2010 in review

#top 50 EPs of 2010, part II: from 20 to 1

2010 in review  #top 50 EPs of 2010, part II: from 20 to 1Yesterday we paused at number 21 of this singles overview –many of them 12”s for DJs– of 2010. Now it’s time to pick up where we left off and continue the countdown. Who will take the top spot? The end is nigh. 20. LHF: “EP1: Enter The Silence” (Keysound Recordings) What do LHF sound like? Here they sound like dawn and fog, cinematic and icy dubstep on the two pieces Amen Ra delivers in collaboration with Double Helix – “Steelz” and “Broken Glass” are reminiscent of the best parts of early Photek – and a bit looser, rhythmically, on “Blue Steel” (Low Density Matter) and “Deep Life” (Double Helix), which sounds like something big. Like a remix a 2005 Skream would have made of Goldie’s legendary “Inner City Life”, it sounds like what would have happened had jungle and dubstep existed at the same time. Claude T. Hill

19. John Talabot: “Mathilda’s Dream” (Permanent Vacation) Listening to “ La Ninya (Afrodub Version)” you can perceive everything that is relevant about John Talabot. Technically, nothing he does is new –the narrative progression, always in a crescendo but without the bang, together with a polished circumspection of each and very sound that places him close to labels like Border Community or artists like Four Tet. But at the same time the record has an organic African-Caribbean percussion, cosmic reverb and Italo disco melodies with which Talabot pushes one step forward, to distinguish himself as unique. Javier Blánquez

18. Deadboy: “If You Want Me” (Numbers)The Numbers label has taken care of the vinyl buyer to the point of spoiling them: their releases make any fetishist drool, and the best one is the single-sided slab of wax with which Deadboy presented himself on the Glasgow imprint. On one side, the artist’s name and track title carved into the vinyl, on the other, one of the great post-dubstep anthems of the year: a melodic journey to the heart of London and Detroit with pinched garage vocals, cosmic funk textures and a brilliant unfolding of future garage. Deadboy will be a myth one day and we should never forget it all started with this anthem called “If You Want Me”. Ronald Fritze

17. Illum Sphere: “Titan EP” (3024) This maxi-single has nothing to do with the fusion of dubstep and liquid techno from the Chain Reaction school, but by replacing the dubstep with abstract hip-hop beats and the deep liquidity by viscosity of muddy pads, it’s as if they were taken from an obscure record of Detroit techno. Therefore, in “Go Killum” the rhythm limps and winds chasing long orbit comets and “Technopolis” offers three minutes of floating calm only disturbed by dry hits as those produced by a person knocking at the door. Wonky is increasingly infiltrating post-Detroit sonic mechanics and it should be welcomed. JB

16. Games: “That We Can Play” (Hippos In Tanks) “That We Can Play” holds a perfect balance between kitsch –or pastiche, if you wish– and pure melodic inspiration, pop excellence. There are key contributions by the likes of Laurel Halo –and here passionate and gloomy voice on “Strawberry Skies”, like Kate Bush reborn in a post-disco context, they cite producers like Thomas Dolby on “Planet Party” and they copy one of Jan Hammer’s many production styles on “Midi Drift”, with it’s title that’s quintessential Games: it shows the playful side at the same time as the obsession with retro technology. Believe the hype - Games exceed all expectations in only eleven minutes. Tom Madsen

15. Space Dimension Controller: “Temporary Thrillz” (R&S Recordings) Here there is a reclaiming of pieces of a history that has been set aside –which is not to say forgotten– in which techno finds its roots in post-disco black music at the same time as the influence of white European synth-pop and Italo disco. And besides, in a year when the reclaiming of boogie has been a stereotypical trend, a work like “Temporary Thrillz” seems to find just the right ingredients to be something more than a vintage manoeuvre, kneeling before the masters, to become a retro manoeuvre with an unexpected distinctive, current touch. The moment is right for it, but the music is sufficiently travelling and groovy –as well as having the right backing– to aspire to stand the test of time. JB

14. Joy Orbison: “The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow” (Aus Music) After replacing the dubstep cement with a patina of garage and 2step, Joy Orbison causes a stir once again with his first release for Aus, a single that includes the tracks “The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow” and “Waxes & Wanes” plus a remix by Actress, the man behind the Werk label. With pieces like this, the process becomes obvious: the Americanisation of the post-dubstep sound, and a bigger role for the delicate garage voices and the porous deep-house rhythm, but without dropping the passion and the high level of experimentation in textures of the London underground linked to dubstep (or what’s left of it). TM

13. FunkinEven: “She’s Acid / Must Move” (Eglo Recordings) You just need to listen to “Must Move”, which aims to be the reformer of music to practice breakdancing to at wonky parties, to perceive that here is a change. It's electro without being robotic, almost entering the revival of the mid-eighties sound as boogie and go-go, with the occasional extended analogue music note as a whistling train from the distant future, but not at all a sweet track of intimate games by the edge of the sofa: like Egyptian Lover minus the articulated robots, bared to its bones, minimal and with a tense groove capable of breaking hips. Anyway, the main theme of the 12” is “She's Acid” on the A side, with an incisive 303, sharp as an arrow, capable of perforating the skull from within the ear. JB

