Because Sleep is the Cousin of Death: The Most Slept-On Beat Records of the Year

Part two coming later today, because occasionally sleep can be more than just the cousin of death.  Alex B – Moments – Elm & Oak Empirical evidence has long proven that Boulder,...
By    December 15, 2010

Part two coming later today, because occasionally sleep can be more than just the cousin of death. 

Alex B MomentsElm & Oak


Empirical evidence has long proven that Boulder, Colorado and blunts usually creates something either copacetic or completely hare-brained. Extended Low End Theory affiliate, Alex Botwin opts for the former on his formal debut, Moments, with its levitative opiated beats updating trip-hop for the medical marijuana generation. But rather than employ James Brown breaks as his jump-off, he sends Disco D’s “Ski Mask Way” beat to surgery, re-building it into a strobelite-ready banger. Other producers may draw from a wider range of influences, but few can match the depth of these grooves. Plus, he’s the only one working with Count Bass D. Thus, letting Boulder off the hook for the String Cheese Incident. –Jeff Weiss

MP3: Alex B-“You and I Both Know”

BathsCerulean – [Anticon]


As schizoid as it is sweet, Baths’ Cerulean is a jagged slice of off-kilter electronic pop –arhythmic drumbeats skitter across the record’s mainframe, complimenting the unusually aggressive tone of Will Wiesenfeld’s love songs. On final track he tells his lover that it “Feels like I cannot kiss you hard enough, not even if I bore through you,” while on “Lovely Bloodflow” he informs us that “you are my bloodflow baby, lovely bloodflow.” However, the record isn’t purely devoted to the subject of romance. “Maximalist” is an ambitious metaphysical track which posits, in one of the few undistorted human voices present on the album, that “it takes a lot of courage to go out there and radiate your essence.” These kinds of unabashed declarations, combined with the spasmodic belligerence of the beats and Wiesenfeld’s broken falsetto help to make Cerulean an extremely pleasant shade of blue. — Jonah Bromwich

MP3: Baths-“Lovely Bloodflow”

BonoboBlack Sands – [Ninja Tune]


While the fourth full-length from Bonobo is far from a dubstep record, you can hear the genre’s creeping influence on songs like “Eyesdown,” which almost sounds like Sauvignon Blanc Burial, dubstep sweetened and kodachrome-tinted for those who never miss HBO on Sunday nights.  Ever fascinated with the intersection of jazz and electronic, on Black Sands, Simon Green conscripts the smokey wail of Andreya Triana to flesh out his chronic and Cabernet visions. When he began his career in 1999, Green was caught between eras — too late for the golden age of trip-hop, too soon to be a vanguard of the Hyperdub generation. But Black Sands sounds effortlessly contemporary, as though the zeitgeist and Green finally cohered to make one of the year’s best records. Check for it the upscale wine bar nearest you or at least enjoy it with good headphones, a block of goat cheese and some crackers. — JW

MP3: Bonobo-“Eyesdown ft. Audreya Triana”

BlockheadThe Music Scene – [Ninja Tune]


Blockhead once self-mockingly titled a song “Forrest Crunk.” It’s a great fake genre name, because it’s just accurate and absurd enough to believe that a music writer could’ve coined it. After all, Drowned in Sound was painfully pushing “Aquacrunk” earlier this year until Flying Lotus ethered them via Twitter. Yeah. But it’s also vaguely appropriate to describe the deciduous funk that Blockhead creates — an autumnal haze of exotic sounds, tall trees, and enough flute to suggest a childhood spent playing lots of Legend of Zelda (time well spent). The broken jazz, booming drums, and multi-layered suites of  “Which One of You Jerks Stole My Arnold Palmer,” betray a careful ear and a deceptively skilled composer.  The beats are both no frills and shrouded by a smoke-wreathed mystery that Blockhead would attempt to deflate if you read too much into it. These songs aren’t meant to be studied, they’re meant to be enjoyed — a lesson the music scene might do well to heed.  –– JW

