Rank/Artist & tags
1 Ulrich Schnauss - ambient chillout electronic
2 Qntal - electronic medieval fusion
3 Armin van Buuren - electronic, progressive trance
4 Above & Beyond - electronic, vocal trance
5 Ladytron - synthpop electronic
6 Falling You - ethereal ambient, female vocals
7 (tie) Dean & Britta - dream pop
7 (tie) Sey Hollo - post-rock instrumental
9 Dash Berlin - electronic, vocal trance
10 Delerium - chillout electronic, female vocals
I listen to music a lot. Almost always I listen from my computer or phone, and since I have their client installed on these devices, the tracks are noted in the Last.fm database. So, I am able to see what kind of music I am listening to over time. For an OCD person like myself, this is great.
Last year, three things happened that had a big impact on in the ways I listen to music, and allowed my access to music as never before. Prior to then, most of the music I listened to was from my personally owned MP3 library of about 50 gb of music. The effect of these things listed below is that my exposure to new artists and music, as well as old favorites, has been dramatically increased, and so the top 10 for 2012 is full of a lot of newcomers to my annual lists.
First, I expanded my use of Spotify which, conveniently, has the last.fm client built-in. (Spotify users: listen to the songs mentioned below in this playlist.) For me, Spotify is the greatest thing since sliced bread: most any song and album I can think of available on demand with no cost, other than being ad-supported (ad-free available with subscription). In addition, Spotify has the ability to generate a radio station based on artist, song, or playlist. I have used this quite a lot.
Second, late in 2011, I got a smartphone (Motorola's Droid Bionic, to be specific). Spotify has a client for Android (with last.fm built-in as well) which, while not allowing track-on-demand play unless subscribed, does allow radio for free users. I have used this phone as my portable music player while away from my computer and in need of a music buzz.
Third, my use of Turntable.fm continued from 2011. Turntable is a social music site which allows on-the-fly creation of rooms in which people can play music tracks for others in the room. This site also allows connection with last.fm to track the songs you listen to. These rooms often are genre-based, but can also be free-for-all, depending on what rules the room moderator (the room creator or designee) has established. When using this site, I am most often in the Trance Out room, and #3, #4, and #9 in my top ten are a result of hanging around in this room. A sense of how much I listened to Trance electronic music last year can be gained by considering that I mostly listened to trance in a radio-station format, rather than listening to albums, and even so, three of the top ten artists last year were trance. Indeed, if my last.fm charts are sorted by tracks instead of artists, the top 14 songs I listened to the most in 2012 were all electronic trance. If you are interested in hearing more great trance music, check out my Spotify Trance playlist.
So let's talk about my top ten from 2012...
1. Ulrich Schnauss - Emerging at the top of my list last year is a German composer whom I had recommended to me in the late part of 2011 (thanks, Ben!), Ulrich Schnauss. If I recall correctly, the first song I heard by him, "...Passing By" (video below), became an instant favorite. Schnauss blends the feel of atmospheric ambient with harder-edged electronica, somewhat akin in feel to Vangelis' "Blade Runner" to my ear. Other standout tracks include "A Letter From Home," "Coming Up For Air," and "Clear Day."
2. Qntal - My second most listened to last year was a longtime favorite German band. Qntal blends electronic synth perfomed by Fil, classic medieval instruments played by Michael Popp, and the haunting vocals of Syrah to create music based on historical works such as Carmina Burana ("Ecce Gratum" and "Flamma") The songs are mostly in Latin, medieval German, and other European languages, but I enjoy the music all the same (or perhaps because of this), as for me the vocals become one of the instruments of music and further draw the two seemingly incompatible styles of electronica and ancient music together into an entrancing, beautiful mix. For more great tracks, try "Vedes Amigo Illuminate," "Am Morgen Fruo," and "Entre Moi Et Mon Amin."
3. Armin van Buuren - And now, we start seeing the effects of my trance binging last year, as the number three spot goes to Armin van Buuren. This Dutch-born progressive trance producer is a well-known and loved name in electronic music, having been experimenting with the genre for over two decades. Armin enjoys much fame from remixing other artists, but also has won awards for his original work on albums "Shiver" and "Imagine." He also broadcasts a radio show "A State of Trance" with over 26 million listeners a week. Standout tracks include "Birth of an Angel" (video below), and "J'ai Envie De Toi."
4. Above & Beyond - Number four on my list is the British uplifting trance artist Above & Beyond. Much of A&B's music is light vocal trance with guest female vocalists, my favorite of whom is Zoë Johnston. Above & Beyond also has a popular weekly radio show called "Trance Around the World." Great tracks by this artist and Johnston include "Good For Me" (video below), "Alchemy," and "You Got To Go."
5. Ladytron - Moving up from number 9 in 2011, the British band Ladytron continued to impress and entertain me this year as I leveraged Spotify to listen to more of their tracks and further discover their sound. Perhaps best described as new wave synthpop meets modern electronica, Ladytron delivers an appealing indie/80's music feel without being too lo-fi gimmicky or kitschy. Favorites of mine are the tracks "Tomorrow," "Destroy Everything You Touch," and "Ghosts."
6. Falling You - If you have read my previous years' top ten lists, you get no points for guessing that this artist made my list this year. Always on my top ten, Falling You continues year after year to be a source of soothing, inspiring music. Featuring a varied cast of female guest vocalists and dark ambient-pop accompaniment, Falling You is my "comfort food" of music, being often what I fall back to when I am looking to relax and de-stress, and it does its job well. As with 2011, their newest album "Adore" received the most of my attention (see my review of this album here). My favorite tracks last year by them include "Firestorm," "Song of Summer," and "Moving One."
7. Dean & Britta - Tied for number seven is Dean & Britta, a band which I discovered through Turntable.fm, and was glad I did. This group was another instant favorite, evoking dream pop acts such as Mazzy Star, Tearwave, and Cocteau Twins. Favorite tracks include "Night Nurse," "Moonshot," and "I Deserve It."
8. Sey Hollo - Sharing the number seven spot is Sey Hollo, a one-man project by the Swedish artist Sebastian Larsson. Sporting a rich, heavy, post-rock grunge reminiscent of early Starflyer 59, Sey Hollo is an instrumental act that achieves both beauty and power. My least favorite part of my favorite tracks, are the last half minute or so of political sound bytes. All the same, the music itself is so good that I don't mind skipping the last bit of the song to go to the next. Best tracks: "Growth," "World Trade Center," and "Eighty Five Percent" (warning, brief explicit language).
9. Dash Berlin - The number nine spot belongs to Dash Berlin, of the Netherlands. I first discovered this artist in the Trance Out room of Turntable.fm and have been consistently impressed with the clean melodic style of this uplifting/progressive trance artist. Recommended songs: "Till The Sky Falls Down" (video below), "Never Cry Again," and "Waiting."
10. Delerium - Wrapping up the top ten is Delerium, consisting (presently) of Bill Leeb from Skinny Puppy and Rhys Fulber of Conjure One (both also of Front Line Assembly fame). Over time, the sound of Delerium has changed somewhat from a dark ambient to a mellow electronica. Their newest album, "Music Box Opera" refines this style even more with some trip-hop influence, reminding me of Morcheeba and Massive Attack, especially in these suggested tracks, "Hammer" and "Sky."
(view last year's top 10 here: My Top 10 Musical Artists 2011)