From the Vault: 2010 In Review

2010 In Review

I’m a big fan of the www.rateyourmusic.com website, as it’s a great place to discover new music. It also allows one to create lists of album, and below is my top 30 for 2010, a great year.

1
An Ark for the Listener

Philip Jeck

An Ark for the Listener (2010)

Predictably, having been one of the highlights of ATP, and a consistently excellent composer and artist, Philip Jeck delivered an absolute masterpiece, perhaps his greatest work yet on CD. Inspired by poet Gerald Manley Hopkins’ work The Wreck of the Deutschland, an ode to 5 nuns who perished at sea, An Ark for the Listener is a dense, wistful album, where Jeck’s broken down turntable explorations and avant-garde, droning synth melodies create a rich, mysterious and oblique tapestry.

2
Psychical

Ensemble Economique

Psychical (2010)

Dark and cinematic, Ensemble Economique’s exercise in giallo-style horror soundtrack mixed with dub, hip-hop and avant-rock, was one of the most ambitious, challenging and atmospheric H-pop releases of the year. Perhaps it’s the dire economic and socio-political climate, but the influence of horror movies loomed large in 2010, and this was a great example of an intelligent, musical use of this influence.

3
Location Momentum

Eleh

Location Momentum (2010)

Deep listening in the Pauline Oliveros sense of the word, the music of mysterious drone artist Eleh is as hard to pin down, assess and comprehend (in the traditional sense) as the individual who creates it. Anonymity is key to Eleh’s aesthetic, but the core beauty resides in the dense, minimalist and hypnotic nature of the music, as listless wave generators and stripped-down synth lines contort, fill and caress the ether.

4
Liberation Through Hearing

Demdike Stare

Liberation Through Hearing (2010)

The excellent Mancunian duo continued their exploration of arcane and sinister textures and references through hypnotic synth patterns, warped dub and wispy electronica. Liberation Through Hearing is the second installment in a bewitching (the word is apt) trilogy that has cemented Demdike Stare’s position at the forefront of British hauntological music.

5
Going Places

Yellow Swans

Going Places (2010)

Tragically, this is Yellow Swans’ swansong, but it may be their best album to date. Reining in their harshest tendencies, they delivered an expansive, cinematographic masterpiece of noisy drone, its mournful synth lines adding depth to the crunch and grind. The result? An elegiac and haunting addition to the noise canon.

6
Returnal

Oneohtrix Point Never

Returnal (2010)

Much more consistent and unified than previous releases, Returnal is Oneohtrix Point Never, aka Daniel Lopatin’s arrival on the big stage and he delivers big time. As well as his new-age-tinted excursions into synth-heavy electro-drone, with hints of Tangerine Dream and even Vangelis, which on Returnal are even more compact, yet emotionally-charged, than before, he also opens with a blistering noise-drone freak out that was as astounding as it was unexpected.

7
Waving Goodbye

Sex Worker

Waving Goodbye (2010)

A late addition to my 2010 list was Sex Worker’s fabulous second album, a haunting and disturbing critique in music of the sex trade. Intelligently using sexy, woozy dance tunes, which are then overlaid by raw, aching or deadpan vocals, Sex Worker inteeligently evokes the drama, pain and despair of this modern-day slave trade…

8
Untitled

Hype Williams

Untitled (2010)

Blurring the lines emphatically between hip-hop, art-pop, dance, dubstep and even disco, Hype Williams are a mysterious London-based duo whose eclectic debut is like a weird, half-dreamlike, half-nightmarish trawl through nocturnal streets with the iPod set to shuffle. Hysterically over-the-top, it nonetheless preserves H-pop’s initial spirit of ambiguity and nostalgia, whilst remaining resolutely forward-thinking.

9
Renonce

Vomir

Renonce (2010)

After a decade of genre cross-pollination and soul-searching, noise was returned to its harshest, most abstract form with the emergence of Harsh Noise Walls, and French artist Vomir’s Renonce is the perfect, hour-long demonstration of the sub-genre’s capacity for sonic assault and sensory deprivation. As much a sound/art experiment as it is an album, Renonce is overwhelming, terrifying and, ultimately, hypnotic.