MP3: Blockhead-“Which One of You Jerks Drank My Arnold Palmer”

DaedelusRighteous Fists of Harmony – [Brainfeeder]


It feels a bit naïve to write a short blurb about this year’s Daedelus EP, Righteous Fists of Harmony. First, the title of the work is jacked from the late 19th century Chinese uprising more commonly known as the Boxer rebellion, which would imply a level of depth you just don’t see these days. Second, the seemingly digestible twenty three minutes of music comprise a host of historical and musical touchstones as allusory and dense as an Ezra Pound poem. And yet, the record’s appeal is undeniable, the dignified yet menacing march of “An Armada Approaches” giving way to a Brainfeeder-style bossa nova on “Order of the Golden Dawn.” Final track “Stampede Me” is arguably the best of the lot, as a sleepy voice delivers a testament to the honor of retreat. It’s a gorgeous listen, regardless of your devotion to the school of spirit possession. –JB

MP3: Daedelus-“Order of the Golden Dawn” (Left-Click)

DebruitSpatio Temporal EP – [Civil Music]


Where the Musique Large-affiliated Frenchman breaks out of the Ableton beat brigade by his unique ability to Mr. Fusion  ostensibly gimmicky samples, to the point where garbage can replace plutonium.  “Persian Funk” takes something resembling the Borat theme music and makes it the Farsi funk version of “Hey Playa.” While “Nigeria What?” pioneers Afrobeat wonky, a subgenre described by Sach O as “the audio equivalent of a threesome between a Thai and Swedish chick.” Later in the year, Debruit pulled the same feat on Haitian samples and dropped a mix for Fact that included Wu-Tang, Jeru, and Dam-Funk. Stones Throw, sign this man. —JW

Stream:  Debruit – “Nigeria What” (Left-Click”

Dibia$eMachines Hate Me – [Alpha Pup]


When Oh No gets tired of collaborating with Alchemist, he might be well served to work with Watts-raised Dibia$e, LA’s other smoked-out, voice-chopping, video game fanatic. The California cognate to London’s Ikonika, Dibi$e devises his dynamite from funereal Dilla soul, G-funk, and the dusty cartridge and epileptic flashes of 8-bit Nintendo music. Perhaps more than any other producer out of the Low End, Diabia$e has shown a gift for making beats with deep pockets and looser grooves, ideal for L.A.’s underground rappers who fight for what he doesn’t keep for himself. The ones who lose out probably hate him too. –JW

MP3: Dibia$e – “Lumberjack”

El-P Wearegoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 – [Gold Dust]


Funcrush this — 15 instrumental odds and ends too haywire to fit onto a solo rap record. Volume III of Wearegoingtoburninhellmegamixx found El-Producto hawking his garbage on iTunes instead of giving it to Goodwill, with previous installments available only as tour-only affairs (and later for free download.) Cannily aligning himself with a bass-heavy instrumentalist zeitgeist, playing Low End Theory, and forcing one-time Fat Beats fanatics to like the Beebs, El-P stayed inscrutable in 2010, reminding us that he has always been a decade ahead of (ask ailing little Johnny).

This is strictly fam-members only. The commercial market is slim for those who love blistering beats and synthesizers so jittery they need their own medicine cabinet. But for those whose vital nerves have long since been frayed, it’s another glimpse into the evolution of one of the most visionary musicians of the last 15. Beats turn into suites, filled with Valkyrie drums and the orchestral violence of a cinematic car crash. More evidence why El is one of the only musicians who can make sounding like hell seem like a good thing. –Weiss

MP3:Wilder Zoby (prod. by El-P)-”Contagious”

Free the RobotsCntrl Alt Delete  [Alpha Pup]


