10. Todd Terje, “Snooze 4 Love”
[Running Back] (buy)
Most people know Todd Terje as an elusive superstar of the cosmic disco universe — the guy who turns songs by The Rolling Stones and Paul Simon into hot disco jams and runs a hilarious and nerdy production blog. But what happens when you take away Todd’s bongos and lock him in a room with only synthesizers as company? If “Snooze 4 Love” is any indication, the results can be absolutely stunning. As the B-side runout groove text (“Terjerine Dream”) suggests, this is Terje at his most dreamy and melodic. Its main motif — skipping up the register, diving back down and scrambling everywhere in-between — is as playful as a toddler but develops with a subtle sophistication that begs closer attention. The percussion is just as gentle, with delicate claps, a twinkling array of hand percussion, raindrop snares, and pitter-pattering hi-hats, all lifted by an afterburner bass line. In fact the whole experience is like an extraordinarily tender rocket ride, a pleasant 23rd century interplanetary commute with fizzy cocktails and “Snooze 4 Love” on the PA. That’s definitely part of the appeal: this could have escaped from Manuel Göttsching’s studio or been beamed back to us from the future. Kudos to Running Back for scoring another timeless classic for the catalog. This will be one of those records that record buyers will be repurchasing time and time again when they wear out their copies.
The first time I heard “Ital’s Theme” the word “retro” immediately popped into my head (the teaser video probably had more than a little to do with that). My mind didn’t go towards Ron Hardy or Juan Atkins but instead toward Studio 54, The Limelight, and maybe even a bit of CBGB. That’s because no other track this year seemed so thoroughly New York: abrasive, gritty, a bit worse for wear, perhaps, but flaunting the elegance that goes with those things when you’re so close to the East River. “Ital’s Theme” bounces around like some FXHE transmission gone horribly wrong, forsaking much of the low end for mid-and-high-range pandemonium and cramped sounds that recall some of Daniel Martin-McCormick’s history as a noise producer. It’s far from as heady as that all implies though, because this was all about that eager, sing-along synth line that latched onto your cerebellum and refused to let go. Seemingly simple, unpretentious dance music that felt unstuck in time, “Ital’s Theme” is about as addictive as they come, with Ital playing the role as that pusher hanging outside the Garage. (Chris Miller)
08. Spekter, “Pipe Bomb”
[Sound Signature] (buy)
Chicago’s Andres Ordonez has been recording for more than a decade — and DJing for much longer — but in 2011, his audience expanded considerably. Recording as Specter, the music published by his own Tetrode Music label has long held a sacred place in selective crates yet maintained a perplexingly low profile. A boost from Theo Parrish will sure help with that word of mouth, though. Apparently composed five years ago, “Pipe Bomb” (eventually released on Theo’s Sound Signature) must have been a revelation to the faithful and uninitiated alike — Specter had done something special here. This is a considerable departure from the low-slung, “lonely house” that was his calling card (his tracks finding apt homes with labels like Deep Explorer, Downbeat, and Sistrum Recordings). The steely record opens cold on menace and anxiety, and never backs down from there, the searing synth effects, martial drums, and tape hiss granting no rest or reprieve for the length of its methodically unhinged seven minutes. Continuously and steadily, it snarls, it smolders — yes, it combusts. And it is a wonder to behold. Scant few tracks would prove as formidable and dynamic in 2011.
07. Gesloten Cirkel, “Yamagic”
[Moustache Techno] (buy)
There’s something unassuming about Gesloten Cirkel’s EP for Moustache’s Techno Series. Marcel Dettmann and Steffi have been rinsing several of its tracks in DJ sets this year, and you’ll see a whole horde of other DJs defending it if you look at its entry on the the Clone website. Its opener, Yamagic,” certainly doesn’t have any of the hallmarks of a modern-day bomb — taken on its own, its almost meditative, combining rumbling metallic punchiness with an eerie, floating melody and a chopped-up, pitchshifted vocal. It’s like a sleepwalking “Los Niños Del Parque,” simultaneously aggressive and detached, laced with a bleary, brutal funk that sets it apart from the glut of the year’s techno releases. The track is built with a blunt catchiness you just don’t hear much these days — it’s simply a raw, gimmick-free hammer. (Steve Kerr)
06. D’Marc Cantu, “Set Free”
[M>O>S Recordings] (buy)
M>O>S Recordings captain Aroy Dee previewed this one for LWE back in January, describing it as “surprisingly melodic” for D’Marc Cantu, whom we may have pigeonholed as a practitioner of brooding and caustic takes on classic Midwest house (both solo and in collaboration with James T. Cotton and Traxx). “Set Free” may be the most seductive and, sure, melodic composition we’ve yet heard from Cantu, but there’s certainly nothing bright or tranquil to it. Its echoing chords haunt, really, hovering stark and ominous while snares pop to life over a dazed trudge of kick drums and handclaps. Though eerie, it is unmistakably a track of inviting warmth — though a sheltering warmth, not a cheering one (for me, it conjures the sensation of rain on windshield). Exemplary of the sort of raw, melancholy, and yet vividly colorful tracks that Aroy Dee champions, “Set Free” was the apex of a peak year for M>O>S Recordings, a timeless addition not only to that label’s growing legacy, but to the venerable Midwest tradition that informed and inspired it. (Chris Burkhalter)