Thursday, November 08, 2001

here's my top 10 of 2001, something i labored over for a long time.
there were a number of other albums that didn't quite make it, but came close. those will be listed in the next blog.
The 10 albums are listed alphabetically and are not in any sort of consecutive order.
Also, it's very important that you DO NOT FORWARD THIS TO ANYONE!. This text was written for a Bay Area publication and will be copyrighted. It will run in late November or early December.

To me, 2001 seemed like one big interlude, the in between time while waiting for something cool to happen. Unlike previous years, which brought with it excitement about a burgeoning new genre or sound, 2001 became a year of experimentation and reflection, as producers searched for new ways to produce electronic music.
There was the rise of 2-step, which made big inroads into the mainstream thanks to its combination of soulful R&B, house, hip-hop and breakbeat. Craig David, who was first introduced to the U.S. via the U.K. 2-step duo Artful Dodger (which has already split up), helped bring the sound to the mainstream this year with big hit �Fill Me In.�
The year also saw the rise of the fractured laptop sound, characterized by such terms as �microsound,� �microhouse" or �glitch.� Whatever term you prefer, the style brought with it a newfound emphasis on intricacies, minimalism and harsher sounds leaning more toward a technical aesthetic.
Artists such as Matmos and Matthew Herbert explored the usage of field samples such as the sounds of liposuction, laser eye surgery and biorhythms in the context of creating music. I believe this is only the beginning.
Electronic music has effectively infiltrated almost every aspect of popular culture, ranging from hip-hop to metal to pop and beyond. Those beats on the latest N Snyc record were made possible by cheeseball extraordinaire BT, who never met a dollar sign he didn�t like. He�s since moved on to producing tracks for Britney Spears, integrity be damned.
On the concert front, Moby�s Area:One tour was the first successful mainstream electronic tour, which is somewhat surprising considering this was the same guy who denounced electronic music several years ago as being finished. Apparently, he�s changed his mind. Unfortunately, other electronic tours weren�t quite so successful after organizers were forced to cancel Mekka and Creamfields due to poor ticket sales.


APHEX TWIN: Drukqs (Warp/Sire). Richard James is one strange fellow. The British producer does his damndest to scare away potential listeners but somehow he still manages to command a sizeable audience that hangs on every menacing metallic fragment, scattershot breakbeat, placid soundscape, and irreverent vocal he can toss up. While some critics have suggested Drukqs is merely James� way of clearing out his hard drive of all his old material (and that may be true) due to the relative lack of cohesion, I think the album�s multi-faceted sides are merely a reflection of the wide range of emotions James illustrates through music. This is by no means an easy or comfortable album. James� penchant for hyper-hysterics in recent years runs rampant on several tracks. Yet, there are plenty of tracks that consist solely of pensive piano playing and ethereal pulsars, reminiscent of James� early work. The more I listened to Drukqs, the more I liked it.

BJORK: Vespertine (Elektra). After waiting nearly four years for a proper full-length from the quirky Icelandic artist (Selmasongs notwithstanding), Bjork returned with the hauntingly intricate album Vespertine. Decidedly more sedate and meditative than previous material and no clear-cut dance-oriented tracks, Vespertine finds Bjork experimenting with majestic orchestral strings, lush harps, a full-blown choir, and slithery beat and programming collaborations with San Francisco duo micro-glitch artistes Matmos (who toured with Bjork), the UK�s Matthew Herbert and many others. And then there�s Bjork�s vocal range, which seems stronger than ever (check �Cocoon� to hear her hit those near-impossible high notes). Opening track �Hidden Place� is one of the most beautiful songs Bjork�s ever written, an ethereal ride into the gossamer regions of her head. Gorgeous, heartfelt, dizzying, sexual and technical, Vespertine is a highly personal and intimate album.

B.R.M.C.: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (Virgin). Yeah, so B.R.M.C. sounds like Jesus And Mary Chain. When I picked up this record last spring, my friend exclaimed �They sound like everything I�ve heard before!� Maybe so, but then again, who cares? Frankly, after spending years in the lofty clouds of electronic music, it was nice to hear a straight-up rock record that manages to kick your ass and keep you singing those catchy melodies. Indeed, the Bay Area trio has made a promising debut with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, combining whooshing, shrill guitars that fly over your head and saturate your ears with emotive, brooding vocals. There isn�t a bad song on the entire record, ranging from the head-nodding anthem �Red Eyes And Tears� to the aching fury of �Whatever Happened To My Rock �n� Roll (Punk Song),� the blazing epic �As Sure As The Sun� or the swooning album closing �Salvation,� asking the question �Do you feel alive?� You should, especially if you grew up in the 1980s, as BRMC channels the alt rock sound of a foregone era. Whatever your age, BRMC�s melodic psychedelic pop-rock is damn fine.

JACK DANGERS: Hello Friends! (Shadow). Toasted, nicely toasted. Lifting a quote from Jack Dangers� highly entertaining mix CD Hello Friends, toasted seems to be the best way to enjoy the 15-track opus from the legendary breakbeat master behind Meat Beat Manifesto. Though MBM isn�t quite dead, it�s clear Dangers� attention has been focused on the dub leanings of Tino Corp. lately. Hello Friends is comprised of previously released tracks on vinyl from Dangers, Tino, Ben Stokes� DHS and Mike Powell . The result, while not necessarily technically perfect, is a beat fiend�s wet dream, as Dangers slides effortlessly from the mambo-fused �Tropical Soul/Tino�s Beat� to the tongue-in-cheek head-nodder �Christmas In Hawaii� or the gleaming Latin groove of �Kick It Dub� (featuring a hilarious sample from �Charlie�s Angels�). Don�t miss Cuban maestro Tino and his amazing drumming abilities on the bonus video track! What a joy!