10
Dagger Paths

Forest Swords

Dagger Paths (2010) [EP]

Olde English Spelling Bee emerged in 2010 as one of the record labels for hypnagogic pop, and Dagger Paths was probably the company’s stand-out release. Though short, it perfectly encapsulated Forest Swords’ oblique combination of brittle, nocturnal dub and haunting post-noise atmospherics.

11
Patience

The Dead C

Patience (2010)

The New Zealanders are veterans of the noise/avant-rock scene, and each release of theirs is an event in itself. Patience sees them pushing out into free-form, improvised drone-rock, with extended guitar workouts and monolithic rhythm patterns evoking krautock giants like Ash Ra Tempel, or the unrelenting sub-metal of Skullflower and Les Rallizes Denudes. Pure rock at its best!

12
Music for Real Airports

The Black Dog

Music for Real Airports (2010)

It may be a rather unfair rebuke to Brian Eno’s seminal Music for Airports, but this remains an essential album, a troubling concept album about the soullessness and emotional alienation of airports. The synth melodies are dark, the sound effects cold and subtly jarring. A nightmarish sonic trawl through an airport, between endless queues, unhelpful staff and deserted waiting lounges, its claustrophobic atmosphere was almost unrivaled in UK electronic music last year.

13
Suburban Tours

Rangers

Suburban Tours (2010)

Highly praised, Rangers’ debut is a seminal piece of hypnagogic pop-rock, a reverie depicting sun-bleached suburban eighties’ neighbourhoods, portrayed with a mixture of nostalgia and disgust. Latter day power pop of the Black Star variety is refracted through wobbly vocal effects and subtle inflections of jarring post-noise to create a beguiling and ultimately catchy gem of an album.

14
Love Is a Stream

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma

Love Is a Stream (2010)

Shoegaze music is pretty much dead these days, weighted down by the shadow of My Bloody Valentine and the unjustified savaging by critics back in the day. By California-based musician Cantu-Ledesma has updated the genre almost single-handedly here, stripping back the excesses of those 90s bands to focus on the emotions and the drone. Blissful and hazy, Love Is A Stream takes the spirit of shoegaze, but blasts it into the post-noise age.

15
Failing Lights

Failing Lights

Failing Lights (2010)

Mike Connelly of Hair Police and Wolf Eyes released his full official solo debut as Failing Lights in 2010. Reining in the harsh noise of his other projects, he recreates the dank, dusty atmospheres of vintage American horror, overlaying throbbing bass lines and sinister drones with clanking noise effects and whispered, ghostly vocal snippets.

16
On Patrol

Sun Araw

On Patrol (2010)

Sun Araw (Cameron Stallones) has long been at the forefront of the H-Pop scene, and here takes his awkward, wobbly neo-psychedelia into darker territories with On Patrol, with its futuristic neon cover and Blade Runner ambiance. Dense and peculiar, the music on On Patrol features acid-drenched guitars alongside clunky synth patterns and distorted, mashed-up vocals. Dub and psych never sounded this great together.

17
Le Noise

Neil Young

Le Noise (2010)

In the midst of all these youthful explorers of noise and fucked-up pop, Neil Young stood like a statue to the old guard… and delivered an album of noise and fucked-up pop! With help from producer Daniel Lanois, Young created a brief solo album where his aged voice and grungy guitar were double-tracked and looped over themselves to create a ghostly folk-metal orchestra. He still refuses to fade away, but has a way to go before he burns out, by the sound of things.

18
Bloodlines

The North Sea

Bloodlines (2010)

Who would have thought power electronics would be back in 2010? Actually, with noise music getting more and more coverage, even on the Pitchfork website, over the last decade, maybe it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Whatever the case, Bloodlines is a dark, frightening and enveloping canvas of sound, steeped in arcane lore and heathen noise.

19
Porcelain Opera

Rene Hell

Porcelain Opera (2010)

Modernising old-fashioned analogue synth drones was not just the domain of Oneohtrix Point Never, as former noisician Jeff Witscher, aka Rene Hell unleashed his paranoid, icy vision on this fabulous debut. Any of Daniel Lopatin’s warmth and nostalgia are stripped away on Porcelain Opera, replaced by crackling, minimalist drones and shuddering percussion.

