2010 in review

#top 50 Eps 2010, part I: from 50 to 21

2010 in review #top 50 Eps 2010, part I: from 50 to 21This year we launched our singles review section on PlayGround, and as the year’s gone on we’ve selected and inspected some of the most powerful (mainly) 12” releases put at the disposal of DJs and the fingertips of all kinds of music lovers. Now it’s time to settle the balance. Here’s a list of the 50 most solid EPs of the year according to us. Starting with the first part, we count down from numbers 50 to 21. 50. Vainqueur: “Ranges” (Scion Versions) That enveloping sound of Vainqueur has always been considered as one of the best outings of the aesthetic installed by Basic Channel, and the two takes of “Ranges”are a happy reunion. The B-side, “Ranges - Theme”, is the most pumping one, with Jamaican dub breath in the Rhythm & Sound vein, but it’s “Ranges - Expanded” that oozes the magic of the old Vainqueur tracks: that sharp, metallic grey texture, and floating sound that falls like acid rain. It’s not the most resounding comeback of the year, but it is a cult return that reaches the high standards of the legend. Javier Blánquez

49. Kenton Slash Demon: “The Schwarzschild Solution Part 1 & 2” (Tartelet) This “Schwarzschild Solution” trilogy is a substantial progression in the KSD sound, and has diabolic and vocoderised voices added to the compression –between electro-house, trance and stabbing techno– which is reminiscent of what The MFA did years ago, only less epic. It will wreak havoc, and it will raise arms. It may not be original, but effective it is: this is one of the best tech-house records of this season. JB

48. Laurel Halo: “King Felix EP” (Hippos In Tanks) I’m trying to find references with which to support a reflection on the musical creation of Laurel Halo and I can’t. Her music is anything but obvious. It overlaps with several genres we know well by now, like dream-pop, but what she does isn’t anything like a reinterpretation of bands like His Name Is Alive. Neither is she another hypnagogic pop affiliate, nor a new age warrior. She doesn’t want her music to be danceable, but curiously there is a bit of all of the above in her songs. Ronald Fritze

47. Ill Blu: “Bellion / Dragon Pop” (Hyperdub) The intense, organic and tropical percussion rhythms have already left their mark on the streets, and now it’s time to make way for the duo Ill Blu, one of the most solid production crews on the present funky scene. They have entered the mainstream successfully, remixing both Cheryl Cole’s single “Parachute” and Hot Chip’s “I Feel Better”, and at the same time distinguished themselves with a fleshy, dry and very tribal sound that is absolutely exclusive to the underground. This 12” marks a silent point of inflection in the evolution of funky for audiences unfamiliar with the sound. They could end up conquering that section of the audience that is still resisting Scratcha DVA. Claude T. Hill

46. Fulgeance: “Glamoure EP” (Musique Large) The level of refinement the French producer reaches is fascinating, although it shouldn’t be, as it’s actually just common sense: once you have a perfect piece, release it; don’t put out sketches or sound fragments if you’re not totally convinced. Here we have four demonstrations of Fulgeance’s talent: from “Glamoure” to the jazz chaos of “Vengeance”, Fulgeance shows that he is growing as an artist and that his music evolves logically and with an eye on the present. He might be one of the best beatmakers around right now. RF

45. Elgato: “Tonight / Blue” (Hessle Audio) Both “Tonight” and “Blue” look to add something new to an area we already know only too well. “Tonight” is the funkiest track of the two, sounding most like Lil’ Silva, Don Daneeka and DVA, although towards the end Elgato adds a luminous detail –as if Joy Orbison helped him out a bit– that frees him of the tyranny of the formula. Much more open and emotional is “Blue”, which uses female vocals, cut-up and passionate, as if they were love sighs. This is one of those 12”s that doesn’t change the rules, but does make your life better. CTH

44. V.I.V.E.K.: “Feel It” (Deep Medi Musik) “Feel It” sounds like a galactic thriller in Arabia, like Pakistani colonisation of far away planets, like the record Digital Mystikz never recorded for Skull Disco. It doesn't belong to the present. It's a dubstep work from a parallel universe, an examples of how the genre would have sounded if, instead of evolving towards pop, ambient or house, it would have evolved towards itself, towards it’s stomach and heart. An incredibly intense experience in four cuts on thick vinyl that take up 45 minutes, more with the bonus CD mix that comes with the record. Records like these fill you up until you overflow. JB

