XLR8R's Top 100 Albums

Publish date:

There seemed no better way to commemorate our 100th issue than with what brought us here in the first place: the music. We combed through all of our back issues, nostrils filled with dust and fingers blackened by old newsprint, to see what we've reviewed over the last 13 years. In the early days, Banco de Gaia and R&S trance 12"s ruled, but our palette widened and our pages began to include indie rock, electronic folk, hip-hop, and other substrains of underground goodness. This isn't an exhaustive list of every album that influenced us. Put simply, it's a list of 100 records that were important and groundbreaking to XLR8R–and probably you readers as well. And we've pulled out 10 that were particularly memorable. Enjoy, and we look forward to bringing you a 200 list in the year 2016.

Jay Dee
Welcome to Detroit

When Jay Dee (a.k.a. J Dilla or James Yancey) passed earlier this year, it was an eye-opener for XLR8R to see that his influence was felt in more than just underground hip-hop circles. The music community at large–indies and megastars–all stopped to mourn one of the genre's finest producers. But Dilla didn't have to die for Welcome to Detroit's unmistakable bass and organ intro to send shivers up our collective spine­–it always did. And for anyone from Detroit, for whom Dilla's solo debut seemed exclusively made, it felt like someone was finally attempting to paint the underdog city in a fair light. It didn't have to be positive; it certainly didn't have to be negative; it just had to be true, and Dilla nailed it–for techno and hip-hop fans alike. Kraftwerk's influence (made particularly clear on the "Trans Europe Express"-aping "Big Booty Express") was as central to Welcome to Detroit as that of Dilla's favorite jazz artists. Industrial-sized drum machine knocks pushed into the red ("Pause") were as important as his proprietary "rushed snare" sound or the sweet, off-kilter horns on "Think Twice." Dilla was a crate-digger of the highest order, and he knew how to use a record. He'd made brilliant beats for his own group, Slum Village, and countless big-name rappers like Q-Tip and Common, before the release of his masterpiece, but this one stood on its own: Welcome to Detroit, this showcase of his finest beats, and even his own rapping, was monumental.

Boards of Canada
Music Has the Right to Children

Before you even dropped the CD into its player for the first time, the chillingly creepy concepts built into Music Has the Right to Children jumped out at you. The album's cover, which kind of looked like a bell-bottomed hippie family (kids, too), all with their facial features erased, came with a Braille sticker for extra-sensory title information (MP3s can be so insensitive to the needs of the visually impaired). BoC implied that a state of blindness (either controlled or natural) was completely suitable–maybe even recommended–for such a listen. Music, as the title expressly stated, had the right to children–and it claimed all sorts of them: ravers, techno heads, rockers on the verge of electronic experimentation, even garden-variety hippies. Soon enough, your Pink Floyd-lovin' friends were telling you about BoC, and it didn't matter that they only discovered the band after a day-long peyote trip in the Mojave. For better or worse, Boards of Canada were, momentarily, the most important thing on pop's unreliable radar, and they'd go on to influence electronic music's most successful ambassadors, Radiohead. With Music Has the Right to Children as its support, IDM was willing to step out the closet and allow so many other substrains of underground electronic music to finally cross over.

Sheet One
(Plus 8-Novamute/US/CD)

Nearly 15 years after the then-23-year-old Richie Hawtin crafted his debut opus from his bedroom "under the kitchen" (it's credited to UTK Studios) of his parents' home in LaSalle, Ontario, Sheet One is still one major headfuck of a record. It's legendary for many reasons, and the music–a trippy composition from front to back, filled with sparse 808 drums and squiggly 303 synth lines–is just one of them. Sheet One introduced one of electronic music's most long-lasting and iconic personas–Plastikman. The Plastikman graphic itself–a gakky, gooey, alien-like figure whose eyes and hands morphed on album covers and screens behind Hawtin's complex live setup–has come to symbolize more than just the sound associated with Hawtin's unique brand of tempered minimalism. It represents a very distinct vibe–one that's been honed over the course of countless warehouse parties (in Detroit, abroad, and all points in between) and introspective 12"s and albums. Add to the mystique the Texan kid who, as the story goes, was arrested for having a copy of Sheet One in his car's glove compartment (the cover was originally printed on acid blotter sheets), and you've got one of techno's–nay, music's–absolute diamonds.

