XLR8R's Favorite Releases of 2010, Part Two
Without further ado, we finish the year-end list making and give you our top 15 favorite releases from 2010. (Also, if you missed part one, check that out right here.)
15. Altered Natives Tenement Yard Vol. 1
London producer Danny Yorke kept himself busy in 2010, dropping two full-lengths on his own Eye4Eye imprint and a single on Martyn's 3024 label. While all of his material is marked by a dark, drum-filled rumble, Tenement Yard Vol. 1 stood out for its sheer commitment to thundering house grooves. Looking for melodies? Catchy songs? Look elsewhere, because all you'll find here is a raw assault of percussion and one sweaty house workout after another. Having your brain rattled rarely feels this good.
14. Lindstrøm and Christabelle Real Life Is No Cool
Real Life Is No Cool owes more to '80s R&B and radio funk (à la Bar-Kays or Alexander O'Neal & Cherrelle) than it does Lindstrøm's typical fare (Kosmische and Moroder-esque disko), and we were pleasantly surprised by the producer's about-face this time around. Featuring vocals from his wonderful collaborator Christabelle (a.k.a. Isabelle Haarseth Sandoo), Lindstrøm's approach to production is delightfully all over the map on this one, with plenty of the expected arpeggiated synths augmented by tinkly pianos, Euro-style coos, and a sensuality that most of Scandinavia's cosmic disco hardly ever achieves. Start with "Lovesick" and then finish with the absolute heart-stopper "High & Low."
13. Emeralds Does it Look Like I'm Here?
An integral part of Editions Mego's coup on ambient/noise music in 2010, the elusive analog obsessives of Cincinnati's Emeralds released what is possibly the year's most captivating and beautiful instrumental album, Does it Look Like I'm Here?. Across an hour of tender guitar noodlings, balmy synth tones, and transcendent soundscapes, Emeralds reinvigorates the sounds of ambient music's go-to "influences"—Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, Neu!, etc.—to create a batch of spacious compositions that sound as immediately familiar as they do fresh and exciting.
12. Oriol Night and Day
Planet Mu had a hell of a year in 2010, attacking electronic music from pretty much every imaginable angle. On the IDM-y funk end of things was this stunning debut from Oriol Singhji, which offered up a vision of '90s G-funk as seen through the prism of London house and broken-beat. Lead-off track "Joy FM" hits everything from deep house to Dâm-Funk to acid jazz to late Motown—and that's just the first four minutes of this opus.
11. Space Dimension Controller Temporary Thrillz EP
Jack Hamill sure is a creative young man. Seriously, his so-called "back-story" is wild enough (time travel and the destruction of Earth are involved—look it up) to land him on this list in its own right, but the guy also happened to release this EP, which deliciously combined chilled-out techno with spacey funk and boogie vibes. How this Irish kid managed to effectively distill decades of Detroit sounds into this soulful package is a real mystery... maybe there's something to that crazy back-story after all.
10. Beach House Teen Dream
As far as precious, dreamy pop music went this year, there was none better than Beach House and the Baltimore duo's flawless third album. Teen Dream is essentially 10 singles that exhibit varying levels of joy, sadness, hope, tenderness, loss, love, and emotions less definable, presented with the soon-to-be-iconic voice of Victoria Legrand and a lush musical backdrop built on shimmering organ melodies, pattering drum-machine sounds, and simple guitar plucks. It's Beach House's first effort for a big-name label, recorded on a budget far surpassing its first two albums, and makes us only more anxious to experience what majestic heights the pair will conquer next.
9. Scuba Triangulation
The responsibility of delivering a bold, precise, and fully realized album must weigh especially heavy on artists who also run a label, let alone one of such high regard as Paul Rose's Hotflush imprint. So not surprisingly, Rose delivers across the board on the second LP under his Scuba moniker, Triangulations, an experience of a record that expertly boils down the intangibles of Berlin's, Detroit's, and London's classic electronic exports and reshapes them into a definitive sound for contemporary, forward-thinking dancefloors hungry for both mood and bass. But Rose knew better than to hand off 12 tunes and call it a day; the label honcho/producer crafted his material into a cohesive long-player that plays as equally strong front to back as it does in separate portions.
8. Lone Emerald Fantasy Tracks
Lone's Lemurian caught us off guard a couple years back, coming on the tail end of our hyper fascination with Flying Lotus and all things "beat scene." But when the young Matt Cutler took it in an entirely different direction earlier this year, with "Pineapple Crush," we were, thankfully, quicker to take notice. The fruits of his cross-pollination culminated in Emerald Fantasy Tracks—eight acid-, house-, and proto-techno-inspired tunes that did a number on both the dancefloor and the XLR8R staff this year. With any luck, Cutler will be onto something completely new by this time next year, so for now we're just going to bask in the glow of these incredibly fun and gorgeous four-on-the-floor monsters.
