|RA Poll: Top 20 albums of 2010
The RA staff reveals their favourite long players of the past 12 months.
Sometimes on RA it might seem like we're all a little too into going out. House this, techno that, Ibiza, afterhours, etc. That's why albums are such an important part of electronic music culture: they show what the "heads" listen to when they're not thinking about clubs. Indeed, our favorite albums of the year reflect a very different sensibility from the top DJs and live acts, with the 4/4 pulse taking a back seat to ambient, indie, dubstep and... whatever Flying Lotus is.
But more importantly, albums are essential because they show the artist's creativity in its fullest, most uncompromising form. With an hour (or more) to work with and no dance floor to worry about, there's no better opportunity to plunge into the weirdest, most subtle ideas. As Underground Quality's Aybee put it earlier this year, "The emphasis lands back on the artist in the form of, 'OK, you're here... now what do I want to say?'" It takes a certain kind of talent to fulfill that task—for sure, some producers just aren't cut out for the long player format. But then there are those who absolutely thrive. It's these artists you'll find in the list below.
I had a few pieces I had been working on right after the last Lindstrom and Prins Thomas
album, and I think I was just fed up with working on other people's stuff. [laughs
] At the same time, I suddenly had a lot more experience playing again. I used to play in bands many years ago, but then I didn't play anything until I started working with Lindstrom. He was the one that told me, "You're a capable player, just grab an instrument and work on it." So I'm not actually sure you can hear it, but I'm getting better. Prins Thomas
was a small step for mankind, but a very big step for me.
- Prins Thomas
Music for Real Airports
was always going to be a Black Dog project, Martin has been thinking about it since 1979! For us, airports have become microcosms of a future society, the totalitarian theocracy of the capitalist pay off in postmodern thinking, extreme marketing and control methods. Where else could you pay so much money to be treated like a blob of flesh outside of a D&B dungeon? Most of the album was actually written in the airport environment and all the tracks make use of over 200hrs of field recordings. It's not easy listening, but then again the truth often isn't.
- The Black Dog
Some of the songs on Real Life Is No Cool
were almost ten years old. So a lot of the time that I spent working more recently was trying to make sure that they sounded like an album. Every track seemed to have a lot of different versions, so there's actually going to be a digital-only version of the album soon which will have some of those on there. I can't tell you how many versions of "Keep It Up" and "Baby Can't Stop" there are. It was really hard sometimes to pick which one to put on the album.
I started doing stuff for Entropic City
in late 2008 and early 2009, but then left things for months. That's the way I work with almost everything. It's a very incoherent process. There are five hard drives on my desk right now full of music, which is mostly unfinished. My next album is probably in there somewhere. The one track that I finished the quickest, though, was "Defense Against the Self." I felt there was something missing, and when I completed it, I knew the album was done. Similarly, the first track that I finished ended up being the first track on the album.
- Peter Van Hoesen
The title for the record came about via an AOL conversation with Damon from Instra:mental. He typed, "Yeah, I'm not too sure. Nothing is certain." And I replied, "Hey, that's a great album title." He then told me that if I didn't use it, he would. [laughs
] The problem with the album, though, is that we couldn't decide exactly what to include. I had 18 or 19 tracks that I thought was my best work yet. There was a little going back and forth, "No, no, no, we can't leave that track out!"
The confounding world of Hyperdub got even stranger in 2010 with the arrival of Darkstar's debut album. The trio's dark synth pop had more in common with The XX than LV. But as Kode9's unerring ear seemed to hear, the group has plenty in common with the ideas that undergird the thriving UK bass music scene: Boundary-crossing, a love of a great hook, short track times. Much like Mount Kimbie on Hotflush, by being an outlier on a forward-thinking label, Darkstar seemed to fit right into their surroundings.
- Todd L. Burns
Working on albums is a constant process for me, because I don't usually do the tour-album thing. So it was about two years altogether that I worked on Black Sands
. When I started out, I was thinking about making more of a live record, but it ended up becoming more of an electronic thing in the end. I've been really interested in people like Floating Points and Bullion, and what they've been doing lately. They've kind of reignited my love for good old-fashioned beatmaking, and I think that's something I'm going to explore further with the next one.
I finished most of the album in the summer, but it felt like something was missing. So I put it away, and then recorded the title track in the fall. For the past three records, I always had a title track, and I didn't have one for Returnal
. I wanted it to be rounded off with something literal...although I guess you can't really hear what the lyrics are in that version. But it definitely has personal meaning for me, and I wanted to summarize that in "Returnal." It's a more personal record than I've made in the past. Before it was like I was behind binoculars in the jungle. For Returnal
, as corny as this sounds, it was more of a cathartic record.
- Oneohtrix Point Never
That folklorish tale of the naif vs. the opportunist has left countless unsung innovators in its wake. And it may have assigned the futuristic, post-acid sensibility of Merwyn Sanders and Eric Lewis to semi-obscurity altogether, were it not for the genius timing of Rush Hour's re-release of some of their earliest work. Although house connoisseurs have had the jump on Virgo (or M.E., or Virgo Four, or Ace & Sandman) for two decades, the lovingly remastered reissue united "Take Me Higher" with obscure cuts like "School Hall," and arrived at a time when ears were widely attuned to the appeal of timeless house music.