43. Kangding Ray: “Pruitt Igoe” (Raster-Noton) In “Pruitt Igoe”, Kangding Ray enters the complex universe of avant-techno and situates his aesthetic interest near Byetone. The two takes on “Pruitt Igoe” –the first with the title “Rise”, and the latter “Fall”– are manoeuvres on the exterior limits of the 4x4, exercises in avant-garde techno which, as could only happen on a label as interested in contemporary design and architecture as the Berlin imprint, are inspired by the construction and posterior demolition (between the fifties and seventies) of the urban complex of Pruitt Igoe in San Louis, largely considered one of the major failures in modern architecture. RF

42. Becoming Real: “Fast Motion” (Ramp Recordings) The aesthetic foundation of Becoming Real’s music (Toby Ridler for those who aren’t keen on his alias) might just make him one of the key acts of 2010. He doesn’t actually invent anything new, but he does redefine the abstract beat with geometrical variations that manage to sound original and daring in the moment. As if it were an English adaptation of the Scandinavian sound skweee, with its rhythmic cubism and feet deep in funk, up to its waist in hip-hop rhythms and with hands dictating original schizoid melodies from a primitive videogame, Becoming Real does everything possible to be the slow, polite and enveloping counterpart of his fellow Englishman and label partner, Zomby. JB

41. Pantha Du Prince: “Lay In A Shimmer” (Rough Trade) We hadn’t heard of dubstep with metal references nor of symphonic wonky, but here we have the first known copy of a non-existent, baroque and dramatic genre of which Rustie is the maximum representative and omnipotent god. The five tracks are over in 14 minutes in length, with an uncontrollable speed, with neckpains from all the headbanging (and abdominal pains of all the rapid twists), with the arms lifted high and the fingers proudly forming horns. Inflammable material, dangerous, young, kitschy, radioactive: only Rustie could do that. Kneel before him. Richard Ellmann

40. Rustie: “Sunburst EP” (Warp) We hadn’t heard of dubstep with metal references nor of symphonic wonky, but here we have the first known copy of a non-existent, baroque and dramatic genre of which Rustie is the maximum representative and omnipotent god. The five tracks are over in 14 minutes in length, with an uncontrollable speed, with neckpains from all the headbanging (and abdominal pains of all the rapid twists), with the arms lifted high and the fingers proudly forming horns. Inflammable material, dangerous, young, kitschy, radioactive: only Rustie could do that. Kneel before him. JB

39. Solar Bears: “Inner Sunshine EP” (Planet Mu) Here we have Solar Bears, an Irish duo with their roots in Dublin and Wicklow, who are not exactly folkies, but neither are they exactly spacey, and who know how to take the best of both worlds to get to a formula the reinvents the wheel of floating music. As has been pointed out as the great hope of the new post-Balearic music, this EP will gives us more reasons to trust in their powers of hypnotic conviction. They have a lot in common with Canterbury in the way they strum their guitars, with that complicated twist at the end – “Trans Waterfall”, “Photo Negative Living”– and they cover contemporary references with a serene and permanent layer of ambient. JB

38. Throwing Snow: “Un Vingt / Cronos” (Ho Tep) Ho Tep kicks off with two tracks by Throwing Snow, a debutant artist that has the same love for detail and horizontal action as the sacred cows of today’s post-dubstep, James Blake and Mount Kimbie: spacious and delicate notes, shelled in elaborate scales and with a nocturnal aureole –soft and jazz-like, clashing with irregular breaks borrowed from 2step and the female whispers that go so well with that post-Joy Orbison sound. If this is what they call progressive dubstep, I want more, that’s for sure. CTH

37. Roof Light: “What Makes You So Special” (Highpoint Lowlife) This single is the story of an evolution without moving away from the axis of juicy dub, but turning towards dubstep and enriching it with new influences within what’s unanimously considered “an elegant sound.” The four untitled tracks on “What Makes You So Special” go towards future garage, track A1; and old school 2step with the direct influence of Todd Edwards on the rhythmic cut of the diva vocals, track B1; while the other two look for a more paused beat, surrounding the break and bass line with an exact pulse of disco samples (always slowed-down). Imagine a Pangaea song edited by Mark E and there you have it, original and fresh. JB

36. No Fun Acid: “This Is No Fun Acid 2” (Not Not Fun) It may seem that Carlos Giffoni’s (owner of the No Fun label and rowdy neo-noise exponent) new alias No Fun Acid is something new, but it isn’t. Acid in its primal incarnation was already raw and constructed from a 303 and a rhythm box. The latter disappears quite often on the release exposing the raw ear piercing bassline (something we are totally in favour of). We can qualify the No Fun Acid project at least as fresh, because it exiles the style danceable part, focusing on textures and undulations: abrasive as caustic acid and dangerous for delicate ears. JB