Dizzee Rascal
Boy in Da Corner

The last three years have seen the rise of many grime MCs with cartoon character-like names and trademark lyrical tics, but even now few measure up to East London's Dizzee Rascal. Released when he was 18 years old, 2003's Boy in Da Corner found Dizzee capturing UK ghetto life with tenderness, wit, and skill surpassing that of rappers twice his age. While "Fix Up, Look Sharp" made an acceptable bid for US hip-hop airwaves and the big 'n' bashy "Jus A' Rascal" rocked many a hipster's iPod, the real headphone gems remain dark, murky numbers like "Jezebel" and "Brand New Day," an emo rap hallmark where Dizzee ponders a bleak future over nursery-rhyme-on-acid beats ("When we ain't kids no more, will it still be about what it is right now?/Pregnant girls who get no love, useless mans with no plan"). And as soon as things seemed too bleak, Dizzee came back swinging with a one-two punch of street drama on "Stop Dat" and "I Luv U," paving the way for a whole new genre of industrial bass beats and double-time merking on the mic.

Fabric 13: Michael Mayer

Michael Mayer proved himself the most fun and versatile member of the Kompakt stable on this mix disc, which ushered in our own XLR8R Summer of Love in 2004. Windows wide open, breezes blowing off the Pacific Ocean, we watched bum fights and car accidents from the office windows to a soundtrack of the new European techno: emotive, uplifting, subtle. From the murky, bubbling strains of Villalobos' "Easy Lee" to the clicky, anthemic shoegaze of Jackson's mix of M83's "Run Into Flowers," Mayer deftly proved that techno doesn't have to be bludgeoning to work on the dancefloor. And to this day, when the nostalgic piano vamps of Westbam and Nena's "Oldschool, Baby" tease over the tender strings of Richard Davis' 4/4 lullaby "Bring Me Closer," all our carpal tunnel-addled hands go in the air.

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Aphex Twin
Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2

If Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1 was the rave chill-out room soundtrack for 1993 'til infinity, then Vol. II was the earliest establishment of Richard D. James as electronic music's greatest iconoclast. Where some might have been expecting a rave banger along the lines of his Power-Pill single or a dubby bludgeoning à la club-clearer "Digeridoo," he brought forth two cryptic discs of mostly beatless ambient wizardry, thus introducing the Pacman 'n' Prodigy generation to Eno-esque concepts like drone and space. This record proves a compelling segue from Aphex's shadowy youth into the drill 'n' bass madman he eventually became. And, quite simply, it's a lovely, soothing album, allowing you to impress upon it a million tiny meanings and significances with each listen.


You may not be able to tell it now but the core XLR8R staff were huge drum & bass heads throughout the '90s. Though we all bought tons of ragga and jump-up 12"s, LTJ Bukem's Logical Progression and Goldie's Timeless were the albums that bumped in our car stereos and through our tinny office speakers (when we weren't playing our friends' mixtapes). While Logical Progression was a smooth, progressive soundtrack for make-out sessions and Sunday comedowns, Goldie's debut was the first to present drum & bass' wide array of emotions, from uplifting and house-influenced ("Timeless," "Angel") to dark and menacing ("Saint Angel") to wistful ("Kemistry"). Timeless, rife with groundbreaking production by Moving Shadow label head Rob Playford, will forever remind us of a time when we thought drum & bass would save the world, and Goldie–boss of the pivotal Metalheadz imprint–was the genre's flaxen-haired knight. Goldie later fell from grace, proving to be too high on his own supply (of ego), but this record still rules.

