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LWE’s Top 10 Albums of 2010 – Little White Earbuds

LWE’s Top 10 Albums of 2010


Electronic dance music may be indefinitely wedded to the single as its format of choice, yet each year it grows clearer that albums are the ultimate test of producers’ artistic mettle. In a set of genres where going long is expected and encouraged, the long-player is a canvas large enough for artists to show off the many facets of their musical vision — as well as how it fits together. 2010 was another stellar year for albums, one which offered still more hope that dance music continues to evolve even as many of its adherents rehash past developments. The year revealed the gorgeous way forward for house, hosted artistic transformations, bold first statements and returns to form, and yielded plenty of stunning music that defied categorization altogether. These 10 albums, as voted on by LWE’s writing staff, represent the best and most intrepid among the year’s long form statements.


10. Darkstar, North
[Hyperdub] (buy)

Darkstar’s debut LP, North, represented a sizable stylistic shift from music they had released up to that point, but when put to the test, transpired to be one of the year’s triumphs. Having evolved from a production duo to a live trio, Darkstar were likely to find themselves trapped between identities, and this album finds comfort in curling up inside the space between old and new. In one sense stepping away from their more obvious dubstep inclinations, the album’s dark, intimate atmosphere simultaneously hearkens back to the early, moodier roots of the genre, huddling in the middle-ground between the electronic and organic as demonstrated on the fizzling beats and sorrowful overtones of “Deadness” and the title track’s machine-gun ballad. However this is a record of cohesion, not conflict; North presents such a introspective train of thought that the spark of brightness injected by earlier hit “Aidy’s Girl’s A Computer” almost seems out of place. However, this isn’t an album that seeks to depress. The mournful strains ebbing throughout are colored with a melancholic hopefulness rather than despondency; and while closing track “When It’s Gone” is just a few black-clad mourners short of a funeral march for the technological age, North christens the promising future in store for Darkstar’s fledgling sound. (Jack Scourfield)

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09. Urban Tribe, Urban Tribe
[Mahogani Music] (buy)

Even though the main contributors (Kenny Dixon Jr, Anthony Shakir and Carl Craig) to Urban Tribe are well known, there is still an air of mystery that pervades this year’s Urban Tribe album. Combing through several interviews with founding member Sherard Ingram won’t make it any clearer who did what. In a way, not knowing only adds to the fantastical realm the album inhabits. The industrial dub landscape envisioned in the landmark 1998 debut, The Collapse Of Modern Culture, is expanded upon as the tracks here cover plenty of new ground. Morphing from strange yet wonderful excursions into future soul dubstep (“Program 2″) and claustrophobic hip-hop (“Program 7″) to more straight-ahead deep electro (“Program 5″) and melancholic deep house (“Program 12″), Urban Tribe is provocative in a way that haunts you long after the record stops.
(Kuri Kondrak)

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08. Autechre, Oversteps
[Warp Records] (buy)

Autechre’s place in electronic music has often been slightly ahead of everyone else. From the gestational IDM of Tri Repetae to the proto-glitch of Envane and Draft 7.30 all the way through to Confield‘s controversial noise excursions, they’ve had a knack for sneaking up on emerging sounds. The post-dubstep bass textures coupled with beautiful melodies on Oversteps find Autechre with their ear to the ground in 2010 even while continuing their career trend of constantly looking a step beyond. Certainly, opener “R Ess” is rides the resurgence of deep and dark dubstep from artists like Kryptic Minds and Horsepower Productions, even while it sounds uniquely like their handiwork. Even on more standard experimental productions like “Illanders” and “Treale,” the steady thump and deep low-end easily makes these contenders for speaker-rattling choices in the club. In amongst the modern beats and bass are some of the boldest forays into melody Autechre have produced in years. “Known(1)” and “See On See” are both heavily focused on melody, with baroque sounds and structures weaving throughout seemingly abstract backgrounds. Yet here’s no doubt this is an Autechre album, as strange, bubbling music-scatters like “D-Sho Qub” and “St Epreo” clearly show the producers have not emerged from the rabbit hole to aim for dance floor stardom. In an exciting and varied years for electronic music, Sean Booth and Rob Brown prove that songs can be experimental, sound beautiful, and bump heavily all at the same time. (Keith Pishnery)

