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  • 2011 so far...

    20 Nov 2011, 10:31

    Active Child - You Are All I See

    This is an absolutely gorgeous record. Vocally, Grossi switches seamlessly between, well, a normal-pitched singer and an angelic choirboy to stunning effect. Musically, there are strands of M83 (when he was good still…) and you could loosely categorise this as dream-pop, but Grossi draws from so many different genres (check out the r‘n’b stylings on ‘Playing House’) that it stands completely apart from the competition. The use of his harp adds a whole new layer of dreaminess to the mix and sits in nice contrast to the electronic beats underlying his work. Stunning, stunning, stunning.

    9.5/10


    Africa HiTech - 93 Million Miles

    I find 93 Million Miles a bit underwhelming. It’s quite rhythm-heavy but the rhythms generally sit in a muddy patch between the hypnotic effect of minimal techno and the juicy complexity of ‘IDM’. I thoroughly enjoyed my first half a dozen listens, don’t’ get me wrong, but I haven’t felt inspired to revisit it much since. ‘Our Luv’ is the standout track which harks back to Pritchard’s beset work as Harmonic 313, and I think the reason it stands out is because it packs in more emotion than the rest of the album combined. Perhaps I’m listening to this in the wrong context - I’m sure it’s all a lot more captivating at 1am on the dance floor. Enjoyable, but not essential listening.

    7/10


    Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto - Summvs

    Whenever I’ve listened to this I’ve enjoyed it. There’s something wonderfully delicate about Sakamoto’s ethereal piano flourishes and Alva Noto’s sparse rhythms. This is an album to be listened to at night, even more so than previous releases by these two. In this album, though, Sakamoto’s piano is pushed more to the front, and I think as a result I find I can’t really remember much of the music - none of it really stands out. The duo’s masterpiece, ‘Insen’, was most breathtaking and hypnotic at the points where the two musicians collided, when Alva Noto would take the piano and break it down into microscopic pieces. Here the piano is cleaner and consequently less memorable. Still, it is worth repeated listens and I’m perhaps doing it a disservice by comparing it too much with Insen. It’s better than what most artists are producing.

    7.5/10


    Banjo Or Freakout - Banjo Or Freakout

    This album of hazy dream-pop has had be coming back for more at regular intervals. A good reference point is Deerhunter during their cheerier moments, often eschewing traditional song structure and taking cues from ambient music as much as rock. Like Deerhunter, this remains utterly fresh after many listens. The highlight for me is ‘Idiot Rain’ with its dreamy falling arpeggios and languid 6/8 beat setting the scene for a captivating final section. The music ebbs and flows throughout, changing pace and tone, yet always with the same satisfyingly hazy aesthetic.

    8.5/10


    Biosphere - N-Plants

    My listening stats speak volumes about my love of Biosphere’s work, and so I was very excited by N-Plants. Too excited perhaps, because I found the album somewhat underwhelming. It’s good music, and I’d be pretty pleased were it from pretty much anyone else, but the normal arctic iciness of his music has gone, and that’s part of what made works like ‘Substrata’ so engaging. There are pretty melodies, and a surprising Boards Of Canada-esque moment on the standout ‘Genkai’ which make this worth a listen, but if you’re new to the great man, start elsewhere.

    7.5/10


    Blanck Mass - Blanck Mass

    Lot’s of euphoric drones and twinkling synths here, firmly situated in the Emeralds/Fennesz school of melodic fuzziness. It’s nice enough but most of it simply soaks over me and I find my mind drifting elsewhere. That is, apart from the sonic maelstrom of penultimate track ‘What You Know’, which adds a bit of much needed bite to the proceedings, gradually mutating over an encapsulating 13 minutes. This is a strong contender for track of the year and marks Blanck Mass as one to watch.

    7/10


    Daniel Thomas Freeman - The Beauty Of Doubting Yourself

    This is a truly epic ambient masterpiece, never more so than on the crushing drones of the 22 minute long 'Staring Into Black Water', slowly and majesticly mutating throughout as other elements rise and fall. For me, great ambient music is often defiend by its floating quality, but this is more like being at the bottom of the ocean, completely enveloped by the beautiful sounds. Unlike Eno's concept of ambient music, this draws the listener in and holds them rapt for its long duration, which is the only drawback to the album: it is a sprawling epic, so you need to set aside enough time to really appreciate its intricacies. That though, is perhaps the best complaint you could have about an album.

    9/10


    The Decemberists[/aritst] - The King Is Dead

    Confirming them yet again as one of the greatest bands of the past 10 years, ‘The King Is Dead’ is another triumph of Americana from The Decemberists. Less theatrical than their previous releases (although still more so than most bands), Colin Meloy’s vocals still tell wonderful stories and I doubt this year will produce more poetic lyrics than the gorgeous and melancholy ‘June Hymn’. There are dark moments and uplifting ones and there’s no doubt you’ve been taken on a journey by the end of the album.

    8.5/10


    Dolphins Into the Future - ...On Sea-Faring Isolation

    Bit weird - not really feeling this one…

    5/10


    Dominik Eulberg - Diorama

    On ‘Diorama‘, Dominik Eulberg sounds like he is channelling the collective spirits of mid and late 90s Warp/Planet Mu techno artists, and I mean this in the best way possible. This is a varied album, with some wonderfully lush melodic techno (‘Der Tanz der Gluehwuermchen’), nostalgic IDM (‘Aeronaut’), and hypnotic minimalism (‘Islandmuschel 400’). Essential for any fan of electronic music.

    8.5/10


    dreissk - The Finding

    Post-rock meets electronica, a bit like Bitcrush, but not as awesome.

    6/10


    Dro Carey - JOURNEY WITH THE HEAVY

    This sounds like a bizarre mash up of early Black Dog, Machine Drum, and Mount Kimbie, and the results are outstanding. I feel like I could listen to this anywhere at any time. Lush melodies are perfect for daytime while the beats and bass could grace a bus journey at night. Highlight for me has to be 'Brite Lotion', which is absurdly funky. A very exciting debut release.

    8.5/10


    Elbow - Build a Rocket Boys

    The opening track 'The Birds' made me very excited for the rest of the album, which then gradually declined into pretty unmemorable mediocrity. Bit of a shame really, as when played live the music was incredible. Stadium rock designed for the stadium rather than the headphones.

    6.5/10


    Eleven Tigers - 111

    Eleven Tigers's debut album last year is an early contender for album of the decade, so I was pretty excited about his sophomore effort. He set himself the challenge of creating an album in 111 days (hence the title), and it kinda feels like exactly that. There are lots of great ideas, but a complete lack of cohesion, sort of like Flying Lotus's Cosmogramma had the potential to be (but thankfully avoided). ET's debut flowed absolutely seemlessly through 15 tracks of dense beats and textures. 111 hops haphazzardly from one idea to the next and it all feels very rough around the edges, which is fine for lo-fi rock, but not in the world of intricate techno. Flashes of brilliance, but it could have been so much more...

    7/10


    Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care. Take Care

    The melodies are pretty enough, but when I get to the end I can't really remember what happened. If you like EITS, you'll like this, but I doubt you'll love it.

    7/10


    The Field - Looping State of Mind

    The Field confirms himself here as one of the vital techno artists of his generation with another utterly hypnotic album. Like Gas, he finds loops that you want to go on forever. The title track is the apex of the album, both in terms of position and in terms of being, well, a simply terrific achievement. Ten minutes of absorbing euphoric synths, with the occasional minor chord thrown in to give the music an edge. Trance music should always sound like this.

    8.5/10


    Forma - Forma

    Layers upon layers of warm, fuzzy synths swirling around in a melancholy, yet uplifting way. Forma sounds like a softer Emeralds, and while this is hardly innovative, it does the whole 'hypnagogic pop' thing very well (this is what I wanted Oneohtrix Point Never to sound like this year...). One of the year's best efforts.

    8/10


    Hype Williams - One Nation

    Hazy, downtempo RnB meets Boards Of Canada meets 'hypnagogic pop', Hype Williams occupy a sonic space which is ultimately completely their own.Perhaps it is the languid beats, maybe the grainy textures, but the music sounds incredibly nonchalant, drifting along at its own pace, motifs coming and going as they please. The rough-around-the-edges feel is part of the appeal, but at times I wish there was more of the precision-programming of my IDM heroes. Only sometimes though; for the most part this is excellent.

    8/10


    Lamb - 5

    Lamb are one of my all-time favourite groups, and I'm not sure I'll ever understand why they aren't talked about in the same breath as Portishead and Massive Attack, aside from the fact that they shouldn't be talked about in the same breath, because they are so much more awesome. Opening track 'Another Language' sums up why I love them - breakbeats that any aspiring IDM producer should take a moment to check out, and Lou Rhodes's haunting vocals are as beautiful as ever. 'Build A Fire' takes their sound in a whole new direction, and from start to finish they barely put a foot wrong. Great comeback from a great band.