Disco Nouveau
(Ghostly International/US/CD)

For XLR8R readers, the artists on the back of Disco Nouveau, Ghostly International's first compilation, are probably household names. But in 2002, when this baby dropped, Daniel Wang and Solvent were just beginning to burble from below the surface. Heck, who knew that the mysterious electro-pushing Charles Manier would turn out to be yet another Tadd Mullinix alias? Just as the passing fad of electroclash was in full swing, Ghostly head honcho Sam Valenti IV nicely timed the release of this genre-defining comp to ride the crest of success of Miss Kittin and the Hacker and Peaches, only to actually give the genre a bit of music-smart cred. Unlike most of electroclash's nearly forgettable output, there was nothing trashy about the inclusions on Disco Nouveau, from Adult.'s trenchant critique on "Nite Life" to Wang's disco-versed, Italo-friendly "Pistol Oderso" to Ectomorph's and DMX Krew's updates on electro-pop; in fact, they illustrated that despite what was coming out of the sex-and-pills-saturated Berliniamsburg scene, playful electronic music had plenty of depth–and legs. Ghostly proved it, and continues to today, with their steady stream of challenging and amazing tunes.


For the eight months after we got this record, it was all that anyone at XLR8R wanted to listen to. As soon as it would finish, someone would hit play again, to the point where the squirrelly electro-funk strains of album opener "Give It Up" were flooding through the office three and four times a day. Almost all I remember of the year 2001 are former managing editor Ron Nachmann and then-production manager Brianna Pope singing the refrain "Pay me bitch, pay me ho" in high R&B falsettos, with editor Tomas Palermo popping his head through the doorway to add the "Ohhhh" note at the end. That our favorite record out of thousands we received that year was made by a relatively unknown Detroit producer named Ade Mainor is staggering. Perhaps more astounding is that the album–which mixes influences from Kraftwerk, Prince, The O'Jays, Roger & Zapp, and DJ Funk–makes the Motor City on a Friday night sound like the best place in the world to be.

Clicks & Cuts
(Mille Plateaux/GER/CD)

There was a time when making music with computers was the furthest thing possible from the DIY ethos. Computer music? How much skill does that take, right? Well, computers, it turns out, could be as finicky as the guy on the other side of the sound booth's window, but the glitchy stuff they spat out–to some–was golden. The Clicks & Cuts technicians took the Cagean idea that all sounds were welcome, and did it one better. The clicks, pops, scratches, and sounds of complete digital failure weren't only welcome–they would provide the basis for some of minimal techno's most bangin' tracks. With an eye toward the Deleuzian philosophy of A Thousand Plateaus, musical surgeons like Thomas (Esther) Brinkmann, Vladislav Delay, Farben, Kit Clayton, and friends used random mistakes in their digital recordings and grafted, sampled, looped, and EQed them in ways never thought possible. The random cuts were made by humans; the clicks were the machines talking back to us.

