Because the dumb are mostly intrigued by the drum machine. Because Sach will opine differently in the comment section. Because my favorite Beat Album is “Kaddish.” Short write-ups because writing about electronic music is like dancing about Autechcre. When in doubt, just say noirish.
Distilling the cosmic sampledelics and stutter-step drums of his blunted beat Low End Theory peers, Baths’ closet node of comparison is Anthony & the Johnsons, as produced by the Books. Celestial falsettos vault over cut-and-paste samples, crestfallen piano lines and a precocious knack for song structure. Cerulean cements 21-year old Wiesenfeld’s role as one of the vanguards of the next generation of beatmakers to emerge out of the iPod era.
Danceable yet deep, “Love Have Contact Want” will appeal to the Hyperdub massive and may yet find the label some new fans. With her melodic sensibility and admitted love of classic pop, Ikonika’s music defiantly reaches for fans beyond Bass music’s boundaries (I can only hope the rumored Nicki Minaj collabo works out). For now, she’s dropped the best “Dubstep” record of the year, Kode9 continues to run the most forward-thinking label in music and if ever Capcom’s looking for a new composer, they won’t have to look too far to find one. — Sach O
Merging orchestral bombast, digital sheen, feminine sensibilities and a refreshingly honest and un-ironic view of artificial instrumentation into a neon-splattered mutant that’s as adaptable as it is surprising, Guido’s Anidea boasts a singular sound. While its vocal singles sound like next-level pop, its instrumental body features a hybrid mix of orchestral arrangements and synthesized instrumentation. Favoring obviously artificial synth-patches to more realistic tones, Guido’s solo tunes sound like neither grime nor dubstep but the result of hours spent listening to classical symphonies and late 90’s Korg Triton rap productions before deciding that they’d both sound better spliced together with more bass. Anidea may not quite confirm Guido’s direction for the future, but whether it’s Maestro, Super-DJ or R&B super-producer, it’ll definitely make for one hell of a ride. — Sach O
With a style spawned at some murky crossroads of the Beasties, Air’s “Sexy Boy,” Boards of Canada and Beck, Tobacco’s solo debut, Fucked Up Friends, found him collaborating with Aesop Rock and becoming the darling of Okayplayer, making him the token indie icon among the ex-backpack set. Maniac Meat, his sophomore solo record, features song titles like “Lick the Witch,” “Unholy Demon Rhythms” and “Creepy Phone Calls.” Featuring a pair of guest-spots from Beck in “Mellow Gold” mode, the record hits somewhere between the surreal and the sublime — jagged, raw and filled with hellishly catchy melodies. Per his own description, it sounds like the work of a maniac. It also might be the work of a genius.
With a sonic framework supplied by the best of Los Angeles’ current beat generation (Flying Lotus, the Gaslamp Killer, Mainframe), Gonjasufi’s official debut, “A Sufi and a Killer,” lives up to its title – a fierce lost world of Turkish psych-samples, Arabic chants and a surreptitious slinking groove, crossed with the Dilla and dubstep-inflected Low End theory aesthetic. Ecks sings with a bent banshee wail – a protean and haunting voice at times resembling Tom Waits had he been weaned on boom-bap, the cracked falsetto of late-period George Clinton or the gruff rasp of Captain Beefheart singing over beat music. It’s the sort of album that jars you on first listen, but eventually wears itself into the grooves of your synapses, alternately bizarre, baleful and beautiful.
MP3: Gonjasufi- “Ancestors”
A sprawling collage of a record, grafting foreign elements (hip-hop, dubstep, free jazz, house, IDM, “Amnesiac”-era Radiohead, afro-futurism), found sounds (including his dying mother’s hospital machines and ping-pong balls) and live instrumentation (a harpist, Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax, funk overlord Thundercat on bass), Cosmogramma’s name loosely translates to map of the universe, and it sounds like it: a weird mess of interstellar dust and hard matter, suspended in the sky, subject to a constant drift and outrageous amounts of light. Frequently brilliant and always inspired, Lotus’ only flaw is his over-generosity. Ratcheting down his ambitions may have made for a more seamless product, but wouldn’t have augured well for his future — which remains brighter than anyone in the mutant bass brigade.