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07. Peter van Hoesen, Entropic City
[Time To Express] (buy)

The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy (“disorder”) of the universe tends to increase. Peter van Hoesen was wise to choose this as the subject of his first techno full length — not only to capture the hearts of nerds like myself but also because his work seems to embody the concept. His tightly wound tunes, alive with texture and warmth, seem to break down and disintegrate or coalesce around a cloud of synth-born matter. We’re treated to plenty of sweaty 6 AM jams often associated with PVH, but Entropic City stands out as one of the years best because he tempers the tempo and energy with languid, atmospheric cuts. It’s on these slower tunes where van Hoesen’s attention to detail and trance-inducing powers are on full display, where the cliches of techno albums break down. Entropic City is hardly just a collection of tracks: it’s a living, breathing ensemble, with each part’s motion tied into the larger whole — not unlike a city. (Chris Miller)

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06. Jon McMillion, Jon McMillion LP
[Nuearth Kitchen] (buy)

Jon McMillion’s debut album didn’t so much appear out of nowhere as it did slowly take shape amongst the fog of other long players this year; in fact for many it was heralded by the stellar collection of remixes that succeeded it. With little to no fanfare to the Seattle producer’s past efforts, he released his imperforate self titled album in September on CD and digital formats, unwittingly turning in the sleeper album of the year. Densely packed with intricate melodies that owe as much to progressive rock and free jazz as conventional house music, McMillion’s album seeps into your senses like a rising tide. The familiar emblems of house are present throughout the album, but it’s the free-form embellishments that tip this long player over the edge into rarely explored territories and mark its uniqueness. McMillion’s voice is a constant presence throughout, but as it coaxes the listener into aural hypnosis with heavy delays he also patches in to sampled elements, making for some of the most familiar-fresh sounds you’ve heard of late. With the digital release of the album clocking in at nearly two hours (and not a scrap of any filler), this is without a doubt one of the most rewarding start to finish albums you’re likely to hear in a long time. (Per Bojsen-Moller)

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05. Mount Kimbie, Crooks & Lovers
[Hotflush Recordings] (buy)

On their early EPs, Mount Kimbie sounded like they’d shattered the vase of futuristic dubstep and were trying to figure out how to superglue it back together. By the sound of their debut album, however, the group decided to shatter the vase once again, this time just for fun. Crooks & Lovers exists on the opposite end of the spectrum from Mala’s Return II Space, another one of this year’s finest, albeit for very different reasons: where the DMZ opus restated dubstep’s purpose, Mount Kimbie’s record — a jangly, flawed-to-perfection set not much longer than a Villalobos single — corrupted seemingly without remorse. This year of all years, though we’ve learned that dubstep can sound awesome when it’s all out of whack, and on Crooks & Lovers, there’s truly an art to Mount Kimbie’s nonchalance. Across 11 tracks, each scraggly drum hit, guitar twang, and shred of diva vocal sits mismatched and in precisely the wrong place. But I’m sure anyone who cherished this album shudders to think of what Dominic Maker and Kai Campos would sound like if they’d followed the directions. Other records might have evoked the music of tomorrow as much as Crooks & Lovers, but it’s safe to say that no other album envisioned the year 2100 as a world dominated by an elite of Etsy barons. High tech and handcrafted? Mount Kimbie has proved no one else does it quite like they do. Let’s hope they keep doing it.
(Jordan Rothlein)

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04. Scuba, Triangulation
[Hotflush Recordings] (buy)