35. Kowton: “Basic Music Knowledge” (Idle Hands) England was becoming too small for Joe Cowton, and cramped with curiosity he began looking beyond the present nightlife scene to the past. He looked towards Detroit, scrutinising the long notes that could be the basis for a simple line that carried the signature of Kenny Larkin. He looked especially to the cities of Bristol and London, to Kirk DeGiorgio, The Black Dog, linking the hazy post-Burial dubstep with primitive intelligent techno of labels like Irdial with added amendments to his sound. “ Basic Music Knowledge” is techno-soul, or a mixture of G-Man and Michael Jackson with an arrhythmic drum pattern that could have been signed to Pangaea, while “ Hunger” is the result of the unlikely intercourse between Sleeparchive and Untold. CTH 34. The Bug: “Infected EP” (Ninja Tune) The city is dark. The rain on the asphalt hasn’t dried up yet. Traffic lights are blinking. Drag races on the streets. Sirens in the distance. Kevin Martin’s recent body of work is the perfect sonic representation of that image of rough London in which there might be, as in the days of Jack the Ripper, a possible threat around every corner. When he turns into The Bug, what emerges is a feeling of violence and contained energy. This double single is a luxury for the fans of the latter alias of Martin, a real gift (and with the right grammage for the bass lines to make the walls tremble) on which all the images of urban decadence we associate the artist with are condensed. CTH

33. Lone: “Once In A While / Raptured” (Werk) “Once In A While” is proof of the fact that Lone is much more than a dubstep outlaw or emo beatmaker. Matt Cutler makes the slogan that was the title of his latest album ( “Ecstasy & Friends”) his, and has designed a tribute to the good old days, when dance music was nocturnal love, first in the form of goosebumps-inducing tech-house, much in the vein of the proto-2step revival that is in effect these days ( “Raptured”). In other words, the 4x4 twist with soulful vocals and aquatic synthesisers he put forward on “Pineapple Crush”, the first release on is own label Magic Wire Recordings, was neither a coincidence nor a bluff. JB

32. oOoOO: “oOoOO” (Tri Angle) Just when we’d got used to the “witch house” label, here comes oOoOO to offer a variety: witch disco. Where there’s supposed to be stark realism and bowels, darkness and some leather, Christopher Dexter Greenspan has added influences from Italo disco and Balearic sounds, Mediterranean guitars, boogie handclaps and beach siren vocals on “Hearts” and “Sedsumtings”. All this would be enough to diagnose a state of grace on the witch house scene, but in truth, what’s being announced here is the unstoppable progress of oOoOO. JB

31. Downliners Sekt: “We Make Hits, Not The Public” (Disboot) The second chapter of an EP trilogy, begun with “Hello Lonely, Hold the Nation” in June, this is their most surprising and unexpected material effort in a long time, because the post-rock band format that has traditionally served them as foundation, has now turned into pure liquid electronica. What remains is the ability of abstraction to sound like an alternative reality. It’s no longer a balance between the digital rock of Radian, the steep IDM of Autechre and the precisely cut beats of the Californian school, but a step ahead towards an aesthetic that fits D-Sekt perfectly; urban melancholy, crepuscular music that emphasises the dark angles of the architectonic constructions. JB

30. Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom: “Track 5” (DFA) “Track 5” has never a marked beat, it never crosses the border with disco music –and it does enter the field of kraut rock in the vein of Ash Ra Tempel and late-70’s Tangerine Dream–, so the obsessive nature of the music remains immaculate, only with much more urgent metronomic to-ing and fro-ing, and more stress, like a hasty version of the “Risky Business” soundtrack (with the classic scattered electric guitar, popularised by Edgar Froese, towards the end). Conclusion: after an eternity without releasing anything together, Delia and Gavin are coming back through the front door. JB

29. DJ Nate: “Hatas Our Motivation” (Planet Mu)

DJ Nate is a virgin creator, uncorrupted, who has yet to make contact with electronic music’s principal block. He has been creating with total freedom, with no objective beyond making his neighbours dance (the technique known as footwork), and he shows us here something usually difficult to find: absolute freedom which leads to innovation, a breath of fresh air, just as ghetto-tech, drill’n’bass and jumpstyle were years before, and gives it an ephemeral style resistant to time. DJ Nate is revamping the rules of the relationship between hip-hop and house, and that can be nothing short of wonderful news. JB

