While the otherworldly sonics of highly influential bands like Loop, Curve, and My Bloody Valentine have inspired legions of shoegaze revivalists, very rarely has the next wave of guitar mangling indie bands risen to the fuzzy heights of narcotic euphoria that made the original crop of shoegaze bands so exciting to begin with. With his 2010 solo record Love Is a Stream, sound artist Jefre Cantu-Ledesma did more than just emulate the wild dreaminess of early shoegaze sounds with a series of pedals. His tape-saturated instrumentals sounded simultaneously broadcast from under feet of snow and from alien worlds, capturing the same spirit of beautiful unknown as the best of the shoegaze canon but expanding on it texturally. The album was a triumph, and five years later its proper follow-up, A Year with 13 Moons, bests even the brightest moments of that great album, Cantu-Ledesma incorporating both new instrumental elements and a new approach to his process. The album was recorded mostly direct to reel-to-reel tape with minimal overdubs during a residency at San Francisco's Headlands Center for the Arts. Focusing less on composition and more on the rampant recording of new pieces, Cantu-Ledesma compiled the album from hours of this new material, built on loops of his distinctive ambient textures but also working in both noisy bleats of modular synthesizer and unexpected rhythmic components from a Linn drum machine low in the mix. All of these elements collide on the nearly nine-minute-long opening track, "The Last Time I Saw Your Face," a micro-symphony of low-frequency synth noise and atmospheric bliss pop. Minimal rhythms are buried beneath sorrowful static on "Love After Love," evoking the cold wistfulness of early Factory Records-style new wave, the emotional core of the song calling out loudly even when submerged in noise. Much of the rest of the album feels fragmental and half-awake, with the clean Durutti Column-esque guitar loops of "Disappear" melting into blurry melancholia on "Pale Flower" or grating tape noise experiments on tracks like "Early Autumn" and "Remains." The album's centerpiece comes with the raw and frigid "A Portrait of You at Nico's Grave, Grunewald, Berlin [For Bill K.]." Though there's little movement in the song's icy loop, it embodies the depths of sadness that the album can sink to, only to be drawn back up into reserved hopefulness and bursts of cathartic noise moments later on "Remembering." Without words or structures, A Year with 13 Moons translates a wealth of emotional content, achieving the rare feat of communicating pain, loss, yearning, and nostalgia with a noisy sonic palette that few can turn into anything besides confusion and chaos. This album is a high-water mark for an already impressive artist, and essential listening for anyone versed in abstract pop.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas