December 11, 2012

Since its inception in 2004, Steve Goodman aka Kode9’s Hyperdub has been a locus of atom-smashing and inventive electronic music. 2012 was a banner year for Hyperdub, with major releases from label stalwarts like Burial and Cooly G and exciting work from up-and-comers like Laurel Halo and Walton alike. These are some of the choice cuts from their 2012 releases. — Adam Wray

Burial – “Ashtray Wasp”

It’s amazing what Burial has accomplished over the past half-decade. Since 2007’s Untrue inspired evangelical devotion,  he’s released precious little music: two three-song EPs, three collaborative 12″s, and a few remixes — all of which hew closely to the his signature brooding, detached sound. It’s an aesthetic he’s developed gently and iteratively. Kindred is similarly sculpted on sad, distant vocal samples and garage rhythms drenched in lo-fi crackle, but the compositions are his most ambitious yet.

“Ashtray Wasp” is a miniature symphony, clocking in at nearly 12 minutes and featuring five distinct movements. It’s an immersive, beguiling piece that you could listen to for a year and not fully understand. Maybe that’s why Burial’s releases come so few and far between.

Laurel Halo – “Years”

Brooklyn-based Laurel Halo’s sophomore LP, Quarantine, is grounded in intense self-reflection and exposure, which can make for an uncomfortable listen. “Years” opens with a twinkling, music box melody that’s quickly overtaken by layers of strident vocals. Halo cycles through a series of phrases, most often returning to “I will never see you again” and “you’re mad ’cause I will not leave you alone.” As the song descends into feedback, you’re left with the feeling of having heard something you should not have, but are glad you did, because you understand. You feel a little less alone.

Walton – “All Night”

The title track from Walton’s second Hyperdub EP is a real motherfucker. It opens on the up-and-up, with plucked strings, bright synths, and warm vocals. Then, the bottom drops out, and you find yourself staring down a grimy bassline and snaking, 8-bit arpeggios. Nothing to do but move.

Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland – 2

Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland, the duo sometimes known as Hype Williams, tend towards the inscrutable. Their releases are dense, diverse affairs. Taken as a whole, Black is Beautiful feels like free falling through miles of clouds with the occasional beat of blue sky. “2” is one of these interludes, a slice of dreamy, love-drunk pop. It’s a loose interpretation of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s “Baby,” also taken on by Ariel Pink & Dâm-Funk this year. No one tune from Black is Beautiful comes close to summing up Blunt and Copeland’s sound — this one is just their most accessible.

Cooly G – “Come Into My Room”

Cooly G’s Playin’ Me is like foreplay: warm and sensual but restrained, building tension over 13 tracks that’s never fully released. “Come into My Room” showcases this dynamic nicely. It has her laying DIY diva vocals over intricate drum programming, deep, thrumming bass, and reggae-indebted synths, fantasizing out loud about a presumably distant lover. The way the track builds up and fades out mirrors this sense of longing. It’s a highlight from one of the label’s strongest and most cohesive releases of the year.

LV – “Animal Prints”

Sebenza is a collaborative LP between London trio LV and a group of South African emcees, Okmalumkoolkat, Spoek Mathambo, and a duo that goes by Ruffest. On “Animal Prints,” Johannesburg’s Okmalumkoolkat flows tongue-in-cheek over an infectious, two-step rhythm, subtly needling consumption culture (“High-end fashion, animal prints/Do we need anymore animal prints?”) without straying from the party vibe. This South London-to-South Africa connect may have been what anyone who was bullish on the potential of globalization was imagining.