Forget dubstep for a second, forget its fruitful crossover with techno that’s been going on for years now, forget everything. Scuba’s second album, Triangulation, is just a beautiful piece of spatial sound design: that it comes packed with fantastically inventive beats is a lovely bonus. Triangulation picked up all the loose ends that have been poking out of UK bass music and enveloped each one in Paul Rose’s particular array of moods and sounds. As sensually humid as it was coldly industrial, its sounds had a habit of diffusing in and out the mix like warm breath in a frozen warehouse. It was sufficiently sleek to fulfill even the most extreme futurist fetishes but approachable enough to satisfy listeners looking for something more soulful and affecting. Scuba adeptly played with techno (“Heavy Machinery”), dubstep (“Three Sided Shape”), garage (“On Deck”), and crawling halfstep drum-n-bass (twin standouts “Before” and “So You Think You’re Special”) without ever moving beyond his (vast) comfort zone. However, the album’s best quality is that it made context needless even in the presence of multiple genre exercises: in providing a comprehensive survey of current dance music, he demolished dance music itself and rebuilt it with his own set of rules. Triangulation was a collective epiphany, the sound of an accomplished artist discovering what he needed to do and then doing it right before your eyes. It doesn’t matter what you think about “dubstep,” anyone who was interested in electronic music in 2010 needs this record to witness one of its most daring and inspiring events. (Andrew Ryce)

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03. John Roberts, Glass Eights
[Dial] (buy)

After a string of laudable 12-inches and a few scattered remixes and compilation cuts, John Roberts made good on his promise as Dial’s next great album producer with his debut long player, Glass Eights. The album finds him coalescing around a more uniform aesthetic, sounding a bit like you’d expect the producer’s headspace would during a succession of ten sunless winter days. Gone are the overt ghetto-house references, that former swagger now drenched in piano reverb and twinkling bells, those eternal signifiers of electronic melancholia. Deeper listens divulge an intensive attention to detail, compositions so nuanced and personal it feels shameful to worry about their efficacy in a club setting. Roberts notoriously composes in bed, and Glass Eights bears its influence, using house music as a bridge between the openness of his own space and the claustrophobic rest of the world. To sound purely like oneself, especially on one’s debut album, is a high achievement, and this is precisely what Roberts has done. (Steve Kerr)

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02. Shed, The Traveller
[Ostgut Ton] (buy)

If Shedding The Past, René Pawlowitz’s first album as Shed, was a personal manifesto then his sophomore long-player, The Traveller, was closer to a collection of short stories. Its 48-minute run-time belied how many styles and ideas Pawlowitz was able to execute, containing 14 tracks wherein the revered artist flexed his production muscles in almost every imaginable direction. Despite flitting from euphoric ambience (“Stp2″) and chunky, Detroit-influenced techno (“Atmo-Action”) to face-melting techno (“Hdrtm”) and grandiose junglisms (“Leave Things”), the sustained complexity and quality of the arrangements bind the album together. Its diversity recalled the genre-spanning albums that were once common in electronic music (think early LFO, The Black Dog or B12 LPs) and Pawlowitz’s ravishing slate of melodies echoes the timeless sonorities of early Richard D. James productions. The Traveller feels like a product of its circumstances — having been created at the behest of Ostgut Ton in a mere two months — and its maker’s curt personality, taking only the time necessary to make its case and then moving on. Standing in contrast with his first full-length, Pawlowitz’s sophomore album was sure to disappoint those who anticipated another grand treatise. Expecting as much missed the point: The Traveller was a potent dispatch from where Pawlowitz stood in 2010, one that found him still far ahead of the pack with plenty of ammunition to spare. (Steve Mizek)

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01. Actress, Splazsh
[Honest Jon's Records] (buy)