7. Shed The Traveller
This is another one that sorta went everywhere at once. With The Traveller, the extremely prolific René Pawlowitz took house music on a dubsteppy ride, managing all the while to remain reverent to both genres and never come across as a cheesy influence masher. "The Bot" is one of the finest examples we've ever heard of minimal dubstep, and the trajectory that it takes this record on—through minimal, dub, ambient, and plenty more—is an accomplishment few artists were able to pull off this year, if ever.
6. Salem King Night
This album could have been a disaster. All the pieces were in place: overwhelming critical acclaim of a few scattered previous releases, association with the newly minted witch house "genre," adoration from notoriously fickle indie/blog fashionistas, a series of incredibly sketchy live shows, and a prevalent "we don't give a fuck" attitude emanating from the band itself. But you know what? Salem truly delivered on its debut full-length, cutting through the witch house nonsense and marrying elements of shoegaze, noise, juke, and screwed hip-hop into a remarkably cohesive statement. Maybe we don't want to hang out with these guys—they seemingly become more unlikable with every interview the give—but we're not running a popularity contest here.
5. Caribou Swim
Caribou hits the club? For some reason it's hard to picture Dan Snaith wilding out on the dancefloor, but Swim definitely cranked up the tempo and found him moving away from the pastoral soundscapes and bedroom-friendly electronic sounds of his past work. Not that Swim lacks in the quirkiness department; its songs are filled with oddball touches: jungle sounds, psychedelic vocal snippets, washy synths, and leftfield pop sensibilities all litter the record. It's just that many of these things happen over beats that chug along with nods to house and UK bass music, particularly on the album's first half. It was a bold move and a risky one for an established act like Caribou. To his credit, he pulled it off with aplomb.
4. Oneohtrix Point Never Returnal
Though it's split into eight tracks, Oneohtrix Point Never's Returnal is essentially four parts: the visceral purge of its noisy introduction, the alien lament of its keystone title track, and the two collections of drifting synthscapes that make up the record's bulk. In paring down the elements of his 2010 full-length, as opposed to the overwhelming sprawl of Rifts, composer Daniel Lopatin made each piece rely wholly on its complimentary counterparts. The effect transforms Returnal from eight recordings of a guy toying with a Roland Juno-60 and some delay pedals into a completely lush and immersive listen on par with the classic conceptual milestones in ambient music's history.
3. James Blake CMYK EP
There was little from James Blake this year that we didn't go absolutely apeshit over. The Goldsmiths College student's Klavierwerke and The Bell Sketch EPs were also both pretty untouchable, but we felt like his first contribution to the longstanding dance powerhouse R&S was probably most representative of his efforts for 2010. (And that's to say nothing of his work as a hired gun for Mount Kimbie's live shows.) Sure, everyone and his brother was doing the chopped-up-R&B-vocals thing this year (and years before... we know, we know), but, seemingly, it was CMYK's title track that rose to the top in 2010, taking liberally from Kelis' "Caught Out There" and Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody" and assembling the drops into a slinky post-dubstep number for the ages.
2. Four Tet There Is Love in You
Caribou wasn't the only veteran artist suddenly (and successfully) setting up shop in the club this year. Kieran Hebden had previously made a career out of making delicate, folk-tinged electronic music that was perfect for nuzzling up with a good book or relaxing in a comfy chair with your headphones on. There Is Love in You was a remarkable break from his past, one in which he literally embraced club culture, notably testing out its songs during a residency at London's famed Plastic People. While the pristine nature of his production remained intact, this album—his fifth—found Hebden combining his chilly melodies and somber tones with a steady pulse, be it minimal techno or beats inspired by London's burgeoning post-dubstep scene. There Is Love in You came out in January, yet we kept coming back to it again and again, which is a big reason why we threw Hebden on the cover of our latest issue, nearly a year after the album's initial release.
1. Delorean Subiza
It may initially seem strange that a predominantly electronic-music-focused publication's favorite album of 2010 is a Balearic-tinged, indie-friendly, dance-pop LP that likely dominated more Tumblr blogs than the austere playlists of the critical elite, but that in and of itself is a large part of what makes Delorean's gorgeous Subiza so goddamn lovable. From the immediate splash of opener "Stay Close" through the epic centerpiece "Infinite Desert" to the final moments of its hopeful bookend "It's All Ours," Delorean's nine-song offering fully encapsulates the exuberance, innocence, and ecstasy of youth with its use of authentic tropical motifs, tastefully reformatted rave elements, and insanely infectious vocal hooks. Simply put, the Barcelonian quartet wrote dance tunes like they were pop songs and produced a pop album like it was a dance record; it just all happened to come together so perfectly that it melted the hardened sensibilities of serious electronic-music fans everywhere—especially us.
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