Friday, January 14, 2011

Best Music of 2010 Part 3

13. John Talabot - Matilda's Dream (Jacques Renault Remix)
Jacques Renault is an artist on the rise these days, most notably for his classic disco infused French house numbers. This remix of John Talabot plays more to the original's style and strengths than trying to make the track sound like a typical Renault tune. That said, the best part of this song is the pitter-patter drum breaks, which are entirely Jacques' addition. Nothing revolutionary here, just fine work.

12. Girl Unit - Wut
It's a good problem to have when you produce a track that people are pining for so hard before it's even released that a radio rip version is getting played out in clubs, forcing an early official release of the track. That's what happened with Girl Unit's "Wut," which possesses one of the strongest hooks of the year. The full track turned out to be slightly disappointing at 7 minutes long, and barely any variation in its loop. It seems perfectly suited for a DJ mix, seeing as you can pull a strong 3-4 minutes out of anywhere with it. The Night Slugs label is pushing bass music in pretty interesting directions, keeping tempos up in dubstep territory, but breaking most of the other guidelines that normally classify music clocking in at 140BPMs as dubstep.

11. Onra - Long Distance LP
I don't remember what the last instrumental hip-hop album I heard that I genuinely loved was, but let's just say it's been awhile (I put Flying Lotus in a different category). OK so, there are some tracks with vocals here, but nonetheless, leave it to the French to bring me back into the fold. Onra's latest is constructed in classic form: 20+ tracks, most of which last a mere 2-3 minutes. These productions know how to hit your brain's pleasure center, leaving you both satisfied and wanting more. Some great music, often lyrical in my case, bores me on repeat listens once I have a thorough knowledge of the plot (see Kanye's latest), but I'd seriously consider Long Distance as a desert island record for its unbridled replayability.

10. Scuba - Triangulation LP
Scuba's latest is the sound of the cold, wet city. I can't help but visualize raindrop-splattered metal sheets clinking into one another when I listen to it. Perhaps if 90s-era Photek would have taken his minimal drum 'n bass style and slowed it to more of a dubstep saunter, you'd get something similar. Not that there aren't warm elements here, like the vocals on "Before," but they don't alter the palette despite their more organic nature. This record makes me reimagine my time slogging through dank city streets with a certain degree of fondness and enrichment. This is not something easily accomplished, even if the next real experience I had in said environment resets the scale back to regular levels of resentment.

9. Caribou - Swim LP
Best Caribou album to date right here. It's clear Dan Snaith and Kierren Hebden get along well seeing as they both have tendencies to employ literal bells and whistles, and they both released the closest thing to a techno record of either of their careers this year. Where unfortunately Four Tet's LP never came close to reaching the heights of its first single "Love Cry," Caribou's effort is both rife with variation and constant surprises. Somehow the band manages to pull off sounding like a techno act and a psychedelic jam band. Actually Caribou sounds like neither one at a given time, but rather a seamless fusion of the two. In the same way that LCD Soundsystem brought dance and rock together like no one before, let Caribou be considered the precedent for any psych-tronic music to come.

8. James Blake - CMYK
James Blake really had an all out stellar year in 2010, showing his exponential development from the relatively amateur-sounding Bells Sketch EP not all that long ago. The hype has built up the expectations for what is my most anticipated release of 2011 with Blake's self-titled debut LP. Blake isn't an artist to rest on his laurels or even be content to shack up for a while in the new subgenres he invents for more than a couple months. "CMYK" is a swirling convalescence of blips, warped synths, rhythmic, yet off-setting beats, and distorted Aaliyah samples. On paper it might sound like a gimmick to appropriate "R U That Somebody?" but the vocal clips aren't the trick. It's how much they feel like Blake's own creations, matching the frenzy of the rest of the track, thus actually downplaying the pop reference, that really impresses.

7. Klaxons - Surfing the Void LP
If I were to pick a band on this column that I was supposed to list as a guilty pleasure, I suppose it'd be the Klaxons, but I don't really feel the guilt. Heck they're pretty much the only real rock band on this list, so interpret that how you will. Just like Klaxons' debut, Surfing The Void did not strike me at first. It did maintain a place on my iPod though, and eventually got more listens to the point where I was deleting everything else off the device leaving it as the only survivor. This process probably happened about 4 times. The record itself might not have quite as hard of an edge as its predecessor, but it has enough heavy riffs to keep it from feeling like straight pop music. The catchy melodic sing-a-long style that's become synonymous with the band is in full infectious bloom here as well. Throw in my soft spot for absurd astronomy/ology concept albums (there aren't many!) and Klaxons have yet another winning product that I can't resist.

6. Dark Sky - Something to Lose
Using a sample that was implemented not-so-long ago by the posterboy of your given musical genre sounds, on paper, like a recipe for failure, but Dark Sky ignored the warning signs and created a must-dance-now dubstep floor-filler with "Something to Lose." It really helps that the sample in question is a series of piano stabs (one of my favorite sounds). That said, there's no way this song could go toe-to-toe with Zomby's "Float" like it does if it wasn't bringing something more to the table than informed appropriation. Dark Sky seems to understand how to successfully build momentum and highlight the strengths of the audio snippets being brought in from the outside. I like to think of a track like this as a continuation of a story, knowing the same sample was also used by early ravers Bizarre Inc on "Playing with Knives." It adds another layer to the meta-musical postmodern context that sampling has been said to have made manifest. Did I mention this track is a banger and also contains a killer B-side?