- Christine Kakaire
It really is happening: James Murphy has turned in the final chapter of the album trilogy that showed us how to transform overthinking and oversharing into a punky disco party. Although This Is Happening
—with the boorish "Drunk Girls," and without the immediate heir apparent to "Someone Great"—seemed to polarize you
, when Murphy bristled on "You Wanted A Hit," beguiled with "I Can Change" and penciled his initials on our dance card for "Pow Pow," it just served to remind us how dearly we'll miss his id confessions, self-deprecating jibes and percussive punk-funk jams.
- Christine Kakaire
While the first full-length under his birth name since 2007 wasn't a wholly electronic album, it nevertheless had all the hallmarks of one: Matthew Dear's Black City
fused experimentation and oddness together with a distinct groove on every song. Once again using his untrained voice to his advantage, Black City
was built in the same tradition as Brian Eno's '70s pop albums. Honest, careful, inscrutable and beautiful pop music, that at times sounded false, tossed-off, simple and ugly. This push-pull is key to the appeal of Dear's music, subtle conflicts that make for engaging listening long after the first spin.
- Todd L. Burns
It was quite a long and drawn out process, writing Crooks & Lovers
. We were a bit blocked for a while. And then we decided to go down to a wind tunnel near where I live that goes into the sea with James Blake and recorded about two hours of natural sound. James was singing. We were throwing things against the wall, making echoes. Having that material really helped, because it felt like we were doing something towards it. Not just sitting at a computer, trying to pretend to be an artist. That was the moment that spurred us to completing the album.
- Dominic Maker, Mount Kimbie
In the three months after I finished the Sub:Stance
mix and before the end of the year was when I pulled the album together. When I made that mix, it was probably the height of my album frustration. [laughs
] I pretty much gave up over the summer of 2009, after working on it for six months. So after I finished it, I didn't want to hear it at all. I didn't play any of the tunes out for a long time. I finally started playing them in my sets around the middle of this year. Now that I can go back and listen to it, I think it was probably worth a year of pain and frustration. [laughs
There Is Love in You
is the fifth album under Kieran Hebden's Four Tet moniker, and it showed us exactly why the Englishman remains so relevant over a decade since his debut solo release. From the jilted 2-step of "Love Cry" to the acoustic dreamscape of "She Just Likes to Fight," Hebden's renewed interest in the dance floor was obvious. Along with good friend Caribou, he's a spiritual heir to the '80s New York post-punk groups that fused punk with disco, by crafting some of the most compelling dance-not-dance music around.
- Matt Unicomb
When Pantha Du Prince released This Bliss
four years ago, it marked a turning point: Hendrik Weber had ditched his guitars and gone fully electronic, giving techno some melancholic soul in the process. With Black Noise
, he shed another layer—this time Dial Records in favor of Rough Trade, signaling another step away from the club, off on his own contemplative path. Though perhaps less of a breakthrough, Black Noise
is Weber's finest album yet: subtle and elegant yet emotionally honest, it shows him further perfecting something that's entirely his own.
- Will Lynch
In the end, Glass Eights
took me almost two years from beginning to end. I reached a point about twelve months in where I thought I was finished, but then ended up trying to replace what sounded stale over time for almost another year. I started to feel pretty insane toward the end of the process and became obsessed with adding and subtracting minute details that probably only I was excited or bothered by. It was really important to me that the album wouldn't just be a collection of previously released singles. I tried to make each track work in conjunction with the one that followed so that going from start to finish would seem like the best way to listen to it.
- John Roberts
was the sound of a producer going off piste. Darren Cunningham has talked in the past about his quest for ambiguity in sound and style, and as such Splazsh
never rested on even ground. The transition, for example, between "Bubble Butts..." and "Always Human" sounded like a leap through 50 years of recording technology; "Maze" could have passed as an overlooked Kraftwerk B-side. Through house, techno, electro and dubstep, the beauty of Splazsh
was indeed wrapped up in its only identifiable theme: haze—the same haze that has coloured Cunningham's work from the very beginning.
- Ryan Keeling
Despite his meticulous attention to detail, Rene Pawlowitz has a pretty nonchalant approach to electronic music. He tends to work quickly and infrequently (The Traveler
was finished in less than two months), and when pressed, he describes the overall process as "very easy." It's precisely this off-the-cuff style that makes The Traveler
so good—Shed follows his creative impulses without over-thinking them, resulting in a record that's exceptionally diverse and free-flowing. This nimble-minded attitude is severely lacking in techno today, and it makes The Traveler
feel like a breath of fresh air.
- Will Lynch
"I feel we're in a time now where people can handle anything," Steven Ellison told us
earlier this year, "whatever you can throw at them as long as there's something they recognise that they can hold on to, so why not just go at it, really fucking go there?" Wherever "there" was, Ellison reached his destination on third LP, Cosmogramma
. The album's impossibly intricate nature may have made it difficult to pin to a particular listening environment—but out of the often-overwhelming fantasia came a 3D blockbuster bathed in innovation, intimacy and true imagination.
- Ryan Keeling
Mysteriously, all of my albums take about a year to complete. About a solid year of making music every day. The germinating event for making this particular record, though, was seeing Theo Parrish play at Plastic People. As he always does, he was playing anything and everything. I remember he was playing a song of his called "Going Downstairs" for what seemed like 30 minutes. There's barely any beat, just someone saying the title over and over with some bells going on in the background. The idea of making stuff that was accidentally dance music was very appealing to me. On tour for this album in particular, people seem to be dancing at my shows, and those are the ones that really stick out for me this year.
- Dan Snaith, Caribou
Published / Wednesday, 15 December 2010