Discussing the quest for his own little corner of the electronic music spectrum with The Wire, unabashed techno enthusiast Darren Cunningham spoke candidly on the anxiety of influence. “When you’ve got the Detroit shadow looming over you… you need to come with something quite decent. I took time to find what my sound was.” Splazsh is the stunning realization of that effort, a richly introverted hour whose modulated drones, anxious stop-start rhythms and swung funk distinguishes itself from forebears and contemporaries through what are, by now, Actress’ calling-card idiosyncrasies: the raw rumble of blown-out bass, the overdone EQ-ing and, of course, the security-tape rendering of compression and distortion. These tricks coalesce hypnotically in a twinning of the ominous and euphoric, but it isn’t sound design that made Splazsh one of 2010′s major events. It’s that Cunningham just seems to be viewing music from a markedly different vantage point than the rest of us. This is a guy who originally fancied 2009′s “Ghosts Have A Heaven” a good fit for Underground Resistance, and who described “Hubble” as a study of “Erotic City.” And his sophomore LP is every bit as eccentric, abstract and playful as we hoped to hear. Hopscotching from spectral haze to glassy R&B to nightvision garage to aggro glitch, Splazsh sometimes manages to roll and swing and swagger and coo all at once. But it regularly puzzles and surprises us too, never quite fitting the hybridized genre tags we lob at it. We’ll surely be listening closely to this one long after 2010 ends, clamoring for a glimpse of whatever it is that Darren Cunningham sees through his prismatic window to the world of rhythm music. (Chris Burkhalter)

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Staff Lists:

Per Bojsen-Moller

01. Actress, Splazsh [Honest Jon's Records]
02. Mount Kimbie, Crooks & Lovers [Hotflush Recordings]
03. John Roberts, Glass Eights [Dial]
04. Jon McMillion, Jon McMillion LP [Nuearth Kitchen]
05. Scuba, Triangulation [Hotflush Recordings]
06. Four Tet, There Is Love In You [Domino]
07. Christopher Rau, Asper Clouds [Smallville]
08. Conforce, Machine Conspiracy [Meanwhile]
09. Peter Van Hoesen, Entropic City [Time To Express]
10. Caribou, Swim [City Slang]

Chris Burkhalter

01. Actress, Splazsh [Honest Jon's Records]
02. Arp & Anthony Moore, Today’s Psalter [RVNG]
03. Autechre, Oversteps [Warp]
04. Peter Van Hoesen, Entropic City [Time To Express]
05. Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek, Bird, Lake, Objects [Faitiche]
06. Digital Mystikz, Return II Space [DMZ]
07. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh [Motown]
08. John Roberts, Glass Eights [Dial]
09. Lerosa, Dual Nature [Further]
10. Donato Dozzy, K [Further]

Steve Kerr

01. Actress, Splazsh [Honest Jon’s]
02. John Roberts, Glass Eights [Dial]
03. Urban Tribe, Urban Tribe [Mahogani Music]
04. DJ Roc, The Crack Capone [Planet Mu]
05. Shed, The Traveller [Ostgut Tonträger]
06. Salem, King Night [IAMSOUND]
07. Autre Ne Veut, Autre Ne Veut [Olde English Spelling Bee]
08. Arp, The Soft Wave [Smalltown Supersound]
09. Lukid, Chord [Werk Discs]
10. Grimes, Halfaxa [Arbutus]

Anton Kipfel

01. John Roberts, Glass Eights [Dial]
02. Sandwell District, Feed-Forward [Sandwell District]
03. Shed, The Traveller [Ostgut Ton]
04. Brandt Brauer Frick, You Make Me Real [!K7]
05. Actress, Splazsh [Honest Jon's Records Records]
06. Scuba, Triangulation [Hotflush Recordings]
07. Jon McMillion, Jon McMillion LP [Nuearth Kitchen]
08. Mount Kimbie, Crooks & Lovers [Hotflush Recordings]
09. Ripperton, Niwa [Green]
10. Peter Van Hoesen, Entropic City [Time To Express]

Kuri Kondrak

01. A Guy Called Gerald, Tronic Jazz The Berlin Sessions [Laboratory Instinct]
02. Urban Tribe, Urban Tribe [Mahogani]
03. Lone, Emerald Fantasy Tracks [Magic Wire]
04. Red Rack’em, The Early Years [Bergerac]
05. Actress, Splaszh [Honest Jon's Records]
06. Jon McMillion, Jon McMillion LP [Nuearth Kitchen]
07. Fabrice Lig, Genesis Of The Deep [Fine Art Recordings]
08. Aybee, Ancient Tones [Further]
09. The Black Dog , Music For Real Airports [Soma]
10. Oneohtrix Point Never, Returnal [Editions Mego]

