LWE 2Q Reports: Top 5 Albums

It’s a funny thing about albums: despite having the odds stacked harrowingly against them, they’re still being made. Across all contemporary genres, the mp3 has chipped away at the album as a cohesive unit, as iTunes and its ilk have allowed listeners to snag the one or two cuts they want without having to fork over for all ten or twelve. As a lifelong record obsessive, I see the deluding of the album as an affront to an art form. But as a pragmatist and a dance music fan, I see a silver lining. Traditionally, albums by dance music producers kind of royally suck: they’re typically too long, too scatterbrained, and too indulgent to justify buying or recommending. What DJ or fan hasn’t wished he could cop the one or two quality dance floor cuts and leave all the noodly home-listening tracks at the shop?

So in the last six months, why have I, in my capacity as a dance music writer, been pitching reviews of dance albums week in and week out? I think it’s because I’ve noticed something funny happening with dance music albums. I still hear plenty of albums that should have been singles, but I’m hearing more and more that actually deserve 80 of my minutes. The best of them aren’t the work of producers who think themselves brilliant enough to conquer new tempos and aesthetics; rather, they’re the result of producers honing their craft and digging deeper. After listening to one of these albums, you know its producer better than you did before, and you get the sense that its producer knows himself a bit better as well. Here are five of my favorite full-lengths from the first six months of 2010. (Due to the exceedingly strong field, my list is hardly definitive. And to make my process easier I disqualified from this list two long-form releases — Tin Man’s Scared and Tevo Howard’s Crystal Republic — as it’s unclear whether they’re truly albums. Both deserve mention for being as excellent as any of what I’ve listed below.)


Actress, Splazsh [Honest Jon’s Records] (buy)
Like Burial, Actress productions sounds found rather than made. And what’s so brilliant about Splazsh is how immersive, inventive, and colorful Actress has made the alternate universe where all this music comes from. It’s a place both futuristic and vaguely nostalgic, where house, techno, and bass are just shades of the same photons. Sinking your teeth into this song cycle feels a bit like using the Subtle Knife from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy to peel open a window into an overlapping dimension: something here is deliciously off about this place, but once you climb into the sunshine, you realize you’re still on solid ground.

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Aybee, Ancient Tones [Further Records] (buy)
By far the biggest news story in America this year — the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — was the result of an oil company drilling deeper than anyone had ever drilled before. Aybee went quite a few miles below the surface on this spring’s Ancient Tones as well, but aside from blowing up a bunch of people’s brains on this cassette-only top kill, I see no sign of a catastrophe. Mr. Deepblak’s grandest statement to date, moving from ambient sludge-house to jazzy late night techno. At least as trippy as the tubeworms chilling beneath the Gulf spill, this record must be heard to be believed. Careful not to get the bends on your way up.

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Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma [Warp Records] (buy)
FlyLo’s kind of been the Velvet Underground of British bass circles: every teenager who heard Los Angeles after a couple spliffs, it seems, eventually put out a record on Hyperdub. The scion of LA’s woozy beatsmiths has finally made an album as astounding as half the people he inspired. Though its mood vacillates between high and hungover, Cosmogramma possesses a kind of mystical focus, finding harmony between musical complexity with general insanity. Surprising for a producer who always sounds like he’s using more footnotes than a David Foster Wallace novel, I’m finally following Flying Lotus’ thought, and what sweet logic he’s working with.

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Peter Van Hoesen, Entropic City [Time To Express] (buy)
It’s been awhile since I heard a techno album that properly resembles Fritz Lang’s Metropolis; scrappily intriguing, bare-bones, and more than a bit violent, the genre in general seems to have taken a marked turn toward Reservoir Dogs. But Entropic City takes me there. Stately yet forceful, mechanical yet gorgeous, heavy on the low-end but compositionally lithe, PvH’s first masterwork (among what will hopefully be many) casts underground sounds with the detail and brashness of far bigger budgets. I get the sense that this attention to craft, not to mention the Hose’s flair for storytelling, will keep this future vision tantalizing for years to come.

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Scuba, Triangulation [Hotflush Recordings] (buy)
Paul Rose likes wearing a couple of hats at once: his Hotflush imprint sports a sub-label for each conceivable iteration of its sound, and he’ll be pitting two of his aliases against each other in a back-to-back set at this year’s Labyrinth festival. Frankly, I find this all kind of silly in light of Triangulation, where Rose managed to pull off everything that’s happening in bass music right now in a single, unified set of tracks. On paper, the record does everything shitty dance records do — excursions into more esoteric tempos, emo guitars, etc. — but wins the day by refusing to succumb to mediocrity. Rose doesn’t just love Roska and dBridge; he can roll with those guys, all while sounding like Scuba. It’s the most accomplished and accessible LP on this list, and I’m somewhat befuddled as to why it hasn’t crossed over yet.

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Faddo  on July 5, 2010 at 1:26 PM

Excellent list, looks like mine actually. Although if I was pressed I might have Efdemin’s in there rather than Flying Lotus. FlyLo’s is nice and maybe even better than his first but I really like the weirdness of Efdemin’s.

rubin  on July 5, 2010 at 3:27 PM

scuba’s album is phenomenal – a modern classic.

definitely going to check the flying lotus thing on the back of this article.

raf  on July 5, 2010 at 3:33 PM

Efdemin – Chicago
Pawel – Pawel

and we are fine!!

Pedro  on July 6, 2010 at 6:02 AM

Pawel – S/T
Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers
Lindstrøm & Christabelle – Real Life Is No Cool
Art Bleek – Message to the dreamer
and Scuba + PV Hoesen, of course.

Makak Obaba  on July 7, 2010 at 12:42 PM

fully agree with Actress !!! raw shit that grooooves !

Blaktony  on July 10, 2010 at 6:46 AM

A definitive collection of must haves & must listens (even in the comments),straight up.

licówki  on July 11, 2010 at 9:12 PM

Sorry my english, but this is great site, I wil add to my favorites.

Phil Morse  on July 15, 2010 at 12:40 PM

Lovely list, Scuba is a real classic. I’d like to hear a new album by The Field, even though “Yesterday and Today” is not really that old.

Curtis Graban  on December 31, 2010 at 3:22 AM

There is apparently a bunch to realize about this. I consider you made various nice points in features also.

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