    8.5/10


    Lil B. - I'm Gay

    This is a really good hip-hop record. Lil B's rapping is languid as ever and the production is as good as it gets. Rap purists may disagree, but for me a great backing track is as important as the rapping itself, and Lil B and his collaborators have both parts of the formula in plentiful supply. 'Game' is possibly the highlight, although the feel good vibe of 'Get It While It's Good' is pretty darn infectious. By Lil B's standards, this is a very cohesive release, but that's not a criticism - it makes it a much easier listen than the madness (and genius) of '6 Kiss'.

    8/10


    Machine Drum - Room(s)

    Machine Drum has crafted one of the albums of the year, lifting freely from everything that is hip in the electronic world and combining with footwork undertones to create an exhilirating opus. Being Machine Drum, the attention to detail is faultless. Like Prefuse 73, he succeeds in blurring the distinction between rhythm and melody. The album centres around the surprisingly anthemic 'Gbye', with ingenious use of vocal samples harking back to his earliest work. If something as niche as electronica could have a zeitgeist, this would have captured it.

    9/10


    Natalie Beridze - Forgetfulness

    Combining breakbeats, ambient and techno with pop sensibilities, ‘Forgetfulness’ is an album which really does transcend genres. Beridze is clearly a very talented producer who succeeds in making highly accessible music with enough depth and complexity to remain engaging after multiple listens. Blessed with a lovely breathy voice, her vocals are top-notch and this is one of the year’s best.

    9/10


    Neon Indian - Era Extrana

    I am a sucker for hazy textures (massive fan of Fennesz) and catchy choruses (who doesn’t love Ash as much as I do??) and Neon Indian has these in abundance. There is something very satisfying about this package of joyful chillwave nonsense. ‘Hex Girlfriend’, in particular, is intoxicatingly brilliant, ‘Polish Girlfriend’ and ‘Halogen’ are wonderfully uplifting, and who could fall out of love (a pun!) with the 80s synths and vocals on ‘Fallout’, the best song New Order never made?? Buy this, and then hate yourself for loving it.

    8.5/10


    Radiohead - The King of Limbs

    I love Radiohead, and this is an excellent album that makes me love them more. ‘Codex’ is one of the best things they’ve ever done, with Thom Yorke’s vocals as haunting as they’ve ever been and the piano drowning in reverb. Much has been written about the drums and bass and these are perhaps best displayed on the pulsating ‘Little By Little’. The album varies nicely in pace and tone, and my only complaint is that I want more of it!

    9/10


    Raekwon - Shaolin vs. Wu-tang

    This isn't 100% effective, but it's mainly very solid. Raekwon, as always, is awe-inspiring, and the better moments are predictably when he teams up with Ghostface. Even if you aren't a Wu-Tang fan, 'Snake Pond' is a must-listen as Raekwon gets into story-mode and delivers one of the smoothest raps you will ever come across. Generally doesn't touch the heights of the recent OB4CL2, but still a worthy addition to his back-catalogue.

    8/10


    Talib Kweli - Gutter Rainbows

    'Gutter Rainbows' is an excellently constructed hip-hop album, with a good balance between political-edged tracks ('Cold Rain', the title track), raps about friends and family ('Friends and Family'), and Raekwon-esque story-telling ('Tater Tot'). Kweli's rhymes are a cut above almost every other MC out there, and the production is top-notch throughout. Didn't mop up all the plaudits, but I'm not sure why - my hip-hop album of the year.

    9/10


    Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972

    Tim Hecker is one of my all-time favourite artists, and Ravedeath has been mopping up the plaudits on all my favourite review sites, but for some reason I just don't get all the fuss about this album. I can't put my finger on what's missing, but it just doesn't hold me rapt with attention like the rest of his work.

    7/10


    Tycho - Dive

    Chilled breakbeats, lush melodies that are sometimes melancholy and at other times uplifting, lots of reverb, a bit of guitar to complement the warm synths. Think 'The Campfire Headphase' but sometimes at a higher tempo. This never pretends to push the boundaries, it is a tried and tested formula, and the result is one of the year's most instantly gratifying and yet also one of its most enduring albums.

    8.5/10


    Winterlight - Hope Dies Last

    Where Tycho succeeded in creating engaging, dreamy electronica, Winterlight have mostly failed. 'Hope Dies Last' is like an n5md cariacature (sp?). The best releases on that label (e.g. Bitcrush's 'In Distance') tear apart the (silly) accusation that electronic music lacks emotion. Winterlight, conversely, use every emotive cliche in the book to create something which (apart from the ethereal vocals on the first track) manages to be utterly bland. The warm harmonies on the surface are pleasant enough for a few listens, but once you're accustomed to the veneer there's no depth to keep the listener engaged.

    5/10
  • 2011 so far...

    20 Nov 2011, 10:31

    Active Child - You Are All I See

    This is an absolutely gorgeous record. Vocally, Grossi switches seamlessly between, well, a normal-pitched singer and an angelic choirboy to stunning effect. Musically, there are strands of M83 (when he was good still…) and you could loosely categorise this as dream-pop, but Grossi draws from so many different genres (check out the r‘n’b stylings on ‘Playing House’) that it stands completely apart from the competition. The use of his harp adds a whole new layer of dreaminess to the mix and sits in nice contrast to the electronic beats underlying his work. Stunning, stunning, stunning.

    9.5/10


    Africa HiTech - 93 Million Miles

    I find 93 Million Miles a bit underwhelming. It’s quite rhythm-heavy but the rhythms generally sit in a muddy patch between the hypnotic effect of minimal techno and the juicy complexity of ‘IDM’. I thoroughly enjoyed my first half a dozen listens, don’t’ get me wrong, but I haven’t felt inspired to revisit it much since. ‘Our Luv’ is the standout track which harks back to Pritchard’s beset work as Harmonic 313, and I think the reason it stands out is because it packs in more emotion than the rest of the album combined. Perhaps I’m listening to this in the wrong context - I’m sure it’s all a lot more captivating at 1am on the dance floor. Enjoyable, but not essential listening.

    7/10


    Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto - Summvs

    Whenever I’ve listened to this I’ve enjoyed it. There’s something wonderfully delicate about Sakamoto’s ethereal piano flourishes and Alva Noto’s sparse rhythms. This is an album to be listened to at night, even more so than previous releases by these two. In this album, though, Sakamoto’s piano is pushed more to the front, and I think as a result I find I can’t really remember much of the music - none of it really stands out. The duo’s masterpiece, ‘Insen’, was most breathtaking and hypnotic at the points where the two musicians collided, when Alva Noto would take the piano and break it down into microscopic pieces. Here the piano is cleaner and consequently less memorable. Still, it is worth repeated listens and I’m perhaps doing it a disservice by comparing it too much with Insen. It’s better than what most artists are producing.

    8/10


    Banjo Or Freakout - Banjo Or Freakout

    This album of hazy dream-pop has had be coming back for more at regular intervals. A good reference point is Deerhunter during their cheerier moments, often eschewing traditional song structure and taking cues from ambient music as much as rock. Like Deerhunter, this remains utterly fresh after many listens. The highlight for me is ‘Idiot Rain’ with its dreamy falling arpeggios and languid 6/8 beat setting the scene for a captivating final section. The music ebbs and flows throughout, changing pace and tone, yet always with the same satisfyingly hazy aesthetic.

    9/10


    Biosphere - N-Plants

    My listening stats speak volumes about my love of Biosphere’s work, and so I was very excited by N-Plants. Too excited perhaps, because I found the album somewhat underwhelming. It’s good music, and I’d be pretty pleased were it from pretty much anyone else, but the normal arctic iciness of his music has gone, and that’s part of what made works like ‘Substrata’ so engaging. There are pretty melodies, and a surprising Boards Of Canada-esque moment on the standout ‘Genkai’ which make this worth a listen, but if you’re new to the great man, start elsewhere.

    7.5/10


    Blanck Mass - Blanck Mass

    Lot’s of euphoric drones and twinkling synths here, firmly situated in the Emeralds/Fennesz school of melodic fuzziness. It’s nice enough but most of it simply soaks over me and I find my mind drifting elsewhere. That is, apart from the sonic maelstrom of penultimate track ‘What You Know’, which adds a bit of much needed bite to the proceedings, gradually mutating over an encapsulating 13 minutes. This is a strong contender for track of the year and marks Blanck Mass as one to watch.

    7/10


    The Decemberists[/aritst] - The King Is Dead

    Confirming them yet again as one of the greatest bands of the past 10 years, ‘The King Is Dead’ is another triumph of Americana from The Decemberists. Less theatrical than their previous releases (although still more so than most bands), Colin Meloy’s vocals still tell wonderful stories and I doubt this year will produce more poetic lyrics than the gorgeous and melancholy ‘June Hymn’. There are dark moments and uplifting ones and there’s no doubt you’ve been taken on a journey by the end of the album.