12. Kavsrave: “Quotes” (Numbers) The synopsis of the three tracks of this EP is as follows: sweet as pie female warbles that conclude in a sound similar to the gold-coated melodies of a bird’s trill while being crushed by a heavy and rough bassline, with the force of a charging bull. “Pclart” magically grows from a simple combination of battle grime and old school 2step gems elements. But what Kavsrave does sounds neither dirty nor camp, achieving a balance for those who wait for the bass to disappear like coins falling from the sky –Skream and Digital Mystikz fans, raise your hands– and those who prefer home-style listening á la Burial. JB

11. Shackleton: “Man On A String Part 1 & 2” (Woe To The Septic Heart!) The ten hypnotic and terrifying minutes of “Man On A String Part 1 & 2” are the ones that place Shackleton and his new adventure amongst the high points of electronica in 2010. More than a production, it’s a labyrinth outlined with the patience of Daedalus and full of traps. It’s audio in which one loses and finds oneself, ending up confused, dizzy and fascinated by the complexity of the voyage and the route. It’s dark post-dubstep with the rhythmic richness of drum’n’bass with deflated tyres, in which baroque style and nervous tension rule. A work of art that has a competent reverse in the form of “Bastard Spirit”, an outburst of violent techno, icy, that only makes us want more and more. JB 10. Pariah: “Safehouses EP” (R&S Recordings) Pariah, the moniker of young Arthur Cayzer, was originally one of the first to continue the Burial sound. Then “Detroit Falls / Orpheus” (R&S, 2010), his first official release, appeared and things didn’t seem so similar anymore. He had developed towards Detroit techno, expansive and serene like in a flight towards the stars by Kenny Larkin. So Pariah has moved away from Burial and become closer to (for example) Actress, and just so that no-one will ever go on about his influences again –as if that were a bad thing– “Safehouses EP” is a titanic effort to be himself, for once. Pariah, in his own voice. JB

9. The Crystal Ark: “The City Never Sleeps” / “The Tangible Presence Of The Miraculous” (DFA) Reinvention, readjustment, relocation? To define what happened exactly to Gavin Russom’s sound would be a precision exercise harder than putting together an atomic clock, but it’s clear that The Crystal Ark –his third alias after the duo he formed with Delia Gonzalez and the improvised proto-acid bacchanal / jam of Black Meteoric Star– situates him in a different sphere. What is The Crystal Ark, keeping in mind his first 12” (the spectacular “The City Never Sleeps”) and it's logical continuation entitled “The Tangible Presence Of The Miraculous”? Possibly one of the most serious heads ups about the (hopefully immediate this time) recovery of American house of the early nineties, so close to the primitive sexuality of Chicago and its skeletal sound as the greatest richness of the rhythm and texture of early New York garage, all that produced with opulence of nuances, with growing baroque. Richard Ellmann

8. Raime: “Raime Ep” (Blackest Ever Black) There are records that speak to you even before you put the needle in the groove. In the case of this debut by Raime, the sleeve announces the sub-zero and sparsely lit contents. It could be an old record of the Sähkö label, an old vinyl by Pan Sonic, an icy cold dub, mechanical, without soul or passion, and in some ways “Raime EP” is just that: as if Shackleton exchanged the promised land of the Middle East for some kind of Siberian steppe. This is to dubstep what the British Murder Boys were to years ago: a clinical reformulation, dehumanised, which revises the texture of the sound from top to bottom, in order to allow an evolution as rejuvenating as it is progressive. At the end, I have fallen in love again with the Dark Side. JB

7. Machinedrum: “Many Faces” (LuckyMe) You can’t compare the first Machinedrum, when he was M3rck’s man of the future, with what he is doing now for the Glasgow label Lucky Me, but this current evolution means an amazing step ahead for his sound project. It is now, at the age of 28, that everything that he is carrying around in his head occupies a tidy spot in the chaos of his neurons: the two blocks of influences –the street and hoods on one side, the polished and bourgeois on the other– finally speak to each other without any type of physical barrier between them. This record by Machinedrum, in conclusion, is a wonderful result of the transatlantic dialogue between the United States and the UK, where the future of wonky beat is happy alongside the prodigal son of danceable IDM. JB

6. Regis / Funktion / Silent Servant: “Sampler Single 1 & 2” (Sandwell District) Each and every time I had played a vinyl by Regis –or by any of the survivors from the old school Birmingham techno– I’ve felt like I was being lobotomised by some skilful, evil hands. It’s a similar sensation to the entry of some alien item into your body which manipulates your structure as it pleases. It sounds like a dirty scalpel, a laser tearing apart the corneas. And this collaborative album by Regis, Function and Silent Servant is a good omen: it has references of cyclical and astral techno by Jeff Mills, polar and liquid techno à la Monolake circa 2000. Hypnotic hard techno for small, dark and dingy dancefloors. In a nutshell: for those who know about techno. RE