RICHIE HAWTIN: DE9: Closer To The Edit (Minus/NovaMute). Richie Hawtin has been at the forefront of confronting new technology since debuting in the early 1990s with FUSE and his most well-known moniker, Plastikman. His sparse and mechanical sound influenced many producers, emphasizing space and substance over predictability by de-emphasizing melody. Yet, his recent material has seemed more about technical skill than substance. But on DE9: Closer To The Edit, Hawtin raises the bar for himself and all electronic musicians with a jaw-dropping mix CD that brings back the subtle funkiness of his early material with an intricate yet minimal 21st century flair. DE9 is attracting headlines because of the usage of a burgeoning new technology called Final Scratch, which enables the user to �play� a digital music file via a specially-made blank vinyl record. Featuring 31 actual �tracks� from a slew of Detroit artists (including Carl Craig, Theorem, Basic Channel, Stewart Walker and many others), the album actually contains hundreds of loops and snippets from more than 100 tracks. The result is an amazingly complex album that is still seeping into my brain months after its release.

HERBERT: Bodily Functions (!K7/Soundslike). It seems as though the trend of the year was taking sampling to the next level by using unconventional sounds such as surgery, random conversations and breaking plastic in a musical framework. On Bodily Functions, Matthew Herbert marries unlikely field recordings with warm and inviting jazz arrangements (using such live instrumentation as piano, stand-up bass, clarinet, violin, flute and trumpet) and thumping house beats amidst a recurring theme about human interaction. The result is one of the most uniquely satisfying albums of the year. Indeed, Dani Siciliano�s luxurious vocals provide the perfect gel with Herbert�s sensuous, propulsive music. If nothing else, this is a great way to introduce jazz snobs to electronic music. Tasty.

PREFUSE 73: Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives (Warp). Prefuse 73 is one of the pseudonyms of Atlanta�s Scott Herren, a hip-hop head with a jones for cutting up beats and loops and rearranging them in a zig-zag aural patchwork that somehow manages to make sense. Landing somewhere between downtempo hip-hop, IDM and jazz, Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives carves out a style all its own via fuzzy, fractured beats and chopped-up half-beats, rickety breaks and ticking percussion, wobbly horn loops, flatulent synths that burp and burble and disorienting vocal clips -- contributors include Mikah 9, MF Doom, Aesop Rock and post-rock vocalist Sam Prekop � that are blended into the mix, used as another aural component rather being the focal point. The vibe is fairly low-key throughout, but the multifarious, flickering groove manages to satisfy both hip-hop headz and laptop geeks alike. And when does that ever happen? If this is where hip-hop is headed, I�m on the right train.

STACEY PULLEN: Today Is The Tomorrow You Were Promised Yesterday (Science). More than three years in the making, celebrated Detroit DJ Stacey Pullen moves away from his buoyant, soulful techno and house associated with pseudonyms such as Silent Phase and Kosmic Messenger. Instead, Pullen comes into his own with the impressive full-length debut Today Is The Tomorrow You Were Promised Yesterday. Melding the stark elements of Detroit techno (a hint of sadness and despair hangs over much of the album) with brisk percussive fills, rapid-fire snares and dense beat arrangements that point toward jazz, the album is accented by a plethora of lush, sparkling keyboards that effectively set the tone throughout. Though associated with the recent proliferation of the nu-jazz broken beat sound popular in the U.K., Today is more a reflection of Pullen�s desire to make a unique and experimental album from a jazz drummer�s perspective (the son of a musician, he spent years playing drums). Whether incorporating elements of opera (in the haunting �Vertigo�), subtle funk and R&B or banging hard house, Pullen�s scintillating album delivers numerous rewards.

URSULA RUCKER: Supa Sista (!K7). This was the triumphant year for spoken word goddess Ursula Rucker, as she moved from being a well-known local talent in her native Philadelphia to full-blown international star. Previously known best for her stirring and troubling poems that closed the last two Roots albums, Rucker effectively eliminates the predisposed aversion to spoken word with the raw, emotive album Supa Sista. Combining forces with several producers (including 4 Hero�s Dego McFarlane, Jonah Sharp, King Britt, Alexkid and Philip Charles), Supa Sista seethes with anger and fury as Rucker addresses a number of tough social topics such as domestic violence, poverty, drug abuse, racism and sexism. Her eloquent vocals are accentuated thanks to the album�s spare production, combining hip-hop, drum �n� bass and soul in a smooth style that never overpowers Rucker�s forthright intonations.

SLICKER: The Latest (Hefty). The Latest by Chicago�s Slicker (John Hughes, who also runs the Hefty label) is a crackly noise-trip of supernova proportions, set at armchair impulse power speed. Taking a side door exit from the post-rock experimental world representative of his previous work, Slicker gravitates toward a downbeat, abstract blend of digital and organic musical matter that fluctuates between IDM, glitch and 21st century jazz. Featuring guest appearances from the cerebral electronic duo Matmos (on the nimble �Swap Track�) and other Hefty labelmates, The Latest succeeds in challenging the listener through a series of minimal shifts in time and tone, creating an aural atmosphere that�s refreshingly chilly and spatial.

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