    8.5/10


    Dolphins Into the Future - ...On Sea-Faring Isolation

    Bit weird - not really feeling this one…

    5/10


    Dominik Eulberg - Diorama

    On ‘Diorama‘, Dominik Eulberg sounds like he is channelling the collective spirits of mid and late 90s Warp/Planet Mu techno artists, and I mean this in the best way possible. This is a varied album, with some wonderfully lush melodic techno (‘Der Tanz der Gluehwuermchen’), nostalgic IDM (‘Aeronaut’), and hypnotic minimalism (‘Islandmuschel 400’). Essential for any fan of electronic music.

    9/10


    The Field - Looping State of Mind

    The Field confirms himself here as one of the vital techno artists of his generation with another utterly hypnotic album. Like Gas, he finds loops that you want to go on forever. The title track is the apex of the album, both in terms of position and in terms of being, well, a simply terrific achievement. Ten minutes of absorbing euphoric synths, with the occasional minor chord thrown in to give the music an edge. Trance music should always sound like this.

    8.5/10


    Natalie Beridze - Forgetfulness

    Combining breakbeats, ambient and techno with pop sensibilities, ‘Forgetfulness’ is an album which really does transcend genres. Beridze is clearly a very talented producer who succeeds in making highly accessible music with enough depth and complexity to remain engaging after multiple listens. Blessed with a lovely breathy voice, her vocals are top-notch and this is one of the year’s best.

    9/10


    Neon Indian - Era Extrana

    I am a sucker for hazy textures (massive fan of Fennesz) and catchy choruses (who doesn’t love Ash as much as I do??) and Neon Indian has these in abundance. There is something very satisfying about this package of joyful chillwave nonsense. ‘Hex Girlfriend’, in particular, is intoxicatingly brilliant, ‘Polish Girlfriend’ and ‘Halogen’ are wonderfully uplifting, and who could fall out of love (a pun!) with the 80s synths and vocals on ‘Fallout’, the best song New Order never made?? Buy this, and then hate yourself for loving it.

    8.5/10


    Radiohead - The King of Limbs

    I love Radiohead, and this is an excellent album that makes me love them more. ‘Codex’ is one of the best things they’ve ever done, with Thom Yorke’s vocals as haunting as they’ve ever been and the piano drowning in reverb. Much has been written about the drums and bass and these are perhaps best displayed on the pulsating ‘Little By Little’. The album varies nicely in pace and tone, and my only complaint is that I want more of it!

    9/10
  • Top 10 of 2010 - recommendations please!

    4 Ene 2011, 22:22

    10. Arandel - In D

    Arandel is an enigmatic French producer whose identity is not publicly known. Enigmas exist in the murky waters of electronic music to the point of gross parody; enigmatic producers with enough talent to carry off being enigmatic, though, are a rarer breed. Arandel, fortunately for us, is just that. ‘In D’ draws influence from all over the place, sounding reminiscent at times of Susumu Yokota, Murcof, and many more. Despite this diversity of sounds, the album flows smoothly between tracks - Arandel patches together his vast array of ideas, much like Flying Lotus but operating at the opposite end of the electronic spectrum.


    9. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot...The Son Of Chico Dusty

    I’ve never really gotten into Outkast, which is a shame because it meant I put off buying this masterpiece. The beats are varied and brilliant, and Big Boi’s rapping is absolutely spot on. I need not say more - if you like rap, you should listen to this.


    8. Oneohtrix Point Never - Returnal

    It's a shame The Wire insists on calling this sort of music Hypnagogic Pop and a further shame that the term crops up in every other paragraph in that magazine, because my irritation at that habit prevented me picking up one of the albums of the year until late December. What's even more annoying is that I'm now trying and failing to describe the music without referring to 'H-pop'. 'Returnal' is a dreamy, hazy soundtrack to some dreamy, hazy experience. Layers upon layers of lush synths are used to create dreamy, hazy soundscapes (perhaps 'dreamcore' would be an even worse genre name?) with a wonderful hypnotic quality. In the absence of a Tim Hecker LP this year, this has given me my latest fix of immersive drone-based music (albeit stylistically very different from Tim Hecker's work). This is the perfect complement to another outstanding Editions Mego realease, Emeralds' 'Does It Look Like I'm Here', and I could happily spend all of today listening to one then the other if it weren't for pesky social commitments...


    7. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma

    I never really understood all the fuss about Los Angeles, and I still don’t. Cosmogramma, conversely, blew my socks off. Flying Lotus has packed enough ideas and creativity into this release to fill two or three albums. The challenge, seemingly for him, is not finding great hooks, but trying to hold together the bombardment of beats and melodies and make them into a cohesive whole. The amount going on threatens to overwhelm the listener, but it successfully teeters on the edge of madness without ever falling in, like Squarepusher or Aphex on top of their respective games. Cosmogramma is possibly the coolest album since Prefuse 73’s One Word Extinguisher.


    6. Taylor Deupree - Shoals

    The best ambient music has a floating quality - it evolves almost imperceptibly, a floating soundscape. Shoals has this ethereal quality. It is utterly captivating, but you can’t put your finger on why that should be the case - the music ebbs and flows like the tide, building up layers of Japanese and Gamelan instrumentation. If you listen carefully you can distinguish patterns which emerge, but for the most part the music exists in stasis. The attention to detail here is astonishing - Deupree holds his compositions together without the rhythms or even melodies to provide focus - and the results are stunning.


    5. Shed - The Traveller

    A cracking techno release, The Traveller, sounds like The Black Dog's 'Bytes' updated for 2010. Bubbly synths dance about over classic techno beats with occasional ambient leanings. For lack of a better description, this is intelligent techno and it's done very very well. Simplicity is its virtue, which is why it draws my mind towards early 90s Warp as a reference point. That is not to say that it sounds derivative - it is firmly rooted in 2010, with the almost obligatory dubstep references thrown in for measure - even these, though, exist only to supplement Shed's own udpating of some classic sounds. It's been a great year for techno, and this is one of the highlights.


    4. Emeralds - Does It Look Like I'm Here?

    Can't recommend this one highly enough - when I got this I played it on repeat at work for two days straight. It is truly hypnotic electronica. Swirls of spacey synths and twinkling guitar are layered and layered to create symphonic sounds which swoop and soar. There is something wonderfully epic and euphoric about what Emeralds have created here. There is nothing too intricate or fancy, just great harmonies. I'm finding it difficult to write much here, but I suppose the music speaks for itself.


    3. Actress - Splazsh

    Splazsh has been something of a slow-burner in my affections. I've kept coming back to it time and time again as other albums have come and gone and it gets better and better with every play. Actress hops smoothly between genres, from the lush minimal techno of the opener through the disco briliance of 'Purple Splazsh' and the Autechre-homage of 'Wrong Potion'. In spite of the stylistic diversity, the album flows brilliantly and is one of the year's finest releases.


    2. Slacker - Start A New Life

    I can’t remember the last time I was this sucked in by a ‘chill-out’ record. Possibly not since royksopp‘s ‘Melody a.m.’ or maybe Board’s Of Canada’s ‘The Campfire Headphase’. Slacker has found himself a number of blissed out hooks, some of them quite emotionally engaging. But lots of people have done that over the years. What sets ‘Start a New Life’ apart from the crowd is what Slacker does underneath his melodies. He is clearly a talented and astute producer who keeps his breakbeats ever evolving at the bottom of the mix, and so the tracks remain fresh under his hypnotic melodic loops. Influences are drawn from far and wide, with direct homage paid to Aphex Twin and The Orb, but the music retains a distinct originality. This is nothing groundbreaking, it’s just done very, very well.


    1. Eleven Tigers - Clouds Are Mountains

    YES!!!!! That's the response this album elicits from me. Clouds Are Mountains is a sublime album. Skittering beats fusing dubstep and jungle, haunting harmonies, sometimes beautiful, other times nightmarish, and outstanding use of vocal samples. This could be the follow-up to Burial's 'Untrue'. It might even be better. Every track here is a winner. Eleven Tigers has so many great ideas and he keeps the album moving along at breakneck speed, each track constantly changing, no idea outstaying its welcome, the album remaining fresh after repeated plays. An absolute must for fans of electronic music.
  • 2010 so far - reviews

    28 Jul 2010, 6:14

    These are my thoughts on some of the albums I’ve heard so far in 2010. I’ll be adding to it as I hear new things/get round to reviewing old things. Any recommendations are welcomed.

    Slacker - Start A New Life

    I can’t remember the last time I was this sucked in by a ‘chill-out’ record. Possibly not since royksopp‘s ‘Melody a.m.’ or maybe Board’s Of Canada’s ‘The Campfire Headphase’. Slacker has found himself a number of blissed out hooks, some of them quite emotionally engaging. But lots of people have done that over the years. What sets ‘Start a New Life’ apart from the crowd is what Slacker does underneath his melodies. He is clearly a talented and astute producer who keeps his breakbeats ever evolving at the bottom of the mix, and so the tracks remain fresh under his hypnotic melodic loops. Influences are drawn from far and wide, with direct homage paid to Aphex Twin and The Orb, but the music retains a distinct originality. This is nothing groundbreaking, it’s just done very, very well.

