listener for ‘Puritan’’s 6:40 minutes of a wonderfully unrelenting, thudding 4/4 groove and gossamer synths. A highlight is ‘Scene Couple’, its wet licks of acid rise and swells with force yet feel restrained and intricately textured; a track that will be killer on dancefloors for months to come. Sigha cleverly uses two tracks, ‘Suspension’ and ‘Delicate’, to allow the listener to come up for air, making it even more potent when they are thrown into the techno waves again. Their carefully weaved layers envelop in silky ambience; adding an extra stunning dimension to the release. Hypnotic beats punctuate an enthralling windswept soundscape in the nine minute ʻTranslateʼ. The elegant ‘Aokigahara’ rounds off the album in a ten minute beatless wall of foggy ambience that swathes and soothes the listener. Like “The Killer” by Shed, “Living With Ghosts” is a techno record that contains countless moments of experimentation, depth, subtlety and exhilaration across a format that can be the downfall for many producers who are used to delivering 12”s.“Living With Ghosts”, with its commitment to the motifs of UK and Berlin techno, is a skilfully paced, cohesive, complex and compelling album.

5. Marcel Dettmann – Range EP (Ostgut Ton)

As with last year’s “Translation” and the recent “Landscape” EPs Dettmann’s “Range” shows that though the scale of his material is narrow his resolute, glorious techno still contains many shades within their concrete canvas; 50 shades of grey so to speak. Swirling atmospherics introduce the EP’s title track as an unsettling drum pattern ploughs through sullen, foreboding terrain. The pulsing bass drum on ‘Iso’ only just holds the track together as a dense assortment of spiky and hissing sounds ring out and dissipate above cavernous and unsettling held chords. It feels like it’s on the brink of collapse and reaching out from the depths of this instability comes ‘Push’’s barely discernible pitched down voice intoning variations on the track’s title above a rhythmic dry-hump made up of deep bass thuds, whooshing hats and skittering percussion; a standout. Final track ‘Allies’, which was an important inclusion in Ben Klock’s recent, wonderful “Fabric 66”, is an excellent example of Dettmann’s skill. Essentially a single harmonically-rich chord repeats infinitely while razorblade hi-hats and jacking snares alter every single bar. As with most of his unforgiving slabs of techno, he builds and builds the pressure to almost uncomfortable levels without gifting the listener with any real sense of climax or release. “Range” will still be a favourite on dancefloors twelve months from now.

6. Orcas – Orcas (Morr Music)

Named after the mammal native to the Pacific Northwest where Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Benoit Pioulard hail from, their collaboration as Orcas blends poignant, twinkling pop songs with shuddering masses of electronic sounds; a fusion of song-writing with ambient minimalism that stands somewhere between the piano-based modern compositions of Peter Broderick, the Field’s highly emotive techno and GAS’ subdued beats and stately atmospheres. ‘Pallor Cedes’ sets the tone of the self-titled album with rising and falling drones and a clipped guitar rhythm sitting under softly picked acoustic guitar and Pioulard’s aching repetition of the phrase “like coming up for air”. “Arrow Drawn”’s clever use of vocal double tracking and harmonies slowly seep into the listener’s ears as quiet acoustic guitar and piano merge into ‘Standard Error”s floating loop of sighs. Calling to mind GAS and Irisarri’s work as The Sight Below is “Carrion”, an unhurriedly evolving hymn that encompasses a distant beat, echoed piano parts, an irregular guitar chord and Pioulard’s gauze-covered sad-eyed voice. A standout is their sublime cover of Broadcast’s ‘Until Then’, a poignant tribute to the untimely passing of singer Trish Keenan. Continuing the album’s use of piano, the track is built on a close-mic’d delicately played piano which frames Pioulard’s reflective vocals. Across the album Benoit Pioulard’s vocals glide along amid quiet piano and guitar notes and backing textures that rise and fall in gentle interplay, vinyl crackle and natural reverb adding an important touch of atmosphere. “Orcas” is a beautifully dignified album that summons a sense of space, understated progression and emotional depth.