Chris Miller

01. Scuba, Triangulation [Hotflush Recordings]
02. John Roberts, Glass Eights [Dial]
03. Shed, The Traveller [Ostgut Ton]
04. Peter van Hoesen, Entropic City [Time To Express]
05. Actress, Splazsh [Honest Jon's Records]
06. Demdike Stare, Liberation Through Hearing [Modern Love]
07. Autechre, Oversteps [Warp]
08. Mount Kimbie, Crooks & Lovers [Hotflush Recordings]
09. Donnacha Costello, Before We Say Goodbye [Poker Flat]
10. Donato Dozzy, K [Further Records]

Steve Mizek

01. John Roberts, Glass Eights [Dial]
02. Actress, Splazsh [Honest Jon's Records Records]
03. Shed, The Traveller [Ostgut Ton]
04. Robyn, Body Talk [Konnichiwa]
05. Emeralds, Do You Think I’m Here? [Editions Mego]
06. Jon McMillion, Jon McMillion LP [Nuearth Kitchen]
07. Lindstrøm & Christabelle, Real Life Is No Cool
[Feedelity/Smalltown Supersound]
08. Tobacco, Manic Meat [Anticon]
09. Arto Mwambe, Live At Robert Johnson Vol. 4 [Live at Robert Johnson]
10. Brandt Brauer Frick, You Make Me Real [!K7]

Sarah Joy Murray

01. Reagenz, Playtime [Workshop]
02. Lerosa, Dual Nature [Further]
03. Shed, The Traveller [Ostgut Ton]
04. Space Dimension Controller, Temporary Thrillz [R&S Records]
05. Pantha du Prince, Black Noise [Rough Trade]
06. Redshape, Red Pack [Present]
07. Margaret Dygas, How Do You Do [Power Shovel Audio]
08. Peter Van Hoesen, Entropic City [Time to Express]
09. Virgo, Virgo (Reissue) [Rush Hour]
10. Aybee, Ancient Tones [Further]

Keith Pishnery

01. Rudi Zygadlo, Great Western Laymen [Planet Mu]
02. Ital Tek, Midnight Colour [Planet Mu]
03. Starkey, Ear Drums and Black Holes [Planet Mu]
04. Autechre, Oversteps [Warp]
05. Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma [Warp]
06. Terror Danjah, Undeniable [Hyperdub]
07. Four Tet, There Is Love In You [Domino]
08. Scuba, Triangulation [Hotflush Recordings]
09. Ikonika, Contact, Love, Want Have [Hyperdub]
10. Take, Only Mountain [Alpha Pup]

Jordan Rothlein

01. Mount Kimbie, Crooks & Lovers [Hotflush Recordings]
02. T++, Wireless [Honest Jon's Records]
03. Shed, The Traveller [Ostgut Tonträger]
04. Digital Mystikz, Return II Space [DMZ]
05. John Roberts, Glass Eights [Dial]
06. Tin Man, Scared [White Denim]
07. Scuba, Triangulation [Hotflush Recordings]
08. Sleigh Bells, Treats [Mom + Pop]
09. Actress, Splazsh [Honest Jon's Records Records]
10. Salem, King Night [IAMSOUND]

Andrew Ryce

01. Scuba, Triangulation [Hotflush Recordings]
02. Darkstar, North [Hyperdub]
03. Shed, The Traveller [Ostgut Ton]
04. Jack Sparrow, Circadian [Tectonic]
05. ASC, Nothing Is Certain [NonPlus+]
06. Sandwell District, Feed-Forward [Sandwell District]
07. Guido, Anidea [Punch Drunk]
08. Pantha Du Prince, Black Noise [Rough Trade]
09. Roof Light, Kirkwood Gaps [Highpoint Lowlife]
10. Terror Danjah, Undeniable [Hyperdub]