    9/10


    Alva Noto - For 2

    Alva Noto is one of the most talented producers around, and For 2 is testament to that fact. Stylistically it is one of his more diverse releases, ranging from floating soundscapes to intricate rhythmic structures. This makes it easier to dip in and out of than, say, Xerrox 2 - it is an easier listen, but the flipside of this is that it is less encapsulating than his best work. This is only a minor criticism though - for most artists working in this area, For 2 would be a career highlight.

    7.5/10


    Arandel - In D

    Arandel is an enigmatic French producer whose identity is not publicly known. Enigmas exist in the murky waters of electronic music to the point of gross parody; enigmatic producers with enough talent to carry off being enigmatic, though, are a rarer breed. Arandel, fortunately for us, is just that. ‘In D’ draws influence from all over the place, sounding reminiscent at times of Susumu Yokota, Murcof, and many more. Despite this diversity of sounds, the album flows smoothly between tracks - Arandel patches together his vast array of ideas, much like Flying Lotus but operating at the opposite end of the electronic spectrum. One of the most exciting records of the year so far.

    8.5/10


    Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma

    I never really understood all the fuss about Los Angeles, and I still don’t. Cosmogramma, conversely, blew my socks off. Flying Lotus has packed enough ideas and creativity into this release to fill two or three albums. The challenge, seemingly for him, is not finding great hooks, but trying to hold together the bombardment of beats and melodies and make them into a cohesive whole. The amount going on threatens to overwhelm the listener, but it successfully teeters on the edge of madness without ever falling in, like Squarepusher or Aphex on top of their respective games. Cosmogramma is possibly the coolest album since Prefuse 73’s One Word Extinguisher.

    9/10


    Taylor Deupree - Shoals

    The best ambient music has a floating quality - it evolves almost imperceptibly, a floating soundscape. Shoals has this ethereal quality. It is utterly captivating, but you can’t put your finger on why that should be the case - the music ebbs and flows like the tide, building up layers of Japanese and Gamelan instrumentation. If you listen carefully you can distinguish patterns which emerge, but for the most part the music exists in stasis. The attention to detail here is astonishing - Deupree holds his compositions together without the rhythms or even melodies to provide focus - and the results are stunning.

    9/10


    Autechre - Oversteps

    Was 2005 the last great year for the legends of IDM? That year saw Boards of Canada release ‘The Campfire Headphase’, Squarepusher released ‘Ultravisitor’, Aphex Twin gave us ‘Chosen Lords’, and Autechre released ‘Untilted’. Prefuse 73 chipped in with ‘Surrounded By Silence’. What have any of these done since which matches up to the class of 2005? Autechre have released two full lengths since then. ‘Quaristice’ had one flash of brilliance with ‘Simmm’, but I was utterly unmoved by the rest. So what of Oversteps? For a start, it is better than Quaristice, although the opening three tracks do little to whet the appetite. What follows for 5 tracks from pt2ph8 through os veix3 (especially Treale - badass yet fragile) is some of the finest material they’ve produced in years. The album is worth getting almost for this sequence alone - it is Autechre at their very best. But sadly it serves as a tantalising glimpse of what could have been - a flicker of the outrageous talent these guys have. Perhaps it is unfair to imply that that talent does not show through on the rest of the album. Autechre choose what sort of music they want to make, and evidently much of what interests them right now does not align well with my own tastes. Which is a shame, because very few artists have better captured what I like over the years.

    7/10


    Jonsi - Go

    I love Sigur Ros - their music moves me like no other artist I’ve discovered. So it was with great excitement that I awaited Jonsi’s debut solo album. Was it worth the wait? Yes, in a word. Alongside Thom Yorke, Jonsi has one of the most emotionally affecting voices I’ve ever come across, and it is centre-stage in this album. The music here ranges from the heartbreaking balladry of ‘Tornado’ to the unabashed joy of ‘Animal Arithmetic’, ‘Boy Lilikoi’ (surely two contenders for the song of the year), and the title track. Musically, it has the unmistakeable signature of Sigur Ros, but like Thom Yorke’s ‘The Eraser’ which had a ‘Radiohead’ feel to it, it is an album the band would never have produced. Of course, such talk is largely redundant. What matters is that Jonsi has created one of the albums of the year. He is one of the most extraordinary songwriters of his or any other generation, with a touch of enigma and an astonishing voice. ‘Go’ is perfect testament to his abilities.

    8.5/10


    65daysofstatic - We Were Exploding Anyway

    65dos are a frustrating bunch. ‘The Fall Of Math’ was one of the greatest albums of the last decade. As a debut it was astonishing - epic from start to finish, effortlessly melding post-rock and drum & bass into a cacophony of musical nirvana. Since then they have yet to produce a consistent album. And to be frank, whilst flashes of pure brilliance have always been prevalent, the level of filler has been on an upward trend. We Were Exploding Anyway takes the filler-to-thriller (sorry, couldn’t resist) ratio to around the 50% mark. I think initially, though, I had judged this album excessively harshly. Lead single ‘Crash Tactics’ had me thoroughly pumped and counting down the days to the release, along with the promise from the band that it was unashamedly epic. Lacking in shame, it certainly is not, as a number of tracks cheaply rip off Pendulum (which isn’t an idea which fills me with excitement…). At first, my disappointment with these derivative slices of tepid dancefloor fodder clouded my appreciation of the better tracks. The aforementioned ‘Crash Tactics’ is a monster, as is ‘Piano Fights’. ‘Come To Me’ is quite effective, if slightly overdrawn, and ‘Go Complex’ has grown on me after my initial dismissal of it. Still, bored by the aimless ‘Debutante’, my mind drifts back to the lethargic tried-and-tested feel of ‘Mountainhead’ and ‘Dance Dance Dance’. As for closing track ‘Tiger Girl’, this is the flipside of being unashamedly epic. Shame can be a overly-stifling emotion, but complete lack of shame is a different and more dangerous beast. Perhaps a small bit of shame would have kept this trundling behemoth of a closer in check? I think the 10 minutes of unrestrained fluff at the end of this album has made me angry about it again, but the flashes of brilliance mean that I will pick up their next album the day it’s released.

    6.5/10


    Future Sound Of London - Environments 3

    With Environments 3, FSOL have produced a very solid ambient album, which feels a bit like the happier, more outgoing younger sibling of the 1994 classic Lifeforms. Overflowing with found sounds, it is often difficult to discern one track from the next. FSOL work at creating a tapestry of sound, rather than working with clear-cut melodies and rhythms. Rarely with their music is there one memorable hook, and for that reason, perhaps, I often forget how much I enjoy their work. Having been the ambient darlings of Virgin Records in the 90s, FSOL have fallen away from the forefront of the industry, but Environments 3 could be a slow-burner of a release which sees them feature in a few end-of-year best-of lists amongst the ambient community.

    7.5/10


    Mount Kimbie - Crooks & Lovers

    Crooks & Lovers is drowning in hype at the moment. There’s a lot of album-of-the-year chat flying around, which on the first few listens seemed utterly preposterous. But having just listened to it 5 times in a row, I must say it has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about it. Pretentious as that phrase is, ‘je ne sais quoi’ is actually quite accurate, as I cannot find anything in any track which justifies how addictive this album is. There aren’t really any of the haunting atmospherics of Burial or iTAL tEK, monster grooves like Distance, or intricate beats like 10-20. ‘Mayor‘ is the only really memorable track, and it‘s the penultimate track on the album. But in spite of all this, I’ve given the album 20 plays through and I still want more. Mount Kimbie have captured something in their music. Perhaps it’s the lack of pretense and theatrics which makes this so appealing, much like this year’s release by Slacker (see above). Whatever it is, I like it, a lot. Perhaps not album of the year, but definitely one to check out.

    8.5/10


    BJ Nilsen - The Invisible City

    I’m finding it quite hard to write about The Invisible City, because not a lot really happens, yet the album is very immersive. Nilsen works with a mixture of drones and field recordings to create slow-moving, hypnotic soundscapes. The title of the record is apt - Nilsen’s music here has an isolationist feel. It is often highly claustrophobic, although it also touches on softer emotions at points. Not an album to dip in and out of - it is a submersive listen, and a very satisfying one.

    7.5/10


    Eleven Tigers - Clouds Are Mountains

    YES!!!!! That's the response this album elicits from me. Clouds Are Mountains is a sublime album. Skittering beats fusing dubstep and jungle, haunting harmonies, sometimes beautiful, other times nightmarish, and outstanding use of vocal samples. This could be the follow-up to Burial's 'Untrue'. It might even be better. Every track here is a winner. Eleven Tigers has so many great ideas and he keeps the album moving along at breakneck speed, each track constantly changing, no idea outstaying its welcome, the album remaining fresh after repeated plays. An absolute must for fans of electronic music.

