No-one seems to know whether it’s actually worked yet, but at the end of 2007, it feels like the most significant development to the concept of the modern album format was Radiohead’s decision to allow fans to choose what they paid for In Rainbows. It may not seem of huge relevance to electronic music, where the debate over free music has looped endlessly since the turn of the century, but there was an interesting upshot: at a time when the long player format seems perilously close to pointlessness, 2007 actually turned out to be a rather good year for new albums.
Critically speaking, minimal took a bit of a bashing this year, but Pan-Pot’s Pan-O-Rama and Onur Özer’s Kasmir proved that in the right hands, monochrome tones and bleak, rattling percussion can still be artfully executed. Ricardo Villalobos’s use of his Fabric CD as a way of releasing his new tracks led to endless discussion, but whichever way you cut it, Sen Eis (the not-quite-official collection culled in part from that comp) showed that the Chilean guru’s fascination with the furthest reaches of the dancefloor remained as potent as ever.
Meanwhile, the commercial success of Digitalism, Justice, and Simian Mobile Disco prompted Mixmag to describe 2007 as “the best year for dance music this decade”, and indeed, the latter’s † and Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release certainly introduced hordes of indie kids to the delights of a 303 squeal and a booming kickdrum. Some were left wondering whether the heavy-rocking dynamism of the style was really much to do with dance music at all, but at least they mainly used synths, unlike 90 per cent of nu-rave’s tight-trousered standard bearers.
Back on our patch proper, there was a split between producers who used their albums to disembark from convention (such as Supermayer’s divisive Save The World, and Chloe’s widely-acclaimed The Waiting Room) and those who stuck with the foot-friendly pleasures of the 4/4 kick (Gabriel Ananda’s Bambusbeats, Stephan Bodzin’s Liebe Ist… Guy Gerber’s Late Bloomers, and Gui Boratto’s Chromophobia). Interestingly, the ‘deep house craze’ that appeared to infect numerous DJ sets and sections of the media over the summer didn’t really make its presence felt in the album market, although there’s one important exception riding high in our Top 10 below.
As for the Top 10 itself? The LPs that gained the most nominations are not necessarily those that spawned the biggest club hits, and nor are they the ones that ‘crossed over’ and reached beyond dance music’s insular habitat. They are, almost entirely, the ones that were crafted with care, passion, and emotional honesty. ‘Shoegaze techno’ may be a faintly ridiculous term, but it aptly connotes the hazy sense of melancholy hanging over much of this year’s Top 10, signifying a deeper, more introverted approach to electronic music than we’ve heard in recent years.
If, at the end of 2007, we’ve started saying goodbye to the album format as we know it, we appear to be doing so with a few tears in our eyes, but also with a gentle, vaguely optimistic smile. And arguably, no single album articulates that feeling more succinctly than the one made by an anonymous bedroom producer, who claims to have never been to a rave.
10. False - 2007 [M_nus]
“2007 is nearly untouchable in a way, dodging every effort to be understood. It is almost not danceable, or ambient even, and yet it could only ever function as a sequenced whole, almost as if it really were a live piece. 'Mystifying' might seem a strange descriptor for an album that easily slots into the M_nus sound, but with its stripped back percussion and sequenced tracks forming a continuous whole, ‘2007’ is at first strangely impenetrable and, depending on the day, can also refuse to be intimate altogether, all to its betterment. In the end, what is certain is that Dear has done himself proud. The best albums are those you can keep coming back to, they never quite let you make up your mind, and I'm betting many will still be intrigued by this one well past 2007.” – Chris Mann
09. The Field - From Here We Go Sublime [Kompakt]
“Dance music albums, in the sense of records that you want to put on and listen to all the way through, are extremely rare. From Here We Go Sublime succeeds admirably at this task because it has both stylistic and artistic unity—the songs sound similar but not the same, and it evokes a variety of moods from the exultant to the sad, but moods with the same flavour of cool, bright outdoor freshness, which I hope is why Axel Willner chooses to call himself ‘The Field’. Frankly it doesn’t really matter what music you’re normally into, I think you still need this record. It’ll make you a better person.” – Jacob Wright
08. Onur Özer - Kaşmir [Vakant]
“There is a tendency in a certain strain of dance production to stick strange and disjointed sounds into tracks, which sometimes seems to amount to little more than a competition to see who can put out the craziest record. Made in this vein, but unusually successful, is Kaşmir, Onur Özer’s debut long player. Full of tunes that meander, sometimes taking minutes to find a recognizable groove, the crucial thing about Kaşmir is that without exception, moments of irresistible triumph emerge from the initial murk. Özer has crafted music that has the rare quality of including the uncomfortable alongside the comfortable, where the musical structure is perfectly married to psychological effect. If another 4/4 album this year combined as much experimentation with as much pay-off, I didn’t hear it.” - Colin Shields
07. Melchior Productions Ltd. - No Disco Future [Perlon]
