Electronic Spotlight: Suggested LPs of 2011…So Far
Words By Stevie Tee
James Blake – S/T
British electronic music composer James Blake has been turning a lot of heads and surprising listeners with his debut full-length album. Blake came on my radar last year from his collaborations with future garage group Mount Kimbie and his EPs that touch on garage and dubstep rhythms with a great personal flair. With his first LP release, however, he’s taken a singer-songwriter approach with distinct R & B and gospel influences. The songs primarily feature Blake’s voice and piano playing with hands-off drum programming and electronic production elements. The basses are deep and the beats are commanding when present, but they are far from overbearing, leaving plenty of negative space to the compositions. Soulfulness is the centerpiece that holds this album together. Popular tracks include his cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” and “The Wilhelm Scream.”
Amon Tobin – ISAM
ISAM, the long awaited follow up to 2007’s Foley Room, picks up where the former left off and journeys deeper into a more abstract direction. Amon Tobin started as a drum ‘n’ bass, jungle and hip-hop DJ, but his last few albums have been studio masterpieces that leave genre in the dust and don’t necessarily demand a dance floor. His newest album is no exception. Field recordings that Amon Tobin began using on Foley Room are still present and even more woven into the bass-heavy beats. The organic production techniques create a human sense of dynamics with kicks and snares falling heavily on strange, exotic grooves while polyrhythmic breaks and child-like chanting vocals. Some of the songs never land on steady repeating beats and the album’s melodic elements range from music box gentleness to ripping buzz saws infused with chime sounds. His most challenging album yet, ISAM is a feat in the world of sound design that feels more like haunted house music than it does music for the club.
Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise
Chilean-born New York producer Nicolas Jaar’s highly-anticipated debut LP blends ambient, downtempo, hip-hop and deep house with ease and cohesion. Jaar’s recent appearances on mix podcasts like XLR8R, Fact Magazine and Beats in Space feature him constructing DJ mixes of all original tracks and remixes similar to the flow and singular feel of this album. Much like James Blake album in it’s use of negative space and quietness, Space Is Only Noise features breathing room for moments of jazzy and classical flourishes. Unlike Blake’s album, Jaar’s vocals are not the forefront of his arrangements but more of a textural instrument. Jaar’s emphasis seems to be on the lush sonic mastering of his productions rather than pop song writing composition. The album is personal and reflective without ever getting too somber. While a number of the tracks have some physically engaging grooves, this is also not what I’d consider a dance music album, but it does play well after a long night at the club.
Panda Bear – Tomboy
Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox’s solo project Panda Bear is almost as commercially viable as his original band at this point. Tomboy, the follow-up to Person Pitch, shows Panda Bear expanding his musical horizons far beyond his previous efforts. Still present are the Beach Boy’s-like vocal melodies with shimmering reverb. Production techniques for this album still have their roots in old-school dub and techno music like his previous albums, but what’s different is the lack of re-sampled guitar and minimal beat approach. Tomboy relies much more on elaborate synthesizer and sequencer work. Diverse synth and beat sounds allow Panda Bear’s music to head new directions and leave all of the songs sounding more unique. His sound is still spaced out and psychedelic, and while very electronic in nature, it doesn’t relate too heavily with any of the usual subgenres of electronic dance music. If you haven’t heard any of Animal Collective or Panda Bear’s music, they’re both extremely relevant musical acts in terms of song writing and electronic production.
Art Department – Drawing Board
Drawing Board is the only proper dance release spotlighted for this week. Art Department is a production duo comprised of prominent Canadian tech-house producers Kenny Glasgow and Jonny White, and after teaming up on a remix for the prestigious Crosstown Rebels label, they already have some big underground club hits under their belts before releasing their debut LP. Resident Advisor even picked the group’s single “Without You” as it’s #1 track of 2010. Drawing Board is made up of deep house grooves with terrific harmonic direction. Glasgow’s breathy, entrancing vocals slip through the expansive, dance-floor-designed compositions and draw the listener into the vibe. Certain tracks feature muttered spoken word vocals that are processed and effected in order to add to the atmosphere and strategic interplay with casio chords and driving bass lines. Though their tends to be a gloomy tone to a number of these tracks, the slower grooves have a strangely romantic and sexy house feel that have already proven to be dance floor anthems. The songs are drawn out for use in DJ sets but also provide lots of tension in their buildups and breakdowns. If you don’t check this album out, you’ll be hearing most of it played by some of the biggest tech-house DJs in the world.
Other Mentions:Prefuse 73 – The Only She Chapters (Album sampler)
Wagon Christ – Toomorrow (Album sampler)
Bibio – Mind Bokeh