    9.5/10


    Proem - Enough Conflict

    I was left slightly underwhelmed by the latest Lights Out Asia release, but Proem has given me my n5md fix for the year with this slice of lush classic-sounding (for lack of a better term) IDM. 'Enough Conflict' is all melodic synths over skittering grainy breakbeats. Where Proem's masterpiece 'Socially Inept' had a very human feel to it, 'Enough Conflict' is laced more often with the warm yet alien feel of a lot of early Autechre - the beatwork sounds like Incunabula updated for the new decade (a big compliment). But I don't want to make it sound as if Proem is being overly derivative, and in the latter half, the album really takes on a life of its own, with 'Kalimba Jam' adding a very different flavour to the mix, and later the majestic 'Seafaring Velvet Waltz' which sits as the album's peak before Proem winds it down. 'Enough Conflict' isn't groundbreaking - it sits firmly within the boundaries defined by more 'experimental' IDM artists - but it doesn't need to be, because Proem has an amaxing ability to make truly emotive electonic music.

    8/10


    Lights Out Asia - In The Days Of Jupiter

    It's difficult not to judge a new album against earlier work by the artist, which is a shame for 'In The Days Of Jupiter' as it's really not a bad album - it just hasn't come anywhere close to the expectations I had after 'Eyes Like Brontide'. LOA are still writing the same wistful harmonies and twinkling melodies, but gone is the underlying tension that drove 'Eyes Like Brontide' forward towards its epic finale. 'In The Days Of Jupiter' is a far more expansive afair - in some ways it feels like the aftermath of the epic 'Six Points Of Fire' which closed their last album, like the wistful soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic documentary. In the end I think that's quite an apt description; In The Days Of Jupiter will provide a nice accompaniment to whatever you're doing, but it won't necessarily make you stop and really pay attention. Some good moments, but often a bit close to post-rock-quiet-bits-101.

    7/10


    Squarepusher - Shobaleader One: d'Demonstrator

    No, it's not Feed Me Weird Things, Hard Normal Daddy, Go Plastic, or Ultravisitor. And don't get me wrong, I would love someone to produce another Go Plastic. But Squarepusher's already made those albums, and after two albums of attempted homage to his past glories he's finally moved on to produce something new. This doesn't have the fascinating complexities of the works I've already mentioned, but it does throw to the forefront Squarepusher's ability to write emotionally engaging melodies - an area I've wanted to hear him develop ever since I first heard 'Iambic 9 Poetry'. The opener 'Plug Me In' is gorgeous (and I am always a sucker for vocoders - think 'In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country' by Boards of Canada) with its pretty guitar lines, and there are similarly affecting melodies strewn across the next couple of tracks. 'Megazine' is a pleasingly raucous afair, and 'Abstract Lover' again has a wonderfully wistful vocodered chorus before we move into the space funk of 'Endless Night'. My only complaint is the lazy 'freak out' at the end of the closing track (the track starts so promisingly!). Certainly an album which will split opinions, but I think it's great.

    8/10


    Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest

    This was the release I have been the single most excited about so far in 2010. Microcastles was one of the greatest albums of the last decade and set the bar very high for this album. And Deerhunter have succeeded by pulling off the trick all great bands have - Halcyon Digest is recognisably Deerhunter while sounding very little like their earlier work. It is a far more jangly affair than earlier work. Where Microcastles built up to the pounding freak-out of 'Nothing Ever Happened To Me', Halcyon Digest centres around the twinkling underwater melodies of 'Helicopter', featuring an astounding vocal performance from Bradford Cox. There's not much more to be said here. For Deerhunter fans, this is another classicto add to the collection. For the uninitiated, this is another reason to join in the fun.

    8/10


    Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

    Setting aside the fact that Kanye is a ludicrous human being, this is a great hip-hop album. Stylistically it is all over the place, the samples flitting from genre to genre, and the effect is dazzling rather than lacking in coherence - Kanye's production hasn't touched these heights since The College Dropout. Happily, his rapping has also come on a bit in those intervening years - he will never be a Nas, Ghostface or Eminem, but it is a solid performance here. Unsurprisingly it is the guests who steal the show - Nicki Minaj on Monster provides the album's highpoint over one of Kanye's finest beats to date (Jay-Z's flow is spot on here as well even if lyrically it's disastrous, before a lethargic effort on the otherwise excellent 'So Appalled'). He may be utterly ridiculous, but if he lost that aspect of this character we'd probably also lose the maverick genius too. It's certainly not a perfect hip-hop album (the second half doesn't stand up tothe first), but when it works it is sublime.

    8/10


    Emeralds - Does It Look Like I'm Here?

    Can't recommend this one highly enough - when I got this I played it on repeat at work for two days straight. It is truly hypnotic electronica. Swirls of spacey synths and twinkling guitar are layered and layered to create symphonic sounds which swoop and soar. There is something wonderfully epic and euphoric about what Emeralds have created here. There is nothing too intricate or fancy, just great harmonies. I'm finding it difficult to write much here, but I suppose the music speaks for itself.

    9/10


    Actress - Splazsh

    Splazsh has been something of a slow-burner in my affections. I've kept coming back to it time and time again as other albums have come and gone and it gets better and better with every play. Actress hops smoothly between genres, from the lush minimal techno of the opener through the disco briliance of 'Purple Splazsh' and the Autechre-homage of 'Wrong Potion'. In spite of the stylistic diversity, the album flows brilliantly and is one of the year's finest releases.

    9/10


    Scuba - Triangulation

    Whilst sounding quite different, this reminds me a bit of Burial, in that there is something very gritty and urban about the sounds on offer here. Elements of dubstep, techno, house are all at play in this dark journey as Scuba's insistent beats propel the listener into the void. It is a compelling listen, revolving around the haunting and ethereal 'Before', which is a strong candidate for track of the year. Definitely one to immerse yourself in.

    9/10


    Shed - The Traveller

    Another cracking techno release, The Traveller sounds like The Black Dog's 'Bytes' updated for 2010. Bubbly synths dance about over classic techno beats with occasional ambient leanings. For lack of a better description, this is intelligent techno and it's done very very well. Simplicity is its virtue, which is why it draws my mind towards early 90s Warp as a reference point. That is not to say that it sounds derivative - it is firmly rooted in 2010, with the almost obligatory dubstep references thrown in for measure - even these, though, exist only to supplement Shed's own udpating of some classic sounds. It's been a great year for techno, and this is one of the highlights.

    9/10


    Oneohtrix Point Never - Returnal

    It's a shame The Wire insists on calling this sort of music Hypnagogic Pop and a further shame that the term crops up in every other paragraph in that magazine, because my irritation at that habit prevented me picking up one of the albums of the year until late December. What's even more annoying is that I'm now trying and failing to describe the music without referring to 'H-pop'. 'Returnal' is a dreamy, hazy soundtrack to some dreamy, hazy experience. Layers upon layers of lush synths are used to create dreamy, hazy soundscapes (perhaps 'dreamcore' would be an even worse genre name?) with a wonderful hypnotic quality. In the absence of a Tim Hecker LP this year, this has given me my latest fix of immersive drone-based music (albeit stylistically very different from Tim Hecker's work). This is the perfect complement to another outstanding Editions Mego realease, Emeralds' 'Does It Look Like I'm Here', and I could happily spend all of today listening to one then the other if it weren't for pesky social commitments...

    9/10


    Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday

    I bought this off the back of Nicki’s standout performance on Kanye’s ‘Monster’, and like many critics I was surprised by how poppy much of this record is. Opener ‘I’m The Best’ is all 90s synths - not a breathtaking opener, but Nicki’s flow shines through, and it’s enjoyable stuff. The same is true on most of the poppy tracks (aside from the atrocious ‘Check It Out’), and she also has a great singing voice. Still, it’s the hip-hop tracks which stand out. ‘Roman’s Revenge’ is possibly the highlight - Nicki takes a while to warm up and threatens to be overwhelmed by Eminem’s brilliance (think Jay-Z’s ‘Renegade’), but pulls through with a cracking second verse. The momentum continues with the dirty ‘Did It On’em’, before we move back into pop territory. The other standout moments are the fantastically produced (thanks, Kanye) ‘Blazin’ and the haunting distorted piano backing on ‘Here I am’. These are great tracks propelled along by Nicki’s rapping, and in the end it is a source of frustration that this is such a poppy album, not because the pop tracks are bad, but rather because the hip-hop is so electrifying and I want more of it.

    7.5/10


    Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

    From the moment the first driving guitar chord hits in, until three minutes later when the chord first changes, you know you’re listening to a Swans album, but it is most definitely a Swans album that belongs in 2010. The tempos have increased - after its funereal start, opener ‘NoWorlds/No Thoughts’ positively bubbles along - and the sound is, if not polished, at least a lot less jagged than their old work. Musically, though, they have lost none of their power to astonish (‘Jim’ is the standout track here) and there are still quite a few sonic curveballs to contend with (‘You F*****g People Make Me Sick’ is never going to be a chart-topper). If you haven’t heard Swans before, this is a pretty good entry point. If you’re a Swans fan and you don’t have this yet, you’re really missing out.

    8/10


    Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot...The Son Of Chico Dusty

    I’ve never really gotten into Outkast, which is a shame because it meant I put off buying this masterpiece. The beats are varied and brilliant, and Big Boi’s rapping is absolutely spot on. I need not say more - if you like rap, you should listen to this.

    9/10
  • Favourite 25 albums of the last decade

    28 Feb 2010, 8:18

    It's been difficult cutting this list down to 25 albums, as the last 10 years have seen a whole lot of excellent albums. But these are what I eventually settled on. I like these lists as a way of discovering stuff i've missed so any comments or recommendations would be great.

    25. Paavoharju - Yhä hämärää (2005)

    I’m not entirely sure how to describe Paavoharju’s music. I’ve never heard anything like it before. Inspiration is drawn from myriad genres, from folk, glitch, classical, ambient, music box, even elements of Fennesz-esque noise creep in at times, complemented by harpsichords, bleeps and everything in between. And I wonder why I’ve never heard anything like this before, because it fits together to perfectly. Ideally, you’d listen to this whilst walking through a dense forest, in a fairy tale - that’s the sort of image this music evokes for me. It is delicate but threatens to darken and overwhelm the listener at any moment. There is a sense that this music is flowing freely - traditional strong structures occasionally rise to the surface but quickly rescind - even so, Paavoharju seem perfectly in control of every moment of this album, which is an impressive achievement given the density of the musical textures here.

    Favourite track: Valo tihkuu kaiken läpi

    24. Murcof - Martes (2002)

    Fusing classical music with modern electronica is a risky business with a high risk of sounding really cringe-worthy. Fortunately Murcof is clearly a very talented composer. He specialises in using his classical samples to add to the sense of sparseness created by his minimalist but hypnotic rhythmic structures. What Murcof does really impressively is to make the listener forget completely that he is fusing together two distinct genres of music, because the classical samples become almost part of the rhythmic fabric of his compositions, rather than standing alone as classical samples. In this respect there are unlikely parallels with the work of Prefuse 73, with the feeling that even the harmonies are part of a cohesive rhythmic whole, rather than fulfilling a separate role within the music.

    Favourite track: Mapa

    23. The Decemberists - Picaresque (2005)

    The Decemberists are one of only a small number of guitar-based bands whose work has really grabbed my attention in the last few years. First and foremost, they have a knack for writing beautiful and catchy tunes, but this is true of a few albums which were nowhere near making it into this list.. What sets The Decemberists apart is their unabashed theatricality, captured spectacularly in the storytelling lyrics of front man Colin Meloy. It is this theatricality, which never strays into trying-too-hard or goes over the top (even on the epic sea-shanty ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song’) which elevates them above the competition. On ‘Picaresque’ they switch effortlessly between beautiful folky ballads like ‘Eli The Barrow Boy’ to uplifting knees-ups like ‘16 Military Wives’ and the aforementioned sea shanty (incidentally a spectacular encore when I saw them live recently). Amongst these pieces of musical theatre, though, what holds it all together is the fact that they write very catchy songs.

    Favourite track: The Engine Driver

    22. Ben Frost - Theory of Machines (2006)

    Often with what is loosely termed electronic music, the first play of a great album can be, if not disappointing, then at least a necessary step towards gaining a full appreciation of the brilliance of the music - getting your head around the complexities and the power of the music comes with repeated plays. Ben Frost’s ‘Theory Of Machines’ is not like this, not at all. Rarely has an album so completely drawn me in on the first listen. And rarely has an album spat me out the other side feeling so battered and bruised. The best way I can sum up Frost’s sound is to imagine Tim Hecker remixing NIN’s Downward Spiral. Sparse electronic structures emerge, occasionally being overcome by bursts of industrial noise, drums drowned in static trying to break up Frost’s drones. ‘Theory of Machines’ is a dark sonic journey, not the sort of album where you dip into your favourite track. Perhaps the album’s high point is ‘Coda’, which in itself is nothing extraordinary, but coming where it does in the album, it is like a release of the tension Frost has spent half an hour slowly building up, and it is truly inspired.

    Favourite track: We Love You Michael Gira

    21. Deerhunter - Microcastle (2008)

    It’s hard to pinpoint what makes Microcastle such an outstandingly good listen. With the other guitar albums on this list, I can easily put my finger on what sets them apart - The Decemberists stand out for their unabashed theatricality, Sufjan Stevens for his lyrics and lush orchestration… Microcastle, though, is (thought not quite at the same level) like the ‘Ok Computer’ of the last decade. It is obviously a rock album, but there is something unconventional about it that’s hard to explain, in that it subtly eschews traditional rock conventions and replaces them with inflections from other genres (think how the drums on Radiohead’s ‘Airbag’ were inspired by the work of DJ Shadow). With Microcastle much of the song construction features the kind of subtly changing repeating motifs associated more with ambient music than rock, which gives much of the music here a hypnotic quality rare in rock, often constructing long passages alternating between just two chords like a looped sequence. Like the best ambient music, it takes a skilled artist to keep these drone-like musical forms engaging, and fortunately Deer hunter are clearly a band of prodigious musical talent. Microcastle marks out Deerhunter as one of the most exciting bands to watch out for in the next decade - it’ll be fascinating to see where they go from here.

    Favourite track: Pyramid Song

    20. M83 - Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts (2003)

    M83 sounds like the illegitimate and unfathomable lovechild of My Bloody Valentine, Explosions In The Sky, and Duran Duran. Various bands have taken the post-rock movement in various different directions. M83 mixes the traditional format with shoegaze and synths. What emerged in this album was epic without shame, verging on cringeworthy accidental self-parody but never quite crossing over into those unfortunate realms (at least not here - see the car crash of a track that is M83’s ‘Car Chase Terror!’ for one example…). This is a truly joyous album, full of rising melodies and gorgeous synth-driven walls of noise, never better executed than on the aptly titled ‘Noise’ which thunders along with a hypnotic quality. ‘Gone’ is possibly the albums highlight, capturing everything I love about this man, including wonderfully outdated echo-effects on the synthesised drums. Listen to this album and you will be a happier person.

    Favourite track: Gone

    19. Sufjan Stevens - Come on Feel the Illinoise (2005)

    Illinois is an album of astonishing scope and its coherence alone is testament to the song-writing ability of Sufjan Stevens. In general the best way to describe his music is as being exceptionally pretty - here the music touches sadness and joy in equal measure and at every stage retains its twinkling quality. Stevens proves himself to be a master of everything between stripped down banjo and guitar tracks and lush orchestration. His voice is soft and pure and in conjunction with his knack for writing great tunes he is also one of the great lyricists of the past decade - see ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ as a perfect example. Whilst often musically very dense, the album has an easygoing flow to it, and there is never a danger of verging into density for the sake of density. Anyone who fails to be moved by the tenderness of ‘The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us!’ or uplifted by ‘Come On Feel The Illinoise! Part 1’ clearly has a heart made of stone. My only complaint is that after listening to him other singer-songwriters sound depressingly vapid…

    Favourite track: Casimir Pulaski Day

    18. Jay-Z - The Blueprint (2001)

    He may not tell stories like Nas or Raekwon or rhyme like Eminem or Kweli, but when he’s on form, Jay-Z raps with a swagger no-one else in the game can match, and The Blueprint is Jay-Z on absolute top form. This is a talented rapper on top of the game, and he knows it, and it shows. Opening with the triumphant ‘The Ruler’s Back’, he flows and rhymes with an infectious confidence and self-belief. The whole vibe of the album is summed up by ‘The Takeover’ where Nas and Prodigy take some heavy lyrical fire as Jay-Z rides on a wave of belief (that said, Nas’s response, ‘Ether’, made ‘The Takeover’ sound like child’s play) with raucous backing from the Roc-a-fella crew. This album oozes catchy hooks and great lines - ‘Girls Girls Girls’ is an ultra-smooth player’s anthem while the Eminem-produced ‘Renegade’ is a flash of passionate anger (worth noting here that Eminem completely steals the show here, angry rap is not Jay-Z’s speciality…). The Blueprint is an immensely cool album - the perfect antidote to a long day at work as I’ve discovered - and I haven’t heard a better rap album this decade.

    Favourite track: Heart Of The City

    16. Fennesz - Endless Summer (2001)
    Endless Summer is rightly recognised as a genre-defining classic - like My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ it features swathes of distortion from which blissed-out music emerges. Often it is the static itself playing a central role in Fennesz‘s compositions, rather than simply being a medium to distort pre-existing melodies. He uses a mixture of drone techniques and more ‘poppy’ constructions to keep the album moving along as it builds to the understatedly epic ‘Happy Audio’ which has an amazing floating quality - slowly morphing over 11 blissful minutes. The term ‘laptop musician’ is often used to describe Fennesz and his musical peers. Endless Summer may not have been the first of its kind, but it is an important milestone in terms of acting as a focal point for a new generation of artists trying to push the boundaries of abstraction whilst holding onto more traditional forms of Western music.