“To detractors, Melchior’s music is quintessentially boring because it “takes too long” and “does too little”. Some people who really dug the promo mix version of No Disco Future have also complained along similar lines, saying that the unmixed album gives you less by offering more, and that these tracks only make sense in the mix. Maybe true, but to me there’s something about the tranquility of letting the full-length versions of the tracks glide by. And glide they do, right from start to finish. I could talk about various tracks, but it seems pointless to single out landmarks when talking about music who’s strongest quality is the sense of wheeling through open space with the smoothness and speed of light. I can’t say that No Disco Future will captivate everyone, but when such quicksilver velocity is the objective of the sound design, you’d have to say that this is one spaceship that reaches its destination.” – Peter Chambers
06. Pantha Du Prince - This Bliss [Dial]
“The highlights of This Bliss—'Asha', 'Eisbaden', 'Walden 2', 'Urlichten' and 'Saturn Strobe'—are quite simply beautiful, and they go places, too. Like Isolée, Pantha Du Prince excels at developing one refrain, and then suddenly catching you unawares by turning it into something else entirely. It's a trick that he couldn't quite pull off on Diamond Daze—grafting The Chills onto minimal techno on 'Circle Glider' was particularly odd—but on This Blisshe nails the effect completely: The bass workout 'Walden 2' suddenly bursts into ringing pop, the contented groove of 'Urlichten' curiously sprouts another limb five minutes in, and 'Eisbaden' mixes between verse and chorus as if by crossfader. But perhaps the best track on the album is 'Saturn Strobe', a weepy epic made from cowbells, classical violins and reverb which generously opens out into something much, much more than the sum of its parts. You won’t hear a better album this year.” – Jeremy Armitage
05. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver [DFA Records]
“Murphy hasn’t made many changes to the group’s sound on Sound of Silver, instead he’s narrowing its focus to variations of dance-punk, fulfilling his house/techno jones while tipping his hat to the heads by reprising the drum programming which dotted previous LCD releases. Even with bands, now more than ever, trying to dance-up their music by taking LCD as the template, and even though the 'Sound of Silver' is blatantly reaching for a broader audience, the music on this record exemplifies why James Murphy's group attained frontrunner status to begin with. It’s by no means the near perfect album that many critics have crowned it, but it’s a damn good fusion of rock and dance music which will likely increase LCD Soundsystem’s following both on the dancefloor and off.” – Steve Mizek
04. DeepChord presents Echospace - The Coldest Season [Modern Love]
“Slowly seeping into the marketplace one hyper-limited 12-inch at a time, Echospace's debut LP, The Coldest Season, has been the most anticipated release on the fledgling Modern Love imprint by a mile. It may ultimately lack in its ability to move a dancefloor, but, in terms of sheer quality, it rivals Basic Channel’s vaunted catalog. Put down that ultra-rare Basic Reshape 12” and check out what’s going on now. This album is bound to be one of the most fully realized listening experiences to grace your stereo this year, and is proof positive that DeepChord and Echospace are the rightful heirs to the dub techno legacy.” – Carl Ritger
03. Matthew Dear - Asa Breed [Ghostly International]
“Welcome, day-tripping Audion fans, to a strange place. 'Mouth To Mouth'-ers might have suspected something was up when they drifted across recent single 'Deserter', and 'Asa Breed' will most likely leave them baffled. But for Dear aficionados, who have been waiting four years for something of this particular ilk, a treasure trove—albeit slightly flawed and surprisingly personal—awaits. Three key things hold this bursting-at-the-seams record together (and it could easily have been one that fell apart): Dear's distinctive production style, his increased belief in his songwriting ability, and subsequently, the brevity of the songs: most clock in around the three-minute mark. And it fits perfectly: this is a pop record, and a very fine one at that.” – Barry O'Donoghue
02. Efdemin - Efdemin [Dial]
“It slots quite comfortably between albums from Dial labelmates Lawrence and Pantha Du Prince, but Efdemin's red-eyed, late-night take on deeper techno and house (and occasionally, trance) is less about emotion and more about groove. A sophisticated and fluid debut, the Berliner is a self-assured producer who knows what he wants to do. His structures and builds are quite linear, but never too much: the attention to detail and subtle use of contrasts – key changes, unexpected drops, ambient fades – put flesh on the bones. Efdemin's debut and Pantha Du Prince's 'This Bliss' have two things in common: both are tailor-made for that lovely place between dancing and dreaming, and both are two of 2007's best.” - Barry O'Donoghue
01. Burial - Untrue [Hyperdub]
“Where Burial’s debut was personal and local, evoking a cloistered sound world of rainy and worn down south London boroughs and night buses, Untrue feels more national—a wider world of giant road networks, industrial cables and cloudy flight paths. Many of the vocal samples are deliberately made in the UK this time, not in the USA as on Burial--one track is even bluntly named ‘UK’ as if to prove the point. It’s a wider canvas, sure, but it’s slightly less intimate and emotional, too, even if the sense of beautiful sadness is still profound.
‘Untrue’ is therefore a new kind of folk music, for Britain and beyond. And like the British weather, it’s all about hoping to catch the moments between the grey clouds, not expecting an unending run of sun. When you listen, you can really feel it on your skin, even if it passes in a moment.” – Chris Mann
What were your top albums of 2007?
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