Jack Scourfield

01. Eleven Tigers, Clouds Are Mountains [Soul Motive]
02. Jimmy Edgar, XXX [Studio !K7]
03. Darkstar, North [Hyperdub]
04. Baths, Cerulean [Anticon]
05. Teebs, Ardour [Brainfeeder]
06. Four Tet, There Is Love In You [Domino]
07. Salem, King Night [IamSound]
08. Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma [Warp]
09. Terror Danjah, Undeniable [Hyperdub]
10. Dettmann, Dettmann [Ostgut Ton]

Jimmy  on December 20, 2010 at 1:15 AM

surpsied not to see dozzy’s k on there given the reception it’s had.

i’ll be sure to track down the ones i don’t have though.

romain  on December 20, 2010 at 10:37 AM

don’t understand the darkstar.

HISSNLISSN  on December 20, 2010 at 11:35 AM

@Jimmy, the Dozzy and Aybee tape/LPs for Further would both be on my list (if I were to make one) but then again I’d have Beach House as my #1…

Per Bojsen-Moller  on December 20, 2010 at 2:40 PM

For me I only started listening to Donato’s album about a month or so before the polls were due. It definitely figured into my favourite albums of the year but others had more time to make more of an impact on me.

Elmyr  on December 20, 2010 at 3:16 PM

Reagenz’s Playtime (Sarah Joy Murray) would be on my top ten too…if it’d been released in 2010.

Looking back, it’s been a weaker year for electronic music than its dominating influence on popular acts might lead one to expect.

And somewhat conversely, it’s interesting that none of the albums from the various hotly tipped “live techno” bands (Brandt Brauer Frick, Electro Guzzi, and Wareika) have cracked either this or RA’s year-end lists.

My top three in no particular order would probably be Glass Eights, Splazsh, and Triangulation, but I don’t feel as impassioned about any of them as I did about, say, Midtown 120 Blues in 2008 or Three EPs from last year.

Elmyr  on December 20, 2010 at 3:18 PM

Oh, and I’m VERY surprised that Temporary Thrillz didn’t make this list!

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 20, 2010 at 3:20 PM

To my mind, Temporary Thrillz is more of an EP than album and thus not applicable.

Henderick AKA Thelonious Funk  on December 21, 2010 at 7:54 PM

Did not dig the Darkstar LP. However the Human League cover of GOLD is pure bliss!!! Love it!

Tsiridis  on December 22, 2010 at 7:04 PM

Also in the ‘dont get darkstar’ group. Did not like that album, quite a letdown compared to their previous stuff. Very surprised to see it in end of year lists all over.. Makes me think, is it just the Hyperdub-hype making it happen?

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 22, 2010 at 7:08 PM

I’d like to think all our writers think for themselves rather than parroting whatever the hype machine is pushing at us.

Although the album received a few votes, those who liked it liked it A LOT, hence its appearance in the top 10. You can get a feel for that by looking at the staff charts below.

Spons  on December 23, 2010 at 11:40 AM

Will check out the ones I’ve missed out on :)

Personal favorites that didnt make your list:

Deepchord – Liumin
Carbon Based Lifeforms – Interloper

Both touched me deeply

few favorite 12 inch mentions which didn’t make your list :
Iori – Spatiotemporal
Petar Dundov – Distant Shores
Dimitri Kneppers – The Kick Off !

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for all @ LWE !

Latoya Bridges  on December 25, 2010 at 5:43 PM

Did not dig the Darkstar LP. However the Human League cover of GOLD is pure bliss!!! Love it!

Michael  on December 26, 2010 at 11:29 AM

I agree it was a pity not seeing DeepChord’s Liumin listed here but at least it made it in Textura, wondering what The Wire’s list will reveal. King Midas Sound & The Sight Below did an amazing rework of them and The Sight Below album was quite charming as well and a far better choice than many on the list but what do I know? Mvo Trio anyone? It seems like a lot of the RA picks are listed up here, why not choose different?

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 26, 2010 at 11:34 AM

If we decided on our year-end lists based on the outcomes of other publications’ lists, what would that say about our tastes?

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