5. Balam Acab: “See Birds Ep” (Tri Angle) From now on, it’s recommended we synchronise watches to start predicting at which moment the slow and enchanting electronic bases of this genre are going to start crawling out of the comfortable surroundings of the deep underground to reach the ears of the club masses. For now, if such a thing will ever occur, we don’t know when or how, nor who is going to be the artist who will do the honours, but it’s clear that Balam Acab has already taken a seat in first class. There are three elements that make him stand out: the layer of light that takes away a bit of the gloomy roughness, the almost angelic voices closer to Burial than to the gothic clichés and the slow, comatose pace. Evil is great and Balam Acab is as well, this 12” opens new ways, let’s put our hands together and say “yes.” JB

4. Girl Unit: “Wut” (Night Slugs) In case we hadn’t heard enough hymns this year –and I’m referring mostly to Magnetic Man’s “I Need Air”, but also to pieces of passionate post-garage like Deadboy’s “If U Want Me” or Kavsrave’s “PClart”–, here’s “Wut”, which is too much for the body without even being fast, euphoric or outrageous. “Wut” has enough with three minimal elements –an 808 rhythm box that seems to be taken from a Salem production (or any other Atlanta rapper), a spark of female vocal and a minimal melody with the warmth of the morning sun, something like Joy Orbison producing Lil Wayne’s new single (in an instrumental version)– to stir up a hormonal cocktail capable of producing all kinds of physical reactions, from crying to jumping, from running to nowhere to genuflexion. JB

3. Demdike Stare: “Forest Of Evil” / “Liberation Through Hearing” / “Voices Of Dust” (Modern Love) “Symbiosis” turned out to be just a training exercise. A first stage, during which Whittaker and Canty were measuring their power and greasing up their weapons needed for the shaping of the ambitious record they have been keeping themselves busy with for the better part of 2010: a trilogy of vinyls that work as a trip to the world of the dead; the soundtrack Charon would play when taking his passengers to Hades. A trilogy that Modern Love is planning on compiling in a box with extras, early next year, and that has overcome its hauntological tendencies in favour of a dark and toxic kind of ambient, leaning towards isolationism, on which elements of electro-acoustics and musique concrete, radiophonic experiments, old film samples, sound effects from some dusty vinyl, crackles and modular synthesisers squeezed to the point of insanity mix, with ethnic (mostly Middle-Eastern) details and elements of modern electronic music: techno-dub bases, IDM-like ambient fantasies, dubstep-flavoured rhythms and even a pinch of house. Vidal Romero

2. T++: “Wireless” (Honest Jon’s) Torsten Pröfrock has decided to quit. The T++ adventure has come to an end. Time to move on. “Wireless” is therefore testament to a golden age of underground techno. Maybe this double vinyl will be the promotional card of what's to come. Because on this brand new four cuts delivered by T++ , techno gets diluted, rhythm mechanisms get dislocated, the deep ambiance becomes the lead character - something like the sound on a cave containing a lake, cavernous and liquid on equal parts- and the obvious kick drums are retracted. “Cropped”, “Anyi”, “Voice No Bodies” and “Dig” move forward to a waltz rhythm though with an injured leg. If we add the lack of architecture to the introduction of new sampled elements - these four cuts have been recorded from samples from African singer Ssekinomu from the 1930s and 40s- the final result is an ethereal tribalism, a telluric evocation that probably nurtures to the most avant-garde dance music. JB

1. James Blake: “Klavierweke” / “CMYK” (R&S Recordings) We shouldn't we take things out of context and exaggerate with statements like “Blake is reinventing music,” because he isn’t reinventing, he’s just adding ingredients that used to work separately until now –but it is undeniable that his efforts to crystallise a palette of textures of academic music in his off-club electronica have finally morphed into a spectacular result. The post-garage location of “CMYK EP” is already history. James Blake has turned his back on the club –he was the one who, in an act of coherence, declared that he would prefer for people to be moved while listening to his productions rather than dancing to them; his ideal dance floor is a slow, introspective one, with the audience on the verge of tears, the opposite of enthusiastic celebration. As a second act of coherence, he has put all of his home-listening obsessions into “Klavierwerke EP”. His progression has been meteoric and his maturity earned in less than a year. For a DJ, this plastic is an invitation to suicide: it can only be played when no one is around, or when everyone has to go. Burial is, of course, an inevitable reference point for James Blake: a title like “I Only Know (What I Know Now)” should be understood as a progression from the paralysing ecstasy of “Shell of Light”, with the adornment of a piano that seems like the introduction to a Chopin nocturne, and voices that could be the old divas of soul and opera –with the static noise made by the needle on the record player– with the pitch going up and down to create that irresistible effect somewhere between angelic voices and psychophony. And all of this in only 16 minutes. What will happen when he decides to release the album? JB

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