5. Pariah - Safehouses EP
The reason I have so many "dubstep" entries on this list is because it's a genre that seems more exciting that most other kinds of music these days. The sounds are evolving and progressing in very interesting ways, outputting music that sounds like nothing else. I even find myself putting the word dubstep in quotes when referring to such acts (here, Pariah), because these bass music subgenres might not fit that original mold; not that categorization matters all that much. Pariah has come a really long way since his initial single to his Safehouses EP this year. If I was giving out awards for most improved, this would be it. Not that Detroit Falls/Orpheus was a bad single, but it pales in comparison to the vision and execution of Safehouses. Take in the ghostly atmospherics of Burial or Scuba, combine it with the nonconformist streak of James Blake, and splice that with the new school club sound and vocal sampling style of Joy Orbison, and you've got the match made in heaven that is this EP. There's not a track on here that doesn't shine, and yet they all come together in support of each other in a well-rounded package. Pariah is definitely an artist to keep an eye on.

4. Danger - 3h11
For a long time this year I thought my favorite track of 2010 was on lock with Danger's "3h11." It didn't pull it off, but did give a rather impressive showing. Sometimes I get really bored of the grind of making new mixes, downloading tons of music, deleting most of it, categorizing everything and then making more mixes. "3h11" pulled me right out of that hole. Actually you could say it pulled me out of my chair, because it absolutely compels you to dance. The main synth loop reminds me of the backing melody from Inner City's "Good Life," and that's a very positive thing. The melody is accented by a fist-pumping baseline, filtered through some videogame buzz, that's catchy in an almost primal way. Danger illustrated the attached EP's release with 16-bit River City Ransom callbacks, meant to flesh out his comic-book persona. As a soundtrack to that fake game, "3h11" is also a perfect fit. This is basically the best Sega Genesis-era soundtrack rework you could ask for. French filter-house lives on, apparently.

3. Robyn - Body Talk LP
I really love Robyn's "Dancing On My Own," but limiting this entry to just that individual song doesn't do justice to one of the most successfully productive years I've ever seen from a musician. With two full LPs and then the 3rd "best of" compilation, listed here, which itself includes new tracks that actually belong on the highlight reel as well, I don't know how someone could have avoided Robyn in 2010. Body Talk might come off as a string of excellent singles more so than a narratively structured album, but the diversity of Robyn's sound keeps things interesting throughout. Sure she can hit the pop-ballad highs with "Dancing On My Own," and "Indestructible," but then when she turns to dub tempos on "Dancehall Queen," or plays with traditional pop song structure on "Don't Fucking Tell Me What To Do" and "We Dance To The Beat," she's also showcasing the producers behind her tunes as much as herself. These actions are in service to the music at hand, and the results are all the stronger for those creative decisions. Body Talk might not be on the top of this list, but it does deserve the title of greatest quantity of quality.

2. Ikonika - Contact, Love, Want, Have LP
Let it be known, when Hyperdub presses a full-length album from their talent pool, they're bringing their A-game to the party. If Danger's "3h11" was a ravey slice of 16-bit homage, consider the debut LP from Ikonika the full arc of the best 8-bit action/adventure title you never played. Of course the production values are considerably higher than anything coming out of the chiptune arena, but clearly Ikonika herself wants to make the gaming connection explicit, titling tracks "Ikonoklast (Insert Coin)," "Continue?," and "Look (Final Boss Stage)," among others. For anyone else whose mind takes on the illustrative when they listen to music, they'll have a lot of pictures to compose with this record. Ikonika occasionally evokes similar emotions to Scuba (see #10), but instead of extrapolating the intricacies of one particular color, she opts for the whole palette. I don't know how much having a depth of experience with videogames adds to this since I can only speak for myself, but it would seem to me that a long journey is being implied, across a variety of different lands. In other words, it feels like the album moves from level to level, even sometimes along standard gaming conventions like a desert ("Sahara Michael") or underwater ("Fish") world. What makes this trip engaging is the forward momentum, and the feeling of fighting against the odds. Contact, Love, Want, Have doesn't simply evoke games, it calls upon the the best moments games can offer; be it an epic boss battle, the uncovering of a new world never before seen, or the rush to the climax of a character arc that would normally take 40+ hours to reach. That alone is an impressive feat, but Ikonika's rhythmic aptitude and ear for driving hooks are what round this debut out as a complete package.

1. Blue Daisy & Anneka - Raindrops (John Talabot's Cosmic Remake)
Blue Daisy is taking bass music in some interesting directions these days, often in the realm of more classically ambient fare like contemporaries, Nosaj Thing and Mount Kimbie. "Raindrops" marks Blue Daisy's second collaboration with a vocalist (Anneka here, who also lent her pipes to Vex'd this year), but neither track comes off as decidedly vocal. Somehow Blue Daisy retains a feeling of precision amongst all the static and drone, making for pretty stunning experiments. As much as I can applaud those efforts, John Talabot is the one who really seals the deal here. Anneka's faint vocal is brought forward but still remains beautifully transient. Similarly to Basement Jaxx's "Raindrops" last year, the track reads as a deluge, and is texturally wet as a result of both a cascading rhythm section, drippy synth plucks, and the noisy source material. Talabot also reconditions the track into his cosmic house mold in most dramatic fashion. He turns the propulsion way up, but knows when to kill the bass to setup the build-up and climax of the year. When the ensuing wave reaches its tipping point, splashy cymbals accent the reinvigorated, more powerful bassline as Anneka's coos are stretched out like heartstrings about to snap. We're talking tears on the dancefloor here. The palpable feeling of yearning combined with the explosive payoff is hands-down to most satisfying musical moment of 2010.

No comments: