2010: Top 10 EDM Albums Of The Year
10. Phoenecia - Echelon Mall
Style: Ambient, Glitch
Review: Trouble with music released on American labels is that it won't be featured in mostly European based e-zines, cd shops or even online stores. Especially when it's released on obscure labels such as Schematic that don't even send copies to big American retailers such as Amazon and CD Universe. This could cause a loss of brilliant music for potential European listeners that, let's be honest, make up the majority of fanbase for this kind of music. Echelon Mall, Phoenecia's sophomore effort that came out 9 years after much acclaimed debut Brownout is a perfect example of this - dark cinematic jewel that could have been lost if it wasn't for the internet and us who dig deeper than the others. Laying somewhere between soundtrack and dark ambient music, Echelon Mall is ever-shifting and dynamic 80 minute piece that at times sounds like a science fiction theme and at other times like a horror movie soundtrack with loads of samples that range from interesting and innocuous to downright scary. Heavily processed sound is rich, detailed and highly layered, perfect for those who enjoyed Proem's and Hecq's recent dark ambient efforts. Well worth the 9 years wait.
Highlights: Phobia-Philia, Some Other, Fog Things Of Antiquity
09. Oriol - Night And Day
Label: Planet Mu
Style: Electro, Techno
Review: There's a lot of music these days that draws inspiration from disco, funk and soul music of the 70s and the 80s. However it takes a genius to record something that will not seem like a cheap and corny shot to cash in on current retro trend, and it seems like newcomer Oriol is one. His debut Night And Day excels from the mediocrity of today's future retro through novel use of warm synths and palette of playful rhythms. The biggest mistake of modern retro producers - excessive employment of saccharine synths is thankfully suppressed here and more natural analogue synths are used instead. Oriol is hugely influenced by the sound of Detroit - both older Motown sound and "newer" Belleville Three sound. Actually, Juan Atkins and his projects Cybotron and Model 500 could be the biggest single influence on this young producer. Like most of these retro records, Night And Day doesn't really offer anything revolutionary, but sounds enjoyable enough to get a serious acknowledgment from electronic music community. Perfect record for hot summer days.
Highlights: Night And Day, Jam, The Process
08. The Black Dog - Music For Real Airports
Label: Soma Quality Recordings
Style: Ambient, Techno
Review: The Black Dog is one of those acts who are still able to deliver one quality album after another despite the fact that their career spans 20+ years and that their creative heyday has long passed. This latest effort sees them reinterpreting and updating Brian Eno's ambient classic Music For Airports. Their end product however, clumsily named Music For Real Airports, sounds less like music you'd hear playing at airports (which was Eno's intention) and more like music of/from airport terminals, mostly due to extensive use of field recordings sourced from those places. Besides these recordings which illustrate lively airport life, we are presented with breezy drones, analogue synth soundscapes, not-that-cheesy strings and rhythmic work which is elegantly executed, though not that necessary. The whole thing carries dark overtones, which contrasts airy and much lighter original. Still, Music For Real Airports is not exceedingly minimal (which today's ambient tends to be), and uses mostly pleasant sounds so it ends up quite accessible, though not cheesy in the slightest.
Highlights: Business Car Park 9, Terminal EMA, Sleep Deprivation 1
07. Shed - The Traveller
Label: Ostgut Ton
Style: Techno, Dubstep, Ambient
Review: If there's one artist who's still able to keep techno refreshing and interesting, especially when it comes to, always tricky for this particular genre, album format, it's certainly Shed and his deep, introspective and melancholic vision of this once futuristic and forward thinking type of music. In the same vein as on his debut Shedding The Past - probably the finest true to roots techno album of the last decade, Shed borrows little something from all across the electronic music board - Detroit techno, early UK techno pioneered by B12 and Kirk Degorgio, dark and sinister "Birmingham techno" championed by Surgeon and even from some relatively recent styles such as dubstep (which impact is more than evident in Shed's unusual rhythmic patterns), yet still succeeds to compose everything in his own specific way without sounding too influenced, giving the overall sound his already unique, personal touch. Rough, uncompromising and resolute, The Traveller is everything true techno should be and strive for.
Highlights: Hello Bleep!, 44A (Hardwax Forever!), Atmo - Action
06. Loscil - Endless Falls
Review: Sometimes it's just impossible to describe why does a certain piece of music works so well. That's especially true for pretty much all of Loscil's work, let alone his 4 years long awaited new album Endless Falls, which consists of just a few fundamental elements that mutually interact so nicely that any kind of detailed review just doesn't do it any justice. The general sound is constructed from slowly pulsating drones accompanied only by simple but effective string arrangements and sounds of rainfall at the beginning (which effectively set the listener's mood up for the rest of the album) and the end of the record. Loscil was heavily criticized for including spoken word artist on the last track of the album, and while the vocals do sound slightly distracting, I don't think it's much of the issue, especially since the instrumental part of the track sounds much superior to other stuff presented here. Though calm and peaceful, Endless Falls is captivating enough to wrap you in its highly emotional sound and powerful enough to send you floating through its sincere and introspective soundscapes.
Highlights: Estuarine, Endless Falls, Showers Of Ink
05. Emeralds - Does It Look Like I'm Here?
Label: Editions Mego
Style: Ambient, Noise
Review: This is how collaboration between Fennesz and Boards Of Canada would sound if Fennesz somehow forgot to bring his acoustic guitar into the studio. Emeralds are instead using electric guitar (though not as frequent as Fennesz in his works) and its emotional weeps to give their buzzing analogue sound a finnishing touch. They are not affraid to utilize big, in-your-face sounds that are almost always ignored by ambient elitists, and surprisingly they manage to pull it off without sounding too frivolous. Their arpeggiated synth sounds could be better though. Maybe you won't be able to evoke your personal childhood memories (which was allegedly manageable for people that grew up in the 80s while listening to Boards Of Canada), but you'll surely enjoy this refined piece of beautifully processed visceral music and alongside maybe even create some new memories.
Highlights: Genetic, Access Granted, Candy Shoppe
04. Autechre - Oversteps
Label: Warp Records
Style: IDM, Experimental, Ambient
Review: While many people considered Quaristice a fusion of two distinct parts of Autechre's career, some kind of cross section of their work until that point, Oversteps to me sounds like an album which deserves that title much more. Some ideas have been developed from Quaristice (especially from tracks such as Simmm), but most of the inspiration for melodic content came from their mid-90s period (Tri Repetae in particular), and for general sound design from later part of their musical path, especially Untilted. So we're presented with a piece of music that's structurally complex, but doesn't rely too much on complex programming. Most of the beats are actually unusually straightforward, and the whole thing sounds much more linear - tracks don't transform half the way through or even multiple times like in their 2000s work. Another distinctive characteristic is utilization of anthemic synths, which sometimes seem overused and too conspicuous, but most of the time clever and really fresh. Another album that brings yet another shift in Ae sound, this time towards simplicity, not complexity.
Highlights: d-sho qub, ilanders, Treale
03. ANBB - Mimikry
Style: Experimental, Glitch
Review: Master of bleepy and completely artificial and cerebral "Raster Noton sound" and his alleged long time admirer and champion of eerie atmosphere Blixa Bargeld of Einstürzende Neubauten teamed up their talents for one of the year's weirdest and most unique offerings. While Noto's part - to provide rhythmic groundwork by the means of his trademark composition tools and techniques - sounds standardly solid, what's really impressive is sinister and sometimes flat out evil atmosphere (for which both of them are responsible) that perfectly interacts with both rhythmic structure and Blixa's vocal escapades. Blixa is a true vocal acrobat and shows his craftsmanship in full effect here - we hear him growl, whisper, snarl, sing, talk, yell and do some expressions that are just indescribable, while transforming his voice completely couple of times during a single song. Not everything sounds like hell opening up though. Some moments are pure lush and we have Noto to thank for reminding us of his successful Xerrox series with them. There are just two ways in which this album would sound even better: if they decided to include Electricity Is Fiction, the best track from EP released earlier this year, and if I could understand German.
Highlights: Once Again, Bernsteinzimmer (Long Version), Katze
02. Ceephax Acid Crew - United Acid Emirates
Label: Planet Mu
Style: Acid, Techno, Electro
Review: Andy Jenkinson was always considered nothing more than Squarepusher's little brother, humorous jumper wearing guy whose music has not been taken too seriously except for the odd track here and there. New album, with the name like United Acid Emirates and that silly looking cover was virtually promising another goofy effort that would be quickly phased out from our collective memory. Fortunately, it's nothing like that and it seems like Andy has finally come out from his brother's shadow, because UAE sounds serious and classy enough despite the fact that traces of silliness can still be heard. His programming is rather simple in comparison to other producers from Planet Mu and Rephlex, with occasional breakbeats interrupting mostly thumping 4x4 base, but what really shines and stands out is his 303 manipulation. Andy is a real 303 expert, and works the little silver box like no other - acid lines coming out of it are subtle, yet always present and emphasized. Slowed down and completely beatless pieces that disrupt rhythmic harmony are also well crafted, fluid and highly enjoyable. Let's just hope that his successor could catch up to sheer brilliance of this one.
Highlights: Sidney's Sizzler, Arcadian (Castilian II), Emotinium II
01. VHS Head - Trademark Ribbons Of Gold
Style: Electro, Experimental
Review: First thing that comes to mind while listening to this sample-heavy debut from yet unknown artist that goes by the name VHS Head is Akufen and his now already 8 years old collage masterpiece My Way. But while My Way was constructed from microsamples sourced from radio broadcasts that were looped throughout the whole tracks coupled only with simple tech house beat, bassline and some percussion, VHS Head offers something much more interesting here. His samples are lifted from various sources, sound more randomly placed around the track and not so cut-up and, most importantly, better incorporated with the other elements. And while that other elements don't sound too sophisticated or gracious, especially odd chiptune-ish synth or big clumsy beat that from time to time pop in, they still offer enjoyable and sometimes even mind-boggling experience that evokes reminiscence of some old braindance stuff released on Rephlex. Actually braindance couldn't be more suitable label here since this record equally stimulates your body and your mind. Truly refreshing piece of work.
Highlights: Brain Damaged, Twitch Of The Nerve, Sunset Everett