Top Ten of 2010 (Patrick)

3 01 2011

At the turn of another year, I take a look back at my favourite albums of the past 12 months:

1. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma [Warp]

Steve Ellisons music was already recognised as being epic, grandiose electronica even before he announced that his Cosmogramma project was going to be a ‘space opera’. It is hardly any clearer, from listening to the album, what that phrase actually means, but perhaps such unclassifiable outlandishness is to be expected from a man whose music manages to draw distinct influences from, and yet sound nothing like, IDM, hip-hop, glitch, jazz and dubstep. With its big basslines and oft-frantic synths, the album is inescapably modern, from the influences it builds on through to the crisp production, but one of the best things about the LP is that it retains an authentic musical value that is often lacking in contemporary bass music. You don’t forget that Ellison is a composer in the purest sense. Whilst most artists would be happy to carve out any original sound for themselves, FlyLo manages to remain distinct across various styles and tempos, and these shift frequently and easily throughout Cosmogramma. The album is rippling with energy, bursting with ideas, and yet still hangs together as a whole. Eclectic, electric, and inventive, Cosmogramma is my record of 2010.

2.  Four Tet There Is Love In You [Domino]

After providing one of 2009’s musical highlights in the form of his Moth/Wolf Cub collaboration with school-mate Burial, Kieran Hebden’s fifth studio album as Four Tet, released in January, set a high water-mark for electronic music in 2010. Indeed, whilst 2003’s Rounds may still be considered Four Tet’s classic, this release is as coherent as he has ever sounded. Whilst creating Love, Hebden used his monthly residency at London’s ‘Plastic People’ to test out his unfinished tunes, and the result is a record with a prominent dance sensibility. The album is cast in 4/4, but the beats are tempered by lush cymbals and elegant melodies which ensure that Love retains the gentle intimacy characteristic of a Four Tet record. Allied to Hebdens typically intelligent arrangements and unique use of sampling, it is an expression of a true artist at his best.

3. Audio –Genesis Device [Virus]

Unlike some of the albums on this list, Genesis Device is not an outwardly artistic stab at originality or an attempt to genre-bust. Rather, Audio has succeeded in the even more elusive task of creating an album that is actually [sub] genre defining. Many would argue that the techy sound of Virus records had its hey-day in the pioneering late nineties and early noughties, but rarely has hard drum and bass sounded so good. Certainly the record is referential, a homage to the labels’ influential sound. Audio, after all, is the boy with the Virus tattoo. But Genesis Device is so much more than a tribute; it is an LP that stands up to anything that has emerged from the harder side of the scene. A brilliantly well executed slab of uncompromising, industrial filth.

4. Bonobo – Black Sands [Ninja Tune]

It is no wonder that Bonobo now performs his live gigs with a 16 piece orchestra. Whilst he claims that moving back to London from Brighton made him focus more on the beats and the electronic influences in his sound, with Black Sands Simon Green also manages to retain – and in some ways even expand upon – the broad musicality that separates his work from that of fellow chill artists, many of whose productions can be pleasant but ultimately uninspiring.  Andreya Triana’s vocals are a gorgeous compliment to the vast melody of the music, which is enveloping, unpretentious and wonderfully relaxing. A real gem.

5. Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers [Hot Flush]

At the forefront of one of dubsteps more exciting tangents are Mount Kimbie, a pair of young producers from the South Coast who met in London, and made waves with two superb EP’s in 2009. But it will be 2010 and their Crooks & Lovers LP that will be seen as their major breakthrough, combining a sensitivity for textures, samples and soft beats akin to that of Four Tet. Best enjoyed as a whole, the album also represents Scuba’s Hot Flush imprint on this list, which has been one of the most consistent labels of the year and stands to profit from the growing leftfield of UK bass music in 2011.

6. Caribou – Swim [City Slang]

Dan Snaith, aka Caribou, said he wanted this album to be ‘liquid dance music’, and it many ways this aesthetic is achieved with Swim, a record that occupies the space between indie/guitar based music and full blown dance. Slighly psychadelic at times, inherently danceable throughout, it is a record with variety and flair. Swim is also a distinctly summery album, but not one that lacks the depth to be enjoyed off-season. It is sometimes melancholic but never wallowingly so, and is versatile enough to fit the mood of the listener. For me, it will always be a soundtrack to the summer of 2010, whether it is ‘liquid dance’ or just good music.

7.  Gil Scott Heron – I’m New Here [XL]

No-one could have expected Gil Scott Heron’s return to sound like this. Modern and original, enormous credit must go to XL label boss Richard Russell, who produced the album, and who’s vision is largely responsible for the remarkable final product. Scott Heron’s croaking voice is a beautifully time-withered instrument, and it adds weight to his defiant yet deeply reflective and introspective lyrics. But it is the stark, moody atmospheres on which he delivers that make this record one of 2010’s most surprising and memorable.

8. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening [DFA]

James Murphy’s third and possibly final album as LCD Soundsystem may not quite scale the heights of 2007’s ‘Sound of Silver’, but it comes pretty damn close. His unique lyrical perspective and innate ear for welding together the sounds of acoustic and electronic make him one of the 21st century’s best songwriters, and this is another superb exhibition of his talents.

9. Break – Resistance [Symmetry]

Break’s second LP was one of 2010’s most anticipated drum and bass releases, and fully lives up to the hype. Featuring collaborations with Calyx & Teebee, Die, SpectraSoul, Nico, Survival & Silent Witness, as well as long-term vocalist Kyo, Resistance performs on beats, bass, vocals, melodies and ideas; everything you would want from a D&B album.

10. Lone – Emerald Fantasy Tracks [Magic Wire]

Nottingham local and Wigflex resident Matt Cutler shifts style somewhat for this eight track LP, but the result is a vibrant and energetic album, heavy on 808’s, that fruitfully explores the fertile territory between techno, dubstep and house.

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