7. Deepchord – Sommer (Soma)

Deepchord (Rod Modell) is an artist that continues to reinvent and diversify within the dub techno/ ambient techno genres. “Sommer” (summer in German) has lighter, more ethereal feel than Modell’s previous output but his characteristic manipulation of space and time remains. Effect-heavy textures, sliding and shifting rhythmic elements and intricate production details create a constantly evolving almost vaporous tapestry. Field recordings made on a beach close to Modell’s home generate a balmy atmosphere that breathes underneath the light-footed percussion and bass pulsing from the speakers. Like “Silent Harbour”, “Sommer” creates evocative sound passages. Beautiful, humid atmospheres are drawn in ‘Glow’, ‘Wind Farm’ and ‘Cruising Towards Dawn’, dark fluid journeys are traced with ‘Flow Induced Vibrations’ and ‘Gliding’. The listener travels towards the sunny getaway that ‘Amber’, ‘Benetau’ and ‘The Universe As A Hologram’ propose. The album is an amalgamation of deep, warm organic atmospherics and dance music creating a mood evoking the relaxed warm summer evenings the title alludes to.

8. Christian Löffler – A Forest (Ki)

The forests of Usedom, north Germany in which Christian Löffler lived during the making of the album are the backbone of “A Forest”. Over the twelve tracks that make up the album a rich yet spacious tapestry gradually unfurls as we see an entrancingly atmospheric representation of dense woodland. Warm, organic samples of wooden percussion are underpinned with fragile synth melodies; the chord progressions recall John Tejada’s melancholic, sunset-tinged tracks combined with Pantha du Prince’s percussive rhythms, dense textures and obsessive attention to detail. Although the 4/4 bass drum dominates rhythmically it remains unobtrusive, lying low in the mix beneath hypnotic, dreamlike moods. The three vocalists on “A Forest”, Gry, Mohna and Marcus Roloff, are a new dimension to Löffler’s productions and imbue the album with an even greater emotional resonance. On ‘Swift Code’ lyricist and poet Marcus Roloff’s German spoken word passages alternate between implicit and explicitly threatening verses, Mohna’s  dreamy, fragile voice on ‘Eleven’ is surrounded by buzzing noises and distant bass frequencies. In one section her looped voice sits between chopping hi-hats and a bass line that rolls back and forth like sea waves. The beautiful ‘Feelharmonia’ features the Danish singer Gry whose mournful voice is embraced by shuffling percussion, syncopated drums, tapping wood blocks and a bouncing synth pattern. “A Forest” is a standout in its wonderfully elegant and atmospheric beauty.

9. King Felix – SPRING EP (Liberation Technologies)

This “SPRING EP” by King Felix (Laurel Halo working under a name taken from a previous EP) carries on the thread of the “Hour Logic EP”, notably the accelerated beats and ecstatic cries of ‘Aquifer’. The first three tracks, ‘SPRING01’, ‘SPRING02’ and ‘SPRING03’, are reconfigurations of the same instrumentation and theme, one that heavily references early nineties Detroit techno, in particular Drexciya’s underwater world and the sheen of early Model 500. Their rhythms are restless and shuffle constantly. Halo races the drums forward then scales them back to allow piercing synths to sit atop. The vast organ samples that screech through the opening of ‘SPRING 01’ are anchored by a visceral beat and razor-sharp synth textures. Only on the dramatic ‘SPRING03’ does she let a percussion-filled, 4/4 techno beat dominate. The final track, ‘FREAK’, is a collage of drones. Its sagging bass line looms underneath a quivering synth pattern and Halo’s submerged voice which merges into stretched-out chords. “SPRING EP” is coloured by its immediacy, moments of frightening suspense and an almost aggressive purposefulness. Though the four tracks string together as a narrative arc each presents a different personality and it is Halo’s ability that imbues the collection with cohesion.

10. Claudio PRC – Inner State (Prologue)

The young Italian’s debut album takes us into the abyss. It is a minimalistic world of profound and effortless deep, hypnotic techno and one that is filled with thick atmospheres, foggy dubs and unrelenting beats. Claudio’s love for techno and production skills is displayed with confident poise. In his own words, “In most of my tracks, the electroacoustic side plays the more emotional role, where the atmosphere created by the sound research and processing are my means to tell a story, while the rhythm reveals my natural matrix of energy I use to give life to these stories.” Opener ‘Echoes’ is a pitch black techno track with a relentless bass line that fold into waves of static and hi-hats. Intense, snapping percussion tops a droning bass line and cloudy textures in ‘Transparent’ and beat-less ambient track, ‘Leave’, provides a reflective moment before ‘Radial’’s vitriolic beats kick in. With “Inner State”, Claudio PRC has shown great potential while Munich-based Prologue maintains its output of high-quality techno releases.

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