To be sure, “Splazsh” makes few overtures to outsiders: there’s no vocal tracks, no live instrumentation, no obvious single. Still, it remains far more inviting and accessible than anything coming out of Berlin and underneath its seemingly cold exterior, there’s a lot of warmth: these tunes bounce off your brain like ping-pong balls then get stuck. Actress has spent the past two years as one of electronic music’s best kept secrets, flying underneath the indie-stream radar while slowly but surely building up his cred where it counts, but I wouldn’t expect this semi-anonymity to last long. With the ranks of the new generation’s off-kilter, bass-influenced electronic musicians growing daily, both in London and abroad, Actress’ music is destined not only for recognition, but perhaps also for a place it can call home. — Sach O
MP3: Actress – “Purple Splazsh”
There Is Love in You,” might be Four Tet’s most towering achievement yet, a singular work that both splinters the notion of genre and consolidates the far-flung experimentation that characterized his previous output. Known for esoteric samples spanning stray voices to rubber ducks, Hebden created an instant classic out of everything from an infant’s heartbeat to a child playing a toy piano to a gorgeous constellation of chopped-up vocal samples — all of them sutured to entrancing four on the floor beats. It’s gorgeous entrancing music, the sort that invites maudlin sentiment, few parallels and fewer comparisons.
MP3: Four Tet – “Angel Echoes”
Decamping to a landslide area in the Swiss Alps to collect field recordings, Hendrik Weber transforms wind chimes and church bells, creaky doors and shifty terrain into a thing of hermetic beauty, the sort of record that makes miracles out of the mundane — a pretty view, fresh snow, a Yeti sighting. Aiming to tell stories with only a few words, Weber’s song titles betray his thoughts: “the splendour,” “a nomad’s retreat,” “bohemian forest,” “lay in a shimmer.”The latter song, the album’s opener, sounds as it should, the aural analogue to lamping supine and sun-stunned on a gorgeous day in the dead of an erratic winter. Obsessed with the concept of black noise — a characteristic of natural and unnatural catastrophes — Prince collects somber grays, immaculate whites, funereal blacks and pale yellow sun rays cracking through the clouds, as seen on “Stick To My Side,” where Panda Bear’s sublime silliness provides a perfect foil for Weber’s Alpine melancholy. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll get much better this year.
MP3: Pantha Du Prince – “The Splendour”
The Medicine Show is Madlib’s encyclopedia. Not the door-to-door Britannica shill – his crates are far too deep for the basics. Instead, he peels the pages back four centuries to the Encyclopedie — sharing the siren call to compile the sum of all known knowledge. Madlib has turned his compulsions into classics– like his Enlightenment analogues the goal is to change the way people think. We reap the rewards of decades scouring global dollar bins to own every sound, master every discipline, record and re-contextualize every voice. It might not be the best Madlib project, but it’s the most emblematic of his singular genius — his ability to flip anything, his flouting of genre boundaries. We get soul-driven boom-bap, to psych rock, jazz, to Brazilian, to African, to reggae, spliced with oddball skits, covers and liner notes that reveal the depths of his subversiveness. Is it cheating to include a series on a year-end list? Of course, but Madlib is the exception to the rule. And the year’s only half over.
MP3: Guilty Simpson – “Before the Verdict”
MP3: Madlib – “Frontline (The Inspiration)”
MP3: Madlib – “African Voodoo Queen (Drama)”
MP3: Madlib – “Static Invazion”
MP3: Madlib – “Episode XVI”
MP3: Madlib w/ Poyser & Riggins – “Funky Butt”
Honorable Mention: LCD Soundsystem — This is Happening [Capitol]; Alex B – Moments [Elm & Oak]; Take – Only Mountain [Alpha Pup]; Rudi Zygadlo — Great Western Laymen [Planet Mu]; Shlohmo – Shlomoshun Deluxe [Friends of Friends]; Hot Chip – One Life Stand [Astralwerks]; Scuba — Triangulation [Hot Flush]; Bonobo – Black Sands [Ninja Tune]; Autechre — Oversteps [Warp]; Free the Robots – Ctrl Alt Delete [Alpha Pup]; Blockhead — The Music Scene [Ninja Tune]; Daedelus – Righteous Fists of Harmony [Brainfeeder]