Electronic Spotligt: Ultra Checklist

Ultra Music Festival Album Checklist

Words By Stevie Tee

One of the biggest barriers to me accepting and understanding the world of electronic music has been learning to let go of the idea of albums. It took me long to accept artists who released more singles, EPs, mixes and remixes than full LPs. Suddenly, my Ipod became harder to organize as I began asking myself, "Wait, who is this?" However, letting go of the typical music critic's paradigm has exposed me to tons of great new artists I had previously unheard. Oddly enough, the transition also helped me to fully appreciate the perfect album; these are releases that speak to me from start to finish created by inspiration, not fulfilling some artificial time-requirement for a record company's economic purposes. Today's piece is especially for those who still look to the album as the defining statement of a musician. Albums aren't always what an electronic dance music artist is setting out to make, but those that do realize their opportunity to present a completely unadulterated piece of music that is exactly as they intend it to sound in its entirety. Here are some essential recent releases from bands and producers that are taking the stage at Ultra Music Festival this yearÉ

Chemical Brothers - Further

While it's difficult to define any single album of the year, this album represents 2010 for me. A synthesizer lover's dream, the title alone suggests that something deeper and psychedelic lies ahead within this masterpiece. With this magnum opus goes an entire cinematic piece that is intended to be played live with any performance of each respective song. Also, to the delight of certain long time fans, this album is relatively untouched by the hands of guest artists. Recent tours found The Chemical Brothers playing fewer big cities and major music festivals making their performances more exclusive. At certain shows, the entire album was played suggesting that the Chemical Brothers know how great of an album they have created. It is an instant classic.

Trentem¿ller - Into The Great Wide Yonder

For a producer whose previous works are often considered minimal, this album sounds anything but. Most tracks sound like a full band was recorded whereas previous critically acclaimed albums were workings by one man using software and an arsenal of sequencers, synths and the like. Trentemoller's live shows, particularly his live PA sets, have used full bands before Into The Great Wide Yonder. With this album, he's fully embraced the full band as the songs are slower, darker, and more ambient and could be considered more rock than techno. The bands Guillemots and Darkness Falls Guests actually helped with the live recording of the album. The rotating cast of instruments and vocalists make this album a rich and unpredictable experience.

Crystal Castles - II

While I'll save most of my thoughts on Crystal Castles for a thorough review following their tour date in Detroit, the group has been turning heads in both the indie scene and the electronic scene. This duo of electro art-punks are no strangers to being abrasive with their use of 8-bit drum sounds, screaming synths and whatever else makes their songs thrash. Their style of production relies as much on sample crunching, decay and general roughness as it does on bright, shimmery soundscapes. However, this album has much more continuity and songs that have serious pop potential such as the track "Not In Love". An alternate version of "Not In Love" with Robert Smith of The Cure on vocals has been recorded as well. Tracks like "Year of Silence" and "Vietnam" bring dark and heavy elements but deliver them with a more tech-house influence than before. It is difficult to draw comparisons for a band that has such a unique take on electronic music.

Cut Copy - Zonoscope

For their third album, Zonoscope, Cut Copy's sound is as full and focused as ever. Far from their early days of Sonic Youth meets synth-pop, this album picks up and runs where their breakthrough, In Ghost Colours, left off. With Zonoscope, the Australian group has updated their heavily produced synth-pop mixed with lots of different new-wave influences. If The Talking Heads and Tears For Fears were ruling today's radio airwaves, this album would represent them well. Where production may have been a bit overbearing at times on their previous albums, this album was created with a more refined touch containing building harmonies and polyrhythms that stand tall against high-flying arpeggiated synths and club beats. With each subsequent release, Cut Copy continues to expand their sonic palate as both an electronic act as a traditional band with guitars and drums.

Magnetic Man - Magnetic Man

Three of the today's biggest producing-names in dubstep have joined forces to create the super-group Magnetic Man. Comprised of Skream, Benga and Artwork, the group has produced an EP and now a full LP together coinciding with an elaborate live PA/DJ tour. As an outsider, the album seems like a response from the genre's heavy weights to the recent explosion of dubstep to the point of oversaturation and commercialization. The songs on the album are still as heavy as anything as you might expect from these producers, but with all the guest vocalists and great hooks, it has more of a mainstream dance-club feel. While some fans may not have gotten the results they wanted, this album and the essential mix leading up to its release play like a guide to making dubstep with mass appeal that doesn't lean heavily on its genre's stereotypical bass tricks.


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