20
Plays Wagner

Indignant Senility

Plays Wagner (2010)

Evidently inspired by The Caretaker’s approach to deconstructing old vinyl, Indignant Senility nonetheless created a singular, haunting (and haunted) work, using ancient recordings of works by Richard Wagner and ladling on the effects and the haze to deliver an album of dense, nocturnal drone.

21
Gravitoni

Pan Sonic

Gravitoni (2010)

2010 was a good year for veteran electronic duos, with Autechre and The Chemical Brothers also releasing new (and, in Autechre’s case, well-received) albums. Pan Sonic trumped the lot though with this brilliantly unceremonious swansong album, in which thundering club beats were allied to vicious power electronics, proving that whilst time may have dampened their desire to continue the Pan sonic brand, it did nothing to halt their creative spark.

22
Cosmogramma

Flying Lotus

Cosmogramma (2010)

His Los Angeles album was among the top records of 2008, and Cosmogramma will always pale by comparison. But, despite its boundless ambition that takes in just about any genre imaginable, from free jazz to freak rock to dubstep, it still maintains that typically Flying Lotus talent for scattered, ruthlessly infectious beats and tunes.

23
Causers of This

Toro Y Moi

Causers of This (2010)

“Chillwave” may be one of the dafter genre names I’ve heard of late (alongside “glo-fi”), but for all of acts like Toro Y Moi’s taste for cheesy MOR influences and disco-inflected soft rock, there’s no denying Chaz Bundick’s knack for catchy pop tunes, glorious post-Beach Boys melodic hooks and lush vocal performances.

24
Triangulation

Scuba

Triangulation (2010)

Dubstep is, if I admit it, somewhat on the wane, as new acts embrace garish funk and glow-in-the-dark bleeps and bloops to try and come up with something new. But Scuba reminded all of the glory of vintage garage/dub, effortlessly evoking Burial or Kode 9 whilst retaining a unique new voice with his darkly urban electronica and thumping beats.

25
North

Darkstar

North (2010)

If dubstep was struggling to maintain its voice in a constantly-evolving world, Hyperdub once again showed the way by signing artists that explored fresh and innovative ground. Darkstar are the perfect example, their synth/programming-heavy electronic pop bearing hints of eighties synth-pop, but above all carrying a post-modern, despondent vibe of romantic urban alienation, somewhere between Burial’s nocturnal haze and the bright lights of Human League-esque dance.

26
King Night

Salem

King Night (2010)

Another new genre reared its head in 2010, “witch house”, but, unlike “chillwave”, this is actually remarkably tricky to define, as walls of glorious synth noise (a la M83) are offset by jerky dubstep beats and murky sub-sub-Spaceape vocal murmuring. The mix is uneven at times, but with King Night, Salem announced themselves as a band to watch this decade.

27
Before Today

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Before Today (2010)

The H-pop craze propelled maverick Californian hippy Ariel Pink straight into the limelight, and he responded with his best album, and his first on a major label and with a backing band. Rather than water down his oddball sound, it enhances it, as glorious pop tunes are jostled and jarred by unusual tempo shifts and bizarre nonsense poetry lyrics.

28
Does It Look Like I'm Here?

Emeralds

Does It Look Like I’m Here? (2010)

They were much better live but Does It Look Like I’m Here is a cracking album, more concise and focused than 2009’s What Happened?, and featuring several breathtaking melodies and passages of lush electronic drone.

29
Presidence

Excepter

Presidence (2010)

Excepter are probably unique, and their music is suitably undefinable. They may be friends of indy faves Animal Collective, but there is something darker and more troubling about Excepter’s sprawling, heavily-improvised post-noise electronica. Presidence is overlong, but worth persisting with.

30
Splazsh

Actress

Splazsh (2010)

Splazsh was The Wire’s album of the year and, whilst I (evidently) won’t go that far, I still think Actress displays here that he is one of Britain’s most forward-thinking, adventurous and inventive producers, his intelligent mixture of just about every post-drum’n’bass dance music pointing the way for the coming years.

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