On his debut Alpha Pup release, Chris Alfaro, the man behind the machine, turns in an album full of synths as quicksilver as its cover. Drums hit with robotic power but a mortal’s flexibility. It gives Free the Robot’s songs a swing that balance the bone-crushingly hard samples that sound salvaged from scrap heaps. Built on the philosophy of everlasting, Free the Robots don’t as much assert a new vision as much as add a different wrinkle, often sleek and punishing, often jazzy and psychedelic. Dance music for robots trying to dance like real people, or real people trying to dance the robot after eating a weed brownie. –JW

MP3: Free the Robots-“Jupiter”

Massive AttackHeligoland – [Virgin]


Rewind a decade and it’s inconceivable that Massive Attack would ever have an album placed on a most slept on list. Alas, the ever-rising flood of music in the internet age means that even the big boys can get lost in the swell. Those of you that did give Heligoland its due listening time know that it offers a maturity and finesse that can only arrive through years of compositional experience and musical experimentation. The electronic knob twiddling of 100th Window is still present on the album, but this feels warmer and more rich — a return to the organic foundations best demonstrated by the pair of Horace Andy collaborations. Better not take a seven year break next time, fellas: internet time is like dog years. — Dan Love

MP3: Massive Attack ft. Hope Sandoval-“Paradise Circus”

Onra Long Distance – [All City]


Onra may just be the most exciting and enthralling beatmaker you never heard of. Long Distance – the Parisian’s third full-length studio album – builds on his previous efforts by incorporating a slab of synth-based electronica into his chopped up-soul aesthetic: Think Dilla meets Dam Funk meets Flying Lotus and you’re probably not far off. As the northern hemisphere continues its descent into short days and long, dark nights the summery sheen of this beat tape might feel out of place in your rotation but it’s just so funky that you won’t care. Vive la revolution, indeed. — Dan Love

MP3: Onra ft. Walter Mecca-“To the Beat”

Paul WhitePaul White & The Purple Brain [Now-Again]


Paul White smokes so much purple he probably dresses in all-paisley. Last year, he told the world of his strange dreams and they’ve apparently gotten weirder. As a result, he hitches his head to the hallucinogenic properties of Swedish psych-rock guru S.T. Mikael, complete with sitars, slinking guitars, and drums that wander like a self-medicated mind. Less instantly catchy than his previous work, The Purple Brain works by osmosis — you need to time to figure out the layout of ectoplasmic vocals, roped-in chaos, and the Winchester Mystery house’s worth of stairwells to nowhere. But when you do, its a rewarding listen that proves that Paul White’s hazy brain is still expanding. That purple. —Weiss

MP3: Paul White-“Ancient Treasure”

Rudi ZygaldoGreat Western LaymenPlanet Mu


During a year in which Planet Mu re-asserted itself as one of the most dependably forward-minded labels in music, Rudi Zygadlo’s debut was overshadowed by the dominance of his label-mates. While Starkey, DJ Nate, Solar Bears, Ital Tek, and Terror Danjah staked their claim at the vanguard of dance music, the taciturn Glaswegian’s vision of post-dubstep was just as technicolor and multi-faceted as any of his contemporaries. Inspired by classical, church liturgies, opera, folk, Zappa, and early ’00s hip-hop, Zygaldo’s music stands out from his peers for his devotion to song-craft, boasting well-constructed hooks, bridges, and breakdowns. Calling these “beats” does them a grave disservice, with their brain-frying synths, ruthless groove, and symphonic inclinations most closely resembling Guido, Nosaj Thing, or even Hot Chip. It’s doubtful Rudi will be on the second team much longer. –-Weiss

MP3: Rudi Zygadlo-“Resealable Friendship”

ScubaTriangulation [Hotflush]


Sure, the Berlin-influenced austerity of Scuba’s Triangulation may seem cold and mechanical compared to loosely programmed Californian Dilla-fun, but the frost never feels forced and the resulting collection bores itself into your brain when you aren’t looking. My favorite moment is undoubtedly “Before”: a 2010 update of the Trip-Hop torch songs favored by early Portishead, Massive Attack and UNKLE. Equally warm and chilly with bombed out drums and half-whispered vocals, the song (not track) lives and dies off mood alone, inspiring thoughts of shadows, spies, love and betrayal. You’ll have to imagine your own scenario however, as director Sam Geer chose to go a more abstract route for the official video, resulting in non-narrative blasts of colors and shapes as druggy as the music itself, but with a side of focused German efficiency. –Sach O