    Favourite track: Happy Audio

    15. Boards of Canada[artist] - Geogaddi (2002)

    There is something wonderfully disconcerting about the music on this album - it follows the typical Boards of Canada method of pastoral melodies over the top of crisp but slow break beats, but every song sounds like there is something slightly amiss, one note which is slightly off-centre to give the music an eerie feeling. Where ‘Music Has The Right To Children’ has an air of childhood nostalgia, Geogaddi is the feeling of waking up after a bad dream as a child - you know deep down it’s alright, but on the surface you can’t get away from that eerie feeling. As is often the case with Boards of Canada’s output, it is delightfully enigmatic, with hidden messages, cryptic titles and backwards vocals strewn all over the place. It’s a shame that they’ve gone off the radar since their 2006 EP, because Geogaddi confirmed their status as one of the most interesting acts in electronic music.

    14. Squarepusher - Ultravisitor (2005)

    I prefer both ‘Go Plastic’ and ‘Feed Me Weird Things’, but ‘Ultravisitor’ definitely has something those albums don’t. There is something sprawling about it - it feels as if it represents Squarepusher’s genius in a way which no other release of his can. For that reason it is a challenging listen - the tracks give a vibe of being slightly improvised, as if Squarepusher is following the music as much as he is explicitly guiding it, in stark contrast to the meticulous sonic assault of Go Plastic. This is Squarepusher embracing his leanings towards jazz whilst still in the midst of the phase of his most brutal drill & bass, and the album oscillates between the heartfelt ‘Iambic 9 Poetry’ and the angry ‘Steinbolt’ with pretty much everything in between. ‘Iambic 9 Poetry’ itself is particularly noteworthy as a rare example of Squarepusher’s overlooked/underused ability to create really emotive music. Ultravisitor is like a best-of but with entirely new music, but in spite of the lack of stylistic cohesion it works well as a cohesive whole and is one of the essential electronic albums of the last decade.

    Favourite track: Iambic 9 Poetry

    13. Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet (2006)

    It’s hard not to reference Fennesz when it comes to Tim Hecker - mainly because Fennesz’s output is the natural reference point and also because, for whatever reason, Fennesz is far better known. Anyway, much like in ‘Endless Summer’, this offering from Tim Hecker consists of grainy, noisy soundscapes from which gorgeous harmonies and melodies emerge. Hecker’s sound palette is dense and rich. If Endless Summer is the (somewhat niche) ambient-meets-shoegaze soundtrack for the beach, Harmony In Ultraviolet is that genre’s soundtrack for the hills and mountains. For the most part, the listener is bathed in warm harmonies, but there are moments of menace which crop up through the album. I’m not really sure what else to say about this album. It’s difficult to pick up on any one moment as standing out, although the relative clarity and starkness of emotion in the final track after the ‘Whitecaps of White Noise’ couplet is particularly moving. It is music which just floats. I read a good review recently which said that trying to describe Hecker’s music is like trying to describe the colour blue, so I’ll leave it at that.

    Favourite track: Blood Rainbow

    12. Venetian Snares - Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett (2005)

    If Aphex Twin was the electronic poster boy for the 90s, Venetian Snares must occupy that role for the decade just passed, pushing the boundaries in a playful and (relatively, within murky waters of electronic music) accessible way like Aphex before him. That said, this album is more emotionally involving than playful as Venetian Snares samples Hungarian classical music and mixes it with aggressive breakcore to create something that you’d expect to be novel at best, dire at worst. Fortunately for him and us, it is one of the standout albums of the last 10 years - the classical sounds and the towering breaks weaving intricate patterns with surprising emotional depths from the man who brought us ‘The Chocolate Wheelchair Album’ and track titles such as ‘Chainsaw Fellatio’… On form, there are few who can come close to the aptly named Aaron Funk in terms of rhythmic manipulation, and here he is on top form, with the jazz-inflected opening to ‘Hajnal’ and the choppy beat behind ‘Öngyilkos Vasárnap’ two highlights. Here Funk achieves the improbable and makes classical music and breakcore sound like they were meant to be together.

    Favourite track: Hajnal

    11. Arovane - Lilies (2004)

    Arovane’s final album is the one which marks him out as one of the great electronic musicians of the past 10 years. Whilst at times exquisitely composed, his earlier work paid too much homage (not a bad thing at all) to Autechre and Boards of Canada to mark him out as a great - certainly he towers head and shoulders above most of those paying similar homage, but with Liles he made something really special. He was clearly heavily influenced by Japanese sounds while creating this, and he combines his wistful Japanese melodies with sharp breakbeats to give them a hypnotic effect. Whilst often quite intricate in themselves, Arovane’s breaks take on a drone-like quality, providing a static base for his twinkling melodies to dance over. What marks this out as a truly special album is that it is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic albums I have come across. Even stunningly beautiful electronica can often feel emotionally detached (not necessarily a bad thing), but there is something very human about Liles.

    Favourite track: Pink Liles


    10. Explosions in the Sky - The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003)

    Too often with EITS I feel like I’m listening to them waiting for the loud bit to come along and blow my socks off. They do the loud bit of post-rock as well as anyone, but they don’t consistently nail the bits between, apart from on this album. In between the walls of sound come delicate yet intricate guitar melodies, completely in line with the sentiment expressed in the album title. And here these twinkling melodies create the atmosphere for the walls of sound to rip through, rather than feeling like filler before the next moment of noisy brilliance. That said, it is those moments which make this album one of the most uplifting of the decade. The rising melodies in the climax of ‘The Only Moment We Were Alone’ make it one of my favourite tunes ever, and the warmth of closing track ‘Your Hand In Mine’ is something very few bands will ever replicate.

    Favourite track: The Only Moment We Were Alone

    9. Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007)

    My love for Radiohead knows no earthly bounds. In those two weeks waiting for the release of In Rainbows after it was announced my expectations for the album grew beyond what I could even vaguely reasonably have hoped to have eventually had fulfilled. So it was with trepidation and excitement that I sat down to listen to this album. And it blew me away - I was a broken man by the end of ‘All I Need’, which is the album’s glorious centrepiece, and only the tender beauty of ‘House Of Cards’ persuaded me that at some point that day I should probably go out and reconnect with the world outside my speakers… before ‘Videotape‘ convinced me otherwise. In Rainbows is a stunning achievement which did nothing but reaffirm my hero-worship of this band.

    Favourite track: All I Need

    8. Lights Out Asia - Eyes Like Brontide (2008)

    Eyes Like Brontide is one of the most perfectly constructed albums I have ever come across in terms of building up an atmosphere and taking the listener on a journey. Often, even with great albums, there is a feeling that the artist has made a bunch of great songs and put them together in the best track order they could find. With Eyes Like Brontide, the whole project feels like it comes before the individual components - the music flows as in perfect harmony to build up a beautiful, emotive tension throughout the first 7 tracks. Heartbreaking melodies ebb and flow, all the while with a great tension lurking beneath. On the pulsating 6/8 of ‘Psiu! Puxa!’, the music threatens to bubble over and burst into a wall of noise, but the band keep it in check, always building that tension, until finally all apocalyptic hell breaks loose on ‘Six Points of Fire’. As a stand-alone track, this is one of the finest slices of post-rock I’ve come across. As the closer to this album, it is elevated to a whole new level. Lights Out Asia don’t do anything groundbreaking original here - they just take the tried-and-tested post-rock formula and use it better than most other bands out there.

    Favourite track: Six Points of Fire

    7. Envy - Insomniac Doze (2006)

    I’ll admit that I was a sceptic when a friend suggested I check out a band who here combined screamo with post-rock, but it really works, the anguished vocals only adding to the emotive force of the walls of sound Envy create. The overwhelming emotions here are of anger and despair, and it is an intensely personal listening experience. The beautiful melodies that Envy create provide an excellent counterpoint to the vocals on every track - melodically it is reminiscent of an on-form EITS or Mogwai at points. The album is epic without shame, from the opening guitar blasts of ‘Further Ahead Of Warp’, through the dreamlike quiet bits of ‘Scene’, and the peerless 15 minutes of ‘The Unknown Glow’ as it slowly builds twice to its crushing refrain. Certainly not dinner party material, but one of the most powerful albums of the last ten years.

    Favourite Track: The Unknown Glow

    6. 65daysofstatic - The Fall of Math (2003)

    Who’d have thought fusing post-rock with beats more reminiscent of Venetian Snares than Mogwai would work even a little bit, let alone this well? Fact is, it is awesome. 65days don’t mess around here - no track reaches the 6 minute mark. The beats come hard and fast, and the guitar lines soar with a menacing beauty. The music also challenges the listener in a satisfying way, 5/4 and 11/5 time signatures being thrown in for good measure without ever disrupting the album’s epic flow. What makes this album special is the way the drums add to the frenetic atmosphere created by the guitar lines to give the music a manic, post-apocalyptic feel. The jewel in the album’s crown is ‘Retreat! Retreat!’ which combines the apocalyptic atmosphere with a gorgeous falling melody, bells ringing over the top as the drums pound beneath. Delicious.

    Favourite track: Retreat! Retreat!