28. Sepalcure: “Love Pressure” (Hotflush Recordings) Joy Orbison ruled last year and 2010 is shaping to be the year were he consolidates his fame and influence. The pneumatic basslines, vocals filled with desirous samples taken from old garage records, breaks covered by dense fog: Sepalcure is a direct consequence of the London wunderkid sound and it would be silly not to acknowledge this bloodline. “ Love Pressure EP” casts a House shadow over a dubstep drawing á la Burial and sounds like the appendix of such a recent and irrefutable classic as “ Hyph Mngo”. JB

27. Velour: “The Velvet Collection” (Night Slugs) There’s little 2step and more Ibiza, few cut-up helium voices and more jacking energy. There are shoulder pads and moustaches. In other words: regardless of who’s responsible (Julio Bashmore and Hyetal, as rumour has it), “The Velvet Collection” is worth a lot. It’s four tracks indicate an admirable level of experience on various fronts. The titles are precise and funny ( “Booty Slammer”, “Kick It Till It Breaks”, “The Scent Of Romance”), giving the impression of a balance between sexiness and explicitness, between seduction and fornication. Breaks, shiny notes, tropical snares, glossy melodies, bursting bass lines, almost Aphex Twin-like melodies. RE

26. Jamie Woon: “Night Air” (Candent Songs) The good thing about Woon is that his expressive register doesn’t need to go back to blues-rock or sixties singer-songwriters, and that he can base his songwriting on the experiences and sensations of contemporary London, more open to the future, and he doesn’t shy away from technology. His guitar is always connected to an EFX rack, he doesn’t reject electronica in spite of parting from a kind of song that suffers from the weight of history (check out the credits: the track is co-produced by William Bevan – sound familiar?). In any case, and like what happened to “Wayfaring Stranger” a while ago, with “Night Air” Woon does enough to dazzle and offer comfort on a song that demonstrates his potential as a composer and performer. RE

25. Pional: “A Moot Point” (Hivern)2010 is reserved for Miguel Barros: his Pional project unfolds to become carefully chosen house with Philip Glass-like harmonies and hypnotically slow rhythmic cycles, released on limited edition vinyl (500 copies, with a black sleeve painted with golden ink) with remixes by Rebolledo and Basic Soul Unit. The best of “In Another Room”, the central track of “A Moot Point”, is the tension with which it unfolds, stealthily and almost stalking, the kind of house for the beginning of the night, with an almost progressive projection and a touching pinch of deep house (or is it pop?). JB 24. Ninca Leece: “Feed Me Rainbows” (Thesongsays) Many other “tech-house girls” produce tracks and play them (as DJs), but their hearts don’t always beat with passion - they are not capable of emitting that emotional fragility that is present in “Feed Me Rainbows”. We could be witnessing a generational change here, something that has been coming since her previous album, “There Is No One Else When I Lay Down And Dream” (Bureau B, 2010), came out on Thesongsays, Bruno Pronsato’s exquisite label. The title track stretches over ten minutes and never falters in its composure: it’s delicate without interruption and the “Pronsato touch” is evident – the principal pattern repeats itself without hurry, with hardly any variation, and from that iron insistence comes an explosive emotional inflammation. RE

23. Jacques Greene: “The Look EP” (LuckyMe) Judging from the buzz, “The Look” could become one of the most desirable singles of the coming months. Both the title track and “Holdin’ On” are essential material for any DJ who likes to play exquisite house. Two anthems for zulu hour in the club –circa 3 a.m.– capable of making even the cleaning lady move to its highly contagious rhythm (it contains Detroit techno, old school garage and rabid UK funky) and analogue machine-made synthetic reminiscences. Lavish, laminated voices that together with the rhythm boxes make this the most elegant banger you could play at that peak hour. Mónica Franco

22. James Holden: “Triangle Folds” (!k7) “Triangle Folds” is the previously unreleased track offered up by James Holden for his contribution to the “ DJ-Kicks series. Honouring his reputation, the Border Community head honcho delivers over eight minutes of atmospheric, pulsating, dense and emotional techno which, with its drones, hypnotic sequences and bubbling bleeps brings to memory the Kraut electronica, the pastoral side of Boards Of Canada and even the North American minimal school. Luis M. Rguez

21. Gold Panda: “You EP” (Notown-Ghostly International) Someone had to propel what is already one of the unlikely anthems of 2010 into a higher sphere – halfway between glitch-pop, purring glo-fi aesthetics and hip hop breaks passed through a butcher's machine until they become IDM. Ghostly accept the challenge with a double launch –vinyl and digital– which expands on the original idea and forgets about the B-side of the 7”, “Before We Talked”, but adds a new track, “Peaky Caps”, and two remixes on the B-side, one by Seams – a new asset to IDM post-Border Community – and another by Osborne, who rightly takes him to territories bordering on deep house. JB

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