Stream: Scuba – “Before” (Left-Click)

Shed-The Traveler [Ostgut]


Berlin techno auteur Shed veers off course with his second album instead of continuing where 2008’s club-minded Shedding the Past left off. There are no bangers on The Traveller — even drum & bass closer “Leave Things” is too well-mannered for such classification — but there are plenty of slinkers and crawlers. It’s as if Shed is less interested in the pulse of a track as much as its dying twitches. Most of the tracks never allow you to view them head on — you have to settle for millisecond-long glances and peeks from around the corner. The Traveller might be a musical cul-de-sac, but it’s the kind where you’re better off having been along for the ride, even if you end up just a few feet from where you began.–Renato Pagnani

MP3: Shed – “Keep Time”

ShlohmoShlomoshun Deluxe [Friends of Friends]


By year’s end, Shlohmo had already eclipsed his impressive debut Shlomoshun Deluxe, with his Camping EP and remix work displaying the 20-year old’s rapid evolution. But on his first release, the signs were already there in the way Henry Laufer innately explores the empty spaces between earth and sky, paring found sounds (bird chirps, stray city noise, clunky footsteps) to frozen mercury synths and Godzilla bass. He struck compromise between the organic and the chemical, Ableton beats constructed with the coolness of a technician and the lapidary warmth of an artisan. Admittedly, parts of this record show him learning on the fly, but its precocity establishes him as one of the finest talents of the next generation. —Weiss

MP3: Shlohmo – “Hotboxing The Cockpit”

Slim TwigA Sheik In Scores [Self-Released]


A slithering cauldron of doomsday vocals and diseased guitars, Middle Eastern samples and movie scores for the blind, Slim Twig’s Sheik in Scores may be the most fractured pop album of 2010. Boasting a weeded weirdness reminiscent of Quasimoto, Gonjasufi, and King Khan, 22-year old Canadian Max Turnbull shatters his paintings into bits and recombines them as off-color mosaics of serpents and seraphs. Like the man says, “interpret this as a slab of densely psychotic psychedelia, or as a document of outsider hip hop.” If that’s true, then consider this unwrapping. –Weiss

StarkeyEar Drums & Black Holes [Planet Mu]


Starkey makes the kind of music that smacks you across the face with one hand while gently caressing your bruised mug with the other. The Philadelphia producer understands that violence is never too far removed from beauty — on Ear Drums and Black Holes, this usually comes in the form of wiggly Lite-Brite melodies that float through Richter scale bass. “Ok Luv” clobbers with an ear-to-ear grin; “Multidial” swirls in moody daylight while lightning and thunder attack from a cloudless sky; “Neck Snap” snaps necks but makes whiplash sound like a good time. For all the chest-rattling throb of his music’s lower end, what separates Starkey from other merchants of post-dubstep bass music is that underneath all that aggression, he’s got a heart as big as his bass is loud.–Renato Pagnani

MP3: Starkey ft P-Money – Numb

Take Only Mountain [Alpha Pup]


Balancing the experimental with the warmly familiar, Take contorts genres (R&B, jungle, dubstep) into innovative shapes. Many producers struggle to produce a coherent piece of work when shifting to the LP format, but after years of LA DJ gigs and working the remix circuit, Take adapts seamlessly, sublimating the feel of a late night rooftop set with stunning views and making it accessible via headphones and the right high. Overlooked in the deluge of exceptional releases flooding out of the Low End Theory, Take’s gift for melody and songcraft make each song deceptively unique–the type you never skip when it comes on shuffle. On Only Mountain, Take plants a flag at the summit, daring other beatmakers to snatch it away. — Aaron Frank

MP3: Take-“Neon Beams”

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