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The Best Albums of the Last 100 Issues
1. 4Hero Creating Patterns (Talkin' Loud)
2. Aceyalone Accepted Eclectic (Project Blowed)
3. Ada Blondie (Areal)
4. Aesop Rock Labor Days (Def Jux)
5. Air Talkie Walkie (Virgin)
6. Akufen My Way (Force Inc.)
7. Animal Collective Sung Tongs (Fat Cat)
8. Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1 (Ninja Tune)
9. Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 (Sire)
10. Aphex Twin 26 Mixes For Cash (Warp)
11. Autechre Incunabula (Wax Trax)
12. Barbara Morgenstern Nicht Muss (Monika)
13. Basement Jaxx Remedy (Astralwerks)
14. Blackalicious Nia (Quannum)
15. Boards of Canada Music Has the Right to Children (Matador-Warp)
16. Booka Shade Movements (Get Physical)
17. Breakbeat Era Ultra-Obscene (1500-XL)
18. Calibre Musique Concrete (Creative Source)
19. Chicks on Speed Will Save Us All (Chicks on Speed)
20. Dabrye One/Three (Ghostly International)
21. Danger Mouse The Grey Album (Waxploitation)
22. Deadbeat New World Observer (~scape)
23. Deerhoof Milk Man (Kill Rock Stars)
24. Derrick May Innovator (Transmat)
25. Devin the Dude To the Xtreme (Rap-A-Lot)
26. Dizzee Rascal Boy in Da Corner (XL-Matador)
27. DJ Shadow Entroducing (Mo' Wax)
28. Dntel Life is Full of Possibilities (Plug Research)
29. Domu Up + Down (Archive)
30. Ed Rush and Optical Wormhole (Virus)
31. Edan Beauty and the Beat (Lewis)
32. Elephant Man Log On (Greensleeves)
33. Ellen Allien Berlinette (Bpitch Control)
34. Fennesz Endless Summer (Mego)
35. Four Tet Everything Ecstatic (Domino)
36. Funkstorung Appetite for Disctruction (!K7)
37. Future Sound of London Lifeforms (Astralwerks)
38. Goldie Timeless (Metalheadz)
39. Guru Jazzmatazz (Cool Tempo)
40. Herbert Bodily Functions (!K7)
41. Hood Cold House (Aesthetics)
42. Isolée Wearemonster (Playhouse)
43. Jamie Lidell Multiply (Warp)
44. Jay Dee Welcome to Detroit (BBE)
45. Jean Grae Attack of the Attacking Things (Third Earth Music)
46. Kid 606 Down With The Scene (Ipecac)
47. Kid Koala Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (Ninja Tune)
48. Kraftwerk Tour de France Soundtracks (Astralwerks)
49. Kruder & Dorfmeister DJ-Kicks (!K7)
50. Little Brother The Listening (ABB)
51. Losoul Belong (Playhouse)
52. LTJ Bukem Logical Progression (Good Looking-FFRR)
53. Luomo Vocalcity (Force Tracks)
54. Madvillain Madvillainy (Stones Throw)
55. Manitoba (now Caribou) Start Breaking My Heart (Leaf)
56. Massive Attack Protection (Circa)
57. Matmos A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure (Matador)
58. Matthew Dear Leave Luck to Heaven (Ghostly International)
59. Metamatics Neo-Ouija (Hydrogen Dukebox)
60. Metro Area Metro Area (Environ)
61. Moodymann Silent Introduction (Planet E)
62. Mouse on Mars Autoditacker (Thrill Jockey)
63. Mr. De Electronicfunkyshit (Electrofunk)
64. Mr. Oizo Analog Worms Attack (F Comm)
65. Mr. Scruff Trouser Jazz (Ninja Tune)
66. Mu Afro Finger and Gel (Tigersushi)
67. Nightmares on Wax Smoker's Delight (Wax Trax-TVT)
68. Original Rockers Rockers to Rockers (Different Drummer)
69. Out Hud Let Us Never Speak of It Again (Kranky)
70. P'taah Compressed Light (Ubiquity)
71. Pete Rock Petestrumentals (BBE)
72. Phoenicia Odd Jobs (Schematic)
73. Photek The Hidden Camera (Science)
74. Plastikman Sheet One (Plus 8-Novamute)
75. Pole 1 (Matador)
76. Prefuse 73 Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives (Warp)
77. Radiohead Kid A (Capitol)
78. Ricardo Villalobos Alcachofa (Playhouse)
79. RJD2 Dead Ringer (Def Jux)
80. Roots Manuva Brand New Second-Hand (Big Dada)
81. Squarepusher Go Plastic (Warp)
82. Telefon Tel Aviv Map of What Is Effortless (Hefty)
83. The Books The Lemon of Pink (Tomlab)
84. The Bug Pressure (Tigerbeat6)
85. The Coup Party Music (75 Ark)
86. The Postal Service Give Up (Sub Pop)
87. Total Science Advance (CIA)
88. TV on the Radio Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch and Go)
89. Ulrich Schnauss A Strangely Isolated Place (City Centre Offices)
90. Underworld Dubnobasswithmyheadman (Wax Trax-TVT)
91. Various Clicks & Cuts (Mille Plateaux)
92. Various DFA Compilation #1 (DFA)
93. Various Disco Nouveau (Ghostly International)
94. Various Dubstep Allstars Vol. 1 (Tempa)
95. Various Fabric 13: Michael Mayer (Fabric)
96. Various Get Physical Vol. 1 (Get Physical)
97. Various Kompakt 100 (Kompakt)
98. Various Greensleeves Official Dancehall Mix-tape: Bobby Konders/Massive B Mad Sick Head Nah Good Mix (Greensleeves)
99. Various Run The Road (Vice)
100. Various Solesides Greatest Bumps (Quannum-Ninja Tune)