    5. Prefuse 73 - Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives (2001)

    Prefuse 73 understands rhythm like no-one else producing electronic music in the last decade. Even above artists like Venetian Snares and Squarepusher. With Prefuse 73’s music, the line between rhythm and melody becomes almost completely blurred - even vocals become part of the rhythm of his compositions - everything working together to make absurdly funky rhythmic structures, and this, his debut under the Prefuse moniker, is in my opinion is his finest effort. Whilst the end result is incredibly smooth, what is going on here is fantastically intricate, every beat meticulously placed to smooth the flow of the songs (the cut-up vocals on ‘Point To B’ are a brilliant example). This is what the future of hip-hop should sound like. Alongside RZA and the late J Dilla, Prefuse 73 is one of the most interesting hip-hop beat-makers around (check out the chemistry with Ghostface on ‘Hideyaface’ on Prefuse’s ‘Surrounded By Silence’ album), and Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives is the finest (mainly) instrumental hip-hop I’ve come across.

    Favourite track: Radio Attack

    4. Sigur Ros - ( ) (2002)

    ( ) is arguably the most challenging item of the Sigur Ros catalogue. It is slow-moving, expansive, beautiful, dark, tender, powerful… Clichés abound when describing their music, but this is without doubt the one which truly deserves the glacial methaphor. It is an album which requires time and solitude for you to really appreciate the breathtaking scope of what they have achieved here. Jonsi’s ethereal voice is hauntingly beautiful as ever, penetrating through the unique sound of his guitar, and the songs often seem to have the floating quality of the best ambient music. The album itself is split down the middle into relative brightness and darkness as it slowly builds up to probably my favourite closer and favourite live track of all time. A masterpiece from the band of the decade.

    Favourite Track: Untitled 4

    3. Squarepusher - Go Plastic (2001)

    Some music works by being simple, some by being complex. With simple music, the skill is in preventing it becoming mundane. With complex music, the skill is in pushing the complexity to the absolute limits without losing control of what’s going on. On Go Plastic Squarepusher pushed the limits further than anybody else without losing control. This is calculated violence with sound - a series of sonic assaults which dance on the edge of the abyss, from the twisted garage of ‘My Red Hot Car’ to the brutal static of ‘Greenways Trajectory’. Go Plastic marks the highpoint of drill & bass and of Squarepusher’s astonishing back-catalogue.

    Favourite track: My Red Hot Car

    2. Radiohead - Kid A (2000)

    So much has been written about Kid A - about its originality, about how derivative it is, too experimental, not experimental enough, pretentious, innovative, and so on. What matters is that it is a brilliant synergy of electronic atmospheres and rock sensibilities. Opening with the iconic ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, the album takes the listener on a journey, through the crazed funkiness of ‘The National Anthem’, the crushing beauty of ‘How To Disappear Completely’ and the frenetic ‘Idioteque’. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’s pretty much perfect.

    Favourite track: How To Disappear Completely

    1. Sigur Ros - Takk… (2005)

    Trying to put into words just how much this music means to me is almost impossible, but I will try and do it some justice. It is beautiful, absolutely perfect. Opening with the shimmering strings of the title track, we burst into the familiar bassline of Glosoli which builds up to its euphoric finale. Hoppipolla, Með Blódnasir and Se Lest are all wonderfully sweet and nostalgic. Then we reach the centrepoint of this astonishing album and what is, in my opinion, the best song ever, Saeglopur. Here words fail me, because it transcends what we know as beautiful. Every chord change is perfect, the build-up is gorgeous, the 'loud bit' is awesome, then the come down at the end is incredibly moving. The rest of the album is perfect as well, and I'll stop here because I'm not doing a very good job of explaining just how awesome the music is. Basically Sigur Ros epitomise what great music should do - Jonsi sings in a language I don't understand, but the sheer power of the music communicates emotions too pure for words.
  • Squarepusher - Solo Electric Bass 1 review

    9 Sep 2009, 8:53

    Squarepusher - Solo Electric Bass 1

    I am a massive Squarepusher fan, and so SEB is an intrinsically exciting proposition - an insight into the most stripped down of performances by the great man. However, my summary for this review when I sat down to write it was goign to be that SEB was "thoroughly disappointing" - the reason being that nothing about this album makes me want to play it again. Some albums are so catchy you can't help but start again the moment the final tracks finishes (Luke Vibert's latest, for instance). Some albums I want to play again, not necessarily because I enjoyed first time around, but because they are intriguing or have potential to really excite you once you get your head around them (everything by Autechre...). SEB is neither - if I hadn't been going to write this review, I probably wouldn't have listened to it again for a few months at least, until I gave it another go to see if I'd missed anything first time around.

    But I am writing this review, and I'm bloody glad I decided to do so, because I am thoroughly enjoying the album. Tom Jenkinson is not only an exceptionally talented basist, he is one with a keen ear for a tune - a quality which tends to get overlooked because of his exceptional drum-programming abilities. You only have to listen to Iambic 9 Poetry to see what I'[m talking about here. And this ability to create really beautiful but simple tunes shines through at points on SEB. At other times, I marvel simply at the sheer scope of what he manages to achieve with just one bass and one small amp - he manages to take the album beyond an interesting study for hardcore fans and bass enthusiasts and makes some genuinely good music.

    So, where does this leave us? Am I glad that I gave over 699 of my english pennies to download this? Yes, yes I am. Would I recommend that anyone who isn't a Squarepusher-obsessive does so? No, because there are dozens of albums which you've never heard that you should listen to instead. Put simply, this is not an album which I am judging purely on artistic merit - I think it does derive merit purely as a Squarepusher artefact. Honestly, if this were a release by some unknown bass player, I would probably never play it again. But it is musically enjoyable and also intrinsically exciting because it's Squarepusher.
  • Tim Hecker - An Imaginary Country review

    7 Sep 2009, 8:35

    Tim Hecker - An Imaginary Country

    For me, Tim Hecker sits alongside the true greats of electronic music, and An Imaginary Country is an album of astonishing scope which will probably be my album of the year. For those who don't know Hecker, the closest reference point is Fennesz, but better. For those who don't know Fennesz, Hecker's music comprises beautiful ambient drones and melodies often lying under great swathes of static and distortion.

    In this album, the beauty is closer to the surface than it has been in Hecker's work since his debut album under this moniker, Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again. Going back to Fennesz, I think it's fair to say that Harmony In Ultraviolet was Hecker's Endless Summer, and An Imaginary Country is his Venice. Whislt we are treated to Hecker's trademark walls of sound, especially on the epic closing couplet, there are also moments where the melodies shine through at the top of the mix, such as in the achingly beautiful Borderlands.

    Whilst the individual tracks are incredible in themselves, it is the cohesive whole which is truly spectacular. Hecker has constructed something truly special here, emotions rising and falling with the music, each track placed perfectly to take the listener on a journey through sound as the music swoops and soars.

    Listening to the album (for at least the 45th time, according to last.fm) I've been trying to pinpoint the highlight, but there isn't any one standout moment - this album is a perfect cohesive whole. I'm going to stop now because I'm really not doing it justice. It is simply a very very good album.
  • Harmonic 313 - When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence review

    2 Sep 2009, 14:41

    Harmonic 313 - WHEN MACHINES EXCEED HUMAN INTELLIGENCE

    It took me a few listens to appreciate just how good an album this is. And it's hard to say exactly what makes it so good. It doesn't have the pinpoint complexity of Aphex or Squarepusher, the intricacies of Autechre, or the emotional depth of Boards of Canada. There's no obvious reason that this should stand out above the constrant stream of new releases, but it does, and that is testament to Mark Pritchard's ear for a catchy tune.
    There's no simple categorisation for the music on this album. Pritchard flows seamlessly between genres with the ease of Luke Vibert on top form and somehow manages to make the album sound like a complete whole.
    Koln is a fine slice of spacey glitchy goodness, whilst Battlestar is a hip-hop monster (however cringey the vocals may be - fingers crossed it's tongue-in-cheek...). Perhaps the highlight is the haunting Falling Away featuring vocals from Steve Spacek which is more than a little bit impressive.
    All in all, bloody marvellous, even if I can't explain why exactly.
  • 10-20 - 10-20 review

    1 Sep 2009, 14:21

    Whilst 10-20's eponymous debut is very much in the dubstep tradition, I think that its closest reference points are the darker tracks on Aphex Twin's SAW2. What 10-20 has done here is to create a series of dark, claustrophobic ambiences underscored by skittering beats. And what has been created is truly spectacular. Like the best ambient music, the music seems to hover, but not in a calming way - rather, it hovers in a distinctly unnerving way, which is why the comparisons to SAW2 come so naturally.
    The album's centrepiece is the captivating wdtrhjvelgrad, which features haunting twisted vocal samples under a disturbing cacophony of skittering drums and eerie noises.
    Definitely one of the most exciting debuts I've heard in a while and a strong contender to be one of the albums of the year.
  • My own music

    1 Jul 2009, 22:08

    I've started making a variety of electronic music as ikant

    http://www.last.fm/music/ikant

    Obviously I'd love it if you'd check it out - it's a mixture of Susumu Yokota/Biosphere/Fennesz/Tim Hecker-inspired ambient stuff, and some heavier beats.